With her new CD “Pieces of Me,” Ledisi proves that she is a woman to know. Loaded with emotion and charged with unparalleled soul, this recording adds another dimension to the persona the singer has been sharing with audiences since her explosive entrance on the music scene a few short years ago. She is like a Sharon Jones-meets-Nina Simone and has an amazing voice and an eclectic sense of style. The vocalist has performed twice at the White House under the enthusiastic patronage of the First Lady (who is one of her biggest fans and swears she listens to Ledisi everyday). “Pieces of Me” is a natural progression for the singer — with each song on the CD bursting with love, intimacy and self-assurance.
“Imagine some of the characteristics of Shug Avery from ‘The Color Purple,’” Ledisi says playfully. “She is fiery, expressive, spiritual and uninhibited. Well, I would say this is my Shug Avery-like project,” she adds with her trademark laughter. Anyone who’s seen her dynamic live show or follows her on Twitter knows this lively and clever side of the singer, and “Pieces of Me” delivers all that and more.
“This project is more layered,” says Ledisi. “All of the songs reveal aspects of the confident woman I am becoming. It’s a discovery of another side of me.”
Following her last two critically acclaimed releases — 2007’s breakthrough hit “Lost and Found,” which was nominated for two Grammy awards including Best New Artist, and 2009’s rock & funk, attention-stealing “Turn Me Loose,” which also garnered two Grammy nods and a No. 1 debut position on the Billboard R&B chart — “Pieces of Me” is a portrait of an artist possessing an involuntary penchant for growth. Delivered by an unmatched voice in its exquisite prime, this CD marks Ledisi’s shining moment.
“What I love about (my new CD) is that there is a happy medium between the old school and the new school where everyone can enjoy it in one household, so it’s really cool,” said the singer. “I love the response from my female fans, but I’m surprised at my male fans’ response as well. The album is more vocal and open and sensual, so it’s doing something right. That’s the part: to please everyone. I love that the songwriting also has resonated with people.”
The title track is an introspective look at a woman discovering her unique offerings to the world. Co-written by Ledisi and in-demand songwriter Claude Kelly (Fantasia, Carrie Underwood), she sings “Like every woman I know/I’m complicated for sure/But when I love/I love till there’s no love no more.” “That’s what a woman does,” she states. “That is power and strength. It’s okay to celebrate being a woman.”
Demonstrating that she can be just as confident as she is loving, Ledisi flips the script on “Hate Me,” a bluesy, juke-joint-worthy track, singing “I know it’s hard to understand/Sometimes a woman wanna act like a man/And when it feels like I’m running things/I know you ‘bout to lose your mind.” “There is great honesty in this song. There are some independent women out there who don’t need permission to be themselves. Writing this song helped me to be okay with the more dominant side of myself.”
For Ledisi, it was a long journey to that “a-ha” moment. Born in New Orleans and raised in Oakland, Calif., where she says she developed ambition, drive and an appreciation for opera, gospel and R&B, Ledisi struggled for years. After constant rejection from recording companies, she and a partner formed their own label on which they released two independent albums, both of which gained national attention, resulting in her 2007 major label deal with Verve. Pieces of Me is a culmination of the challenges she’s experienced and lessons she’s learned.
“Before I started working on this album, I had to figure out what I wanted to offer, not only musically, but also spiritually, emotionally and intellectually. That meant I had to finally embrace the totality of me. Now, I see the greatness in me and that I have much to offer to this world.”
Many of the songs on this album are evidence of this new attitude, including the barefaced “Shut Up,” produced by Mike City (Bilal, Kelly Price). “I wrote this while driving in L.A., listening to the track which I’d had for two months. Someone cut me off on the freeway and I was irate. For some reason, I started thinking about what I wish I could have said to all of the people who said I was never going to succeed by being me. Now, I have a song for all of the naysayers.”
Claude Kelly also lent his platinum pen to two other cuts, including the celebratory “Bravo” — which finds Ledisi declaring her new outlook on life — and “Shine,” a celebratory ode to relationships. “It took me and a whole bunch of people to find that medium, and I just know that I’m in the middle so I want to display that middle on audio,” said Ledisi. “It’s just great to have songs that celebrate you, celebrate life and relate to people. And I've studied a lot of the greats — you have to study in order to find that medium, and it's a lot of hard work put into it. I’m inspired by Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Prince, The Beatles, Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan — the list goes on and on. Abby Lincoln was a wonderful writer. Nina Simone was incredible. People love songs that relate to them; that is feels like, ‘Oh, she wrote this for me.’ And I love that — and it helps people understand other people.
