Former Ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson

Posted December 26, 2017

Johnathan Lee Iverson began his career circling the globe and crisscrossing the United States, as a member of The Boys Choir of Harlem, gracing the world’s most renowned stages, including the Broadway stage under the direction of the legendary Geoffrey Holder in “The Boys Choir of Harlem & Friends” at the Richard Rogers Theater. In addition to performing before world leaders and dignitaries, including United States Presidents, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, and Jimmy Carter, as well as, Noble Peace Prize winner, Nelson Mandela, Iverson has shared the stage with such artist as Lou Rawls, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Plácido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, Betty Buckley, Pete Seeger, Zubin Mehta, Perry Cuomo, Kathleen Battle, Shirley Verett, Tony Bennett, James DePriest and Lena Horne, all before the age of eighteen.

A proud graduate of Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art & Performing Arts and The Hartt School of the University of Hartford, Iverson took his first steps into the pages of history at only 22 years old, when he became the youngest, the first New Yorker, and the first Black Ringmaster in the near 150 year history of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Iverson’s presence at The Greatest Show On Earth set box office records for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey throughout the United States. Audiences and critics alike were immediately smitten by the native New Yorker. Ebony magazine said of him: “The instant he appears out of the darkness and into the spotlight…the audience is rapt.” The San Francisco Examiner stated: “Now imagine mesmerizing the crowd with a powerful voice and the bearing of a superstar.” The Times-Picayune wrote: “Tall and self assured…he works a crowd like a three ring evangelist.” And syndicated columnist Liz Smith gushed: “I…liked six foot [five] youngest ringmaster ever, Johnathan Lee Iverson, who is commanding enough to be noticed in the melee, and he can sing.”

During his legendary tenure with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, Iverson was one of the busiest live entertainers in the world, performing an estimated 450 shows annually in arenas around the United States and Mexico. As the voice of The Greatest Show On Earth, Johnathan has been seen and heard via numerous media outlets including, print, broadcast and the world wide web. He is also a featured blogger for the Huffington Post, among other publications. His many accolades include being selected as one of Barbara Walters’ 10 Most Fascinating People. Iverson’s historical tenure with The Greatest Show On Earth is featured in numerous publications, including, “Black First: 4, 000 Ground-Breaking and Pioneering Historical Events” by Jessie Carney Smith,”African-American First” by Joan Potter, “Live Life! Be Young, Black, and Successful” by Quincy Benton, “Beat of a Different Drum: The Untold Stories of African-Americans Forging Their Own Paths in Work and Life” by Dax-Devlon Ross and “Beyond the Statistics” by Zane Massey.

Please click here to visit Johnathan Iverson’s official website.

Click here to visit Johnathan’s official blog.

Walking While Black:  L.O.V.E. Is The Answer

Posted March 9, 2017
TAGLINE
Bridging the gap between peace officers and the rest of the community.
LOG LINE
As minority communities face the daily stranglehold of racial profiling, and police officers face relentless
scrutiny by an anxious public, tensions mount as lines are being drawn in the sand. This conflict can only be
broken by finding common ground with each other. L.O.V.E. Is The Answer.
SYNOPSIS
Instances of racial profiling plague minority communities on a daily basis. Director, A.J. Ali is no stranger to
this phenomenon. When he and his wife were targeted for harassment by police numerous times in
Howard County, Maryland, he was forced to take a stand.
Though his attempts at achieving justice through channels offered by the system went unrewarded, he
refused to let go of the dream that a solution to the problem could be found. He went on a quest for truth
and reconciliation, which led him to find living examples of love in action.
More than four years in the making, “Walking While Black: L.O.V.E. Is The Answer” presents proven action
steps to bridge the painful gap between peace officers and the communities they serve. L.O.V.E. is an
acronym for Learn about the community and the people in it, Open your heart to the humanity of people
in the community, Volunteer yourself to be part of the solution, and Empower others to do the same.
Featuring interviews with peace officers, faith leaders, educators, activists and others, the film offers an
inspiring blueprint to end racial profiling and heal our communities.

