Monday, December 27, 2010

Teena Marie Dead at 54

Motowns First White Female Act Dies at Age 54

Teena Marie, the "Ivory Queen of Soul" who developed a lasting legacy with her silky soul pipes and with hits like "Lovergirl," ''Square Biz," and "Fire and Desire" with mentor Rick James, has died. She was 54.

The singer continued performing in recent years after overcoming an addiction to prescription drugs. It was unclear late Sunday where and how she died.

Marie certainly wasn't the first white act to sing soul music, but she was arguably among the most gifted and respected, and was thoroughly embraced by the black audience.
Even before she started her musical career, she had a strong bond with the black community, which she credited to her godmother. She gravitated to soul music and in her youth decided to make it her career.

Marie made her debut on the legendary Motown label back in 1979, becoming one of the very few white acts to break the race barrier of the groundbreaking black-owned record label that had been a haven for black artists like Stevie Wonder, the Jackson Five, the Supremes and Marvin Gaye.

Marie was the protege of the masterful funk wizard James, with whom she would have long, turbulent but musically magical relationship.

The cover of her debut album, "Wild and Peaceful," did not feature her image, with Motown apparently fearing black audiences might not buy it if they found out the songstress with the dynamic, gospel-inflected voice was white.

But Marie notched her first hit, "I'm A Sucker for Your Love," and was on her way to becoming one of R&B's most revered queens. During her tenure with Motown, the singer-songwriter and musician produced passionate love songs and funk jam songs like "Need Your Lovin'," ''Behind the Groove" and "Ooh La La La."

Marie's voice was the main draw of her music: Pitch-perfect, piercing in its clarity and wrought with emotion, whether it was drawing from the highs of romance or the mournful moments of a love lost. But her songs, most of which she had a hand in writing, were the other major component of her success.

Tunes like "Cassanova Brown" ''Portuguese Love" and "Deja Vu (I've Been Here Before)" featured more than typical platitudes on love and life, but complex thoughts with rich lyricism.
And "Fire and Desire," a duet with Rick James that featured the former couple musing about their past love, was considered a musical masterpiece and a staple of the romance block on radio stations across the country.

Marie left Motown in 1982 and her split became historic: She sued the label and the legal battle led to a law preventing record labels from holding an artist without releasing any of their music.

She went to Epic in the 1980s and had hits like "Lovergirl" but her lasting musical legacy would be her Motown years.

Still, she continued to record music and perform. In 2004 and 2006 she put out two well-received albums on the traditional rap label Cash Money Records, "La Dona" and "Sapphire."

In 2008, she talked about her excitement of being honored by the R&B Foundation.

"All in all, it's been a wonderful, wonderful ride," she told The Associated Press at the time. "I don't plan on stopping anytime soon."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press

Happy Kwanzaa!

Kwanzaa, a relatively new observance in December, dates back just 34 years. The holiday's primary purpose is to link African traditions and American customs.

Each candle represents a principle the holiday honors.
Founded by Dr. Mualena Karenga, then chairman of black studies at California State University in Long Beach, Kwanzaa focuses on seven core principles, expressed in Swahili as Nguzo Saba (nn-Goo-zoh SAH-bah). Each principle is linked with one of the seven days of the celebration, which runs from December 26 through January 1 each year. Listed in order of observance, the principles are:

Umoja (oo-MOH-JAH) -- Unity
Kujichagulia (koo-ji-chah-goo-LEE-ah) -- Self-determination
Ujima (oo-JEE-mah) -- Collective work and responsibility
Ujamma (oo-jah-MAH) -- Cooperative economics
Nia (NEE-ah) -- Purpose
Kuumba (koo-OO-mbah) -- Creativity
Imani (ee-MAH-nee) -- Faith

The holiday's daily ritual begins with the lighting of one of the seven candles placed in the candleholder called the kinara (kee-NAH-rah), by a family member or friend. This candle-lighting is followed by a discussion of the day's principle, a folktale, or a shared recollection of how the principle has influenced the family or friend participating in the celebration.

The first candle lit and placed in the center of the kinara is the black candle, which is symbolic of unity. As the celebration continues in the following days, revelers light a red or green candle daily to commemorate each principle. The three green candles represent self-determination, collective work and responsibility, and cooperative economics. The three red candles are for purpose, creativity, and faith. Often the green candles are placed to the right of the black candle and the three red candles are placed on the left side.

