Sunday, June 20, 2010

Omosexy Feel Alright

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Feel alright with Omosexy!

Feel alright with Omosexy!

Topically Yours -Quincy Troupe

Topically Yours

Quincy Troupe Remembers Miles Davis in “Miles and Me”



By Deardra Shuler
Photo by Jon Stevens

I was young and barely off the farm when I met Miles Davis. He entered my life like a whirlwind scooping up all in his path. I knew him for a summer when he dated my then roommate. His visits could be disconcerting and as a young girl I was unequipped to handle this very complex, complicated and oftentimes paranoid man. His dominant and sometimes harsh and combative personality could cower the fiercest gladiator. However, it was Miles who decided I should work at his record label. Shortly afterwards, I found myself ensconced at the receptionist desk on William Paley's floor at Columbia Records. Miles could be endearing if he liked you. Yet, there was something about his aura that said 'don't mess with me.' Most folks didn't. I was both repelled and in awe of this genius who had chosen to put me in his inner circle wherein he took me on a sometimes fun and sometimes maddening adventure that I now look back on fondly.

I had the pleasure of swapping stories with poet/author/screenwriter Quincy Troupe who wrote “Miles: The Autobiography and his memoirs on Mr. Davis in his book “Miles and Me.” Mr. Troupe is also, the co-author of “The Pursuit of Happyness” with Chris Gardner. “Later Will Smith starred in the movie version of the book,” remarked Troupe. “I also wrote the “Miles and Me” screenplay which is about to go into production starring Samuel L. Jackson. Initially, I suggested Don Cheadle for the Miles role. The filmmakers considered a few actors including Wesley Snipes but at the time Snipes was having problems. Hollywood makes the final decisions and ultimately it comes down to money and who has the greater box office appeal. Laurence Fishburne was approached to play me but he has CSI commitments, so the movie makers may have to go with another actor” commented the St. Louis reared poet who appeared on two PBS television series on poetry: The United States of Poetry and Bill Moyers' The Power of the Word wherein Troupe's segment, “The Living Language,” received a 1990 Emmy Award for Television Excellence.

“Miles was from East St. Louis so I never met him as a youngster although Chuck Berry lived a few blocks from me. I knew Chuck was famous but he used to love young girls. He would occasionally come around the young athletes because we had the prettiest girls. I'd steer my girl out the door whenever I'd see Chuck. He would yell after me “Hey, Young Troupe! Young Troupe. Where you going, Young Troupe? He was funny,” chuckled Quincy tickled by the memory of Chuck Berry trying to steal his high school girlfriend.

“I first became aware of Miles Davis at age 15. I went into this fish joint where I noticed these 4 hip looking guys. They were talking and eating 'jack-salmon' sandwiches and listening to music. Their heads were bopping to the music. They were playing a tune called “Donna” and saying it was by a trumpeter and St. Louis homeboy named Miles Davis. It was my first exposure to jazz. After they left I played the song a few times and I was hooked. I started listening to whatever Miles Davis music I could find. He became my hero. However, it wasn't until 1956 that I first saw Miles play live in a St Louis jazz spot called Peacock Alley. I watched Miles from a distance noticing few were approaching him as he stood at the bar. Then this gushing white couple approached, “stated Quincy. '”Thrilled to meet Miles the white man stuck out his hand and was about to state his name when Miles took off his dark glasses and gave them a withering look followed up with a profanity-laced “get out of my face MF and take yo silly-a__s “B” with you.” I would hear the “MF and “B” word coming from Miles many times during the course of our friendship, sometimes even directed toward me. Miles could be very jealous regarding women, complicated and paranoid. He was also generous, loyal and comical. He loved boxing, sports and respected musicians such as Clark Terry, Hugh Masekela, Santana, Monk, Charlie Parker, Sly Stone, Prince and Michael Jackson.

"There were quite a few musicians Miles respected but Mick Jagger wasn't one of them. Miles told me that one day Mick showed up at his house unannounced. Miles came to the door and Mick was standing there. Mick said “Hi, Miles. “I'm Mick Jagger.” Miles said “So, what!” and slammed the door in Mick's face.” recalled the Peabody Award winner.

“The first time I had a chance to actually talk to Miles was at my friend Leo's party. Miles was sitting by himself so I took a seat nearby. We actually exchanged a few pleasantries and then Miles got up and said “Later,” and left the party. It wasn't long after I saw him in the street and greeted him but Miles kept walking and completely ignored me. I was with a girlfriend who I had told I knew Miles. Then Miles just dissed me. It was embarrassing. When I had the occasion to see him again I asked him why he had treated me like that. Miles replied with a profanity laced sentence that amounted to he didn't have to speak to me every time he saw me. He then walked away leaving me hurt and confused. After that I stayed away from Miles until I was commissioned to write his autobiography.

“It was while writing his autobiography that we became true friends and remained friends until his death. My wife Margaret and I truly loved Miles and he loved us. I noticed Miles was getting sick. He became secretive about his illness. Later, Miles admitted he was taking AZT as part of his medication,” said Quincy.

To hear more about Quincy and Miles' friendship listen to my “Topically Yours” show on Blogtalkradio.com via the BlakeRadio network or see http://writeblog-deardra.blogspot.com/

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Michael Jackson "King of Pop" Tribute


By Deardra Shuler

No matter what one personally thinks of Michael Jackson there is no denying he was a musical genius the likes this world will never see again. Not because there aren't or wont be other geniuses to follow but because he was unique unto himself. He was aloof yet caring having donated numerous amounts of money to charities. There is a price to pay for genius in this world because it sets one apart and puts one in the position of being original in a world that is trapped into a programmed mindset that seeks to attack or tear down those who stand above the status quo. Michael Jackson was an original; a child man who maintained a degree of innocence so that his art form tapped into a untethered purity imbued with wonderment and imagination. Because his heart was so pure it could not withstand the cruel accusations and betrayals of those who sought to see his love for children as something vile or his whitened skin as something more than his affliction with the disease Vitiligo.

King Michael had the Midas touch when it came to music, dance and fashion and he was an astute businessman as well. Once on stage, Jackson was thrilling and mind blowing.

The seventh child of the Jackson family, Michael debuted with his brothers as part of the Jackson 5 in the mid 1960's until he went solo in 1971. He went on to become an immense figure in the entertainment business obtaining crossover appeal for his records and videos like “Billie Jean,” “Beat It” and “Thriller.” In fact, “Thriller” is the best selling album of all time with “Off the Wall,” “HiStory,” “Bad” and “Dangerous” a close second. Michael captured 13 Grammy Awards, 13 No. 1 singles in the U.S., 26 American Music Awards and held the distinction of “Artist of the Century” and “King of Pop.” Mr. Jackson sold an estimated 750 million records worldwide.

MJ Impersonators Michael Firestone, Pete Carter and 11-year-old Ivan Kelly will be depicting the various stages of Michael Jackson's career at Lehman Center for the Performing Arts, located at 250 Bedford Park Boulevard West, the Bronx, on Saturday, June 26th (the day after the anniversary of Michael Jackson's passing on June 25, 2009 due to cardiac arrest) in tribute to Michael Jackson: The King of Pop.

“This is a never seen before or again production. It will be like no other. We have all-star dancers performing unbelievable dance numbers to Jackson's many songs. We will have the GospeLive choir doing harmonies. There will be Djs, percussionists, video jockeys and of course our three well respected Michael Jackson impersonators and tribute artists,” said Steve Love the producer. “We plan on a few surprises. This will be an extravaganza. Tickets are going fast so get them early,” continued Love.

