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Singing the blues of a shattered life

Lalenja Harrington stepped into the role of Billie Holiday’s on Saturday night and carried the audience on an intense journey of abandonment, love, drugs, and racism that eventually ended in a death of the talented singer.

In a ninety-minute played entitled “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill”, Ms. Harrington, in a brutal, frank and honest performance, gave the audience a glimpse of the painful downfall of “Lady Day” .  The show was held before a sold out audience in the Hanesbrand Theater, It started the 81st season at the Twin City Stage that will showcase a number of quality productions.

Ms. Harrington was joined on stage by pianist David Lane who played Jimmie Powers, Kady Day’s dedicated and faithful accompanist.  Daniel Alvarez recreated the intimate setting of tables, microphone and piano Emerson Bar and Brill in Philadelphia, Pa. which was apparently the last performance of Lady Day before she died in 1959 at age 44.

Billie Holiday was a jazz icon who worked with a number of legendary artists including Artie Shaw, Lester Young and Benny Goodman.  She recorded many songs including “God Bless the Child”, “Nobody Business”, “Moonlight”, “Pigfeet and bottle of beer” are famous Lady Day recording.  And, one of her more dark, somber songs of “Strange Fruit” about the horrors of lynchings in the South in the early 1900s.

Ms, Harrington in her jazzy voice painted the picture of a trapped, beautiful songbird longing to be free from drugs and the sins of racism.  In a “wounded poignancy”,  she was dangerously bold in capturing the pain, brutality, and anger over lynching in “Strange Fruit”.  She initially refused to record the song because the subject matter was too overpowering.

She was majestic in hallmark flowing white gown, and elbow-length gloves, as she mingled with the audience.  She spoke about trying to imitate the singing style of Bessie Smith and Louis “Pop” Armstrong before finding her voice in songs like “Good Morning Heartaches” and other standards.

Lady Day told the audience of “ladies”, “duchesses” and “presidents” often names that oppress people gave themselves to uplift their spirit in order to combat racism.  The play gave insight into why she got involved in prostitution, about being raped, and about the love of man that she knew was destroying her career and life by introducing her to drugs.  That’s alright she still loved him, and “Ain’t Nobody business if I do..”

And, she reminiscence about her arrest and imprisonment for drugs that It robbed her of her angelic voice and blocked her from performing in New York City clubs.  Often time her parole officer would be in the audience to spy on her, and she joked about her ability to spot cops in the audience because they “were white men and they always wore white socks.”

The shroud of race infected everything that she did from her performance to her personal life.  It was evident in traveling through the south in the 1930s a ” black bitch” with an all white band.  She couldn’t get served at restaurants or find hotels to stay in so they often ate in the kitchen or slept on buses.  But Artie Shaw and his band refuse to eat in all-white restaurants unless Billie Holiday could join them.

This play is about a gifted and talented black woman whose personal life, and social evil of racism eventually destroyed her career and life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tommy Ford Got A Job

Tommy Ford’s first break in film happened after he graduated from University of Southern California , and auditioned in 1989 for a part in Harlem Night starring Eddie Murphy, Redd Foxx, and Richard Pryor.  And, the rest is history.

Ironically, he is directing a film titled Conflict of Interests starring, of course, Bria Murphy, daughter of Eddie Murphy which will premiere this fall.   A screening of the film will be held Thursday, Aug. 6, at the a/perture Cinema in downtown Winston-Salem, N.C. as part of the National Black Theater week.

As part of the festivities this week, Mr. Ford presented a reading to elementary children and neighborhood residents as part of his “I’ve Got A Job Literacy Program” that emphasizes improving the self-worth and images of young black children.  He read from his children’s book I Am Responsible and I Am Beautiful to about 100 children and adults at the Malloy-Jordan Library in East Winston on Wednesday.

Born in Los Angeles, Mr. Ford, who is a director, author, actor and motivational speaker, has starred in several hit television series including Martin, New York Undercover, Jamie Foxx Show, The Parkers, Who’s Got Joke, and Let’s Stay Together.

Recently, he has been pursuing a long time dream and launched a series of award winning children’s books that are designed to promote healthy, spiritual, and non-violent living while guiding young people towards becoming better people.

“Two things that God gave everyone,” Ford told the young people.  “The power to choose, and the power to change.  “Young people you are beautiful, powerful and awesome.  I want you to choose success over failure, wealth over poverty, and education over ignorance…”

Jacob Lawrence Great Migration

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Great Migration series currently on display at MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) in New York City!

Jacob Lawrence

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Famed artist Jacob Lawrence finished only 30 panels in the Struggle series documenting America’s history through the westward expansion of 1817.   He completed much of his research at the Schomburg Center in New York City (Harlem), Twelve of the paintings are currently on view at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. through Aug. 9, 2015.

Langston Hughes

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Alice Walker

 

 

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To Whom It May Concern

Dear New South:

Commentators, historians, politicians, and intellectuals have predicted that you will be arriving soon to transform your older sibling into a more kind, gentler, and inclusive society.

