Too Little, Too Late

Kerry adds color and dimension to Vanity Fair.

Kerry adds color and dimension to Vanity Fair.

Well look at this. Vanity Fair magazine has decided, in a rare move, to feature a Black woman on its cover. Kerry Washington, the “Scandal” lead actress whose star is burning bright appears in her glory submerged in a pool in a white swimsuit.

(She also recently got married, so sincere congratulations are in order.)

Aside from the fact that Kerry herself is stunning on the cover and throughout the inside spread, and the article is probably well written, I scarcely care. My recent post “A Scandal-Free Life” accounts for just a small part of the apathy.

Although Kerry Washington deserves a lot of credit for her hard work paying off, the timing is all wrong and disingenuous. Kerry is really hot this year, thanks to her television work and the film “Django Unchained,” and she should have been featured in February’s Hollywood issue. Instead they decide to honor this woman’s career surge and influence on pop culture by giving her a summer issue. August is traditionally the skinniest on most magazines’ publishing calendars, coinciding with vacation travels. Fewer readers means lower advertising spending and smaller issues. Also, advertisers sometimes hold back for the traditionally fat September issues, when everyone is back from holiday and are focused on fashion again.

But aren’t you being  a little sensitive, Paige, you ask, especially when Beyonce was on the cover of the Italian VF (April)?

Well, no. Vanity Fair completely ignored a stellar list of Black Americans for their 2012 covers. I wasn’t expecting some overexposed starlet to lead an issue, nor did I think VF  should degrade itself by giving to me “straight, no chaser.” But Barack Obama, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston were all the subjects of lengthy features in 2012, yet they were all tucked inside. Gabrielle Douglas was tucked inside, too, but that was more understandable. They don’t seem to focus heavily on sports figures, but prefer popular American actors, musicians, heirs and heiresses with some kind of mystique. When you pass over all three of the Black Americans with the most undisputed mainstream appeal in modern times, you are absolutely in the wrong. The only person missing from their list of slights was Will Smith.

The most puzzling to me was the June 2012 issue, with Whitney. The feature itself sounded like it was written by someone who never heard of her, and was squeezing this in as a freelance assignment between gigs for OK! and People. Marilyn Monroe, who has been dead 50 years, made the cover because of some previously unpublished–until that issue–nude photos of her. For goodness sake! It’s sad that Marilyn died so young and all, but she was known as more of a sex symbol, not a real actress, and she  never won any major awards in her discipline. Unlike Whitney who shared Marilyn’s mixed legacy of substance abuse, but managed to haul home enough awards to fill a small apartment.

That’s how Vanity Fair carries on. They’d to anything to stock the newsstands with a mainstream representation of America, even if it means running a rehashed profiles of late actors like Grace Kelly, Ms. Monroe and obsessing over love letters between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

Now there have been a couple of Black men on Vanity Fair’s cover in recent years–half-naked athletes. Draw your own conclusions.

So once again, I dropped a piece of pop culture because of the narrow way the gatekeepers chose to handle things. I might pick up a copy of August’s Vanity Fair, just to read what Ms. Washington has to say on the chosen topics. She probably doesn’t mention her marriage, because of the lead time on planning those issues. But I know that aside from being diverted by some of her films, which I’ll own up to enjoying, I find less and less that I want to influence me.

From Love Story to Horror Show

More than eight months ago millions of people hunkered over their laptop, tablet and smart phone screens to watch Whitney Houston’s funeral streaming over the Web, and by now, you know that one of the highlights was Kevin Costner’s tender and moving speech about the late singer.

In the broadest sense of the word, he told a love story—how they met, developed a tight bond, and how death parted them. You can either believe that he was in love with her romantically at one point, which seems obvious to me, or take it that he cared very much about her as a friend. Either way, it was a tiny, privileged peek into the psyche of a lady who was fascinating because of her astounding and versatile vocal gifts, her beauty and her appealing personality. It satisfied some of our endless curiosity about Whitney, but held back just enough to respect the privacy that she always treasured.