The word Kwanzaa is derived from the Swahili word meaning "first" or "first fruits of the harvest." Kwanzaa reflects the traditions of harvest festivals celebrated in many African countries, acknowledging the first fruits of the harvest, and the reward of family and friends working together to produce the season's crop.

As with any holiday, Kwanzaa traditions vary and continue to evolve with each celebration.

Make your celebration unique and memorable.
Though the holiday is a celebration of African-American heritage and culture, it is important to remember that African-Americans are diverse, reflecting a broad spectrum of experiences and lifestyles. Kwanzaa traditions also reflect this diversity. These traditions include the following:

Making Kwanzaa Gifts
Families set aside time on the first day of Kwanzaa to make handmade gifts to exchange during the karamu (feast). Typically, gifts are handmade and educational, teaching something about the heritage of people of African descent.

Honoring Ancestors and Elders
In local communities or among church youth groups, young people visit nursing homes and senior centers to celebrate Kwanzaa with residents. Thoughtful visitors might bring small gifts for the residents, like bookmarks or socks with Kwanzaa-colored trim.

Wearing Traditional African Clothing
Though traditional African garb can be worn year round, many people wear it during the seven days of Kwanzaa or at the Kwanzaa feast or karamu. By wearing African garb, revelers reinforce cultural identity and the Kwanzaa principles of unity, creativity, and cooperative economics.

Planning Special Meals
Food is an integral part of the celebration. On each day of the Kwanzaa celebration, hosts include a dish from a different country in the African diaspora. By enjoying national dishes from Africa, the Caribbean, and South America, Americans can learn more about these foreign cultures and customs. Kwanzaa meals might include Jollof Rice, a traditional West African dish, jerk meats from the Caribbean, and black beans that are popular in Caribbean and South American dishes.

During Kwanzaa, some people abstain from eating meat or fast until the Kwanzaa feast or karamu. This decision is a personal choice, based on willingness to give up something that is enjoyed. The decision to omit meat can also be linked to Kwanzaa principles, such as self-determination and faith. Historically, the choice to omit meat from the diet harks back to the challenges of African slaves to survive in new lands, when meat was not included in their meals.

Enjoying a Kwanzaa Feast
The Kwanzaa karamu can be an intimate event with close family and friends, or a large community celebration. This menu can be a cooperative effort with each person bringing a dish. These dishes can be family favorites or foods of one particular country. In the spirit of Kwanzaa and learning about African heritage, some families and churches select one country, and the entire karamu menu includes dishes and foods from that specified land.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Abbey Lincoln Dies at 80

Abbey Lincoln, a singer whose dramatic vocal command and tersely poetic songs made her a singular figure in jazz, died on Saturday, August 14, 2010 in Manhattan. She was 80 and lived on the Upper West Side.

Ms. Lincoln’s career encompassed outspoken civil rights advocacy in the 1960s and fearless introspection in more recent years, and for a time in the 1960s she acted in films, including one with Sidney Poitier.

Ms. Lincoln was born Anna Marie Wooldridge in Chicago on Aug. 6, 1930, the 10th of 12 children, and raised in rural Michigan. In the early 1950s, she headed west in search of a singing career, spending two years as a nightclub attraction in Honolulu, where she met Ms. Holiday and Louis Armstrong. She then moved to Los Angeles, where she encountered the accomplished lyricist Bob Russell. It was at the suggestion of Mr. Russell, who had become her manager, that she took the name Abbey Lincoln, a symbolic conjoining of Westminster Abbey and Abraham Lincoln.

Ms. Lincoln worked convincingly with a modern jazz ensemble that included the tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins and the drummer Max Roach. In short order she came under the influence of Mr. Roach, a bebop pioneer with an ardent interest in progressive causes and married Mr. Roach in 1962. Ms. Lincoln was for a while more active as an actress than a singer. In 1964 she starred with Ivan Dixon in “Nothing but a Man,” a tale of the Deep South in the 1960s, and in 1968 she was the title character opposite Mr. Poitier in the romantic comedy “For Love of Ivy,” playing a white family’s maid. She also acted on television in guest-starring roles in the ’60s and ’70s.

After her divorce from Mr. Roach in 1970, she took an apartment above a garage in Los Angeles and withdrew from the spotlight for a time. She never remarried. She began to consider her calling as a storyteller and focused on writing songs. Moving back to New York in the 1980s, Ms. Lincoln resumed performing, eventually attracting the attention of Jean-Philippe Allard, a producer and executive with PolyGram France. Eight more albums followed in a similar vein, each produced by Mr. Allard and enlisting top-shelf jazz musicians like the tenor saxophonist Stan Getz and the vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson.

