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Berry Gordy Opens Famous Motown Musical in L.A.

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Berry Gordy, Jr., speaks to the audience during the "Motown: The Musical" at The Hollywood Pantages Theatre. (Photo By Valerie Goodloe)

Berry Gordy, Jr., speaks to the audience during the “Motown: The Musical” at The Hollywood Pantages Theatre. (Photo By Valerie Goodloe)

By Danny Bakewell Jr.
Special to the NNPA from the LA Watts Times

The Motown sound began with Berry Gordy as a dreamer in Detroit and the music that originated from Hitsville U.S.A. ignited a sound of lyrics beats and hymns that transformed culture and was beloved by everyone.

Now, the story of Gordy is being told from the stage in the famous Broadway hit sensation “Motown: The Musical” that arrived from New York to Los Angeles.

Gordy feels “lucky”, he said, for having chosen Charles Randolph Wright to direct, since “on paper there were so many great Broadway directors he could have picked from.”

“It’s the ultimate honor,” said Randolph when asked about the challenge of directing the historical musical.

“People asked, ‘are you nervous?’ I said, ‘No, I know what this is. I’m not sleeping at all but I understand what this is. I understood every part of Motown… family, the love. All these things were important to me. [Gordy] and Smokey entrusted me with this. So, when someone believes in you, you’ll do anything in your power to do your best.”

Wright’s main goal was to tell the story accurately and organically.

“Motown: The Musical” is the true American dream story of Gordy’s journey from featherweight boxer to the heavyweight music mogul who launched the careers of Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Smokey Robinson and many more. Through his vision Motown shattered barriers, shaped our lives and made us all move to the same beat.

The musical chronicles Gordy’s life and how he started Motown. Based on his book, “To Be Loved”, it features over 40 classic songs and is playing at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood through June 7. Bringing his story to life, presented both challenges and joys, he said.

“When you’re working on a project [sometimes] there are nothing but challenges,” Gordy said during a recent interview with the Sentinel.

“Because, we wanted to do it as truthful as possible with the amount of time that we had. But the truth has to be entertaining, otherwise it’s a documentary.”

The joy came in having “wonderful characters to write about,” said Gordy.

“These are the characters of my life, my best friend Smokey Robinson… the fact that we’re still best friends after all that we’ve been through, it’s amazing, a testament to great love.”

Gordy described Robinson as a friend who suffered with him through thick and thin, following him down roads, “even where there were no roads…”

For his part, Robinson counts it all as the record company’s inherent family environment.

“Many people have thought throughout the years, that the Motown family was mythical. ‘It could not have possibly been that way. How could all those different musicians with different egos and personalities have been like family,’” Robinson explained.

“But there is still a Motown family. For those of us who are still alive, we still have the Motown family because the love is so deep rooted. It was the foremost thing. I think we learned it from the Gordys, because their family was so together and I think that just spilled over into the way he set Motown up…”

Gordy founded Motown Records in Detroit, Michigan in 1959. Although many have come to recognize the “Motown Sound” as a brand in itself, in reality Motown’s records encompassed many different genres of music, from early rhythm and blues to soul, funk, pop, and more.

A company brochure published in the early 1960s details Motown’s goals to “satisfy a variety of preferences in popular music.” Diversity has always been a key component of the Motown legacy.

Gordy himself was inspired by the “truth- telling” of early black music. As he told Ebony magazine, “From the drumbeat rhythms… that our ancestors carried

from Africa, to the work songs and Negro spirituals of slavery, black music is a chronicle of our collective emotional journey in this world – pain and sadness, happiness and celebration… wisdom and faith.” Gordy embraced this philosophy and passed on the importance of using music to tell the truth about life to those he worked with.

One of “those”, Edna Anderson (who was an activist and Gordy’s personal assistant), and who he credits as the greatest person he’s ever worked with, was the subject of dedication for the show’s opening night. Anderson had been ill and had taken a leave of absence from the company. Her attendance was a pleasant surprise for Gordy.

“She’s just the most beautiful person I’ve known,” Gordy said. “This night is dedicated to her…”

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Entertainment

The Mayflower Chorus Presents Spring Show “Higher Ground”

The Mayflower Choral Society is a nonprofit corporation and the parent organization of the Mayflower Chorus, the performing ensemble of the Mayflower Choral Society which supports the educational and cultural benefits of musical performance to its members, the Marin community, and the general public. 

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The Mayflower Chorus will present their spring show “Higher Ground: A Celebration of Music and the Creative Spirit” on Saturday, May 22, 2021, at 6:00 p.m. The free live-streamed celebration can be accessed by clicking on the Events button at www.mayflowerchorus.org/calendar.

 The show will feature songs from diverse genres — rock, jazz, Broadway, and traditional choral. An original composition by David Manley will be presented. Kat Austin, their scholarship recipient, will perform a solo, and Mayflower choristers Kellie Allen and Melissa Muller will lead a sing-along.

