Thinking of Aretha

Thinking of Aretha

by Bob Herbert

Nineteen sixty-seven was a tough year in many respects — riots, protests, an unwinnable war — but I can’t think of it without thinking of the glory of Aretha Franklin, a woman in her mid-20s, introverted and somewhat shy, who sang soul and rock ’n’ roll with the power and beauty of a heavenly choir.

Newark and Detroit went up in flames in 1967, and neither city was ever to recover. Muhammad Ali, a perfect physical specimen in his absolute athletic prime, was convicted of dodging the draft and stripped of his world heavyweight championship. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. endured a hurricane of criticism when he came out publicly against the war in Vietnam and called the United States government “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.”

If you were lucky, you could close the door on the din, at least for a little while, and reach for the record album with the head and shoulder shot of Aretha positioned at a precarious angle on the cover. The album was called “I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You,” and if you listened closely, if you paid attention, it would just thrill you, take you to a place of exquisite human feeling. A region of laughter and tears. Of love and joyous possibilities.

Continue reading @ The New York Times


DADT Repeal

Black Women Win in Repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’
by Jamilah King

It’s official: President Obama signed a repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on Wednesday morning. The move marks an end to the 17-year-old Clinton-era policy that’s kept thousands of gay and lesbian soliders to stay in the closet or risk being discharged from the military once their sexuality came to light. It’s especially welcome news for soldiers of color, who were already disproportionately impacted by the policy.

Continue Reading @ Colorlines
Photo Credit:
Corporal Evelyn Thomas 13WHAM

10 for 2010

10 Colored Girls Who Deserve Mad Props in 2010:

1. Aretha Franklin – 1 word, 7 letters:
Since the Queen of Soul has been ill lately, I want to take this time to honor her and her golden voice. She is truly legendary.

2. Shirley Sherrod – The forced resignation of this worker for justice was one of the low points of 2010. Ms. Sherrod handled libel and racism with dignity and strength. I look forward to witnessing her further development as a spokesperson for poor and underrepresented Americans.

3. Michelle Obama – Every first lady takes on a social platform and Ms. Obama has chosen childhood obesity. Despite attacks from the Right, Ms. O’s work has not been in vain. The President just passed a child nutrition bill to ban greasy food and sugary soft drinks from schools.

4. Beverly Bond – for empowering black girls through the arts and letting the world know unequivocally that Black Girls Rock!

5. Ntozake Shangefor colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf is on The New York Times bestseller list. While the film by the director who shall not be named was a failure in my opinion, the publicity surrounding it got more people to read Shange’s classic choreopoem. Shange and her sister Ifa Bayeza also published an epic novel this year Some Sing, Some Cry.

6. Willow Smith – for releasing one of the most infectious and black-girl-self affirming singles this year and for being so darn cool! Whip it Willow!

7. Viola Davis – for taking home a Tony for Fences and being a true master of her craft.

8. Oprah Winfrey – OWN! After over two decades at the helm of the Oprah Winfrey Show, Oprah is set to launch her own network. Journalist, philanthropist, author, publisher … Oprah indeed has her own.

9. Janelle Monae – For releasing one of the best albums of 2010 and maintaining her funky individuality.

10. Tanya Hamilton – The debut filmmaker of Night Catches Us was the only black woman to have a film at Sundance this year. Here’s hoping that the critical acclaim Night is receiving means we’ll see more from this brilliant storyteller.

divas of dance

Modern-Dance History Times Five, With Plenty of Theatricality
by Roslyn Sulcas

NEWARK — It’s slightly astonishing that “Fly: Five First Ladies of Dance” hasn’t had a longer season in the New York precincts since its premiere at the Kumble Theater in Brooklyn in May of last year. The women of the title are Germaine Acogny, Carmen de Lavallade, Dianne McIntyre, Bebe Miller and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, all contemporary-dance royalty who direct
schools and companies. Seeing them on a program together is like going to a female, modern-dance version of those all-star ballet gatherings like “Kings of the Dance.” Only interesting.

Part of that interest is that “Fly” is a record of black women in dance over the last several decades. The women range in age from almost 60 to almost 80, and while their solos are mostly new, their dance styles, vocabularies and histories are resonant in every onstage gesture.

Continue Reading @ The New York Times

Photo Credit: Victor Jouvert

dreaming a world

A New World for Black Men and Boys by 2025
by Rhonda Tsoi-A-Fatt

“A world I dream where black or white, whatever race you be, will share the bounties of the earth and every man is free…”

When Langston Hughes penned these words in 1926, I am certain he didn’t envision that 84 years later, the dream would remain unrealized. But here we sit at the dawn of 2011 a nation divided… a nation weakened because black males not able to participate fully in the American dream.

The conversation about the conditions of black males in America is not a new one. Noted scholars and corner philosophers alike have a lot to say about the black male predicament — who they are, how they got there, and why they seem to remain. Most often, the stories that make it to mainstream media paint a grim picture and offer little room for hope or imagining a better day. But I, like Langston, dream of a different world — a world where our black men are healthy and whole. The distance between those two worlds does not have to be as far as we think.