“I do believe that it’s something that should be shared in every part of our city, in every state in this country, because I believe love is the answer without a doubt. But more importantly, to hear the expressions of police officers and former police officers, and community leaders, and folks who’ve been wronged, and now feel that they can move their lives forward… I just wanna say thank you.” — Catherine Pugh, Mayor, City of Baltimore, at the Baltimore Premiere 2/6/17

About A.J. Ali!

A. J. Ali is a Writer, Producer, Director, Actor & TV Host living in Santa Monica, California.  To learn more about him and his work visit his websites at www.walkingwhileblackthemovie.com and www.wellness101life.com.

James Wright, Patti LaBell and Those Sweet Potato Pies

11/23/2015

Patti Pies

By Black Men In America.com Staff

Be honest.  How many of you reading this article had heard of Patti LaBelle’s Sweet Potato Pies, before James Wright’s video went viral on the Internet?  While many people are crediting YouTube sensation James Wright and his review of Patti LaBelle‘s sweet potato pie for its phenomenal sellout success, Ms. Patti ain’t having it.  In an interview last week with TMZ.com, Ms. Patti acknowledged James and said she loved his video review.  However, Patti made it clear that the success of the pies is all hers.  “I did it myself.” She continued, “I was selling out before [James Wright].”

Since the video made its way around the web, Patti’s pies have sold out of Walmart stores across the country. Reports say that over $1 million in pies have sold and despite the pies retailing at less than $4, people are reselling pies online for $20 or more. Some pies are being sold for $100 on Craiglist. Walmart says they are sold out until December.

C’mon Patti?  Admit it, this dude’s review helped your pie sales.  There’s enough credit to go around.  Let him have his 15 minutes of fame.  We all know that you are the Queen Bee.

Here’s the review that has gone viral and started the run on Patti LaBelle’s Sweet Potato Pies.
Feel free to scroll down a leave a reply.

(You’re supposed to heat the pie.  This dude ate the pie right from the box.  Imagine how he would have behaved if he ate a heated slice of sweet potato pie).

Silent Scream Stage Play Fundraiser

Often I receive notices about persons who raised money for activities like Macaroni and Cheese, someone’s act of kindness or a person wanting to go to Thailand.The amount are pretty impressive and I am excited that people are getting the support they need.As for United Deaf Ministries, we are aiming for a modest amount of $6000.00 to go towards the production of a story that will encourage, bring awareness and support talented persons. In Moldova, I was able to visit a Deaf church and meeting with the President of the Moldovan Assoc of the Deaf. I hope to also meet with interpreters also.

Your contribution which is tax deductible can support our work across the globe and at home. Your donation no matter how big will be a blessing. Every time a new amount is registered we are more motivated to do more. So don’t delay…we want to post your name in our program and proudly say you made a difference.

United Deaf Ministries believes in the promotion of talent and the sharing of the experiences in the Deaf community. In 2014 we featured the unveiling of Silent Scream. At stage production of reconciliation between two brothers. One Deaf, One Hearing who finds themselves needing to recover a relationship lost many years ago as a result of a traumatic experience.  Silent Scream received amazing feedback at the 2014 reading during the 2014 DC Black Theatre Festival. Now we will feature the entire production at the 2015 DC Black Theatre Festival.  Your contribution will support us in insuring a quality production and provide the means to reach new heights in Black Deaf Theatre experience.

Click here to donate.

 

 

Cynthia Holiday 2 John Meixner Pink Dress Cynthia Holiday IMG_9731_1  Cynthia Holiday 5

Introducing Cynthia Holiday

By Black Men In America.com Staff

She’s not Billie, not Judy, not Jennifer, not Carmen, not Nancy, it’s Cynthia Holiday!

Cynthia Holiday is a real crowd please and her renditions of straight-ahead jazz, blues and pop standards are full of swing, improvisation and soul. Clearly, singing live before an audience is where she feels most comfortable. Kevin Mahogany says, “I met Cynthia many years ago when I used to frequent various jam sessions in Harlem clubs. I was struck by her ability to quickly command the stage. Cynthia has fantastic stage presence and it’s time for her music to be heard.”