It would have been nice for music lovers to grieve and preserve her legacy after that terrible Saturday in February, and for Whitney to rest in peace. But for some odd reason, the decision makers in her family aren’t choosing to let it happen that way. By now you know that “The Houstons: On Our Own” is about to debut on the Lifetime channel, and that it’s premised on how the Houstons grieve and adjust to a new normal without Whitney. Critics say its exploitative.

Pat Houston, the late singer’s sister-in-law and business manager, says that’s not the case. It’s hard to take her word for it, though, because she appears in the show and plays a key role in its development. According to news stories, the real genesis to this new series (actually, I hope it flops and gets pulled) was a show called Power BrokeHers, which follows the lives of women CEOs and high-level executives as they balance their careers and families. That concept sounded fun and interesting, actually! But it seems rather opportunistic to veer away from that after Whitney’s death and change the show into something completely focused on Pat and her family, and then use Whitney Houston’s death as the driving plot point! And as I recall, Whitney didn’t participate in the Power BrokHers pilot, nor was she in the one promotional trailer I found for the series.

PowerBrokHers Sizzle<

It sounds like Whitney was simply unwilling to open up her personal life for reality TV again, and after “Being Bobby Brown,” who could blame her? It also casts a very suspect tinge over this whole ‘On Our Own’ project, that Pat Houston seems to have found the “hook” she needed to land a full cycle of episodes for a series. I sure don’t like to think that way, but that’s how the circumstances are aligning themselves.

It gets worse. Much of ‘On Our Own’ will also focus on the daily life of Whitney’s only child, Bobbi Kristina.  And as far as Bobbi Kristina is concerned, it’s hard enough for 19-year-olds to figure out who they are and find their place in the world without having your private life made public. Don’t we all have silly decisions and actions from that phase of our lives that we’d rather keep from the whole world? It seems only fair that Bobbi Kristina should have some measure of anonymity and privacy as she deals with life without her mother.

I don’t quite understand Pat Houston’s claim to fame here, or why I should watch the inner workings of her domestic life. Does she manage other singers or recording artists? The most I was able to find out about Pat Houston’s other business ventures was that she has a company called Marion P Candles, Inspired By Whitney Houston (got to get that promotional tag line in there), and a clothing store called Celebrity Consignment Boutique. OK, great. She is a busy business woman, but I still don’t like the premise of this show.

This is all a moot point. The episodes have been shot, edited and are ready to broadcast to Heaven only knows how many millions of households. Readers, I prefer to remember the Whitney portrayed in magazine interviews, sit downs with skillful and intelligent television hosts and sources other than the muckraking mediums out there, including reality television. I prefer looking through a tiny peephole into the beautiful story that Kevin Costner shared, rather than have all access to an emotional and delicate healing process that really shouldn’t be available to me at all.

Samson and Whitney

The ‘Sparkle’ remake that opened today was about updating a groundbreaking African-American cult classic for a younger audience with more modern sensibilities. When you exclude that horrible night in February before the Grammy awards, you would still have an event that returned a fresh, luminous Whitney to the big screen. The return of a musical legend and box-office heavyweight to the biggest stage in entertainment. During the red carpet warm up event, the reporter mentioned that ‘Sparkle’ had sold the most tickets of all other movies that week. Quite an achievement. This is almost 20 years after Houston’s breakout portrayal of Rachel Marron opposite Kevin Costner in ‘The Bodyguard,’ and yet another testament to Whitney’s enduring appeal to the public.

Smoky Robinson’s appearance and comments made for the third-best moment of the event. He really loved her and called her “his baby!”

When Jordin Sparks saw him and embraced him, it almost made me mist up. Their embrace was sweet, memorable, and I can only imagine what an amazing photo threesome Jordin, Whitney and Smoky would have made.

Anyway, the stat on the ticket sales settled a lingering question for me: Was Whitney strong enough, in health, spirit and voice, to help carry this movie? She has a supporting role, whereas Jordin is the lead, but let’s be honest. This was a big, big movie, with enough room for two stars, and Whitney is the other one. We were all looking for her to return to form with this film.

