When She Sings, We’re Happy

The voice from the heavens raises it “thence.”

At a certain point in Clive Davis’ tribute speech at Whitney Houston’s funeral  more than three months ago, he recalled a conversation with Whitney that struck me like a spooky premonition. Apparently, she told him that she was committed to quitting cigarettes, doing plenty of vocal exercises, swimming one or two hours everyday to stay physically fit, and presumably build her lung stamina, and that she would get her high notes back and be ready by August. Then, in what struck me as a spooky premonition, he said “Whitney, I’m gonna hold you to it.”

I don’t know what Clive meant by that, but a couple of her final recordings have been released in the last week. Both are from the soundtrack of the upcoming film “Sparkle,” which will be released in August. This one is her rendition of “His Eye is On the Sparrow.

I’ll also try to find and embed her pop duet with Jordin Sparks “Celebrate.” In my opinion, Whitney’s voice sounded a lot like it did in 1999. Although Jordin, another fabulous singer, pulls a good amount of the mezzo-soprano weight, Whitney’s high notes come through enough to tingle your scalp, just like the old days. Have a listen to Whitney and Jordin in “Celebrate.”


She Worked Hard for the Money

Shine, Donna, shine

I never watched the television series “Taxi” with much regularity, but I remember one scene between Louie De Palma (Danny DeVito) and Zena (Rhea Perlman). He was trying to break up with her for some reason. When she asked him why and whether there was another woman, he said yes.

“Donna Summer,” he said to raucous studio audience laughter. “She thought it was a black-white thing, but I told her I didn’t want her shaking it for any other guys.”

Really, I thought? White guys like Donna Summer, too? DeVito wasn’t exactly an Adonis, her equal in attractiveness, but who was? I wondered whether other guys outside the Black community admired this woman. It seemed perfectly logical to me that she would be admired. On TV, she seemed so tall, slim, with perfect complexion, long hair and shiny lips. She was glamorous, talented and world famous.

I didn’t go on a hunt for information about Donna Summer, but I eventually found out that it was more than her music that held crossover appeal. She married outside her race twice, and first did so in an era where the Black consciousness ethos was still pretty strong. Black power and Black beauty were still everything to us, so Donna Summer’s choices might have seemed out of step with that. But she gained a lot as a person and a professional from those experiences.

Her first husband was an Austrian actor named Helmuth Sommer, whom she married in 1973, after moving there. LaDonna Adrian Gaines married this guy, created a variation on his surname to come up with Donna Summer, moved to Munich for a while and eventually became fluent in German. They had a daughter named Mimi. That marriage ended and she eventually married a guy named Bruce Sudano, who would collaborate and produce a lot of her music, and they had two daughters, Brooklyn, an actress and Amanda.

I didn’t realize it when I was younger, but this was a daring path. But then again, maybe it was more natural. When you reach that level of professional success, racking up hit after hit after hit, double LP after double LP, single after single so much so that her ground-breaking style would inspire lots of artists and even help give rise to clubby music like techno, you run with a different crowd. You meet different men and are forced to have different experiences.

She was the first pop singer I became conscious of as girls in my generation began saving our coins and breaking away from their mothers during trips downtown to prowl musty independent music stores to buy her tapes. By the time I was 11 years old, when she released “She Works Hard for the Money,” in 1983, I thought this woman was terrific. Secretly, of course. It didn’t matter that merely listening to her ultra-racy “Love to Love You Baby,” would have gotten me into a world of trouble with my stern, austere single mother who was giving me a strict religious upbringing.

She was like the complete package to me. But I would never have the guts to try to sing her songs out loud in our house, or anyplace where other adults who knew my mother would hear me, and promptly rat me out. And I could never try to wear lipstick or put on anything that resembled those figure hugging outfits that she could rock any day of the week. And I initially resented the notion that my main claim to fame in life would be to marry outside my race, and to a white man.

