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.

November 17, 2021 (Calculations Talk Show)

The Ivan Thomas Interview

Gary Johnson interviewed businessman, author and publicist Ivan Thomas to learn more about his businesses and how he has managed to grapple with the “ups and downs” of life.  To learn more about Ivan, watch this interview and scroll down and read more about him.

Atlanta, GA  – Over the last decade, Ivan Thomas has emerged as a powerful force within business, lifestyle and entertainment, elevating the public images of celebrities and big companies, as well as catapulting unknown entrepreneurs from obscurity into the spotlight.

Born in Washington, D.C and raised in Chicago, this high-flying serial entrepreneur, celebrity publicist and speaker believes in thinking and acting BIG – which has allowed him to experience extraordinary success working with many of the nation’s most prominent individuals and companies within business, entertainment, healthcare, education and social justice.

An owner of three businesses, Ivan is most notably the President and CEO of Intrigue Media Group, a strategic communications company in the Atlanta area that specializes in PR and Brand / Reputation Management. Extremely passionate about entrepreneurship, community and helping people to achieve their goals, the married father of three enjoys educating small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs how to live the best life – one where they enjoy massive personal and professional success.

He is often found on a red carpet somewhere, or at a TV or radio station with a client. However, the Atlanta-based celebrity publicist and rising mogul, known as “Mr. Defy Gravity”, or simply “Ivan the Great”, has now taken his talents into another lane – as an international motivational speaker, and author of the book Defy Gravity: Unleashing Your Greatness Within.

“The message behind Defy Gravity is that in this life, we all have challenges, adversity and disappointments that, if we allow them, will keep us from our destinies,” Thomas said. “I wrote a no-nonsense book that shows people what they can achieve when they throw away the excuses, take ownership, reclaim their power and go out and relentlessly hunt their dreams. I want the aspiring entrepreneur with doubters and haters in his ear to cut ties with the negativity and launch his business. I want the woman who has been talking about writing a book for 10 years to stop being scared, stop procrastinating and share her story. I want the small business owner to stop thinking small and think like a millionaire mogul. It’s all about motivation and inspiring people to take action.”

Defy Gravity: Unleashing Your Greatness Within is available at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08B39MR8W.  To learn about Ivan Thomas and Intrigue Media Group, visit www.intriguemediagroup.com. You can also follow him on Instagram at @ivanth3great.

Exclusive Interview with Kwame S. Salter (Retired Corporate Senior Executive)

By Black Men In America.com Staff

After what had already been a rewarding career in non-profits and local politics, Kwame Salter was recruited by Oscar Mayer company in Madison, Wisconsin.  This was not your ordinary talent acquisition search and find.  The President and CEO personally recruited Kwame to work at the company.  During his tenure at Oscar Mayer, Kwame attracted the attention of several down-to-earth and savvy mentors, not because they had anything in common culturally, but because of his work ethic, talent, commitment to excellence and candor.  As expected, Kwame rose through the ranks at Oscar Mayer, finally being promoted to an HR role at the parent company, Kraft Foods in Chicago.  Again, Mr. Salter rose through the ranks. As leadership observed how he elevated each role, he was given more and more recognition and authority, ultimately being promoted to Senior Vice President of Human Resources. “I had earned a seat at the table of power where employee talent, development opportunities, career trajectories and promotions were determined. But I didn’t just sit at the table, I became an advocate for any talented employee who simply needed support, and spoke up for any talented employee being overlooked, sidelined, or derailed. And I was especially vigilant in advocating for Black leaders who would otherwise have been left on the cutting floor after placement decisions had been made. I used my power – softly, but with a big stick of knowledge, courage, commitment and compassion.”

Click On The Book Cover To Purchase

Today, Kwame Salter is a writer, a frequently sought-after speaker on the topics of leadership and Black leadership, a coach to senior and emerging executives, and a tireless advocate for Blacks in leadership.  In his new book, “BEING THE BOSS WHEN IT’S BLACK OVER WHITE,” Kwame reflects on his career as a retired Black Senior Vice President with an amazing career at what had been one of the largest food companies in America, Kraft Foods.

During his time at Kraft, and now during his active retirement, he’s been disappointed to observe the continuously abysmal statistics for Blacks in leadership.  Blacks make up 13% of the U.S. population, but just 3% of senior-level roles among U.S. companies.  “I reflected on some of the challenges I and other Blacks in leadership positions faced and observed, not because of our competence—but because of our color. Some of these challenges were blatant, but most were of the more subtle, pernicious form that are the most challenging to address.”

Thus, this book was born out of a need to validate what every Black leader knows – that racism toward blacks in leadership is real.  Further, it is to is air out some of the pernicious perceptions and beliefs that operate to make the position of leadership for Blacks unnecessarily challenging, and often, untenable.  In addition, the goal of this book is to share what Kwame observed and learned about being a successful Black leader, including strategies for new and veteran Black leaders who are promoted to or occupy positions that require them to engage employees who often question their suitability for the role of being their black boss.

These are insights that Kwame Salter gained through incredible mentors, and from his elevated view as a Senior Vice President who had a powerful seat at the decision-making table.