Cynthia says “I love the up-and-close feeling of performing in small, intimate venues like SMOKE or Showmans Jazz Club in NYC. I also enjoy the thrill of performing for an audience of 10,000 + people at outdoor events like the Harlem Jazz & Blues Festival or Hartford Jazz Festival.” Following her performance, the Hartford Courier’s music review said of Cynthia “She may have been unfamiliar to the audience, but Holiday quickly won over the crowd with her blues-soaked swing and charming banter.”

Since the 2008 release of her debut album, All The Way, on the Miles High Records Label, Cynthia Holiday has made new fans and friends in the US and internationally. Most recently she served as a judge in the 2013 Asian Dreams Jazz Vocal Competition followed by a performance with the TS Monk Septet in Osaka, Japan.  Cynthia’s gifted vocals and natural inclination for jazz is attributed to her upbringing in Newark, New Jersey where music filled her home on any given day. Her stepfather, trumpeter Calvin Hughes was a band leader and performed with such jazz greats as Count Basie, Frank Foster, Clark Terry, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, and Big Maybelle.

Early on Cynthia was a dancer, studying for years with the Garden State Ballet Company and teaching dance during college years. But singing was her true love and she began studying classical voice with Jacklyn Snyder in New York City.  Eventually Cynthia switched to the jazz vocal program at the Newark School For the Arts with Inez McClendon, followed by private lessons with Duke Anderson, Myrna Lake, Ulysses Slaughter, Jim Carson and the late Rita DaCosta Turrentine. She considers the late bassist Earl May to be an important mentor as she began sitting-in at jam sessions.

Released in 2008, Cynthia’s debut CD “All The Way” was produced by John Snyder and Eulis Cathey with guest artists pianist Cedar Walton, bassist David Williams and drummer Joe Farnsworth for Miles High Records. The core band included pianist Radam Schwartz, bassist Andy McCloud, drummer Joe Brown Jr, alto saxophonist Gerald Hayes, guitarist Geary Moore and drummer, Wayne Henderson.

“All The Way” spotlights Cynthia giving her own personal touch to standards, blues and introducing some originals. In fact, she co-wrote two of the tunes with Radam Schwartz, “I Like What I See” and “You’ve Got A Job To Do.” When asked to pick out a few favorite selections for the CD, Cynthia says, “My Little Rainbow” is a lovely tune recorded with the Cedar Walton trio and “Samba de Amore” is a light samba.

“Her time has come with this release,” says WBGO Jazz88 FM host Sheila Anderson. “Cynthia seeks to continue the tradition of jazz women who sing the blues, a style that has become a lost art among vocalists. I hear the humor of Helen Humes, the soul of Ernestine Anderson, the warm timber of Nancy Wilson and the storytelling of Marlena Shaw, but make no mistake, what you hear is pure Cynthia Holiday.”

Click here to visit Cynthia’s official website to learn more.

Thanks to Angelo A. Ellerbee from DoubleXXposure Media Relations 201-224-6570 or 212-629-9404.

 

Photography by James

The Valder Beebe Show

In 2014 THAT CELEBRITY INTERVIEW guests included the following.  Tune into the Valder Beebe show for the hottest interviews on the web of your favorite celebrities.

