Category: Music

National Trust for Historic Preservation Announces Crowdfunding Campaign to Help Restore Nina Simone’s Childhood Home (WATCH)

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, through its African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, announced a crowdfunding campaign to support the restoration and preservation of Nina Simone’s childhood home in Tryon, NC.

This campaign, supported by artists, actors, and musicians including John Legend, will raise funds integral to the exterior restoration of the home where the celebrated singer, pianist and Civil Rights icon’s life began. The home, which has fallen into disrepair requiring urgent revitalization, was designated a National Treasure in June of 2018.

“Spaces devoted to the history and legacy of people of color, especially women of color, are far too few in America today,” said John Legend. “Preserving places like the Nina Simone childhood home will help keep her powerful story alive. This campaign pays tribute to Nina Simone’s unapologetic pursuit of musical, personal, and political freedom and I am proud to be a part of it.”

The National Trust’s crowdfunding campaign will run on IndieGoGo, beginning today, giving the public an opportunity to make donations to this effort, and to purchase newly designed Nina Simone-inspired merchandise including t-shirts, artist prints, pins, and postcards with artwork by Dare Coulter — a North Carolina-based artist working to create positive imagery of people of color. The campaign will also include the option to acquire additional merch donated by musicians including Talib Kweli and actors Mahershala Ali and Issa Rae.

“Our culture is embodied in old places and the history and stories they keep,” said Brent Leggs, executive director of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “This modest home in Tryon, North Carolina embodies the story of a young black girl who transcended the constraints placed on her in the Jim Crow south, to become the voice of the Civil Rights Movement. Nina Simone’s childhood home provides an important lens for examining the contours of her life, and through its preservation, we hope to celebrate and cement her legacy in our American narrative.”

In 1933, Eunice Waymon, aka Nina Simone, was born in Tryon, North Carolina. It was in this home that Simone first taught herself the piano at the age of three, performed in public for the first time at the neighborhood church where her mother preached, and where she experienced the constraints placed on African Americans in the rural Jim Crow South. This home would become the inspiration of some of her most influential music and political activism, including songs such as “Mississippi Goddam” and “Four Women.”

In recent years, the three-room, 660-square foot clapboard pier and beam house had fallen in disrepair. The vacant property was put on the market in 2016. Alarmed by the condition of the home and the risk of losing this connection to Nina Simone entirely, four African American visual artists—conceptual artist and painter Adam Pendleton, the sculptor and painter Rashid Johnson, the collagist and filmmaker Ellen Gallagher, and the abstract painter Julie Mehretu—purchased the property in 2017.

“When three fellow artists and I purchased Nina Simone’s childhood home in 2017, we did so with the desire that the site be transformed into a piece of living history, “ said artist Adam Pendleton. “This space, so integral to Nina Simone’s music and activism, can serve to carry forward her legacy and inspire future artists and musicians.”

Nina Simone’s career spanned multiple genres, four decades, several continents, and earned 15 Grammy nominations. Her songs have been professionally sampled and covered more than 500 times.

This week, the National Trust will be bringing the Nina Simone Crowdfunding campaign to the 25th annual Essence Festival, where attendees can claim exclusive perks and learn more about this National Treasure.

Pharrell Surprises 114 College-Bound High School Graduates with Summer Internships (WATCH)

According to becauseofthemwecan.com, Pharrell Williams offered seniors at Harlem’s Promise Academy internships for the summer following their college freshman year.

“So let me be clear, every member of the 2019 graduating class, is guaranteed an internship waiting for them, you, next summer,” Pharrell said in a video posted by Harlem’s Children’s Zone.

That’s 114 internships. 114 opportunities. 114 lives changed.

“It’s one thing to be ‘woke,’ another to be awake, leaned in and engaged,” said Pharrell during his keynote address.

read more via Pharrell Surprises 114 College Bound High School Graduates with Intern – BOTWC

Hip Hop Legend Christopher Wallace aka Notorious B.I.G. to be Honored With Street Naming in Brooklyn on June 10

(Image via Strategic Heights Media)

The Christopher Wallace Memorial Foundation will host the official street naming ceremony of Christopher “Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace Way to celebrate Brooklyn’s Notorious B.I.G., one of the greatest and most influential rappers of all time.

Voletta Wallace, Faith Evans, B.I.G.’s children T’Yanna Wallace and Christopher Wallace, representatives of the Christopher Wallace Memorial Foundation, members of the city council, and more will be present for the ceremony. Music will be provided by Hot 97’s DJ Enuff.

