If you’ve ever wanted to be an extra in a film or on television, you need to meet Christopher Gray. Gray specializes in casting extras for Hollywood’s big-budget blockbuster movies or network TV shows such as “Collateral,” “Amistad,” “Hustle and Flow,” “Men of Honor” and “How Stella Got Her Groove Back.” Extras, or background actors, are the people who are walking or sitting or chatting or standing in any movie or TV show with no speaking lines. Gray has made his mark in Hollywood casting extras for more than 100 Hollywood big-budget movies and TV shows.
Working in Hollywood wasn’t part of his career goal. Gray, born in Memphis, Tenn., is a graduate of Howard University and then studied law in California.
In California, a friend asked him to help out with casting and he caught the proverbial acting bug. He is among a handful of Black casting directors with 25 years of experience casting ordinary people to play roles in movies or TV shows.
Even though he has established himself as one of the casting experts in the movie and TV industry, Gray faces the same challenges that most African-American actors feel in Hollywood — there aren’t enough roles or opportunities for Blacks. According to Gray, in the casting department, there isonly a handful of Black casting directors in Hollywood.
“There are very few scripts for Black actors is the number one problem ... then you have the same actors vying for the same position (role). Sometimes when I go into production meetings, I am the only Black person sitting in,” said Gray, who operates his Christopher Gray Casting Agency in West Hollywood.
As one of the pioneers in Black Hollywood and among a handful of Black casting directors, Gray is not known in Hollywood production circles as a Black casting agent. He is the only African-American casting director to have cast extras with all of the major studios — 20th Century Fox, MGM Pictures, Universal Pictures, Walt Disney/Touchstone, Dreamworks, New Line Cinema and Paramount Pictures — and worked with blockbuster producers and directors, including Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Michael Mann and David Lynch.
And although he has cast millions of extras and his movie credits include A-list superstars such as Tom Cruise, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Denzel Washington and Will Smith, procuring the next movie or TV project remains an “everyday struggle.”
“Hollywood is who you know. It’s all about who you know. If you don’t know anybody, it’s really hard to break in,” explained Gray, who gave rare, behind-the-scenes insight on how casting directors are hired in Hollywood.
His advice for people who want to be the next Christopher Gray is to learn the behind-the-scenes areas of the movie-making or TV show production business, including wardrobe, costume design, hair or makeup, through apprenticeships. There are more opportunities behind the scenes.
Being an extra is also a way to get exposed to the world of movies and TV shows. It’s a way to see the mechanics involved — lighting, cameras, sound, set design and scene production. Gray says “90 percent” of the production work in Hollywood is from on-the-job training, not taught in schools.
You can see Christopher Gray Casting’s magic touch in “What To Expect When You’re Expecting,” starring Jennifer Lopez, Cameron Diaz and Chris Rock in theaters now and the remake of “Steel Magnolias” starring Queen Latifah, Jill Scott, Phylicia Rashad and Alfre Woodard on Lifetime TV in September.
For over 40 years, Black talk radio has played a pivotal role in shaping the dialogue in the African-American community. It has been the eyes, ears and mouthpiece for some of the nation’s most meaningful periods of change — from the civil rights era to the election of the nation’s first African-American president.
Philadelphia — and WURD Radio, LLC specifically — has been at the forefront of creating its own unique imprint on this important medium. In 2002, Walter P. Lomax Jr. M.D. purchased 900AM-WURD, providing the resources that would allow Philadelphia to keep an independent, African American-owned radio station on the airwaves. Since that time, WURD has become, not just the only Black talk radio station in the City of Philadelphia, but the only such entity in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
This year, the station’s line-up was rocked by the death of veteran journalist Fatimah Ali, who hosted the popular mid-morning show, “The Real Deal.” After several weeks of guest hosts, Stephanie Renée (songstress, songwriter and self-described “VibeMistress”) was selected to be a permanent talk show host. Music fans are quite familiar with Renée’s voice, which has been featured on several major label commercial recordings, including “Who Is Jill Scott” and Patti LaBelle’s “When A Woman Loves.” Within the span of two months, “The Mid-Morning Mojo” has launched Renée as a media voice to be reckoned with.
