By Karl B. Rodney, Publisher of Carib News
I got the call that Bob Marley was coming to New York for his first International Press Conference. This was great news; Bob was breaking through on the international market, and of course, New York would naturally be the place for this to happen. I was then advised that he wished to have this press conference at Jamaica House, the Jamaica Progressive League Building on West 57th Street.
Without hesitation I said, “Of Course”. I was then the President of the Jamaica Progressive League, and the building at 27 West 57th Street in what is known as the Tiffany district of New York, was the pride of the Jamaican community. Jamaica House was an impressive 14 storey building between 5th and 6th Avenues in midtown Manhattan, and the only commercial building owned in a major city by any black organization.
This clearly was the ideal place for the New York Press and the New York audience. We would get the main meeting room on the twelfth floor ready. The Super of the Building, a conscious Jamaican, Trevor, took on the task to make sure all was well and in place. I visited the night before and everything was just fine. The prized parquet floor was shining brilliantly, and the table for Bob and the chairs were all in place.
The Press Conference was to be held at 1.00pm that afternoon. I left my office (my day job) and went to Jamaica House, arriving about 45 minutes before the time of the Press Conference. On arriving at the elevator to the 12th floor, I saw this person kicking a football around in the space we had so carefully prepared for the Press Conference. My immediate instinct was to rush this person and bring this to order.
I rushed towards this clear disruption of the preparation to stop this person with the football. Then someone grabbed me and said Mr. Rodney, meet Bob Marley. The person working the football on this lovely parquet floor was Bob Marley; we hugged and all was well. He was clearly impressed with Jamaica House, and we talked about the concept and purpose.
The Press Conference went well; my sense is that many of the Journalists there were not fully understanding the Bob Marley style or philosophy, but they knew that his music was something special and they could relate to the message. Bob was very cool, relaxed and clearly enjoying the encounter.
At the end of the Press Conference, Bob was in no hurry to leave Jamaica House. He was just fascinated that Jamaicans in New York had put a stake in the ground in the Big Apple that he was clearly proud of. We talked for a long time, and now he was questioning me about the Jamaica Progressive League and Jamaica House.
Bob mentioned that whenever he was in New York he stayed at Essex House, which is 2 blocks from Jamaica House , and that he would always stop by from time to time. On the many occasions that he would stop by, Trevor would tell me Bob Marley came by, sometimes with visitors, explaining Jamaica House. A proud Jamaica House sign adorned the doors to this impressive building.
So when the Hon. Tony Spaulding, Minister of Housing and the MP from Trench Town and mentor asked Bob to do a benefit concert for Jamaica House in New York and Hartford, Bob never hesitated. As Minister Spaulding explained, Bob identified immediately with the value and strength to maintain our place in society.
The first paid concert Bob Marley did in New York at the Manhattan Center on West 24th Street was a benefit for Jamaica House. The story of that concert is for another time.
Meeting Bob Marley for the first time, you got a sense of someone so very comfortable in his skin, sensitive to conditions around him, and empathy with others and ready for action - his music said it all.