It is clear who Ledisi has become: a complex and colorful woman who is open, self-assured, creative, unafraid and, most of all, inspirational. “Pieces of Me”defines this moment in her life. “Recording this album was my therapy. Every aspect of it is who I am. But, not all of me, just ‘Pieces of Me.’”
After the highest charting release of her career, “Pieces of Me,” which debuted in the Top 10 on the Billboard Top 200 chart and was the No. 1 iTunes R&B Album, four-time Grammy-nominated Ledisi is headlining her first tour and will be performing at Temple Performing Arts Center on October 22. Fans can keep up-to-date with Ledisi’s tour schedule and ticket purchase info on her official website, www.ledisi.com or TicketMaster.com.
“The Wendy Williams Show” is taped live in New York and features Williams’ distinctive and entertaining personality as well as a diverse mix of celebrities from film, music, sports and television. Popular segments include “Ask Wendy” during which she offers real advice to audience members looking for solutions to problems, and “Hot Topics” in which she delivers her own funny and authentic take on the juiciest headlines.
Last week, the renewal of “The Wendy Williams Show” through 2014 on the Fox-owned stations was announced. “We’re in 52 countries, so over in Dubai you could still watch,” laughed Williams during her Friday visit. She greeted all she encountered with her official salutation: “How You Doin’?
“It’s a real good feeling. That could change at any given second. TV is a very fickle business — it’s probably more fickle in it’s severity than radio. In TV when it’s good, it’s good. But when it’s bad — oww! — there is no grey area. It’s nice to be here.”
Before hosting this show, Williams enjoyed a successful 23-year career (including three years at Philly’s Power 99FM) as one of radio’s most popular personalities. During her time in the region, Williams went from being single to married to motherhood.
“It feels good to be home,” said Williams, as she pulled up to Ishkabibble’s Eatery on South Street. “Philly is the city that made me a woman. I came here a girl. I’d gone through some really hard things with radio in New York. I worked at Power 99. I never thought about being a mother, but when I left here my boyfriend was my husband, our son is now 11 years old — he was born at Methodist Hospital — and I look at life a whole lot differently.”
“The Wendy Williams Show” is known for unpredictable and outrageous stunts and this will continue all November long, every weekday, with a new segment called “Wendy’s Shameless Surprise Stunt.” Still, the multimedia maven would like to book several “dream guests.”
“I would love to have Michelle Obama on, but I don't want to talk politics,” Williams explained. "Michelle Obama and I are the same age, and she is one of the guests I would love to have on. We’re both moms, we’re both women of a particular age and size and are Black. I would love to talk to Judge Judy, she’s a dream guest of mine. There’s not a day in my life, except for Sunday, that I don’t watch Judge Judy. I find her fascinating and incredible. I would love to talk to Oprah, but who wouldn’t want to talk to Oprah. We’ll see what happens. I work with a great team of people. We’ve come this far — maybe we’ll get that Michelle Obama.”
In addition to her daily TV show, Williams (who is also a best-selling author) is excited about her 2012 media options. She’s looking to launch a return to radio, showcase her merchandising skills and extend her acting chops: “I look forward to doing a little more acting. I’m in Steve Harvey’s upcoming movie, ‘Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man,’ released in February. I have a small role, but it’s very pivotal — I promise you won’t forget it.”
Beginning Oct. 27 and continuing through Nov. 23, Williams will give away trips to the British Virgin Islands weekdays during the “Watch And Swim” sweepstakes. Every Monday through Friday viewers of the show will find out how they can enter for a chance to win a tropical getaway. Sweepstakes details can be seen at www.wendyshow.com. For all the latest news on Williams, follow @WendyWilliams on Twitter or visit Facebook at www.facebook.com/wendyshow.
Inspired and led by the Nation of Islam leader Minister Louis Minister Louis Farrakhan, more than a million Black men gathered in Washington, D.C. to declare their right to justice to atone for their failure as men and to accept responsibility as the family head.
On that day, Monday, October 16, 1995, there was a sea of Black men, many who stood for 10 hours or more sharing, learning, listening, fasting, hugging, crying, laughing and praying.
The day produced a spirit of brotherhood, love and unity like never before experienced among Black men in America.
All creeds and classes were present: Christians, Muslims, Hebrews, Agnostics, nationalists, pan-Africanists, civil rights organizations, fraternal organizations, rich, poor, celebrities and people from nearly every organization, profession and walk of life were present.
It was a day of atonement, reconciliation and responsibility. And, it was a day that Philadelphians pulled together.
