My Brother Is No Longer In the World With Me

My brother, Benjamin Newton Kennefic “Ben” Orick, recently passed away following a long illness at his home in Saugerties, New York, with his wife, Kari Rice, by his side. I wrote this obituary 10 days ago but when Kari brought the idea of an obit up to Ben (when he was still lucid), he asked that one not be published in their local paper. Although I respect her decision to respect her husband's wishes, as anyone who's lost a loved one knows, obituaries aren't for the decedent but rather for those who loved them. Recognizing this, Kari offered a compromise: "Post it on your own blog." So here I am.

Ben is preceded in death by our parents George Tilden Orick (1923-2002), a former television journalist (ABC and The Singapore Broadcasting Company), part of Senator Robert F. Kennedy's press corps and W. Eugene Smith's photojournalist, and Emily Jane Orick (née Allen, 1933-1994), a staff editor for The New Yorker Magazine, and a freelance travel writer for The Atlantic (formerly The Atlantic Monthly).

Born in Lagos, Nigeria on May 23, 1964, we were raised on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. 

(A note about the photos in groups, if the photos don't cycle through on their own, there are buttons below so you can view all of them in that group.)

Like me, my brother lived an unconventional life.

The Music Years, Part 1

Music was always a big part of Ben's life. In addition to being a writer and editor, our mother was also a pianist and a singer with a beautiful soprano voice. She sang in the Barnard College choir. The apple had clearly not fallen far from the tree. Ben discovered drums when he was four years old. While she cooked dinner, our mother would sit him on the floor in the kitchen to amuse himself by giving him the pots and pans she wasn't using. He'd turn them over and bang on them using wooden spoons for drumsticks. Over time Ben was able to mimic jazz drummers of the 1950s and 1960s pretty well for a kid without lessons. Our parents surprised him with his first drum set for his 10th birthday. 

By 11, he was studying under Peter Hammer, a member of the orchestra pit of many Broadway musicals. Peter taught Ben to sight-read music. As Ben’s style and ability began to exceed what Peter and our parents believed was his potential, Ben did workshops hosted by a few of his favorite drummers, including Philly Joe Jones and Max Roach, the latter of whom took Ben under his wing by calling on him to demonstrate to other students. Ben’s many influences included Steve Gadd, Jones, Peter Erskin, Art Blakey, Billy Cobham, Tony Williams, Max Roach, Steve Jordan, Omar Hakim, Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, Louis Belson and Vinnie Colaiuta.

Because we grew up in a very artistic neighborhood, Ben made friends with many artists. Ben had tremendous respect for drummers Justin Page and Zachary Alford. I am sure there are others, but these are the ones I know about.

A dream come true for Ben happened when he was 16 years old. Our parents remained in close contact with former Biafran President Chukwuemeka "Emeka" Odumegwu Ojukwu. Ojukwu visited New York and stayed at our home. He brought each of us kids presents from Nigeria. For Ben, it was a talking drum, which is a prominent part of West African music and culture. Ben cherished his time with Ojukwu and what he’d learned about the talking drum, and he often incorporated it into his music. 

Example of a talking drum (not Ben's)

The 1970s and ‘80s were magical for up-and-coming bands to perform in iconic clubs like CBGB, The Mudd Club, The Bitter End, Peppermint Lounge, The Knitting Factory, Max’s Kansas City, Café Wha? and many others. Ben was living the dream providing the beat for several bands with creative names like Geek Shiek, Giant Metal Insects, The Nitecaps, Trouble Maker with guitarist Joel Newman, DEFUNKT, The Rings and others. 

Around the time Ben met Kari (who's shy and doesn't like her photo out there).

It was during this time that Ben met Kari Rice, the love of his life. They met in an area of Central Park known as Sheep Meadow, a five-minute walk to the Naumburg Bandshell (the Bandshell), where many of their favorite rock, reggae and jazz bands performed for free. Ben was 16 and Kari was 17. For a time Kari and Ben lived in the Inwood section of New York, where they had daughter Cleo in 2002. They lived for a short time in Athens, Georgia near Kari's sister and cousins. They moved to Saugerties, NY in 2007.

