March 14, 2013

By Jeff Karoub and Mike Householder, Associated Press

 

For Berry Gordy, conquering Broadway is the next — and by his own admission, last — major milestone of a magical, musical career.

The 83-year-old Motown Records founder is taking his story and that of his legendary label to the Great White Way.

“Motown: The Musical,” which begins previews on Monday at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, allows Gordy to relive the ups and downs of a career that launched him into the entertainment stratosphere and he’s confident will allow him to leave the stage on a high note.

“Most likely it will be my last major endeavor in a creative way,” he said in a telephone interview. “Of course everyone disagrees with me when I say that statement. This is probably the epitome of everything I’ve done — that I’ve wanted to do.”

For those under the impression that Gordy simply signed off on the musical, think again.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer not only sealed up a Broadway slot and agreed to co-produce the show, he also delivered its book and three original songs.

“When I came to Broadway, I had no idea I was going to love it as much as I do,” Gordy said. “(People asked), ‘How are you going to Broadway-ize Motown?’ I said, ‘I’m not going to Broadway-ize Motown, I’m going to bring Motown to Broadway.’”

This time, he’s starting with experience. Motown’s big stars during the label’s heyday were, as Gordy puts it, “kids off the street” — singers such as a not-far-out-of-high-school Smokey Robinson, Little Stevie Wonder and a pre-teen Michael Jackson.

But on Broadway, the team includes director Charles Randolph-Wright and actors Brandon Victor Dixon (Gordy) and Valisia LeKae (Diana Ross), all of whom are Broadway fixtures.

“We’re starting from a higher level,” Gordy said.

Even with a top-notch creative team on and off the stage, the show’s success — just as Motown’s was at its founding 54 years ago — starts and ends with the music.

And in that realm, the team behind the show is working from a position of strength. Maybe too much strength.

Gordy described it as “very difficult” to select classic Motown tracks for the musical, considering the massive trove from which to choose.

Randolph-Wright joked late last year that the show might be 15 hours long. The first version had 100 tunes in it, “and I wanted every song,” he said.

But both men agreed that the way to solve the too-many-songs problem was to focus on numbers that fit the musical’s thematic structure, or what Randolph-Wright called “the spine of the story.”

Since Gordy had special insight into the songs that comprise the label’s vast catalog, he was able to make suggestions as to which ones fit particular story arcs. That was the case with Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” which ends the first act; and “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World is Today),” The Temptations classic that starts the second.

Gordy’s role went well beyond song-selector, however.

Gordy, who penned his first hit during the Eisenhower Administration, returned to his songwriting roots, working alongside longtime collaborator Michael Lovesmith to create a trio of original compositions for the musical: “Hey Joe,” “Can I Close the Door on Love?” and “It’s What's in the Groove that Counts.”

While all are personal songs — the show, after all, is about his life story — Gordy dug deep for “Hey Joe,” which commemorates the inspiration he experienced as an 8-year-old when Detroit’s own Joe Louis defeated German boxing great Max Schmeling in a 1938 heavyweight title fight.

“I saw my mother crying. I saw my father crying. Everyone was so crazy, just going mad,” Gordy said. “So I thought to myself then, ‘What could I do in my life ever to make this many people happy?’ That’s where I got the original passion from.”

Two decades later, Gordy had set aside his dream of a boxing career and was writing songs on the side while working at a Ford Motor Co. plant. That’s when he secured an $800 loan from his family’s savings club and started his own record company, one that he vowed would produce music for all listeners, not “Black music for Black people” as had been the standard.

Gordy succeeded beyond even his wildest imagination, hiring immensely talented writers, producers, engineers, musicians and singers who blended traditional gospel, jazz, R&B and pop to create a unique sound that had crossover appeal for audiences of all ages and backgrounds and broke down racial barriers at the height of the Civil Rights Movement.

“We would always say, ‘It’s what’s in the groove that counts,’” Gordy said, referencing one of the songs he wrote for the musical. “It was about music for all people. Not black and white, Jews and gentiles, the cops and the robbers. It was for everybody.”

