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Bay Area African American Women in Music: Sista Monica Saw No Contradiction in Blues and Gospel

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The late vocalist Sista Monica Parker was blessed with an uncanny power to move people. She could bring audiences to tears, whether belting the blues on nightclub and festival stages or wailing gospel songs in church.

 

Parker was inspired to become an entertainer in 1990 after seeing rising rapper M.C. Hammer – then her neighbor in a Fremont apartment complex – on “The Arsenio Hall Show.”

 

“I said to myself,” she recalled, “‘If he can do it, I can do it.’”

 

The onetime Marine Corps recruiter spent much of her last 27 years on the phone, however, as a corporate headhunter convincing software and web developers to fill jobs at firms such as Hewlett Packard, Apple, Yahoo and Amazon.

 

“I can persuade people to do things on the telephone that I can’t in an e-mail,” Parker told this writer two months prior to succumbing to lung cancer on October 9 of last year at 58. “They can hear my voice inflections and some authority in there, and suggestions and advice.”

 

Parker traced her powers of persuasion to two summers she spent at 12 and 13 years old as the first “Popsicle girl” in her native Gary, Indiana, with Tastee’s Popsicles.

 

“That was the first time I had the opportunity to be a salesperson,” she said. “I learned how to sell and convince people to do things.”

 

Parker, who began singing in church at age 7, always ended her blues shows with a gospel song. She formed a blues band and played her first gig in 1992 in Santa Cruz.

 

She developed an affinity for blues after attending the Chicago Blues Festival and found no contradiction in mixing the two idioms.

 

“Blues has some of the same rhythms and chord changes that gospel does,” she explained. “There’s a lot of truth in both blues and gospel. That’s why I write both. Maya Angelou said, ‘People don’t think about what you say; they think about how you make them feel.’ I would like to make people feel uplifted and hopeful.”

 

Parker subsequently issued 11 CDs on her own Mo Muscle record label – nine of them blues and soul, two gospel.

 

“The different emotions she would take an audience through during a performance – from happiness to sadness – were just really wonderful,” said Leon Joyce Jr., her drummer for three years, shortly after Parker passed.

 

Parker announced her illness on Facebook several days before her final performance at Yoshi’s on September 2. With the aid of an oxygen tank, she performed for a packed audience of friends, family and fans. There was hardly a dry eye in the house by the time the show was over.

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Art

Richmond Art Center Announces Trio of Winter Exhibitions

Community members can check out Art of the African Diaspora Jan. 18 through March 18 in the RAC’s Main Gallery, with the opening reception being held Saturday, Jan. 21 from 2 – 4 p.m. The exhibition will spotlight the work of more than 120 artists of African descent “through representation, professional development and building a creative community,” per the RAC.

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The Remembrance Project (left). Caption 2: Amanda Ayala Ancestor Wheel 2020 (center). Fulfillment by Cynthia Brannvall, 2021 (right). Images courtesy of the Richmond Art Center.
The Remembrance Project (left). Caption 2: Amanda Ayala Ancestor Wheel 2020 (center). Fulfillment by Cynthia Brannvall, 2021 (right). Images courtesy of the Richmond Art Center.

 

By Kathy Chouteau | Richmond Standard

The Richmond Art Center (RAC) has announced its lineup of three winter exhibitions, including Art of the African DiasporaConnected Always and The Remembrance Project, on display at its galleries Jan. 18 through March 18, 2023.

Community members can check out Art of the African Diaspora Jan. 18 through March 18 in the RAC’s Main Gallery, with the opening reception being held Saturday, Jan. 21 from 2 – 4 p.m. The exhibition will spotlight the work of more than 120 artists of African descent “through representation, professional development and building a creative community,” per the RAC.

Artists Derrick Bell, Cynthia Brannvall, and Pryce Jones will be featured in the exhibition and community members can find the Art of the African Diaspora print catalog at the center for info about open studios and satellite exhibitions off-shooting from the RAC event. Learn more about the exhibition https://richmondartcenter.org/exhibitions/art-of-the-african-diaspora-2023

Amanda Ayala’s exhibition, Connected Always, will take place in the RAC’s South Gallery Jan. 20 through March 11, 2023. An opening reception is set for Saturday, Jan. 21 from 2 – 4 p.m., while a free Ancestor Wheel Workshop and artist talk open to everyone will be held by the artist Saturday, Feb. 18, 12 – 2 p.m.

Connected Always will see Ayala — who identifies as a Xicana indigenous visual artist — explore our ancestral connections through her latest works. The interdisciplinary Santa Rosa artist runs workshops “that combine artist liberation and social justice for people of all ages,” per the RAC, and will have one as part of her continuing Ancestor Wheel project during her RAC exhibition. Find out more about Ayala’s exhibition at: https://richmondartcenter.org/exhibitions/connected-always/.

The third winter exhibition, The Remembrance Project, will be shown in the Community Gallery Jan. 18 to March 18, with the opening reception being hosted Saturday, Jan. 21 from 2 – 4 p.m. The Remembrance Project Workshop will be held Saturday, Jan. 28 from 2-4 p.m. and a book talk with Sara Trail will happen on Saturday, March 4, from 1-2:30 p.m.

The Remembrance Project is not only “a cloth memorial of activist art banners commemorating the many people who have lost their lives to systems of inequity and racist structures,” per the RAC, but also two special events for community members — the aforementioned workshop and book talk.

The Social Justice Sewing Academy is presenting the cloth memorial, which has been created by volunteers nationwide “to help educate and inform communities about the human impact of systemic violence,” said the RAC.

