It’s official — the upcoming third season of National Geographic’s scripted anthology series Geniuswill 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.
Natalie Maria Cole was born on February 6, 1950, and grew up in a heavily musical atmosphere in Los Angeles’ exclusive Hancock Park area. In addition to her famous father, jazz and pop musical legend Nat King Cole, Natalie’s mother Maria had been a background vocalist with Duke Ellington.
Cole’s own breakthrough as a musical artist came via her early 1970s association with Chuck Jackson and Marvin Yancy, who once worked with one of Natalie’s real-life idols, Aretha Franklin. Her debut album “Inseparable” came out in 1975, which included two of her signature hits – “This Will Be” (#6 on the pop charts and the title track. Her debut also garnered her Grammy Awards for Best R&B female vocals and Best New Artist.
Cole subsequently had hits with “Sophisticated Lady,” “Mr. Melody,” “I’ve Got Love on My Mind,” “Our Love,” “Stand By,” “What You Won’t Do for Love,” “Hold On” and “Nothing But a Fool,” along with more platinum and gold albums. Acute drug problems, however, hindered her career and Cole eventually took time off time for recovery.
In 1985, Natalie released, in what was the start of a comeback, her album “Dangerous” for Modern Records. Late 1980s pop singles included “Jump Start My Heart,” “Miss You Like Crazy”, “Pink Cadillac” and “I Live for Your Love.”
In the midst of her ebb-and-flow R&B success, in 1991 Cole shifted into her familial jazz roots to record a new CD, “Unforgettable…with Love,” paying homage to her late father. With the help and encouragement of family, Cole re-arranged and re-recorded some of his greatest songs in the same studio that he recorded (Capitol Studios), used some of the same musicians and even recreated one of his signature songs, the title tune “Unforgettable,” with a technological effect that appeared as if they were dueting together.
Never before or since has this been pulled off and marketed so successfully. Not only did it sell well over 30 million copies, it would become an eight-time over platinum winner. It earned several awards on Grammy night, including “Album of the Year” and “Record of the Year,.”
Over time Natalie began covering more jazz standards. A jazz CD in 1994 also captured a Grammy. In addition, Cole branched out into occasional acting roles, including the social drama Lily in Winter (1994) and the autobiographical feature film Livin’ for Love: The Natalie Cole Story (2000) in which she played herself. She has also made infrequent acting appearances on such shows as “I’ll Fly Away,” “Law & Order,” “Touched by an Angel” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”
Cole passed away from congestive heart failure on December 31, 2015 in Los Angeles. She was 65 and is survived by one son, Robert Adam Yancy.
Ruth Alston Brown (born Ruth Weston), singer-songwriter and actress known for hit songs such as “So Long,” “Teardrops from My Eyes,” “5-10-15 Hours,”“(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean” and “Oh What A Dream” which earned her the nicknames “Miss Rhythm” and “Queen of R&B,” was born January 12, 1928 in Portsmouth, VA. She would have been 91 years old today.
In 1945 when she was just 17, Brown ran away from her home in Portsmouth along with trumpeter Jimmy Brown, whom she married, to sing in bars and clubs. According to biography.com, Brown would later discover that Jimmy was already married and their marriage was legally void.
By the time Brown learned of Jimmy Brown’s bigamy, she had already developed a reputation under his surname, so she kept the name Ruth Brown as a stage name for the rest of her life.
Brown soon spent a month with singing with Lucky Millinder‘s orchestra. Famous bandleader Cab Calloway‘s sister Blanche Calloway, owner of the Crystal Caverns nightclub in Washington D.C., became Brown’s manager and offered Brown a regular gig performing at her club. Willis Conover, the future Voice of America disc jockey, caught Brown’s act and recommended her to Atlantic Records bosses Ahmet Ertegün and Herb Abramson.
Brown was unable to audition for Atlantic as planned because of a car crash, which resulted in an almost year-long stay in the hospital. Regardless, she signed with Atlantic Records and Brown’s series of hits for Atlantic Records in the 1950s had many referring to the record label as “the house that Ruth built.”
