Tag Archives: musicians

Happy Birthday Luther Vandross

2It is with great pride and pleasure I take in resurrecting the ghost of the greats that enriched my life, and dare I say made the world a better place.  I’ve highlighted and spotlighted many enormous champions of the African American experience, along with many who, regardless of their station, changed the world and made tremendous contributions. This was to also include the monumental musical giants of our time. In fact, I would be remissed if I did not acknowledge the spirits of those artists and entertainers whose presence will live within us for eternity.

I am rarely at a loss for words, but the voice of Luther Ronzoni Vandross was so passionate and powerful that I have no words; other than to say the day Luther Vandross transitioned to the great beyond was a mighty loss. We will never hear a voice of such quality, sweetness, or grace every again. So on this day I want to put you in a mellow mood with these attached videos of the legacy Luther left for use to enjoy. Rest In Peace. And that’s my thought provoking perspective…


Elegance and Grace Personified aka Lena Horne

1There is nothing that gives me more pride than paying homage to the remarkable trailblazers who paved the way for others to follow. None was more significant that the lady known as “the Horne”! The electrifying beauty and uncompromising performer Lena Horne shattered racial boundaries by changing the way Hollywood presented black women for six decades through a singing career, stage, television, and in films.

She is best described in her own words saying, “my identity was clear because I no longer have to be a ‘credit,’ I don’t have to be a ‘symbol’ to anybody. I don’t have to be a ‘first’ to anybody. I don’t have to be an imitation of a white woman that Hollywood sort of hoped I’d become. I’m me, and I’m like nobody else.”
In 1933, Ms. Horne was pushed into a job at the Cotton Club by her mother, who knew the Harlem nightclub’s choreographer. The segregated club attracted white clientele, who liked to watch the top black entertainers of the day, such as Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway, surrounded by what was promoted as a “tall, tan and terrific” chorus of girls.

The Horne, as she was endearing called because of her striking beauty and voice, considered one of the most beautiful women in the world, attracted the attention of Hollywood in 1942. She was the first black woman to sign a meaningful long-term contract with a major studio, a contract that said she would never have to play a maid. This single act transformed the image of the African American woman in Hollywood.

As a film historian, Donald Bogle said, “Movies are a powerful medium and always depicted African American women before Lena Horne as hefty, mammy-like maids who were ditzy and giggling… Lena Horne becomes the first one the studios begin to look at differently… Really just by being there, being composed and onscreen with her dignity intact paved the way for a new day” for black actresses.

In Hollywood, Ms. Horne received previously unheard-of star treatment for a black actor. Her reputation in Hollywood rested on a handful of classic musical films. Among the best were two all-black musicals from 1943: “Cabin in the Sky,” as a small-town temptress who pursues Eddie “Rochester” Anderson; and “Stormy Weather,” in which she played a career-obsessed singer opposite Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. She shared billing with hugely famous white entertainers such as Gene Kelly, Lucille Ball, Mickey Rooney and Red Skelton but was segregated onscreen so producers could clip out her singing when the movies ran in the South. “Mississippi wanted its movies without me,” she once told the New York.

Metro Goldwyn Mayer studios featured Ms. Horne in movies and advertisements as glamorously as white beauties including Hedy Lamarr, Rita Hayworth, and Betty Grable. James Gavin, who has written a biography of Ms. Horne, said: “Given the horrible restrictions of the time, MGM bent over backward to do everything they could. After MGM, she was an international star, and that made her later career possible, made her a superstar.” Ms. Horne appeared on television and at major concerts halls in New York, London, and Paris. She starred on Broadway twice, and her 1981 revue, “Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music,” set the standard for the one-person musical show, reviewers said. The performance also netted her a special Tony Award and two Grammy Awards. She was formidable and the first black cabaret star for white society.

As a songstress, her repertoire consisted of sophisticated ballads of Cole Porter, George and Ira Gershwin, Frank Loesser and Billy Strayhorn. She loved the music but also said she liked surprising the white audience who expected black entertainers to sing hot jazz or blues and dance wildly. In her singing, Ms. Horne showed great range and could convincingly shift between jazz, blues, and cabaret ballads. New Yorker jazz writer Whitney Balliett praised her “sense of dynamics that allowed her to whisper and wheedle and shout.”