Shortly after hearing about Whitney’s death, I thought about parallels in her life and that of the Biblical character Samson. It’s either instructional doctrine or an allegory, depending on where you are on the metaphysical spectrum. It’s a familiar story either way: a man appointed as judge over Israel who is lead a consecrated life and is blessed with superhuman strength and matchless public appeal. But like a lot of other gifted and charismatic men, Samson strayed. Felled by a woman, of all things, sent by his enemies to destroy him. Delilah was a transparent minx, taking all his bait whenever she asked about the source of his strength. But Samson must have been thick, and he failed to recognize what a threat she was. He revealed the secret of his strength. Then came his public humiliation, gradual redemption and last stand.

This is Whitney’s first movie in a long time, and it turned out to be her last stand. ‘Sparkle’ took a while to complete because of three deaths associated, two aside from hers. Aaliyah was the favorite to play the title role until she died in a plane crash about 12 years ago, and a famed author also passed away. But it’s also her last stand. A chance to shine again as the rare, inimitable talent and true beauty that she was. I say “true beauty” on purpose to quote Costner who described her that way just before her album “I Look to You” came out in 2009. (I have a sneaking suspicion—though totally baseless—that Costner had a massive crush on Whitney at a certain point. LOL.) The album displays the singing of a former superhuman vocalist whose gift, like Samson’s had been cut down. She sounded not ordinary, but noticeably different from that supernova we had all been accustomed to hearing. It is unfair to ask any vocalist to sound exactly the same after blasting her three-octave, mezzo soprano voice for 30 years. But Whitney was and is recognizable on that album. Her essence and “true beauty” shone through on that album. It’s undeniable. The high notes and elasticity that astounded the world were diminished, but not totally gone. The technical mastery and passion were all there. When she sings “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength,” I feel just as moved and tingly as I did when she sang “Where Do Broken Hearts Go.” That is true beauty, at least in my view.

‘Sparkle’ has no direct bearing on the theme of this blog. Most black women everywhere, whether in an interracial marriage or not, though, have an interest in Whitney. We all wanted to see her survive and thrive. I have plans to see ‘Sparkle’ next week, with a friend, after the initial wave of moviegoers. I hate the noisy chatty crowds, and the second weekends weed them out. No doubt I’ll hear very soon whether Whitney, like Samson, shook off the pain and regrets of the past, and the taunts of the Philistines who tried to pull her down. We’ll see whether Whitney called on God for another burst of strength and brought the house down.

Zany Edges Talk and Product Review

Summertime is usually growing season for all types of things, including black and bi-racial hair. Recently I switched to a new shampoo, conditioner and light curl-enhancing system from for Baby, and it’s from Carol’s Daughter. I did it mainly because I was shopping for our family trip to New Orleans (more on that later) and I needed to pick up some quick last-minute items at the mall.

Baby’s hair is responding incredibly well to this “Hair Milk Curl Perfecting” system. The shampoo is gentle and free of sulfates; the conditioner imparts incredible slip and shine; and the light curl booster is a great way to give her a wash & go without too much product buildup.

I might even try this stuff on my hair, just to see if it will take care of this squeaky dryness and 4C madness I have going on. I bought the full-size containers and ones for travel, and they were all shaped like those old-fashioned glass bottles. These days I think the company is selling the stuff in a re-designed package. But I would guess that they haven’t changed the formula. It works too well.

Now, on to that zany talk about edges that I mentioned in the headline. Ladies, I don’t watch trash reality TV, because I’m short on time and I don’t want my smart friends to shun me. BUT if you catch the right video blogger doing a recap, like NothingButTreble1220, I can guarantee you will be just as entertained. If not more. Do yourself a huge favor and watch this segment of her “Trash TV Review-LHHATL.” That’s for Love and Hip Hop Atlanta.

The mere title of that show puts me off and I will never give VH1 any of my hard-earned money for that nonsense. but HER recaps get constant play on my laptop, smart phone, iPod Touch; and I listen to them on the train, in the car whenever Hubby is driving, on the patio at work during my 10-minute personal call break, and in Washington Square Park where I eat lunch in the summer. Skip forward to the 9:57 mark for the best effect.

