Thursday, April 5, 2012

Monday, April 2, 2012

Palmer Williams Jr. Stars in The Haves and the Have Nots

By Deardra Shuler

An Alabama native and Knoxville College graduate, singer, actor, writer and producer, Palmer Williams Jr., will be appearing in New York on April 5th – 8th at the Beacon Theatre, located 2124 Broadway @74th Street in Manhattan,  in Tyler Perry’s stage play “The Haves and the Have Nots.”

“I am playing a butler in “The Haves and the Have Nots.”  I am lending comedic relief as a nosy butler into everyone’s business. Although I am revisiting the character of Floyd, the role I play in the House of Payne.  The stage production has been a wonderful experience for me.  I am putting all of myself into the production and having a lot of fun.  The Haves and Have Nots is a show about two different family situations and two different economic situations.  It’s about a family with a deep love for one another and the hope they have in overcoming their struggles.  The other side is about a rich man, married for the second time to a woman with a wandering eye.  His wife is high maintenance and he begins to wonder if his wife loves him or his bank account.  The wife at one time was a Have Not, who acquired her wealth through marriage,” explained Palmer of the show.

Outside of the loveable barber, Floyd, on House of Payne, Palmer has appeared in other Tyler Perry productions such as “Laugh to Keep From Crying,” “Madea’s Big Happy Family,” “Madea Goes to Jail,” “The Marriage Counselor,” and another coming soon on DVD entitled “I Don’t Want To Be Wrong.” 

Initially in health administration, Williams was inspired to join the healthcare system when watching his mother die slowly of cancer when he was 9 years old. “I knew I had to do something since I came from a loving family with both a father and mother in the house, and then cancer destroyed that.  Therefore, I acquired a degree in health care, since I did not want others to suffer what I had when a parent dies.  My father later died of cancer as well,” recalled Palmer.   

“You know if you bring your body to an alkaline state you can get rid of cancer, since cancer cannot survive in an alkaline state.  They actually have alkaline drops you can get from a Holistic doctor to put in water or juice to kill the free radicals and balance the PH in your body.  Our bodies were engineered to heal itself.  This society worries itself sick and I believe that cancer is associated with stress and poor eating habits which builds up toxins in the body,” stated the singer and writer whose 11-old daughter was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at age 3.

Palmer, who always had the acting and singing bug, learned not to take himself too seriously.  When others told him that he was actually funny, he began to pursue a career in entertainment and through hard work found he had good timing.  Palmer has been successful as a singer.  His vocal credits have included singing background for Keith Sweat, Grammy award winner Monica and LCG.  He also writes songs.  His CD is entitled “Neo-Save.” Neo-Save is available on and on

Palmer is also on Twitter and Facebook.  His CD, Neo-Save, will be on sale at the Beacon Theatre as well as the CD “What A Man Wants, What A Women Needs” when “The Haves and Have Nots” play tour arrives at the Beacon Theatre April 5th through April 8th.

"I am a 24 year old overnight success with the birthing of my career, and I am not even half way there yet,” claimed Palmer humbly.  “I know those who come out and see The Haves and Have Nots will enjoy it.  I look forward to doing the show at the Beacon.  I have been to the Beacon a few times but it’s always like the first time, each time,” said the actor who also has a landscape business.  Palmer also spends time speaking before fellowship organizations and various high schools where he can inspire youth about the entertainment business and talk about life in general.

“When I come to New York, I will give 150% of myself in the show.   I consider it an honor to star in a show and work for Tyler Perry with his writing skills.  The way Tyler puts on a show is like no other and so I consider it to be a blessing to be associated with him.  Tyler believes in me so I do not want to disappoint Tyler, my family or my audience.”

For tickets to Tyler Perry’s “The Haves and The Have Nots,” interested parties can call the Beacon Theatre Box Office at 212-465-6500 or for groups of 15 or more, call 800-232-5227.  Tickets can also be obtained by calling 866-858-0008 or online at  or

Sunday, February 26, 2012

There are different points of view as to whether Thomas Jefferson actually had a love affair with his slave Sally Hemmings.  Many books have been written on the subject debating the pros and cons of the matter.  Descendants of Hemmings have claimed that two of Sally Hemming’s children, Eston and Madison, orally stated that Thomas Jefferson was their father.  Thus, their paternity by Thomas Jefferson has been widely supported and believed by Hemmings side of the family.  DNA testing via the male-line, indicates a genetic link between the Jefferson line and Hemming genetic line, indicating that an individual with the Jefferson Y chromosome fathered Eston Hemmings.  Although there were 25 adult male Jeffersons who carried the chromosome at the time, it’s assumed the most logic conclusion is that Thomas Jefferson fathered Eston Hemming for sure and therefore it’s supposed he fathered his other children by Sally Hemmings.

