Tag: Tony Award Winner

Born On This Day in 1928: Ruth Brown, Grammy and Tony Award-Winning “Queen of R&B” and Musicians’ Rights Activist

by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

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.

Bonnie Raitt and Ruth Brown during 8th Annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, 1993 in Century City, CA, United States. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc)

Brown’s fight for musicians’ rights and royalties in 1987 led to the founding of the Rhythm and Blues Foundation to help emerging as well as aging R&B musicians. The nonprofit was financed by a settlement with Atlantic Records. Brown, who is also aunt to legendary Hip-Hop artist Rakim, was inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame in 1992 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.

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:

Tony Award Winner Daveed Diggs of ‘Hamilton’ Joins ABC’s ‘Black-ish’ in Season 3

Daveed Diggs Tony Awards
Daveed Diggs at the 2016 Tony Awards (EVAN AGOSTINI/INVISION/AP)

article by Maureen Ryan via Variety.com

When the third season of “Black-ish” arrives, the Johnson family will expand.  Fresh from the Broadway smash “Hamilton,” Daveed Diggs will have a major Season 3 arc as Rainbow Johnson’s brother, Johan, Variety can exclusively reveal. 

Bow (Tracee Ellis Ross) and Johan, whose mother is a very laid-back, hippie-ish soul, had very different childhoods than Dre, and that’s partly why Johan will be a frequent thorn in Dre’s side. Dre Johnson (Anthony Anderson) has always feared that his kids will grow up to be overly pampered, and it sounds like Johan is the personification of those fears. 

“He’s sort of a hipster, entitled kid who gets on Dre’s nerves,” creator and showrunner Kenya Barris said. “He’s constantly on a search for the best conditioner for his hair. He’s probably gone to Penn or Wharton and could have gotten a great-paying job, but he’s trying to find himself. That attitude more than anything makes Dre want to strangle him.”

For Diggs, who won a Tony for playing Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette in “Hamilton,” there’s even a tiny link to French culture.  Johan “has been to Paris twice and he’s like, ‘You Americans!’” Barris said. Johan, as it happens, doesn’t like his butter to be too cold and complains about Americans’ mania for refrigeration. “He’s like, ‘This butter’s making my croissant crumble,’” according to Barris. “Dre is constantly snatching food from him.” 

The upside for Johan, who will have a “substantial” recurring arc in the third season, is that the Johnson kids think he’s extremely cool — except for Diane (Marsai Martin). “She’s not buying that sh*t,” Barris said. 

Though Barris didn’t give an exact timetable, Diggs’ character will turn up “early” in Season 3. It’s not the actor’s only high-profile new role, by the way. Diggs has also lined up roles in the upcoming film “Wonder” and the HBO sports mockumentary “Tour de Pharmacy.”

To read more, go to: http://variety.com/2016/tv/news/black-ish-daveed-diggs-kenya-barris-1201818550/

HBO Drops Teaser for ‘Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill’ Starring Audra McDonald (VIDEO)

"Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill"
Audra McDonald as Billie Holiday in HBO’s “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill” (photo via blogs.indiewire.com)

Audra McDonald brings her acclaimed portrayal of Billie Holiday in the Broadway smash “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill” to HBO, with the exclusive presentation scheduled to debut Saturday, March 12, 2016.

Filmed before a live audience at Cafe Brasil in New Orleans, the special features McDonald in her history-making, tour de force performance as the jazz icon.

Originally written for off-Broadway by Lanie Roberston in 1987, the production tells Holiday’s life story through the songs that made her famous, including “God Bless the Child,” “What a Little Moonlight Can Do,” “Strange Fruit” and “Taint Nobody’s Biz-ness.”

McDonald made history and became Broadway’s most decorated performer when she won her sixth Tony Award, for “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill,” in 2014. In addition to setting the record for most competitive wins by an actor, she also became the first person to receive awards in all four acting categories. The show’s run at the Circle in the Square Theatre on Broadway was extended four times due to high demand.

“Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill” is directed by Lonny Price, who also directed the Broadway production, and produced by Allen Newman and Two Hands Entertainment. It was originally produced on Broadway by Jeffrey Richards, Jerry Frankel, Jessica Genick and Will Trice.

The special will also be available on HBO NOW and HBO GO.