WHEN:                 Monday, June 10, 2019, 12-2pm EST

WHERE:               Corner of St. James Place and Fulton Street
                               Brooklyn, NY 11238

Sylvia Rhone Rises from President to Chairman & CEO of Epic Records

Sylvia Rhone (photo via twitter.com)

According to Variety.com, Sony Music Entertainment announced today the promotion of Sylvia Rhone to Chairman and CEO of Epic Records. In this role, Rhone will lead the overall creative direction and management of Epic Records, overseeing Epic’s roster of hit-making artists such as Travis Scott, Future, Camila Cabello, 21 Savage, Meghan Trainor, DJ Khaled, and French Montana

Rhone has been President of Epic Records since 2014, and since then has overseen projects including Scott’s 2018 best-selling album “Astroworld”; Camila Cabello’s debut album “Camila” and the smash single “Havana,” as well as music from Future, 21 Savage and others.

“I am excited to continue my amazing journey at Epic Records supported by Rob Stringer’s vision and leadership,” stated Rhone. “Everything we do is a testament to our incredible artists who set the bar of the entire Epic culture, inspiring our dedicated executive team every day and enriching the legacy of this great label.”

Before joining Sony Music, Rhone was President of Universal Motown Records and Executive Vice President at Universal Records from 2004. From 1994-2004, Rhone was Chairman and CEO of Warner Music Group’s Elektra Entertainment Group, the first African American woman to be named Chairman of a major record company, where she oversaw releases from artists such as Missy Elliott, Busta Rhymes, Metallica, Staind, Third Eye Blind, Tracy Chapman, and Natalie Merchant. Rhone began her career at Buddah Records in 1974, a label best-known for its Gladys Knight and the Pips albums. 

Rhone is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania‘s well-regarded Wharton Business School. She received an honorary doctorate from the Berklee College of Music on April 5, 2019, in recognition of her achievements as a leading female music executive who has headed labels multiple times during her career.

Intersection of Crenshaw and Slauson in South L.A. to Be Named Ermias “Nipsey Hussle” Asghedom Square in Honor of Rapper

April 9th, 2019, Los Angeles, CA – According to Ashley K. Thomas, Communications Director for South Los Angeles City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Harris-Dawson just announced that the intersection of Crenshaw Boulevard and West Slauson Avenue would be named in honor of one of its own, Ermias “Nipsey Hussle” Asghedom. The rapper, entrepreneur and champion for the South LA historic “Destination Crenshaw” project was recently murdered at his flagship Marathon Clothing Store located adjacent to the intersection.

A petition to get the intersection named in his honor circulated online shortly after his passing with over 500,000 signatures to date. The outpouring of love for the rapper has come from all over the globe with fans from China, Australia, Canada, Brazil and more signing the petition.

The city councilman and Asghedom developed a relationship through their work on the Destination Crenshaw project. The naming of the project, which will memorialize the culture and history of Black Los Angeles on Crenshaw Blvd., came from Nipsey.

He passionately articulated that “Crenshaw should be a destination,” further implying that all of the individuals riding the Metro LAX Line should stop at Crenshaw and spend their dollars in the community.

“Ermias Asghedom known as “Nipsey Hussle” was an icon and West Coast hero,” said Councilmember Harris-Dawson. “Nipsey’s genuine nature allowed him to be a light to everyone he interacted with from family, friends, fans, and his larger community.  As a father, brother, and son, Nipsey was a rock helping to build an empire that will continue through generations. Nipsey will always be remembered for delivering a pure, authentic Los Angeles sound, his numerous philanthropic efforts, his innovative, community-focused business mindset, and his humble heart. ”

In addition to the square dedication, the Los Angeles City Council will adjourn the Council meeting in honor of Nipsey Hussle, officially adding his contributions to the city of Los Angeles and the world into the public record.

The Grammy-nominated artist invested heavily in South Los Angeles, including his groundbreaking Marathon Clothing “Smart Store,” his ownership and redevelopment plans for the property on Slauson Avenue, investment in the beloved World on Wheels, co-founding of Vector90 (the first co-working space in South Los Angeles) and its STEM program for youth, and partner on Destination Crenshaw.

R.I.P. Nipsey Hussle, 33, Grammy-Nominated Hip Hop Artist, Entrepreneur and Community Activist

Nipsey Hussle (photo via commons.wikipedia.org)

Although the loss Nipsey Hussle, 33, is untimely and devastating, his life and all the good he was doing for his community must be honored and remembered. Hussle, born Ermias Asghedom, grew up in the Hyde Park area of Los Angeles, an economically and educationally underserved community often affected by violence.