As part of Black History month, the Castillo Theatre, located at 543 West 42nd Street in Manhattan, has brought to the stage their musical portrayal of “Sally and Tom: The American Way” via Fred Newman’s book version and lyrics.  Presented in a rather unique theatrical setting the production is kept moving literally.  Starring Ava Jenkins as Sally Hemming; Adam Kemmerer as Thomas Jefferson, Sean Patrick Gibbons as antagonist James T, Callender, and Brian D. Hicks as Madison Hemmings.  Both David Nackman and Miss Jacqueline Salit portray James Madison.  The production runs until March 25th

While the play portrays Jefferson as a rather complicated man, it covers his hypocritical and rather cowardly side.  Reported as being opposed to slavery and even having stated he found the institution of slavery an abominable crime, Jefferson himself held slaves on his Monticello plantation in Virginia. Although it was not uncommon for the rich aristocracy to rape and force female slaves into sexual relationships as Jefferson did to Sally in Paris when she was 17 years old, it was one of those well kept private secrets never mentioned publicly.  In fact, it was considered bad form to talk about what even the slave master’s white wives, who while averting their eyes to the truth, could evidence given the numerous slave children who resembled their husbands. That is why when Jefferson’s political opponent and journalist James T. Callender wrote an article claiming Sally was Jefferson’s concubine during Jefferson’s first term as President, Jefferson gave no response, despite widely spread publicity on the affair.   

While Jefferson never freed Sally, (his daughter did) Sally repeatedly begged him to free his children.  He finally freed Madison on his 21st birthday and its rumored he eventually freed all his children. It’s reported that Jefferson drafted the Virginia law of 1778 prohibiting the importation of enslaved Africans and proposed an ordinance that would ban slavery in the Northwest territories, with the hopes of eventual emancipation.  Yet, after having proposed these ordinances, Jefferson primarily remained silent; neither making further anti-slavery statements nor taking any significant public action to change the course of slavery.  Jefferson’s contradictory nature remains a puzzle to historians.  

Initially I found the first half of the production slow moving, however it picked up considerably during the course of the show, directly challenging the hypocrisy of America itself in terms of its pretense of “equal justice and liberty for all,” when it clearly practices inequity.  Songs in the musical such as “Enslaved by the Color of Our Skin,” “Rich and Poor Hypocrisy,” “The Coward’s Song,” and “The American Way,” highlight America’s hypocrisy and penchant for unequal treatment of its non-white citizens.  The song “The Beginning of America’s Night,” focuses on White America’s fear of those of darker hue.  Their revulsion of black people and other people of color is demonstrated by their deeds, declarations and an institutionalized hatred that continues to exist to this day, despite denial to the contrary.  Given Jefferson’s anti-slavery position he would be delighted to see a black man as President and perhaps disappointed to see although President Obama expressed “change,” little has changed, given the unbridled hatred, disrespect, hostility, and disgusting behavior demonstrated by many members of Jefferson’s own race toward the presidency of Barack Obama. Jefferson would be horrified by the condition of America; its joblessness, fear mongering, wars, dismantling of citizens rights, the economic condition brought about by the loss of manufacturing, greed and corruption and an educational system that ranks lower than some third world countries. He would be shocked by the complacency of the American people whose complete ambivalence and lack of self-governance has turned America into an oligarchy instead of a democracy.  Jefferson would find it unimaginable that greedy corporations have become multi-nationalist betraying America and nationalism for the sake of profit. 

