December 12, 2013

By Donald James

Special to the NNPA from the Michigan Chronicle

 

He has been called a musical genius, a dream weaver, an international pop culture icon, and a pioneering entrepreneur, all of which only begin to define Berry Gordy, founder of Motown Record Corporation, perhaps the world’s most beloved record label in history.

As the mastermind behind the Detroit-born hitmaking “Motown music machine,” Gordy launched the careers of such greats as Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Tammi Terrell, Mary Wells, the Temptations, the Four Tops, Martha Reeves and The Vandellas, Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5 and many more. From these artists came hundreds of hits, described by Gordy as “The Sound of Young America.”

On Saturday, Dec. 7, in the Grand Ballroom of Cobo Center, the Michi­gan Chronicle will honor Gordy, a native Detroiter, with its Lifetime Achievement Award at the Legacy in Motion event. While he has received a litany of awards and honors over the last seven decades, this one, according to Gordy, will be special.

“I could not be more excited than to be honored by the Michigan Chronicle, because the newspaper represents my roots,” said Gordy, during a phone interview from Southern California. “Selling the Michigan Chronicle was one of my very first jobs that I ever had when I was around 12 or 13. The newspaper represented hopes and dreams for me. I outsold everybody because even then I wanted to be the best. I credit some of my successful Motown marketing strategies to what I learned from selling and marketing the Michigan Chronicle to both Black and White customers.”

In addition to his early experience with the Michigan Chronicle, like many Detroiters, Gordy worked in the automobile industry in the mid-1950s. In his 1994 autobiography, “To Be Loved,” Gordy described how the automobile factories impacted the way that he would one day run Motown. His stint at Ford, however, was short-lived. Gordy’s experience at Lincoln Mercury Assembly Plant was much better.

“The minute I walked into the Lincoln-Mercury Assembly Plant and saw how cool it was — no furnaces, fire or hot metal — I knew this was going to be my home for a while,” Gordy wrote. “Little did I know when I started how important to my future that assembly line was going to be. All I knew was those slow-moving car frames were the loveliest sights I’d ever seen. There was a pleasing simplicity to how everyone did the same thing over and over again. I fastened upholstery and chrome strips to those frames being pulled down the line on conveyor belts. It was a snap. I learned it so fast. I could jump into each car as it arrived, do my job, get out and have time to spare. Before long that extra time was devoted to singing and writing songs.”

Gordy, however, wanted to start his own business, even though he was already an accomplished songwriter. A couple of years earlier, he had partnered with his brother, George, to open a jazz record shop in Detroit called the 3D Record Mart – House of Jazz. Not long after, Gordy closed the shop and worked as a salesman for Guardian Service Cookware. But after borrowing $800 from the family’s savings fund, Gordy, with the blessings of his parents and siblings, started Motown in 1959.

Barrett Strong charted the label’s first hit in 1960 with “Money (That’s What I Want)”; the Miracles gave the company its first No. 1 hit with “Shop Around.” From there, the rest is history as Gordy applied what he had learned while working on the assembly line: “Everyone doing the same thing over and over again.” For Gordy, that translated into Motown’s long assembly line, involving artists, musicians, songwriters, arrangers, producers and distributors, all “doing the same thing over and over,” which for Gordy and Motown meant making hit songs.

The company began churning out hit after hit at a high rate of frequency. Motown, and its various subsidiary labels, including Tamla and Gordy, produced well over 100 No. 1 hits and many Top 10 hits under Gordy’s skillful eye and ear from 1960 to 1988. Among the classic hits were “Please Mr. Postman” (the Marvelettes), “Reach Out I’ll Be There” (the Four Tops), “My Girl” (the Temptations), “Stop! In the Name of Love” (the Supremes), “For Once in My Life” (Stevie Wonder), “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)” (Marvin Gaye), “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” (Gladys Knight and the Pips and later Marvin Gaye), “My Guy” (Mary Wells), “Dancing in the Streets” (Martha and the Vandellas), “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell), “Where Did Our Love Go?” (the Supremes); “Baby I Need Your Loving” (the Four Tops), “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me” (the Miracles), “The Way You Do the Things You Do” (the Temptations) and “I Want You Back” (the Jackson 5).

In addition to charting some of the best R&B and pop songs of all time, Gordy was influenced by the Civil Rights Movement and recorded several speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“I had Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. under contract, which was strange,” said Gordy, with a laugh. “We did three albums with him, including ‘The Great March to Freedom’ which was his June 23, 1963 speech in Detroit. It was recorded several months before the historic march in Washington, D.C.”

