Honey Jam Barbados Cyber Monday: Get You Some!

November 26, 2012

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With Honey Jam Founder Ebonnie Rowe

I am on a bit of a womanist spiritual high. I just returned from the gorgeous island of Barbados as the guest of the US Embassy and Ebonnie Rowe, Founder and CEO of Honey Jam. I was honored to serve as the keynote presenter for the Honey Jam Conference and Showcase, in its second year on the island. Ebonnie has produced Honey Jam Canada for close to 20 years, discovering Nelly Furtado in the process–among many other women artists of note. Honey Jam Barbados 2012 continues in the rich, naturally sweet Honey Jam tradition of discovering fresh talent and artist empowerment.

This conference was an incredible breath of fresh air for me. Talent showcases with a critical mass of solid artistry are increasingly rare in the United States. This is so unfortunate, because the live stage is where talent sinks or soars, and where potential is revealed. Ebonnie Rowe is a self-proclaimed member of the “old school,” so she gets this. She also knows that patriarchy still limits the spaces and opportunities for women artists, and brought the safe space she created in Toronto, Canada to Barbados. The timing is perfect, actually: Rihanna’s explosion as a global megastar shines a light on her home island and puts stars in the eyes of women who aspire to success in entertainment. Ebonnie also is very specific about wanting to work against the tide of overt sexism in the Caribbean where women artists are concerned. From the lyrical content to the positions women are taking on concert flyers, women are pretty much represented as brainless sex objects. And it is amazing how widely it is accepted among the Bajan consumer audience. But then, I should not be surprised: it was in Barbados of all places, that I attempted to observe my Friday Juma’a prayer and was told “women aren’t allowed to pray here.” Shocked, I was directed to another mosque. That was a first for me, a Muslim woman who has prayed on 5 continents without incident. Sexism is real everywhere, and beautiful panoramas won’t mask its ugliness. But I digress.

Thankfully, Honey Jam Barbados raises the voices of women who refuse to be exploited–and raises their entertainment industry IQ in the process.

Check out the highlights from my keynote here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3W98DualDY&feature=channel&list=UL

The showcase was phenomenal. I don’t know how 19 artists take the stage and the show doesn’t feel boring or too long, but that’s a testament to Ebonnie’s skill as a producer with a real ear for talent. Girls as young as 13 to women in their 40s hit the stage; every genre of music was performed, from rock to reggae, to rap, folk, and soul. I was really blown away by the range and skill level of talent. Everyone got up there and gave their best, but for me, there were several standouts, many of whom were in attendance at my keynote, asking questions or unsure about their own paths. But when they hit the stage for a packed house at the Plantation Garden Theater, they were transformed! I am still beaming as I reflect on their courage.

So here’s my roll call, in no particular order of flyness:

Debbie Reifer.Image

She is a grown woman singer-songwriter unafraid to get to the heart of the matter where love is concerned. She looks like a breezy Black girl, but she brings it with incredible tone and phrasing. Click here for more on her.

Rhesa Garnes. ImageShe rocked “I Only Wanna Give It To You” by Elle Varner with only a beat box accompaniment and nailed it. Her effusive personality draws you in and doesn’t let go.  She even kicked a verse during the set and took the crowd completely by surprise. Get up on Rhesa here.

Melissa Bel. ImageMelissa was the winner of Honey Jam’s “Get Me To Barbados” promotion with the Barbados Tourism Authority. She was the only non Bajan on the bill and was admittedly nervous bringing her very Canadian guitarist self to a discerning Caribbean audience. Well, she didn’t have anything to be nervous about. When she hit her first note, it was clear that she is a serious soul singer. Her rendition of “Ain’t No Sunshine” got her a standing ovation. And the title track from her EP Distance choked me up. Click here for more on Melissa.

Mia Cumberbatch. ImageShe closed out the show because her voice is bold, clear and liberated. She’s on some shoe-kicking, roof-raising type vocal steez. Judging from the crowd response when she came onstage, her reputation precedes her on the island. Definitely looking forward to hearing more from Mia. You can follow her here on Twitter.

Tabitha Johnson. ImageShe performed a bass heavy, driving dancehall-tinged original song, “Driving Me Crazy”–about a husband who cheated on her while she was pregnant. Now, I don’t know if this was art imitating life, but she sang it like it was! She’s also quite a chatta, murdering her verse in impossible glitzy wedges with long locs a-flying. Do not let this sweet little grin on her face fool you. She’s on Twitter here.

Gigi Ma’at. ImageChanneling Grace Jones, Erykah Badu, and Dee Dee Bridgewater, this fashionista took us on a journey of soulful song, jazz scatting, and African call and response that rocked us to the core. She’s badass. Period. She could have dropped the mic to make sure it was broke, but she’s much too gracious (I met her briefly backstage). Check out her equally fierce Pinterest page here.

Paige Banfield, Frontwoman, Vacant Headspace. ImageThis girl came out with vocal guns blazing, fronting her own rock band in knee-high Chuck Taylors with neon laces. Perfect for all the jumping and wild, naturally curly-head banging she did, without missing a note. Her rhythm guitarist lost power during the set but like a true professional, she kept it moving and finished strong. For more on Paige and the band, click here.

