A Glorious Remembrance!

Putin and the Generals Awash in Battle Decorations

 What May 9, Means to the Russians

Today the Russians are celebrating Victory in Europe Day, it is an annual Remembrance of the Western Allied Victory over the Fascist Axis forces led by NAZI Germany, on May 8, 1945.  But because it was already the 9th in Soviet Russia – a vast country with 11 time zones – when the Nazi’s unconditionally surrendered, the Russians celebrate on the 9th.  The Russians were invaded by Nazi Germany and her vassals on Sunday June 22, 1941, in an action code named “Operation Barbarossa.”  It was the largest land invasion in history, involving millions of men, 60,000 motorized vehicles and 600, 000 horses.  The invasion forces attacked cross a 1;800 mile front and their objective was to exterminate or enslave the population of that region of Russia and repopulate it with Germans.  It was a policy the Germans called Lebensraum, which meant “living space,” for the superior German “race.”  A policy that was inspired by Hitler’s study of white Americans extermination of Native Americans and enslavement of Black folk.

And by the time they were driven from Russian soil by the Red Army in January 1942, the German onslaught had resulted in the murder of 27 million Russians! A sum nearly  twice the entire population of Afro-Americans at the time.  No people on earth paid a greater price in life and limb than the Russians.    By contrast the US lost about 298,000 soldiers in the European war and 41, 521 soldiers in the Pacific Theater.  Less than 350 thousand combined.  The Germans starved and murdered 3.3 million captured Russian soldiers who were prisoners of war!  Furthermore, while much of Russia lay in ruin from the wanton destruction of Nazi armies, the US did not have a single shot fired on our soil.

The German Blitzkrieg
A Total War on the Russian People

And Miillions of Innocents Perished,,,,,,

Hence it is virtually impossible for the average American to understand how the Russians view the constant expansion of NATO, a 30 nation anti-Russian military alliance, right up to their borders. Even incorporating former republics of the Soviet Union.  A development that the US guaranteed them would not happen when the Russians dismantled the Soviet Union, scrapped the Communist Party, and US Secretary of State Jim Baker cajoled Mikhail Gorbachev into agreeing to the reunification of Germany, a nation that had invaded them twice in the 20th Century.  However, that was in 1991, but Bill Clinton unceremoniously scrapped the deal in 1998, and began the eastward expansion of NATO, an alliance that should have been scrapped since it’s raison d’etre was to “contain the expansion of Soviet Communism.”  The only thing of importance that Trump has been right about was when he said: ”NATO is a dangerous and costly alliance and should be scrapped!”

Since I have written about these complex issues elsewhere, I shall not belabor them here.  Anyone who wishes to read my analysis of the role of NATO in sparking the Ukraine War, a conflict that is leading us closer to nuclear annihilation, can simply go to Playthellscommentaries.wordpress.com and put “Ukraine War” in the search engine and three pieces will come up.  I am completing a fourth piece that will form a quartet that presents a comprehensive picture of my views.

Suffice it to say, that during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, the world came very close to destruction as the result of a nuclear war between the US and Soviet Russia.  It was something of a miracle that a catastrophe was avoided, and the two men who had the authority to launch US nuclear weapons was President John F. Kennedy and Robert McNamara, who was Secretary of Defense.  Fortunately, they have shared the vital lessons they learned from having come so close to destroying the world.  Secretary McNamara produced a documentary film about the experience titled “The Fog of War,” and Kennedy expressed his views in a 1963 Commencement address delivered at American University.

Both are available online.  And reduced to its simplest terms they concluded that the best way to avoid a nuclear disaster is to LISTEN to your adversary’s point of view and consider it seriously in the policy decisions you make. I think that is sage advice from two unimpeachable sources, and that’s why I posted this link to Putin’s speech today. It  is imperative that Biden and the architects of his foreign policy listen, pay close attention, and try to understand his point of view.  The fate of the earth might well depend upon it.    See: Putin’s Speech today at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n5frNSq76zk



Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

May 10, 2003


The Coronation of Charles III

The King and his Harlot Queen

A Curious Medieval Anachronism in the 21st Century

With all the pomp and pageantry for which the British are renowned, Bonny Prince Charles of Wales was crowned Charles the III, King of England and his far-flung realms, which extend across seas from the Caribbean to Canada.  Yet is but a fraction of an empire upon which the Brits once proudly boasted  “the sun never set” because it circumnavigated the globe, ruling over colonies on every continent.   It was such an amazing achievement for that little sceptered isle, that many thoughtful people felt it justified call the “Great Britain.”

