Monday, November 09, 2015

This Week's Bio: Dusty - An Intimate Portrait of a Musical Legend

Too many people don't know that you can check books out of the New York Public Library electronically for up to 21 days and read them on a special app they provide -- or Kindle!

I've just begun this week's read -- Dusty, a biography on the British blue-eyed soul singer Dusty Springfield by Karen Bartlett.  Already, it's starting to freak me out -- probably because her self-loathing is so all-consuming, it's almost tangible.  She was this chubby redheaded sexually repressed/lesbian Irish Catholic girl named Mary who was obsessed with all things America especially Black music. She desperately wanted to be black so it shouldn't have been a surprise that one day she woke up and decided to be someone else.

Clearly, this will not end well.

I can remember hating myself a lot. That hate lived in me much longer than it should have.  Thank God I found my way to a great big wide world of inner peace and love or I would have hated myself too much to allow any real happiness or accomplish much of anything.

It's nice that the world got re-introduced to this song because of Pulp Fiction's soundtrack.

Billy Ray was a preacher's son
And when his daddy would visit he'd come along
When they gathered around and started talkin'
That's when Billy would take me walkin'
Out through the back yard we'd go walkin'
Then he'd look into my eyes
Lord knows, to my surprise

The only one who could ever reach me
Was the son of a preacher man
The only boy who could ever teach me
Was the son of a preacher man
Yes he was, he was, ooh, yes he was

Bein' good isn't always easy
No matter how hard I try
When he started sweet-talkin' to me
He'd come'n tell me "Everything is all right"
He'd kiss and tell me "Everything is all right"
Can I get away again tonight?

The only one who could ever reach me
Was the son of a preacher man
The only boy who could ever teach me
Was the son of a preacher man
Yes he was, he was, ooh, yes he was (yes he was)

How well I remember
The look that was in his eyes
Stealin' kisses from me on the sly
Takin' time to make time
Tellin' me that he's all mine
Learnin' from each other's knowin'
Lookin' to see how much we've grown and

The only one who could ever reach me
Was the son of a preacher man
The only boy who could ever teach me
Was the son of a preacher man
Yes he was, he was, oh yes he was
He was the sweet-talkin' son of a preacher man
(The only boy who could ever teach me)
Was the son of a preacher man
(The only one who could ever reach me)
Was the sweet-talkin' son of a preacher man

Thursday, November 05, 2015

White Fragility 101 -- The Basics

Whilst traipsing through Black Tumblr, I found a phrase that encompassed much of what I've been experiencing all too often lately: white fragility.  A conversation about race begins and everything is fine until I say something that makes the white person uncomfortable. (And believe me, it doesn't take much.) That's when they become defensive or go into attack mode or they shut down and walk off.

As a professor of critical multicultural and social justice education, Dr. Robin DiAngelo -- the one who coined the phrase a few years ago -- is doing God's work.  Her book What Does It Mean To Be White? is on my short list. In the meantime, here's an excerpt from her must-read article White Fragility: Why It's So Hard To Talk To White People About Racism.

And yeah, it's virtually impossible to talk to white people about racism -- which is why white people who are woke should do the heavy lifting on this issue. It's more likely that other white people will listen to them.

The following are examples of the kinds of challenges that trigger racial stress for white people:
  • Suggesting that a white person’s viewpoint comes from a racialized frame of reference (challenge to objectivity);
  • People of color talking directly about their own racial perspectives (challenge to white taboos on talking openly about race);
  • People of color choosing not to protect the racial feelings of white people in regards to race (challenge to white racial expectations and need/entitlement to racial comfort);
  • People of color not being willing to tell their stories or answer questions about their racial experiences (challenge to the expectation that people of color will serve us);
  • A fellow white not providing agreement with one’s racial perspective (challenge to white solidarity);
  • Receiving feedback that one’s behavior had a racist impact (challenge to white racial innocence);
  • Suggesting that group membership is significant (challenge to individualism);
  • An acknowledgment that access is unequal between racial groups (challenge to meritocracy);
  • Being presented with a person of color in a position of leadership (challenge to white authority);
  • Being presented with information about other racial groups through, for example, movies in which people of color drive the action but are not in stereotypical roles, or multicultural education (challenge to white centrality).
Not often encountering these challenges, we withdraw, defend, cry, argue, minimize, ignore, and in other ways push back to regain our racial position and equilibrium. I term that pushback white fragility.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

NEXT: Mouth Wide Open - Open Mic at Jimmy's No 43, 11/9!

I've been telling stories before I ever knew how storytelling was supposed to work.  Somewhere in there, a protagonist, an antagonist, a boy loses a girl and an apex comes and goes and comes again.  I fell in love with the idea of unraveling a story from the inside out, of seeing things from someone else's perspective, of getting lost in the possibilities. I couldn't help but wonder: what would happen if things went this way or she made this choice or those people didn't follow his rules.  I can let my imagination wander in any direction, in every direction, and I can shift things however I want.

It's high time I do something with all of the things I've written, so I'm applying for workshops, readings and grants for 2016.  When a friend invited me to participate in this reading at Jimmy's No 43 on November 9th, I figured, why not. Anything to get the ball rolling.

I know, I know -- they'll probably be expecting music, songs.  Either way, I'm a storyteller.  Writing is just another way to spin a yarn.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Random thoughts...

November 2015

There's no theme for this month's NaBloPoMo -- which means its probably going to be a long month. I'll be wrapping it up for the end of the year. It's a bad reflex but I can't help it. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I'm working hard already to figure out what happened over the past 12 months.  Did I make any progress or not? 

I'm off to assemble this month's mailing. Until I plaster it all over social media, here's a few random thoughts.

  1. Today is my great-grandmother's birthday. I am named after her.  She was a powerful influence on me.
  2. It's also my brother Damon's birthday.
  3. My brother Moniah's birthday is in 8 days. His birthday is etched in my heart because there was a massive countdown in our household to the moment when he was born. Usually when I took care of him, I was pretending that he was mine. Needless to say, I tried very hard to spoil him to death.

