December 13, 2012

By: Nicole Williams


It started off as a partnership between Emmy and Grammy award winning producer Narada Michael Walden and chart-topping singer, Whitney Houston that would lead into a friendship full of unforgettable memories. After the singer tragically died in February 2012, Narada, along with family and friends spent time dealing with the grief of losing someone they loved. He then felt inspired to share the moments he had with the singer that he says, would have never been known without writing a book.

“My inspiration for writing this book on Whitney called, “Whitney Houston: The Voice, The Music, The Inspiration,” is really to tell the story of how we worked in studio and to keep alive her music legacy and how much heart she has, how much love she has and to just speak about that.”

Narada was at the Grammy Museum Wednesday, December 5 for a book signing and performance. His book officially hit shelves November 27. Before the performance and book signing started, Narada was interviewed by the Billboard Magazine Senior Editor Gail Mitchell in the Clive Davis Theatre. During the interview, Gail Mitchell asked Narada of his start in the music industry, his role as a producer and specific details of moments with Whitney in the studio.

“Every one of us who are producers has our own way of doing it, our own way of doing magic. Really, you’re trying to ask the good Lord to come and bless your recording, so however you can do that, you do it. At my heart of it, I’m a coach. When Whitney sings I’m like a cheerleader. ‘That was phenomenal.’  ‘How did you do that?’ Then she wants to do it again,” he said.

Narada was involved with the Houstons in the very beginning of his music career. Whitney’s mother, Cissy Houston was a background singer for his debut solo album in 1976 titled “Garden of Love Light”.

 “Tom Dowd who produced that record with me, said we have to have Cissy Houston on this song and record. So in she comes with her singers and a little Whitney kind of tags along, the most beautiful, angelic-faced little girl. I had no idea that she’d be this one, but I was just stunned at how beautiful she was at thirteen years old,” he said.

Narada described the powerful voice that Cissy Houston had and that it took on a  “raw churchy vibe”. It was no surprise that when first working with Whitney, he experienced déjà vu as the power in her voice mimicked her mother’s.

That very same Whitney once again walked through those doors, only amidst Narada working with Aretha Franklin. After Narada was given a sense of urgency to hear Whitney’s voice, he accepted the meeting of the two once again.

On the stage of the Clive Davis Theater, Narada stood up out of his chair as he described Whitney’s features.


“Thin chick. Boots. Hair. Confident. Glowing. And knows it. She comes into the control room and sits down like ‘Hey what’s up?’ That one take was your record,” he said.

The audience laughed as he used hand gestures to describe the presence of Whitney. He was referring to the singer recording “How Will I Know” which only took one take at the studio in 1985. Before Whitney even recorded the hit song, Narada asked her if she was sure she wanted the key to be so high. He said that normally singers don’t like to sing at such a high pitch, but she was fine with it. After she nailed the song, that began the two’s journey together.

While Narada spoke, you could hear the passion and enthusiasm in his voice, which made it clear that his partnership with Whitney was more than just on a professional level, but also a level of friendship.

 “Friendship is really built around trust because when you’re in a recording studio you have headphones on, you have microphones on everybody, you have cameras. You have to find a partnership where you can kind of relax yourself and feel like you can give your very best and that’s what I tried to give her. If it meant giving her flowers, a teddy bear, or rubbing her neck or whatever would just calm her down so she could be her best and do her thing. So that was really our friendship, to find that balance,” he said.

The friendship the two had allowed him to learn more about the singer. He realized that Whitney was a beautiful, yet humble girl and what he describes as a “true music lover.”

He said that he was able to become a fan of Whitney.

“It’s not easy to do all the doubling. I’m telling you y’all don’t know. That’s why I put this book together because you don’t know. To double yourself, to triple yourself, to harmonize with yourself so it can sound like what you hear 20 years from now…it’s hard, but she didn’t care,” he said.

Narada helped produce huge hits for Whitney such as “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and “How Will I Know”.  Those songs would later be performed that evening in a medley by up-and-coming artist, Shelea. Narada also joined in on the performance as he played the drums. Shelea says it was a privilege to be a part of the event.

"I was honored to be a part of the phenomenal tribute to Whitney Houston, a woman and artist who inspired me tremendously. I know her spirit was in the room that night and my hope is that we made her proud. I thank Narada for the opportunity and look forward to doing more with him," she said.

