A+ R A-

Entertainment

Alvin Ailey Dancers Open U.S. Festival in Moscow

E-mail Print PDF

(Reuters) - The Alvin Ailey dance company, with its roots in the U.S. civil rights movement, opened the American Seasons festival in Moscow this week, electrifying audiences with a 50-year anniversary performance of its seminal, emotionally charged ballet "Revelations."

After a six-year absence in Russia, the contemporary troupe stayed true to its reputation that an "Ailey dancer does it all" rousing the audience with a range of jazz, classical and street to the soulful vocals of Nina Simone and the Duke Ellington orchestra's exuberant compositions.

But it was the stirring gospel and powerful story-telling of "Revelations" -- reaching arms and splayed hands evoking grief, determination, hope and redemption -- that set the Stanislavsky Music Theater clapping in chorus.

"When I think of 'Revelations', it speaks a lot to some of our struggles in our own country with racism and discrimination and how we overcame it because of our great faith: That is a story that needs to be told," Ailey's newly appointed artistic director Robert Battle told Reuters.

"I think sometimes you learn more about each other through the arts than you do through the history books," said Battle, who is taking over from Judith Jameson as the company's third artistic director since its creation in 1958.

"Dancing breaks down barriers that is why it is so wonderful to travel to some place like Moscow."

Since its debut in New York city in 1960, more people have seen "Revelations" than any other modern dance piece.

Ahead of the Russian performance on Wednesday the Ailey company aired a brief documentary on the inspiration for the piece: Drawn from Ailey's memories of an impoverished childhood in the segregated and church-going world of small town Texas.

First as a dancer with the Lester Horton Dance Company and then as a choreographer of 79 ballets infused with what he called "blood memories" from his troubled youth, Ailey became a hero to a whole generation of black modern dancers.

In 1988 he won the Kennedy Center Honor for Lifetime Contribution to American Culture and died a year later in December at the age of 58.

The Ailey troupe's Moscow performance not only launched a year of U.S. cultural events in Russia but the reopening of the Moscow Dance Inversions contemporary performance festival, including shows from France, Poland, Spain and the Netherlands this year, after a three year pause.

Gospel Music Documentary A Spiritual Awakening

E-mail Print PDF

(Reuters) - A white American expatriate living in Denmark has become the first filmmaker to direct a documentary feature about black gospel music.

"Rejoice and Shout," which has just begun a limited run in North American theaters, traces the 200-year evolution of gospel from southern slave plantations to the modern-day blending of urban pop elements.

It includes rare, full-length performance footage dating back to the 1920s, uplifting religious scenes, and interviews with the likes of late Dixie Hummingbirds lead singer Ira Tucker, Sr., Mavis Staples and Smokey Robinson.

The film narrows its focus to 15 artists, including the Golden Gate Quartet, the Dixie Hummingbirds, the Swan Silvertones, Thomas Dorsey, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Mahalia Jackson and Andrae Crouch.

"Rejoice and Shout" was directed by Don McGlynn ("The Howlin' Wolf Story"), and produced by Joe Lauro who owns a film archive boasting more than 30,000 individual musical performances.

McGlynn, 55, who lives in Copenhagen with his Danish wife and their children, said in a recent interview that he was introduced to gospel as a youngster when he saw Mahalia Jackson -- "the queen of gospel" -- on television, just like "every little kid in America.

"RIPPED THE PLACE APART"

"Then I started seeking it out more in particular," McGlynn added. "Among the greatest shows I've ever seen and certainly the most intense show I ever saw was James Cleveland with his choir (in the early 1980s). I literally thought the walls were gonna come down, it was so intense!

"I've also seen the Blind Boys of Alabama a few times, same thing. They just completely ripped the place apart."

So it was with a mix of elation and sorrow that he spent two years in an editing room, selecting 70 minutes of footage from "dozens and dozens of hours."

Many gospel stars ended up on the cutting room floor. Some did not even get that far because no footage exists. Thus the film largely ignores R.H. Harris and Sam Cooke, gospel superstars who served as lead singers of the Soul Stirrers, perhaps the greatest gospel harmony group ever.

"Even though that's one of my favorite groups, the Soul Stirrers, I was just so sad there wasn't anything," McGlynn said. "I love Sam Cooke too, individually, his great solo records. But these things happen sometimes."

Cooke's diverse career was covered a few years ago in a Grammy-winning documentary. But viewers wanting to find out more about Harris, who died in obscurity in 2000, will have to dig deeply. He merely rates a Wikipedia stub.

Because of the scope of the project, "Rejoice and Shout" does not delve too deeply into the lives of its subjects. Clara Ward, viewers learn, was suffocated (metaphorically) by a controlling stage mother. Prolific songwriter Thomas Dorsey, whose many gems include "Peace in the Valley," also composed filthy blues tunes.

But "king of gospel" the Rev. James Cleveland's reported double life as a closeted gay man is not discussed, nor indeed is the vibrant gay subculture in gospel.

"James Cleveland is so magnificent and so important, I didn't need to wave a flag about his problems," McGlynn said. "I wonder how he felt being gay in that circumstance?"

