BaddDDD Sonia Sanchez, A Riveting Documentary about a Literary Lion

 

Image courtesy of Cinema Clock.

Image courtesy of Cinema Clock.

Sonia Sanchez is a lion in literature’s forest. When she writes she roars, and when she sleeps other creatures walk gingerly. ~ Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou was spot on when she called Sonia Sanchez “a lion in literature’s forest.” From one literary giant to another, Sanchez is a force of nature. She’s a writer, poet, playwright, professor, and activist. A strong proponent of Black history, literature, and culture, women’s liberation, racial justice, and peace, Sanchez has inspired generations of writers, activists, and academics in the struggle.

If you’ve been following my blog, it’s no secret how much of an influence she’s had on me. So when I found out that the documentary BaddDDD Sonia Sanchez would be screened in DC on the opening night of the African Diaspora International Film Festival (“Where Black Life Matters On The Big Screen!”), I jumped at the opportunity to support it. And I’m so glad I did.

BaddDDD Sonia Sanchez, a riveting documentary by Barbara Attie, Janet Goldwater, and Sabrina Schmidt Gordon, celebrates Sanchez and her contributions as one of the most influential writers of the Black Arts Movement. It chronicles her life – the personal, professional, and the political. Interwoven throughout the documentary are Sanchez in her element–performing her work with a live jazz band, along with readings and commentary by Amiri Baraka (Rest in Power), Nikki Giovanni, Haki Madhubuti,Ursula Rucker, jessica Care moore, Ruby Dee (Rest in Power), Talib Kweli, and Ayana Mathis, to name a few. Their interpretations of her writing and what she means to the world showcase the tremendous beauty, power, magic, depth, and influence of her work.

One (of several) elements I loved about BaddDDD Sonia Sanchez is that it shows Sanchez–the artist–at work. This level of intimacy is something we don’t often get to see of creatives. Truly a treasure to behold. Leaves one wondering if what she was writing in the documentary ends up in her next volume of poetry. One can hope.

During the Q+A that followed the showing, Sanchez dropped several gems about the struggle and the importance of work. She said, “Nothing changes unless you work… You have to do the work.” This statement is so relevant to issues of personal and societal concern today. Entitlement doesn’t bring change or reward. If you want something in this life, you have to work for it. If it’s something that truly matters, playing your part is essential. Her words serve as a testament to why she and other artists of the Black Arts Movement are so significant. They not only created work that touched the hearts of many, but they also did the work that was critical to changing the world.

And what’s a better way to top off your night by speaking and taking a picture with one of your biggest inspirations?

Me with writer, poet, playwright, professor, and activist, Sonia Sanchez

Me with writer, poet, playwright, professor, and activist, Sonia Sanchez

Thank you Sonia Sanchez for your spirit, strides, and all the blessings you’ve given to the world. You are phenomenal!

If BaddDDD Sonia Sanchez is showing in your town, please go and support it. Also check the listings for your local PBS station, as there may be a showing in the near future.

Personal and educational copies of BaddDDD Sonia Sanchez can be rented or purchased from the California Newsreel site.

The Power of Branding, Storytelling, and Connections: A Blogger Week 2016 Reflection

Image courtesy of Trinity University.

Image courtesy of Trinity University.

For the third year in a row, I had the pleasure of attending Blogger Week. For those who don’t know, Blogger Week is a celebration of multicultural digital media. Through panels, workshops, and other events, Blogger Week provides bloggers, media mavens, journalists, and other professionals with engaging opportunities to learn, share ideas, grow their brand, create partnerships, and build community.

This year’s conference offered priceless insights, strategies, and gems within the areas of social justice / activism, economic justice, marketing, PR, digital messaging, monetization, and issues of self-awareness, identity, and engagement. Common themes that tie many of these areas together include branding, storytelling, and connections (or community building).

Image courtesy of Black Bloggers Connect.

Image courtesy of Black Bloggers Connect.

