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VP Records, Largest Independent Reggae Label Celebrates 40th Anniversary

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “VP is integral to the history of reggae and dancehall music. We take this responsibility seriously and we are using our 40th anniversary to celebrate the music’s rich heritage as we steward the genre into the future,” said company president Randy Chin.

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VP Records Anniversary Logo

VP Records Anniversary Logo

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

VP Records, the world’s largest reggae music company, has announced a year-long calendar of activities in celebration of its 40 years in the United States.

For two generations, the Queens, N.Y.-based company has marketed Caribbean culture and island lifestyle through music, events and merchandise, and has been at the heart of reggae, dancehall and soca.

The year of celebrations will feature a variety of music and cultural events, products, historical exhibits and experiences, in Jamaica, across the U.S., Toronto, Canada and London, England.

“VP is integral to the history of reggae and dancehall music. We take this responsibility seriously and we are using our 40th anniversary to celebrate the music’s rich heritage as we steward the genre into the future,” said company president Randy Chin.

“A major focus for the anniversary is highlighting the company’s commitment to the development, promotion and globalization of Jamaican music.”

From Dennis Brown, Barrington Levy, and Freddie McGregor to Sean Paul, Beenie Man, Lady Saw, and Tarrus Riley, VP Records has become home to some of the biggest acts in reggae music.

The label’s current roster includes Alborosie, Jah Cure, Raging Fyah, Gyptian, Beres Hammond, Queen Ifrica, Ikaya, Jah9, Fay-Ann Lyons, Christopher Martin, Maxi Priest, Busy Signal, Spice, Romain Virgo, and Spiritual.

The company kicked off its anniversary celebrations with a return to its homeland of Jamaica in January and will continue into the summer with a historical exhibit titled “A Reggae Music Journey,” at Donald Sangster airport in Montego Bay.

The exhibition will move to Kingston’s Norman Manley International Airport in June 2019 through the end of the year.

Chin recently sat down for a Q&A with NNPA Newswire:

NNPA Newswire: How did the company get started and what or who inspired you?

Chin: My parents, Vincent and Patricia, started the Jamaican chapter of the company after my father accumulated records that he changed out of jukeboxes around Jamaica.

The owner of the jukeboxes had no use for the records, so my parents kept them, and then started selling them out of their ice cream parlor.

They named the business ‘Randy’s” after the sponsor of an American radio program that was heard down there at the time. Obviously, that became my nickname too.

They couldn’t have gotten into the Jamaican music business at a better time. They got in on the ground floor in every sense, because Jamaican music was about to become an international phenomenon, starting a few years later with Millie’s “My Boy Lollipop,” then Desmond Dekker’s “Israelites,” and of course Bob Marley and the Wailers, and the rest is history.

In 1962, they moved from their first location to 17 North Parade, and records were becoming the central focus of the business.

My father started producing music with a popular singer named Lord Creator and built a studio above the new shop, which became known as Randy’s Studio 17. My brother Clive became involved in producing also, and many local independent producers such as Lee Scratch Perry rented the studio.

This was right as reggae was born. Everyone recorded there, including Bob Marley, Gregory Isaacs, Dennis Brown, Burning Spear, Augustus Pablo, you name them. Reggae may not have been born at our studio, but it grew up there.

NNPA Newswire:  What were perhaps one or two of your biggest challenges getting things off the ground?

Chin: One of the biggest challenges was that the business environment in Jamaica in the 70’s made it hard to get records to the international market. So, my parents decided to move from Jamaica to New York in the late 70s, which is how the VP Records chapter began. VP is their initials.

It’s always been a challenge to get music that comes from Jamaica, from our culture in our way of speaking, patois, to translate to international ears and international tastes in a way that people can really relate.

I think overall, it’s impressive how well received our music is outside our small island, but we still have to be mindful of the music that is made for a local Jamaican audience and the music that can make it on the bigger stage.

NNPA Newswire: Briefly tell us about a couple of your top artists, i.e., who they are and how did you land them for the company?

Chin: From the VP chapter of the story, the top artists have been dancehall stars over the last 20 to 25 years like Sean Paul, Beenie Man, Lady Saw, and Bounty Killer, but the veteran reggae singers and emcees have been the foundation of the business, including Dennis Brown, Barrington Levy, Freddie McGregor, and Yellowman.

Beres Hammond really stands out as well, because of the length of time he has been with the company.

My brother Chris has been involved with the company his whole life, initially on the technical side of mastering records but also deciding about what music to release. He and my mother built relationships with artists and producers over many decades. Relationships are a key to bringing in great artists. That extends to our whole A&R team.

Some people are surprised to learn that one of our top artists is Alborosie, who was born in Italy but lived in Jamaica so long that he earned the respect of the local dancehall crowd.