When it comes to people, there are “smart” people, and then there are “very smart” people.  Kwame Salter is among the “very smart,” group of people.  In fact, we would say that Kwame Salter may be one of the “smartest” people available.  Before you ask:  “Why Kwame?”  Think about this.  Kwame Salter made it his business to know where all the “smart” people were located, and then he let them do their job.  This philosophy is just one aspect of his genius.

We will be conducting an exclusive interview with Kwame Salter.  YOU DO NOT WANT TO MISS IT!  Stay tuned.  We will be sharing more information within the next few days.

Check out Kwame’s conversation with “The Black Eagle” Joe Madison on his radio show.  Kwame and Joe discuss diversity in corporate America and the role African American’s play in it.  Watch/listen below:

Check out Kwame’s conversation with “The Black Eagle” Joe Madison on his radio show as they talk about Kwame’s new book.  Click on the link below.

Kwame Salter: Being The Boss When It’s Black Over White | Joe Madison the Black Eagle (simplecast.com)

Special thanks to Janice Fenn, Professional Resources Organization, for facilitating our contact with Mr. Salter and for assisting with our forthcoming interview.

To learn more about Kwame Salter, click here to visit his official website.

An Exclusive Interview with Kwame Salter

Kimmoly LaBoo: The Driving Force Behind “The Black Father Perspective”

BMIA.com:  Kimmoly thanks for taking time out for this interview.  Let me start by asking you to talk about your latest project, “The Black Father Perspective,” specifically, what prompted you to develop the “Black Father Perspective,” project?

Kimmoly Laboo:  This is such a loaded question for me. There were many factors that played into me wanting to develop this project. I will start at the surface level and say, the daughter and the mother in me needed answers. I was the young girl sitting on the front step, from dusk to dawn, waiting on a father that failed to show up time after time. Fortunately for me, in my adult years we were able to mend our relationship a few years before he took his last breath. As a mother of two African American sons, I have watched a painful dynamic play-out between my sons and their father. One in which I often feel helpless. I knew if I felt this way there were many other women that felt this way too. On the other hand, I know some incredible black men that are amazing fathers. It disturbed me that only one side of the narrative was being amplified through media and in the black community. I guess the bottom line is, I had questions and I sought out to find the answers. Also, as a publisher, I work with and highlight lots of amazing women through their stories of triumph, and it has been wonderful. However, I personally needed to see amazing black men front and center. I took a chance and here we are.

BMIA.com:  I am one of your contributing authors.  How many contributors do you have associated with this project?

Kimmoly LaBoo:  There are 9 authors that will be contributing to this project.

BMIA.com:  You’ve been in the publishing business for years and own a reputable publishing company.  What is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?

Kimmoly LaBoo:  The only thing that sort of took me by surprise when I first started publishing was finding out that wealthy people buy their way onto the New York Times Bestseller list. That doesn’t seem ethical to me.

BMIA.com:  What does literary success look like to you?

Kimmoly LaBoo:  Literary success to me is being able to support authors in writing their amazing stories. Assisting people who never thought they would become an author. Seeing the healing that takes place through writing is also a gift. I get the most pleasure from witnessing the look on my clients faces when they receive their actual book in hand. Having the privilege of experiencing that repeatedly, feels like success to me. I also take pleasure in knowing that I am furthering the legacy of my family name. I love knowing that my business is contributing to the households of those on my literary team. This is bigger than me. That’s success.

BMIA.com:  That’s great.  What do you want people to take away or get as a result of reading this book?

Kimmoly LaBoo:  The Black Father Perspective is part of a larger conversation that needs to be had. I want this book to start that conversation. I want people to see African American fathers in a different/positive light. I want people to know that black men love their children. I ultimately hope the book brings healing, insight, direction, and ultimately change in the African American community and begins to shift the conversation and narrative about black fathers in America.

BMIA.com:  This is why I wanted to be a part of this effort.  I feel the same way.  Let’s talk about you.  Where you born and raised?

Kimmoly LaBoo:  I was born and raised in Annapolis, Maryland. As a young girl, I grew up in a quaint neighborhood that was situated between a cemetery and what was known as 4th Ward, home to drug dealers and users. As a young adult, I got married and moved to Baltimore, County where I lived until I relocated to Hawaii. I just recently returned to Maryland.

BMIA.com:  What were you doing 25 years ago?

Kimmoly LaBoo:  Wow, 25 years ago I was married with one child, still trying to figure out where my life would take me. I can honestly say, I had no clue back then. I think I was a Mary Kay Beauty Consultant during that time-frame as well.

BMIA.com:  What is your earliest, or most vivid recollection of being or feeling different?

Kimmoly LaBoo:  I would say about 5th grade. I’ve never really fit in, which I can appreciate now.

BMIA.com:  When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer?

Kimmoly LaBoo:  I never really wanted to be a writer. My writing came out of a necessity for healing. Nine titles later, I am still at it.

BMIA.com:  If you didn’t write and publish, what would you do for a living?

Kimmoly LaBoo:  I would go back to traveling the world, speaking, and using my voice to uplift young girls and women.