“It takes me all day to prepare to do a Michael Jackson show. I start 6 hours before the show to get my voice ready,” said impersonator Michael Firestone. “It takes about 3 hours to transform into Jackson. I have to white out my face completely and erase my own features with makeup. No one has Michael Jackson's eyes so I have to start with my eyes since eyes are the window to who you are. Once I get his eyes correct, I start on the cheekbones. Michael wore lip liner to conceal the Vitiligo. Usually the disease centers around the eyes, mouth area and hands. Its a gradual change in coloration over time. Thus, Michael had varying shades of coloration which he evened out with heavy makeup as his skin tone gradually whitened. Michael attempted to deal with his disease privately but when folks criticized him he finally revealed his affliction. But still many people didn't believe him. In order to transform into Michael, I have studied his life and in some ways channel his persona and psyche. There is always someone in the crowd who is a heckler but since Michael passed the audience has been nice. I hope people will continue to be kind to Michael's memory and to his children,” said Firestone who performs in Las Vegas and across the country. “I met Michael once in person all of 5 minutes but then later he called and we talked awhile. I had purchased up front tickets to catch the “This Is It,” concert in England but of course Michael died before he was able to do his farewell concerts.”

Child prodigy Ivan Kelley (aka Lil’ Man) is reminiscent of a young Michael Jackson. As a result of Kelley's appearance on the Ellen Degeneres Show, he was invited to tour with hip hop artist Acon. “It's very rare to find a young person whose voice is so similar to the young Michael. I like to think that Michael would be very proud of these impersonators who pay tribute to him,” remarked the show producer.

“I am working on the dance tributes to Michael. We will be doing many of his popular routines,” said Pete Carter who met Jackson several times. “I have been to Neverland and visited Michael in L.A., when he was rehearsing the “This Is It” London concert. I've been impersonating him for 10 years. I last saw him in April 2009. Michael was such a sweet person. He truly loved his fans and took the time to sign autographs whenever asked. In fact, he signed his signature on my back and I immediately had it permanently tattooed there. Michael was excited about doing the “This Is It” concerts. He was feeling good although he was thinner than I had ever seen him before. I felt his bones when we hugged and this surprised me. I look forward to performing at Lehman Center because everyone wants to truly honor Michael as the great “King of Pop'” said the renowned MJ impersonator.

Interested parties can call the Lehman Center Box Office at 718-960-8833 or go online at www.LehmanCener.org for tickets.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Personal Side of MLK in “The Man In Room 306”



By Deardra Shuler


One of the best things about being a reviewer is seeing a play I love from start to finish. I can definitely say I recommend The Man in Room 306. This one-man-play stars Craig Alan Edwards, who also penned the production. The Man in Room 306 gives the audience a peak into a personal side of Dr. King, the man. King isn't depicted as a hero or superman but a man with all his strengths, weaknesses, doubts and temptations. The production is filled with pathos, humor and King's strong sense of humanity. Although full of history, Edwards does take a bit of poetic license in this fictionalized version of what may have gone through Martin Luther King's mind on April 3, 1968, the night before his assassination. The Man in Room 306 is currently running at the 59E59th Street Theaters, located at 59 East 59th Street (bet. Madison and Park) in Manhattan. Running for a limited engagement, the production will end after Valentine's Day, February 14th.

Although Craig Alan Edwards was born in Garden Grove, California, he was reared in Philadelphia, PA. After he left school, he worked in computer systems for IBM until one day he met Vernon Blackman, who became his mentor. Blackman convinced Craig his path was acting and after that there was no turning back.

“While at Boston University (Dr. King's alma mater), I read some of King's personal papers. I was fascinated and began to listen to his speeches which I did every day of the 4 years I was in college. When I became an actor, I realized I hadn't seen anything that personalized King. I thought maybe if I made it personal for other people, they too could connect with King in the personal way that I do,” remarked Edwards about what led him to write “The Man in Room 306.”

“I think King always wanted to act against the injustices he saw around him but never expected to be a huge figure on the world stage. I imagine he thought he could be part of a group of people who would seek to find solutions. It wasn't long after he got his own small ministry that the Rosa Parks' incident occurred. It was then, Martin, was called to his destiny which eventually led him to that fated day at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.” remarked Craig. The Lorraine Motel has since been converted to the National Civil Rights Museum. The Museum has kept Room 306 preserved exactly as it looked the last day of Martin's sojourn at the motel.

Cheryl Katz does a marvelous job directing and set designer, Charlie Corcoran, fashions Room 306 as MLK left it, while building the set's balcony so audiences experience the sensation of walking upon the Lorraine Motel balcony when entering the theater.

Dr. King's love of baseball and his penchant for practical jokes which he, Rev. Abernathy, and those within his inner circle, played on one another to relieve stress is mentioned during the play. “King had a great sense of humor. You have to understand he had to contend with a great deal of aggravation. It took bravery to go against racists, Mr. Hoover, and the other forces of evil that plagued him. He had to deal with joblessness, poverty and the injustices of the Viet Nam War. He had the weight of the whole government against him,” explained the actor.

“This may sound too spiritual for some but I believe there is a dark force that feeds negativity in this world, as there is also a force of light that feeds positivity. Why is it that luminaries like MLK, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and now Obama, always suffer? I think its because they gave and give off such a luminous positive spiritual force and energy, they absolutely project a light which attracts a negative force that seeks to diminish them. I think there is a spiritual battle going on between the forces of light and darkness that affect and utilize human beings. I think these dark forces cannot tolerate the light, so they will come through human beings like J Edgar Hoover and others, who are not interested in justice but only power and control,” observed the actor. “Let's look at Obama for instance. I believe he is trying to do something positive via politics to help the people, yet there are those dark forces who are trying to do everything they can to keep Obama's efforts from happening by creating negativity and confusion. Enlightened people must be prepared and must understand that when they try to step up and do something positive, powerful and productive in this world, dark energy will step up to them. So, be prepared to fight to overcome it” claimed Craig.

Edwards discussed Dr. King's relationship with his father. “I think Martin Luther King, Sr., was a powerful, courageous and strong man. He was a strong disciplinarian and insisted his children make something of themselves. King, Sr., came from a humble upbringing but married into Atlanta's black aristocracy, eventually taking over the pastorate of Ebenezer Baptist Church from his wife's father. I think MLK always felt he wanted to live up to his father's expectations. King's father wanted to protect Martin, especially after the bombing of his son's home. But Martin was on a mission and was dedicated to his cause,” declared Mr. Edwards.

Although Dr King and Malcolm X differed in philosophy, neither were violent men. The two only met once and that was in the corridors of the nation's capitol. At that time, its said Malcolm told Martin “You know, they will never let us grow old.” Malcolm X's prediction came true. Both men were killed at age 39.

For tickets call the 59E59th St. Theatre Box Office at 212-753-5959 or call Ticket Central at 212-279-4200. For further information about “The Man in Room 306,” go on line at www.59E59.org or see www.themaninroom306.com.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre Set to Dazzle BAM



By Deardra Shuler

Life is a dance with all of us dancers. We find ourselves leaping with joy and swaying with sorrow. We move through the rhythms and heartbeats that stimulate motion and give passion to our emotions. We are performers on the stage of existence, spinning and pirouetting through the passage of time.

The art of dance is most beautiful but does not come without pain or hard work as Alvin Ailey dance artiste Yannick Lebrun, originally from French Guiana, knows very well. Mr. Lebrun was called to dance early on and began his training at the Adaclam School in his native country until he moved to New York in 2004. He secured a fellowship which allowed him to study at the Ailey School. Initially he was part of the second string junior company but by 2008, he joined the professional company of 31 dancers. Lebrun and his fellow troupe members will be taking to the Brooklyn Academy of Music stage where they will present their Encore Season at the Howard Gilman Opera House, located at 30 Lafayette Avenue in Brooklyn, from June 10 through June 20.

“Alvin Ailey offers a diversity of performance and style which encompasses classical, modern dance and African American culture and contemporary works,” explained Lebrun. “This Ailey season includes three major acts. Revelations, which was created in 1960 by Alvin Ailey and is a ballet that celebrates the American dance position and culture. Ailey based this on his religious heritage. It's a ballet that speaks to everyone in the world; whether in Africa or Asia, everyone gets the meaning of this rather profound ballet. The second program is called “By Popular Demand” and is a program that features the best of Alvin Ailey's 20 years under the leadership of Judith Jamison. It's dedicated to Ms. Jamison and celebrates Ms. Jamison's 20th anniversary with the company with the culmination of a 20-city tour that started in February.”

