When the Black Rock Coalition Orchestra kicked off their retrospective of SOLAR Records and tribute to Don Cornelius and Soul Train at the Brooklyn Academy of Music with Shalamar’s “A Night to Remember”, it was more than a song, but the theme to the evening. It was truly a night to remember; a night to remember Don Cornelius’ mighty step forward to bring our music and culture into households across America weekly, a night to remember the impact Soul Train had on our community, and a night to remember the memories created by Klymaxx, Shalamar, The Whispers, Lakeside and the rest of Solar’s roster.
The crowd was at capacity before the show started. As DJ Idlemind was spun classic dance grooves the first Soul Train Line of the night began before the festivities officially kicked off, and everyone in the building that night knew there was a party going on! Soul Train and the music of the former Soul Train Records inspires a family reunion-type atmosphere that transcends generations and race; we all stood should to shoulder, foot to foot or booty to booty as the band grooved along. Singer/songwriter Gordon Chambers left his seat next to me to join the background singers on “A Night to Remember” before dancing off to the side of the bandstand, and most of those in attendance followed his lead (albeit from their spots in the audience) as we were treated to music from one of the best periods in music.
Narrowing down such an extensive catalog into a 75-minute show is a task in itself, but musical director Darrell McNeill was able to bring it all together and compact much of the greatest jams of Solar for those who made it inside the BAM Café. The band kept the dip in our hip with Klymaxx (“The Men All Pause”, “Meeting in the Ladies Room”), The Whispers (“Rock Steady”, “Keep on Lovin’ Me”, “And the Beat Goes On”), Lakeside (“Fantastic Voyage”), the aforementioned Shalamar (“Take that to the Bank”, “Dead Giveaway”) and early Babyface (“It’s No Crime”) to our delight before the party burst through the seams of the night.
Before a few hundred people lost their minds on a Saturday night, someone had to have this idea in their mind, and that someone was BRC co-founder Greg Tate after Don Cornelius’ death in February. The brain trust of the BRC took his charge and put together a production that had been on the brain since [SOLAR Records’ founder’s] Dick Griffey’s passing in 2010. McNeill noted, “Everyone is going into the program in the spirit of celebration: celebrating Don Cornelius’ life and legacy, celebrating Soul Train’s enrichment of our lives and our culture, celebrating SOLAR’s major impact on the landscape in the 80s and 90s.” That feeling of celebration was definitely in the air and on the dance floor.
Over the past 25 years, the Black Rock Coalition has developed retrospectives for a virtual who’s who in music, from Stevie Wonder to Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, Curtis Mayfield, and The Four Women of the Civil Rights movement (Abby Lincoln, Nina Simone, Odetta, Miriam Makeba). Later this summer a BRC tribute to the great Gil Scott-Heron will be part of a special program. BRC president LaRonda Davis informed me that “the Black Rock Coalition Orchestra is the official performance arm of the black rock coalition. It’s a collaboration of immensely talented, often under-appreciated musicians–some famous, some less so–who, under the musical direction of one progressive visionary, re-imagine a specific canon of culturally-significant material.”
The collection of voices on hand this night included Mary Wormworth, Shelley Nicole, Maritri Garrett, Maya Azucena, Kelsey Warren, Doron Flake and Gordon Chambers, not to mention the band that absolutely stretched the expectations of the night beyond the imagination. The energy emanating from the stage was reciprocated from the crowd, as the music of SOLAR Records and the spirit of Soul Train filled the thick air.
When asked of the impact Soul Train had on him, BRC Executive Director Earl Douglas explains, “Soul Train presented Black culture unfiltered and with little to no compromise. It was also done independently, which still blows my mind. It was the summation of what Jackie Robinson gave us; it was also the summation of what the Civil Rights Movement was about. To have a show that came on every week that showed that Black is beautiful artistically, educationally, and in business, impacts me to this day.”
That impact is worldwide and for one night in Brooklyn, the feeling was re-created. The line that stretched around Lafayette Ave. until the wee hours of the night was filled with people vying for a night to recall days gone by, a night to grab hold of the magic of yesteryear… a night to remember.
Stay up to date on all things Black Rock Coalition at http://blackrockcoalition.org.
Between rhetoric and reality is where you’ll find Al-Lateef Farmer: Black man, husband, social documentarian, and slinger of Soul by the pound. His brand of social commentary rooted in independent thought can be found at http://worldaccording2teef.com, and on Twitter @wrldacrdng2teef.