Category: Entertainment Written by Steve Holsey
It was a horrendous shock to hear that Don Cornelius had died Wednesday morning, Feb. 1, at his home in Sherman Oaks, California, at the age of 75.
He had been enduring what he described as “significant health issues” (strokes and brain surgery) and apparently couldn’t take it anymore, so he ended his life.
Cornelius’ impact on television, Black music, Black culture and entertainment in general cannot be overstated. He was a visionary.
Oct. 2, 1971 is a special date, perhaps even a monumental one. It was then that “Soul Train” made its national debut, from Los Angeles, with Gladys Knight & the Pips as special guests. Prior to that, “Soul Train,” conceived, produced and hosted by Don Cornelius, had been a local TV dance show in his native Chicago.
“SOUL TRAIN” was an instant smash, the talk of Detroit and the six other cities that shared in the auspicious debut: Atlanta, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Houston.
The show became “absolutely must” viewing for thousands of Detroiters. We were glued to our TV sets on Saturday afternoons, thrilled to be watching the best dancing we had ever seen on a show of this type. And soon we even knew dancers by name, including Damita Jo Freeman, Tyrone “The Bone” Proctor, Patricia Davis and Lil’ Joe Chism.
As Cornelius said himself, “Soul Train” didn’t create the dance/entertainment show format. That would be attributed to “American Bandstand.” But “Soul Train” added a whole new dimension to it, and its impact was nothing less than extraordinary.
One of the most enduring contributions of the show is the “Soul Train,” which to this day is often done an parties, wedding receptions, etc., and it always will be.
On one occasion Don Cornelius himself danced down the line, first with Mary Wilson, and then with Jean Terrell and Lynda Lawrence, all three from the Supremes. The year was 1973 and song was “Doing It To Death” by Fred Wesley & the J.B.’s, prominently featuring James Brown.
THE GUEST lineup for “Soul Train,” which aired from Oct. 2, 1971 to March 25, 2006, reads like a who’s who of Black music.
The hundreds of guests include Aretha Franklin, the Temptations, Keith Sweat, Curtis Mayfield, Jody Watley (a former “Soul Train” dancer), Cheryl Lynn, Smokey Robinson, Whitney Houston, the O’Jays, Janet Jackson, Stephanie Mills, Barry White, Ike and Tina Turner, Marvin Gaye, Natalie Cole, Stevie Wonder, the Whispers, the Jacksons and Al Green…and that’s just a miniscule sampling.
Appearing on “Soul Train” was proof that an artist had “made it,” and if they were already established stars, these appearances added that much more luster to their status.
Spike Lee once described “Soul Train” as “an urban music time capsule.”
DONALD CORTEZ CORNELIUS was born on Sept. 27, 1936 in Chicago. Interestingly, he began his working career in the insurance business, but other things were beckoning, prompting him to enroll in broadcasting school in 1966.
He later secured a position as a substitute radio personality in the news department of Chicago’s WVON. By 1968 he was a sports reporter on WCIU-TV as well as host of a program titled “A Black’s View of the News.”
Around this time he was envisioning a show with kids dancing to the latest R&B records. Making the pilot involved using his own money, but it proved to be a wise investment. This new, local “Soul Train” made its debut in August of 1970 and was very popular in and around Chicago.
But Cornelius wanted more, much more. With the help of Johnson Products, “Soul Train” became a national attraction the following year. No one will ever forget the Johnson Products commercials for Ultra Sheen and Afro Sheen. They will be forever associated with “Soul Train.”
They are almost as entrenched as Cornelius’s catchphrases, “And you can bet your last money, it’s all gonna be a stone gas, honey!” and, of course, “And as always in parting, we wish you love, peace, and soul!”
Don Cornelius stopped hosting “Soul Train” in 1993, realizing that it was time turn that job over to someone younger. Then too, by this time hip-hop/rap had become an exceptionally strong force, and clearly Cornelius was not particularly interested (it showed in his interviews during this period), but he knew how essential it was to keep the show up-to-date.