“Sally and Tom: The American Way,” displays the inequity of early America, while reminding us that inequity still prevails.  Although a hidden love affair between two people, Sally and Tom demonstrates that nothing hidden remains so forever.  Yet, it reminds us it’s not too late for America to learn the lessons of its past.  Go see “Sally and Tom” and let’s begin the collective work that brings true equity and a better America in future.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Kim Brockington as Zora Neale Hurston: Our Stories in History

By Deardra Shuler

The National Black Touring Circuit featured Kim Brockington as Zora Neale Hurston, in a one woman play written by Laurence Holder, and directed by Wynn Handman, as part of the Black History Month Play Festival which runs through February 26th, wherein shows such as “The Good Fight: A Phillip Randolph” starring Ralph McCain, was held February 3-5; Zora Neale Hurston ran February 10th through 12th; “Adam” is running at the Dwyer Cultural Center, at 258 St. Nicholas Avenue in Manhattan, February 17-19, starring Timothy Simonson, and I, Barbara Jordan” starring Toni Seawright, finishes out the series at the National Black Theatre, located at 2031 Fifth Avenue, on February 24-26th. Call the respective venues for tickets.

“I wouldn’t be doing Zora if it weren’t for Woodie King, Jr., and Elizabeth Van Dkye. Initially Elizabeth was portraying Zora with Joseph Edwards. The show was top shelf. I caught her show and was very impressed. A year later, Woodie called me to say Elizabeth could not do the show in Bethlehem, PA and asked whether I could I go on in her place. I did not have to do anything but say ‘yes.’ And I did. Elizabeth was generous and gave me the blocking. Woodie gave me the script and I had 6 weeks to get ready for it. I had some pretty big shoes to fill. I started playing the role whenever Elizabeth could not do a performance,” said Kim Brockington.

“I have always been interested in the life of Zora Neale Hurston. Born in Notasulga, Alabama in 1891, Zora was the fifth of eight children. Zora was a fun loving, outrageous, bodacious individual who was all about getting her art out to the world. She became the literary queen of the Harlem Renaissance. “Her Eyes Were Watching God was one of her most famous books,” stated Kim who loves portraying the role.

Ms. Brockington portrayed Zora in a PBS documentary. “I talk about Zora’s childhood in the PBS version,” remarked the talented performer. “Zora’s mother died when Zora was young and it changed Zora’s whole world. Her father married very soon afterward. Zora’s father was a ladies man and always a bit scandalous. His new wife did not like Zora, so Zora was sent her off to school. Eventually, her father stopped paying for school and she was kicked out. She got a job in a traveling theatrical show as a maid. Zora always loved storytelling, thus it’s no surprise she became a writer. She returned to school attending Morgan where she finished high school. By the time she got to Howard University, she was writing. She was 28. She went on to Barnard where she majored in anthropology."

Ahead of her time, Zora was a poet, writer and anthropologist, who won several awards and contests. Eventually she won a Guggenheim Fellowship allowing her to travel to Jamaica and Haiti, where she studied African voodoo rituals. Hurston continued her research in America’s southland where she collected and wrote about African American folklore.

During the Harlem Renaissance era, a lot of the artists had patrons who sponsored their work. Charlotte Mason was Zora’s patron. Ms. Mason was an influential woman who gave Zora money for clothes, books and lodging. Langston Hughes also had a patron but criticized Zora for allowing her patronage to go on too long. Charlotte Mason, who insisted Zora called her “Godmother,” was very controlling and wanted to control Zora’s art, forcing Zora to acquiesce to Charlotte demands. Zora felt smothered, frustrated and angry under Godmother’s control. Finally, she got away from Godmother after publishing Jonah’s Gourd Vine in 1934. "Moses, Man of the Mountain" was published in 1939. Ms. Hurston’s periodicals were published in The Saturday Evening Post, and American Mercury. She contributed to "Woman in the Suwannee County Jail," a book written by journalist William Bradford Hule. As a folklorist, Hurston oftentimes wrote in the dialect of her subject matter, utilizing speech patterns of the period she documented. “Mules and Men,” was another of her works.

Zora studied voodoo in New Orleans and became a voodoo priestess. She established a school of dramatic arts at Bethune College. Then while Zora was in Honduras she was falsely accused of child molestation in the United States. This took a toll on Zora. Even though she was able to prove her innocence the damage had been done. Accusations, primarily detailed in the black press, ruined her life. It became difficult for Zora to find work or get her work published. She took work where she could find it and freelanced for magazines. Broke, tired and disappointed, Zora went home to Alabama where she found work as a maid. She died, buried in an unmarked grave. Alice Walker resurrected Hurston’s work posthumously.

