Never before has gospel music and Black History come together as evocatively as it does in “I See the Rhythm of Gospel” (Zonderkidz, $16.99). From the dream team behind the Coretta Scott King award-winner “I See The Rhythm,” illustrator Michele Wood and writer Toyomi Igus blend the rhythm of gospel with the remarkable history of African Americans to deliver a powerful message to young readers across the globe.
Igus is the author and editor of several books for children, including “Two Mrs. Gibsons” and the award-winning books “Going Back Home” and “I See the Rhythm.” A former editor and publications director for UCLA’s Center for African American studies, Igus has been honored for her work in promoting literacy among children.
“Gospel evolved from the early African-American spiritual, but no one can say exactly when and where the spiritual got it’s start. Did enslaved Africans copy and change the European Christian and folk music? How many African slaves were exposed to Christianity before they were brought to the Americas? Did those slaves bring their own African releigious songs to the New World and modify them? Did slaves create their own unique songs? Historians are still asking these questions. What we do know is that theAfrican-American spiritual was born out of the brutality of slavery and evolved into what we know today as ‘gospel music.’ It is a response to the centuries of injustice and discriminations endured by enslaved Africans.”
With vibrant illustrations inspired by the beautiful retelling of monumental moments in Black History, “I See the Rhythm of Gospel” teaches young readers about the history of America as inspired by the energy of gospel music. From the beginning of slavery in the 1500s to Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin in 1793, to the civil rights movement and the inauguration of America’s first African-American president in 2008, “I See the Rhythm of Gospel” brilliantly recaptures milestones in history while introducing young readers to key leaders who came before them.
“In this book, Michele and I want to take you on a trip through time to learn more about African Aemrican history and gospel music. We want you to see through Michele’s pictures and my words how the lives of African Americans—and our spirit—infuenced the music and how the music influenced our lives. How gospel music expressed our pain and sorrows, uplifted our souls and gave us the strength to endure and survive.”
Children and adults will be captivated by the inspirational emotional and compelling blend of poetry, art, and music in “I See the Rhythm of Gospel,” as well as the bonus music CD included in this book.
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.
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.
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.
In the eyes of most of America, and certainly most of white America, Redd Foxx was an “overnight sensation,” materializing on television in 1972 at age 49 as the bow-legged, chest-clutching junk man Fred Sanford on the hit NBC sit-com, “Sanford and Son.”
But, as biographer Michael Seth Starr recounts in “Black and Blue: The Redd Foxx Story” (Applause Books, $27.99), Foxx arrived on the set of “Sanford and Son” as a street-smart, natural-born comic, who, through sheer talent, guile and unbridled self confidence, overcame a life of poverty in the slums of St. Louis to make his mark on three entertainment genres: stand-up comedy, recorded nightclub comedy, and, finally, television.(Dec. 9, 1922 – Oct. 11, 1991),
With the 1956 release of “Laff of the Party,” Foxx was crowned “King of the Party Records,” and while his frank, trailblazing style opened the door for generations of African-American comedians, including Dick Gregory, Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock, it did little for his own career. Shielded from mainstream (that is white) audiences both by the color of his skin and his refusal to tone down his ribald act, Foxx eventually clawed his way up the show business ladder, breaking through in Las Vagas and New York and appearing in a few films before the first episode of “Sanford and Son” changed his life completely. Foxx took the country by storm in January 1972 as crotchety Watts junk dealer Fred Sanford (Foxx’s actual name was John Elroy Sanford) and was propelled to become one of the most beloved sitcoms in television history. Fred’s histrionic “heart attacks” (“It’s the big one, Elizabeth! I’m comin’ to join ya, honey!”) and catchphrases (“You big dummy!”) turned Fred Sanford into a cultural icon and Redd Foxx into a millionaire.
The show took Foxx to the pinnacle of television success, but it also proved to be his downfall. In 1977, Foxx left “Sanford and Son,” after six highly successful seasons (and the show was canceled solely due to his departure) to star in a short-lived variety show, but by 1980 he was back playing Fred G. Sanford in a brief revival/spin-off, “Sanford.” The veteran comedian would come to define his post-“Sanford and Son” years with a blur of women, cocaine, endless lawsuits, financial chaos and a losing battle with the IRS. Foxx appeared to be making a comeback with the 1991 series “The Royal Family,” in which he co-starred with his long-time friend, Della Reese, when he suffered a fatal heart attack. Foxx, who was 68 years old when he died, reportedly owed more than $3.6 million in taxes.