His music is popular all over the world.

Our current roster includes Alborosie, Jah Cure, Raging Fyah, Gyptian, Beres Hammond, Queen Ifrica, Ikaya, Jah9, Fay-Ann Lyons, Christopher Martin, Busy Signal, Spice, Romain Virgo, and Spiritual.

NNPA Newswire: What would you say was the company’s biggest hit and why do you believe it was such a hit?

Chin: In 2002, we had a distribution agreement with Atlantic Records that was a key to Sean Paul’s breakthrough. His ‘Dutty Rock’ album sold 6 million copies and was loaded with hits like “Get Busy,” “Gimme The Light,” “Like Glue,” and others.

We had Wayne Wonder at the same time with “No Letting Go,” which was also a big hit. With the distribution deal with Atlantic, VP Records was able to bridge the gap between working with a major mainstream label while still supporting Sean with the core foundation of the Jamaican community and its diaspora.

Overall his sound was fresh and distinct and never confused with any of his peers at the time. He had his own identity, which is a key to making a hit.

NNPA Newswire: What does the future hold for the company?

Chin: We’re excited about the future. We want Jamaican music, in all its forms — past, present, and future — to continue to develop in new directions and have an international following.

The streaming world makes that more of a reality than ever. We see it when we look at where our fans are. There is so much potential for streaming in developing markets that we just have to make sure we continue to put out quality music for the world to hear.

We’re also very proud of where we’ve come from.

It was a real boost when UNESCO recognized reggae as a cultural heritage asset last year. We want the Randy’s and VP story to always be included in the story of reggae and dancehall.

We bought Greensleeves Records a decade ago and have a 25,000-song catalog that covers a lot of the history of reggae, dub, dancehall, and beyond.

We continue to be interested in new developments and new musical forms that are related to reggae and dancehall, such as afro-beats and all the offshoots of dance and urban music around the world that trace right back to Jamaica.

We’re open to the future and very proud of our past.

Bay Area

Chris Jones, Candidate for Arkansas Governor, to Visit Oakland

A newcomer to politics, Jones, 44, said he had been turned off by the political divisions and chaos of the past few years. Dr. Chris Jones, former head of the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, a nonprofit organization based in North Little Rock, has received wide acceptance by Arkansans with recent endorsement by prominent citizens of Arkansas.

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Dr. Chris Jones. Facebook photo.
Dr. Chris Jones. Facebook photo.

Dr. Chris Jones, former head of the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, a nonprofit organization based in North Little Rock, is running for governor of the state as a Democrat in the 2022 race. A newcomer to politics, Jones, 44, said he had been turned off by the political divisions and chaos of the past few years. Jones has received wide acceptance by Arkansans with recent endorsement by prominent citizens of Arkansas.

“Our campaign is about lifting people up and building a fair Arkansas so there are opportunities for all of us,” he said, adding that “the reality of this moment in our nation’s history is that if we want our politics to be different, we have to be different.”

An ordained minister, Jones will appear at Taylor Memorial United Methodist Church, 1188 12th St., Oakland on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022. The luncheon is from 11:00-2:00 p.m.

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Activism

Meet the Woman Who Spearheaded Equity, Inclusion in the Business World

Among many things, Mason Tillman Associates conducts disparity studies that show how equitably or inequitably governments distribute contracts to outside businesses. “We have been able to improve the lives of many minority and woman business owners,” said Eleanor Ramsey, president and CEO of the firm Mason Tillman Associates, adding that the work has been helping them secure contracts and improve profitability.

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Eleanor Ramsey, president and CEO of Mason Tillman Associates, a consulting firm that shines the light on unfair practices in government contracting nationwide. (Pat Mazzera/Mason Tillman Associates via Bay City News)
Eleanor Ramsey, president and CEO of Mason Tillman Associates, a consulting firm that shines the light on unfair practices in government contracting nationwide. (Pat Mazzera/Mason Tillman Associates via Bay City News)

By Keith Burbank, Bay City News

Eleanor Ramsey, president and CEO of the firm Mason Tillman Associates, has been creating change for Black people and other minorities long before she started consulting.

In an interview last Wednesday at her office in downtown Oakland, Ramsey said she first worked on easing racial conflict by serving on the student relations council in high school. The goal was to integrate the lunchroom in a school that consisted of 80% white students and 20% Black students.

Ramsey went on to get a doctorate in anthropology from the University of California at Berkeley and has been operating Mason Tillman Associates since starting it in 1978. Her firm’s name is a combination of Ramsey’s maiden name, Mason, and Tillman, a last name by which her husband was known.

Among many things, Mason Tillman Associates conducts disparity studies that show how equitably or inequitably governments distribute contracts to outside businesses.

