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Dee Dee Simon Delivers on Stage and as Death Row Nurse

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“Simon’s on the radio!” an inmate on San Quentin’s death row called out early one morning two years ago. Other cheers of excitement filled the cellblock, leaving guards puzzled about what all the fuss was about until Simon herself showed up for work as a licensed vocational nurse at the death-row medical clinic.

Danesha Simon, also a soul singer known as Dee Dee, had woke up early that morning at her home in East Oakland to take an expected phone call from the producers of “The Steve Harvey Morning Show,” which is broadcast locally on KBLX. As a contestant in the singing competition of the eleventh annual Ford Neighborhood Awards, Simon serenaded Harvey live on-air with an a cappella rendition of the 1984 hit “Somebody Else’s Guy” by Jocelyn Brown.

Three months later, in front of an audience of 18,000 at the MGM Grand Casino in Las Vegas, Simon beat out three other finalists in the national competition hosted by Harvey with a treatment of Jennifer Holliday’s “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” from “Dreamgirls,” which like “Somebody Else’s Guy” requires superhuman vocal prowess to pull off.

She took home $10,000 for her efforts.

When not singing on stage, Dee Dee Simon works as a licensed vocational nurse at San Quentin's death-row medical clinic. Photo courtesy of San Quentin.

When not singing on stage, Dee Dee Simon works as a licensed vocational nurse at San Quentin’s death-row medical clinic. Photo courtesy of San Quentin.

In the past year, the Oakland vocalist has focused on a series of tribute shows to Whitney Houston, bringing audiences at the Black Repertory Theatre and Yoshi’s to their feet as she executed one powerful, pitch-perfect sustain after another and flawlessly negotiated half-step-up key modulations that were among Houston’s trademarks.

Now, on Tuesday, April 14, at Geoffrey’s Inner Circle, Simon will present for the first time a concert of her own songs, titled “The Essence of a Woman.” The show, also featuring singers Lady Bianca and J’Neen, will begin at 8 p.m. at 401 14th St. in Oakland.

“I was always apprehensive about doing my own music because I like to do songs that I know the people are gonna know and enjoy and sing along with,” Simon says. “I said, ‘The heck with it. I’m doing my own songs, my own style, and I’m gonna put my heart into it.’”

Simon rehearses with her band several nights a week and on Saturday afternoons, prepares her role in “Lord, Why Can’t I Do Right,” a musical that debuted at Oakland’s Malonga Center for the Arts in January by playwright Richard Torrance and director Michael Lange.

Having worked at San Quentin for the past eight years, Simon’s duties include giving death-row inmates injections, and treating abscesses and other skin problems. “You can’t worry about what they’ve done, what their past is,” she says. “You have to go in with the mindset of a nurse who cares for people and not be biased.”

When asked how she manages to squeeze so much into her schedule, Simon says, “I have a good support system in God.”

Tickets for Simon’s April 14 show are $20. For more information, call (510) 839-4644.

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Art

Maestro Michael Morgan Conducts San Francisco Symphony

Morgan was born and raised in Wash., D.C., and is recognized worldwide for innovative and thematically rich programs that make connections between a wide range of artists and musical cultures.

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Maestro Michael Morgan

Maestro Michael Morgan, music director and conductor of the Oakland Symphony, will conduct the San Francisco Symphony at Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco, CA, Friday, July 23, 2021 at 7:00 p.m.

The program will include the overture to Gioachino Rossini’s opera “La gazza ladra,” along with a playful Pas de Six from “William Tell.” Louise Farrenc’s revelatory Symphony No. 3 from 1847 takes center stage, while the program concludes with James P. Johnson’s Roaring 20s hit, “Charleston.”

“I am thrilled to be helping the San Francisco Symphony share all the wonderful things they do with a wider and more diverse audience’, said Morgan.

Morgan’s ties to the San Francisco Symphony stretch back to 1994, when he first led Concerts for Kids performances.

Morgan was born and raised in Wash., D.C., and is recognized worldwide for innovative and thematically rich programs that make connections between a wide range of artists and musical cultures.

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Art

BIPOC Writers to Showcase Live Readings of New Anthology ‘Essential Truths’

The free, virtual event will begin with an invocation by Berkeley Poet Laureate Rafael Jesús González and will feature 18 BIPOC writers and poets in lively readings and presentations.

