So when I met my late, great soul mate Kodjoe back in 2001, he was soon to be off on a new adventure that would take him from New York City where he was a high-ranking producer for A&E Biography to breaking the color line in management at Country Music Television (CMT - www.cmt.com). Before he left, I was one of a small audience of close friends who he invited out to dinner at Shun Lee West ( www.shunleepalace.com/ ). There, I had one of several parting gifts for him (including my "heart") that was a comprehensive collection of Country music - not his favorite genre, but one I've appreciated over the years. He loved the thought of the gift and used it to armor his next couple of years, he told me.
Though during that time he left for Nashville, we took a break from our relationship after trying long-distance love (in large part because he was doing his best to focus on his work and the anticipated escape to come back home to New York City... and - let him tell it - me).
Well, he was not one to spend his time - even waiting time - purposelessly. He was instrumental in green-lighting and executive producing a documentary on the contributions of African Americans to country music. My fellow NABJ friend Karla Winfrey was the head creator and producer on this now-NABJ-Salute-to-Excellence-award-winning documentary "Waiting in the Wings" (http://www.cmt.com/shows/dyn/waiting_in_the_wings/series_about_special.jhtml). After Kodjoe's passing in March 2005, I would symbolically have the honor - later that year (October 2005) - to produce the NABJ "Salute to Excellence" Awards at which this piece was the victor. Documenting comprehensively more than a century, the special also questions why the genre historically has included few African American artists. The documentary also profiles five young African-American artists including American Idol finalist Kimberley Locke, Curb recording artist Trini Triggs, California songstress Vicki Vann, Pennsylvania native and Star Search finalist Rissi Palmer and Texas musical siblings 17-year-old Buddy and 15-year-old Tina Wright.
FAST FORWARD three years: We can report that one of the aforementioned Rissi Palmer -- with her debut single, "Country Girl" -- has become the first African American female country singer to hit the Billboard Country Singles chart in the past 20 years. It made its entry a few weeks ago at No 58. The last African-American female singer to have a single land on the Billboard charts was Dona Mason, whose "Green Eyes (Cryin' Those Blue Tears)" peaked at No. 62 in November 1987.
Look for more impressions as her self-titled debut (1720 Entertainment) is scheduled for release October 23. At the age of 19, Palmer reportedly declined a pop record deal from famed producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis (Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey) to pursue country, a genre and artform that she says is in her heart. Palmer consistently ranks as one of MySpace.com's Top independent country artists and has received over 760,000 plays of her music to date. Fans can hear a sneak peek of RISSI PALMER at www.myspace.com/rissipalmer.
BLACK FOLKS IN COUNTRY MUSIC!!!! A BLACK GIRL TURNING DOWN SUPER-PRODUCERS JIMMY JAM & TERRY LEWIS TO PURSUE MUSIC HER OWN WAY!!!! Sounds like the stuff of which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s DREAM is made. So, on the heels of last night's DREAM CONCERT (http://www.thedreamconcert.com/main.html), imagine Anthony's and my tongue-in-cheek surprise when we stumbled into "THE" JIMMY JAM and his wife outside Radio City Music Hall --- just standing and perhaps waiting for their car. I took it upon myself to ask for a picture (me pointing out "I see you're here incognito, perhaps hoping not to be identified since you're without your hat." He just smiled and posed hatless.). When Anthony's turn came up, he channeled his Taurean/Janet Jackson alter-ego and requested Mr. Harris put his hat on. That way, there's no confusion with whom he's posing. While outside, I also ran into my good friend Kunle who heads up Moshood's boutique in Brooklyn (www.afrikanspirit.com).
And I stumbled into old Atlanta homegirl India.Arie ( www.indiaarie.com/ ) whose "Hope" is on my MYSPACE Profile as we speak. She seemed genuinely happy to see me and wanted to know how I was doing and what I was doing - as she was preparing to cross "Avenue of the Americas" at 50th Street to go further West. It was a very quick and connected moment.
These moments CAPPED off an already spectacular night in which Anthony and I got to enjoy India. Arie perform "Visions" with Stevie Wonder, the headliner of a star-studded concert designed to raise money to build a Martin Luther King monument on the Mall of Washington.
After Quincy Jones and Cuba Gooding Jr. presented a special award to Stevie (as his daughter Aisha and L.L. Cool J also looked on), he performed. "Love Is In Need Of Love Today" is how he started his set out. From there, he went into "Living for the City." After he and India did "Visions", he gave us "Superstition". And after Tommy Hilfiger closed the night, Stevie closed the 3 1/2 -hour show with "Happy Birthday," his 1980 song promoting the push to have King's birthday, Jan. 15, designated a national holiday. The campaign prevailed in 1983. (I recall in 1986 when Stevie and my Diana led an all-star cast in the singing of this song as conducted by Quincy Jones, who too recalled the historic moment.)