“One of the things that I am very thankful of is being the only female voice that is consistent five days a week in the line-up — I don’t feel any pressure to be anything besides myself,” said Renée during a rare moment of downtime. “There is a certain level of ‘Mama-Bearness’ that I naturally have, and so being able to bring that kind of awareness or sensibility to subjects like education or the problem of violence in our city, to be able to look for stories that appeal to that side of me and to share that with the audience, brings a different kind of voice than we have in any other slot during our line-up during the week. I appreciate the opportunity to be able to bring that consistently to the listeners, and they’ve reacted very positively to it.”
This month, WURD Radio released a free mobile app for both iPhones and Androids so listeners could have easy access to live on-air programming wherever they go. The WURD App screen includes an icon to access the 900AM website, as well as an email icon that links directly to the phone user’s email system to send feedback or troubleshooting issues to the station’s business office. With the recent launch of new programming — including new hosts Renée and Nick Taliaferro — plus the Night Al show, the new app makes it easier to listen to the station on mobile devices across the entire broadcast day.
“The expansion of our ‘On Air, Online and In Community’ presence is further positioning 900AM as the destination station of choice in the tri-state area,” said Sara Lomax Reese, president and general manager, WURD Radio, LLC. “Strengthening our digital assets and presence in the marketplace is an important component of our overall growth strategy.”
Stephanie Renée hosts “The Mid-Morning Mojo” on WURD 900AM, Monday–Friday from 10 a.m. to noon. The WURD app can be downloaded through mobile app store providers.
The city where America was made is gearing up for rapper Jay-Z's "Made In America" music festival, which officials estimate will attract 100,000 fans to Philadelphia over Labor Day weekend.
Construction of stages and tents began this week at the somewhat unusual venue, a tree-lined boulevard in the heart of downtown. It's the first show on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to require paid admission. Rock stalwarts Pearl Jam are co-headliners of the two-day event.
Officials said there should be no problem handling the crowd considering the city's long tradition of staging much larger concerts at the same location.
"Every year, we have detailed plans for public safety, street access, trash removal and we successfully accommodate 400,000 to 500,000 visitors on the 4th of July," Mayor Michael Nutter said in a statement.
For those who can't make the festival on either Sept. 1 or 2, don't worry — filmmaker Ron Howard will be directing a movie about the show.
Overall, city officials expect 50,000 paying fans each day for the bill curated by Jay-Z, whose real name is Shawn Carter. Musicians include Skrillex, Drake, Afrojack, Chris Cornell, Run-DMC and hometown favorite Jill Scott.
Concerts will run from 2-11 p.m. on three stages, one of which will be near the Museum of Art steps made famous in the film "Rocky."
"Thirty amazing acts are coming together to perform at one of Philadelphia's most iconic sites," Geoff Gordon, regional president for concert promoter Live Nation, said in a statement Friday.
Gary and Kristin Camp of Wilmington, Del., were enticed by the lineup and bought a pair of two-day passes. Though they have some questions about logistics and transportation, Gary Camp said they're prepared for a couple of long days and are looking forward to the show — especially Pearl Jam.
"I think it's going to be an exciting event in a unique setting," Camp said.
Organizers say the blocks-long site will be enclosed by 8-foot-high double-fencing patrolled by security. Material woven into the chain-link barrier is designed to keep non-paying spectators from seeing the show.
It's a big change from previous parkway music events, which have been free. That includes annual Independence Day shows featuring performers like Sheryl Crow and The Roots, as well as the Live 8 concert for African poverty relief in 2005 and a Bruce Springsteen set in 2008.
As of Friday, two-day passes for "Made In America" cost $135 each, while a one-day ticket was $75. VIP passes, and travel packages with hotel rooms, ranged from $350 to nearly $2,200. Prices could go up closer to the concert date.
Mark Nevins, who lives in the nearby Fairmount neighborhood, is interested in seeing Pearl Jam. But he said sitting through an hourslong festival for one band seemed like a lot of time and effort.
"I'm hoping I can hear it from my house, or maybe head down toward the parkway and listen in from the outside," Nevins said.
It certainly wouldn't be surprising to see people trying to catch a few free tunes from outside the perimeter. But officials stress that fence-climbers will be prosecuted.
Also, Hollywood producers Howard and Brian Grazer ("A Beautiful Mind," ''The Da Vinci Code") have signed on to make a film about the festival. The pair's 2007 movie "American Gangster," about a notorious Harlem drug lord, inspired Jay-Z's album by the same name.