Randolph-Wright, who was raised in segregated South Carolina, was among the many young Americans influenced by Gordy’s story and the musical movement he spurred.

“Berry Gordy was one of my idols growing up. At that time, there weren’t many men of color in that power position to look up to,” Randolph-Wright said during a trip to Hitsville, U.S.A., home to the Motown Museum in Detroit. “And, I always say he gave me and people like me permission to dream — to dream big enough that I would be in Studio A talking to you.”

A half-century after he began his ascent to the pinnacle of the music world, Gordy is looking to produce one last showstopper.

“I did the Broadway musical mainly for, I think, the people around the world that believed in me when they had no real reason to other than the music that they heard and loved,” he said.

But, tongue firmly in cheek, the octogenarian left open the door ever so slightly for another show-biz venture.

“If you come up with something bigger than Broadway, I might be interested,” he said, laughing.

Parent Category: Lifestyle
Category: Arts & Culture

March 14, 2013

Special to the NNPA from the Washington Informer

 

Released in response to a freedom of information request, the FBI’s documents cover 11 years of threats against the late singer Whitney Houston, from 1988 to 1999. But the pages are heavily redacted – in many cases, to the point of incomprehensibility.

Sometimes the redactions are tantalizing. In late 1992, an unidentified Chicago lawyer wrote to Houston’s New Jersey-based production company stating that unless the singer paid $100,000 , his client planned to “reveal certain details of [Houston's] private life … to several publications”. Later the blackmail amount was boosted even higher, to $250,000.

According to the FBI, this was extortion. But when agents met with Houston and her father, the singer said she knew the woman who was making the threats, and that she was “a friend … [who] would never do anything to embarrass her”. Officers closed the case, even though Houston’s father had apparently sent the blackmailer a confidentiality agreement and an unknown sum of money.

In addition to the extortion case, officers investigated several cases of over-devoted fans. One Vermont letter-writer claimed: “I start to shake … when I think about you.”

“Over the past 17 months, I have sent … 66 letters to Miss Whitney,” he wrote. “I have tried to stop writing the letters and to give up twice but after a few weeks I had to start writing again … I have gotten mad at [Whitney] a few times [for not replying] … it scares me that I might come up with some crazy or stupid or really dumb idea … I might hurt someone with some crazy idea.”

FBI agents eventually questioned Houston’s one-sided pen-pal in 1988. They decided he was harmless. The same was true for a Dutch or Belgian correspondent who insisted he had written some of Houston’s songs. The writer further claimed that he was the president of Europe and had purchased the country of Brazil.

After selling more than 200 million records worldwide, Houston drowned in a hotel bathtub in February 2012. She was 48.

Parent Category: Lifestyle
Category: Arts & Culture

March 07, 2013

 

ARIES

Partnerships continue to be featured this week. This week is especially favorable for a fresh start or a new beginning for you in love. Avoid distractions at work this week and you’ll get much accomplished. Soul Affirmation: There is a funny side to everything I see.

TAURUS

Friendship remains highlighted; you may be attending a social event with good friends, or may be planning one. Whichever, it will be a very happy occasion. Be happy! You’ve got many loving friends. Soul Affirmation: Hope is a beautify jewel. I enjoy owning it.

GEMINI

You may find out this week that the project you didn’t really want to work on has been scrapped. That leaves you plenty of time to finish up the stuff you want to work on! Money concerns ease up. This week a romantic get-together will remind you of what bliss really is! Soul Affirmation: He who asks might seem foolish for a while.

CANCER

Keep an eye on your budget this week, but also indulge your creative senses with the visual and the tactile. You might find yourself wanting to “feel” something new in your hands. Just the feeling may be enough; you don’t necessarily have to spend money to satisfy your artistic urge this week. Soul Affirmation: Happiness is my only goal this week.

LEO

Call early in the week and make a date so you can catch the person that you want to spend time with this week. An old love may turn up in your romantic mix, and romance will be very sweet if you rise above the temptation to remember why you split in the first place! Soul Affirmation: What I need to be is fully present inside of me.

