Archive for the ‘Entertainment’ Category

I watched last night’s telecast of the 2014 Grammy Awards live although I recorded it on my DVR. I am so very glad that I did both. Like most viewers, I was surprised by the mass marriage officiated by singer/songwriter/rapper/actress Queen Latifah, and preceded by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’s “Same Love” (featuring Mary Lambert), of couples from all walks of life. They were mixed-race, same-sex, different sex-same race and any and all permutations in between. In total, 33 couples chose to be legally married in the State of California by rap’s beautiful ebony Queen herself in a ceremony that included Madonna singing a slow version of her 1986 hit “Open Your Heart.”</p?

I have watched reaction to the event spread over the Internet throughout the night. I happened to be on Facebook when the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force asked for comments on the night’s most memorable and emotional performance. Most people, both LGBT and straight, were elated. Then again, if someone is following NGLTF (or “The Taskforce” as they wish to be known these days), that person is probably already at least an ally. Hence, the fact that at least 90% of the comments were positive shouldn’t be surprising. What I did find surprising is the 10% who were the marriage equality equivalent of Scrooge and seemed either totally removed from the struggles we as LGBT face or couldn’t care less about marriage equality as if it were some kind of frivolous nonsense. As someone who has lived at least 20 years of her life as a lesbian and, even now, am living as a female-identified bisexual woman, I can say that marriage equality is by no means frivolous. I don’t care if I never have to avail myself of the right to marry someone of the same sex, I want to know that I could if the right person came into my life. How ass-backwards for someone to disparage me, and those like me, for daring to want the same things that heterosexuals take for granted! Are LGBT people, other than the comment authors, doing so wonderfully that we can afford to dismiss any right we have won with a lot of silver, blood, sweat and not a few tears? I don’t believe so.

There is a part of the positive commentary that bothers me, however. Most viewers didn’t notice that there were mixed race couples marrying as well. Until mixed race marriage was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia in 1967, it was illegal in many states (if not most) for whites to marry anyone who wasn’t white. Miscegenation laws specifically prevented blacks and whites from marrying, very often using biblical references as the reason. Does that sound at all familiar? Therefore, when Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, with Mary Lambert performed “Same Love,” they really did mean marriage equality for all people–not LGBT, not straight, not same ethnicity/race. All people. What is it about “all” that some do not understand?

In closing, I would like to thank the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences for their support of marriage equality. I was so filled with gratitude, joy, wonderment and vicarious pride that I cried. State Defense of Marriage Act-like statutes are being struck down by courts throughout the country. It will not be long before “Same Love” will be the law of the land. In case there is any doubt whatsoever, even though is not quite open yet, we stand for marriage equality for ALL people over the age of consent. Equality for all is at the heart and soul of WWM and always will be. If someone can say to you that you are not allowed to love and commit to another person because of your sex, gender expression, race or ethnicity, then you are not viewed as equal. It is as simple as that.

Here is the YouTube video of last night’s heartfelt performance.

Kelly Clarkson

Country singer Kelly Clarkson

I’ve been transcribing an interview I conducted with one of grassroots politics’ unsung sheroes off and on for weeks. It isn’t that no one knows about her, believe me, they do. It’s that she isn’t known to people who are: 1) outside the Beltway, unless they’ve worked with her, or; 2) totally removed from social justice issues. Her name is Mandy Carter and she is one hell of a woman!

I was in the process of transcription, but had TweetDeck minimized, when I saw a blurb from Time magazine that read, “Kelly Clarkson: I’m not a ‘feminist.’” I shook my head and kept listening to Mandy speak into my earphones. She reached a point in the narrative where she referenced the beginning benchmark of her political activism: the Poor People’s Campaign that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been working on when he was assassinated in Memphis on April 4, 1968. I was barely in elementary school at the time, so I didn’t have any first- or even second-hand memories except what I’d read in books in high school and college. The only reason I read about the Poor People’s Campaign at all is because I was not as foolish and willfully ignorant as so very many people are today. I knew that there was a history largely untaught in traditional textbooks. For example, I knew that there was far more to my background than the fact that, according to textbooks, my Negroid ancestors first reached Europe and this continent because they were kidnapped from their homelands and enslaved. I had all kinds of intellectuals around me throughout my life, especially my mother and, therefore, knew that society didn’t just magically happen. People worked, fought and died for the rights that would otherwise be denied me. That led me to take Black Literature classes and Black History classes in high school and college, but even that was not enough. No, as Mandy spoke, she got to a point for which I had no reference. She was speaking about not only the Poor People’s Campaign, but “Resurrection City.” She knows about it because, at 18 years old, she was there.