Nevertheless, Brown’s popularity and R&B charts success did not translate into personal financial wealth. Due to a practice known as “whitewashing,” in which white singers covered black artists’ songs without permission, Brown’s records never sold nearly their full potential. Furthermore, Atlantic Records made Brown pay her recording and touring expenses out of pocket—costs that nearly equaled her cut of the sales.
According to wikipedia.org, during the 1960s, Brown faded from public view, moved to Long Island, New York, where she worked various part-time jobs as a teacher’s aide, school bus driver and maid just to make ends meet.
Brown returned to music in 1975 with the help of comedian Redd Foxx, and a series of comedic acting jobs followed. These included roles in the 1988 John Waters film Hairspray, and the Broadway productions of Amen Corner and Black and Blue. The latter earned her a Tony Award in 1989 as Best Actress in a Musical. She also won a Grammy Award for her album Blues on Broadway that same year.
Brown died in a Las Vegas–area hospital on November 17, 2006, from complications following a heart attack and stroke she suffered after surgery the previous month. She was 78 years old. Brown is buried at Roosevelt Memorial Park in Chesapeake City, Virginia.
One of the first great divas of modern American popular music, Brown’s songs provided a blueprint for much of the rock ‘n’ roll that soon came after her. In addition to the musical legacy she left, Brown also left future artists a more artist-friendly environment, thanks to her tireless work to reform the royalty system. To get a glimpse of Brown, and hear her legendary voice and style, click below:
According to the Seattle Times, musical artist, counterculture figure and guitar legend Jimi Hendrix will have a post office renamed for him in his Washington state hometown.
In late December a bill was signed into law re-christening the Renton Highlands Post Office the James Marshall “Jimi” Hendrix Post Office. The bill, which was passed unanimously, was sponsored by Rep. Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, and supported by both of Washington’s U.S. senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell.
“I am honored to join in paying tribute to rock and roll icon and Seattle native Jimi Hendrix with the renaming of the Renton Highlands Post Office as the James Marshall ‘Jimi’ Hendrix Post Office Building,” Congressperson Smith said in a statement. “This designation will further celebrate Hendrix’s deep connection to the Puget Sound region and help ensure that his creative legacy will be remembered by our community and inspire future generations.”
Hendrix grew up in Seattle, spending much of his formative years in the Central District. There are several other Hendrix tributes in Seattle – from a statue on Broadway Street to his namesake park adjacent to the Northwest African American Museum (NAAM) – undeniably putting “Seattle’s most recognizable son,” as the museum’s director LaNesha DeBardelaben described him, into the city’s history.
The Renton post office is less than a mile from the Jimi Hendrix Memorial in the Greenwood Memorial Park cemetery, where the guitar hero is buried.
Though he lived a short life, Hendrix’ impact on music and American culture is still felt today. Hendrix is best known for his hits and virtuoso guitar playing on “Hey Joe,” “Purple Haze,” and “The Wind Cries Mary,” along with “All Along the Watchtower,” “Foxy Lady,” and “Voodoo Child.”
He achieved widespread fame in the U.S. after his performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, and in 1968 his third and final studio album, Electric Ladyland, reached number one in the U.S. The world’s highest-paid performer at the time, Hendrix headlined the Woodstock Festival in 1969 and the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970. Check out his still-mesmerizing, revolutionary version of “Star-Spangled Banner” from 50 years ago:
The United States Postal Serviceannounced yesterday commemorative stamps honoring singing and dancing legends Marvin Gaye and Gregory Hines will be issued in 2019.
Though the specific release dates have yet to be revealed, Gaye’s stamp will be part of the Postal Service’s Music Icons series, which in the past has featured Ray Charles, Jimi Hendrix and Sarah Vaughan, and many other superlative talents.
Gaye, best known for early Motown hits with Tami Terrell such as “How Sweet It Is” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” as well has his groundbreaking What’s Going On album has a stamp design features a portrait inspired by historic photographs. The stamp pane is designed to resemble a vintage 45 rpm record sleeve. (A pane is the unit into which a full press sheet is divided before sale at post offices.) One side of the pane includes the stamps, brief text about Gaye’s legacy, and the image of a sliver of a record seeming to peek out the top of the sleeve.
