I spent the better part of my last two weeks on the road. I went to Baton Rouge and Cleveland with two long stretches of Chicago woven in the mix. I wasn’t able to quite find my balance in any of the locales, which made me not the happiest camper. Moreover, it snowed cats and dogs in Ohio, and I was sliding a bit in my rental car to get to my assignment which was 30 miles due south of Cleveland. My “DREAMGIRLS” soundtrack helped me get through the blah-ness of it all, even when I was sometimes veering off the road. Additionally, my dear friend and Morehouse brother Devon helped me lift my spirits in Cleveland as - at least - this unwelcome dispatch gave us a chance to catch up on our jones for all things “DREAMGIRLS”. We don't talk or see each other often. So, when we get together at times like these with a mutually invigorating project like "DREAMGIRLS" coming out, it's special and we come together and process it all. We deconstructed the new disc from beginning to end. Because I had – at that point – seen “DREAMGIRLS” three times, Devon wanted to know what from the original stage hit is in the movie, etc. Because Devon is a bit of a pop culture soul mate for me, we had a serious talk about what of this piece is “… based on Diana Ross and the Supremes” and what other composites are showing up through these familiar-but-fictional characters. We talked about Jennifer Hudson’s promise as Effie White in the movie “DREAMGIRLS” and how there was similar optimism about our other favorite Jennifer Holliday when she originated the role on Broadway in 1981. As a result, Devon and I have been Holliday’s biggest fans – knowing the few R&B hits she had during that time, like “I Am Love” from her 1982 debut album “Feel My Soul”. But because Devon and I go deep, we know all the sides and tracks that weren’t hits, but to us, are classics and masterpieces, like “Just For A While” (also on the first album) and “Love Stories” from her Arista debut in 1991 when she revealed her new slim physique and a spirited remake of Angela Bofill’s “I’m On Your Side”, which carried promise but didn’t land Holliday back in the mouths of the masses as a household name. But trust! Her name was coming off of Devon’s and my tongue… and still. And if only for her show stopping rendition of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going”, she is forever a legend in the history of music and theater.
One thing Devon and I pointed out is how “DREAMGIRLS” is going to focus America back on the wonder of the world’s real-life #1 girl group, “The Supremes”. And any marketing person worth his or her weight in gold would seize the moment. Exploitation? Maybe… but for the fans, it means more product. I just landed the new DVD “The Supremes: REFLECTIONS – The Definitive Performances 1964 – 1969” from my favorite “record” store “Record Runner” (www.recordrunner usa.com). It’s where I get all my favorite “diva imports”. And in large order, anyone can see the degree to which the “DREAMGIRLS” are “SUPREMES”-knock-offs i.e. costume, cosmetics, choreography, and song-style. It’s quite a treat to see Diana lead the girls through an exhaustive, entertaining tour of their TV appearances. While at the store, I managed to secure the lion’s share of Diana’s TV specials, which I did not have on DVD. Dating back to the first special she did with the Supremes and the Temptations (TCB) and leading all the way to 1987’s “Red Hot Rhythm & Blues”, I now have some wonderful comfort viewing to keep my nightmares at bay and my DREAMS sweet… like “soul music”. Speaking of dreams, I even picked up her Japanese import “When You Dream”, an E-P with companion children’s book that features an animated image of Diana with her sons Ross and Evan. This is a rare children’s recording and book she did in the mid-‘90s. And I’m also looking forward to the release of “SPARKLE”, a mid-‘70s film starring Irene Cara, Lonette McKee, Phillip Michael Thomas, etc. It’s a film of three “sisters” who sing in a Supremes-style singing group and the challenging turns they face as they grow into their success. Like my “Lady Sings the Blues”, “Mahogany”, and “Claudine”, “Sparkle” is one of my favorites and a classic in black cinema terms. It too featured – at the time – a soundtrack of Curtis Mayfield music as sung by Aretha Franklin. But they are now going to release an expanded version of that soundtrack with Irene Cara, Lonette McKee, and the rest of the cast’s voices on them. Though we loved Aretha’s turns on “Giving Him Something He Can Feel” and “Hooked on Your Love” (both of which En Vogue went on to remake in the ‘90s on their “Funky Divas” album), it will be nice to have a CD with the movie memories woven into it. And the biggest “DREAM” come true…around new releases is MISS ROSS is FINALLY going to make her "I Love You" album of classic and contemporary love song covers available to the U-S market via Manhattan/EMI in CD and deluxe CD/DVD packages and digitally on January 16. There are 14 songs personally selected for the album by Diana Ross in appreciation of their timeless, classic expressions of love and romance, including a brand new song, "I Love You (That's All That Really Matters)," a gentle ballad that captures the emotion of romance. The CD's package includes stunning photos by Herb Ritts, Randee St. Nicholas and Douglas Kirkland and a letter to fans from Ms. Ross, who executive produced "I Love You." I've been admiring this project via imports that I've bought from Japan and Europe. I'm excited to see if this collection has the magic that will allow Miss Ross - in some way - to "comeback" stateside. Don't we love a diva comeback in America?????