Gordy recalled that Dr. King came to see him because the civil rights leader was impressed by how Motown’s music was about promoting emotional and social integration before political and intellectual integration could happen.

“He told me that he was out there and heard our music and it was always positive for all people,” Gordy recalled. “He was surprised that Motown’s music did not offend anyone, and he loved it. He said that he wanted to do something with Motown, if I was interested. I responded, ‘Are you kidding? I would love to do something with you on Motown.”

While Motown was doing extremely well, reaching audiences across broad social, cultural, and ethnic lines around the world, Gordy had some difficult decisions to make pertaining to expanding his portfolio. He began to look at opportunities in Los Angeles.

In 1972, amid criticism, some of which came from family members, Gordy relocated Motown to Los Angeles.

“My mindset was that I wanted to seek my fortune,” said Gordy. “I wanted to make movies, I wanted to do television and I wanted my artists to have the opportunity to do movies and television and stage plays. I knew that the only place that I could do this was in Hollywood. My family tried to stop me because they told me in California I would be just one of many who were trying to make it in music, movies and television. In Detroit, they told me, I was king. However, I didn’t want any limits put on anything that I was doing with Motown, so I moved the company to Los Angeles.”

Gordy credits Detroit for being the strong foundation that has propelled him to high levels of achievement.

“Growing up in Detroit gave me the best foundation that I could have had,” said Gordy. “It gave me the grit, glamor, strong work ethic and the competitive spirit. The city prepared me for anything and everything that I’ve had to face in life. When I got to California, I had a huge advantage and was stronger than what competition was there because I was from Detroit. So everywhere I go, I always take Detroit with me.”

In 1988, Gordy sold Motown Records to MCA. Motown Records continues to exist with such artists KEM, India.Arie, Ne-Yo and Chrisette Michele, Gordy admits that he is still a supporter of the label. However, his energy these days is in other places, such as with the hit Broadway production, “Motown the Musical.” The play is based on the true story of Gordy and his rise from featherweight boxer to heavyweight music mogul and how he influenced the rise to stardom for a multiplicity of now legendary artists. Gordy wrote three new songs exclusively for the stage production.

“‘Motown the Musical’ is awesome,” said Gordy. “It’s the truth told in an entertaining way. People are loving it and I’m thrilled about that.”

Gordy is also working with a young female singer named Jadagrace. Hehe expects to release something on her next year.

“She has a very special vocal gift and is such a talent,” he said. “I believe she’s going to be a star. People are going to love her.”

Parent Category: Lifestyle
Category: Arts & Culture

December 05, 2013

Special to the NNPA from The St. Louis American

 

Fresh out of prison, Conrad Murray has been making his rounds on the interview circuit and tainting the memory of his former boss Michael Jackson in the process. He reveals graphic claims about treatment and fuels the fire regarding allegations that the late pop star committed sexual abuse.

Released three weeks ago, after serving only two years of his four-year sentence,  the 60-year-old former cardiologist and personal physician to late pop star Michael Jackson is sharing appalling intimate details in interviews with UK’s Daily Mail and “60 Minutes Australia.”

“You know, for the rest of your life and my life our names will become inseparable,” Murray claims Jackson said. “‘I asked him, “Michael, what do you mean?” and he smiled and said, “I am clairvoyant.” ’

Murray talks about Jackson’s perilous physical, mental and financial state and the singer’s secret addiction to prescription drugs. And while he still contends he gave Jackson “nothing that would have killed him,” and tells the Daily Mail that instead he believes the entertainer “woke up, got hold of his own stash of Propofol and injected himself.” “You want to know how close Michael and I were,” Murray said. “I had to put a condom catheter on him because Michael dripped urine. He had a loss of sensation and was incontinent.

“Michael didn’t know how to put a condom on, so I had to do it for him.”

While proclaiming his own innocence, Murray quietly throws Jackson under the bus by exposing alleged secrets and personal demons.

“I tried to protect him but instead I was brought down with him,” he claims, as he continues to share about Michael’s filthy bedroom; his ultimate desire to have “flawless, porcelain skin” how he really felt about his mother; and the admission that Jackson thinks he may have been sexually abused by one of his doctors.

In his interview with “60 Minutes Australia,” Murray was asked if he feels Jackson was a pedophile. He takes a dramatic 15-second pause before refusing to give a straight answer.

