Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Sixth Day of Kwanzaa: Kuumba


today's principle: to do always as much as we can, in the way that we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

making our world a better place doesn't necessarily require gobs of cash or anything that money can buy.  sometimes its the little things that matter the most.

i'm a creative thinker and i believe that creativity is an important force in the universe, so this is usually the day that i give Kwanzaa presents. i got caught out there early on, making greens for our extra-special watch night eve dinner but thankfully i managed to pull it off anyway.

i make the best pound cake in the world.  don't believe me? just ask anyone that's ever had a slice. some folks call it scratch cake because you make it from scratch and it's so basic and simple -- eggs, cream, salt, etc -- but it's really remarkably light and delicious.  the recipe is a family secret that has been a part of us for years and is passed down to each female child that is a direct descendant, which kind of makes sense. your daughter in law may not know how to cook but the girl child you raise definitely will.

if you are black, if you know what pound cake is and why it matters and what its supposed to taste like -- and yes, if you are from the south (because we maintain black folk traditions that other regions don't know of or discard for the sake of "progress") -- a slice of this cake instantly transports you to your grandmother's kitchen, your mother's dinner table, your neighbor's house for thanksgiving.  and everyone's pound cake is different. it's like a signature. they are all the same, with those same basic ingredients and somehow, they are radically different, and who knows what that's about.

this is a snapshot of jimmy carbone of jimmy's no. 43 on e. 7th street in new york city and myself, with his kwanzaa present. he's the dopest chef ever. he brought all that ridiculously delicious food to the jazz age lawn party last summer but he's been holding it down in the lower east side since, like, forever.  i became an instant fan when he had a little place called mugsy's chow chow. but that was a long time ago. that was the 90s. (!!!)


i think jimmy likes his kwanzaa present...!

i always feel bad about making scratch cake for kwanzaa because once you eat it its gone.  i wanted to make things that would last. i wanted to knit sweaters. a scarf! something that you could hold onto later. cake doesn't work that way. when i told that to jimmy, he laughed and said, it's not gone yet!

and then he said something interesting.

jimmy said that it's the memory of the cake that's lasting. the memory and how that memory is created. that's what really matters: the conversation, the coming together of so many different folks that you wouldn't think had anything in common, the socializing, the connectedness. it's the moments that happen around the cake, not necessarily the cake itself. and yet, yes -- it's the cake. 

then he waxed poetic for a moment, about how as a kid in massachusetts, his italian parents would bundle him and his siblings up during the holiday season and they'd go visit family and friends and bring lots of food, and what a bonding experience that was, how important that was for all of them.

and then he very sweetly offered a slice of cake to everyone at the bar -- the happy couple next to me, on their way to a phish concert; the guy reading a book and eating alone; the beautiful skinny bespectacled bartender who inhaled hers in one bite and, laughing, dove in for another. and then he gave some to other customers. and we all had that beautiful moment. 

of course, i had to tell jimmy about watch night and freedom eve. he'd never heard of it. not surprisingly, he hadn't heard of the traditional meal that happens afterwards, either.

the next time i see jimmy, i'll bring him some gullah rice. (he's never heard of that, too.)

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Fifth Day of Kwanzaa: Nia



today we focus on nia, which officially means to make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.  i think it's hard to pull off a collective purpose for the community if we aren't on point individually. my first question to anyone today would be, do you know your purpose in life?  if you don't know, what are you doing to figure it out? if you do know, how are you accomplishing it?

are you living your life on purpose?


Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Fourth Day of Kwanzaa: Ujamaa

today's principle: to build our own businesses, control the economics of our own community and share in all our work and wealth.

in other words, buy black


once upon a time, we had our own black doctors and dentists and midwives. we ate at our own restaurants, drank in our own bars and juke houses and attended our own churches and schools. we frequented our own businesses and shopped in our own grocery stores. because we weren't allowed to do so anywhere else. well -- legally, we could go anywhere. but if we did go to the white part of town, we were quite literally taking our lives into our own hands. 


in too many instances, prosperous black communities were obliterated by angry whites who resented their industriousness and financial independence and/or who wanted their land and resources.  remember the rosewood massacre of 1923?  an entire prosperous self-sufficient black community in florida, slaughtered on the supposed infallable word of a white woman who cried rape.  and no, that wasn't an isolated incident. for more on the subject, read buried in the bitter waters: the hidden history of ethnic cleansing in america by elliot jaspin.


buying black -- like buying american -- isn't as easy as you might think. the story of one chicago family's effort to buy black is the stuff of what some would like to think of as urban myth. or an impossible dream, maybe. i buy things mindfully.  i want to know where it comes from, what corporate entity is behind it, who's getting my dollar. i'd prefer to empower a black female but hey -- that's just me.


 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Third Day of Kwanzaa: Ujima

This means "to build and maintain our community together and make our brother's and sister's problems our problems and solve them together." 

My immediate thought turns towards volunteer work within the community but it's much bigger than that.  The African proverb of the village that is required to raise a child holds true here, too. In the same way that the parents aren't the only ones who grow a child into the fullness of adulthood, we help or hinder each other in a myriad of unseen ways that reverberate through our inner selves constantly.

No man is an island. No one does it on their own.  You may have a great idea but it's going to take a lot of people to help you pull it off. Quiet as its kept, it takes a village to live a life.  It certainly takes a village to have a career. 

How could we possibly have made it through The Middle Passage, over 400 years of slavery, the Antebellum South, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the homegrown terrorism of the KKK and the overall violence, the degradation, the virulent racism (institutionalized and otherwise), the microaggression, the indignity, the almighty insufferable all-consuming flat-out ignorance of much of the American populace has towards us if we did not have each other?

Remember this, loud and clear: we were not supposed to survive any of this. Millions of us were lost as slave traders crossed the Atlantic Ocean. The work was much too hard for anyone else. We were not supposed to make it.

To read the best explanation for Ujima that I've gotten so far, please click here.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Second Day of Kwanzaa: Kujichagulia



According to Maulana Karenga, the founder of Kwanzaa, self-determination means "to define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves."

This definitely isn't a principle that I celebrate once a year. This is my way of life.

If I give a gift on this day, it's usually a blank book. You want to define yourself? Keep a journal. I know, I know -- I'm supposed to make that book. I did consider it a few months ago when I looked at some book binding kits out of curiousity and totally fell in love with the entire process. Somewhere in there, I saw an exhibit at MoMA from a German sculptor whose name escapes me that put together pulpy looking books from magazine ads, newspapers, you name it.  When you leafed through it, it was complete gobble-dee-goop -- which is apparently what he thought was in most periodicals, anyway.