Kim Brockington was born in Baltimore, Maryland. An only child, Kim started performing at 5 years old. Acting and singing has always been in her blood. She went to Morgan State for a year and transferred to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. She has been acting ever since.

She will be performing her one-woman show on Zora at Georgia State University in Atlanta on March 12th for Women’s Month; in May, she is slated to perform Zora in Baltimore and perhaps another performance in New Jersey in June. Her other credits include an Audelco Award for Outstanding Performance for Archbishop Supreme Tartuffe in 2009. She performed Darlene in “In Walks Ed.” She was nominated for another Audelco Award for “Coming Apart Together.” In TV and Film, Kim appeared in the Spike Lee pilot “Da Brick.” She has appeared in soaps “The Guiding Light,” “One Life to Live,” and “All My Children.” Ms. Brockington guest starred in West Wing, Third Watch, Law and Order Criminal Intent and in films “Rock the Paint,” "School of Rock,” “Love Songs,” and “Dirty Laundry.”

Interested parties can find out more about Kim Brockington via

Monday, January 30, 2012

Bobby McFerrin: The Sounds of Music

By Deardra Shuler

Bobby McFerrin is best known for his #1 chart topping Grammy Award winning song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” But Bobby has moved on since that song, far surpassing it with a genius of talent that deserves every accolade he receives in the music world he dearly loves. Mr. McFerrin has a truly amazing vocal gift in the genres of jazz, pop, spiritual, blues, classical and R&B. His musical prowess is so appreciated that McFerrin is a ten-time Grammy Award winner.

While McFerrin will be performing on Saturday, February 4th at Lehman Center of the Performing Arts, located at 250 Bedford Park Boulevard West, in the Bronx, NY, at 8:00 p.m., he can thrill your a.m. hours with his song “Sweet in the Morning,” performed with Voicestra, a group he founded, comprised of 12 a cappella vocalists and whom he featured on his CD Medecine Music. Bobby and Voicestra also released Circlesongs, a Sony Classical album of meditative works comprised of eight improvisational tunes steeped in Middle Eastern and African tradition. Via the classical genre Bobby’s version of Stravinsky Minuetto & Finale Pulcinella Suite and Vivaldi Concierto en Sol Menor (G Minor) had me enraptured by the beauty of his vocals and music composition. To claim that Bobby McFerrin knows his way around all forms of music with ease and pure genius is no understatement.

This writer was not as familiar with the music of Bobby McFerrin outside of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” when I began this article. However, I have resolved to remedy my lack of exposure to McFerrin’s music, after visiting YouTube, which opened up a brand new world for me in reference to the music of Bobby McFerrin. I only had to close my eyes to be transported into the melodic harmonies of the Islands or carried away to South Africa. Bobby’s music awakened an innate rhythm within me that hoisted my imagination into the tropics, savannahs, deserts, and grasslands of the Motherland via his song “The Garden,” also on his Medecine Music CD.

McFerrin is the master of improvisation. His vocal skills, his creativity, diversity and four-octave range has been known to turn live audiences into a virtual orchestra as he leads the crowd down the pentatonic scale. His music is unique, inspiring, as well as haunting as is emphasized in Bobby’s “The Elephant’s Child.”

Bobby McFerrin was born to music. His soul chose it when he entered life in 1950. What else could he be destined for having been born to two classically trained parents. In fact, his father, Robert McFerrin, Sr., was the first African-American male to perform solo at the Metropolitan Opera. So was it any wonder that Bobby took to music like a fish to water. At 8 years old, he began playing piano and clarinet. Versatile in all music genres, Bobby listened to the music of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, James Brown, Sergio Mendes, George Gershwin, Led Zeppelin and Brazil ’66, et al. He tried it all: bands, cabaret, even dance. Then at 27 years of age, Bobby declared himself a singer. Bill Cosby gave him his first big break by arranging for this ‘human orchestra’ known as Bobby McFerrin to perform at the Playboy Jazz Festival. The Kool Jazz Festival followed, leading to a contract with Elektra Records. By 1984, he was ready to release his first solo vocal jazz album which was titled The Voice, wherein he recorded with no accompaniment or overdubbing.

