Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sunday Sermonette: Sam Cooke and The Soul Stirrers -- "Be With Me Jesus"

When I hold still and remember my earliest recollections of music, it sounded a lot like this -- a sacred chant in a sanctified place, with so many voices crying out to God.

Listen and be blessed.


Oh Lord, the time is growing nigh
When I must breathe my last breath inside
Lord, in my dying hour, stay with me, Lord

Oh Lord, my friends have gathered 'round
They're watching me slowly, slowly sinking down
Lord, in my dying hour, stay with me, Lord

Now Lord, now Lord, now Jesus time have come
When I'm a leave my earthly home
Friends standing around, tear in the eyes
They know that I am about to die
But I'm not worried, I'm not afraid
I know you do, Jesus, just what You say
You be with me Lord, day and night
I'm not afraid, I said I'm dying, don't leave me now

Oh Lord, I know you'll stand by me
When I'm in trouble, when I'm in misery
And Lord, in my dying hour, stay with me, Lord

Oh Lord, I know You'll stand by Your word
Whenever I call You, I know You have already heard
Lord, in my dying hour, stay with me, Lord

Now Lord, I said farewell, fare thee well
Fare thee well to my friends down here
I got loved ones waiting for me up there
Oh Lord, others are waiting for me
What a reunion, I know that will be
Lord, in my dying hour, stay with me, Lord

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Pithy Thought of the Day About Women and Girls

“More girls were killed in the last 50 years, precisely because they were girls, than men killed in all the wars in the 20th century. More girls are killed in this routine gendercide in any one decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the 20th century.

The equivalent of five jumbo jets worth of women die in labor each day... life time risk of maternal death is 1,000 times higher in a poor country than in the West. That should be an international scandal.” 


- Nicholas D. Kristof, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Spring Bucket List 2014 -- The Harlem Edition

I like bucket lists but I don't see any that accommodate me: a dazzling urbanite that's highly creative and still curious enough hope for the kind of fun that I can only have in New York City -- and yes, preferably Harlem.  Even though this place feels like an elegant gentrified corpse most of the time, there is a heart that still beats somewhere in these mean streets.  In a way it doesn't matter because I know how to make my own fun.  On the other hand, it matters a lot because this is New York City -- the one place in the world where I shouldn't have to work this hard to find things that are unique to this city.

Here's what I'll be up to this spring.
  1. The Clean Program -- because nothing recalibrates me from the inside out like this does.
  2. Africa Now! Festival, April 2 - 6
  3. The FREE 30-Day Yoga Challenge
  4. Keith Faison Presents An Easter Show, April 19th at The Apollo Theater
  5. The Annual Easter Parade of Hats, April 20
  6. La Casa Day Spa Detoxification Package
  7. Harlem Jazz Shrines, May 4 - 10
  8. Radiant Light: Stained Glass from Canterbury Cathedral at The Cloisters, February 25 - May 18
  9. Gauguin: Metamorphoses, March 8 - June 8
  10. Carrie Mae Weems: The Museum Series, January 30 - June 29

Monday, March 24, 2014

Drinking Junk Food: No More Soft Drinks!

I gave up soft drinks for Lent, which wasn't difficult. Those extra cans of Coke (from the Chinese delivery guy! Yay!) are stocked up in the back of the fridge, waiting for visitors to drink them.  I'd pretty much signed off on sodas awhile ago, once I started eating clean and reading labels habitually. I stopped drinking Kool-Aid and flavored drinks when I was a kid. Thankfully, diet sodas never did it for me. There's no real sweet tea up here, either. Thank God. I love sweet tea.

It's bigger than any of that, though. I don't live in a part of the country where it's understood that I will get free refills of the soda of my choosing in my gigantic quart container of a Big Gulp from places like 7-11 -- and keep it within easy reach, whether I'm at my desk or in my car. 