Until the day I plugged a small boom box into an outlet in my room, I had to go into my mother’s pristine, well-appointed living room to listen to music. I didn’t get nearly enough of this beautiful, creative, ground-breaking mezzo-soprano who charmed all the guys and made girls like me want to emulate her. Later I would discover that she was raised on gospel music and came from a Christian home and reconnected with her faith in a powerful way as an adult. Parents really shouldn’t put too many restrictions on the music their kids listen to, because you never know what kinship, what healthy connections, could exist between the artist and that youngster.

Anyway, all I understood, in my locked-down way of living, was that she was special. And it’s really sad for her family that her warmth, hugs, faith and beauty, everything about her that enriched their lives, is now just memories.

Keeping Up With the Past





Baby has outgrown her onesies, not because they are tight on her, but because she is in full potty training mode. The snaps on the inseams get in her way as she prepares to go. And since we inhabitants of the Northeast are putting up with a frigid, wet spring, where we haven’t had a single three-day stretch of clear and warm weather, I thought those two inducememts were enough to convert her onesies into long- and short-sleeved T-shirts.

The thing is, until I took on this project I had not sewn much beyond basic hems and re-attaching buttons. I had never even owned a fully functioning sewing machine until I picked up the Singer Esteem II model at Target last winter. See the serious-looking Singer in the photo, the one with the foot pedal that comes inside the cabinet? I picked that up from an Italian woman who was clearing out her parents’ house to move them to smaller place. I mean to have it refurbished and get it up and running again, because I admire the workmanship that goes into these machines. I can’t see the sense in having a beautiful piece of work like that simply lay fallow and rust in my house.

I also like having it around because it makes me feel connected to my Caribbean past, and to a generation of women whose practical knowledge I envy and admire at turns. I know at least 10 very talented seamstresses. Aunt Mary is one of them, and she has a serious professional model. When Baby, Little Sister and I drove down for a visit on one of our (many) snowy days last winter, Aunt Mary let me take a few practice passes on it to hem up Baby’s “new” T-shirts. Readers, I was very rusty. But I was also determined to make these hands do something useful. Something that gave me something in common with some of the most creative and self-sufficient people I know. It is one thing for a family to assimilate into a culture, and send its second generation, myself included, into the professional workforce. Journalists like me tap out words for a living. (And a mean living it is, too. Generally speaking, journalists are among the most underpaid professionals you’ll find. Makes me mad.) For me, that’s not enough. I need something to do to take my mind off of work. Work, money, careers and getting ahead. It can’t be about that ALL THE TIME.

My late aunt Lena, my mother’s sister had a Singer similar to my vintage model. She kept it near one of my cousins’ bedrooms in the teacher’s cottage where we lived in rural Clarendon parish. I remember being a small child, about four or five years old, and sitting on the floor of that room while she sewed. The sultry air outside pulsed and teemed with noisy birds, monger out on the road hawked coconut water from homemade carts. Tiny lizards skittered along the verandah. Aunt Lena pumped the broad iron foot pedal and sent the machine whirring, joining these country noises, as she fashioned dresses, hemmed clothes, shortened or made drapes, or worked on whatever else was needed around the house. Aunt Lena’s son is married to a dynamo, Patrice, who is just as inventive as Martha Stewart, B. Smith and any other domestic taste maker out there. She just doesn’t have a syndicated media powerhouse to ply her wares, is all.   🙂  In any case, Patrice is a fantastic seamstress, who makes beautiful drapes, furniture covers and all sorts of other things. My mother is also proficient, and she made herself a few outfits during one of her particularly lean years in the early 1980s. I remember going into fabric stores with my mother. Colorful fabrics jutted out from everywhere, and the quiet was only broken up by one of the shopkeepers flipping the bolts of cloth around on a table to measure out the yardage, or the scrape of heavy tailor’s shears along the table as they sliced off what she wanted. I remember listening to her rev her Singer as she sewed her clothes. My mother looks great in pretty much whatever she wears—always turning heads—but I don’t remember any of her clothes (except for what she wore to my wedding) as much as I do her handmade outfits. Not to outdone by the women, my uncle Rowan worked as a tailor in London, where he lived for many years.