BMIA.com:  Who influenced you the most?

Kimmoly LaBoo:  I am not easily influenced so it is difficult for me to answer this question. However, I admire the likes of Michelle Obama, Cicely Tyson, Phylicia Rashad, women who from afar seem to move with style and grace.

BMIA.com:  Who are some of your favorite writers? Kimberla Lawson Roby, Terry McMillan, Priscilla Shirer, John Eckhart.

BMIA.com:  How did you become a successful author and publisher?

Kimmoly LaBoo:  Writing one book turned into nine more, which then led to speaking, and then teaching. When you become good at something people want to know how you did it. All of that writing, speaking, and teaching ignited a passion in me. The publishing company came as a result of a conversation with God. He told me it was time to make it official. I was called to this.

BMIA.com:  What distinguishes your publishing company from many of the other publishing companies?

Kimmoly LaBoo:  At LaBoo Publishing Enterprise we build relationships with our clients. We care about the person behind the story. We are in the trenches with our authors from beginning to end. We work with integrity and work diligently to make sure our clients win.

BMIA.com:  What is the biggest challenge about being a business owner who happens to be a woman?

Kimmoly LaBoo:  I can honestly say, I have not faced any challenges in my business solely based on the fact that I am a woman. I work hard, I treat people fairly, I operate in integrity and I have an equal expectation from those that I work with. So far so good.

BMIA.com:  Thank you taking the time for this interview and for being the driving force behind this book project.  You have advanced the conversation surrounding black fatherhood, and for that we are grateful.

Kimmoly LaBoo:  You’re welcome.


Click Here To Reserve Your Autographed Copy

With heartbreaking headlines everyday surrounding the plight of our black men, this work is timely and necessary.

Black fathers play a pivotal role in the lives of our black children. According to the 2011 U.S. Census, nearly 2 in 3 (64%) African American children live in father-absent homes. However, we know that all fathers are not absent. Many of them are very present and we want to hear what they have to say about parenting.

The Black Father Perspective – Anthology Project

For More Information Click Here


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 America.com

“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 www.ThumpRecords.com.

Check back frequently, we hope to bring you more information on Bootsy Collins and other “Old Schoolers” who are still getting it done.

BMIA.com:  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.

BMIA.com:  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.

BMIA.com:  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.

BMIA.com:  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.

BMIA.com:  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.

BMIA.com:  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.

BMIA.com:  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.

BMIA.com:  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.

BMIA.com:  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.

BMIA.com:  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.

BMIA.com:  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 Cave.com.

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.


Elijah Cummings:  Reflections from Colleagues and “60 Minutes” Interview

Posted July 8, 2019

Priscilla Graham:  Her Pictures Tell Everybody’s Story by T. J. Baker

Priscilla Graham is a well-known writer and historical photographer from Georgia. I asked Priscilla a few questions about her exciting exhibit night and this excitement that will carry on June 25 thru the 31st of July.

Priscilla, I know you are excited!  Tell us who you came with tonight to share this great opening at the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum?

Priscilla: I don’t have any family in Houston, but I have lots of supporting friends and associates who will attend tonight. Many more will come out and support before my exhibit ends.   So, if they don’t come tonight, as long as they come and see my exhibit that’s really all that’s important.”

Before we open the exhibit, can you tell our readers what the viewers can expect? 

Priscilla:  You can expect diversity.  You can expect a documentary from the Civil War, all the way through the Buffalo Soldiers to modern-day soldiers.  I’ve also covered War World One all the way through the Vietnam War.

What is the one photo that you want viewers to zoom in? 

Priscilla:  One of those special photos is a photo of Flipper.  Flipper is from Thomasville Georgia.  Since I too am from Thomasville Georgia, I had an opportunity to go home and see his gravesite. I didn’t know about it before that time. That is why it’s a part of my exhibit. Flipper was buried in 1917.

How long have you been a serious photographer?

Priscilla:  I probably started really getting serious about 2000 or maybe 2001, something like that. That’s when I bought my first Digital SLR camera and upgraded to a higher professional brand camera.  After that, I started turning my photos into books. I have co-written or written my books on my own.

For your exhibit how long have you been taking photos for this big night? 

Priscilla:  I received a grant, “Heroes; The American Soldiers” from the City of Houston, back in January. They implemented a grant through the Houston Photography Lens.  Also, I had other photos that I was able to incorporate with these modern-day photos.  I have more photos that I need to frame and will be expanding my exhibit and continue to move my exhibit around to other opportunity events.  For example, my exhibit was shown at the Community Fair event back in March, and that exhibit was titled, “History Through The Lens.” I had photographs from over the years… landmarks, artifacts, icons, communities, and day to day people doing extraordinary things like living on small incomes.  Yes, we had a great turnout, with around 6000 people coming through the doors and leaving enlightened.

So why do you think you won the grant? 

Priscilla: I believe my photos were chosen, because of the content that I had.  It was about our soldiers.  That’s something you don’t see often, soldiers being honored.  Yes, we have Memorial Day and Veterans Day, but what about honoring the soldiers on the street, which a lot of people can’t deal with! People say they’re mental, either with a breakdown or other health issues.  When you come out in the military, you come out and get back on the street like a civilian.  But many people who go into the military come out needing some type of psychiatric help.