However, while the empire has withered away, as has the absolute power of the Monarchy, which now reigns in a constitutional monarchy where the Prime Minister and Parliament rules, the Royals continues to endure, with all the rituals of a bygone age when the belief that the King ruled by “divine right,” and thus was answerable to God, was conventional wisdom. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the British Monarchy is that the still exist, when other powerful monarchs were beheaded like Louis XVI and Marie Antionette in the 18 Century, or shot like the Russian Czar, Nicholas II and his entire family in the early 20th century.  And many of the aristocratic class who supported the monarchies met a similar fate.

Yet the British aristocracy remains.  Although, as in other modern countries it is the bourgeoisie, those who own the lion’s share of the nation’s financial and social capital, who commands the reins of real power in the realm, the role of the royals as revered well paid mascots playing scripted roles on the stage of history, remains an essential element in the Britain’s national identity.  Indeed, after all is said and done, it is who they are.  For most people, this writer included, England is unimaginable without the monarchy.  Watching the stiff-necked Beef Eaters marching to and fro in front of Buckingham Palace, their gaze fixed straight ahead, impervious to the antics of tourist trying to get a stare out of them, is one of England’s greatest tourist attractions.

From the look of things at the Coronation ceremony in Westminster Abby, where George III and his Lady Camilla arrived in their fairy tale golden carriage – a display of vulgar opulence which cost over four million dollars – to the cheers of the impassioned mob, one could easily surmise that the British Monarchy, like the poor, will be with us always.  Although the imperatives of modernity have inspired some noticeable changes in the relations between the King and his people.

The King and Queen In their Golden Carriage


Royal Extravagance in a Time of Hardship

For one thing, in his oath of office he promised to “serve” the people rather than “rule” them.  His Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak – whose example fires the hopes of Republican Punjabi pretender to the American presidency Niki Hailey –  now occupies the high office once held by such proud Anglo-Saxons as Chamberlain and Churchill, is a brown man of Indian origin.  Who has confessed, Christ forbid, to being a Hindu. Which in the minds of many devout Christians is just about as unchristian a belief as one can hold and is therefore an abomination.

But that was but one of the myriad causes of discomfort for the Newly Crowned King.  There is the matter of his sons, each one an embarrassment.  First there is his heir to the throne William “The Pegger,” so named because his pegging of a married lady has sparked a lively scandal fueled by scurrilous rumors. Perhaps that’s why he never looked his dad in the eye.

William “The Pegger” Pledges Fealty to the King

And Prince Andrew “The Debaucher,” the King’s younger brother stands accused in an American lawsuit of having sex with an underage girl at one of the notorious floating orgies hosted by the much-celebrated hedonist billionaire Jeffery Epstein.   Parties that Donald Trump is said to have attended and was accused by a woman who said she was sexually molested by Donald Trump as a teenager at one of those parties.

And then there is Prince Harry “The Black Hearted,” who trashed the sacred racial norms by soiling the family tree with a tarbrush!   His transgression was a consequence of daringly tasting forbidden fruit and falling under the spell of a dusky American beauty, Meghan Markle, who beguiled the prince with her irresistible charms, and he raised the Commoner to a Princess by enjoining her in the sacred bond of marriage.  It was an epic seduction that conjures memories of Makeda, that black and comely Sorceress in the Bible, Queen of Sheba, who bewitched King Solomon, causing him to abandon 10,000 wives and turn his back on the God of Israel to win her affections.  But due to the ill manners of the white royals, Harry’s Princess became “Megan the Missing” at the grand Coronation, and poor Harry was forced to attend alone.

