“In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight…” South African, Solomon Linda in 1939.
This heart-pounding chorus to an infectious song stirred the sensibilities of a distraught global audience seven decades ago, when the song topped the charts in 16 countries. Known for educating music lovers about Africa, it was first recorded in the language of the Zulu people of South Africa as “Wimoweh”.
Her musical message now resonates with relevance for a legacy now reflected after the demise of Janie Washington, a Harlem feminist, whose roar seemed louder than most “radio kingdom cats.”
This reference from a shocked associate tempered the sadness of the passing of the longtime executive who lost her battle with terminal cancer and also aligns with similar sentiments from colleagues who knew her at Inner City Broadcasting Corporation at the heyday of radio stations WBLS-FM and WLIB-UN M.
Washington’s two daughters, Kim and Jordan, informed yours truly that on December 6, “our mother breathed her last.”
The disarming news has almost disarmed any prospect of understanding. They seemed calm, collected and cool recounting the ancestral passage of their mother’s transition.
This is how Washington would have wanted it. She was proud, practical, private, a direct person with no fuss.
Although difficult to process, the tragic news of my 78-year-old friend was reinforced by a sensitive tone that the descendants used in order to decipher the details of the unsuspecting procedure.
They explained that their beloved matriarch was no longer in pain.
Washington’s domain was radio. From Detroit to New York, his dominance of the landscape has translated into strength for ICBC, the Percy Sutton entities, and the only black programmers of urban music and information.
Caribbean radio listeners may have first met the vice president of promotions when she worked hard to create A Circle of Sisters, an annual Kwanzaa Bazaar at the Jacob Javits Convention Center or anywhere else. what a pre-Labor Day concert behind the Brooklyn Museum. Some may have experienced her tenacity when as General Manager of WLIB-AM, she picked a winning cadre of on-air personalities, helped decide Caribbean, music playlists and finalized a musical director compatible with the listening public. The plethora of affiliations she was associated with included the Caribbean Music Awards at the Apollo Theater, hurricane relief on many islands, and a long list of remote shows.
She was KC’s attorney, a soca bandleader whose hairdo was reminiscent of James Brown, the avowed Soul Brother Number One and self-proclaimed “hardest-working man in show business.”
Trinidad and Tobago’s “hardest-working man in soca music” often performed at Washington’s request. She often commissioned KC to represent the two radio stations at the annual African American Day Parade in Harlem.
Fondly remembered by generations of music lovers who admired her unrivaled performance of Colin Lucas’ “Dollar Wine,” the little administrator often enjoyed dancing to music of all genres.
When soca icon Blue Boy then implored fans to “Get Something & Wave,” Washington provided plenty of WLIB-signed towels to soak up sweat and wave in the air.
Haitian zouk was also on his radar. She led Phantom, a band led by King Kino. She was instrumental in booking concerts at SOB’s, Limelight Club and helping raise their platform to parade along Brooklyn’s Eastern Parkway.
And with Fritz Martial, the station’s ombudsman, she was able to broadcast information on the revolutionary progress of the Caribbean, a Creole nation.
During the inauguration of President Bertrand Aristide, Washington carried out a national broadcast; she also accompanied police brutality victim Abner Louima to Port-au-Prince when he returned home from hospital after reporting a brutal assault by members of the NYPD.
Washington’s equal opportunity approach to music diversified the audience and when Motown Records promoted a newly signed family band dubbed The Boys, Washington led the planned promotion team for Dakar, Senegal.
The entourage also included rhythm & blues singer Vesta Williams. And while the cultural connection spotlighted a concert in the African capital, Washington provided a tour of the Gorre Island slave dungeon that enlightened the predominant American band about the atrocities caused by colonialism.
In Ghana, Washington promoted jazz at a similar slave encampment festival in Cape Coast. She did the same in Aruba during their Aruba Jazz Festival.
Add Brazil Carnival to a list of destinations visited by Washington to fill the void that other radio stations have been missing.
Washington invested in audiences whose spoken language included French, Creole, Portuguese, Dutch, Spanish and English.
“There is no one but Janie Washington who has helped bring Jamaica Carnival forward,” Charles Simpson recalled.
As the inaugural producer of the island’s calypso revelry at the Oceana Hotel, Kingston, he mourned Washington’s passing but recalled his tireless efforts to unite Caribbean diasporas and the immigrant community.
Jennifer Joseph from Trinidad and Tobago said: “Janie took the bacchanalia to Barbados during Crop Over.”
She was the glue that kept the public tuned into WLIB radio.
Most often, she was accompanied by her daughters, especially the youngest Jordan, one of the first to fly.
‘We’re not going to mourn Janie, she wouldn’t want that,’ Joseph said, ‘it’s toast time, we’re going to toast her with Mount Gay Rum, that’s what she liked .”
Catch yourself inside!