Since you tapped on mental are there any photos in your exhibit that’s going to show some mental stress? 

Priscilla:  I think you can look at the faces and see the mental stress on anybody.   And, I think a lot of people that do like to dress up like the Buffalo Soldiers and soldiers of other eras, attend different military events, as a way of getting rid of stress!  I think it’s more than a fun outlet because people who look normal can still have mental problems.  Look we can all look normal, but it doesn’t mean you’re okay.

Do you have any military background? 

Priscilla:  Yes, I was in the Army for six years.  I was an E6 – Staff Sergeant.  I also had a brother that served in the Army and my sister just retired from the Army.  My dad served in the Vietnam War.  Also, I had an uncle that was killed in Vietnam on June 17, 1969, when I was only six years old.  My family has a huge military background, and I feel I was destined to be in the military. I’m proud of my exhibit that’s displayed here in the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum.

What are the names of the book you’ve written through your lens of photographing?

Well, I co-wrote two books with Captain Paul Matthews and they are called, “World War II”and“Buffalo Soldiers National Museum.”Then I co-wrote a book with a guy name James Thibodeaux and that book is called, “Historic Acres Homes The 44”  Then, I wrote several books on my own and those titles are called, “Douglas High School Class of 1950, Independence Heights, Healing My Soul, Camp Logan, 21st Century Freedom Colonies featuring Acres Homes, Texas 100 Year Old African American Churches, Highland Tank Our Settlement, Historic Freedmen’s Town, Buffalo Soldiers, Vietnam Larry Graham, 150 Years – Standing Strong, Houston Freedmen’s Town, 302 Quartermaster Railhead Company, Historic Fifth Ward, McNair and Hufsmith, Texas Historical African American Markers, Oak Hill Kendleton, Houston African American Settlements, Legacy Embracing Our Past to Protect The Future, Houston Acreage Home, Freedmen’s Town – The People Are The City and Freedmen’s Town Preservation Coalition.”

Is there anything you want the viewers to come and see and walk away with when leaving your exhibit? 

Priscilla:  I want them to walk away with the value in the sacrifice that people made so that you can have freedom.  They talk about not standing up for the flag, but people died for you!  The sacrifice in understanding diversity – not just one race or any one people, there are multitudes of people that have fought for this country.  All the wars like the WWI and WWII and the Korean Vets, the Vietnam Vets are all slowly dying, so we must celebrate them now and not just on certain days, we should give them respect throughout the year.

Last question:  What do you want the readers to know about your work?

Priscilla: My love and my passion is storytelling through the lens of the camera while capturing timeless moments of life. Photography soothes my soul and gives me a voice to express my spirit of love for God’s beauty through a single photograph. I believe that nothing truly captures a moment in time like a photograph.

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

Posted May 30, 2016

cooksey-lgCorvette Logo

Many of you were introduced to Wilmer “Wil” Cooksey, Jr., through my exclusive interview with him in 2003.  Mr. Cooksey was named manager of the world’s only Corvette plant in February of 1993.  As a lifelong fan of the car, it was a dream job come true.  Last year, Wilmer Cooksey, Jr. was inducted into the Corvette Hall of Fame.

Born in Fort Worth, Texas, Mr. Cooksey received a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from Tennessee State University in 1965. He earned a Master’s degree in industrial engineering from the University of Toledo in 1972 and completed post graduate work in mechanical engineering at Michigan State University.

A Distinguished Graduate of the Officer’s Training School, Cooksey served as an executive officer in the U.S. Army Artillery, 1st Lieutenant. His last assignment was a year in Vietnam. For his efforts while in Vietnam, he was awarded the bronze medal.

Mr. Cooksey’s General Motors career is the epitome of achievement beginning with his first job as an assistant professor in industrial engineering at GMI in Flint, Michigan to his current position.

Mr. Cooksey’s accomplishments are long and historic. In 1997 Cooksey received the “Black Engineer of the Year President’s Award.” Also in 1997, Austin Peay University named him “Achiever of the Year” in their Focus Program. He also received a Presidential Citation from the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education in recognition of exemplary experience that honors Tennessee State University. Dollars & Sense Magazine honored Cooksey in their 1998 “Salute to America’s Best & Brightest Business and Professional Men and Women.” Cooksey is featured on the cover of African Americans on Wheels magazine as they named the Corvette the “Best Urban Car of the Year.” He has been honored as an Outstanding Graduate of Tennessee State and named a “Black Achiever in the Industry” by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Here is my original interview with Mr. Cooksey conducted in 2003.

Wilmer Cooksey, Jr. – The Man Behind The Corvette


The Legend of Wilmer Cooksey:  The Man Behind The Corvette

Wil Cooksey - Corvette

Many of you were introduced to Wilmer “Wil” Cooksey, Jr., through our exclusive interview with him in 2003.  Mr. Cooksey was named manager of the world’s only Corvette plant in February of 1993.  As a lifelong fan of the car, it was a dream job come true.  Last year, Wilmer Cooksey, Jr. was inducted into the Corvette Hall of Fame.