Kerry Washington (ABC Scandal), Lisa Ling (CNN), Soledad O’Brien (CNN), Michaela Pereia (CNN), A J Hammer (HLN), Jane Valez-Mitchell (HLN), Kirk Franklin, Taye Diggs, Tamar (The Real), Terry Crews, Gabrielle Union, Michael Early, Cat Cora (Food Network), Tyler Florence (Food Network), Tia Mowry (Tia & Tamara), Sheryl Underwood (The Talk), Dr Jennifer Berman (The Doctors), Rev Run (Run DMC), Rickey Smiley, Bill & Guiliana Rancic, NeNe Leaks (Atlanta Housewives), Phedra Parks (Atlanta Housewives), Braxton Family Values (entire cast), Tony Goldwyn (ABC Scandal), Bill Bellemy, Ilyana Vanzant (OWN Network), Tyler Perry, Tasha Smith, Michael Jai White, Marlo Thomas, Carol Channing, Rosie O’Donnell, Sheri Shepherd, Niecy Nash, Cedric The Entertainer, Harry Lennox (The Black List), Suzanne Sommers, Billy Bush (Access Hollywood), Nancy O’Dell (Entertainment Tonight), Jeff JaRule, Mario Lopez (Extra), Rosairo Dawson (Actress), Terrance Jenkins, Devon Franklin (Sony Entertainment), Dorothy Hamil (Olympic Medalist), Kareem Abdul Jabaar (Icon), Bobby Deen (Food Network), Pat & Gina Neely (Food Network), Ree Drummond (Cooking Channel), Ellie Krieger (Food Network), Sandra Lee (Food Network), Brad Meltzer (History Channel), Miss Kay (Duck Dynasty), Niecy Nash (TV Land), LoLo Jones (Athlete), Mia Hamm (Olympic Medial Winner), Gabby Douglas (Olympic Medal Winner), Mark Spitz (Olympic Medal Winner), COMMON, Carla Hall (The Chew), Mario Batali (The Chow), G Garvin (Chef), Marlon Wyans, Kym Whitley (OWN Network), Jamie Presley (actress), Mary Mary (Gospel), Al Roker (NBC Today Show), Michael W. Smith (Grammy Winner), The Oak Ridge Boys, Dog The Bounty Hunter, Chef Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck, Chef John Besh, Maria Munoz (Extra), Jonathan & Drew Scott (HGTV), Ty Pennington, Cristina Ferrare (OWN Network), Kathy Hilton (Housewives of CA), Big Ange (Mob Wives), YANNI (Performer), Jeremy Wade (Animal Planet), Judge Lyn Toler, Judge Mabeline, Judge Hatchet, (Former) Gov. Jessie Ventura, Oak Ridge Boys, Michael W. Smith, Preachers of L.A., (CBS) Lonnie Love, Rev Run (RUN DMC), Kirk Franklin, Devon Franklin, Mary Mary, Gabriel Union, Pen & Teller, Emeril Lagasse, Essence Atkins, Carla Hall (ABC The Chew), (view more of THAT CELEBRITY INTERVIEW at www.valderbeebeshow.com).

 

Larry Graham:  Still Funky After All These Years

Larry Graham

By Gary A. Johnson,
Publisher, Black Men In America.com

The last time I saw Larry Graham and Graham Central Station I was in High School.  I saw him at the Capital Center in Landover, MD, just outside of Washington, D.C.  I went to the show tonight expecting Mr. Graham to be FUNKY, but not this FUNKY.  After all, he’s been around for over 40 years.  I figured he may have lost a step, or developed a hitch in his “funk-get-along.”

Talk about being wrong.  After last night’s show, 68-year old Larry Graham catapulted himself into my All Time Top 5 List of live performers.  Before seeing Larry Graham last night my top 5 best live performers were:

  1. James Brown
  2. Prince
  3. Earth, Wind & Fire
  4. The Jackson 5/Michael Jackson
  5. Brian Culbertson

After the Larry Graham experience last night, Brian Culbertson has been voted out of the Top 5 to the #6 slot with Larry Graham and Graham Central Station comfortably occupying the #5 slot.

Larry Graham

Last night the show started with the band coming on stage from the right wing.  The crowd was looking toward the stage chanting “Larry! Larry! Larry!”  The crowd erupted in applause as Larry Graham came from the rear of the building walking through the audience playing his bass guitar as he made his way to the stage.  Dressed in his signature all-white suit and a white hat topped off by a huge aqua blue feather, Graham also wore a floor length “Elvis-like” jacket.  By now everyone was on their feet (including me and I hate standing at concerts).  Graham walked by our table playing that bass guitar like the Pied Piper of Funk.