This program includes 5 excerpts which highlight popular ballets Ms. Jamison has brought to, or revived, in the Ailey repertoire. Featured will be Talley Beatty's “The Stack-up” restaged by Masazumi Chayo; Ronald K. Brow's “Grace” again restaged by Masazumi Chayo, Lor Lubovitch's “North Star” restaged by Ronni Favors and Masazumi Chayo's restaging of Ulysses Dove's “Bad Blood.” This will be the last year Judith Jamison holds the reigns before Robert Battle becomes Alvin Ailey's new Artistic Director. Thus, the BAM program will be a tribute to Ms. Jamison in appreciation for the 20 years she has run the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre.

This season the Ailey American Dance Theatre will showcase pieces by Ailey entitled Ailey's Spirit” featuring ballets entitled “Mary Lou's Mass, Revelations and Dancing Spirit.” Mary Lou's Mass is a major Alvin Ailey work. A piece that is being performed for the first time in 35 years coinciding with the birthday of jazz luminary Mary Lou Williams.

The third program includes Uptown by Matthew Rushing and highlights the Harlem Renaissance era earmarking legends like Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Josephine Baker, et al, while featuring the music of Fats Waller, Eubie Blake, and Nat “King” Cole, etc.

Also the program invites both youth and parents to participate in the ING Family Matinées which will be presented on Saturday, June 12th and 19th at The Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). Via the sponsorship of ING, there is a 15% ticket discount available via phone, online or at the BAM box office with code #12231. Audiences can enjoy a free post-performance “Meet the Dancers” discussion whereby interested parties can relate to the moving program and talk with the performers.

“I feel lucky to be part of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. From what I learned about Alvin Ailey, he was very generous. He never cared about a person's background or race. He always said that dance came from the people and should always be given back to the people. This year will make it 52 years since Alvin Ailey started his company in 1958,” stated the young performer.

Yannick Lebrun has performed works by choreographers Troy Powell, Matthew Rushing, Debbie Allen, Scott Rink, Thaddeus Davis, Nilas Martins and Dwight Rhoden and danced with the Francesca Harper Project Modo Fusion. He will be featured in a Robert Battle choreographed solo called INSIDE at BAM which is part of the Best of 20 Acts in the By Popular Demand Program on Saturday, June 12. “It is an honor for me to dance in INSIDE since its representative of power, sensitivity and honesty. I think every artist aims for that at some point in their career so this will be very important for me. Also, I will be dancing in Mary Lou's Mass and Dancing Spirit which is a ballet that will pay tribute to Artistic Director Judith Jamison who will be replaced by Robert Battle in June 2011 when Judith Jamison retires,” reaffirmed the talented dancer.

The dance company will go to England from September 13-October 24 as part of their international tour. Then they will go to Tel Aviv in Israel from October 25 to October 31. The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre will also start its annual season at City Center from November 29 to January 2.

The Ailey Extension is available to those who wish to take dance classes at Alvin Ailey, which is located at 405 West 55th Street (9th Avenue) NYC. Interested parties can call 212-405-9083 for further information.

For tickets for the Alvin Ailey Encore Series at BAM from June 10-20, call BAM Ticket Services at 718-636-4100 or visit www.BAM.org

Roy Ayers: Everybody Loves His Sunshine



By Deardra Shuler

Roy Ayers is among a select group of African American vibraphonists consisting of Bobby Hutcherson, Milton Jackson, Stefon Harris and Steve Nelson. Now that Lionel Hampton has passed, Roy continues to represent the vibe tradition. Best known for the song “Everybody Loves the Sunshine,” Ayers recently aided Carl Clay of the Black Spectrum Theatre in celebrating the theater's 40th year via their 40th Anniversary Concert which included comedian Gil-T. The concert was held within the Black Spectrum Theatre located in Jamaica, Queens, NY.

“I grew up with fellow vibe player, Bobby Hutcherson, in Los Angeles. Of course, I miss the late Lionel Hampton and Milt Jackson, two exceptionally great vibraphonists. There aren’t that many African American vibraphonists. Although a few young guys are coming up now” said Ayers who formerly worked with the Gerald Wilson Band in Los Angeles.

Roy has been keeping himself busy performing around the country. His new CD “For Sentimental Reasons” is due for release in April and he recently returned from overseas. “In 1966, after joining Herbie Mann's band, I started to get international fame. I travel all the time now. I enjoy it. The later part of last year, I visited Poland, London, Prague, Czechoslovakia, and Spain. I had no idea how popular my music is in these countries. The people were so friendly and enthusiastic, I plan to go back. For now, I am back in the United States and expect to perform in Buffalo and then at the Jamaican Jazz Festival in the West Indies” said the eclectic performer of jazz, R&B, funk, and even hip hop.

“You know I recently did a gig with Erykah Badou and she told me I was the King of Neo-soul,” recalled Roy. “I asked ‘What is Neo-soul? I had never heard the term before. Erykah said, “Neo-soul is your sound. People like myself, Jill Scott and others, sample your sound because we love it.” When Erykah said that to me it was humbling. I really appreciate that these artists think enough of my work to sample it.”

“I might mention that Lionel Hampton was the reason I took up the vibes. He was my inspiration as far back as 5 years old. My parents always played his records. My mother kept telling me that one day I would be great and my name would be in lights. My parents planted that idea in my head. They took me to see Lionel Hampton perform at the Paramount Theater in Los Angeles. Lionel gave me a set of vibe mallets in 1948 when I was about 7 or 8 years old. My folks told me he laid some spiritual vibes on me because I started playing the vibes some 12 years later. I haven’t stopped yet,” said Ayers who claims his parent's vision of his success became his vision.

The vibes set Ayers apart, so he had no difficulty finding work once he moved to New York. He began performing with Herbie Mann's Band. “Playing with Herbie Mann was a wonderful experience,” remarked Roy. “Herbie taught me how to be a true leader. He was always creating music and went beyond just being a leader. Musicians don't always have good credit at the beginning of their career since they are not yet established. Herbie actually helped by co-signing loans for his band members. He didn't have to do that for us so I have the greatest respect for Herbie who is now deceased.”

Ayers talked about how good it felt to work with Hampton after he established his own band. “One of the best engagements in my life was playing with Lionel Hampton at the Village Gate in 1978. It was the ultimate experience of my life. I started my own band Roy Ayer's Ubiquity. I call my band Ubiquity because it means the state of being everywhere at the same time. I figure if everyone buys my music, I will be everywhere at the same time,” chuckled the singer/composer/vibraphonist. “Lionel was so instrumental in inspiring my career that having him play with Ubiquity at the Gate meant the world to me,” reminisced Ayers.

“I love all types of music. In fact I am supposed to do a show in France with George Clinton who is the ultimate funkster,” added Ayers. “George worked with James Brown for several years. When you come out of the James Brown school, you got to be funky. I have worked with numerous artists throughout my career. I have done the Superstars of Jazz with Lonnie Liston Smith, Bobbie Humphrey, Wayne Henderson of the Jazz Crusaders and Ronnie Laws,” remarked Roy. “Jon Lucien has passed but I've played with him at some of the jazz festivals as well. I have shared the stage with Miles Davis, Ron Carter and Herbie Hancock. Herbie is extraordinarily talented and very versatile. He did 3 albums with me for Atlantic Records: “Stone Soul Picnic,” “Daddy Bug,” and Virgo Vibes.” So far, I've done a total of 86 albums,” said Ayers who has been performing for 50 years.

Roy traveled to Africa where he taped reels of film on musician Fela Kuti. “You know the show “Fela” is presently on Broadway. I worked with Fela Kutu and in 1979 traveled to Nigeria with 17 musicians and a film crew. I made a film on Fela and myself since our careers were parallel. In fact, I did several interviews with him. I had an opportunity to explore my African roots with Fela. He was an incredible man who suffered for his beliefs. Fela was a real artist and great talent. He was also a singer, dancer, writer, band leader, composer, philosopher, politician and married to 27 women. They all lived together. Now, I may not have necessarily approved of that but Fela was not like the average guy. Fela told me he made love to 4 of his wives each night. I think it wore him out. All I know is that while I was there he seemed tired a lot of the time, except of course when he was on stage and then he was a real dynamo,” chuckled Ayers.