I'll probably end up making a book for myself, just to see if I can do it.



Thursday, December 26, 2013

The First Day of Kwanzaa: Umoja



Kwanzaa -- which is a cultural and social observance amongst African-Americans and has nothing to do with Christmas or any religious celebration -- is, in my opinion, a many splendored thing.  It is inclusive, it has principles that are universal and because you can veer away from the hard and fast rules of it all any way you like (and yes, there are rules), it can also be a lot of fun.

Basically, you have to make the gifts that you give. Educational gifts are encouraged. What's important is that you give of yourself.  The upshot of it all is, for those seven hectic days after Christmas when the rest of the world is running around buying more stuff, returning stuff for more stuff or breaking toys they just got, you are gathered together with your family, your friends who are your family and the ones who really matter, and you are focused on other things.

My first day of Kwanzaa was an unstoppable fountain of joy.

Onward and upward.


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Winter Bucket List 2013 -- The Harlem Edition (Kwanzaa, Kwanzaa, Kwanzaa!)



None of the winter bucket lists I see online ever resemble mine. Not that I wouldn't want to go on a carriage ride or make gingerbread houses. That sounds cute but I'm way more likely to be found staying up all night making Kwanzaa presents or sipping my specialty Mexican hot chocolate at a black folk pot luck.

There's no getting away from Christmas once it explodes sometime in the fall (!!!) but the truth is, Kwanzaa has nothing to do with Christmas, it's not religious and it's not an anti-white people holiday alternative. Like a lot of things black folks do, Kwanzaa is something that we do for our selves -- to unite us, to honor our past as African-Americans, our collective history and our ancestors, and to reconnect with our purpose, as individuals and as a community. If white people are down with that and want to participate, hooray. There's always plenty of culture to go around. If not, oh well. It's really not about them.

Kwanzaa is much more fun than Christmas -- and for me, it's very personal. You have to make the gifts you give -- something that stymies a lot of people I know, until they realize that the gift doesn't have to be tangible.  The day you give the gift can infuse it with even more significance. If you're not craftsy, educational gifts are encouraged.  The Kwanzaa gifts I have given are pretty out there, I suppose.  You give what you have. You give who you are. I have been a pretty good wingman, agony aunt and third wheel in times past. I've given a voice lesson and a performance clinic here and there.  Once I even taught a friend how to smother a chicken.  And my pound cakes -- as well as my tomato pies -- are kind of legendary.

There are hard and fast rules but I don't live and die by them. I make them my own. Will you light Kwanzaa beeswax candles? Maybe.  Truth is, my libation ceremony will probably be cocktails with a few sisters at a speakeasy.

Lemmie put it to you this way. Christmas means running around in malls and bouncing around online and buying presents -- and if you run out of ideas or time or patience, Christmas means sending gift cards or cash money. You must send something. Kwanzaa means giving someone something very personal, something that you make with your own hands, something from you that will hopefully resonate with them in some way. You must give of yourself.

Here's a winter bucket list that may look a lot like yours.
  1. Get a wreath for your door -- or better yet (in the spirit of Kwanzaa),  make two and give one to a friend. 
  2. If you haven't already, it's probably a good idea to start assembling your Kwanzaa presents. (Un)fortunately, (most of) the things I make are edible. This year, I'm getting especially craftsy for a select few. (Finally!)  Otherwise, I'm locked in my kitchen for beef stew (Evan), smothered pork chops (Jane), several quarts of Mexican hot chocolate (you know who you are) and -- of course -- pound cake.
  3. Wait until that (Southern) ATL visit and go sit on Black Santa's lap at Greenbriar Mall. You know that's my story.  Black Santa, baby. (More on that here.)
  4. You wanna watch a holiday movie? Forget Elf. Watch Bad Santa with a bunch of black folk -- unedited, of course.  You'll laugh so hard, you'll scream.
  5. Go to The Apollo Theater's Kwanzaa Celebration: Regeneration Night on Friday, December 27th.
  6. Go to American Museum of Natural History's Kwanzaa 2013: 35th Anniversary Celebration on Saturday, December 28th.
  7. The dance company Batoto Yetu will celebrate the seven principles of Kwanzaa with movement and festivities at Aaron Davis Hall on Saturday, December 28th.
  8. From December 26 - 28, The African Burial Ground has a pretty spectacular Kwanzaa celebration -- the 10th Anniversary Observance of the Rites of Ancestral Return -- that includes short film, visual art, live music and performances that run the gamut from spoken word to The Black Nutcracker. And yes -- all of it is free and open to the public but reservations are required.
  9. The Studio Museum in Harlem has Hands On Kwanzaa Celebration -- art making activities and an interactive performance program for kids -- on Target Free Sunday, December 29th.
  10. Skip the Bridge and Tunnel crowd, the tourists and the rest of the amateurs and celebrate New Year's Eve Eve instead of New Year's Eve.  (That way, you can enjoy First Night and still have fun with revelers. More on that here.) You can catch me and my jazz quintet The Hot Five at The Player's Club in Grammercy Park on Monday, December 30th for The Salon's annual fete and December 31st for The Player's Club and their New Year's Eve gala.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Dear Black Santa -- The Short List

This is what I want from Black Santa -- and no, it's not in order.  Will I get it by December 25th?  Everything is happening all at once and Christmas is always on its way, so the short answer is no and yes. 
  1. A lean, strong, healthy body -- with smooth, clear, wrinkle-free skin and a clean bill of health.
  2. Yes, I want to win the pie contest again at the Jazz Age Lawn Party. (There, I said it.)
  3. It would be nice to run a mile in less than 9 minutes without feeling like I'm about to have a heart attack. 
  4. Millinery classes galore -- because it's high time. 
  5. A virtual album release party every other month via Concert Window, starting in February.
  6. Weekly all day scrub it down/soak it up visits to Spa Castle. Or at least K-Town.
  7. Regular visits to see our twin God-daughters in Charleston, SC.
  8. A powerful left hook and a much improved right cross.
  9. A lengthy stay -- all by myself! -- at Bikini Bootcamp in Tulum, Mexico.
  10. A European tour -- with my music! --  in the spring.
The important thing is, I've still got my foot on the gas.  Selah.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Girls Not Brides

Bill Gates recalls once being invited to speak in Saudi Arabia and finding himself facing a segregated audience. Four-fifths of the listeners were men, on the left. The remaining one-fifth were women, all covered in black cloaks and veils, on the right. A partition separated the two groups. Toward the end, in the question-and-answer session, a member of the audience noted that Saudi Arabia aimed to be one of the Top 10 countries in the world in technology by 2010 and asked if that was realistic. “Well, if you’re not fully utilizing half the talent in the country,” Gates said, “you’re not going to get too close to the Top 10.” The small group on the right erupted in wild cheering.



