Tag: Bedford-Stuyvesant

“Betty: They Say I’m Different” Documentary About Funk Music Pioneer Betty Davis to Premiere at Red Bull Music Festival in NY

The trailblazing funk singer, bandleader and producer Betty Davis dropped out of public for decades. A new documentary, “Betty: They Say I’m Different,” tells her story. (Credit: Robert Brenner)

For a few short years in the 1970s, no one made funk as raw as Betty Davis did. She sang bluntly about sex on her own terms, demanding satisfaction with feral yowls and rasps, her voice slicing across the grooves that she wrote and honed as her own bandleader and producer. Her stage clothes were shiny, skimpy, futuristic fantasies; her Afro was formidable.

A major label, Island, geared up a big national push for her third album, “Nasty Gal,” in 1975. But mainstream radio didn’t embrace her, and Island rejected her follow-up recordings. Not long afterward, she completely dropped out of public view for decades.

Ms. Davis’s voice now — speaking, not singing — resurfaces in Betty: They Say I’m Different,” an impressionistic documentary that will have its United States theatrical premiere on Wednesday at the Billie Holiday Theater in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, as part of the Red Bull Music Festival. The film includes glimpses of virtually the only known concert footage of Ms. Davis in her lascivious, head-turning prime, performing at a 1976 French rock festival. The present-day Ms. Davis is shown mostly from behind and heard in voice-over, though there is one poignant close-up of her face.

This month Ms. Davis, 72, gave a rare interview by telephone from her home near Pittsburgh to talk about the film and her music. After years of entreaties from and conversations with its director, Phil Cox, and producer, Damon Smith, she agreed to cooperate on “Betty: They Say I’m Different” because, she said, “I figured it would be better to have them cover me when I was alive than when I was dead.”

Mr. Cox said, via Skype from England, “Betty doesn’t want sympathy, and she’s found her own space now. To me, that is just as interesting as that woman she was in the 1970s. It’s the antithesis of the age we live in, where everybody wants to be on social media all the time.”

Ms. Davis has longtime fans from the ’70s and newer ones who have discovered her in reissues and through hip-hop samples. They have clung to a catalog and a persona that were musically bold, verbally shocking and entirely self-created. Long before the current era of explicit lyrics, Ms. Davis was cackling through songs like “Nasty Gal” — “You said I love you every way but your way/And my way was too dirty for you” — and “He Was a Big Freak,” which boasts, “I used to whip him/I used to beat him/Oh, he used to dig it.” She still won’t reveal who was, or whether there was, a real-life model for songs like those.

“I wrote about love, really, and all the levels of love,” she said. That emphatically included sexuality. “When I was writing about it, nobody was writing about it. But now everybody’s writing about it. It’s like a cliché.”

Ms. Davis was born Betty Mabry in Durham, North Carolina, in 1945, and she grew up there and in Pittsburgh. She headed to New York City in the early 1960s, when she was 17, and enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Technology. She supported herself as a model and a club manager; she reveled in the city’s night life, meeting figures like Andy Warhol, Sly Stone, Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix.

Continue reading ““Betty: They Say I’m Different” Documentary About Funk Music Pioneer Betty Davis to Premiere at Red Bull Music Festival in NY”

Oprah Winfrey and Former Alvin Ailey Dancer Dwana Smallwood Open Performing Arts Center in Bedford-Stuyvesant

Screen Shot 2015-06-22 at 5.46.42 PM
Dwana Smallwood (back) teaches dance at Dwana Smallwood Performing Arts Center in Bed-Stuy (photo via 7online.com)

The “Oprah Effect”: we’ve all heard about it, but to experience it is quite a different story.  Your life can change on a dime.  And it did for Dwana Smallwood, one of the premier dancers for Alvin Ailey.

What started as invite from Oprah turned into more than a $500,000 donation to a dancer’s dream.  “Oh my goodness, what a journey from Green Avenue down the street to right now. It’s been an extraordinary journey,” said Smallwood.

It’s a journey that took Smallwood from the streets of Bedford-Stuyvesant to performing around the world as one of the premiere dancers for Alvin Ailey’s elite dance company for 12 years. She is considered one of the best modern dancers since Judith Jamison and Mikhail Baryshnikov. Her power and her grace are electrifying.  “Even though Alvin Ailey is one of the biggest companies in the world, and that was the only place I wanted to dance, and I kept thinking is that my life’s purpose to perform,” Smallwood said.

And that could be enough for some but not for Dwana. So when life came knocking at her door once again, she did as she always did. She danced her way to the next opportunity this time appearing on “The Oprah Winfrey Show”.  But that performance morphed into so much more.  “I said please, please, please would you go to my school in South Africa and teach my girls what you know,” Oprah Winfrey said.

And she did. Her passion took on a new form as a teacher.  But what was supposed to be a one week stay at the school, turned into a four-year odyssey.  “First I was begging for a week. Then I was begging for a year,” Winfrey said.

The lessons extended far beyond dance, even for Dwana.  “It unleashed this person that knew that I could reach young people. I could figure out what’s going on with a young woman and I could help her figure out the brilliance within her,” Smallwood said.

“What she did at my school, she came in to teach dance but she taught them about life, she taught them all of the social emotional skills that we know it takes to really be successful, and not only survive but to thrive in the world,” Winfrey said.

With her mission accomplished in South Africa, home was calling her back.  “I truly love Brooklyn and I love Bed-Stuy,” Smallwood said.

Continue reading “Oprah Winfrey and Former Alvin Ailey Dancer Dwana Smallwood Open Performing Arts Center in Bedford-Stuyvesant”

Brooklyn Honors Spike Lee With “Do the Right Thing” Day

060514-celebs-spike-lee-brooklyn-street-do-the-right-thing

Spike Lee’s breakthrough film “Do the Right Thing” put Brooklyn on the cinematic map, and now the city is returning the favor by declaring June 30 “Do the Right Thing Day.”

Brooklyn borough president Eric Adams made the proclamation on Tuesday, on the 25th anniversary of Lee’s seminal film. The celebration includes a block party this Saturday in Bedford-Stuyvesant, the neighborhood in which Do the Right Thing is set. On Sunday, Brooklyn’s BAMcinématek will kick off a 10-day retrospective of Lee’s films.
Check out our exclusive interview with Spike Lee right here.

“Many people don’t realize how profound and powerful the movie ‘Do the Right Thing’ actually was,” said Adams during the ceremony. “Spike created an image of Brooklyn that was beyond the headlines, beyond the stereotyping, beyond the negative images.”

The 1989 film, which was nominated for two Oscars, traced one hot day on a Bedford-Stuyvesant block as long-simmering racial tensions boil over and a cast of characters including Lee as Mookie and the late Ruby Dee as Mother Sister struggle to endure the rising mercury.

article by Evelyn Diaz via bet.com