Kyzz. ImageAmid a flurry of acts with dancers, band members and skimpy costumes, Kyzz was all killer, no filler. She played an original song acoustic and moved the crowd with her bluesy approach to soul. Tracy Chapman and MeShell NdegeOcello can rest assured that someone picked up their torches and put her own quiet fire to them. Read up on her here.

Jamantha Blue Diamond. ImageShe asked a question during my keynote about the fixation our industry has on looks. This deep chocolate chanteuse with flowing locs is stunning, but the beauty that matters most is in the raw passion of her voice and live performance. She set it off during the closing number, the Freestyle Finale. Read up on Blue Diamond here.

My honorable mentions go to:

Image 19 year-old accounting major and R&B siren Fate, stunning multi-genre performer Karma NaiImage, and 13 year-old Aleah SearlesImage, whose voice brought the crowd to its feet and brought tears to my eyes. Just click on their images at this link for more about each of these amazing young women.

If you are a woman who is serious about the entertainment field, whether you go to Canada or Barbados for it, you need to come to Honey Jam. Click here for more on the organization, events,a nd how to support them! Special thanks to SLAM 101, Admiral at Festival Stage, and Cassandra at Morning Barbados for the media opportunities they each gave me to share my story and inform the Bajan massive about Put Your Dreams First!

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Guns & Movies: Double Standard Rising?

July 20, 2012

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Aurora, Colorado is now known around the world after the massacre that took place at a midnight premiere screening of Dark Knight Rises this morning. James Egan Holmes, age 24, dressed in protective gear from ballistic helmet to bulletproof vest, groin and throat protectors—and armed with not one or even two but four firearms—released tear gas on a moviegoing audience and proceeded to open fire on them as the film played. Currently, 58 injuries and 12 fatalities have been reported. Among the victims are a six year-old child and a three month old infant.

I join the world in its shock, and the nation in its collective grief. My condolences go out to all affected by this horrific mass killing. As a parent and avid filmgoer myself, I cannot imagine finally getting out for an evening with my family or friends—only to lose a loved one in such a heinous, senseless manner. This is domestic terror: civilians gunned down as they take in a new movie by a maniac wielding combat artillery, forever traumatizing an American pastime.

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The fallout will continue to unfold along with the investigation into Holmes and the events of this morning. A bomb squad is trying to disarm the shooter’s apartment, which he rigged with explosives. Across the ocean, Paris has canceled their premiere. Security will be heightened at New York City theaters; no word yet on whether other cities will follow suit. So far, there is no talk of pulling the film from theaters or lowering the number of screens on which it is shown, nor should there be. I’m sure the last thing Warner Bros. imagined (or wants) is this type of mayhem marring their opening weekend. While it may be good for box office, violence is always bad for real-life business.

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I can’t help but think back to the premiere of Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson’s Get Rich Or Die Tryin’, a gritty, semi-autobiographical film about the rapper’s own survival of multiple gunshots. When violence broke out at screenings of this “urban film”, not only were the suspects not apprehended; the film was pulled from theaters. The victims went largely unacknowledged, the prevailing thought being that it’s the order of the day for movies like his.

For example, check out what happened in Pittsburgh:

http://www.ezilon.com/information/article_13573.shtml

And even though it ultimately did well at the box office, Get Rich was punished for the criminal acts of audience members, and even blamed for inciting them.

As a member of the entertainment community and a filmmaker, I do not advocate placing the blame on art when tragedy strikes. Art imitates life, and illuminates truth. That said, I believe that societal bias and prejudice tilt the scales out of balance and negatively impact art that may reflect images and lives considered outside the mainstream.

Violence is as central to Dark Knight Rises as it is to Get Rich or Die Tryin’. One could even argue that Get Rich advocates getting away from violence, given Jackson’s character use of music to heal trauma and lead a better life. The Dark Knight fights violence with more violence to vanquish Gotham’s terrorist.

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And while Holmes gassed his victims and wore a gas mask like Batman’s nemesis, I have yet to hear any reports linking Holmes’ method to the film. So why should films about everyday people, people on the margins of society, or people of lesser means grappling with violence have the albatross of inspiring violence hung upon them?

Violence at the movies is nothing new, but it’s growing. Three people died as a result of gang violence after The Warriors came out in 1979. In the ‘90s, Oscar®-nominated film Boyz N The Hood sparked a wave of incidents at theaters, many of which were thought to be gang related. But a gunman also executed a moviegoer at a showing of X-Men: The Last Stand in Baltimore in 2006, an incident that was not widely publicized. A drive-by tied to no particular film at an Oakland theater left five people wounded earlier this summer. And today’s massacre is the worst in American cinematic history.

As the availability of heavy artillery continues to widen, as the NRA continues to send tweets like “Good Morning Shooters, what are your plans for the weekend?” as they did before news of the Aurora tragedy broke (it has since been deleted), we as a nation should look to control the proliferation of firearms and better regulate their sale with the same rigor dedicated to selectively vilifying film content through the filters of stereotype. The safety of who’s watching is much more important than what’s showing.

Thembisa S. Mshaka is a filmmaker, award-winning promo campaign writer and producer for television. She is also the author of Put Your Dreams First: Handle Your [entertainment] Business (Hachette).

