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Motown: The Musical actress-singer delights in her multiple legendary roles

By Charles Hallman, Staff Writer

Motown: The Musical, the hit Broadway musical now touring the country, arrives next week for a 13-day run at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Minneapolis. Grammy-nominated artist Ashley Támar Davis plays several roles, including Gladys Knight and Motown founder Berry Gordy’s sister Esther. She talked about her parts in a MSR phone interview. “The reason why I auditioned for Motown [is] because it was the first Broadway show I’ve seen in my entire life, which was last year,” explains Davis. She was impressed with the actors performing the Motown songs: “I got to see people who look like me.”

After telling a friend who watched the show with her that she could see herself on stage as well, “I auditioned for the [touring] show … Continue Reading →

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Mensah out, Yohannes in

His wake-up call came at nine on the nose. He was up and in the shower a few minutes later. Turned out, Helen and company — she’d got Yohannes Tona to sign on for a week and a half — were going north to Duluth, then Canada. He was tempted to stay on, but took a pass. It was just too important, right now, to handle things on the home front. In the hotel dining room, he sat down to a nice plate of eggs over easy, bacon and grits with toast and a pitcher of coffee. Reading the NY Times. Looked up and who should be sashaying out of the elevator but her ladyship of the hour, the illustrious Ms. St. James. Magnificently strutting across the carpet. Coming up behind, seriously hung over, Sam and Luis converged on the buffet. Shortly, everyone was at Keith’s table. Mensah’s goose, Helen had decided, was cooked. With dressing. Bad enough he’d been stupid enough to stand around toking up on the sidewalk. But getting caught with coke? Continue Reading →

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A toast to changing spots

There was no convincing the kid that watching the great Helen St. James work had been mostly boring. “Oh, no it wasn’t,” she said with a smile. “Trust me.”

“Come on.”

“Smitty, listen…”

“What did you just call me?”

For some reason, it seemed to fit. “Smitty, you’ll find out, believe me.  Ain’t none of this nearly as exciting as it looks from the outside. Continue Reading →

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Sounds of Blackness re-imagines a holiday classic

 
An interview with Gary Hines about The Night Before Christmas

By Dwight Hobbes

Contributing Writer
 

Sounds of Blackness (www.soundsofblackness.com) is a time-revered Twin Cities music institution, second only to a certain soulster with a penchant for purple. Their greatest hit, the enduring classic “Optimism” (you may know it by the refrain, “keep your head to the sky”) still gets airplay wherever R&B radio station are serious about their R&B. They are, of course, in constant demand around the country and abroad. Sounds of Blackness has earned, in a litany of national accolades, three Grammies, a Soul Train Award and an NAACP Image Award. What even diehard devotees to the premiere ensemble may not know is that they’ve entertained across five continents, including stints ranging from such prestigious patronage as heads of state, the 1996 Olympics and 1994 World Cup, to grateful audiences among the disenfranchised, such as homeless children. Continue Reading →

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Attorney-activist pleads case against mass incarceration in new book

“Our criminal justice system is in need of reform. [It] costs the taxpayers too much, fails at rehabilitation, exacts a life-long toll on offenders, and does not yield corresponding social benefits. 

“The purpose of this book is three-fold: (1) to provide information about the causes and extent of the problems overwhelming the process of criminal justice… (2) to explain why reform is long overdue and in our collective best interest… (3) to suggest reforms that are supported by empirical evidence…

“As a society, we have become hardened toward felons… [But] it is in the public interest to have released offenders rehabilitated… By recognizing the human dignity of all offenders and enabling them to realize redemption and restore their relationships within the community, all of society is ennobled.”