"Made In America" is sponsored by Budweiser and will be held rain or shine. It benefits United Way organizations in greater Philadelphia and southern New Jersey; Lancaster, Pa., and New York City. -- (AP)
Aaron D. Spears has a distinctive way of crafting analogies. Using descriptive metaphors, he has an ability to describe his life experiences in poetic verse. And with his extensive résumé of film and television roles, Spears’ acting career is grounded on a foundation of spoken-word.
He’s known as the suave Justin Barber on CBS’ “The Bold and The Beautiful,” which nominated him for the 2011 and 2012 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Daytime Drama.
Now, Spears has landed a role on BET’s new drama series “Being Mary Jane” starring Gabrielle Union. In the network’s first hour-long drama series, viewers follow a Black woman who’s a career-driven talk show host juggling family, social life and work life. Spears plays co-anchor, Mark Bradley.
“Cast and crew [were] very open, very down to earth. Gabrielle Union was a pleasant surprise,” Spears said. “She was not bourgeois. She was a regular girl, an average person at work. She was very warm and welcoming and mending herself to multiple options, not just stuck in one way doing or creating a character.”
Produced by husband and wife duo, Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil (“The Game,” “Jumping the Broom”), Spears described the couple’s working style as a joint effort of support.
“The director was cool,” he said. “Mara was very helpful in explaining any questions you may have. I like Salim in that he was open to suggestions, more of a collaborative effort as appose to directional effort.”
Spears admitted that while on set, he has learned a lot about himself as an actor. Balancing one television series takes hard work, but adding a second, Spears said will be a true endurance challenge.
“Some things that you ask for you’re not ready until you get that experience,” Spears said. “And that experience will either let it be known that yeah I am ready, or you will find out very quickly that you’re not.
“I compare this experience like double Dutch rope,” he added. “You’re getting your rhythm, you’re bouncing back and forth. You go to jump in the rope, but [if] you don’t catch that rhythm, that rope is going to sting your leg. That’s kind of how it is when you’re doing a drama because it’s long hours. A lot of shooting. A lot of waiting around. A lot of different takes. One, you have to maintain a level of testament, and two, making sure your interest don’t drop. When you’re off camera take that time to rest because at three AM you maybe doing a close up.”
Seen in films, “Babel,” “The Mannsfield 12” and “Blue Hill Avenue,” he has guest starred on television shows “NCIS,” “Castle,” “Boston Legal,” “Lincoln Heights,” “Bones” and “Criminal Minds.”
Aside from his full-time work in acting, Spears is passionate about his family. He credits his wife for providing support while he works.
“You got to have a strong person by your side. In terms of my wife and what she does, I always tell her like, ‘They couldn’t pay me to do your job. No. I’m good.’ You got to have a foundation. It’s a lot easier for me to go out and do my job because I have a foundation at the house.”
And the foundation that launched his acting career, stemmed from his experiences as a spoken-word poet.
“Spoken word was something very interesting,” Spears said. “Spoken word just kept following me.”
When he wrote a poem and got approval from family and friends, Spears said he realized he had a flair for poetry. After he moved from New York to California, he embarked on a journey — which yielded more opportunities for the actor.
“There was a poetry scene and that was my outlet of continuing to be in the spotlight. It kept me driven,” he said. “It kept me open. I kept writing and I kept performing at various clubs around the city. It kind of lent itself to me and I never was closed to it. Different energy [than acting], but still a creative vice to express. And ‘til this day, I still do spoken word.”
In 1997, Spears established his own company, HENNA Inc., which has introduced a new perspective of spoken-word poetry and a renaissance of film making in Hollywood.
Spears, a Washington, D.C., native, has additional talents as a former football player, artist and dabbles in singing, as well. Yet, he gave praise to Philadelphia for providing him his first experiences in the entertainment industry.
“I have a lot of ties to Philly,” Spears said. “Philly was one of the first places when I was jumping off the map trying to do my thing. I did a lot of modeling and auditioning in Philly. Philly always has that closeness to my heart. If it wasn’t for Philly, I don’t even know if I would have lasted in New York.”
As a previous Penn Relays participant, attendant of the annual Greek Picnic in Philadelphia and a fan of The Roots and Jill Scott, Spears jokingly said he wants to come back for a “fish cheese steak” sandwich. Just skip the beef because he’s no longer eating red meat.
