Posts Tagged ‘Music’

That Time I Wrote Prince’s Bio

April 22, 2016

In 2010, I was tasked with writing a salutatory biography on Prince for the program book that was distributed only to attendees of the 2010 BET Awards in Los Angeles. There was only one problem: no current bio on Prince existed. Because the world knew who Prince was. He had long surpassed the point of needing one. But the award show booklet did. So I opened my journalistic toolbox, and researched 40 years of Prince in all his permutations.

Fortunately, I was a rabid Prince fan. This was borne out of being strictly forbidden to adore him as a young girl because he was usually naked and fiercely provocative. My mother banned him from my poster wall, leaving it to the Jacksons. So by the time I got to college at 16, I was focused on seeing and hearing and studying the artistry of Prince at every opportunity. I summoned all of this fandom and poured it into the mission, which was to wrangle four decades of achievement onto *one* page of a spread, that included a flawless photo of him, resplendent in a white bejeweled pantsuit.


For weeks, I toiled on this bio. I was unable to interview him. The conferring of his award was a secret–even within BET, so the bio assignment was called “Project Lester” by the booklet’s art director, Kundia Wood. I finished the draft and sat on every pin and needle praying he would not rip my attempt at encapsulating his career to shreds. He alone would be the approver. I was freaking. Out. The word came back, with one note to delete a sentence that I cannot discuss. To have this genius approve my writing will be a career milestone for me forever. I can only imagine that Anna Wintour would be more formidable editor than Prince.

Yesterday, Prince Rogers Nelson left the planet; strutting into a spin of purple stardust to assume his ancestral throne. I haven’t fully processed this, and surely won’t for quite some time; he informed so much of my understanding of the power of one’s own ideas. He confirmed that it was natural to embrace the sacred and the profane, and to own one’s personhood on one’s own terms without apology. As a young Black girl growing up in Inglewood, getting these messages from a petite yet larger than life, Black but otherworldly human with glittering eyes and a soul-piercing voice was truly a godsend. Like no other public figure, Prince told me it was okay to be me. To make up words, to conjure new language, to write for hours in journals. So having this same person tell me my writing–about him–had his blessing? Psssh.

I am still in a bit of denial at his passing. I woke up today feeling like the world was off its tilt. As the mourning and the remembering unfurled over the last 24 hours, it occurred to me that only the 1500 or so people who took the booklet home from the 2010 BET Awards had read this bio. Until now. Maybe someone will update Wikipedia.


2010 Lifetime Achievement Award


Few artists have created a body of work as dynamic or as diverse as Prince. No other recording artist has accomplished what he has in music, film, or new media; he is a one man juggernaut, uniting the genres of funk, rock, soul, jazz, R&B, pop, rap and new wave under one sound: his.

In the 1970s, Prince Rogers Nelson became a central figure of ‘Uptown,’ an underground funk scene in his native Minneapolis. In 1976, the demo he cut with the help of producer Chris Moon and Owen Husney caused a bidding war eventually won by Warner Bros.

The now classic For You, his first recording for Warner Bros., was recorded in 1978 with him listed as sole writer, performer, arranger and producer. His debut was a foreshadowing of the potent sexuality tempered by emotional vulnerability and love for the sacred that would become his hallmark. With a catalog too extensive to list, Prince proved himself to be prolific, consistent and ultimately prophetic on albums like Dirty Mind (1980), Controversy, and 1999 (1983), which garnered global multi-platinum sales. Provocative and political, the album’s title track managed to protest nuclear proliferation and pack dance floors, earning Prince his first global Top 10 hit and Grammy® nod. In 1984, leading his band, The Revolution, Prince took the entertainment world by storm with Purple Rain, the 13-times platinum Oscar®-winning soundtrack to the cult classic film of the same name. $80 million at the box office was unheard of for a film with a Black male artist in the lead. Purple Rain immortalized Prince as one of the most influential artists of the 80s. He closed the decade out with the chart-topping Batman Soundtrack (1989).

The next decade, however, would test both his dominance in the marketplace and his indomitable spirit. His relationship with the label became acrimonious, and the fight went public: he emblazoned the word ‘slave’ on his cheek, changed his name to the unpronounceable love symbol, and became known as The Artist Formerly Known As Prince. Prince’s independence was far ahead of the wave of marquee artists to enjoy success without a major label. He also took to the Internet, wielding it as a means of distribution for NPG Records via the NPG Music Club website and membership driven social network, the first of its kind for an iconic recording star. Prince also challenged companies such as YouTube, eBay, and The Pirate Bay for allegedly encouraging copyright violations, which highlighted the need for protocols to help rights holders protect their property.