Authenticity and Building Your Brand


So how do we break free from the noise and distinguish ourselves in the digital space? By being our authentic selves; knowing our audience (and how to effectively reach them); creating original, captivating content; staying consistent; and putting ourselves in positions that will benefit us. You’ve got to do your research. Whatever social media platforms you use, know what strategies work best for connecting with your audience. What works best on Facebook, may not work well on Twitter and Instagram.

Know your worth. Ask for it. And be able to back it up. ~ April Reign

To understand your impact and engagement, analytics are essential. It’s crucial that analytics are reviewed regularly. Once we understand our analytics, we’ll be better equipped to improve and build our brand, grow our audience, and attract other brands we may want to partner with in the future. As we journey on, it’s important that we don’t lose sight of our “WHY.” This will fuel us and keep us motivated during trying times.

Own Your Voice, Tell Your Story

As many of us know, content remains king in the digital space. Nothing emphasizes this point more than the influence of storytelling in digital media. Storytelling allows us to define and own our voices, embrace ourselves wholly and authentically, and connect with others on a deeper level. When done well, storytelling is engaging, inspiring, and influential. Often, storytelling is what drives us to finding or redefining our passion and purpose.

For multicultural bloggers, media mavens, journalists, and others in the digital space, storytelling is nothing new. I have to co-sign with Andrea C. Imafidon of Brown Girl From Boston when she says that, “We have always been a culture of people who have always told stories.” And we have done it quite well.

As noted during her presentation “Tweeting Away Our Blues: How Black Women Use Social Media for Self-Awareness, Activism, and Black Liberation,” Dr. Kelly Macias of Conflict Undone said, “Black women have revolutionized social media and the way it was intended to be used.” Not only have we used digital media to tell our stories, we’ve also used it to construct our identity, build community, and liberate ourselves.

Make a Connection, Build a Community

Speaking of community – community is one of the reasons why I love attending Blogger Week. The Blogger Week UnConference was the first (and remains one of the few) professional development conference I attended that celebrated multicultural digital media. Year after year, I’ve been able to meet, network, and learn from so many digital media professionals at various stages of their digital media journey. There’s a close-knit, family-like atmosphere that makes you feel right at home. You know you’re in good company. And you’ve got a solid support system holding you up.

I leave this conference every year amped and ready to re-up. I’m filled with an arsenal of information that I can use to help better myself and others. I leave knowing that I am not alone, and that we are SO MUCH stronger—together.

Me with author, publisher, and entrepreneur Ni'cola Mitchell

Me with author, publisher, and entrepreneur Ni’cola Mitchell

Major kudos and props to my connections (new and old) from the Blogger Week community: J.A.M. Aiwuyor (Founder & Creative Director of Black Bloggers Connect), Marc Polite, Ni’cola Mitchell, Andrea C. Imafidon, Dr. Kelly Macias, Tara J. Young, Julian Addo, Tyece A. Wilkins, Yvelette Stines, Dominique & David Pressley (Caribbean Soul Trekkers), Chimene WilliamsCharles Martin, and CleverlyChanging.

Much gratitude to J.A.M. Aiwuyor, Black Bloggers Connect, the speakers, the volunteers, and all of the fly attendees for making this another phenomenal Blogger Week. See you next year!

Peace, Love, and Many Blessings!

Black Magic

Image courtesy of http://beautifulbrownies.tumblr.com/

Image courtesy of http://beautifulbrownies.tumblr.com/

Blackness in full view
Open and vast
Varied and rich
Not hidden in the cloak of
your lies and shame
Blackness doesn’t need your acceptance
or validation
It just is
As it is
And my, what our blackness is!
Full-bodied power
A vivid cultural mosaic
Intricately woven
Connecting our past, present, and future.

My experiences are too often judged, rarely understood
If I let you tell it –
my story simply wouldn’t be
My existence – my truth –
buried, annihilated
At the other extreme, you’ve tried to tell
my story as if you know me better
than I know myself
Praise to the gods that there never is and there never will be
a substitute for the real thing.

