Published: July 15, 2010

July 16, 2010    

American International Pictures, via Photofest

Vonetta McGee with William Marshall in “Blacula,” from 1972.

The cause was cardiac arrest, said Kelley Nayo, a family spokeswoman.

In “Blacula” (1972), Ms. McGee portrayed the love interest of Mamuwalde (William Marshall), an African prince who, after an ill-fated trip to Transylvania centuries earlier, re-emerges in modern Los Angeles as a member of the thirsty undead.

Reviewing the film in The New York Times, Roger Greenspun called Ms. McGee “just possibly the most beautiful woman currently acting in movies.”

In “Hammer” (1972), Ms. McGee appeared opposite Fred Williamson in the tale of a young black prizefighter. In “Shaft in Africa” (1973), the third installment in the private-eye series starring Richard Roundtree, she played an emir’s daughter.

Ms. McGee’s other films include “The Kremlin Letter” (1970); “Detroit 9000” (1973); “Thomasine & Bushrod” (1974); and “The Eiger Sanction” (1975), directed by and starring Clint Eastwood.

Lawrence Vonetta McGee, named for her father, was born in San Francisco on Jan. 14, 1945. While studying pre-law at San Francisco State College, she became involved in community theater. She left college before graduating to pursue an acting career.

Ms. McGee’s first film work was in Italy, where her credits include the 1968 films “Faustina,” in which she played the title role, and “Il Grande Silenzio” (“The Great Silence”). After seeing her Italian work, Sidney Poitier arranged for her to be cast in her first American film, “The Lost Man” (1969), in which he starred.

In later years Ms. McGee had recurring roles on several television shows, among them “Hell Town,” “Bustin’ Loose,” “L.A. Law” and “Cagney & Lacey,” on which she portrayed the wife of Detective Mark Petrie, played by Carl Lumbly. Ms. McGee and Mr. Lumbly were married in 1986.

Besides Mr. Lumbly, Ms. McGee is survived by their son, Brandon Lumbly; her mother, Alma McGee; three brothers, Donald, Richard and Ronald; and a sister, also named Alma McGee.

Though she was associated in public memory with the genre, Ms. McGee deplored the term “blaxploitation.” It wasn’t the “black” that troubled her — that was a source of pride. It was the “exploitation.”

“She was constantly a person who preferred roles where women got to make choices,” Ms. Nayo said on Friday. “Where women got to be strong.”


Ms. McGee was an incomparable actress and a trailblazer of excellence in her approach to her craft. She will be sorely missed.

Rest in peace, Ms. McGee.

Rest in peace.




Published: July 14, 2010

    Vernon Baker, who was the only living black veteran awarded the Medal of Honor for valor in World War II, receiving it 52 years after he wiped out four German machine-gun nests on a hilltop in northern Italy, died Tuesday at his home near St. Maries, Idaho. He was 90.


July 15, 2010    

Vernon Baker during World War II.


July 15, 2010    

Rick Wilking/Reuters

Mr. Baker received the Medal of Honor from President Bill Clinton at age 77.



But in the segregated armed forces of World War II, black soldiers were usually confined to jobs in manual labor or supply units. Even when the Army allowed blacks to go into combat, it rarely accorded them the recognition they deserved. Of the 433 Medals of Honor awarded by all branches of the military during the war, not a single one went to any of the 1.2 million blacks in the service.

In the early 1990s, responding to requests from black veterans and a white former captain who had commanded black troops in combat, the Army asked Shaw University, a historically black college in Raleigh, N.C., to investigate why no blacks had received the Medal of Honor during World War II. The inquiry found no documents proving that blacks had been discriminated against in decisions to award the medal, but concluded that a climate of racism had prevented recognition of heroic deeds.

Military historians gave the Army the names of 10 black servicemen who they believed should have been considered for the Medal of Honor. Then an Army board, looking at their files with all references to race deleted, decided that seven of these men deserved to be cited for bravery “above and beyond the call of duty.”

Four of the men — Lt. John R. Fox of Cincinnati; Pfc. Willy F. James Jr. of Kansas City, Mo.; Staff Sgt. Ruben Rivers of Oklahoma City; and Pvt. George Watson of Birmingham, Ala. — had been killed in action. Two others — Staff Sgt. Edward A. Carter Jr. of Los Angeles and Lt. Charles L. Thomas of Detroit, who retired as a major — had died in the decades after the war. Those six received the medal posthumously at the White House ceremony in 1997.

Mr. Baker, the lone survivor among the seven, was greeted with a standing ovation as he entered the East Room to the strains of “God Bless America” played by the Marine Corps Band.

As Mr. Clinton placed the Medal of Honor around his neck, Mr. Baker stared into space, a tear rolling down his left cheek. “I was thinking about what was going on up on the hill that day,” he said later.