Born in Fort Worth, Texas, Mr. Cooksey received a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from Tennessee State University in 1965. He earned a Master’s degree in industrial engineering from the University of Toledo in 1972 and completed post graduate work in mechanical engineering at Michigan State University.

A Distinguished Graduate of the Officer’s Training School, Cooksey served as an executive officer in the U.S. Army Artillery, 1st Lieutenant. His last assignment was a year in Vietnam. For his efforts while in Vietnam, he was awarded the bronze medal.

Mr. Cooksey’s General Motors career is the epitome of achievement beginning with his first job as an assistant professor in industrial engineering at GMI in Flint, Michigan to his current position.

Mr. Cooksey’s accomplishments are long and historic. In 1997 Cooksey received the “Black Engineer of the Year President’s Award.” Also in 1997, Austin Peay University named him “Achiever of the Year” in their Focus Program. He also received a Presidential Citation from the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education in recognition of exemplary experience that honors Tennessee State University. Dollars & Sense Magazine honored Cooksey in their 1998 “Salute to America’s Best & Brightest Business and Professional Men and Women.” Cooksey is featured on the cover of African Americans on Wheels magazine as they named the Corvette the “Best Urban Car of the Year.” He has been honored as an Outstanding Graduate of Tennessee State and named a “Black Achiever in the Industry” by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Here is our original interview with Mr. Cooksey.  That interview was conducted by Gary A. Johnson in 2003.

Wilmer Cooksey, Jr.:  The Man Behind The Corvette


BMIA.com:  How important of a factor was education in your accomplishments? 

Education has been critical to my success.  In the 1950’s and 60’s you couldn’t expect or dream about opportunities if you didn’t further your education.  The same holds true today.  Growing up I saw so many people who were not given the professional opportunities available because of a lack of education.  My mother taught my siblings as well as myself the importance of education.  In fact, all eight of us went to college.  An education is something no one can ever take away from you.

BMIA.com:  You’re involved in a lot of community service work.  Were you taught as a child to be a good citizen or is this something that you learned later in life in the work world?

Growing up in a lower-income, blue-collar family in Texas, we depended on services to help us out during certain times.  Even though my mom worked full-time in a hospital, money was very tight.  There were quite a few times when services would bring food or Christmas presents to the house for us kids.

Now I am in a position to return the favor and help others.  Supporting my community through the United Way and educational institutions, like Tennessee State University (TSU), are very important to our workplace and to me.

BMIA.com:  Who influenced you the most?

Wil Cooksey:  My mother always had her sights set on earning a college education.  However, she was burdened by taking care of our family and working full-time.  She took night courses and always kept trying.  She was absolutely delighted when I as well as my siblings earned our college degrees.  It was her focus and determination that influenced me the most growing up.

My wife, Dr. Elizabeth Cooksey, has also been a great influence in my life.  We met while we were in college at TSU.  It was with her guidance and example that I saw the importance of getting a great education as well as having a good social life.  She’s been a guiding light ever since.  This year we’ll celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary.

BMIA.com:  What’s your position on Affirmative Action in the workplace? 

Wil Cooksey:  Affirmative Action is absolutely necessary.  I believe that organizations are aware of the importance of diversity.  However, many do not have the action steps behind it to support creating a diverse workforce.  Unfortunately, you are not going to get the right mix of people automatically.

In today’s competitive market it is very difficult to recruit the best and brightest.  It takes a good recruiting program to attract the talent and diversity that companies need to be successful.  It requires mentoring, training and hiring practices that bring in people who are going to continue to grow and challenge traditional thought.

BMIA.com:  Based on your experiences, how does someone fight racism and sexism in America? 

Wil Cooksey:  The most important way to fight racism or sexism is not to feed or perpetuate it.  You cannot win if you use racism to fight racism.  Every individual has to walk the talk and set the example of how you as an individual want to be treated.

Education is the key.  I believe that ignorance is the basis for most of the racism and sexism that we see in our society.  We will all have a greater understanding of one another if we support educational programs and opportunities for all different kinds of people.

BMIA.com:  What was your earliest or most vivid recollection of being “different?”

Wil Cooksey:  I never really realized that I was different until I started wanting to go to the movies with my friends.  Not only was I black and had to sit in the upper balcony but I was also tall.  In fact I was so tall for my age that I had to carry my birth certificate with me so the movie attendants would believe that I was 10 years old.  Otherwise, I would have had to pay more than 10 cents to see some of the greatest westerns ever made.

It is at that age that I realized the inequities between the races.  By working and being surrounded by all types of people, I quickly learned that if I was going to be successful you have to have a better understanding of all people.

BMIA.com:  What would you say has been your biggest success to date? (Personal and/or business).

Wil Cooksey:  My entire career I have focused on becoming the plant manager of the world’s greatest sports car, the Chevrolet Corvette.  The success that the car and the plant have had – winning more than 55 industry awards – in the past 5 years and launching the brand new Cadillac XLR means a great deal to me.  It has taken the teamwork and focus of everyone at Bowling Green Assembly.