The 69 year old Ayers will turn 70 this year. “I am a 69 year old young man. I look good and most of all feel good. I have spent 50 years in the music business and have loved every moment of it. It keeps me vital and joyous in life and I think I reflect that in my music.”

Remembering Celia, La Lupe and Graciela



by Deardra Shuler
Jimmy Delgado Photo Credit to Joe Conzo

Timbalero and bandleader Jimmy Delgado is the man behind the Legends of Salsa Series which he produced in collaboration with Lehman Center for the Performing Arts. The third of the series will be presented at Lehman Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday, April 24th at 8:00 p.m. Legends of Salsa 3: Remembering Celia, Lupe and Graciela will honor these 3 great female salsa legends. Featured artists will be Sully Diaz, Choco Orta, Cita Rodriguez and Yolanda Rivera. Also featured is the 21-piece Mambo Legends Orchestra, the former All-Stars of the Tito Puente Orchestra, under the direction of Jose Madera and Johnny “Dandy” Rodriguez. Frankie Vazquez and invited guests Ronnie Puente, Pedrito Martinez and the Los Tambores Bata Trio will also take part in this historic evening.

“I thought it would be a good idea to bring together young female singers of Latin music like Sully Diaz, Yolanda Rivera, Choco Orta and Cita Rodriguez to sing the songs of these 3 great female legends,” explained the shows producer. “As you may know, when we started to put the production together, Graciela Perez-Guiterrez was the only living singer left since Celia and La Lupe had passed. When I first called Graciela to tell her about the show she was so excited. She said she hoped God would let her live to see it. Unfortunately, Graciela passed away April 7th at 94 years old. We planned to present Graciela with a proclamation and perhaps ask her to sing one of her famous songs, but now we will have to present the proclamation posthumously,” stated Delgado with sadness.

Jimmy Delgado was part of a play entitled “My Life, My Destiny” produced by Miriam Colón Valle about the life of La Lupe. “This was 9 years ago. I was also working with Harry Belafonte around that time but this show was a great opportunity for me,” stated Jimmy. “I would dare to say La Lupe was more of a diva than Celia and Graciela. She was on the Merv Grifffin and Dick Cavett Shows and was able to cross over into the American market. She performed a lot on American television. Eventually, her record company teamed her up with Tito Puente and that is when her career picked up and she became a worldwide superstar. I was so happy to be part of this play because it was a real heartfelt and emotional experience. It was like bringing her to life. The play was a hit. People came to see it over and over but it only lasted 4 months. Sully Diaz portrayed La Lupe and its a shame the show didn't tour in order to share La Lupe's life with a national audience,” said Delgado's whose CD “Salsa con Dulzura” pays tribute to many musicians who do not often get the spotlight singers do.

“I had the opportunity to work with Celia Cruz when I was 19 years old,” said Delgado. “To be backing Celia at 19 years old was a blessing. She took the band to an entire new level. She was a flamboyant dresser and quite colorful. She had beautiful energy and was a great performer. Celia was very humble and sweet. Whatever pain she had off stage would be gone once she stepped on the stage. She would get onto the stage and rock the house and audiences that came to her shows left happy” recalled Jimmy.

Sonera Choco Orta who is tauted as someone who could be the natural successor of Celia Cruz, spoke about her participation in the Legends of Salsa 3 series. “I am honored that I met Graciela and was invited by her to her birthday celebration. She honored me by telling me that I have what it takes to be a salsa singer in this business. At 94 years old, Graciela had a very clear mind. I went to see her once in the hospital because she was very sick. She was sitting with her head down. I greeted her. She looked up at me and said “Who are you?” I was surprised and didn't know what to say. I said, “I am Choco Orta. Do you remember that I met you at your birthday party? She said, “What birthday party? I never had a birthday party.” I started to wonder whether she was going through Alzheimer. I apologized and started to leave and then Graciela burst into laughter and said “Come back here! Don't be silly. I am just pulling your leg.” We both laughed. She had me going there for a moment. I knew then Graciela was not only a unique person but one with a funny sense of humor,” chuckled Choco recalling Graciela's joke on her.

“I will be singing a Graciela song and several of Celia Cruz's songs including “Bemba Colora” (Red Lips) at Lehman Center. Also, I am also singing the songs of all 3 of these great ladies on my new CD "Ahora Mismo...Choco Orta," said Choco. “I also had the opportunity to work on stage with Celia in 2001. When you have the opportunity to meet great people, who are unique and whose music will always be with us, you feel lucky. I'm lucky to sing their songs and record their music. These are the ladies that opened doors for younger Latin female singers like myself to follow them. Cita and Yolanda, I believe will sing songs of Graciela and Sully some of La Lupe's songs at Lehman. This will truly be an historic night with many of the Latin greats coming to honor these wonderful and legendary ladies of Salsa music while backed by a 21-piece band,” stated the Puerto Rico born singer.

Interested parties wishing to be part of this historic night on Saturday, April 24th at 8PM, can purchase tickets from the Lehman Center Box Office, located at 250 Bedford Park Blvd West in the Bronx, by calling 718-960-8833 or go online at www.LehmanCenter.org. Parking is free.

Audiences Feel 'Splendid Misery'



By Deardra Shuler
Photo by Charles Rogers

“Splendid Misery” written by Robert Riemer, directed by ZJ (Zombie Joe) and produced by Fire Cat Productions takes place on a hot summer day in Queens, NY. It is the story of a couple who despite the boiling summer heat finds their love has grown cold. But it is the wife, Nina, played by Kathy Buterbaugh, who is the one to leave. She leaves with someone she has known since high school in the hopes of finding love anew. Her husband Gary (Dan Odell) is simply befuddled since this news comes unexpectedly and he is now left to care for his 13 year old daughter Annie (Jacqueline Raymond) alone. Gary has not stoked the ambers of love for some time. He is the type of man who doesn't recognize there is a fire until the house burns down. Thus, he never recognized Nina's discontent or that she was having an affair under his nose until she packs her bags and leaves. Even then, Gary demonstrates ambivalence. Splendid Misery ran at the Actors Temple Theater located at 339 West 47th Street in Manhattan until Sunday, March 21st.

Splendid Misery is a human play. We see the foibles, levity and vulnerabilities that are part of the human experience. Relationships evolve throughout the course of the play but much is left to the audience to determine how these emotional connections between this group of misfits will ultimately end up.

Gary is an average guy who lives a mediocre life. He is satisfied to be a competent musician while telling himself he should be playing in an orchestra. However, when the opportunity presents itself he declines, afraid he isn't good enough. So, he is content to live in the cramped apartment and the tiny space he has created for himself in life, happy to dream for the sake of dreaming alone. And there is comfort in the life he has created, thus he is not prepared when his well orchestrated comfort zone is challenged.

The play moves the audience along when Alaina ( portrayed by Denise L. Devine), comes to visit Nina with her daughter Star (Margaret Ying Drake) in the hopes of escaping the sweltering heat and enjoying the comfort of Nina's AC, only to learn that Nina is dissolving her marriage. The dynamics take place once Nina leaves. Alaina attempts to comfort Gary and help him pick up some of the shattered pieces. Something Alaina has become expert in doing with several different men.

Alaina is a survivor. She does not judge Nina for trying to snatch a piece of love for herself. Alaina, herself, has been playing on the vulnerability of men for years. In fact, she only settled for her ex-husband Jim (Steve DeVito) when she couldn't find true love. After some jail time and soul searching, Jim comes back into Alaina's life under the expectation he will continue where he left off. But Alaina thwarts that plan. She sees herself as a source of comfort for men who can't find love at home, purposely setting herself up as a temporary harbor in the storm as she does with Carl (Marc Gettis) another of the married men Alaina lives off. To Alaina, men are commodities, the weaker sex, desperate to be loved and admired, needy and wanting to be needed. Alaina loves men but never allows herself to be in love with them. She seduces but never abuses. She sees herself as a practical woman who knows married men wont leave their wives for her but at least for a little while she can be their anchor and they her bill payers.