That day was April 5, 1945. Lieutenant Baker, a small man — 5 feet 5 inches and 140 pounds — was leading 25 black infantrymen through a maze of German bunkers and machine gun nests near Viareggio, Italy, a coastal town north of Pisa. About 5 a.m., they reached the south side of a ravine, 250 yards from Castle Aghinolfi, a German stronghold they hoped to capture.

Lieutenant Baker observed a telescope pointing out of a slit. Crawling under the opening, he emptied the clip of his M-1 rifle, killing two German soldiers inside the position. Then he came upon a well-camouflaged machine-gun nest whose two-man crew was eating breakfast. He shot and killed both soldiers.

After Capt. John F. Runyon, his company commander, who was white, joined the group, a German soldier hurled a grenade that hit Captain Runyon in his helmet but failed to explode. Lieutenant Baker shot the German twice as he tried to flee. He then blasted open the concealed entrance of another dugout with a hand grenade, shot one German soldier who emerged, tossed another grenade into the dugout and entered it, firing his machine gun and killing two more Germans.

Enemy machine-gun and mortar fire began to inflict heavy casualties among the platoon. Lieutenant Baker’s company commander had gone back for reinforcements, but they never arrived, so the remnants of the platoon had to withdraw. Lieutenant Baker, supported by covering fire from one of his soldiers, destroyed two machine-gun positions to allow the evacuation. Seventeen of the men in the platoon had been killed by time the firefight ended.

The next night, Lieutenant Baker voluntarily led a battalion advance through enemy minefields and heavy fire.

Lieutenant Baker received the Distinguished Service Cross, the Army’s second-highest award for bravery. Asked a half-century later whether he had ever given up hope of being awarded the Medal of Honor, he seemed surprised. “I never thought about getting it,” he said.

July 15, 2010    

Tom Davenport

Vernon Baker, a World War II veteran, received the nation’s highest military award in 1997.

Freddie Stowers, a black veteran of World War I nominated for the medal in 1918, finally received it posthumously from President George Bush in 1991.

Vernon Joseph Baker was born on Dec. 17, 1919, in Cheyenne, Wyo., the son of a carpenter. After his parents died in an automobile accident when he was 4, he and two older sisters moved in with their grandparents, who also lived in Cheyenne.

The youngster developed a penchant for trouble, so he was sent to Boys Town in Omaha at age 10. He stayed there for three years, then earned a high school diploma while living with an aunt in Iowa.

He joined the Army in June 1941 and was sent to Camp Wolters, Tex., for basic training — his first trip to the Deep South. When he boarded a bus to the camp after stepping off the train, the driver shouted a racial epithet and told him to “get to the back of the bus where you belong,” he recalled years later in an interview with The Spokesman-Review of Spokane, Wash.

When he began to show leadership potential, he was sent to Officer Candidate School, graduating as a second lieutenant in 1942. He went to Italy in 1944 with the 92nd Infantry Division’s 370th Regiment, which was composed of black enlisted men and black junior officers but had white officers in senior positions.

In October 1944, Lieutenant Baker was shot in the arm by a German soldier, and when he awoke from surgery he noticed that he was in a segregated hospital ward.

After the war, he remained in Italy for three years, then returned to the United States and re-enlisted. He stayed in the Army until 1968, then worked for the Red Cross at Fort Ord, Calif., counseling needy military families. After his first wife, Fern, died in 1986, he retired and moved to a rural section of Idaho to pursue his love of hunting.

Mr. Baker’s survivors include his second wife, Heidy; three children from his first marriage; a stepdaughter; and a stepgrandson.

Asked at the awards ceremony how he had felt about serving in a segregated unit, Mr. Baker replied: “I was an angry young man. We were all angry. But we had a job to do, and we did it. My personal thoughts were that I knew things would get better, and I’m glad to say that I’m here to see it.”






Published: July 13, 2010

George Steinbrenner, who bought a declining Yankees team in 1973, promised to stay out of its daily affairs and then, in an often tumultuous reign, placed his formidable stamp on 7 World Series championship teams, 11 pennant winners and a sporting world powerhouse valued at perhaps $1.6 billion, died Tuesday morning at a hospital in Tampa, Fla., where he lived. He was 80.

The cause was a heart attack, the Yankees said. Mr. Steinbrenner had been in failing health for several years.

Repeatedly arrested, imprisoned, fined, threatened and harassed, Mr. Njawé (pronounced Enn-JA-way) had a career that was seen abroad as a case study in the risks African journalists take in setting themselves up as critics of the government. At the time of his death, Mr. Njawé was in the United States attending a meeting of Cameroonian expatriates militating for change in their country.

Mr. Njawé’s career as a stubborn critic of the government coincided with the unfolding of Mr. Biya’s increasingly repressive rule. He was arrested about 126 times and jailed at least 3 times; in 1998 he was sentenced to two years in prison for reporting that Mr. Biya had had heart trouble, though he was released before serving the full sentence. He wrote about his time in jail in “Bloc-notes d’un Bagnard” (“Convict’s Notebooks”), published in 1998.

