Tag: African American

Remembering LaShawn Daniels (1977-2019)

LaShawn Daniels, a Grammy Award-winning songwriter, died Tuesday as a result of injuries from a car accident at the age of 41, according to CNN. His writing credits spanned decades and genres, and included hits like Whitney Houston’s “It’s Not Right but It’s OK,” Michael Jackson’s “You Rock My World,” Destiny’s Child “Say My Name,” and Lady Gaga’s “Telephone.” Daniels’ wife, April Daniels, posted a statement to Instagram announcing the death of her husband.

“It is with deep sorrow and profound sadness that we announce the passing of our beloved husband, father, family member and friend, LaShawn Daniels who was the victim of a fatal car accident in South Carolina,” writes wife April Daniels. “A Grammy Award-winning producer and songwriter, Daniels was a man of extraordinary faith and a pillar in our family.”

Daniels, better know as “Big Shiz,” was instrumental in creating the sound of late Nineties and early 2000s R&B and pop. In a 2018 interview with Rolling Out, Daniels described his working relationship with Whitney Houston. “We would talk about relationships and she loved talking about real situations,” he said. “She didn’t want to sing about anything that was fake, Whitney always wanted to keep it real. I think that’s another thing that made her special and people relate to her. It would start from a conversation and we’d go from there.”

LaShawn is survived by his wife, April, and his 3 sons.

 

 

Remembering B Smith (1949-2020)

At age 70, Smith succumbed to early onset Alzheimer’s, which she had been battling for years. She died Saturday at her Long Island home with family nearby.

Plenty of media have described Smith as the “black Martha Stewart.” And superficially, one could see why: Both women had been models (Smith appeared on the covers of several fashion magazines, the first brown-skinned black model to be featured on Mademoiselle’s cover in the 1970s). Both had a genius for cooking and entertaining. Both eventually built an empire based on their skills (food, decorating, entertaining, home keeping). And when people (mostly white people) called Smith the black Martha, they meant it as a compliment. Smith saw it as well-intended but shortsighted.

“Martha Stewart has presented herself doing the things domestics and African Americans have done for years,” Smith told New York magazine in a 1997 interview. “We were always expected to redo the chairs and use everything in the garden. This is the legacy that I was left. Martha just got there first.” True, but Smith made up for that by diving into everything she did with passion.

Born to a steelworker father and a mother who was a part-time housekeeper, Barbara Elaine Smith left her Western Pennsylvania hometown of Scottsdale for a modeling career right after high school. Barbara became B. as her modeling career took off. After a successful career with modeling agency Wilhelmina and several lucrative corporate contracts, Smith became interested in restaurants.

She married her second husband, Dan Gasby, in 1992, and together they created an empire that encompassed bestselling cookbooks, the weekly show and a lifestyle magazine that was briefly published by American Express. Eventually there were also housewares, bed linens and even an At Home with B. Smith furniture line.

Smith opened her first eponymous restaurant in Manhattan’s theater district in 1986. Two more B. Smith restaurants followed: one near her weekend home on Long Island and the other in the historic Union Station complex in Washington, D.C.

Smith had been showing signs of forgetfulness for a while. In 2013, after she lost her train of thought while she was doing a cooking demonstration on NBC’s Today, she sought a doctor’s opinion.

The devastating verdict: tests indicated she was in the beginning stages of early onset Alzheimer’s disease. She and Gasby went public with the news in 2014. Smith put on a brave face and told the public she intended to live and enjoy life until she couldn’t.

The B. Smith who appeared in a public service announcement the following year was a woman whose wattage had dimmed considerably. Her disease was progressing swiftly. Her famously radiant smile flashed less frequently. Her sparkling eyes looked vacant, she forgot things easily and she once got lost in Manhattan for several hours.

Despite that, she and Gasby did several interviews to educate the public and destigmatize Alzheimer’s. They also wrote a book, Before I Forget, about dealing with the disease. They were determined to try to make a difference, as Alzheimer’s is known to be more prevalent in women and African Americans.