Oftentimes, McFerrin has performed spontaneously without rehearsal, using his own body to produce percussion sounds, while singing various vocal parts, employing his arsenal of vocal techniques.

Mr. McFerrin won Grammys for “’Round Midnight” with Herbie Hancock, “What Is This Thing Called Love?” “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” and “Spontaneous Inventions,” etc. After the release of another of his masterpieces “Simple Pleasures,” Mr. McFerrin demonstrated he had other talents and became an orchestra conductor. He started his conducting debut with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and led dozens of world orchestras thereafter. In 1990, the talented performer recorded the first of two albums with Chick Corea, entitled “Play.” 1992 saw a collaboration with cellist Yo-Yo Ma, the outcome of which gave the world Hush, a set of Bobby’s original and classical standards. His teaming with YellowJackets, a jazz fusion band resulted in Bang! Zoom. By1994, he was named creative director of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. In 2010, Bobby released his first new album in eight years, VOCAbuLarieS, in collaboration with composer and vocalist Roger Treece, a Voicestra member.

Bobby McFerrin has appeared in a number of films and television programs, including NBC’s The Sing Off. He has performed on A Prairie Home Companion and has sung the themes for Son of the Pink Panther and The Cosby Show. McFerrin has been profiled on 60 Minutes and Nightline.

For tickets to hear Bobby McFerrin on Saturday, February 4th at 8:00 p.m., call the Lehman Center Box Office at 718.960.8833 or go on line at

Thursday, January 19, 2012

O'Jays: Wowed the Bronx Crowd

By Deardra Shuler
Photo by Seitu Oronde

Eddie Levert, Walter Williams and Eric Nolan Grant, of the O’Jays, rocked the house at Lehman Center for the Performing Arts in the Bronx, NY, on Saturday, January 14th, singing songs from their classic repertoire. The entertainers lit up the stage in their sparkling white outfits, regaling the crowd with amusing banter and dance numbers that had some women rushing to the stage, grabbing the hand of their favorite entertainer in the hope of receiving a touch, glance and/or even a smile from the fabulous O’Jays. Adding a spark of warmth inside that made the temperature rise while the weather outside dropped down into the 20s making everyone feel the chill. The O'Jays got the crowd roaring and some feeling pretty hot. One woman even threw her scarf on the stage causing Eddie to gentle wrap it back around her neck as she swooned in ecstasy.

Comedian “Hamburger” is one of the funniest men alive and he proved it, joking with the audience and even embarrassing a few late comers and 'seat stealers.' The late comers unfortunately for them were in the very front row. However, once they got down to the front row there were no vacant seats. Confused and chagrined as Hamburger pelted them with quips, the late comers walked back and forth with tickets in hand, glimpsing at all the filled seats, walking from left to right in front of the stage, until Hamburger had to finally yell for an usher to get down stage and help them get seated. What made it even more hilarious is -- turns out, a daring couple who had usurped the late comers seats, now had to publicly reveal themselves, get up and march sheepishly back to their own seats in the back while the audience laughed hysterically.

Hamburger's opening act set the tone for the rest of the evening, putting everyone in a jovial mood. Eddie got the crowd roaring himself when he introduced the band. He introduced all the band members he knew but when he got to the side of the stage where some of the musicians were white, he apparently did not know their names, so simply introduced them collectively as "the white folks," setting off peals of laughter. All done in good fun.

The O’Jays started their career in Canton, Ohio in the late 1950s. They came to epitomize the Philly sound via their rich harmonies and contemporary funk. Two of the originals, Eddie Levert and Walter Williams still continue to regale their adoring fans with the songs they made famous. The O’Jays sang “Love Train,” “Backstabbers,” “Use Ta Be My Girl” and “For the Love of Money,” to a sold out house on January 14th, proving why the O’Jays have earned 24 Top Ten hits, ten gold albums, nine platinum and ten #1 hits.

In fact, all three O’Jays are putting out individual solo recordings. Walter Williams released his CD Exposed last year and Eddie and Eric are in the final stages of completing their individual CDs.