“The African media has lost a truly courageous individual whose bravery in the face of government intimidation served as an inspiration for other journalists,” David Dadge, the director of the International Press Institute, said on the institute’s Web site.

Mr. Njawé was arrested for the first time in 1981; his newspaper was seized in 1990 for reporting on the bloody suppression of a riot, and he was arrested for “insult to the head of state” later that year. In 1992, Le Messager was banned, and he was forced into exile in nearby Benin, where he put out another paper, also called Le Messager, according to the Press Institute. In 1996, he was arrested and imprisoned on charges of insulting the president and members of the National Assembly.

“He was a pioneer,” said Stephen W. Smith, professor of African studies at Duke University, who has written about Mr. Njawé’s career. “He put his whole life into being a journalist. It came out of his pores.”

Mr. Njawé was born March 4, 1957, in Babouantou, Cameroon. He is survived by his wife and eight children. Mr. Njawé was killed when the car he was riding in broke down on a Virginia highway. A truck struck his vehicle, killing him instantly, according to news media reports and Le Messager’s Web site.

His death came eight months after the Yankees won their first World Series title since 2000, clinching their six-game victory over the Philadelphia Phillies at his new Yankee Stadium, and two days after the team’s longtime public-address announcer, Bob Sheppard, died at 99.

A pioneer of modern sports ownership, Mr. Steinbrenner started the wave of high spending for players when free agency arrived, and he continued to spend freely through the Yankees’ revival in the late ’70s and early ’80s, the long stretch without a pennant and then renewed triumphs under Joe Torre as manager and General Manager Brian Cashman.

The Yankees’ approximately $210 million payroll in 2009 dwarfed all others in baseball, and the team paid out millions in luxury tax and revenue-sharing with small-market teams.

In the frenetic ’70s and ’80s, when general managers, field managers and pitching coaches were sent spinning through Mr. Steinbrenner’s revolving personnel door (Billy Martin had five stints as the manager), the franchise became known as the Bronx Zoo. In December 2002, Mr. Steinbrenner’s enterprise had grown so rich that the president of the Boston Red Sox, Larry Lucchino, frustrated over losing the pitcher Jose Contreras to the Yankees, called them the “evil empire.”

But Mr. Steinbrenner — who came to be known as the Boss — and the Yankees thrived through all the arguments, all the turmoil, all the bombast. Having been without a pennant since 1964 when Mr. Steinbrenner bought them, enduring sagging attendance while the upstart Mets thrived, the Yankees once again became America’s marquee sporting franchise.

Despite his poor health, Mr. Steinbrenner attended the opening game at the new Yankee Stadium in April 2009, sitting in his suite with his wife, Joan (pronounced Jo-ann). When he was introduced and received an ovation, his shoulders shook and he cried.

He next appeared at the Yankees’ new home for the first two games of the World Series, then made his final appearance at the 2010 home opener, when Joe Girardi, the manager, and Derek Jeter, the team captain, came to his suite to present him with his 2009 World Series championship ring.

After the World Series victory, Girardi said, “To be able to deliver this to the Boss, to the stadium he created and the atmosphere he created around here, it’s very gratifying to all of us.” Mr. Steinbrenner, the Yankees’ principal owner and chairman, had ceded increasing authority to his sons, Hal and Hank, who became co-chairmen in May 2008. Hal Steinbrenner was given control of the team in November 2008 in a unanimous vote by the major league club owners.

Mr. Steinbrenner lived year-round in Tampa, but he became a New York celebrity and a figure in popular culture. He was lampooned, with his permission, by a caricature in the sitcom “Seinfeld,” portrayed by the actor Lee Bear, who was always photographed from behind at the Boss’s desk while Larry David, the show’s co-creator, provided the voice. George Costanza (Jason Alexander) became the assistant to the team’s traveling secretary, whose duties included fetching calzones for Mr. Steinbrenner.

Mr. Steinbrenner also appeared in a Visa commercial with Jeter, calling him into his office to admonish him. “You’re our starting shortstop,” Mr. Steinbrenner said. “How can you possibly afford to spend two nights dancing, two nights eating out and three nights just carousing with your friends?” Jeter responded by holding up a Visa card. Mr. Steinbrenner exclaimed “Oh!” and the scene shifted to Mr. Steinbrenner in a dance line with Jeter at a night spot.

Rebuilding a Franchise

Mr. Steinbrenner was the central figure in a syndicate that bought the Yankees from CBS for $10 million. When he arrived in New York on Jan. 3, 1973, he said he would not “be active in the day-to-day operations of the club at all.” Having made his money as head of the American Shipbuilding Company, based in Cleveland, he declared, “I’ll stick to building ships.”