For more on violence at the movies click:

http://www.nextmovie.com/blog/movie-theater-violence-history/

For more on the NRA’s political influence:

http://dailycaller.com/2010/11/01/thedc-exclusive-nra-spends-20-million-this-cycle/

http://law.jrank.org/pages/8738/National-Rifle-Association.html

Top 5 Reasons To Pay To See Think Like A Man (No Spoiler)

April 17, 2012

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I attended the New York premiere of Think Like A Man (Screen Gems) earlier this month. I’ve been processing the film on many levels: as a woman in a committed relationship (I just celebrated 15 years of marriage to this comedian named Tmor on April 13); as a filmmaker and creative producer of color (yes–the ‘of color’ part matters), and as a consumer who loves a great moviegoing experience.

I’m not one to rave about films; I have my jaded insider moments just like most entertainment industry insiders. Because I know what’s possible from a creative standpoint, my expectations are high–and because I know the limitations Hollywood places on creativity, those expectations are rarely met, let alone exceeded. I’m usually left wanting more in terms of cast, script, story, or all of the above. But as a smart, sexy comedy, Think Like A Man garners a rave from me.

This film appealed to all three moviegoing sides of me. This surprised me to a degree because before I knew who was involved behind the scenes, I associated this film primarily with comedian and radio host Steve Harvey, since the film is based upon his book Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man. And since I didn’t read the book (see note above about being married already), don’t listen to his radio show (I commute by subway to my playlists; it’s not personal) and haven’t watched anything with him in it since Kings of Comedy, I was ready to wait and see what my non-industry family members thought before I laid money down for the film.

Then, and here comes the disclosure–I found out that James Lopez, a brilliant marketer and longtime friend from my music business days, was a senior production executive on the project. And how’s this for a small world, HY[e]B connection: the very first record he promoted to me was “If That’s Your Boyfriend (He Wasn’t Last Night)” by MeShell Ndegeocello, who, years later, agreed to appear in my book. Of course I had to support James, who kept it real whether he had hits or misses on the roster. As time went on, he had more hits than misses as a marketing VP over at Atlantic Records, where he took T.I. from King of the South to King of the Rap World–no easy task with the star in and out of custody through much of his career. But this is my reason, not one of my Top 5 reasons for you. Here they are:

1. You will love this movie whether you love or hate Steve Harvey. 

I didn’t need to read the book to understand or enjoy this film. Writers Keith Merryman and David A. Newman do an incredible job of crafting completely fictional characters based on advice from the non-fiction book’s pages.

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Bonus: if you’re not big on Steve, he appears once to set up how Gabrielle Union’s character learns of the book, and a couple times via confessional afterward–and then he’s gone. One character is even a Steve Harvey hater, so the elephant in the room is identified for those of you who may feel the same.

2. This is not a chick flick!

As a self-defined type A womanist, I don’t get into romantic comedies where the woman’s whole life is wrapped up in finding, keeping, or stressing over some douchebag who doesn’t know she exists, or some guy who’s already taken. Worse still are the chick flicks where said woman will do anything to quell her desperation, including cash in her self-esteem, kick family and friends to the curb, and of course–get sleazy or naked for no (or any) reason. None of the aforementioned insulting, corny circumstances are present in this film.

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The women of Think Like A Man have intelligent conversations with other women, respect themselves and their families, and remain clothed without losing their sex appeal, all while remaining attractive to their love interests and getting intimate on their own terms (gasp!).

3. The movie is not just funny, it’s actually fun to watch.

Kevin Hart may be the comedic genius who injects hilarity throughout, but the film is funny in general, even when Hart is off screen. There are plenty of one-liners, stingers, and zingers to go around, not to mention the scenes involving a basketball, a bathroom stall, and a folding chair.

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The funny isn’t dependent upon pratfalls, either. There is great, nuanced humor when these characters open up to one another, confront each other with the cold hard truth, or don’t get their way. Bonus: Comedienne on the rise and my Bay Area homegirl Luenell (Bruno) makes a cameo.

4. Finally: a cast that reflects the reality of America!

This film has a predominantly Black cast, but so? And? It’s 2012. Get over it. These characters are every adult in the pursuit of a relationship that works. There are white people in this film, but they are not tokens. Think Like A Man does not practice the tokenism with which so many Hollywood movies patronize their audiences.

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In the crew of guys, there are not one but two members of the Dominant Group. Neither of them try to be Black, be ‘street’, or be ‘down’. Both of them are comfortable in their own skin, and can dish it out as well as they can take it from the rest of the guys.

This cast is pure eye candy for men and women. This is no rom-com with some dumpy funny dude or nondescript whining girl carrying the film. These people are gorgeous, sexy, charming, burning-up-the-screen hot. Romany Malco is shirtless for an extended period, thank you very much. Michael Ealy is well…Michael Ealy, all foine everything.

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Meagan Good gives good shape in every scene. Regina Hall is radiant, albeit reserved as the single mom dating Terrence J’s “Mama’s boy” character. Taraji is stunning as the uptight media exec, and screen time from Kelly Rowland, Lala Anthony and Morris Chestnut only add to the fly factor.