Another portrait of Gaye, also inspired by historic photographs, appears on the reverse along with the Music Icons series logo. Art director Derry Noyes designed the stamp pane with original art by Kadir Nelson.
Hines’ stamp will be the 42nd stamp in the Black Heritage series, which in the past has honored historian Carter G. Woodson, civil rights activist Dorothy Height, and tennis champion Althea Gibson, among others. Noyes designed this stamp as well, which features a 1988 photograph of Hines by Jack Mitchell.
Hines is best known for his unique style of tap dancing injected new artistry and excitement into tap dancing with his unique style. A versatile performer who danced, acted and sang on Broadway, on television and in movies such as “Tap,”“White Knights,” and “Waiting To Exhale,” Hines developed the entertainment traditions of tap into an art form for a younger generation and is credited with renewing interest in tap during the 1990s.
In related postal news, a bill naming the post office at 3585 S. Vermont Ave. in South Los Angeles, CA the Marvin Gaye Post Office was signed into law this July.
Forty-six years after an Aretha Franklin gospel concert film was shot and abandoned, amazement is truly in order. The Franklin estate and producer Alan Elliott have reached an agreement to release the perpetually delayed “Amazing Grace” project, Variety can exclusively reveal. Although no distribution deal is yet in place for a planned general release in 2019, the film will premiere next Monday at the DOC NYC festival, followed by week-long Oscar-qualifying runs this month in Los Angeles and in December in New York.
“In recent weeks, Alan presented the film to the family at the African American Museum here, and we absolutely love it,” said Sabrina Owens, the late star’s niece and executor of her estate, in a phone interview from Detroit Sunday. “We can see Alan’s passion for the movie, and we are just as passionate about it. It’s in a very pure environment, very moving and inspirational, and it’s an opportunity for those individuals who had not experienced her in a gospel context to see how diverse her music is. We are so excited to be a part of this.”
The premiere is a very late addition to the long-since-announced DOC NYC festival; tickets for the Nov. 12 screening at the SVA Theatre go on sale this afternoon. “Amazing Grace” is then set for a qualifying run at the Laemmle Monica Nov. 20-27, followed by a week at Manhattan’s Film Forum Dec. 7-14. Official premiere events for L.A. and Detroit are in the early stages of being planned for next year. The Franklin family and Elliott believe a distribution deal will come quickly but wanted to get the film ready for awards consideration first, then cross that bridge.
Very quietly, the film had already snuck onto the Oscars’ voting-member viewing site, and Elliott has been receiving calls of congratulation from Academy members who’ve streamed it there. The producer said he’d gotten advice from agents and prospective publicists that they should wait to put it out for another year, to allow time for a multi-million-dollar Oscar campaign — but he and Owens hope it will contend now, without that, as a word-of-mouth underdog, and not just in the documentary category but for best picture.
The film was originally scheduled to premiere at the Telluride and Toronto festivals in 2015, before Franklin’s lawyers were granted an injunction in court in Denver halting the showings. Her attorneys argued the singer had the right to deny the use of her likeness in the movie, while Elliott maintained that all rights had been granted when he bought the uncompleted footage from Warner Bros. Following the Telluride standoff, Elliott and Franklin’s team agreed to negotiate in good faith with the aim of making the singer a partner in the movie; as Variety reported, separate distribution deals with Lionsgate and Concord were on the table before talks stalled as Franklin grew more ill.
The legal wrangling created the appearance of enmity between camps, and the late singer was not always an easy read when it came to business matters. But in the midst of the imbroglio, Franklin told the Detroit Free Press that she “loved” the movie, a DVD edit of which Elliott had sent her years ago. The quality of the film itself was never at issue, as it straightforwardly documented what many Franklin buffs consider to be her greatest performance, a two-night stand of pure gospel music recorded with an ace band of Atlantic Records musicians and the Rev. James Cleveland’s choir at a South-Central L.A. church in January 1972 — as released in audio form later that year on what is still the bestselling gospel album of all time.
Elliott had been friends for years with Owens, who invited him to Franklin’s funeral in Detroit Aug. 31. Two weeks later, he went back to the Charles Wright African American Museum to screen the movie for Franklin’s family and their friends, who were all seeing it for the first time. The reaction there, they both say, was jubilant, with a feeling of urgency coming out of the screening about getting it before the public sooner rather than later.