Cleveland died in 1991 with an estate worth an estimated $6 million, while others died in poverty. The financial angle also goes unmentioned.

With the exception of Edwin Hawkins' massive 1969 pop hit "Oh Happy Day," gospel's crossover appeal to the white mainstream is largely overlooked. The Dixie Hummingbirds and Claude Jeter of the Swan Silvertones recorded with Paul Simon. Kirk Franklin reached the top 10 of the pop charts in the 1990s. Gospel music was used for the Coen brothers' 2000 movie "Oh, Brother Where Art Thou?"

McGlynn hopes moviegoers will take the critically acclaimed film's title to heart, and treat it like a religious experience.

"There's an experiential thing about seeing it with other people," he said. "I'd like to see people talk back to the screen. We did a lot of work on the sound to make it enveloping and I really hope they do that."

Patrice Rushen Hosts Shaping The Sound Of Television: The Black Music Directors

E-mail Print PDF

In celebration of June being Black Music Month, The Next Twenty, the California African American Museum (CAAM), the Beverly Hills/Hollywood NAACP, the California Legislative Black Caucus, and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, AFL-CIO (AFTRA), recently presented at CAAM Shaping The Sound Of Television: The Black Music Directors, a panel discussion moderated by Grammy Award-winning R&B and jazz vocalist, composer, musical director and pianist Patrice Rushen.

The panel included six extraordinary talents who hold significant roles as music directors across the broad spectrum of broadcast and cable television: Michael Bearden (“Lopez Tonight”), Ray Chew (“American Idol”), Rickey Minor (“The Tonight Show with Jay Leno”), Greg Phillinganes (“ Grammy Awards”) Harold Wheeler (“Dancing with the Stars”), and James “Big Jim” Wright (“The Mo’Nique Show”).

The discussion illuminated their amazing journeys and explored the role of music directors as orchestrators of high-rated TV programs.

“Dr. Patrice Rushen, historically significant in her own right, captured music history with the leading music directors in television,” said program visionary Jeanie Weems, Owner of The Next Twenty. “This one-of-akind event captured the essence of my vision and took it well beyond my imagination.”

“These very visible musical directors are important to our community, because they give our children motivation and inspiration that they, too, can succeed in these creative fields,” said State Senator Curren D. Price, Jr. (D-Los Angeles). As CLBC Chair and Chair of the Joint Committee on the Arts, Senator Price is a champion of arts education and authored successful legislation last year that now allows taxpayers to make voluntary contributions to the California Arts Council on their state personal income tax returns.

“African Americans have gradually disappeared from leading prime time acting and news broadcasting roles on television, but in this context our contributions continue to be quite significant,” said California African American Museum (CAAM) Executive Director Charmaine Jefferson.

“ Tonight’s program not only brought to life CAAM’s mission to preserve and promote the art, history and culture of African Americans, but it allowed more than 400 attendees, including budding high school musicians, to come together to be a part of history, gain insight into the television music industry and enthusiastically celebrate the current contributions of seven fabulously talented music artists of African descent. It was a great night!”

AFTRA National Executive Director Kim Roberts Hedgpeth said: “This celebration of Black Music Month showcased the talent and creative diversity of these African American music directors, whose influences on incredible AFTRA-covered television programs are undeniable. We are proud to have partnered with the Beverly Hills/Hollywood NAACP, CAAM, the California Legislative Black Caucus and Jeanie Weems in this historic event, that celebrated and highlighted these amazing artists and their contributions to the television industry, and whose well deserved recognition is long overdue.”

“This was a true collaboration that was able to bring these extraordinary musical legends together in this historic event,” said Willis Edwards of the Beverly Hills/Hollywood NAACP. “Thanks to the creativity of Jeanie Weems, Owner of The Next Twenty, the joint efforts of AFTRA and the Beverly Hills/Hollywood NAACP, the organization and beautiful environment provided by CAAM, and the support of the California Legislative Black Caucus, we were able to create a truly memorable event. The Beverly Hills/Hollywood NAACP was proud to participate in an event that brought to the forefront an important segment of the entertainment industry, the multitalents of a select group of exceptional African American musicians who were raised in their local communities, developed themselves through music direction, and have risen to the heights where they now serve as role models for the next generation of musicians.”

An accomplished musical director, keyboardist, arranger and composer, Michael Bearden has worked with music greats such as Madonna, Sting, Carlos Santana, Nancy Wilson, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and Rod Stewart, to name a few. He’s written for notable jazz artists Rachelle Ferrell, Herbie Mann, Everette Harp and Will Downing, in addition to composing and arranging for several feature film scores and documentaries.

Bearden also served as music director for Michael Jackson’s “This Is It” tour, and co-producer and music director on the documentary-style film of the same name.