The new millennium ushered in the re-emergence of Prince in name and creative output. He was inducted into Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. He sought out label partnerships for all his subsequent releases: Musicology (Columbia records, 2004); 3121 (Universal Records, 2006); and Planet Earth (Columbia Records, 2007). In 2007, the stars (and clouds) aligned to literally shower him with purple rain the night of his Super Bowl XLI halftime performance before 140 million viewers, followed by a record-breaking run at London’s O2 Arena for the Earth Tour. In 2009, Prince released the triple album set featuring LOtUSFLOW3R, MPLSoUND and Elixer by Bria Valente.

After 100 million albums sold, seven Grammy® awards, a Golden Globe, an Oscar®, and a Webby Award for visionary use of the Internet, the influence of Prince is endless. His chameleon-like image, signature style and constantly evolving sound all echo in the work of two generations of artists across multiple genres. As a songwriter and producer, he has collaborated with legendary artists including Mavis Staples, Chaka Khan, Stevie Wonder, Celine Dion, Madonna, and Sinead O’Connor. Over the course of his career, Prince helped to launch, propel or extend the careers of Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Sheila E., Morris Day & The Time, Wendy & Lisa, Madhouse, Brown Mark, Jesse Johnson, Vanity 6, Appollonia 6, Rosie Gaines, and others. For five decades, Prince has given the world countless musical, entrepreneurial, and spiritual gifts. Love is at the foundation of all he gives: love of God, humanity, and the world. For this and more, BET is proud to confer upon him the 2010 BET Award for Lifetime Achievement.


They say two thousand zero zero/party over/oops/out of time -Prince, “1999”

Thank you, Prince Rogers Nelson, for every single moment.

Thembisa S. Mshaka is a journalist, author of Put Your Dreams First: Handle Your [entertainment] Business, filmmaker, and award-winning creative campaign writer. During her tenure at Sony Music, she served as the senior copywriter for Prince’s Musicology album. Her first Prince concert was the Lovesexy Tour.

The Divorce Counselor Is A Pan African Film Fest World Premiere

February 7, 2013


I am humbled and extremely excited to announce the world premiere of my first film to receive festival love: The Divorce Counselor! I want to acknowledge my gifted co-writer Tmor of Comic Diversity, my amazing co-producer Jamaal C. Lewis, my crew, and the incredibly talented cast, without whom the film could not have happened. If you are in Los Angeles for the Grammys, my first screening is the night before so do consider joining me! 

From my e-blast:

Thembisa Mshaka can now add filmmaker to her impressive entertainment resume: her short film “The Divorce Counselor”, which she wrote, produced and directed will world premiere Saturday, February 9 at 10:05pm and Thursday, February 14 at 1:25pm as part of the 21st Annual Pan African Film Festival at Rave Cinemas Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza 15 in Los Angeles.

About the film: Mr. & Mrs. Jones are at odds and near the end of their marriage. Or so they think. With wit and heart, The Divorce Counselor examines the power of friendships and importance of therapy. 
This film is first in the block of selections–and only 10 minutes long, so BE EARLY–the film will not be viewable online until it premieres exclusively on April 13, 2013.
Tickets may be purchased in advance and at the box office for SHORTS SERIES 3, the block of shorts in which The Divorce Counselor is featured. There will be a talkback featuring Thembisa after the screenings.
Link to the trailer:
For tickets: Click the date of your choice and select Shorts Series 3 at
For more on the film like the Facebook page:

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

April 3, 2012


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):

Leno and Black friend:

Salma’s commercial, which is in Spanish:

And smooth operator Beckham:

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.


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.

(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?


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.


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 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

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


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.

What I Learned From Gil Scott-Heron

May 29, 2011
Rest In Power, Master Teacher

Gil Scott-Heron

Artist * Poet * Activist * Musician * Author


Gil Scott-Heron was called home Friday, May 27, 2011. An iconic creative spirit who left an indelible mark on Black music and indeed the entire world, you’ll read obits about his public accomplishments and contributions. He is indeed a revolutionary. He is the Godfather of Spoken Word. But this piece is about what this amazing Master Teacher taught me during the three years I worked on his behalf.

Gil’s music used to pump at full volume in my home. My parents and he went to Lincoln University, and his albums remained in heavy rotation. To me, Gil Scott-Heron was larger than life: big smile, big beard, booming voice that could have been on the corner or at my holiday dinner table breaking down injustice with his unmistakable cadence. He spoke the truth without fear on his records. And the instrumentation was incredible: insistent, fierce, soulful. Bass lines that made neck hairs stand up. Flutes and keys that insisted you move along with them. Gil was the man who brought it to The Man. So when an internship came up at a place that represented him, I made it my mission to get the gig. Knowing who he was and what he sang at my age made me a shoo-in, especially when most teens were all about hip-hop.