“I think the movie stands by itself, so it would have a good run whether it’s next year or it was two or three years ago,” says Elliott. “But obviously, her singularity and her absence are really felt right now, so I think there is that energy toward rediscovering things that she did. And I feel that this performance is really her crowning achievement — and I think she felt that way too. As much as anything, I wish she had been here to be a part of it, especially since she said she loved the movie.”
Elliott hopes for a Detroit premiere in April, with plans to involve the Poor People’s Campaign and Clean Water for Flint on a charitable level. “Detroit is a powerful home base, I think, for ‘Amazing Grace’,” he says, “even though I think it’s a Los Angeles thing. too. We’ve been working with Superintendent Mark Ridley Thomas to get historical status for the New Missionary Baptist Church (where the album and film were made).”
The picture was locked for its would-be Telluride premiere three years ago, but late last week, Elliott was back in a Hollywood studio working on separate stereo and 5.1 mixes of the audio with Jimmy Douglass, a well-known engineer and mixer. Douglass is most renowned nowadays for his work on hip-hop albums like Jay-Z’s “4:44” and as Timbaland’s long-time right-hand man, but he started out in the early ‘70s working on rock, pop and R&B albums at Atlantic, where one of his first assignments was helping mix the “Amazing Grace” album.
Douglass worked on the movie, like a lot of participants, on his own dime a few years ago. Is he surprised to be working in 2018 on something he started in 1972? “I’m never surprised,” Douglass laughs, taking a break while Franklin’s perspiring image appears frozen above the mixing board. “Am I happy I’m working on it one more time? Of course I am. Always. Alan tracked me down years ago and showed up with this amazing project, and as far as I was concerned, I was the only person on the planet who should have my hands in it. There’s nobody else around who was as close to that whole school that’s actually still out there slaying the beast and still making hits that should be touching this. I was like, ‘That’s mine, I’m sorry.’ And here we are.”
Viewers might quibble over whether it’s technically a concert movie or a church service movie, but it’s foremost a music movie. “Aretha says six words in the movie,” Elliott points out. “She says, ‘What key is it, E?’ and then she says, ‘Water.’ So, obviously getting the music right is the thing we can do best by her legacy, I think.”
Douglass has worked on the movie over a period of about eight years. Elliott, considerably longer. “I’m really excited for people to get it because I think it is the premiere document of American popular music that was ever filmed,” says the producer, “and I could never figure out why we never got to see it. And it started 27 years ago when Jerry Wexler (the album’s late producer) said to me, ‘By the way, we filmed “Amazing Grace”.’ Twenty-seven years is a long time to wait to see a movie.”
Years before director Sydney Pollack’s death in 2008, he encouraged Elliott to buy and complete the footage he had shot in 1972; the filmmaker went to Warner Bros. and gave them his blessing to sell Elliott the film, which had languished in storage for decades after problems synching visuals and audio make it impossible to edit with the existing technology. The film is going out without a directorial credit, after years of debate about whether Pollack would want to be credited on a project he wasn’t able to see through after the initial shoot.
For Owens, the film “shows Aretha in a very different light. She’s very youthful, very shy, and her voice is just beautiful throughout, at an age when her voice was absolutely crystal-clear and very pure. It’s very moving and inspirational, and I enjoy it as a fan of the church and gospel music beyond just the fact that it’s my aunt singing. This just seems like the best time, because I think any time an artist passes, they’re fresh on people’s minds and hearts. But also, I think people want something in a very spiritual mode, and I think this is a feel-good movie that could be very uplifting in a time of turmoil in our country.”
Producer/director Ava DuVernay is working with Netflix on a Prince documentary, two sources have confirmed to Variety. The project has the full cooperation of the late artist’s estate, which is providing with interviews, archival footage and photos. The multiple-part documentary will cover the artist’s entire life.
While renowned for her work on “Selma,” “Queen Sugar” and others, DuVernay made her big-screen debut in 2008 with “This Is the Life,” which chronicled the alternative hip-hop scene in Los Angeles in the 1990s.
