Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Monday, October 21, 2013

“Stealin’ Home” at the Castillo
(Photo by Ron Glass)

By Deardra Shuler

If you are a fan of the great Jackie Robinson who became the first African American to play in the major leagues, you may wish to catch “Stealin’ Home,” directed by Negro Ensemble artistic director, Charles Weldon.  “Stealin’Home,’ is presently running until November 24th at the Castillo Theatre, located at 543 West 42nd Street in Manhattan.

 This three character play written by playwright, Fred Newman, tells the story of Jackie Robinson’s early days in baseball and his relationship with fellow ballplayer and friend, Pee Wee Reese.  Daniel Hickman plays Jackie, while Nick Webster portrays Pee Wee.  Ava Jenkins plays the role of Sally Sojourner, a waitress and fan of Jackie’s. We find in the female character played by Jenkins, a quiet strength.  In the beginning of the play its clear she knows Pee Wee loves to embellish, and while his somewhat over zealous assertions may not hold her attention, you see that the man himself does.  It seems Sojourner is there to tell the truth and to let the men see she has their best interest at heart.

 The story is seen through the eyes of shortstop Pee Wee Reese who narrates this rather hypothetical tale, giving his version of Robinson, whom he sees as a fine figure of a man, great ball player for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and an outstanding fielder.  The audience can clearly see that there is some hero worshipping of Robinson going on, on the part of Reese.

 We do see that the playwright has taken some poetic license in his depiction of Robinson in “Stealin Home.”  Some sports enthusiasts remember Robinson as a serious man, but painted by Newman’s brush, Robinson demonstrates a sense of humor, in fact is not above playing pranks.  At one point Pee Wee talks about Shadow Ball.  Shadow Ball was occasionally played with good humor by the Negro Leagues.  It was a game designed to confound and distract the challenging team, by pretending to throw a real ball while actually not throwing any ball at all.  Merely going through the motions as if an actual ball had been thrown. Whether Robinson felt confident enough to play Shadow Ball with his white teammates in real life remains to be seen, but at least in Newman’s version, Jackie did prank the major leaguers to the consternation of the opposing team and the delight of Pee Wee.

Being the first to bring about change, carries with it enormous pressure, especially when it comes to having to boldly step out into an arena as the one breaking the color barrier as Robinson did.  Having to endure the hoots and hollers of fans who wanted to keep the game white, while Robinson is expected to keep his cool. Something that was not always so easy.  We do however get the feeling that Pee Wee understood the racism Robinson endured and admired him for the strength it took to face bias and hatred day after day.  In fact, Reese is known for a famous line wherein he stated, "You can hate a man for many reasons. Color is not one of them.” In 1948, Reese put his arm around Robinson in response to fans who shouted racial slurs at Robinson before a game in Cincinnati. And encouraged Jackie to keep his cool after manager Ben Chapman called Robinson a “nigger” from the dugout, yelling that Jackie should go back to the cotton fields.  Somehow Jackie endured it all and as a result, he ended up changing the white washed game of baseball forever.

 During his sojourn in baseball, Robinson played the sport for over 10 seasons which included six World Series and the 1955 World Championship.  He won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1949, becoming the first African American to be so honored.

 Jackie Robinson was an all around sportsman.  Before he wore number 42, he also played, basketball, football, and track.  In fact, he won the 1940 NCAA Men’s Outdoor Track and Field Championship in the Long Jump.

 While the play paced itself well, I found the acting of Hickman a little stiff.  However, I shrugged that off as Opening Night jitters. On the other hand, Nick Webster seemed to be enjoying the heck out of himself as he fluidly delivered his lines and drew the audience into his fun loving character.  Jenkins plays the somewhat bored recipient of Pee Wee’s narration and in some cases the social conscious of Robinson. We never meet Jackie’s family in Stealin Home but we do get the strong impression that Jackie loved his wife and was a strong family man. 

 Time passes throughout the play and the characters age. Jackie retires from baseball and becomes the vice president for personnel at Chock full o'Nuts; making him the first black person to serve as vice president of a major American corporation.  As the play evolves, we come to see that Robinson is starting to get ill. He eventually starts losing his sight and ultimately succumbs to complications caused by heart disease and diabetes.

 We leave the play convinced that the world is a whole lot better having had Jackie Robinson play ball.  Don’t miss this play if your are a sports enthusiast who wants to get a view that depicts a different slant on the life of a man who was thrust into being a hero, when all along he simply just wanted to play ball.