Film footage and special effects was added to the spring show to provide the viewer with a full music video experience. 

Choral Director Robert Hazelrigg will conduct The Mayflower Chorus. Music Director David Manley will lead The Mayflower Band. Choreography and costume design is provided by Show Director Cathy Sarkisian. David and Cathy designed and edited the audio/video footage assisted by Gina Chapman.

The Mayflower Choral Society is a nonprofit corporation and the parent organization of the Mayflower Chorus, the performing ensemble of the Mayflower Choral Society which supports the educational and cultural benefits of musical performance to its members, the Marin community, and the general public. 

The Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter seasons culminate in several professional-quality shows with a diverse mix of traditional, contemporary, and original music. In addition to seasonal shows, the Mayflower Chorus also provides vocal entertainment in a variety of musical styles for private, corporate, and community events.

     For more information on the Mayflower Chorus Society, to schedule their small ensembles and/or the full chorus, or to support their educational and cultural programs, go to www.mayflowerchorus.org.

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REVIEW: A Tale of Two Mothers in Radio Play of Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye”

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Cathleen Riddley. Photo courtesy of Aurora Theatre Company.

Michael Asberry. Photo courtesy Stuart Locklear Photography

The Aurora Theater is finishing up a run for radio of the stage adaptation of Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “The Bluest Eye.” 

Just past Mother’s Day, the tale of two moms, adapted for the stage by Lydia R. Diamond, we meet Mrs. Breedlove and Mama as actor Cathleen Riddley takes on both personas. Perhaps the actor’s success lies in the potential inherent in each of us to do the same if given certain experiences within fixed structural policies or historic mapping.

What does Black geography look like? 

Mrs. Breedlove sees herself as beautiful until she believes the lie. Her melanin too much for a world without color, she frightens her neighbors, even other Black people who are trying to get along and so she stifles her fire; covers her flame until it is little more than a spark, just enough to throw her legs over the side of the bed, put feet into worn, yet comfortably familiar shoes until the weight of her Blackness settles like an anvil upon her once proud shoulders . . . and so, into this world Pecola is born– a beautiful brown baby girl.

     With her marriage to Cholly (Michael J. Asberry), an orphan rescued for a garbage heap, Mrs. Breedlove was so looking forward to this new, sweet life. Leaving behind loved ones — a community reminder to the newlyweds that they mattered —  the newlyweds head north to the bare northern region Lorrain, Ohio, where that sense of self-worth is absent.

All Pecola (Jasmine Milan Williams) wants is for Mrs. Breedlove, her mom, and Cholly, her dad, to love her. Constantly wishing to disappear from the violence and unhappiness furnishing all the rooms in her life, the child notices how in the absent body– her eyes are always left. Her soul refuses to shut its eyes. Perhaps the windows remain open as a witness. Pecola wants to be gone completely– she does not want to take anything forward into the fairy tale captured in films with blonde, blue-eyed heroines or the pretty “light-skinned” girls at school who get all the attention.

Mama, on the other hand, is the mother of Frieda and Darlene (Sam Jackson), two girls who are Pecola’s friends. After a fire, Pecola stays with the girls’ family while their home is being repaired. Pecola has an opportunity to see and perhaps imagine another version of her story. Frieda and Darlene’s mother and father are so different from her own. The story takes place over a season beginning in Autumn.

Dawn Monique Williams, the director, says the Aurora production is for all the Black girls and women who couldn’t find a space to be free, where beauty and liberation were synonymous. 

    “The Bluest Eye” is an adult story, even if the narrator is a child. There is rape, physical violence, and death. It is what one might call a tragedy, so take care of yourself and listen to loved ones. You will want to talk with others afterward. One can feel the love shared among the cast, director, and creative production team. The sound design (Elton Bradman) is marvelous and you will probably never forget this story. We need to be gentle with each other. We literally do not know who is on the other side of the mask, but we can still hold each other in love and light as we recognize their humanity as we look in their eyes as we pass.

    As I spoke to cast members over a week in a series of radio conversations, my suggestion is to listen to all the perspectives. Each is singularly enlightening. It is pretty amazing to watch the actors slip in and out so seamlessly. between personas. There is also laughter and lightness within this story as in life.

    In its 29th Season, it is to its credit that Aurora Theatre allowed Williams, associate director, to take it on a creative journey unlike any before. We hope such excursions continue. Toni Morrison’s work, “The Bluest Eye” is among the classics in the Western canon.

Apply the Family Discount code: BluestCNC50 for half-price tickets: For tickets visit https://www.auroratheatre.org/thebluesteye or call (510) 843-4822

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Bay Area

Residents Celebrate 510 Day, an Oakland Holiday

The holiday started in 2016, when a group of long-term Oakland residents felt that, in the face of Black and Brown native Oaklanders being displaced through the city’s gentrification, a celebration of their cultures was necessary.