His band, Graham Central Station (GCS) has gone through a number of changes in membership.  The current GSC band are all young folks who grew up idolizing Graham.  The band also featured female vocalist Ashling Cole, who goes by the nickname “Biscuit.”  Ms. Cole has the daunting task of taking over the vocals made famous by original GCS member, Patrice “Chocolate” Banks.  I had my doubts if the young girl named “Biscuit” was up to the task.  She quickly sold me and the audience when she belted out the song, “I Can’t Stand the Rain.”  Biscuit, who says her musical influences were Teena Marie and Chaka Khan, also sang a Chaka Khan song to prove that she could do the “heavy lifting” vocally when asked.

After about an hour into the show Graham told the crowd:  “You better call the babysitter and tell them you will be home late.” Dude played for 3 hours!  Graham had 5 encores! (I guess he forgot that some of us had things to do the next morning).

Throughout the night Larry Graham and the band performed their 1975 anthem “The Jam” before taking fans back in time with “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again), and “Dance To The Music” from Graham’s Sly & The Family Stone days.  At one point the band exited the stage leaving Graham playing the thumb funk box, alone with the drummer.  In addition, the band played a medley of musical influences that included music by George Duke, Prince, Chaka Khan, Miles Davis, James Brown, The Originals and The Ohio Players.  If that wasn’t enough, Larry Graham allowed people from the audience to come on stage and showcase their talent by jamming with the band.  Can you imagine going on stage and saying: “I play bass,” and Larry Graham takes his bass off and gives it to you to play?

Everyone who came on stage had an opportunity to play their instrument of choice or sing and the band members stepped aside, gave up their instrument for you and let you jam with the band.  I almost ran on stage to sing Sly’s “If You Want Me To Stay.”  I would have turned The Birchmere out!

After the show, Graham, the band, and his wife Tina of 40 years, came out and signed autographs, took pictures and mingled with the crowd until well after midnight.  If you have a chance to re-live your youth, go see Larry Graham.  I was exhausted after the show.  I think I pulled a hamstring bouncing up and down to “1999” during the Prince medley of the show. It was that song or James Brown’s “I Got The Feeling.”

To learn more about Larry Graham visit his official website Larry Graham.com.  Check out this video of Larry Graham with his buddy Prince.

Gary A. Johnson is the Founder & Publisher of Black Men In America.com a popular online magazine on the Internet and the Black Men In America.com Blog. Gary is also the author of the book “25 Things That Really Matter In Life.” 

This Ross Is The Boss Too

Rhonda Ross Pic

Rhonda Ross Logo

By Gary A. Johnson, Black Men In America.com

Last night, I had the pleasure of having front row seats to see singer Rhonda Ross perform at the Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club, located just across the Washington, DC line in Bethesda, MD.  I also met Ms. Ross after the show.  Rhonda Ross is the daughter of singing legend Diana Ross and Motown-Founder, Berry Gordy, Jr.  This Ms. Ross proved that she too can be the BOSS and in a very different kind of way.

Rhonda Ross is a singer, songwriter, actress and writer.  One of the things I learned about Rhonda is that she is most proud of being a mother and co-parent with her husband of 15 years Rodney Kendrick.

Make no mistake, Rhonda Ross is NOT trying to be her mother.  She is carving out her own path and establishing her own musical identity.  Rhonda holds her mother in the highest regard–as a mother, but she is not trying to emulate Diana Ross the singer.  I’ve seen Diana Ross perform live and there are some similarities.  Rhonda Ross has stage presence like her mother.  When Rhonda stood center stage in that long flowing dress with her arms outstretched, she reminded me of Diana Ross.  That’s where the comparisons end.  Rhonda sings in a slightly lower register and has a stronger voice.

Rhonda Ross

I would describe Rhonda Ross’ as a Neo-Soul and jazz song stylist.  In my view, Rhonda Ross’ music is purposeful and inspiring, largely due to the fact that she writes a lot of her music.  Last night Rhonda spoke with the audience between songs.  It was clear to me that she is a spiritual and religious woman with a lot of inner strength.  When she sang the song “Nobody’s Business,” she explained that “your joy comes from the inside and that it’s nobody else’s job to make you happy.”