Gloria Lynne” I’m Glad There Was You”   
By Deardra Shuler             

When I was a little girl my mother often sang the song, “I Wish You Love,” a hit that would become singer Gloria Lynne’s signature song. This song had special meaning for my mother and knowing how important the song was to her, it became important to me.  I never thought when I became an adult I would meet and eventually befriend Gloria Lynne, but that is the way it turned out.  Age can be taxing, and at 83 years old, Gloria Lynne’s body began to fail, even though her mind and spirit remained indomitable. Gloria fell ill.  She was on the road to recovery when she was forced to return to Columbus Hospital, where Gloria Lynne, the great jazz, blues, soul and R&B vocalist and legend, succumbed to a heart attack on Tuesday, October 15th at 11:00 pm in Newark, NJ.  Gloria’s funeral is to be held on Monday, October 28th at her favorite church in Harlem, Abyssinian Baptist, located at 132 Odell Park Place, (138th Street between Adam Clayton Powell and Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvds).  Church doors open at 12 noon and service starts at 1:00 p.m.
Over the years, I followed Gloria Lynne’s career, attending a few concerts, chatting on the phone and falling in love with the woman and her voice.  What struck me about the glorious Miss Gloria was her strength, her charm and her ability to meet adversity with faith and each triumph with grace.  Her talent was God given and Gloria knew it.  Gloria worked her entire life, having last appeared at the “54 Below club” in August. 

During her career, Ms. Lynne made nearly 400 recordings.  She worked with the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Harry Belafonte, Johnny Mathias, Quincy Jones, Stanley Turrentine, Kenny Burrell, the Delltones, Bobby Timmons, and Billy Eckstine, etc.  She recorded songs like “The Jazz In You,” “The Folks Who Live On the Hill,” “I Am Glad There’s You,” “Joey Joey Joey,” “June Nights,” and of course her signature song, “I Wish You Love.”  King Curtis wrote the blues song “Soul Serenade” just for Gloria’s voice and the song became a hit.

Gloria Lynne was a songwriter herself.  She worked on Watermelon Man with Herbie Hancock, “All Day Long,” with Kenny Burrell and “Lend Me Yesterday,” with her friend and lyricist, Ann Rubino.  She also sang the soundtrack for the movies “U-turn” and “Seven.”

Gloria Lynne was born Gloria Wilson in Harlem.  She had 3 siblings.  Her mother and father separated when Gloria was 3 years old.  When she was 15, she won an Amateur Night contest at the Apollo Theatre by singing “Don’t Take Your Love From Me.”  She recorded her first album to earn tuition for medical school.  It was never her intention to have a musical career, but once the recording hit, her musical career was launched.  She got into the record industry by doing demos for singers such as Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughn.  This enabled Gloria to get a recording contract with Everest.  She was with Everest for 7 years.   In the earlier days of her career, Lynne sang with an all girl group called the Delltones, later singing with the Enchanters. She performed with Harry Belafonte’s Strolling 20s TV special where she was in the company of artists like Sammy Davis, Jr., Nipsey Russell, Duke Ellington and Diahann Carroll. 
So many artists of that era talk about the exploitation of artists by the record companies.  Gloria was no exception.  Most of her life, Gloria had trouble collecting royalties due her.  In fact, as big as her hit I Wish You Love became, Gloria was never paid a dime.  To make ends meet when living in California, she secretly worked at Bank of America, while keeping her recording career and night club appearances going.

Gloria married Harry Alleyne and from that union produced her sole heir and son, Richard P.J. Alleyne.  She is presently survived by him.
An eclectic singer, Gloria Lynne had many fans from around the world enabling her to pack the house during most of her live performances.  I will miss Gloria.  She was a positive person in my life.  She loved her fans and I know that on whatever other worldly plane her soul may now exist, she would say to us all, “I Wish You Love.”  And we wish you love too, Gloria.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Pianist Cedar Walton and Barry Harris Pay Tribute to Mulgrew Miller in the Allen Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center

