Most people who know me know that MISS ROSS is MY BOSS… and a week in which she received her LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT GRAMMY AWARD is among the BIGGEST WEEKS for a fan like me (and the many hundreds of thousands and thousands of fans with whom I have the honor to share in this excitement). This, after Miss Ross has been nominated 12 times (Sang/recorded 3 songs that are in the Grammy Hall of Fame), but had yet to win one. Picture this: It’s Saturday, February 11, 2011. A wonderful group of friends were invited to an intimate, pre-Fashion-Week gathering. Everyone agreed to join me in watching Miss Ross accept her Lifetime Achievement Grammy on the academy’s website (http://www.grammy.com/videos/diana-ross-accepting-lifetime-achivement-award-at-special-merit-awards) – a highlight in the day (and this fan’s life). Just moments before her segment was to take place, the first texts, tweets, and emails started to come in. I felt like Miss Ross in the rain at her Central Park Concert: “It took me a lifetime to get here. I’m not going anywhere!” And as each text, tweet, and email came in, I chalked it up as a hoax… and kept it to myself. But alas, the news would be true: WHITNEY HOUSTON: DEAD AT 48. Miss Ross accepted her award (and announced she’d be going back into the studio to record and - FYI! - she's going back on the road - starting this week). We were all left to wrap our heads around one other SPECIAL woman with whom Miss Ross had to share the spotlight in “…the life of Riley…” (circa 1984-1998).
This is the hardest blog I’ve ever had to write. I’ve been a range of in shock; bed-ridden sick; depressed; unable to get through the day’s deeds without a tear or many; inconsolable; and nostalgic and joyful for one moment in time when Whitney Houston brought us such comfort and joy with THAT VOICE!
The loss of Whitney Houston also brings me back in touch with blasts from my past. One Morehouse brother felt he needed to reach out – in part because he too is touched by the loss. Also, he remembers how much I LOVE WHITNEY...and wanted to make sure I was O.K. An excerpt of my reply to him:
“...This loss is HUGE for many reasons - some of which you've outlined. In the '90s, I had lots of connects from the Whitney world - including those domains you outline i.e. publicists/managers/Arista folks/fellow churchmembers of her/Cissy who were/are friends of mine, etc. And YES! As a singer myself, I have long been shouting fromt the rafters - often to those aforementioned people - to correct THAT VOICE before it's 'wrecked'. Though it wasn't exactly wrecked in 1998, it depreciated from 'dreamy' to a 'nightmare' by 2001. That said, the short window she was able to give us THE VOICE is LEGACY enough (more than enough). Still, we're all left with this bad feeling. Though I've shared commentary on Dr. Michael Eric Dyson and Rev. Sharpton's shows, I'm left now to say SOMETHING via my blog by week's end. And though I don't know if I'll go comprehensive in this entry (as I'm still wrapping my brain and heart around the LIFE, the LOSS, and all that I'm truly feeling right now where I can feel), so much of me is numb. I called Whitney "the Billie Holliday" of our time in that by the time you and I were born, she was dead. We then were introduced to her - on some level - by Diana Ross' portrayal of her in "Lady Sings The Blues" (and not even when that came out). So, there was a disconnect, though the history was duly noted and well-received. With WHITNEY, like the contemporaries of Billie Holliday, we met her, we knew her pedigree, we watched her rise to the top, we watched her fall, we watched her attempt a comeback, we watched her die ------ ONE MOMENT IN TIME! And yet, again, we know her LEGACY lives on...through her music (and hopefully she and Bobby's daughter.... and - as irony goes - through the very women on whose shoulders she stands - including her mom, Dionne Warwick, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, etc. - all of whom are STILL STANDING & SINGING, which furthermore makes this passing harder to swallow. Like most anything, Whitney sang it best when she added this BeBe Winans composition to some of her early '90s shows…”
It was first recorded by CeCe Winans who sang it at the funeral:
Here we are again,
that old familiar place,
where the wind will blow,
no one ever knows the time or space.
Don't cry for me,
don't shed a tear;
the time I've shared with you will always be.
