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The Haitian 2010 Earthquake, Teddy Pendergrass & Eddie Thigpen: Connection In Spirit


 

On January 12, 2010, Haiti and her people suffered the worst earthquake that country has ever experienced in nearly 200 years.   Up to 200,000 are said to have died in this tragedy.

 A day later on January 13, 2010, Teddy Pendergrass and Eddie Thigpen made their transition to the “other side”.  The three events appear to be unrelated and shouldn’t be compared to each other. The massive human toll in Haiti definitely overshadows the loss of  two people who were  entertainers.  But upon closer examination the three occurrences are connected in four very profound ways.

The first is Voodoo, the indigenous religion/way of life of Haiti. Often maligned in western religious circles, academia and the western media, Voodoo is the powerful vehicle which connects millions of Haitians to Africa, their ancestors, community and the Creator.  

It was a Voodoo ceremony led by Boukman on August 13/14 , 1791 that instigated the 13 year fight for liberation from the French colonial masters, where within a week “1800 plantations were destroyed and 1000 slaveholders killed”.  This was not accomplished through a Sunday school class or a church gathering.

Teddy Pendergrass in 1993 in his “A Little More Magic” album had a song titled “Voodoo”; the “A Little More Magic” album cover has Pendergrass sitting comfortably with a black cat on his shoulder. He was nominated for a Grammy in the “Best Male R&B Vocal Performance” category in 1994.

The second connection is the earth day of Pendergrass and events in Haitian history. Pendergrass lived from March 26th , 1950 to January 13, 2010.

The successful Haitian Revolution led to Haiti declaring its independence n January 1, 1804. The impact was readily felt in the United States with France’s sale of the Louisiana Territory to US in order to cover the cost of waging war. On March 26, 1804, the Louisiana Purchase was divided into the Territory of Orleans and the District of Louisiana

March 26th is also siginificant  , for on that date in 1964, was the only known time that Malcolm X met Martin Luther King. This brief and momentous occasion took place in Washington, D.C. when the two were present to observe the  U.S. Senate debate the Civil Rights Bill.  The meeting was said to  last for only one minute, enabling them enough time to take a picture together. It is important to note that Malcolm publicly broke from the Nation of Islam on March 8, 1964 and King’s SCLC was  officially founded in Louisiana on Feb 13, 1957.

The third connection is the age which Pendergrass made his transition to the ancestral plane. Pendergrass was 59 years old at the time of his passing. Toussaint L’ouverture who was born May 20th, 1743 and died in France on April 7th 1803.   The months of  L’ouverture’s earthday and time of passing are interesting to note. Remember Malcolm’s earth day is May 19, 1925 and King was  on assassinated April 4, 1968!

As stated earlier,  one of the ways in which Haiti and Teddy Pendergrass are connected include the religion/way of life  of Voodoo.

For many in Haiti it is a way of life, which empowers them and for Pendergrass to have titled one of his songs “Voodoo” on his “A Little More Magic” album demonstrates a positive embrace of the belief system. 

Furthermore his album cover depicting him with a black cat on his shoulder, indicates to this author that Pendergrass wanted in some sense to embrace that which has often been maligned and extol its positive virtues.

The March 26th connection with Pendergrass’ “earth day” with when the Louisiana Purchase was organized into the territory of Orleans and the District of Louisiana in 1804,  is something that many may overlook due to the length of years between the two events.

Nevertheless it is worthy to recognize the correlation. March 26th is also significant,  for on March 26, 1964  the two great freedom fighters Malcolm and Martin met in Washington, D.C.

L’ouverture  and Pendergrass  though born in different time periods yet made their transition at the same age of 59 years old is also interesting to note. 

The fourth connection is seen with great but underappreciated musician, Eddie Thigpen, who  also made his transition on January 13, 2010.  Eddie Thigpen lived from December 28, 1930 to January 13, 2010.

The connection to Haiti is seen with Thigpen with his craft of drumming. The drum has been noted to be essential feature of African cultural life.  With Voodoo/Vodun  as in most if not all African cultural expressions the drum is always present.  An appreciator of African culture once observed:

“The beating of the drum allows the shaman to achieve an altered state of consciousness or to travel on a journey. The drum is referred to as ‘horse’ or ‘rainbow bridge’ between the physical and spiritual worlds.” 