But four months later, Michael Burke, who had been running the Yankees for CBS and had stayed on to help manage the franchise, departed after clashing with Mr. Steinbrenner. John McMullen, a minority owner in the syndicate, soon remarked that “nothing is as limited as being a limited partner of George’s.”

Mr. Steinbrenner emerged as one of the most powerful, influential and, in the eyes of many, notorious executives in sports. He was the senior club owner in baseball at his death.

Yankee Stadium underwent a major renovation in the mid-1970s, but that did not satisfy Mr. Steinbrenner. He cast an eye toward New Jersey, pressed for a new stadium in Manhattan and ultimately got a $1.5 billion stadium built in the Bronx, alongside the original House That Ruth Built.

He found new revenue streams from cable television, first in a longtime deal with the Madison Square Garden network and then with the creation of the Yankees’ YES network. The franchise also engineered lucrative marketing deals, notably a 10-year, $95 million apparel agreement with Adidas.

Mr. Steinbrenner usually adored his players but at times insulted them. He called outfielder Paul O’Neill “the ultimate warrior.” (Steinbrenner idolized Generals MacArthur and Patton.) But he derided the star outfielder Dave Winfield, calling him Mr. May, pointedly contrasting him with Reggie Jackson, who had been known as Mr. October for his clutch hitting in the postseason.

Mr. Steinbrenner was twice barred from baseball, once after pleading guilty to making illegal political campaign contributions. By October 1995, when he was fined for complaining about the umpires in a playoff series with the Seattle Mariners, Mr. Steinbrenner had accumulated disciplinary costs of $645,000.

When he was not phoning his general managers and managers with complaints or advice, he meddled in the smallest matters of ballpark maintenance. He was often portrayed by the news media as a blowhard and a baseball know-nothing.

“George is a great guy, unless you have to work for him,” Lou Piniella, who managed the Yankees twice in the 1980s, told Sports Illustrated in 2004. Mr. Steinbrenner saw himself as sticking up for the everyday New Yorker, though the price of Yankees tickets kept rising.

“I care about New York dearly,” he told Sports Illustrated in 2004. “I like every cab driver, every guy that stops the car and honks, every truck driver. I feed on that.”

Drawing on Early Influences

He helped many charities and individuals in need and as a board member was a major fund-raiser for the historically black Grambling State University in Louisiana.

George Michael Steinbrenner III was born on July 4, 1930, the oldest of three children, and reared in the Cleveland suburb of Bay Village. His father, Henry Steinbrenner, graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a degree in naval architecture and engineering and starred as a collegiate hurdler before taking over the family’s maritime shipping business.

Young George tried to please his father by taking up hurdling and running a home-based business that raised chickens and sold their eggs.

“He was a tough taskmaster,” Mr. Steinbrenner once said of his father. “You know, if I ran four races in track, won three and lost one, he’d say, ‘Now go sit down and study that one race and see why you lost it.’ ”

His mother, Rita, offered a contrasting presence. “It was my mom who gave me compassion for the underdog and for people in need,” Mr. Steinbrenner was quoted by Bill Madden in “Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball” in an apparent reference to his many charitable endeavors.

Mr. Steinbrenner attended Culver Military Academy in Indiana in the mid-1940s. His father, who idolized the Yankees’ Joe DiMaggio and Bill Dickey, took him to Cleveland to watch Indians games, especially when the Yankees came to town. “We were in awe of the Yankees,” Mr. Steinbrenner said.

Mr. Steinbrenner graduated from Williams College in Massachusetts with a degree in English. He served as an Air Force officer, coached high school football and basketball in Ohio, and was briefly an assistant football coach at Northwestern and Purdue.

He returned to Cleveland in 1957 to join the family’s shipping firm, Kinsman Marine Transit, which carried Great Lakes cargo. He also operated the Cleveland Pipers basketball team.

In 1967, Mr. Steinbrenner began obtaining stock in the American Shipbuilding Company, based in Lorain, Ohio. He eventually took it over, merging it with Kinsman. By the time he gained control of the Yankees six years later, the company had greatly strengthened its operations.

Gabe Paul, a veteran baseball executive who helped arrange Mr. Steinbrenner’s purchase of the Yankees, and Lee MacPhail, the holdover general manager from the CBS years, were expected to make the personnel decisions when Mr. Steinbrenner arrived.

But he quickly became immersed in baseball decisions, spending large sums to end the long pennant drought, starting with the acquisition of the star pitcher Catfish Hunter. Meanwhile, he ran into trouble in a matter far beyond the ball fields.

In November 1974, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn suspended him for two years — a term later reduced to 15 months — after he pleaded guilty to two charges, one a felony and the other a misdemeanor: conspiring to make illegal corporate contributions to President Richard M. Nixon’s 1972 re-election campaign, and trying to “influence and intimidate employees” of his shipbuilding company to lie to a grand jury about the matter. He was fined $15,000 in the criminal case but given no jail time.