VIRGO

This is a good week for exercising that clever mind of yours.  Luck will be with you in all endeavors you start. Luck is with you always because positive outlook attracts positive vibrations. Soul Affirmation: I appear to others what I know myself to be.

LIBRA

Exercise will work off some of your excess energy this week. Take a walk and remember that your world is made up of many beautiful parts. The part you are focusing on so intently this week is not your entire world. Proceed accordingly! Soul Affirmation: All things work together for good

SCORPIO

Everything seems to be moving along in a very pleasant way this week. Friends are helpful, family is supportive, even the sun seems to be shining just for you! Enjoy this harmony and count your blessings. Finish a task at work. Soul Affirmation: I let go and let the spirit take control.

SAGITTARIUS

You have very creative mental energy this week! You’ll probably be wanting to talk or write or read about health or career matters. Your ability to absorb information is remarkable. Make phone calls for work early in the week, then phone calls for play in the afternoon! Soul Affirmation: I give my mind a big rest again this week

CAPRICORN

Remember that exercise is a wonderful tension-reliever if things get too intense this week. A walk over your lunch hour could make all the difference in how you feel this afternoon. Love yourself and reward yourself with perfect health and happiness. Soul Affirmation: The essence of life is in each grain of sand.

AQUARIUS

Take a week off from sparkling at work and spend some time thinking about what is most important to you. The solution comes while you are thinking about love. Healthy habits are easy to keep. Soul Affirmation: I can see clearly now the rain is gone. There are no obstacles in my way.

PISCES

If you want to keep your positive outlook intact, avoid gossip and those who might want to just cry the blues for no good reason. You’ll be happiest this week if you keep busy and keep your opinions to yourself. However, good advice is available from an older female relative. Soul Affirmation: I turn all of my emotions toward the home front.

Parent Category: Lifestyle
Category: Arts & Culture

March 07, 2013

Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper

 

Motown’s Temptations family has suffered two losses in less than 10 days.

While Baltimore was mourning the Feb. 18 passing of Otis “Damon” Harris at 62 from prostate cancer, Richard Street, another member of the iconic singing group, died in Las Vegas of a pulmonary embolism. He was 70.

“He was really fighting for his life,” Street’s current wife, Cindy, told the drop.fm, an entertainment web site. “He’s a fighter. They’re dancing up there in heaven, him and Damon. I’m in disbelief right now.”

Chuck Woodson, a cousin serving as family spokesman, confirmed that Harris died at a Baltimore hospice last week.

Harris and Street were part of a Grammy-winning lineup in the 40 year-old group that scored big on the pop charts with hits such as Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone (1972) and Master­piece (1973).

Harris performed with the celebrated Motown act from 1971 to 1975. Woodson says joining The Temptations was “the realization of a dream” for Harris. Harris formed a new group after leaving The Temptations and later released solo recordings.

Woodson says that in his final years, Harris established a cancer foundation that was still in its early stages when he became ill. Harris also became a strong advocate for prostate cancer screening.

 

Parent Category: Lifestyle
Category: Arts & Culture

March 07, 2013

LAWT News Service

 

Friends, peers, colleagues and more will celebrate the life of Mr. Lou Myers on March 10, 2013 in Beverly Hills, CA at the Stinking Rose (Five Star) Restaurant, 55 N La Cienega Blvd Beverly Hills, CA 90211 from 2pm to 4pm. Ms. Dawn Lewis (Jaleesa from A Different World) will be Mistress of Ceremonies. The Giving Back Corporation founder Ken Sagoes and Marvin Winans, Jr  (directed and produced “Dreams” the last movie Lou appeared in) will co-Host this Tribute Celebration, with Our Commitment.Org as its sponsor... A corresponding memorial will take place in New York City at the world famous Nuyorican Poets Cafe, 236 East Third Street (bet B & C Avenues) hosted by Rome Neal (Artistic Theatre Director) from 4pm to 6pm.   And, an intimate memorial for Lou is taking place in Atlanta, GA on March 8 in the new Black Hollywood, also sponsored by Our Commitment.Org