Lord! This girl is a natural. The camera loves her, and she is obviously comfortable with it. What makes her stand out from the field of YouTubers is her fluency in urban church-speak. The phrases, the quips and the jokes just roll off her tongue, making many a YouTube watcher laugh and hit replay, I’m sure.

So do yourself a favor, and check out her review. No cable bill necessary. LOL!

I Love These Drama Queens

June is Black Music Month, when we are supposedly to pause and delve into the major musical contributions of Black men and women in this country. This doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. One would need a decade to get through everything important left to us by Louis Armstrong, Big Mama Thornton, Robert Johnson, Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Sarah Vaughan—do you see what I mean? The list goes on. And I’ve only mentioned one person from New Orleans, the cradle of so much important Black and American music.

I want to shine a light on classical singers, who don’t get enough public appreciation, in my opinion. I’m also going to reach way back to Marian Anderson, Shirley Verrett and Leontyne Price, a contralto, mezzo-soprano and soprano, respectively, who all seem to be acknowledged as the foundational black classical singers of our time. Whether you download them on iTunes, read about them in archival Opera News articles, or sample them for free on the Internet, critics and devoted classical music followers laud them all for their technical execution and heart-breaking expression in their respective vocal classifications.

Anderson was that rarest of classical songbirds, a contralto. I didn’t know this until recently, but it is fairly hard to find a classical, much less operatic, contralto. Maybe it is because they love to sing arias like “Mon coeur s’ouvre a ta voix,” originally written in French for mezzo-sopranos. Anderson handles this more beautifully, with more heartfelt expression than any other, if I may say so. She never signed with any American opera houses, although she did sing at the Metropolitan Opera House, and had a flourishing career singing in concerts and recording albums. That more than made up for the disgraceful way that the Daughters of the American Revolution treated her in 1939, refusing to permit her to sing before an integrated audience at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. Those silly ladies basically wrote Ms. Anderson’s ticket to even bigger fame, as Eleanor Roosevelt made amends by arranging for her to sing at Lincoln Memorial instead. Apparently, Anderson never signed to any major opera houses, because she felt she did not have enough acting experience, apparently and even though she had several offers from major European companies. Well, we have her recordings and loads of footage of her audiences enthralled in her song.

Verrett, on the other hand, brought he acting chops to every one of her roles during her operatic career. The stunningly beautiful mezzo-soprano pretty much owns Lady Macbeth, as many opera enthusiasts will tell you. Or so I’ve read in the Times and Opera News. She is remarkable because she successfully transitioned from mezzo-soprano to soprano, because she was artistically hungry and wanted a broader repertoire than what was available to the mezzos. It worked, apparently. See what Opera News says of her stage career:

What Verrett had, no matter what role she sang, was an intense dramatic involvement and a burning desire to give her audience its money’s worth. She was a striking beauty, blessed with a voice that had a ravishing darkness, a solid core and a thrilling attack on high notes.

Oh, la la. I’d love someone to call me a ravishing beauty blessed with a thrilling attack on high notes. Here is Verrett as Lady Macbeth, and clearly she was born for a grand stage. I like to call her the Halle Berry of opera, in the sense that she is alluringly beautiful,  ambitious and hard working. Don’t you forget that gift, her soaring, exquisite voice. She outdid Callas as Tosca, do you hear me? I wonder if Verrett’s mother swaddled her in an opera cape in her bassinet.

Anderson and Verrett are no longer with us, but we still have Price!  And what a treasure she is. Her price is far above rubies. Whether she is singing as Bess in “Porgy and Bess,” or as Floria Tosca, she devastates and reduces to tears anyone within her hearing. And that is saying something, because I don’t fall apart for any old kind of singing. But you haven’t lived, you haven’t heard music unless you’ve heard Price stop the angels in their flight with her rendition of “Vissi d’arte.” Sopranos usually thrill us with their strong, high and sparkling voices. But how does Price manage to infuse her crystal high notes with such exoticism and warmth? Aside from Price, I’ve heard Verrett and Callas deliver this aria, and I must say Price easily surpasses all I’ve ever heard in this role. Her voice is so supple and commanding. It is really a wonder to hear.

