By Gary Johnson – Host, Calculations Talk

Robert “Kool” Bell, co-founder of Kool & the Gang, was born in Youngstown, Ohio, and grew up in Jersey City, New Jersey.  He gave himself the nickname “Kool” after someone in his neighborhood named “Cool.” 

His father and uncle were boxers who moved to New York to train and lived in the same building as jazz great Thelonious Monk (who became Bell’s Godfather) and with his brother Ronald, Bell began playing jazz and formed a group in 1964 called The Jazziacs, who early on played with the likes of McCoy Tyner and Pharoah Sanders.  

After playing clubs in New York City under various names–and serving as backup in a Motown covers band–they became Kool & the Gang in 1969 (the band also including Dennis “D.T.” Thomas, Robert Mickens, Charles Smith, George Brown, and Ricky West). Kool & The Gang has since played jazz, soul, funk, rock, and pop music, but struck commercial success in 1973 with their album Wild and Peaceful, which yielded the Top 10 hits “Jungle Boogie” and “Hollywood Swinging.”

In 1979, the group added a Lead Vocalist, James “J.T.” Taylor.  For the next decade, the group “struck gold” with major hits like “Ladies’ Night,” “Get Down on It,” “Joanna,” “Cherish” and the chart-topping “Celebration,” with the 1984 album Emergency selling two million copies. “Celebration” has become an international anthem; it was later used in national media coverage of the 1980 World Series, the 1981 Super Bowl, the 1981 NBA Championship, and the 1981 return of the Iran hostages.

The group has earned two Grammy Awards, seven American Music Awards, 25 Top Ten R&B hits, nine Top Ten Pop hits and 31 gold and platinum albums.

From Nairobi to Newark, Kool & the Gang has performed continuously longer than any R&B group in history and their bulletproof funk and jazzy arrangements have also made them the most sampled R&B band of all time.

The heavily-in-demand band has continued to tour the world, appearing most recently alongside Kid Rock, Dave Matthews Band, Elton John and The Roots and performing on a recent, 50-city tour with rock legends Van Halen.

In 2014, they were honored with a BET Soul Train Lifetime Achievement Award and in October 2015, in the town they sing about in one of their earliest hits, “Hollywood Swinging,” Kool & the Gang was honored to take their place as American musical icons with a star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Robert Bell’s bass guitar is on display at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC.

In 2023, Robert says the group has an ambitious schedule with multiple dates in Las Vegas, cruise ships and other venues in and outside of the United States.

You can watch Robert’s interview with Gary Johnson below.

Robert is known as a music icon, but he’s also a successful businessman outside of the stage with his Le Kool Champagne Grand Cru, produced by Paul Berthelot.  The champagne is receiving rave reviews throughout France and Japan and will soon be imported to the United States, Africa and the rest of the world.

Robert also has “Just Kool Cologne.”  You can learn more about Robert by visiting the Kool & the Gang official website.

A special thanks to Angelo Ellerbee (Double XXposure Media Relations) and Kevin Goins (New Grooves Radio) for arranging this interview.  And to Tony Johnson for your efforts to complete the interview during a power outage.


January 8, 2022

By Gary A. Johnson

Ivana Céspedes Jordan, professionally known as Vi (pronounced Vee) Jordan, is a proud Cuban-Mexican studio vocalist with expertise performing as a soloist and group singer in Latin, Jazz, R&B, Classical and Gospel genres. Vi is also an accomplished classical pianist, teacher and accompanist.

I did not discover Vi.  Scott Frankfurt, gets credit for developing Vi as an artist and giving her the opportunity.  Vi gets credit for being ready when that opportunity presented itself.  Vi works hard and is not afraid of working harder.  I am proud to say that I got on the “Vi Train” early.  I, along with others, helped Vi get exposure on YouTube.  That investment paid off.

The bottom line is:  This woman can sing!  Listen for the “Vi-isms” which I describe as her unique vocal runs. 

I caught up with Vi as a follow-up to our feature on her last year, where she took YouTube by surprise with her rendition of the song “If I Ever Lose This Heaven,” which was originally recorded on Quincy Jones’ “Body Heat” album with Minnie Ripperton, Leon Ware and Al Jarreau.

Here’s my exclusive interview with Vi Jordan.