Ross’ live performance moved her and some in the audience to tears when she sang a song that she wrote that pays tribute to her mother.  Other songs were motivating and inspiring.  There were probably more women in the audience than men.  The Masters of Ceremony (MC) was Dr. Jeff Gardere aka “America’s Psychologist.”  Dr. Jeff reminded the men that we should take heed and listen to the lyrics too.

If you get a chance to see Rhonda Ross perform, do it!  Treat yourself to some nourishing and fulfilling entertainment.  To learn more about Rhonda Ross click here to visit her official website.

I would personally like to thank Miriam Machado-Luces of TVA Media Productions, Ltd and Elva Mason of Mason Management for the royal treatment afforded me.  Ladies you are the best!

I have one last and deserving shout out that goes to Rick Brown, the Proprietor of the Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club.  Rick you have done a great job.  Everything was great from start to finish including the Coat Check personnel, Wait Staff, Ushers, Bartenders and Chefs.  Your establishment is one of the best kept secrets in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.  I will be returning to your supper club soon.

Gary J. & Rhonda Ross

Gary Johnson and Rhonda Ross after the show.

Question:  Who are your Top 5 live musical performers?

Concert Shot

Answer:  “James Brown was the greatest live performer I’ve ever seen, closely followed by Prince.  My next three are Earth, Wind & Fire, The Jackson 5 and Brian Culbertson–in that order.  Period, paragraph, end of sentence.”

Gary Johnson

Founder & Publisher, Black Men In America.com

 

James Brown Knees

The Godfather of Soul

Biography Channel feature on James Brown

Prince

The One and Only Prince

EWF

Earth, Wind & Fire

 

jacksons 2

Michael Jackson reunites with his brothers, The Jackson 5 for the Motown 25 TV Special

Brian Culbertson2

Brian Culbertson

Lenny Williams2

With this song, Lenny Williams gives arguably one of the most soulful performances ever.

Marcus Miller and Larry Graham – “The Jam”

The One and Only Chanté Moore (Gary Johnson’s #1 Female Vocalist)

Ronald Isley

The Incomparable Charlie Wilson Live!

 

Jaz Rok Pop by Don Grady

Don Grady is best remembered as Robbie Douglas, on the landmark 60’s and 70’s TV show “My Three Sons,” starring Fred McMurray. Don was also one of the original Disney Mouseketeers in the late 1950’s.  I bet you didn’t know that Don Grady was also a multi-talented musician.

Over the next several decades Don made his living in the music industry as a  composer, arranger, and conductor. He penned “Keep the Dream Alive” for Jazz to End Hunger, a musical project that drew artists such as Herbie Hancock, Della Reese, Dianne Schuur, and Bobby McFerrin, among other notables.

Don was the composer behind The Phil Donahue Show’s theme song and the Democratic National Convention’s opening song in 1996. He also contributed musically to features presented by HBO/Warner Bros., A&E Television Network, Universal Studios, and George Lucas Productions.

After his contract ended on “My Three Sons” Don started another career as a professional composer and arranged and scored music for film and television documentaries.  Don also created original music and special material for DVD animation and live stage shows.  Don was a musical prodigy who played drums, bass, piano, trumpet, and guitar.

Don Grady3

Don’s last solo project was a CD called Boomer featuring an eclectic mix of music aimed at baby boomers.  The CD features the single and video “JazRokPop.”  You can download or buy Don’s CD from his web site www.dongrady.com.

Don Grady Don Grady died on June 27, 2012 from cancer at age 68.

 

Sammy Davis, Jr. on The Ed Sullivan Show Playing Drums and Vibes

 

Black Men In America.com Exclusive Interview

By Gary A. Johnson

Most artists would be daunted at the thought of remaking a classic work of art made by legends, but not Grammy winner Kirk Whalum.  The multi-dimensional saxophonist adeptly steps into the role of John Coltrane and tapped his brother, vocalist Kevin Whalum, to fill the shoes of Johnny Hartman on an unabashedly romantic collection of duets originally recorded in 1963 by the seminal artists.  Romance Language, due to be released on Valentine’s Day by Rendezvous Music, consists of all six songs that comprise the Coltrane/Hartman recording along with a handful of modern ballads to complete the disc produced by Kirk Whalum and John Stoddart.

