Living legend of reggae music Horace Andy has collaborated with Milwaukee's Eric Blowtorch on a cover of The Clash's "Straight to Hell."
Living legend of reggae music Horace Andy has collaborated with Milwaukee's Eric Blowtorch on a cover of The Clash's "Straight to Hell." (Photo: Véronique Skelsey)

Blowtorch's collaboration with reggae greats takes on plight of immigrants

One thing I’ve always admired about Milwaukee musician Eric Blowtorch – with whom I’ve collaborated many times across the decades – is his willingness, nay eagerness, to make connections.

While I always noticed the phone numbers printed on Jamaican record labels, Eric went further and dialed the numbers and spoke to the artists and producers. It’s this way that he’s done some great collaborations with the likes of the late great Prince Jazzbo and Black Uhuru’s Duckie Simpson.

But his latest, a cover of The Clash’s "Straight to Hell" recorded with living legends of Jamaican music Horace Andy and Big Youth, is barely short of astonishing, if short of it at all.

"‘Straight to Hell’ remains as relevant now as three decades ago," Blowtorch says. "The estimated 60 million people fleeing Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Mexico all prove that. And when the loudest, most incessantly repeated voices are those demanding more walls and barriers all over the world, of turning away the people in greatest need, and sending them straight back to hell, then we need this song and this performance more than ever."

Andy had recorded a version of "Straight to Hell" in the past, but told Blowtorch that he was unhappy with it; that it needed a better rhythm track. So, Eric being Eric, he said, "I’ll do it."

And Andy assented.

Then, Blowtorch connected with Big Youth (aka the emoji-addicted Manley Buchanan) on Facebook and suggested he take part. Again, assent.

The result is a track that has led the reggae elite to rave. Linton Kwesi Johnson told Eric, "Horace Andy's rendition of the song is heartfelt and timely and Big Youth has added his unique style. You can quote me."

And On-U’s Adrian Sherwood called it "a real gem." Adrian. Sherwood.

"When (Andy’s) ‘Living in the Flood’ was released," Blowtorch says. "Joe (Strummer) mentioned to me that he’d suggested Horace record a version of ‘Straight to Hell.’ Aside from maybe Louis Armstrong’s recording of ‘Star Dust…

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MPS hopes "Hidden Figures" will inspire kids - and especially girls - to become passionate about STEM subjects.
MPS hopes "Hidden Figures" will inspire kids - and especially girls - to become passionate about STEM subjects. (Photo: Milwaukee Public Schools)

MPS & community partners hope "Hidden Figures" will inspire students

Have you seen "Hidden Figures" yet?

This film shares the previously untold of three African-American women – brilliant mathematicians who were key to NASA’s launch of John Glenn into orbit in 1962.

The Oscar-nominated film has been getting great reviews, and the first person to recommend it to me is a Milwaukee Public Schools principal, who sees the manifold importance of the film.

One of the important lessons of the movie is the kind of encouragement it can offer to all students, but especially girls interested in science, technology, engineering and math (aka STEM) subjects.

With that in mind, the Milwaukee Public Schools Foundation is partnering with Beta Alpha Boulé of Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity, Marcus Theatres and Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee, to send 10,000 MPS students and Boys & Girls Club members to see the film.

But some money is still required to make this happen, and the Foundation and its partners are appealing to the community for financial support to raise another $53,000 to fund the trips, including reduced-price tickets, transportation and educational materials to continue the discussion and study in the classroom before and after seeing "Hidden Figures."

Beta Alpha Boulé of the Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity, a fraternal organization comprising prominent African-American community leaders, has already collected more than $52,000 for this program. Marcus Theatres has pledged $50,000 in generous in-kind support, the Milwaukee Public Schools Foundation Board of Directors has pledged $10,000 and MPS employees have chipped in more than $2,200 in personal donations.

"So many young people simply do not see career opportunities for themselves, especially in math and the sciences," said Cory Nettles, founder and managing director of Generation Growth Capital, Inc., and a member of Beta Alpha Boulé of the Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity, Inc.

