Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Three Black Kings and a Black Queen: H.E.R and the LA Philharmonic



Three Black Kings and a Black Queen: H.E.R and the LA Philharmonic

Aug.14, 2021

Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles, CA

By Shelah Moody


Freedom for my brothers

Freedom 'cause they judge us

Freedom from the others

Freedom from the leaders, they're keeping us

Freedom gon' keep us strong

Freedom if you just hold on

Freedom ain't free at all, no…”— H.E.R.




The Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, opened their sold-out, Aug. 14 concert at the Hollywood Bowl with “Star-Spangled Banner.”

The national anthem would have been appropriate for a July 4th picnic or a fireworks show, but opening with an antiquated song written by Francis Scott Key, a slave owner who saw blacks as inferior (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Scott_Key) seemed wildly inappropriate at a concert celebrating black music. This concert featured one of the industry’s most celebrated and woke artists, Oscar and Grammy winner Gabriela Wilson, aka, H.E.R.

I confess that I started a bit of good trouble when the “Star-Spangled Banner” played. I muttered under my breath that I would remain seated. The mixed group of millennials on my left heard me and remained seated as well. The older white gay couple on my right said they agreed and so did the Asians seated in front of us. The young black woman who’d just popped a bottle of champagne for her birthday did not rise, either.

We, as one section united, masked up, loving music, hating injustice, remained seated until the “Star-Spangled Banner” was over.

The LA Philharmonic redeemed themselves after the awkward opening, performing Duke Ellington’s eloquent jazz composition “Three Black Kings” a symphonic eulogy honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Then, she appeared wearing an oversized red satin shirt, matching shorts, black heels, trademark shades, and waist-length wavy hair. Appropriately, the 24-year-old phenomenon known as H.E.R. made her grand entrance as the LA Phil played melodic, string-infused riffs of Marvin Gaye’s protest anthem “Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler”). Her sultry, R&B vocals soared high above the nosebleed seats as she segued into Gaye’s “What’s Going On.”

H.E.R. was stunned with her two original compositions (I’d pick either to replace the” Star-Spangled Banner” as America’s national anthem). One was “Fight for You,” (from the film “Judas and the Black Messiah”) which earned the Vallejo, CA- born singer an Oscar for Best Original Song, and the other was “I Can’t Breathe” which earned H.E.R. a 2020 Grammy Award for Song of the Year.

As she performed “I Can't Breathe,” the names of Breona Taylor, George Floyd, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland and other African Americans killed by police flashed in intricate designs on the stage.

Starting a war, screaming, "Peace" at the same time

All the corruption, injustice, the same crimes

Always a problem if we do or don't fight

And we die, we don't have the same right

What is a gun to a man that surrenders?

What's it gonna take for someone to defend her?

If we all agree that we're equal as people

Then why can't we see what is evil?

I can't breathe”


Borrowing a line from a Stevie Wonder song, I consider H.E.R. a female Shakespeare of her time. Watching the “Hard Place” singer jump on the bass, guitar, keyboards, and drums while singing, rapping, and dancing at the Hollywood Bowl show; I’d also put her on the genius level of Prince.

H.E.R. told the audience that performing with the Los Angeles Philharmonic had been one of her top goals.

To top it off, H.E.R., whose moniker means “having everything revealed” is simply adorable. She dedicated her ballad “Best Part,” performed with one of her backup singers in Daniel Caesar’s place, to a lucky couple in the audience who she referred to as “Johnnie and Jasmine.”

During “Best Part,” H.E.R.’s concert became live theater as Johnny got down on one knee, held out a ring box, and proposed to Jasmine in front of the stage. The audience ate it up.

As she sang and played keyboards, H.E.R. dedicated her autobiographical composition “I’m Not Ok” to anyone who has gone through a mental health crisis and asked the audience to turn on their phone flashlights to illuminate the darkness.



Since H.E.R. has collaborated with so many artists including Skip Marley (“Slow Down”), Lauryn Hill (“Sweetest Thing”), YG (“Slide”) DJ Khaled (“We Going Crazy”) and icons such as Hollywood Bowl alumni Janet Jackson is singing her praises on social media, I’d expected a few special guests to pop up at the Hollywood show. But HE.R., accompanied by her soulful band, the LA Phil, her soulful band and an expensive, high-tech light show dazzled on her own. H.E.R. proved that she is enough.

