A Reggae Hall of Fame is a Must for Kingston (Part Two)


Some years ago, we visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. It is all glassy and modern, on the shore of Lake Erie (think: Kingston Harbour). It is packed with memorabilia- odd bits and pieces designed with the rock music fan in mind. There are quirky little things to amuse the kids; a great gift shop; music in the air; and, perhaps most importantly, there are special, revolving exhibits for the serious rock and rollers, who want to know and inspect every detail of their idol’s life and career. There’s an online gift shop (I want one of those Woodstock T shirts) and so many more things that would make one want to dig into one’s pocket and spend.

Jim Morrison’s driver’s license. His handwritten lyrics for the 1971 song “L.A. Woman” on a scrap of paper fetched over 60,000 British Pounds at auction. Memorabilia have actual value.

When we were there, an exhibit about The Doors gripped my interest. Since my late teens (OK, this dates me) I have loved this band’s music – hypnotic, bluesy, sometimes overblown and theatrical, more than a hint of sexual danger. Jim Morrison in those leather pants! And the nerdy-looking John Densmore tinkling away on keyboards in the background. I was fascinated by a letter penned by Morrison’s father, a distinguished Navy Commander and Admiral, pleading for forgiveness after his rebellious son had misbehaved at UCLA. After he died in the bath in a Paris apartment (he was one of that group of 27-year-old rock victims) his father donated items to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, including his school report cards, college diploma, and a Cub Scout uniform (Jim as a Cub Scout stretches the imagination!)

Of course, there are inductees, too. Cleveland is a proper Hall of Fame. Why can’t we have one for our reggae legends, including those who have passed on? Plus there are spin-offs such as live performances, by inductees or others, tribute concerts, etc. There are touring exhibits, even overseas. Cleveland has a traveling exhibit in Tokyo right now. I believe the Japanese are extremely fond of reggae music. This would be a true money-spinner!

A Reggae Hall of Fame in the UNESCO Creative City of Kingston is simply a “no brainer,” in my view. A living, breathing tribute to reggae music.

The above is an example of what could be done with a Reggae Hall of Fame, sitting pretty on the Kingston waterfront. Cleveland could be a model. All those little bits and pieces: an outfit from a famous concert (perhaps one of Bob Marley’s favorite denim outfits). A ticket, a concert poster, someone’s favorite guitar, old family photos, newspaper clippings, an original old dubplate. Unique pieces of history, sometimes large, sometimes very small. Fans love the obscure stuff. I would love to see a video playing of Leroy Smart, a graduate of Alpha, skanking in his dapper suits, dancing across the wall of the Reggae Hall of Fame. So many possibilities and the marketing opportunities are endless.

Leroy Smart’s “Ballistic Affair.”

These two blog posts were inspired by an interlocking conversation on Twitter this week with Stephen Cooper (and others). Mr. Cooper is based overseas and has a deep respect for the forgotten (or half-forgotten) reggae musicians of yesteryear, many of whom are now living overseas. He wants them to be recognized. So do I.

For example, hardly anyone remembered that July 1 was not only International Reggae Day (and that was hardly recognized locally, lacking in corporate support). It was the twentieth anniversary of the passing of the great reggae singer Dennis Emmanuel Brown. Mr. Cooper reminded us, and shared that he has a special onstage costume worn by the “Crown Prince of Reggae,” as he was known, in his possession; it belongs in a museum. He was a great performer, with his rich, soulful voice and incredible charisma. It should be in the Reggae Hall of Fame!

Our recognition of reggae stars in terms of physical space is entirely inadequate. We have the Bob Marley Museum, visited by reggae fans from all over the world; and a very small museum devoted to Peter Tosh – opened with little fanfare long after his death. It’s nothing. It’s not enough. The Bob Marley Museum (my review from four years ago is here) isn’t even accessible to people with disabilities. It is an old-fashioned, cramped house. The Jamaica Music Museum at the Institute of Jamaica has some gems but is small and under-funded. It could be incorporated into the Hall of Fame.

Five years ago, the International Reggae Poster Contest opened at the National Gallery of Jamaica. A Jamaican graphic artist living overseas, Michael Thompson, along with Greek designer Maria Papaefstathiou, established the contest in 2011. Thompson had a vision of a Reggae Hall of Fame. “There has to be a physical space, so Jamaica can benefit from the additional value, with the narrative,” said Thompson. Sadly, the Kingston-born artist passed away in 2016. There is no reason why his vision should not remain, however.