My story – our story –
more hype than virtual reality
Afro-futuristic dreams—
we live them every day
Casting spells before you
can comprehend
#blackgirlmagic
#blackboymagic
Rocking it like no other before, during
or after.

Forever an enigma
Keep ‘em guessing, as Mom always says
And just when they think they’ve figured
you out – flip that shit!

My blackness is unapologetic
Will not turn down
for your comfort
It’s everlasting
Just like the storied journey passed down
from my ancestors
Label it haughty or narcissistic
It’s simply self-love
Black love and BLACK PRIDE.

The strength and resilience
of my blackness is unbreakable
as the blood I share with my brothas and sistas
Forever catching our fires like Sonia
Yielding the fire within
Bringing beauty and beyond to the world
And making history every day
Now, that’s BLACK MAGIC!

© 2016 BuddahDesmond

The Blogger Week Unconference 2014: An Engaging, Informative, Highly Valuable Event

bloggerweek-logofly2

I had the pleasure of attending the Blogger Week Unconference in May, and I must say that it was one of the best professional events I’ve attended in some time. Hosted by Black Bloggers Connect, the Unconference was part of Blogger Week 2014, a multicultural festival of bloggers, journalists, and social media mavens. Blogger Week 2014 featured both digital and in-person events such as Google Hangouts, Twitter parties, panels, workshops, and networking events.

The Unconference featured 13 engaging discussion panels and breakout sessions led by industry notables. Topics included: digital monetizing, social media strategies, the business of beauty blogging, personal and executive branding, PR, blogging in the Pan African world, using your blog to affect politics and cause change, and the power of blogger collaboration (to name a few). There truly was something of great value for bloggers, journalists, and social media mavens at all levels at the Unconference.

After blogging for 9 years and being on social media for at least 5 years, I’m far from an expert. I’m always looking for ways to learn more, improve, streamline, and enhance. So I welcome and am grateful for events like these. I honestly believe I got more value out of this one-day, $25 (early bird) event than I would have if I’d gone to one of the high-priced multi-day events.

One of the other elements that made this event so commendable were the people. There was a warm, inclusive, welcoming community vibe at the Unconference. Almost immediately, I felt comfortable and at home. It was like I was with my best friends and family. I connected with some really cool, intelligent, and talented people doing wonderful things. I would be remiss if I didn’t give some shout outs: Taiye Oladipo,MPH, Marc Polite, L. Laura Burge, Marquita Goodluck, Ananda Leeke, Caribbean Soultrekkers, Ni’cola Mitchell, and Vino Noire.

The Blogger Week Unconference is highly recommended! Thank you Jessica Ann Mitchell and Black Bloggers Connect for organizing such a FAB event. I look forward to attending many other Black Bloggers Connect events in the future.

Blogger Week Unconference Takeaways:

  1. Quantity is not important. It’s about the connection or relationship you have with your followers.
  2. Be authentic. Use your personality. Your voice is key. If you have passion, brands will come to you.
  3. Don’t lose sight of why you’re doing this, as it will keep you focused, motivated, and moving forward.
  4. Make yourself your brand. Know your key differentiators (what makes your brand unique) and use them to your advantage.
  5. Try to keep your brand consistent across platforms. Make contact information present. Be accessible. Responsive.
  6. Honor your word/commitments. If you can’t do it, be honest about it.
  7. Don’t be afraid of your potential. Own it. It’s going to take work.
  8. Be your own hustleman. Create a social calendar for yourself and get yourself out there.
  9. Make sure your message is simple but encompasses all aspects of yourself/your brand.
  10. Give the people what they want.
  11. Partnerships (meaningful, long-lasting, mutually beneficial) can help you solidify your brand. But be sure you’re partnering with organizations that represent your brand.
  12. Don’t pitch people your problems, pitch them your solutions.

