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Prolific film and literary critic Kam Williams dies

MINNESOTA SPOKESMAN-RECORDER — A resident of Princeton, NJ, Williams published nearly 10,000 articles and reviews. Throughout his nearly 22-year career as a writer, he was most known for his film reviews and celebrity interviews for websites such as RottenTomatoes.com and over 100 publications around the world, ranging from local papers like Princeton, NJ’s Town Topics to international news chain Metro.

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By MSR News Online

Editor’s Note: Kam Williams was a frequent contributor to the MSR. We send our condolences to his family and loved ones. Find film reviews by Kam Williams here.

Film critic and literary writer Kam Williams died Thursday, May 30 from prostate cancer. He was 66 years old.

A resident of Princeton, NJ, Williams published nearly 10,000 articles and reviews. Throughout his nearly 22-year career as a writer, he was most known for his film reviews and celebrity interviews for websites such as RottenTomatoes.com and over 100 publications around the world, ranging from local papers like Princeton, NJ’s Town Topics to international news chain Metro.

A prolific journalist, he also wrote countless book reviews, editorials and a novel that will be published posthumously later this year.

Born Lloyd Joseph Williams in New York City and raised in St. Albans, Queens, Mr. Williams was commonly referred to as “Kam,” a nickname short for “Kamau,” a name given to him while he was a student at Brown University, by famed Jazz musician Sun Ra.

Mr. Williams’ path to a career in writing was circuitous. He was a graduate of Brooklyn Tech High School in New York City and earned his Bachelor’s degree from Cornell University in Black Literature in 1974.

While receiving his Master’s in English from Brown University in 1975, he first attempted a career in screenwriting at Chicago’s WTTW, a PBS affiliate TV station.

However, Mr. Williams, had a diverse set of interests and diverted his attention from writing for business and entertainment law, receiving his J.D. from Boston University in 1978 (along with Bar membership in MA, PA, CT, NY and NJ) followed by an M.B.A. from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in 1980.

Mr. Williams’ first wife, the late Kristina Barbara Johnson (who had previously been married to sculptor J. Seward Johnson II, the grandson of Johnson & Johnson Co-Founder Robert Wood Johnson I) introduced him to art dealing and the antique business in which he subsequently deployed his corporate and legal knowledge for over a decade.

Mr. Williams had a colorful personality and a commanding presence, according to friends and family. He was a tall African American man with freckles and wore his bright-red hair in a large Afro hairstyle that was immediately noticeable in a crowd.

His diverse life experiences and base of knowledge (he was a polymath who read a book a week) made him a compelling conversationalist and lead to a brief but recurring guest appearance on the radio show, The Howard Stern Show.

It was that experience that later sparked his career in journalism when a family friend and writer at the Princeton Packet, a local newspaper in his hometown Princeton, NJ, recommended Mr. Williams write a film review of Howard Stern’s 1997 biographical film Private Parts.

Mr. Williams’ intense work ethic and glowing journalistic reputation lead to extensive work interviewing celebrities associated with upcoming film and book releases, including Quentin Tarantino, Denzel Washington, Mel Brooks, Russell Simmons, LeBron James and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, among many others.

Mr. Williams was also a staunch supporter of civil rights-related causes, publishing countless op-eds on the topic and later joined the NAACP Image Awards Nominating Committee.

Outside of his writing career, he had a deep passion for music and boasted a large collection of albums. He enjoyed long daily walks in nature, was an avid sports fan and a passionate Little League baseball coach. He was also an enthusiastic participant in weekly trivia nights with a large group of friends at a local bar in Princeton, NJ.

He is survived by many friends, four siblings (Lawrence, Daryl, Teresa and Rod) and his second wife of 25 years, Susan, and stepson, Nicholas.

A memorial service will be held at the Princeton Garden Theater on June 29.

This article originally appeared in the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder

Art

Griot Theater Company Presents ‘The Queen of Cubs’ in Mill Valley

This play grapples with social justice issues and current events. Featured singers and performers will include the appearance of Rafiki the baboon as yoga instructor and tour guide.