“In 1995, according to what we've got, there was somewhere between 180,000 to 200,000 from the metropolitan area here at the Million Man March. Philadelphia was number one hands down in sending the largest contingent,” said Minister Rodney Muhammad, the Delaware Valley Regional Minister of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and Minister of Muhammad Mosque No.12 in Philadelphia. “In addition to that, Philadelphia had one of the strongest organizations. I remember back to when the Honorable Minister Farrakhan came to Philadelphia in 1995 before the march, and had a meeting with union leaders, Black elected officials, Black clergy and many of the civic and grass roots leaders, a number of whom made up our local organizing committee for the march, at that time to organize and mobilize people for the march.”
Congress shut down that day and President William Clinton was “out of town.”
Mainstream media in America and media outlets from around the world were watching. The world did not see thieves, criminals and savages as usually portrayed through mainstream music, movies and other forms of media. On that day, the world saw a vastly different picture of the Black man in America.
“To go right to the heart of it, because every camera in every nation opened up their channels so that they could watch that march,” Muhammad said. “They didn’t believe that the March would come off the way that it did. Forty-eight hours before we got to Washington, in 1995, 15,000 National guardsmen were sent in. They were really expecting something a lot more riotous and out of control. But, it was one of the most organized and peaceful gatherings in the history of Washington D.C., according to the marshals.”
The world witnessed Black men demonstrating the willingness to shoulder the responsibility of improving themselves and the community.
There was neither one fight nor one arrest that day. There was no smoking or drinking. The Washington Mall, where the March was held, was left as clean as it was found.
Two of the best descriptions of the Million Man March include the word “miracle” and the phrase “a glimpse of heaven.”
The negative images, particularly out of Hollywood and the movie cinema, that depict and export negative images of Black men through movies such as ‘Boyz in the Hood,’ ‘Menace II Society,’ all of the Black exploitation films, we didn’t realize it, but they are shown globally, so there is an image the world has of us.
So watching the Million Man March, within 24 hours Black men had given a death blow to the distorted image of Black men with the global community over this 400 year period that we have been in America. 1.7 million young people registered to vote after the march. According to the FBI, crime went significantly down the last quarter of ’95 and the first quarter of 1996.”
For months leading to the march, Farrakhan -its convener and visionary- galvanized and addressed the problem and reformation of the Black male in a series of “Men Only” meetings themed “Let Us Make Man.”
Farrakhan had diagnosed the problem of the Black man as rooted in the crises of identity — lacking knowledge of self, God and the adversary of God — and stressed the critical need for a new way of thinking as the beginning of a new way of living for the Black man.
“One of the attributes of Allah, The All-Wise God, Who is the Supreme Being, is knowledge. Knowledge is the result of learning and is a force or energy that makes its bearer accomplish or overcome obstacles, barriers and resistance. In fact, God means possessor or power and force,” Muhammad wrote in “Message to the Black Man.” “The education my people need is that knowledge, the attribute of God, which creates power to accomplish and make progress in the good things or the righteous things.”
The Greater Philadelphia Local Organizing Committee will host the 16th Anniversary of the 1995 Million Man March on Oct. 7 - 9 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
The October event will focus on hunger, street violence and political accountability and those attending the main event, or the “Holy Day of Atonement,” on Sunday, will be asked to bring at least one non-perishable food item for donation.
For more information including ticketing for Farrakhan’s keynote address at 2 p.m. on Sunday and the weekend’s schedule of events, visit www.http://noi.org/hdoa2011/ or call (215) 228-6044.
The Philadelphia Fashion Incubator (PFI) at Macy’s Center City, a new fashion design initiative devoted to supporting and promoting emerging fashion designers and encouraging local designers to keep their businesses in Philadelphia, was announced by city officials this week.
A collaboration between The City of Philadelphia, Center City District, Macy’s Center City, and several educational institutions devoted to fashion design in Philadelphia, PFI will provide four aspiring designers the workspace and essential business resources needed to run successful and sustainable fashion companies. This initiative comes on the heels of the second successful “Philadelphia Collection 2011,” an umbrella event that showcased the city’s fall fashion happenings. The PFI is the first of its kind in Philadelphia, the home to nationally recognized fashion design schools, including Moore College of Art, Drexel University and Philadelphia University. The purpose of PFI is to support and promote emerging fashion designers from these design schools and the fashion community of Philadelphia.