By Deardra Shuler
Jazz pianist Cedar Walton called into my show Topically Yours, at, Rainbow Soul, to talk about his upcoming concert in the Allen Room, at Frederick P. Rose Hall, at Jazz at Lincoln Center on 60th Street and Broadway in Manhattan.  Mr. Walton will be playing a 9 foot Steinway Concert Piano along with fellow pianist Barry Harris with whom he is sharing the bill, on Saturday, June 22.nd.  The two pianists will play two sets; a 7:30 pm and 9:30 pm set.  Accompanying the two NEA jazz masters will be the much admired drummer Willie Jones, III and famed bassist, Buster Williams.
Pianist Mulgrew Miller who was originally scheduled to perform on the program, suddenly died of a heart attack on May 29th.  Therefore Mark Morganelli through his organization Jazz Forum Arts via their Fifth JALC Jazz Piano Summit featuring Cedar Walton and Barry Harris, will pay tribute to Mulgrew Miller via this program.  Mr. Miller, who began his career with Betty Carter, and moved on to work with Billy Shaw and later Art Blakeley, was known for playing in the tradition of Oscar Peterson McCoy Tyner and Kenny Barron.
I was surprised by Mulgrew’s sudden death.  He was only 57.  I can remember when I first met him.  He was traveling with the Duke Ellington Orchestra under the leadership of Mercer Ellington, Duke’s son.  Mulgrew came out of Mississippi and was always a very talented and capable musician.  We struck up a friendship that lasted until his recent death.  I am glad that the Jazz Form decided to pay tribute to Mulgrew via the concert, especially since Mulgrew was taken from us so early” remarked Walton.
Born in Dallas, Texas, Cedar began his sojourn into music very early.  “My mother was a pianist who taught piano privately. She was also a public school teacher.  Through her guidance I began to learn piano and knew that was what I wanted to do in life.  I don’t get the opportunity too often to play with other pianists, so that will make the gig at the Allen Room more special.  It will be a treat to play the 9 foot Steinway concert grand along with Barry Harris during our Jazz at Lincoln Center show” continued the pianist and composer, who spoke about the musicians who made an impact on his life.
“I am impressed by a number of artists; Nat King Cole for instance.  I did not know Nat personally but of course was very familiar with his music.  In the jazz world everyone knew that Nat began his career as a pianist.  I’m not sure who else knows that.  The story goes that Nat was playing in some club one night and it was suggested to him that he had a golden voice and should consider singing.  So Nat King Cole launched his singing career.  I also admire Thelonious Monk and Art Tatum.  Thelonious Monk was a contemporary who I had a healthy association with it.  I much admired his work” commented Cedar of Monk whose compositions consisted of “Ask Me Now,” “Bluehawk,” “Blue Monk,” “Bright Mississippi,” “Criss Cross” and Crepuscule with Nellie, to name a few.
A composer himself, Cedar Walton penned songs like Bolivia,” “Clockwise” and “Firm Roots,” which later began jazz standards.  “Everyone has their method of composing but I just sit at the keyboards and begin developing my pieces that way.  I haven’t quite decided yet what  numbers I will perform at the Allen room with Barry Harris, and the gifted drummer Willie Jones, and of course the talented bassist, Buster Williams, but I know whatever it will be, it will be designed to entertain. I hope the audience will enjoy it” stated the jazz great who worked formerly with Art Blakeley and the Jazz Messengers as well as with the late Abbey Lincoln.
Although it is often said that Cedar is a hard bob artist, he doesn’t want to take credit for the term stating instead that description was something the media tagged him.  “I suppose they use the term “hard bop” because that came from a certain era of jazz playing.  Personally, I play various forms of jazz but primarily over the years I have developed my own personal style.  I have performed in many countries, Japan and Europe and most recently returned from Brazil where the audiences’ reception was overwhelming.  We played a Bossa Nova piece in Brazil wherein the audience reacted with an extremely lengthy applause.  It was nice to see their appreciation,” claimed Cedar who was inducted as a member into the National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Masters.
“I am looking forward to being a part of the Jazz Piano Summit presented by trumpeter Mark Morganelli, whom I am proud to know.  Mark started the Jazz Forum in a loft down on East Broadway years ago.  That led to his current position in the jazz production world.  He is a pleasure to work with as both a musician and producer.  So come out and see Barry and me on June 22nd.”
For tickets call CenterCharge at 212-721-6500, go in person to the Jazz at Lincoln Center Box Office, located on Broadway at 60th street, Ground Floor, or go on line at  This is a featured event of the future NPR Broadcast on JazzSet produced by WBGO-FM and supported by the National Endowment of the Arts.
Mulgrew Miller

2013 Human Rights Watch Film Festival to Premiere at The Film Society of Lincoln Center

By Deardra Shuler

The Film Society of Lincoln Center and the IFC Center are co-presenting the 2013 Human Rights Watch Film Festival. Films will be shown at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, located at 144 West 65th St. in NYC and the IFC Center, located at 323 Sixth Ave. (at West 3rd St.). The Benefit Screening and Opening Night film will be shown at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater, at 165 W. 65th St., NYC. The Festival runs from Thursday, June 13 thru Sunday, June 23, in NY.

I spoke with the Deputy Director of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, Andrea Holley, whose organization will be presenting 20 films. Born in Miami and raised in Texas, Andrea Holley has worked with Human Rights Watch Film Festival since 1999. She has worked in Africa, Eastern Europe, United Kingdom and the Middle East.

“People like me who become involved in the human rights movement do so due to personal experience or they live in a certain place that brought about some sort of awareness. For me personally, growing up in Texas made me highly aware of a number of different human rights situations. Also, I was able to travel abroad when I was relatively young and got a better understanding of the different frameworks that apply in different places around the world. Therefore, I became much more enlightened to the fact there are a number of different systems and ideologies out there. I came to understand that the human rights framework proved to be a lens which allowed me to see things in a perspective that is not always as politically charged as others. In Texas, for example, they still have the death penalty. This is relates somewhat to one of the films in the festival, “An Unreal Dream: The Michael Morton Story.” Fortunately Mr. Morton did not face the death penalty but his case involved wrongful conviction. The conviction was eventually overturned due to DNA evidence and a series of investigations. But sadly wrongful convictions are not unusual,” remarked Andrea.