"Students are inspired when they can see what others have done and can envision themselves following in thos…

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The fourth annual Milwaukee Gospel Jubilee is slated for Friday, Feb. 3 at Turner Hall Ballroom.
The fourth annual Milwaukee Gospel Jubilee is slated for Friday, Feb. 3 at Turner Hall Ballroom. (Photo: Kelsea McCulloch)

Fourth annual Gospel Jubilee testifies for a great cause

For the fourth straight year, the Milwaukee Gospel Jubilee will bring together local gospel performers working in a variety of musical styles to benefit Progressive Community Health Centers, which provide medical, dental and integrated behavioral health services to underserved and uninsured Milwaukeeans.

The Jubilee takes place Friday, Feb. 3 at 7:30 p.m. at Turner Hall Ballroom and will include some top-shelf Milwaukee talent, including the legendary Queens of Harmony, Voices of Faith, The Sermonettes, O.W.’s Exalters and SistaStrings.

SistaStrings is a Milwaukee duo that blends classical instrumentation with gospel traditions. Definitely something to see.

For the past year or so, I’ve been listening almost exclusively to gospel when I run most every day – albeit gospel of the gritty 1960s-era Jamaican variety, like this...

...so I’m definitely putting this show in my calendar.

John Sieger – of The R&B Cades, Semi-Twang, The Subcontinentals, etc. – started the event in 2013. Sieger is a Progressive Community Health Centers board member (as well as an occasional OnMilwaukee contributor).

"What gospel music does is it elevates," Sieger said in a press release for the event. "Practiced in churches across Milwaukee and virtually every city and town in America, gospel is a gift of massive proportions – yet it often remains hidden from mainstream public view. Subtract it from the cultural landscape, and nearly everything you love about modern music falls into a vacuum.

"It’s not an exaggeration to say that, without gospel, there would be little in pop, rock or rhythm & blues worth listening to. That includes everything from James Brown to The Beatles. Music that endures this long and influences so many is doing something worthy of our attention."

Adds my friend Adam Carr, "At this bewildering moment in our country, I think it’s critically important that we recognize and honor the strength that exists within our own communities. The Gospel…

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More than 100 kids at Browning School got eye exams thanks to Clear Days Ahead. Many - including some who are legally blind - received free eyeglasses.
More than 100 kids at Browning School got eye exams thanks to Clear Days Ahead. Many - including some who are legally blind - received free eyeglasses. (Photo: Joe Brusky/MTEA)

These 6 photos of MPS kids getting free glasses will make your day

Because who couldn’t use a smile, here are six irresistible images of kids at Milwaukee Public Schools’ Browning Community School, 5440 N. 64th St., getting free eye tests and glasses thanks to a partnership between Wisconsin Vision, the Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association, Milwaukee Public Schools, and Prevent Blindness Wisconsin.

Via a program called Clear Days Ahead, optometrists, opticians and volunteers provided eye exams to more than 100 kids at Browning and another nearly 100 at Barack Obama School of Career and Technical Education late last autumn, and MTEA lensman Joe Brusky was there to capture it in pixels. Kids determined to need glasses got them for free, thanks to Wisconsin Vision.

"Undetected vision problems make learning difficult and stressful on students," said Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association President Kim Schroeder. "Vision can affect a student's attention span, reading comprehension and mood."

The Clear Days Ahead partnership began in 2010 and since then more than 800 pairs of glasses have been given to MPS students. According to Wisconsin Visions’ Beth Bush, every year the program has identified – and given glasses to – kids who are legally blind.

Watch a video and learn more about the program here.

"We want our young people to have all the tools they need to be in school, every day, ready to learn," said Dr. Darienne Driver, MPS Superintendent. "We want to thank Wisconsin Vision and the MTEA for their work to ensure our students can see and actively participate in their classes."

If that’s not enough to make you smile, look at these photos:

If you want to see more photos, click here and here.

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