Resurrection City was an encampment set up on the National Mall to house people who’d come to, again, march on Washington. It was organized by King, Bayard Rustin, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and others to fight for economic justice not only for blacks, but for poor people regardless of race, color or ethnicity. Even in the freshness of her mourning, Coretta Scott King led a Mother’s Day March that attracted thousands. Resurrection City grew to include over 3000 people from across geographic, economic, racial and ethnic divides, lasting for over a month. If you don’t know who any of these people or organizations are, wait a while and check this space for an announcement that will lead to higher learning on the matter.

In the years since I graduated from Kent State University (’83) and managed to finish two years of a three-year law program while truly and unknowingly ill in the months before the Americans with Disabilities Act had any regulations, I’ve learned that so many things were purposely kept from me as a black person; as a person of color, period; as a woman, and; as an American citizen. My first real proof that things were far more than they seemed came as I researched in preparation for writing a sci-fi/fantasy novel based on historic fact cum alternate universe. The novel was set largely in East Africa, but did include a fair amount of Southern African culture as well as a smattering of West African culture. Many, many African ethnic groups were matriarchal until the damn Jesuits and Anglicans got to them. I read a lot about goddesses from not only African societies, but from all over the world. I kept coming up with the same question: Why didn’t I know any of this? I didn’t know because men wrote and published the textbooks.

As I came to the answer of this fundamental question, I began to get angry. The more I read about African history, even though I’d had a bit of it in undergrad, I became angrier still. There came a tipping point where I could no longer hold it in. I literally screamed as loud as I could, crumpling to the floor deeply hurt I, as a black, queer, woman, was so hated. However, the pain and damage didn’t stop with me. There was an attitude of bigotry out there that kept everyone as ignorant of the truth as was possible. If it were left up to white men, women; non-whites, (who are, by the way, the majority of the world’s population even though we possess extremely little of its power), and; those of us in the LGBTQ spectrum would remain ignorant. Fortunately, there have been people through the centuries who have simply said “No.” In doing so, they were ostracized, beaten, trampled, attacked by dogs, imprisoned, forced to recant, tortured, literally run out of town (as my great-grandmother, a newly widowed teacher with five small children, was run from Rockmart, GA when the Klan came looking for her dead husband who had the legal right to vote because he was educated and owned property) and academically repudiated. Lives were ruined–utterly, completely and irrevocably.

Historic monuments were destroyed or made inaccessible such as the ruins of the Kushite Empire that lie under the High Aswan Dam and its reservoirs on Egypt’s southern border with Sudan. Try as they did, true and honest historians, archeologists and anthropologists of all races and ethnicities could not retrieve all that was laid waste before the bulldozers and water came. They never will and that part of history is probably lost to the world forever. How many of you even know there was a Kushite (or Cushite, depending on what you read) Empire? I’d wager that very few of you could raise your hands. Another question: How many of you believe, based on logic and evidence, that civilization flowed down the Nile and not up? How many even know that the Nile runs south to north and, therefore, south is up and north is down? Does anyone reading this know anything about the Great Rift Valley? What about ancient Zimbabwe and its ruins?