Based on Starr’s interviews with dozens of Foxx’s friends, confidantes and colleagues, this biography provides unique insight into this venerable performer — a man television producer Norman Lear describes as “inherently, innately funny in every part of his being.”
This fall, the region will witness the world premeire of the first major presentation under the Association for Public Art. “Open Air,” by Mexican-Canadian media artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, will combine public art with mobile technology to create a spectacular, interactive experience that will illuminate the night sky from the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Created specifically for Philadelphia, the project is designed for personal contributions. Using a free mobile app developed by Lozano-Hemmer’s studio, participants’ voices and GPS positions will control 24 powerful robotic searchlights placed along a half-mile section of the Parkway, creating giant three-dimensional “light sculptures.”
Forming a canopy of light over the city, the project will be seen up to 10 miles away each evening from 8 to 11 between Sept. 20 and Oct. 14. A dedicated project headquarters, including app download and free mobile loan stations, will be located at Eakins Oval, 24th Street and the Parkway.
“What we’re going to do is place 24 of the world's brightest searchlights on the planet — 12 on Park Towne Place and 12 on the other side of the Parkway — and create with that a canopy of light,” explained the artist. “We’re going to create a mesh work of the whole Parkway, and then that mesh work is going to be controlled by people’s voices.”
A computer program will automatically analyze “Open Air” app users’ GPS positions and voices for frequency, intonation and volume, and will convert these characteristics into searchlight formations in the sky over the Parkway. The lights will react, both in brightness and position, to each participant’s voice and words as they are being spoken. Tens of thousands of individuals will be able to participate live during the project’s duration, and hundreds of thousands more will experience the project as viewers.
Lozano-Hemmer is an internationally recognized Mexican-Canadian artist currently living in Montreal. He has produced large-scale interactive art installations across the globe, including the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, the 2010 Light in Winter Festival in Melbourne, Australia, and the 50th anniversary of the Guggenheim Museum in New York in 2009. His work in kinetic sculpture, responsive environments, video installation and photography has been shown in museums and biennials in four-dozen countries. He also represented Mexico in the 2007 Venice Biennale. Lozano-Hemmer’s interest “is to create intimacy and not intimidation. While the project will be spectacular in scale, what matters to me is that individual participants can personalize their city with their contributions.”
The Association for Public Art (aPA), formerly known as Fairmount Park Art Association, commissions, preserves, promotes and interprets public art in Philadelphia. Since its founding in 1872, aPA has worked with artists, communities and civic leaders to make encounters with art a part of everyday life, creating a museum without walls that is free and accessible to residents and visitors.
“The Association is dedicated to creating opportunities for artists to respond to the issues of our time, while redefining public space and encouraging public engagement and interaction,” said executive director Penny Balkin Bach. “Our interest in the potential of new media as a framework for public art on an urban scale led us to Lozano-Hemmer, who is recognized internationally as a major figure in the evolving understanding of technology as a creative force. We’re excited to bring him to Philadelphia to create a work that will transform the skyline, engage the public in a unique experience and bring international attention to the city.”
“Open Air” is presented in conjunction with the 2012 Philadelphia Live Arts Festival and 2012 DesignPhiladelphia Festival. The iPhone app will be available starting Sept. 19. For more information, visit openairphilly.net.
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.
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.”
The Art Sanctuary’s 28th Annual Celebration of Black Writing is the nation’s only literary festival of its kind, offering 13 days of literary discussions and workshops, music showcases and film screenings. Writers and artists will discuss their work with up to 2,000 students, and another 3,000 people will participate in panels, workshops and other events. The celebration features 75 professional and aspiring writers, editors, publishers, scholars, spoken-word artists, performance artists, playwrights and filmmakers. This year, selected panels and workshops will be streamed live for the first time online, and will also be archived so that new and enthusiastic readers and writers can access them anytime.