She told the New York Times in 1981, “I thought, ‘How can I sing about a penthouse in the sky, when with the housing restrictions the way they are, I wouldn’t be allowed to rent the place?” In the late 1940’s and 1950’s, she chose to focus on quietly defying segregation policies at upscale hotels in Miami Beach and Las Vegas where she performed. At the time, it was customary for black entertainers to stay in black neighborhoods, but Ms. Horne successfully insisted that she and her musicians be allowed to stay wherever she entertained. One Las Vegas establishment reportedly had its chambermaids burn Ms. Horne’s sheets.

In 1963, Ms. Horne appeared at the civil rights March on Washington with Harry Belafonte and Dick Gregory and was part of a group, which included authors James Baldwin and Lorraine Hansberry that met with Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy to urge a more active approach to desegregation. Ms. Horne also used her celebrity to rally front-line civil rights activists in the South and was a fundraiser for civil right groups including the NAACP and the National Council of Negro Women.

Working closely with NAACP Executive Secretary Walter White, Ms. Horne said she wanted to “try to establish a different kind of image for Negro women.” They successfully challenged the casting system that had long marginalized black performers onscreen by having them portray servants, minstrels or jungle natives.

To Ms. Horne’s surprise, her efforts to overcome servile screen parts was resented by many black actors who viewed her as a threat more than a pioneer. She said she was perceived as a danger to the system of informal “captains” in the black acting community who worked as liaisons with film producers when they needed “natives” for the latest Tarzan picture.

After the triumph of her 1981 Broadway show, she led an increasingly isolated life in her Manhattan apartment. Over my lifetime, I have seen and known giants who have illuminated the world. None shined brighter than “The Horne”. A life rich in wonder who now belong to the ages. Rest In Peace Ms. Horne as you take your rest among the ghost of the great. And that’s my thought provoking perspective…


In Memory Of A Prince

You left the world with beautiful memories.
Just as you were, amazing, you will always be
Someone special in our memories.

R.I.P – Prince

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Black Music Month: The Last Great Temptation

OLLIEWOODSONRIP Ali Ollie Woodson was born Ollie Creggett on September 12, 1951 in Detroit, Michigan. He is remembered for his one of a kind soulful gospel rooted voice and as the lead singer of the greatest vocal group of all time; The Temptations.

He was the lead singer on such classic tunes; “Treat Her Like a Lady,” Sail Away, and “Lady Soul. I was blessed to have met and known this gentle soul in the mid 1970s and until a few years before his passing our paths would cross, which was always a pleasure. I can recall telling him that he was known the world over, yet he made me feel as if I was his best friend. It was always like we just spoke yesterday.

Ali was not an original member of the Temptations, which had several lineup changes since it started in the 1960s. But he played an integral part in keeping the Temptations from becoming just a nostalgia act. I would refer to him as the Temptations Temptation. I mean this in the sense that by the early 1980s the Temptations were no longer posting hit after hit as they had in the 1960s and ’70s with songs like “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” “My Girl,” and “I Wish It Would Rain.”

Enter Ali Woodson! The group had lost original members, and Ali was brought in to replace Dennis Edwards, whose voice had defined the group in the 1970s. He added a distinctive flavor to the group during his tenure that was like a playful stamp on several Temptations’ standards with his tricky punctuation, sassy humor and inventive acrobatics. I say this with great reverence because he could do a David Ruffin better than David Ruffin.

In a review of a concert featuring the Temptations and the Four Tops in 1985, Stephen Holden of The New York Times described Ali as “a charismatic young pop-funk singer with a husky, agile voice that breaks into unexpected falsetto riffs.” Frankly, I have yet to find a singer of any era comparable to the elegance of his sound. If you heard him sing – you loved what he sung!

Ali went on the road at the age of 19 with Bill Pinkney who gave him a job as a musician and then vocalist for the Original Drifters in the early 1970s. He would return to lead The Original Drifters’ gospel song “True Love” in 1996 on the CD “Peace in the Valley” (Malaco). He always referred to Pinkney as his Father in the music business and sang “Walk Around Heaven All Day” at Pinkney’s home-going service in July 2007.

Most don’t know it but when Teddy Pendergrass left Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes it was Ali who got the call. He was called upon throughout his career to be the voice to accompany many of the great artists. But he was most notable for being lead singer of the Temptations from 1984 to 1986, and from 1988 to 1996. He first recorded with The Temptations in 1983 on their “Back to Basics” album, when he was invited to perform lead vocals on the album track, “Stop the World Right Here (I Wanna Get Off),” filling in for an exhausted Dennis Edwards. The following year, he replaced Edwards and officially became a Temptation.