This sounds excessive but it's true: Americans drink roughly 50 gallons of soda per person per year.  That's a LOT of sugar -- and/or high fructose corn syrup, which is basically the devil. The soft drink industry knows that people are drinking less soda these days, which is probably why they're all manufacturing bottled water now.  Shockingly, it's just purified tap water. (Brita water bottle, anyone?)

Old habits die hard, though. I'd have a Coke if a bacon cheeseburger was an option. And although burgers haven't been on my menu for awhile, I wouldn't rule them out if I were flying the Japanese flag.

I don't know why I've become so curious about what happens to the body when certain things are consumed.  Maybe I'm turning into a kind of Howard Hughes, of sorts.  If my great-grandparents didn't eat it, neither do I.  The truth is, I've been a pretty good egg, so far -- I don't smoke (never did), I wear sunscreen (always have) and I exercise (I love boxing).  At this point, I  don't want to consume any toxins or carcinogens, if I can help it.  Not eating anything that contains cancer-causing chemicals, contaminants, GMOs or preservatives is a pretty good start -- but that's kind of huge because they're in everything.  If you eat bread from Subway, you're eating a yoga mat. And it's not just Subway, either. Check this list of over 500 products and 130 brands to see if you've been eating azodicarbonamide -- otherwise known as ADA -- the same chemical that makes flip flops. Needless to say, this chemical is banned in Europe and Australia.  No wonder the food tastes so good in other countries.

Do I love baked Chee-tos? Of course.  Do I want to try to drive a car with my feet? Absolutely. At the end of the day, it's just not a good idea. Old habits die hard but they are dying.  None of this is easy for me. Every bite of food is a struggle. 

I wasn't down with Bloomberg's ban on large sodas. The bottom line is, we all make our own choices -- and after a certain age, you work hard to get your great body and your good health, period. You probably shouldn't blame God for your lousy health and whatever diseases come with that when you've spent most of your entire adult life drinking, smoking, not exercising and/or eating garbage.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Sunday Sermonette: Sam Cooke and The Soul Stirrers -- "Wonderful"

If Sam Cooke is the epitome of what it means to be a soul singer, the group The Soul Stirrers embody all of what rock and roll contains. Within his sound, the secular and the profane walk side by side, with this explosive vocal delivery that is essentially the heart of who he is, crying out to God.  Are the vocals on this song really that far removed from You Send Me?

Formed in 1935, The Soul Stirrers were a quintet that insisted on having two frontmen -- one to sing high and sweet, the other to sing low, with grit -- and set the foundation for gospel, doo-wop, soul and R&B. You can hear where Smokey Robinson, Curtis Mayfield, Al Greene, Teddy Pendergrass and countless others got their sound.  The Soul Stirrers were inducted into The Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame in 1989, which gives me at least one good reason to believe that organization isn't completely full of crap for the great ones they consistently overlook.  Like blues guitar icon Hubert Sumlin.

Listen and be blessed.


Wonderful, God is so wonderful
he's wonderful, God he's wonderful

The Lord is my shepherd, he's my guide
Whenever I need, the Lord will provide
And praise my lords name
I know he's so wonderful

And O, he's wonderful and I better believe
The Lord is wonderful, oh yes he is
And O, he's wonderful, I know the Lord
he's so wonderful

And O, if you never tried God, try the Lord one day
And see when my father come down and make a way
And O, i can't help it but love God
he's so wonderful, wonderful etc.

He's been my mother and my father too
There's no limit to what my Lord can do

and O, I love God, he's so wonderful

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Spring = New Music!

Although it may take another month or so for spring to show up for some of us, it's more than a relief to have a little more sun and blue sky than usual. Everything is waking up -- finally! Time for spring cleaning, inside and out.

I'm especially relieved that my Black Americana album The Other Side will be in my hands and ready for pre-purchase by the end of the month, with an "official" release date of May 1st.  The Official Royal PR and Radio Blitzkrieg will begin in mid-April. In the meantime, if you'd like to hear a few more songs, please click here.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A picture is worth a thousand words

Here's a snapshot of JC Hopkins, set adrift somewhere in that no man's land that exists in between songs as he leads the Biggish Band -- along with myself and singer-songwriter Ben Fields -- at Iridium

I think that putting your time in with a big band is a required apprenticeship for the serious jazz singer because all of that soloing from all those horns changes your ear drastically -- and eventually, you're soloing, too. The best jazz singers have done this -- or they found a way to climb inside of a horn, or become one -- and eventually, they have a musicianship that's untouchable.

Then again, it was easier to sing with a big band back in the 1930s - 1940s because they were everywhere and there were so many of them.  They would do breakfast sets. Breakfast sets! That meant that when I got out of work at 8am as a domestic or whatever, I could meet up with my girlfriends, have eggs and toast and lindy to Cab Calloway. Unbelievable -- but since there was no Muzak and the culture demanded live music and couples dancing, it made perfect sense. When you're practically playing around the clock -- morning set, lunch gig, cocktail hour, a revue, after hours jam -- you're bound to get great.

I definitely miss singing with a horn section...

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Sunday Sermonette: Sam Cooke -- "Until Jesus Calls Me Home"

If this isn't the epitome of what it means to sing from your soul, then I don't know what is. Sam Cooke is so underrated as a vocalist. He is so much more than You Send Me... 


Why should I worry when trouble fall
When other people don't care at all
I'm gonna find consolation
In God's sweet eye of songs

Oh, when others worry, feeling low
I'm not gonna worry anymore
I'm gonna sing on, child of Jesus calls me home
I'm gonna sing till Jesus calls me home

Oh, I'm gonna sing till Jesus call me home
Oh, we have tried yes, may have worn
But will He come? Yes, He may come
I'm gonna sing till Jesus call me home
Call me home

Why should I worry 'bout somethings
When other people can laugh and sing
I'm gonna ask my loving Saviour
While I'm all alone

Well, for Jesus said if I live right
He'll surely help me when my fight
So I'll sing on child to Jesus call me home
I'm gonna sing, well, till my Jesus call me home

Oh, I'm gonna sing till my Jesus call me home
There'll be some friend, traveling towards His arm
I'm gonna tell Him, Heavenly Father
I'm gonna sing till Jesus call me home

Monday, March 10, 2014

Sly Stone and Richard Pryor on The Mike Douglas Show: Really, Really Real

I love this clip.

It's Sly Stone and Richard Pryor -- easily at the apex of their respective careers at this point --  overwhelming Mike Douglas on his show with pure star wattage and verve and yes, blackness. The premise is that Richard will accompany Sly on drums. (Huh?)  Ultimately, they completely upend the interview with stops and starts of what seems to be their own private conversation that started elsewhere and spilled onto this situation.  Surprisingly, it's not drug induced. What's apparent is that they have a great deal of love and respect for each other.  Even when they're figuring out what's going on with whatever they're going to do ("Richard, are you going to play drums?")  in front of an audience of millions with chunks of blank space idling between them, you can glimpse their genius.  And their friendship.

Who does this? When things go awry on a talk show nowadays, it's (somewhat) scripted.  This wasn't planned or improvised. They were just goofing off.

It's more than wonderful, to watch Sly change clothes onstage behind a folding screen with the help of a female assistant -- onstage! -- and hear not only the audience gasp audibly as he presents himself transformed, but Mike Douglas' reaction as he glances behind the screen. Like a superhero in full regalia, Sly is a shiny gleaming silver glitterbomb, ready for action.  Then and now (remember his blonde mohawk at the 2006 Grammys?) Sly understands performance, the importance of fantasy and the power of a strong visual.

Were performers more brilliant then -- or were they simply more commonplace because they were on television every day?

Someone should release all of the episodes for The Mike Douglas Show. Or maybe I should be grateful that I live in New York City and join The Museum of Radio and Television so I can watch them whenever I want. 

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Sunday Sermonette: The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir -- "Total Praise"

This Richard Smallwood classic isn't my favorite song but it's definitely in my top five. Although this is beautiful, the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir's a capella version is even more entrancing.

Listen and be blessed.


Lord, I will lift mine eyes to the hills
Knowing my help is coming from You
Your peace you give me in time of the storm

You are the source of my strength
You are the strength of my life
I lift my hands in total praise to you

Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Get your free Krispy Kreme doughnut on Sunday! (Yes, FREE!)

Just remember, a Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut is 217 calories -- and 117 of those calories are from fat.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

FLOTUS is right. Drink more water!

Over the past few weeks, I've made it a habit to drink a quart of water to wake myself up every day.  I can definitely feel a difference. (Then again, it could be this stuff.)  

The First Lady's initiative seems to be working and it's nice that everyone's making an effort to get hydrated. Still and all, did we push for water consumption before it was bottled and sold by all the major soft drink retailers? When I was a kid, wearing myself out playing with my siblings/cousins/neighbors kids and whatnot, the water from the hose in the backyard was good enough.  Or the kitchen sink.  Now everyone's got their favorite bottled brand or they've got a filtered pitcher in the fridge. When I was a kid, I thought water was free -- until my Daddy got the water bill, and then I knew that everything has a price.

Hardly any of us are getting all the water we need.  The $64,000 question is, how much water is that? 

The truth is, we're healthier without sodas and sugary drinks. Want to lose weight?  Drinking water every day instead of everything else you've been having -- Diet Coke, cocktails, lemonade, juices and the like -- will knock off several pounds a week.  It's nice to know that when it's time to reach for a bottle of water, we'll still be keeping those soft drink retailers in business. 

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Happy Fat Tuesday, y'all...

This was the coldest Mardi Gras since 1986 -- in the 40s! -- but I'm sure that didn't stop anyone's overeatin', Hurricane-swillin', bead-tossin', hard-partyin' fun in The Land Of Dreams.  Here's a brief glimpse of this year's ruckus.

Monday, March 03, 2014

NaBloPoMo -- March, 2014

This month's theme is SELF. Blogging means writing about yourself, usually -- right? I don't really know what that theme means.  Whatever. Writing is something that lets me wring my brain out when I wake up.  Suddenly, my thoughts are orderly and assembled just so.  The subject matter is irrelevant. Those morning pages are the perfect set up.

Still thinking about the hot toddy I had at Superfine on Sunday.  (Actually, I had three of them.) Happy days.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Sunday Sermonette - Rev. Shirley Caesar

...and now, a testimonial and an uplifting word in song from The Right Revrend Shirley Caesar, a gospel legend. I love it that this song is basically a waltz. Maybe that's why it sounds like it wants to be a country song. The trills from the piano only heighten the twangy effect.

Listen in and be blessed.

No Charge

My sister's little boy came in the kitchen one evening
while she was fixing supper
and he handed her a piece paper he had been writing on
and after wiping her hands on an apron
She took it in her hands and read it
and this is what it said:

For mowing the yard $5
And for making up my own bed this week $1
For going to the store $.50
And playing with little brother while you went shopping $.25
Taking out the trash $1
And for getting a good report card $5
And for raking the yard $2
Total owed $14.75

Well she looked at him standing there and expecting
And a thousand memories flashed through her mind
So she picked up pen and turned the paper over and this is what she wrote:

For the 9 months I carried you holding you inside me $ NO CHARGE
For the nights I sat up with doctored you and prayed for you $ NO CHARGE
For the time and tears and the costs through the years
There is NO CHARGE
When you add it all up the full cost of my love is $ NO CHARGE

For the nights filled with grey
And the worries ahead
For the advice and the knowledge
And the costs of your college
For the toys, school, and clothes
And for wiping your nose
There's NO CHARGE son
When you add it all the full cost of my love is NO CHARGE

Well you know when I think about that
I think about the day that Jesus went out to Calvary and gave his life as a ransom for me
When I think on the words "If Any Man be in Christ He's A New Creature"
I like to think about the very minute that he shedded his blood
My debt was paid in full
And I want you to know today
when you add it all up
The full cost of Real Love is NO CHARGE