Remembering Whitney Houston (1963 - 2012)

Posted by Billyjam, February 11, 2012 05:18pm | Post a Comment

Iconic pop singer/actress Whitney Houston died today around 4:00pm PST in a hotel room at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles. She was 48. According to a statement from Houston's publicist Kristen Foster who reported the singer's passing at a press conference, the cause of her death is, as yet, unknown. Afterwards it was reported that she was found submerged in the bath tub of her hotel room and that a variety of prescription drugs were found in her room. She was scheduled to perform Saturday evening at a pre-Grammy party for Arista's Clive Davis - her lifelong mentor. The death came as a major shock to everyone since Houston had been making a strong comeback of late after years of reported drug abuse (that famously affected her voice and derailed her career for several years). She was seemingly in good health and spirits right up to hours before her death, according to those who saw her in another pre-Grammys performance with Kelly Price (see fan video here) in which they sang a duet of  "Jesus Loves Me."

It is now likely that Sunday's big Grammys event, which was scheduled to have tributes to other recently deceased music industry figures such as Etta James (on the Amoeblog) and Don Cornelius (on the Amoeblog), will now have a last minute tribute to Houston - one of the biggest pop stars of recent decades. Houston will be remembered for the string of non-stop pop hits she put out in the 1980s and 1990s, including "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" and for her acting roles in such films as The Bodyguard (featuring the hit song "I Will Always Love You." See  video below.) and Waiting to Exhale, as well as for her family's rich musical background. Her mother, legend Cissy Houston, had her own successful gospel singing career and was a backup singer for Elvis Presley. Whitney's cousin was Dionne Warwick, her aunt was Thelma Houston, and her godmother was Aretha Franklin

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The Last Holiday: A Memoir

Posted by Gomez Comes Alive!, February 5, 2012 02:18pm | Post a Comment
If you are looking for a tell-all autobiography about the tumultuous life of Gil Scott-Heron, chances are you are going to be disappointed by The Last Holiday: A Memoir. What Gil Scott-Heron gave us were selected memories, the ones that resonated in his mind before his death. He is a man full of inspiration and controversy, but chose to reflect on his accomplishments and share the memories of people who most inspired him most.

The autobiography jumps around in the beginning, from his tour stories from his 1980 tour with Stevie Wonder to his upbringing with his grandmother in Tennessee. Gil writes eloquently about being raised in the south and being one of the first black students to integrate into an all-white school public school. After his grandmother’s passing, he moves with his mother to New York, in which his mixture of book smarts and street smarts ends up going to a private high school mostly reserved for students of privlege. From there it covers his college days, in which he takes a leave of absence to finish his first novel, The Vulture. From there, he returns to school and starts on a path as the musician the most people know him as.

Gil never dwells too much on his accomplishments. For instance, Gil spends more time writing about his appreciation how other artists covered his songs off his excellent album, Pieces Of A Man than he does about writing the songs himself. Much praise in the book was given to the people that he felt helped him along the way, such as his family, instructors, musicians as well as guys such as Bob Thiele and Clive Davis, who both released his albums and helped make him the icon that he became.

The most praise and perhaps could have been a book on its own, was Gil’s stories about tour with Stevie Wonder in 1980. The significance of that tour was that Stevie Wonder used the tour to help spearhead the campaign to make Martin Luther King Jr. day a national holiday, with a show at the Washington Monument, the very spot were King gave his infamous, “I Have A Dream” speech. Gil admiration for Stevie, who though blind, was keen in every other sense. He was a person who could say exactly what was needed to be said and do what was needed to accomplish his goal of a Martin Luther King Day, an accomplishment that was achieved during one of the most conservative governments in U.S. history. It is also noteworthy to add that Gil was supposed to do a few selected dates on the tour, as Bob Marley was the opening act. But as it was, Bob was diagnosed with cancer and had to cancel the tour.

Once again there are many holes if you are looking for the true memoir of Gil Scott-Heron. There is nothing on his criticism of rap music, his drug addictions, legal issues, the fact that he was HIV positive or his time in prison. There is also the fact that his main musical collaborator for several albums, Brian Jackson, gets less coverage than Gil’s favorite road manager, a man known as "Keg Leg". I’m sure as time goes on there will be more Gil Scott-Heron biographies that will tell the whole story. The Last Holiday: A Memoir is just that, memories of events and opportunities that turned his life around. A tribute to those he had fond memories of.

The Last Holiday: A Memoir  is available at Amoeba Hollywood's new expanded book section or at IMIX Books, located inside Mi Vida Boutique in Highland Park.

Don't Dream It, Be It: Jero's Enchanting Enka Legacy

Posted by Kells, February 1, 2012 11:33pm | Post a Comment
In Japan, you'd have to living under a rock to not know Jero (or ジェロ) and prior to 2003 an event listing like the concert poster pictured below might have drawn attention for all the wrong reasons (see: Other).