The Graffiti and Skateboarding Years

During Ben’s high school years (attending The Lincoln Program, which was later renamed Edward A. Reynolds West Side High School), he was very active in the graffiti scene. Ben was a member of some of the earliest tagging crews, such as The Soul Artists, OTB (Out to Bomb), Acid Writers, Rock Steady Crew and others. 

Members of these tagging crews are a who’s who among the early days of graffiti that includes Tracy 168, Dondi, Zephyr, Freedom, Chris 217, Crunch, Lady Pink, Ozone, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Ben (known as Cheat). They would meet up after midnight and take the subway up to the layups, a term used to describe where the subway cars “slept” when subway service was limited during off hours. Ben and his friends would create literal masterpieces on the sides of subway cars with spray paint cans they’d stuff in their Army jackets, painter’s paints, knapsacks, wherever they could find pockets. 

Part of the thrill of tagging up the subway cars was avoiding the cops and transit workers, often only feet away from them. The other part of the thrill was waking up the next morning and seeing the train roll into the station with their names in “wild style” on full display. 

Prior to it becoming a department store, Zoo York referred to the subway tunnels that ran under Central Park and where you could find many of the “old school” graffiti artists who hung out at the Bandshell. Ben, also an avid skateboarder, was a founding member of Zoo York. 

The Kung Fu Years

Ben took up Kung Fu in his mid-teens. Because he possessed excellent form, a dear friend introduced Ben to Grandmaster Leung “Henry” Hong Li (credited with bringing Wing Chun to the U.S. in 1961). Henry accepted Ben as one of his students. Under Sifu Henry (who died in 2011), Ben studied Wing Chun, the five animals (dragon, tiger, crane, leopard and snake), and other styles. Ben continued to incorporate Kung Fu into his daily routine throughout his life. In fact, our brother wrote a book about Kung Fu, which I will be editing and publishing later this summer. It will be available on Amazon and other retail outlets.

Ben with Henry and other students

The Saugerties Years: The Music Years Part 2

Cleo, named after our maternal grandmother, Cleopatra Hale Allen, was born in 2002. She is now attending college. In 2006, Ben, Kari and Cleo moved to Saugerties, in Ulster County, where Ben continued gigging with local bands, The Alchemy Unit, Jamie Flynn, Bill Voight, Jon Pop and Chris Gartdrum, while continuing to practice Kung Fu.

There are hundreds, if not thousands of quotes that can summarize a man of Ben Orick’s character. Two that come to mind are from Confucius and Ernie Banks. Confucius said, “Act with kindness but do not expect gratitude.”  A common theme among Ben’s friends has always been that he was a kind and gentle soul, reminding us of the quote by Ernie Banks, “The measure of a man is in the lives he’s touched.” And our Ben touched many lives who will miss him dearly. 

Ben is survived by his wife Kari, a physical therapist, his daughter Cleo, his brother Nicholas Leonard Hale Orick (Denise), a bassist and veteran of the United States Army of Nebraska and Sarah-Elizabeth “Sarah” Ratliff (Paul), a writer and eco-organic farmer of Utuado, Puerto Rico. Ben is also survived in death by Kari’s stepfather and mother, Peter Frishauf and Katharine, “K.C.” Rice. 

Ben is also preceded in death by his godmother, Janet Cegledy Fulmer (1932-2015), who was a guiding force in Ben's life, and childhood best friends Robert Anthony “Tony” Fulmer (1962-2018), Myles Carter (son of legendary jazz bassist Ron Carter, 1965-2018) and JB (dates unknown). 

I close this unofficial obituary/tribute to my brother with a video of the best piece of music Ben ever produced (helped produce). This is a sweet video of Kari's mother (Katharine, "K.C" Rice) and her stepfather, Peter Frishauf, holding their granddaughter, Cleo. (Click on the thumbnail to play video.)

Photos are mostly courtesy of Kari Rice/Ben Orick or me.