“We’re not just a city between New York and Washington — we have a lot to offer, and that’s what we’re doing here,” said city representative Melanie Johnson. “The Philadelphia fashion retail profile is certainly on the rise, and with exciting new programs like the PFI, our stake in the future of Philadelphia’s fashion and design community becomes even more important in branding the city as a innovative fashion destination and a location for smart business investment.”
Modeled after a similar and successful program in Chicago between Macy’s State Street and The City of Chicago, the year-long residency program, which launches in Philadelphia in March 2012, will provide the selected Designer-In-Residence (DIR) with office space, a production room and shared showroom space/conference room. The DIR will receive mentoring from industry and business professionals along with a significant schedule of monthly workshops focused on the business of fashion. Workshops will include topics on creating a business plan, marketing strategy, and identifying legal needs and funding. The tailored curriculum will be offered by community leaders, industry experts and fashion insiders.
“Philly is fashion in the United States of America,” declared Mayor Nutter. “Philadelphia is a fertile breeding ground for the creative class. We are fortunate to have some of the best educational institutions in the country, and the Philadelphia Fashion Incubator will cultivate and nurture these talented fashion designers that have emerged from these institutions,” said Mayor Nutter. “The Philadelphia Fashion Incubator is the first of its kind in Philadelphia, and the initiative represents the City’s commitment to a thriving, innovative, creative economy.”
The 600+-square foot “Project Runway”-inspired production room, showroom and office space will be located at Macy’s Center City in the historic Wanamaker Building. The space will allow DIRs to produce samples, gain valuable retail insight and showcase their collections to merchants from local and national retailers. In addition to workspace and monthly business workshops, DIRs will also participate in various fashion events throughout the year, including pop-up shops, trunk shows and a fashion show during The Philadelphia Collection.
“Philadelphia Fashion Incubator at Macy’s Center City is going to go a long way in finding the next generation of local fashion design talent” says Martine Reardon, executive vice president of Marketing & Advertising of Macy’s. “The fashion and retail industries thrive when new creative talent emerges and energizes the marketplace. By introducing aspiring designers to the inner workings of the fashion and retail business, and providing them a workshop filled with the resources that will get their businesses off the ground, Philadelphia will become a key city in the American fashion industry.”
DIR will be selected by PFI’s Selection Committee which consists of six professionals from Philadelphia’s fashion and business sectors. “We are extremely excited to launch this initiative in Philadelphia,” said Michelle Shannon, Vice President of Marketing and Communications for Center City District. “To have the ability to support local fashion design talent and nurture new wholesale and retail business in our city sends a strong message that Philadelphia is indeed an emerging fashion design center.”
Each of the three design schools will have one alumnus participate as a designer-in-residence. The fourth designer-in-residence spot is an open call to any apparel designer living in the Philadelphia region. If you are interested in becoming one of the designers chosen to be part of the 2012 Philadelphia Fashion Incubator, apply at philadelphiafashionincubator.com. Applications are due by January 20, 2012.
In reflecting on 30 years of the AIDS epidemic, the multimedia visual arts exhibition “Witness” beckons artists to reengage themselves and their communities in remembering a world impacted by AIDS. “The artists invited and selected reflect a diverse gathering of voices across, race, age, gender, sexual orientation and geographic location,” said the show’s curator, David Acosta.
“‘Witness’ asks the audience to reflect individually and collectively on the HIV/AIDS epidemic as a transformative moment in our lives, our communities and society.”
In responding to the call, one of the artists in the show, Tree Byers, said it was all about the loss of friends. “In 2000, my dear friend, Blue, died from AIDS quite suddenly, and I was not prepared to lose him. Yet slowly I was learning that grief is the garden of compassion. ‘Witness’ is inspiring me to dig through my photos and find images on which to base some form of visual/textual homage and remembrance of friends.”
Tay Cohen Cha, a Korean-born New York-based artist also participating in ‘Witness,’ said he wants his work “to show how the AIDS epidemic shakes individuals as well as their support networks to the core and to remind people that there is so much more we can do to raise awareness to the devastating affects of HIV/AIDS.”
The artists participating in “Witness” include: George Apostos, Laura Bamford, Craig Bruns, Tree Byers, Tay Cha, Ronald Corbin, Susan DiPronio, Jonas Dos Santos, Harvey Finkle, Ralfka Gonzalez, Link Harper, Theodore Harris, Ed Hall, HD Ivey, Albo Jeavons, Peter Lien, Gabriel Martinez, Kwaku Osei, Chanthaphone Rajavong, Marta Sanchez, Jombi Supastar, Zoe Strauss and Nannette Clark.
