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)

I’ll Be Reading at the DC Metro Scholastic Writing Awards – 3/11/2014

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It’s with great happiness that I announce I’ve been selected to read a few works by this year’s American Voice Nominees at the 2014 DC Metro Scholastic Writing Awards!  Performing, giving back, and highlighting some of the Greater Washington Area’s up-and-coming writers—does it get any better than that?

Each year, students in grades 7-12 are encouraged to participate in the The Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.  Almost 200,000 students enter their art and writing “for review by panels of art and writing professionals, and compete for recognition, scholarships, and publication opportunities” (Writopia Lab | Scholastic Writing Awards).  2.5 million students have been awarded over $25 million in cash awards and scholarships since 1923.  Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards Alumni include Sylvia Plath, Truman Capote, Robert Redford, Joyce Carol Oates, and Zac Posen.

Writopia Lab was selected by the Alliance of Young Artists and Writers to serve as the Scholastic Writing Awards Regional Affiliate in the Greater Washington Area.  The Scholastic Writing Awards serve as not only a celebration, but also a platform for students to creatively express themselves with their budding talents.

The Scholastic Writing Awards will be held: March 11, 2014 | 6:30PM to 8:30PM | Artisphere’s Spectrum Theater | 1611 N. Kent Street Arlington, VA 22209.  The event is open to the public.  If you’re in the area, please come celebrate the brilliant talents of some of the DC-Area’s most promising teen writers.

Congrats to all of the nominees and winners!

Until next time… Peace, Love, and Many Blessings, BuddahDesmond

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.

Our Love Continues to Grow for Swing Out Sister

Image courtesy of Quest Music.

I appreciate my family for instilling such a deep love and respect for music.  Our taste in music is os a wide-ranging and eclectic.  We listen to everything.  One group that my family has loved for nearly 30 years is Swing Out Sister

It was 1987 when we found ourselves transfixed with Swing Out Sister’s first two singles “Breakout” and “Twilight World,” from their debut album It’s Better To Travel.  I was 5 at the time.  We became diehards overnight.  We played It’s Better To Travel so much the CD started to skip incessantly (much to our chagrin).  If it wasn’t for the CD cleaner, that album would not have made it into the 90s and beyond.

In July, we had the chance to see Swing Out Sister play to a sold-out audience at The Birchmere in Alexandria, VA.  It was a night that we will cherish forever.  Here in the U.S., fans have been waiting for a Swing Out Sister tour for quite some time.  The North American dates for their 2010 tour were canceled due to the eruption of an Icelandic volcano.  As a result, which flights were grounded for several weeks throughout Europe.  Luckily, nothing could keep Swing Out Sister away from their fans any longer.

 Image courtesy of Band On The Wall.

Swing Out Sister is the kind of musical ensemble that sound superb in the studio, but even more live.  The presentation, energy, and musicianship is astounding.  Their musical arrangements are some of the best you’ll here anywhere.  Because they continually reinterpret their hits, their music has a refreshing, ingenious quality.  Within these reinterpretations you hear many of Swing Out Sister’s influencesthe sounds of Motown, Burt Bacharach, Phil Spector, Donny Hathaway, Donald Byrd, The 5th Dimension, and The Delfonics (amongst others).  Sometimes they’ll weave the melodies of some of their influences’ songs into their own tunes.  The result is a sweet, lush melding of Pop, R&B/Soul, Jazz, Latin, and Funk.  Some might call it Sophisticated Pop.  It’s familiar yet very unique.  

Corinne Drewery, the lead singer/songwriter, looked and sounded flawless.  Her voice is like velvet, warm and seductive.  She remains one of the most stylish women in the industry.  Andy Connell, pianist/keyboardist/songwriter and the Swing Out Sister band played to the hilt.  They played selections from just about every album in their catalog, with hits and fan favorites such as: “Incomplete Without You,” “Notgonnachange,” “You On My Mind,” “La La Means I Love You,” “Stone Soul Picnic,” “Am I The Same Girl,” “Everyday Crime,” “Breakout” and “Twilight World.”  

Image courtesy of NY Daily News.

Swing Out Sister took us to a musical wonderland, somewhere deep in the night.  And we didn’t want the night to end.  Much like their song “Love Won’t Let You Down,” Swing Out Sister won’t let you down either. 