Human Rights Watch has a number of divisions. There is an Africa division, as well as a Europe and Central Asia division, etc., for the various global regions. These divisions handle children’s right, women’s rights, health and human rights and work collaboratively to cover a variety of issues. The film festival functions as an outreach tool wherein topics in the films generally correspond to aspects of the work Human Rights does. “Our role as staff is to find and select films. A big component of our festival is to have discussions after films to help folks process and reflect on what they have seen in order to gain more information. The Festival will showcase 20 films in NY covering a wide variety of themes and topics. Our key themes this year focus on traditional values in human rights, crisis and migration, human rights in the United States, and also focus on Asia,” explained Holley.

Films featured include: “Deepsouth,” regarding southern communities dealing with the HIV crisis. “Fatal Assistance,” a look at Haiti since the earthquake and the complexities resulting once humanitarian aid is dispersed. Also “The Act of Killing,” a documentary on Indonesia, regarding paramilitary responsible for a number of atrocities in Indonesia.” Anita (about Anita Hill); In the Shadow of the Sun, highlights the treatment of Albinos in Tanzania; The New Black depicts how the African American community deals with the marriage equality movement; Camera/Woman covers the lives of women in Morocco. For further scheduling and film info go to

The director of the film “Tall as the Baobab Tree,” Jeremy Teicher, also talked with me. Jeremy is a Student Academy Award nominated director whose first feature film “Tall as the Baobab Tree” was ranked in the top 20 out of 170 feature films in Rotterdam. “I traveled to Senegal when I was a 19 year old university student. What I knew about Africa back then were merely the images I had seen from media. While in Senegal, I met teens my age. They are the first people from their town to get an education. We quickly became friends. I was inspired by their determination and optimism. I was struck how different my experience in real life was from what I saw in the media. That discovery is what sparked all the filmmaking I’ve done. I’ve worked with the same students about 5 years now. We did a documentary film entitled “This is Us,” about their daily lives. We did all sorts of different topics” said Jeremy.

Tradition plays a major role within the African community. That is important to understand. “My film, ‘Tall as the Baobab Tree,” which features early marriage by young girls (age 10-14), is a traditional practice that no longer fits with modern society. This is not a black and white situation which might be seen as evil and needs to be stopped, it’s not that simple. Even though the students I work with are modern and seek to make changes, they too are part of a culture with traditions. I think change needs to be approached from a position of understanding and empathy rather than condemnation. That is the approach we took in the film,” explained Teicher.

“We shot the film in a real village. The film blends reality with fiction but is based on the students’ individual experiences. All the other roles are played by their family members who are basically the same person as the character they play but in a slightly fictional scenario. The film is an interesting blend. It allows folks to hold up a mirror to view and examine what is happening in their culture, which right now is at the crossroads of change,” said the young director.

For info on this film see For tickets to the 2013 Human Rights Watch Festival visit or see

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Bronx Welcome Willie Colon to Lehman Center

By Deardra Shuler

Latin Salsa icon, Willie Colon, is well known throughout the world.  A renowned singer, composer, humanitarian, political activist, trombonist and liaison for the Latin American community to the Mayor’s Office, Willie will be appearing at Lehman Center for the Performing Arts in the Bronx on Saturday, June 8th at 8:00 p.m.  The concert is being produced by Lehman Center and Jose Raposo as part of the 2013 Blue Note Jazz Festival and the theme of the show will be in dedication to the Nuyorican community, a term referring to the Puerto Rican Diaspora located in New York State and City.

Born in the Bronx, Willie Colon has been playing music since age 14.  “I’ve been making music since a kid.  I grew up in the South Bronx on 139th Street.  I listened to all the musicians on the streets.  My grandmother bought me a trumpet when I was 11 years old and I learned to play it, eventually switching to the trombone.  This is why I want to dedicate my concert at Lehman to a Nuyorican theme.  There have been Puerto Ricans in NY since the 1900s.  The migration started right after the Jones Act when the US made Puerto Rico US territory.  There was a mass migration in the early 1900s, when my family came over.  Once the Nuyoricans came to America they also faced the Jim Crow era along with the Blacks.  In fact, many of us learned to speak English from our Black brothers.  There is a link between the Latinos and our African American brothers.  Much of our music is from Africa.  Bomba is African, and Meringue is African.  As a matter of fact, back in the 1960s, about 50% of the crowd listening to our music was African American.  We were playing boogaloo in English and a lot of instrumental stuff back then,” said Colon.

 Willie Colon has recorded over 40 albums and sold 30 million records worldwide.  He has been nominated for 11 Grammys and received a Lifetime Achievement Latin Grammy Award.  An accomplished artist, he has worked with the best, folks likes Ruben Blades, David Bryne, Hector LaVoe and Celia Cruz, and even appeared with the Fania All-Stars.  In 2010, he produced “Estar lejos,” a duet recording with Colombian musical star Fonseca.  “Fonseca is kind of a balladeer.  He sent me an email asking me to listen to the song that eventually became Estar lejos.  I did an arrangement and sent it back to him. It was then he asked that we record the song together.  Fonseca came to NY and brought some folks who used these little cameras which we used to record in the studio and then in the streets.  The video came out excellent.  Before we knew it, the song took off and was nominated for a Grammy.  I never expected it to turn out so well.  Currently, I have a few projects in mind.  I would really like to put together a group of guys with a sketch and just play.  As soon as the opportunity presents itself, that is what I plan to do,” remarked the trombonist.