The community can coalesce with others fighting for social justice and remember those lost to violence, while also learning about the academy’s work, through two related special events. A workshop on Saturday, Jan. 28 will blend craft, art and activism, while the founder of the academy, Sara Trail, will give a talk and book signing of her work Stitching Stolen Lives on Saturday, March 4. The events are free and available to community members of all ages. Learn more about The Remembrance Project at https://richmondartcenter.org/exhibitions/the-remembrance-project

The RAC is located at 2540 Barrett Ave. in Richmond. Gallery hours are Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; the exhibitions and events are free and open to the community.

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Activism

What Took So Long? Statue of Henrietta Lacks Will Replace Robert E. Lee Monument

In a video of a December 19 press conference posted on the city’s Facebook page, it was announced that a statue honoring Henrietta Lacks will be unveiled in fall of 2023 in the very place that once held a monument dedicated to Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The new statue’s permanent home, which was once named Lee Plaza, was renamed Lacks Plaza in Henrietta’s honor.

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Henrietta Lacks / City of Roanoke Facebook page.
Henrietta Lacks / City of Roanoke Facebook page.

The Black woman whose cells have helped advance medical research will be honored in her hometown

By Angela Johnson

The city of Roanoke, Va., is honoring a Black woman who made tremendous contributions to modern medical research without her knowledge or consent.

In a video of a December 19 press conference posted on the city’s Facebook page, it was announced that a statue honoring Henrietta Lacks will be unveiled in fall of 2023 in the very place that once held a monument dedicated to Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

The new statue’s permanent home, which was once named Lee Plaza, was renamed Lacks Plaza in Henrietta’s honor.

Civil Rights attorney Ben Crump, who was on hand for the press conference, said the new Lacks statue is a step toward healing some of the racial divisions of the past. “In the past, we commemorated a lot of men with statues that divided us,” he said. “Here in Roanoke, Va., we will have a statue of a Black woman who brings us all together.”

Fundraisers collected over $160,000 for the project. Roanoke artist Bryce Cobbs created the sketch for the 400-pound bronze sculpture based on two photographs.

And Larry Bechtel, a Blacksburg, Virginia, artist, will sculpt the statue of Lacks who was a Roanoke native.

“I really wanted to have a distinguished, powerful pose. And I wanted her looking up. I always remember, like, looking up as being something like a feeling of proudness and of having that confidence in yourself and the strength in who you are,” Cobbs told NPR.

Henrietta Lacks was undergoing treatment for cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1951 when doctors sent portions of her cancerous tissue to another laboratory without her consent. Lacks passed away in October of that year at age 31.

Researchers used her tissue to harvest a line of living cells known as HeLa cells that are still used in medical research today.

According to Johns Hopkins, the HeLa cells have contributed to several major medical developments over the past several decades, such as the development of polio and COVID-19 vaccines and the study of leukemia and AIDS.

Johns Hopkins says they have never sold or profited from the HeLa cells and have shared them freely for other scientific research.

That is little consolation to the Lacks’ family, who is still seeking justice on Henrietta’s behalf.

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Arts and Culture

IN MEMORIAM: Thom Bell, Co-Creator of the Sound of Philadelphia, Dead at 79

“Thom Bell left an indelible and everlasting mark on the history of popular music, but even more so, he will be remembered by all who knew him as a kind and loving friend and family man. The music world has truly lost one of the greats,” his attorney wrote in a statement published in Billboard magazine.

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Thom Bell. Sarkari Library.
Thom Bell. Sarkari Library.

By Post Staff

Songwriter Thom Bell, a classically trained instrumentalist who wrote songs for 1970s singing groups Delfonics, Spinners and Stylistics, passed away at his home Bellingham, Wash., on December 22. He was 79.

With Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, Bell gained renown in creating what became known as the “Sound of Philadelphia,” writing, arranging and producing songs for those soul groups as well as the O’Jays, Temptations, Little Anthony and the Imperials and individual artists including Phyllis Hyman, Lou Rawls, Teddy Pendergrass, Johnny Mathis, Dionne Warwick, The Temptations, Phyllis Hyman, Dee Dee Bridgwater, Elton John, Fatboy Slim, Dusty Springfield, David Byrne, Joss Stone and more.

“Thom Bell left an indelible and everlasting mark on the history of popular music, but even more so, he will be remembered by all who knew him as a kind and loving friend and family man. The music world has truly lost one of the greats,” his attorney wrote in a statement published in Billboard magazine.

Born in 1943 and raised in West Philadelphia, Bell showed early talent as a musician and went on the road with Chubby Checker as a touring conductor in his early 20s. His familiarity with classical and global instruments like bassoons, oboe and sitars made his productions lush and full, influencing Soul music for some time afterwards.

His first production gig was in with the Delfonics, producing the hits “La-La Means I Love You,” and “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind This Time” in 1969. In 1972, he produced The Stylistics self-titled first album and later helped The Spinners achieve hits with “I’ll Be Around” and “Could It Be I’m Falling In Love.”

His 11-year partnership with fellow songwriter Linda Creed, yielded several more hits, among them “People Make the World Go Round,” and “You Are Everything.”

In 1975, Bell became the first winner in the Grammy category ‘Best Producer of the Year.’ He worked in the 1990s with James Ingram, David Byrne, Angela Winbush and Josh Stone. In 2006, he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and won the Grammy Trustees Award in 2016.

Bell is survived by his wife, Vanessa, and children Royal, Troy, Tia, Mark, Cybell, and Christopher.

Vibe, Yahoo, The Songwriters Hall of Fame, The Seattle Times and Wikipedia were the sources for this report.

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