A source also said that a documentary about Prince and the Revolution’s legendary concert at Minneapolis’ First Avenue in August of 1983 has landed at Apple Music. The show featured the premieres of several songs that would appear on the “Purple Rain” album and film nearly a year later, and, in fact, the album versions of three of those songs were recorded at the show (albeit with overdubs added later). The concert marked the debut of guitarist Wendy Melvoin and the “Purple Rain”-era incarnation of the Revolution.
Video and audio recordings from the concert and its rehearsals have been circulating on bootleg for many years, and feature a longer take of “Purple Rain” with an additional, seemingly ad-libbed verse that was dropped from the official version. Another song from the concert, “Electric Intercourse,” was originally mooted for the album but was replaced by the similar but superior song, “The Beautiful Ones.” A studio version of “Electric Intercourse” was finally released on the “Purple Rain” deluxe edition in 2017, although many fans consider the live version to be better.
Sean “Diddy” Combs announced Tuesday that he’s pledging $1 million to the Capital Preparatory Schools network to help provide children from underserved communities access to high-quality education. The school has been approved to expand to a third location in the New York City’s Bronx borough, and is set to open in September 2019.
Capital Prep Schools is a free, public charter school network, currently operating in Harlem and Bridgeport, Connecticut. The schools provide students in grades K-12 with a year-round, college preparatory education and has sent 100 percent of its low-income, minority, first-generation high school graduates to four-year colleges every year since its first class graduated in 2006. Capital Prep Bronx will open to serve 160 students in 6th to 7th grade and will grow to serve 650 students in 6th to 11 grade during an initial five-year term.
“Mr. Combs’ commitment and leadership continue to inspire us. On behalf of the Capital Prep students, parents and teachers I want to express our sincerest gratitude for such a generous gift,” said Dr. Steve Perry, the founder of Capital Prep Schools. “Mr. Combs wanted to open schools to develop leaders. What he’s done with his investment is embody what we expect students to do, which is to invest their resources in our communities.”
Combs is a Harlem native and worked closely with Dr. Perry to expand the school to new locations as well as enlist a team of educators, parents, and business leaders to bring the idea to life. He is also a benefactor.
“I came from the same environment these kids live in every day,” Combs said. “I understand the importance of access to a great education, and the critical role it plays in a child’s future. Our school provides historically disadvantaged students with the college and career skills needed to become responsible and engaged citizens for social justice. We don’t just teach kids to read, write and compute, we teach them how to make a difference and nurture them to be future leaders of our generation.”
Apart from giving away more than $1 million dollars in scholarship funds to students across America, The Carters have been working overtime to raise more than $6 million dollars for the City Of Hope charity, Forbes reports.
The organization, which specializes in cancer treatment and research, held a gala earlier this week in Santa Monica, California. The power couple was in attendance to help raise money for the non-profit organization.
JAY-Z and Beyonce partnered with Warner/Chappell Publishing CEO and Chairman Jon Platt to combine their efforts to bring forth a well-rounded event with top-notch industry players. According to Forbes, Dr. Dre, Tiffany Haddish, Usher, Quincy Jones, Wiz Khalifa, Timbaland, Kelly Rowland, and Rita Ora showed up in support of the event.
With more than 1,200 members of the entertainment industry present, Beyonce performed “Halo” and “Ave Maria” for the crowd.
The combined billionaires have greatly given back to their communities over their decades-long careers and constantly prove why they are considered the king and queen of hip-hop and evidently philanthropy.
If you would like to donate to City of Hope’s cancer research and treatment fund or find out more about the organization, click here.
“If you (poked) him, you would probably hear a sound of music. He was music, kind of like how God is love,” Nelson offered.
Although Prince died two years ago in April, the university decided to continue a process that had begun in 2015 and honor him with the posthumous degree. Awarding someone who isn’t alive is rare, the school said.
The university said the degree is in recognition of the singer’s “remarkable talent, enduring influence in music, and his role in shaping the city of Minneapolis.”
Kim said the university’s honor to Prince also serves as an important lesson and reminder. “Society pressures young people to conform to certain standards, and Prince was anything but standardized,” he said. “Be yourself, know who you are and good things are going to happen.”