Personally, my greatest success is being happily married to my wife for forty years.  We’ve been together through degrees, moves, wars, children and careers.  I am very proud of her and her accomplishments.  Most recently she earned her doctorate in secondary education.  It is with her unending support that I am most successful.

BMIA.com:  Did you have any mentors growing up?

Wil Cooksey:  When I first hired into General Motors your mentors were people you didn’t even know.  They worked behind the scenes making sure that you were given opportunities that you would traditionally be looked over for.  I began my career as a professor at GMI, now Kettering University, and teaching statistics.  However, my goal was to get back into production management and to become a plant manager. At that time GM’s Chairman of the Board was Dick Terrell.  It was as a faculty member that I met Mr. Terrell.  The board used to come and have lunches with the faculty quite frequently.  He took an interest in my career and helped me transition to a career in manufacturing where I eventually became a plant manager.  Little did I know that he was pushing my career from behind the scenes.

Now I serve as a mentor to many students at TSU and I can proudly look at the careers of employees who have grown up through my ranks.  It is my pleasure and greatest achievement to help mentor those who have ambition, talent and a drive to succeed.

BMIA.com:  What makes the Corvette so special?

Wil Cooksey:  There is no one thing that makes Corvettes so special.  I could talk about all the specific reasons for hours.

Corvettes have to be in your blood.  When I lived in Atlanta I decided that it would be for the best to sell my Corvettes since I had so many different interests.  It didn’t take long before a sense of loneliness and emptiness set in deep inside me.  Corvettes take a place in your life whether you are driving, washing or showing them.  Very quickly I went to Tom Juniper Chevrolet because I was having Corvette withdrawal.  He let me take a two-toned white and silver ’82 home right off the lot.  I was happy once again.  Since that day I have never been without a Corvette.

Basically Corvettes end up being members of your family.  It doesn’t matter the year or body style, they are all special.  You depend on them and they take car of you.

BMIA.com:   Under your leadership, Corvette has won a number of prestigious awards.  What did you do to re-establish the Vette and win these awards?

Wil Cooksey:  Bowling Green Assembly has been very successful due to entire team working together to achieve one common goal.  And, that is to be the best assembly plant in the world.  Our organization had to improve its productivity, performance and quality in order to be more competitive.  It took the partnership of the local UAW to take some bold steps and training of the entire workforce. We focused on safety and quality.

We also created enthusiasm by listening closely to our customers.  We started to use customer feedback from JD Power, Corvette shows and other mechanisms to solve quality problems.  It took teams of engineers, management and UAW members working together to get our quality where it is today.  We have learned that if you develop close relationships and listen to your customers you will be successful.

BMIA.com:  How important is diversity in today’s workplace?

Wil Cooksey:  Diversity is essential.  In fact it’s mandatory if you are going to be successful. Our customers are diverse just as the people would build our products are diverse.  Companies today will not meet the needs of their customer base if they don’t have the same diversity in the workplace.

There’s strength in diversity, which means there is more than one way to always look at something. As a leader, if you have a diverse organization there is a greater probability that you will make the best decisions for the entire workforce.

BMIA.com:   As you climbed the corporate ladder was it difficult to find a happy balance between work and family?

Wil Cooksey:  Unfortunately, you sacrifice a little bit of your time.  However, you have to take on the challenge to support your career as well as your family.  I didn’t get to go to all of my son’s track meets or my daughter’s band activities as they were growing up, but I did go to a majority of them.

It has helped that my wife is a professor and has a demanding schedule as well.  It is important that we both remain flexible and know one another’s schedule.

BMIA.com:  You are a trailblazer.  What advise would you give to someone who wanted to make a career in corporate America?

Wil Cooksey:  Here’s the advice that I would give any young professional wanting to make a career in corporate America:

–          It is important to have an excellent education.   Excel in your studies and take educational opportunities such as internships and work programs that will give you professional experience in your field.

–          As a student, make sure that you attract company representatives that can give you good advice and take on a mentorship role.  As a student or young professional, you are going to have to help navigating your career.

–          If you are going to be successful it is imperative that you have strong people skills.  Essentially, all people want to do the right thing. When entering a new organization you need to be part of the team and not come in a threatening manner.

–          Always show initiative.  Remember, it is deeds not words that get the job done.  You have to be known for getting the job done successfully.

–          Finally, no matter what the job is remember to always do your best.  Never let anyone see your displeasure with a certain job or let them see you sweat.  Go into each job to make the most of it.  If you always do your best, no one including yourself, will ever be able to question your integrity.

BMIA.com:  What’s next for Corvette?

Wil Cooksey:  We’re very excited about the future of Corvette both with the 2004 model and the upcoming C6.  It has been a great pleasure to be involved and contribute to three generations of Corvettes. 

BMIA.com:   What’s next for Wil Cooksey? 

Wil Cooksey:  It’s my goal to have a pleasant and enjoyable end of my career.  The most rewarding thing is to see the people’s lives that I’ve touched as they go on ahead and achieve great things.   There’s never a dull moment in my life.  I am always ready for the next challenge.