When her album "Abbey Sings Abbey" was released in May 2007, Ms. Lincoln was recovering from open-heart surgery. In her Upper West Side apartment, surrounded by her own paintings and drawings, she reflected on her life, often quoting from her own song lyrics.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Authors & Me

Elizabeth Nunez

Wes Moore

Karen Hunter

Gary Hardwick & Jean Winborn

As a lover of books and a collector...the NBCC was a truly remarkable and intimate literary experience. I met a dozen new people and talked about the publishing world, health and other issues. I spoke with authors in a sit down, face-to-face setting. I'm so joyed that I attended this event and look forward to doing it again.

While at the Conference, I attended a panel discussion: Share Ourselves...Healing Starts With Us. An intimate and unforgettable conversation about how we're really doing.. Featuring Terrie Williams (moderator), Ntozake Shange, Wes Moore, Sybil Wilkes, Bernice McFadden, and more. This was a very emotional, engaging and enlightening discussion.
How Black Books Keep Rising In Economic Downturn panel discussion featuring Linda Duggins (moderator), Pamela McBride, Paula Renfroe, Karen Hunter, Gregalan Williams was educating and captivating. I gained a new role model of Karen Hunter, as the journalist that she is, she was very to the point.
The Red Carpet Entrance was fun. The mock red carpet entrance of the authors while we book lovers served as the Paparazzi, taking pictures and cheering from the sidelines.
You have to see the video on NBCC's website of the rap that actress/author, Victoria Rowell did at the Walter Mosley Author of Distinction Awards Dinner. GREAT Entertainment.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

New Author on the Rise

I met this aspiring artist while attending the National Book Club Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. He made a positive impression on me and it seems he has a lot to say. I wish him much success.

Sebastian K. Young is a successful entrepreneur and author from Beaumont, Texas. At the early age of two his mother was tragically murdered and he was sent to live with his grandparents. Although his grandparents were older in age, they possessed a wealth of knowledge. Anecdotal stories about relationships and life choices coupled with tough punishments carved out a determined leader, mentor, and parent.
Growing up, the death of his mother haunted him. He would hear voices at night, see her murder in dreams, and relent the days that he was unable to hug her as a teenager. Then, after his grandparents passed, he determined to turn his pain into motivation. Every trial and experience became a springboard. Sebastian has kept his family first throughout his life and made tough sacrifices to ensure they received all that they have ever wanted or needed. Success is not found in his bank account but in the smiles on his three daughter’s faces, Christian, Asia, and Alaysia.
Sebastian is a partner with Al Colbert and Ja Ja Ball of Colbert/Ball Tax services and Colbert/Ball Entertainment. Together they have toured Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly, The O’Jays, Gerald Levert, and several stage plays from writers such as David Payton, Je'Caryous Johnson, and Michael Matthews. Sebastian has also hosted events with Charlie Wilson, Steve Harvey, DL Hughley, Mo' Nique, Cedric the Entertainer, and Mike Epps.
Sebastian believes that writing this book is only the beginning of what God has planned for him and eagerly anticipates the future. Visit his website and purchase his book at

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Debut Novel

An ambitious and startling debut novel that follows the lives of four women at a resort popular among slaveholders who bring their enslaved mistresses wench. Tawawa House in many respects is like any other American resort before the Civil War. Situated in Ohio, this idyllic retreat is particularly nice in the summer when the Southern humidity is too much to bear. The main building, with its luxurious finishes, is loftier than the white cottages that flank it, but then again, the smaller structures are better positioned to catch any breeze that may come off the pond. And they provide more privacy, which best suits the needs of the Southern white men who vacation there every summer with their black, enslaved mistresses. It's their open secret.

Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez is startling and original fiction that raises provocative questions of power and freedom, love and dependence. An enchanting and unforgettable novel based on little-known fact, Wench combines the narrative allure of Cane River by Lalita Tademy and the moral complexities of Edward P. Jones’s The Known World as it tells the story of four black enslaved women in the years preceding the Civil War. A stunning debut novel, Wench marks author Perkins-Valdez—previously a finalist for the 2009 Robert Olen Butler Short Fiction Prize—as a writer destined for greatness.