After I was finally able to come home from the assignments that kept me away for a couple of weeks, I hit the ground running to catch up with my New York City. I was a bit tired from the not-always-so-charming schlepping I had been doing (including a two-hour delay on the tarmac at Chicago’s O’Hare airport). But three mimosas and a substantive meal later, I was re-energized and wanted to begin the work of reclaiming my social schedule. (I was already disappointed to have missed my friends Kimberly Jajuan and Ern’s grand opening of their new business venture “Leonia Laundry” in Leonia, New Jersey. Of course, I made up for it with my six loads of wash-dry-fold, which I now sent to them). That said, a new friend Patricio Paez invited me to join his four-year-old design firm IMURI DESIGNs showcase space opening in The West Village, just south of the meat-packing district. (I met Patricio at the Hetrick-Martin Institute’s gala – the one with Kimora Lee Simmons, Margaret Cho, the Noah’s Arc guys, and B.D. Wong [pictured below with Patricio and me] - a couple of weeks prior.) Their SPACE 107 is a furniture store that sells restored 20th century pieces. Each exhibition features a layout of furniture and wall art as created by Patricio who is a mural artist. He does all types of wall treatments from flowers to race cars. And they can work on whatever room you please. ( www.imuridesign.com ) The party was great as Patricio escorted me around the room to introduce me to many of his friends and supporters. He was quite gracious, though tired from creating all of these spaces up against the clock. One of his friends, Jennifer Ouellete, was helping serve drinks from behind the bar, and greeted me with “You look familiar. Are you on TV?” I said “Sometimes”. After a half hour, she kept trying to land on what show it could be – starting to admittedly make me uncomfortable because she wouldn’t let it go. It turns out I made more of an impression on her than even I thought. She was in the studio audience for one of my promising DREAMS a year-and-a-half ago when I co-hosted a pilot for Hurricane Productions called “tvQ” (sort of a “queer-eye-meets-the view”). We shot it at CBS Studios and she was in the audience. Though the show didn’t get picked up (temporarily deferring my DREAMS to one day have my own show), Jennifer’s memory began to thaw out and she really enjoyed my talent and began to further encourage me in that direction. She was a joyful and sweet lady. As I began to enroll Jennifer, a couture hat and accessories maker (www.jenniferouellette.com) and her friend, an artist from Santa Fe named Lisa, in what I’ve been doing of late and what I’ve been enjoying on pop culture of late (including “DREAMGIRLS” and my intention to see it 12 times before the end of the year), the ladies said they wanted to come and see “DREAMGIRLS” with me. By the way, her vintage-yet-contemporary looks are worn by Jessica Simpson, Britney Spears, and many others on the A (A-minus sometimes)-list.
That same night, I went to SPLASH for what was supposed to be a new “DREAMGIRLS” soundtrack listening party. The event was put on by party promoter and producer NATHAN SCOTT, who is known for creating the “places to be” for the “fab and fierce” (of color).( www.The7Magazine.com ) On this night, not much “DREAMGIRLS” was playing, but it did give me a chance to catch up on the Top 40 club and R&B hits as well as my friends Mario and Melvin. After I left, I understand these young ladies lip sync’d a “DREAMGIRLS” song or two:
( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dxrh4AUxR4s ). As nice as the party was, it would take “the real… DREAM” to lift me up and out of my blues. Fortunately, there was the weekend ahead.
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