It’s a hard call that more and more Americans are going to have to make, as more of us are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Last year, the Alzheimer’s Association estimated 5.8 million people have the disease; 200,000 of those have early onset.

Remembering Betty Wright (1953-2020)

The singer and songwriter Betty Wright, who has died of cancer aged 66, occupied a significant position in African-American music across six decades, beginning with powerhouse gospel in the 1950s and settling on an R&B, soul and funk groove from the 60s onwards that eventually led to work with superstar rappers of the 2000s.

Wright’s career began as a young child in a gospel group in Florida, and her signature song, Clean Up Woman (1971), was recorded when she was only 17, epitomising what became known as “the Miami sound” – Floridian soul music shaped by the many facets of her home city’s cultural melange.

After years of solid achievement in the US as a singer and songwriter, in the mid-80s she set up her own record label and, although she continued to record her own material, began to make a new name for herself as a producer and songwriter, collaborating with the likes of Gloria Estefan and Joss Stone. Later still her material was much sampled – including by Beyoncé – and she was able to undertake projects with rappers such as Snoop Dogg and Lil Wayne.

She was born in Miami, to Rosa (nee Braddy-Wright) and McArthur Norris. The infant Bessie – as Betty was christened – was co-opted into the family gospel group, the Echoes of Joy, at the age of two. The Echoes worked the Southern US gospel circuit and Bessie proved to be a vocal prodigy – so much so that by the time the group split in 1965, she was confident enough to start singing on her own, in a new R&B vein, and with a new name – Betty Wright.

Willie Clarke and Clarence Reid, two Miami-based musicians, were so impressed by the young girl that they signed her to Deep City, the only African-American record label in Florida. Wright’s debut 45, Paralysed, was released in 1965, and it sold well locally. However, Deep City lacked the resources to promote records properly, and so Reid and Clarke eventually passed Wright on to Henry Stone, a distributor with experience and contacts who was launching Alston Records in Miami.

Aged 14, Wright recorded her debut album for Alston, My First Time Around (1968), which not only revealed her to be a formidable soul singer but generated a single, Girls Can’t Do What the Guys Do, that reached the Top 40s of the US and Canadian pop charts.

Although subsequent singles failed to make much of an impression, Wright continued to sing in the Miami clubs on the weekends, building up valuable contacts in the music business. Then chart success returned in 1971 with Clean Up Woman, written by Clarke and Reid, which got to No 6 in the US. Based around a distinctive guitar lick played by Willie Hale, Clean Up Woman’s breezy, danceable funk ensured that Wright would be one of the few school pupils ever to have turned 18 with a million-selling hit record behind her.

The song also helped to launch the Miami sound, whose origins Wright associated firmly with the city’s vibrant and fluctuating cultural scene. “You’ve got a little Cuba, a little Jamaica, and a little Haiti; you’ve got a large Jewish culture and you’ve got calypso,” she told Billboard magazine. “Then you’ve got people who were born here or came from South Carolina, where they’ve got a heavy African culture too. It’s a very rhythmic roots music. Even the white acts that come out of Miami tend to be very soulful. We’ve got that serious, serious conga rhythm.”

Wright continued to produce popular songs across the 1970s – Baby Sitter, Let Me Be Your Lovemaker, Secretary, Where is the Love?, Tonight is the Night – although none quite matched the success of Clean Up Woman and generally made more of an impact on the US R&B charts than in the pop sphere. A prolific songwriter, she won a Grammy for Best R&B Song in 1976 for Where is the Love?, a song she had co-written.

Signing to Epic Records in 1981, Wright quickly grew disillusioned with the restrictions of being with a major company, and so launched her own Ms B record label in 1985. With her 1987 album Mother Wit she became the first African-American woman to achieve a gold album on her own label.

From that point onwards, however, Wright began to achieve greater success by working with other artists. Estefan’s US No 1 single Coming Out of the Dark (1991) featured Wright’s vocal arrangements, and Wright co-produced and co-wrote every track on Stone’s 2004 album Mind, Body & Soul, which reached No 1 in the UK.