“Everybody has dents in his armor,” Mr. Steinbrenner told The New York Times in 1987. “That’s something I have to live with.” President Ronald Reagan pardoned him in January 1989, during his final days in office.

Personnel Hired to Be Fired

When free agency arrived as a result of an arbitrator’s decision in 1975 that nullified the reserve clause, which had bound players to their teams, Mr. Steinbrenner stepped up his spending.

The Yankees signed the slugger Reggie Jackson and the ace relief pitcher Goose Gossage, and they won the World Series in 1977 and 1978.

Mr. Steinbrenner changed managers and general managers with abandon, punctuated by the bizarre comings and goings of Martin. The oddest sequence began on July 24, 1978, when Martin resigned as manager, presumably a step ahead of being fired, after saying of Jackson and Mr. Steinbrenner: “The two of them deserve each other. One’s a born liar; the other’s convicted,” a reference to Mr. Steinbrenner’s guilty plea in the illegal-contributions case.

Only five days later, on Old-Timers’ Day at Yankee Stadium, Martin was introduced as the Yankees’ manager for 1980. Instead, he returned in June 1979, replacing the fired Bob Lemon, only to be fired himself a month after that season ended.

Another furor arose in 1985, this one surrounding Yogi Berra, the Yankees’ Hall of Fame catcher, who had become the manager. After declaring that “Yogi will be the manager the entire season, win or lose,” Mr. Steinbrenner fired him with the team off to a 6-10 start. Berra, furious, refused to set foot inside Yankee Stadium until Mr. Steinbrenner apologized 14 years later. By 1990, he had switched managers 18 times and hired 13 general managers.

Then came more trouble. In July 1990, Commissioner Fay Vincent ordered Mr. Steinbrenner to step aside as the Yankees’ managing partner for making a $40,000 payment to a confessed gambler named Howard Spira in return for Mr. Spira’s seeking damaging information about Winfield. Mr. Steinbrenner had been displeased with Winfield’s performance on the field, and the two had feuded over contributions Mr. Steinbrenner was to make to Winfield’s philanthropic foundation.

Mr. Steinbrenner resumed control of the Yankees in 1993, and three years later, they were World Series champions, beginning a long run of dominance.

By the 1990s, with free agents becoming ever more expensive, Mr. Steinbrenner acknowledged the need to develop the Yankees’ minor league system. The Yankees swept to championships with homegrown talent like Jeter, center fielder Bernie Williams, catcher Jorge Posada and pitchers Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera. But they also assumed more than $100 million in payments owed to Alex Rodriguez, who arrived in a trade with the Texas Rangers, and obtained the high-priced Jason Giambi, Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson.

In 2002, an investment group that included the Yankees formed the YES network to carry many games and broadcast Yankees-related programming. YES had $257 million in revenue in 2005, for the first time surpassing MSG as the country’s top regional sports network, according to Kagan Research.

The Yankees’ management achieved stability in the last decade as the team captured World Series championships in 1996 and every year from 1998 to 2000. But the Yankees faltered after that in their bid for another World Series title, and when they were knocked out of the playoffs by the upstart Detroit Tigers in 2006, speculation arose that Mr. Steinbrenner would fire Torre.

Torre, the manager since 1996, and Mr. Cashman, the general manager since 1998 and a frequent object of Mr. Steinbrenner’s criticism, stayed on.

But in October 2007 in a newspaper interview, Mr. Steinbrenner threatened to fire Torre if the team did not advance beyond the first round of the playoffs. The Yankees were eliminated by the Cleveland Indians in that round, and soon afterward, Torre departed after rejecting a one-year contract extension with a cut in his guaranteed salary.

Running Things His Way

Even in his earliest days running the Yankees, Mr. Steinbrenner acknowledged that he seemed to rule through fear. “Some guys can lead through real, genuine respect,” he told Cleveland magazine in 1974, “ but I’m not that kind of a leader.”

Always fastidious about his own grooming, he insisted that his players shun unruly hair and beards, displaying something of the disciplinarian he had been at home, with his children. He admitted he had been overbearing and even verbally abusive toward them. His daughter Jennifer said in 2004 that her brothers had absorbed the brunt. “Let’s put it this way: he had very high expectations of us,” she said.

In addition to his wife, Joan, his sons Hal and Hank, and his daughter Jennifer Steinbrenner Swindal, Mr. Steinbrenner is survived by his daughter Jessica Steinbrenner; two sisters, Susan Norpell and Judy Kamm, and several grandchildren.

In his later years, Mr. Steinbrenner spent most of his time in Tampa. He had divested himself of most of his business interests. American Shipbuilding filed for bankruptcy in 1993, but he owned a stud farm in Ocala, Fla., and had entered six horses in the Kentucky Derby over the years. In April 2010, Forbes magazine estimated the Yankees’ value at $1.6 billion. The Red Sox had the second-highest value among major league teams, according to Forbes, far behind the Yankees at $870 million, with the Mets third at $858 million.

