At Johnny Braff’s 81st birthday last Tuesday evening – Freddie Kissoon

At Johnny Braff’s 81st birthday last Tuesday evening

Image result for johnny braff-guyana

Johnny Braff and Freddie Kissoon

When I was studying in Canada, I went to see a live performance at Hamilton Place of a crooner whose voice enthralled me when I was a little teenager. Who didn’t like Engelbert Humperdinck in the late sixties? As Humperdinck sang one of his iconic classics, “A Man Without Love,” my mind wandered to my days in Wortmanville, and immediately I thought of Johnny Braff.

The first live performance I saw was when I was 16 years old. It was at the Globe Cinema. The performer was Johnny Braff. But there was a dimension to this moment that makes me remember Johnny Braff forever. It was financially impossible in my teen days to see a concert like Braff’s. At that time, Braff was as popular as any great Guyanese cricketer. He was one of Guyana’s superstars.    

The task of my friends was to “cloak” our way into the pit section. In common parlance, the word is “pope.” So we tried to “pope”, because at the pit entrance the crowd would be enormous, so some jostling would take place and small boys like me would just slip in. But that night security was tight. There was Johnny Braff entering the pit section. That was the route the performers had to use to get to the stage. Me and two friends ran up to him and asked him to let us in. Braff just beckoned to the doorman to let us through. That was my first taste of a live performance and the singer to this day I will never forget. Not to mention the singer was superb.

Each year, Eze Rockcliffe and the Yoruba Singers hold a birthday party for Johnny Braff at the Night Shelter (see my column on Braff with photographs when I went to interview him; “Guyana’s Johnny Braff and Aznavour’s hot song,” KN, December 6, 2015) in East La Penitence where he lives. I can mention he lives at the Night Shelter, because I wrote that in my 2015 column and that fact is public knowledge. I am not going to detail Braff’s life and how he came to be a lodger at the Night Shelter. But so many great entertainers do not manage their wealth properly. Toni Braxton comes to mind.

I sat next to one of Guyana’s senior journalists who quickly said to me; “I know you are going to write on the birthday, but please don’t mention me.” So I will not name her, but she did agree with me when I told her that I accept a street being named after Shivnarine Chanderpaul, but I cannot think why one has not been named after Braff.

In his appreciation speech, the Minister of Labour pointed out that Braff was Guyana’s first superstar, long before Eddy Grant. As he spoke, I wondered why the Yoruba Singers had to sponsor the event and not the government. I could understand why the previous government of the PPP was not bothered in the least of honouring Braff by naming something after him. This man joined Guyana to the rest of the Caribbean in producing lovely pop music. In Jamaica, there was rock-steady, ska and reggae. Barbados had the Merrymen, Jackie Opel and others. Well of course Trinidad had Sparrow. Then Guyana joined in with Johnny Braff.

In this country you have to forget the contradictions and just move on. Why was the Convention Centre named after our first titular president Arthur Chung? I don’t know. If I had the say, I would not have chosen him for that particular item. Why was Ogle Airport named after Eugene Correia? I don’t know. Seven companies asked the court to stop the renaming but they failed. President Granger in defence of his role in the renaming said that Correia’s contribution to hinterland development and his political achievements merit it. Sounds plausible to me. But why, after fifty years, is there still nothing named after Johnny Braff?

My daughter asked for me and my wife told her I had gone to Johnny Braff’s birthday. She asked her mom; “who is Johnny Braff?” That is the problem with our past and present leaders. They are not preserving our historical legacies. Obviously my daughter would ask who are Lance Gibbs, Clive Lloyd, Arthur Chung, Eugene Correia, when she sees those streets and places named after them.

I will leave you with a revelation one of the performers told the birthday gathering. Braff was performing with the great Chuck Jackson and Ben E. King at the Apollo. They asked Braff what he would be singing. Braff said, “My own composition – It Burns Inside.”



Remembering Johnny Braff – interview + videos

Remembering Johnny Braff

MARCH 10, 2014 | BY KNEWS | By Michael Jordan

” I played songs that people could listen to; when you hear songs like that, they go straight to your heart and you have to stop what you are doing and sing..”


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  • panbrowne  On 07/05/2018 at 10:35 am

    I met him many moons ago at a small wedding where he was best man and I was bridesmaid at my cousin John John Innocent ‘s marriage to May. I fondly remember that song “It burns inside”

  • walter  On 07/05/2018 at 11:04 am

    Remember “someone” saying he had to appear on a popular TV show in the US, and they asked for the music sheets, he said did not have, I don’t know if the appearance was cancelled. I like the idea of a street named after him.

  • needybad4u  On 07/05/2018 at 12:55 pm

    Remember Johnny Braff while I was growing up in Canje. A great entertainer. Agree to have a street or some event site named after him. Kudos for your article FK.
    Leonard Dabydeen

  • Rosaliene Bacchus  On 07/05/2018 at 1:11 pm

    I remember Johnny Braff and sang along to his song, “It Burns Inside.”
    I agree with Kissoon when he says that Guyana’s leaders, past and present, “are not preserving our historical legacies.”

  • Clyde Duncan  On 07/07/2018 at 5:04 am

  • steve ferreri  On 07/07/2018 at 9:33 pm

    Respect to Mr. Braff and many more birthdays but as I read these articles on famous singers of Guyana I have to agree its sad that some artist end up this way due to poor management of finances non support from the fans due to poor promotion and exposure from the press Lets not forget Mr.Sammy Baksh one of Guyana’s own and his song “To Be Lonely Its A Crime” I believe he was a superstar at one point way back in the day also. Its a shame he never gets the respect from his own people I myself seeing this from the USA. Mr. Baksh received more RESPECT in the UNITED STATES while he was traveling back and forth and doing show for 17 years in the US then in his own country very sad .I have to voice my opinion on this subject reading some of the things in this article and from my own experience as Mr. Baksh’s drummer here in the US.

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