In 2006 she appeared as a mentor on the US reality TV talent show Making the Band, and in 2008 produced two songs on Tom Jones’s album 24 Hours. Her 2011 album, Betty Wright: The Movie, featured Snoop Dogg and Lil Wayne, and was praised by reviewers as her best effort in 30 years.

Wright continued to tour almost up to her death – she sold out the Barbican Centre in London in July 2019 – and earned considerable amounts from her back catalogue. Clean Up Woman has often been sampled, while Beyoncé used a section of Girls Can’t Do What the Guys Do for her 2006 single Upgrade U.

In 1985 Wright married Noel “King Sporty” Williams, a Jamaican musician who had co-written the song Buffalo Soldier with Bob Marley. Noel died in 2015; Wright is survived by three daughters and a son.

Remembering Ja’Net DuBois (1945-2020)

Ja’Net DuBois, an actress who left her stamp on television playing beloved neighbor Willona Woods on “Good Times” and the voice behind the theme song to “The Jeffersons,” has died, according to Kesha Fields, DuBois’ youngest daughter. She was 74.

DuBois died peacefully in her sleep Monday at her home in Glendale, California, Fields said.
Her death was unexpected as she had no underlying health issues, her daughter added.
DuBois had a career that began in the late ’60s, but she became one of classic television’s most beloved figures thanks to her role on “Good Times,” a spinoff following characters from the TV show “Maude.” The series, from Norman Lear, Eric Monte and Mike Evans, ran for six seasons from 1974-1979.
“If you got a chance to know her and lived through the words of her song or just watched her contagious laughing spirit, every time she walked through the door on the set of ‘Good Times,’ that was her. She was effortlessly portraying a character because that was her spirit,” Fields told CNN.
An accomplished theater and music performer, DuBois co-wrote and performed “Movin’ On Up,” the theme song to “The Jeffersons.”

Fields said DuBois wrote the song “as a gift to her mother for all the promises she made to her when she was younger — what she would do when she reached a certain level of stardom.”
After the conclusion of “Good Times,” DuBois’s acting career continued with guest roles on shows like “Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper,” “Home Improvement,” “ER,” and “Moesha.”
She also appeared in “The Wayans Bros.” and was part of the voice talent on Eddie Murphy’s “The PJs” animated series, a role for which she won two primetime Emmy Awards.
On Instagram, Janet Jackson, who was one of DuBois’s co-stars on “Good Times,” paid tribute to the actress. “I saw first hand how she broke stereotypes and changed the landscape for Black women in entertainment,” Jackson wrote. “I’m grateful in recent years I had a chance to see her and create more lasting memories. I pray for comfort for all her family and friends. Thank you Ja’Net, I’ll miss you.”
DuBois is survived by three children Provat, Rani, and Kesha and “a host of grandchildren,” said Fields.

#SaturdayStamps: Dorothy Height

 

Who Was Dorothy Height?

Dorothy Height was a leader in addressing the rights of both women and African Americans as the president of the National Council of Negro Women. In the 1990s, she drew young people into her cause in the war against drugs, illiteracy and unemployment. The numerous honors bestowed upon her include the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1994) and the Congressional Gold Medal (2004).

Early Life

Born on March 24, 1912, in Richmond, Virginia, African American activist Dorothy Height spent her life fighting for civil rights and women’s rights. The daughter of a building contractor and a nurse, Height moved with her family to Rankin, Pennsylvania, in her youth. There, she attended racially integrated schools.

In high school, Height showed great talent as an orator. She also became socially and politically active, participating in anti-lynching campaigns. Height’s skills as a speaker took her all the way to a national oratory competition. Winning the event, she was awarded a college scholarship.

Height had applied to and been accepted to Barnard College in New York, but as the start of school neared, the college changed its mind about her admittance, telling Height that they had already met their quota for black students. Undeterred, she applied to New York University, where she would earn two degrees: a bachelor’s degree in education in 1930, and a master’s degree in psychology in 1932.

