Chairman, Silverbird Group
It may not be hyperbolic to describe Ben Murray-Bruce as the godfather of Nigerian entertainment. This appellation can be viewed against the background of the fact that most of the boys and girls that are making waves on the entertainment scene today were either not born or were toddlers when Murray-Bruce strode the scene like a colossus, bringing world-class entertainment to the shores of Nigeria.
For more than 80 per cent of Nigeria’s youths of today, Murray-Bruce is simply the owner of the Silverbird Group comprising Silverbird Television, Silverbird Cinema, Silverbird Galleria and Rhythm FM Radio, who also happens to be a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. But he is more than that, as far as entertainment is concerned.
While other showbiz promoters of the late 1970s and 80s could only organize shows that involved taking the likes of Sunny Okosun, Bongos Ikwe, Perry Ernest and groups like Orientals, Apostles, Wings, Actions, One World, etc, on musical tours across the country, Murray-Bruce preferred to go international, achieving what was then regarded as impossibility.
At that time Nigerian music lovers only read about such famous American musical groups like Temptations, Kool and The Gang, Shallamar, Commodores; Earth, Wind and Fire, and many others, or saw them on television. Murray-Bruce, it was, who made it possible for them to see the groups perform live – right here in Nigeria. He brought them out of American soil on their first and perhaps only visit to Africa – to perform in Nigeria. It is therefore not an overstatement to say that his involvement in entertainment has always had an international flavor.
Murray-Bruce has had his fingers in almost every aspect of entertainment that anyone can think of – from promotion and organization of high profile musical shows to beauty pageants that meet international standards, and then to establishment of media for the promotion of entertainment. It’s strange that nobody has considered the idea of naming him Mr. Entertainment, even with about four decades of not just active participation in the industry, but, very importantly, placing Nigeria prominently on the world map of entertainment.
Murray-Bruce did not set out to be an entertainment practitioner. That is to say that for him, entertainment wasn’t a childhood dream. He dreamt of becoming a History professor. An indication that the dream would not become a reality was when he entered the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, in the United States, to study Marketing and Business Administration – not History.
While in Los Angeles, he had a fortuitous meeting with a man that wasn’t famous, but was the teacher of famous people, entertainers. It was a meeting that would change the course of his history.
The teacher had, perhaps mistakenly, knocked on Murray-Bruce’s door where he lived. A discussion between the two revealed that the teacher taught such famous people like Janet Jackson, Todd Bridges and Garry Coleman. A young student with sharp intellect, Murray-Bruce quickly saw an opportunity to meet the famous entertainers he had only seen on television, through their teacher. With, presumably, the help of the teacher, he got the chance to meet the famous students, as well as celebrities like Redd Fox of Stanford and Sons fame, and the Jeffersons, and succeeded in establishing relationships that would open doors of opportunity for him in the world of entertainment.
Murray-Bruce’s father did not take kindly to the new and seemingly uncontrollable interest his son showed in entertainment, which manifested in his love for dancing. The frustrated father even threatened to break his legs if he did not refrain from dancing. But the threat did not sway his adamant son. Today, Mr. Mullighen Murray-Bruce, the owner of Domino Stores that was quite popular in the 80s and 90s, enjoys the accolade of being referred to as “the father of Ben Bruce”.
Murray-Bruce has the penchant to try new things. His success in life has been defined by his ability to fish in unfamiliar waters. Call it risk taking. He was the first and only Nigerian music promoter to bring foreign artistes to come perform in Nigeria. He took advantage of the comatose nature of the Miss Nigeria pageant for which Daily Times of Nigeria owns the franchise to introduce the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria pageant, and succeeded in eclipsing the former.
One of the most conspicuous on the list of ladies that have held the title of Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria in the past is Bianco Ojukwu (then Bianca Onoh), whose emergence caught the attention of the late Ikemba Nnwei, Odumegwu Ojukwu, prompting the former Biafran leader to sing her praise in a book titled, Because I am Involved, as a prelude to a romantic relationship that resulted in marriage.
But the one that put Murray-Bruce and, in particular, Nigeria, in the history books was Agabani Darego, winner of the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria pageant who went on to become the first African to win the Miss World pageant.
Murray-Bruce is credited with resuscitating cinema in Nigeria, after many decades of inactivity in that sector of entertainment. His Silverbird Cinema, with locations in Lagos and Abuja, has remained the favourite of movie buffs. His success in this field has spurred interest by other entrepreneurs in cinema. This is coming at a time Nigerian movies are considered good enough to be aired in cinema houses, with impressive returns for the owners.
Murray-Bruce has his imprint in the electronic media, as well. He was the director general of the Nigerian Television Authority during the administration of former president, Olusegun Obasanjo. His Silverbird Television is arguably the best entertainment television station in the country, with Rhythm 93.7 FM radio stations located in Lagos, Port Harcourt and Abuja among the most-listened-to entertainment stations in the country. He is also the owner of Magic Morning Television in Los Angeles, which the Nigerian Diaspora and other Africans rely on for information about developments at home.
Murray-Bruce holds the national honour of Member of the Order of the Niger (MON)