All of these ladies overcame paltry racist attacks, in one form or another, as they honed their craft. The fact that they endured those indignities for classical music earns them my utmost respect.  The very first time I heard classical music was when my mother, who was co-director of choral music at our church, taught the senior choir to sing Handel’s “The Hallelujah Chorus,” for an Easter service. (Or was it Christmas?) Years later, she brought home a stack of LPs from her college music appreciation class. I sat on our living room floor while she played all of Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, thinking, “Man, this guy was a genius. This music is out of this world.”

My mother was single, so she never taught me to play the piano like she did so proficiently, and I was too quick to give up lessons once the ascent into more difficult pieces began. I never sang. I always hated my flat contralto to what I thought were much prettier and appealing mezzo-sopranos and higher, and my mother had one of those voices.  Although Anderson was my singing hero, I preferred to read a book while my mother did her runs on hymns and traditional gospel music at home or at church. Who knows? Maybe if one of my books had contained more stories about how these ladies climbed the rough side of the mountain, I might have put aside my weakness, my fears, my general negativity and become a virtuoso pianist by now.

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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.

My Spring Cleaning

Colloquialisms, buzzwords and slang. We need them to get our points across and make the most of our busy days. Hey, I understand the need for phrases like “on the spot” or “get your ___ on” or whatever. Yet there are times when the sounds of certain phrases, just drive me nuts. They are patronizing, betray false modesty or insincerity of any kind, or they are so vacuous, overused and lazy that they are like … seriously? Really?  So in the spirit of spring cleaning, I’m digging these these phrases out from the back of my closet, stuffing them in giant plastic bags and hauling them to a pickup point for the municipal incinerator.

Don't let that sweet face fool you ...

Don't let that sweet face fool you ...

“That’s sweet of you” or “you’re so sweet.” No, I’m not sweet. Stop saying that. I’m a grown woman with a mortgage, a toddler, a career and a blog. Calling me sweet hauls me back to 10th grade when no one took me seriously and always tried to get over on me. Think about it: In a pinch, would you rather have a solid, go-to fighter on your side or a sweet little lady? Thank you! Thank you very much.

“That’s disappointing.” Politicians love this one, and I hate it. You know that they—except these Northeast mayors—would rather have a verbal throw down than peddle some nonsense about how a greedy businessman is screwing his citizens out of millions of dollars.

•  Any diatribe ending in the word “drama!”  We need to cut this out right now. Mary J. Blige had every right to use this on her 2002 album “No More Drama,” but when everybody from twittering tweens to horrific looking suburban housewives on a reality TV show  roll their eyes and talk about “all this drama…” I have to go. Please cut it out!

“I think you know that …” People sometimes use this phrase when they want to throw culpability on the other person, especially in situations where they should take some of the blame. Narcissistic bosses, aggravating neighbors and anyone else who just wants to throw you under the bus all the time use this phrase.
“Girlfriend …”  I may be black, but that doesn’t make me your girlfriend. Especially if I’ve known you for 10 minutes, you’re white, you went to an Ivy-league school and have at half dozen tailored suits hanging in your closet. On cherry wood hangers. Try again, sweetheart. See! You don’t like people using that patronizing garbage on you either, do you, toots?
Readers, these phrases have got to go. The fact is that Americans spend way too much time looking through cheap, bubble-gum colored celebrity gossip magazines, and on social networking sites absorbing this nonsense, compounding the fact that they troll these places in the first place looking for gossip. It is one thing if a character on “Friends” or the latest 20-something sitcom talks like that. But when the regular citizen picks up the vernacular of a reality TV freak and keeps it in circulation, well, that’s when I have to unplug.

Are the Kids Alright?