As he rose to prominence as a rapper, including a Grammy nomination for his LP “Victory Lap,” Hussle reinvested in his South L.A. community by buying real estate, opening businesses, and hiring local residents as his employees. To quote from the Los Angeles Times:

“He once gave a pair of shoes to every student at an elementary school in Hyde Park, where he owned a burger joint, a fish market and a barbershop. He helped fund upgrades to the campus playground and offered jobs to his struggling neighbors. If someone lost a loved one to gun violence, he would sometimes chip in for the funeral.”

Hussle was also working with community leaders to address issues that affected his neighborhood:

“The man was instrumental in a lot of stuff,” said community activist Malik Spellman. “Fighting gentrification, trying to stop gang violence.”

The shooting came a day before Hussle was scheduled to meet with LAPD Chief Michel Moore and Police Commissioner Steve Soboroff “to talk about ways he could help stop gang violence and help us help kids,” the commissioner said.

As Times writer Gerrick D. Kennedy wrote in his appreciation of Hussle and all that he meant to South L.A.:

“Here’s the thing to understand about Hussle, and why his death is exceptionally devastating not only to those of us who live and breathe hip-hop but also reside in his birthplace of South L.A.: He was more than a rapper. (Not that there’s anything wrong with just rapping, because there isn’t.)

Driven by a rapacious desire to reinvest in the streets that raised him and rebuild the community, Hussle became an entrepreneur, community organizer, activist and mentor as he transformed into a rap star. His death in front of the strip mall he was redeveloping a few blocks away from that celebratory banner feels particularly cruel.”

To read the rest of Kennedy’s tribute, click here.

Hussle is survived by a daughter and a son. May he rest in peace and may his good works not only never be forgotten, but let them be a blueprint for all those who come up behind him.

T.I. Honored by Georgia Senate For His Philanthropy

T.I. (photo by ConcertTour.org via commons.wikipedia.org)

Grammy Award-winning hip hop artist, actor and Atlanta native T.I. was honored at the Georgia State Capitol last Friday.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Democratic State Senator Donzella James sponsored a resolution applauding T.I. (née Clifford Joseph Harris, Jr.), for spearheading several non-profit organizations, including Harris Community Works, which works with the disadvantaged, and For The Love of Our Fathers, which aids people with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

T.I. is also credited for mentoring youth at local area schools in his hometown, hosting Thanksgiving turkey drives and delivering Christmas presents to families in need throughout Atlanta. He also started a real estate company called Buy Back The Block to help rebuild his old neighborhood in the Center Hill section of Atlanta.

Dancer Shaheem Sanchez Combines Sign Language and Hip Hop (VIDEO)

GBN just learned of dancer Shaheem Sanchez from the excellent post about him on inspirational website Ever Widening Circles. Sanchez, who is deaf, combines ASL (American sign language) with hip hop dancing. Read more about him here and watch his incredible story below:

‘Genius: Aretha Franklin’ Greenlighted As Third Installment Of Nat Geo Series; Suzan-Lori Parks Set As Showrunner

 Credit: Photo by Roger Bamber/ANL/REX/Shutterstock 

by Nellie Andreeva via deadline.com

It’s official — the upcoming third season of National Geographic’s scripted anthology series Genius will be devoted to the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, who died in August at age 76. The announcement was made Sunday at TCA.

Suzan-Lori Parks, Pulitzer Prize award-winning playwright of Topdog/Underdog, will be executive producer and showrunner of the project, from Imagine Television and Fox 21 TV Studios. Music mogul and longtime Franklin collaborator Clive Davis as well as Atlantic Records chairman and CEO Craig Kallman also executive produce.

Genius was renewed for a third season in April, with author Mary Shelley revealed as its subject, to follow Albert Einstein and Picasso. The Mary Shelley story remains in consideration for future installments of the anthology series.

The idea of doing a Franklin-centered Genius came together quickly following the music icon’s August 16 death, spearheaded by Imagine’s Brian Grazer. The project had been moving full steam ahead since, with securing access to Franklin’s music considered the one key element that would clinch a green light.

Bringing David, Kallman and Warner Music Group on board was very important in that aspect, with the producers currently able to use about 80% of Franklin’s catalog and working to secure the remaining titles.