Megan “The Missing” Gets Last Laugh

She Just Played Past the Whole Thing

Lost in the Royal Sauce


Princes Harry and Andrew

While Princes Harry and Andrew dwelled like invisible ghosts hovering about the Coronation, Prince William took center stage and pledged his fealty to the King, whose high office he pretended to.  It was an act for which the King would later express his gratitude.  But it must have saddened him to see the reputations of his son and brother besmirched and the honor of the British throne tarnished.  Although there is much in the long criminal history of the monarchy that provides far greater reason to hang his head in shame. Still, as duty and protocol demanded, Charles III kept a stiff upper lip and the show went on.  And what a jolly good show it was.

With fine prancing horses; elaborately costumed trumpeters blaring medieval fanfares; columns of smartly marching soldiers well drilled for the auspicious occasion; elegantly tailored men and sumptuously gowned elaborately plumed ladies adorned with the marvelous millinery for which the British are world famous; serenaded by a chorus of black singers whose voices sounded like angels descended from the heavens; and a multi-cultured rainbow mosaic of humanity representing diverse nations from all over the former British Empire, came to pay their respects to the new King.  The Archbishop of Canterbury, flanked by the princes and powers of the Church of England, resplendent in the colorful costumes of their high office,  anointed the newly crowned King and Queen with ancient blessings while leading the chant: ”God Save the King!” Which reverberated from the centuries old walls of the sanctuary in the grand Gothic Cathedral of Canterbury.

The Royal Trumpeters

The Royal Air Force Trumpeters


They Filled the Air with Fanfares
As the Royal Procession Wound its Way…

Through the Streets of London
To the Magnificent Cathedral at Westminster Abby 

Where the New King of England Would be Crowned 
The Ascension Singers

Glorious Voices Forged on the Smithy of the Gods!

Yet amid the tumultuous roar of reveries that marked the joy of the Coronation for some, there was the angry grumble of the discontented mob who had more than their fill of the Monarchy and all that it represented.  While the celebrants boisterously shouted, “Long live the King!” the attentive observer could see the crowds in the background waving signs that proclaimed: ”Not my King!” and boldly calling for the end of the monarchy. Their demands were unambiguous!

There was no shame in their game. That’s why the British Parliament passed a law recently to restrict protests at the Coronation, and thus the crown was corralled a few blocks from the center of the celebrations, and even some of their leaders were arrested before the ceremonies began, a form of preventive detention where suspects are arrested before they commit a violation.  These actions raised serious concerns for many Britons, who regarded it as a blatant assault on the democratic rights of all citizens.

Not My King!


Not Everybody was Down With the Program!

Hence, despite the pervasive efforts to paint a jolly face on the Coronation of King George III, whose mother, Queen Elizabeth reigned so long that he is finally ascending the throne as a man in his seventies, an age when most people have retired, there were dark clouds hovering over his Ascension, and they were not all in the sky.  The most ominous clouds were down on the ground.  Some protesters referred to Lady Camilla as “The Harlot Queen,” because of the shameless way she had bedded Bonny Prince Charles while he was married to their much beloved Princess Diana, sparking a world-wide scandal that many believe led to her horrible and untimely death.

The most boisterous and irreverent protesters proclaimed Camilla a fitting role model for whores everywhere, living proof that they too could one day become a queen if they managed their assets wisely.   And, judging by the mood of the anti-monarchist mob, I believe that had it not been for the formidable force of armed combatants deployed to protect the King and Queen, they may well have met a similar fate to that of the French monarchs Louie and Marie Antionette a century and a half ago!

All of this, though largely ignored by the press, which chose to accent the positive, nevertheless forces the thoughtful observer to wonder if we have just witnessed the Coronation of the last king of England.  And this curious medieval spectacle will finally be confined to the dustbin of history!

Abolish the Monarchy They Cried!

The Last King of England?

A Relic from a Bygone Age


Scenes From the Coronation

Undoubtedly, one of the visual delights of the lavish celebration was the fabulous hats sported by the stylish ladies.  I was especially impressed because I am a lover of hats and am rarely see without one!   Here are some examples of my favorite millinery.

Queen Letzia of Spain!