And when I'm gone,
still carry on,
don't cry for me.
No one is the blame,
my death was meant to be.
Don't carry guilt or shame,
the reason why I came,
soon you'll see.
Don't cry when life is not
the joy it should be,
with life comes pain.
Soon time will end its course appointed,
then you will be rewarded,
and all the world will see.
THIS, OF COURSE, AS I CRY!
In attendance at this Fashion-Week kick-off was designer EDWING D'ANGELO (whose Fall 2012 NYFW Collection presented this past Sunday at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel: www.edwingdangelo.com. Excellent new line, I might add. Basketball Wives’ Royce and Mob Wives’ Carla agree). On that night of AMAZING HIGHS and BOTTOMLESS LOWS, it was also great to see friend/jeweler Trevor Hartman. I consider it a blessing to have so many friends and loved ones around me at the time. And afterwards, I made it my business to get down to Japas 55 Karaoke to homage Miss Houston in song (via the Whitney Houston medley its catalog has). My friend Carl Nelson was on-hand to hold me up (just in case) as well as ATL Housewives’ Dwight Eubanks. And as my love of karaoke goes, I’ve continued to sing more and more Whitney wherever I go – to ensure that the MUSIC LIVES ON! That – in addition to many things – is a BIG LEGACY! We sang after the Edwing show. Also, on another night with another awesome designer/my friend Jeffrey Williams (www.jeffreycwilliams.com), we all gathered at a new spot: baby grand (www.babygrandnyc.com) – a cute discovery for us. My girl Dawn sang pretty too!
Since I wasn’t in L.A. And given the developments du jour, the invitation to watch THE GRAMMYS with my friends Mara Schiavocampo and Tommie Porter while dining on declicious chili and cornbread (a la Rakia) was – for sure – the move. Ant , Ernest Maynor, and MISS NINA agreed. In fact, NINA was the BEST example of the CIRCLE OF LIFE! CONGRATS, MISS ROSS! WE LOVE YOU, WHITNEY! Great job, Jennifer Hudson!
MY BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL
I spent the top of the month producing a Black History Month segment for ‘Wendy Williams’ and ‘My Black is Beautiful’. If you didn’t get to see it, here goes: http://www.wendyshow.com/MyBlackIsBeautiful/.
My girl Flo Anthony invited us out to dear friend Marva Allen’s Hue-Man Bookstore (www.huemanbookstore.com) for a cool event: A book signing with The Full Force Brothers (www.fullforceworld.com). Their new book “Not Just a House Party” takes us deeper and beyond what is now the highest-rated “Unsung” in which they were recently featured. Bowlegged Lou (who I’d met years ago through my Atlanta buddy Denyse Parks); Paul Anthony; and B-Fine were in the house. They are so gracious, nice, and generous in sharing their history in the industry. From there, another dear publicist friend Juanita Stephens invited us to Maria Davis’ special event at Shrine World Venue in Harlem. I got a quick meet-and-greet at W’s A-Loft Hotel with the Jamaican virtuoso David M (He’s a singer/songwriter/classical musician/etc.). You – for sure – will be hearing more from this conscious artist who credits Marvin Gaye as an influence.
KEVIN FREEMAN & “REAL HOUSE-FRIEND OF ATLANTA”
Our dear friend Kevin Freeman’s birthday was last week (Same week that he was featured in an episode of “Real Housewives of Atlanta” in which he hosted Sheree and some of the ladies in South Africa). Priya Scroggins threw a set of all sets at her Manhattan pad. Tasty cocktails; hors’douevres; delicious bites of cauliflower pakoras; jerk chicken wings; vegetable curry; shrimp vindaloo; chicken chettinad; dal; rice; Indian bread; and WHITNEY! We all gathered around and either sang Whitney at the top of our lungs and/or danced with a roo...m full of SOMEDBODIES who love Kevin! Quite healing! Joyous! FAMILY! In the house: Ant, Gwendolyn Niles, Keanna KJ Rose Henson, Kiwan Michael Anderson, Dawanna Williams, Nathan Hale Williams, Tracey Kemble, Stephanie Horton, Lisa Bonner, Angelique Miles, Mark Buquoi, Chris Gentry, Chantis Parks, Michelle Sanchez Boyce, Erika Munro Kennerly, Nichole Shellman, her beau Troy, Tamayu Takayama, Wardell Malloy, Bevy Smith and more! A TOTAL LOVE FEST!