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Top: Oakwood Trail overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. (Photo by Natalie O’Connor). Bottom left: Illustration of Nala (Griot Theater Company). Bottom right: LeShawn Darnell Holcomb speaking at the June 27 Griothon (Photo by Godfrey Lee).

The Griot Theater Company will be presenting their play “The Queen of Cubs,” a theater adaption of Disney’s “Lion King,” on Saturday, July 18, at 11:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m., and 3:00 p.m.    The play is an ‘exertainment,’ a combination of exercise and entertainment and will be presented on the Oakwood Valley – Alta Trail in Tennessee Valley in Mill Valley.

The “Queen of Cubs” play, co-written by Griot Theater Company Artistic Director LeShawn Darnell Holcomb, follows Nala’s story from cubhood to lioness-hood. Will she and the other lionesses survive her uncle’s tyranny or will they die from his antagonistic ways?

This play grapples with social justice issues and current events. Featured singers and performers will include the appearance of Rafiki the baboon as yoga instructor and tour guide.

Go to www.griottheatercompany.org for more information about Griot Theater Company and to get tickets for the play.

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Art

In Colorizing the Characters in ‘Hamilton,’ Playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda Whitewashes History

But he should also make sure we all know Hamilton was no hip-hop hero, just another founding slave holder. Miranda’s color change doesn’t change history, nor make it less distasteful.

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Photo of Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton courtesy of cinemablend

Is there any doubt that Ishmael Reed is Oakland’s writer of conscience and consequence?

He was my teacher in graduate school at Washington University in St. Louis, MO. From him I learned a number of truisms about writing. Like, for me, when in doubt, put in the Filipinos. Don’t take them out!  Another one was career advice. The more money you make, the less you get to say. Conversely, the less you make, the more you get to say. And that brings me to the topic of this column.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of “In the Heights,” opened the movie version of the musical last week. It’s a gushing hydrant of diversity. It should make a lot of money. But when I talked to him a few weeks back I wanted to talk about his other monster hit, “Hamilton,” where Miranda applied what I call a little affirmative action. He put the Black and the Brown actors in the white parts.

The Founding Fathers got “Hamiltoned.” Revolutionary?

“Well, it’s interesting,” he said. “The idea when I picked up the book was it’s an R&B hip-hop musical so, of course, Black and Brown actors would play those roles. As I’m reading the book the first time, I’m picturing which of my favorite hip-hop artists should play Hercules Mulligan or George Washington. They were always people of color, and the music reflects that…I was sort of more surprised that everyone was surprised when we finally came out.”

“I think it kicks open the door,” he added. “Why are we so literal when it comes to this stuff? And you know, I see Shakespeare with people of every ethnicity playing the roles. Why can’t that be the case with our founders? We know what they look like – they’re on our f***ing money. So, like, let’s move forward here. But I think once you see a show that has had the diversity that we have on stage, it’s very hard to go back to sort of these all-white productions because you’ve got to ask why, what stories aren’t we getting when you see that?”

You still have to ask what you’re getting. Miranda got comfortable enough to cuss and didn’t like the term “affirmative action.” But was he rehabbing Hamilton, making him and the others better than they were by applying the hip-hop beat?

It was the perfect opening to ask a question about Reed, the MacArthur ‘genius’ award-winning novelist, satirist, and playwright who last year wrote  “The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda,” a play that takes Miranda to task for the failure to highlight the real history of Hamilton.

Hamilton and his in-laws, the Schuyler family, were slave owners.

Miranda may have given the actors some tone, but the historical soul remains the same. Just obscured. Reed sees Miranda as duped by the Hamilton biography by Ron Chernow, which Miranda used as the main source for his skin-deep musical that glosses over our racist founders.

“I think seducing thousands of children and even the inaugural poet Amanda Gorman into believing that Hamilton and the Schuyler girls were ‘ardent abolitionists,’ must rank as a cultural crime,” Reed said to me.