Dr. King's children Bernice and MLK III were in attendance and participated in the show, but the highlights were endless. "The Queen of Soul" Aretha Franklin preceded Stevie's set wih a spirited repertoire of "Respect"; "Make Them Hear You"; and the Gospel classic "Let Us All Go Back To The Altar". She shared pictures of herself with Dr. King as well as those of her late father, Rev. C.L. Franklin who was a Detroit delegate for much of what Dr. King engineered around civil rights in the '60s.
The rest of the bill was a melange of old and new artists - all there to lift their voices and sing! Opera diva Jessye Norman; Carlos Santana (who really got the audience on its feet with his recent hits); Garth Brooks (in a rare live turn... these days); Babyface; Ludacris; Usher (who just introduced Aretha Franklin); Wyclef Jean; Joss Stone; John Legend; Robin Thicke; BeBe and CeCe Winans; Donnie McClurkin; Kerry Washington; Cedric The Entertainer; Talib Kweli; etc. GREAT NIGHT!
$82 million had already been collected to pay for construction and maintenance of the memorial... before the show. Organizers hoped that much of the balance could be raised at the Dream Concert, where tickets ranged from $150 to $1,000. The memorial has been in the works since 1984, when the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity began to draw up plans for the project. Groundbreaking took place last year on a four-acre site along the Tidal Basin, between the Lincoln Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial. The project, which will spotlight King's themes of justice, hope, democracy, peace and equality, is scheduled to be completed before the end of this decade.
With quick glimpses of industry associates like Al Roker, his wife Deborah, and Gayle King, Anthony and I got the impression that we were in the right place. Anthony's YOGA muse Russell Simmons was in attendance as a HOST of the event (along with Hilfiger, Quincy Jones, Jel Horowitz, David Stern, and Edgar Bronfman, Jr.). His friend Diddy joined the occasion. And it was our third time in a week of seeing Mr. Simmons and our 2nd time in a week of seeing Diddy, who - along with Simmons - co-hosted an event we attended last week: ALLHIPHOP.COM's "The Rebirth of Hip Hop" PARTY! It happened on an unsuspecting night in which Anthony and I were simply to get our YOGA on at Deepak Chopra's Center and Spa at Dream Hotel, another of our favorites. ( www.wayspa.com/thechopracenter/ ). Amidst our getting grounded, we were invited to this party. Reticent at first as I didn't have a change of clothes (other than my YOGA gear) and we had done FASHION WEEK up something lovely and were a bit tired. Now, rejuevenated from our YOGA, we felt we could handle another night. I'm glad we did. I got to hang out in V.I.P. a little bit with Russell and Andre Harrell, who is working on a project with Terrance Russ, who I've shouted out a time or two here in 'A Day in the Life of Riley' (http://thelifeofriley.squarespace.com/display/ShowJournal?moduleId=875700¤tPage=3 or http://thelifeofriley.squarespace.com/rilys-blog/2007/6/20/and-you-too-wilona-looker.html). Former Uptown Records head Harrell has announced his involvement with "Terrance Russ Presents Uptown Music and Vision". The music album venture is a series of music album compilations featuring a wide and varied assortment of new music stars. The musical genres will showcase a vast array of musical genres from rhythm and blues, rap / hip hop, gospel , jazz , and spoken word / poetry. The production's executive producer Terrance Russ has even asked me to consider contributing some talent to the project. Stay tuned.
Meanwhile, I got to further reacquaint with my Spelman sister Tanika Ray (of "EXTRA" fame) who was in attendance and happy to hang out with Anthony and me. They bonded a bit while we were in Vegas.
Also, Wendy Williams was in the house. I did my best to chat her up for as long as she could, but her people (namely her husband Kevin) wanted to keep her moving, hence our not-so-well-framed picture. I'm excited that her VH-1 special is scheduled to premiere on October 20th (http://www.vh1.com/shows/dyn/the_wendy_williams_experience/series_about.jhtml). Robin Givens is scheduled to be on (by way of the radio show). Givens stars as Wendy in the upcoming independent feature "Queen of All Media", autobiopic on our own "shock jock".
Through my friend Theo, I met some great people. Nicole Williams, one of the famous celebrity Style Agents on "Ambush Makeover" (www.stylenetwork.com/ssms-site/style.do?showId=6220). She is the industry's new "style guru" who wants to make the world a prettier place - one person at a time. Her company, "The Face Gallery" (www.myspace.com/thefacegallery), offers makeup, hair, and wardrobe styling to various entertainment venues. Check her work out at: www.cyncitypromotions.com , click on Nicole Williams image. She's a great energy!!!