“We have been able to improve the lives of many minority and woman business owners,” Ramsey said, adding that the work has been helping them secure contracts and improve profitability.

Mason Tillman Associates’ statistical research has revealed institutional practices systemically limiting minority businesses’ access to public contracts.

The company’s disparity study research and policy recommendations have helped identify and modify governments’ practices. Consequently, billions of dollars have been distributed more fairly in over 150 cities, counties, and states since 1978, she said. For example, New York State’s current minority business law is predicated on a Mason Tillman disparity study.

Oakland officials were at first reluctant to release a disparity study for their city, causing an outcry from the Black community. The study — kicked off by Ramsey’s firm — was eventually released in November 2020. Mason Tillman Associates plans to update it following a year of talks.

The company is also credited with preparing the nation’s first competitive disparity study, which was done for Maricopa County, Arizona, in 1990.

Disparity studies aren’t just the right thing to do, they’re the law. Following a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of City of Richmond v. J.A. Croson, disparity studies must be prepared to document the need for awarding contracts to minorities. Lawmakers can no longer give preference to minorities without evidence from a study.

Ramsey suspects 300 to 400 studies have been conducted since the SCOTUS decision.

She has also been at the forefront of breaking through ceilings for businesswomen.

“The notion of the glass ceiling was very real,” she said, adding that for Black women, the ceiling was made of “concrete.”

Starting Mason Tillman Associates gave her an occupation when doors were closed for Black women following her attempt to become a university professor, she said.

“You walked a fine line,” said Ramsey.

Women could not come off as too intelligent without offending men. She refined the art of levity to make people feel comfortable.

Before Mason Tillman Associates, Ramsey worked as a flight attendant for the now-defunct yet iconic Pan American Airways. She was the second Black female flight attendant to be hired by Pan Am, which was the only international carrier in the U.S. in the 1960s. Pan Am was known for its stewardesses — now called flight attendants, another positive change for women in the workforce.

Ramsey managed to earn her doctorate in 1977 while raising six children. Then she applied for jobs as a professor and neither UC Berkeley nor the University of Colorado Boulder would hire her. Society wasn’t ready for a Black female professor, she said.

Her experience has taken her on some interesting journeys. While living in Boulder, she secured a contract with the National Park Service to investigate whether Wilberforce, Ohio, was once part of the underground railroad. That, she said, was the start of her consulting business.

Since starting Mason Tillman Associates 44 years ago, Ramsey has trained many professionals in the company’s Oakland headquarters. The firm continues to help redefine managers’ views of Black businesses in agencies nationwide.

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Bay Area

IN MEMORIAM: Mary Agnes English Sparrow, 102

On Sept. 10, 2022, Mary departed this life surrounded by loved ones. She will always be remembered for her big, caring heart. Mary’s unconditional love will truly be missed by all. She was a giver, and Proverbs 18:16 tells us “A gift opens the way and ushers the giver into the presence of the great.”

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Mary Agnes English Sparrow.
Mary Agnes English Sparrow.

Mary Agnes English Sparrow was born in Beaumont, Texas, April 3, 1920. She graduated from Prairie View College, in Prairie View, Texas with a degree in Social Services 1941, but her passion was teaching. Mary followed that passion by teaching special education in Texas for 10 years.

Mary moved to Alameda, California in 1952 and was a very active member of the community. She continued her passion of teaching Special Education at Donald D. Lum Elementary School and Paden Elementary School, in Alameda for 22 years.

Mary raised her three children in Alameda. Her two sons, Frazier Sparrow II and Steven Sparrow, preceded her in death. Her daughter, Pamela Sparrow Lewis is an active community member.

Mary’s hobbies were gardening, reading, attending plays, musicals, making wonderful hamburgers and delicious lemon pies. Mary had a love for people and took in so many family members.

Sunday, April 5, 2020, about 200 of Mary’s near and dear family and friends had planned to celebrate her 100th birthday, at the Albert H. DeWitt Officers’ Club. The family had planned a day fit a queen! But the COVID virus shutdown interrupted those plans. Mary was so looking forward to that celebration.

On Sept. 10, 2022, Mary departed this life surrounded by loved ones. She will always be remembered for her big, caring heart. Mary’s unconditional love will truly be missed by all. She was a giver, and Proverbs 18:16 tells us “A gift opens the way and ushers the giver into the presence of the great.”

Homegoing services for Mary were held Monday, Sept. 26, 2022, at Chapel of Chimes Funeral Home, Crematory & Columbarium, 4499 Piedmont Avenue Oakland, CA 94611.

A recording of the livestreamed service can be viewed from this link:

http://webcast.funeralvue.com/events/viewer/78590/hash:6B7BC20DBA2851F3

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