Emmy Award-nominated music producer and composer, Rickey Minor has built a resume of well-known projects and artist collaborations, including Christina Aguilera, Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Hudson, Usher, Beyonce, Quincy Jones and Jamie Foxx. He’s served as music director for the “Super Bowl,” “The Grammy Awards,” and six seasons of “American Idol.” He’s a three-time Emmy nominee for outstanding music direction, most recently drawing recognition for the “51st Annual Grammy Awards” show and “Genius: A Night For Ray Charles,” the television special that brought together such diverse figures as Elton John, Kenney Chesney and Norah Jones.

Orchestrator, composer, conductor, arranger and record producer, Harold Wheeler’s body of work includes four decades of composing and arranging musicals such as A Chorus Line, Dreamgirls, Coco and Scandal; Melvin Van Peeble’s Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death and Don’t Play Us Cheap. Wheeler’s been nominated for six Tony Awards for his work on musicals Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Hairspray, The Full Monty, Swing!, Little Me and The Life. He’s secured several motion pictures credits, composed jingles for major corporate brands, and served as arranger and/or music director for special events. Wheeler was also music conductor for the 76th and 79th Academy Awards productions, only the second African American to serve in that role.

Grammy -winning composer, lyricist, music producer, and singer, James “Big Jim” Wright is the Musical Director of the “Mo’Nique Show” and the “Penthouse Playas.” Has worked intimately as a songwriter and producer with many musical greats, including Janet Jackson, Elton John, Mariah Carey, The Isley Brothers, Anthony Hamilton, Chaka Khan, Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight. Wright has won several awards, including a Grammy for Best Gospel Song for Yolanda Adams’ “Be Blessed” and as Producer – Best R&B Album for Chaka Khan’s 2007 album “Funk This.” He is also known as one of the lead singers of the original group Sounds of Blackness. Greg Phillinganes has amassed a long list of credits as a musician, musical conductor and producer.

As the 2011 Grammy Awards Music Director, he served in the same role in 2008. Just recently he was the Music Director for “Surprise Oprah! A Farewell Spectacular.” Having also served as Musical Director for Michael Jackson’s “Bad” and “Dangerous” tours, Phillinganes has been recruited to serve as Musical Director for Cirque du Soleil’s “Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour” Las Vegas stage show. He has worked with artists from every musical genre from Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder, and Lionel Richie to Eric Clapton, Anita Baker, and Paulinho Da Costa.

Veteran composer and bandleader Ray Chew is the music director for Fox’s “American Idol.” He has served as musical director for various television series programs including NBC’s “It’s Showtime At The Apollo,” “Showtime at Apollo,” “The Singing Bee,” and “Sunday Best” on BET. Chew’s recording career spans from legendary artists such as Diana Ross and Donny Hathaway through Alicia Key’s three Grammy award-winning albums and many more.

Laurence Fishburne to Leave Hit Series 'CSI'

E-mail Print PDF

(Reuters) - Laurence Fishburne is leaving his starring role on TV forensic investigation drama "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" after a little more than two seasons, Hollywood publications reported on Wednesday.

Fishburne, 49, who plays former pathologist Dr. Raymond Langston on the worldwide hit, has opted not to renew his contract when the show returns in September for its 12th season, said Deadline Hollywood and The Hollywood Reporter.

The Emmy- and Tony award-winning actor joined the cast in the middle of the 2008-09 season as a replacement for original headliner William Peterson.

Once the biggest show on television, "CSI" ranked No. 10 last season with 13 million viewers in the United States, down from 17.6 million for the first episode since Petersen's departure. Its producers gave Fishburne's character a wardrobe make-over in 2009, dropping his glasses and suits look for more casual clothing that they hoped would appeal more to viewers.

CBS, which broadcasts the show in the United States, has yet to announce who will take Fishburne's place.

Deadline Hollywood said Fishburne is expected to resume his movie career full time. The "Matrix" actor returns to theaters in October with the thriller "Contagion."

The "CSI" franchise, rounded out by spinoffs "CSI: Miami" and "CSI: New York," is one of the best-selling American television exports, licensed in more than 200 countries. In 2010, "CSI" won the international television drama series award in Monte Carlo for the third time.

First Lady Michelle Obama to Appear on 'iCarly'

E-mail Print PDF

(Reuters) - First Lady Michelle Obama will appear on children's TV show "iCarly," -- a favorite program of her daughters -- to promote her initiative to support military families, the network behind the show said on Wednesday.

Michelle Obama chose "iCarly" because the lead character, Carly Shay who is played by Miranda Cosgrove, is the daughter of an Air Force colonel, according to the cable network Nickelodeon.

In the episode that will feature the first lady, Carly's father is not able to make it home for his birthday as planned. Michelle Obama will talk to Carly about how she is serving her country by being in a military family, the network said.

The episode will be shot on Monday and is scheduled to air in early 2012.

In the show "iCarly," which was created in 2007, Carly and her friends are constantly busy making a webcast for and about kids their age. The episode with Obama also revolves around a webcast.

Michelle Obama has said that she watches "iCarly" with her daughters, Malia, 12, and Sasha, 9. The first lady, and vice-president Joe Biden's wife Jill, recently launched an initiative called Joining Forces to encourage all Americans to help soldiers and their families.

Page 13 of 101

Quantcast