I was 19 when we met. In real life, his beard and voice were as big as they seemed on his records, but he was also tall, lean, witty and charismatic. The internship was at DeLeon Artists, the booking and management agency that also represented Willie Colon, Etta James and many other luminaries of soul and jazz. Eventually, his agent (and my mentor) Bruce Solar would leave De Leon and start Absolute Artists, taking me with him to be the office  and contracts manager. Because Bruce kept Gil on the road booking him hundreds of dates across the globe, Gil went with him to Bruce’s new company. “I want to be on the road 320 days a year,” he told us. Bruce made sure of it.

Upon Gil’s death, I realize that much of what I practice and impart to others in the entertainment industry comes out of working with and on behalf of Gil:

Be concerned with honesty over popularity.

Gil Scott-Heron said what he wanted to say, 100% of the time. How you took what he had to say was on you. Now, this is risky enough in life. In art, it’s everything. His indictment of the system and observations of how they affected people on the margins made him popular. Authenticity was a hallmark of Gil’s.

Make great music and you can tour forever.

Gil went for years at a time without releasing new music, and yet he was always in demand as a performer or lecturer. Artists with a substantive point of view that they can express in their music or in a discussion will always have income.

Keep your publishing, even if it’s a portion. The checks are worth it.

Gil would have his entertainment life handled through the agency. His publishing checks came to the office. They were especially big after the first quarter of each year, because Gil’s music was a Black History Month staple (and still is). Had he surrendered all his publishing, he would not have had that supplementing his tour income.

Addiction is evil.

I admired Gil to no end as an artist, and never imagined I would meet him, much less have the distinct honor of working with him. I also never imagined I’d see him consumed by the haze he used as a forcefield around him, as armor against all he knew but could not control. I don’t know how he died, but I do know that between working so much and abusing his body, he looked more like 82 than 62. I can only imagine the pain it caused those close to him. Bruce and I were always waiting for the worst news. Ironically, it never came; he lived longer than even Gil said he would. Gil used to tell Bruce and I that if he made it to 50 he’d kill himself; he’d say it with complete seriousness as he chuckled. When he didn’t, we were surprised and relieved because Gil usually meant what he said. Substance abuse is a hard demon to confront, much less vanquish. So many greats are gone from losing that battle. I submit that Gil would have been with us longer had he not engaged that war. It reminds me that compassion for those we love is paramount, especially when we don’t love what they’re doing to themselves.

Thank you, Gil, for all you gave us–and all you taught me. You will forever be loved, in all your complexity.

May the peace he sang and worked for be his at last.

Why Willow Is Winning

October 20, 2010

Willow Smith has been in the game for a minute. She’s appeared in a couple films and is now taking the music world by storm.

Willow has captured the imagination of music listeners of all ages with her certified smash hit “Whip My Hair”. The video debuts this week on BET during 106 & Park.

Check it out here:

No shots Rih Rih, but a nine year-old has managed to steal your thunder without baring so much as a midriff. As tweeted by poet Bassey Ikpi (my edits on the f -bomb):

@BasseyworldLive: Somewhere Rhianna is poking the f*** out of a 9 year old size voo doo doll.

I’m not pitting these female acts against one another, that’s not my steez. Y’all know this. But I can’t help but notice that Willow’s record is getting crazy media buzz, lots of airplay, and has the Internets all aflutter, without any sexualization whatsoever, while it’s *crickets* over there for the ironically titled upcoming release for Rihanna, Loud.

Now, she’s the nine year-old daughter of Hollywood Power Couple Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith, who have both been in the business since they were teens. Of course they would make sure their baby’s clothes were on at all times.

But we can’t say that of all Hollywood parents, so we shouldn’t take it for granted. Just ask the Ramseys. Or for that matter, mad parents from the ‘hood to the trailer park who let their little girls pop their coochies at family gatherings.

Willow wins because the quality is there. The song is hot. It’s age-appropriate–and still manages to be fun for listerners her age and above. She wins because the Ray-Kay lensed video is beautifully produced with kids of all colors having a blast, acting and dancing their respective ages and showing less skin than I’ve seen in a video in quite some time. Sad that it’s so rare, it’s become refreshing. She is also advocating for full self-expression. It doesn’t mean bad behavior. It means feeling free while letting others see. And if there’s no other time in life one can do this, it’s at her age. I say “go for it”.

