Death Be Not Proud…for it is the act of dying that many believe leads to the transformational stages of lives that can take one (if the soul is ready) directly back to the Creator and once again in communion with the Ancestors (saints or both in some religious faiths). What can no longer be completed on this side of the veil will be finished on the other side of the veil. At this point in my life, it is this universal teaching that helps me to get through the sorrow and the pain of so many Elders leaving this earthly plane at this particular juncture in time.
Randy Weston was eulogized, celebrated and blessed by the Ancestors, the Elders and those who knew him and loved him—close up or from afar this past week. This journey started in his home when he was seated in his favorite chair and continued, buoyed by prayers, chants and music (played and sung) in languages as old as time itself. Each step on this side of the veil was accompanied by the sharing of personal stories that made one laugh, grow silent and contemplative, cry and then help release Randy from this earthly existence of ours still caught up in the battles between good and evil. Ever the Truth-Seeker and Healer, Randy’s words still resonate with us: “In Africa, I discovered what the true purpose of a musician is. We are historians, and it is our purpose to tell the people the true story of our past, and to extend a better vision of the future.” Randy now joins the ranks of his guides and mentors who included: his Virginian mother, Vivian Moore Weston; his Panamanian father, Frank Edward Weston; his son, Azzedin Nile West; Thelonious Monk, Coleman Hawkins, Duke Ellington, Melba Liston, Langston Hughes, Candido Camero, Asadata Dafora, Geoffrey Holder and Marshall Stearns.
The private visits began at his base; i.e., his and his wife Fatoumata’s Brooklyn home. Brooklyn’s Frank Bell Funeral Home, close to Clinton Hill, Fort Greene, Bed-Stuy and the places where he played and held court: 966, The East, Sistas’ Place were chosen for the first part of his public Homegoing Journey. Viola Plummer was the Mistress of Ceremony. Stories emerged of Randy’s unconditional support for groups viciously targeted by the FBI, fundraisers for schools and churches, and individuals in need—Brooklyn, Africa, the West Indies were quietly, loudly and many times tearfully represented in the stories that were shared. Stories which revealed the pattern of a good man, a wonder filled, magical human being who shared so much of himself—not always recognized nor respected—who nevertheless stood tall and straight and true. Stories shared and tributes given by ministers and elected officials, colleagues in the struggle, business associates, politicians, teachers and those who played with him and called him “Chief” and “Baba.” Revelations by his family of what it was like to live with an icon who could love you individually and together, a man who you were proud to call Father and Grandfather, and for the littlest one–Great-grandfather. Daughters spoke of how “he taught you how to stand for yourself and your children”- that you had a right to become an outspoken woman, entrepreneur, actress, musician or restaurant owner…or to just be who you are.
Family Revelations and Remembrances that started at the Frank Bell Funeral Home with Randy’s daughters, continued in full force at St. John the Divine Church with their children, and came full circle in that sacred place with a charge given by his eldest daughter to “love, respect and protect our families…coming from a place that you know who you are and what you need to do to be physically present and supportive in one another’s life”….not just sayers but doers (ironically in line with the St. James Chapel where Randy’s body lay in state before the beginning of his Homecoming Service at Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan).
In line with Randy’s way of moving through his life, death and life, a drum processional opened his Homegoing Service at Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Monsignor John FX Smith welcomed everyone present. He acknowledged the diversity of religious representation of God present in the cathedral.…unified by our varied belief systems. He reiterated Welcoming Words from and on behalf of the Episcopal Diocese. Libations first by Chief Baba Neil Clarke and then by Heru Anhk Ra Semahj Se Ptah (Kemetic) were spoken and poured.
Randy’s Biographer, Willard Jenkins and Robin Kelley served as Masters of Ceremonies, each sharing personal stories of how Randy provided comfort for them as they dealt with the loss of their own fathers. Hush descended into this sacred space. Musical performances were provided in song by the Brooklyn Interdenominational Choir, whose renditions of “Precious Lord” and “Wade in the Water” demanded silence and quiet reflection. Hush! Remembrances by Randy’s colleagues who became friends—from around the world; i.e., Africa, Europe, Asia and the West Indies, sharing and revealing/unveiling Randy’s work as an Ambassador, Scholar and Musician Extraordinaire.
A pause for prayer in the Sufi tradition with Pir Zia Inayat Khan in memory of Randy’s introduction to and embrace of that tradition.
Woven between the Remembrances and stories were testimonies of how one man changed the life trajectories of hundreds of human beings: Rwandan orphans befriended, fed and protected; men and women enabled to start their own businesses; backs of men and women straightened to stand up and for others. Stories of transformation and healing. Professors, musicians, former heads of UNESCO and UN initiatives, proclamations from former international government and nongovernment officials and representatives: Wayne Chandler, Delroy Lindo, Acklin Lynch, Abdel Kader Abadi and Professor YaaLengi Ngami–stories of how one man, by his very presence, could “touch,” influence, inspire—and at the same time bring knowledge of the ancients, joy and laughter. Magical! And time and time again, they personally gave thanks to Mrs. Randy Weston, Fatoumata Mbengue Weston for her presence in Randy’s life.
And then the Musical Performances. Randy’s musicians had gathered in his name to play with such power and love enough to transport those in that sacred space beyond physical boundaries. His African Rhythms members–stars in their own right: TK Blue, Neil Clarke, Alex Blake, Robert Trowers, Billy Harper, joined by Monty Alexander, Cecil Bridgewater and Lewis Nash—played music of the heart and spirit that moved bodies and stirred memories—hands raised, clapping rhythms in unison with ancient beats that pushed through and out the entire Cathedral of St. John the Divine: Love, The Mystery of. Time given over to Rodney Kendricks, who played a powerful solo piano that stood alone as a reminder of the depth of Randy’s influence; the ancient music of China and Africa played and sung with skill and depth by Minh Xiano Feng – Pipa; Malaam Hassan Jaffar – Guimmbri; and Malang Jobartch- Kora. The African Rhythms returned to give and share their individual stories about “The Chief” and then proceeded to take those who were at Randy’s Homegoing to a place way beyond their seats. It started with Hi Fly--played in to a sacred place and space resonating energy, remembrance and divinity and closed with Blue Moses…giving praise and thanksgiving for the life of a master pianist, composer, bandleader, teacher, historian, activist, ambassador and scholar who knew who he was and to whom he belonged, who loved his family, his African Roots and Cultures and was a practitioner of its loving and healing power of music, sound and color.
Monsignor John FX Smith returned to close the Homegoing Service for Randolph Edward Weston with the Our Father Prayer. And someone else shouted out: Shalom! Randy Weston, “The Chief” was processed from this sacred place and space out the doors of Cathedral of St. John the Divine led by his drummers and followed by family. It was a true Homegoing that had moved in, out, up and around through space and time with music and songs in hearts, comforting spirits and bringing smiles, joy and laughter. And in a true Randy Weston movement—much on which to reflect.