Katie Perry: American Singer

Madam Trudeau: First Lady of Canada

The Ascencion Gospel Choir Anoints the Revelers with Soulful Song

The Coronation Of King Charles III


Composed by: Playthell George Benjamin

Sugar Hill in the Village of Harlem

May 8, 2023

Praise Song For A Chevalier

The Chevalier St. George

Gabriel Banat Resurrects a Musical Ancestor

Around forty years ago I was leafing through J.A. Rogers’ remarkable study The World’s Great Men of Color from 3,000 B.C. to 1946 A.D. – a two volume tome that changed my life – and I stumbled upon the picture of a dashing dusky man who looked like my buddy Sonny Jackson with long hair and dressed in the ostentatious style of European noblemen I saw in the movies.   He was holding a sword in one hand and the caption said he was the “Chevalier de Saint Georges.”  It was clear to me that this handsome, intriguing figure from the distant past was unlike any black man or “Negro,” as we were universally known back then, I had ever seen.  So I lingered upon the page and read the biographical sketch that accompanied the picture. The tersely written tale told me enough about the highlights of his life to cause me to insert him into a novel I’ve written decades later.  But since the book was fiction it didn’t require me to seek knowledge of this fascinating character beyond what I had learned from Rogers.

As it turns out, most of what has been written about St. Georges by those who have pretended to be about the business of writing serious history has also turned out to be fiction.  But Gabriel Banat has finally set the record straight in his new book, The Chevalier St. Georges: Virtuoso of the Sword and Bow, published as a part of PENDRAGON books “Lives In Music Series.”  This fully fleshed biography is history at its best – and as a former history professor who never lost my curiosity about the past I have read thousands of historical tomes.  First of all, when dealing with a subject who has a specialized skill, the narrative is always enriched if the historian is also a master of the same trade.  When the skill is of such a magnitude that it amounts to a rare gift, and the product of their genius a kind of inexplicable alchemy – such as mastering the violin, composing string quartets, symphonies and operas, then conducting them all – having another great musician tell his story is on the order of a blessing.

Gabriel Banat, one of the great violin virtuosos of the twentieth century, has told the Chevalier’s story superbly.   In a book of nearly six hundred pages we are graced with a richly documented elegantly written narrative of the Life of Joseph Bologne, the mulatto son of a wealthy French planter on the Caribbean Island of Guadeloupe, who was taken by his father to Paris as a child when he realized that the racial laws on the island would afford his dusky son no chance to excel in life.   This proved to be a good move because young Joseph would grow up to be one of the most famous and accomplished men in 18th century Parisian society as France’s greatest swordsmen and one of the era’s finest violinist/composers.  As a Hungarian Jew who was a child prodigy on the violin when the Nazis’ invaded his home land and his prosperous middle class parents became fugitives from the German death machine, Banat is able to empathize with the racial ordeals of St. Georges in a way that most white men could not.  And the reader benefits from his insights as he reconstructs the inner life of St. Georges.

The extent to which a biographer succeeds at his task is more often than not determined by whether they can get the right balance between the personal narrative of the subject and the details necessary to reconstruct the historical milieu in which that life develops.  It is a task that has tested the talents of many seasoned historians for whom history writing is a life work undertaken after rigorous training in the field.  Which makes this work something of a marvel, considering that the author has spent his life mainly as a great performing musician, because this is not simply a good history for a musician to have written; it would be an exemplary work for anyone to have authored.

To the good fortune of the careful reader Mr. Banat has adroitly woven the life narrative of St. Georges through the tumultuous history of his times, a period that encompasses the three great bourgeois revolutions of the Eighteenth Century in America, France and Haiti.  Not only does he discuss the impact of these events on French society, but how they affected St. Georges personally and his response to them.  For instance he recounts how St. Georges commanded an all black regiment in the French Revolution and fought to suppress slavery in Haiti.

Mr. Banat has searched the archives with a fine eye for the relevant documents to support his fantastic tale.  Facsimiles of some of them are reproduced in this text, which gives the reader the impression that they are witnessing history in the making.  Mr. Banat, who argues that his subject’s parents were in love not just the master/slave relationship that was the common practice in Guadeloupe, took special care to retrieve the documents verifying that St. Georges father went back to Guadeloupe and brought his African mother to join them in Paris, thus demonstrating his love for her.