The music had the audience feeling the true presence of Whitney Houston as many clapped along with the songs and danced. By just merely watching Narada play the drums, you could see in his face the passion and love of the music that him and Whitney made together. It was a beautiful performance to witness and a wonderful surrounding vibe to feel.

The last time Narada and Whitney worked together in the studio was a song for the film “Sparkle” that Whitney starred in. The movie came out in August 2012. Besides that last memory of working together, other memories can be relived by reading the book. He says that he hopes readers will take away whatever they want from reading the book.

“I don’t put a limit on it. I just want people to look at it and read it and kind of just take whatever they get from it because really, Whitney Houston was a skyrocket, so I say just jump on the skyrocket and ride it.  Ride this love story that she touched our hearts,” he said.

The book is currently on sale at bookstores and proceeds will benefit Narada’s charity called the Narada Michael Walden Foundation, which helps music education for children.

Parent Category: Lifestyle
Category: Arts & Culture

December 13, 2012

By Kam Williams

LAWT Contributing Writer


Rise of the Guardians is Peter Ramsey’s first feature film after directing the hit DreamWorks Animation Halloween special, “Monsters vs. Aliens: Mutant Pumpkins from Outer Space.” This project followed the feature film, “Monsters vs. Aliens” on which Ramsey served as Head of Story. While at DreamWorks Animation, Ramsey also served as a story artist on “Shrek the Third,” and as a storyboard artist on “Shark Tale.”

Before joining DreamWorks Animation in 2004, Ramsey’s talent as a storyboard artist was on display while working on a notable number of live action feature films, including “Adaptation,” “Minority Report,” “A.I. Artificial Intelligence,” “Cast Away”, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” “Fight Club,” “Godzilla,” “Men in Black,” “Independence Day,” “Batman Forever,” “Far and Away,” “Backdraft,” and “Predator 2” amongst others.

Ramsey’s directing skills were also honed early, as he served as Second Unit Director on live action feature films including “Godzilla,” “Tank Girl,” “Higher Learning,” and “Poetic Justice.” A lifelong resident of Los Angeles, California, Peter grew-up in Crenshaw, and graduated from Palisades High School before attending UCLA.

Here, he talks about his life and career, and about being the first African-American to direct a full-length, animated feature.

LAWT: Hi Peter, thanks for the interview. I’m honored to have this opportunity to speak with you.

Peter Ramsey: Oh, the pleasure’s all mine, Kam. The pleasure’s all mine.

LAWT: I really enjoyed Rise of the Guardians. Let me start by asking you what it meant to make history as the first African-American hired by a big studio to direct a full-length, animated feature?

PR: I thought about it a little bit when I first got the job, but then rapidly got lost in the work. It wasn’t until later, when my mom and dad read that fact about me in the newspaper, and I saw how it affected them, that it came back to me. Since I talk to a lot of groups at schools, one good thing is that kids can look at me and have direct knowledge of someone who’s doing something they might be dreaming of doing themselves.

LAWT: How did you get the gig? Judging from your bio, it seems like you’ve been a storyboard artist most of your career until now.

PR: Right. I got into film as a storyboard artist, but my dream was always to be a director. The way I was able to get into the industry was through drawing. As a storyboard artist, you basically pre-visualize the whole film through drawing. So, I spent a lot of my career doing that with many different directors. That was really film school for me, my training ground, because I got to work with so many great people.  

LAWT: So, what was your academic background? Did you study art?

PR: I’m pretty much self-taught. I took a couple of art classes in high school, and I entered college with the intention of majoring in art. But I was a little too young when I started at UCLA at 17, and I wasn’t ready for the concept of art that was being taught there. I was intimidated by Art History, and didn’t get it. All I was interested in was drawing. I wish I had been able to hang tough, but I dropped out after a couple years. Of course, I did learn a bunch of that stuff later on.  

LAWT: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier was wondering whether the film is faithful to the book series it’s based upon.

PR: An interesting thing about the movie and the books is that they were both being developed at the same time. The books’ author, Bill Joyce, in his talks with the studio, said, “It would be really cool, if I could do a series of books about the origins of these characters, how they came to be and their backs stories while you guys were simultaneously developing a movie about the first time they all came together.” So, they’re all the same characters and they share the same mythology, but the movie and the books are pretty different.

