MLK strategist: African musician & British / Nevisian drummer among fallen icons

Rev. Wyatt T. Walker flanked by Rev. Al Sharpton,(at left) Dr. Calvin Marshall and Dick Gregory on the 33rd anniversary of the 1963 march on Washington on Aug. 28, 1996 in Chicago.
Bebeto Matthews

There is a saying that death comes in threes.

Recently, the popular theory repeated when six prominent men died.

The Black activist movement paused in reverence Jan. 23 when news reports confirmed the passing of Rev. Wyatt T. Walker, a legendary and prolific enabler to the cause of civil rights who walked alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and also served as his chief advisor.

If power-brokers could be judged by their advisors, Rev. Walker was the worthiest strategist to steer America’s most beloved King and country.

Revered for his work in the south, Rev. Walker continued his mission of seeking justice up north by serving as a special assistant on urban affairs to New York Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller.

He was also acclaimed pastor at Canaan Baptist Church.

It was there that he greeted Nelson Mandela, on his first visit to New York following his release from a South African prison.

On that occasion, preachers Walker, Jesse Jackson and Sharpton welcomed the freedom fighter who would become the first Black leader of his African nation.

The iconic Black leader became the first chairman of Sharpton’s National Action Network.

“The passing of Dr. Wyatt Tee Walker marks the transition of one of the greatest social justice and theological minds of our time,” Sharpton said.

“While I am saddened by his passing, I am committed to carrying on his legacy. It is both a personal and global loss to me.”

The 88-year-old Civil Rights advocate will be funeralized in April, however a memorial tribute will be held in his honor on March 2 at Canaan Baptist Church in Harlem.

The music industry grieved again on the same day when South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela passed in his native Johannesburg at age 78.

Reportedly he died from prostate cancer.

“(Our) hearts beat with profound loss,” the Masekela family said in a statement. “Hugh’s global and activist contribution to and participation in the areas of music, theatre, and the arts in general is contained in the minds and memory of millions across 6 continents.”

On hearing the news, jazz, pop, folk and reggae radio stations reprised Masekela’s “Grazing In The Grass” hit and many programmers extolled his activism against apartheid.

Jamaica’s newspaper editors heralded his performances at Reggae Sunsplash and former colleagues recalled when he recorded music at Studio One Records in Kingston.

Exiled from his country for 30 years due to his activism against apartheid, Masekela once lived in Harlem and would regularly stroll along 125th St.

He spent time living in Liberia, Guinea, Ghana and Botswana. While in Africa he recorded the anti-apartheid anthem “Bring Home Nelson,” a call to Afrikaaners to release the leader of the African National Congress.

The trumpet player also recorded a song titled “Mandela” in 1986.

Masekela recorded more than 40 albums and collaborated with a diverse array of recorders including Otis Redding, Janis Joplin, Harry Belafonte, Paul Simon, Jimi Hendryx, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Bob Marley and Miriam Makeba.

After moving to New York he married Makeba, a fellow exile from his homeland who initially encouraged him to seek refuge here instead of migrating to England.

Sunday, on a return outing to New York, the Grammy ceremony acknowledged his passing during the en memorium segment which pays homage to deceased achievers of the entertainment industry who transitioned since the last awards ceremony.

South African President Jacob Zuma released a statement recently saying: “Mr. Masekela was one of the pioneers of jazz music in South Africa whose talent was recognized and honored internationally over many years. He kept the torch of freedom alive globally fighting apartheid through his music and mobilizing international support for the struggle for liberation and raising awareness of the evils of apartheid. … It is an immeasurable loss to the music industry and to the country at large. His contribution to the struggle for liberation will never be forgotten.”

Jan. 18, the twin island of St. Kitts & Nevis lost one of its most prominent sons with the passing of Steve “Grizzly” Nesbitt, a musician from Nevis. Acclaimed for promoting his birth-land, he was always ready to hail the tiny Caribbean resort area. He was best known for his hard-driving drum beats as a member of Steel Pulse, a British, reggae band.

Due to failing health, Grizzly has been missing from the touring circuit in recent years but when news of the passing of the 69-year-old drummer surfaced on social media, it seemed as if the rhythm of the beat would be gone forever.

Uptown New Yorkers are grieving the passing of Lesley Wyche, a socialite acclaimed for being the honorary mayor of Harlem. A former aide to Assemblywoman Inez Dickens Wyche had been ailing for a period of time and reportedly resigned to rehabilitation in a Bronx nursing home. He was 73 years old.

Also making his transition in January, 57-year-old Gary Harris, a well-known record company insider who worked with many labels — including Jive, Def Jam and EMI Records. He is best known for signing r&b singer D’Angelo to a major record label.

He was an avid hip-hop proponent who contributed to the success of the soundtrack for the “New Jack City” movie. He was influential in the production of the Rappers Delight album, a groundbreaking release for the hip-hop genre. Harris reportedly died suddenly of natural causes.

Funeral services were held in Englewood, New Jersey on Jan. 29.

Celebrated Americans Oprah Winfrey, Cicely Tyson, Gail King, Phyllicia Rashad, Bill Cosby, Stephanie Mills, Leslie Uggams, Valerie Simpson and choreographer George Faison were prominent inside First Corinthian Baptist Church, on Jan. 22 to say farewell to beloved Harlem resident Tad Schnuggs. The 74-year-old theatrical producer was a partner with Faison and co-founder of the Faison Firehouse Theater in Harlem. In that capacity he also served as administrative director, producer and co-founder of George Faison Universal Dance Experience for 20 years. Together with Faison they produced theatrical and corporate events in the United States and in Europe.

Schnuggs reportedly died of cancer.

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