Happy Birthday Maysa!

Maysa has been a musical fixture in my family since the early 90s.  Growing up I remember many weekends waking to the sounds of Incognito and Maysa’s solo music.  Nothing beats waking up to music, especially when it nurtures your soul.  Songs like “Deep Water,” “Still A Friend Of Mine,” “What About Our Love,” “Sexy,” “All My Life,” “Got To Be Strong,” “Center Of The Sun,” “J.F.S,” and “Shade Of Blue” have a special place in heart because they represent a time when music became such a strong force in my life.  Come to think of it, Maysa’s music has been nurturing my soul for 20 years now.  There’s something about it that just enraptures you immediately.  And her voice, instantly recognizable, takes you away. 

Maysa’s most recent release, “Blue Velvet Soul” is her tenth solo album and is a perfect description of her music.  Her music is smooth yet powerful, soulful, lush, hypnotic, ethereal, and eclectic.  There’s a warmth and intensity to it that keeps you in sync, yearning for more.  Maysa’s voice, a beautiful, distinctive instrument, is much the same.  She’s a singer’s singer and one of the best in the industry today.  She, like Nancy Wilson, Angela Bofill, and Phyllis Hyman, is a uniquely gifted song stylist and interpreter.  She’s able to use music to connect with her audience on a much deeper level.  There’s an endless love of her art that flows through her music.  You cannot help but be touched by it, especially when you experience her live.

Maysa realizes the power of music and the role she plays as a singer-songwriter-producer.  She says, “I am a storyteller, a counselor and a friend that helps others through the good times and bad through my music. It’s important for me to connect with the audience because it’s my God given job.”  And she does it, effortlessly, with each album and every performance.  Every ounce of her heart and soul goes into her music.  There’s nothing phony or contrived about it.  It’s honest, authentic music.  And it’s a testament to her 20+ years in the industry and the love and loyalty of her fans and peers.  

Happy Birthday Maysa!  May there be many more years of life, love, prosperity, and enchanting music!  We thank you for blessing us for so many years with your amazing gifts.  Here’s to you! 

Happy 20th Anniversary to ‘janet.’

Like a moth to a flame/Burned by the fire/My love is blind/Can’t you see my desire?/That’s the way love goes. ~ Janet Jackson, “That’s The Way Love Goes,” janet. (1993)

May 18, 2013 marked 20 years since the release of Janet Jackson’s fifth studio album, janet.  janet. was a departure in sound and style when compared to Control (1986) and Rhythm Nation 1814 (1989).  The album unveiled a different side of Jackson—her sensual side.  Songs from her aforementioned efforts like “Funny How Times Flies (When You’re Having Fun)” and “Someday Is Tonight” provided mere glimpses of what would later be uncovered with janet.  

janet. stands as a declaration of Jackson taking even greater control of the direction of her music and career, composing and co-producing (with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis) the majority of the music on the album.  If it wasn’t clear before, janet. proved Jackson to be a distinctive, innovative, and monumental force that had come out quite far from the shadow of her family’s fame.  With the removal of her last name, she (continued) to command respect on her own merits.  At the time of the album’s release, Jackson was well on her way to carving her own niche—one that continues to inspire and influence fans and artists alike to this very day.

Jackson’s albums are musical snapshots of specific periods in her life.  janet. represents Jackson’s exploration of her softer, sensual side and the confidence which comes from embracing all facets of ourselves and honoring who we truly are (inside and out).  It’s genuine.  It’s real.  It doesn’t comes off as contrived or pretentious.  You feel Ms. Jackson opening up in ways never heard before (“Anytime, Anyplace,” “The Body That Loves You,” “If,” “You Want This,” and “Throb”).  Aside from sensuality and intimacy, janet. delved deeply into relationships, the ups and downs of love (“Because Of Love,” “Where Are You Now,” “Again,” and “This Time” featuring Kathleen Battle), and the impact of racism and sexism (“New Agenda” featuring Chuck D of Public Enemy).  

Vocally, Jackson delivered some of her most confident, sweet, sexy, and soulful vocals yet.  The songs, expertly paced, run the gamut from R&B/Soul, Funk, Pop, Jazz, Hip-Hop, Opera, and Rock.  janet. is an album that you can play straight through, uninterrupted.  Even at 75+ minutes, it never gets tiring or boring.  After 20 years, it’s safe to say janet. has aged quite well.   