“The goal that I think is most important is to make people aware that AIDS is still a major health crisis throughout the world,” said Clark. “Although there have been major strides in helping to prolong the lives of those with HIV/AIDS in the United States, those in so-called ‘Third World’ countries have not, for the most part, been the beneficiaries of these medical advances on any widespread basis. AIDS is still an epidemic in these countries. My work and the work of the other artists in the exhibit will hopefully help to continue to raise the consciousness of the ongoing seriousness and emergency situation of AIDS both domestically and throughout the world.”
The opening reception for “Witness” will take place on Friday, Dec 2, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Asian Arts Initiative, 1219 Vine St., a community-based arts center that explores the diverse experiences of Asian Americans. The exhibition will remain on view through Jan. 27. For more information, call (215) 557-0455 or visit www.asianartsinitiative.org.
From Charlie Wilson’s breakout as a member of the Gap Band (“You Dropped A Bomb On Me,” “Outstanding”) in the ’80s to his revered solo recordings (2005’s certified gold “Charlie, Last Name Wilson,” 2009’s Grammy-nominated “Uncle Charlie”) and his latest release, “Just Charlie”), Wilson has sold millions of albums, inspired a throng of artists who modeled their vocal styling after his (most notably Aaron Hall and R. Kelly) and cemented his status as a musical icon with accolades from Billboard and BET, among a host of others.
Wilson was honored earlier this year with Grammy nominations for his chart-topping single, “You Are,” Best R&B Song and Best R&B Performance. In 2010, he also received two Grammy nominations for Best R&B Album, “Uncle Charlie,” and Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for his hit single, “There Goes My Baby.”
“I’ve tried really hard to stay current and consistent in radio and try to cut the best records that I could,” said Wilson. “That’s just what I’ve been doing all the time. I cut new music just about every single day. In the beginning, when I started my solo career, I wasn’t in the studio every day; when it was time to record I would go in. Now, it’s like an everyday thing. I try and record music like it was back in the day. It’s paying off that way, because you stay close to something that you’re passionate about.”
Beyond music, Wilson is committed to promoting awareness and educating his community about prostate cancer. As a survivor of a disease that afflicts one in six American men — and one in three African-American men — Wilson in 2008 teamed up with the Prostate Cancer Foundation. In April, he announced teaming up with Janssen Biotech to launch their Making Awareness A Priority (M.A.P.) program, which brings together leading voices in advocacy and health education through live events in select cities across the country.
Wilson credits his wife of 18 years, Mahin, for saving his life by insisting on twice-yearly doctor visits. “Stuff that I used to shy away from was those exams, because it hurts, but the mammograms will hurt women, too, so I just had to man up and get the exam, get poked with the needles and all that stuff that I kept shying away from,” he said. “I wanted to share this news with everybody else, just as I had been sharing my drug and alcohol abuse prior to that. People say to me, ‘Man, why are you telling everyone your business?’ And I say, ‘It’s not my business, this is your business. I’m trying to alert you and let you know what’s killing men and brothers out here’.”
Wilson recently launched his new Uncle Charlie Hats by Charlie Wilson Spring and Summer Collection 2012. The hat line includes fashion and casual hats for both men and women. Growing up in the church as the son of a Pentecostal bishop, Wilson says he is influenced every day by his early lessons. “I believe strongly in God and pray every morning before I get up and at night before I go to sleep, just in case I get caught up,” he said no. “If the other angels pay me a visit, I want to be able to ask God to forgive me for all the things I’ve done that day. Spirit plays a big part in my life. We strongly believe in faith and God, so we try to live our life the right way. We do a lot of praying in this home here.”
Although Wilson struggled with alcohol and drug addiction that consumed him once The Gap Band broke up, he credits his belief in a higher power for his success today. “God is the reason why we are here and we live,” he explained. “Scripture says, ‘I give you life, and that more abundantly,’ and I take that into account: This life is worth living. If I have to go, and it’s not going to be by my hands, then the time allotted for me is up. So, I’m going to try and live it the best way I can. It used to be that I was existing in this life because I was an alcoholic and a crack cocaine addict, so the ups and downs were bad for me. But I never stopped believing in God. I would always ask God, ‘Don’t let the devil kill me out here while I’m getting myself back together,’ and he gave me a chance. I don’t know if I would have another chance if I were to slip back out and went back to that life and just going from pillar to post and from drug spot to drug spot. I think (God) would say, ‘You asked me for that and I gave it to you and you went back, so time’s up.’ So the time that I am here, I talk to men and women about different things and I try to sing the right kinds of music and try to make people happy and make them feel good. That’s what I’m here for: I’m a messenger.”
