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R&B Singer Teena Marie Dies at 54

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(Reuters) - R&B singer and songwriter Teena Marie, best known for the hit 1980s singles "Lovergirl" and "Ooo La La La," died at her home in Los Angeles on Sunday, according to news reports. She was 54.

The cause of death was not known, and a spokeswoman was not immediately available for comment. Her friend, percussionist Sheila E, reported on Twitter that Teena Marie had a history of seizures.

Teena Marie, whose real name was Mary Brockert, was one of the rare white performers to enjoy crossover success on America's black music charts.

A protégée of funk singer Rick James, she signed with Motown Records in 1975 and released her first album four years later. That album, which was mostly written by James, led fans to believe that Teena Marie was black since it did not feature a picture of her. Her duet with James on "I'm a Sucker For You" peaked at No. 8 on Billboard's Black Singles chart.

"I've always been accepted by the black community and I think that's a beautiful thing," Teena Marie told Jet magazine in 2006.

She released 13 albums up to 2009's "Conga Square," on which she paid tribute to jazz influences, such as Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holiday.

Teena Marie's career had been on the upswing since 2004 when she signed with a New Orleans rap label and released her first album in a decade. "La Dona" debuted and peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard 200, the first time she had ever cracked the top 20. A song from the album, "Still in Love," took her onto the Hot 100 singles chart for the first time since 1988.

Two of her albums, 1981's "It Must Be Magic" and 1984's "Starchild," went gold for U.S. shipments in excess of 500,000 units each, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. The latter album, released after she left Motown in the wake of a legal battle, spawned the tune "Lovergirl," which hit No. 4 on the Hot 100. "Ooo La La La," meanwhile, went to No. 1 on the black singles chart in 1988.

Teena Marie is survived by a daughter, Alia Rose.

(Reporting by Dean Goodman; Editing by Paul Simao)


Former Clinton Aide 'Flacking' for Outvoted Ivory Coast Leader

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

Online newspaper Salon has learned that former special counsel to Bill Clinton, Lanny Davis, has joined the payroll of Laurent Gbagbo, the defeated leader of the Ivory Coast.

Davis, who represents a number of controversial corporate and foreign clients, told reporters at a press conference that the West African leader has “renounced violence” and that he “calls on Mr. Ouattara to join him in putting the arms down and sitting down to talk.”

In addition to the outvoted leader Gbagbo, Davis was on a million dollar per year retainer for Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the longtime repressive oligarch of oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, according to Salon.

Davis claims his law firm is counseling non-violence and transparency. But, reports from the scene by the U.N. and Amnesty International, note that vigilante groups are patrolling the streets of the principal city Abidjan and more than 50 people have been killed in recent days, hundreds have been abducted from their homes at night by armed assailants in military uniforms and bodies are turning up in morgues and on the streets. Thousands are reported to have fled the country to neighboring Liberia and Guinea for refuge.

A purported “fact sheet” distributed by Davis presents a litany of charges against the certified poll winner, Alassane Ouattara, who has also won near universal recognition as president since receiving the majority vote.

Dealing with Debt During the Holidays

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Don’t Allow a Seasonal Splurge to Ruin Your New Year

By Charlene Crowell, NNPA Columnist–

(NNPA) In 2010, many consumers will likely find that the traditions of the annual holiday season may be difficult – if not impossible - to observe this year. According to the Urban Institute’s National Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers, more than 500,000 people in this country do not have a place to call home each night and half of these people are also without shelter. Moreover according to HUD, an estimated 2,000,000 people experienced homelessness at some time during the year.

If you are one of the nearly one in four homeowners with a mortgage owing more on your home than it is now worth, count your blessings and remember that you are not alone.

The most recent survey by the Mortgage Bankers Association found that as of the end of the third quarter this year, approximately 7 million homeowners were 60 days or more delinquent on their mortgage. Although California, the nation’s most populous state, has the dubious distinction of being home to the largest number of delinquent mortgages – over 600,000, the highest average mortgage debt per borrower is in the District of Columbia with $342,695.

Despite deep and widespread indebtedness, the holidays will still tempt many to use credit to help make their celebrations merry. And, although access to credit is a long-standing concern for minority businesses and consumers alike, seasonal celebrations should not become an excuse to worsen already strained personal finances.

As many lenders, especially those offering mortgage loans, raise credit standards to qualify for a range of financial products, the cold and hard factor in reaching a decision on approving or rejecting a credit application will be determined by how well consumers have already managed their credit in this deepening recession. Troubled homeowners who have suffered foreclosure, a short sale or bankruptcy, should be mindful that those developments have likely already dropped your personal credit score.

Similarly, for those who are entering trial periods for loan modifications or are 30-days delinquent on a mortgage, think seriously before taking out a credit application to take advantage of a limited discount for new credit accounts. How often new credit applications are filed is one of the factors that determine credit scores.

The other factors in determining a credit score are payment history, outstanding debt, credit history length, and credit mix. Two of these factors - payment history and outstanding debt - account for 65 percent of the total score.

If you are considering whether to purchase a home in the New Year, be mindful that your credit score will be far more important than a seasonal extravagance. As many prospective homebuyers consider applying for mortgage loans, applicants with a credit score less than 700 will likely find credit approval a dicey process.

Among the largest banks, 90 percent use Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO) scores to make decisions. For example, if a consumer had a FICO score of 680 and then missed a monthly debt payment that one failure could lower their score by 60-80 points.