Jackson, Jam, and Lewis easily produced one of the best and most eclectic albums of the 90s (or ever in my book).  janet. has sold over 7 millions copies in the States and over 20 million copies worldwide.  It remains one of her best-selling albums and one of the best selling R&B albums of the SoundScan era.  The album produced 6 Top Ten singles on the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles charts, “That’s The Way Love Goes” (#1 Pop/#1 R&B), “If” (#4 Pop/#3 R&B), “Again” (#1 Pop/#7 R&B), “Because Of Love” (#10 Pop/#9 R&B), “Anytime, Anyplace” (#2 Pop/#1 R&B), and “You Want This” (#8 Pop/#9 R&B).  

Musically, thematically, and visually, janet. took Jackson to even greater creative heights and laid the blueprint that many artists would follow soon after.  (Jackson would blow critics, fans, and artists minds alike again in 1997 with the release of The Velvet Rope).
  
Happy 20th anniversary to janet.  We thank you (again), Ms. Jackson, for this masterpiece.

Related Posts:
80’s Albums That Changed My Life
Day 48: Black Music Month – Janet Jackson 
All 4 Janet.

Learning to Breathe: An Evening with Terry McMillan

Image courtesy of USA Today.

Too many of us are hung up on what we don’t have, can’t have, or won’t ever have. We spend too much energy being down, when we could use that same energy – if not less of it – doing, or at least trying to do, some of the things we really want to do. ~ Terry McMillan, Disappearing Acts (1989)
On April 20, 2013, my partner and I attended “Learning To Breathe: An Evening with Terry McMillan.”  The event, presented in partnership with the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, was part of the PEN/Faulkner 2012/2013 Reading Series.  Moderated by writer, professor, and PEN/Faulkner board member Lisa Page, this event offered readers the chance to exchange in conversation with one of the most creative, thought-provoking, and inspiring literary minds of time.  

“Learning To Breathe” was divided into three partsreading, interview, and Q&A.  During the reading, McMillan read a selection from her upcoming novel Who Asked You?  With an anticipated release date some time in fall 2013, the novel will be told from the perspective of 15 characters in first-person.  Who Asked You? is full of wit, realism, and social commentarytold in McMillan’s signature style.

One of the key aspects of McMillan’s work has been admitting or getting to a truth.  She has a knack for using self-realization, self-discovery, and humor to help her characters get to their truth.  The common belief is that we have to go through something or be down-and-out in order to get to our truth.  McMillan dissuaded this notion saying, “You don’t always have to be depressed to admit a truth.”  

McMillan has said, “Writing is a form of praying on paper.”  It provides us with a way to really understand who we are, what makes us tick, and what we care about.  She shared that she wants us all to be happy and “sickening in love… be assets and not liabilities… be happy about who we are…[be] forgiving…”  Her critically acclaimed and award-winning novels like Mama, Disappearing Acts, Waiting to Exhale, and A Day Late And A Dollar Short are evident of this.  In addition, McMillan’s writing has afforded her (and her readers) greater empathy, compassion, and a better understanding of people she might not have in real life.

When asked about how she develops her characters, McMillan said you not only have to listen to how people talk but you also have to get outside of yourself in order to authentically tell someone else’s story.  “You have to get lost in someone else’s skin,” she says.  “Because otherwise it’s phony.”  For every story she’s written, she knows every single detail about her characters.  Even if the details don’t make it into the book, it illustrates the point about knowing who (and what) you’re writing about.  This, I’m sure, is how and why the characters always speak to you when in the midst of writing projects (as McMillan and so many other writers have noted).

As far as her process, McMillan never writes more than one chapter a day.  A work day for her can vary from two hours to eight or more hours.  But she admits that she’s quite spent when she’s finished writing for the day.  For chapters that are emotionally taxing, she may take a break and continue writing them the next day.  McMillan emphasized that no matter what you do, you must “find your own rhythm.”