With The Gap Band, Wilson and brothers Ronnie and Robert helped define and popularize an upbeat form of funk that was equally infectious and lasting. “Outstanding,” “You Dropped a Bomb On Me” and “I Don’t Believe You Want To Get Up And Dance (Oops Up Side Your Head)” were among their immense catalog of hits and are among the most sampled songs in music history. One of Wilson’s vocal signatures is the giggle, or short, spasmodic laugh, that is interspersed in many of his funk hits.
“It was an accident, really. There was something that was going on at that time and it just came out about a track that I was doing,” said Wilson as he emitted a short giggle. “When I heard it back, I said, ‘What is that?’ and they said, ‘That was you giggling about something.’ We kept it and it got popular, and people would ask me to do that giggle and it just came out that way. It’s just crazy.”
For more information about the Prostate Cancer Foundation, visit www.myprostatecancerroadmap.com. Uncle Charlie hats are available exclusively at www.unclecharliewilson.com/shop.
The City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program announced Monday the launch of an eight-month-long mural project to honor the legacy, achievements and role of the Grammy Award-winning band, The Roots, in the pantheon of great American bands and continuum of accomplished Philadelphia musicians. The Roots Mural Project will tell the story of The Roots — especially Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson and Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter’s founding of the band — from the genesis to the present day.
Thompson and Trotter met at the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts and practiced their musical craft on South Street. Since their 1987 founding, they have become icons in the world of hip-hop musicians, lyricists, producers and showmen. Currently, The Roots serve as the house band for “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” on NBC and will release their 13th studio album, “Undun,” in four weeks.
“Even though I’m a musician, I kind of identify a bit more with the visual arts aspect of being an artist because that’s the world that I come from,” said Trotter. “I come from summer art camp at Fairmount Park and Saturday art classes at Fleischer Art Memorial in South Philly. I come from writing graffiti on all these walls, you know, climbing on all these roofs and all these buildings that you see in the South Street area. So, I’m definitely a Philadelphia artist, and that Philadelphia spirit is definitely in me. And, for Philly to be such an artistic city and to be recognized as such a beautiful city because of all these murals that have gone up over the years — to be recognized with one of these murals depicting The Roots is just, like, mind blowing.”
Trotter recalled his early artistic endeavors that landed him in community service time thus making his work with MAP mandatory. “Some of the people, who were in the ’80s writing their names right along with me, are now instructors in the Mural Arts Program,” explained Trotter to a bemused gathering. “I had to do these mural during my summers and Saturdays — it’s just an amazing blessing, and it’s so ironic for there to be a legal mural going up of The Roots. I never imagined in my wildest dreams that something like this would be taking place.”
Members of The Roots will take an active role throughout the development of the project. From participating in Roots 101 and painting with the public at Community Paint Days, the band will be present and involved throughout the eight months, including design review and the final dedication of the mural.
“It really is an honor to be a part of this announcement — a multifaceted, interactive tribute to a couple of our native sons and a Philly-based band,” said Mayor Michael A. Nutter. “These guys really are heroes, and need to be recognized — not just because of their Grammy Awards, the millions of records sold or millions of folk who tune in to catch them on ‘Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,’ which are impressive accomplishments in themselves — but these guys are heroes because they took their childhood love of music and their education talent to become respected, talented and innovative professionals from Philly. They could have done anything, they could go anywhere, they could be anywhere, they stayed right here in Philadelphia and made our city their home-base, perfecting their craft and their talent and simultaneously changing hip-hop and the entire music industry.”
Jane Golden, executive director of the Mural Arts Program made a call for proposals to begin the process of selecting the artist or artist teams that will be responsible for engaging the community in all phases of the mural-making process, from design through execution. The proposal can be downloaded on the Mural Arts Program website here: http://muralarts.org/about/jobs-artist-opportunities. The deadline is Nov. 21.
President Barack Obama has written extensively about his father, but little is known about Stanley Ann Dunham, the fiercely independent woman who raised him, the person he credits for, as he says, “what is best in me.” Dunham was an economic anthropologist and rural development consultant who worked in several countries including Indonesia. She died in 1995, mere days before her 53rd birthday, at the beginning of her son’s political career. “A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mother” (Riverhead Books, $16) by award-winning reporter Janny Scott is an unprecedented look into the life of the woman who most singularly shaped Obama.