The drum is present at all functions and  facilitates the various cycles of life:

“Drums have many uses in African society. Drums are used through the life span of the African. During birth, initiation and death the sound of the drum is present. They are made from various objects including calabash, gourds, wood, bamboo etc. “Talking Drums” are widely used in Ghana especially by the Ashanti. They send messages of happiness, sorrow, war etc. to other tribes through the beating of the drum. ” 

Europeans banned the use of traditional carved drums in  the Caribbean  because of the power of drums. Hand-carved drums were once used as wartime signals. The Europeans were worried that the slaves would use the signals to revolt. One scholar  writing about the Garifuna of Honduras states:

Drums play a central role in Garífuna rituals and dances. This is because of their mystical summoning powers. These powers can be traced back to Africa. “

“Nowadays, the Garífuna still believe in the drums’ summoning powers. Following a death in the community, Garífuna drummers may beat their drums from house to house. This notifies their neighbors of the death and calls the town to the wake or burial ceremony.

At the wake, punta dancing and drumming is common. Some say that the drummer beats the drums to summon the ancestral spirits. The dancer communicates with the drummer by following the rhythm of the drums. He/she may fall into a stupor, visited by an ancestor. Others say that this only happens at the sacred dugu ceremony. Regardless, drums hold special importance in Garífuna culture because of their powers to convoke beloved ancestors. “

Thigpen  a master drummer,  played in  Oscar Peterson’s  trio replacing  guitarist Herb Ellis in Toronto , Canada in 1959 to 1965 (The year that the aforementioned Malcolm X was assassinated).  He also toured with Ella Fitzgerald from 1967 to 1972.

Thigpen’s body of work went beyond his years with Oscar Peterson and Ella Fitzgerald, he also worked with other jazz luminaries such as Billy Taylor, Dinah Washington, Bud Powell, Monty Alexander and Clark Terry to name a few.  Thigpen would later leave the United States and settle in Copenhagen, Denmark  where he passed away,  making his transition to the ancestors at the age of  79.

For his transition to take place at the time that it did, is  no mere coincidence or accident.  “The drummer” accompanied the many souls who needed to be supported in their journey.

The question is what is the message (if any) is being sent?  Upon closer analysis, we see that Africa, Haiti,  Vodun, America (Louisiana), France , the lives of Malcolm and Martin are the backdrop for these three events. These themes will be explored in greater detail at another time.

We can look at the music of Teddy Pendergrass however to readily get an accessible message. First , Pendergrass was part of the Philadelphia  Soul  movement.  The symbol for Philadelphia is the Liberty Bell.

In 2006 the “bell sounded” with the senseless murder  of Sean Bell and the unjust arrest of the Jena Six, with one member of that group named Mychal Bell. Note the presence of the “bell” and the number “6”. Did we heed the alarm(a.k.a. bell) then? 

Teddy Pendergrass was considered special by his mother for she had 6 miscarriages before he was born. Pendergrass’ death was the sounding of the “bell” as seen in one of his songs he performed while a member of Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes “Wake Up Everybody” (Note that one of the functions of the bell is to summon or  “wake up”):

Wake Up Everybody
Wake up everybody no more sleepin in bed
No more backward thinkin time for thinkin ahead
The world has changed so very much
From what it used to be so
there is so much hatred war an’ poverty
Wake up all the teachers time to teach a new way
Maybe then they’ll listen to whatcha have to say
Cause they’re the ones who’s coming up and the world is in their hands
when you teach the children teach ‘em the very best you can.

Chorus
The world won’t get no better if we just let it be
The world won’t get no better we gotta change it yeah, just you and me.

Wake up all the doctors make the ol’ people well
They’re the ones who suffer an’ who catch all the hell
But they don’t have so very long before the Judgement Day
So won’tcha make them happy before they pass away.
Wake up all the builders time to build a new land
I know we can do it if we all lend a hand
The only thing we have to do is put it in our mind
Surely things will work out they do it every time.

Doesn’t the history of Haiti reflect the sentiment of this song? 

 End Notes

www.siestacrafts.co.uk

stanford.edu/group/arts/honduras//art/music/drums.html -K.Stevens; Stanford Center for Latin American Studies; 4/11/00. Bibliography.

©VisionThought 2010. All Rights Reserved.

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