Willow also wins because she is surrounded by a top-knotch team of experienced professionals, both related and unreleated to her–who have her best interests at heart, and are not trying to sell her out for a quick buck or 15 minutes of their own fame, like some of these celebrity parents and managers out here. This is something I warn against in my book. Overbook, Roc Nation, and Columbia Records know what they have and I am sure will be keeping themselves (and one another) accountable for the span of her career, as all entities who hold the careers of others in their hands should.

Finally, Willow wins because she is sending multiple positive messages from an industry that spews negative ones ad nauseam.

She tells girls who look like her that their hair is perfect the way it is and to whip it. She tells everyone to rise above negativity and continue to live their lives, having fun while they’re at it. And she tells young Black Girls that they rock! Just in time for Black Girls Rock! Founder Beverly Bond’s upcoming Awards show on BET of the same name, airing November 7th at 8pm EST. It is an amazing, must-watch, must-DVR situation. And I predict that she’ll be getting the Who Got Next award very soon.

I am praying that Willow sells so many records, labels rush to snap up more wholesome young people to make music for their own demographic and the parents who raise them–especially young artists of color. The urban youth market exists, label guys and gals. Don’t box them into listening to music that’s too grown for them. You see how they buy gadgets and shoes, give them some good fund music to throw in the bag!

Thank you Willow, for handling your entertainment business! Continued fulfillment and success to you!

Bonus track: Fraggle Roc Nation Remix of Sesame Street’s ‘I Love My Hair’


Abbey Lincoln: Dream Weaver

August 16, 2010


Anna Marie Wooldrige, PKA Abbey Lincoln


Natural Beauty: Abbey Lincoln

I met my Abbey Lincoln through my parents. Well, not literally. My father introduced me to her heady mix of soaring and sobering vocal style by playing “Bird Alone” for me many years ago. I’ve loved her voice ever since.

My mother introduced me to Abbey as an actress in the seminal film, Nothing But A Man, in which she starred as Josie. If you don’t know this film, Netflix it and IMDB it. It is a classic story of race and relationships. Abbey Lincoln delivers a tour-de-force performance.

But then, those are the only kind she’s ever delivered. My favorite album of the many she recorded is A Turtle’s Dream, one of her later releases. She is so adept at turning phrases, bending notes and curling emotion, she holds her listeners in a rapture. My favorite cut from it is the first, “Throw It Away”.

Its lyrics are a reminder that I, that each of us, already have all that we need–and can be comforted in living fearlessly.

Throw it away, throw it away

Give of your love, live your life

Each and every day

And keep your hand wide open

Let sun shine through

‘Cause you can never lose a thing

If it belongs to you

No disrespect to the legendary musician, but please believe she was much more than the former wife of master drummer Max Roach. So often we in entertainment are described as the spouses of other entertainers, with no thought to the woman’s individual achievements which may pre- or post-date the said relationship. Abbey Lincoln is a master in her own right, a Sister Swan who made travelling difficult roads look easy.

I have an additional tribute planned for this space, but until that comes together, I didn’t want another day to go by without thanking the divine Ms. Lincoln for her role in my life–as a self-made Black woman artist who always and only sang or spoke in her own clear voice.

Abbey: Fierce and Fearless At Every Age

Jazz master, vocal stylist, songwriter, actor and activist Abbey Lincoln transitioned to the ancestral plane at the age of 80 this past Saturday, August 14th.

Rest in perfection, Abbey.

For a detailed obit piece, click on this from the New York Times.

Forgiving Chris Brown: Re-post & Update

June 29, 2010

I am on record as being one who advocated for the forgiveness of the multi-talented, multi-platinum Chris Brown as far back as February 2009, when the most media and much of the public wanted to banish and boycott him forever. His missteps with the media in the aftermath turned the fury way up, as he looked far from remorseful—especially in contrast to Rihanna’s composed, deliberate testimony on 20/20. I understand the fury; I was furious about his assault of Rihanna on Grammy Night 2009 too.

But this rigid, visceral approach to such a layered issue is neither humane nor realistic. Endless castigation does not break the cycle of relationship violence. If we want young men, especially young men of color, to stop abusing women, we must condemn the behavior, and support the full rehabilitation of the person. Ron Artest has shown us that therapy can help anyone rise to become a champion in work and in life. Chris must seek help from psychological professionals, spiritual counselors, and anger management experts. Chris is going to be atoning and reconciling for years to come. That process is well underway.

