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PRESS ROOM: Gloria Gaynor Releases New Album

THE TENNESSEE TRIBUNE — After decades spent as the reigning Queen of Disco, Gloria Gaynor is announcing the release of her new gospel album, Testimony (June 7th). Recording for the first time in Nashville with Grammy-winning producers Chris Stevens (TobyMac, Mandisa, Blake Shelton) and Reid Shippen (Dierks Bentley, Lady Antebellum, Kenny Chesney), Gaynor uplifts listeners with a carefully-chosen selection of classic hymns, self-penned songs, as well as a stirring cover of Bob Dylan’s “Man of Peace.”

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By The Tennessee Tribune

NASHVILLE, TN — After decades spent as the reigning Queen of Disco, Gloria Gaynor is announcing the release of her new gospel album, Testimony (June 7th). Recording for the first time in Nashville with Grammy-winning producers Chris Stevens (TobyMac, Mandisa, Blake Shelton) and Reid Shippen (Dierks Bentley, Lady Antebellum, Kenny Chesney), Gaynor uplifts listeners with a carefully-chosen selection of classic hymns, self-penned songs, as well as a stirring cover of Bob Dylan’s “Man of Peace.”

To work on the album, Gaynor brought together a powerhouse collaborative that includes special guests Yolanda Adams, Jason Crabb, Mike Farris, and Bart Millard (MercyMe), as well as powerful backup vocals from Latrese Bush, Melinda Doolittle, and Jason Eskridge. The project features a lineup of extraordinarily talented musicians: Daru Jones (drums), Drew Ramsey (guitar), Shannon Sanders (keyboards/B3), Jason Webb (piano/keyboards), and Willie Weeks (bass). The group recorded together in the former RCA Studio A in Nashville’s Music Row – the iconic setting where Dolly Parton, Charley Pride, Willie Nelson, and countless other country legends have laid hits down.

The first single from the album, Gaynor’s “Amazing Grace,” will be released on April 12th. Gaynor makes this time-honored hymn her own, delivering it with her signature, blues-drenched style. With this and every track on the album, she deftly walks a tightrope between putting her artistic spin on the song and conveying an absolute reverence for their spiritual essence.

“We are thrilled to be working with Gloria and her team to release her new gospel album; it’s clear that Testimony is a recording that represents the heart of Gloria,” said Paul Sizelove, President of Gaither Music. “Beyond the benchmark production and talent, you hear her soulful vocals and heartfelt expressions and you know immediately that she has lived these lyrics. We are excited to share these songs of hope with the world.”          

The release of Testimony comes as Gaynor’s most iconic hit, “I Will Survive,” turns 40 this year. Recorded as the singer was struggling with a paralyzing back injury, the song quickly became an anthem for those seeking courage or proclaiming their strength in the face of adversity.

With “I Will Survive,” Gaynor became the winner of the only Grammy Award ever presented for Best Disco Recording. In the years since, she’s further solidified her status as an international superstar, topping the charts with dance hits such as “I Never Knew” and “I Just Keep Thinking About You.” She’s wowed Broadway audiences in “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” as well as making TV appearances in series such as “Ally McBeal” and “The Wayans Bros.”

As Gaynor has toured and traveled, she’s also taken time to author books and deliver talks as a motivational speaker. She’s been featured as the keynote speaker everywhere from SXSW in Texas to the CCU Women in Philanthropy & Leadership Conference in South Carolina.

With a career in an era where drugs and alcohol were the norm, Gaynor credits God with guiding her through. Over the years, she’s often changed the lyrics of “I Will Survive” to express her faith. Testimony isn’t Gaynor’s first time recording a Christian album; in 2013, she released We Will Survive, a collection of contemporary Christian songs and a remix of “I Will Survive.” To coincide with the release of that album, Gaynor published her second book, We Will Survive: True Stories of Encouragement, Inspiration, and the Power of Song, a collection of stories from people who have been touched and encouraged by Gaynor’s signature song. Her audio recording of the book was nominated for a 2015 Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album.

In March 2016, Israel’s Consulate General, Ido Aharoni, visited her home church, the Christian Cultural Center in New York City, to present her with the Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Award. One year later, the Library of Congress honored Gaynor by inducting “I Will Survive” into its registry – a sign of the indelible mark that the song – and Gaynor herself – have left on the world. As she tours and speaks to audiences around the globe, Gaynor continues to be an inspiration through her faith, her message, and her music.

This article originally appeared in The Tennessee Tribune.

Arts and Culture

Michael Morgan, Music Director and Conductor, Dies at 63

He served three decades with the Oakland Symphony and was a passionate advocate for change

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Michael Morgan leads the Oakland Symphony in a concert curated by W. Kamau Bell; Photo Courtesy of KQED

Michael Morgan was the music director and conductor with the Oakland Symphony. He died August 20, 2021, at an Oakland hospital. He was 63.