He began his tenure in the group on a high note with a song he co-wrote, co-produced, sang lead, and played keyboards on the 1984 Temptations single “Treat Her Like a Lady”. A song that appeared on his first full album with the group “Truly for you” and was a #2 hit on the U.S. R&B charts. He continued to compose and sing lead on other moderate hits with The Temptations throughout the mid-1980s, up until his first departure from the group in 1987.

However, he would rejoin the group the following year and remained with them up through their 1995 album For Lovers Only. Since leaving the group, Woodson began a solo career and often toured with a Temptations-like revue called Ali Ollie Woodson & the Emperors of Soul and the Temptations Revue featuring Dennis Edwards. His last tour was with none other than the Queen of Soul – Aretha Franklin – and I think that says it all. I have lived long enough to know that it is rare and only once in a lifetime that God gives us an Ali Woodson. I am honored and truly blessed to have known him.

In the Temptations movie David and Eddie would say “we were the voices.” With all due respect, Ali should also be called one of “the voices”. Rest In Peace my friend and that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…


Brownsville Series: The Black Mecca

This is another installment of the “Brownsville Series”, which is my way of resurrecting the memory of those areas designated for “Coloreds” during the era of segregation; you know across the tracks – the other side of town. But this place is fittingly proper as I will refer to it as the Black Mecca – Harlem USA or as some have referred to it as the “Capital of Black America”.

Harlem began as a European settlement established in July 1639 in what was then known as New Harlem. It was formalized in 1658, when the English took control of the colony changing the hamlets name to Harlem. At that time, it was merely a small agricultural town just outside of New York City. The name Harlem was a synonym for elegant living through a good part of the nineteenth century. For example, the estate of Alexander Hamilton was located in Harlem.

In 1893, the Harlem Monthly Magazine wrote, “it is evident to the most superficial observer that the centre of fashion, wealth, culture, and intelligence, must, in the near future, be found in the ancient and honorable village of Harlem.” Even then Harlem seemed ordained to be the center of cultural significance but it was not until the mass migration of blacks in 1904 that it began to flourish as a predominantly Black enclave. It was because of a real estate crash that caused worsening conditions for blacks throughout New York City. Prompting Philip Payton, owner of the Afro-American Realty Company, to almost single-handedly created the migration of blacks from their previous neighborhoods establishing Black Harlem or Uptown as it came to be known.

Then black churches began to move uptown. St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, for one, purchased a block of buildings on West 135th Street to rent to members of its congregation. Black Harlem has always been a religious community with over 400 churches of every faith becoming very influential because of their large congregations and wealth as a result of its extensive real estate holdings. However, many as do today, operated what is known as storefronts from an empty stores, building’s basements or converted brownstone townhouses.

At the same time, blacks were migrating to northern industrial cities fueled by their desire to leave behind the Jim Crow South seeking better jobs and education for their children. Jobs were abundant, and many blacks were able to obtain work because expanding industries recruited black laborers to fill new jobs as a result of the war effort. Another reason was to escape the culture of lynching and violence.

By 1920,, in a mere twenty years, Harlem became the center of a flowering black culture that became known as the Harlem Renaissance. This period witnessed the greatest collection of artistic production creating the sound and entertainment of the “Roaring Twenties”, but blacks were sometimes excluded from viewing what their peers were creating. Some jazz venues, including the famed Cotton Club, where Duke Ellington played, or Connie’s Inn were restricted to whites only, although some uptown clubs were integrated.

The most famous venue in Harlem and world renowned was the Apollo Theater that opened on 125th Street on January 26, 1934 in what was a burlesque house. Best known for its “Amateur Night at the Apollo” that continues to this very day. The Apollo was a proving ground, of sorts; if you could make it there you could make it anywhere. Every black performer or artist was ordained by its audience in one way or another. I don’t have enough space to list all of the greats that graced the Apollo stage. If they were successful, they played the Apollo Theater. Another famous spot was the Savoy Ballroom, on Lenox Avenue, was a renowned venue for swing dancing immortalized in a popular song of the era “Stompin’ at the Savoy”.

During the 1920’s and 1930’s, between Lenox and Seventh Avenues in central Harlem had over 125 entertainment places operating. Such as speakeasies, cellars, lounges, cafes, taverns, supper clubs, rib joints, theaters, dance halls, and bars and grills. Throughout the twentieth century, particularly during the “Harlem Renaissance”, Harlem served as the home and key inspiration to generations of novelists, poets, musicians, and actors. It was because of the city’s pace, the blend of their backgrounds, the difficulties associated with living in Harlem and their experiences that found expression in theater, fiction, and music, among other art forms.

Some of the luminaries produced by Harlem were Paul Robeson, Claude McKay, and Langston Hughes just to name a few. Though Harlem musicians and writers are particularly well remembered, the community has also hosted numerous actors and theater companies, including the New Heritage Repertory Theater, National Black Theater, Lafayette Players, Harlem Suitcase Theater, The Negro Playwrights, American Negro Theater, and the Rose McClendon Players. Arthur Mitchell, a former dancer with the New York City Ballet, established Dance Theatre of Harlem as a school and company for classical ballet and theater training in the late 1960’s.

Harlem is also home to notable contemporary artists such as the Harlem Boys Choir, a famous touring choir and education program for young boys, most of whom are black. There is also a Girls’ Choir of Harlem and both companies have toured both nationally and internationally. Harlem is also credited with the creation of Hip-Hop and many hip-hop dances associated with this genre. It is also known for producing Rappers such as Kurtis Blow and Hip Hop Mogul P. Diddy.

After the romantic era of the Harlem Renaissance, Harlem ceased to be home to the majority of NYC’s blacks and the character of the community changed in the years after the war, as middle-class blacks left for the outer boroughs and suburbs. With the increase in a poor population, it was also a time when the neighborhood began to deteriorate, and some of the storied traditions of the Harlem Renaissance were driven by poverty, crime, or other social ills. However, as of the writing Harlem is being resurrected, and its future is brighter. And that’s my thought provoking perspective…

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The Snake

sMy Granddaddy would tell me fascinating stories designed to develop and guide me into manhood. In fact, he would specifically use the phrase: “I raised you to be a man and as a man, you don’t know what you may have to do but when the time comes, you do it.” I heard this that even today it brings a warm smile – “when I have to do it”. He said it so often throughout my youth that to me it was more like a commandment.

I loved Granddaddy more than life itself. I knew, even then, his teachings were an inspired declaration of his celestial will or more simply put – his vision that shaped my destiny defining my purpose. Pop’s would teach me lessons, often times, like an Aesop Fables to make me think and it was my job to figure out the moral of the story.

This is my favorite:

The way the story was told to me, Granddaddy’s friend, Mr. Bob whose job was to offer a prayer every Sunday morning at church during the service prior to the preacher’s sermon, a job he had held for years. Sunday was a special day for the community, and for him to have a position where he would have the attention of everyone was a big deal. More accurately stated it was a platform for him to perform. He would have been a great entertainer.

Mr. Bob would walk to church every Sunday morning, rain or shine, from his home. The trip was several miles up and down hills and around curves, and he would be dressed in his best suit for the morning service. During the walk he would practice his part for the service, the prayer, with the intention of making it a show complete with screams and tears. This show would sometimes last thirty minutes. There were many Sundays one would wonder how one man could have so much to ask of the Lord and maybe say, please, let somebody else get a blessing.

On his way to church this particular Sunday, Mr. Bob came across an injured snake. In what he perceived as divine intervention, God said to him, help this poor creature. He realized he did not have a prayer for that day’s service, so he thought, wow, if I help the snake I can pray for us to have the strength to help all of God’s creatures. Since the snake is the lowliest of all creatures, this would really inspire the congregation and hopefully give them the encouragement to do the same at least until next Sunday’s message. So he picked up the badly injured snake and placed him in a safe place until he could return from church.

With great energy, and now inspired, Mr. Bob went on his way. He planned and practiced his prayer as he marched on to church. After he arrived and exchanged a few greetings, the service began with a joyful noise, as they say, meaning full of song. Then it was his turn to pray. He began to pray with a powerful tone, full of emotion. He asked God to give each person within the sound of his voice the strength to reach out and help all God’s creatures, from the loving dove to the lowly snake. His message had many in the tiny church standing with shouts of Amen. He felt he had done his job as he closed, asking God to bless the church and said Amen. In his usual style this took about a half hour.

To his surprise, the pastor also chose a sermon nearly identical to his message which took about another hour and a half, talking about helping all of God’s creatures. What a great day it was, Mr. Bob thought. Normally after the service ended everyone hung around and fellowshipped as it was one of the few chances they had to socialize. Mr. Bob would not hang around on this day – he had a mission and left church in a hurry. He rushed back to the spot where his injured snake was placed hoping it would still be there. He was very excited when he arrived to find it was where he left it. He put his snake in a burlap bag he had gotten from the church and took the snake home.

Over the next several weeks Mr. Bob cared for this creature, desperately trying to save the snake and nursing it back to health. About three weeks later he thought it was time to take his snake back to where he found it, thinking it was well enough to be set free. The following Sunday, he put on his best suit and started his journey to church with snake in hand. As he arrived at the spot where he had found it, he thought, what a wonderful thing he had done. He was sure to receive God’s blessing for this act of kindness.

He rubbed the snake gently and said goodbye. However, when he reached into the bag to grab it, suddenly the snake raised his head and bit him. Then bit him again and again. Mr. Bob cried out, “Why would you bite me after all I’ve done for you? My God why?” I guess he was expecting an answer from God, but none came. He repeated his cry once more. Then the snake stuck his head out of the bag and said, “I am a snake and that’s what we do.”After hearing this story over and over again, I finally figured out what it meant. It was a lesson that would prove to be invaluable.

Be careful in your dealings with people because people, just like the snake, will hurt you – that’s what they do. And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…

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A Salute to Black Music Month – Motown


This month, Black Music Month, is as profound to the African America Diaspora as Black History Month. We are the inventors and creators of sounds that changed world cultures.

If we were to begin way back in the cradle of civilization centuries ago it all began with the drum. When we were captured and brought to the so-called New World we brought with us the rhythms that dictate our souls. It is a fact that African American people are responsible for the great music known as Jazz, Gospel, Blues, Soul, R&B, Rap, Hip Hop, and just about every musical sound we hear that featured and directly speak to the glorious past.

During the despicable era of slavery and segregation prior to the Civil Rights Movement the hallowing sounds of gospel music delivered an in-your-face sound that fed the souls of a people and that outlet produced some of the most timeless music ever created. Before I go further, let’s remember that it was Michael Jackson whose music video was the first black music to air on MTV.

This brings me to historic and game-changing record label – Motown and its founder Mr. Barry Gordy. Let’s be honest, can you imagine a world without The “Motown Sound”. For many who don’t know or have forgotten, prior to Motown Records rarely did you see the face of an African American on the cover of an album or black music heard on white radio. The music we enjoyed was called “race music” and it was segregated in the same way America was prior to 1959, when Motown was founded. Prior to Motown Records few black performers enjoyed anything close to crossover success. By the way, an album is what was used to play music before CD’s.

Motown was the first record label owned by an African American to primarily feature African-American artists and its soul-based subsidiaries were the most successful proponents of what came to be known as The Motown Sound, which was a style of soul music with a distinct influence. From its Hitsville U.S.A building on 2648 West Grand Boulevard, Detroit, Michigan that served as Motown’s headquarters produced the most universally recognized stable of songwriters and performers of our time or anytime.

The music produced by Motown made a nation of people living in this nation without a nationality proud with its awe-inspiring run of hits that spoke to the essence of our souls. Form a tiny little basement studio we were introduced to Michael Jackson, the Supremes, Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, the Miracles, Mary Wells, Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, Four Tops, the Commodores, Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Jr. Walker and the All Stars, David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Rick James, Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson, Teena Marie, DeBarge, the Jackson Five, Martha and the Vandellas, the Marvelettes and Motown’s Funk Brothers studio band; just to name a few of the artists that graced our souls and touched our hearts making us proud.

Many of Motown’s best-known hits were written by Smokey Robinson, Barrett Strong, Norman Whitfield and the songwriting trio of Holland-Dozier-Holland who became major forces in the music industry. For example, it’s a known fact in the music industry that in order to get a number one hit song someone would have to write more than thirty songs. Holland-Dozier-Holland had a string of more than fifty hits in a row with some becoming number one with several different artists like the hit “I heard it through the Grapevine”. This is profound and will never happen again. No songwriter will ever achieve this feat – guaranteed.

Although Mr. Gordy sold Motown and it’s now in the hands of others its legacy resides in a very special place in my heart. I’m sure with you and millions around the world as well. So again I say, thank you Motown for the music, the love, the magic, and the many great memories.

Lastly, to the legends who are no longer able to perform for us today – thank you for your contribution – Rest in Peace. My guess is that they are walking around heaven all day singing with gleeful harmony the same way as it touched our souls when they were with us in this earthly realm. It must make haven more glorious and wonderful than I could ever imagine. And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective.

JUST A SEASON


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