Grammy-Winning Saxophonist Ed Calle Resigns From Palo! After Obama Comment

Palo! and Ed Calle (far right) in happier days pose in front of Ball & Chain, where they will play Friday night.
Palo! and Ed Calle (far right) in happier days pose in front of Ball & Chain, where they will play Friday night.
Courtesy of Palo!
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Last week, Ed Calle — a Latin Grammy winner and one of Miami's best-known musicians — found himself in hot water over a tweet in which he referred to President Barack Obama as "the Kenyan." Now, it seems, that hot water has boiled over.

Calle, who did not respond to an email from New Times seeking comment, resigned from Palo! — an Afro-Cuban funk band — this past Tuesday. His departure leaves a gaping hole in one of South Florida's most popular and active groups just a few months after a successful European tour that attracted 50,000 to 60,000 fans. Calle has won a Latin Grammy for Best Instrumental Album (2015) with Dr. Ed Calle Presents Mamblue and has been nominated for five Grammys. The band has been nominated as a group but has never won.

"This came up suddenly," Steve Roitstein, the band's founder and leader, says. "Politics and music in our case have nothing to do with one another. Notes and rhythms are apolitical."

Roitstein has known Calle — a Venezuelan-born academic who's played on albums with musicians ranging from Frank Sinatra and Plácido Domingo to Rihanna — since both graduated from the University of Miami in 1981 and has worked with him since Palo! was formed in 2003. He says he doesn't know why Calle resigned. "We were friends and remain friends," he says.

Last week, Calle drew the ire of an angry Twitter mob when he responded to a tweet from a political activist that referenced a movement to impeach President-elect Donald Trump. Calle wrote, “Yeah, right. Let’s work on impeaching the Kenyan first.”

Calle has since deactivated his Twitter account and posted a letter on his website titled “Response to Twitter Mob," in which he expresses no remorse, defends his right to free speech, and maintains that President Obama's birth certificate is fraudulent — a lie that even Trump gave up after using it to his advantage during the election.

Calle also threatens to sue anyone who criticizes him.

“While I am sorry if anyone was offended by my constitutionally protected exercises of free speech and inquiry — I will never apologize for exercising my rights... American news media is biased and highly suspect... Moreover, I retain and will fully exercise the right to pursue legal action against anyone slandering me or attempting to subvert the Constitutional rights of people because their beliefs are not in lockstep with a defeated mob."

Calle is also a tenured professor of music business and production duties at Miami Dade College, where a spokesman, Juan Mendieta, responded to an email query: “We are aware of the post and understand some people were offended by it... The statement in question was not posted using any college resources. Opinions expressed on personal social media accounts do not reflect the official position of [Miami Dade College]. MDC is an institution that promotes understanding and values all individuals regardless of race, ethnicity, immigration status, sexual orientation, gender, political affiliation, or religion.”

Though Calle has expressed political opinions on his social media accounts for years, neither he nor other members of the band — which includes three Cuban-Americans and has put out three albums — have ever done so on behalf of the group, Roitstein says. "I don't believe anyone has ever spoken for the band about politics," he says. "We don't have political lyrics, and as a bandleader, I have never made politics a condition of participation."

Roitstein declines to speculate about why Calle quit, but the reaction to his tweets was strong. It is possible he resigned as a way to insulate his bandmates from the fallout. The Miami Herald quoted his critics on Twitter calling the comment "inappropriate" and saying they were "shocked."

The brouhaha and ensuing resignation are symptomatic of dozens of political disputes — both local and national — on the eve of Trump's hotly disputed inauguration next week.

Calle will not perform with the band when it plays Ball & Chain tonight. It's unclear who will take his place, but in the past, three local musicians — Yainer Horta, David Palma, and Arturo Arango — have filled that role. Calle did not accompany the band on its European tour but has played hundreds of gigs through the years with Palo! "We have an incredible talent base in South Florida," Roitstein says.

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