Here are some of the “life lessons” that I got from Vi’s interview:

  • Differences are not negatives, they’re just differences
  • Let people know what you want and what you need
  • Leadership comes at all levels.  Vi is not be a Platinum selling artist (yet), but she was the “leader” in that music video
  • Work hard and be ready when opportunity comes your way
  • Be humble, be thankful and be kind

Vi performed the Saint Saens Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Santa Clarita Philharmonic as the featured soloist at just nineteen years old. Amongst many other projects, she has performed live at Grammy MusiCares behind Mavis Staples and Leon Bridges. Her most recent project was singing for Disney’s new movie “Encanto.”

When she isn’t singing in studio, Vi is working as a vocal coach, mentoring new talent into the music industry on film sets, in recording studios and through her own virtual studio.  It is Vi’s ambition to dive deep into the entertainment industry and to be the catalyst for other people, particularly Latina women, to thrive in their musical careers.

Click Here to Book Vi for a FREE 15-Minute Consultation

Check out Vi singing “Hard Place,” by H.E.R.  This is from Vi’s Instagram page.


Singer/Actor Melba Moore is a four-time Grammy® nominee and the winner of the 1970 Tony Award® for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical, for her performance as Lutiebelle in the Broadway play “Purlie.” Here’s a trivia question for you. The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, recorded this song in 1972 but did not think the song was strong enough to be a hit single on her “Spanish Harlem” album. Melba Moore recorded that same song in 1976 and made it a Top 20 R&B hit peaking at #17. What was the name of that song? Melba talks about that now famous song in my exclusive interview with her that you can watch below and on YouTube, Anchor and Spotify.  Check out other great interviews on the Calculations Talk website.

Maysa Leak makes music for your soul. She just released a new double album, “Music For Your Soul!” If you are not familiar with Maysa, she is a GRAMMY nominated, and Soul Train Award winning recording artist from Baltimore, MD. She’s been in the music business for 32 years starting as a vocalist for the Acid Jazz band Incognito, to a solo artist (including collaborations with everyone from Stevie Wonder, Angela Bofill, Will Downing, Jonathan Butler, and Phil Perry to name a few.

Maysa took time out of her busy schedule to chat with Calculations Talk Show host Gary Johnson. You can read more about Maysa at

This is part 1 of a scheduled 3-part series of exclusive interviews conducted by Gary Johnson with Mildred Muhammad, an Award-Winning Global Keynote Speaker, International Expert Speaker for the US Dept. of State, Certified Consultant with the US Dept. of Justice/Office for Victims of Crime, CNN Contributor, BNC Contributor, Domestic Abuse Survivor, Certified Domestic Violence Advocate, Advisory Board Member & Public Speaking Instructor for The National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault Advocacy Network’s Advisor, Best-Selling Author, Former Internet TV Talk Show Host, Trainer & Educator as well as a Certified Professional/Personal Development Consultant. As the ex-wife of the DC Sniper, Mildred travels and speaks on a global platform to discuss her life of terror, abuse, and heartache, all while promoting Domestic Abuse/Violence Awareness and Prevention.

This conversation was conducted on April 13, 2022. For more exclusive and insightful interviews visit and

Larry Graham:  Still Funky After All These Years

Larry Graham

By Gary A. Johnson, Publisher, Black Men In (2015)

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  Check out this video of Larry Graham with his buddy Prince.

 Gary A. Johnson is the Founder & Publisher of Black Men In a popular online magazine on the Internet and the Black Men In 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

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 RossI 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

James Brown Knees

The Godfather of Soul


Earth, Wind & Fire

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

Brian Culbertson

The One and Only Chanté Moore

The Incomparable Charlie Wilson Live!

Publisher Note:  For those of you who don’t know about the legend of Bootsy Collins, allow me to introduce him to you.  In May 2004, I was working late in my office one night.  It was getting close to midnight and I decided to end the day.  As I was getting ready to lock up, I heard the phone ring.  I thought, who would be calling the office this late at night.  I listened more closely and determined it was the fax machine.  I looked at the papers in the tray.  The papers were from Bootsy Collins trying to fax me some information about his new CD in advance of our interview.  I decided not to call him back and just went home.  I contacted his agent the next morning only to be told, “Bootsy doesn’t “do computers.”  LOL!  That’s old school.