Image from Amazon.com

Immigrant families from the Black Diaspora are familiar with this passage: moving to countries with thriving economies to make a better living, and leaving their children behind in the care of trusted relatives and friends. Of course, the separation is never permanent. Just long enough for the mom or dad to get working papers and authorization to bring his or her spouse and kids to where they are. The idea of making such a choice for economic reasons seems hard enough, but what if one’s humanity were in the balance?

What if it was the late 18402 and you were a young slave woman, say Mary Walker, visiting Philadelphia with your master? With three young children back on a plantation in North Carolina, you might not be tempted to succumb to the urgings of abolitionists to get away. But if you and that master argued so fiercely about something that he threatened to sell your kids away from the only home they’ve ever known, then what?

Mark Walker made a choice given those terms, and you can read about it in “To Free A Family,” by Sydney Nathans. The story is drawn from letters and lots of other documents to piece together Walker’s life and what it was like for her to live through those times. I’m not sure if I could bear to be separated from Baby, but if it were inevitable and I had to make a terrible bargain, I’d at least want to scrape up an ounce of my own humanity by booking passage on the Underground Railroad, instead of waiting around helplessly until someone tore her out of my arms.

Walker was a literate slave, and was articulate enough to impress northern whites, apparently. I prefer to read stories about slaves like her, honestly, because tales of brutality meted out on field workers always leave me emotionally zapped and near tears. Judging by this book review in The Wall Street Journal, Walker’s story had a more uplifting end.

A Deafening Silence

Black History Month is well underway, and with a paltry 29 days with which to revel in the achievements of Blacks here in America and throughout the African diaspora, we need to get moving!

Camilla Williams is a great place to start. A lyric soprano, her debut in the lead role in Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” with the New York City Opera on May 15, 1946, marked a triple threat. She had never performed in an opera before; the NYC Opera had never staged “Madama Butterfly”; and no African-American had landed a contract with a major opera company previously. Ms. Williams died just last week, at around 93 years old. Sadly, Ms. Williams passed away this week, as I read in an obit in The New York Times.

What a life Camilla Williams must have lead! She was the daughter of a chauffeur and a domestic worker, really humble beginning, like more Blacks who go on to earn a line in the history books. Williams started serious vocal training from a Welsh instructor who taught at a local white college. Jim Crow segregation laws, however, required that she take lessons at his home. She graduated college, became a teacher, and embarked on a series of vocal scholarships to hone her craft.

It is a tragedy, I think, that I heard about this American gem just as she left this world, especially because I genuinely admire lyricists. Enough of the contrived, digitally enhanced embroidery that peppers so much of popular much today! Let’s hear about life, love and loss from the masters.

The Times put it another way and more eloquently:

That Miss Williams’s historic role is scarcely remembered today is rooted in both the rarefied world of opera-house politics and the ubiquitous racial anxiety of midcentury America. And though she was far too well mannered to trumpet her rightful place in history, her relegation to its margins caused her great private anguish.

“The lack of recognition for my accomplishments used to bother me, but you cannot cry over those things,” Miss Williams said in a 1995 interview with the opera scholar Elizabeth Nash. “There is no place for bitterness in singing. It works on the cords and ruins the voice. In his own good time, God brings everything right.”

I’ve only been to see two operas: Carmen and La Traviata, but I immensely enjoyed both. It’s too bad that the hustle and bustle of everyday life prevents us from seeing more productions. The Met, the American Ballet Theater and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater are just a handful of the cultural institutions that I feel are sorely neglected today. I don’t understand why more people don’t see the beauty, so moving and perfectly executed, in the fine arts. Hubby and I took Little Sister to see the Alvin Ailey company when it came through Newark, hoping to instill an appreciation of a beautiful art form. She was languid and pouty through the whole thing, and not even the rousing, masterfully done “Revelations” could get her to stop slumping in her seat. It bothered me quite a bit, but I suppose that since the dancers were not bumpin’ and grindin’, or shaking her hands for their men to “put a ring on it.” their exertions were lost on one so young.

Please don’t get me wrong. I heartily congratulate Beyonce and her cohort on her well-earned success. It would be nice, is all, if somehow the public’s musical and artistic diet could be more balanced, and if they could embrace those shake our hearts, not their booties.