Master braider, hair sculptor and filmmaker Yvette “Kinyozi” Smalls died Monday, April 16 after a brief struggle with cancer. Smalls was a pioneer in the movement of African-American women rejecting definitions of “bad” and “good” hair based on European standards, and reclaiming African traditions of beauty. The lifelong West Philadelphian was 52.
Smalls was the youngest of three daughters born to Samuel and Emma Smalls. “She was the apple of her daddy’s eye cause she was the baby,” recalled family friend Margaret Peterkin. The Carrol Park resident attended Heston Elementary, Shoemaker Jr. High school and graduated with honors from Overbrook High School magnet program. While studying at Harcum Junior College, Smalls began braiding, dressing and sculpting African-American women’s hair in the late 1970s, to put herself through school.
“Hair is my artistic medium and became my mission,” Smalls once told an interviewer. “My hairstyles are always on the edge of avant-garde with an acknowledgment of the roots of my culture. I love to ‘dress’ hair with all kinds of complex techniques as well as to explore creative and artistic aspects of natural hair. In my sanctuary we have a spiritual experience that’s difficult to explain; you come in looking one way and you leave another way.”
Smalls’ journey of self-discovery began as a quest to reverse the negative self-image she saw in the women she encountered. She went on to educate herself in intricate and varied hair braiding, wrapping, coiling and weaving traditions used in her own extended family across the American South, and across the African world, from Egypt to South Africa, Senegal to Kenya as an important form of creative expression representing both the individuality and social status or role of the wearer. In her own work, she drew on a wide range of styles and techniques, approaching each person’s hair as the ultimate wearable art. In 1998, she completed a documentary “Hair Stories,” broadcast on WYBE-TV and screened in festivals internationally. She has been a featured artist at ODUNDE and appeared at hundreds of schools and community events annually.
“I was so happy to see her do ‘Hair Stories,’” noted Philadelphia Poet Laureate Sonia Sanchez, who first taught Smalls at Temple University and became a client and friend. “She was able to tell her story about people she had come in contact with and how she help spread the whole idea of one’s identity and how to be proud of one’s self and how you looked and how you are on this earth. She did it in such a non-invasive fashion — she wasn’t ever rude with it; she was never aggressive with it. She would just present it in a very kind and gentle fashion that I saw people just look up and listen because she did do it in that fashion. It was who she was: a very kind and gentle woman. She moved on this earth with knowledge of how we, as women, quite often did not look at ourselves as beautiful women, and one of the reason why was because sometimes with (skin) color, and with the accompanying thing: the hair.”
The home, or sanctuary, where Smalls honed her craft was a central meeting place for many in the creative and performing arts. When the neo-soul music movement first took off in Philadelphia in the mid-’90s, Smalls was the go-to person for natural hair care and tended the coifs of dozens of young music notables including Erykah Badu, Ursula Rucker, Jill Scott and The Roots, whose drummer credits her for his signature hairstyle.
“(Smalls was the) first person who taught me about the bohemian lifestyle that I would soon capitalize off of and build a movement,” said Ahmir Khalib “QuestLove” Thompson via Facebook. “She taught me about oils, frankincense and myrrh incense, teaching me how to care for my hair (‘oiling and wha treatment?’), the one who encouraged my Afro when damn near EVERYONE fell out laughing at the sight of it in 1994 and made me stick to it when I felt insecure and just wanted to blend in with everyone and just plait or twist it up cause the laughs were unbearable ... you will be missed. Hope I did you proud. I listened to all those talks when you [thought] I wasn’t.”
Smalls’ work has been consistently featured in the press around the globe, and in March the Philadelphia the Folklore Project (PFP) screened her “Hair Stories” documentary and presented her with an award of appreciation honoring her years of vanguard work in folk arts and social change. The event marked the last public apperance Smalls would make.
“In life people pursue happiness and comfortabily, lavish and fine living,” said her only child, Amiri Russam Nichols, 28. “My mother did not need to pursue these things because her love and caring for others outweighed all her desires of materiel goods. She just enjoyed life. She was happy.”
In addition to her son, Smalls is survived by her older siblings: Harriet Smalls and Joyce Smalls-Jones; her former husband, Richard Nichols and her longtime companion Estan Wilsonus-El. A celebration of life memorial is scheduled for June. For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/YvetteKinyoziSmalls.
