The authorities and those with social capital, those hegemonic power bearers in Jamaica have always amazed me.
I refer to those in particular who select or nominate people in this country or abroad for the national awards. In my opinion, the select committees seem blinded at times as to who are truly deserving of National Awards.
We have so many who have served this nation, yet I have never heard their names called for awards. One only has to look around at those who were community giants and are today bereft of the national awards such as the great Canadian Baptist Missionary Rev. Dr. JW. Knight of SW St. Ann; the great Irish Pastor and Medical doctor Dr. Kennedy of the Tabernacle Churches in St. Ann; Rev. Dr. Aaron Dumas and the great Community doctors – Dr. CC Jones of the Hagley Park Road community.
There is one more Jamaican omitted from beneficiaries of our National awards. I am referring to international distinguished cultural icon- the late Thom Bell, co- creator of the Philadelphia Soul Music, composer, arranger, songwriter, singer, pianist and producer of an important part of popular music and popular culture . Soul music would not have had the international impact on consumers of popular music if without Thom Bell.
Whoever listened to the radio in the late sixties, seventies and up to the eighties, especially RJR would have been treated either on Sunday mornings or while getting ready to go to school or at night with melodious songs by various soul singers singing songs written, arranged and composed by Jamaican born Thom Bell along with Gamble and Huff on the record or LP labels. Bell was (along with Gamble , Huff and Linda Creed ) the co-creator of the orchestrated “Sound of Philadelphia” style of soul music. Known to mostly those deep in pop culture literature was that Bell was not American but a native of Jamaica, a son born and bred in “Kingston town”.
Nearly all the melodious soul songs belted out that resonate with lovers and admirers of music that are romantic and soothing, that made it to the top of the record charts had the Thom Bell stamp and hallmark.
Surely, someone in the cultural industry or in the intellectual circle must have been aware that this great creator of the Philly Sound was a son of Jamaica. Bell’s songs were like the national anthems of soul – “La –La (means I Love You) by the Delfonics in 1968; “didn’t I Blow Your Mind, This Time by the Delfonics in 1970; All time pop favourite “Stop, Look, Listen to Your Heart,” by the Stylistics in 1971; Betcha By Golly Wow by the Stylistics; Could It Be I’m Falling In Love.
He wrote also for other famous groups- The O’jays, Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes, The Delfonics, The Spinners, Dusty Springfield and Jerry Butler. Thom Bell’s songs were what young people of the late 60’s , 70’s and 80’s relished and revered.
The songs he wrote, composed and arranged were worthy as collectibles, gifts to loved ones and they were pop songs you could sing or even recite to the person you desired to become your life long partner. While Bob Marley was busy introducing reggae to his international audience, Thom Bell had a market of millions in all regions of the USA, Europe, Africa and the Caribbean whose love for pop music created by Black Americans motivated him to write, arrange and compose music of such quality for nearly three decades.
To-date soul music including Bell’s Philly Soul Music has not waned for lack of ear play. At some time during the day, in places across the globe, soul music will be played. The genre has never left us. It is too sweet to fade away. As the name connotes, it is music of the soul and the soul does not die, therefore soul music will not die. Future occasions and events will need soul music – whether weddings, office parties or general relaxing moments.
Thom Bell’s creation and signature on Soul will be here on earth with us just like Mozart, Chopin, Strauss, Beethoven , Handel or Bach music.
It is time the persons in position in this country get rid of their biases, nepotism and political preferences and do the right thing by selecting those worthy for awards. There are too many citizens who have served this country, much more than many awarded over the years with national honours who have been sidelined and ignored – Medical doctors, Missionary Pastors, Community builders and philanthropists.
Yes, Bob Marley and Millie Small may have introduced Jamaican music to the world but Thom Bell created American music heavily consumed by Jamaicans and the world for decades. His music was a fixture on Sunday morning radio, radio evening programmes and at house parties. as the genre created came deep down from the soul of singers African descent but also of Caucasian background.
I therefore call upon those entrusted with awarding of National Awards to access information, get your knowledge about the greatness of this musical genius who helped spread one of the most popular musical genres worldwide for nearly three decades.
December 27, 2022
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