During a career that spanned 40 years, Maestro Morgan was one of the rare Black conductors to rise to prominence. He had guest appearances with leading the top orchestras of St. Louis, Los Angeles, Baltimore, New York, and San Francisco. He served as assistant conductor of the Chicago Symphony.

Maestro Morgan became music director of the Oakland East Bay Symphony in 1991. He also served as artistic director of the Oakland Youth Orchestra and was the music director of the Sacramento Philharmonic Orchestra.

He was artistic director of Festival Opera in Walnut Creek for more than 10 seasons. He taught a graduate conducting course at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He was music director at the Bear Valley Music Festival in California. He conducted the San Francisco Ballet for several performances. He also conducted the San Francisco Symphony.

Maestro Morgan did much more than bring classical and new music to Paramount theater audiences. He brought music to thousands of underserved children in the Oakland public schools.

 “Michael Morgan was an advocate for change, both within the classical music community and also outside, in his community and beyond”, said Paul Cobb, publisher of the Post Newspaper Group.

Morgan’s “’Let Us Break Bread Together’ concert presented music from the Black Panther era that reflected back on the protest music from the 60’s and 70’s”, Cobb continued.

Morgan was always interested in providing an early education in classical music. “Talk to people of whatever color in any professional orchestra, and ask them where they started, and you’ll find that most of them started, as I did, in a public school somewhere,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle in 1998.

“And if there’s not that possibility, then of course there’s not going to be people at the other end,” he said. “It’s impossible to maintain the respect of an orchestra if they think that the only reason you’re there is that they needed a Black conductor,” Morgan said.

Maestro Morgan started the Symphony’s MUSE program as a multi-component music education and enrichment initiative to serve young people at public schools and community sites throughout Oakland.

These programs were free to participants, ensuring that each year thousands of young people have access to a variety of music education and enrichment activities, regardless of their economic situation.

“The MUSE program is a lifeline in difficult times. It’s not just a token – it’s keeping the music program afloat in Oakland. It’s the tipping point between success and failure”, said Ted Allen, former Instrumental Director, Skyline and Oakland Technical High School.

At the onset of distance learning during the Covid-19 pandemic, all engagement visits and teaching artists adapted their work with students to an on-line format in partnership with OUSD into 2020-21.

MUSE has continued to be there for the community as programs, captivating and exciting students about music, encouraging a lifelong passion for the art of sound.

Over 2,500 students are served through the symphony’s school programs hosted by MUSE. The students work with professional musician mentors from the Symphony as part of the In-School Mentor and After School programs.

Michael created the “NOTES FROM” series, designed to welcome different elements of our community into the symphony family.

The diversity of the Bay Area is well known and was reflected in the concert hall in the NOTES FROM programming.

These programs included NOTES FROM Persia, China, the Philippines, Mexico, NOTES FROM LGBT America, and the African Diaspora.

Michael DeVard Morgan was born in Washington, DC, Sept. 17, 1957.His father, Willie DeVard Morgan, was a biologist. His mother, Mabel Morgan, was a health researcher.

When Michael was 6 years old, his father bought the family a piano. Michael began to play two years later. By the age of 12, he was leading two orchestras, one founded by Michael at MacFarland Junior High School and the other at the People’s Congregational Church.

In his teens, while a student at McKinley High School, he was named conductor of the Washington D.C. Youth Orchestra. He attended the Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio, originally as a composition major.

While at Oberlin, Michael worked with conductors Seiji Ozawa and Leonard Bernstein at the Tanglewood Music Festival in Massachusetts. He accepted the position of apprentice conductor at the Buffalo Philharmonic in 1979.

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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Entertainment

Oakland Teen Named “Great American Songbook” Academy Finalist

Oakland’s Richard G. Watson, formerly a vocal performance major at Oakland School for the Arts and Class of 2021 graduate of the nation’s premiere high school arts program, the Idyllwild Arts Academy, where he was a songwriting major, has been named a 2021 Great American Songbook Academy finalist. 

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RICHARD - SONGBOOK 2021 - SHOWCASE PROMO

Oakland’s Richard G. Watson, formerly a vocal performance major at Oakland School for the Arts and Class of 2021 graduate of the nation’s premiere high school arts program, the Idyllwild Arts Academy, where he was a songwriting major, has been named a 2021 Great American Songbook Academy finalist.

The Songbook Academy is a world-class summer intensive that connects only the most talented high school students interested in professional singing careers and who are at the top of the talent pool celebrating the timeless standards of pop, jazz, Broadway and Hollywood, otherwise known as the “Great American Songbook.”

