Excuse me, are you listening?
Sunday, April 3, 2016

 Dear Readers,

 
No one ever wants to think about their favorite artist retiring.  They never seem to age on the cover of the album.  Yes, I said album.  I have no problem dating myself.  I love the time that I grew up in.  
 
To make a long story short and to understand why a Black child with Caribbean roots would know so much about Barry Manilow, I will explain.
 
My parents are Caribbean we lived in Brooklyn, NY and moved to Bay Shore, Long Island mid 70’s.  It was a tough transition.  My parents thought they were doing the best thing for us.  Our extended family acted like we moved to Alaska.  
 
At the time, Bay Shore was not very integrated.  I remember a handful of Black children in my school.  My 4th grade teacher at Gardiner Manor Middle School, Ms. Paige was Black but she was mean and would make inappropriate comments about my accent and my Caribbean lineage.  As an educator, I found her very scary.  She gave me a math complex.  However, she also made me find the library.  It was my escape.  
 
I was not used to anything “Bay Shore, Long Island-ish”.  There were children who looked like me but did not act, play or talk like me.  There were no Black radio stations that reached Bay Shore.  In New York City, we had a Caribbean radio station too.  I think at the time we only received a signal from two and both were all white.  There were only radios with antennas and the internet was not heard of.  Caribbean music was a given in my household, it was what made us dance, laugh and wonder where did the lyrics come from, there were multiple albums and 45’s.  There were even Caribbean albums that were so risqué that my parents would hide them.
 
As a side note, I do not know much about Motown and it gets very interesting when people assume that is what I grew up on.  People get offended if you tell them that you do not listen to Motown.  I do not get offended when people do not know the Caribbean singing sensations of the 70’s, like the Mighty Sparrow, Ruben Blades and Willie Colon.  Still loving the Afro-Caribbean, salsa, calypso and merengue music.  
 
I grew up on Long Island in Suffolk County!  The Bee Gees, Linda Ronstadt, The Captain and Tenille, Styx and more.  I did not grow up with Motown and learned more about the music when I moved to Michigan at the tail end of the ‘80’s.  It would always disturb me when I would say I did not know specifically about Motown and people would get offended.  High on my list of Black artist that I did know were Minnie Riperton, Barry White, Van McCoy (“The Hustle”), The Ohio Players (“Fire”), Earth, Wind and Fire (“Shining Star”) and plenty more.  
 
However, legendary singer and songwriter Barry Manilow was my favorite.  His songs were simple.  His voice was melodic.  He seemed to understand people.  He was also from Brooklyn too.   I was a child and I understood him.  I think everyone has heard “I Write the Songs” or “Copacabana”.
 
As an adult when I heard he was coming, I thought that ‘70’s music of yesterday was long behind me.  Then I remembered how happy I was when my mother gave me the “Manilow Magic- The Best of  Barry Manilow” albums.  It had two double sided records.  I even thought at the time of how gracious he was for putting so many of my favorites in one place.
.  
As an adult, I remembered that no one has to right to question what type of music I enjoy listening to.  Listening to Barry Manilow does not make me diverse and well rounded.  He was a product of my environment that I learned to appreciate.
 
I read that he has Manilow Music Project and donated a Yamaha piano to launched a local music drive in Grand Rapids, MI for their public schools.  The project has conducted music drives to assist local schools with their music programs.  The project was formed as a grass roots organization to assist local charities and programs.  Its primary focus is to provide musical instruments to high schools and middle schools.  They also provide scholarships at universities through the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.
 
My daughter and I had such a good time.  I could not believe how much I was screaming and crying.  He was a fabulous performer.  He put on a great show and the Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids was packed.  My daughter was one of the youngest of the attendees.  I sang all the songs until Barry left the stage.  I apologized to Anissa that he did not sing the "Copacabana" as I began to gather my coat.  But it was not over!  Barry came back out and said that he would not leave Grand Rapids without singing it.  The crowd was in a frenzied joyous uproar and so was Anissa!  She was singing right along with everyone else.  It made my whole night!  
 
The concert was a part of his final tour and I am so grateful for the opportunity to share one of my childhood idols with my daughter.  We both got our souvenir shirts.  I realized that along with 80 million other people who have purchased his music, I just like Barry Manilow because I just like him.
 
For more information about the Manilow Music Project, which is a part of The Manilow Fund for Health and Hope log on to www.manilowmusicproject.org.
 
Love people,
 
 
Rina Risper
 
P.S. I have since educated myself about Motown.  I am hoping that those who were questioning, have done their research as well.  You better understand people because of their experiences not the ones that are created based on stereotypes or who you think people should be.  Be open and kind.  Consider that we all are socialized differently.
 
This column was printed in the April 3, 2016 - April 16, 2016.
 

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