Furthermore, there is an interracial relationship, well played by Union and Ferrara. Yes, these happen in America. And they are not always with burning crosses or police tape in the background. See: (biracial) President Barack Obama. No one cracks a joke or bats an eye at this. It is accepted, and neither character has their identity questioned or compromised because of who they love–so we can just follow their story line instead of having to unpack baggage that really deserves its own film. Awesome. Bonus: people of color are not sprinkled throughout this film as window dressing, service professionals, or quirky and exotic extras. They are multi-dimensional and front and center.

5. The Shot Callers behind the scenes: Packer, Story, and Culpepper

Think Like A Man has a two strong, sensitive (cinematically speaking) African American creatives running the show in producer Will Packer (Takers, Obsessed, Stomp The YardThis Christmas) and director Tim Story (Fantastic Four, Hurricane Season, Barbershop). Packer and Story don’t play Black women out with this film; they also don’t let Black men off the hook. Their crew delivers top-notch production value with great shots, great light (a VERY BIG deal for people of color on screen), hair, makeup and wardrobe, well placed music, and seamless production design. In Screen Gems president Clint Culpepper, the film has a studio head who gets it–and gets out of the way, trusting–and knowing based upon their track records and choices that Packer, Story, (and the aforementioned Lopez) will do their thing. The beneficiaries are the actors and the audience. You can tell the cast felt at ease and free to just perform; the chemistry between couples is undeniable. And even the premiere audience of insiders, celebrities, and their plus-ones let loose in the theater.

So fellas: you are not surrendering your Man Card by seeing this film. And ladies, you are not owning the rom-com stereotypes that have plagued you in the past by seeing this film. Do not pass go, and do not buy bootleg. During the weekend of April 20, pay to see Think Like A Man, so more films that reflect honest portrayals of relationships will get made and win at the box office.

#AdFAIL: 5 Ways Burger King Gave Mary the Short End of the (Chicken) Strip

April 3, 2012

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Burger King is touting its new menu with celebrity ads featuring late night host Jay Leno, actor and director Salma Hayek, soccer icon David Beckham, and Mary J. Blige, the Grammy(r) winning Queen of Hip Hop Soul. The campaign centers around several new items including: a strawberry-banana smoothie, a garden fresh chicken salad, fried chicken strips, and a 3-cheese (again fried) chicken wrap with lettuce.

I’m posting all three spots here so you can watch them and then, I will break down 5 ways Mary got played, and how Burger King missed the mark.

Here’s Mary’s (it was blocked on YouTube): http://www.directlyrics.com/mary-j-blige-sings-heart-out-for-buger-king-news.html

Leno and Black friend: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ouxyzwHpwt4

Salma’s commercial, which is in Spanish: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9xyn5wSDuIY

And smooth operator Beckham: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0f8qz2Ssr6c&feature=endscreen&NR=1

Top 5 Ways Mary Gets The Short End of the Chicken Strip

1. Attitude: of all the endorsers, Mary is the only one who is rude, terse, and invasive. She interrupts the store manager with a sound-check type mic squeal–from ATOP a restaurant table. Leno, Salma and Beckham have sweet, fun dispositions–and are ALL at the counter, like normal people. Mary appears out of nowwhere, mad for no reason, over the contents of a chicken wrap, which she proceeds to outline in a song where she’s not so much singing as belting.

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2. Selling the unhealthiest item of them all: The statistics around heart disease, obesity, diabetes and hypertension are downright catastrophic for African Americans, especially Black women, who relate directly to Mary. Unlike Leno and Hayek, who get to sell choices that include a smoothie and a salad, she is selling one product: the fried chicken wrap. This is not just stereotypical. It is the use of her well-constructed and hard-won brand to sell Burger King’s least healthy offering to her core audience. I almost wish there was a “please eat responsibly” tag at the end like alcohol ads have. I understand that chicken needs to be advertised like any other product, and that African Americans will do it, from known stars like MC Hammer for KFC to working actors like the Popeye’s pitchwoman. This one-note execution misses a huge opportunity for Mary to offer (or exercise) choice, which is more problematic than the selling of chicken in general.

3. Use/Misuse/(Abuse?) of Talent: Salma Hayek gets to showcase her versatility as an actor; humorous, sultry, even nerdy. Leno gets to be his snarky self, but remains in control throughout his spot, down to literally driving through the location while his Magical Negro holds his meal.


 
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(Oh you didn’t get the memo? Magical Negroes don’t need food; they have their consciences to sustain them and the members of the dominant group they accommodate).

David Beckham doesn’t have to use his talent as an athlete at all! No soccer gear, no kicking a ball at the counter. He gets to be gorgeous and hypnotic for men and women alike. Mary? She has to sing her way through the commercial after busting in on it.

She doesn’t get to be her witty, honest, wise-beyond-her-years, confident self. She doesn’t even get to perform before a throng of an audience in the location’s parking lot block-party style. She’s got a crowd of  about five halfway enjoying the song–because it’s terrible. Where was the well-crafted song about this product, written and or produced by anyone from Pharrell to Stevie Wonder? This whole scene flies directly in the face of Blige’s power and appeal. Speaking of power and appeal:

4. Poor positioning: this ad makes Mary look out of place, uncool, desperate. Attributes I would have been hard pressed to associate with her until now. You mean to tell me that wide, gray Jay Leno looks cooler than MJB, the *only* woman who can say she’s sung with Biggie and Bono, in this campaign?