Astonishing but true: two thirds of the world's illiterate population are female.  In many countries, secondary education isn't free. In most poor families, if there's a choice between educating a daughter or a son, the boy goes to school and the girl labors in the fields and does housework.  The consensus is, girls leave (to raise their own families) and boys stay (to take care of their parents -- or at the very least, their mothers). Some girls are forced into marriage when they are as young as nine, with the tacit understanding that the husband won't have sex with them until they are of age. Quite often, they have sex with them, anyway. The results are often catastrophic.

Yemen must be hell on earth for little girls.  Then again, I suppose that when you're dirt poor, receiving a hefty pile of money to marry off your prepubescent daughters would be big business.  It's also tradition. 

The idea of putting girls first rankles a lot of people -- especially when it's African and South Asian girls.  The truth is, girls are denigrated all over in the world. Although Chinese girls are making great strides towards education in the cities, school is a rare luxury in rural areas.  And yes -- believe it or not, there's much work to do right here at home.

I loved books when I was a kid. My mother taught me how to read when I was 3 years old -- thank God.  By the time I hit kindergarden, I was on fire.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Oh, Kanye, Part 3: That Confederate Flag and You

So these are the images in question by artist/illustrator Wes Lang



Nothing you haven't seen before, if you've even so much as glimpsed bands like Lynrd Skynrd, Metalica, Megadeth, The Grateful Dead, Judas Priest. Or if you know any bikers. Or purveyors of West Coast tattoo art. Kanye is appropriating that imagery and more, and draping a Confederate flag over it.

(Meh.)

I suppose Kanye KKK hoods and robes are next.  If he makes them fashionable enough -- and he can because that's a big part of what he does -- he won't have any trouble selling them. (Hey, that's got a ring to it - Kanye KKK!) He can wear one all the time and call himself The Grand Dragon Wizard -- of Greatness and Brilliance. Because, according to him, that's what he is.

Of course, later he will sell those KKK outfits -- and the regalia that accompanies them -- in Barneys in pastel hues for thousands of dollars. Because he's brilliant.  Right?

He sounds bipolar to me. Here's a few symptoms.
  1.  Feeling unusually “high” and optimistic OR extremely irritable 
  2. Unrealistic, grandiose beliefs about one’s abilities or powers 
  3. Hyperactivity 
  4. Racing thoughts; jumping quickly from one idea to the next 
  5. Impaired judgment and impulsiveness 
  6. Acting recklessly without thinking about the consequences 
  7. Talking so rapidly that others can’t keep up 
  8. Distractibility
    1.  
       
Manic depression is touching my soul
I know what I want but I just don't know
How to, go about gettin' it
Feeling sweet feeling,
Drops from my fingers, fingers
Manic depression is catchin' my soul

Woman so weary, the sweet cause in vain
You make love, you break love
It's all the same
When it's, when it's over, mama
Music, sweet music
I wish I could caress, caress, caress
Manic depression is a frustrating mess

Well, I think I'll go turn myself off,
And go on down
All the way down
Really ain't no use in me hanging around
In your kinda scene

Music, sweet music
I wish I could caress, caress, caress
Manic depression is a frustrating mess
                  Well, that just about sums it up for me. One thing is for sure. That flag isn't going anywhere.

                  Sunday, December 08, 2013

                  Sunday Sermonette



                  This is Sylvester Stewart -- otherwise known as Sly Stone -- at the tender age of nine (!!!) singing Walkin' In Jesus Name.  Listen in and be blessed!

                  The Day The Music Died

                  Today in 1980 -- 33 years ago! -- John Lennon was murdered in New York City. For an interview with music critic Greil Marcus, click here.

                  Friday, December 06, 2013

                  Oh, Kanye Part 2: That Confederate Flag (in context!)

                  Now might be the moment to take a look at the Confederate flag in context -- something that most people aren't willing to do.

                  Everyone was flying a lot of flags in the South during The Civil War. (Please note: This war has a lot of names. Many Southerners refer to it as the War of Northern Aggression because according to them, it wasn't a war. It was an invasion. Most of their black counterparts called it The Freedom War. You get the idea.)   The Confederate flag as we know it (also known as "Stars and Bars") actually originated as the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia under General Lee.  There were three official Confederate flags to represent the new nation, none of which resembled the battle flag. To add to the confusion,  each Southern state created their own flag. All this flag waving was more than confusing, especially in battle. It was General PGT Beauregard who came up with the idea of a peace flag and a war flag, so enemies could easily be recognized in the fray.  He gave his assistant William Porcher Miles the task of creating the war flag. How he came up with it is more than interesting.

                  Inspired by the flags that he saw at the South Carolina secession convention in December of 1860, Miles -- who had been chair of the Committee on the Flag and Seal, conveniently enough -- came up with a blue St. George's Cross (also known as a Latin cross) on a red background, with white stars that represented each  slaveholding state. 


                  No surprise that he put the crescent and palmetto from South Carolina's state flag in the upper left corner.

                  This flag, however, is the one that was chosen.



                  Miles changed it to a St. Andrews Cross (the cross of Scotland, interestingly enough) to appease Southern Jews who didn't want any religious symbol to represent the nation.  The number of stars changed according to how many states had joined The Cause.

                  Miles changed it to a St. Andrews Cross (the cross of Scotland, interestingly enough) to appease Southern Jews who didn't want any religious symbol to represent the nation.  The number of stars changed according to how many states had joined The Cause.

                  Needless to say, because the Southerners lost the war and remained rebels who were deeply committed to the idea that the war was an ongoing situation, the battle flag -- also known as The Dixie Flag, The Confederate Navy Jack, The Southern Cross and yes, The Rebel Flag -- was the one that they wholeheartedly embraced. 

                  As a Southerner by proxy -- that is, someone who is two generations removed from slavery -- I can't hold onto the Confederate flag in any way.  For the life of me, I don't understand exactly what Southerners have to be so proud of.  First of all, you lost. Yes, that's right. You lost the war. Yes, you fought valiantly. Yes, you have your brave war heroes, your majestic leaders. Even with all that greatness, you lost the war.  It doesn't matter how many times you dissect, review and reenact the battles. You still lost. 

