By Rebecca Henely
When Tracy Crawford, curator of the Black Heritage Reference Center of Queens County, introduced the guest being honored at the Langston Hughes branch of the Queens Library Saturday, she said he had not only been influential in the music business but influential in the minds of many children growing up in the 1980s in the city.
“We learned how to sing, how to dance, how to rhyme, how to posture,” she said.
Crawford and about 60 other people went to the library at 100-01 Northern Blvd. in Corona to pay tribute to “Uncle Ralph” McDaniels, creator of the New York City public access program “Video Music Box,” which began in 1983 and has been running ever since. It was one of the first music video programs and one of the few at the time to play hip-hop shows.
Many early stars from the golden age of hip-hop got their start on the program. During the tribute, the library played old footage from “Video Music Box” that showed McDaniels talking to musicians such as Mos Def, LL Cool J, the Fat Boys, Jay-Z and Biggie Smalls.
“I don’t think people are really aware of the impact [McDaniels had],” said Mark “DJ Wiz” Eastmond, a longtime disc jockey and friend of McDaniels.
During the ceremony, McDaniels received recognition from the offices of Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Borough President Helen Marshall, who declared the day “Uncle Ralph McDaniels Day.”
Evelyn McDaniels, Ralph’s wife for 24 years, called the tribute “amazing.”
“It’s well-overdue,” she said.
McDaniels, who was born in Brooklyn and lived in Queens when he was a teenager, said he usually does not go to tributes, but wanted to share his experience with the community.
“I think it’s important that I talk about what I’m doing and what I’ve done,” McDaniels said.
After the video, McDaniels sat down with Eastmond. who asked him questions about his past and the future of hip-hop. McDaniels also took questions from the audience.
McDaniels said he began “Video Music Box” because he was influenced by TV shows like “Soul Train” and “American Bandstand.” He majored in communications at the New York Institute of Technology. McDaniels said he did not want to be on television, but wanted to document the community and showcase the many different types of music he loved.
“The ’80s was a great time for music because there was so much different music that was out there,” McDaniels said.
Since he began “Video Music Box,” McDaniels has created many other projects such as “The Bridge,” a TV show that provides an overview of the history of hip-hop in New York City and onfumes.com, an on-demand archive of McDaniels’ music video collection. He also participates in radio stations HOT 97.1 and 98.7 Kiss FM.
McDaniels said he started using the moniker of “Uncle Ralph” to appeal to younger audiences. He said that while he wants kids to learn about the culture of hip-hop and has a vested interest in teaching the youth about subjects such as peer pressure, he also wants to stay in touch with the young people of today and know what they like and listen to.
“I want to know what the youth are doing,” McDaniels said.
Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4564.