What Clarkson does not comprehend is monumental and two-fold: 1) the enormous impact of her statements because Americans are basically historically illiterate and others agree with her as a matter of longing for an antebellum lifestyle swept away by Sherman’s army, even though he was a racist himself, and; 2) how ignorant she is about everything, bless her little Southern belle heart. I bet she would learn how much of a feminist she is if a concert promoter were to suddenly decide not to pay her as much as a male country singer with a similar fan-base and record sales for each posterior she put in a venue’s seats. Would she feel differently if the royalty payments she receives from RCA were halved because she “didn’t have to support a family”? How about going to a doctor and being told that she could not have a prescription for birth control at all, even with her husband’s consent? What if her husband had the right to non-consent? How would she react if the world decided not to buy her records because she was a “slut,” “whore” and “fallen woman” because she lived with her husband and, one would assume, had sex with him, before they were married? Would Clarkson then be a feminist? Why does she think those things, with the exception of name-calling, don’t happen legally now? They don’t happen because women said, “No. No more!”

Kelly Clarkson, are you a feminist now? If not, may God bless you and help your husband keep you safe from life’s gross inequalities. Should there ever come a day when you are no longer married, I’d suggest having an army of male attorneys at your beck and call who won’t presume to judge you to take care of your anti-feminist self. I am going back to listening to and writing about a feminist–a real woman the likes of whom you’ve never even contemplated.

For the few people who’ve been living on that planet-type thingy called “Pluto,” soul/R&B singer Robin Thicke’s single, “Blurred Lines,” is burning up the charts and taking no prisoners. Although it was released on March 26–19 weeks ago–as of August 6, it’s hit #1 on charts in an astonishing 80 countries and will no doubt get an assist from the second track from the Blurred Lines LP, “Give It 2 U.” The LP is currently #9 on the iTunes Album Chart while the single is still atop the iTunes Singles Chart.

The “Blurred Lines” single was produced by Pharrell Williams who wrote and recorded it with Thicke in about two hours, later adding rapper T.I. to round out the scene the song portrays, according to a May 7 article on the GQ website. “Pharrell and I were in the studio and I told him that one of my favorite songs of all time was Marvin Gaye’s ‘Got to Give It Up.’ I was like, ‘Damn, we should make something like that, something with that groove.'” And so “Blurred Lines” was conceived, baked like a bun in the oven and delivered . . . straight into controversy.

"Blurred Lines" single by Robin Thicke (featuring T.I. + Pharrell)

“Blurred Lines” single by Robin Thicke (featuring T.I. + Pharrell)

As a music reviewer, I’m supposed to know everything there is to know about the music I’m reviewing. However, in this instance, I am at a complete loss as to why the song and the video created such an uproar. Seriously, I had to look inside and ask myself if I was missing something. I must have listened to “Blurred Lines” at least 30 times in the last week, at a minimum. At least five of those times were with the words sitting right in front of me so that I could make sure I hadn’t misheard a line or 20. It turns out that my sense of female power and my sense of hearing are both intact. It’s the individuals who called the song and video “sexist” and “degrading to women” who seem to have issues. Those issues primarily have to do with sex and, perhaps, a little bit with non-white, working class culture. Please allow me to explain.

Although a parody, “Blurred Lines” very obviously speaks to the madonna/whore dichotomy that still exists in the United States. Many women and men still believe that a woman is a slut (a word I detest, btw) if she seeks sexual pleasure in a manner that satisfies her and discards some pronouncement somewhere by someone who probably has “three legs” that women have to hide who they are as sexual beings in order to be considered morally acceptable. The blurred lines of the title refer to the idea that “good girls” shouldn’t be sexually forward, sexually alluring and sexually free, but those characteristics are there even though she’s trying to be a “good girl.” I have a problem with that idea first and foremost because there are already too many people trying to tell me what I should do with my body. (Anti-choice activists, anyone?) The second reason I have a problem with the false madonna/whore, “good girl”/”bad girl” dichotomy is that all of the onus is on women to control themselves as opposed to the reality that her partner, if straight, is going to be a man. What is his responsibility? That’s always been a question I’ve wanted to ask an imam about sharia, but that’s another post.