BMIA.com:  Is there anything you’d like to share with our readers that I didn’t ask? 

Wil Cooksey:  People are your greatest resource.  It’s amazing what you can achieve when everyone works together.  You’re greatest strength is those who surround and support you.

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

Click here to buy Wil’s book “No Time To Cry”


Click here to read a book review of “No Time To Cry,” by Wilmer Cooksey, Jr.

Wilmer Cooksey, Jr. served as Corvette Plant Manager from February of 1993 until his retirement in March 2008. As the first African-American to earn the position and the man who held it the longest, he brought a life-long love of Corvette to the job. Believing in the phrase that “none of us are as smart as all of us,” he worked with the United Auto Workers Union and listened to customers to make the Corvette exceed the expectations of all who dreamed of having one someday.

Raising Him Alone:  An Interview with David Miller

By Vanessa Werts

Across America, in the inner-city and in suburbia, single mothers struggle with raising boys alone. This issue has clearly emerged as one of the most consequential trends facing society today. And David Miller, co-author of the book, Raising Him Alone, is on a personal mission, standing watch, doing his part to support single mothers – Black single mothers in particular – and the positive development of Black males.

During my interview with Miller at the 2010 National Congressional Black Caucus Book Pavilion, his passion was contagious. Miller’s vision is for the well being of everyone involved in the struggle from the son to the mother or caregiver to the absent-father alike. Therefore, it is only natural that he would be co-founder of the Raising Him Alone Campaign, a national movement that executes the foundational principles he and co-author Matthew P. Stevens address in their book [Raising Him Alone].

Single mother parenting was long thought to be primarily an African-American problem, stemming from poverty and poor education. However over the last decade, it has become an epidemic crossing both racial and class lines. “We started the campaign to really focus on Black and Latina moms,” says Miller. “But we get a tremendous amount of calls from White mothers. The issue is beyond an epidemic.”

Miller shared with me insights about the book, the campaign, and the community activities and resources dedicated to inspire and inform the millions of single mothers who struggle daily with the challenges of raising boys.

The David Miller Interview

BMIA: What is the Raising Him Alone campaign about?

D. Miller: The campaign is a movement to provide greater access to resources for single mothers and grandmothers throughout this country.

BMIA: Where does your passion for this movement or your connection to this issue come from?

D. Miller: When I was a freshman in college, my best friend was shot and killed standing next to me and I was 19-years-old. I was at Morgan, he was at Morehouse; some guys tried to rob us…they shot my friend in the back and he died in my arms. And since then I’ve dedicated my life to really improving the lives of children and families in this country. And so, I’m real clear that we’ve got to do this work in our communities, or else we’re not going to make it.

BMIA: When does the campaign kick-off?

D. Miller: The campaign kicked-off in January 2009. We did a major launch in two cities: Baltimore and Newark, New Jersey. I invited some dynamic mothers who’ve raised sons to come and help me kick it off. Common’s [rapper, actor] mother, Dr. Mahalia Hines; Mos Def’s [rapper, actor] mother, Sheron Smith; and Talib Kweli’s [rapper, activist] mother, Dr. Brenda Greene. I brought them on-board to help me launch the two cities, and now we’ve expanded to Chicago and Philadelphia. These are our four main cities. But we’re working in communities across this country really doing some very interesting viable Web-based things like using Facebook to create discussion groups with moms. We’re creating a tremendous movement around serious parenting.

BMIA: What has been the response to campaign?

D. Miller: The response has been absolutely overwhelming. We average about forty phone calls and E-mails a week from mothers who are in some of the roughest parts of say, maybe Memphis, DC, or Newark, New Jersey, to moms that have MBA degrees, PhD degrees from excellent colleges and universities, who got divorced and for whatever reason, dad hasn’t stepped up. And so it’s been an amazing cross-section of parents from different socioeconomic backgrounds.

BMIA: Have you in any way included fathers in the campaign?

D. Miller: Yes. Historically, my background is I’ve written two other books about responsible fatherhood. And so, year one was really to launch the campaign and raise money. Year two has really been focused on launching the largest responsible fatherhood Web site you’ll find in this country which we’re gonna try to connect it with President Obama’s Responsible Fatherhood Initiative. I was in Washington three weeks ago speaking to all of the federal grantees that received responsible fatherhood money. The Web site is going to be for any dad: married dads, divorced dads, military; dads that are incarcerated, to really talk about what does it mean to be an exceptional father. And so dads are an integral part of the campaign.

BMIA: What type of information can single mothers expect from the book, Raising Him Alone?