Star, Alaina's daughter, is starting to emulate her mother and take on some of the same mindsets as her mother. This presents a quandary for Alaina who deep down longs for the security she is to afraid to grasp for herself. She is tiring of her revolving door lifestyle. In Nina's departure from her marriage, Alaina sees an opportunity for a second chance in life. An opportunity to bring stability into her life and into her daughter's life. She flirts with Gary, testing the waters to see if Gary is attracted to her.

Having established himself initially as a painter and sculptor, in the last 3 years, Robert Riemer turned to writing. To date, he has written 12 plays, including “Splendid Misery.” “The characters in “Splendid Misery” are patterned after people I've known. Of course, I have taken theatrical license and exaggerated the characters. However, I have a philosophy that people are all of the same mind. We do things we don't understand and then find others have done the same thing. I want my audience to recognize that what I have written is real life. I would like to think that people watching the production would see something of themselves or people they know in my characters,” said Mr. Riemer.

“I think Splendid Misery is the best title for this play. It describes love to a tee. Its splendid and miserable all at the same time and sometimes its hard to know which one is which,” remarked actress Denise L. Devine about the play and the role she portrays. “Robert has a great way of writing that allows the actors and audience to navigate through the story and understand why the characters behave the way they do.”

There is oftentimes a bit of splendid misery when bringing a production before the public since there are always costs and glitches involved. Thus, Splendid Misery planned for a short run but was able to draw an audience during its sojourn which only sets the stage for the next Fire Cat Production that will involve children. Stay tuned.

Linda Clifford: “If Her Friends Could See Her Now”




By Deardra Shuler

The beautiful and charming Linda Clifford is a busy lady. Born and raised in the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn where she attended Wingate High School, Linda presently resides in Chicago. However, she is was happy to return to New York to be a part of Lehman Center For the Performing Arts “Disco Valentine” presentation wherein she shared the stage with many disco greats such as Carol Douglas, Tavares, The Trammps and Martha Wash, et al.

A child star at age 4, Linda started doing a weekly NY television show with Ray Heatherton called the Merry Mailman at age 7. She also appeared in Star Time at that time with another talented youngster and Brooklynite, Carol Douglas. Linda eventually signed with the Paramount Records label at 14. She appeared with Sydney Poitier and Harry Belafonte in an NAACP television special and then after high school changed directions and started performing with the Jericho Jazz Singers. She later formed her own trio entitled Linda and the Trade Winds and toured with them around the country.

“As child performers, Carol Douglas and I did a lot of the same shows together. Later I started traveling with my own group around the country. I started thinking when I was in Chicago, I could either sing in night clubs 6 nights a week killing myself or I could try and get some kind of recording deal. I heard about Curtis Mayfield's label Courtom Records. I marched over there, introduced myself, and a week later Curtis came to hear me and signed me to his label. Curtis and I did two R&B albums together. That was in 1977. He was an incredible artist, wonderful human being and a special songwriter. I toured with him as well,” recalled the singer/songwriter. “I sing songs that have meaning for people. Who doesn't go through school being mistreated and then when they gain success think, “If My Friends Could See Me Now” chuckled Linda. “Curtis Mayfield's death was such a great loss as was Teddy Pendergast. I worked with Teddy in Atlantic City at the Taj Mahal and toured with him for a while” recalled the former Miss New York. “ You know, nothing in life is promised. We are all the same and death could happen to any of us at anytime. Its sad however when you see an artist that has given so much leave us. It's very difficult” lamented Linda.

Clifford's first album with Courtom was entitled “Linda.” It featured the single “From Now On.” But it was “If My Friends Could See Me Now” that shot up to #1 on the dance charts. Other successes followed such as “Don't Come Crying To Me,” and an Isaac Hayes produced song “Shoot Your Best Shot.” Her smash hit was “Runaway Love,” which topped the Billboard Disco Dance Chart for 16 weeks as #1, reaching the Billboard's R&B chart at #3. Her song “Red Light” was featured on the Oscar winning multi-million dollar selling #1 album soundtrack “Fame.” Red Light earned a Grammy nomination and spent nine weeks as #1 on Billboard's dance chart and was included on another of Linda's hit albums “I'm Yours.”

As a songwriter, Clifford's songs have been sought after by such artists as Cher, Martha Wash and Gladys Knight.

“The money artists are making today is nothing like we earned when I started performing. It's so different now. I hear stories about the money some folks are getting and I go Whoo!!! I think a lot of singing has been lost. There isn't a lot of real singing now. If you are a good singer, these days, singing is not enough. You have to have a gimmick. Take for example, Lady Gaga. She has a good voice but I suspect that in order for her to be noticed, she had to pretty much become a performance artist. Artists have to think -- how crazy can I make myself look in order for someone to notice me-- it's a sad commentary on the record industry today. The unfortunate thing is that there are so many talented artists out there that people don't get to hear because they just don't have a gimmick that stands out enough,” commented Clifford.

Ms. Clifford discussed how the record industry works. “Let's face it. Its show business not show fun. A lot of new artists think all it takes is one hit record. Thinking its all fun and 6 months later they don't have a dime. The record companies are making an investment in your talent and they have to get paid back. They put money out to put your records out there but before you get a dime, the record company gets their investment back. They are not doing it out of the kindness of their heart. It's a business. Artists end up paying for everything: the staff, hotels, buses, food, clothes, studio time, engineers, backup singers. All of that comes out of the artist's pocket,” explained the talent performer and occasional background singer for commercial jingles.

“I was happy to return to my hometown of New York for Lehman Center's Disco Valentine Show where I got the opportunity to share the stage with Rochelle Flemming, France Joli and Randy Jones of the Village People and of course my old friends Carol Douglas, Tavares and Martha Wash. The audience was very supportive,” said the award winning artist and actress who has appeared in the films “Sweet Charity,” “Coogan's Bluff” and “The Boston Strangler.

As a humanitarian, Linda has worked on Jerry Lewis' Muscular Dystrophy Telethon, the Ronald McDonald's House Benefit and with Sheryl Lee Ralph's venture “Divas Simply Singing.”

Friday, June 11, 2010

Alonzo King: Mastering the Art of Dance


By Deardra Shuler

It will be the first time that African American choreographer, Alonzo King, founder and Artistic Director of the Alonzo King LINES Ballet, has performed in the Bronx when he appears at Lehman Center for the Performing Arts on Sunday, January 10 at 6:00 p.m. Born in Santa Barbara, California, Alonzo King's LINES Dance Center claims San Francisco as its home. However, King has traveled throughout the world and has works in repertories of companies that include the Frankfurt Ballet, the Hong Kong Ballet and the Swedish Ballet. Closer to home, Mr. King has worked with the Joffrey Ballet, and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre wherein he has performed pieces such as “Following.” He has worked with the Dance Theatre of Harlem, the North Carolina Dance Theatre and Washington Ballet and has been dance master for the National Ballet of Canada, Ballet West, and Les Ballets de Monte Carlo to name a few. Coined by Kennedy Center as the Master of African American Choreography, the great dance master is delighted that Lehman Center will be offering $10 tickets to seniors and children 12 and under.

The son of a civil rights leader in the south, King's father was a lover of the arts and passed that love on to his son who became enthralled with the art of dance. “One of the wonderful things about art is you have the ability to stop thinking about yourself. When you dance and step into a realm where thought of self is gone, you are relieved, “said King about how the artistry of dance affects him.

Demanding perfection and mastery from himself and in his troupes' performances, King claims to only work with those at the level of mastership, and as a result has been the recipient of several awards and accolades. He was given the Jacob's Pillow Creativity Award in recognition of his contribution to moving ballet. He has been recognized as one of the 50 outstanding artists in America by the United States Artists Organization. He received the Bessie Smith Award for Choreographer/Creator. He is a recipient of the Irvine Fellowship in Dance and has received 5 Isadora Duncan Awards. Mr. King has served on the National Endowment of the Arts and California Arts Council panels.

