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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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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Six MPS students will compete in an ice cream contest - with Ben & Jerry's Jerry as a judge.
Six MPS students will compete in an ice cream contest - with Ben & Jerry's Jerry as a judge. (Photo: Milwaukee Public Schools)

Ben & Jerry's joins MPS and Bartolotta's for ice cream contest

This morning, Milwaukee Public Schools announced an ice cream making contest in collaboration with the Bartolotta Restaurant Group, with which it has a shared culinary arts partnership.

Ben & Jerry's co-founder Jerry Greenfield will be one of four judges in the competition, slated for Friday, Jan. 20 at James Madison Academic Campus, located at 8135 W. Florist Ave., from noon until 3 p.m.

The other judges are MPS Superintendent Dr. Darienne Driver, Bartolotta's Jennifer Bartolotta and Madison principal Gregory Ogunbowale.

The fun and educational competition is part of ProStart, a culinary arts program implemented with Bartolotta Restaurant Group in four MPS high schools – Bay View, James Madison, Vincent and Washington – to help provide students with career readiness skills they can apply in jobs in the restaurant and hospitality industries.

Six ProStart high school students will take part in the contest, in which each will have to create and submit two unique ice creams that will be judged on their texture, flavor, creativity and presentation, according to an MPS news release.

The winners' flavors will then be featured on the menu at Bartolotta's Osgood's restaurant in the Mayfair Collection in Wauwatosa – a venue that typically serves frozen custard; just sayin' – in February.

"Through continued partnerships with successful businessmen like Jerry, we are thrilled to continue to teach our young adults in the ProStart program all of the opportunity that lies before them if they want to make hospitality a career," said Bartolotta in the news release today.