Tireless Activist

After working for a time as a social worker, Height joined the staff of the Harlem YWCA in 1937. She had a life-changing encounter not long after starting work there. Height met educator and founder of the National Council of Negro Women Mary McLeod Bethune when Bethune and U.S. first lady Eleanor Roosevelt came to visit her facility. Height soon volunteered with the NCNW and became close to Bethune.

One of Height’s major accomplishments at the YWCA was directing the integration of all of its centers in 1946. She also established its Center for Racial Justice in 1965, which she ran until 1977. In 1957, Height became the president of the National Council of Negro Women. Through the center and the council, she became one of the leading figures of the Civil Rights Movement. Height worked with Martin Luther King Jr., A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young, John Lewis and James Farmer—sometimes called the “Big Six” of the Civil Rights Movement—on different campaigns and initiatives.

In 1963, Height was one of the organizers of the famed March on Washington. She stood close to King when he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. Despite her skills as a speaker and a leader, Height was not invited to talk that day.

Height later wrote that the March on Washington event had been an eye-opening experience for her. Her male counterparts “were happy to include women in the human family, but there was no question as to who headed the household,” she said, according to the Los Angeles Times. Height joined in the fight for women’s rights. In 1971, she helped found the National Women’s Political Caucus with Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan and Shirley Chisholm.

While she retired from the YWCA in 1977, Height continued to run the NCNW for two more decades. One of her later projects was focused on strengthening the African American family. In 1986, Height organized the first Black Family Reunion, a celebration of traditions and values which is still held annually.

LATER IN LIFE

Height received many honors for her contributions to society. In 1994, President Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She stepped down from the presidency of the NCNW in the late 1990s but remained the organization’s chair of the board until her death in 2010. In 2002, Height turned her 90th birthday celebration into a fundraiser for the NCNW; Oprah Winfrey and Don King were among the celebrities who contributed to the event.

n 2004, President George W. Bush gave Height the Congressional Gold Medal. She later befriended the first African American president of the United States, Barack Obama, who called her “the godmother of the Civil Rights Movement,” according to The New York Times. Height died in Washington, D.C., on April 20, 2010.

Former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was among the many who mourned the passing of the famed champion for equality and justice. Clinton told the Washington Post that Height “understood that women’s rights and civil rights are indivisible. She stood up for the rights of women every chance she had.”

On February 1, 2017, the United States Postal Service kicked off Black History month with the issuance of the Dorothy Height Forever stamp honoring her civil rights legacy.

#SaturdayStamps: Jimi Hendrix

Widely recognized as one of the most creative and influential musicians of the 20th century, Hendrix displayed an innovative style that embraced the influences of rock, R&B, modern jazz and the blues, inspiring musical artists of his era and beyond.

Jimi Hendrix was born in Seattle, WA, Nov. 27, 1942. Originally named Johnny Allen Hendrix, his name was later changed by his father to James Marshall Hendrix. Entirely self-taught, he had to adjust his first right-handed guitar to his left-handed playing; he restrung it upside down and turned the instrument around to play it. The teenager soon began playing with bands in the Seattle area.

Hendrix pushed the boundaries of what a guitar could do, using a basic setup that at times included a wah-wah pedal to control the output from the amplifier to produce voice-like tones; a fuzz-box to create distortion of the sound; and a Univibe, a phaser that created regular, pulsating changes of pitch, all channeled through a set of Marshall amplifiers at top volume. He was able to manipulate the various devices to produce sounds that could be loud — the quintessential psychedelic music — or melodic and gentle. A master at the controlled use of distortion and feedback, he expanded the instrument’s vocabulary in a way that had never been heard before — or since.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992 and the U.K. Music Hall of Fame in 2005. Rolling Stone ranked Hendrix No. 1 on its list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time, and No. 6 on its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.

In 1991, Hendrix received his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and in 1993, he was awarded a posthumous Grammy for lifetime achievement.

#FlybySaturday: James Banning

James Banning was an African American aviator.

He was born in Oklahoma, the son of Riley and Cora Banning. The family moved to Ames, Iowa, in 1919, where he studied electrical engineering at Iowa State College for a little more than a year. Dreaming from boyhood of being a pilot, James Herman Banning was repeatedly turned away from flight schools because he was Black. He eventually learned to fly from an army aviator at Raymond Fisher’s Flying Field in Des Moines He became the first Black aviator to obtain a license from the U.S. Dept. of Commerce.