The dance master expressed his views concerning working with various dance companies. “I have to say, that when you work in the world of dance, its not so much where you go as it is the artists that you work with. You are looking for some kind of sympathy, some kind of artistic understanding, so no matter where you go in the world, what you are really concerned with is how your heart is feeling. I believe the essential beginning of coming together as a people, is to come together with yourself. People talk about the disharmony in the world, the selfishness of the world, the lack of peace. That peace has to begin with us as individuals. We cant try to fix everyone, we are here to change ourselves. Those people who change themselves are an inspiration to all of us. Its essential to break the myths. The deepest ignorance that most people believe is that as humans we are weak, whinny mortals. Not true. Inside of us are those indestructible internal forces, In fact, the whole point of obstacles is to bring those forces out,” pontificated King.

Alonzo disagrees with the classifications under which ballet is termed such as classical, neoclassical and contemporary ballet. “Those are names like saying light skin, dark skin, and red head, it means absolutely nothing. Contemporary is an interesting term, since if something has relevance its contemporary. Shakespeare and Bach are relevant and certainly contemporary because they affect our lives as we live today. Most people think of contemporary as current living. To me, truths are current and living and always will be, so they are always constant contemporaries,” explained King.
Classical Ballet is usually thought of as a style rather than a science of movement which is what it is. Its origin has been claimed by Europe but its origin goes much further back. We forget about the vast magnificence of education that Islam brought to the West, which was not known prior to their arrival. Architecture, science, math. In fact, the Greek literature was hidden in Arabic script. For example, the arabesque used in ballet -- where do you think that term comes from? Ballet's linage is older than people want to acknowledge. As you know, its who writes history who tells the story. One of the chief destroyers in education is this assumption and position held up as white superiority. This has slaughtered minds across the globe but this is a situation that will inevitably vanish because its laughable. Its so narrow minded. This Eurocentric idea of ballet has cut ballet off from its amazing history. Its simply dance. All dance began as a form of worship,” said King who is known for his vast knowledge on the history of ballet.

“Ballet is an Italian word for dance. So for me, all dancing is uncategorized. Its either good dancing or its not. From the Western perspective the way we look at the body and what I call western classical dance comes from what already exists in nature. Its pirouettes. That already exist via whirlpools, spirals and eddies. Dance isn't something someone thought up. It comes from nature. Dance books suggest ballet started with Catherine DeMenici. That's ridiculous! Dance can be found as far back as the ancient rituals,” stated King emphatically.

Alonzo served briefly as the Commissioner for the City and County of San Francisco. He has collaborated with jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders and actor Danny Glover and is also a writer and lecturer in his own right. The Alonzo Kings LINES Ballet attract huge audiences wherever they perform. Thus, interested parties in the Bronx, can call the Lehman Center box office at 718-960-8833 or go on line at www.LehmanCenter.org. Parking is free.

Freda Payne: Paying Tribute to Ella Fitzgerald at the Iridium



By Deardra Shuler

Freda Payne had a date the day we interviewed. However, before heading to a French dinner, she took time to chat with me. The winner of two gold records “Band of Gold,” and “Bring the Boys Home,” Freda looks amazing. She is in preparation for her upcoming engagement at the Iridium Jazz Club in New York, where she will feature her tribute show to Ella Fitzgerald. Located at 51st Street and Broadway, the club headlines Ms. Payne from August 6-9th for their 8:30 and 10:30 pm sets.

Recently in town, Freda participated in a project to record the unrecorded music of Harry Warren, the songwriter of “At Last,”an R&B version Etta James successfully recorded, later crossing it over to pop. “The song, written in 1942, was initially recorded by another artist but Etta put it on the map,” said Freda. “It became Etta's signature song. Warren was actually born in 1893, so he was no spring chicken. He came up through the Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter and Richard Rogers era and wrote old songs like “You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby,” and “Jeepers Keepers.”

A lot of talent has come out of Detroit, entertainers like Freda and her sister Scherrie Payne, Smokey Robinson, Tom Selleck, Diana Ross, Sugar Ray Robinson, Robert Wagner, Aretha Franklin, Della Reese, Berry Gordy, and Gladys Knight. “Don't forget about Madonna and The Four Tops,” added Freda. “I think black folks from Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and the Carolinas migrated to Detroit back in the 1940s. My grandmother was born in Birmingham, Ala., and my father Fred Payne, was born in Asheville, North Carolina and migrated to Detroit in his early 20s,” said Payne, who was introduced to music as a toddler by her uncle who played classical and jazz music recordings. “I studied piano at 5 years old wherein I was exposed to Bach, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Cole Porter, Richard Rogers, Sarah Vaughn and Della Reese. I started playing songbooks and teaching myself standards. That is how my musical training evolved.

“Before there was a Motown label, Berry Gordy came into my life at age 14,” continued Payne whose sister Scherrie Payne, at one time, sang with the Supremes. “I had been in a talent contest called Ed McKenzie's Dance Hour that was on NBC, so I had a little fame. Gordy learned of me and wrote some songs for me at United Sounds. We recorded 3 songs but we couldn't come to agreement over contract terms so my parents decided not to sign,” explained the talented artist who was Berry's very first female protegee.

Brian and Eddie Holland and Lamont Dozier wrote “Band of Gold” for Freda which won her a gold record. “I signed with HDH in 1968 and recorded my first R&B single in 1969. “Band of Gold” came out in early 1970,” remarked the entertainer whose shows have garnered rave reviews.

“My tribute show to Ella Fitzgerald, is me, Freda, making a tribute to Ella by talking about her life and singing her songs while keeping the content as close to Ella as possible. Fitzgerald recorded and co-wrote “A Tisket, A-Tasket” with Van Alexander. It was her first hit record and stayed on the charts for 16 weeks. Ella was one of the greatest female scatters in the world bar none. I listened to Ella sing “How High the Moon” and was amazed by her uncanny scatting ability. I scat in my show in tribute to her” said Freda who once sang with the Duke Ellington orchestra.

“Duke wanted me to sing with his band. He sent me a 10 year contract. I was 17 then, but again, we couldn't come to contract terms, so I never did become his band singer” said Freda who ended up touring with Pearl Bailey. “Pearl, who was at her zenith at the time, was looking for a background singer. I got hired. Pearl had gone as far as one could as a black woman during that time. She was a movie star and singer. However, if you worked for Ms. Bailey, you abided by her rules. She insisted all the singers wear the same perfume as she, as well as wear the same shade of makeup as Pearl. It was too dark for me. Pearl also made a white girl in the band wear Pearl's shade. Clearly, Pearl's shade did not match this white singer's complexion or mine. As impossible as it was, Pearl's intent was to have all the singers match in complexion,” chuckled Freda. “Pearl was a superstar back then which was no small feat, so everyone went along with her quirks. There were no Denzel Washingtons' or Will Smiths then. It just didn't happen!” noted Freda who has appeared in award winning musicals like Jelly's Last Jam, Ain't Misbehavin', Blues in the Night and Sophisticated Ladies.

In 1971, as part of the Viet Nam protests to bring the boys home, Payne recorded 'Bring the Boys Home,' an appropriate song to bring back, as President Obama attempts to bring the boys home from Iraq and Afghanistan per his campaign promise. Freda teamed up with Darlene Love, appearing at Feinstein's at the Regency Hotel in New York, and the Cinegrill in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in LA, via their show “Love & Payne.” Most recently, she appeared on American Idol as part of their Diva Disco Era. Internationally, she performed at the Montreaux Jazz Festival in Switzerland for its 75th Anniversary Celebration honoring Quincy Jones. A DVD of that festival will be released this year.

Ms. Payne will be appearing at the RRAZZ ROOM in San Francisco's Hotel Nikko on November 17th
and at the Sierra Ballroom at the Sun City, in Palm Desert, CA., February 2010.

Interested parties can visit Payne's website at www.FredaPayne.com., and/or hear her radio interview with me on my show “Topically Yours,” on the BlakeRadio Network, Rainbow Soul, via http:// www.blogtalkradio.com/BlakeRadio.

Temptations Ali Ollie Woodson leaves us at 58



by Deardra Shuler

It isn't until some of the greats leave us that we recognize the volume of their work and the mark they have left on the world. Although, they have been with us “Right Here All Along,” its not until their passing that we recognize how blessed the world was/is by their remarkable talent.

