Tribute to sociologist and Latin music lover, Vernon Boggs
Profile: Farewell, Vernon Boggs (1939-1994)
by Mary Kent
Vernon William Boggs (1939-1994) Died of acute pneumonia on September 3, l994
Who Is That Man?
When I first heard about Dr. Vernon Boggs, his book Salsiology was about to be released. Then Vernon's name started popping up over and over again. On the phone, from the lips of Al Santiago; on 116th Street, Joe Cuba; during an interview, Max Salazar cited him; at a party, Nelson Rodriguez dropped his name...Was I the only person that didn't know Vernon Boggs? Finally I caught a glimpse of the man, and then our paths converged. By the time Vernon's articles started appearing in Latin Beat magazine, we were running into each other at different press events. At the video shoot of Joe Cuba's "Bang Bang," by David Sanborn, Boggs was hanging with Max. Then I started seeing him at lots of music industry gatherings, but it wasn't till later that I got to know his moves.
The Mark Of Harlem
Vernon Boggs was an expert on the sociology of New York City streets. Probably one of the elements that charmed him about salsa music was its cast of characters. One of his favorite wiseguy personalities was Joe Cuba. Born in Spanish Harlem, musical tough guy Joe Cuba christened Vernon with an affectionate alias: Bogsy. From that moment on, Vernon became Bogsy (at least in my circles). Although he will always be Bogsy for me, I'll use his various names in case he gets too upset from Heaven.
Now, Bogsy was not one to seek the limelight. He had an uncanny ability to camouflage his presence and preferred to remain in the background. This permitted him to analyze his surroundings from a detached perspective which was in keeping with his nature: Bogsy was a true researcher. This was evident in all his manifestations.
Born in Pleasantville, New Jersey on May 21, l939, Dr. Vernon William Boggs spent his youth in three cities: Atlantic City, Philly, and Pleasantville. He dedicated an important part of his life to learning and teaching. He received his Ph.D. in sociology from the City University of New York Graduate School and was a member of the doctoral faculty in sociology at the graduate school.
Research into Latin music is still in its infancy and new works are slowly cropping up. In 1991, when Vernon W. Boggs was about to publish his book on salsa music, together with Juan Flores and Mauricio Font, they came up with the appropriate conjugation between salsa and sociology. Salsiology, by Vernon W. Boggs, traces the development of salsa music to our day. In order to give his book a historical framework, Boggs enlisted the collaboration of fellow music historians and authors who generously supported his efforts. Salsiology provides a valuable frame of reference and constitutes an important contribution to the patrimony of salsa.
Although Bogsy made a conscious effort to steer his book away from a scholarly approach, he could not escape it entirely. His sociological bent was stronger than his will. And some of his collaborators write in a scholarly fashion, too. On the other hand, in his interview with "Mr. Boogaloo Blues," Johnny Colón is munching on candy while he speaks to us. His other interviews also meld the formal (content) with the informal (form).
Though Vernon did not realize that he was grooming himself for his later years, he did quite a bit of field research in the 60s. He regularly attended dance venues such as the Palladium, Birdland, the Cheetah, the Village Gate, St. George Hotel, Riverside Plaza, Hunts Point Palace and many other salsa digs. In the 70s, he caught the salsa bug again. According to his own account in Salsiology, Bogsy spent up to twenty hours per week taping Max Salazar's radio shows. Max's shows provided "an in-depth overview" of the music. A man after his own heart. In the 90s, Vernon Boggs continuously made his appearance on the club scene in order to hear the music he loved and on occasion, he mamboed on the dance floor.
Vernon was open to all sources of knowledge and information about our varied Latin music. That is why he disliked the cultural gatekeeper. Dr. Boggs may or may not have coined the phrase, but I always associate the term with him. He introduced the notion of gatekeeping in "Afro-Cuban and Venezuelan Popular Music: An Overview," (Latin Beat, Oct. 92) What is a cultural gatekeeper? Basically, a cultural snob. Vernon wanted the public to decide what kind of music they liked to hear, not the people in the music industry who attempt to regulate the public's taste. For example, according to Boggs, the cultural gatekeepers killed the Latin bugalu. There are other cultural gatekeepers to watch out for...this only touches upon the topic.
Our Afro Pop
Vernon's main focus of interest and perhaps his greatest passion in life was Afro-Hispanic music, more specifically, salsa. This would not be surprising except for the fact that this Latin music expert was an African-American. Bogsy's love of the Hispanic culture was evidenced by his desire to learn Spanish and to penetrate the culture in order to pursue the knowledge he sought. What a better way to connect with the culture than through the music. His biggest pleasure was to find and then publish a little-known fact, to discover a piece of the salsa puzzle and to offer it to all salsa lovers. I am very fond of Vernon Boggs's series of Latin Beat articles, bringing to our Latin attention many curious doo wop tunes including titles such as "Everybody Loves to Cha Cha Cha" and "Mambo Baby."
Bogsy sang the virtues of the unsung. His many articles published in Latin Beat presented relatively untouched topics: books on salsa written by authors from abroad, Latin ladies and Afro-Hispanic music, the notion of musical transculturation, Swedish salsa groups, the list is long.
Bogsy and Max
A letter written to music historian Max Salazar brought these birds of a feather together. Their knowledge was shared generously. When Max was gathering information on Arsenio Rodriguez for an article he was writing, Vernon put him in touch with Radamés Giro, noted music historian, who in turn gathered articles, papers and photos in Cuba and sent them to Salazar. Vernon visited Cuba several times and, through the C.U.N.Y. - Caribbean Exchange Program, he brought noted Cuban music historians to New York. It is easy to understand why Max and Bogsy became good friends.
A Sad Farewell
I last saw Bogsy at Joe Cuba's wedding. He had been taking conga lessons for awhile and he preferred to stand next to the conga player, watching his every lick, than to dance with me.
Knowledgeable, humble, generous...His head may have been in his books, but his heart beat to the rhythm of the clave. I will always love him.