Bootsy Collins is one of the all-time great funk and R&B bassists/singer/bandleader. From 1969 to 1971, the group functioned as James Brown’s backup band and was dubbed the J.B.’s.  In 1972, Bootsy joined George Clinton’s Parliament/Funkadelic. Collins and Clinton soon established a lifelong personal and musical friendship. He launched Bootsy’s Rubber Band as a spinoff of P-Funk in 1976. Collins’ inspired, clever progressions and patterns were a vital part of such records as “Get Up, I Feel Like Being a Sex Machine.”  Today, a whole new generation of music fans have embraced Bootsy’s legacy.

Below is my exclusive original interview with Bootsy Collins conducted in July 2004 and posted on Black Men In

“Bootsy Collins Is Back”

What 53-year old man carries a “space bass,” wears star shaped sunglasses, steps out in Nike shoes and shouts “Glory Be The Funk’s On Me?”  That’s right, the one and only Bootsy Collins!

We received and reviewed a copy of the new Bootsy Collins CD “Play With Bootsy.”  This is Collins’ first CD in six years.  (The CD will be released to the public on June 8th).  Bootsy proves that he is still the Chief Funkateer on this eclectic collection of music.  Collins, who recently signed with Thump Records has a wide range of collaborators on this set, his first CD in six years.

If you like funk, you’ll love this new CD.  This set has something for everyone.  With a blend of funk, reggae, R&B and even mellow-smooth jazz, Bootsy has put together a mighty fine collection of music featuring such artists as Snoop Dogg, George Clinton, Macy Gray, Fat Boy Slim, Bobby Womack, Miss Kier and Rosie Gaines.

Collin’s legacy spans the last three decades, with his earliest efforts beginning at age 17 when he recorded “Sex Machine” with James Brown.  At age 53, Bootsy is best known as the leader of the funk group Bootsy’s Rubber Band and for his participation in the celebrated band, the Funkadelics and the Mothership Connection.  He toured with DeeeLite in the 90’s and later was embraced by the hip-hop generation, appearing in numerous rap videos, with his beats being heavily sampled over the past decade.  His reemergence back on the scene is testimony to his pervasive star power and magnetism.

With the recent signing of Collins to Thump Records, the label is positioning itself with a strong power base.  Collins joins label mates Lakeside, Midnight Star, Michael Cooper, Val Watson (female lead vocalist – Club Nouveau) and Club Nouveau.  For additional information and offerings from Thump Records, go to

Check back frequently, we hope to bring you more information on Bootsy Collins and other “Old Schoolers” who are still getting it done.  How does your new CD “Play with Bootsy” compare to your earlier work? 

Bootsy:  My back-in-the-day work was all done at the P-Funk Lab in Detroit, along with George Clinton, Parliament Funkadelic, and Bootsy’s Rubber Band.  Our technique for recording was to walk in, rehearse a bit, and hit it.  The new CD was done in a few different studios, including Bootzilla Rehab-P-Form School of Fine Art-tro-nuts, along with lots of appearances from yesterday’s and today’s finest artists.  The technique is a lot different.  By using pro-tools and analog, we were able to mail order parts for songs which was kind of fun.  You have a lot of different artists on “Play With Bootsy,” most notably Snoop Dogg.  How did you and Snoop meet?

Bootsy: Snoop and I first met when I was with Color Me Badd and we were performing at Soul Train.  He is so much like me that I couldn’t believe it.  Of course I have settled down quite a bit since, but yeah, that’s my nephew Snoop.  What have you been doing for the past 6 years?

Bootsy:  I’ve been doing lots of behind-the-scenes projects such as video games, film scoring, Pontiac and Nike commercials and guest appearances on CDs of a number of today’s artists.  My touring has not been in my plans because we are trying to open new doors so I can do what I really want to do, and that is to be the backbone, manager, and adviser for some new and upcoming stars.  I love to see the twinkle in their eyes; it reminds me of how badly I wanted it.  Most folks know about your history playing with the James Brown Band at age 15.  You’ve been in the music business for over 3 decades.  Did you think you would last this long?