There were various hosts after Cornelius stepped aside but continued to produce the show. The most notable was actor Shemar Moore who hosted from 1999 to 2003.
One of the spin-offs from “Soul Train” is the Soul Train Music Awards, an annual ceremony that began airing in 1987.
Fortunately, there are many “Soul Train” DVDs that can be purchased from companies such as Amazon, as well as an array of clips from the show that can be viewed on YouTube.
It is appropriate to close this story with a quote from the iconic Don Cornelius: “I figured as long as the music stayed hot and important and good, that there would always be a reason for ‘Soul Train.’”
Indeed, there is…in the Black music galaxy and, just as importantly, in our hearts.
Last Updated on Monday, 13 February 2012 14:10
Category: Entertainment Written by Steve Holsey
We are all familiar with the great song “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing,” written by Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson and popularized by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. (Okay, never mind the bad grammar in the song title!)
Well, David Humphries, the founder of the “Hair Wars” fantasy fashion extravaganzas which have become a national phenomenon, is facing a problem he had not anticipated — frauds and thieves.
All over the country, fake “Hair Wars” shows, much like bootleg movies and CDs, are being offered to the public, and most patrons are unaware of the fact that these shows are counterfeits.
The truth of the matter, says the understandably annoyed Humphries (known to many as “Hump the Grinder”), is that he registered the name “Hair Wars” with the United States Patent and Trademark Office on Jan. 27, 1998.
And since that time there have been official “Hair Wars” presentations on the TV shows of Oprah Winfrey and Rikki Lake, among others, as well as in Time magazine and the Wall Street Journal, to name a couple of publications, plus on CNN, “Dateline NBC” and VH1.
And let’s not forget the “Hair Wars” tours, the movie and the book, as well as the fact that the organization has made hairpieces for none other than Lady Gaga.
Humphries has six words for the crooks: “Be original, create your own name.”
To read about the real “Hair Wars,” visit www.hairwarsustour.com.
RICKY GERVAIS, the comedian/actor in the news a lot lately due to his outrageous jokes about fellow entertainers at the last two Golden Globe Awards, is to be commended for knowing where and when to draw the line.
He says, and he is correct, that jokes should only be made about what people do, not what they are, the latter of which is out of their control. Things like gender, race, sexual orientation, height, etc., are just realities that people have nothing to do with. And they are not good, bad or anything in between. They just are.
Something that amazes and disheartens me is how insensitive and mean-spirited some Black people can be. You would think that the racism African Americans have faced (and still face to a lesser degree) would make them far less likely to be judgmental of others.
But so often I hear Black people say hurtful and just plain evil things about people of Arabic descent, Caucasians, gays, Black people who do not “conform” to what the criticizers expect, etc. (Some people refuse to be “put in a box.”)
That kind of garbage has no useful purpose and it is always a huge mistake to paint a whole group of people with one brush.
Will.i.am, leader of the innovative band Black Eyed Peas (a favorite of mine), sure has a lot of friends in many places. His upcoming solo album, oddly titled “#willpower,” will feature guest appearances by, among others, Jennifer Lopez, LMFAO, Shakira, Mick Jagger and Britney Spears. A release date has not been set, but will.i.am (he lowercases the “w”) promises an uplifting album, offering “encouragement to those who need it.”
THE PHYSICAL beauty of show business ladies such as Beyoncé Knowles, Halle Berry, Jennifer Lopez and others is so often celebrated — and rightfully so — but there is one who is not acknowledged in that respect as often as she should be.
I refer to the talented actress Gabrielle Union, she of the dazzling 300 watt smile. The lovely lady has, of course, appeared in many movies and on many televisions shows.
Not surprisingly, the No. 1 and No. 2 spots on the national blues albums chart are occupied by the late, great Etta James, “Icon” (a collection of greatest hits) and “The Dreamer” (her final album).
“Icon” has good songs on it, but there are many far better and more extensive collections easily attainable. (Stop by Melodies & Memories, 23013 Gratiot between Nine and Ten Mile Roads, or visit amazon.com.)