It's often said that people leave the world in “threes” and in recent days we have seen the loss of actors Gary Coleman (Friday, May 28), Dennis Hopper (Saturday, May 29) and now singer/actor Ali Ollie Woodson on Sunday, May 30, after struggling for years with leukemia. Woodson died in California where he resided.

Ali Ollie Woodson was one of the great voices of our time and captured the attention of audiences throughout the world. Best known as a member of the Temptations, he was not among the original Temptations which consisted of David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams, Melvin Franklin and Otis Williams. Only Otis Williams presently survives as part of the original Temptations. However, after the departure of David Ruffin and Dennis Edwards, Woodson stepped in as lead singer bringing the Temptations to the next level of their incredible success and fame. Woodson wrote and contributed new material that kept the Temptations on top of the Pop and R&B charts with songs like “Treat her like a Lady,” which eventually went gold.

Woodson also performed with "The Drifters' in the early 1970's, and sang with The Blue Notes after Teddy Pendergrass left the group.

“I believe Ali joined the Temptations in 1984. All and all, Ali may have been with the group until 1991. He came, departed and then returned. He wrote the song and sang the lead on their hit “Treat her like a Lady.” In fact, that was a pretty big hit for them,” recalled Evan Wills of the singing group Persuaders Review. “In later years, he did a solo project. “Right Here All Along.” It never became a big hit but “Right Here All Along,” was still one of his worthwhile projects which highlighted his talent and tremendous singing style,” continued Wills. “You know, he did more than sing. He was a musician in his own right and played the keyboards, bass, and drums,” remarked Wills of Woodson who was also a composer, arranger, lyricist and producer.

“I don't know if everyone knew this but Ali Woodson was also an actor,” stated Evan. “He had a bit part in the “Little Richard” movie with Leon. He also did R&B plays throughout the country. He will be truly missed in the music industry and by the world,” said the Persuader.

Mr. Woodson also appeared in several episodes of "Amen" and on "The Jamie Fox Show."

Born in Detroit, Woodson was already singing in the church choir by the time he was 4 years old. By 7, he won his first talent show and went on to win kudos and accolades throughout his career. His talent put him in the company of such great performers as James Brown, Bobby Womack, Rachelle Ferrell, The Four Tops, Chaka Khan, The Gap Band, Patti Austin and Aretha Franklin, et al. He even appeared at the Paradise Theatre in the Bronx with Dennis Edwards as part of the Temptation Review.
Ali Ollie Woodson was well thought of in the business and was seen as a gentleman by everyone who had the good fortune to meet him. He will be missed.

Funeral arrangements are still in the planning stage.

The Quandary of Gladys' Dilemma




By Deardra Shuler
Photos by Mariette Monpierre

There was just as much excitement going on behind the scenes at the Harlem School of the Arts keeping the Hadley Players on pins and needles as there was in their latest offering “Gladys' Dilemma.” By the time all the confusion was sorted out the cast only had 12 weeks to learn their cues, lines, positions and to rehearse. Yet the show must go on and the show was up and running under the stage management of Sirlouis Jones and directorship of Ward Nixon for their May 28-June 20 run.

Written by the 96-year-old Gertrude Jeannette (founder and CEO Emeritus of the H.A..D.L.E.Y. Players), Gladys' Dilemma features Valarie Tekosky (Gladys Perkins) who gives a believable performance as the troubled Gladys. The other cast members consist of Rodney Sheley (Leroy Perkins), Curtis L. Williams (Elsworth Perkins), Nzingtha Smith (Gail Perkins) and Colette Bryce (Margo Spencer).

What would you do if your daughter told you she was pregnant and while you are happy for her there is a secret you have that is so consuming that you fear telling your family? This is Gladys' dilemma. Gladys and her husband Leroy are happily empty nesting preparing to go on vacation and enjoy the single couple lifestyle. Leroy is spending less and less time at his mortuary business gradually turning over the reigns of the family business to his son. Gladys lives a carefree lifestyle going to fashion events, hair salons and masseuses with her upscale high society snotty best friend Margo. Colette Bryce has fun with her character Margo turning up the 'bitchy meter' a full 100 degrees. Margo uses every opportunity to deliver a catty zinger to her friend Gladys who tolerates her long time friend with controlled humor. Life is good for Gladys who has no medical problems she knows of and then her doctor rocks her world. Gladys is pregnant at age 47.

No one takes the news well, not Leroy, not Margo and not her daughter Gail who suddenly finds her own pregnancy being overshadowed by her mother's pregnancy. The idea of she and her mother delivering at the same time is too much to bear. The Perkins happy go lucky son Elsworth is the only one who thinks its good news. Gladys herself is so stunned she does not know what to do with the unexpected tidings. She faces a moral dilemma: if she opts to abort the baby is she a murderer? If she keeps the baby does she now face a medical dilemma, the risk of birthing a down syndrome child. Then there is the age factor. Her husband is already in his early 50s and has been looking forward to being free of children and the responsibility of raising kids. He is looking forward to early retirement and the honeymoon he missed when he and Gladys first started off in life together. The idea of starting over terrifies him. Rodney does a competent job portraying Gladys' concerned husband as does Curtis L. Williams as their ebullient son.

Time is running out. Does Gladys terminate or keep the baby? The answer may become the audiences dilemma.

This reviewer went to see the show on the third day of its performance so the play had not quite found its footing and was still in need of tightening up. Given the amount of time the cast and crew had to pull the production together this may be remedied by plays end. Yet the subject matter is an important issue. One which some women who initially chose careers over starting a family have come to an age where family supersedes career. In 2008 alone there were more than 106,000 live births in the United States to women ages 40 through 44, and 7,666 live births to women 45 to 54. Many who had normal and healthy births. However, the incidence of Down Syndrome is estimated at 1 per 800 to 1,000 births and is statistically more common in older mothers.

Costume designer June Terry did an outstanding job with the costumes which were truly stylish and beautiful. Meredith L. Waddy did a wonderful job with lighting particularly during the dream sequence. Among the audience was veteran actress and Oscar nominee Ruby Dee who is a big supporter of the Hadley Players productions.

“Gladys' Dilemma” is being housed at the Harlem School of the Arts, located at 647 Nicholas Avenue (off 142nd Street) in Manhattan. Interested parties can call (212) 368-9314 or visit the Hadley Players website at www.hadleyplayers.com for tickets.

Chisom Ozigboh: Lost Maiden Highlights Female Circumcision


By Deardra Shuler

Chisom Ozigboh-lee is a special person who can be counted among the brave individuals who are willing to stand up and say enough to certain outdated mores and traditions. Although Ozigboh-lee has met some opposition concerning her position she understands its time to stand against an age old tradition that is literally causing the death of many African women. This ancient ritual apparently spread from the Nile and its tributaries into adjacent regions such as Palestine. It spread through migration routes into Northwest Africa, and across the Sahara and Sahel regions into the West African savanna. The practice has been conducted along the Red Sea Coast into the Horn of Africa and parts of East Africa, Central Africa and regions within Southern Africa. This is a practice that was known at one time to certain indigenous Andean and Australian ethnic, religious, and cultural groups and among Bedouin groups in Israel and surrounding areas. The practice was also known in parts of Malaysia and Indonesia as well. Many cultures viewed it as a rite of passage into adulthood. Thus, it should be understood, female circumcision has been and continues to be a well entrenched cultural lifestyle that has existed for centuries.


As an African woman and registered nurse, Chisom has seen the death, pain, physical damage and psychological depression resulting from female circumcision. Ozigboh-lee, who wrote, produced and stars in the movie “Lost Maiden,” hopes to educate people how certain traditions harm those who are victims of cultural practices. In an effort to bring to light how women are literally scarred and maimed by the practice of female circumcision, Chisom spent a year researching this ancient rite of passage and now bravely speaks out against it. A Nollywood actress as well as medical person, Ozigboh-lee was aided by fellow nurses in researching the devastating effects genital mutilation has on women who undergo these methods without proper medical care. The practice has been observed to cause painful menstruation, devastating scarring, dangerous urinary tract infections, unrestricted bleeding, and gangrene (which in some cases can result in death).