The second seeming misinterpretation of “Blurred Lines” lies in the probability that most of those who’ve condemned the song are white. I can hear it now, “Well, Robin is a blue-eyed, white man, too.” Yeah, well, truthfully, I think he’s just a very light-skinned black man. :) He’s got a greater understanding of black culture than about 99.5% of whites in this country. That is partially because, for whatever reason, black culture attracted him. If I remember correctly, it was his mother, soap actress Gloria Loring, who fostered his love of Motown, Philly International, Stax and Atlantic’s R&B catalog while his father, actor Alan Thicke, fostered his knowledge of rock. Now, add to that the fact that he fell in love with a black girl, now his wife, actress Paula Patton, when they were both in their teens, thereby making him an honorary black man. I don’t mean that as a joke or as something another person, be they black or white, would be pleased about.

Personal experience has taught me that black men with white women have a more difficult time with attitudes of family, “friends” and colleagues than white men with black women. However, that doesn’t mean there’s smooth sailing for either of them. In this instance, Thicke had to see the pain inflicted on the love of his life just because of the color of her skin and has written songs about how it makes him feel. The first was in the track “Dreamworld” from his 2008 LP Something Else and then on his 2011 LP Love After War with the track “I Don’t Know How It Feels To Be You.” Although Patton is biracial, she identifies as a black woman. That is also how the rest of the world sees her. It doesn’t matter that her mother is white. Patton’s skin color is a lovely café au lait. In addition, since giving birth to her son, Julian, a couple of years ago, her body reflects more of her black heritage than it did before. Personally, I’m not complaining about that one bit! In fact, I’m thanking the good Lord for deciding to play up those genes, but I digress.

Within black, working-class culture, it is not at all unusual to see a group of men hanging out on the corner talking smack, smoking whatever and flirting with pretty girls and women. If we were truthful, we’d admit that we like it as long as talk doesn’t turn to physical or verbal violence. What woman doesn’t like to be appreciated under appropriate circumstances? It gives us power and we love it! I’m of the belief that all girls need to begin to learn about the natural power they have starting just before puberty. Otherwise, they’ll be ill-prepared to deal with men OR other women. Sex is one of the most powerful gifts given to all creatures, but particularly mammals. Why on earth shouldn’t we be happy men want to “talk” (also known as “rap”) to us? Oh, right. It’s sexist and degrading. Hmph! Then call me a victim of sexism and degradation because I am not complaining. I thoroughly enjoy harmless flirting with and by men and women.

That just leaves the maelstrom (I borrowed that description from Daddy Thicke’s interview in the August 5 online edition of The Daily Mail because it so accurately describes the fuss) that followed once the video was released. Oy! Not only were Thicke, T.I. and Pharrell accused of being sexist and degrading, the original video was banned from YouTube! In all fairness, it did have three topless models walking around; mylar balloons that said, “Robin Thicke has a big dick,” and; YouTube has viewers of all ages. Nevertheless, I’m of the opinion that it isn’t content providers’ place to police the Internet. That job belongs to the parents of the children who may actually be harmed by something. There are at least two versions of the video and I believe there may be a third. Video service vevo has an edited and an unrated version up. I would have embedded it, but WordPress apparently has security issues with the service. YouTube eventually relented and put the edited video up with a parental advisory.

Eh. The entire controversy is ridiculous in the first place. Parody such as the “Blurred Lines” video is perfectly legitimate. Unfortunately, I had to thoroughly address it before going on to do what I really want to do and review the LP. Due to this faux controversy crap, there are precious few words left in this posting.

I had no intention whatsoever of liking Thicke’s new LP, Blurred Lines. I’d read that it would be heavy with dance/pop music and I wanted more of the soulful ballads by which to make babies. I live for my Robin Thicke ballads! I was all prepared to ask the music gods, “Why, why, why did you let him let me down?” as tears flowed forth from my eyes like the Nile. I don’t like to admit it, but I was wrong. Indeed, I was very wrong. The LP dropped July 30; I downloaded it August 1, and; I haven’t stopped listening to it any time I’ve got music playing, which is most of the time.