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Essential Truths the Bay Area In Color/WriteNow! SF

Oakland Asian Cultural Center in partnership with Write Now! SF Bay will host an East Bay Showcase of its latest anthology “Essential Truths on Thursday, July 22. 

The free, virtual event will begin with an invocation by Berkeley Poet Laureate Rafael Jesús González and will feature 18 BIPOC writers and poets in lively readings and presentations.

Among those performing and reading are: Avotcja, Clara Hsu, Danny Ryu, Darzelle Oliveros, Dianne Leo-Omine, Elmaz Abinader, Kelechi Ubozoh, Karen Seneferu, Kimi Sugioka, Sandra Bass, Shirley Huey, Shizue Seigal, Sridevi Ramanathan, Susana Praver-Pérez, Tiny (aka Lisa Gray-Garcia), Tony Aldorondo, Tureeda Mikell, and Wanda Sabir. 

To register for this event, which begins at 7:00 p.m., visit https://oacc.cc/event/essential-truths-east-bay/. A complete list of Oakland Asian Cultural Center readers’ affiliations can be found here: OACC READERS

Write Now! SF Bay, an organization that has helped 350 writers and artists create with their free and low-cost programs and provided a safe community where BIPOC feel free to express themselves, has published its fourth anthology.

“Essential Truths, The Bay Area in Color,” is its fourth anthology. The collection of 130 Bay Area BIPOC’s poems, musings, and art was edited by Siegal, the founder/director of Write Now! SF Bay.

“Our work is not always polished, but it arises from the lived experience of grappling with real issues of the day,” Siegal said. “We may write in the vernacular or English may be our second or third language. 

“If our rhythms are unfamiliar, ask yourself why—is our work inflected by other tongues and vernaculars, rusty from disuse, scattered by stress or trauma, struggling out silence, or hastily scribbled on borrowed time? 

“Old ways are dissolving, and change is in the air. BIPOC arts and activism have been here all along. Now we are stepping into the light,” Siegal said.

The contributors are Black, Brown, Indigenous, People of Color, and LGBTQ communities along with a few white allies who run the gamut from poet laureates to high school students to college professors and beyond. 

Since 2015, Write Now! SF Bay has been led by and for BIPOC Bay Area writers and builds multicultural solidarity around their unique identities as people of color and reclaim their culture and history, personal and community well-being as well as civil liberties and social justice.

“Essential Truths, The Bay Area in Color” is published is available for purchase at $17.95 by visiting https://www.writenowsf.com/essential-truths

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Activism

Haitian American Artist Brings His Vision, Gift to State’s COVID Campaign

The artworks, created by the Grammy-nominated visual artist Serge Gay Jr, were commissioned to encourage people to continue to take safety precautions against COVID-19 even though the state reopened last month, according to the governor’s office.  

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Serge Gay Jr. at Art Attack mimicking a playboy bunny in one of his paintings. Photo by James Chiang.

California’s “Your Actions Save Lives” art campaign recently unveiled two “Safety First” murals in San Francisco. The artworks, created by the Grammy-nominated visual artist Serge Gay Jr, were commissioned to encourage people to continue to take safety precautions against COVID-19 even though the state reopened last month, according to the governor’s office.
One is located in the Castro and the other in the Tenderloin, — two well-known districts steeped in the Golden Gate City’s famous history of Leftist political organizing and the visibility of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ+) people.
The Tenderloin mural, which he dedicates to the city’s transgender community, was inspired by the idea of, “breaking free because during the pandemic, we were all just home and kind of stuck there,” said Gay.  His second artwork is located at 2390 Market St. in the Castro.
The state says the “Your Actions Save Lives” campaign equips Californians with information about what they can do to help stem the spread of COVID-19.  To get the word out, it partnered with The Center at the Sierra Health Foundation and 20 local artists across the state to reach communities that have been hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Gay, he celebrates the Tenderloin for its inclusion of Black and Brown people. The message behind the mural places an emphasis on freedom of movement following the COVID-19 pandemic and encourages the public to get vaccinated, says the artist whose collaboration with film director Matt Stawski clinched him a Grammy nomination for “Best Short Form Video.”
“I wanted to really kind of also showcase our trends visibility,” said Gay.
Gay pays homage to his Haitian roots through his artwork which celebrates various Black communities in the Bay Area — African Americans as well as African and Caribbean immigrants, he explains.

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