 Mr. Colon has served as a member of several boards of directors. He chaired the Association of Hispanic Arts. He was on the board of the United Nations Immigrant Foundation.  He was the first minority to serve on the ASCAP National Board of Trustees.  In 1991, Willie was awarded Yale University's CHUBB Fellowship.  He was a spokesperson for CARE and he campaigned to end U.S. military occupation and the practice of bombing the Island of Vieques in Puerto Rico, which earned him the EPA’s Environmental Quality Award.  “I have been involved in a few political interests.  I was involved in the elections in Venezuela trying to help the opposition candidate against the socialist dictatorship.  I produced a theme song for the campaign of Henrique Capriles Radonski and sent it to him.  It was just a campaign jiggle but it became a big hit.  It went to countries like Puerto Rico and Columbia, places that had nothing to do with the campaign.  It went viral and got millions of hits.  It’s kind of cool to see stuff like that happen.  I plan to play the song during my Lehman concert,” remarked Colon. 
 “I also directed my attention toward a resolution concerning immigration.  As you know, immigration is an important issue affecting the Latin American Community right now.  In Latin America, there is huge debt and mismanagement caused via governmental leaders.  I personally believe it’s the result of presidents and Dictators spending and borrowing monies for their own resources which has put their various countries in debt. Quincy Jones, Bono and me, brought a petition to Pope John Paul asking him to sign on to help forgive Third World debt for all the Latin American countries in debt to the World Bank. The Pope did sign and we took the petition at that time to President Clinton.  I was also involved with Care.  I went up into the Andes and helped the indigenous people there make micro-banks, explaining how the people could pool their monies together to buy livestock and help construct water tanks, etc.” said Colon of his political and humanitarian efforts. 

 Colon is proud of his Latin roots and hopes to participate in the Puerto Rican Day Parade which occurs the day after his June 8th concert.  He is most proud of his Latin folkloric  albums because it was the music his grandmother loved.  He hopes to play some of his most heart rendering music at Lehman and looks forward to greeting his fans and Latin music enthusiast on Saturday, June 8th.

Interested parties can buy tickets to the Willie Colon concert by calling the Lehman Center box office at 718-960-8833 or on line
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Thursday, May 2, 2013

Patti Labelle Bringing a New Attitude to Lehman Center

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By Deardra Shuler

It’s not the first time that Patti Labelle has appeared at Lehman Center for the Performing Arts but whenever she does, she’s loved. Patti will regale the audience as only she can on Saturday, May 11th, for an 8:00 p.m. performance and she is anxious to do it again. Lehman Center is located at 250 Bedford Park Boulevard West in the Bronx, so if you want to catch her, best to call the box office at 718-960-8833 before tickets disappear.

Eva Bornstein, the Executive Director of Lehman College is also sponsoring a Spring Gala and Benefit for Lehman Center in cooperation with The Montefiore Children’s Hospital. The benefit reception will take place in the Lehman Center lobby from 4:30-7:00 pm. “We will be serving wine and hors d’oeuvres and Patti will attend. So if people want to say hi and snap photos, they can. I cannot guarantee that they can get close to her, but they can share the same space. I am also proud to help young artists. Patti loves to do that as well. So, Lehman will be featuring Xavier Lewis, who was a contestant on America’s Got Talent, as Patti’s opening act. He is a very talented young man whose song, “Georgia Clay,” was featured on the Steve Harvey show. Also, Xavier was the Grand Prize Winner of the Georgia Lottery All Access Music Search for Pop/R&B, and his single was featured throughout the State of Georgia. So, we encourage people to attend the Gala. For information about the Gala, call 718-960-8835 or go on line at For tickets call Patti Labelle’s May 11th concert at 8:00 pm, 718-960-8833,” said Eva.

Who doesn’t know Patti Labelle? Many recall when she first appeared on the music scene with The Bluebelles. Patti spent 16 years as lead singer of Patti Labelle and the Bluebelles, who eventually changed their name to Labelle in the early 1970s. We recall songs like “On My Own,” “Lady Marmalade,” “New Attitude,” “If Only You Knew,” “You are My Friend” and "Love, Need and Want You,” et al. Some, she will sing at Lehman Center on May 11th. Labelle was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Apollo Hall of Fame, the Songwriters' Hall of Fame as well as into the World Music Awards. She has appeared in “A Soldier’s Story,” “A Different World,” “Mama, I Want to Sing!,” “Cosby,” “Living It Up with Patti Labelle,” “Top Chef” and “Preaching to the Choir.”

Labelle has sold over 50 million records worldwide and authored and co-authored books like “Don’t Block the Blessings,” which was on the NYT’s bestseller list for weeks, “Patti Labelle’s Lite Cuisine” (recipes suited for people living with diabetes), “Recipes for the Good Life,” “Patti’s Pearls,” and “Labelle’s Cuisine: Recipes to Sing About.” Reflecting on her life, Patti remarked, “I would say that I am pretty, pretty blessed. You never know what is going to happen in life. I am happy about all the things I’ve done and all the people I’ve met. God is good. I feel very fortunate.”