Read more: https://deadline.com/2019/02/genius-aretha-franklin-greenlighted-season-3-nat-geo-series-suzan-lori-parks-showrunner-1202553998/amp/

REVIEW: Aretha Franklin’s Soul-Stirring “Amazing Grace” Documentary Soars Into the Divine

by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

Before reading, please understand the deep degree to which I am an Aretha Franklin fan. I have been in rapture since I was a teen grooving to “Jump To It,”  “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me),” “Think,” and, of course, “Respect.” My devotion to her voice and musicianship only intensified when I gained full access to her catalog when I DJ’d for my college radio station. I went all the way in, past her Arista recordings, back and through her Chess, Columbia and Atlantic LPs, and never came back out.

I played her records over and over, never singing along, so as not to disrespect or sully the divinity I was taking in. Back then, during this time of discovery of the breadth of Aretha’s genius, it would have been as rude as chatting during a sermon. I could go on – there is so much more Aretha stanning in my history including the full day spent watching every hour, minute and second of her funeral – but it’s enough to get the picture.

I am in, down, and for all things Aretha.

So a few years ago when I heard about film footage existing of Aretha recording her 1972 gospel masterpiece “Amazing Grace” in Los Angeles at Reverend James Cleveland‘s New Temple Missionary Baptist Church with the Southern California Community Choir, shot over two nights by Sydney Pollack (“Tootsie,” “The Way We Were,” “The Firm”), I was ecstatic.

It didn’t get released in conjunction with the album’s 1972 release as originally planned by Warner Bros. because the film’s recording was mishandled. Pollack, who died in 2008, did not use clapper boards, a crucial tool in matching sound with filmed images in the pre-digital era. There were 20 hours of raw footage shot by five 16-millimeter cameras to sync, so the project got shelved, until the footage was re-discovered over three decades later.

The movie was then set to screen at several prominent film festivals, but Franklin herself sued to stop it from being released. So I checked my thirst out of loyalty and stood by the Queen’s side, even if it meant never seeing what I was sure would be a Technicolor feast of mind-blowing artistry.

I brightened when I heard Aretha’s beef with the project was not about its content – she reportedly loved the content – it was about the money. Okay, cool – Aretha wanted her coins as well as her respect. I hoped it would all settle quickly, because as much as a person can be in love with her recordings, watching Aretha live, doing her thing, has always been where it’s at.

Not long after her passing, producer Alan Elliott screened “Amazing Grace” for Franklin’s family and got the family’s approval for release. It was picked up by NEON Studios for North American distribution and is slated to be in theaters in the early part of this year. But when I got a chance to see the film Thursday in Los Angeles on Opening Night of the 27th Annual Pan African Film Festival (#PAFF), I jumped to it.

Even though I saw it with an audience so fully there for it, and even with my freely admitted pre-disposition towards loving it, viewing “Amazing Grace” is a sensorial experience that exceeds all expectations. This “making of” documentary is a pure, raw American musical treasure that should go down, like Aretha, as the greatest of its ilk.

In case you’ve never heard the “Amazing Grace” double album or perhaps only know Aretha from Inaugural Hat or “Great Gowns, Beautiful Gowns” Taylor Swift memes, in 1972, Aretha Franklin is 29 and at the absolute height of her recording success, fame and vocal prowess.

As Tirrell D. Whittley, another of the film’s producers, put it during the Q&A that followed its #PAFF screening, Aretha was “it” back then, the Beyoncé of her time. And while at that height, Aretha decided to honor and commune with the roots from which her unparalleled artistry grew – church music.

Listening to the “Amazing Grace” LP (still the best-selling gospel album of all time), I always imagined it was a packed Sunday morning service where Aretha was singing with a fully-robed choir joyfully bouncing in step behind her. But what the film shows you instead is nighttime, a handful of white guys with mics, wires and cameras running around, and maybe 80-90 audience members, several of them likely not even New Temple congregants (Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts from the Rolling Stones are there one night, as are gospel great Clara Ward and her mother, Mother Ward).

Aretha Franklin from the film “Amazing Grace”

The backing choir, directed with great aptitude and verve by the lively Alexander Hamilton, does not wear church robes but all-black clothing underneath Vegas-style sparkly silver vests. They look more like they are at a local talent competition than a service, and they stay seated during most of the recording. Aretha alone is robed – the first night in a long, white, bejeweled caftan and the second in a beautiful chartreuse paisley one.