Global Business Incubation (GBI) Lou’s non-profit is hosting/coordinating Lou’s bi-coastal Tribute memorial celebrations to keep his vision alive. Please join us in furthering his mission with your, time, talent and/or resources in continuing his work and legacy… www.loumyers.com  

The following are TV Broadcast Tributes to LOU MYERS in New York:

March 8, 2013 Friday, 10:30pm to eastern - FASHION MUSEUM TV Theatre Friday's channel 56 Time Warner Manhattan Neighborhood Network. On the internet: Tribute to 'LOU' MNN.ORG channel 56  

March 11, 2013, Monday, 8am eastern -  "Growing With Grace: African American's on the move"… channel 57 - MNN Time Warner

March 5th and 12th 2013, Tuesday, 11am eastern -Rome Neal's Banana Puddin' Jazz on BCAT TV http://bricartsmedia.org/community-media/bcat-tv-network Channel 

Lou passed on Tuesday, February 19, 2013 at 9:00 pm at the Charleston Area Medical Center, Memorial Division in Charleston WV. Lou became ill with pneumonia and after battling for two months, succumbed.

“Lou is best known as the irascible restaurant owner “Mr. Gaines”  on the Hit TV series “A Different World”.   His other Television credits include: My Parents, My Sister and Me, NYPD Blue, Lucky Louie (pilot), The Famous Jett Jackson, EVE, All About the Andersons,  E.R., Malcolm & Eddie, Jet Jackson, The Cosby Show, Touched By An Angel, Jag, The Sentinel, Bag Dad Café, The Sinbad Show, Living Single, Thea, The Jamie Fox Show, Mama Flores Family, Private Affair and Riot…

His movie credits include: Heirlooms, “Stains,” Life after incarceration, Dreams, A Funny Way of Looking At Things, The Fighting Temptations, Lakawanna Blues (HBO) Wedding Planner, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, Bullworth, Friday After Next, Passions of Darkly Noon (Showtime), Cobb. Tin Cup, Volcano, Everything’s Jake, The Stand In, All About You, ...and Good bye Lover, ”Broadway shows include, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” African American Style, Oprah Winfrey’s The Color Purple, The Piano Lesson, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, The First Breeze of Summer and Fences. Off Broadway shows include: King Hedley II, Do Lord Remember Me, Paducah , Fat Tuesday, ... Just a Little Bit of Somethin’, and Foot Steps From Before, both written by Mr. Myers.Lou received: NAACP “Best Actor” Award and Audelco “Best Actor” Award for role of Stool Pigeon in “King Hedley II. and the Audelco “Best Actor” Award for the tap dancing bodyguard in “Fat Tuesday.

Lou was fluent in, French, German, Spanish and some African Dialects... In 2012 Lou was honored by his Hollywood Peers for his acting and life accomplishments at the Giving Back Foundation’s 13th Annual Celebrity Spring Toast/Roast. In 2010, he was honored by the History Makers, whose goal is to showcase and archive those who have played a role in African American led movements and/or organizations. In 2007 he was awarded the coveted “Living Legend Award” from the National Black Theatre Festival. In 2005, the Appalachian Education Initiative listed Lou as one of fifty "Outstanding Creative Artists" from the State of West Virginia and featured him in their coffee table book Art & Soul. His Cabaret show has been acclaimed in Berlin, Paris, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and New York, as well as Los Angeles at the Roosevelt Hotel. Lou was Chairman and Chief Enlightenment Officer for Global Business Incubation, a California non-profit and Chairman of the Lou Myers Scenario Motion Picture Institute/Theatre. Lou was a futurist, historian, mentor, lecturer, trainer and has toured Colleges, Universities, and many other venues performing, storytelling our ancestral history and speaking on panels with professors and business experts around the world about new trends in business and urban community economic development.

Parent Category: Lifestyle
Category: Arts & Culture

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