Known for her love of cooking, Patti recalled performing with Alton John in London, back in the day. “Sometimes you can get pretty hungry preparing to go onstage, so after the shows, I often fed the folks. We would sit around playing cards and I would win all of Alton and his bands money. I had a place in London and I would cook and we would play cards and eat. Sometimes, backstage I had nothing at my disposal but aluminum foil and an iron so would cook with that. I made pretty good grilled cheese sandwiches and even heated up chicken with that foil and an iron. You have to become creative with what you have to work with,” reminisced Labelle.

Suffering with diabetes, Patti has written several books on eating healthy. One book she wrote to help diabetics. “It’s the diabetic’s job to leave the bad foods alone. Diabetics need to prepare food without butter. Bake, broil and boil instead of frying. You can do vegetables with smoked turkey to avoid fats when cooking greens. Diabetes was a life changing experience for me. I’ve spent 15 years living with the disease. I steam much of my food and use pink salt, sea salt and hot peppers to spice food up, so I don’t miss the fats. I had a restaurant in Philadelphia for a hot minute called Chez Labelle. It’s difficult to run a restaurant. It’s hard to find a chef who cooks like Patti Labelle, so I did not keep the restaurant long,” recalls Patti.

Patti talked about her family. “I have one natural son, my deceased sister’s two children, and I have two brothers. They are all wonderful. I am the godmother of Cyndi Lauper’s son and Laura Nero’s son. I am also the godmother of Mariah Carey. Laura’s son is a rapper now. We try to stay in touch with one another as much as we can.”

“I am presently in the studio working on a new CD. I’ve chosen songs that belong to the greats like Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn. Some songs people never heard before. I have been working on the CD 6 months now and should be finished by the end of the year,” said Patti who is delighted to have Xavier Lewis open the show for her. “I haven’t met him yet, but I intend to meet him and I know we will have a good time on May 11th. I hope everyone will come out and support me. I am going to do my very best to give my fans a great show.”

Friday, April 5, 2013

“My Brother Marvin” Coming to the Beacon Theatre

By Deardra Shuler
If you were to ask me “What’s Going On,” I would say the Marvin Gaye play, “My Brother Marvin,” co-produced and written by Zeola Gaye, Marvin’s sister.  The play is being presented at the Beacon Theatre, located at 2124 Broadway (74th St) in New York, on April 11th through April 14th.  Presently on a 22 city tour, Zeola took the time to chat. 

“My brother was passionate, loving, kind and giving.  He had a sense of humor off the charts.  And yes, he had a temper.  He wasn’t perfect.  None of us are.  Marvin was very spiritual however.  He had his ups and downs, but his good outweighed his bad,” remarked Zeola who wrote a book bearing the same title as the play.

Writing “My Brother Marvin,” was cathartic.  Sometimes it’s hard to discuss unpleasant things but I felt if I could not be honest and truthful, why write the book” explained Zeola.  “My purpose was to try to get people to understand how difficult it is when someone is under the influence of drugs.  I would say most people normally would not do the things they do while under substance abuse.  Please understand, I am not apologizing for what went on with my family.  I am only telling you what happened and giving background into how things were so you understand some of the struggles my family went through” continued the author.

Marvin didn’t take drugs prior to getting into entertainment.  There were a lot of demands upon him to create good music that sometimes found him working night and day.  He was exhausted.  Someone brought drugs into the studio to help him stay awake so Marvin tried them.  The drugs kept him alert and before long Marvin got hooked and began the long spiral into drug abuse.

 Marvin dreamed about being successful so he could make life more pleasant for his family.  And, he did.  However, despite the fact Marvin made a lot of money, he had poor business management and other marital pressures that drove Marvin to thoughts of suicide.  Marvin had pressures with the IRS, dealing with crooked promoters, personal problems with his wife Jan and struggles with his father. 

 “Marvin could be rebellious and hard headed, but he was really a genius.  I believe God put that genius in Marvin at an early age.  The conflicts with father and Marvin started in teenage years.  Marvin always felt protective of my mother and he didn’t agree with some of the things that went on between our father and the way he sometimes treated my mother,” explained Zeola, who mentioned in her book, her father’s jealousy that led to  peculiar ideas about Marvin and his mother but had no basis in reality.

“As kids we grew up in SW Washington DC.  Our family was religious with my father working as a bishop in the Pentecostal Church.  We were close knit and had a pretty good childhood; although my father was a strict disciplinarian and an alcoholic.  We thought at the time alcohol accounted for his mood swings.  But my father was not abusive.  Sure, if we did something wrong he would spank us.   My father was a father, not a Daddy.  It was difficult for my father to accept that Marvin became the breadwinner.  Although we enjoyed the change in lifestyle, my father sometimes resented Marvin’s success.  After Marvin was killed it was discovered my father had a brain tumor that pressed on the emotional side of his brain, so that may have been the real cause of my father’s actions.”