Taking his cue from the cute, danceable and sexy single by the same name, Blurred Lines, the LP is quite sexually explicit. Mind you, I don’t have any problem with that at all, but I’m a grown woman who could probably teach the Thicke-Pattons a few things about f . . . er, making love. I love it when Thicke sings about getting his/their freak on. Is it any wonder that my very favorite of his six LPs is Sex Therapy? That’s just who I am and another reviewer might say that there is too much emphasis on sex. OK, so let’s concentrate on dance.

The first few seconds of the second track on the LP, “Take It Easy On Me” made me remember my days in undergrad. Not only was I a disc jockey on the NPR station at Oberlin College my freshman year, my boss and the head DJ at the campus disco was my lover from his junior year until long after I’d transferred and graduated from Kent State and he’d graduated from Oberlin. My show at Oberlin was a combination of jazz and disco. Yes, I know that it looks weird on paper, but it works. The show was popular at Oberlin and at Kent’s smaller, closed-circuit radio station where I landed after being turned down by Kent’s NPR station.

My now-former lover’s blood cells should be shaped like a treble clef. The man is made of music, no matter his other characteristics. He taught me a lot and watched me/heard me mess up so much it was embarrassing. But by the time I got to Kent, I was pretty good at crossfades and mixes. Until Thicke’s LP, I hadn’t realized how much I miss the music.

I mention this portion of my private life as background for what I’m about to write. This LP is pure late 70s through mid-80s dance music. Disco is NOT dead! Right now, I’m listening to “Get In My Way” and thinking that it would mix well with The Brothers Johnson’s “Stomp” sampled underneath. Don’t believe me? Here’s the YouTube video of the latter.

The beats are just a smidge off, but that’s easily fixed, as is matching keys. I wonder if anyone has tried to do that as yet. I can’t see how anyone who has ever spun professionally and been around during the disco/dance days could not hear it.

There is another song on the LP that I’ll mention briefly because the idea is cute, although the execution didn’t completely thrill me, although it is growing on me. “Ain’t No Hat 4 That” is a song about women taking consolation in the material things they can buy because they’ve spent so much time and energy on their careers they haven’t landed a love interest. I admit to knowing a whole lot about women like that, especially since will have them as its primary target readership when we launch October 1. The hook, “Ain’t no hat 4 that,” refers to the loneliness and sadness that can only be lifted by opening oneself up to possibilities and not by buying another accessory to stuff in an overcrowded closet. That’s well and good, but the thing that I truly loved about this track is that three generations of Thicke men played a part in it. Robin’s father, Alan, has a writing credit and his son, Julian, speaks “Ain’t no hat 4 that” with the most adorable little voice I’ve heard in ages.

The last song I want to highlight is “For the Rest of My Life.” It is classic Robin Thicke and I am so, so glad, even though I really do love this LP. Here, he’s singing about how he and his wife got together as kids. Yes, he’s sung about their relationship before, but he’s never revealed so much of their genesis in such detail. I am a hopeful romantic, so hearing how he got together with his wife let’s me know that there are still romantic males out there. Like most women who like men 100% or, in my case, somewhere averaging 30%-40% of the time, I need that reminder occasionally. Thanks, Robin! You’ve definitely killed it–but in a wonderful way–on this LP!

Minor editing on August 8, 2013.

October 1, 2013 marks the inaugural edition of, (WWM), an online magazine for women 35+ with a household income of $75K+; a traditional college or university education ending in at least a Bachelor’s degree; in middle-management or a profession, (i.e. attorney, doctor, dentist, engineer, architect, nurse, veterinarian, CPA, etc.), and; women who have brains and aren’t afraid to use them.

At the heart of WWM is DIVERSITY. We aren’t going to just talk the talk, but walk the walk. It will be completely usual to see ads and articles featuring people of color, biracial people, women who wear sizes 2-24 clothing and people who identify within the LGBT spectrum. I don’t care what a subject looks like or the gender of the person s/he loves–unless it’s relevant. I care about what he or she has to teach our readers. Obviously, stories have to resonate with a significant portion of our readership as well.