Also in attendance? Two of Kimora's team members from "Kimora: Life in the Fab Lane" (www.stylenetwork.com/Shows/Kimora/index.html): JAMES, one of her senior executives; and BJ, another friend of Theo. He is Kimora's Senior Publicist. Both of them were quite pleasant and sweet to talk to during the night.
Socialite with the "most" MARILYN CRAWFORD was there. She'd just flown in from Vegas by way of Santa Barbara by way of who knows where. She is a jet-setter and always in the right place at the right time (primetimeomnimedia.net/lmarilyn_crawford.html). CAN YOU KEEP UP?
My friend Audrey's cousin Natasha was there. She's now in the video promotions department at www.zombalabelgroup.com/. Turns out she mentioned me to her boss Anne-Marie, who I met --- unrelated to her mention --- the following day via my friend Ern. Small world...
I also saw my usual suspects: Ra-Fael Blanco and his crew, including UNeQ magazine's Raymond Green and super-sexy model Miguel. And a young lady named Radiance, the daughter of my good friends Tracey and Maurice, was in the house. I haven't seen her in seven or more years. She's now a Howard University grad and beginning her career in the business. She's beautiful and was my highlight of sightings for the night, which was produced by Miata David, party planner of the stars. She did L.A. Reid and Pebbles' son Aaron's party for MTV's Sweet Sixteen (www.bittorrent.com/users/mtv/series/My_Super_Sweet_Sixteen/30f5adeb-1ac6-11dc-8f32-00e081411f3f).
Afterwards, Anthony, Theo,and I stopped by MINT (www.mintny.com) - "a fresh taste in Indian Cuisine". Though not my favored food, we enjoyed wonderful ambiance and service and if you find yourself in Manhattan (East-way in the 50s), could be a cool spot for drinks, dinner, or a party, which Anthony and I can't seem to escape these days.
We went out on Thursday night to support Nathan Hale Williams' new SPRUNG (now at "Shelter" - formerly "Luke and Leroy" - nathanhalewilliams.com/). Anthony and I went to celebrate Smoov's birthday. He's our Tweety's party-roving musical director. Also, we met up with a couple of members of Tyra Banks' GLAM SQUAD - Valente, her Emmy-nominated makeup artist, to whom we were introduced by our friend Scott, who works for Sheryl Lee Ralph. With him was Earl, wardrobe stylist for Tyra. Earl and I had never met but knew each other through his partner Vince who I met through my Chicago Carl. Now that Tyra is in New York City (tyrashow.warnerbros.com/), so are these guys. So, we're excited to have some new friends in town.
Speaking of friends in town, Ern and I got the chance to hang out with "our Carla" this past weekend. Carla, who just got married in July, came up to hang with Anthony, Ern, and me for some catch-up time.
Last I saw Carla, Anthony and I were in Atlanta (in February). I blogged about it. With that, we gave her some great times and enjoyed the ride as we did it. On Friday, we hooked up with my "Amazing Grace" Nichole who hosted a little set for all of our friends: CJ, David, Nelson, Michelle, Dawn, and Tony.
We ate lasagna and chicken 'n dumplings. Sipped lots of champagne. Watched some Katt Williams (kicking and screaming... for me, but he was speaking some truth) - (www.kattwilliams.com/).
And just enjoyed the presence and beauty of love, life, and friendship.
On Saturday, Carla wanted to do some shopping (which she always loves to do and I made sure we gave some of our $$$ back to Harlem a la my favorite boutique - www.nharlemnewyork.com).
But she, the guys, and I decided to stop through Central Park (where Diana did her legendary turn in the rain via The Great Lawn in 1983). Carla had never been and wanted to experience a little bit of the "city within this city".
We also did a nice dinner at Grand Lux Cafe (www.grandluxcafe.com/). I took Carla back to the airport on Monday morning - hoping that this weekend gave her the much-needed spiritual and energy boost for which she was longing and calling. It's always great to reconnect with good folks who are - as she says all the time - "authentic". Mission accomplished.
By the way, are you guys watching "That's So Raven!" on Disney Channel? (psc.disney.go.com/disneychannel/thatssoraven/) Admittedly, I stumble across it and like it a lot. Anthony and I tuned in on Saturday monring (or afternoon as it was a marathon). It was cute to see Anne Marie Johnson in her recurring role as a fashion designer who hires Raven as an intern. I LOVE HER... in everything - from "I'm Gonna Get You Sucka" to "Girlfriends". Also, Raven seemed to reconnect (indirectly) with one of her old "Cosby Show" castmates Geoffrey Owen (Elvin), who played Raven's platonic boyfriend's father on an episode in which he's split up from his wife played by Rae Dawn-Chong.
Fun episode! When I'm not out, I do take in the tube or the TIVO... if not Anthony.