 Singing defined Marvin who used to hang out and sing under street lights.  Eventually, his group, the Moonglows, met Berry Gordy.  The rest is history. Marvin later married Gordy’s sister Anna, a woman several years his senior. After their divorce, Marvin later married Jan, his second wife.  Though Marvin loved Jan with all his heart, their marriage was stormy.

 “My Brother Marvin,” is not a musical, it’s a drama.  None of Marvin’s music is in the play. I tried to license it but could not get it.  But there is music in the play. There are sad parts, funny parts and very entertaining parts.  Lynn Whitfield plays my mother, Tony Grant the young Marvin and Keith Washington, the older Marvin during his drug period.  Marvin’s paranoia from drugs and its affect on him was no laughing matter.  This play talks about the man behind the music and my family.  I provide closure and tell what really happened the day Marvin died.  Only my mother was there at the time of the shooting. I can tell you what I know happened and why it happened.  I do so in my book and show. You’ll have to read the book and see the play to learn more.   It’s important to know background and understand the dynamics, so you see what led up to the fateful day of Marvin’s shooting.   Marvin, Frankie, my father and I were hooked on alcohol and drugs. My sister and mother never were.  I was on drugs but I have been clean 11 years.  I arranged for Marvin to get help but he got shot the day before he was supposed to go into rehab,” stated the former drug user.  “Every day is a struggle to stay clean. One has to want to seriously quit drugs.  Crack for example, is the deepest drug ever to hit the streets.  You totally lose all control. That’s the one I used and it’s the one that brought me down until I finally said I can’t do this any more,” stated Marvin’s sister.

 “I do encourage folks to come to my play and read my book.  I will say this -- my father was arrested for killing Marvin and charged with manslaughter. An examination discovered my father’s brain tumor and it was removed.  My parents did not divorce but they never lived together again after that night.”" />" flashvars="file=" width="210" height="105" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" pluginspage="" quality="high" wmode="transparent" menu="false" name="27043" id="27043" allowScriptAccess="always">
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Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Old Boy in New Times

By Deardra Shuler

Those interested in the production, “The Old Boy,” only have a few days to see it before it closes on March 30th. Showcased on Theatre Row at the Harold Clurman Theatre, located at 410 West 42nd Street, “The Old Boy,” highlights the lives of two private boarding school roommates in their youth in the 1960s and later as adults in the early 1990s.  A revival of an A.R. Gurney play presented off-Broadway in 1991, the subject matter is no longer as startling as it was formerly, especially with President Obama and others embracing gay marriage and gay rights laws. 

The show begins in the early 1990s with effeminate minister Dexter (Tom Riis Farrell) an administrator of a preppy prep school, welcoming former student, Sam (Peter Rini), and his campaign manager Bud (Cary Donaldson), back to Sam’s former prep school to give a commencement speech and to announce an indoor tennis wing dedicated to a former student to whom Sam was once Old Boy.  An Old Boy is a seasoned classmate who takes a new student under his wing to help the new boy adjust to the school and his new surroundings. In Sam’s case, he was Old Boy to a new boy named Perry. Perry’s parents were divorced with his father pursuing his artistic talents in New York and his mother Harriet, safeguarding the family’s considerable wealth.

Through late 1960s flashback scenes, the audience is introduced to Sam and Perry during their school days.  However as an adult, we find Sam running for governor and trying to hide the fact his second marriage is faltering.  Drawn to revisit his former school, thus sidetracking the campaign trail to the consternation of Bud (who is doing his level best to keep Sam away from unneeded publicity and scandal), Sam finds that not only is he being asked to give a speech but to reunite with Perry’s mother, Harriet and his old girlfriend Alison, who had married Perry.

In flashback, Harriet (portrayed by Laura Esterman) wants desperately to get her odd-ball son into an environment filled with wholesome young men attracted to sports, girls and manly endeavors.  After meeting Sam, Harriet’s hopeful that Sam would instill in Perry all the required masculine qualities that would assure him a normal life of wine, women and eventual children.  So bent was Harriet on this quest, she refused to see Perry’s true nature.  It wasn’t long before the other boys recognized that Perry was different and began to suggest he had homosexual tendencies which Perry vehemently denied.  Attempting to dispute the rumors about Perry, Sam encouraged Perry to put aside his penchant for music, desire for the stage, and keep his focus only on the sport of tennis.  Confused about his sexuality himself, the virginal Perry, agreed to drink beer, hoot and holler and fall in line with the rest of his school mates, even winning the school’s championship tennis cup.  Back then, Sam convinced Perry to go out with Alison (Marsha Dietlein Bennet) who was feeling rejected by Sam’s womanizing ways, so decided to give Perry and his money a go. 

In order to keep her son on the straight and narrow, Harriet bribes Sam into taking a trip out West with Perry to make sure he does not join his artistic father in New York.  It was on this trip that Sam discovers Perry had had a gay affair when visiting his father in New York.  Disgusted, Sam tells Perry their friendship is over if he experiments further with homosexuality. Desperate to keep Sam’s friendship, Perry agrees to begin a serious relationship with Alison.