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Mary J. Blige has been a great pitchwoman in several categories: beauty (Carol’s Daughter), automotive (Chevy), and telecom (T-Mobile). All very stylish, elegant representations of a woman who knows and respects herself–and demands as much from the world. All with great uses of her own recorded music; no tired awkward jingles. This commercial feels like something an artist does to get back in the game–but she’s already at the top of hers.

As someone who has written commercial campaigns and done shoots with Beyonce’, Lauryn Hill, and Queen Latifah, I can’t see any of them positioning themselves similarly in a commercial at the heights of their careers and brand value to a corporation. This is not to say they were not pitchwomen: Latifah voiced Pizza Hut commercials and is a Cover Girl. Lauryn Hill wore Levi’s throughout her world tour for The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Beyonce’ shook her booty for Pepsi and DirecTV. But all of these moves had a context and ultimately made them look good–or at least like they were in control. Artists at this level shut down creative like this at script phase. This move by Mary has me scratching and shaking my head.

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5. Not A Good (Style) Look: A 20-year veteran of music, Mary J. Blige is well beyond style missteps. She has set innumerable style trends, from combat boots in the ’90s to blond wigs in the new millennium. She gave women permission to flaunt their tattoos, bare a gold-capped tooth, uncover facial scars–and still be beautiful.

She made round-the way girls feel like high fashion shades and luxurious apparel was their birthright.

So why–and I want to be diplomatic here because I adore and am inspired by Mary–why is Mary calling to mind wardrobe from the musical Grease in 2012? I honestly thought this was a spoof when I saw it for the first time, largely because of her wardrobe and hair. Mary is a maven, posing at the intersection of street and couture. Except in this commercial.

These observations raise a larger issue: the tone-deaf representation of Black women in advertising. The perpetuation of the stank, sassy, abrasive but entertaining ‘soul sista’ doesn’t reflect who Black women really are: women concerned about their health; parents making food choices for their children; consumers who spend with brands that understand and connect authentically with them. Had Mary outlined the choices from the menu and chosen the chicken wrap from the drive-through in her Maybach, then hummed with joy at the taste of it, I might not be so salty.

Burger King and Mary J. Blige missed a grand opportunity for an #AdWIN here.

For Whitney: So Emotional

February 15, 2012

Whitney Elizabeth Houston

1963-2012

One of my sheroes died on Saturday. I could not just blog about it the day it happened. I could barely think; I was pretty numb at the news. I was in an elevator and a woman said, “you hear that Whitney Houston died? Isn’t that sad?”

It is beyond sad. For me, it was beyond comprehension, even after the valley we saw her fall into so publicly. Because she had clawed her way back. Put some weight on. Dropped a platinum album in 2009.  Divorced Bobby Brown. Shot the remake of Sparkle. Toxicity seemed to be shrinking in her rear view. Until Grammys Eve 2012.

Whitney Houston is a primordial symbol for me; she spoke, she sang directly to my black girlhood in the ‘80s and my young Black womanhood in the ‘90s. She represents a certain pre-music industry innocence for me. I had no idea about the entertainment world’s disgusting underbelly or underhanded practices when Whitney came into my life; I just knew that when the radio played my favorite songs of hers, I’d better have a cassette tape ready to capture it.

Real Life Role Model

When Whitney made her debut in 1985, I was in high school, but I was also 14—so I felt out of place. I was youngest in my class, and eventually, the only black girl in my senior class. Whitney’s voice embodied the clarity and control I longed for. Her image was so many things, and yet never offensive. She wore mini-dresses and gowns, but she also wore jeans and sneakers. She bared some skin with her tank tops, but there was always a custom leather jacket nearby. She was totally comfortable with her natural black girl beauty; her debut album cover confirmed this. When big weaves were all the rage, she showcased her short hair with a regal knowing that was undeniable. Her youth was never an excuse to be classless or undignified. This resonated deeply with me.

Whitney gave me all of these gifts before she even opened her mouth to sing a single note with that perfect, gleaming toothy smile. And then, she wielded her voice. That voice. The voice. Power and tenderness at her command. Exuberance, longing, surrender and strength all danced in time from this otherworldly voice. Melody and scale were completely at her mercy. You knew this about Whitney if you were a hardcore fan like me, like millions of us Black girls. We belted the hits with our friends until we were hoarse and choreographed the album cuts that didn’t have videos in the mirror.

But the world came to know it when she sang the Star Spangled Banner at Super Bowl XXV in 1991. From then on, all eyes truly were on Black America’s Sweetheart. Her pop megastardom was sealed. Her endearment from the mainstream was cemented. But Whitney would always belong to me, to Black America’s invisible sweethearts. By the time she starred in The Bodyguard, The Preacher’s Wife, and Waiting to Exhale, I was in the business and in awe of her consistency as times and sounds changed, as hip-hop and R&B upstarts encroached on her dominance. She wasn’t worried. She was Whitney Houston. She called Faith Evans, Wyclef Jean, and Rodney Jerkins. She co-produced and starred in Cinderella (1997) with Brandy, playing her fairy Godmother. Which wasn’t a stretch; as far as I’m concerned, she was mine, too.