Takeaways from the 2014 Conversations and Connections Conference

This past weekend, I had the chance to attend the Conversations and Connections Conference in Washington, DC.  Organized by Barrelhouse magazine and sponsored by the Johns Hopkins University Master of Arts in Writing program, this was not the typical conference. Conversations and Connections is designed to help writers better their craft by providing practical advice on writing and publishing in “a comfortable, congenial environment where you can meet other writers, editors and publishers” (Conversations and Connections).

Panel sessions were varied in topics that were universal and genre-specific. Panelists/presenters typically had an informal and candid style which was most engaging. The keynote speaker was award-winning and New York Times best-selling author Marisa de los Santos (Love Walked In, Belong to Me, and Falling Together), whose charismatic, humorous, and insightful talk was a major hit with attendees.

One of the other highlights of the conference was the Speed Dating with Editors session.  During this session, writers had the chance to get feedback on their work, find out about valuable writing resources, and learn about where they should consider sending their work.

For $70, the Conversations and Connections conference is a great value for any writer committed to enhancing their craft, getting published, and connecting with other writers, editors, and publishers.

Here are some takeaways from the sessions I attended:

Get Off Your Ass and Write: Stop Making Excuses and Start Being Productive (Rosalia Scalia)

  1. Always have a notebook and pen handy, as inspiration can hit at any moment.
  2. Discipline is about practicing good habits. It’s not about forcing yourself to do things you don’t want to do.
  3. Make time to write each day.
  4. Know your craft. Study it. Research it. Practice it.
  5. Read widely and without prejudice. This is what feeds the well.
  6. Characters drive the plot. You need to know your characters well. Know what choices they will make to move the story along.
  7. Taking a different point of view may help you tackle problems you encounter with your writing.
  8. Learn how to use the tools to become the writer you want to be.
  9. Create a relationship with yourself. Make a commitment to your work in order to achieve your goals.
  10. The ultimate goal with writing is raising it to the universal level.

The chemistry of the poetic line: Line Breaks and Poetry (Jim Warner)

  1. Line breaks affect how you read/hear poetry.
  2. Originally, the form of a poem was determined by line lengths.
  3. There are typically two ways to interpret line length: the way the head sees the line and the way the line is spoken.
  4. The goal of poetry: to channel the original energy of the source of inspiration for the poem.
  5. Make a break that is not obvious. Go against the breath.
  6. The chemistry of the line comes in revision.
  7. Know why (and be able to explain) the choices you make in your writing.

Keynote Speaker: Marisa de los Santos

  1. Poetry foregrounds the quality [of music] in language.
  2. Listen to your characters (this is your primary job).
  3. Set out a time to write that works well with your schedule.
  4. Be present in whatever you’re doing (be in the moment).
  5. Everything feeds everything else.
  6. Every book makes its own rules.
  7. If you’re having trouble with a story, you may be having trouble with the characters.
  8. You walk with faith that your story is going to lead the way.
  9. Find your way and do it.
  10. There’s no one right way to write.

Is Fiction Dead?: The Rise of Creative Nonfiction (Cathy Alter, Jenny Sullivan, and Tim Wendel)

Scenes

  1. Good scenes get readers involved immediately.
  2. To write a good scene, think of how you would put it in an email to a dear friend or family member.
  3. You can never go wrong with descriptions. Descriptions put the reader there with you.
  4. Create a sense of space that people can relate to.
  5. Interview others about events/experiences that you’re writing about to make them come to life, to make them real.
  6. Precise details can make a scene pop.
  7. Use attribution.
  8. Research.

Character

  1. Well drawn characters are three-dimensional.
  2. First person narration, if it’s necessary, lends credibility to what you’re writing. It creates authenticity.
  3. The goal: to tell the story without the need to be in it.
  4. Be flexible.
  5. Think about writing in third person. It’s more interesting to write from someone else’s point of view.
  6. Action = character. What they do on the page creates who they are.
  7. If the action is not building, the story won’t go anywhere.

Dialogue

  1. Dialogue builds characters beyond what descriptions can do.
  2. Can tell you a lot.
  3. Let the character’s voice come through so you don’t pass judgment.