—Excerpted from the Foreword by William J. Fox (pages i-iii)

The U.S. prison population exploded between 1980 and 2000, thanks primarily to the so-called “War on Drugs.” During that interim, the number of people jailed went from about 300,000 to over 2,000,000. Today, about two percent of our working-age men are behind bars, most for nonviolent offenses, giving the country the highest incarceration rate of any nation in the world. Unfortunately, taking this tough stance on crime has come at quite a societal cost. Not only is it expensive to house inmates, at over $50,000/year in Connecticut, but also there is plenty of evidence that it is failing miserably in its efforts to rehabilitate offenders. Continue Reading →

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Usher’s #URXTOUR elicits fun at Xcel Energy Center

A concert review

By Caleb Baumgartner

Contributing Writer

When I sit down to try to gather my thoughts to describe Usher’s November 18 show at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center, only the most idiotic exclamations come to mind. “Wow,” “holy crap,” and “awesome” leap forth ahead of more poignant prose, and I find myself drowning in an excitement that seems to induce only the most monosyllabic of descriptors to juice out of my mind grapes. So let’s just try to get this out of the way immediately and see where we can go from here: Usher is a fantastic live act. Just great. Continue Reading →

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Sci-fi author places Black people, history at the center of the universe

Back in the late 1970s, in one of Richard Pryor’s routines, riffing on the science fiction flick Logan’s Run, he noted there weren’t any Black characters in that movie and blithely opined to the audience, “Y’all ain’t plannin’ for us to be here.” Strictly speaking, Roscoe Lee Browne did make a blink-and-you-miss-him appearance, but for all intents and purposes the movie was white as snow. In the same spirit of exclusion, the Star Wars franchise, which started around then, went to the bank featuring the voice of James Earl Jones as iconic villain Darth Vader but, when the helmet mask came off, it was a White actor underneath. The movies may have caught up — sort of — with Denzel Washington and Will Smith starring in The Book of Eli and I Am Legend respectively, but the publishing industry seemingly still doesn’t plan for us to be here, either. Writers like J. Darnell Johnson, whose novella The Opening came out last year, have other ideas. The synopsis to The Opening reads, “[It] is about a khem (Black) hue-man being named Ja, from the planet Kebb who has a yearning for paradise in the stars and believes that the grass is greener on the other side … Continue Reading →

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Sci-fi author places Black people, history at the center of the universe

Back in the late 1970s, in one of Richard Pryor’s routines, riffing on the science fiction flick Logan’s Run, he noted there weren’t any Black characters in that movie and blithely opined to the audience, “Y’all ain’t plannin’ for us to be here.” Strictly speaking, Roscoe Lee Browne did make a blink-and-you-miss-him appearance, but for all intents and purposes the movie was white as snow. In the same spirit of exclusion, the Star Wars franchise, which started around then, went to the bank featuring the voice of James Earl Jones as iconic villain Darth Vader but, when the helmet mask came off, it was a White actor underneath. The movies may have caught up — sort of — with Denzel Washington and Will Smith starring in The Book of Eli and I Am Legend respectively, but the publishing industry seemingly still doesn’t plan for us to be here, either. Writers like J. Darnell Johnson, whose novella The Opening came out last year, have other ideas. The synopsis to The Opening reads, “[It] is about a khem (Black) hue-man being named Ja, from the planet Kebb who has a yearning for

paradise in the stars and believes that the grass is greener on the other side … Continue Reading →

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Rainbow in the Cloud: The Wisdom and Spirit of Maya Angelou

New book provides a sampling of icon’s wonderful words
 
“‘Words mean more than what is set down on paper,’ Maya Angelou wrote in her groundbreaking memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Indeed, Angelou’s words have traveled the world and transformed lives — inspiring, strengthening, healing…

Now, in this collection of sage advice, humorous quips, and pointed observations culled from the author’s great works… Maya Angelou’s spirit endures… A treasured keepsake as well as a beautiful tribute to a woman who touched so many, Rainbow in the Cloud reminds us that ‘If one has courage, nothing can dim the light which shines from within.’”

— Excerpted from the book jacket

Dr. Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Annie Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri on April 4, 1928. She overcame a traumatic childhood to blossom into a world-renowned poet, author, educator, actress, historian, filmmaker and civil rights activist. Continue Reading →

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