The network has released a first teaser which is embedded below:

article by Tambay A. Obenson via Shadow and Act

THEATER: How Black Stars on Broadway are Redefining Legacy of “The Great White Way”

Keke Palmer And Sherri Shepherd's Debut In 'Cinderella' On Broadway
Keke Palmer And Sherri Shepherd’s Debut In ‘Cinderella’ On Broadway (Source: Jenny Anderson / Getty)

‘The Great White Way’ is seeing a serious dose of color these days.

In 2014, Black actors broke ground on Broadway when Norm Lewis became the first Black male to play the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera, and Keke Palmer played Rodger and Hammerstein’s first Black Cinderella on the stage. This year, Brandy scored another career milestone as the third notable Black actress to play femme fatale Roxie Hart in Chicago. And just last week, photos of Taye Diggs as Hedwig & The Angry Inch’s first Black male superstar hit the web to tons of excitement.

These inspiring moves are not only monumental for the actors, but also for the world of Broadway. While television and film are often called out for their extreme lack of diversity, Broadway has a long history of incorporating actors of color, as well as from the LGBT and disabled communities. And yet, despite impressive attempts at inclusivity, most people remain unaware of the strides made in the theater world.

To put it mildly, Hollywood could learn a lot from the Great White Way’s  moves to culturally harmonize the stage.

Brandy Norwood Prepares Her 'Chicago' Broadway Debut
Brandy as “Roxie Hart: in “Chicago” (Source: Bruce Glikas / Getty)

Black actors first began standing under those bright white lights in 1920 when Charles Giplin became the first Black actor on Broadway to play the lead role in The Emperor Jones. Seven years later, Ethel Waters became the first Black actress in a lead role in Africana. Meanwhile, Show Boat was the first production to feature an integrated cast and even an interracial marriage.

The Roaring Twenties gave us our “Black firsts” on Broadway, but racism and segregation marred an otherwise elegant art scene, due much in part to the terrible effects of minstrelsty.  Minstrels shows may not have been “Broadway” productions, but the racist shows garnered popularity nonetheless. Sometimes performed through the vaudeville platform (think baby Broadway), the productions continued through the 1960s, when fight for civil rights decreased their popularity.

Still, amid all of the setbacks, Black actors persevered by singing, dancing and acting their way into our hearts. More importantly, they did so not for the amusement of the White man, but out of their talent and genuine passion for the field.

In 1950, Juanita Hill was the first Black woman to win a Tony Award for a Supporting Role as Bloody Mary in South Pacific. Another Rodgers and Hammerstein production, the story was far from the famed duo’s most famous shows, but was notable for its tackling of the harmful affects of racism head-on.

The next 30 years would see a number of other noteworthy moments, including Diahann Carroll’s Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for No Strings. Vinnette Justine Carroll‘s achievement as the first Black female director of Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope, the production of Ntozake Shange’s emotional For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf, powerhouse actress Audra McDonald winning and of course Jennifer Holliday’s portrayal of Effie White in Dreamgirls:

But the last two years have been extremely notable for their high-profile and consistent opportunities for Black stage actors. Not only did Broadway darling Audra McDonald make history by winning her sixth Tony in 2014 (also becoming the only actress to win in all four acting categories), but Phyllicia Rashad won a Tony for the revival of A Raisin In The Sun and Denzel Washington shone in his much-praised role in August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Fences.

Continue reading “THEATER: How Black Stars on Broadway are Redefining Legacy of “The Great White Way””

“The Wiz” Lives on NBC this December as Live Musical Event

b_p_TheWizAccording to Variety.com, NBC has announced it will make its next live musical television event a remake of the 1975 Tony Award-winner “The Wiz.” The remake will air on December 3.

Opening in 1975, “The Wiz” ran for four years on Broadway and won seven Tonys, including best musical. It retells the classic story of “The Wizard of Oz” in an African-American context.

In 1978, the musical was adapted into a movie produced by Motown and starring Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell and original Broadway cast member Ted Ross. NBC’s announcement of the holiday television event comes at a time when broadcast networks are setting more diversified roles and casting more and more actors of color on TV, following the success of Fox’s “Empire” and ABC’s “How to Get Away With Murder,” among other series.

the wiz nbc musical
Cast of the 1978 “The Wiz” Movie (UNIVERSAL)

“The Wiz” marks NBC’s third such production, following the success of “The Sound of Music Live!,” starring Carrie Underwood, and “Peter Pan Live!,” starring Allison Williams as the title character.