In his last years, Mr. Steinbrenner seemed to mellow some. He cried in public on several occasions, including the time he walked past a group of West Point cadets who cheered for him at the Yankees’ 2004 home opener. He cried again in a television interview that day.

“This is a very important thing that we hold the string to,” he said of the Yankees, his voice cracking. “This is the people’s team.”

In building it into a fabulously successful and exceedingly lucrative enterprise, he never lost sight of his credo. As he told The New York Times in 1998: “I hate to lose. Hate, hate, hate to lose.”





Published: July 13, 2010

Sugar Minott, a popular Jamaican singer whose joyful, lilting voice bridged four decades of transformation in reggae music, died Saturday in Kingston, the nation’s capital. He was 54.
July 15, 2010    

David Corio

Sugar Minott in 1984.

The cause has not yet been determined, but Mr. Minott recently suffered heart problems, his wife, Maxine Stowe, said.
After gaining recognition as a teenager for his harmony singing with Derrick Howard and Tony Tuff as the African Brothers, Mr. Minott (pronounced my-NOT) went on to a long career as a solo artist on record and in concerts around the world. Among his early hits were “Vanity” and “Mr. DC,” recorded for Studio One, Jamaica’s first black-owned recording studio and label.

“He mastered every reggae style and made significant contributions to each of them — from roots and message music into lover’s rock to the computerized techno music of the dancehall genre in the mid-’80s,” said Roger Steffens, a co-founder of the reggae magazine The Beat, which recently ceased publication after 28 years.

From the days of Bob Marley, who died in 1981, reggae has evolved from its Rastafarian message of peace, love and justice to a style called lover’s rock and the more stripped-down dancehall style, characterized by digital rhythm tracks and harsher vocals. The rappers, or toasters, who came to dominate dancehall “turned the music into homophobic and misogynistic rants,” Mr. Steffens said. But Mr. Minott, an early practitioner of the form, shunned the harshness.

“Sugar brought his trademark sweetness and humor, even to what can be quite a violent genre,” said Vivien Goldman, the adjunct professor of reggae at the Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music at New York University. “Reggae has always been loved for its golden voices, and Sugar Minott ranked among the greatest.”

Ms. Goldman cited his 1984 hit “Buy Off the Bar” as evidence of dancehall at its sweetest: an encouragement to forget the troubles of everyday life, buy drinks and keep the party going.

Mr. Minott’s biggest hit was a cover of the Jackson Five’s “Good Thing Going,“ which reached No. 4 in the British singles chart in March 1981. But the recordings that made him famous, Ms. Goldman said, came in 1979: “Hard Time Pressure,” bemoaning the plight of the poor, and “Ghetto-Ology,” about starvation and mass brutality, in which he sang, “I got an A in starvation, I pass my grades in sufferation.”

“One of the outstanding aspects of Sugar Minott was his commitment to poor youth,” Ms. Goldman said, pointing out that he started a label, Black Roots, that featured young artists from the deprived downtown areas of Kingston. Among those who became popular were Garnet Silk, Tony Rebel, Tenor Saw and Johnny Osbourne.

In recent years Mr. Minott recorded with the Easy Star All-Stars, singing “Exit Music (for a Film)“ on their album “Radiodread” (2006), a reggae interpretation of the Radiohead album “OK Computer,” and “When I’m Sixty-Four” on Easy Star’s “Lonely Hearts Dub Band” (2009), which took a similar approach to the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and reached No. 1 on the Billboard reggae chart.

Lincoln Barrington Minott was born in Kingston on May 25, 1956, one of eight children of Austin and Lucille Minott. He attended a trade school, where he learned how to install shelves, then worked with friends who built sound systems. That led to the formation of the African Brothers and his work with Studio One, which had been founded by Coxsone Dodd.

In 1993, Mr. Minott married Mr. Dodd’s niece, Ms. Stowe. Besides his wife, he is survived by his mother, three sisters, four brothers and 14 children. Ten of his children, Ms. Stowe said, came from two previous relationships.

An animated entertainer, Mr. Minott roamed the stage to reggae’s pulsating, off-beat rhythms, acting out the roles in his songs, dancing. But another “uniquely striking” feature encapsulated his exuberance, Mr. Steffens said: “a hugely gap-toothed smile that you could drive a minibus through.”





Published: July 16, 2010

David Blackwell, a statistician and mathematician who wrote groundbreaking papers on probability and game theory and was the first black scholar to be admitted to the National Academy of Sciences, died July 8 in Berkeley, Calif. He was 91.

July 17, 2010    

UC Berkeley

David Blackwell

The death was confirmed by his son Hugo.

Mr. Blackwell, the son of a railroad worker with a fourth-grade education, taught for nearly 35 years at the University of California, Berkeley, where he became the first black tenured professor.