D. Miller: In the book, we kind of roll out a blueprint of how to raise a son, as well as things like mentoring. Susan Taylor has a national initiative; Michael Baisden has a national initiative on mentoring. The reality is in all those initiatives, we’ve not gotten enough black and brown men to sign up and honor their commitment. So one of the things we talk about is, while we’re trying to find a mentor for the boy, there’s things mom has to do in the home. For example, number one is the boy can never be the man of the house. That’s a mistake that I think mothers make, particularly as boys get to adolescence. Moms say you’re the man of the house because your father is not here.  And what happens with a lot of boys is they think because dad’s not here I need to step up and bring money in. So a lot of boys will start steeling cars, selling drugs… You start to see a lot of pathologies exist because mom has told this 13-year-old that he’s man of the house. So a lot of what we’re trying to do is really work with community-based organizations and work with schools. We’ve created an awesome learning community so mothers can go to our Web site, sign up and they can receive free text messages, free voicemail message about being a good parent…about financial literacy tips. We send out an e-mail blast that goes out to about 11,000 mothers and grandmothers across the country. We’ve created a Facebook group, Single Mothers Raising Boys, with over 1,000 mothers connected to that. The goal is also connecting mothers to resources, things like mental health; things like credit repair; a lot of stuff on co-parenting. I mean when you look at the divorce rates in our community, we’re in trouble. We’re in serious trouble.

BMIA: Have you had any testimonials on the impact of the work you’re doing?

D. Miller: We’ve had some amazing testimonials. I’ll start with Ms. Mildred, a 74-year-old great-grandmother living in the projects in the West Ward in Newark, raising five boys by herself… hypertension and diabetes. When we went to go interview Ms Mildred, we were able to stop her from getting evicted from her apartment. We were able to connect her to free mental health services for both herself and for those boys. Even though the boys are all under 12-years-old, you started to really see some behavioral challenges with those boys. We can document many of the families that we’ve reached as well as the dads that we’ve reached. And that’s one of the reasons why we decided to create the fatherhood Web site. We met a brother in Michigan whose children lived in Atlanta, Georgia and we were able to re-connect him with his children. Because he was a long distance dad, we were able to work with him and work with the mom to develop some strategies. One of the first things we did was recommend that the dad buy a cell phone and mail it to the boy so the boy could call his dad. But we had to go through the mom to help her work through her own issues because they didn’t get married to say, this is something that can happen. And so, even being able to work through something as simple as communication with the father and son is another example.

The Raising Him Alone Campaign seeks to create a larger community dialogue around the importance of supporting single mothers raising boys. Through partnerships with a host of organizations, they are mobilizing single mothers and absent-fathers to save our future, particularly our boys.

The siren is blaring. The call to engage the issues in raising healthy, positive boys demands our attention. What price will society ultimately play if this trend continues? The clock is ticking.

To learn more about Raising Him Alone, the book, and the work co-founders, David Miller and Matthew P. Stevens are doing with the Raising Him Alone Campaign, visit www.RaisingHimAlone.com.

BMIA.com Reporter Vanessa Werts and David Miller

David C. Miller, M.Ed. is the co-founder and Chief Visionary Officer of the Urban Leadership Institute, LLC, (www.urbanyouth.org) a social enterprise that focuses on developing positive youth development strategies. ULI provides strategic planning, professional development, positive youth development concepts and crisis management services.

Thank you Lee McDonald from The Renaissance Group (TRG) for making this interview possible.

Mildred Muhammad Speaks

Former Wife of DC Sniper Breaks Her Silence About Domestic Violence

By Gary Johnson, Founder/Publisher – Black Men In America.com

Mildred D. Muhammad is the ex-wife of John Allen Muhammad – the convicted and recently executed DC sniper who terrorized the Washington DC metropolitan area in late 2002.  After several years of silence, Mildred decided to speak openly about her day-to-day experiences as a survivor of domestic violence and how it affected her three children.

I had seen Mildred’s interviews on CNN and FOX News. Some of the questions appeared to be anything but “fair and balanced” and the interviews were short.  There wasn’t enough time for Mildred to adequately address the questions.

I decided to reach out to Mildred to give her an opportunity to tell her story uninterrupted.

Mildred agreed to an unscripted and unrehearsed interview.  I assigned this task to Janice Wilson and off we went to tape the interview at Mildred’s office a few weeks ago (December 2009).  We divided the interview into six parts.  Part One of the interview is listed below.

As you watch and listen to Mildred’s story you will learn that Mildred did not seek the limelight.  She was thrust into the spotlight because her former husband was John Allen Muhammad. Mildred new book, “Scared Silent,” details her her day-to-day experiences as a survivor of domestic violence and how it affected her three children.  A lot has been said about Mildred and why she wrote this book.  Mildred has dedicated her life to helping survivors of domestic violence and abuse.  I believe in telling her story, she is doing the work of others.  Don’t take my word for it, watch and listen for yourself.

Mildred Muhammad and Janice Wilson

Mildred has agreed to write a monthly column on surviving domestic violence and abuse.  You can read her column and buy her book on the main web site at www.blackmeninamerica.com/abuse.htm.

Any thoughts about Mildred and her story?  Click on the links below to watch Janice Wilson’s exclusive six part interview with Mildred Muhammad.

Mildred Muhammad Speaks – The Exclusive Six Part Interview on Black Men In America.com

Part 1 of 6:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4RvvYvLKaCw

Part 2 of 6:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0Qep8902Q4

Part 3 of 6:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qhz_gP1nCtU

Part 4 of 6:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AxCOVTPuZUY

Part 5 of 6:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WqGWF9J3B-4

Part 6 of 6:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4DLOQI_FibQ

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.


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