Freelance journalists needed for new online women's mag.

Freelance journalists needed for new online women’s mag.

All of the departments will not roll out in the first issue, but will do so throughout the coming 12 months. However, as things stand now, for the first issue I want pitches about economic issues; fashion; career advice; Native American affairs, and; music. I encourage pitches by diverse writers as long as they can write in English and write well. If you pitch a profile, (something I encourage), it’s got to be of a woman who is truly the epitome of a “wicked” woman. That is to say, she has made an extraordinary mark in her profession; is the first woman/minority in a position; saw a problem and did something about it in an effective manner, etc. In other words, an awesome woman who can teach others how to lead and succeed by example.

Now comes the difficult part. The pay is crappy by today’s freelance standards. I can only pay $200 for up to 1000 printed words. In the future, that will go up. However, because I am being very conservative in my commitments to you, I cannot promise more unless I find a publisher’s rep to represent the mag with advertisers and ad agencies between now and October 1. If you’re still interested, put the word “QUERY” in caps in the Subject, include a cover letter about yourself, a résumé and at least three clips or a link to clips with your pitch to ★tww★at★wickedwomanmag★dot★com by Sunday, August 18. Include art or sources for art and an e-mail address and phone number where you can be reached.

If chosen, articles based on your pitch will be due September 15. You must also be available for at least one Skype meeting prior to publication. If you have any other questions, feel free to contact me at ★tww★at★wickedwomanmag★dot★com.

I particularly encourage Latino, Native American and Asian journalists to pitch ideas.

Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines CD

Blurred Lines CD

For all those folks who were vacationing on the moon this past Tuesday, Robin Thicke’s new LP, Blurred Lines, dropped. Look for a review here Monday or Tuesday. Hint: I’m smiling. :D

This is just a “drive-by” post to let readers into hip-hop for grown folks know that, at last, we have some word on Eminem’s new LP dropping. The question is: When? That’s the hot speculation in the music world about the as-yet-untitled album. Some music news outlets like Breathecast and MStar News are printing the rumor of a May 28, 2013 release. However, in an interview with industry bible Billboard, Shady Records’ President Paul Rosenberg says, “We fully expect to be releasing a new Eminem album in 2013. He’s been working on it for some time.”

Eminem pal, mentor and frequent collaborator, Dr. Dre, mentioned in an interview with Los Angeles radio station Power 106’s Big Boy’s Neighborhood way back in the latter part of March that Eminem, real name Marshall Mathers, (aka Slim Shady), was in the studio working hard on his eighth album. “Em is finishing up his project,” Dre said.

The man also mentioned some exciting news about his own next venture. It’s all sort of very hush, hush, but Dre and Power 106’s Fuzzy Fantabulous are launching a new music subscription service. Hey, as Apple showed the record industry, vertical integration is the way to go. Dre’s got to have product to flow through his Beats Electronics product line. I’m sure he’s thinking this is an Apple killer. Go on, hon, keep thinking that way. Many before have tried and failed. You’ll be in good company. Oh, and Apple is a state of mind in addition to an innovative company. That is why others have failed. They don’t get it and never will. But that’s an article for another day.

Getting back to Mathers, the Huffington Post, of all outlets, is reporting that hints of a new album this year came from his 2012 merch. “Fans first caught wind of Eminem’s plans for a 2013 album when the rapper’s merchandise store began marketing a snapback hat printed with the years of ‘landmark Eminem solo albums,’ which included 2013.”

“It’s safe to say that it will be post-Memorial Day at some point, but we’re not exactly sure when, Rosenberg added. “We’ve got some dates locked in for him to perform live in Europe in August, so we’re trying to see what else lines up,” he elucidates in the Billboard article. The dates to which Rosenberg referred take Mathers to Belgium on August 15; Ireland; Scotland; England; France, and; a few dates back in England where he will finish up at the Leeds Festival in Bramham Park on August 25.

So now we ask the question again: When will Slim throw some shade? This is where the interworking of different record companies, labels and imprints gets interesting.