Revision

  1. Be ruthless with your work and think about what is truly useful to your story. If it makes it harder for the reader to follow along, take it out.
  2. Read your work aloud.
  3. Scrub, scrub, scrub. If it sounds like (or is) a cliché, take it out.
  4. Take a break away from your work. You’ll see things you did not see before that you can improve upon.
  5. Don’t wear your writer and editor hats at the same time. It can damage your voice.

brenda.trinidad@gmail.com

Janet Mock and The Power of Defining Ourselves For Ourselves

janet-mock-amos-mac-opmagImage courtesy of Amos Mac of OP Magazine and janetmock.com.

If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive. ~ Audre Lorde

There is freedom in knowing ourselves and defining ourselves for ourselves. There is freedom in living in our light and telling our stories–oft stories that need to be told. When we allow ourselves to be defined by others, our lives are muted, shortchanged, and disregarded. There is no power like that of naming yourself and claiming your truth. This is what Janet Mock has done and continues to do as a fierce writer, advocate, and creator of #GirlsLikeUs, a movement which encourages trans women to live their lives openly and visibly.

In late February, I had the opportunity to attend an intimate talk by Janet Mock at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, DC. This event was part of a book tour in support of Mock’s New York Times bestselling book Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love, and So Much More. The ever-engaging Helena Andrews, journalist, pop culture critic, and author of Bitch Is The New Black, facilitated the talk.

In 2011, Mock came out as a trans woman in the misgendered Marie Claire article, “I Was Born A Boy.” At a very early age, Mock knew what her identity was and that it did not match the sex she was assigned at birth. She always knew she was a girl, even though the world tried to refute, devalue, and silence her true identity through gender policing, heteronormativity, and transphobia. It was a struggle, but Mock was adamant about who she was and was determined to live her life authentically. In no truer words, Michaela Angela Davis told Mock, “You got your girl. You saw who you were and you got her.” And that she did!

Aside from an affirming family, Mock credits community as being pivotal in her path to womanhood. In seventh grade she met her best friend, Wendy, who was also a young trans woman. Mock says Wendy connected her with a community of older trans women who she bonded with. Through them she had examples of what trans womanhood was, which further shaped her identity and what she wanted her womanhood to be.

It was in this community that Mock says other trans women began calling her “Baby Janet” because of an uncanny resemblance to Janet Jackson. During this time, Mock admits being completely enamored with Jackson’s critically acclaimed album The Velvet Rope. The Velvet Rope is a collection of deeply introspective songs, many of which unveiling pain that Jackson held inside for many years. The album touched on depression, self-love, self-worth, sexuality and social issues like homophobia and domestic violence. Mock saw many parallels between Janet’s heartfelt music and her own life. So how fitting is it that she, too, would ultimately name herself Janet.

During the talk, Mock also discussed the notion of privilege and “passing.” In this society, we often place too much emphasis on beauty and attractiveness. Often times, beauty can overshadow a person’s skills, gifts, talents, and experiences. Mock acknowledges privilege in being attractive, but she does not let that define who she is. She says, “I do the work. I will not let people reduce me to a pretty face.” Mock also scoffs at the notion of passing, for she is a woman who is simply being herself.

When it comes to telling your story, Mock says you have to do it first and foremost for yourself. Tell yourself the truth about your experiences. She recommends finding someone you trust to share your story with. When you feel ready, share the story publicly. For young trans women, she says “Shut out all the noise. Tap into your own truth. Find your advocates.” For many of us, it’s crucial that we find our families in the spaces we’re in.

As her journey continues, Mock hopes that her work speaks for itself and that her story is one that opens minds, shifts language, and inspires others to be their authentic selves. When asked by Marc Lamont Hill on HuffPost Live about the message she hopes people take away from Redefining Realness, Mock said, “I think my biggest thing would be to empower girls who grew up like I did. To give them language and access to explain and understand their experiences. For so long, I…blamed myself for a lot of the hardships that I went through and I would like to free them from that. And I hope that the book frees a lot of people to understand these issues more.”