I would like to see a nice, shiny Reggae Hall of Fame on the Kingston waterfront, bursting with music, colourful and magnetic. It would attract visitors from every continent, and local people too. Monthly concerts outside on the concourse. Visiting reggae celebrities from near and far, to be inducted.

Gregory Isaacs, the Cool Ruler. (Photo: Reggae Vibes)

Every year, we could celebrate the birthday of Dennis Brown (February 1) or Gregory Isaacs (July 15) with media events. Brown grew up in a tenement yard off North Street; Gregory grew up in Denham Town. Kingstonians both.

Music is the heartbeat of Kingston. It sounds corny, but it’s true. The Reggae Hall of Fame on the waterfront would not only be preserving the past, but inspiring the present, and the future. Its influence would spread across the city – a passionate, crazy, energy-filled city – and across the island, and then fly overseas. It would create jobs, bring visitors and much-needed revenue to downtown Kingston. Perhaps most importantly of all, it would cement Kingston’s place as a Creative City of Music.

As the great writer Kurt Vonnegut once said:

We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.

That is creativity. Let’s take a jump off that cliff. We can find the wings along the way. Let’s do it.

 

 

 

 


8 thoughts on “A Reggae Hall of Fame is a Must for Kingston (Part Two)

  1. Nice idea and interesting thoghts. Maybe a Reggae Walk Of Fame would be nice too… By the way: Kingston has also a Wailers-Museum. We visited this inspiring place last March. The Wailers’ story is told as a family story there and we met Bunny Wailer in person. Sometimes we have the impression, that the entire Kingston is a big Reggae Hall Of Fame.

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    1. I did not know Kingston has a Wailers’ Museum! That is so surprising. I will have to look for it. I agree, Kingston is a celebration of reggae in lots of areas… I think one place recognizing its history would be perfect though. Perhaps from there, visitors could do a tour of the other reggae landmarks (or end up there, as part of a Reggae Tour of Kingston).

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, the idea has existed for a long time – I am just reviving it really. As you say, with the slow renaissance downtown (there is still a long way to go) it seems an appropriate time to do so! Let’s see.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Dear Petchary,

    I applaud your idea although, honestly, it’s been in the air for more than 35 years. I remember pitching a Reggae Museum/Hall of Fame to Prime Minister Seaga’s sisters during Sunsplash ’83. They, and the mayor of MoBay, were ready to give me a piece of land on the waterfront “just as long as you can go back home to the States and raise the money.”

    In my own case, I have turned down several offers for Roger Steffens’ Reggae Archives because they did not meet my basic requirements: that my archives remain intact forever and that all the artists’ rights be protected. My collection fills seven rooms, floor to ceiling, in our home in Los Angeles. In 2001, six thousand of the most precious items were put on display for eight months at the Queen Mary in Long Beach and drew adoring crowds. These belong in Jamaica and I will work until I take the big dirt bath to make this happen. Currently there is a viable offer on the table, but it depends on the Jamaican government understanding how important this is for the country’s economy and international standing. This should have happened in the early ’80s at the end of reggae’s golden age. Let’s not waste another opportunity.

    One Heart
    Roger Steffens, Curator of Roger Steffens’ Reggae Archives
    Los Angeles, California
    rasrojah@aol.com

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Mr. Steffens: It is a pleasure and an honour to hear from you. I did not intend for it to sound like “my idea,” however – as I know that it has been around really for a long time (I didn’t realise as long as 35 years, though!) I realize too that there would have to be VERY careful protection of the intellectual property and solid safeguards in place. I have no clue why successive Jamaican governments, while lauding reggae’s global influence, have not taken this step. I have a feeling that it would not be too hard to find corporate/overseas funding. Perhaps if you and others at home and abroad start talking about it some more, it might become a reality. Thank you SO much for your contribution, I really appreciate it. Warmest, Emma

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      1. I’ve been talking about it publicly since the early ’80s, especially on my “Reggae Beat” show which was syndicated to 130 stations worldwide, including the Voice of America’s Africa service. Just enter my name in You Tube and see the dozens of talks and interviews regarding my desire to have my Reggae Archives be acquired by Jamaica. Your voice is an important one in bringing this to fruition. I wish you Jah blessings in all your crucial works. Thanks for your kind reply.
        One Heart,
        Roger

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I will definitely look up and share your YouTube comments. Thanks for pointing me to them. I hope that I can help just by waking people up (one more time) to this invaluable opportunity. Thank you so much for your good wishes. Please keep in touch!

        Liked by 1 person

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