Dolen Perkins-Valdez's fiction and essays have appeared in Robert Olen Butler Prize Stories 2009, The Kenyon Review, PMS: PoemMemoirStory, North Carolina Literary Review, and the Richard Wright Newsletter. She is a former University of California postdoctoral fellow and graduate of Harvard. Dolen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her family.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Historical Fiction

Grease Town by Ann Towell

Category: Juvenile Fiction - Social Situations - Prejudice & Racism; Juvenile Fiction - Historical - Other
Imprint: Tundra Books
Format: Hardcover
Publication Date: February 2010
Age: 10-14
Pages: 240 pages
ISBN: 978-0-88776-983-2 (0-88776-983-7)
CDN Price: $19.99 /US Price: $17.95

A heartbreaking history of prejudice, family ties, and the loss of innocence.When twelve-year-old Titus Sullivan decides to run away to join his Uncle Amos and older brother, Lem, he finds an alien and exciting world in Oil Springs, the first Canadian oil boomtown of the 19th century. The Enniskillen swamp is slick with oil, and it takes enterprising folk to plumb its depths. The adventurers who work there are a tough lot of individuals. In this hard world, Titus becomes friends with a young black boy, the child of slaves who came to Canada on the Underground Railroad. When tragedy strikes in the form of a race riot, Titus's loyalties are tested as he struggles to deal with the terrible fallout. Though the characters are fictitious, the novel is based on a race riot that occurred in Oil Springs, Ontario, on March 20, 1863. Grease Town is historical fiction at its finest.

Author Biography:
ANN TOWELL was born in Chatham, Ontario, and grew up in Wallaceburg. She was co-finalist, with her husband, world-renowned photographer Larry Towell, for the Dorothea Lange/Paul Taylor Award for work on the Mennonites, a segment that appeared in the 1994 summer edition of Descant magazine. Her first children's novel The Hollow Locust Trees was published by Black Moss Press in 1998. She has four children: Moses, Naomi, Noah, and Isaac and a granddaughter, River Annabelle. She lives near Shetland, Ontario, on a 75-acre farm.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Shanti Das

Here is another family member to whom we can applaude and has accepted a purpose in her lifetime. May God Bless my Cousin.

Former Motown Exec Helps Bury Detroit's Dead
Monday, January 4, 2010 6:55 AM
by Jenisha Watts

In Detroit, the tough economy has prevented some residents the privilege of burying their loved ones. Dead bodies are bagged and tagged individually in black plastic bags in the Wayne County Medical Examiner's refrigerated storage rooms. They are "stacked like shoe boxes," an image that haunts Shanti Das.

One night while working late, Das, a former Motown Records executive, remembered she had not read the daily financial news. She clicked on CNN Money and saw the headline, "Detroit: Too Broke To Bury Their Dead," followed with an image of the bodies.

"I was thinking there is something really wrong with this picture," says Das. "That's when I immediately wanted to help."

The same night: she came up with a nonprofit organization, "May WE Rest In Peace," that helps bury deceased residents in Detroit whose families can't afford a proper burial.

The same night: she wrote to friends and family, a four paragraph e-mail using all caps in some lines saying "I NEED YOUR HELP" signing off "Hear My Cry". The next morning: she went to her local UPS store and got a mailbox, so people could immediately send donations.

"May WE Rest In Peace" was launched in early October of 2009. Contributions poured in from Busta Rhymes, Kid Rock Foundation in the name of Detroit Clothing Company and Akon, as well as other charitable friends who helped Das raise $20,000, the cost of covering 20 burials. She raised another $1,500 in November and December to help six additional families.

About 3,700 corpses each year end up in the Wayne County Medical Examiner's office in Detroit. The cost to cover unclaimed bodies is $750. The state pays $585 toward each burial and the balance due can take weeks or even months, according to the Associated Press. "In the meantime, those bodies are piling up in a freezer at Wayne County's morgue," says the morgue's chief investigator, Albert Samuels to the Associated Press.

"I wanted to give some people the opportunity to visit their loved ones." says Das. "A body bagged in a freezer is not the best situation to visit and reflect, as opposed to going to someone's gravesite.

"Perhaps the urgency to help these poor Detroit families was because the subject struck a personal chord for Das. "I thought about [the story] my own mother told me about how she struggled to pay for the burial of my father," she says.

The number of unclaimed corpses at the Wayne County morgue is at a record high, having tripled since 2000, according to

"I hope ESSENCE readers will open their hearts. No donation is too big or small," says Das.