And what can we expect from Mock in the future? More writing, of course. She’s planning to write a book which addresses the beauty myth from the perspective of a black trans woman. She’s also looking into TV as another platform for storytelling.

Janet Mock, thank you for doing the work. Thank you for being the beautiful spirit that you are and for sharing your powerful story with us. Trailblazer, keeping shining!

I believe that telling our stories, first to ourselves and then to one another and the world, is a revolutionary act. It is an act that can be met with hostility, exclusion, and violence. It can also lead to love, understanding, transcendence, and community. I hope that my being real with you will help empower you to step into who you are and encourage you to share yourself with those around you. ~ Janet Mock

PicWithJanetMockII(2252014)

Thank You, Langston Hughes!

hughes1Image courtesy of Travalanche.

Today is not only the first day of Black History Month, but it’s also the birthday of poet, novelist, playwright, and activist Langston Hughes (1902-1967).  Hughes is one of the reasons why I write poetry today.

Growing up, I spent countless hours in the library losing myself in Hughes’ masterful poetry.  His poetry was jazz.  It was blues.  It was filled with so much spirit and life.  He captured the richness of our culture and history so eloquently.

Even given the social ills of the day, his work was evidence of his hope for a world where unity and equality trumped racism, inequality, and injustice.  Though the times may be (somewhat) different, the relevance of his writing remains strong.  The same can be said for the influence and inspiration of his artistry.

Thank you Langston Hughes for not dimming your light.  We honor you for your greatness and the blessings of your many contributions.  Here’s to you!

I, Too, Sing America by Langston Hughes

I, too sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.

Besides,
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

Happy Birthday Teena Marie

 Image courtesy of the That Grape Juice site.

Music is meant to inspire/To elevate you and to take you higher/Like the prophets spoke words to my soul/Letters of love like silver and gold/…Sign myself to you forever. ~ Teena Marie, “Luv Letter,” Beautiful (2013) 

I spent countless days spinning Teena Marie LPs as a child.  Funny how not much has changed even as an adult.  Her performances on songs like “Cassanova Brown,” “Shadow Boxing,” “Portuguese Love,” “Deja Vu (I’ve Been Here Before)” and “If I Were A Bell” held me captive.  Her sophisticated funk on “Square Biz,” “Lovergirl,” “Playboy,” “Midnight Magnet,” “It Must Be Magic,” and “Behind The Groove” rocked me deeply.  There was something about her that was so special and unique, that it emanated from every note she wrote, played, and sang.  You could feel her soul in each musical thread from 1979’s “Wild and Peaceful” to 2013’s “Beautiful” (her final studio album).  These threads wove a beautiful tapestry that will live on beyond her years.

Her artistry is/was amazing.  Known as the “Ivory Queen Of Soul,” her music, with its poetic lyricism, encompassed so many genres—R&B/Soul, Funk, Hip-Hop, Latin, Jazz.  It transcended categorization and race.  If her mission was to bring people together with her gifts, she accomplished it quite well.

Inspired by Smokey Robinson, Al Green, Aretha Franklin,  “Sarah Vaughan, Johann Sebastian Bach, Shakespeare, Maya Angelou, and Nikki Giovanni just to name a few,” Lady Tee’s music was as diverse as her inspirations.  If you listen to her catalog, you’ll hear that she placed no limits on herself or her music.  She went where the spirit moved her.  In a career that spanned over 30 years, the progression was astounding.