McMillan also imparted her insights on the ever-changing publishing industry and provided some advice to aspiring authors.  She said the industry is racist and sexist, to some extent.  And that it is particularly harder for new authors to get contracts, especially for African American authors.  When McMillan’s best-selling book Waiting To Exhale was released in 1992, the publishing world was turned upside down by the mere fact that so many black people were reading and buying books (in droves).  If you looked at the press, you would think a new renaissance had started (when really it was nothing new).  I was only 10 years old at the time, and like McMillan, I too was insulted because the implication was that black people did not read (let alone write) and that we didn’t buy books.  The reality is that the publishing industry had ignored some of their largest book buying demographics.  To take advantage reap the benefits of this, the industry started beefing up promotion and doling out large advances to several black writers at the time.  Many of these writers were pummeled with accolades and kudos that were well beyond anyone’s expectations.  And sadly, you don’t hear about many of them today.

Fast-forward years later to the impact of a fledgling economy, and the infiltration of Corporate America into every facet of our lives, and we understand why it’s so hard for writers to get contracts.  And if you do get a contract, forget about book tours.  The chances of your publishing company setting up book tours are slim-to-none.  McMillan said she is quite fortunate to be able to live off of the royalties from her book sales, but she acknowledges that she, too, could be standing in the welfare line at any moment.  Her advice to aspiring writers: do not get discouraged and do not quit your day job. 

The next time McMillan is in town, I highly advise checking her out.  You won’t regret it.  

To learn more about Terry McMillan, go to her official website: http://www.terrymcmillan.com/.

Bibliography:
Mama (1987)
Disappearing Acts (1989)
Breaking Ice: An Anthology of Contemporary American Fiction (1990)
Waiting To Exhale (1992)
How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1996)
A Day Late And A Dollar Short (2001)
The Interruption of Everything (2005)
It’s Okay If You’re Clueless: And 23 More Tips For The College Bound (2006)
Getting To Happy (2010)

Gil Scott-Heron, More than the Godfather of Hip-Hop

Image courtesy of The Second Act site.
Tell me/Who’ll pay reparations on my soul?/Who’ll pay reparations/‘Cause I don’t dig segregation/but I can’t get integration/I got to take it to the United Nations/Someone to help me away from this nation/Tell me/Who’ll pay reparations on my soul? ~ Gil Scott-Heron, “Who‘ll Pay Reparations For My Soul?,” Small Talk at 125th and Lenox (1970)
Gil Scott-Heron, famed author, poet, and musician, would’ve turned 64 on April 1, 2013.  I discovered his works when I was a teenager.  Scott-Heron opened my eyes (and ears) to new ways of combining powerful, revolutionary words with jazz, blues, and soul music.  A self-described “Blues-ologist,” Scott-Heron’s artistry carried on in the African American literary and musical traditions that preceded him.  

Image courtesy of The Guardian.

Scott-Heron’s legacy is often reduced to him being the Godfather of Hip-Hop/Rap, but there is so much more to him and his literary and musical contributions than that.  His work, ever culturally, socially, and politically conscious, served as honest, thought-provoking reflections of the times.  In one of the most astute profiles of Gil Scott-Heron,”The Devil and Gil Scott-Heron,” Mark Anthony Neal says,

For all of our memories of Scott-Heron’s political impact, his music covered a full gamut of experiences. A track like “Lady Day and Coltrane” paid tribute to Black musical traditions, while songs like “A Very Precious Time” and “Your Daddy Loves You” found Scott-Heron thinking about issues of intimacy. Well before proto-Harlem Renaissance writer Jean Toomer would be recovered by scholar and critics, Scott-Heron set Toomer’s Cane to music. Even as young activists make the connection between Black life and environmental racism, Scott-Heron offered his take on the plaintive “We Almost Lost Detroit.”  

His work represented for his/our people.  It evoked the sentiments and oft-underrepresented (or unheard) perspectives of his/our people.  And like Stevie Wonder (one of his idols), Marvin Gaye, and Donny Hathaway, Scott-Heron’s work proved that you could still reach the people the with music of substance and contemporary relevance.

So here’s to you Gil Scott-Heron! The revolution goes on! 