Continue reading @ The Grio

*Am I alone in hoping this vision also entails addressing the issues of black girls and women?

night catches us

Director and writer Tanya Hamilton’s Night Catches Us is in theaters this weekend. The film, starring Anthony Mackie and Kerry Washington, is set in 1976 Philadelphia in the aftermath of the black power movement.

Check out reviews of the film @ NPR, NY Times, and TheRoot.

Hamilton also tells the NY Times about her inspiration for the film here.
A lengthier interview with the director is posted below c/o Reelblack:

Nicki Minaj’s Pink Friday and "Barbie Feminism"

Rapper Nicki Minaj burst onto the male-dominated hip hop scene and signed to Lil’ Wayne’s Young Money records after winning the 2008 Female Artist of the Year Underground Music Award. Her lyrical skill placed her on par with her male peers. Her constant reinventions in Wonder Woman and Harajuku Barbie costumes and through various accented lyrical personas caused The New York Times to dub her the “Cindy Sherman of rap.” Her raunchy, playful, and sex-positive lyrics and image gained her a throng of girl fans (who she calls her Barbies) and won her accolades from some feminists and a lot of gay boys. A September 2010 issue of Out magazine with Minaj on the cover predicted that Minaj’s first album would not only qualify her as “the “baddest bitch,” she would be “a bona fide phenomenon.”

Nicki Minaj’s much anticipated Pink Friday just dropped on November 22, but even prior to her debut album, the twenty-five year old Lil’ Kim-Lady Gaga mash-up released a number of critically acclaimed mixtapes, collaborated with Kanye West, Mariah Carey, and Usher, among other coveted artists, and boasted seven simultaneous hits on the Billboard Top 100 chart. The first female hip hop artist to get a number 1 hit on Billboard since 2003, Minaj easily won this year’s BET Best Female Hip Hop Artist Award. As the title of her recent MTV documentary confirms, “It’s [Her] Turn Now.”

Predicted to be a game-changer for women in hip hop, Pink Friday is more of an indication of the changes that have already happened in the mainstream rap industry: high profile collabos, electronic beats, auto-tuned vocals, and at least one “no-homo” disclaimer (made by Eminem). Minaj displays her lyrical prowess best on “Blazin” with Kanye West and “Roman’s Revenge,” a high-powered track with Eminem where Minaj disses a “has-been” rapper rumored to be Lil’ Kim. Echoing her predecessor-turned-nemesis Lil’ Kim, Minaj boasts:

I’m a bad bitch

I’m a cunt

And I’ll kick that ho, punt

Force trauma, blunt

You play the back, bitch I’m in the front.

“Roman’s Revenge” demonstrates that unfettered rawness reminiscent of Minaj’s climactic verse on Kanye West’s “Monster” and of the mixtape “Beam Me Up Scotty,” which made Minaj a major player in the masculinist rap game. Few tracks on Pink Friday feature the quick spitting lyrics and the ability to weave in and out of various personas that make Minaj interesting. Instead, Pink is composed of mostly rap ballads like her second single “Your Love,” which samples Annie Lenox’s “No More ‘I Love Yous,’” and her latest “Right Thru Me.” “You see right through me/How do you do that shit?” she croons in a syrupy chorus between rapped verses set to an ambient electronic beat.

Minaj says the shift from hard to soft was deliberate, telling Billboard, “mixtapes were saying I can rap and the album is saying I can make a song – that’s a big difference.” Judy Berman wonders if Minaj’s hip-pop angle has more to do with the difficulty of marketing female MCs in the hip hop industry than it does with an aesthetic choice. To be sure, Rihanna sells more records than M.I.A. And highly skilled women MCs like Jean Grae and Psalm One rule the underground but refuse to heed the command to “sex up or shut up” that greets women who dare run with the boys in mainstream hip hop. Minaj tempers her vocal dexterity by flaunting her sexual assets and appealing to the male gaze, especially those who hope her hinted-at bisexuality might land them a ménage with Minaj, but Nicki seems to be more thespian than lesbian.

Minaj claims in interviews to rep for the ladies, something she reaffirms in her confessional opening track “I’m the Best,” “I’m fighting for the girls/that never thought they could win.” Her (Harajuku) Black Barbie antics, however, have some feminists charging her with Orientalism and others claiming Minaj’s defiant mantra, “It’s Barbie, Bitch!” as an act of subversive yet playful feminism. Barbie’s plasticity may be the perfect metaphor for a performer who molds herself into as many identities as Minaj does. Mutability can be an empowering form of self-fashioning if the molder is the artist herself. As Erica Rand notes in Barbie’s Queer Accessories, “Barbie suggests that roles are only as fixed as costumes.” Minaj has a lot of costumes, but do her theatrics subvert hip hop’s gender roles or reinforce them?