As a Songbook finalist Watson joins the elite group of 2021 ‘Top 40 Teens’ after competing against hundreds of applicants nationwide. He will perform “Wave,” an Antonio Carlos Jobim cover, streaming from August 6-8, 2021 at 5:00 p.m. (Register  at www.thesongbook.org/sashowcase21 for free streaming access). 

Jobim is one of many major 20th century songwriters, composers, and performers of the “Great American Songbook.” Among them are bandleader Duke Ellington, and singers Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Dean Martin, Ella Fitzgerald, and Bing Crosby are some of the artists widely recognized for their performances and recordings which defined the genre. 

There are countless others who are widely recognized for their performances of the music from the “Great American Songbook” and Watson is one of the very few African American teenagers who has such incredible talent and an interest in this genre to be able to join such a coveted group of emerging young artists. 

The Academy, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, is housed at The Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel, Ind., and was founded in 2007 by five-time Grammy® Award nominee Michael Feinstein. 

The “Great American Songbook” is the canon of the most important and influential American popular songs and jazz standards from the early 20th century that have stood the test of time in their life and legacy. 

Watson is also a semi-finalist in the 2020 International Songwriting Competition (ISC) for his single, original hit track “Done” streaming on all platforms.  ISC received more than 26,000 entries and semi-finalists make up only 9% of all entries, so this is a remarkable achievement, especially for one so young as Watson. ISC is an annual song contest whose mission is to provide opportunity for both aspiring and established songwriters to have their songs heard in a professional, international arena. 

A certified artist on various platforms including Amazon, AppleMusic and Spotify, Watson will soon add to his single releases the titles “Insomnia,” “Phoenix,” and “Writings on the Wall.”   Watson will attend Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mass., in the Fall on a Global Tour Tuition Scholarship. Berklee is the No. 1, contemporary music college program in the world.

 Learn more about Watson at www.richardgwatson.com.

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Arts and Culture

Blues Lovers Honor Richmond Music Legends at Two-Day Festival August 13-14

The festivities begin on Friday, August 13 at 5:00 p.m. with a ticketed mixer at CoBiz at 1503 Macdonald Ave. in Richmond.  Jimmy’s daughter Sue McCracklin will perform, and blues legend Tia Carroll will be the special host.

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Flyer Courtesy of Richmond Museum of History & Culture

World-famous blues musician Jimmy McCracklin got plenty of recognition during his successful life and even more honor is coming his way shortly to commemorate a milestone birthday.

The North and Greater Richmond Blues Foundation is staging Celebrating Richmond Music Legends to honor the renowned song writer and musician who spent much of his adult life in Richmond and achieved international fame with songs like “Walk” and “Yesterday is Gone.”  The foundation works to support the blues community and shine the focus on the blues history of North and Greater Richmond.

The guest of honor won’t be there (McCracklin died in 2012 at age 91), but blues lovers across the Bay Area can gather in Richmond to celebrate what would have been McCracklin’s 100th birthday and look back with nostalgia to bygone days when there were blues clubs galore in the area.

The festivities begin on Friday, August 13 at 5:00 p.m. with a ticketed mixer at CoBiz at 1503 Macdonald Ave. in Richmond.  Jimmy’s daughter Sue McCracklin will perform, and blues legend Tia Carroll will be the special host.

Sue McCracklin grew up in North Richmond and Carroll was raised in Parchester Village. DeJeana Burkes, the foundation founder and event organizer, has lived in Richmond for 40 years.

“People on the show have a connection to Richmond, are working today, and all have a connection to Jimmy McCracklin in some way,” says Burkes, who has worked with Sue McCracklin to honor her father at this milestone birthday.

The Saturday program, at the Richmond Civic Center Plaza, runs from noon-5:00 p.m. and features Dorothy Morrison & Family, Alabama Mike, East Bay Center for Performing Arts, Michael Skinner & the Final Touch Band and Jesse James & the Dynamic Four Band. DeJeana Burkes and Sue McCracklin will also perform.

“The concert will embody Jimmy’s belief that a song should tell a story – he said ‘you are singing a story – ,” says Burkes, who has arranged that between performers, local people will tell stories about the late McCracklin or the local music scene.

As an added feature, the Richmond Museum of History and Culture, which is co-sponsoring the event, has a special exhibit at 400 Nevin Ave., of McCracklin memorabilia, through the month of August. The exhibition includes a suit worn by the musician on the “My Story” album cover and performances in his later life. The suit will be accompanied by Jimmy’s awards, gold records and other artifacts related to the musician’s life.

And for some “icing on the cake,” the City of Richmond has declared August 13th Jimmy McCracklin Day and will be presenting a key to the city to his daughter.

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