 After being told by Dexter that Perry’s mother was donating a huge amount of money to the school in Perry’s honor, Sam learns that Perry had died mysteriously. Bud finds out Perry died of AIDS and tells Sam its not good politics to associate with homosexual issues.  After Sam reunites with Harriet and Alison, he learns that Alison, both loved and hated Perry who she felt trapped her into a loveless marriage while he engaged in a homosexual lifestyle.  She tries to renew her passion for Sam who while tempted, remains loyal to Perry’s memory.  Sam’s feels guilty he persuaded Perry to live a life against his true nature.  Too hot an issue to take on the campaign trail, Bud threatens to leave Sam’s campaign unless he distances himself from giving a speech honoring Perry.  Sam agrees but in the end jeopardizes his political career by taking on the issue of homosexuality to assuage himself of his guilt. 

Although, the cast and direction are stellar, given today’s liberal attitude about homosexuality, this Obie Award winning play, The Old Boy doesn’t carry the shock value or impact that it did when originally presented to the New York stage in 1991.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Want to talk about race…Just Honky!

                                                                                                                                                                       By Deardra Shuler

When I was invited to review a play entitled, “Honky” taking place at Urban Stages, located at 259 West 30th Street in Manhattan, naturally I was quite curious, given the word “Honky” is generally associated with a derogatory term used to address Caucasians.  However, as I see it, Honky is a term which musters little gas to drive the hate machine.  In fact, I rarely hear the word used.  It certainly doesn’t have the power that the “N” word holds, so I thought to myself, what’s this play about.  As it turns out, it’s a dark comedy written by Greg Kalleres, a Caucasian playwright interested in and attempting to explore the muddied waters of racism.

Directed by Luke Harlan, “Honky” is about the tug of war between Thomas, a black shoe designer, (played by Anthony Gaskins) and executives of a white advertising agency that discover they can exploit consumers by selling them Thomas’s sneakers using the selling point that these sneakers are so desirable, people are willing to kill to get them. 

After a young black teen is killed for his trendy basketball sneakers, called SKY MAX, Davis, (Phillip Callen) the CEO of the shoe company that distributes the shoe, decides the shoes which were primarily being marketed to the black population, were becoming a hit with white teens since their ad campaign made the shoes a trendy must-have shoe. Davis can’t contain his glee as he sees mucho dollars could be made off black gang violence.  Blinded by money and little conscious, Davis enthusiastically informs Thomas that his Sky Max shoes, originally designed for the urban market, would now be expanded to the white market.  Davis does not understand why Thomas is not excited by the opportunity to widely distribute his shoes to both markets.  In some sense, Thomas feels he is losing control over his design and his intent to give the black consumer something exclusively made for them. 

Meanwhile, Peter, the white ad executive portrayed by Dave Droxier, feels guilt over the death of the black teen, blaming himself for writing the Sky Max ad. He conveys this fact to his gabby girlfriend Andie (Danielle Faitelson), whose often indiscrete mouth gets her in trouble.  She informs him the shoes are ugly and black folks are always killing each other over something or other, so why would he think his ad was responsible.  She tells him he is making money, so what’s the problem. Coincidentally, Andie later sees Peter as weak and directs her attention towards Thomas. Chocolate and vanilla do make for a tasty dish and before long, Andie is hooked on chocolate.  So much so, she is willing to do whatever it takes to keep her black lover, even promising to keep her mouth shut.  

Unaware he has lost his girlfriend, but no longer feeling their closeness, Peter sees a psychiatrist to deal with his guilt, only to find his psychiatrist (Arie Bianca), is a woman and black. As it turns out, Emilia, the psychiatrist, has her own issues since her practice is mainly comprised of white clients, whose issues hardly compare to the issues of her people, so she had to put on a smiling face each day when she literally feels like screaming. Emilia needs a chill pill.

Via his play, Kalleres makes an attempt to deal with the issues of race and how race is often used by advertising agencies to sell a product.  The playwright also addresses the issue of white guilt, albeit on a surface level.  What is Kalleres amusing solution to resolve the problem of racism… why take a pill! Again, advertisers find a way to profit by offering racists, and racists in denial, a way to resolve white guilt.  But they don’t stop there… black people can take the pill too.  However, Black folks take the pill to escape the oppression of racism. 

Step right up ladies and gentlemen, get your solution -- take Driscotol, the new cure-all for racism and all the ugly feelings that come along with it.  Via his pill, Dr. Driscotol, assures racist that even if they think they are not racist, they are.  But don’t worry, just one daily capsule is guaranteed to eliminate all the deep-seeded hatred and ignorance of racism.  You are hereby absolved.

Honky is unique in its scope and the sets are imaginative.  It certainly is a play that warrants discussion.  And really, any discussion that can delve into an issue so deeply sown into the fabric of America is well worth exploring.  After the play there is an opportunity to speak your mind and who knows, maybe a lesson can be learned by all.