“I think the story of Ann Dunham sheds light on the president, who many people — even people who support him — feel they do not yet fully understand or know,” said Scott. “Ann Dunham struggled with many of the same conflicts that many young women struggle with and face today. For example, the conflict between family and work and the conflict between the need to make money and the desire to do work that seems like it makes a difference.”
Scott interviewed dozens of Dunham’s friends, colleagues and relatives (including both her children), and combed through boxes of personal and professional papers, letters to friends, and photo albums, to uncover the full breadth of this woman’s inspiring and nontraditional life, and to show the remarkable extent to which she shaped the man Obama is today.
“I interview, all in all, almost 200 people: friends, colleagues, professors, acquaintances, her two children, including the president, and all the living siblings of both of her parents. Occasionally I interviewed people who had no idea that Ann Dunham, the person they had known as a child, was actually Barack Obama’s mother. I was the first person to tell them that. One of the last people I interviewed was Barack Obama. It was an extraordinary thing to spend two years studying every square inch of a person's life and then go to the White House, the Oval Office, to discuss it with her son.”
Dunham’s story moves from Kansas and Washington state to Hawaii and Indonesia. It begins in a time when interracial marriage was still a felony in much of the United States, and culminates in the present, with her son as president. Finally, it is a heartbreaking story of a woman who died before her son would go on to his greatest accomplishments and reflections of what she taught him. Obama talked about Dunham’s death in a 30-second campaign advertisement —titled “Mother”— arguing for health care reform. The ad featured a photograph of Dunham holding a young Obama in her arms as Obama talks about her last days worrying about expensive medical bills. “I remember my mother,” recalled Obama during a 2007 speech. “She was 52 years old when she died of ovarian cancer, and you know what she was thinking about in the last months of her life? She wasn’t thinking about getting well. She wasn’t thinking about coming to terms with her own mortality. She had been diagnosed just as she was transitioning between jobs. And she wasn’t sure whether insurance was going to cover the medical expenses because they might consider this a pre-existing condition. I remember just being heartbroken, seeing her struggle through the paperwork and the medical bills and the insurance forms. So, I have seen what it’s like when somebody you love is suffering because of a broken health care system. And it’s wrong. It’s not who we are as a people.”
“A Singular Woman” is a poignant look at how character is passed from parent to child, and offers insight into how Obama’s destiny was created early, by his mother’s extraordinary faith in his gifts, and by her unconventional mothering. “People who know very little about Ann Dunham have questioned the choices she made as a parent,” said Scott. “But personally I think that her life story really challenges a lot of our assumptions about what it means to be a good mother.”
They said that the sound of the screaming was the worst thing. For the 711 people who survived the horrific disaster of the sinking of the Titanic on the night of April 14, 1912, the awful noise of their fellow passengers calling out for help into the dark, cold night was the one thing many of them could not forget.
Yet, the silence that followed as the Titanic disappeared into the freezing water might have been even more chilling, as over 1,500 men, women and children had been thrust into the sea died shortly afterward of hypothermia. The sights and sounds of that night would haunt each of the vessel’s survivors for the rest of their days.
April 15, at 11:40 p.m., will mark the 100th anniversary of the swift sinking of the Titanic after striking an iceberg, taking 1,517 people across class and gender with her, along with the era’s blind faith in modern technology and shipbuilding. Though this is a familiar story, having inspired the telling and retelling of the Titanic’s grandeur and demise in history books, documentaries, novels, movies and plays, very little has been told about the post-Titanic lives of those who actually survived.
Acclaimed writer and biographer Andrew Wilson sheds light on these untold personal stories in “Shadow of the Titanic: The Extraordinary Stories of Those Who Survived” (Atria, $25). Using archival research combined with interviews from family members, Wilson has put together a riveting account of what happened to the survivors who lived through this terrible ordeal, and the lives they led afterward — the celebrity, the notoriety, the guilt, the struggle to move on or their failure to do so — in the aftermath of tragedy.
Although many think they know the story of Titanic — the famously luxurious and supposedly unsinkable ship that struck an iceberg on its maiden voyage from Britain to America — very little has been written about what happened to the survivors after the tragedy. How did they cope in the aftermath of this horrific event? How did they come to remember that night, a disaster that has been likened to the destruction of a small town?
From Madeleine Astor (who became a bride, a widow, an heiress and a mother all within a year) to Bruce Ismay to Lady Duff Gordon, to lesser known survivors with equally fascinating stories like Jack Thayer and Dorothy Gibson, “Shadow of the Titanic” documents the impact this catastrophe had on the personal lives of the people who boarded Titanic with hope and pride, and who lived and died afterwards in the shadow of one the greatest sea disasters of our time.