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Neptune Jenkins, Tiny Matthews and Zay Coleman at Oakland's 510 Day celebration today near the Lake Merritt Amphitheater. Photo by Zack Haber on May 10.

Demetrius Coats with his legs over his bike’s handlebars as he rides in the bike caravan around Lake Merritt at Oakland’s 510 Day celebration today.
Photo by Zack Haber on May 10.

Over 40 people gathered around Lake Merritt on Monday to celebrate 510 Day, an Oakland-based holiday that honors Black and Brown cultures of the city and their resilience against displacement each year on May 10.

“For us, it’s a protest and a party at the same time,” Leon Skyes, a Black Oakland native who helps organize 501 Day celebrations, told The Oakland Post. “Rather than being targeted, today we’re being celebrated.”

The holiday started in 2016, when a group of long-term Oakland residents felt that, in the face of Black and Brown native Oaklanders being displaced through the city’s gentrification, a celebration of their cultures was necessary. The 415 Day, a San Francisco holiday where residents gather every April 15th in Dolores Park to celebrate against and protest the removal of native SF families, was 510 Day’s inspiration. Both holidays get their name from their city’s respective telephone area codes.

In the years since the first 510 Day, several incidents at or near Lake Merritt have shown the area as a contested place where long-term Black and Brown residents’ acts of celebrating, music making, barbecuing, or simply existing have been under threat.

In the fall of 2016, a woman who lived near the lake called police on Aaron Davis, an 18-year-old Black Oakland native, to file a noise complaint about him playing his drum set. Soon after, Oaklanders rallied behind him with drums of their own to protest the complaint.

In mid-May of 2018, after a viral video showed white Oakland resident Jennifer Schulte calling police on Black Oakland resident Kenzie Smith for barbecuing near the lake, many Black Oakland residents came out to protest the incident by participating in the “BBQ’n While Black” celebration. Later that year, a white jogger threw a Black Oakland resident’s belongings in the lake. The city began evicting many Black and Brown homeless residents from the area and enforcing no camping rules in 2018 as well.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic the lake has become a contested site for informal Black and Brown businesses after residents who live nearby have filed complaints against Lake Merritt vendors selling merchandise without permits.

“Gentrification has created a hostile environment for us where we can’t even just exist without getting the cops called on us,” Needa Bee, who helped start 510 Day and organize its Lake Merritt celebrations, told The Oakland Post.

Bee, also known as The Lumpia Lady, has lived in Oakland for about 30 years and has sold lumpia, a traditional Filipino food, for about 10 years at Lake Merritt. She served free lumpia to those who came to the 510 Day celebration.

The celebration included a bike and car caravan that circled the lake about one and a half times. Bikers, many of whom rode fixed gears and did tricks, lead the way. Demetrius Coleman put his legs up on his bike’s handle bars several times as he rode. 

 At one point, Zay Coleman sat entirely on one side of his bike, only using one pedal to move it as he biked down Grand Avenue with both his legs and his face pointing towards the lake. Cars that had signs attached to them supporting defunding the Oakland Police Department and against gentrification followed along, honked their horns loudly, and blared Oakland musicians like Too $hort. Motorcyclists rode along and revved their engines. Two roller skaters also joined the caravan.

After the caravan, participants gathered at the Lake Merritt Amphitheater to eat food and take photos while some of the bikers continued to do tricks. Neptune Jenkins stood on the frame of his bike while grabbing the front wheel, pushing and pulling it back and forth while continuing to balance. Signs honoring historical Oakland events and famous Oaklanders like basketball player Bill Russell, activists Elaine Brown, Bobby Seale, and Fred Korematsu, musician and dancer Kehlani, and rap groups Hieroglyphics and Digital Underground were lined up in a row at the amphitheater.

Nicole Lee, an Oakland native who helped organize the celebration, described 510 Day as a way to “assert joy at the same time that we’re protesting around Oakland natives and Oakland culture being displaced.” 

The politics of 510 Day were present at the amphitheater, as organizers encouraged participants to sign a petition to be sent to City Council, Mayor Libby Schaaf and county and state leaders to support the #WeStillHere Oakland Platform which outlines nine demands including shelter for all and Oakland’s non-cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

While people celebrated at the amphitheater with music and some drank alcohol and smoked cannabis, the celebration stayed calm, the crowd was not densely packed, and people left well before dark. Although in years past 510 Day in person celebrations included larger, dense crowds and live DJs spinning loud music, organizers intentionally kept this year’s in person celebrations low key as a precaution against spreading COVID-19. The organizers hosted a party on the internet later in the evening with local DJs Kleptic, AbelDee and DJ Fuze.

“While this isn’t physically the largest [510 Day celebration], this has been one of the best ones, just by the heart of the people, the will of the people, and the vibe,” Skyes told the 510 Day celebrators at the Lake Merritt amphitheater. He looks forward to hopefully returning next year with a larger in person party/protest.

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