Discography (studio albums):
Small Talk at 125th and Lenox (1970), Pieces of a Man (1971), Free Will (1972), Winter in America (1974), The First Minute of a New Day (1975), From South Africa to South Carolina (1976), It’s Your World (1976), Bridges (1977), Secrets (1978), 1980 (1980), Real Eyes (1980), Reflections (1981), Moving Target (1982), Spirits (1994), I’m New Here (2010)

Bibliography:
The Vulture (1970), Small Talk at 125th and Lenox (1970), The Nigger Factory (1972), So Far, So Good (1990), Now and Then: The Poems of Gil Scott-Heron, The Last Holiday (2012)

Chaka Khan, A Birthday Tribute to the Queen of Funk-Soul

Image courtesy of Centric.
They tell me I’ve loved Chaka Khan since I was a baby.  Whenever her music was played, I’d apparently get excited, get up in my crib and start dancing.  Even then I was enchanted by this fiery, bold as love, soul sista.  As I got older, my love, respect, and admiration for her and her talent only grew.  She is and will always be one of my all-time favorite singers.   
Through the fire, to the limit, to the wall/For a chance to be with you/I’d gladly risk it all/Through the fire/Through whatever, come what may/For a chance at loving you/I’d take it all the way/Right down to the wire/Even through the fire ~ Chaka Khan, “Through The Fire,” I Feel For You (1984)
I’ll never forget the first time I got to see Chaka Khan live.  It was late November 2011 at The Birchmere in VA.  I was with my partner, mother, and grandmother.  And was it an experience!  While I knew Chaka would bring it like no other, I had no idea the show would impact so deeply.  Within the first few minutes, I was in tears.  Entranced.  Enraptured.  Captivated.  Spellbound.  I was emotionally and spiritually overwhelmed.  Here I was, sitting in the audience being serenaded by someone who I loved all my life.  Her soulful wail pierced my core and I was rendered helpless.  I surrendered to the Queen of Funk-Soul.

Chaka took us on a musical journey, singing a wondrous selection of her greatest hits and covers of tunes by some of her favorite artists.  The concert was as eclectic and vast as her rich catalog.  She sounded and looked better than ever.  It was quite clear to me that Chaka could put many of her peers (past, present, and future) to shame after this concert.  I didn’t want it end (and neither did anyone else).  It was musical bliss.  We could’ve easily spent the rest of the night calling Chaka and her band back for more encores.  But that’s what dreams are made of, right? 

Make my journey, make it short in space/Let me lose this hardness that I got now, Lord/Water, wash away all traces of hate/I will do what you say/If you just show me how, river/…Roll me through the rushes like Moses/Roll me through the rushes/Just like Moses on the Nile ~ Chaka Khan, “Roll Me Through The Rushes,” Chaka (1978)

2013 marks two major milestones for Chaka Khan:  her 60th birthday (March 23, 2013) and 40 years in the entertainment industry.  Chaka will be unveiling a series of projects to commemorate these milestones.  Following the release of the March 16th “Stars Tribute” issue of Billboard Magazine, Chaka launched the 100 Days of Chaka campaign.  Introduced via an Augmented Reality app, the 100 Day of Chaka campaign “marks the 100 days from her birthday (March 23) to the anniversary of the release of her first recorded album with Rufus, Rufus (July 1, 1973) 40 years ago. This timeline will highlight daily, a series of historic moments in Chaka’s career, mixed with celebratory current events.  The 100 Days of Chaka culminates with the release of The iKhan Project: Alive! The Commemorative Edition, in stores July 2″ (Soul Talkin’ With Chaka).  

Later this year, Chaka will release The iKhan Project: Jazz, an album produced by renowned musician and composer Robert Glasper.  Fans can also look out for the I’m Every Woman Tour; television specials; an updated version of Through The Fire, Chaka’s memoir; the relaunch of www.chakakhan.com; the relaunch of Chakalates, her signature gourmet chocolates; the launch of her Khana Sutra candles, and much, much more.  I must say, 2013 is gearing up to be a celebration fit for a legend!  Chaka deserves every moment of it (and then some).

A mama’s cryin’/’Cause another young man has gone and died/He’s not some statistic/He’s another awesome destiny denied/So I’ve got to stand tall/I’m gonna live a super life/For the rest of my life/I’m gonna live a super life/Super life, super life, yeah ~ Chaka Khan, “Super Life,” Funk This (2007)

Happy Birthday and Happy Anniversary, Chaka Khan!  Thank you for sharing your spirit and your boundless gifts with us.  We will forever be moved.  Here’s to a fabulous 2013 and beyond! 

 
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Day 47: Black Music Month – Chaka Khan