Twenty-six years ago, the Philadelphia Tribune named Gordon Brown Jr. the youngest gospel music promoter in Philadelphia. As minister, label executive, producer and award-winning songwriter, G. Brown (his stage name), is rebranding himself for a new role in the music industry.
Brown will release the single “Love is Coming Back” on iTunes on August 1.This urban gospel song is remake of the classic McFadden and Whitehead song “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now.”
Described as a mixture of traditional gospel, a pitch of rhythm and blues and a tossing of what Brown said is God’s anointing, the track is geared to youth and urban communities.
“It’s kind of like Kirk Franklin, that’s the demographic that I’m looking to gravitate to, but my style is more like Hawkins, Smallwood with a little bit of Donny and Boys II Men blended all in together,” Brown said.
Along with the single, Brown has written 48 songs — about three CDs worth of music — that he plans to release as an artist until 2018.
Helping to produce the single with Brown are his nephew, Antonie McRae and producer and keyboardist Christopher Weatherbe. He has worked with DJ Jazzy Jeff, Jill Scott, Vivian Green, Floetry, Jaguar Wright and Kindred.
“Whatever his vision is, I just want to bring it to life. I don’t have any self-ambition. He wants to give an inspirational song out with a message about love,” Weatherbe said.
Learning through experience
The South Philadelphia native began his music career as a teenager deeply rooted in gospel music. As a student at Vare Edwin H. Middle School, Brown’s physical education teacher was Gabriel Hardeman — leader of Gabriel Hardeman Delegation whose record, “Feels Like Fire” gave them fame. Several weeks into the school year, Brown attended his aunt’s wedding. Hardeman was one of the ushers and the groom was the drummer for the Hardeman Delegation.
After this interaction, Brown persisted to get involve with the band. In 1982, Brown became the band’s stagehand. Through the mentorship of Hardeman and his wife Annette, Brown learned how to write songs that later won Brown five American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers awards.
At 16, Brown created a group, The Gordon Brown Singers, and was a music promoter for the Wynne Plaza. There, he was responsible for booking gospel acts at the Wynnefield venue. Brown then worked for Tony Beck, owner and president of MeeSiah Records — an independent gospel label. Also, Brown was an executive assistant for music producer, Nick Martinelli, and served as Martinelli’s manager for a brief period. In 1991, he received more industry experience under gospel legend, Dr. Edwin Hawkins.
Despite the mentorship and success he was receiving, Brown’s career was interrupted.
In 1998, Brown was imprisoned. While serving a 14-year sentence, he earned a doctorate in theology. Six months ago Brown was released, and he plans to continue to his career.
“Instead of being bitter, I feel blessed. I got great vision from God,” Brown said. “When you spend 14 years in prison you get a lot of ideas that God has time to give you great vision.”
Bringing a rebirth to Philadelphia
Using vision and revelation, Brown also works as the creative director for Philly Style Studio.
“It’s in the community. You don’t know it’s a studio, and you’re not abandoning the community. Every community has a local rapper or local singer and they can come right here and get a nice demo,” Brown said.
Located on 18th and Morris streets, Brown said he wants Philly Style Studios to create resurgence in Philadelphia.
“I just love Philly, but we have nothing going on musically in the city. In the beginning it was Motown, then Philadelphia International,” Brown said. “We have Jill, Musiq and Tye Tribbett, but I just want to bring that attention and that draw back to the city. Basically putting Philly back in its place.”
And with help of PSS owner, Henry “Bubby” Nicholas, Brown’s vision is beginning to come to fruition. Currently, Nicolas is gathering talent for The Entourage — a collective of musicians, dancers, R&B singers and rappers.
“He’s got so much energy. He’s my favorite,” Nicholas said.
“When I came on board here, his vision with the studio and the Entourage verse my vision on a creative level and an artist level was just a perfect fit,” Brown said. “It’s kind of like what Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff did in the ’60s and ’70s. It’s kind of what he and I are trying to do now.”
In mid-August, PSS and Zoah Music Group Worldwide (Brown’s music label) will have an Internet talent search of gospel, R&B and hip hop artists.
“It’s basically going to be American Idol online, but for those genres,” Brown said.
Fifty submissions will be chosen to participate. With the public’s help, 25 acts will be chosen. Of those, 15 will be eliminated and the remaining 10 will face off for the final phase of the competition judged by PSS and ZMGW.