    I wouldn't hesitate to bash anyone's head in if they tried to hurt him, then or now. And he's a gigantic tree, at this point. He's ginormous. He's been to Iraq and back -- but that means nothing to the police. Real talk, folks. If some cop hurt him, I would find out where dude lived and I would torpedo his house. I am not lying.
  4. I love love love living out of a suitcase.  I love living in hotels.  I love being on tour. 
  5. I am 40% fluent in German, according to Duolingo. It was kind of a kick, to walk the streets in Berlin and understand any of what was being said around me. It's going to take some work to get conversational but for some strange reason, I"m committed.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Happy Halloween!

From filmmaker Spike Jonze, handbag designer Olympia Le-Tan and director Simon Cahn comes To Die By Your Side, a beautiful short stop-motion film that happens in the famous Parisian bookstore Shakespeare and Company.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Sunday Sermonette: Say Amen, Somebody!

Director and producer George T. Niernberg's now legendary 1980 gospel film Say Amen, Somebody! is an epic must see documentary, if only for the chance to experience the legendary Thomas Dorsey in action as a choir director and musician at 83 years young. Christian music is a huge tree with many branches. Mr. Dorsey's take on gospel music combined Christian praise with jazz. It is blues based, it is explosive and it is most definitely infectious.

Before he came along, what did we have?  English hymns? Gregorian chants? This sound changed everything. I can't imagine a world sonically without it. 

Watching this trailer brought back a flood of memories. This was an enormous part of my Southern experience -- to be immersed in this music, this sound, day after day, week after week, for the entirety of my childhood. 

If you can't see the documentary, get the soundtrack.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Your MUST READ Drag of the Day

This is drag -- and a thorough one at that! -- is brought to you by (who else?) a black woman on Black Tumblr that refused to let some (racist) white girl get it twisted.  Enjoy -- and perhaps learn a little something in the process.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Peony Queen

I am full of all kinds of beautiful songs that God sends to me in my dreams.  They flutter within me long enough for me to get them out of me and onto an album, so I can fling them out into the world by any means necessary. The better I get at playing instruments, the easier it is to get those songs out of me.  The thing is, they were there when all I had was my voice and a tape recorder. Thank God.

This is what it feels like when I sing -- ever blooming, ever exploding, in everlasting technicolor.

Flowers have their own language.  I instinctively embraced the peony awhile ago, as it turns out, with good reason

Monday, October 19, 2015

VERY Giant Steps by John Coltrane

Who hasn't seen this? It's John Coltrane's Giant Steps, animated and somewhat illuminated.  Because sometimes you have to see it to believe it.

I need a momentary distraction from a sea of paperwork -- rewrites, bits of song ideas and lyrics, applications for workshops and residencies, graduate school and my parlor guitar -- and this Star Wars trailer isn't enough to tip me over in another direction. 

One song escapes me, slowly.  I can't chase it down with food or a heady conversation or a butterfly net. A long walk shakes something else loose, some other idea. Another song to distract me, maybe.  I sing into a voice recorder on my phone and sing it to myself all the way home as it swings back and forth in my head. Eventually, I unravel it on my sofa. Sometimes, I write it all the way down. And somewhere in there, there are phone calls and errands and money to be chased down and tea and solace and sleep and sunshine and work to be had and worry and much prayer and fasting. Somewhere in there, there are rewrites and emails and all kinds of funk and deliberation.  But mostly, there are those songs that escape me slowly and more often than not, they drift off right as I'm going to sleep.  Whenever I feel a song coming on, I hold still in spite of whatever else I'm doing. And I realize whatever else I'm doing is making way for the song to (re)surface.  Kind of like the technique that makes way for "inspiration" as Stanislavski explains it.

Songwriting is always the momentary distraction.  Like a tightly wound bud that is sure to bloom into a gigantic peony, there is always a song somewhere in me, waiting to come out.  All I have to do is wait it out.  And in the immortal words of Tom Petty, the waiting is the hardest part.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Pretty China Makes Breakfast Delicious

If you eat on pretty dishes, the food tastes better. (Try it. It's true!)

Here's a snapshot of my gal pal @chickinslacks and I at breakfast in Passau, Germany last month. I zipped through Europe for a few dates with my Black Americana outfit, lingered with friends for a week or so in Berlin and Bremen and had what can only be described as an adventure of epic proportions.  More on that later.

Find more shots on my Instagram page.

Friday, October 02, 2015

October's NaBloPoMo -- DISH!

Again? apparently, I'll be posting lots of pictures of china -- complete tea services, mismatched flea market finds, pretty plates and the like -- for your viewing pleasure. 
Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Hey! I'm a singing chick! (Really!)

How cute is this?

Some months ago, I started doing voiceover work for the award-winning PBS tv show Peg + Cat. I LOVE voiceover work, especially animation. It's fun to pour everything into my voice.  When it's educational, it's especially gratifying to know that I'll be teaching children how to read thanks to Word World and yes, basic math skills thanks to Peg + Cat.  That kind of blows me away. My friends kids are watching, where ever they are all over the country -- and all over the world, really. My little nephews and cousins are watching. My 3 year old Goddaughters Evia and Avia are watching. Television is a powerful medium. I still love Schoolhouse Rock.

One particular episode is dedicated entirely to Billie Holiday, and is set in New Orleans for Mardi Gras. (As arranger/composer/musician for the series, Emmy award-winning wonder J. Walter Hawkes did brilliant work on this one.) I got to sing -- and talk! -- like Lady Day herself. I remember thinking, what a great way to introduce little tots (and adults) to an iconic jazz vocalist.  There were other moments that I forgot about, voiceover work in other Peg + Cat episodes that came and went that had me singing all kinds of things, and now they pop up inadvertently, like this little blip on Twitter the other day.

What's cracking me up is, I think this little chick looks just like me -- if only for the way it's standing at a tilt and putting the flower just so.

Here's the song.

Cute, right?

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Inquiring minds want to KNOW...!

The answer is yes. Apparently, it got hot and she passed out.  At least, that's what it looks like from here. Everybody can't take this heat.  Especially Snow White.

Now that summer is in full effect, everything feels like its coming together and falling apart at the same time.  All I can do is pray, work through rewrites, practice my guitar and stay out of the sun. At any given moment, I am glistening with the sweat that happens when you walk or ride your bike everywhere. (Not a good look.) A beauty day is a weekly requirement, an absolute must. My moments of relative calm happen in day spas -- the place where I do all this necessary stuff that used to be for everyone else, like getting manicures.  I feel some small slight shame in saying this but it's true: I leave my favorite hotspot and I think, If I can keep my hands and feet clean and pretty in this filthy little town, I can do anything

Here's my Random Top Five of Whatever that's getting me through this summer. (You're welcome.)
  1. Amp and Guitar Wellness Center 
    I seriously love this place.  The name sounds like a spa and it kind of is. They do way more than sell and fix guitars. The atmosphere is super relaxed -- probably the only guitar spot I've ever wandered into where I felt like I could hang out, ask stupid questions and chill out -- and they know way too much about sound equipment and all kinds of gear.  I can even put stuff on layaway...!  And strangely, it's kind of a bonus that they're not in Manhattan.  I left there with a new Art and Lutherie acoustic guitar, feeling like I had my guitar guy -- the one who would fix my junk and set aside a cool amp for me and all that stuff people do when they look out for you. And what could be more special than that?
  2. Ben and Jerry's New York Super Fudge Chunk Ice Cream
    Seriously, this is the best flavor on the planet: chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, chocolate covered almonds, pecans and walnuts in a surprisingly rich chocolatey ice cream. When I first came to the city, I couldn't open a pint without eating the whole thing, so I gave it up cold turkey when I started blowing out of my clothes sideways.  I've come crawling back as of this summer -- and now that portion control is my friend, I'll never leave again.
  3. Marc Cary's Harlem Sessions 
    Simply put, this is a beautiful hang that has turned into a happening.  Unlike other jam sessions, there's a list of songs to perform. Every week, Marc gives everyone the creative space and freedom to do whatever they want. 

  4.  Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Body Mist Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 45
    Newsflash: Sun exposure causes wrinkles. Yes, so does alcohol and smoking cigarettes/pot -- but the sun does more damage than any of them.  (For more on that from me, click here.) I figured this out as a teenager and have been double dunking myself in a gigantic vat of sunscreen religiously every day before I leave the house. Even in the dead of winter. Even when it rains.  I have no intentions of damaging this good brown skin. The scrapes I got from being a kid were enough.

  5. The Raines Law Room at The William Hotel
    This place is named after an 1896 law that was meant to keep New Yorkers from drinking.  (Fat chance.) It has all the things I love about speakeasies: a quiet, beautiful setting that's dark and rich; semi-private nooks; strong, well-crafted drinks; and -- last but not least -- food.  Not surprisingly, one of the bartenders is my friend and thankfully, he knows exactly what I like.
    This is a cocktail culture. Everyone should have a bartender.

Friday, August 07, 2015

Vintage Black Pin-Ups, Shake Dancers, Black Burlesque -- and more!

FYI: I've got a Pinterest page that delves into the secret history of black pin-ups and burlesque -- not to be confused with my other Pinterest page that flatly states My Black Is Beautiful.

Actually, I've got a lot of Pinterest pages...!

That is all!

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Two for Tuesday: Dionne Farris!

I can't be the only one that was left wondering as to what happened to Dionne Farris after she blew up in 1993 with Wild Seed, Wild Flower.  As it turns out, it was the usual major label hi-jinks.  She didn't release a follow-up until 2011.  Thanks to the worldwide exposure that her major label debut gave her, she'll have a fine career with her own label. So there's that.

Here's the first single from the album -- and a bonus live shot: a Dionne Warwick duet with guitarist Charlie Hunter.

I know what you're doing yeah yeah
I know why you dialed my number
I know what you're doing yeah yeah
I know why you care

I know what you're doing yeah yeah
I know why you say you love me
I know what you're doing yeah yeah
And I don't think it's fair

I know why you dialed my number
I know why you say you're mine
I know what you're doing,

And it's not, gonna work, this time (2)

I know what you're doing yeah yeah
I can never sing in that key
I know what you're doing yeah yeah
And you're the one to blame

I know what you're doing yeah yeah
I know why you can't forgive me
I know why you're singing lost love
The lyrics haven't changed

1-I can recognize the symptoms
You should know I've changed my mind
I know what you're doing
And it's not, gonna work this time
Hey hey hey, said it's not gonna work this time...

I know what you're doing, baby
I know why you call my name
I know why you say you love me
but I can't say the same
(repeat 1)

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Cultural Appropriation 101: Allure says you can have an Afro! (No, you can't.)

Make no mistake. With way more than 140 characters at the ready, it's no surprise that Black Tumblr will, on occasion, drag someone more thoroughly than Black Twitter. And Black Twitter, as Paula Deen knows very well by now, will go in on you.  Relentlessly.

With that in mind, it was no surprise that while traipsing through Black Tumblr,  a righteous black woman posted something she found that was especially obtuse. It was yet another example of cultural appropriation at its finest, masquerading as some form of ethnic fun, wherein some white girl with what can only be described as generic Midwestern good looks gets to use my blackness yet again to augment her bland, cultureless existence.  This time, it's my natural hair that's up for grabs. With a few products and very little effort, an Afro -- the symbol of the Black Power Movement, if you will -- is hers for the taking. Not surprisingly, this gem of an article comes to us from Allure, a magazine that has made a point of habitually not including black women in their beauty articles.

Is this how they make up for their lack of diversity? By blackening up white women with an African-American hairstyle that essentially epitomizes our struggle and oppression?

This is a transformation of Rachel Dolezal proportions.  And that's beyond epic.  She paved the way for black womanhood for all and Allure is handing out the road map.

I must admit: she looks a lot less ordinary and milquetoast with this "Afro", now doesn't she.  And isn't that the point? Take whatever we've got, even if its the kink on our heads, appropriate it to amuse yourself and discard it at your leisure when it's no longer fashionable or it no longer suits you.  And why not? Cultural appropriation is, after all, the American way.

What is cultural appropriation?  I'm glad you asked.

The phrase literally means one culture taking parts from another culture.  And yes, this happens all the time. It's damaging when a dominant culture (white people, for example) takes things from another culture that it has oppressed (or in the case of Native Americans, obliterated) without understanding them fully, in context if you will (white people at Coachella wearing gigantic Native American feather headdresses, for example) and using those things that they have taken in ways that they were not originally intended.

No, it's not cultural exchange. If it were, the sharing between cultures would be mutual. And again -- no, it's not cultural assimilation, where the oppressed culture (people of color) adopt aspects of the dominant culture (white people) to survive (discarding their language/culture/traditions in order to survive).

Consider this.

The fun-lovin' white boy in the picture above is wearing a Native American feathered headdress -- originating in the Plains -- an item that has great political and spiritual significance. They were usually worn into battle, hence the name war bonnet, but now they are worn ceremonially. Because the eagle is sacred to their tribe (the greatest of all birds), these headdresses were made from them.

Each eagle feather had to be earned from some great act of courage or bravery and was inserted into the headdress in a traditional way. Needless to say,  you'd have to live a long noble life to get a feathered headdress that would even remotely resemble what this, our Coachella reveler, is drunkenly sporting, which is why you never see young people or children running around in them.

This guy is not alone.

Apparently, you can't get into Coachella unless you wear one of these.  Surprised?

The bottom line is, everything isn't for everyone.  This should be respected but in the age of entitlement, it's flatly ignored. Believe it or not, there are certain things from any culture that no one should say, do or wear.  It is offensive to say the "n" word with abandon unless you are black.  It is forbidden for anyone to touch the Torah -- the holiest book in the Judiasm -- with bare hands.  A yad (usually made of silver) is used when reading it instead of fingers.  It's against the law for anyone to have eagle feathers (and other endangered migratory birds) unless they are Native American.   Context, as it turns out, is everything.

See? You, the dominant culture, really can't do whatever you want. Unfortunately, the dominant culture does it anyway and this -- not fully understanding the thing that you are taking from a culture that you dominate -- is what nurtures and informs lots of stereotypes, misunderstandings and hate.

(If you're at all curious as to what a Native American of the Plains thinks of this hot mess, click here.)

Not surprisingly, white people are shifting their attention from Native American headdresses to African-American Afros. My natural hair has always been a point of contention (more on that some other time) but this is especially insidious, in part because of that oh-so-ignorant counter argument: black women straighten their hair so why can't white women kink theirs up?

I'll tell you why.

 White people have made laws that deny black women the right to wear their hair naturally. Black women are systematically fired, because Blackness.  You are openly considered unprofessional and yes, downright filthy, if you have an Afro.  You are hounded, you are threatened with flat-out expulsion, if you have an Afro.  Black women can't even wear their hair in its natural state in the military. Think about that: if a black woman wants a career in the military -- if she is willing to die for her country -- she has to straighten her hair. Make no mistake: this means painful chemical treatments, expensive weaves, whatever it takes. Anything but an Afro.

If you are a black woman in America, your hair is a battleground -- and it always has been.

At the other end of the table, there are no laws against white women wearing their hair in its natural state.  No one is governing their hair or controlling their hair. Likening their hair to that of a farm animal or some wild beast isn't a part of the lexicon of our culture.  No one is telling them that the texture of their natural hair makes them patently unattractive. They can do whatever they like -- even if whatever they like is my Afro.

Don't get it twisted. So many of us have learned the hard way to love our natural hair.  But white people don't love our natural hair. Unless it's on their heads.  And then they love it a lot. How ironic is that?

Allure should apologize profusely, retract that article immediately and hire a jillion black women to contribute op-eds, beautiy tips and the like, to tilt this situation in the other direction until it levels off. At the very least, they should keep a black friend on hand, someone that isn't afraid to tell them when they're completely off base. Unfortunately -- like those drunken (white) party people at Coachella -- they're way too ignorant, way too out of touch with reality and way too high on their own sense of entitlement and privilege for anything that sensible.  Or empathetic. 

Monday, August 03, 2015

NaBloPoMo for August: KNOW

Interesting topic for this month's BlogHer NaBloPoMo, especially in light of all the misinformation that is constantly being spewed at me from every direction -- KNOW.

All I know is that I know nothing, sure. When it's time to find some things out, that's when all the balloons go right out the window.  I end up asking the same questions over and over again: Is anything well curated?  Can any news source be trusted? Does anyone know how to think critically? Do we know what's really going on -- or are we so buried in a never-ending avalanche of consumerism, branding, punditry and reality TV that we don't even care anymore?

All of this is compounded by those who don't know how to listen, those who don't know how to talk, those who don't know the difference between an opinion and a fact -- and of course, bad nutrition.  You can't think clearly if you don't get all the nutrients you need.

What's the first sign of bad nutrition? Apathy.  

I think I know and then I keep digging and I know more -- or less.  Not opinions. Because repeating your opinion over and over again authoritatively won't make it a fact. To wit: Obama is not a secret Muslim.  There were never any death panel provisions in Obamacare.  Planned Parenthood is not selling baby parts.  Blah, blah, blah.

I am intellectually curious.  I keep asking stupid questions and I'm not ever really satisfied with the answers I get. They usually lead to something else to get curious about. I pull the string until the whole sweater comes undone -- and then I go and start picking something else apart...

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Sunday Sermonette: Sister Rosetta Tharpe -- That's All

Here's more of Sister Rosetta Tharpe -- guitar slinger, songwriter, vocalist, gospel shouter and rock and roll trailblazer -- burning it down as usual in Paris (where else?) with the gospel number That's All.

She is, without question, the undisputed Godmother of Rock and Roll.  To watch a pretty cool documentary about her life and times so you'll know why, click here.

Video of this lady in action is rare. Listen in and be blessed.

I'm gonna tell you the natural facts
That a man don't understand the good book right and that's all
That's all

You know what?
We got to have more love
More understanding everyday of our lives
And that's all

When you see folks jump from this or that
They don't know they don't know where the devil's at
That's all
That's all

They got to have more love, more understanding
Everyday of their lives I tell ya that's all

Listen, people fighting one another
And think they're doing swell
And all they want is your money
And you can go to heeeeyyyyy

That's all
That's all

Ya'll got to have religion, yeah, I tell ya that's all
Now you can go to the college
Go to the schools
You ain't got no religion you an educated fool
That's all
Yeah, that's all

He got to have more love, more understanding
Everyday of our lives and that's all 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Sunday Sermonette: Sister Rosetta Tharpe - This Train

Sister Rosetta Tharpe -- vocalist, songwriter and guitarist -- is the undisputed Godmother of Rock and Roll.  She was the first bonafide gospel star and yet, her trailblazing extends far beyond the church in three very important ways. First, she infused gospel with rock and roll the way Ray Charles infused R&B with gospel.  Secondly, she did this with the electric guitar, which was a new item at the time, and played it like none other. Thirdly, because she was a master of the electric guitar (she started playing in church when she was 3 years old), she was a strong influence with artists like Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley -- and they influenced everyone, most notably bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. And who hasn't been influenced by The Beatles and the Stones?

They're all standing on her shoulders. It is for these reasons and more that her body of work can't be denied or diminished.

This woman is my heroine and in many ways, my blueprint: here she is, performing for a European audience, in a beautiful gown with that white Gibson, singing an old Negro spiritual her way -- and talking smack to pianist Otis Spann, no less.  What a glamorous, flamboyant performer she was -- and yes, so theatrical.  It's everything I aim for, when I perform. It's like I was doing it, then I discovered her and found a parallel line that eventually ran all the way through me -- from her Southern beginnings in COGIC to her time in New York City and eventually Europe.

Listen in and be blessed.

This Train

This train is bound for glory - this train;
This train is bound for glory - this train;
This train is bound for glory - all who ride it must be holy;
This train, this train, this train.
This train has left the station - this train; 
This train has left the station - this train; 
This train has left the station - this train takes on every nation; 
This train, this train, this train.
This train don't carry no liars - this train;
This train don't carry no liars - this train;
This train don't carry no liars - no false pretenders, no back-biters;
This train, this train, this train.
This train don't pull no gamblers - this train;
This train don't pull no gamblers - this train;
This train don't pull no gamblers - no crap-shooters, no midnight ramblers;
This train, this train, this train.
This train is a clean train - this train;
This train is a clean train - this train;
This train is a clean train - everybody ride it in Jesus' name;
This train, this train, this train.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

The Next (Black Americana) Gig: WFUV's On Your Radar, July 14th!

NEWSFLASH: I'll be playing WFUV's On Your Radar series at Rockwood Music Hall on Tuesday July 14th with Jon Regen and Flagship Romance. Doors open at 6:30pm, show starts at 7 PM.  Tickets are $12. My band and I are on at approximately 7:40pm for a 30 minute set of Black Americana featuring songs from my latest critically acclaimed release The Other Side

Tickets and info are available online HERE. You can catch Jon Regen and myself performing live on WFUV's Sunday Breakfast, hosted by John Platt, on Sunday 7/12 at 10:30 AM. Listen HERE.

What the critics are saying: 

"This album is amazing. And very difficult to classify. Can you imagine a black Lucinda Williams? Not like when she plays the blues torn from her first albums, no. A black Lucinda Williams in pop, rhythm, blues and even gender roots Americana. So it sounds, if you can imagine such a hodgepodge somehow, the latest album from this brutal, original, explosive singer." -- Vanity Fair 

"Our admiration for Queen Esther is almost beyond measure." -- Rootstime (Belgium)

"It’s the melancholy country cuts that Queen Esther excels in. 'I’ve Come Undone Again' is a particular highlight; a splendid slice of melancholy country complete with Hank Williams-esque melody and all. 'Love Is a Wrecking Ball' and 'I Feel Like Going Home' are wrought with emotion and are likely the best tracks here."
-- Americana UK

"Every song is sung with passion and fire, by this underrated female singer who should be a musical giant." -- Country Music People (UK)

“Queen Esther’s new album The Other Side is unlike anything you’ve heard in recent years…or possibly ever.” -- Muruch 

"The most exciting Afro-Americana release of the year."
-- Paste

"Queen Esther's vocals, even at their hardest-rocking, invoke the high-and-lonesome plaintiveness of the honky-tonk bluegrass/rockabilly continuum as much as they do the harsher-timbred blues tradition." -- Living Blues

"A masterpiece of an extremely talented singer/songwriter who can compete with the major players in this field, such as Lucinda Williams."
-- Blues Magazine (The Netherlands)

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Sunday Sermonette: The Caravans -- "Lord Keep Me Day By Day"

When it's time for me to perform country gospel songs for an HAI gig in the city, there are certain groups that never fail to inspire me. This classic gospel song was recorded by Florida Mass Choir, Willie Neal Johnson & The Gospel Keynotes, Dorothy Norwood and a few others. I especially like this one from The Caravans -- a group that launched the careers of legendary gospel greats Rev. James Cleveland, Albertina Walker, Shirley Caesar, Josephine Howard and many more.

Those of you in the peanut gallery who are actually paying attention already know that Ms. Howard is the one and only Miki I Found Love Under New Management Howard's mother.  So there's that.

Listen in and be blessed.

Lord, Keep Me Day By Day  (written by Eddie Williams)

Lord, keep me day by day,
in a pure, and perfect way.
I want to live, I want to live on
in a building not made by hand.

Lord, keep my body strong
so that I can do no wrong.
Lord, give me grace just to run this Christian race
to a building not made by hand.

I'm just a stranger here,
traveling through this barren land.
Lord, I know there's a building somewhere,
in a building not made by hand.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Quote of the Day - from a REAL Confederate/Southerner

(This image brought to you by graphic artist Doug Dobey in response to this idiocy: a gigantic Confederate flag that welcomes visitors to Richmond, Virginia.)

Any Southerner who honestly believes that the rebel flag is a reminder of their honorable Confederate history and heritage is woefully ignorant of the facts -- or flat-out racist.  And here's the quote that proves it.

"Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth." --Alexander Stephens, the Vice President of the Confederacy, "The Cornerstone Speech," March 21, 1861
For any reasonably intelligent, clear-thinking American to stand by a flag that represents this racist philosophy is unconscionable. 

To read The Cornerstone Speech in its entirety, click here

Thursday, June 04, 2015

The Jazz Age Lawn Party: Details, details!

On June 13-14 and August 15-16 from 11a.m. to 5p.m., guests transcend time once upon the shore of Governors Island to celebrate the music and zeitgeist of the 1920s and ‘30s. The romance, joie de vivre and infectious rhythm of that halcyon age come to life once more, as the distractions of the modern world fade away.
Each weekend, guests will don fresh linen, lace, seersucker and straw at the world’s quintessential prohibition era gathering. Special surprises for its 10th Anniversary celebration will abound and delight. Featured programming includes: 
MUSIC & DANCE PEFORMANCES on TWO STAGES featuring the finest Jazz Age entertainment:
  • Michael Arenella & His Dreamland Orchestra: the world’s premier Jazz-Age dance orchestra, steeped in the hot-dance band tradition of the 1920s and early 1930s, present a one-of-a-kind songbook from Michael’s original album, “Blue River,” and his newest album, “Just In Time,” which will be on sale for the first time at the event. “Just In Time” highlights Michael’s horn playing and singing in an intimate, jazz-driven setting
  • Roddy Caravella & The Canarsie Wobblers: performer, teacher and Jazz Age Lawn Party Dance Director Roddy Caravella, and his fun-loving dance troupe The Canarsie Wobblers, will showcase performances that capture the exuberant spirit and flaming youth of the Roaring ‘20s
  • The Antique DJs: emcees and Antique Phonograph DJs, Michael Cumella and Michael Haar, spin vinyl and cylinder records on period crank up talking machines and bring to life original recordings from the 1920s
  • The Dreamland Follies: the ten girl dance spectacular harkening back to the days of the Great Ziegfeld, will delight guests just as much with their choreography as their Art Deco costumes and head pieces. Expect a new 10th Anniversary production set to Michael Arenella & His Dreamland Orchestra’s theme song, “Paddlin’ Madelin’ Home”
  • Peter Mintun: the world’s greatest piano man will dazzle guests with his magical fingers  
  • Queen Esther: hear modern-day jazz royalty as the award-winning jazz vocalist presides over the lawn 
  • The Gelber & Manning Band: feuding vaudevillian lovebirds, specializing in raggy time songs and early jazz styles, will quarrel and coo to your delight
  • The Minsky Sisters: tap dance darlings delight with fancy footwork in the tradition of classic vaudevillian family acts
  • Tamar Korn: ephemeral vocalist, known for her love of singing songs both lyrically as well as "instrumentally" with her pitch-perfect pipes, will perform her signature repertoire steeped in traditional New Orleans and early jazz
  • Molly Ryan: with a lush, elegant vocal style, songs of the 1930s will be brought to life with innocence and total believability to the music that refuses to admit that 80 years of distractions have ever happened 
  • Albert Cadabra: the master of illusion and charm will astonish onlookers with devilishly wild magic delivered with unmatchable style, class and an inviting sense of humor 
  • Dance Lessons: learn the hottest dance steps of the time from top Jazz Age hoofers
  • Charleston Dance Contest: see who’s the Bee’s Knees in this lighthearted yes spirited dance-off
  • The all new food market will feature New York’s fanciest picnicking fare and gourmet food trucks along with treats and snacks by vendors such as Luke's Lobster, Empanada Lady, Kaya NYC, Local 215, Carnal BK, La Crêpe C’est Si Bon, Vintage Ice Cream Guys, Chef and the Baker and more 
  • Annual High Court of Pie Contest: submissions are open for the annual contest. Categories include: “Mom’s Best” “Best Savory” “Most Original” and “Hobo’s Choice” (For entry email:  
  • St-Germain Artisanal French Elderflower Liqueur will be the signature spirit for the seventh consecutive year. Golden age elixirs such as the signature St-Germain Cocktail (made with St-Germain, sparkling wine, sparkling water and a lemon twist) will be served alongside the 10th Anniversary Cocktail (a refreshing Collins-style cocktail blending summer strawberries with gin, St-Germain and fresh citrus), and a delicious Boathouse Punch from renowned cocktail celebrity Julie Reiner’s new book (Bombay Dry, St-Germain, Aperol, Martini Sparkling Rosé and splashes of lemon, orange and grapefruit juice)
  • MARTINI & ROSSI sparkling wines again join the lineup of superior cocktail offerings. The iconic Italian winemaker will be showcasing a full menu of sparkling wines for refreshing enjoyment, including the new fully sparkling Prosecco, the aromatic Rosé and the naturally sweet Asti. Available by the bottle, by the glass, or in charming mini bottles, MARTINI & ROSSI has a wine for every palate
  • DUVEL and BREWERY OMMEGANG will be the signature beer  
  • Additional Beverages include: old fashioned lemonade, soda, juices, water, iced coffee and tea to whet your whistle
  • Bathing Beauties and Beaus Promenade: pull that itchy wool number out of the mothballs and parade it for all to admire
  • Vintage Clothing Vendor and Artisans: a veritable village of timeless treasures and inspired creations to take home
  • Kidland: carnival games and prizes for junior gents and flapperettes
  • 1920s Motorcar Exhibition: get up close and personal with flivvers, Tin Lizzies and “Buttercup,” Gatsby’s very own 1925 Rolls-Royce “Twenty”
  • Vintage Portraits: immortalize yourself while perched upon one of our Paper Moons with special vintage adornments and accessories available by Unique Vintage
Tickets and packages are still available for the June 13-14 and August 15-16 events. Ticket packages include General Admission, “Jazz Baby, “Bee’s Knees, “Bonnie & Clyde. “The Gatsby” VIP package brings special perks and table and bottle service. These packages can be purchased at To commemorate the 10th anniversary, the Jazz Age Lawn Party has presented “Sheikh of Araby”, a brand new private tent for eight to 10 guests located right off the dance floor, with full wait table service and luxury appointments, and which can be reserved by emailing

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Quote of the Day -- from John Clare

"Burning hot is the ground, liquid gold is the air; 
whoever looks round sees Eternity there." -- John Clare

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Ella Fitzgerald on Marilyn Monroe

“I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt... it was because of her that I played the Mocambo, a very popular nightclub in the ’50s. She personally called the owner of the Mocambo, and told him she wanted me booked immediately, and if he would do it, she would take a front table every night. She told him - and it was true, due to Marilyn’s superstar status - that the press would go wild. The owner said yes, and Marilyn was there, front table, every night. The press went overboard. After that, I never had to play a small jazz club again. She was an unusual woman - a little ahead of her times. And she didn’t know it.” - Ella Fitzgerald

Imagine that. Because of segregation in the 50s, one of the greatest jazz singers on the planet couldn't get a gig in a popular nightclub until a white female movie star -- who happened to be one of her biggest fans -- interceded.  Just think of all the change that could take place if white female movie stars demanded it. Heck. White people, period.

And why do you suppose they didn't include this important moment in that made-for-tv Marilyn bio pic?

Happy belated birthday, Norma Jean. You were a lot cooler than I thought.

Monday, June 01, 2015

NaBloPoMo for June: Ready, Set, Go!

I think I've spent the better part of the year winding up and readying myself to sling art out into the world -- with strong ideas, performances and gigs.  Still and all, I don't really feel as though I'm doing enough. Probably because I'm still learning my intervals.

I'm going to take another stab at documenting my world as an artist this month, one day at a time.  You can find me online at these hotspots:

Thursday, May 28, 2015

I'm in The Red Sea...!

If I weren't flying the Japanese flag tonight, I'd be at Gin Fizz Lounge for @MarcCaryMusic's The Harlem Sessions. Instead, I'm at home -- watching Blazing Saddles and riding the cotton pony.

Yes, that's right.

I'm in The Red Sea.

I'm dropping an egg.

I'm entertaining the general.

I've got red sails in the sunset.

I'm chasing the cotton mouse.

I'm surfing the crimson tide.

My hammock is swinging.

I have a visitor from Red Bank.

The tide is high.

The infantry has landed.

My Granny's here.

I'm percolating.

No gym this week.

I'm off duty.

I'm indisposed.

I've been hit.

The only thing that going to fix this is a deep tissue massage and a nice long soak, a plate of Mongolian BBQ and a five mile run -- preferably one after the other, and not necessarily in that order. This is a job for K-Town. Or Spa Castle. Either way, I'm not leaving my apartment tonight.  This movie is right on time. When I'm in this much pain, I really need to laugh. A lot.

Why do I love Blazing Saddles so much? 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Happy Birthday, Malcolm X

Malcolm X would have been 90 years old today. Imagine that.

Here's a timely quote:

"I think that an objective analysis of events that are taking place on this earth today points towards some type of ultimate showdown. You can call it political showdown, or even a showdown between the economic systems that exist on this earth which almost boil down along racial lines. I do believe that there will be a clash between East and West. I believe that there will ultimately be a clash between the oppressed and those that do the oppressing. I believe that there will be a clash between those who want freedom, justice and equality for everyone and those who want to continue the systems of exploitation."

Monday, May 18, 2015

Yes, Mercury is in retrograde...!

Mercury is in retrograde (in Gemini!) from May 18th to June 11th. What does this mean, exactly? Retrograde happens when a planet slows down in its usual orbit, appears to move backwards and is in a resting state, thus leaving all the areas it rules to run amok. 

Here's the thing: I don't "believe" in astrology as much as I acknowledge the truth within it. Case in point?  I know how to cut my hair by the moon. (Yes, it works.) 

According to Susan Miller of AstrologyZone, Mercury rules communication of every kind. That means listening, talking, learning, reading, editing, researching, negotiating, buying and selling.  It doesn't stop there. That list includes formal contracts and agreements as well as any other important papers like leases, wills, deeds, book manuscripts and such. This planet also rules travel, transportation, shipping and all kinds of code.  So when your cell phone is constantly going in and out, when Skype won't work, when the email you carefully composed disappears from your screen all of a sudden, you know it's in full effect.  The kicker is that because it's in Gemini and this is the sign that governs the same areas as Mercury, the effect could be twice as powerful.

Fun stuff.

When this stitch in time happens, I try to make myself scarce and stick to a routine to keep my equilibrium: morning workouts, practice sessions, low key evenings. I declutter like crazy.  I eat clean.  I double check everything. I'll send a text and follow up with an email, to make sure my message went through.  I'm painfully aware of everything I do and say.  Blah, blah, blah.

Remember: Forewarned is forearmed.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Yay! It's Official!

I"m going home for my birthday in June, to South Carolina's Lowcountry.  This is what home looks like.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

My Blackgrrl Spring Bucket List - 2015!

Now that the winter chill is no longer in the air, it's time to get moving all over again, wake all the way up and get the lead out.  This is my personal top ten (in no particular order): stuff that will make my spring time swing into high gear, no matter how everything else is falling together.

New York City has over 100 museums, with many seasonal exhibits that will only happen here.  Sure, most museums are filled with dusty, Eurocentric masterpieces. And I know plenty of people of color who don't go to museums because they're convinced that there's nothing there for them.  But that's changing.  More curators are realizing that if they want a younger, more diverse audience for their art, they have to be more inclusive.  All it takes is a great, grand idea  - and it's a refreshing surprise that this season offers several options. There is something for absolutely everyone this spring.

My brother Emmett who's married with two kids and lives in the ATL, has fallen into the habit of humoring me by going to museums with me when he visits the city.  Strangely, he always enjoys it -- much to his genuine surprise.

This gigantic Jeff Wall photo After "Invisible Man" by Ralph Ellison, the Prologue totally blew him away.  I can remember standing in front of it with him, listening to him find the words to explain why he liked it. Then I read from the passage of the book that this photo illustrates.

If Kehinde Wiley doesn't blow him away, I'll eat my favorite pumps.  And that goes double for the Jacob Lawrence exhibit at MoMA.

Here's my list. Enjoy!
  1. Get my 15 speed bike tuned up -- and yes, get a helmet.  Once the weather is good, I'm going to toss my Metrocard for a month or two.  If that doesn't wake up my thighs and my butt, I don't know what will.
  2. An entire afternoon of relatively cheap insider beauty treats in K-Town, followed by Mongolian BBQ -- preferrably with my friend Jane, who lives to eat and shop. No one can appreciate a hardcore, no-frills, three hour scrub down more than her.  Except me, of course.
  3. A Ladies Tea Social is in order, where me and a few of Those Who Know dress up in our vintage finery and nosh -- preferrably at The Pembroke. Or The Pierre. Or The Mandarin Oriental.
  4. That Kehinde Wiley exhibit at The Brooklyn Museum. I'm not a fan but still, I can't miss it.
  5. Curlbox BODY -- from Myliek Teele, the founder of Curlbox, comes a monthly non-subscription skincare package that should make anyone's skin glow.
  6. Harlem Jazz Shrines -- don't miss it!
  7. ...that Jacob Lawrence exhibit at MoMA, tho...
  8.  The Black Girl Swap -- wherein a bunch of us blacktresses convene over dinner and wine at our fearless leader's apartment with our beautiful elegant slightly used clothing, mix it up and donate whatever is left over to a great cause.
  9. The Frieda Kahlo exhibit at the New York Botanical Gardens must be seen to be believed -- preferrably when the all-female mariachi band La Flor de Toloache is performing...! (I love them!)
    ...and last but certainly not least...
  10. Pool my savings and purchase what guitarist Kelvyn Bell considers to be a real guitar. (I'd like a Fender Strat.)

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

NaBloPoMo for May: PHOTO!

This should be fun: post photos -- or write about them -- all month. 

MPB says that I have an eye and that's good to know. Taking snapshots on the fly has become another kind of journal.  Just about every smart device I've got in my purse has a great camera on it so it's hard not to take a picture or squeeze off a video when something interesting pops up. 

The thing is, I'm in the midst of giving myself a pretty severe makeover -- dental work, weight loss, hair ideas, and much more -- and all of it is forcing me to look at my physical self in a way that I find difficult. Or at least disconcerting. I was always too focused on technique as an actor and a vocalist to fret over something as seemingly frivolous as my image.  I mean, sure. I'm obsessive about how I look in performance, I push for a healthy lean strong body but what it takes to do what I do on the stage is light years away from what I need to do to come off well on camera.  

The thing is, I don't want to believe that talent doesn't matter -- even when casting agents say talent is only 7% of what they consider when auditioning actors.  (WTF?)

I get it, I get it -- film/TV is a visual medium.  My body was the first thing that came together.  It was, and continues to be, hard work.  Every morning, I start all over again, like Sysyphus -- beating my body into submission.  No one can say that I'm not taking my visuals seriously. I have an eyebrowist, for crying out loud. Because it takes time for bones to heal, my dental work will be the last thing and it will take the longest, and it will cost me plenty.  (What am I saying? It already has.) 

Once I'm done, I'll never stop smiling. Never.

I have to take new headshots, I have to make an actor's reel, I have to make a 2 minute EPK/video and I have to take promo shots for my upcoming European tour.  I need all of that as of yesterday. Yeesh. That's a lot of eye candy.   Very necessary, though.

Here's the blogpost epiphany from 2009 that triggered it all -- Your Inner Svengali.  And if you're curious about the snapshots I take or the images I like, you can find me on Instagram and that minimalist wonder,  ello.

In the meantime, here I am goofing off with my girl Chicava Honeychild of Brown Girls Burlesque.  I don't think we're capable of not having fun together.

Monday, May 04, 2015

...boxing conditioning sessions, karate and piano practice...

Believe it or not, I think I've found a hobby to make money (more on that later). The hobby that's giving me my body back is definitely boxing -- although I'm going to make a concerted effort to give karate a chance this summer because I'm so abysmally bad at it, and I should allow myself to be really bad at something for awhile, to see where it goes. 

I love boxing because when each swing is deconstructed and I can get it into my body, it makes perfect sense. I feel as though I'm using my physical self to play a very elaborate and exhausting game of chess. If I can make my body outlast the other fighter, if I have enough stamina to outlast the fight itself, I may win -- but more importantly, I will outgrow myself.  That has happened in a thousand ways since I started boxing.  It can't be helped. The more you learn, the more your body remembers, the more you grow.

It's the same with the piano.  Right now, I'm practicing scales and fingering technique. It's so labor-intensive that it feels like I'm working with someone else's hands.  They just won't obey me.  I'm going to stick with it, though.  I'm convinced that I'm sticking every note into my voice and making it stay there by playing it and singing it and playing it and singing it, one at a time, over and over again.

So that's my summer: boxing conditioning classes and piano practice; getting knocked on my butt all the time in karate; writing a slew of songs and recording them; and playing music with all my projects, including Georgette and my original Black Americana songs.

Oh! And fun the Jazz Age Lawn Party, of course... 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Selfie with a Supermodel!

Yep, that's Alek Wek, the South Sudanese model that started a revolution in the fashion industry at 18 (!!!) and compelled a young Lupita Nyong'o to stop begging God to make her skin lighter.  Our paths crossed in Times Square yesterday and, not surprisingly, she was sweet enough to let me take a snapshot.  She's a skinny little switch of a thing.  Her skin is so flawless, she's luminous.  And she was wearing a beautiful, bright, flowery dress that looked so spring-like, it knocked the chill right off of the rest of my day.

Now there's so many South Sudanese models (amongst others!) working in the fashion industry, it's not a thing to see such blue-black elegance drifting through any campaign, whether it's commercial or high end.  It's important to recognize that Ms. Wek was the one that blew that door off its hinges. She's an  ambassador, for all of us.

Hats off to the modeling scout that spotted her in London at a flea market with her mother when she was 18 years old.

What's interesting is that Ms. Wek never doubted her own beauty -- probably because as a child in the South Sudan, she wasn't surrounded by an avalanche of white-centric media.  Her confidence must have been infectious.

It still is.