“No one really knows the origin of this tradition. It’s such an old cultural custom that people merely practice it without knowing how the custom began. There are even some women who honor it as tradition, submitting their daughters to the practice because while its widely supported by men, its taught to both genders that its taboo for women to feel sexual pleasure,” stated the concerned filmmaker who explained how a woman’s clitoris is removed, leaving a literal hole which is sewn up until the woman marries. Through her film, Chisom hopes to spotlight the custom and prove how damaging it is to women. Co-starring with her in “Lost Maiden” are Nollywood stars Omotola Ojolade and Kalu Ikeagwu. The film is expected to have a universal impact and could possibly become an important tool in ending a dangerous tradition that is no longer viable in today’s world.

It is important to mention that while the Western mind condemns female circumcision and views it as an abomination, it must be noted that female circumcision is a social practice that has been part of the African fabric as far back as 5000 B.C. Therefore, while Western society condemns the practice as genital mutilation, it is not viewed as such within the cultures that practice it. Westerners should consider the rich, complex, and diversified nature of African civilization in its patriarchal and matrifocal dimensions, thus not lose sight of Africa’s strengths as well as its weaknesses. African polytheists (including the Ancient Egyptians) as well as African Muslims, Christians and Jews, have often practiced female and male circumcision in their rites of passage, honoring the transition from puberty to adulthood. Some cultures see circumcision of both males and females not only as a rite of passage but also as a marital requirement or badge of courage, with even some parents believing they are protecting their daughters from potential rapists. Therefore, it must be emphasized that these practices are not done as an act of cruelty in the minds of those performing these rituals.

“As more and more information is made available, several African countries have begun to discourage female genital surgery by providing information demonstrating the disadvantages of circumcising women, such as high infant mortality, and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS. Oftentimes, women do not receive the same quality of healthcare as men and literally succumb as a result of the practice,” remarked Chisom. “However, as people are educated about the harmful effects of allowing midwives, etc., to perform improper surgery on the delicate region of the vagina, emphasizing how unsafe and unsanitary these methods are, people have begun to slowly eradicate the practice,” said Chisom who hopes to speed the process along with the release of her film.

Chisom has also become an outspoken voice and advocate for HIV/AIDS education. Recently, she participated in the African American Women in Cinema International Film Festival in partnership with Save Africa Concerts Foundation (SACAIDS) at the United Nation where Patience Ozokwo’s (a.k.a. Mama G) premiered her movie, ”Deeper Than Sex.” While Chisom is determined to make 2009 the year to eradicate female circumcision, both Nollywood stars have lent their voices to support SACAIDS in its fight against HIV/AIDS, poverty, and other health related issues. Through SACAIDS and her recent movie,” Chisom informs individuals performing these circumcisions that use of primitive tools such as unsanitary knives, razor blades and sharp rocks only serve to spread the HIV/AIDS virus. Hollywood actress Phyllis Yvonne Stickney is also an outspoken spokesperson for the SACAIDS organization headed by Hardy Jimbes.

Chisom’s film “Lost Maiden,” may prove to be one of the most necessary, vital and important films of 2009. The film is slated to premiere in New York City and at the United Nations in February 2009, at a date to be announced.


For additional information about Chisom Ozigboh-lee and her film “Lost Maiden,” contact Tuff Gig Entertainment via info@tufgig.com.

Omotola Jalade Ekeinde is one of Nollywood’s biggest stars


By Deardra Shuler

The African film industry is becoming a force to recognize as it churns out movies at a rapid pace. Nollywood stars are now being recognized in Europe and America with Omotola becoming one of the most recognized.

Known for winning the Best Actress in an English Speaking Movie and Best Actress Overall awards in her homeland of Nigeria, Omotola recently visited America to support actress/ producer Chisolm Oz-Lee’s poignant movie “Lost Maiden,” a film about female circumcision. She was also honored by the Liberian Embassy in Washington, D.C. and received an award from the African Female Entrepreneurs for her charitable work with children and her contribution to African entertainment.

Omotola also starred in “Lost Maiden” which was sponsored by SACAIDS, an organization dedicated to raising awareness about poverty, AIDS and other health issues impacting sub-Saharan regions of Africa as part of its health initiative.

“I took the role in ‘Lost Maiden’ because I have definite opinions about female circumcision. Women of my generation were circumcised but my daughters are not,” commented Omotola. “I feel that women should be allowed to choose whether they want to be circumcised or not. Some argue that circumcised women are generally circumcised locally and not in hospitals thus get infections. If the argument is that circumcisions should be done in hospitals, then do them in hospitals. If it’s about pain, pain is part of life. Also, many of these women are circumcised as babies and don’t remember the pain. The real issue is whether women have a right to sexual pleasure. Countries that circumcise women do so to control promiscuity. This doesn’t always work. Some women go from man-to-man trying to capture what they will never find since their clitoris was removed. Others might feel oversexed so opt for the procedure. Again, it should be about choice. As times change, many African men don’t want their wives circumcised. As more African women are exposed to media, they too see they have choices. Thus, in some cases, tradition is falling away,” stated the talented actress who has starred in over 250 movies and won 22 local and international awards.

Having arrived earlier than expected for the interview, I caught Ms. Ekeinde unawares. Without makeup she proved to be a natural beauty who is a strong, self confident, down-to-earth, centered, charming individual who made the interview pleasant. A graduate of the College of Technology where she studied Estate Management, Omotola’s main livelihood is acting, although she enjoys designing homes as a hobby.

Ekeinde started her career as a model. “One day, a friend asked me to accompany her to an audition. She didn’t get the role but convinced me to audition and I ended up getting a part,” said the star whose husband Captain Matthew Ekeinde nick named her Omosexy.

“I did a few movies but it was my role in ‘Mortal Inheritance’ that brought me acclaim and made me an award winning actress. Even to this day, “Mortal Inheritance,” is considered one of the best Nollywood films ever made in Nigeria. The film was about sickle cell anemia which is a big issue in Africa,” explained Ekeinde.

“When I won the award it was during the big movie boom in Africa so people were attending movies for the first time in large numbers. The movie industry in Nigeria is growing. Yes, we still have problems; equipment is not always the best and as we churn out movies in rapid order more and more actors are thinking more about money than their craft. However, I think everything has to go through a phase before it rights itself, so there is great hope for Nollywood,” said Omotola who is also a pop and rock singer.

“In the last few years I have turned my attention to music. I enjoy pop and rock which isn’t that popular in Africa yet since most Africans support traditional music or Afro pop, rap and some R&B. I use songs written by other Africans as well as write my own songs. I have a single out which is doing well on the Internet entitled ‘Feel All Right.’ Right now, I am working on my second untitled album. My plan is to do an album every 3 years.”

Omotola balances her two careers singing and acting while still putting her 4 children and her husband first. “My husband is not a traditional African man. He did not grow up in Africa. Since he is a pilot, he is well traveled, open minded and a citizen of the world. But he is still a man. I am grateful that he understands show business and thus encourages me. We support one another,” remarked the industrious star.

Omotola also writes a column called Omotola’s Diary which is featured in the Sunday Sun, the highest selling newspapers in Nigeria. Her popular column and her movies have attracted many fans, even robbers. “Robbers had me on the floor robbing me when they noticed my license plates and recognized me. They were so excited they returned all my possessions and even asked me to sing for them. They claimed they were big fans,” chuckled Omotola remembering that scary occasion.

“I have a large fan base throughout the world. I even have fans in America now. Many know me via my movies and for my charitable work. I work for Save the Children in London, an organization that aids children plagued by famine, AIDS, and war. I also work with Link A Child which links orphanages and charities together to make sure they have a symbiotic relationship. I also did the UN Walk with President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, Liberia’s first woman president,” remarked Omotola.


For further information about Omotola Jalade Ekeinde see www.omotola.tv/simplyomotola.html. For info on “Lost Maiden” visit www.sacaids.org and/or contact info@tuffgig.com