LAWT: Patricia also asks: What message do you want children to take away from your movie?

PR: The main message of the film is that you have the power to create magic through your imagination and to bring it into the world, whether that’s in the form of the Guardian characters who represent a lot of things we need, or whether it’s just anybody creating something. That is the best way to fight fear. That’s probably the central idea of the movie.

LAWT: Why did you tweak these familiar characters, like giving Santa a Russian accent and making him look a little different from what we’ve come to expect?

PR: The basic idea behind the books was to suggest that you grew up with a made-up version of all these characters, as if there’s a secret world alongside our world, and we’ve never known the whole truth about it. What you see in the movie and the books is the real truth about what these guys are. And it’s pretty cool, more like a Lord of the Rings kind of epic, fantasy world they all operate in as opposed to the cute, fluffy image you get from greeting cards. That was the central idea of the books. We thought that was pretty interesting and a really fresh way to get people to take another look at these characters.    

LAWT: Harriet Pakula-Teweles asks: Where were some “Guardians” when the hunters shot Bambi’s mother? I can still hear the shot ring out all those many years ago. How much trauma-less support can animation/fable offer young children without some need of a degree of reality check?

PR: Wow! I’m not sure what to do with that question. I can’t answer for Bambi. We have a mom in our movie. Some form of reality check? Yeah, I don’t know what to do with that one.

LAWT: Film student Jamaal Green asks: What is your favorite film, and is there a filmmaker whose work inspired you to make the move to becoming a director?

PR: Omigosh, I literally have too many favorite movies to name them all. But I can throw a few out there: Kurosawa… Coppola… David Lean… I’m a huge fan of Ang Lee. And there are tons of French films I love. Like I said, way too many to mention.

LAWT: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?

PR: Of course! Are you kidding? [LOL] But you have to realize that fear is something that lives in your mind, just like all the positive things that reside there. The key is to try to find a balance or a way for the positive to at least cancel out what the fear is telling you. Most of the time, fear is taking something that sounds very rational and blowing it out of proportion, and letting your mind run away with it.

LAWT: Will your next film be live-action or animated?

PR: I don’t know. So much depends on how this one is received and how well it does? I’d love to make another animated film, because I feel like I’m really just beginning to learn how to use all these tools. It’s a real experience working in a big studio system. It’s like learning how to command a battleship.

LAWT: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?

PR: I’m very happy with the work and the spirit my crew brought to the movie. I couldn’t be prouder of them.

LAWT: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?

PR: Today! I’ve been laughing a lot lately. [LOL] This is my first time directing, and it’s been quite a roller coaster ride.  

LAWT: What is your guiltiest pleasure?

PR: Playing the video game Halo 4.

LAWT: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?

PR: What I’m reading is a new book by Robert Greene called “Mastery.”

LAWT: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?

PR: I see a guy who always feels like he’s a beginner. Sometimes it’s a good thing, sometimes it’s a bad thing, but I can’t shake that image of myself.

LAWT: I can’t recall who said it, but that makes me think of the saying, “The greatest freedom is the freedom to begin again.”

PR: Very true. I think there’s a Zen saying about a beginner’s mind.

LAWT: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?

PR: My earliest childhood memory is very abstract. I must have been about 3 years old. It’s just me in the backyard looking at a flower. I have another one from when I was just a little bit older of my parents taking me to see Snow White at a drive-in theater.

LAWT: Thanks again for the time, Peter, and best of luck with the film.

PR: Thanks so much. I really appreciate it, Kam.

Parent Category: Lifestyle
Category: Arts & Culture

December 06, 2012

By MARK KENNEDY Associated Press


Michael Strahan has tackled something few football stars have attempted — Broadway.

The gap-toothed co-host of “Live with Kelly and Michael” made three short appearances at Wednesday's matinee of “Elf” and said he has new respect for Broadway performers.

“I was surprised at how nervous you get and the adrenaline and that feedback from the audience — it really was an amazing thing,” the former football player said after the show. “To see these performers who do it every day — eight or nine times a week — is really amazing. I take my hat off to them.”

