Buffalo Soldier inducted to Hall of Fame

Imhotep Gary Byrd.
Imhotep Gary Byrd

It is apparent that when Bob Marley penned the hit song “Buffalo Soldier” his intention was to voice a musical homage to unsung Black American soldiers who fought in segregated regiments from 1866 — until the US Army was desegregated in 1951.

Despite discrimination and rejection by all-white regiments, according to President George Bush they imprinted an “outstanding legacy of service” to this nation.

The revered US leader said they “are a historically important group best remembered for fighting on American’s western frontier. But “their achievements were not limited to the western United States.”

Buffalo Soldiers served in other parts of America and “in places as far-flung as Cuba, Mexico, and the Philippines.”

Marley’s collaborative with Noel Williams on the “Confrontation” album lyricizes how the African heroes were: “Driven from the mainland to the heart of the Caribbean.”

Bush informed an audience that the bold, Black warriors fought through both world wars and a number of other conflicts but because of racism “they often received the worst food and equipment and labored without the respect and recognition that was their due.”

Although they did not join forces with the organized army their mission was the same — to fight against Native Americans.

As a matter of fact, the first nation citizens they fought against are the ones who named them Buffalo Soldiers.

Allegedly it was a nickname they were assigned because of the texture of their hair which in the view of their adversaries likened that of the animal that roamed freely.

Marley’s tribute was released in 1983 — two years after his untimely death.

To celebrate the all-Black regiments, President George Bush issued a proclamation on July 28, 1992 declaring a Buffalo Soldiers Day.

Recently, the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame inducted their 36th class of 10 honorees and among them is Imhotep Gary Byrd, a radio personality insiders have long nicknamed Buffalo Soldier.

Although he has never served in the US military or admittedly faced blatant discrimination in the face of adversaries, birthright and his soldiering skills entitles the moniker particularly because he has persevered, endured and succeeded through 50 years of service since arriving in New York City from Buffalo, New York.

Byrd, a popular radio talk show host who helms programs on WBAI, WBLS, WLIB, iHeart Radio and Sirius Satellite Radio was distinguished with honor placing him as an inductee to the distinguished BMHOF.

Hailed as an achiever for contributing positive music to a global community for half a century, Byrd is revered for presenting the GBE, the longest running Black radio broadcast in the history of New York City.

Presented throughout the decades in various formats, the Afro-centric music showcase was first introduced as the Gary Byrd Experience and later presented as the Global Black Experience, the GBE Mindflight and The Global Beat Experience.

Invited back to his childhood stomping grounds for the honor, Byrd said he was awed by the illustrious audience that hailed the migrant son who left his upstate birthplace at the age of 19 to relocate here in pursuit of following his dream of working in radio.

Although merited for radio hall of fame induction, it was music that he was regaled for achieving excellence.

Byrd became the youngest Black radio personality to work in New York City.

On arrival to the music and media capital of the world, he launched his GBE playing popular music.

The road to success has been storied.

According to the veteran radio presenter, music was a passion nurtured by his grandmother who at an early age furnished him with tools of the trade – a microphone, tape recorder, typewriter etc.

Luck he said might have factored because one day a producer of a play asked him if he would like to ply a trade at the local radio station.

The youth jumped at the prospect and before dawn, he and the caring school teacher would meet the challenge of a 4 a.m. start to the day.

Byrd recalls that “I never missed a day.”

Perhaps that was why he was embraced in his teen-aged years by rhythm and blues legend James Brown.

He said the avowed Soul Brother Number One encouraged him and even attributed him with being a “pioneer during the early years” of the hip-hop genre.

Brown dedicated “Mind Power,” one of his memorable compositions to the young stalwart.

Later on film director Spike Lee cast Byrd to portray himself in the movie “Bamboozled.”

Byrd easily bested the character portraying a musical wordsmith that endeared patrons to the rhymes, recitations, poetry and passion of a culturally-connected radio deejay.

Those acquainted with Byrd’s programs regard him as “the radio griot,” poet, songwriter and rapper who provided community engagement with informative broadcasts that invited audiences to participate during his live, daily four-hour presentations from the Apollo Theater.

Stevie Wonder was among the recent celebrants to share platitudes: “Thank you! You are the essence of bringing people together thru lyrics and song…I congratulate you,” the iconic talent said.

“Me from Detroit, you from Buffalo, we came together to bring people together.”

“Your lyrics,” provided a “wonderful marriage” to my music.

Byrd gazed with surprise and seemingly in wonderment of the generous sentiments spoken by the superstar.

The acclaimed wunderkind has globally emphasized that thought by signing Byrd — the only artist to his Wondirection Record label.

Distributed through Motown records, the unprecedented deal yielded “The Crown,” an infectious single Byrd delivers while lauding the Black race as regal, blessed with kings and queens worthy of wearing jewels and adornment.

The song lavishes praise and Black pride and in addition provides beats to execute athleticism on the dance floor.

It peaked on the British music charts to reach number six.

The association with Wonder continued when the pop legend invited Byrd to collaborate on numerous other projects.

The Buffalo native joined the multi-Grammy winning Detroit native to write lyrics to “Dark & Lovely.”

Together they also compiled “Village Ghetto Land” and “Songs In The Key of Life” in tribute to Nelson Mandela, the South African freedom fighter who was imprisoned for almost three decades for promoting unity and Black empowerment.

In a thank you response to the auspicious Hall of Fame presenters Byrd said “Thank you Buffalo.”

“Giving thanks to everyone,” he offered gracious acknowledgements to radio station WYSL and WUFO, the Buffalo stations that gave him his start at age 15.

He referred to the staffers as “my extended family.”

“I am humbled in a very special way.”

“It is an amazing, amazing experience” but particularly because it is given to me “in my hometown.”

He thanked contributors to his golden milestone, naming generations of family members, teachers, radio program executives and mentors Frankie Crocker, Gerry Bledsoe and Eddie O’Jay, — fellow Buffalo natives and radio veterans, role models, now deceased — whom he said he admired in his youth and was able to work alongside at the top-rated WWRL-FM when he first arrived here.

Byrd also acknowledged Aretha Franklin, the undisputed Queen of Soul.

He described the recently deceased Detroit super-achiever as “the foundation of everything.”

“You are the melody of everything I sing,” Byrd added.

In addition to collaborating with Wonder, Byrd has written songs for several artists including rapper Kurtis Blow (“Feelin Good”) Millie Jackson “I Cry” 50 Cents, Nas and others.

He is credited with penning more than 30 published songs.

His first recording was the classic “Every Brother Ain’t A Brother.”

Following that he compiled his first album of spoken-word poetry — “Presenting The Gary Byrd Experience.”

Due to his devotion to the Black community, Byrd was invited to Ghana where he was enstooled by an African chief.

There on the continent, he was given an African name.

However, the Pan-African deejay is renowned as Imhotep, a title attributed to the second king of Egypt’s third dynasty.

Imhotep was an architect, priest, chief minister, astrologer, medicine God and all round genius.

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