First prize will be a recording contract with ZMGW, second prize will be a recording contract for a single with ZMGW and third prize will be a production video at PSS.
Formerly the voice of the jazz ensemble Incognito, talented singer/songwriter Maysa’s soothing vocals have been seducing listeners for years, and she explores new territory with her latest release, “Motions of Love.”
Now available in stores, the engaging 14-track disc is largely produced by Chris “Big Dog” Davis, who has also been at the helm of projects by Will Downing and Kim Waters. “This was intended to be an all R&B record with no jazz at all because I’ve never done a whole R&B album before,” said Maysa, who is possibly best known for the Incognito classic, “Deep Waters,” and wrote most of the material included in her new collection.
There are two impressive special guests joining her on this project, including popular neo-soul artist Dwele, who is featured on the hypnotic “Flower Girl,” and I must say that I wish that he’d made a more significant contribution to the track. “Have Sweet Dreams” is a soulful lullaby written by Stevie Wonder and features the music icon on harmonica.
Although she is in fine voice throughout the project, Maysa gives a particularly powerful performance on the poignant “When It’s Over,” a song that she wrote on a plane after a painful breakup. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the inspiring “Hold On,” by Rowan Chapman, which could pave the way for Maysa’s entrée into the thriving gospel market.
Overall, I share the perspective of the artist, who said, “This album has more popular appeal than my other stuff. I love my cult following. I have no complaints about that because that’s more meaningful to me than anything. I don’t want to walk into a store and have to have bodyguards and all that crap. I don’t want that. If people come up to me in the supermarket and give me a hug, I love that. I don’t think I’m doing anything different than Jill Scott or Ledisi. It’s all the same vibe.”
Given the sad state of the recording and radio industries, it’s hard to predict what will happen with a noble project such as this, but if you’re a Maysa fan, or a fan of good music in general, “Motions of Love” is definitely one to add to your collection.
“Day N Night”
“Flower Girl” (featuring Dwele)
“Have Sweet Dreams”
“When It’s Over”
The popular franchise “VH1 Divas,” returns to the network with “VH1 Divas Celebrates Soul,” premiering at 9 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 19.
Paying tribute to the “great cities of soul music,” including Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, Memphis and London, “VH1 Divas Celebrates Soul” will bring together the some of the best singers across the globe, men and women alike, to “honor the soulful cities that inspired these divas and their art.”
The headlining Divas include Jill Scott, Mary J. Blige, Jennifer Hudson, Kelly Clarkson, Chaka Khan, Erykah Badu, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Jessie, J., Florence + The Machine, Boyz II Men, Estelle, Marsha Ambrosius, Travie McCoy, Anita Baker, Mavis Staples, Wanda Jackson and Ledisi.
Accompanied by The Roots, Philadelphia’s Grammy Award-winning hip-hop troupe, with Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Adam Blackstone as musical directors, each “diva” will pay tribute through their own songs, as well as “some of the greatest classics that have shaped a genre.”
In addition, Terrence Howard, Nas, Common and La La Anthony will participate as presenters at New York City’s Hammerstein Ballroom, along with Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton, who will co-star in the upcoming feature film, “Joyful Noise.”
Something new has been added in 2011, as the “VH1 Divas” red carpet will stream live on VH1.com on Sunday, Dec. 18, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Hosted by VH1 personality La La Anthony, the live stream will provide fans a front row seat to all of the red carpet excitement and will feature real-time interviews with some of entertainment’s biggest stars.
Premiering on VH1 in 1998, “Divas” has presented some of the “most memorable live female vocal performances in television history.” Last year, the show saluted the armed forces with “The USO Presents: VH1 Divas Salute the Troops” with Katy Perry, Nicky Minaj, Sugarland, Keri Hilson, Paramore and Grace Potter and The Nocturnals. In years past, the show has featured Diana Ross, Tina Turner, Cher, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Aretha Franklin, Mary J. Blige, Shania Twain, Faith Hill, Whitney Houston, Beyonce’, Chaka Khan, Adele, Kelly Clarkson, Miley Cyrus, Jennifer Hudson, Leona Lewis and Jordin Sparks.
As in previous years, “VH1 Divas” will benefit the VH1 Save the Music Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness about the importance of music education in a child’s life.
Musician, writer, trombonist and recording artist Jeff Bradshaw, graced Warmdaddy’s, located at 1400 S. Christopher Columbus Blvd., last weekend to premiere his sophomore album “Bone Appetit.”