I had the opportunity to speak to Eddie Levert before their Bronx concert. ”My project is called “Eddie Levert: I Still Have It” remarked Eddie. “There is a song entitled Last Man Standing. This will be my first shot as a solo artist outside the O’Jays. I hope my fans will give me a chance and listen to it. It was hard for me. Even though I tried to reinvent myself while doing my album, it’s difficult not to sound like an O’Jay. I just can’t help it,” chuckled the talented singer. “I stayed within my ballpark so the Cd contains songs that have a spirit of its own. It’s taken me 3 years to complete the project. I am rather proud of it. I wrote and produced it with the help of a few talented people. I still appreciate the art of creating music from the bottom to the top. I like doing it natural, doing it raw with no cut and no chaser,” claimed the 2009 BET Lifetime Achievement Award and the 2011 Trumpet Lifetime Achievement Award winner.

These days Eddie Levert is satisfied with life. He spoke about his life-time relationship with Walter Williams, who he considers to be as close as a brother, and his relationship with those dear to him. “I have to say that this is the happiest time of my life" remarked Eddie sincerely. "I try to infuse that feeling into the songs I write. The CD I am presently working on is really my story. It talks about the happy place I am at with the person I am with. In fact, my opening song is called “Lonely," because when my wife is not with me, I realize how much I miss her.”

"Lonely" is a song Eddie wrote in tribute to the love he feels for his wife, whom he says makes him get in touch with his heart and make up his mind to be a better person.

Eddie talked about how he started off in music. “It was my younger and older brother, Walter Williams and me initially. We began by singing in the church. We did not know what we were doing, we just had good voices. From there, we started auditioning. We auditioned for Decca Records but got our first deal with King Records. In California, we sang pop. In New York, we worked with DJ Eddie O’Jay, who managed us for awhile and so eventually we adopted his name as the group name. We became ballad singers and beach crowd singers, so over the years developed a diverse fan base. In Detroit, we sang with Thelma Gordy and started hanging out with the likes of Wilson Pickett, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Edwin Starr and the Four Tops. Listen to me name-dropping,” grinned Levert, whose statement to me on my Internet radio show, “Topically Yours,” on, Rainbow Soul, suggesting fans come out to see the O’Jays soon because they were planning a possible National Retirement Tour this summer. His talk about a possible O'Jay retirement created quite a stir and took everyone around Mr. Levert by surprise.

Upcoming 2012 shows at Lehman Center for the Performing Arts, will be a Doo Wop show featuring the likes of The Drifters, The Platters, and The Chiffons, et al. Also appearing are: The Spanish Harlem Orchestra, Gloria Gaynor and the Hit Men, Bobby McFerrin, Gilberto Santa Rosa, Forever Freestyle, Salsa Con Amor, Blues Brother Tribute, Capone, Smokey Robinson, The Moscow Ballet Festival featuring Cinderella and again appearing with Swan Lake. Check the Lehman Center for the Performing Arts Show roster for all their upcoming engagements. Tickets are affordable, so get your tickets now.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Unforgettable Doo Wop

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By Deardra Shuler

Lehman Center for the Performing Arts is bringing Doo Wop to the Bronx on Saturday, January 28th at 8:00 p.m., featuring the Coasters, The Herb Reed Platters, The Drifters featuring Charlie Thomas, the Chiffons and Jimmy Beaumont and the Skyliners as part of “Unforgettable Doo Wop.” Doo wop emerged from the streets of New York and Philadelphia as a distinct African American sound.

I had the opportunity to talk to two group originals, Judy Mann of the Chiffons, and the Drifters’, Charlie Thomas.

75 year old Charlie Thomas was eager to talk about his upcoming show at Lehman Center, especially since he spent much of his youth in New York. “I still got my rock ‘n roll shoes on,” quipped Charlie.

Charlie Thomas became a Drifter in 1956, when his group, the Five Crowns, won Amateur Hour at the Apollo. “I was part of the Five Crowns. A group known as the Drifters, were performing the same night as us. Some problem resulted between them, the theatre owner and manager George Treadwell. So we were asked if we wanted to become Drifters. I thought to myself -- how can we become the Drifters when we are standing on the stage performing with them. But somehow or another we got a contract and they put us under the name “The Drifters.” Ben E. King wrote the song, “There Goes My Baby,” we recorded it, and there we were.”