These women and uncle Rowan are all out of my league when it comes to sewing. We’re not even on the same planet, or galaxy, for goodness’ sake. There are times, like when I purchased drapes for Little Sister’s room and the kitchen, then brought them to a local dry cleaner to have the tailor shorten them, when I feel stupidly helpless.  With all this knowledge around me, why couldn’t I make simple, sturdy and attractive drapes for my house? Or just buy them and make them over myself? I regret taking such a late interest in developing this skill, which is just as relaxing as it is practical. For the few hours that I put into changing Baby’s onesies, sewing actually made me feel good, once I practiced. I got to feel a little more like a self-sufficient, can-do Jamaican than someone who has to run out to a store and swipe a card for every little necessity.

Black Like Mom

Making headlines on race and identity.

Ever notice that no matter how much cream or milk is added to coffee, we still call it coffee?  That’s probably why famous people of Black and mixed racial backgrounds often identify themselves as Black—with a little something extra. It’s a very simple, direct and efficient point of view to take in life.

It’s almost a non event, unless you are a Halle Berry, who is at the center of another media feeding frenzy. She appears on the cover of Ebony magazine’s March issue, in which she discusses her daughter’s racial identity, among other things. Here are a couple of quotes you’ll see splashed unkindly on the Web for the next few weeks. These come from The Daily News:

“I feel like she’s black,” the actress told the magazine. “I’m black and I’m her mother, and I believe in the one-drop theory,” Berry said, referencing the 20th-century law that classified anyone as black if they had any African ancestry. The “Frankie and Alice” star, who like her daughter is mixed-race, admitted to Ebony that Nahla will one day “have to decide” for herself how she wants to be labeled. “If you’re of multiple races, you have a different challenge, a unique challenge of embracing all of who you are but still finding a way to identify yourself, and I think that’s often hard for us to do,” she said.

It’s great that Ms. Berry has a direct definition of who her daughter is, while giving her child room to describe her identity in her own way. Berry not the first mother—Black, White or biracial—to do so. In fact, the actress once gave an interview, to a magazine, I think, where she described the grounding that her mother gave her. Her mom sat her down in front of  a mirror one day and explained that although she comes from a White mother, the world sees her as Black. And off you go!

I just updated a post about Paula Patton’s interview in the May 2010 issue of Ebony magazine, wherein she a similar “big talk” from her White mother, but from the perspective of the child, not the mom. You have to hand it to these White women who FULLY committed themselves to raising Black women who are absolutely clear about who they are. In Ms. Berry’s case, she is blessing her own child with that certainty. I haven’t come across any interviews where Ms. Patton addresses that for her son, but I assume he’ll be well-adjusted like his mom.

My those cheeks are Thicke!

Baby is going to get a similar education about her racial identity, but I’m taking a different approach than the Berrys and Pattons. My daughter will be taught that she is Black and bi-racial. With a lot of emphasis on Black first. In fact, when Baby was about four or five months old, I was holding her and chatting with a friend of mine. During a quiet pause, my friend looked at Baby, smiled meaningfully and said: “You a sister.”

And she’s right. Baby is a sister, with a little something extra, of course. She is a complete Daddy’s girl, so she won’t be willing to ignore her White background. She sees more of the White grandparents than my parents (totally their fault), so what’s she supposed to do? Just ignore her German last name and the cute overbite she gets from her White grandmother? She’ll also come of age in a society that has made a lot of room for blended racial identities and experiences. The federal government allows her to check more than one box on the Census if she likes, and I’m sure that she’ll have a lot of mixed-race playmates. These are all positive changes in society, and I hope kids like Nahla, and Baby enjoy all the best benefits from them.