Among my favorite songs by the irreplaceable Etta James are “Tell Mama,” “Something’s Got a Hold On Me,” “Stop the Wedding,” “Two Sides (To Every Story),” “Pushover,” “Seven Day Fool,” “Baby What You Want Me To Do?” and her drastically rearranged version of Sonny & Cher’s famous “I Got You Babe.”
THERE HAVE long been too many Grammy categories, so it is not difficult to understand why the number of categories has been reduced from 109 to 78. There was no reason for Jesse Jackson to get involved.
But the always “publicity ready” Jackson is to be commended for not accusing the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) of racism, which this decision had nothing to do with. The reduction involves many ethnicities.
Kool & the Gang seems to be an odd choice for opening act of the reunion tour of rock supergroup Van Halen, featuring a returning David Lee Roth. (The show comes to the Palace of Auburn Hills on Feb. 20.) But this pairing is not nearly as bad as the one from a number of years ago: smooth pop crooner Johnny Mathis with R&B belter Jennifer Holliday opening!
Speaking of good singers, because of President Barack Obama singing a line from “Let’s Stay Together” at a recent fundraiser at the Apollo Theater, an additional 16,000 copies of the song were immediately sold. You can just picture the smile on Al Green’s face!
Star Jones, whose departure from “The View” was filled with hard feelings and accusations, returns for a guest appearance on Feb. 22. She and Barbara Walters have patched things up.
BETCHA DIDN’T KNOW…that Jasmine Guy had three records on the national charts in the early ’90s, one of which, “Another Like My Lover,” reached the Top 10.
MEMORIES: “The Glamorous Life” (Sheila E.), “Can You Feel It?” (the Jacksons), “I’m Every Woman” (Chaka Khan), “Hold On” (En Vogue), “It’s You That I Need” (Enchantment), “Get Up Offa That Thing” (James Brown), “On Broadway” (George Benson), “So Much in Love” (the Tymes), “Ribbon in the Sky” (Stevie Wonder), “Don’t Look Any Further” (Dennis Edwards, featuring Siedah Garrett).
BLESSINGS to Theo Broughton, Ken Donaldson, Michael Goodin, Karen Dumas, Ann Jamerson, Kimmie Horne, Cliff Russell, Donald Phillips, Millie Scott and L.T. Robinson.
WORDS OF THE WEEK, from George Patton: “Success is how high you bounce when you hit rock bottom.”
Let the music play!
Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 February 2012 17:28
Category: Entertainment Written by Steve Holsey
I first met actress, singer and acting intructor Lonette McKee way back in the latter part of 1968.
She was an ambitious 15-year-old student at St. Martin Deporres High School and was one of the performers at a week-long show at the Palms Theater called “The Swingin’ Time Revue.” Among the other acts were the Fantastic Four, the Precisions, the Detroit Emeralds and Little Carl Carlton.
The show, basically patterned after the Motortown Revue staged anually at the Fox Theater, was being presented by the local dance show “Swingin’ Time,” which came on six days a week from the studios of CKLW in Windsor, Canada.
Monday through Friday the show was live, on Saturday it was taped earlier in the day and shown that evening. I was a regular on the show and some of the dancers were part of the revue. Hence, the opportunity to meet become friends with Lonette.
McKEE, KNOWN only as “Lonette” at that time, had a record titled “Stop! Don’t Worry About It” on the local M-S label. It was popular in and around Detroit, but I doubt seriously that she ever received any royalties. The follow-up single was “Bluejeans.”
Lonette was the show’s opening act. She would always sing “Stop! (Don’t Worry About It)” and, as proof of her versatility, in some shows she would also sing the standard “Fever.”
We hit it off right way and as a teenager myself, I wrote a story about her in the Michigan Chronicle.
A few years after that, Lonette made the move to Los Angeles, realizing she could only go so far in Detroit.
Another dancer on the show, Oliver Givens, also moved to the West Coast with show business in his heart. But before anything happened for either one of them, they danced together one Saturday on “American Bandstand.”