Glamour and Sophistication Personified

This is why numbness gave way to tears flowing on Sunday. My big sister, my cheerleader, the knower and keeper of my secrets, was gone. Admittedly, I took my eye off Whitney for a while. I kept her in prayer, but I couldn’t watch her spiral. I boycotted Being Bobby Brown.  Though she agreed to it, it felt like a spectacle that made her the butt of a cruel joke; one that should not have been played on someone who brought so many so much comfort and joy. I defended her whenever people would disparage her as she wrestled with and succumbed to addiction. And with her passing, I see a pitiful kind of coverage of her, rife with unflattering ‘final hours’ photos and intense focus on the worst years of her life. As if she weren’t one of the most glamorous women on the planet, with thousands of photos to prove it. As if this woman hadn’t made a billion dollars for her industry, touched billions of lives for the better, and hadn’t sold a staggering number of records—upwards of 200 million.

WHITNEY started the whole “million-in-first-week” thing with The Bodyguard Soundtrack back in 1992. She was the original singer-slash-model, posing for Wilhemina as a teenager and gracing Seventeen magazine with a teeny weeny afro as the magazine’s first black woman cover model in 1981. She holds the Guinness World’s Record for awards and is the most decorated entertainer of all time.

Who's That Girl? Whitney, the Wilhemina model!

After all she gave, the least the media can do is show her R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Not that I wish this on either of these incredible artists, but were this about Celine Dion or Barbra Streisand, we’d never see an unflattering image of them in death, no matter what their indiscretions or demons were. She is an American treasure, not just a Black American one.

Whitney Houston dedicated most of her 48 years to taking us away from our sorrows, but is being eulogized publicly based on her own. This is wrong. So let this blog stand as an homage of admiration and gratitude to the first sweet, sassy Black girl to run the world.

The Whitney I Will Always Love

My Top 6 Other Whitney Posts

Whitney by the numbers: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whitney_Houston

Must the party go on with a deceased Whitney upstairs? Commentary by Gene Dexter:

http://genedexter.posterous.com/the-grammy-association-has-failed-whitney-and

Best Friend, Assistant, and Creative Director Robyn Crawford Breaks Her Silence:

http://www.esquire.com/the-side/music/whitney-houston-6654718

Somehow, I believe this assessment…Spiritual Healer Rebecca Marina on Whitney: http://rebeccamarina.com/2012/02/whitney-houston/

Dream Hampton on Whitney for EBONY: http://www.ebony.com/entertainment-culture/whitney-houston-1963-2012

Tarana Burke on Whitney for SingABlackGirlsSong: http://singablackgirlssong.wordpress.com/2012/02/12/where-do-broken-hearts-go-2/

Thank you, Whitney. Rest in Perfection.

For Etta: Farewell, Miss Peaches

January 20, 2012

Etta James

January 25, 1938 – January 20, 2012

Just five days before her 74th birthday, music icon Etta James has passed on. After battling multiple illnesses and the demons of addiction, leukemia and its complications took her body. But her spirit, her voice, will be with us forever through a catalog that spans 5 decades and every genre of music: blues, jazz, pop, soul, R&B, even hip-hop.

Jamesetta Hawkins was born in Los Angeles, but discovered in San Francisco, becoming a star on the Chess records roster in the ’50s. Her Bay Area roots intersected with mine in 1989, when a green, wide-eyed intern got the opportunity to work for her manager of 30 years, Lupe DeLeon at DeLeon Artists, where Etta’s name topped the roster. Working for Lupe meant working for Etta: going over her contracts with a fine-toothed comb, making sure her rider was adhered to without fail, booking her travel, and my sweet reward: watching her enthrall audiences the size of small clubs and festival arenas with her potent mix of sweetness and surliness, playing with emotions as she bent a line or growled a riff.

I am so grateful for the boldness, fire and utter passion for expression that Etta modeled for me. Etta James worked so hard, laughed so wisely, and commanded so much respect, it was an honor for her to chew me out because Lupe was wrapping up a call. She would boom, “you tell Lupe I don’t care who’s on the phone, ’cause I’m on it now!” Ironically, she’s a big part of why you can’t just talk to me any way you feel like it. Just carrying her messages made me feel important. She was music royalty, and had the hits (All I could Do Was Cry, Sunday Kind of Love, Something’s Got A Hold On Me, At Last and so many others), The Grammy Awards (six) and inductions into the Blues Hall of Fame, Rockabilly Hall of Fame, and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame to show for it. I know I said thank you to her for her music, but in the years that followed, I never crossed paths with her to thank her for all the ways my time working with her helped me through the ups and downs of my career.

In life, on stage–didn’t matter; she never held her tongue, never held back. Through song, her pain became our healing balm. Her sway gave us raw sensuality that defied stereotype. Her voice was her gift. Her fearlessness was her power. Her refusal to be silenced in a time when a Black woman artist’s personal freedom was far from guaranteed is her legacy.