Hailing Halle

This is how you know it’s a slow news month: World-famous and stunningly beautiful actresses like Halle Berry are photographed and put on the news wires for … looking gorgeous in public. The professional journalist in me says this is not news. Next! But I understand that publicists must continue to work during the summer, as well as agents, paparazzi and entertainment news editors who need to fill space during the summer slump. Therefore, if Ms. Berry is having a particularly good hair, face and body day, then post/publish/broadcast an item about her. That’ll give us everyday folk something to lift our spirits after reading the latest bizarre financial news.

Also, I could never resent Ms. Berry for all the overwhelming advantages she has racked up in life. She has obviously worked very diligently over the last 20 years or so to secure her place among Hollywood’s glitterati. To keep generating headlines at an age when Tinseltown likes to put women out to pasture just shows that she knows what to do with her show-biz savvy! And be honest: Wouldn’t we all like to have a figure as lovely as that?

But just in case you have not been paying attention, there are a couple of other major news flashes circulating the globe about one of our favorites here at the Latte Cafe. Ms. Berry has landed a cameo role on the long-running hit comedy series “The Simpsons”. She also recently arrived in South Africa for a 90-day stint to work on the film “Dark Tide“. It seems like that work itinerary will keep her in the region during her birthday, August 14, when she turns 44.

Ms. Berry will also be the cover model for the September issue of Vogue. Now that is a very big deal! This one caught my eye, as magazines will always be a favorite source of refinement, information and entertainment for me. As you know, Vogue‘s September issue kicks off the fall fashion season in New York, and effectively the world. It’s books are famously huge, and hit a gargantuan 840 pages in September 2007! The book has slimmed considerably in recent years, of course, but there is some reason to hope that its page count will bulge once again in 2010. Conde Nast must think pretty highly of her, hoping that she’ll quite carry away their September newsstand sales.

Interracial Breakups

I am never surprised when celebrity couples announce breakups. Marriage is hard enough on ordinary people like me, and I can imagine that the pressures are magnified 10 times when you’re dealing with two people in an ego-driven, beauty-obsessed industry like entertainment. Being an actor is a demanding way to earn a living, between all the networking, schmoozing, rumor-mongering, long days at shoots and filming in locations far away from home. That is a set of circumstances I would hate to have to deal with.

All that took the sting out of hearing about the breakups of two MAJOR celebrity couples featured on this blog: Halle Berry & Gabriel Aubrey and Garcelle Beauvais-Nilon & Mike Nilon. I’m not sure why the Berry/Aubrey relationship fell apart, but in the Beauvais-Nilon case, the husband was accused of carrying on a four-year affair!

Without being patronizing, I sympathize with Halle and Garcelle in all this (sorry, unless these women have been caught severely hurting their children, the sisters have my steadfast backing). Assuming that they are reasonable and stable people, it just reinforces the message that all black women everywhere will have to spend a significant part of their adult lives single, and not by choice. If stunning, accomplished beauties like them can’t find the simple happiness of a loving, devoted husband or mate, it makes me feel like true, grown up love between men and women is unattainable. But then I think: Hey, take it easy. Their problem was that they hooked up with guys, and as any woman who has been in a marriage or long relationship with a guy will tell you, those creatures are hard to love at times. Men have a shocking capacity to be immature, callous, insecure, moody and cruel. There have been times when I’ve complained to my friends or what have you about Hubby’s behavior, and some of the women who have been married a lot longer than me offer the same advice: You have to suck it up and tolerate it. Judging by the behavior I’ve witnessed, relationships are often sustained by a woman’s sheer ability to tap into her willpower and tolerate a lot of male nonsense and weakness.

Of course, the one guy out there who reads this will be insulted. So let me try to be balanced here. Sometimes, women are the flaky ones who drag down a relationship. Spend inordinate amounts of money. Gossip too much. Leave him to do too much heavy lifting in everyday duties. In either case, it’s a very depleting way to live, and as heartbreaking as it might be to separate, breaking up is sometimes the healthier thing to do.