In a surprisingly short period of time, 1972 to be exact (I told you she was ambitious!), Lonette had landed a regular role on the nationally-viewed weekly comedy series “The Wacky World of Jonathan Winters.” She would sing every week as part of a duo called the Soul Sisters (even though her partner was White).
THAT WAS nice exposure, but McKee’s career was really ignited in 1976 when she landed one of the leading roles in the film “Sparkle,” also starring Irene Cara, Dwan Smith, Philip Michael Thomas and Mary Alice. She was “Sister,” lead singer of a fictional 1950s vocal group.
Her performance was so effective that one would have thought she had years of acting experience.
The movie was a hit. Friends and family back in Detroit were happy for her, and all who attended the special screening were impressed.
We chatted briefly there, but then she said, “Why don’t you come to my room when this is over so we can really talk.”
We did and it was fun.
The paths of yours truly and Lonette McKee didn’t cross again until 1978 at a press party at a downtown Detroit hotel, organized by Warner Bros. Records as a promotion vehicle for her new album, “Words and Music,” which she had hoped would “go Gold.”
Good times again. Oliver Givens was there too. He was working as McKee’s personal assistant.
Soon McKee was on fire. Appearing regularly on the big screen, she was now a s-t-a-r. (But, interestingly, there was sometimes a certain amount of confusion because another popular actress at the time had a similar name — Vonetta McGee.)
McKEE WAS on a roll, one movie or TV show after another, portraying a wide array of characters, each requiring something different from her.
The films include “The Cotton Club” (with Gregory Hines, Richard Gere, Nicolas Cage and Laurence Fishburne), “Round Midnight” (with Dexter Gordon), and “Jungle Fever” (with Wesley Snipes, Spike Lee, Samuel L. Jackson and Ruby Dee).
Also, “Malcolm X” (with Denzel Washington and Angela Bassett), “Which Way Is Up?” (with Richard Pryor), “Men of Honor” (with Cuba Gooding Jr., Robert De Niro and Glynn Turman) and “He Got Game” (with Denzel Washington), to name a few.
We should mention that in “The Cotton Club” McKee sang a rendition of the classic “Ill Wind” that was stunning.
Then there was her television work. That lengthy list of credits includes “Queen” (a mini-series with Halle Berry, Ann-Margret and Ossie Davis), “Half & Half,” “Miami Vice,” “Amen,” “L.A. Law,” “Third Watch” and “The Women of Brewster Place” (TV movie) among many others.
And let’s not overlook her outstanding performances on the stage, including “Show Boat” (for which she received a Tony nomination) and “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill” (a tribute to Billie Holiday).
With Lonette McKee, it has always been about talent and hard work. However, her looks didn’t go unnoticed. In 1995 People magazine included her among “The 50 Most Beautiful People in the World.” And Johnny Carson acknowledged her attractiveness during an appearance on “The Tonight Show.”
Despite all of the accolades and the other frills and thrills of being a working actress and Hollywood celebrity, eventually McKee knew it was time to do something different.
Then too, she has been candid enough to admit that when women get to be “of a certain age,” the roles become fewer and further between (Meryl Streep is one of the few exceptions), all the more so for Black women.
So she packed up and returned to Metro Detroit where she has been heading a production company and conducting an actors workshop as well as a training program for crew members. She came home with a wealth of experience and knowledge that could be shared.
None of this is to suggest that McKee will not be seen on the big screen again. According to the IMDb website, she will portray Noelle, a jazz singer, in a film titled “Deauville” that is currently in pre-production.
One way or another (most likely in many ways) Lonette McKee will always “sparkle.”
Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 February 2012 16:42
Category: Entertainment Written by Steve Holsey
Based on the previews, I had every reason to believe that I was going to like “Joyful Noise,” but “like” is an understatement. I loved it!
Much praise to all of the actresses and actors, including Queen Latifah (she gives an amazing, award-worthy performance), Dolly Parton, Jeremy Jordan, Keke Palmer, Dexter Darden and Courtney B. Vance.