Fans can see a behind-the-scenes recap on Thursday’s TV show.

The musical is adapted from the Will Ferrell film from 2003 about Buddy, a human raised in the North Pole who travels to New York in search of his parents.

Strahan thought making his Broadway debut would be fun and represented a new experience for a guy who holds the single season sack record. He found himself more nervous than he has been for high-stakes football games or live TV.

“It’s a little nerve-wracking because so many people depend on you, you want to get your line across and you have to play to the crowd. It’s a lot more intricate with everyone hitting their marks. You don’t want to be the guy that messes everyone up,” he said.

Strahan, 41, played both a police officer and a Salvation Army Santa in the first act and later came on as himself in a scene with the real Santa in the second act. As he waited in the wings of the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, he saw the toll the musical takes on its dancers.

“Some of these performers are breathing as if they just went into a football game and played a 12-play drive,” he joked. “I was tired walking up and down from my dressing room.”

Strahan rehearsed for an hour in the morning with stage managers and associate director Casey Hushion. At 1 p.m., some in the cast came in early to work with him, including Jordan Gelber, who plays Buddy, and Beth Leavel, who plays Buddy’s stepmother.

The audience was quiet when Strahan first appeared as an officer with another cop after Buddy gets kicked out of Macy’s. But the seven-time Pro-Bowler and Super Bowl winner flashed his trademark smile and they went wild. More applause greeted him after he played a Salvation Army Santa as he and Buddy wrestled over the kettle bells.

In the second act, he waited to ask Santa for a present. Santa asked him his name, the newly minted actor said “Michael Strahan” and he then asked for a red Schwinn bicycle with a bell shaped like Miss Piggy. The crowd cheered when Strahan identified himself and he got another wide round of applause at the curtain call, where the cast gave him flowers.

Strahan was named in September as Kelly Ripa’s permanent co-host aboard the morning show “Live with Kelly and Michael.” A former defensive star who spent 15 years in the NFL, he is also a host of “Fox NFL Sunday.”

He follows in the footsteps of Joe Namath, a quarterback nicknamed “Broadway Joe” who made an appearance on Broadway in 1983 as a replacement in a revival of “The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial.”

Strahan would not rule out a return to the stage. “I will take it off my bucket list, but if the opportunity came across again, I might just take it up and do it again,” he said. “I had a great time.” 

Parent Category: Lifestyle
Category: Arts & Culture

December 06, 2012

Associated Press 


Stand-up comedian and actor Katt Williams said he was ordered to leave a Seattle hotel late Monday, hours after he was released from jail following a dispute at a bar.

Williams was ordered to leave a Courtyard Marriott after an unspecified incident that involved a police presence, reported.

Williams didn't say why he was ejected, and neither police nor a hotel manager immediately returned calls from the Associated Press. Attempts to reach Williams were not immediately successful.

Williams was released from jail early Monday after police say he argued with a patron at a bar, menaced the manager with a pool cue and refused to leave World Sports Grille on Sunday. He was also accused of flicking a cigarette into a woman's face through a car window and throwing a rock at the vehicle.

Police say Williams struggled with officers who arrested him and jailed him for investigation of assault, harassment and obstruction.

Police say Williams also was involved in an altercation with three fans last Friday evening after they tried to take a photo with him. He said they had forced their way into his dressing room.

Parent Category: Lifestyle
Category: Arts & Culture

December 06, 2012

Associated Press

Costumes worn by Michael Jackson commanded hundreds of thousands of dollars at auction, and Lady Gaga was among the collectors.

Gaga tweeted Sunday that she bought 55 pieces in the sale administered by Julien's Auctions and said she plans to keep the items "archived and expertly cared for in the spirit and love of Michael Jackson, his bravery and fans worldwide."

Auctioneer Darren Julien said the jacket Jackson wore during his "Bad" tour fetched $240,000. Two of Jackson's crystal-encrusted gloves sold for more than $100,000 each, as did other jackets and performance costumes.

The auction featuring the collection of Jackson's longtime costume designers Dennis Tompkins and Michael Bush raised more than $5 million. Some proceeds benefited Guide Dogs of America and Nathan Adelson Hospice of Las Vegas.


Parent Category: Lifestyle
Category: Arts & Culture

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