Parent Category: Lifestyle
Category: Arts & Culture

December 05, 2013

By D. Kevin McNeir

Special to the NNPA from The Miami Times

 

Albert “Prodigy” Johnson, 49, is one half of the legendary rap duo Mobb Deep — Havoc being his equally-talented partner behind the mic. But one of the things you realize when sitting down with Prodigy is that he is not the stereotypical rap star. His grandmother, Bernice Johnson, who he says taught him about the world of business and a lot more, was the founder of her own dance studio in Queens, rising just behind the iconic Alvin Ailey in terms of success. grandfather, Budd Johnson and his uncle, Keg Johnson, were both stars in the bebop jazz era — his mother, Fatima Frances Collins, was a member of The Crystals — one of the defining acts of the girl group ear in the early 60s. And it is reported that he is the great-great-grandson of the founder of Morehouse College.

So with such a lineage, music and intellectual thought were clearly part of his DNA. But what’s Prodigy doing these days and how’s life now that he’s served his time associated with a gun-possession charge?

“I’m here in Miami to promote my series of novellas, the first one entitled ‘H.N.I.C.,’” he said. “I took some of my friends from Brooklyn and made a fiction story about us. It was originally a movie script and I plan to make it into an independent film with me in front of the camera. I’ve wanted to get into Hollywood but it’s still very tough and so I’m doing to do my own thing.”

Prodigy’s musical career and the beef between rappers from the East Coast and the West Coast is well chronicled. But how does he compare old school rap to those who are entering the industry today.

“We had something special going on back in the early 90s and from my perspective, it was a defining moment in terms of hip hop,” he said. “We created a new sound — New York hip hop and I came up with folks like P. Diddy, Wu-Tang Clan and Nas. It was truly a golden era — one in which we were laying down substantive lyrics. It was a dangerous world too and I’m glad to say that New York City, at least, is a far safer place today than it was back then.”

He says that his lyrics and his life were equally impacted by his health — he has dealt with sickle cell anemia since childhood.

“My belief and relationship to God were instrumental in my living beyond 40 — that’s the estimated lifespan for a person with the disease,” he said. “But also, being in New York and exposed to KRS-One, the Five-Percent Nation and the 120 Lessons made me want to learn about our history and expand my mind. We need more people to bring that kind of thing to the table. You see it’s not just about partying, sex and spending money.

There was a rage within us back in those days and you can hear it in my lyrics and even those of Tupac. I’ve written my memoirs and now I’m writing fiction that has really allowed me to use my imagination.

My hope is that novellas like mine will inspire youth to want to read more. I didn’t read when I was growing up. I just want to write things that interest them and teach them about the ups and downs of life.”

Parent Category: Lifestyle
Category: Arts & Culture

December 5,  2013

 

Aries

Your interest in cultural activities powers up early in the week, so see if you can scout out a new gallery or find a concert that sounds appealing -- you're always looking out for new stuff! The bulk of the week is taken up with hard work -- but it's stuff you're confident you can do, and you should be able to take care of it all, no matter how hopeless it seems at first. Spend the weekend with people who agree with you on the big issues -- you don't have the time or patience for major arguments!

 

Taurus

Your easy charm works magic on people on Monday and Tuesday -- especially those who are visiting your home, city or country for the first time. Show them how sweet your people can be! A spiritual person shows you what's what midweek, and while you may be dubious at first, you can sense that they have a real connection with you on a deep level, so keep listening (but don't do anything crazy). You're irritated by someone who keeps pushing your buttons this weekend -- most likely a family member or someone younger than you. Try to avoid them when it's at its worst.

 

Gemini

Your closest personal relationships get very interesting this week. You should find yourself focused on one person early on, though you may want to reach out to others in your life if you have the time. From Wednesday through Friday, you may chafe under the authority of someone who used to be an equal, which could leave you thinking twice about your commitment to them. If you have your doubts, expect someone new and exciting to pop into your life this weekend, which should make the transition even likelier if it's what you really want.

 

Cancer

You have a slightly harder time fitting into your social life than usual today, though that doesn't mean you should just cloister yourself away! Try to just apply yourself as well as you can on Monday and Tuesday, though you can feel a blockage in energy that you know is short-lived. You need to deal with the conflict between your inner live and outer life midweek, and should find an easy out that is lasting. Your emotional side causes problems this weekend, but only for those among your friends and family who are more aloof or reserved.