Kudos also to Jesse L. Martin and no one could ever forget Kirk Franklin’s James Brown flavored performance, complete with fancy footwork.
“Joyful Noise” has a lot of heart, plenty of powerful dramatic scenes, many funny lighthearted moments and, of course, an abundance of great music, some of which will practically elevate you from of your seat.
I left the theater feeling uplifted and satisfied, and what more could you ask from a movie of this type?
NE-YO (real name: Shaffer Smith Jr.) is one of the most talented artists out there today, and he always seems to have something new gong on.
The latest is becoming a Motown artist by way of bringing his Compound Entertainment production company into the Motown complex. In addition, he has been appointed to the position of senior vice president of A&R (artists and repertoire) for Motown.
Ne-Yo’s new allbum will be released this summer, and let’s hope it’s even half as good as “Year of the Gentleman.”
SPEAKING of new ventures, Lionel Richie’s upcoming album, titled “Tuskegee” (he’s from Tuskegee, Alabama), will consist entirely of remakes of his hits sung with many of today’s top country artists, including Kenny Chesney, Shania Twain and Darius Rucker.
The album is set for March 27 release and later there will be a television special.
Actually, this is not Lionel Richie’s first foray into country territory. “Sail On,” the Top 10 hit recorded and written by Richie in 1979 when he was with the Commodores, was essentially a country song.
THE PHRASE “a man of many talents” certainly fits Barack Obama. Very few people even had a clue that the great president can sing. I mean, really sing, as was made evident at a recent fundraiser at the Apollo Theater.
Obama sang a couple of lines from “Let’s Stay Together” and sounded very good, and smooth. (Think of how flattered this was for Al Green!)
Wouldn’t it be something if one day Barack Obama — when he is no longer in office, of course — made an album!
And by the way, Obama’s State of the Union speech was incredible. For him to not be re-elected would be a travesty. Everything is right about the words “four more years!”
AN INFLATED ego is one of the most dangerous things a person can have. It can bring down even the most powerful, no matter how much they have deluded themselves into believing they are invincible.
Add resentment to the mix and it’s poison.
I used to like Tavis Smiley and watching his talk show was frequently on my agenda. But now I watch very seldom and it’s well on its way to becoming “never.”
Smiley’s mean-spirited, unwarranted criticism of President Obama is a complete turnoff. Many people believe it all stems from Obama not attending an event Smiley organized when Obama was a candidate.
And no doubt Smiley is being aided and abetted by his close friend, Dr. Cornel West, who we believe, as we’ve said before, thinks the sun doesn’t rise until he gets up. I would not be surprised if he was expecting to be consulted, directly by the president, every time President Obama made any decision even remotely connected to African Americans.
Of course, each person has a right to their own opinion, and Black people should never allow themselves to be put in a box, suppressing their individuality and free thought.
But even so, I share the “disgust” Tom Joyner and so many others now have for Tavis Smiley and Cornel West.
Joyner has said he is “sooo done with them.” That makes two of us.
BETCHA DIDN’T KNOW…that Marvin Gaye is the drummer on the classic Marvelettes hit “Please Mr. Postman.”
MEMORIES: “Kissing You” (Keith Washington), “Just Because” (Anita Baker), “I Feel Good All Over” (Stephanie Mills), “Spirit of the Boogie” (Kool & the Gang), “She Works Hard For The Money” (Donna Summer), “Young Hearts Run Free” (Candi Staton), “(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want To Be Right” (Luther Ingram), “That’s How Heartaches Are Made” (Baby Washington), “Love Rollercoaster” (the Ohio Players), “Miss You Like Crazy” (Natalie Cole), “We’re In This Love Together” (Al Jarreau).
BLESSINGS to Maxine Michaels, Cliff Russell, Mildred Gaddis, Al Allen, Deborah Smith Pollard, Freddy Anderson, Ed Phillips, Claudreen Jackson, William Staiger, Damon Williams and Donafay Collins.