                  There, I said it.

                  Secondly, you fought for states rights -- that is, the right to have slaves -- which *surprise!* was completely immoral.  Thanks to the invention of the cotton gin in 1793, the growing abolitionist movement, Abraham Lincoln's election and a few other factors, the Southern antiquated social construct was eroding quickly. The end.

                  Last but not least, the antebellum South arose -- wherein millions of black people were displaced, whole communities slaughtered, torture, violence and lynchings of black men, women and children was rampant and rape was commonplace. The state and local laws did nothing to defend or protect black people and the federal government did not intercede. Where is the pride in that? 

                  We are not a monolithic people. I no more expect young Southern black folk to take up the Confederate flag en masse than I would expect to see all young Jews running around wearing swastikas and waving SS flags.  Because they know their history. It's a real shame that we don't know ours. That's what's missing --  a healthy dose of history and some real perspective.  A lot of old black folks lived through it and way too many young black folks don't know about it.

                  You want a strong dose of Southern/American history? Read Buried In The Bitter Waters: The Hidden History of Racial Cleansing in America by Elliot Jaspin and then tell me if you seriously want to wrap yourself in a Confederate flag.

                  A description from Goodreads: Leave now, or die! From the heart of the Midwest to the Deep South, from the mountains of North Carolina to the Texas frontier, words like these have echoed through more than a century of American history. The call heralded not a tornado or a hurricane, but a very unnatural disaster--a manmade wave of racial cleansing that purged black populations from counties across the nation. We have long known about horrific episodes of lynching in the South, but the story of widespread racial cleansingabove and below the Mason-Dixon line--has remained almost entirely unknown. Time after time, in the period between Reconstruction and the 1920s, whites banded together to drive out the blacks in their midst. They burned and killed indiscriminately and drove thousands from their homes, sweeping entire counties clear of blacks to make them racially "pure." The expulsions were swift-in many cases, it took no more than twenty-four hours to eliminate an entire African-American population. Shockingly, these areas remain virtually all-white to this day. Based on nearly a decade of painstaking research in archives and census records, Buried in the Bitter Waters provides irrefutable evidence that racial cleansing occurred again and again on American soil, and fundamentally reshaped the geography of race. In this groundbreaking book, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Elliot Jaspin has rewritten American history as we know it.

                  Thursday, December 05, 2013

                  I'll Tumble 4 Ya

                  I fell into a conversation over a pot of tea with a gal pal for the umpteenth time who expressed a profound sense of confusion when we were talking about what I do. The conversation went something like this:

                  Setting: A noisy, super trendy coffee shop on Food Drink Boulevard. She looks like she's on her way to a first date with a guy she likes way more than she should. I look like a Nigerian graduate student -- as usual.  She's eating pastries. I'm eating clean. We are talking about everything and nothing.

                  Her: I went to your website, I saw where the gig was and stuff.

                  Me: And?

                  Her: I dunno. I wanted more.

                  Me: More what?

                  Her: I dunno! More stuff.

                  Me: Well. (slight pause) Did you scroll through?  Did you see the photos? I've got a blog, too. Actually, I've got two blogs.

                  Her: I don't have time to read all that! I mean, I have time. I guess. I dunno... (her voice drifts off)

                  Me: You are such a ding-dong!

                  Her: I know, right? (we both laugh) I dunno. The website is cool but I want more you. You know? Everything is there and it's cool but. There's not enough you.  And not enough stuff.

                  Me: (hissing) What stuff?

                  Her: You know. Stuff! I wanna see everything.

                  Me: (to myself, trailing off) I don't know what that means.

                  End scene.

                  Later, I remembered a friend saying something about how I shouldn't make it difficult for anyone to find me online.  And I was like, duh. But it's different for me because I wear a lot of hats and those hats have hats.  So I've created a specific place for a specific hat -- a Tumblr site for the music that I do. Actually, it's primarily for the next album, which should be out by next month.  I want anyone -- even my little teatime friend -- to be able to go to that site and have the sensory overload for my new album that their post-modern 21st century sensibilities have grown to expect.

                  I get it. Social media is a hydra and everybody's different. Everybody has their favorite platform, their favorite way to dissect information online. Some people are fine with a great website that has all the information in one place. Some people want a blog so they can read all about it. Some people just want to know where the next gig is happening. Some people don't like musicals or cabaret acts or performance art or hot jazz or swing music or whatever else I'm up to. They want rock and roll, straight up -- and that's all they want.

                  It's ok. I love you all.

                  http://thisisqueenesther.tumblr.com

                  Next up? A 3 minute video/doc/EPK.

                  Wednesday, December 04, 2013

                  The Next Gig: Queen Esther sings Billie Holiday at HAF Sessions, 12/12

                  FYI: I'll be doing a short 30 minute set of Billie Holiday's rare sides for this event, and I'll be accompanied by guitarist Marvin Sewell in one of Harlem's newest hotspots.  (For tickets, click here.)



                  “The HAF Sessions are an incredibly important part of honoring our commitment to both the artists we work with and the community we serve. Our goal is to establish a continuous presence in curating contemporary work.” JJ El-Far -- Harlem Arts Festival Creative Director, Co-Founder

                  Tuesday, December 03, 2013

                  Why is everyone (talking about) leaving New York City?



                  (This sounds an awful lot like Lou Reed, doesn't it.)

                  The other day, someone said offhandedly that New York City was like a 50 year old woman who hasn't realized she isn't 20 anymore. That cut me to the quick -- in part because it meant that I was culpable in some small way by having taken up with such a delusional middle aged broad. I want to believe that there are probably a dizzying array of things that I haven't realized either but the unfortunate truth is, I do realize those things and I'm here, anyway.  I'm not sure what here is -- a modern day purgatory, a self-imposed exile, a bad habit that's eaten up the best years of my life. Or maybe it's just flat-out stupidity.  It's probably all of those things and more.

                  Every other day, some artist I know goes off on some rant about the death of this city that sparks something in me.  How they have to work a full time job or work freelance, and there's no time or energy left to create anything because the best of you just got squeezed out to pay rent and student loans. How working freelance means that you're at the mercy of a backwards situation -- that is, you're taking the work no one else wants or is able to do. You are grossly underpaid because there's always a recent college graduate who would be happy to do it for less than nothing or better yet, for nothing at all, just so they can get enough experience to climb over you and get ahead, where ever that is. How the best of what you've got has gone into everyone else's creative situation and years into this bone-crushing, soul destroying grist mill of a town, you've got nothing to show for it.

                  Librettists. Dancers. Musicians. Filmmakers. Graphic artists.  Clothing designers. Stylists. Visual artists of every ilk imaginable. It's like an epidemic of some sort, when everyone gets the flu one by one. You're on the train, someone coughs and the next thing you know, you're in bed for two days. We're all feeling it. We're all experiencing it. We're all aware of it. And no one is doing anything about it. Everytime I turn around, I'm running into someone that let's it blurt.  They're moving to Austin, Texas or they're running off to Berlin or God knows where. And God knows there's always graduate school.  Or a national tour. But those things only prolong the agony.  Eventually, you return and you catch this sickness, just like everyone else.

                  I ran into a friend on the street -- well-educated, somewhat well-known and struggling like the rest of us -- who went off on a tangent out of nowhere about how impossible it is to find space in the city to sculpt large scale work.  What's obvious by now is that this city is a place for those who are already on top, not the rest of us who have yet to establish ourselves.  Ah, but it wasn't always so.  There used to be room at the table for all of us. Now we sit here, with our bowls extended and our wide open hungry eyes peering into that dark urban abyss, wanting more and not getting it. It's only a matter of time until we go away. Right?

                  There are others who seem to recognize this -- everyone from twentysomethings who've figured it out already (dig this line from that article: "Why would I want to make it there when I can make it everywhere else?") to David Byrne and Patti Smith and a lot of other people, too.  Everyone isn't just talking about leaving New York City. They're actually leaving. Early and mid-level artists are experiencing a collective grand mal seizure of epic proportions.  All these part time jobs just aren't adding up like they used to do.

                  This quote from an article in Crains that was published in 2010 pretty much sums it up: Industry experts worry that New York will become a place where art is presented but not made, turning the city into an institutionalized sort of Disney Land. One arts executive says it could become “a Washington, D.C.,” a sterile, planned city with a number of cultural institutions but few artists—certainly not a place known as a birthplace for new cultural ideas and trends.

                  David Byrne is right.  Take a long walk through any Manhattan neighborhood and you'll see we're well on our way to urban sterilization. The rest of us will eventually see ourselves out.

                  Monday, December 02, 2013

                  End of the Year Blowout!


                  I'm going to do NaBloPoMo because I need to get unstuck with my writing. Whatever prompts me into these spontaneous fits with these little scribbly moments will give me the impetus I need to dig in with everything else.

                  Someone on Fitbit's blog threw down a gauntlet and challenged everyone to walk/run 600,000 steps by December 31st. They made that challenge three weeks ago but of course I didn't see it until last night. At this juncture, that would mean I'd have to run something like ten miles a day. Right away, I figured why not. If I aim for ten, I'll probably do five, which is what I'm supposed to have under my belt every day, anyhow.  So I'll be getting unstuck physically, too.

                  The real reason I'm jumping on the fitness fast track is because I'm singing at The Kennedy Center's Millenium Stage next month with my jazz collective The Hot Five.  When they told me that they're doing a simulcast that will be archived -- well, that just about cut it.  I'll be hornswaggled if I won't look amazing on camera for posterity.  A snapshot on an off day is one thing. Forever and ever for the whole world to see is something else.

                  The quintet and I will be at The Player's Club for New Year's Eve Eve and I return with a duo for New Year's Eve, so there's that.  What's really driving things forward at the moment is the timeline I sketched out with my director Talvin Wilks for The Billie Holiday Project, the musical I'm developing.  We had a meeting last week that truly lit a proverbial bonfire under my butt. 

                  I'm starting every day this month with a drop off to Bottomless Closet or the Salvation Army for that handy dandy tax write off, and I'm decluttering absolutely everything.  Stuff is getting thrown out, shredded, donated or sold, in short order. By New Year's Eve, everything must be in order -- cleaned, scrubbed, scoured and organized -- because as the saying goes, how you end the year is how you'll live out the next one.

                  Onward and upward, kids. 

                  Sunday, December 01, 2013

                  Sunday Sermonette



                  And now, a word from Lady Tramaine Hawkins -- the first vocalist I ever made a deliberate effort to imitate, ever.  She's a real powerhouse.

                  While she was in high school, she was a member of The Heavenly Tones which eventually became  Little Sister, the four member group that sang backups for Sly and The Family Stone -- on recordings and in concert.  Lady Tramaine eventually married Walter Hawkins and was lead vocalist with his Love Center Choir for years. That album Love Alive! is a basic and simply shimmers with empassioned brilliance. It's the perfect synthesis of soul, funk and traditional gospel. 

                  How interesting that Lady Tramaine, the Hawkins brothers and Sylvester Stewart were walking down the same (gospel) path, more or less...

                  Saturday, November 30, 2013

                  That Latest Obsession -- Historical Boyfriends!

                  Whilst perusing the internets for visual inspiration, I tripped up over My Daguerrotype Boyfriend -- an absolute motherlode of historical hotties from (mostly) the 19th century, when photography was brand spanking new and portraiture was all the rage. 

                  Having a boyfriend from history isn't anything new for me. I'm always flipping through a history book and crushing on someone -- and with websites like Historically Handsome Men, Fuck Yeah Historical Hotties, Bangable Dudes in History (a personal fave for the pie charts alone) and more, there's plenty to support my strange habit. My eye usually latches onto stuff like this because I genuinely love history.  After awhile, I started to wonder what the people I would read of actually looked like.  And then I started to wonder about everyone else. I began to dig through old photos, researching, looking for a glimpse of a real face.  And all at once, I would find them. Most of the time, they seemed just as startled to see me.

                  Case in point?  The German Federal Crime Police Office took four contemporary paintings to create this photograph of Mozart, circa 1777.

                  It doesn't matter if I'm mending a day dress, rereading a biography or singing at a 1920s tea social. Peering into the past illuminates the present.  A lot of what seems convoluted nowadays -- especially in politics -- is much more easily understood in historical context. 

                  And besides, all of this is great fodder for spinning yarns into songs that make you want to sing along with them. If I'm nothing else, I'm a storyteller.  And all of this feeling and inspiration has to go somewhere.

                  Peter "Black Prince" Jackson, c. 1900. From Jamaica by way of the Virgin Islands. Not surprisingly, he was also known as Peter the Great. His claim to fame? He won the Australian heavyweight title in 1886 with a knock out -- after 30 rounds. (ka-BOOM.) I can feel fearlessness emanating from him in waves, from all the way over here. According to the website: This boxer boyfriend found his calling after putting down a ship’s mutiny using his powerful fists. (He pulled that off as a teenager, folks.) A fine specimen of physical development indeed.

                  His tombstone says, This was a man.  Now that's an epitaph.


                  Believe it or not, this is President Rutherford B. Hayes when he was in his twenties. I always wondered what was under all that beard.  In later years, he looked like he smelled of foot odor, mulch and a great deal of regret. (Don't believe me? Click here.)  Who knew he was this gorgeous? 

                  Unknown Japanese man from the 19th century. Stunning, isn't he. His hair softens that hard steady look but I'm fairly convinced that he's looking right at me.  How old is he?  How long is his hair?  Is that the handle of a knife at his waist? *sigh* I have way too many questions...

                  I know this sounds hokey, but I can't believe how real he looks. 

                   Sioux Indian smoking a cigarette, 1908 -- looking absolutely drop-dead resplendent.  I love everything about this picture.  And him. Simply put, he's beautiful. So confident and self-assured and so styled out, it hurts a little. I don't know what I love more: the whiteness of his shirt, those (beaded?) cuffs or the look on his face.

                  Tintype of an unknown young man, 1850. His gloved hands, those clothes, the glowy halo around him. So lovely. His dress is straight out of antiquity but that face is here and now. Seriously, this brother looks way too familiar. As God is my witness, I could have sworn I saw him last week on 135th and St. Nick.  I remember him because he smiled at me as I passed him by...

                  Friday, November 29, 2013

                  Post Food Fest

                  This Thanksgiving, I didn't eat myself into a coma.  Please congratulate me.

                  What's more, I actually enjoyed the dressing.  I managed to relax. I made a delicious dessert. I enjoyed the day -- and the company. Somewhere in my recent past, I realized that I don't love roast turkey as much as everyone else does,  so oversleeping and inhaling leftovers in my underwear doesn't happen anymore.  After wandering through The Met to see the latest exhibits and having jasmine tea in the Balcony Lounge, MPB and I ambled home to nosh on world class Mexican food (alhambres!) for dinner and watch a movie on Netflix.

                  *GASP* Could it be that my "relationship" with food has finally taken a back seat to the rest of my life?  Let's see what develops...

                  Wednesday, November 27, 2013

                  Oh, Kanye -- Part 1: That Confederate Flag

                   
                  In an interview with AMP Radio, Kanye West said, "The Confederate flag represented slavery in a way. That's my abstract take on what I know about it, right? So I wrote the song, 'New Slaves.' So I took the Confederate flag and made it my flag. It's my flag now. Now what you gonna do?"

                  Later in the same interview, he said, "It's colorless also. It's super-'hood and super-white-boy-approved at the same time."

                  When I heard about Kanye West's latest controversial explosion -- incorporating the Confederate flag into his tour merch designs as well as his personal life (wearing it as a patch on a green bomber jacket on a recent visit to Barney's) -- I thought it was a gag someone made up at The Onion.  Things are going so well with this latest flap that he's opened a pop-up store in Soho that sells these Confederate items.  While the irony of rednecks the world over lining Kanye's pockets by showing up at his concert and purchasing a t-shirt that bears the symbol of his ancestor's pain and oppression isn't entirely lost on me, there is much, much more to all of this that completely and utterly misses the mark. 

                  Of course, we expect these "outrageous" antics from Mr. West, and while many (but certainly not all) are standing in what appears to be a long, long line to congratulate him on his latest bit of controversy, let's be clear on one thing: Kanye West is hardly the first black rapper to embrace the Confederate flag.  Lil' Jon did this more than ten years ago -- and on the cover of his third album with The East Side Boyz, no less.


                  The picture is one of complete defiance. Look at that stance. There's nothing agreeable or subservient or compliant there. He is flanked by The East Side Boyz, their expressionless faces and white t-shirts further exaggerating Lil Jon's approach as well as the entire scenario.  As the flag drapes his shoulders like a cape, Lil Jon is almost daring the viewer to take that flag away from him.  Both of the flags in the background are on fire -- as if to counter the crosses that the KKK would burn "religiously" to intimidate black folk and other undesirables, he now burns their flag to intimidate them -- and he is on fire, too.  He is burning it down, as it were -- symbolically burning down the old South and what those traditions represent while holding onto what it means to him. Very nearly lit from within with a kind of makeshift rage that some would want to call urban propaganda, and with that gleaming trademark dental work run amok, he is the living embodiment of what some consider to be The New South. 

                  Kanye West, on the other hand, is from the Midwest (yes, he was born in Atlanta, GA but he left as a toddler, was raised in Chicago and is about to relocate to a Bel Air mansion). The flag may symbolize many things for him as an American and as an African-American but because it's not a part of his culture, he is far removed from it in a way that Lil Jon and The East Side Boyz are not. 

                  He is also extremely well off, quite famous and insulated from much of the reality of (Southern) black life, so its altogether likely that there's a quite a lot that he's probably not aware of. It should also be noted that Lil Jon and The East Side Boyz -- along with several other black Southern rappers like Outkast, Ludacris and David Banner -- have used the Confederate flag in the recent past. Kanye, on the other hand, is flat-out selling it.
                  What did Lil' Jon say when the press questioned him about draping himself with what many consider to be a symbol of racism and hate? "I'm from the South. That's what it represents to me.  We're Southern-born and raised. The flag is part of us. We look at it as just being proud to say we're from the South." 


                  In a review of the CD, Lil Jon elaborated thusly: "As a Southern group, we chose to bring the issue to the forefront in our album packaging. We're basically mocking racists on one hand by wearing The Confederate Flag, but at the same time we're repping the South. Do you know how infuriating it will be for a redneck to see me, a black deadlocked rapper, wearing The Confederate Flag around my shoulders? It's almost as bad as me dating his daughter. The Confederate Flag ain't going nowhere. It's part of Southern life and a reality of where we're from. Getting rid of the flag will not get rid of racism. Our album cover was our way of burning The Confederate Flag and all the racist mentality that comes with it; but we're also wearing it to show our love for The South." 

                  Lil Jon went on to say this: "The flag is a symbol and people attach their own meaning to it. To me The Confederate Flag is just that, a flag. We grew up seeing that flag everywhere. It's more offensive to the older Southern black folks who understand first-hand what the flag symbolizes, but I don't think younger folks view the flag in the same way."

                  Furthermore, Lil' Bo, one of the East Side Boyz, said: "Being born in the South, the flag has a different meaning for me than it would to people who aren't Southern. On one hand, I know a lot of lives were lost on both sides over it, but on the other it's a symbol of racial hatred that Black people in the South want to forget. It depends on which side of the line you're on."

                  Even if Lil Jon and The East Side Boyz did this as some sort of marketing ploy that would differentiate them from the rest of the Southern hip-hop herd and sell more albums, it makes the powerful statement that Kanye's flag-waving cannot because it's coming from young Southern black men.  For Lil Jon, waving this flag carries the weight and meaning and rebel intensity for which it was initially intended -- and in doing so, it is innately subversive.

                  In the next installment of Oh, Kanye -- Part 2: That Confederate Flag, we'll do the unthinkable and look at the flag in context.

                  Sunday, November 24, 2013

                  Sunday Sermonette



                  Here's Andre Crouch -- one of the founding fathers of 70s soul-infused gospel -- singing He's Brought Me This Far.  Listen in and be blessed.

                  Sunday, November 17, 2013

                  Sunday Sermonette



                  ...and now, a word from Walter Hawkins' Love Center Choir as they perform the classic Follow Me from their mega-award winning album Love Alive!  So soulful, so funky -- and yes, it's pure gospel. I listened to everything as a small tyke but songs like this are what I sang in the junior choir, this is what came out of me on a daily basis.

                  Listen in and be blessed!

                  Friday, November 15, 2013

                  Foodie/Eat Clean/Eat Local/Farm Share Alert!



                  Newsflash: If you're in Harlem or Washington Heights, Corbin Hill Food Project's Winter Farm Share 2013 - 2014 is now available! That's right: affordable, farm-fresh, locally grown produce -- and lots of other things like eggs, butter, honey and yes, lamb -- for us uptown dwellers.  For more details, please click here.

                  Thursday, November 14, 2013

                  The African-Americans: Many Rivers To Cross



                  If you've missed any of the brilliant six part PBS documentary series The African-Americans: Many Rivers To Cross, it isn't over yet. The next segment airs on Tuesday, 8pm - 9pm.

                  This particular segment is my favorite, so far. In it, we take a trip to The Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, located on the campus of Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan. To their credit, this museum isn't open to the public.  According to their website, "Visitation is offered only as part of a university-approved academic course, workshop or seminar." 

                  This is a jigsaw puzzle from 1874, made by the McLouglin Company called Chopped Up Niggers.  I don't know what's more offensive -- the caricatures (who looks like that?!?) or the threat of violence that the title implies.

                  It's quite breathtaking, how just how far white people went with this imagery and how hard, how tirelessly they worked to distort who we are so they could justify their hatred and ignorance. What am I saying. They're still doing it.

                  In the meantime, D.E.B. DuBois was presenting hundreds of beautiful portraits of dignified, educated, purposeful black people from the state of Georgia to Europeans during the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1900.  


                  Nevermind the thousands of black performers that travelled internationally since the 1860s, giving the world a glimpse of our true collective blackness. We'll talk about that some other time.

                  Please check your local listings. This series is essential viewing. (And no, you can't see it outside of US territories.)


                  Wednesday, November 13, 2013

                  That New York City Hustle!

                  This is what it feels like to live and work in New York City as an artist when you aren't a millionaire or a trustafarian or a rock star or otherwise bankrolled comfortably -- from my perspective, anyway.  Nothing ever slows to a complete halt. Everything is on and coming at you and coming on strong and the hustle never, ever stops -- and that's just what it takes to pay the rent. Nevermind what it takes to make art -- that is, if you're the kind of artist that makes art.

                  (Actually, a hamster on one of those spinning habitrail wheels would have been much more apropo but I couldn't find that gif.)

                  Let's face it: when rich and famous rock and roll icons like david byrne are threatening to leave the city and a well-established writer like andrew sullivan can't last a year, you'd think someone would sit up and pay attention.  But no.  Something else will have to flip everything upside down. Like everyone leaving, en masse.

                  What's different nowadays is that I hit the ground running for my projects. If I were sitting by the phone and waiting for it to ring so I'd have work, I'd be running a lot harder than that.  I've been running for so long, it's almost impossible to keep still.

                  Nimble, aren't I? 

                  Monday, November 11, 2013

                  Happy Veteran's Day - A Reality Check


                  If Americans were exposed to the real cost of the Iraq invasion in human lives -- the civilians (difficult to calculate) as well as the soldiers (remarkably accurate) -- the public outcry would have ended the war years ago.  Instead, the media gives us highly sanitized, government approved, jingoistic images that have lulled us over the years into condoning what former President George Bush described as early as 2008 as "the biggest regret of all the presidency". Interestingly, in a 2010 memoir, he felt no need to apologize, although he couldn't rid himself of a sickening feeling in his gut whenever he thought about it.

                  No one seems to be paying attention to the fact that the war cost $2 trillion dollars -- and that figure could easily triple in the oncoming years.

                  As of 2009, the Pentagon will allow photos of military casualties with permission from their respective families. That doesn't make sense to me. Once someone joins the military, they quite literally belong to the government -- even when they are deceased, at the point of return. That point of return translates to thousands of caskets, draped with the American flag, coming off of those planes. War photography brought the reality of the Civil War into the conscience of the nation at a time when the medium was new and certainly untried in battle.  World War II was splayed out starkly, in black and white, while Vietnam was in technicolor, full on. We saw everything: civilians, officials, dead bodies riddled with bullets, battle-scarred children and babies, government tribunals, you name it. Where are our generations visuals for the wars we have fought -- for Afghanistan, for Iraq?

                  I'm convinced that photography could change the outcome of any war, if the powers that be were to sanction it.

                  As our former president searches for a way to defend the indefensible and everyone else gathers their apologies, their explanations or their standard issue mea culpa for the sake of posterity, there are some important lessons in all of this that shouldn't be missed.  Lessons like question authority, don't stop thinking critically and don't assume that the experts aren't infallible.  Those are lessons for all of us.

                  There are some who believe that former President Bush and several key members of his administration should be tried for war crimes against humanity -- 269 war crimes, to be exact. There are some who have already convicted him of those crimes -- and Tony Blair, too.  The whole world is watching, even if we aren't paying attention. That alone should go a long way towards explaining why so many nations refuse to hold America in such high regard.  They're getting the full story. We're getting FOX News.

                  In the meantime, it's our soldiers -- and their families -- who pay the ultimate price.



                  Sunday, November 10, 2013

                  Sunday Sermonette

                   ...and now, let us take a moment to sing -- and in some cases, learn -- The Black National Anthem (sometimes referred to as The Negro National Hymn), brought to you by Ray Charles. Enjoy and be blessed!


                  Saturday, November 09, 2013

                  A new Jimi Hendrix documentary on PBS



                  I missed the new American Masters Jimi Hendrix documentary Hear My Train A Comin' on PBS the other night but thankfully, all is not lost.  It's available online until November, 2017.

                  The very short clip above explores the origins of the Electric Lady recording studio.  Its interesting to note that even though he was in the eye of a pretty tumultuous storm of rock and roll excess, Jimi Hendrix realized that he needed a place to record his music -- and before he left this world, he made sure that he created it.

                  Friday, November 08, 2013

                  Food = Medicine


                  I call myself a meat-eating vegetarian because once upon a time, I used to eat the world and truth be told, that was a fun way to live. Nowadays, I realize that my stomach has quite literally turned on me. If I want to stay lean and strong and have a lot of physical energy, and if I want to sing like a bird, I simply can't eat whatever I want, whenever I want.  I came to a fork in the road: either I could eat healthfully and mindfully or I could let myself go and eat with abandon. I've chosen the former but I'm certainly not immune to the latter, especially if I'm traipsing through the Southland.

                  I had to rethink my relationship with food -- and because of this country's propensity towards genetically engineered foods and the industry's refusal to label them, I've had to relearn the basics. I've made a lot of mistakes along the way. I've definitely had plenty of teachable moments that had me slowing down and listening to my body and readjusting when things didn't work. Learning to eat clean is a process. It took a few times to grow good habits and make them stick, and thankfully, they are sticking. The easiest things to let go of are corn, soy, breads, white rice and junk food. The hardest things to give up are salt and sugar -- because basically, they're in everything.

                  I'm starting to do bits of research here and there on the free radical theory of aging -- that is, we age because free radicals damage cells over time.  Free radicals are everywhere and they damage everything. Your body produces free radicals when it breaks down food, for example.  As the theory goes, antioxidants can combat and defeat free radicals. Where do you get those? In the food you eat! There are some foods that have more antioxidants than others. They are called superfoods. Eating clean forces me to eat nothing but superfoods -- which contain everything you need for optimum health and weight loss.

                  Like I said, this is an ongoing process for me. I never went whole hog with fast food so it hasn't been that much of a struggle -- it's not like I had to lose 100 lbs -- but still, it's taken a great deal of effort for me to stop eating anything that's processed.  There are moments when I fall off but for the most part, I've created good habits for myself and radically changed my relationship to food and how I eat.

                  Onward and upward, folks.

                  Tuesday, November 05, 2013

                  Today's the day, folks.


                  I don't care who you vote for -- vote.  After all, it's your civic responsibility. You certainly don't have any reason to complain if you don't.

                  For a comprehensive voter's guide, click here.


                  Monday, November 04, 2013

                  Love the skin you're in -- or else!

                  Once upon a time, I was invisible -- more or less. I glided through the world, unnoticed. No jaws were dropped when I walked into a room, no readjustments were made. Black girls who were extremely light or dark were considered especially exotic and desirable, for whatever reason. I existed in that dead zone of brownness that rendered me generic at first glance. I flew below the radar -- and because I didn't know any other way to be, I enjoyed it quite a lot. This went on forever, really. This went on for my whole life.

                  I instinctively knew that good health was paramount to a great quality of life. What good would it do for me to conquer the world if I didn't have the energy to enjoy it? One memory that stands out from my high school years (and yes, that will probably stay with me forever) is a of a painfully on trend black girl with unspeakably horrible skin who, in a moment of clarity on a schoolbus, stopped hating me long enough to concede that my skin was so beautiful, it quite literally took her breath away. That totally freaked me out -- probably because I knew it was true.

                  I didn't take up smoking or drinking in high school or college, and I didn't do drugs. Those were expensive habits and I never had money. Maybe things would have been different if I could have attracted a guy to pay for all of that stuff but nope, I couldn't do that, either. I did what I had to do to stay lean and strong -- mostly running and weight-lifting -- and thanks to the heart attack Daddy had when I was 9 years old, I wasn't in the habit of eating garbage -- or junk food, which was considered expensive and a waste of money.

                  I didn't realize it at the time but by putting those good habits in place on automatic, I was setting myself up for success. After a certain point, they become so much a part of my everyday life, it felt wrong when I didn't do them.

                  Hear this, loud and clear: There was never, ever, ever a moment -- as a little kid or as an adult -- when I did not moisturize my skin on a daily basis. I used everything from Palmer's Cocoa Butter to Vaseline Intensive Care but God knows, I used something. Presenting oneself to the world with ashy skin was akin to sloth of the highest order. It simply wasn't an option. Period. When I got to college, I kept moisturizing, I wore sunscreen every day, I got facials every month and I slept in a sports bra to keep my breasts stationary. (More on that some other time.)

                  Relocating to New York City didn't change anything. I found a decent gym, a facialist, an eyebrowist and I got to work. Did I have money? Of course not. I was still broke as hell, living hand to mouth in an SRO on the Upper West Side and barely getting by. But I was lean and strong and healthy, and my skin looked amazing. I realized that God gave me everything I needed to maintain myself, physically. All I really lacked was discipline.  That was the real struggle.

                  And now?  My routine hasn't changed. I still take care of my skin religiously. I still hit the gym, hard. My body has changed, so I'm better off if I eat clean. The really weird thing is, all of a sudden, everyone can see me -- which kind of makes me wonder if I was ever invisible in the first place.

                  Whatever it takes. I'm not giving up. I'm not going to let it drop. I'm going to fight for my good health all the way down the line.

                  For me, that starts with my skin.


                  Sunday, November 03, 2013

                  Sunday Sermonette

                  This is one of my favorite songs ever, as led by the legendary Rev. Clay Evans -- evangelist, civil rights leader and founder of Chicago's Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church, otherwise known as The Ship to its many parishoners. 

                  Rev. Evans story is a fascinating one.  It was when he was hard at work in a music club in Chicago as a porter that he realized that he could sing. Instead of joining a band, he became a pastor and sang gospel music. (Ah, the road not taken.) With weekly sermons via radio and television that reached millions, he rose to prominence in the pulpit, politics and gospel music, having co-founded Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity) with Rev. Jesse Jackson, serving as pastor of The Ship for 42 years and releasing more than 3 dozen albums with his gospel choir -- many of them, award-winning classics.

                  Listen in and be blessed.