Romance Language is Kirk Whalum’s 19th album as a front man since his 1985 solo debut, Floppy Disk.  He topped the Billboard contemporary jazz album charts twice (And You Know That! and Cache) and amassed 11 Grammy nominations.  Whalum took home a coveted Grammy earlier this year for a duet with Lalah Hathaway that appeared on his The Gospel According to Jazz: Chapter III.  An ordained minister who earned a Master’s degree in the Art of Religion, Kirk Whalum has forged an unparalleled career path in both the secular and the non-secular music words, garnering hits, awards and accolades for his jazz, R&B and gospel recordings.  His soulfully expressive tenor sax voice is unique and has appeared on literally hundreds of recordings by Barbara Streisand, Quincy Jones, Whitney Houston, Luther Vandross, George Benson, Al Jarreau, Michael McDonald, Stanley Clarke, George Duke, and Larry Carlton as well as on collaborative albums with Bob James, Rick Braun and Norman Brown.  When not recording or performing, he educates and mentors the next generation of musicians in his role as president/CEO of the STAX Music Academy and the STAX Museum of American Soul Music.

Earlier this month, Black Men In America.com Founder & Publisher Gary Johnson conducted an exclusive interview with Kirk Whalum.  This is Part I of that interview.

BMIA.com:  Hey Kirk.  How are you doing?

Kirk Whalum:  Hey Gary I’m doing great Gary.  Thank you so much.

BMIA.com:  I’m really excited to talk to you, so let’s get right to it.  Let’s talk about your new CD “Romance Language.”

Kirk Whalum:  I want to talk about this.  This is unlike any project I’ve ever done.  For someone like me to take the music of the great John Coltrane and doing my own version of his music is kind of scary.  I’ve studied John Coltrane’s music and his life.  I wrote about him in my seminary final project.  I believe he would be happy with this effort because the spiritual focus of his life would dictate that his music be shared with new and expanding audiences.

BMIA.com:  That’s great.  Kirk, at what age did your musical journey begin?

Kirk Whalum:  That’s hard to say.  I can remember being about 3 or 4 years old and seeing my grandmother as the organist for a pretty high brow baptist church.  She played the pipe organ.  For me to be there and see her was a good experience.

BMIA.com:  You’ve played with a lot of people.  Who would you consider to be your musical influences?

Kirk Whalum:  We can start with Hank Crawford on saxophone.  He was my biggest influence.  There’s a guy who pastors in Chicago named Ossie Smith who plays the saxophone.  He is an amazingly well rounded musician.  He was the first one to pull me aside and begin to show me different things such as jazz theory and improvisation.  I owe a lot to him.  In terms of big names, there’s Arnett Cobb who is a famed saxophonist.  I wear a ring on my finger given to me by Arnett Cobb’s daughter.  I missed his funeral because I was in Japan.  When he was alive he was a very big part of my musical development.  Those were my biggest influences.  In terms of the people I played with, I’d have to say Bob James was the first big one.  He was the one who really discovered me.  I played and toured with him.  He got me signed to Columbia Records and produced my first three records.

BMIA.com:  You mentioned that you’ve been to Japan.  I know you speak more than one language.  What languages do you speak?

Kirk Whalum:  I speak Spanish and French.

BMIA.com:  Let me shift back to music.  What was it like playing with your brother and your Uncle who is affectionately known as “Peanut?”

Kirk Whalum:  I’ve recorded with both of them quite a few times.  I keep creating ways for us to collaborate.  These are two world class talents.  These are people who deserve to be heard.  I also work with my nephews and my son.

BMIA.com:  How long have you been married?

Kirk Whalum:  I have been married for 32 years in August 2012.

BMIA.com:  What is the secret to being married?

Kirk Whalum:  I trust God for that relationship.  I know that it’s his Grace that he saved my life.  Marriage is about forgiveness.  We have to constantly be in forgiveness mode and nurture the relationship.