FICO scores range from 300-850 and measure how well consumer credit has historically been handled. In general, higher scores lead to better credit terms. In the case of mortgage lending, the direct benefit could be a lower interest rate over the life of the loan. Consumers with scores of 700 or most often qualify for lower mortgage rates. On a 30-year, $300,000 mortgage, a difference of 100 points could mean saving or paying $40,000 in interest over the life of the loan.

If you do not know your credit score, there is a convenient and free service available. Visit the government-mandated site, www.annualcreditreport.com where each year consumers can receive free credit scores. Although, many firms advertise ‘free credit reports’, those are usually private services that require a paid subscription for full access to your information.

If you’re in doubt this holiday season about your credit, visit the government site and keep those dollars for something more useful.

Charlene Crowell is the Center for Responsible Lending’s communications manager for state policy and outreach. She can be reached at: Charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org

Report Card on School Dropouts: Progress Made; Challenges Ahead

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Special to the NNPA from TheDefendersOneline.com –

In the last decade, a coalition of public school educators, parents and civic activists across the country have charted substantial progress in deterring tens of thousands of students from dropping out of high school, according to a newly-published study.

Among other things, the study showed there were 120,000 more high school graduates in 2008 than in 2001 (holding population constant) – a result fueled by overall graduation-rate increases in 29 states and significant graduation-rate increases among African-American, Latino-American and Native-American pupils.

It also resulted in the closing of more than 200 “dropout factories” – high schools that fail to graduate 40 percent or more of their students, giving the 400,000 students who would have attended them a better chance to earn a diploma.

These successes in pushing the national high school graduation rate from 72 percent in 2001 to 75 percent in 2008 show that the U.S. “is turning a corner on meeting the high school dropout epidemic,” write Colin and Alma Powell in introducing the report, Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic.

The detailed, 88-page document is the latest in a series of studies from the Powells’ organization, America’s Promise Alliance, which has sought to build a broad-based coalition to eliminate the dropout crisis of American public high schools. Today, according to the report, more than a million public high school students, each year don’t graduate with the class in which they entered high school; many of them have dropped out. Taken together, nearly 40 percent of minority high school students don’t graduate with their entering Class.

Earlier America’s Promise reports determined that while dropping out is a widespread phenomenon, the dropout epidemic is concentrated in a relatively small number of urban, suburban and rural high schools that over time have become dropout factories. A decade ago, they numbered about 2,000. Now, through strategies that ranged from transforming individual schools to closing individual schools, the report declares the number has been pared to 1,746.

Nonetheless, the report warns that despite the successes, “the rate of progress over the last decade … is too slow to reach the national goal of having 90 percent of students graduate from high school and obtain at least one year of post-secondary schooling or training by 2020.” It goes on to match on a one-to-one basis the “progress” made since 2001 with the “challenges” in that area which remain to be overcome.

For example, while 400,000 fewer pupils attend dropout factories, there are yet 2.2 million high school youth in the dropout factories that still exist. And, while the Class of 2008 graduated 120,000 more students than the Class of 2001, the Class of 2020 needs to graduate 600,000 more students than the Class of 2008 (holding population constant) in order to reach the goal of a 90-percent national graduation rate.

The report concludes by noting that “while the results of the past decade have been mixed, with progress in some areas, and limited improvement in others, these efforts have laid the groundwork for more rapid and systematic progress in the next decade.”

Those future initiatives, however, could be significantly undermined by something the report does not discuss: the impact of budget deficits at the federal, state, and local level on funds available for public school initiatives.

Groundbreaking Verdict in Cigarette Death Trial Against Tobacco Company

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Special to the NNPA from TheDefendersOnline.com –

In a groundbreaking judgment, a Massachusetts jury recently found the Lorillard tobacco company responsible for inducing a Boston woman to smoke as a child and ordered it to pay her family a total of $152 million.

The jury levied compensatory damages against the tobacco giant of $71 million and punitive damages of $81 million.

The woman, Marie Evans, started smoking cigarettes at 13, and despite trying to quit many times, became a lifelong smoker. She died of lung cancer at age 54 in 2002.

During the trial Lorillard’s attorney claimed that Ms. Evans’ numerous futile attempts to stop smoking as an adult were evidence that the company was not responsible for her admitted addiction to cigarettes. A Lorillard spokesman said they would appeal the verdict and attorneys familiar with such litigation said the case will likely be tied up in the courts for years.

Experts told the Boston Globe that the case was the first to attempt to hold Lorillard responsible for its practice of heavily marketing its Newport brand of menthol cigarettes in predominantly Black communities in the 1950s and 1960s.

Menthol cigarettes have long been the overwhelming cigarette of choice among African Americans who smoke, and studies have shown that the large majority of Black smokers, like smokers in general, start smoking in their teen years or even earlier.

Ms. Evans, whose son Willie Evans, pressed the case on her behalf after her death, stated in testimony videotaped shortly before she died that when she was a child living with her family in a public housing project in Boston’s predominantly Black Roxbury neighborhood, Lorillard company workers would come and hand out cigarettes to children as if they were candy. Lorillard denied that it used such tactics.

But Legacy, a nonprofit public health organization dedicated to smoking prevention efforts, called the Evans jury verdict “a sad reminder of the tobacco industry’s long history of marketing their products to our nation’s kids, luring them into a deadly addiction.”

A statement from the organization added that the verdict underscores the need for the Federal Drug Administration to ban menthol flavoring from cigarettes – a matter currently under its consideration – as a means of reducing youth smoking rates and tobacco-related health issues.

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