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.
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.
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.
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.