This is why I do not actively encourage black women to date or marry outside their race, and certainly not as an alternative to black men. Marriage and long-term relationships are serious business, and people should not get into them for the wrong reasons.  If a black woman is open to a relationship and can find a more than reasonable level of happiness with a guy outside her race, I think that’s wonderful. But black women should never, ever date across color lines thinking that white, Asian or Hispanic guys are less of a headache. It may be “rough out there” for a single woman, as the husband of one of my friends once said, but it is definitely better to be single than put up some guy’s incorrigible nonsense.  And I heartily disagree with the sentiment behind Luther Vandross’ smooth ballad “I’d Rather.”

If Mike Nilon cheated on his wife while she was pregnant with their twins, he’s scum. I don’t know what Gabriel Aubry’s story is, but I’m glad that in that case, I’m not hearing a lot of mud slinging. In fact, he released a statement that sounded promising for a dignified, amicable split:

“While I will not comment on all of the wild inaccuracies being speculated about in the media, I am sad to say that Halle and I have decided together to separate at this time.   “She is, and will forever be one of the most special and beautiful people that I have ever known, and I am certain that we will continue to have only love and respect for one another.”   “We have been blessed with the most amazing daughter in the world, and her happiness and well-being are the most important thing for both of us. Please respect our privacy during this very difficult time.”

I’m not sure what’s going to happen in these two cases, but both couples have kids. As famous parents, I hope that Halle and Garcelle handle this painful episode without leaving a scandalous trail of public insults for their children to find later on.

Real Entertaining

I admit it, I like reality TV. For one hour at a time, I like to watch the antics, anguish and outlandish craziness of bachelors and bachelorettes, people getting wiped out and, more recently, Bravo TV’s “Real Housewives” series. It’s my mental junk food, after a tough day or week when I don’t want to stay up late losing sleep over extra work I’ve taken home or just to wind down. My absolute favorites are the two seasons set in Atlanta, and for the purpose of this blog, my favorite housewife is Lisa Wu Hartwell, pictured here with her father on her wedding day.

A bi-racial woman whose mom is black and dad is Chinese, I think she brings a great perspective to the group. She’s a regular bundle of energy, so it’s often interesting to see what business venture she’s got cooking next. I just hope for her sake that she can slow down and focus on one passion. It’s great to juggle a couple or even three business projects in related fields, but she seems to have so many one-off projects in vastly different areas, that it’s hard to tell where her true passion lies. I hope her passion is jewelry. Her first collection had some beautiful pieces, and I hope she has stuck with it for a second go-around. I am all for trying different things, but there is something to be said for honing a craft and having that feeling that you’ve outdone yourself. But other than that, it’s great to have different interests and hobbies. It shows that she has an open, active mind, and who could resent that? She also seems like a genuinely warm-hearted person, a great mom, wife, sister, friend and with her connections, a blast to hang out with.

Among the other houswives, the series offers plenty of wit, glamour and cheesy implausible melodrama to keep me watching—and downloading. When Sheree is onscreen, I make detailed notes of what she’s wearing and how her house is decked out. And I wish I were the first one to say: “Who gon’ check me, boo?” Kandi, with her open heart, maturity, subtleness and quiet (seeming) ways is the most admirable one of the bunch, in my mind. Nene is an absolute blast. There are times when I’m goofing around with Baby and project a southern woman’s persona. While watching her carry on, I realized to my utter shock that I’m projecting someone very much like Nene. How did that happen? I’m from the Northeast, and my family is Caribbean. It’s a mystery that I’m still trying to sort out. DaShawn is a great woman. With her foundation, she seems kind, generous and very ladylike. If more of the women were like her, the show would be less trashy, but equally entertaining for their glamourous lives and the goodness that they try to bring to others. She was not on Season 2, but I hope she, her husband and family are still thriving. I hope Kim has stopped being an adulteress and kept woman. That is so degrading.

If you’re wondering why I’m just getting around to talking about the Atlanta edition of “Real Housewives,” it’s because I don’t have cable. In some roundabout way, I heard about the series and since I have a Mac, realized I could purchase and watch whichever episodes I want. I wasted my money on the boring New Jersey edition. Aside from the way those awful gossips all (except for that nice girl from Las Vegas) dragged Danielle’s name through the mud in their town, the season was a waste of time.