Drawing on a wealth of previously unpublished letters, memoirs, and diaries as well as interviews with survivors’ family members, Wilson reveals how some used their experience to propel themselves on to fame, while others were so racked with guilt they spent the rest of their lives under the Titanic’s shadow. Some reputations were destroyed, and some survivors were so psychologically damaged that they took their own lives in the years that followed.
Today, one hundred years after that fateful voyage, James Cameron’s blockbuster “Titanic” is currently re-released in theaters in 3D, and on April 14–15, ABC will be airing a four-hour miniseries, “Titanic”, written by Julian Fellowes (“Downton Abbey”) and gives more depth to what it was like to sail the Titanic whether wealthy or poor, first class or steerage. However, “Shadow of the Titanic” continues to add an important new dimension to the understanding of this enduring fascinating story.
Philadelphia’s Penn Museum (University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology) was among the first American museums to begin collecting African art and artifacts. Located on the University of Pennsylvania campus, the museum has about 20,000 objects in its African collection, in addition to 42,000 ancient artifacts in the Egyptian collection. Most African collection objects were obtained between 1891 and 1930 and hail from nearly every major cultural area of the African continent, and provide an unparalleled regional resource.
“Imagine Africa,” a year-long project investigating community perspectives, opens this month. The innovative exhibition poses several questions, such as: How do you imagine Africa? Do you see it as the home of powerful nations? Do you think of the people living in Africa today? Through a variety of engagement opportunities, visitors will be asked to provide feedback on the objects and content they see, and to discuss what would make an engaging exhibition-from their point of view. Throughout the year, the museum will engage — through a gallery installation, diverse public programming and a rich website — in discussions with the regional community, as it begins long-range plans to re-envision its African gallery for a 21st-century audience.
“One of the things we are striving for is to bring in new communities and show that Penn Museum is an institution that is open to the public, and specially to our neighbors, so we are trying to break down that barrier through this exhibition,” said Jean Byrne, of the museum’s Community Engagement department. “The whole thing is about commentary and collaboration, so we’re open to continued feedback.”
Drawing on its extraordinary African collection, the Penn Museum will present more than 50 objects framed around eight broad topics. Collaborations with local community organizations will help produce a year of Africa-inspired public events.
“The idea is to begin a discussion with our community,” noted Kate Quinn, director of exhibitions. “We hope to present this material in such a way that the public can respond to it honestly, and tell us what they think. This is the first time the museum has ever done something like this where we’re talking in all communities and asking them what do they think about Africa and what do they want to know about it. We’re asking what is their image of Africa and what intrigues them about it.”
In addition, a range of interactive programs at area schools and community centers is part of the initiative. “I want them to think about this as their public museum,” said Quinn. “We have the reputation as being an academic-oriented museum. The issues we deal with, such as cultural diversity, are so important for people to have places where they can go and experience programs on different cultures that really talk to them.”
For over 15 years, Mawusi Simmons has conducted interactive tours of the Museum’s African Gallery, focusing on musical instruments. “I have a love of Africa and all things African. “I’ve studied African music and I just want to have ways of sharing that love of African music and culture with other people.”
According to Simmons, her inspiration as a docent comes from a need to inform visitors of the vast cultural wealth Africa has. “I usually share instruments that are non-drums, because I think most people are aware of the drums of Africa — and they are very important, they are like the heartbeat of Africa — but I also like to share instruments that people may not be familiar with that come from Africa,” said Simmons. “Those include the mbira, a keyboard instrument that is found throughout Africa and has different names (such as the kalimba) in different cultures. There is the kora, which is a harp-lute instrument. Other instruments are the balafone, in which the sound is produced by the instrument itself like a xylophone. Those instruments give people a wider range of what’s in Africa.”
“Imagine Africa, a year-long project investigating community perspectives, opens Sept. 18 and runs through Sept. 16 of next year. Other fall programs include an African pottery weekend workshop, Oct. 1 and 2 and a family Sunday walk-in program, “Imagine Creating,” Sunday, Oct. 9, 1 p.m. to 4 pm. An African lecture series co-sponsored by Penn’s Center for Africana Studies kicks off Thursday, Oct. 20 at 6 p.m. with Dr. Tukufu Zuberi, Penn’s Lasry Family Professor of Race Relations, who discusses the challenge of making a documentary in Africa, with “Africa and the World.”
Penn Museum is located at 3260 South St., across from Franklin Field. For general information call (215) 898-4000 or visit www.penn.museum. For group tour information call (215) 746-8183.