The part we as consumers, fans, and members of the media can support him with is the revitalization of his career. Chris Brown is a gifted young performer who deserves to make a living at what he is passionate about. BET provided Chris Brown with the opportunity of a lifetime on the 2010 BET Awards: to pay homage to his mentor Michael Jackson with a powerful medley of the King of Pop’s hit songs and signature dance routines. True to form, the media looked for the worst from a heartfelt and otherwise technically flawless performance–until the part where Chris broke down emotionally in an effort to sing “Man In The Mirror”. His sincerity was questioned. His tears, snot and hoarse voice were called ‘staged’. Just another signal that the path of least resistance, further vilification of the young Black male, was being tread yet again. A brother can’t even emote!

But the audience on their feet at the Shrine and millions on couches across America knew that what he was feeling was very real: the overwhelm of Michael passing and finally being able to commemorate his idol’s life; the passage of the hardest of his own 21 years; the energy of the room singing when he could not, crying with him, releasing with him. This is what it means to be human. This collective catharsis was an important step in the healing process for everyone who empathizes with Chris and wishes him well. It’s exactly why that moment was the one everyone was talking about the morning after and well into this week.

The crime will not be forgotten, but the man needs to be forgiven.

We say we want him to take a look at himself and make a change; change is hard. Let him do it.

I’ve re-posted my commentary for reference. I look forward to your comments.

As posted by July 24, 2009

Thembisa S. Mshaka

This past February, Chris Brown shocked the world. In the wee morning hours of the Grammy Awards, he brutally assaulted his then-girlfriend Rihanna. On June 22, 2009, Chris Brown pled guilty. The judge handed him his sentence, convicting Brown of felony assault, mandating him to keep his distance from Rihanna (50 yards for five years), and to serve 5 years of probation including 180 days of community labor. Brown was also ordered to enroll in a domestic violence counseling program. Brown’s face registered remorse and relief that day in court; looked like it dawned on him how close he came to prison time. But was he truly sorry?

It was hard to tell. Brown’s camp released a tepid statement: “Words cannot begin to express how sorry and saddened I am over what transpired. I am seeking the counseling of my pastor, my mother and other loved ones and I am committed, with God’s help, to emerging a better person.” Meanwhile photos of the 19-year-old partying hard in Miami contrasted those of a sorrowful Rihanna in the days that followed. His silence was as palpable as his absence from television and radio. Suddenly the freckle-faced crooner resurfaced and sent a video message to the world while bowling with rapper Bow Wow on May 26: “I’m not a monster… I got a new album droppin’.” Five months after his love quarrel-gone-awry, Brown released another video apologizing: “I take great pride in me being able to exercise self-control and what I did was inexcusable.”

Was his gesture too little too late? Not only for his victim, Rihanna, but for his fans and critics? I conducted an informal poll on Facebook and Twitter. While the media was castigating him, I blogged back in February (click hyperlinked Feruary 2009 above) that the public was too quick to dismiss him and predict his career’s end. That compassionate condemnation was in order, not excommunication.

Perhaps the apology is a hard pill to swallow because Brown seemed so cavalier after the debacle. Judging by the many responses I received, I gleaned that his silence, while understandable at the advice of counsel, allowed the negative perception of this young man to fester into the selling of T-shirts emblazoned with his image and a striking slash through his face and dubbing his namesake a slang term synonymous with a “beat down” as in “Don’t get Chris Brown-ed.”

The Twitterverse had much to say about Brown’s remorse. “Why not release the video the day after the verdict?” asked one Tweeter. Another said Brown’s apology would have been deemed more sincere and set a strong example to his young fans about facing consequences if he’d done so immediately after the final verdict. Some believe his public remorse opens the door for fans to begin liking him again with one female tweeter professing: “Chris Brown, I love you more than ever.” But it was a male respondent who expressed the optimism that forgiveness should render: “He’s young enough to change.”

Sure, the execution could have been tighter, but I challenge anyone to recall an apology that felt smooth as silk following an egregious action. Taking a slice of humble pie and expressing remorse is usually awkward and delayed, requiring time. Reconciliation takes patience and work and Brown has taken his first step. Some might argue that Brown’s timing is off, but I believe an apology has no expiration date. Brown deserves forgiveness. What if Chris Brown was your son, nephew or brother? Assuming a zero-tolerance policy on abuse is fine, but judging someone unfairly and withholding support can interfere or jeopardize the healing process and ultimately redemption. We can stand against violence by looking its perpetrators in the eye and demand that they be and do better, but remember, it’s never too late to choose forgiveness over judgment.

Thembisa S. Mshaka is a 17-year entertainment industry veteran and author of the mentorship and career guide, Put Your Dreams First: Handle Your [entertainment] Business