Bootsy:  All I was thinking about was the actual musical ideas that were flooding my mind at the time.  Tomorrow never meant anything to me – it was all about how much music and fun I can do today.  When you were growing up, who were the artists that influenced you the most?

Bootsy:  Sly Stone, James Brown Band, James Jamerson, bass player for Motown, and my hero, Jimi Hendrix.  Growing up what was your earliest or most vivid recollection of being different?

Bootsy:  When I had to wear whatever my mom got from the Goodwill store, Salvation Army, you know the kids would laugh at me.  I felt bad at first, but then I turned it into something creative by mixing and matching colors and going for being different.  Then I was more of an artist in school, so I would sit around and read comic books, draw stick men with star glasses – pretty deep for a kid in those days.  When you think about some of the artists of today’s generation, who do you listen to and like the most?  Why?

Bootsy: OutKast and The Roots, because they push the envelope and suffer the consequences and remain standing.  That’s how we did it.  What’s a typical day for Bootsy?

Bootsy:  I start off meditating and being thankful for another day to go out and make a difference in somebody’s life.  Then I exercise to keep the holy temple that God gave me in the best shape I can.  You know that in the day I abused everything, so now I’m cleaning up my temple that has been loaned to me.  Then I go to work for the Funk of it, or do something special with my son.  Then I might give a speech at the drug rehab programs in my town, or a youth meeting, interviews, etc.  You hung around a lot of folks that fell victim to drugs and alcohol.  How did you manage to survive?

Bootsy:  I looked, learned, and listened real hard as I was partying and started to see my friends dying and crying, getting burned for all they had, and I had a few things happen to me that helped turn my life around.  I had everything but the spirit of God, so I finally realized that’s what I needed more than drugs.  Tell us something interesting or that we don’t know about:  James Brown, Parliament-Funkadelic and Sly and the Family Stone.

Bootsy:  They all hurt, they all bleed, they all are more sensitive than the average humanoid, and they all are living on another frequency.  There you have it from the horse’s mouth, I think.  What advice would you give for someone who wants to make in the music business?

Bootsy:  The first thing is to practice and develop your talent and skills without ceasing.  Then try to find doors to get into so people can hear and see you perform.  Seeing you is very, very important because that is part of the body language that connects the art to the one as a whole.  Stay focused on what you love and enjoy doing – then just “P”-yo-self.

A special thanks to Makeda Smith at Jazzmyne Public Relations.

UpdateIn January 2019, Collins announced on Facebook that he would be retiring from live performances for health reasons.  He wrote the following”

“Time has come for Me to tell all our Funkateers that I will Not be Playing Bass in Concerts anymore. I have decided to become a Coach for up & coming Musicians. I know u r Disappointed just think for a moment how I feel. Doc said to much pressure on my Inner-Ear & Right Hand. Yeah, I had to make up my Mind, so I did. 2019 Sheriff Ping Ping Ping will continue to Funk from the Studio but Not Live playing Bass on Stage. I know u got question & I don’t have answers, maybe one day u to will understand. Just remember; That This Year will be the Funkiest Year of them All. Watch for it. Bootsy baby!!!”

Bootsy Collins was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in 1997 with 15 other members of the funk group Parliament-Funkadelic.  You can learn more about Bootsy Collins by visiting his official website at The Boot

This is a great interview of funk history with Bootsy from two years ago with the Red Bull Music Academy.  Bootsy talks about the music business, drugs, life on the road, how he was discovered by James Brown and working with such artists George Clinton, Parliment-Funkadelic, The Spinners, Bobby Byrd, Lyn Collins, The JB’s and more.


Black Men In Exclusive Interview with Kirk Whalum

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 Founder & Publisher Gary Johnson conducted an exclusive interview with Kirk Whalum.  This is Part I of that interview.  Hey Kirk.  How are you doing?

 Kirk Whalum:  Hey Gary I’m doing great Gary.  Thank you so much.  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.  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.  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.  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.  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.  How long have you been married?

Kirk Whalum:  I have been married for 32 years in August 2012.  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.  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.  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.  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.  You’re President/CEO of the STAX Music Museum.  Is that correct?

Kirk Whalum:  Yes.  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  Part II of our exclusive interview with Kirk Whalum will be posted next week.

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.

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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

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

Sammy Davis, Jr. (The World’s Greatest Entertainer)


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

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


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