I don’t read other blogs that have mentioned the Atlanta series. I like to take the show at face value and trust that these women, all of whom are mothers, are a lot more multi-dimensional and solid than the show makes them out to be. Let’s be honest: Neither Bravo TV nor any other network with a reality TV show is looking out for the best interest of the people who participate. They don’t care if the public assails them on cheap, mean-spirited blogs. And anyway, this ain’t that kinda party!  We’re a family establishment, and we don’t call women certain names. Their children could read this one day!

Lisa Wu Hartwell’s parents are still together, which is fantastic for a couple of reasons. They’ve built an enduring marriage and what looks like a solid family, and they’ve weathered what must have been tests and trials from back when they were young and trying to make it. Sometimes I look around and wonder how some of my aunts and parents of my friends did it: stayed married for 30, 40 years. Hubby sometimes makes me so mad!  But I guess I go back to that article I read years ago about the couple who were married for 75 years. Seventy-five years! They said it helps when you take the time to be considerate of your spouse’s feelings. To know that way back in the day a Chinese man loved a black woman enough to (presumably) show her that he cares for all those decades is heartwarming. To cross that cultural divide and devote yourself to someone and raise a family with them is just plain beautiful. More black women deserve that kind of love, whether it comes from within the culture and, if they are open, from outside of it.

The Little Black Dress

KorsDressSunday mornings are not an appropriate time to read hard news stories, so it is no surprise that I was perusing the Style section of the Sunday Times several days ago. I was happy to spot Paula Patton in the Pulse column. She looks lovely and glamorous in that little black Michael Kors dress, and she has a few things to say about the merits of looking feminine and beautiful. But I wish they hadn’t cropped out so much of the footwear. What little I saw of those Zanotti boots looked quite promising.

Separately, reports are going around on the Internet that Paula and husband Robin Thicke are expecting their first child. Well, I guess Paula can relax and enjoy the good news now, unlike last year, when some reporters began speculating about a pregnancy after observing the way a certain dress fit on her. I wish them well, and hope that they cherish every happy moment.


I was all set to congratulate Halle Berry and Gabriel Aubry on their second blessed event. But then I found this video, in which a stunning Halle (is this woman even capable of looking less that gorgeous? Ever?) dispels recent pregnancy rumors. So for now, it seems, there will be no second wave of unfair beauty born into the world, no second set of onesies, rompers, or burp cloths, either. I guess those best wishes will have to wait a little longer. Nevertheless, Halle has seemed very content for a long time, which is great. I hope that health and happiness continue to follow her and her beautiful family, wherever they go.


A Cutie Pie Splish Splash

I bought baby’s first swimsuit last month for our road trip to Vermont, hoping that we would have weather that was clear and hot enough for her to use it at a nice lake or something. It is blue, with a cutaway back (don’t ask me why an infant’s swimsuit has a cutaway back), and little frills on the back. Super cute.


Alas, we never got to put the swimsuit to use, because the weather was never clear or warm enough. Instead, we had damp and mild conditions during the nearly week long trip. I don’t understand why we continue to get so much rainy, dreary weather. I’m not discouraged, though. Summer is not over. If the weather changes and gives us a couple of consecutive sunny, clear and hot weekends, and if Hubby and I can act fast enough, maybe we can organize a day trip to Cape May or another family-friendly beach in the area.

Meanwhile, I wandered onto a celebrity news slideshow, which purported to have summer vay-cay pictures, hoping to spot some of my favorite “Lattecafe” moms. Alas, there was only one — of Halle Berry with her darling daughter Nahla. Anyway, here they are. Nahla’s dad is not in this frame, but here you can find more photos of the beautiful family’s Miami getaway. So my question is: What is that conspicuous piece of jewelry on Halle’s left ring finger? Have I been under a rock lately or did Halle and Gabriel get married in secret?