BMIA.com:  What advice do you have to help young people who want a career in the music business?

Kirk Whalum:  One important thing for them to know is that they can control their destiny.  There’s so many aspects of the music industry that are out of their control, but the most important aspect of the business is within their control and that has to do with being diligent and pursuing your craft.

BMIA.com:  Is that you playing the saxophone solo on Whitney Houston’s version of “I Will Always Love You,” from the soundtrack of the movie “The Bodyguard?”

Kirk Whalum:  Yes sir.

BMIA.com:  What was it like working with Whitney Houston?

Kirk Whalum:  I played with Whitney for 7 years.  The movie “The Bodyguard” was completely unique.  I was touring with Whitney and I was living in Paris.  She had insisted to the Director that she wanted to sing that song live to the film.  They were against recording music live to the film because there are too many things that can go wrong.  Whitney gave the producers an ultimatum.  She put her foot down and insisted that she sing live with her band or she would not sing the song.

BMIA.com:  You’re President/CEO of the STAX Music Museum.  Is that correct?

Kirk Whalum:  Yes.

BMIA.com:  What’s going on with the legendary STAX?

Kirk Whalum:  If it’s a raw funky groove, chances are it’s not Motown, its STAX.  STAX was known for. Booker T & the M.G’s, Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, The Staples Singer, Albert King and Rufus Thomas.  STAX music was organic and raw.  In 1989, the building was torn down.  A few years later the building was erected and the STAX Music Academy is up and running.  The Academy has a charter school providing kids with a world class education, and music is a part of the curriculum.  The STAX Music Academy is an after school program of about 75-80 kids who come from different backgrounds.  The kids are talented and incredible.

For more information you can visit Kirk Whalum’s official web site at www.kirkwhalum.com.  Part II of our exclusive interview with Kirk Whalum will be posted next week.

Special thanks to Juanita Stephens for arranging this exclusive interview.

Gary A. Johnson is the Founder & Publisher of Black Men In America.com a popular online magazine on the Internet and the Black Men In America.com Blog.  Gary is also the author of the book “25 Things That Really Matter In Life.

The Incomparable Lenny Williams

The Incomparable Lenny Williams

You know him as one of the most distinctive voices on one of the most gut-wrenching love songs ever written (“Cause I Love You”), and as the former lead singer for the legendary group Tower of Power.  He is the legendary soul balladeer Lenny Williams.  Over the past 3 decades Lenny has had such classic hits as, “So Very Hard to Go,” “Cause I Love You” and “Don’t Make Me Wait For Love,” his top Pop and R&B hit with Kenny G.

Unlike many other singers in his era, Lenny still has his voice and sounds great on his new CD “Still In The Game,” on Bridle Ridge Records.

For those of you who have lost touch with Lenny, he has continued singing on tour throughout the U.S., Europe and South Africa sharing the stage with Aretha Franklin, Alicia Keys, K-Jon, Anthony Hamilton, The Whispers, Rick James, Boney James, Bobby Womack, Ohio Players, Al Green, Usher, Frankie Beverly and Maze.

Lenny has a new single “Still.”  You can watch the video below.  You can also check out Lenny’s classic live performance of “Cause I Love You.”  Stay up-to-date with Lenny Williams by visiting his official web site at http://www.lennywilliams.com.

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Black Men In America.com Administrator
Black Men In America.com is a popular website with a focus on black men. Approximately 45% of our site visitors are women. According to Alexa Internet and Ranking.com, Black Men In America.com is consistently ranked as one of the Top 10 most popular web sites (online community) on the Internet in the Ethnic/African/African-American category. Although our focus is on black men, we welcome all people, points of views and perspectives. Please do not use this site to post or transmit any unlawful, threatening, abusive, libelous, defamatory, obscene, vulgar, pornographic, profane or indecent information of any kind, including without limitation any transmissions constituting or encouraging conduct that would constitute a criminal offense, give rise to civil liability or otherwise violate any local, state, national or international law. You alone are responsible for the material you post.
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