Etta James and her family request that in lieu of flowers, you make a donation to the Rhythm and Blues Foundation to honor Etta’s memory. You can do so at http://www.rhythmblues.org/.

Black Love On Top Pt. II: And Blue Ivy Makes Three

January 10, 2012

Image

Congratulations to the Carters! BeyonJay are the proud parents of a healthy, happy baby girl, Blue Ivy Carter, born Saturday January 7th, 2012 at Lenox Hill Hospital under heavy security, complete with a secret getaway to evade the papps!

I like their steez on this one. Sure, they are both public figures, but this is a very private moment for their family and it is also their to keep private where possible. The two were very generous to reveal the name so soon, and to disclose how Beyoncé delivered her daughter in a joint statement. Honestly, how a woman delivers her child is as personal as it gets. Her birth story is really none of our business.

And who can blame them for choosing to shut us out? The moment the world knew King B was expecting, the hate began on eveything from the baby’s name and likeness to whether there was even a pregnancy at all. New lows for the Internets; thankfully the well wishes are drowning all that out. 

Papa Hov released a dedication to the baby entitled “Glory” and it’s sweet and raw as fresh cut sugarcane. Call it our generation’s “Isn’t She Lovely”. I’m willing to bet he’ll still call her Brooklyn Carter…

Click the link to the song.

Here’s to Blue Ivy’s greatness. 

10 Things To Know About Sylvia Robinson

September 29, 2011

Sylvia's baby hair was legendary...among other things.

Sylvia Vanderpool Robinson

1936-2011

Sylvia Robinson, born Sylvia Vanderpool in 1936, made her transition today at the age of 75. If anyone in hip-hop served as the embodiment of Handle Your [entertainment] Business, it was Sylvia Robinson, who was as asssertive as she was attractive. The singer-songwriter turned publisher and producer is right up there with Cindy Campbell as a foremother of hip-hop. Cindy had the idea for the jam that her brother DJ Kool Herc threw at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, sparking a culture. But it was Sylvia Robinson who came to prominence as a bona fide rap mogul at that time, turning rap music into a commercial enterprise, sparking an industry.

In her honor, here are 10 Things To Know about a visionary beacon of inspiration for women entrepreneurs everywhere, the multi-talented, multi-platinum boss lady—Sylvia Robinson. If you enjoy or make a living from hip-hop, time to pay her the proper respect. She made hip-hop history and brought it the masses on scale that was previously thought impossible. Hers is a powerful legacy, full of lessons from the victories and failures that mark all true business leaders.

May she rest in peace, and may her family members soon find comfort during this difficult time.

My first 45. The baby blue label? Unmistakeable.

  1. She founded the seminal hip-hop label Sugar Hill Records in 1979 with husband Joe Robinson and Morris Levy. It was actually her second label venture, the first being All Platinum Records, an R&B imprint. Sugar Hill’s roster was home to Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, Spoonie Gee, Treacherous Three, Funky Four Plus One, Sequence (featuring Angie Stone), and…
  2. The Sugar Hill Gang. The group is credited with releasing the first commercial rap smash hit, called “Rapper’s Delight”. Some 14 minutes long with no repeated hook, this song was a watershed moment for hip-hop.
  3. “Rapper’s Delight” used “Good Times” by Chic as its music bed, creating instant familiarity for the song and a perfect delivery system for rhyming over a beat. For better or worse, Sylvia was a pioneer of sampling and all its uncharted legal territory (just ask Nile Rodgers, composer and leader of Chic).
  4. Sylvia Robinson was the woman producer behind two of the genre’s seminal records: “Rapper’s Delight” and “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five. She also produced “Love on a Two Way Street” by The Moments (1970).
  5. Before Sylvia Robinson became one of rap’s first moguls, she was one half of the R&B duo Mickey and Sylvia, whose Top 20 hit “Love Is Strange” pushed over a million copies—in 1957.
  6. Sylvia also enjoyed success as a solo artist with her racy opus “Pillow Talk” (1973), certainly a precursor to songs like “Love To Love You Baby” by Donna Summer and “Love Hangover” by Diana Ross. That heavy breathing and moaning to music? Sylvia started it.
  7. Sylvia’s songs have also been sampled by some unlikely artists: Kate Bush used the drums from “Pillow Talk” on “Running Up That Hill” (1985) as did Fleetwood Mac for “Big Love” (1987).
  8. Sylvia’s voice has been sampled too. Moby sampled her vocals on “Sunday (The Day Before My Birthday)” and master beatmaker J Dilla chose to sample her from “Sweet Stuff” for his song “Crushin’”.
  9. Sylvia understood that publishing was where the big, long dollars were in the music business. A shrewd businesswoman whose practices were not always equitable, she earned a reputation for underpaying and micromanaging that, according to Dan Charnas, author of The Big Payback, had “Grandmaster Flash split from the rest of his crew over creative differences and lack of payment.”
  10. 10.  We have Sylvia to thank for discovering multiplatinum crossover rap icons Naughty By Nature. They made a lackluster debut on her Bon Ami label in 1987 as The New Style before moving over to Tommy Boy Records and changing their name.