WORDS OF THE WEEK, from Johnny Carson: “If you are happy in what you are doing, you will have more success than you could possibly have imagined.”
Let the music play!
Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 February 2012 16:46
Category: Entertainment Written by Steve Holsey
Every two years or so, I feel compelled to call attention to something unusual that only applies to this city.
The overwhelming majority of female vo-calists from Detroit (not necessarily born here) have first names that end with an “A.”
HEARING that Halle Berry has gotten engaged (again) was somewhat disheartening. The beautiful actress has a long history of failed marriages and disastrous relationships, and it can’t always be the guy’s fault. Maybe she should remain single.
In any event, we wish Berry and Spanish/French actor Olivier Martinez well. I first saw him in “Unfaithful” with Richard Gere and Diane Lane. Great performance, great movie.
Congratulations to Boyz II Men on receiving a star of the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
One of the embarrassing aspects of rap music is the frequency with which artists engage in feuds — LL Cool J vs. Kool Moe Dee, Lil’ Kim vs. Foxy Brown, Ja Rule vs. 50 Cent, etc. The latest to exchange insults are Drake and Common. You’d think these people would be more mature than that.
IN 1998 Brandy and Monica partnered and landed a smash hit, “The Boy Is Mine,” that remained No. 1 on the national charts for an amazing 13 weeks! The ladies are back in the studio.
They are good friends, but there was a bump in the road the first time around. Brandy wasn’t totally satisfied with how Monica sang some of her lyrics. “I wrote the song so I know it should be sung,” said Brandy.
Later this year work will begin on the development of Jimi Hendrix Park in the legendary rock guitarist/singer’s Seattle hometown.
Love ya, Oprah, but isn’t it kind of vain to have your picture on the cover of your magazine (“O”) every month?
PRINCE IS a favorite of mine — particularly from 1979 to 1987 — but it is always annoying when people “get religion” (Prince is a Jehovah’s Witness) and then skim over their past.
For example, Prince now doesn’t allow anyone to use profanity in his recording studio. If they do, they are required to put $20 into a jar.
That’s interesting considering some of his raunchiest songs, all of which he wrote, including “Jack U Off,” “Sexy M.F.,” “Head,” “Scarlet P---y,” “Horny Toad,” “Sister” (a song about incest), “Erotic City” and “Irresistible Bitch.”
Which is not to say that Prince’s “X” and “triple R” songs didn’t sound good. I still listen to “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” and “Dirty Mind” all the time. But he should refrain from getting preachy, as he has done on several recent albums.
One profanity user visiting Prince’s studio said jokingly yet seriously, “I learned those words from you!”
BETCHA DIDN’T KNOW…that in 1963 Motown recorded a song, written by Smokey Robinson and performed by the Supremes, which had one of the world’s longest titles: “A Breath Taking, First Sight Soul Shaking, One Night Love Making, Next Day Heart Breaking Guy.” The company wisely released it as “A Breath Taking Guy.”
MEMORIES: “Rhythm of the Night” (DeBarge), “Jam Tonight” (Freddie Jackson), “Love Come Down” (Evelyn “Champagne” King), “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)” (Daryl Hall & John Oates), “You Give Good Love” (Whitney Houston), “Boogie On Reggae Woman” (Stevie Wonder), “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine” (Lou Rawls), “Super Bad” (James Brown), “Hit the Road, Jack” (Ray Charles), “Where Do We Go From Here?” (Stacy Lattisaw and Johnny Gill).
BLESSINGS to Tyrone Mills, Mary Grace Wilbert, Ericka Alexander, Toya Hankins, Andrew Humphrey, Katherine Adams, Carl Carlton, Valerie Lockhart, Kevin Keegan, Gary L. Craig and Duane Davis.
WORDS OF THE WEEK, from Maya Angelou: “Love life. Give it all you’ve got. Life gives back, many times over, what you put into it.”
Let the music play!
Last Updated on Tuesday, 31 January 2012 11:22
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