The Celebration of Black Writing brings acclaimed authors, scholars and performance artists from across the U.S. to meet, teach and interact with festival attendees through lectures, readings, workshops, panel discussions, family activities and performances. It connects established authors, emerging talent, novice writers and performance artists, with avid readers and local audiences spanning race, gender and background. The festival offers family-friendly events as well. Independence Blue Cross (IBC) and the AmeriHealth Mercy Family of Companies are the presenting sponsors for the program which runs from May 21 to June 2.
“We take great pride in our support of the Celebration of Black Writing festival, and in partnering with Art Sanctuary,” said Daniel Hilferty, president and CEO of IBC. “This exceptional and innovative organization educates and nurtures so many aspiring writers and other artists, and it improves the lives of thousands through promoting the arts.”
One of the major highlights of the festival is the Lifetime Achievement Award ceremony to be held Friday, June 1. With Art Sanctuary’s year-long theme of “Growing from Good to Great,” the organization will honor JET and Ebony magazines, with JET’s editor-in-chief Mitzi Miller accepting on behalf of both, and Marita Golden of the Hurston/Wright Foundation.
“We’ve got to hold (Black writers) in the light,” noted Lorene Carey, executive director, Art Sanctuary. “There is great value in holding the critical mass of African-American creative talent in the light — to use that Quaker phrase ‘to hold it in the light’ — there is great value in that. It’s valued for our own community. These are our griots. These people are telling a narrative about the Black experience — and the white experience, by the way — and they are narratives that are nourishing, necessary and sometimes very challenging for the growth of the African-American community. They are telling narratives that are necessary and nourishing to our larger community. ... They are some of the strongest explorers of questions that America needs to learn and to pose and challenge it and argue about. These people are doing it, and we have them here year after year. To keep it going year after year means that we relieve the pressure that’s on African-American artists, or the Black creative, to represent our amazing diversity in one shot.”
The Art Sanctuary’s 28th Annual Celebration of Black Writing takes place at several locations around the city, including Art Sanctuary, the Historic Church of the Advocate, the Kimmel Center and Temple University. The all-day festival taking place at Temple University on June 2 is free. Some events taking place during the 13-day festival, May 21 to June 2, are offered at a low ticket price. For more information and to get a full listing of the festival’s line-up, visit www.artsanctuary.org or call (215) 232-4485.
“Iron Butterfly: A Novel of Africa” (Xlibris, Paperback: $19.99; Google eBook: $3.99) is a story about the kidnapping of the female Paramount Chief from Sierra Leone and the course of events that lead the daughter of a United States African-American diplomat to orchestrate her rescue. It is based on events that took place between 1980 and 1992. The event that inspired the author to write “Iron Butterfly” occurred on the last day of her visit to Liberia. Through international customs, the dead eyes of the customs officer challenged her papers. She was only allowed to go through after the intervention of her Liberian friend.
In the fictional recount of her experiences, Whaley Perkins relays a tense episode in her novel: “Madame Chief studied the four Liberian rebels from where she sat in the backseat of her car. It had been three days since they kidnapped her. ... She was on her way to Freetown to deal with an urgent matter when the rebels commandeered her car. They had placed a tree across the road and waited in the bushes. When Benjamin was forced to stop they jumped out and surrounded the car. Each one nervously wielded an AK-47. ‘Get out or I will blow your brains out,’ Aaron said to Benjamin, Madame Chief’s driver of 30 years. Benjamin had not moved. ‘Mama, what should I do?’ he had said, turning to her. Madame Chief had rolled down the window and said to Aaron, ‘There is no need for that. We will not resist, but you must not threaten my driver. Is that clear?’ Aaron never directly threatened Benjamin again, but he treated him poorly. Several time, he had taken him aside, out of earshot, spoken to him, slapped and kicked him. Madame Chief never found out what Aaron had said to Benjamin before beating him because Benjamin would not tell her.”
The author interviewed survivors of the first Civil War in Liberia which took place in 1980 and was asked to participate in the repatriation of teenagers after the war ended. She visited Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Cote d’Iviore and Tanzania and Zanzibar between 1993 and 2008 and traveled upcountry in each of these countries. Whaley Perkins received her Ph.D. from Temple University and is a practicing psychologist who lives with her husband and son in Philadelphia.