Aftermath Entertainment Facebook teaser about new Eminem LP

Aftermath Entertainment Facebook teaser about new Eminem LP.

Aftermath Entertainment, founded by Dre and distributed by Universal Music Group’s Interscope Records has on its roster: Dre; 50 cent; Kendrick Lamar and . . . Eminem, founder of the imprint Shady Records. Aftermath’s Facebook page had this graphic teaser up for some time, leaving anyone who might have an ear to the grooves to speculate.

The Christian Post is reporting that Em’s new LP is to drop on July 2, 2013 after originally going with the May 28 date. According to the Christian news outlet, they scooped the information from the hip-hop website I tried to find the original article on but was unsuccessful. Mstarz is also reporting the rumored May 28 date.

I realize this is breaking the third veil, so to speak, but why is The Christian Post interested in Eminem/Marshall Mathers/Slim Shady? Am I the only one asking this question? What a strange, weird, whacked-out world in which to live. Although the article was not at all judgemental, I just can’t see the fundy set tripping and cruising to Cold Wind Blows, W.T.P., Seduction or any other track on the Grammy-winning LP. Hey, just sayin’. . .

Since everyone and their mother-in-law has weighed in on a release date, I may as well too. The difference is that my predictions are based on absolutely no “inside” information at all. They are only guesses. Worse, yet, they are guesses with almost no basis. (Hey, at least I’ll admit it!) Having inserted those caveats, I vote for June 11, 2013. Eh, it’s two weeks after Memorial Day, so Rosenberg would be closer to right than not. Alternatively, I’ll suggest that June 18th is a fine Tuesday on which to release new material. Like June 11, it’s a Tuesday, which is the record industry’s day to release new product, and; it’s two weeks BEFORE July 2, 2013, which would probably confuse the fundies when they go get their permits to picket some radio station or record store (the few that still exist) because they’re on the LP. Ok, ok. That’s not fair to fundamentalist Christians. They probably have a spy in the Aftermath/Shady camp.

I stumbled across something totally unexpected very early this morning and thought I’d share.

If the title of this post sounds familiar, it’s because Straight, No Chaser is an iconic album by Thelonius Monk originally released in 1967; re-released on CD in 1996, and; the title of the much-acclaimed 1988 documentary Thelonius Monk: Straight, No Chaser produced by actor/director/jazz aficionado Clint Eastwood.

Anyone who knows anything about jazz has at least heard of this LP. The documentary, unfortunately, isn’t available for streaming on Netflix, but may be available to rent. Not to worry, though. The Wicked Woman is on the case! It seems that the doc is available for free on Open Culture, a site with an impressive number of free cultural and educational media.

Given the enormous stature of the LP, Monk and the documentary, it’s obvious that a musical group named Straight No Chaser (SNC) would definitely draw attention. And so it did when I was looking for something else on iTunes. At first, it was quite confusing. Did they have some connection to Monk? No. What is it that they sing and why should I care about the upcoming drop of their LP? The only way to answer those two questions was to listen, and listen I did! More importantly, I found their web site and took a moderately deep look. The first thing that makes SNC unique is that they are an a cappella group originally formed by ten young men while all were students at Indiana University. The second thing that makes them unusual is that they’ve gone through several personnel changes over their more than 12-year history, but have remained true to their sound and have become one of Indiana University’s institutional treasures. All of that aside, what truly makes this group special is that they’re really good.

I have played an instrument and/or been a singer nearly since I began talking. As I mentioned to someone, my blood cells should look like treble clefs when viewed under a microscope. The first songs I remember were by jazz vocalist Carmen McRae; the pop group The Fifth Dimension; Motown’s The Temptations, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, and; numerous adherents to the “Philadelphia Sound,” especially those on the Philadelphia International label, home to much-lauded legendary producers/songwriters Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. A bit later, I think, came Gil Scott-Heron’s iconic masterpiece, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised and there was always my love of rock & roll.