H.E.R performs Sept. 18 and 19 at the Lights out Festival, Concord Pavilion, Concord, CA. (livenation.com). Listen to H.E. R. on Streetwise Radio.





Three Black Kings and a Black Queen: H.E.R and the LA Philharmonic


Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Second Line for Paul Mooney: Celebrating the Life of Oakland’s Own Renown Writer, Actor, Comedian

By Shelah Moody



Paul Mooney and Carmelita Harris



     Paul Mooney once called me an elf and told me to go back to the North Pole.

      I’d gone with my friend Carmelita to Mooney’s annual New Year’s Eve comedy show at the Black Repertory Group in Berkeley.

   That year, Mooney had told the media that he was henceforth removing the N-word from his stand-up act after a white comedian had used it indiscriminately in his act. Since the N-word seasoned most of Mooney’s jokes and stories, I bet Carmelita a dollar that Paul Mooney could not go a night without saying it. 

   After the show, as Mooney signed merchandise and greeted fans, Carmelita told Mooney I’d bet her a dollar that he wouldn't be able to get through a standup routine without saying the N-word. The godfather of black comedy, who’d written for the likes of Richard Pryor, Dave Chapelle and ushered in a new era of political correctness;  gave me the side-eye.

    “I see you brought your elf with you,” Mooney said to Carmelita. “Don’t they need you at the North Pole?”

     I was mortified. So great was my humiliation that I returned the couture jacket I wore that night to Nordstrom’s;  I wanted nothing that reminded me that I looked like an elf! 

     Years later, I laughed my ass about it. It was rather funny.  I’d been capped on by one of the greatest comedic minds ever! 

     After all, we’re talking about the man who wrote for a prime time black sitcoms such as “Good Times,” Sanford and Son” and “In Living Color,” who most likely came up with barbs like “Buffalo Butt,” “Fish-Eyed Fool” and “Homey don’t play that.” 

         Paul Mooney; actor, writer, and comedian, created a safe and sacred space for black people in America. During his shows at the Black Rep, he would sit in his chair, drink his glass of liquor and talk like it was just him and us in his living room. Oh, how we laughed! And he laughed, too! ! Paul Mooney said the kinds of things that many of us are afraid to say.

    A lot of Mooney’s material had to do with how black Americans were viewed as “other” through white lenses. Mooney reversed it, casting his black critical gaze on the dominant culture,  taking away the sting of racism and daily indignities; at least for one night. 

    “N-word, N-Word, N-word, N-word,” Mooney would say. “I like saying it. It makes my teeth white.”

     Mooney would often demystify Eurocentric standards of beauty by taking shots at the Queen of England: “The British are not pretty people. If that’s the Queen, I wanna know  what the witch look like!”

    In one of his routines, Mooney  said he understood why Brad Pitt would turn in a thin lipped Jennifer Anniston for a juicy lipped Angelina Jolie. I cannot finish the joke because this is a family show. 

      After his family announced his passing on May 19, 2021, Mooney’s peers posted tributes on social media.  

            “I knew this day would come but I must admit, I’m not ready,” his longtime friend, Luenell posted on social media.

          “I’m not ready 2 not hear that gruff voice anymore. Maybe that’s why I keep a cassette, yes I said cassette tape of him at the foot of my bed at all times so I can hear him whenever I want. I have learned more from Paul Mooney than any other comic I have ever known. He loved me. He confided in me. He trusted me. At times he relied on me and I will FOREVER love him. Both being from Oakland, CA, we had way more than comedy in common. As you swipe thru these pictures, these are only just a FEW of the memories we shared. He’s the first person to put me on stage in NYC when they wouldn’t even book me. He appreciated the woman I am and the brand of comedy that I do and told me to never change for ANYONE! We were a very dynamic duo. When my name was revealed the other day on the front of The Comedy Store wall, it was His face on the shirt I wore to pay homage to The Great One. Where ever they have his service I will be there but, he will live in my Heart FOREVER‼️As he used to say, “There are many stars, but only One Moon” RIP to MY FRIEND, the Great Paul Mooney.”




Paul Mooney & Luenell Campbell interview by Carmelita 

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Fely Tchaco YITA



“Yita” meaning (Deep Water) is a tribute to the migrants dying in the Mediterranean seas, victims of human trafficking, and slave trades around the world. “Yita” affirms Fely’s ability to express her voice to address social justice through her music. The sound of the album is steep in her African traditions with urban influences, such as Jazz, Afro Pop, and more. In this album, Fely wants to convey a message of hope, peace, love, and happiness. It is a masterpiece, through which she has proven herself with an incredible ability to balance traditional rhythms and modern sounds. Whether singing in her native Gouro language, Beté, in French or English Fely’s message and music is universal. Recorded at Jerry Martin Music Studio, with the participation of incredible musicians such as Jeff Simons on guitar in the songs titled “Tile Tete” and “Do Afe”, Abou Diarrassouba on Drums and Percussion on all of the songs except for “Cawe Yoko” and “Blamer les Autres” where the drums and percussion were performed by Jon Kidd. Tim Hager played Rockn’ Roll guitar on Cawe Yoko. Recording sound engineer, studio productions, and mixing by Jerry Martin. “Yita” features boisterous, spirited infectious tunes of Fely’s swooping lead vocal. Featuring dynamic hip-swiveling pulse from traditional acoustic to Afro-pop. Each lyrics on the album has been writen by Fely Tchaco, with different colors, and an amazing variety in rhythms and styles of music. A sound to which everybody can relate to. The more you listen, the more you enjoy. This album is made possible through the generosity of the San Francisco Arts Commission Grant Program for Individual Artists. Learn more about the artist at www.felymusic.com 

 

Sunday, March 14, 2021

A Conversation With ChrystalChyna


 

Dynamic Duo Bring the Spirit of Natalie Cole, Chaka Khan, and the 2000s Aesthetic to R&B

 

By Shelah Moody

 

    Chrystal and Chyna Johnson are divinely connected in the music industry.  

   Being divinely connected is a phenomenon where, throughout life, you are placed in the right place with the right group of people and you rise to greatness. Some people call it luck, some call it blessed.

    ChrystalChyna merged not only their names, but merged their talents as creators, bringing new energy to R&B, infused with the spirit of their godmother, multiple Grammy winner Natalie Cole, and their aunt, multiple Grammy winner Chaka Khan. 




     I recently joined ChrystalChyna for a Zoom interview; at press time, the soulful and vibrant, identical twins were quarantining in Baldwin Hills, a suburb of Los Angeles, with their mother. 

    As identical twins, Chrystal and Chyna are also divinely connected in terms of consciousness; they often answer questions in unison and finish each other’s sentences. We began with a discussion of their latest single, “Rain.”

https://youtu.be/4LUW9O_9YaM.

 

Streetwise Radio:  First, tell us what you’ve been doing and how you’ve been keeping busy during the pandemic.

 

Chrystal: Trying to stay sane! 

 

Chyna: We’ve been trying to take care of ourselves, first, because of the quarantine games; they got to us (laughs). We’ve been trying to take care of our health and stay busy as far as writing and putting together different things…

 

Chrystal: And ideas.

 

Chyna: So that when we do come out of this… whenever that is...

 

Chrystal: We’ll have everything ready!

 

Streetwise Radio: Tell us about your new single, "Rain."

 

Chrystal: So, we have been wanting to do “Rain” for a long time —since we were kids. We would always sing that song, plus SWV songs in general. They are one of the main groups we grew up on; that we could actually see ourselves in, just based on their appearance and how they carried themselves. They reminded us of us. We could relate to SWV and their voices and we were really big fans of Coko, the lead singer and we would try to mimic her voice. We love how diverse they are with their vocals and their look. 

 

Chyna: We love SWV. With “Rain” being a song. we’ve always wanted to do; we wanted to do it right. We didn’t want to record it and not have it come out sounding as clear as the SWV version. With a cover, you have to do it right; you can’t make it unrecognizable. Thanks to our manager, Celeste Butler, it was tight. Originally, Chrystal and I were not thinking big enough on it; we thought we would practice it really well like we always do, and film a video in front of the fireplace. Celeste was like, no, this is too good of a song, we’re gonna record it, do a video, and do some choreography. 

 

Streetwise Radio:  Your class and soulfulness shine through on  “Rain” and you remind me of your godmother, Natalie Cole. Please share some memories with us.

 

Chrystal: It is so funny because there are certain things we do that will make people who were employed by our godmother- her hairstylists and wardrobe team- say, “that’s a Natalie picture there.” We didn't realize how much impact and influence she had on us because she was just God Mommy.  There are certain things we do, and mannerisms we have that are exactly like hers. That’s how close we were. She was really our other mother. She was literally the person we were going to if anything happened to our mom. We picked up a lot of things from her. Not intentionally, but because of how close we were. We really looked up to her. She really did impact us a lot while growing up.

 

Chyna: Right.

 

Chrystal: I act a lot like her. People say that a lot, that I act like Natalie. I can feel her near me all the time; I can feel her arms around me. There’s just something about her; like, certain scents remind me of her. I think about her every day. She had a certain laugh when she was telling a story. I can still feel her energy.

 

Streetwise Radio: What kind of perfume did Natalie wear?

 

Chyna: There was a distinct scent that she would always wear. It was fresh but spicy. She just smelled expensive.

 

Chrystal: I know that both she and my mom would wear Alfred Sung perfume. And when we were younger, she would always buy us this special perfume called…

 

Chyna: Mariella  Burani.

 

Chrystal: Now, it’s hard to find in stores, but this past Christmas, our mom gifted us with our own Mariella  Burani perfume. She knows how much it meant to us.

 

Chyna: We even have old bottles…

 

Chrystal: That our godmother gave us; we kept them as memorabilia. We still have them on our dresser.

 

Streetwise Radio: How did Natalie become your godmother?

 

Chyna: Our mom, Benita Hill-Johnson, was 19 when she met our godmother, Natalie Cole. Our mom met our god mom through our Auntie, Chaka Khan. 

 

Chrystal:  Our mother met Auntie Chaka when she was 17. This was before Rufus and Chaka Khan blew up before they had their first big hit. Our mother was Auntie Chaka’s first Los Angeles friend, and she lived with our mother and our grandmother. Our grandmother is Chaka’s daughter’s godmother. We’re all connected.  My mom lived with our godmother when she was around 19 and she was helping with our godbrother, Robbie Yancy. She was in the room when a lot of the songs on our godmother’s album, “Thankful” were written with (husband/producer) Marvin Yancy. Our mother and our godmother—they had a relationship— basically being like sisters through Christ. That’s why they were divinely close. Our mother was our godmother’s, right-hand woman. Our mom was there for everything, from the beginning. She saw everything. 

 

Chyna: Our mom was doing “American Bandstand” for a little bit, but she started off as a “Soul Train” regular dancer. 

 

Chrystal: Our mother was a singer as well, and she got to sing with Bobby Womack. In LA, at the time, the gospel scene was big, so she was in some choirs. She was divinely connected but not on purpose. It’s not like she sought out the chance to be around celebrities. She loved music. She became a celebrity hairstylist; at one time, Robert Townsend was her boss; and she was one of the key hairstylists on the sitcom “A Different World.”

 

Chyna: On the last season of “A Different World,”  she was responsible for Jasmine Guy and Cree Summer’s hair.

 

Chrystal: After “A Different World” ended in 1993, our mom became our godmother’s full-time personal assistant for 15 years, until our father passed away when we were 11. Our mom was more than a personal assistant; she handled a lot. She also helped with our god mom's comebacks. 

 

Chyna: She never missed a beat.

 

Chrystal: Even after she stopped working for our godmother after 15 years, people would still approach her and ask her to do stuff for her because they knew she was the right woman to get things done.

 

Streetwise Radio: Tell us about the influence of your Auntie Chaka Khan.

 

Chrystal: She’s our mentor. She definitely put us in a lot of rooms, and we are very appreciative. She’s always given us pointers and has been very supportive.

 

Chyna: We performed with her at the Microsoft Theatre in LA. 

 

Chrystal: That was our first big thing…

 

Chyna: Yes! She’s always been very supportive of ChrystalChyna in everything, like helping us figure out our group name. I remember when I first found out (Chaka) was my auntie. 

 

Chrystal: You know the movie, “Nutty Professor?” We were watching the sequel in our parent's room and “Tell Me Something Good” was playing in the movie. Our dad came into the room and said, “you know that’s your auntie, right?” We were like, really? When we were around her as children, we really weren’t thinking of that.

 

Streetwise Radio: I love ChrystalChina’s harmonies. Have you taken vocal lessons?

 

Chrystal: Yes, we started vocal training when we were 14, in 2011. March 5, 2011. I remember making it a big deal because I knew I wanted to do it. We started out being classically trained, and then we moved up, and we’re still being trained.

 

Streetwise Radio: What's it like working together, not only as sisters but as twins? 

 

Chrystal: It’s fun! I love it! 

 

Chyna: We feed off each other! We just have fun together every day. It’s just like, your best friend is coming over, but she lives with you. 

 

Chrystal. Exactly. I have fun with her every day.

 

Chyna: We’re always doing something!

 

Streetwise Radio: Tell us about your upcoming projects.  I love your video, “No Pressure.” 

 

Chrystal: We wrote, “No Pressure” in 2017. 

 

Chyna: We started recording “No Pressure” in mid-2018. We decided that it would be our debut single; because it’s really vibey and jazzy, at the same time, with a groove. It’s not too overwhelming. We decided to release a video; we filmed it here at our house. We live in the Crenshaw district of LA; and one of the areas is called Baldwin Hills, one of its three black, affluent neighborhoods in the hills. In Baldwin Hills, we live in an area called “the Dons.” Generations of LA kids; including our mom when she was young, went to parties in the Dons. 

 

Chrystal: The streets are called Don Miguel, Don Luis, Don Mariano,  etc. Our mother was raised in the Crenshaw district as well and we were raised here.

 

Chyna: We wanted to pay homage to that because it means a lot to us that people from different places become aware of the black history here in LA. A lot of people don’t know about it. We wanted the video-based in the early 2000s because I love the early 2000s aesthetic. We wanted a storyline: party in the Dons like it’s 2001. 

 

Streetwise Radio: Tell us more about the early 2000s aesthetic.

 

Chyna: Personally, Chrystal and I really love old-school music. I don’t really consider the 90s and early 2000s music old school, I say it’s a throwback. I love the way they filmed videos back then; the coloring, the lighting…

 

Chrystal: Everything was kind of futuristic, new millennium.

 

Chyna: We wanted to keep that aesthetic because Chrystal and I would always watch “106 and Park,” “Rap City” and “TRL.”  When we were kids, we had access to things; our parents sheltered us but they did not censor us.  We made the video and we did our own treatment. We took a lot of screenshots of videos that we love from years past, recreated them, and made them come to life. We were inspired by different eras and different films. 

 

 

Streetwise Radio: What is the first thing you would like to do when the world opens up? 

 

Chrystal: Party. (laughs).

 

Chyna: Party (laughs). I can’t wait to like, go out with my makeup on, and you can actually see my own face. When we drop our project, it would be nice to have a release party. And just to be able to feel safe.  

 

Listen to ChrstalChyna here on Streetwise Radio, and follow them on social media and other streaming services:

 

IG: -h​ttps://www.instagram.com/chrystalchyna/

 

Twitter ​- https://twitter.com/chrystalchyna

 

FB​ - h​ttps://www.facebook.com/ChrystalChyna

 

YouTube​ - ​https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCtDiATqGCWqDu4sz_kGDhXw

 

Debut Single, “No Pressure”:

Music Video: ​https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zoVJKbGl590

 

Spotify​:

https://open.spotify.com/track/4zZKq1r36fL1hQgkTX9JF8?si=nnelwRNuR92n3 zbqWlFTFA

 

AppleMusic: ​https://music.apple.com/us/album/no-pressure-single/1466474561

 

 

 


Tuesday, February 23, 2021

 Second Line for the Great Ones, 2021

By Shelah Moody


         “My mom couldn’t read, nor write. But I’ve been all around the world and met all kinds of people from all walks of life. I’ve done Royal Command Performances, I met Prince Charles back in the sixties and the Queen Mother. I know the sister of the king of Sweden; we hung out.  Sammy Davis, Bob Hope--we did things at the White House. I worked with Bill Clinton on the Millenium event and we partied until 4:30 a.m. But no one has ever topped my mom. She was illiterate in terms of education, but as a human being, she was number one. So I grew up with an angel, a person who had such a level, the human spirit. That’s all I know. That’s all I can be. People say, diva, but I’m really just little Mae Mae from Detroit, basically.”--Mary Wilson

       It seems like we are losing our legends faster than we can write about them. In this blog, I pay tribute to three of the influencers that we lost in 2021.


WARREN SMITH



Warren Smith & Shelah Moody

                                            

    On Jan, 13, all eyes and ears were focused on an impeachment hearing for Donald J. Trump, who was being held accountable for his role in inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, DC. 

     I was in a group chat on the subject of this historic event when someone changed the subject. 

    “Did you hear the news about Warren Smith?” someone asked.

     “On no,” I typed. “Did he pass?”

     “Yes.” Someone dropped a sad face emoji.

     “Mercy!” I typed. 

     Someone dropped the link to a post, written by his family, on his Facebook page.

     Sadly,  the post confirmed that Sierra Nevada World Music Festival founder Warren Smith -- Aug. 26, 1945- Jan. 11, 2021--had transitioned after a long illness.

       “Warren crossed peacefully at his beloved ranch on Monday, after falling asleep while wrapped in Gret’s embrace, surrounded with love and listening to Bob.”

       “Gret” is Warren’s loving wife and business partner, Gretchen Frantz, who’d helped him build and run the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival via their company, Epiphany Artists, since its inception in 1994. “Bob,” of course, refers to global music icon Bob Marley,  no doubt, one of his inspirations for starting SNWMF.  

    This is a hard blog to write because along with being the subject of many of my SNWMF interviews and reviews, Warren was also my friend. He and Gretchen would invite me to SNWMF wrap-up parties for staff and volunteers at his sprawling Ryde, CA ranch and we would often hang out at parties and gatherings.

     I began covering the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival in 1995  and followed them to three venues: Marysville, Frogstown, and finally,  Mendocino County Fairgrounds in Boonville, CA. 



Warren Smith & Cocoa Tea

      Over a 25-year span, the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival must have presented at least one musical act from every country on earth. This was Smith’s unique vision, as he traveled around the world looking for new and exotic talent to showcase at the festival. I am told that one of his favorite groups was Rupa and the Fishes, from the San Francisco Bay Area. 

      I had some wild times covering SNWMF. I met the love of my life there and was caught kissing behind a trailer, got kicked out of a hotel room for smoking ganja one year, and interviewed many music legends there, including two who passed during the pandemic--Frederick “Toots” Hibbert and Daddy U-Roy. 


Warren Smith & Luciano SNWMF





    In 2017, I suffered from severe anxiety, and years before the Coronavirus hit, I developed a dreadful fear of being in large crowds at outdoor music festivals. Also, as a 13-year member of the sober community, it was a challenge for me to be in the midst of revelers indulging in cannabis, booze, and every psychedelic drug you can name for three days (and nights) straight. Though I never made it back to SNWMF after 2016, Warren and Gretchen would still reach out to me and invite me to attend. I have hundreds of illuminating stories and good memories of the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival. 

     Here’s a fun fact about Smith: he was also an actor; he had a cameo role as a cop in the film “Basic Instinct,” shot in San Francisco, starring Sharon Stone and Michael Douglas. Smith, who was also an advocate for artists’ songwriting and publishing rights, believed in the creed that is proudly displayed on the SNWMF website: https://www.snwmf.com/


          “The Sierra Nevada World Music Festival promotes "conscious" music. Conscious music is music with a message of peace, unity, and brotherhood, which transcends the divisions of race and culture.”

     

CICELY TYSON





       As I was researching my tribute to Smith, I saw that Academy Award-winning actress Cicely Tyson trending on social media. This could only mean one thing. I got a text from a friend confirming that the 96-year-old icon had died on Jan. 28. Tyson had recently published her memoir, “Just As I Am,” and interviewed Gayle King on the CBS News.

      I grew up watching Tyson’s regal presence in films such as “Sounder,” “Roots” and “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.” One thing that fascinated me about Tyson was that she was the longtime muse, and later one of the wives, of jazz great Miles Davis. Oh, to be a fly on the wall in that household! Before Barack and Michelle, before Beyonce and Jay-Z, Cicely and Miles were the original black power couple!

       On Jan. 29, Tyson’s godson, Lenny Kravitz, posted a loving tribute to her on Instagram:

    “With inimitable style and grace, my dear Godmother Miss Cicely Tyson made her grand exit to the heavens,” Kravitz wrote. “She lived a remarkable life up to the last moment. A true pioneer, who bared her heart and soul so we could witness the spirit of the characters she so brilliantly portrayed, which continue to move and inspire generations. 

        A Black queen who showed us how beautiful black is. The love between us was and is tremendous.  As long as I have had consciousness, I’ve known Godmother. She and my mother were kindred spirits. Sisters. And after my mother passed, Godmother's role in my life was amplified.  I constantly felt her spirit over me. She always gave me unconditional support. She came to my shows, came over for holidays, met me for dinners, stayed with me in Paris when I first moved there, and never let me too far out of her sight. Our phone calls went on sometimes for hours. We spoke just a few nights ago and talked about everything. She had just sent me her book that has been sitting on my nightstand where it will remain. She did it all, wrote the book, and then God called her. I can hear Godmother saying  ‘ok, now y’all can read about it, I’m going home.’ Rest peacefully, Godmother. You did it all exquisitely #CicelyTyson.”






      On Feb. 15, I attended Tyson’s public viewing at
This was an epic opportunity to honor one of the great ones and I would not let the pandemic keep me away. I booked a ticket to New York and braved the mandatory 10-day quarantine upon my return to San Francisco. 






       The temperature was just above 30 degrees in Harlem and there was snow on the ground, but hundreds of masked people lined up for hours for the chance to say goodbye to a legend. Black suited members of the Nation of Islam passed out copies of “The Final Call,” which featured a Cicely Tyson cover story.





Vendors hawked Cicely Tyson’s photos, buttons, and T-shirts. A small choir of masked women held up Tyson’s photos as they sang “Amazing Grace.” Inline, I met a woman named Joyce, who attended Abyssinian Baptist Church with Tyson. Joyce told me she once rode in an elevator with Tyson and remembered her as gracious as well as tiny. She said she regretted not asking for a photo with the great one that day.






    In her final resting, Tyson was beautiful in purple ruffles and orchid lipstick that matched one of the floral arrangements near her casket. 


MARY WILSON



     Soon after the passing of Cicely Tyson, another great one, Mary Wilson, co-founder of one of pop music’s most successful groups, the Supremes, died on Feb. 8 at age 76. Wilson had just paid tribute to Tyson on her YouTube channel.

     I first met the Motown legend in 2005, when she was headlining at the Plush Room in SF. I was a staff member of the San Francisco Chronicle, and my podcasting team convinced Wilson to come to the Chronicle headquarters on Mission Street for the interview. https://blog.sfgate.com/chroncast/2005/12/02/mary-wilson-supremes-singer-finds-her-voice-in-solo-career/?fbclid=IwAR0kXELO_sg2jP1MS9OLD0ieIoheobwmAxSWgO1KawwGqsvRHuBPmvqFZqA


     To say that Wilson lit up the entire building that day would be an understatement. She was on a solo tour performing up close and personal material and her repertoire included Sting’s “Fields of Gold,” Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” and “Don’t Know Why” by Nora Jones.

     “I think that song is exquisite,” said Wilson. “I don’t know what the lyrics mean, ‘Don’t Know Why I Didn’t Come,’ but I won’t get into that!” (Drop smiling emoji here).

     Wilson was regal, down-to-earth, and funny as she talked about her solo career, her relationship with her musical sister, Diana Ross, and her work to support legislation to stop the spread of digital piracy. She also shared tips on staying youthful and sane in the volatile and chaotic entertainment industry. 

     “In the group, I was always in the middle,” said Wilson. “I found out in life why I’m always in the middle; I’m really just a middle person. I guess I’ve got a lot of Libra in me or something and I’m very balanced. My mom couldn’t read, nor write. But I’ve been all around the world and met all kinds of people from all walks of life. I’ve done Royal Command Performances, I met Prince Charles back in the sixties and the Queen Mother. I know the sister of the king of Sweden; we hung out.  Sammy Davis, Bob Hope, we did things at the White House. I worked with Bill Clinton on the Millenium event and we partied until 4:30 a.m. But no one has ever topped my mom. She was illiterate in terms of education, but as a human being, she was number one. So I grew up with an angel, a person who had such a level, the human spirit. That’s all I know. That’s all I can be. People say, diva, but I’m really just little Mae Mae from Detroit, basically.”