As I asked Miranda my question about Reed, the PR rep cuts in: “We are actually out of time.”

Then Miranda says, “I got a long schedule, sorry. Thank you.”

It would have been interesting to hear his answer, with “Hamilton” beginning a new tour in August.

But this is megabuck showbiz, and the PR juggernaut must go on.

So, Miranda wiggled his way out. He could have answered. I gave him a shot.

Then again, Miranda’s got this new property to sell that’s a lot more cleansing and joyful. “In the Heights” is the feel-good movie of the post-pandemic, you know. All the fire hydrants are gushing.

But he should also make sure we all know Hamilton was no hip-hop hero, just another founding slave holder. Miranda’s color change doesn’t change history, nor make it less distasteful.

In fact, the 2021 tour for “Hamilton” is coming to San Francisco, Sacramento and San Jose for multiple-week runs in August through October.

Will he come clean by then? Or come up with a new song? In the meantime, you should read Reed’s “The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda.”  There’s no music to wash away the truth.

Emil Guillermo is a veteran Bay Area journalist and commentator. He vlogs at www.amok.com Twitter @emilamok

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Arts and Culture

Buddy Bolden: The Forgotten Father of Jazz

It is suggested that Bolden was a byproduct of his time and circumstances. He was an improviser; there was no trace of written music left. He performed at the beginning of the age of recorded music and silent film, so there are no known video or audio traces of him. So far, only one photograph of him has been discovered.

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Buddy Bolden holding his coronet is standing to the left of the upright bass player. Wikipedia photo.

Charles “Buddy” Bolden (1867–1831) is one of the central figures in New Orleans music, yet his place in the history of jazz remains tenuous. His name may mean nothing to a casual jazz listener but his legacy, a collage of truth, whispers and some rumors, lives on.

Much of what is known of Bolden comes from oral accounts passed down decades after his death. Records about his life remain scarce. It was often said that he cut hair at a barber shop in New Orleans; jumped from a hot air balloon over Lincoln Park and played his coronet on the way down; moonlighted as the editor of a scandal sheet called The Cricket.

What music scholars do know is that Bolden grew up in the New Orleans’ neighborhood now known as Central City. It’s likely that there, from childhood, he was constantly exposed to brass bands parading through the streets. He probably attended Fisk School and may have even graduated. During this time Bolden began studying the coronet.
Bolden would later become a working musician known for his loud sound and improvisational skills. He played in parades, at picnics, parks and union halls, and was a favorite at the honky-tonks. Yet this talented pioneering jazz musician had schizophrenia.

He was unable to properly read music and had impaired motor function. He only improvised on his coronet, playing the ragtime music popular from the 1890s to the 1920s. It never mattered because people loved him.

Bolden was arrested for the first time in 1906. According to newspaper reports, Bolden, in a fit of psychosis, was convinced he was being drugged or poisoned. He attacked his caregiver, who was either his mother or his mother-in-law. “He was booked on a charge of being insane, and alcohol abuse was cited as the reason for his insanity.”

How long Bolden was jailed is unknown. His life, however, would deteriorate after the incident. He became erratic and unreliable; he eventually quit playing his coronet. His final public performance was during a parade on Labor Day 1906. He dropped out of the festivities before the finish.

Two more arrests were made the following year. After the third (March 13, 1907), Bolden was committed to the State Insane Asylum in Jackson, La. It was there that he would spend the rest of his life.

By the time New Orleans music was dubbed jazz (1918) Bolden had been in the mental asylum for more than a decade. He was a distant memory.

It is suggested that Bolden was a byproduct of his time and circumstances. He was an improviser; there was no trace of written music left. He performed at the beginning of the age of recorded music and silent film, so there are no known video or audio traces of him. So far, only one photograph of him has been discovered.

Bolden died in obscurity. He was buried in Holt Cemetery in New Orleans, but the location is unknown.

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