Sources:

http://www.dancharnas.com/companies/album-1/sugar-hill-records/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sylvia_Robinson

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sugar_Hill_Records_(rap)

http://www.s2smagazine.com/stories/2011/09/sylvia-robinson-mother-hip-hop-dead

BeyonJay: Black Love On Top

August 30, 2011

BET Awards '06: Partners At Every Stage

This post is really a quick congratulations to King B and Young Hov on expecting their first child. I tend not to swerve into gossip blog lanes but I couldn’t help notice how fast the attention came away from Kim Humphries’ recent wedding! When it comes to big news, the biggest entertainer since the incomparable Michael Jackson (yeah, I said it long before her husband did-click here) runs the celebrity media world!

With one embrace of her bump in her gorgeous red gown on their black carpet, Beyoncé turned the VMAs into the BeyMAs.

Who Run The World? This mother to B!

She capped off the night with a sweet, sexy rendition of “Love On Top” in custom D&G maternity trousers. When the last note rang, she dropped the mic, popped open her tuxedo jacket, and rubbed her belly, smiling from ear to ear. In a cynical, star-obsessed world depressed by the global economy, it’s great to see what comes across (to me anyway) as authentic wedded bliss and maternal joy, without the hazy glare of a reality show’s filter. It’s also wonderful to have a model of a woman who excelled in her career, married, and got pregnant (please stop saying “knocked up”–that’s for jumpoffs and accidents) in that order.

Black Love On Top

In the wings, Jay-Z was an exuberant proud papa watching his wife and unborn child, clearly over the moon. He’s ready to be a present, powerful father, ready to break the cycle of fatherlessness he experienced and Decoded for us in his memoir. May all his fans who stay in that deadbeat baby daddy loop be freed by his example and step their game up. May all the good dads out there be encouraged, knowing that a new member is joining their ranks to shine a light on the good they do that goes largely unnoticed simply because they aren’t famous.

Cheers to the parents-to-Bey! Here’s to a happy, healthy baby–and Black Love on top!

Farewell, Mr. Ashford: Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing

August 25, 2011

Nickolas ‘Nick’ Ashford

1941-2011

Anger bubbled inside me upon learning that one of the world’s seminal soul and pop music voices was silenced by throat cancer at the age of 70 on August 22, 2011. Nickolas ‘Nick’ Ashford truly wrote the words that made the whole world fall in love. And I was literally pissed off that the same disease who claimed the earthly life of my mother had taken also taken his.

And then, I had to take a moment and rethink my reaction. Nick Ashford spent his life providing everyone within the reach of his pen, the sound of his voice–with an experience of deep, complete, soul-stirring love. Whether it was love identified with Marvin & Tami’s “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing”, the power of love recognized on Diana’s “The Boss”, love for the human race extended with “Reach Out And Touch”, or unshakeable love affirmed with “Solid”, the smash hit he and his lovely wife Valerie Simpson performed, Nick Ashford let us know that love was possible, attainable, and ultimately, all that really mattered. And he didn’t just write these songs. He truly seemed to feel like there was no mountain high enough to keep him from Valerie, who wrote, sang, grooved, and stood by his side for 38 years of marriage. He lived those lyrics, and the life they shared seemed to fill his heart. “Whatever it is/love’ll fix it/Found a cure.”

Solid As A Rock

So what business did I have allowing anger to cloud my memory of this music legend?

As a songwriter, he and Ms. Simpson were totally unselfish. They were hitmakers (see: “I’m Every Woman” by Chaka Khan) and starmakers, catapulting Ross to solo mega-success with multiple hits, something that eludes many an artist breaking away from a popular group. Nick and Valerie knew this all too well. So much so, they created their own incubator for artist development and live performance called The Sugar Bar. Veterans and emerging artists shared a stage that may have been tiny, but was deep, wide, rich with the history and sweat of those who graced it. Free of ego and full of good judgment–the kind that empowers artists as they hone their craft.

In a tweet exchange between myself and singer-songwriter-producer Sandra St. Victor, I learned just how much Ashford’s humility touched her:

“@putyrdreams1st I did their radio show back in the day. Val played piano, Nick sang BG while I sang “Misty Blue.” Talk about an honor. WoW.”

So I took my thoughts to the many times I’d seen Mr. Ashford striding down the streets of New York City. Sometimes he’d smile wide, other times exude cool confidence. Always regal and feline in his movement, like a lion, complete with jet black mane and black leather pants, some manner of sheer or billowy shirt, and accessories befitting the rock star showman he was. Never flanked by handlers, fabricating a scene or inconvenienced by those who would greet him with admiration or gratitude. Nick Ashford was a star, not a celebrity. His glow came from within, not from external adulation. As a writer and lover of words, I’m just glad I got to shake the hand that gave us five decades of beautiful music, love in sonic form.

I have to agree with Sandra when she tweeted, “This loss is simply shattering. I think Nick brought the earthquake when he touched the sky.” -Sandra St. Victor

My prayers and gratitude go to Ms. Valerie Simpson. As a wife in her 14th year, doing the work of creating a happy marriage, I can say that I looked to Ashford & Simpson with stars in my eyes before I even knew what marriage was about. Throughout the carefree 80s and me-me-me 90s, they made Black love look (and sound) fabulous. Enviable. Amazing. For this, I thank them both.

Ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby.