Black Culture Doo Wop Newsletter/Email Blast

Doo Wop Doo Doo Pt 1 (Tribute to an Old Lady From Pittsburgh)

This is a story with many chapters.

Some of them nice.

Some of them not so nice.

All of it is required in order for you to have context.

And context is what you must have in order to understand.

Part of the bottom line is “culture banditry.”

But another part of it is “self-hatred.”

You may not be a fan of doo wop music.

You might be a jazz fan.

You might be a blues fan.

You might be an R&B fan.

You might be a hip hop fan.

You might be a Funk fan.

You might be a Rock n’ Roll fan.

But you should care about Doo Wop, even if you don’t like the music.

In my own case, not only do I care about it.

But I am an activist.

One of the reasons why I am an activist, is because I believe that history repeats itself. I believe that what happens to doo wop, will also happen to R&B, Jazz, Blues, Funk, Hip Hop, etc.

When I first envisioned what would be, I never thought for one single solitary moment that I would ever write anything on the website about doo wop.

Of course that was back when I was “young & dumb.”

That was long before I became friends with the Dells or the Flamingos or the Moonglows. Long before I ever met the Moments, Mandrill, Jimmy Castor. Long before I ever met Gary “Doo Wop” Shider of Funkadelic. Or his brother Tommy Shider of the Sheps.

I was simply too young and too dumb to understand the historical connections between the Ink Spots, the Harptones and Grand Master Flash/Furious Five.

And why this might just be the only place to connect those dots.

But an old lady from Pittsburgh knew it.

And she encouraged me to make those connections.

And I wrote about her when she passed away a few years ago in 2010…

Her name was

Subject: (“an old white lady from Pittsburgh”)

From: “Bob Davis” <>

Date: Sat, July 10, 2010 10:40 am

To: <>


Few of the folks here knew Barbra Ann, but I did. I’ve known her for since the late 1990’s. I never met her in person, I only spoke with her once over the phone. A few days ago she passed away after a long bout with cancer. However I am “cc ing” her on this message. Yes, I am writing to  just one last time. I know that she is reading this email…and that she will read it, even if it bounces back!!!

In some respects, she was just “an old white lady from Pittsburgh”.

However in reality, she was much more than that. She was in fact one of the pioneers of the Black Internet. That’s because she was one of the key people involved in the creation of a website called “Doo Wop Cafe”.

Barbara and I used to get into some fierce arguments via email about the music of the 1950’s and it’s current day representation. Although we didn’t always agree, Barbara knew how important it was for Soul-Patrol to be involved in Doo Wop music and she helped me as much as possible to that end.

“Yeah it’s your music, we took it, you guys didn’t want it, so we are taking good care of it till you decide that you want it back…”

And of course I said…”We want it back right now…”

Barbra Ann challenged me to not just talk about what I called “great black music from the anicent to the future.” She challenged me to actually “put my money where my mouth was” (le: put skin into the game,) and to get involved in it. She challenged me to become pro-active about doo wop. When I told her that I didn’t know how to get involved, Barbra Ann made sure that I knew where the shows were, contacts for the artists, etc.

I told her…”I’m a child of the 1970’s music, I don’t know anything about 1950’s music.”

And then she said…“Write about it anyhow Bob, you have no idea how much the artists need for YOU to write about them, it doesn’t do them any good for an old white lady from Pittsburgh to write about it, however it might actually change a few things if YOU write about them…”

And she was right…

Whenever I would show up at a Doo Wop concert, go backstage introduce myself to the artists, tell them why I was there, their eyes would light up, they would smile and tell me that they have been waiting for me to show up, in fact they said that they have been waiting for over 40 years for “ME” to show up.

And then they would tell me stories, stories that no white reporter/broadcaster will ever hear…And each time I would file a report, post it on the Soul-Patrol website, do a Doo Wop internet radio show, etc.

Barabra would write to me and say…”See, I told ya that it’s important for YOU to talk to these artists and report on their activities…”

Today has a major presence on the current Doo Wop scene and some of that is due to  CHALLENGING ME TO DO WHAT KNEE-GRO MEDIA HAS FAILED TO DO, AND CONTINUES TO FAIL TO DO.


Yeah, so perhaps she was just “an old white lady from Pittsburgh.” But she left a legacy. And today I just wanted to say a few words about her…


Bob Davis

Black Culture Newsletter/Email Blast


Dr. King on behalf of my brothers and sisters I apologize for our behavior.

I’m sure that on this day back in 1968 when you lay on that balcony – mortally wounded – surrounded by Benedict Arnold turncoat race traitors within your inner circle – race traitors who were complicit in your shooting – I’m sure you never imagined that 44 years on from that fateful day (April 4th) that we would be openly calling each other NIGGER and have the whole world singing along, having convinced ourselves it’s a term of endearment.

I apologize for the historical amnesia that so many of us labor under. We have no knowledge of ourselves, of the pain and suffering that our forefathers and foremothers went through as well as the day to day struggle but we can recount at the drop of a hat how Chris Brown beat Rhiannas ass.

I apologize for the fact that you went to prison on behalf of our struggle and it inspired you to write the classic, LETTERS FROM A BIRMINGHAM JAIL” – nowadays artists go to jail and it inspires nothing but a spike in their CD sales.

Dr. King I apologize because seemingly we have learned nothing and as a result we are doomed to repeat a lot of the same mistakes. We are still behaving like crabs in a barrel…if one of us makes it up the rest of us try to pull him/her back down. Your assassins were more unified than we are.

Dr. King you went abroad to receive your Nobel Peace prize and represented us on international shores…nowadays Kanye and Jay Z (two of our supposed best and brightest) are representing us on international shores with a song called “NIGGERS IN PARIS”.

Oh Dr. King I apologize from the bottom of my heart.

If there’s any solace to be gleaned from your tragic passing it’s that when you took one in the neck you were on a balcony surrounded by your staff…Malcolm X took seventeen bullets in his chest in FRONT OF HIS WIFE AND CHILDREN, Medgar Evers took two in the back in the driveway of his home in front of his wife and children courtesy of that cowardly Klansman Byron DeLa Beckwith.

Dr.King would you please tell them that we’re sorry too?

You know Dr.King we’re so far gone that we have allowed ourselves to believe that there’s a distinction between someone calling us the “N” word and their ending it with an “A” as opposed to an “ER”…as if that’s supposed to make it alright.

Dr.King if you see Harriet Tubman, tell her that once more some of us need to be led out of the darkness and into the light.

Tell Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington that we’re sorry also. Time was we would be killed for trying to read and educate ourselves and nowadays the old adage ,

“…if you want to keep a secret from a black man, just hide it in a book…” seems truer than ever.

DR. KING it would appear that you death was in vain…James Brown told us to be BLACK AND PROUD…nowadays we just want to be paid and proud…no matter what the cost.

Our obsession with material things as opposed to spiritual will prove to be our downfall.

Yes there’s a black man in the White House and a black first lady…but that move was designed and calculated to allow White America to pat themselves on the back in a self congratulatory look – how – far – we’ve come move while doing nothing to erase the age old problems.

Dr. King I pray that you are resting in peace with Coretta right by your side.

You may run into a young man by the name of Trayvon Martin whose recent demise was proof positive that ain’t a damn thing changed but the weather. I don’t know how much he knows of you, but please fill him in and wrap your arms around him. He truly wasn’t supposed to meet you just yet.

Again I hope I haven’t been too presumptuous…no one asked me to speak for all black people but I felt compelled.

You did so much for us and look how we’re repaid you.

We owe you so much more.




Black Culture Classic Soul Newsletter/Email Blast

Genius: Aretha

Disclaimer: This may seem like a review of all of the spate of docudramas/documentaries featuring iconic black women. It is not. However, I’m glad I had the opportunity to see:

  • The United States vs. Billie Holiday
  • Aretha
  • Tina
  • Mahalia.

In fact the timing of their release couldn’t have been more propitious. Together they highlight the evolution and foundation of the black musical experience in America. As seemingly disparate their stories music links them all inextricably. Women all driven by their passion for their extraordinary gifts to reach the world.

As I watched these and many other such films, I wondered does oppression tell our story? To paraphrase an old Roberta Flack tune, does it strum our fate with it’s fingers and sing our lives with it’s words? These stories all are mightily burdened with another aspect of the American black experience: Racism/White Supremacy. It’s unfortunate because in order to view any of these stories one must view them through the prism which reflected the times.

Despite all this the Aretha docudrama was beautifully written, filmed and casted. It managed to tell a story compelling enough to keep interest without resorting to overt sensationalism. Besides there’s nothing here you didn’t already know as far as those less than savory aspects of her life.

It is decidedly and unapologetically a black film. There’s just no other way to put it. You can smell the cigarettes and perfume and liquor in one of the early scenes. In another you may have thought you were tasting that fried chicken. The imagery of being a child in a black household of the 40s,50’s & 60’s is not unlike the one Aretha was raised in.

Both Shaian Jordan who portrayed Aretha as a child as well as Cynthia Erivo playing adult Re deserve Emmys for their brilliant performances. As does Courtney Vance for his studied depiction of Rev. C. L. Franklin.

One of the things I learned in watching many of these movies is to relax my rigid need for every physical resemblance and detail to be spot on. I’m sure possibilities exist but after all isn’t this what the skill of ‘acting’ is supposed to produce? If that’s the case Ms. Erivo uses her skills magnificently.  If you remember Aretha offstage, she was almost flat. Not exactly a font of bubbling personality – esp. if she did not know you. This required a nuanced performance consisting of glances, posture, movement, and overall presentation/wardrobe. However even if all else failed -it doesn’t – her singing her own Aretha tunes were easily the crowning points of this series.

As we’re well aware to sing like Aretha Franklin is a feat few have tried and even less succeed.

Ms. Erivo and Danielle Brooks have both captured the monumental task of recreating two of the most important voices in black musical culture. There would be no Aretha without Mahalia and even though few can touch her the many successors to Aretha needed her lead.

Another aspect of Aretha is how her father is portrayed. He is a bit of a scoundrel but in true Biblical parlance we’re challenged by the question of who’d throw the first stone of condemnation?

Without C.L.’s guidance, mentoring, stage daddying, management and influence I doubt she’d have reached the pinnacle of success she eventually enjoyed. Like Joe Jackson later and contemporary with Ike Turner these men are often vilified. However, this begs the question I asked previously: does oppression tell our story? This includes black men too.

As much as possible we cover key aspects of Ms. Franklin’s life. From the Columbia days to and through the hallowed Queen of Soul Atlantic years and her lasting connection to Clive Davis and Arista. It’s all wrapped in a neat bow with her Nessum Dorma substitute performance for Luciano Pavarotti.

All the usual suspects like Dr. King, James Cleveland, Ted White, Clara Ward, Ahmet Artegun and Jerry Wexler as well as musicians and superstar vocalists are all well featured and referenced in a relatively decent historical context.

See it for yourself. If nothing else please enjoy some of the best singing this side of The Queen of Soul herself.


Black Culture

Am I Black Enough For You Panel Discussion

February 4, 2021 @ 8:00 pm – 10:00 pm

A panel discussion w/Kevin Harewood, AJ Jamal, V. Jeffery Smith, Monet Cherise, (Bob Davis Moderator)

It is with great pleasure that we announce that the indie mockumentary film “Am I Black Enough 4 You?!?!” will be showcased as part of the prominent Black Culture website Soul-Patrol.Com Black History Months Video and Film Series. “Am I Black Enough 4 You?!?!” stars comedian AJ Jamal and actor E. George Perry. The genesis of the story Is a conversation had between friends AJ Jamal and director/writer/producer Kevin Harewood where Jamal mentioned that he was once told that he would never be successful as a comedian In Hollywood because he wasn’t “Black Enough” as he doesn’t use profanity in his act. This set forth a Henry Gatesian quest to figure what defines “Blackness” and then find out “Who is the Blackest Man in America?”

Harewood describes the film as “Henry Gates meets Pootie Tang and Borat”. It recently won The Best Documentary Feature Film Award at The Kwanzaa Film Festival which operates out of Harlem, USA. It also was an Official Selection at The Urban MediaMakers Film Festival which operates out of Atlanta, Georgia. The film also features appearances by Monet Cherise, Maya Azucena, Carmen Rodgers, Buddy Lewis, Jon Laster, Jackie Rhinehart, Debbie Carter, Sharland Hendrix, Emery Blake, and Ola Alabi. It is an Indiez Streets Filmworks Presentation of a Kevin Harewood/Stephen Booth Production. A Kevin Harewood Concoction

Black Culture Classic Soul

“Whitey on the Moon” or Summer Of Soul and the Legacy of the Harlem Cultural Festival

Summer Of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised) is the directorial debut of Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, a contemporary impresario of the cool scale of Blackity-Blackness.  The film is drawn from found footage from the Harlem Cultural Festival, a series of open-air concerts held in Harlem’s Mt. Morris Park during the summer of 1969.  Long misrepresented as the Black Woodstock – Woodstock doesn’t open until two months after the first concerts in Mt. Morris Park – the concert series was a gift to Harlem residents, and a source of many memories, recalled throughout the film by those who were in attendance. As Harlem resident Musa Jackson remembers the park smelled like “Afro-Sheen and Chicken.”

The Harlem Cultural Festival was the brainchild Tony Lawrence, a St. Kitts born college track star, lounge singer and all-around Harlem Dandy (check the wardrobe changes throughout Summer of Soul), who as reported by the Pittsburgh Courier in 1965, had been asked by Princess Margret to perform at the Royal Ball in celebration of Jamaican Independence in 1962. Laurence parlayed a position as director of the John F. Kennedy Youth Foundation into a gig in the Parks Department under the administration of New York City Mayor John V. Lindsey, and it was in that role that he began summer programming that was eventually scaled to the Harlem Cultural Festival.

The diverse artists and music that appear on those Mt. Morris Park stages were always already at home in Harlem – if not in Harlem’s famed night spots and places of worship, surely on the radios and record players in the places and spaces that Harlem’s citizens made home. Harlem was Black America’s melting pot, more cosmopolitan than the City of New York itself – where Fidel Castro laid his head instead of New York’s better-known places of lodging, when he famously visited the city in 1960.  And the Harlem of the late 1960s, in the aftermath of 1965 Immigration act, was a community in flux, reflected in the array of artists that appear on the bill of the Harlem Cultural Festival.  For every stalwart of Black music at the time – Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, Mahalia Jackson, Max Roach, and B.B. King – there were artists that complicated simplistic views of Black music like Ray Barreto, Herbie Mann (with a young vibraphonist named Roy Ayers), Mongo Santamaria (Mr. “Watermelon Man” himself), and Hugh Masekela, whose “Grazin’ in the Grass” was one of the biggest hits of 1968. 

For anyone who is apt to place Black music and by extension Blackness into a box, Summer of Soul explodes those conventions with a view of Black music that was as liberatory and avant-garde as the very notion of Black Power was at the end of the 1960s.   As commentator Greg Tate offers it was a moment of “Neo-Super Blackness”.  And while the film’s attempt to frame the summer of 1969 as something unique in the air – as if Watts didn’t happen in 1965, Newark in 1967, and everywhere, Ghetto America wasn’t still smoldering in the aftermath of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s murder – seems arbitrary, there no questions there was an alignment of something powerful in that park during the Summer of 1969.

The opening show from June 29th of 1969 was a metaphor for the eclecticism that would follow.  The headline act was The Fifth Dimension, with The Edwin Hawkins Singers, whose classic “Oh Happy Day” peaked on the Pop charts that very same month, Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln, and legendary Nigerian percussionist Babatunde Olatunji filling out the bill.  The headliners may have been the oddest act to appear over the course of the summer as the group was most known for middle-of-the-road pop fare like “Up-Up and Away” which recalled the music of The Association who had topped the pop charts with “Cherish” and “Windy” in 1967, and the now iconic “Stoned Soul Picnic”, one of many of their hits that were written by singer-songwriter Laura Nyro.  

When the 5th Dimension hit the Harlem stage that afternoon with their Wonder Bread Soul – co-lead-singer Marilyn McCoo admits in the film that it was the group’s first time performing in Harlem – they did so armed with a number one-pop hit in “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures)”, a medley of two songs featured in the hit Broadway musical Hair. It is on the second part of the medley – both on the actual record and in the live performance – where co-lead singer, the now Rev. Billy Davis, Jr., digs into his Gospel bag and transforms the song into a sanctified flight.  McCoo and Davis, who have been married since 1969, and who had their own pop success with the classic “You Don’t Have to be a Star” in 1976, are visibly moved watching the footage of themselves on screen. It was a homecoming, and one of many transcendent moments in the film.

Part of the genius of the film, and notably the work of film editor Joshua L. Pearson, whose credits include What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015), is the seamlessness in which the performances transition as if the concert occurred over the course of one afternoon, as opposed to five concerts over two months.  This is particularly compelling when Davis takes the movie to church with “Let the Sunshine In” and opens the portal for performances from The Staple Singers and Mahalia Jackson, who headlined the show that was recorded two weeks later. The Staple Singer were still in their Gospel-Folk mode – they had only signed with Al Bell’s Stax label the year before – and were still two years away from their signature tracks “Respect Yourself” and “I’ll Take You There”.  Yet even then the group understood, as lead singer Mavis Staples recalls her father Roebuck “Pops” Staples saying, “you will hear every kind of music in our songs.”

Mahalia Jackson was legitimately the biggest star to grace the stage during the concert series, at least from the perspective of Black America at the time.  Aretha Franklin was the “Queen of Soul”, in part because Jackson was simply the Queen – actual Black royalty, who served as personal streaming service to the most powerful Black man in America in the 1960s, in Martin Luther King, Jr.. At the show’s closing, as Jackson, The Staple Singers and Ben Branch and the Operation Breadbasket Band came together to sing Thomas Dorsey “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” in tribute to the late Martin Luther King, Jr.,  Mavis Staples remembers Jackson, who was visibly in ill-health, asking her to sing lead with her. As Staples reflects in the film, it felt like a passing of the torch, and even more so when Jackson literally shares the mic with Staples in an act of affirmation. The film also highlights a young Rev. Jesse Jackson, who in light of his role that day, and his memorable oratory on Cannonball Adderley’s live Country Preacher (recorded later in 1969) and at WattsStax in 1972, might be best thought of as the hype man for the Black struggle, and in that regard he remains peerless.

As commentator the Rev. Al Sharpton shares in the film, “Gospel was more than religion. Gospel was the therapy for the stress and pressure of being Black in America.” Nowhere is this more apparent than when Sly & The Family Stone take the stage.  Raised in the sanctified church in Sacramento (where Cornel West was a fellow parishioner), the Gospel impulse the group’s sound was always apparent, if unrefined – and that was the point, as the traditions of Black spirituality could serve as a launching point for a transformative experience.  Throughout much of his career, Stone has been a mercurial figure, who fifty years before Lauryn Hill, his appearance on any stage was likely a game-time decision.  Sly & the Family Stone were the only act to appear at both the Harlem Cultural Festival and Woodstock.                

The film’s centerpiece are the performances that occur on July 20, 1969, which incidentally is also the day that Apollo 11 landed on the moon. It was Motown day at the Harlem Cultural Festival as label acts, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight & The Pips and David Ruffin, two years removed from The Temptations, appeared on stage. This was decidedly Motown’s b-team; Ruffin was still finding his way musically divorced from the quartet that rounded out the classic Temptations formation, while Knight and the Pips – and it’s so easy to be distracted by the beauty of the young Knight and the stellar footwork of The Pips – were largely an afterthought at Motown. Yet the irony of Motown was that the so-called b-team – and where were Jr. Walker & the All-Stars? – were those who stayed close to the gritty, Southern Soul that the Black public preferred and Motown often eschewed for the sake of music and acts that had more crossover appeal.

July 20th, belonged to the headliner, a 19-year-old, whose stunning and admittedly shocking drum solo opens the film, where viewers might see the coming alive of something in the former “Little Stevie Wonder” that would not be contained by Motown or the confines of what Soul music was supposed to be at the time.  Indeed, in some of the keyboard work during Wonder’s set, one can hear riffs of what would later become “You Haven’t Nothin”. If Summer of Soul points to a rupture, a projection into the future of Black cultural and political life, Wonder’s set at the Harlem Cultural Festival might have been the literal moment that that future made itself evident.

Local news outlets were in Mt. Morris Park on July 20, 1969, less out of a desire to cover the concert, than they were interested in getting a view of how Black Americans viewed the achievement of landing on the moon. Gil-Scott Heron, who was a still relatively unknown Harlem bard at that time, might have been in Mt. Morris Park that day and used the experience as inspiration for his poem “Whitey on the Moon”.  The poem which appeared on his first album Small Talk at 125th and Lenox, is notable for the lyrics “I can’t pay no doctor bill (but Whitey’s on the moon) / Ten years from now I’ll be paying still (while Whitey’s on the moon)”. And indeed, that was the sentiment of many of the folk interviewed that day, including a Black comedian of some repute, who was about to come up in the world as the star of Sanford and Son, who told a reporter, “Black man wants to go to Africa, White man’s going to the moon. I’mma stay in Harlem with the Puerto Ricans and have me some fun.”  Redd Foxx’s comments are the perfect coda for Summer of Soul.

Summer of Soul, or rather the bringing of the documentary to market, is a metaphor for the evergreen quality of Black culture; the footage was nearly untouched for forty years and attempts to produce a documentary of the footage go back at least a decade. Maybe a little late, but always right on time as the adage goes, Summer of Soul is as timely today as it was when the Harlem Cultural Festival embedded itself in Harlem’s Mount Morris Park during the summer of 1969.


Mark Anthony Neal is the James B. Duke Distinguished Professor of African & African American Studies at Duke University. He is the author of several books including Looking for Leroy: Illegible Black Masculinities and the forthcoming Black Ephemera: The Challenge and the Crisis of the Black Musical Archive.

Black Culture Classic Soul

Review & Panel Discussion – Greatest RB Legends: Cleveland

I recently saw a great documentary entitled Greatest R&B Legends: Cleveland. Cleveland has a deep history in R&B, The Moonglows, The O’Jays, Ohio Players, Bobby Womack and Switch just to name a few all came from Cleveland.

Dennis Roberson aka Dennis Cash interviews those who had a great impact in soul music in the city of Cleveland. For example, he interviews Bobby Massey one of the original members of The O’Jays. Dennis also interviews Curtis Gibson who designed the outfits for many artists such as James Brown, The Moments, The Delfonics and New Edition. Sarah’s Girl is a good interview as well. She was a background singer for Gerald Levert and Anthony Hamilton and she was in a female group called Lyric.

Cleveland native Conya Doss was also a member of Lyric. Conya Doss is known as The Queen of Indie Soul. He also interviewed Debbie King. Debbie has a company called D’Thang Entertainment, a management/promotional company which she founded. Debbie is also the daughter of legendary boxing promoter Don King. Female group called 1 Of The Girls was also interviewed. They were discovered by Gerald Levert, their breakout hit was Do Dah What. Men At Large was as also a group from Cleveland produced by Gerald Levert, their hits were Use Me and I’m So Alone. The Rude Boys, another Cleveland group also produced by Gerald Levert, their hits were Written All Over Face and Are You Lonely For Me.

And of course can’t forget the legendary group Levert. Levert had major success, having Eddie Levert of The O’Jays as their Dad it was bound to happen. Just Coolin, Casanova, My Forever Love are just a few hits Levert had. Gerald would later go solo and make his mark as a soloist and producer. RIP to Gerald and Sean Levert. Dennis last interview on the documentary was his group CASH. CASH was a local group from Cleveland who would gain fame throughout the country.

Overall I really enjoyed this documentary, Dennis Cash did a great job in honoring those who made an impact on soul music in Cleveland, I highly recommend it to see.

  • Perry Thompson of the Rhythm and Blues Preservation Society on behalf of Soul Patrol.

Panel discussion w/Dennis Cash, Mike Calhoun, Joe Little, (Bob Davis Moderator)

Black Culture

Soul-Patrol Online Black History Month Broadcasts Schedule/Registration

Scroll down for schedule & to register

Note: All Times are Eastern Standard Time

2/7: February 7 (Sunday) 2-5pm Pacific – – The Culture House hosts an in-depth interview with Bob and Mike Davis, founders and owners of one of the longest standing web portals dedicated to the elevation of Black music and culture.

We talk about the site, its mission, its history, its role in the community, its supporters (both artists and followers), the challenges and opportunities ahead for Black music and Black artists today and how the website is changing to meet the times.

**BROADCAST SHOWINGS: “Greatest R&B Legends of Cleveland” Documentary

2/9 (8pm) Screening Only

2/10 (8pm): Screening + “Greatest R&B Legends of Cleveland” Panel Discussion
Guests – TBA

**BROADCAST: Luther Vandross Career Retrospective

2/25 (8pm): Luther Vandross Career Retrospective – w/Paulette McWilliams, Kevin Owens & Jason Miles

Artist Black Culture

Cicely Tyson, Pioneering Hollywood Icon, Dies at 96

By Carmel Dagan (Courtesy of Variety)

Emmy- and Tony-winning actress Cicely Tyson, who distinguished herself in theater, film and television, died on Thursday afternoon. She was 96.

“I have managed Miss Tyson’s career for over 40 years, and each year was a privilege and blessing,” her manager, Larry Thompson, said in a statement. “Cicely thought of her new memoir as a Christmas tree decorated with all the ornaments of her personal and professional life. Today she placed the last ornament, a Star, on top of the tree.”

Her memoir “Just As I Am” was published on Tuesday.

Tyson made her film debut with a small role in 1957’s “Twelve Angry Men” and her formal debut in the 1959 Sidney Poitier film “Odds Against Tomorrow,” followed by “The Comedians,” “The Last Angry Man,” “A Man Called Adam” and “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.” Refusing to participate in the blaxploitation movies that became popular in the late ’60s, she waited until 1972 to return to the screen in the drama “Sounder,” which captured several Oscar nominations including one for Tyson as best actress.

The Most Anticipated Movies Coming in 2021
Tyson received an Oscar nomination in 1973 for Martin Ritt’s drama “Sounder” and an Honorary Oscar in 2018.

Variety reviewer A.D. Murphy enthused that the film was “outstanding” and added, “The performances of Paul Winfield and Cicely Tyson, as the devoted though impoverished parents, are milestones in their own careers.”

Despite her achievements onstage and in films, however, much of the actress’s best work was done for television. In addition to “Miss Jane Pittman,” she did outstanding work in “Roots,” “The Wilma Rudolph Story,” “King: The Martin Luther King Story,” “When No One Would Listen,” “A Woman Called Moses,” “The Marva Collins Story,” “The Women of Brewster Place,” “The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All” and the TV adaptation of “Trip to Bountiful.”

Throughout her career Tyson refused to play drug addicts, prostitutes or maids, roles she thought demeaning to Black women. But when a good part came along she grabbed hold of it with tenacity.

Onstage she was in the original 1961 Off Broadway production of Jean Genet’s “The Blacks” and, decades later, she won a Tony for her starring role in a revival of “The Trip to Bountiful.”

In television she nabbed the first recurring role for an Black woman in a drama series, “East Side/West Side,” and the actress later won two much-deserved Emmys for 1974’s memorable “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.” She was nominated a total of 16 times in her career, also winning for supporting actress, in 1994 for an adaptation of “Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All”; she was nominated five times for guest actress in a drama for “How to Get Away With Murder.”

The actress became a household name thanks to her starring role in “Miss Jane Pittman.” The TV movie, in which a 110-year-old woman recalls her life, required her to portray the heroine over a nine-decade period. Writing about Tyson’s performance, Pauline Kael compared her “to the highest, because that’s the comparison she invites and has earned.”

She remained an occasional presence on the big screen as well in films including “A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ But a Sandwich,” Richard Pryor comedy “Bustin’ Loose,” “Fried Green Tomatoes” and “Hoodlum.”

Tyson returned to Broadway in 1983 to star in a brief revival of “The Corn Is Green.”

On television she also appeared in the title role of “Ms. Scrooge,” a gender-reversed adaptation of Charles Dickens, as well as telepics including “Benny’s Place,” “Playing With Fire,” “Acceptable Risks,” “Heat Wave,” “Duplicates,” “A Lesson Before Dying” and “The Rosa Parks Story.”

In 1994-95 she played a Southern attorney in NBC’s brief, civil rights-themed legal drama “Sweet Justice,” and she appeared in a 2009 episode of “Law and Order: SVU.”

In her 70s, Tyson worked more in film than at any other time in her career, thanks in part to Tyler Perry: She appeared in his films “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” (2005), “Madea’s Family Reunion (2006) and “Why Did I Get Married Too?” (2010) as well as in the 2012 Perry starrer “Alex Cross,” which he did not direct. The actress also had supporting roles in “Because of Winn-Dixie,” “Fat Rose and Squeaky,” “Idlewild” and 2011’s “The Help.”

And capping an already-impressive career, Tyson won the Tony for best actress for her role as Carrie Watts in the 2013 revival of “A Trip to Bountiful,” then repeated the performance in a 2014 Lifetime TV adaptation.

Born in East Harlem to West Indian immigrant parents, Tyson rose from humble beginnings. After graduating from high school she worked as a secretary for the American Red Cross before becoming a model; at the top of her game she appeared in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. She studied at the Actors Studio and with Lloyd Richards and Vinnette Carroll, who featured Tyson as Barbara Allen in a 1959 Off Broadway revival of the musical “The Dark of the Moon.” She segued into the variety show “Talent ’59” on Broadway and appeared in a production of “Jolly’s Progress” in which she also understudied Eartha Kitt, before a role in “The Blacks” ignited her stage career.

In 1961 Tyson was one of the original cast members in “The Blacks,” which ran for two years at the St. Mark’s Playhouse. Her co-stars included Roscoe Lee Browne, James Earl Jones, Godfrey Cambridge and Raymond St. Jacques. The role of Virtue won her the Vernon Rice Award, a feat she repeated for the 1962 production of “Moon on a Rainbow Shawl.” She starred with Diana Sands in the 1963 Broadway production of “Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright,” which closed during a newspaper strike, and later that year appeared Off Broadway in “The Blue Boy in Black” with Billy Dee Williams. She moved on to Carroll’s musical “Trumpets of the Lord” (she also appeared in the 1968 Broadway staging) as well as the 1966 production of “A Hand Is at the Gate,” the 1968 play “Carry Me Back to Morningside Heights” and the 1969 program of Lorraine Hansberry readings “To Be Young, Gifted and Black.”

Tyson was also one of the founding members of the Dance Theater of Harlem in 1969.

Interspersed with her stage gigs, Tyson appeared in a number of television shows, including a dramatic presentation of “Brown Girl, Brown Stones” in 1960 and “Between Yesterday and Today.” “East Side/West Side” star George C. Scott, having been impressed by her performance in “The Blacks,” asked for her to play his assistant in the 1963 CBS series. Though the show lasted only 26 episodes, it increased her visibility, and she followed it with appearances on shows including “Naked City,” “The Nurses,” “I Spy,” “Slattery’s People” and “The Bill Cosby Show.”

Tyson was active in charity and arts organizations including Urban Gateways, the Human Family Institute and the American Film Institute. She received awards from the National Council of Negro Women and the NAACP as well as the Capitol Press Award.

The actress was one of 25 Black women honored for their contributions to art, entertainment and civil rights as part of Oprah Winfrey’s 2005 Legends Ball.

Tyson remained feisty even as she reached 90. She criticized an upcoming remake of “Roots” as unnecessary and, in a speech at the Grace Awards, where Tyson received a lifetime achievement award from the Alliance for Women in Media in May 2015, the actress recounted being asked, “Now that you have made it, what else are you going to do?,” to which she responded, “‘My dear, the day I feel that I have made it, I am finished.”‘

Tyson was married to jazz great Miles Davis from 1981 to 1988.

Survivors include her niece, British actress Cathy Tyson.

Black Culture FP - Commentary/Analysis

Review – One Night In Miami

Prime Video under the auspices of ABKCO Films (more about them later), written by Kemp Powers and directed by the brilliant actor/writer/producer/director Regina King premiered One Night In Miami last night.

It featured sterling performances from

Kingsley Ben Adir as Malcolm X; Eli Goree as Muhammad Ali/Cassius Clay; Aldis Hodge as Jim Brown and Leslie Odom Jr. as Sam Cooke.

ABKCO stands for Allen and Betty Klein and COmpany.

Yes this is the Allen Klein noted for his relationship w/among many including The Beatles. He also managed Sam Cooke. As you can see there’s evidently some conflict of interest here which disallows the transparency one might expect in a film of this nature regarding Mr. Klein.

However slight I won’t let this ‘detail’ mar what’s otherwise a superb movie.

We’re privy to a meeting of men in the budding almost incidental stages of their friendships. The rhythm of their patter is something with which most brothers are familiar. It’s full of all the Ebonics and colloquialism one would expect amongst a meeting of black men. This makes me wonder how far this sort of thing really went. Or better yet how far could it go? How many power brokers who’re also friends engage each other in ways which suggests investment in the future?

The period of time covered here are the hours immediately before, during and after Muhammad Ali’s – then Cassius Clay – capturing of the world heavyweight championship from Sonny Liston. The focus then are the lives and challenges facing all four men in the moment and going forward.

While the questions asked and unasked in this film are the focus, I’ll try n limit my thoughts here to the performances especially. The context of content will provide material for discussion and debate for years to come.

While the individual challenges faced by these men are unique to their station in life the common denominator of their black maleness is depicted in a matter-of-fact way rarely seen in mainstream media productions.

We get a glimpse – albeit fictionally imagined – of what these cats were like away from the podiums, spotlights/stages, and fields of play. We see them sans the pressure of the always slanted press or even the scrutiny of public opinion. We see them as human black men at a crossroads of their lives.

Kingsley Ben Adir’s Malcolm X had me thinking if Obama could act and be given a part to play Malcolm X this would be it. That aside his portrayal consisted of a combination of sensitivity, fear, frustration, paranoia, patience, love and vigilance. He alone found ways to piss off if not challenge all three.  And all three found a way to return the favor. But the pressure of such never caved him. He stoodfast (to quote how the NOI used ta talk back in da day) and faced em all right or wrong. He’s the anchor of rage seeking to both inspire and galvanize these men for ‘the movement’ – i.e. – ‘the struggle’.

It’s funny as we watch this and other such portrayals of our great cultural and historical icons how we don’t really know these people much at all.

For instance, we kinda knew at least the musical roots of Sam Cooke

Considering the immense pressure, he was under as one of the first black male artists (I must always emphasize ‘male’ because of continued attempts to demonize if not minimize their significance) to own his masters, we do not know how he dealt with it. Nor do we know how the deterioration of his marriage as well as the betrayals which surrounded him impacted him. Leslie Odom Jr in my opinion should create quite the Award worthy buzz as he captured not only the physical essence of Sam Cooke but with the use of his own instrument eerily recreates Mr. Cooke’s beautifully mellifluous tone. Sam Cooke’s character reminds me a lot of how many of the adults felt about the more militant aspects of the black struggle. His attitude towards Malcolm drips with cynicism and sarcasm. Odom reminds us that Sam is after all a star. A conflicted one but a star just the same. He’s almost always profiling or preening but more out of the habits borne of the affectations of showbiz than conceit. Sam is expansion, elevation, larger than life, wise and ‘showtime’.

Ali as played by Eli Goree seems almost insignificant at times despite him being the centerpiece around which this confab took place. I must remember comparatively speaking he’s almost a child next to the others. He is 22 yet holds a position relatively bigger than any man. Heavyweight champ implies you’re a bad man. The baddest.

Eli has the physique, some of the moves and almost all of Ali’s gift of gab, cadence, and inflections down pat. His energy and youthful exuberance were topped only by his wit and yes even his wisdom. Again, here’s another man we don’t really know. He was so gifted with his gab he often talked us all right out of his private life. We think we know but we really do not. The fact that there is an Ali movie and now this dramatic portrayal as well may help us see and understand better the kinds of lives these men led.

Aldis Hodge as the great Jim Brown represented achievement through hard work. He like Ali knew he must torture his body rigorously to withstand the constant pounding and collisions as well as the speed needed to run away from or elude any and all comers. His stoic take no prisoners demeanor has followed him from his career and throughout his life. He was the steadying rock. But his rock is more like a mountain. He offers success if you can make it to the top. It was telling that the scene which allowed us a peak at Malcolm’s vulnerability and sensitivity was shared with Jim the tough guy. Ali was the champ, but Jim was a tough guy. The tough guy helped focus the fire of Malcolm while helping him use his humanity to love, forgive and reveal truth.

Of course, these men each had agenda which drove them. The agenda were shaped by the seen and unseen people in each of our participants lives. Ali must deal with management and both his conversion as well as his newfound fame. That includes ppl like the NOI and Angelo Dundee. Malcolm has Betty and a family to feed and a question of faith to reconcile. Sam’s dealing with a wife and questions of loyalty at home and with management and Jim is at a crossroads of fame but still battling racism – which they all do – head on. These issues are addressed in the beautifully written and performed supporting roles.

When was the last time you saw a movie with black men of this stature so complex yet loving, entertaining yet real, joyful yet tragic?

I’ve watched it twice and will likely watch it again.

It’s that good.

Black Culture

James Brown Tribute Streams/Online Symposium (Free Registration Links Below)

1/17 @ 2pm eastern James Brown Tribute Concert Stream #1

BROADCAST: Two James Brown Tribute Concerts from 2008 – Featuring most of the ORIGINAL JB’s! (From Japan & Europe)

1/21 @ 8pm eastern James Brown Tribute Concert Stream #2

BROADCAST: Two James Brown Tribute Concerts from 2008 – Featuring most of the ORIGINAL JB’s! (From Japan & Europe)

1/21 @ 9pm eastern James Brown Panel Discussion/Online Symposium

Panels/Symposium – Bob Davis (Moderator)

Panel 1 – Musician Discussion – Behind the Musical Tributes:

Roundtable – Jimmie Moore, Tony Jones, Tony Wilson, Danny Ray 

Panel 2 – Artist Legacy Discussion – How best to honor/extend the music when the artist is no longer alive? – Movies, Books, Concerts, Avatars, Holograms, etc:

Roundtable – Rickey Vincent, A. Scott Galloway, TBD