The Drifters had several hits like: “Under the Boardwalk,” “This Magic Moment,” “Save the Last Dance,” and “Up on the Roof,” et al.”

Charlie Thomas has been with the Drifters for 55 years and has traveled all over the globe. “I’ve been a Drifter since I was 16 years old. I came to New York when I was 12. I met The Five Crowns at 13, and became a Drifter at 16,” explained the famed singer. “I used to live on 121st Street, 167th Street and Grand Concourse and I also lived in Long Island and Brooklyn. I am a big Giants fan and true New Yorker.”
Charlie talked about his beginnings. “We used to hang out on the street corner on 8th Ave and 119th St. Groups hung out on the street corners singing back then. Sometimes the bigger celebrities used to come up 8th Avenue and watch the groups perform. Actor Jeff Chandler came and Billy Eckstein. So did Sammy Davis, Jr., and Tony Bennett. They used to throw money to the best group,” recalled Thomas.

Over the years, Charlie appeared with and/or met luminaries such as Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder. “I have met so many people who have influenced my life. Back in the day, I met Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis, Pigmeat Markham, Red Foxx, Malcolm X, and Cab Calloway. I used to hang out with the Beatles at the Cave in England. All of them looked out for me and gave me good advice. They kept me away from the drugs and taught me how to present myself on stage. In fact, before appearing at Lehman on Jan. 28th, I am working a cruise for a week with the Monkees and Paul Revere and the Raiders,” remarked Charlie.

“I’ve lived a full life. I have had some wives, some girlfriends and been in the White House 3 or 4 times. I am delighted that President Obama is now the president. I’m married to a beautiful woman who’s interviewing for a job in the White House. I hope she gets it. As for me, I’m a drifter who has to take care of family, so I am moving around the globe,” chuckled Thomas.

Lou Bailey, Jerome Manning, Stephen Brown and Jack Columbo are the Drifters performing with Charlie at Lehman Center.

Mr. Thomas was inducted in the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame. He also won a Rhythm and Blues Award.

Ronnie Mack who wrote “Puppy Love,” and “He’s So Fine,” discovered the Chiffons, who at the time he met them were 3 Bronx teenagers with a penchant to sing. Ronnie dreamed of being a success as a songwriter. He peddled his songs to record company after record company and despite numerous rejections, kept at it until he met producers Phil and Mitch Margo, Jay Seigel, and Hank Medress a.k.a., The Tokens. The Tokens liked Mack's song, "He's So Fine." Mack brought in the Chiffons to sing it and consequently the song was released on Laurie Records.

“When we started out, we were just doing it for Ronnie. He wanted success so badly but Barbara, Pat and I were teenagers, so we didn’t take it as seriously as Ronnie. Stardom was Ronnie’s dream, we were just having fun,” recalled Judy Mann, the Chiffons lead singer. “We never expected success, but of course were thrilled when Ronnie’s song became a hit. We grew up in the Bronx, so all we knew was the Bronx, success changed us a lot. We got to go overseas and many different places. We appeared on American Bandstand with Dick Clark which was very exciting and also appeared on Murray the Ks show,” said the Chiffon.

Also, recording artists, The Tokens, as producers, split up the group, giving them an additional name to sing under. They were also “The Four Pennies.” While Ronnie Mack did realize his dream of becoming successful, he succumbed to Hodgkins disease and passed away at age 25. Some of the songs made famous by the Chiffons are: “He’s So Fine,” “I Have A Boy Friend,” “One Fine Day,” “Sweet Talkin Guy,” “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” and “Dream, Dream, Dream.” While the original Chiffons consisted of Judy Craig, Barbara Lee and Pat Bennett, the current Chiffons are still Judy, but now Dawn Mann and Eulena Morris.

The Chiffons were inducted into the Walk of Fame in 2005.

For tickets to Unforgettable Doo Wop on January 28th at 8:00 p.m., call 718-960-8833 or go on line at

Friday, January 6, 2012

O'Jays: Giving the People What They Want

By Deardra Shuler

The O’Jays, who started their career in Canton, Ohio in 1958, came to epitomize the Philly sound with their rich harmonies and contemporary funk. They lit the music world on fire with songs like “Love Train,” “Backstabbers,” “Use Ta Be My Girl” and “For the Love of Money.” These music dynamos are the talent behind 24 Top Ten hits, which includes ten gold albums, nine platinum and ten #1 hits. Relaxing and preparing for his concert in New York, Eddie Levert, the O’Jay’s lead singer, is looking forward to his engagement with fellow O’Jays, Walter Williams and Eric Nolan Grant, at Lehman Center for the Performing Arts, located at 250 Bedford Park Boulevard West, in the Bronx, on Saturday, January 14th at 8:00 p.m.