He made his mark as a free-ranging problem solver in numerous subdisciplines. His fascination with game theory, for example, prompted him to investigate the mathematics of bluffing and to develop a theory on the optimal moment for an advancing duelist to open fire.

“He went from one area to another, and he’d write a fundamental paper in each,” Thomas Ferguson, an emeritus professor of statistics at the University of California, Los Angeles, told the Berkeley Web site. “He would come into a field that had been well studied and find something really new that was remarkable. That was his forte.”

David Harold Blackwell was born on April 24, 1919, in Centralia, Ill. Early on, he showed a talent for mathematics, but he entered the University of Illinois with the modest ambition of becoming an elementary school teacher. He earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 1938 and, adjusting his sights, went on to earn a master’s degree in 1939 and a doctorate in 1941, when he was only 22.

After being awarded a Rosenwald Fellowship, established by the clothing magnate Julius Rosenwald to aid black scholars, he attended the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton but left after a year when, because of his race, he was not issued the customary invitation to become an honorary faculty member. At Berkeley, where the statistician Jerzy Neyman wanted to hire him in the mathematics department, racial objections also blocked his appointment.

Instead, Mr. Blackwell sent out applications to 104 black colleges on the assumption that no other schools would hire him. After working for a year at the Office of Price Administration, he taught briefly at Southern University in Baton Rouge, La., and Clark College in Atlanta before joining the mathematics department at Howard University in Washington in 1944.

While at Howard, he attended a lecture by Meyer A. Girshick at the local chapter of the American Statistical Association. He became intensely interested in statistics and developed a lifelong friendship with Girshick, with whom he wrote “Theory of Games and Statistical Decisions” (1954).

As a consultant to the RAND Corporation from 1948 to 1950, he applied game theory to military situations. It was there that he turned his attention to what might be called the duelist’s dilemma, a problem with application to the battlefield, where the question of when to open fire looms large.

His “Basic Statistics” (1969) was one of the first textbooks on Bayesian statistics, which assess the uncertainty of future outcomes by incorporating new evidence as it arises, rather than relying on historical data. He also wrote numerous papers on multistage decision-making.

“He had this great talent for making things appear simple,” Peter Bickel, a statistics professor at Berkeley, told the university’s Web site. “He liked elegance and simplicity. That is the ultimate best thing in mathematics, if you have an insight that something seemingly complicated is really simple, but simple after the fact.”

Mr. Blackwell was hired by Berkeley in 1954 and became a full professor in the statistics department when it split off from the mathematics department in 1955. He was chairman of the department from 1957 to 1961 and assistant dean of the College of Letters and Science from 1964 to 1968. He retired in 1988.

In 1965 he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

In addition to his son Hugo, of Berkeley, he is survived by three of his eight children, Ann Blackwell and Vera Gleason, both of Oakland, and Sarah Hunt Dahlquist of Houston; a sister, Elizabeth Cowan of Clayton, N.C.; and 14 grandchildren.

Mr. Blackwell described himself as a “dilettante” in a 1983 interview for “Mathematical People,” a collection of profiles and interviews. “Basically, I’m not interested in doing research and I never have been,” he said. “I’m interested in understanding, which is quite a different thing. And often to understand something you have to work it out yourself because no one else has done it.”





Published: July 13, 2010

July 14, 2010    

Robert Shanklin & Teddi Patton

Walter Hawkins performing in Richmond, Va., last year.

As he did in “Oh Happy Day” (credited to the Edwin Hawkins Singers), Edwin became known for mixing secular sounds with church traditions; Walter’s music was something else. His best-known songs — “Changed, “Goin’ Up Yonder,” “Marvelous” and “Thank You Lord,” among others — were characterized by the supplicating tones of a preacher in full thrall to his faith.

“Walter’s music was undoubtedly church music,” Mr. Carpenter said. “It wasn’t likely to be on the pop charts. It had rock ’n’ roll in it, but it was very church.”

Mr. Hawkins founded his own church in Oakland, the Love Center Church, which he served as pastor, and with it he founded a choir, the Love Center Choir.

With the choir, with his brother and other siblings, and with his former wife, Tramaine, he recorded more than a dozen albums, including five albums collectively known as the “Love Alive” series. According to, a music Web site, “Love Alive III” sold more than a million copies and “Love Alive IV” was No. 1 on the gospel charts for 39 weeks. He won a Grammy for his participation, with several other top gospel performers, on the 1980 album “The Lord’s Prayer.”

Walter Lee Hawkins was born in Oakland on May 18, 1949; his father worked as a porter and a longshoreman. He dropped out of high school — he later earned a G.E.D. — and with his brother Edwin played at church events. He was often given more credit than he felt he deserved for “Oh Happy Day”; he sang on the recording, but was otherwise not responsible for it, and after it made its splash, he headed off on his own path. He attended classes in divinity at the University of California, Berkeley, and founded his church in 1972.