While Motown was not initially on board with giving Teena Marie complete creative control, they changed their tune after two successful albums produced by Rick James, Wild and Peaceful (1979), and Richard Rudolph, Lady T (1980).  Marie wrote, produced, and arranged her third and fourth studio albums, Irons In The Fire (1980) and It Must Be Magic (1981).  These albums are regarded as some of her best work, and featured the hit singles “I Need Your Lovin'” (her first top 40 hit), “Young Love,” “Square Biz” (one of the first songs to bring hip-hop to the forefront by melding it with contemporary R&B/Soul music), “It Must Be Magic,” and “Portuguese Love.”  Legal disputes with Motown would later hinder Marie from releasing music.  A lawsuit ensued, resulting in the creation of “The Brockert Initiative,” which made it illegal for record labels to withhold releasing music from their artists while still under contract.

Marie would later leave Motown for Epic Records, where she would go on to release five studio albums—Robbery (1983), Starchild (1984), Emerald City (1986), Naked to the World (1988), and Ivory (1990).  It was with Epic that Marie would achieve her greatest commercial and crossover success, with her platinum-selling Starchild album and its lead single “Lovergirl” (#9 R&B/#4 Pop/#6 Dance).  Naked to the World featured her biggest R&B single “Ooh La La La” (#1), a song that would later be sampled on The Fugees’ 1996 hit single “Fu-Gee-La” (from The Score).  Her final Epic release Ivory, featured the R&B hits “If I Were A Bell” (#8) and “Here’s Looking At You” (#11).  

 Image courtesy of Last.fm

In 1994, Marie independently released the fan-favorite Passion Play on her Sarai Records label.  Though she continued to perform, she devoted most of her time to raising her daughter Alia Rose, a singer and songwriter in her own right known as Rose La Beau (featured on Marie’s Sapphire, Congo Square, and Beautiful albums).  It would be 10 years before releasing her next studio album.

Marie later signed with the Cash Money Classics label, and released two stellar albums, 2004’s La Dona and 2006’s Sapphire.  The gold-selling La Dona was her highest charting album on the Billboard 200 (#6), and featured the Grammy-nominated single “Still In Love” (#23 R&B/#70 Pop) and the sultry, Quiet Storm jam “A Rose By Any Other Name,” featuring the late great Gerald Levert (#53 R&B).  Sapphire featured “You Blow Me Away,” a tribute to Rick James, two duets with Smokey Robinson “God Has Created” and “Cruise Control,” a tribute to Hurricane Katrina victims “Resilient (Sapphire),” and the funky, mellow-smooth lead single, “Ooh Wee” (#32 R&B).

Image courtesy of the Soulbounce site.

Marie’s final studio albums 2009’s Congo Square and 2013’s Beautiful (released posthumously) are arguably two of the finest and most accomplished efforts of her career.  Congo Square featured collaborations with George Duke, Howard Hewett, Shirley Murdock, MC Lyte, Faith Evans, and Rose La Beau (to name a few).  When discussing Congo Square in an interview with Blues & Soul magazine, Marie said,

I wanted to do songs that reflected the things that I loved when I was growing up. Every single song on the record is dedicated to someone, or some musical giant that I loved. ‘The Pressure’ is dedicated to Rick James; ‘Can’t Last a Day’ is dedicated to the Gamble & Huff sound – the Philly International sound. Then ‘Baby I Love You’ and ‘Ear Candy’ are dedicated to Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield – with memories of riding down Crenshaw in LA in jeeps and bumping to music on the 808. While ‘Miss Coretta’ is, of course, dedicated to Mrs. Coretta Scott King, the late wife of Martin Luther King. ‘Solder’ is for the soldiers. ‘Congo Square’ is for Congo Square – it’s for the slaves and the great musical geniuses and giants that have come out of new Orleans, and the great Jazz era. And Louis Armstrong…

Beautiful, the album Marie was working on prior to her passing, is everything the its title implies.  It’s practically a perfect artistic depiction of who she was—an amazing woman and mother, and a versatile, passionate, soulful, ever-changing, multi-talented singer, songwriter, musician, arranger, and producer.  She was a musical genius.

Though she didn’t always get the kudos she deserved from the mainstream, Lady Tee will always be regarded by fans, musicians, and contemporary R&B/soul critics alike as one of the best to ever do it.  Here’s to you Teena Marie! The Tee lives on!