Banning also operated the J.H. Banning Auto Repair Shop in Ames from 1922 to 1928. He left Iowa for Los Angeles in 1929 where he was the chief pilot for the Bessie Coleman Aero Club. There he became a demonstration pilot flying a biplane named “Miss Ames” for his days in the Midwest. In 1932, Banning and another Black pilot, Thomas C. Allen, became the first Blacks to fly coast-to-coast from Los Angeles to Long Island, NY. Using a plane pieced together from junkyard parts, they made the 3,300 mile trip in less than 42 hours in the air. The trip actually required 21 days to complete, however, because the pilots had to raise money each time they stopped.

Sadly, James Banning was killed in a plane crash during an air show in San Diego in 1933. He was a passenger in a biplane flown by a Navy pilot, which stalled and entered an unrecoverable spin in front of hundreds of horrified spectators.

#FitnessFridays: Lita Lewis

Born in Los Angeles, California, raised in Sydney, Australia, returned to the United States and made Brooklyn, NY home for 10 years before moving back to her birth city of Los Angeles.

She has traveled the world motivating people to pursue their dreams and reach their goals. From her earliest experiences, surrounded by this rich combination of cultures, lifestyles, and body types, Lewis developed a keen sense of what beauty is and what it is not. Working tirelessly to transform and break traditional molds of the “Americanized” fitness image has been the staple of her brand.

With an African American and Samoan ancestry, Lewis developed a deep love and admiration for foreign cultures, ethnicities and a genuine appreciation for diversity in people from all walks of life. Regardless of who you are and where you come from she learned that true wealth is health!

The way Lewis sees it, fitness and health isn’t about being skinny or curvy—it’s about being the best version of yourself. That means honoring your body by leading an active lifestyle, fueling yourself with whole nutritious foods and finding time to rejuvenate your mental and spiritual peace.

The motivational speaker and life coach is all about building strong minds and bodies whilst sharing her positive messaging via social media. Teaching young women to become the best version of themselves, whether skinny or curvy frames, her philosophy is all about accepting, embracing and building strong minds, being healthy for life, finding inner balance and pursuing and accomplishing personal growth- Your best you!

Lewis is also widely known for giving light to fans experiencing breakups, firings,
deaths, and many of life’s other challenges. Even as massive as Lewis’ social media platform has grown, Lewis has greater ambitions than being recognized for her beauty and popularity although she does not shy away from owning her reputation of being the poster child of strength and sensuality. She promotes her dislike for stereotypes, unhealthy fitness gimmicks and most of all, the notion that femininity and sexiness cannot also be tough, bold and durable.

In addition to her accomplishments on the stage, in the gym, and on the web, Lewis is also an incredible public speaker and motivational life coach. She can often be seen on the lecture circuit as a guest speaker. She enjoys the personal reach this platform provides, allowing her to
speak her mind and to share her insights and experiences pertaining to holistic health and benefits of daily exercise.

As vast as the Lita Lewis brand is, authenticity, organic beauty and eminent class are reflected back in all it touches. Her loving and compassionate spirit, coupled with her transformational message of maintaining inner and outer strength and positivity continue to help, inspire and eternally transform all that she touches.

#HumpDayLoveDay: Spike Lee + Tonya Lee

Spike and Tonya met at a Congressional Black Caucus dinner in 1992.  Tonya recounts the pair’s first meeting “We walked past each other. Spike circled back around and proceeded to give me the third degree. ‘Are you an actress? A model? A singer? Who are you here with? What do you do? Do you have a boyfriend?’”

Tonya was attracted to Spike’s creative career, which was a sharp contrast to her role as a corporate lawyer when they first met. These lovebirds have a love of the arts in common. Spike is a talented filmmaker of course, and Tonya is a concert-level pianist, author and TV producer.

Spike and Tonya were married in 1993. This year marks their 27th wedding anniversary.