In addition to Edwin, who lives in Ripon, Mr. Hawkins is survived by three sisters, Carol, Feddie and Lynette, all also of Ripon; a brother, Daniel, of Oakland; a son, Walter Jamie Hawkins, of Tracy, Calif.; a daughter, Trystan Hawkins, of Vallejo, Calif., and two grandchildren. Mr. Hawkins’s marriage to the former Tramaine Davis ended in divorce, but they remained close and often performed together.

Mr. Hawkins recorded his first album, “Do Your Best,” which was produced by Tom Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival, in 1972. Though largely unknown today, it had influence in the gospel world.

“I carried that album around with me in my arms for days,” said Pastor Hezekiah Walker, a two-time Grammy-winning gospel singer and radio host who founded a church, the Love Fellowship Tabernacle, that was modeled after Mr. Hawkins’s. “It was the first gospel record where I said to myself, ‘I can do this, I can get with this.’ Churchgoing people who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, Walter Hawkins was who we looked to for music we enjoyed.”





Published: July 17, 2010
Peter Fernandez, who provided the rat-a-tat voice of Speed Racer when that animated Japanese television series came to the United States — and who wrote the American lyrics for the show’s theme song — died Thursday at his home in Pomona, N.Y. He was 83.
July 17, 2010    

Librado Romero/The New York Times

Peter Fernandez with some toys drawn from “Speed Racer.”


The cause was cancer, his wife, Noel, said.

The 52-episode “Speed Racer” series was first seen in the United States in 1967 after it appeared in Japan as “Mach Go Go Go.” Speed Racer is a high-spirited teenage race-car driver who seeks out dangerous competition; rollicks with his true love, Trixie; and wonders about his mysterious older brother, who disappears for years and returns as a rival, Racer X. Mr. Fernandez not only did the voice of Speed Racer; he also provided the ominous voice of Racer X, wrote some of the scripts and directed the dubbing cast.

“He took a quintessentially Japanese title and made it so Americans could enjoy it,” said Egan Loo, the news editor of the Anime News Network. “ ‘Speed Racer’ was one of the first titles that turned Americans into fans of Japanese animation.”

Those fans relished Mr. Fernandez’s rapid-fire delivery. “A lot of syllables were used in Japanese,” Mr. Loo said, “and to match the mouth flaps, he filled in the English dialogue with as many words as were needed.”

The most fun in writing scripts, Mr. Fernandez told The New York Times in 2008, was “thinking of the villain names,” like Light Fingers Clepto.

Born in Manhattan on Jan. 29, 1927, Mr. Fernandez was one of three children of Pedro and Edna Fernandez. Besides his wife, the former Noel Smith, he is survived by a sister, Jacqueline Hayes; his brother, Edward; two children from his first marriage, Peter and April Fernandez; a stepdaughter, Elizabeth McAlister; and nine grandchildren. His marriage to Marion Russell ended in divorce.

Mr. Fernandez appeared in the Broadway play “Whiteoaks” when he was 11 and went on to act on children’s radio shows. In 1945 he got work as a writer for pulp magazines.

Fred Ladd, a producer importing “Astro Boy,” another animated Japanese cartoon series, hired him to write English dialogue for that series. Writing and dubbing for “Gigantor” followed, leading to “Speed Racer.”

Two years ago, the directors Larry and Andy Wachowski released a live-action film adaptation of “Speed Racer.” Mr. Fernandez had a cameo as a race announcer.

When the movie came out, Mr. Fernandez and Corinne Orr, who played Trixie, traveled to anime conventions around the country. “People were excited to meet us,” Ms. Orr said. “When Peter signed those autographs he just lit up.”


To this day, I still have fond memories of the animated series Speed Racer.

The characters:  Speed Racer, Pops Racer, Mom Racer,Trixie,  Spritle and his sidekick, Chim-Chim, Sparky, the enigmatic Racer X (who incidentally, was Speed Racer’s brother), and we cannot forget the car that made it all happen, the Mach 5.

Even now, I can still sing the series theme song:


Here he comes
Her comes Speed Racer
He’s a demon on wheels
He’s a demon and he’s gonna be chasin’ after someone.

He’s gainin’ on you so you better look alive.
He’s busy revvin’ up a powerful Mach 5.

And when the odds are against him
And there’s dangerous work to do
You bet your life Speed Racer
Will see it through.

Go Speed Racer
Go Speed Racer
Go Speed Racer, Go!

He’s off and flyin’ as he guns the car around the track
He’s jammin’ down the pedal like he’s never comin’ back
Adventure’s waitin’ just ahead.

Go Speed Racer
Go Speed Racer
Go Speed Racer, Go!

Thanks, Mr, Fernandez for not only supplying the voice of Speed, but, also, thanks for the wonderful memories you have given me.

Rest in peace, Mr. Fernandez.

Rest in peace.



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