Impatiently, I am waiting.

I’m looking forward to that day with great hope, as well as, anxiety. I’m hoping you will be the dawning of a New Age in my home region that will not only plant the seeds to change the old Confederacy, but, will change America.

It will be a time, I anticipate, that every child will be able to start out life on an equal playing field: provided a decent home, education, and the possibility of succeeding in any endeavors that he/she pursues.  It will be a place and time that will no longer find church as the most segregated place in America each Sunday.  A place where an African-American male will no longer be profile simply because of the color of his skin.

In this New South, no longer will neighborhoods be segregated based on race and class, where all children will be able to socialized and become lifelong friends.  Schools will be a space where children will be exposed to ideas, and learn critical thinking skills.  And, our society will teach history that will be inclusive and not create lies about heroic past that never existed.   Schools will no longer exist where black boys are suspended for minor infractions, and start pushing them into the school to prison pipeline.

I am very much looking forward to seeing you because the social health of my country depends on you arriving soon!

Sincerely,

A.B. Nickerson

Size Matters

I was born in Osceola, Arkansas a small southern town of 2,000 hard by the Mississippi River.  Historians have said that Mark Twain referred to the city as “Plumb Point”.  It was the site of one of the major battles of the Civil War called the “Battle of Plumb Point”, and near the end of Reconstruction, the Ku Klux Klan had a presence in the town helping to disenfranchise blacks.

My small town values — honesty, industry, kindness — were formed there, and in the small Pleasant Grove Baptist Church. This church had an evangelical spirit.  Shouting, singing, jumping.  Baptism in the Mississippi River  I can remember walking from religious services over the levee returning home thingking about Sunday dinner — mashed potatoes, brown gravy, fried chicken, golden biscuit.  Walking from the mighty river, I recall holding my grandfather’s hand as stunned religious observers watched medical workers placed a body into an ambulance. Later, we learned that it was the body of a state trooper who had been shot by a black man who believed the officer was raping his wife.  My house was located across the street from the jail, and I recall a large white mob assembled as they brought the terrified man to jail. I don’t ever remember a trial, or hearing.  My grandfather later told me, he went into the lock up and never came out.

Segregation, “Jim Crow”, was the tenor of life in this town and all across the South.  I attended segregated schools that were financed by Chicago philanthropist Julius Rosenwald.  The teachers and students were hard working and dedicated to fulfilling the mission of providing basic education for blacks, even though we had few resources.

A part of southern culture for boys was learning to fight, and fire weapons.  You were around guns and rifles all your life in the South starting with B.B guns.  You had to learn the manly art of boxing in the South.  My first fist fight was with a kid named Emerson White who was a seasoned puncher.  I don’t remember what the fight started over – it could have been over a game of marbles, baseball, who knows — but Emerson whipped my ass.  I ran, and ran until I got home.

When I reached home terrifying and breathless, my grandfather was waiting on me, and he calmly said “I got a call that you were fighting and that you ran!  You can either go back and fight like a man or you can fight me!”  I turned around and walked slowly back to the scene of the butt whipping.  I was hoping Emerson had left, but of course, he was still there waiting on me because he knew I had to return.

I had disrespected my family by running.  Honor was important in the South!

I still lost the fight, but regain the family’s name.

Portrait

Within seconds, she could change her face into a “Chuckie” frown that could literally send chills through your body!  I have known her since she was a little girl, and she has this amazing ability to disguise or masked her true feeling. Her level of genuineness is so thin that you can literally see through her but she never reveals the type of person that hides behind the green eyes and fair skin.  Someone who can be sincere, yet dishonest.  A person who can hold a level of vindictiveness that can be deadly.  She can talk to you for several hours, and not really say a thing.  After she finishes rambling, you won’t be able to discern a thing she said.  Hypocrisy is her calling card!

She demands your attention when talking, but turns to her cell phones, and social media giving you a scant bit of attention, while you are talking — ignoring whatever it is you needed to say.  But she is aware enough that when you finish, whatever it is you were saying, she will start her conversation again, and not remember a word you said.  Your concerns are a missing 10 seconds in her narrow universe that is so transparent : with nuggets from the social media, gossip, rumors and innuendos that are repeated as truths.

In her world, the social media is the fountain of truths.   She touts being different, but really comes across as being typical, trite and unintelligent.  A great deal of her time is spent scrolling through Facebook, Twitter, and various social media posts that she regurgitates as facts.  She says one thing, and immediately contradicts it.  “I am going to a meeting this morning,” she intoned.  “What is the meeting about?” She quips, “I don’t know I’m not going because they made me mad!”

She most closely acts and behave similar to the character Lisa Rowe in “Girl Interrupted”.  Her personality borders on sociopathic behavior that finds solace in chaos, disorder, and the power she has to manipulate other people, especially family members.

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