But in the end this is a story about an amazing individual of whom his biographer says: “One would be hard pressed to find an adventure novel more captivating than the factual story of the Chevalier de St Georges…His physical prowess, particularly in the art of fencing, attracted the attention of Louis XV, who made him a gendarme du roi and a chevalier.”  A skilled horseman, prodigious swimmer, master musician, revolutionary leader, ladies man and bon vivant, plus the best dressed man at the Versailles Courts of Louis the XV and XVI, there was no more striking figure in Enlightenment France than the Chevalier St. Georges.

As a former Smith college professor, conductor and virtuoso violinist who has performed the master works of the violin literature with the world’s leading orchestras Mr. Banat has extensive knowledge of European classical music and the art of violin playing; which he displayed to the delight of an admiring audience in the Bruno Walter Auditorium in the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts last Thursday, February 22. In a vastly informative lecture in which he reconstructed the life, times, and music of Chevalier St. Georges, Banat was simultaneously the careful historian with his power point presentations of official documents, pictures and musical scores projected on a giant screen, and the virtuoso violinist performing St. Georges compositions for the violin.  Some were in quartet form; others were for violin and piano.

In order to illustrate his arguments for the importance of St. Georges as a transitional figure in the development of violin technique and composition in eighteenth century Europe – which is where all the action was – he performed passages from other composers who were influenced by his ideas; such as the great Germans Mozart and Beethoven.   Projecting the scores up on the giant screen he would discuss their logic and architecture and then play them for us, tracing the development of musical ideas from St. Georges through the work and collaborations of particular violinist and composers.

Although Mr. Banat considers himself in retirement—after suffering through two rotator cuff operations, which sounds more like a football player’s fate than a musician’s –and is reluctant to play in public anymore, his performance was splendid even by his elevated standards.   If virtuosity is the ability to make the difficult look easy, then Gabriel Banat remains the virtuoso par excellence – as all who witnessed him play some passages from St. Georges Concerto for violin Opus 5 #2 will attest.  Now an octogenarian, he began playing the violin at seven years old and gave his first professional performance at twelve.   He was forty three years old when he joined the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in the first violinist chair, and he still has and amazing clarity of tone that is warm and sparkles with a rich lyricism.

The distinguished musicians who collaborated with Gabriel in this love fest for the largely ignored Chevalier – Violinist Kathleen Thomson, Violist Diana Banat and Cellist Gerald Kagan – were all first rate.  The sound of the quartet was so exquisitely balanced it was clear to me that only superb musicians with a spiritual bond could have produced it.  The acoustics in the recital room was excellent and I could hear each instrument clearly in the mix, which made it possible to enjoy St. Georges’ beautiful harmonies and witty repartee between the various viol voices.  And Susan Kaman’s piano accompaniment was superb, the brilliant notes rolling out of the Baldwin Grand like silver streams from a sonic fountain, on the duet she performed with Gabriel Banat.  Together these master musicians produced the airy elegance of the Rocco style with such authenticity that I could close my eyes and let the music transport me back to some petite drawing room in Versailles crowded with extravagantly gowned belles and perfumed dandies.  The Afro-American novelist/essayist Ralph Ellison, an itinerant musician who wrote so insightfully about music, once correctly observed that “Music gives resonance to memory,” and great music can also stimulate the imagination.

There will be many celebrations of black genius during this Afro-American History Month, but I doubt that any will be more truly informative or entertaining.  It was a tour de force – as many in the audience who had come after hearing him on my radio show “Round bout Midnight” on WBAI the night before – told me.  One Afro-American father brought his two young sons who are budding violinists.  I watched as they sat wide-eyed, their animated body language revealing their excitement, and I knew if it could pass the test of these candid critics – who are innocent of deceit – it was indeed a good show.  Bravo!

Gabriel Banat in Performance

Originally Published in

The Black World Today

Saturday, 24 February 2007

By Playthell Benjamin