After working with Gamble & Huff, the O’Jays began a remarkable union that produced nearly 30 chart singles during the ‘70s, plus a series of best-selling albums and numerous #1 R&B hits. Their 1973 Ship Ahoy recording featured one of their signature songs (and theme song of the NBC hit “The Apprentice”), the #1 R&B hit “For the Love of Money.” 1975's Survival was a hit that spun off “Let Me Make Love to You” and the R&B hit “Give the People What They Want.”

“New York is one of my favorite places. New York is a 24-hour place just like Las Vegas,” said the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee. “I love, love, love, New York and always enjoy performing in that city” said the singer, who is putting the finishing touches on his solo album. In fact, all three O’Jays are putting out individual solo recordings. Walter Williams released his CD Exposed with the song “It’s Raining Outside,” which is getting a lot of buzz. Eddie Levert and Eric Nolan Grant are in the final stages of their solo CDs.

“My project is called “Eddie Levert: I Still Have It” remarked Eddie. “There is also a song I wrote entitled Last Man Standing. I hope my fans will give me a chance and at least listen to it. Since this is my first shot at a solo recording outside the O’Jays, it was a hard thing to do. Especially since I have recorded so long as an O’Jay, it was hard to reinvent myself for my solo album. I think I provided songs that make my CD a special offering. I know that I am proud of it. I both wrote songs and produced it. I did not produce it alone because I had the help of a lot of other people,” said the soul singer. “I used to write with my son Gerald before he passed. Now Gerald’s daughters are interested in going into the music business and have begun to work on their own music” claimed the 2009 BET Lifetime Achievement Award and the 2011 Trumpet Lifetime Achievement Award winner.

Eddie talked about how he started off in music. “It was my younger and older brother, Walter Williams and me initially. We began by singing in the church. We did not know what we were doing, we just had good voices. From there we started auditioning. We auditioned for Decca Records but got our first deal with King Records,” said the soul singer.

Recording the music of Gamble & Huff brought the O’Jays a lot of success. But eventually they started to write their own music and in 1997, Levert, Williams and the O’Jays’ newest member, Eric Nolan Grant, released Love You to Tears. The O’Jays signed with MCA where they released For the Love, receiving their fourth GRAMMY nomination. In 2003, they appeared in the film “The Fighting Temptations” starring Cuba Gooding, Jr. and BeyoncĂ© Knowles.

Eddie Levert is satisfied with his life these days. “I have to say that this is the happiest time of my life. I tried to infuse that in the songs I write. It’s really my story and talks about the happy place I am at with the person I am with. In fact, the opening song on my solo CD is called “Lonely.” That song came about because my wife, Rachelle, decided to go to Africa with a friend to mountain climb. And, she actually climbed to the top of Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, one of the highest mountains in Africa. Few people do that and succeed. My wife did. After having climbed to the top, my wife and her friend later went to a region where they spotted a tribe of monkeys. My wife called me to tell me she was in a jungle area surrounded by monkeys. It made me realize how far away she was from me and if anything happened to her, how helpless I would be to try to get to her. That is when the song “Lonely” came to me. It conveys how lonely I am when my wife is not with me. She makes me want to be a better person and get in touch with both my heart and mind.”

Interested parties can hear the entire interview with Eddie Levert on my radio show Topically Yours, at, Rainbow Soul.

The O’Jays are currently performing at various engagements around the country. “We are in the midst of planning a national tour” remarked Levert. “We are getting old now and are thinking of retirement, so this may be our last national tour, which if all goes well, will commence in the summer. So tell your readers to come out and see us since it may be their last opportunity to do so before the O’Jays retire.

Fans can get tickets for the O’Jays concert on Saturday, January 14th,at 8:00 p.m. in the Bronx by calling the Lehman Center for the Performing Arts Box Office at 718.960.8833 or by going on line at