My interest in jazz began when I was barely a teen as I listened to my uncle’s voluminous record collection back in the days of vinyl. Indeed, he taught me how to care for my records so that, even today, although I no longer have a turntable (something I hope to fix this year), I am very conscious of their upkeep. I’ve also inherited my mother’s record collection–something I haven’t considered even looking for until this moment. As with our individual book collections, together we have a number of rarities, including those that have not been re-issued on CD, much less remastered for iTunes or Amazon. So, again, reading the words “Straight No Chaser” was something of a jolt because I associated it with Monk.

As a singer, I can say that singing a capella is “difficult” at best. Most find it impossible to do and remain on pitch. Remember, there’s no instrument to remind the singer of the note that should be sung as opposed to what actually comes out. In a group, if one person is off pitch, s/he can easily bring the entire ensemble down. I’ve been in choirs where that has happened and we’ve lost competitions because of it. I should say that I am the product of a school system that places a high value on the arts, especially the performing arts. I was in two high school choirs. One, a class for credit, performed classical choral music as well as some pop with a choirmaster who was famous throughout the country. (The choir also had an off-shoot that performed separately, including a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta each year.) The other, an extra-curricular, performed gospel music led by a choirmaster who was just phenomenal in his devotion to his students and members of the choir. I’m sure that he motivated at least one or two of us to go into education because he was so very inspirational. The third choral ensemble was a class for credit even though it would now be called a “show choir,” but without as much dancing then.

Coming from the musical background I do, it isn’t all that easy to impress me, especially with pop music. Be that as it may, SNC was very impressive. They seem to have a fondness for R&B/soul music even though there is only one person of African descent in the group. They also seem to specialize in mash-ups. I have no problem with their choice of music because they get the job done with excellent arrangements, have fun and, most importantly, don’t have pitch problems–for the most part. I like them so much that I’d even consider buying a ticket to see them. Given the price of concert tickets these days, that’s saying a lot.

Their web site is neat and clean with everything anyone would want to know about the group and its members. There is also an extensive collection of videos. In my book, that’s a Very Good Thing. I wish more artists would post non-official videos instead of relying on their record companies to put out the stuff that’s been auto-tuned to death and lip-synced a day late and a dollar short. The videos on the SNC site are hosted by YouTube and, at least the ones I’ve seen, are of good to excellent quality. Many were submitted by the group’s millions of fans. Yes, you saw right. I wrote “millions.” Given that large fan base, why haven’t we heard more about them? My guess (and this is only a guess) is that their promo machine needs to be overhauled pronto. So far, they’ve relied on word-of-mouth and curious creatures like me stumbling into their site and listening to their music. That’s too bad, because they could do much better, especially since they do, or did, have a recording contract with Atlantic Records. The old WEA (Warner, Electra, Atlantic) promo and A&R machines used to be formidable. Why are they not promoting these guys? Look at the success of Justin Bieber. (I will not vomit on my laptop. I will not vomit on my laptop.) These guys are just young enough to reach the same market or, better yet, Bieber fans’ older sisters who have more money to spend. They are good looking, clean cut, wear suits when performing and know how to really sing sans auto-tune. What’s not to like about them?

So, without further ado, may I present Straight No Chaser!!

Since I know TWW readers will want an encore, grab some tissues for a tear-jerker performance. May I present one last time . . . Straight No Chaser!!

This was the last performance with the original members of the group. From what I can gather, both the then-new and the old hats performed this as their very last song. As someone who has had to do the same when high school graduation came around, I can tell you that it breaks your heart. However, you have to believe that you’re going on to something bigger and better. I am so grateful to have had the experiences I did with the people I did. I am equally glad that one of our own decided to start a Facebook page for us where we can share information and interact even though we’re spread all over the world. Performing together forged bonds that will last a lifetime. I would imagine the same is true for the members of Straight No Chaser. Hence, I understand very well the emotions they had when this last song of what they believed to be their last performance came up on the set list. I am grateful, however, that the original members are back together and doing well. So well, in fact, that a jaded former choir member/pianist/clarinetist/classical guitarist has no reservations about making her blog’s readers aware of their existence.