There is certainly nothing inherently other about Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania native Jero, Jerome Charles White, Jr., but he stands apart from the pack in that he has, before the age of thirty, achieved living his dream of becoming the first successful African-American Enka singer in Japanese music history.

Jero grew up among a str
ong influence of Japanese culture and began singing Enka at an early age due to his Japanese grandmother Takiko's enthusiasm for the genre. She had met Jero's grandfather, an African-American serviceman, at a dance in Yokohama during World War II. They married, had a daughter - Jero's mother Harumi - and eventually moved to Pittsburgh, his grandfather's hometown. Though his parents divorced when he was still very young Jero was reared under the cultural influence and familial guidance of his Japanese grandmother and his Japan-born mother in a mixed-heritage household.

Jero attended the University of Pittsburgh, majoring in information technology, and later moved to Japan to further his lifelong Japanese language studies and work as a computer engineer. He hadn't initially imagined making a career for himself as an Enka singer, but nevertheless he worked towards his goal of fulfilling a promise that he had made to his grandmother of one day performing in the annual
Kōhaku Uta Gassen song show broadcast every New Year's Eve in Japan. Amazingly, he achieved real success as a result of appearing on the show and subsequently competing in other singing contests. Unfortunately, in 2005 Jero's grandmother passed away before she could see her little protogé achieve fame as an international Enka superstar in 2008, reinvigorating the genre by melding it with modern hip-hop and R&B.

Enka, for those who have never heard of the vibrato-framed strains of Japan's most beloved (and somewhat unfashionable) sentimental ballad stylings, think of some modern, er, post Pacific war pop vocalists singing tearful songs of unrequited love and missed connections. Now imagine that these songs somehow speak to you about your life, moving your spirit into a slow emotional tailspin that is somehow also characterized by a deep sense of nationalistic pride way down in the darkest depths of your heart (I fully realize that this exercise will seem a wee bit of a stretch for some of the Americans reading this). Now, an Enka song is not gonna be about a truck or ni**as in Paris, but if it makes you feel proud to to be an American and deathly depressed that you never gambled with a kiss on the one that (in theory, because if you're exercising your imaginary Enka vibe correctly you've been pondering heartache waay too much) got away then you've nailed the sentiment. If you've seen Kill Bill then you've pretty much heard Enka, or at least something like it.

As to the Enka singing style, well, perhaps Jero could fill in the rest. Here he is singing an old standard「宗右衛門町ブルース」("Soemonchou Blues") on a televised, all-star by request Enka revue:

Soul Train Creator Don Cornelius Found Dead This Morning

Posted by Billyjam, February 1, 2012 08:59am | Post a Comment

As reported a little earlier this morning by the LA Times' website Don Cornelius - the host and creator of the legendary black music TV show Soul Train - was found dead this morning in his Sherman Oaks home; the result of a gunshot wound to the head - an apparent suicide according to LAPD. The recently divorced Cornelius was 75 years of age. Man, that is some really sad news and - even worse - coming on this first day of Black History Month! Through Soul Train's 35 years of national syndication (it stopped production in 2006 but Cornelius had ceased hosting the show in 1993), Cornelius helped shape and define an entire culture through his positive presentation of black music, dance, and fashion. Rest in peace in Don Cornelius!


"Hidden In The Open" Photo Essay Captures a Rarely Seen Slice of Gay Black History Spanning 150 Years

Posted by Billyjam, January 31, 2012 08:08am | Post a Comment
"Hidden in the Open: A Photographic Essay of Afro American Male Couples from the Distant Past" is a most
unique slice of gay Black history engagingly told through a recently-presented collection of photos of black male couples over a century and a half.  The collection was carefully complied from the archives of historian Trent Kelly who researched and collected Hidden in the Open's 146 rare vintage photographs of gay Black couples and some that include their (loving) families. One of the photos featured is even included as the lead photo in Job O Brother's Black [gay] History Month Amoeblog recently posted.

These historic photographs, spanning a wide 150 year period in black (and gay) history, are especially significant from a black historical context because, "Historically, the Afro American gay male and couple has largely been defined by everyone but themselves," as historian Kelly says of his rare photo collection. "Afro American gay men are ignored into nonexistence in parts of black culture and are basically second class citizens in gay culture."

These photos also present fashions of the various time periods in black history. In his introduction to Hidden in the Open, Kelly notes how, "the black church, which has historically played a fundamental role in protesting against civil injustices toward its parishioners, has been want to deny its gay members their right to live a life free and open without prejudice. Despite public projections of a 'rainbow' community living together in harmonious co-habitation, openly active and passive prejudices exist in the larger gay community against gay Afro Americans."

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