“The Wiz” will be co-produced by Cirque du Soleil’s new stage theatrical division. After the television event, the musical will make its Broadway revival for the 2016-17 season, also presented by Cirque du Soleil.

Casting for both projects has yet to be announced. Continue reading ““The Wiz” Lives on NBC this December as Live Musical Event”

Tony Winner Audra McDonald Announces Broadway Return Alongside George C. Wolfe and Savion Glover for 2016 Musical “Shuffle Along”

Audra McDonald will return to Broadway in 2016, in collaboration with George C. Wolfe and Savion Glover.
Audra McDonald will return to Broadway in 2016, in collaboration with George C. Wolfe and Savion Glover. (© David Gordon)

Six-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald will return to Broadway in spring 2016 in a new collaboration with Tony-winning director George C. Wolfe and Tony-winning choreographer Savion Glover. The collaboration is called Shuffle Along, or, The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Follows. The production begins previews March 14, 2016, at the Music Box Theatre, with opening night set for April 21.

McDonald will play Lottie Gee, the 1920s performer who appeared in the cast of Shuffle Along. This 1921 musical by Flournoy Miller, Aubrey Lyles, Eubie Blake, and Noble Sissle altered the face of Broadway in giving several black performers their first Broadway credits. The show helped launch the careers of Josephine Baker, Florence Mills, and Paul Robeson, among many others.

Ninety-five years later, this backstage musical will explore the creation of this now-forgotten show. Wolfe directs and pens the book, while Glover choreographs. It marks their first collaboration since their 1996 hit Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk. The production will have music supervision, arrangements, and orchestrations by Daryl Waters, scenic design by Santo Loquasto, costume design by Ann Roth, and lighting design by Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer. Scott Rudin serves as producer.

Additional information about the production will be revealed in the coming months.

article by David Gordon via theatermania.com

R.I.P. Tony-Award Winning Dancer, Actor and Artist Geoffrey Holder

Geoffrey Holder, the dancer, choreographer, actor, composer, designer and painter who used his manifold talents to infuse the arts with the flavor of his native West Indies and to put a singular stamp on the American cultural scene, not least with his outsize personality, died on Sunday in Manhattan. He was 84.

Charles M. Mirotznik, a spokesman for the family, said the cause was complications of pneumonia. Few cultural figures of the last half of the 20th century were as multifaceted as Mr. Holder, and few had a public presence as unmistakable as his, with his gleaming pate atop a 6-foot-6 frame, full-bodied laugh and bassoon of a voice laced with the lilting cadences of the Caribbean.

Mr. Holder directed a dance troupe from his native Trinidad and Tobago, danced on Broadway and at the Metropolitan Opera and won Tony Awards in 1975 for direction of a musical and costume design for “The Wiz,” a rollicking, all-black version of “The Wizard of Oz.”

His choreography was in the repertory of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the Dance Theater of Harlem. He acted onstage and in films and was an accomplished painter, photographer and sculptor whose works have been shown in galleries and museums. He published a cookbook.

Mr. Holder acknowledged that he achieved his widest celebrity as the jolly, white-suited television pitchman for 7Up in the 1970s and ’80s, when in a run of commercials, always in tropical settings, he happily endorsed the soft-drink as an “absolutely maaarvelous” alternative to Coca-Cola — or “the Un-Cola,” as the ads put it.

Long afterward, white suit or no, he would stop pedestrian traffic and draw stares at restaurants. He even good-naturedly alluded to the TV spots in accepting his Tony for directing, using their signature line “Just try making something like that out of a cola nut.”

Continue reading “R.I.P. Tony-Award Winning Dancer, Actor and Artist Geoffrey Holder”

Audra McDonald to Play Billie Holiday on Broadway

Audra McDonald will be spending a lot of time on Broadway over the next couple of years. Weeks after announcing she will star in a revival of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play Night, Mother opposite Oprah Winfrey, McDonald is set to play Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill.  The four-time Tony Award-winning actress will play the late jazz icon in the show, which is set in 1959 in a seedy Philadelphia bar, and relives Billie Holiday’s last performance, taking place only four months before her death at age 44.

Lady Day is set to go in front of audiences later this year, making it McDonald’s next turn on the stage. Night, Mother will debut in the 2015-2016 season.

article by Evelyn Diaz via bet.com