   

Related Post:
“Beautiful,” Teena Marie’s Final Album To Be Released 1/15/2013

Influences: Sonia Sanchez – Catch The Fire

Image courtesy of the Black Bird Press News & Review blog.

Where is your fire?  I say where is your fire?
Can’t you smell it coming out of our past?
The fire of living. . . . . . Not dying
The fire of loving. . . . . Not killing
The fire of Blackness. . . Not gangster shadows.
~ Sonia Sanchez, “Catch The Fire” (1997)

Sonia Sanchez is a phenomenal writer, poet, playwright, storyteller, educator and activist. Sanchez, one of the most influential poets of the Black Arts Movement, has written nearly 20 books of poetry and prose. Her poetry is rich with imagery, history, culture and emotion.  Her words have the ability to incite the mind, warm your heart and touch your soul. And she makes it look so easy.

Sanchez doesn’t take the past struggles or the current plight of our people lightly. In her poem “Catch The Fire” (written for Bill Cosby), she honors our ancestors and encourages our youth to find themselves, love themselves, go after their dreams and live up to the promise and passion of their “fire.”

Sonia Sanchez originally published “Catch The Fire” in Wounded in the House of a Friend (1997).  “Catch The Fire” was also featured in (and inspired the title of) Derrick I. M. Gilbert’s Catch The Fire: A Cross-Generational Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry (1998).

For more information about Sonia Sanchez, please go to: www.soniasanchez.net.

Influences: Billie Holiday “Lady Day”

I had to be about 11 or 12 when I discovered the the Original Decca Masters Billie Holiday compilation album. My mother and I were at my grandmother’s house for the weekend. I was on the search for some good music. For this, I could always depend on my grandmother’s collection of cassette tapes, LPs and CDs.  She had music from the 1930s up to present day. Around this time I was really digging jazz. Much to my delight, I came across this Billie Holiday album. I remember my mouth was agape upon seeing the album cover. I was floored by Billie Holiday’s beauty. She had to be one of the most stunning women I’d ever seen. Couldn’t say I’d heard (or remembered hearing) much of her music at the time. So you know I was dying to put the CD in for a spin. I don’t think anything could’ve prepared me for the experience.

Image courtesy of MTV’s website.

The Original Decca Masters album changed my life. After one listening, my whole perspective about music had changed. My appreciation and love for music grew exponentially. As a music fanatic, singer, and lyricist (even then), it widened my interests and expanded my knowledge. After hearing Billie Holiday’s voice I knew why she was considered one of the best vocalists ever. The timbre of her voice, the way she’d bend notes and sing behind the beat, her sense of rhythm, swing, timing and phrasing–she had it all (and then some). In her voice I could hear the influences of her favorite singers, Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong and Bessie Smith. Yet her style was extraordinarily distinct. From her (and a few other vocalists), I learned how to truly get inside of a song and make it believable. With Billie Holiday, there was no doubt that she knew what she was singing about. She felt it. And you, as a listener, couldn’t help but feel it too.

Image courtesy of the More Than Just Wine blog.

In remembering Billie Holiday and her voice, singer Annie Ross said, “There’s a whole life in that voice.” Listen to songs like “Solitude,” “You’re My Thrill,” “Good Bless The Child,” “Keeps On Rainin’,” “Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do,” “Lover Man (Where Can He Be),” and “Good Morning Heartache” and that life unveils itself. In fact, you’ll be able to glean something new and different each time you listen to her music. This is why Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan (amongst others) remain the blueprint for song (of any genre), period.

Image courtesy of A Liberal’s Libretto site.

After hearing the Original Decca Masters album, I devoured as much as I could about Billie Holiday. Books, documentaries, videos, music, you name it. She was one of the best and I committed myself to learning as much about her as I could. I thought it sad her passing so early. But the richness of the legacy she left behind is eternal. Her influence is limitless, boundless. Billie Holiday will forever be one of my favorite vocalists.