 

Leo

You begin the week feeling fantastic and ready to explore your surroundings, especially if there's something new about them. Travel and change are far more exciting than usual for you! You may feel obligated to help someone on Wednesday, and if so, expect it to stretch out far longer than you had anticipated. Still, you do earn far more karma points than usual. The weekend is a good time to let go of something or someone you have been holding onto too tightly -- you are amazed at how easy it is!

 

Virgo

You're the responsible one as the week begins, keeping yourself focused and on track even as your friends and family seem obsessed with spring fever. Just keep hammering away at your work and you'll have more time later. Wednesday through Friday open you up creatively, and it's easier than ever for you to express yourself in new ways. Someone really likes what they see or hear! Mix things up a little this weekend, if only to show your people that you don't have to do everything in the same way all the time.

 

Libra

Your brainy energy is the perfect antidote to any bad mood your friends are having early this week -- share your quirky ideas with them and watch their faces light up! It's also a good time to apply yourself to real-life problems. Your nostalgia takes a slightly darker turn through Friday, and you may want to focus on the present to avoid thinking too much about the past. Life gets a lot sweeter this weekend, as nearly everyone in your social circle seems willing to get along well for the sake of the group as a whole.

 

Scorpio

Big ideas are having a greater influence on you than usual on Monday and Tuesday -- even stuff that seems totally unrelated to your recent obsession goes through the filter, with interesting results. Your social energy is almost perfectly harmonious in the middle of the week, and you enjoy most of the time you spend with friends and family to an unprecedented degree. Things do get weird this weekend, thanks to some recent changes and the resulting resistance -- outbursts are the norm for a bit longer.

 

Sagittarius

You're full of surprises as the week begins, showing everyone why they love you so much with your jokes, gifts and games. Keep it up and see what happens next! Try to keep your wallet at home from Wednesday through Thursday and use other tricks to keep yourself from spending more than you can afford. Impulse buys are all too likely if you can't restrain yourself. You make a solid impression on at least one person you meet this weekend, and that could lead from anything from romance to artistic collaboration.

 

Capricorn

It's vital that you keep yourself on track on Monday and Tuesday -- there are distractions aplenty, and if you don't maintain some semblance of discipline, you can expect to have to make up for lost time later on. If you pull it off, you should get recognition right away, and your good energy lasts through the end of the week. You can accomplish even more than you had hoped! The weekend might get a bit tricky, though, thanks to unexpected circumstances that interfere with even the best-laid plans.

 

Aquarius

It's your job to marshal the forces and get them moving on Monday and Tuesday, even if you don't feel all that organized yourself! Sweet if you can get your friends or family to pitch in. Discipline is the keyword for the middle part of the week, as you end up spinning your wheels, getting nowhere if you can't force yourself to stick with the program. Trick yourself into following orders! You need to get yourself focused on something bigger than yourself this weekend, and it's easy and fun to do so!

 

Pisces

Don't worry too much if things seem to be working against you early this week -- you can rely on a little shot of luck just when you need it most! That doesn't mean you can get away with slacking off, though. Your input is vital to help your coworkers or friends figure out a plan starting Wednesday, and you may have to assume a leadership role temporarily to ensure the right decision is made. Your brain feels like a hamster wheel this weekend, and you might just have to let it wear itself out so you can get some rest.

Parent Category: Lifestyle
Category: Arts & Culture

December 05, 2013

R&B star R. Kelly’s “Trapped in the Closet” will return to his hip-hopera to IFC cable network with additional installments.

Although a premiere date or number of episodes hasn't been announced, the network is already celebrating with a marathon of the previous 33 chapters of the series set for Dec. 7

The hip-hopera originally began as a five-video series to accompany the melodramatic segment of songs on his 2005 disc, “TP.3 Reloaded.” A bizarre and complex storyline featuring sexual exploits, little people, gossipy drama and Kelly playing multiple characters, “Trapped in the Closet” became a cult hit after it was released.

Fan demand made the singer continue to add chapters and roll out the accompanying videos on DVD. Subsequent installments started airing on IFC and streamed on the network’s website in 2007.

Early last year, Kelly and the network announced that they had reunited to produce even more episodes of the saga. Those episodes premiered in November 2012.

Aside from starring as many of the screwy characters in the absurdly hilarious “Trapped” universe, Kelly serves as the executive producer, writer and co-director of the series.

Parent Category: Lifestyle
Category: Arts & Culture

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