It is clear from her commanding sashays down the church aisle as she enters upon introduction from Rev. Cleveland, that Aretha is not only in church, but there to put in work. On the second night Aretha enters in one of her signature fur coats. Her walk, steps, bearing are those of a queen, unashamedly in charge and full of femininity. She touches outreached hands but intentionally keeps moving at her own pace.

While Cleveland plays host with avuncular affability as he encourages the crowd from the pulpit and piano, and Aretha’s father Rev. C.L. Franklin is solicited to offer remarks, Aretha herself barely talks during either session – seemingly conserving her voice between songs. When she does talk it’s brief and at whisper level.

I think it’s both the truth of what happened those nights as well as a great dramatic device – Aretha’s singing literally speaks for her. She has such sharp focus on what she is doing and trying to achieve – Aretha comes across not as a guileless prodigy, but as a hard-working, brilliant young woman who fully knows what she is capable of and what it takes to tap into and employ her superlative gift. She is also connected enough to know when to give in to it and allow a higher power work through her.

Aretha Franklin in “Amazing Grace”

Seeing the process with your own eyes makes it all the more impactful and palpable. When Aretha sits down at the piano and starts in on “Wholy Holy,” there is nothing to do but watch in awe. And at a certain point, song after great song, it hits you – as you take in the old-school microphones, the physical dynamics of the space and people in it, that the sound is, in a word, superb. I don’t know if it’s from remastering with present-day technology or because that audio was recorded so well back in 1972, but the depth and clarity of the music and the vocal responses to it are an aural delicacy.

The prosaic nature of the church space itself sits in humble, human contrast to the sublimeness occurring inside it. The church is not so much majestic as it is makeshift – and in the best way. The mural of Jesus on the wall behind the pulpit – let’s just say it’s barely a notch above paint-by-numbers. But looking at that amateur effort behind the woman who is evocatively singing “How I Got Over” and “What A Friend We Have In Jesus” in His name – it’s almost as if Mural Jesus sags in admission that no one could have painted an image to match the artistry and meditation of Aretha.

This is most evident during Aretha’s performance of the title track “Amazing Grace” – as she reaches higher and higher, the shouting and clapping from the audience rises and rises – people literally stand, fall, cry, and scream. Rev. Cleveland himself is so overcome by the power and beauty of what Aretha is delivering that he stops playing the piano so he can collect himself.

It’s such an incredible moment to watch – even the man running the show, a seasoned church pro – is overwhelmed and touched, all his pomp crumbling down under literal amazing grace. Many of us know that moment – when you witness something so superlative and divine, you can do nothing more than be in its presence and be thankful you exist to receive it.

The other indelible highlight in the film is Aretha’s delivery/deliverance of/during “Never Grow Old.” I have watched countless clips of Aretha performing live, at all ages and stages of her career. She is always professional and on point, but when she herself catches the spirit? There! Is! Nothing! Like! It!

Aretha is at the piano during “Never Grow Old” as you see it happening. She is so channelled and so in it that the spirit takes over the tempo, the piano, the choir, and several people in the audience. There is spirit dancing – Mother Ward falls out – an actual white towel is thrown in!

And as the towel comes towards camera, the audience watching the movie burst into laughter as did I, because it is perfect punctuation to what we were all feeling at that moment. We were in thrall and surrender to the power, the genius, the spirit, the joy that is flowing through Aretha Louise Franklin.

Even as you feel the heat, the light, the literal sweat on her brow coming at you through the screen, Aretha’s voice makes you shiver down to your bones.

“Amazing Grace” LP cover

The only song that doesn’t come across as powerful on film as it does on the record is “Mary Don’t You Weep.” According to producer Elliott, they did not have full visual coverage of “Mary” in the church, so they could not match it to the audio from the LP. What we do hear of “Mary” is still worthy of our time, suffering mainly from comparison to the oomph and punch so many of the other visually-realized songs have, including lesser-known songs such as “Climbing Higher Mountains” and “Precious Memories.”

But all in all, after dwelling for over 45 years in obscurity, the fact that the general public will finally get to see the best singer in the world recording the best gospel album of all time while communing in the most prolific and sustaining pillar of African-American society – the church – is the real blessing that needs to be recognized.

Even if you don’t know or revere Franklin’s work like I do but love any powerhouse singer from last 50 years, or just love music, you should see this film. For it proves without a doubt that since the sixties, all roads to enthralling, singular vocal ability, agility, facility and feeling lead back to one root, one person, one singer – Aretha. And her preternatural gift is never in finer form and potency than it is in “Amazing Grace.”