HARLEM FINE ARTS SHOW 2012
I wrapped the week up with two art invitations from my friends Tata and Carl Nelson. First up: We went to The New York Times Building to kick-off the Third Annual 2012 Harlem Fine Arts Show (www.hfas.org) – featuring among many, the artwork of AFUWI 2011 recipient of the American Foundation of the University of the West Indies award (the tributes of which I got to produce: http://thelifeofriley.squarespace.com/rilys-blog/2011/1/27/live-out-louder.html). Also in the house: NYC icons B. Smith and Susan Taylor. The open-to-the-public exhibition will take place from Friday, February 10th through Sunday, February 12th at Riverside Church of New York (490 Riverside Drive at 120th Street). Then, we went to a GRAFFITI photography and art exhibit (that benefitted a pediatric oncology ward on Long Island, NY. At the helm of the brainchild: Elizabeth Jordan (WWW.EJORDANPHOTOGRAPHY.COM), who invited guests to St. Peter’s Church to participate in an evening celebrating the power of the pen (and positive thought) through graffiti. A light bite at Hillstone rounded out the evening just lovely.
TARGET FIRST SATURDAY
The Brooklyn Museum’s TARGET FIRST SATURDAY was a fun time: http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/visit/first_saturdays.php. Lots of exhibits, people, music, and dancing. Saw lots of fun faces – including my Savannah homegirl Rae Mack, Theo Perry, Shantay Wilson, and many others.
Our friends Irma Clement and Gisele Pemberton threw yet another FAB SUPERBOWL EXTRAVAGANZA! GREAT FOOD, FOLKS, & MADONNA: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4VbChGJ8nw&feature=youtu.be.
NEW YORK ASSOCIATION OF BLACK JOURNALISTS
Was GREAT to confab with my fellow New York Association of Black Journalists recently at B.Smith’s restaurant. Our new President Mike Feeney led a festive networking event. This, before sleeves are pulled up to the elbows – so NYABJ can get started on its good work. If you are a member of NYABJ (and/or want to me), don’t worry! You can join up (and start working) NOW! Is always good to see my friends – old and new – including Philana Patterson, Dwight Oestricher, Jenisha Watts, Brandon Bain (my fellow karaoke host AND TV personality his own), etc. SHOUT OUT to NOVAHCAINE PHOTOGRAPHY (www.novahcaine.com). Afterwards, I returned to our beloved NATIVE in Harlem (where we gave life to ALL-STAR KARAOKE THURSDAY NIGHT). Our friends Brian Washington-Palmer & Jamar Dunn pulled out all of the stops for us to TOAST our Harlem buddies Nikoa & Garrett Hendricks at a baby shower to celebrate the pending arrival of their little diva Zuri.
A great group of friends recently gathered to toast Kierna Mayo and the launch of www.ebony.com. Katra in SOHO(217 Bowery btwn Prince & Spring) is where we partied. The Legendary Chris Washington provided AWESOME music.
Friend Dennis Decker hosted a well-appointed set at his Harlem brownstone to introduce Jessica Betts (https://www.twitter.com/JessicaBetts). It gave BFFs Itika Oldwine, Mara Schiavocampo, Carl Nelson, Kimberly Nichole, Darius Booker, and a host of other friends a chance to catch up and share lovingly and reflectively about Miss Whitney Houston whose home-going services took place earlier on this day.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ERN
Happy Birthday, Ernest Maynor – BFF since 7th grade! Had a great BDAY GAMES PARTY at our friend Kimberly Jajuan’s home. Many old friends were in the house – including Dwayne Grayman and Erich McMillan-McCall. Also: Angela Robinson (“Shug” from Broadway and road-tour’s “The Color Purple”); and many more!