His smooth sounds of soul-jazz, blues, hip-hop and R&B permeated through the soul-food restaurant last weekend. Bradshaw, a North Philadelphia native, was influenced by music his whole life. His father, Norman Bradshaw, was also a trombonist, singer and musician. Inspired by his father’s musical talents, his involvement in his church’s choir and touring with Grammy-winner Jill Scott who encouraged him to sing, Bradshaw knew that music was in his journey.
Bradshaw has been touring different cities to preview his album and this was the first time he was able to come back home to Philadelphia in eight months.
“It’s always good when you get to come home and display your new music,” Bradshaw said. “Tonight was amazing.”
Bradshaw performed two shows Friday and Saturday night with a band and vocalists Jeff Murrell and Treena Ferebee.
“I knew Jeff and Treena would kill it, we have great talent here in Philadelphia,” he said.
People in the restaurant clapped their hands, rose to their feet and danced to the sounds coming from the stage. Bradshaw played both familiar crowd favorites and songs from his upcoming album. At one point he asked the crowd what they wanted to hear. In response, the audience danced as he played the Toto classic “Georgie Porgy.”
“It’s good when you have a balance of new music and give the audience familiar things,” he said.
Camesha Harrison came to Warmdaddy’s with her boyfriend to celebrate her birthday last weekend. She was impressed with the ambiance of the restaurant and with Bradshaw’s performance. She felt it was a perfect way to end her birthday celebration.
“I really enjoyed it — it was grown and sexy,” she said. “I think the performance was lovely and great.”
Bradshaw released his first album, “Bone Deep,” in 2003 with Hidden Beach record label, with its first single “Slide” featuring Jill Scott. “Bone Appetit” will release April 24, featuring artists including; Raheem DeVaughn, Marsha Ambrosius, Kindred the Family Soul, Coko of female R&B group SWV and many more. The album was co-executive produced by Bradshaw and Steve McKeever, Hidden Beach CEO.
Along with the trombone, Bradshaw plays a variety of instruments such as piano, trumpet, tuba, drums, sousaphone and baritone. He incorporates different styles in his new album and also sings lead vocals on various tracks.
Bradshaw believes it’s important to offer real music and music that touches those who listen.
“We’re offering real music with integrity — some autobiographical, some God inspired, some jazz inspired — but it’s all real music, it’s all organic.”
The Chester Alumni Foundation, in conjunction with the Chester Alumni Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc., hosted the inaugural Chester Idol singing competition and scholarship fundraiser on Saturday May 5 at the Chester High School Auditorium.
“As part of the foundation’s mission to raise funds for scholarships in Chester and the Delaware County community we decided to do an American Idol type of spin-off,” said Olakunle Ekundare, president of the Chester Alumni Foundation. “There are a lot of talented people in the area who don’t get the exposure needed for the music industry. There are a lot of kids who are talented. We wanted to give the opportunity to showcase their talent for the community and not just for the record producers and the music industry.”
The show featured a concert performance from Afro-Blue Vocal Band, from Howard University and Finalists from Season 3 of NBC’s “The Sing–off.”
Opening for Afro-Blue was singer Nadjah Nicole, who sung “It’s Love” by Jill Scott. Chester’s own Pop and R&B artist Jamai also performed.
The competition featured ten finalists competing for studio time, a chance to perform at Philly Live Pod, professional photo shoots, vocal lessons, and cash prizes. The show started with a youth step show from the Xionos and XI Kudos. The show was hosted by Chester native Tyra Starr.
“All of the contestants not only got a chance to showcase their own talent, but they also showed younger people in the audience that they too can achieve their dream if they work hard,” said Larif Hamm, committee member of Chester Idol. “Jamai Mosley, who is from Chester, had a chance to sing for Beyonce. His performance was not only great, but he also showed the younger generation that no dream is ever too far away. You can achieve anything you put our mind to even given the opportunity.”
The ten finalist included Breyanna Lewis of Clifton Heights, the A Brothers of Philadelphia, Selena McLeggan of Wilmington, Del., Kenisha Pickney of Philadelphia, Stephanie Brow of Garnett Valley, Lauren Munroe of Philadelphia, Shauntae Brown, Jah'wan Bost, and Castell Abner III, were all from Chester. All of the contestants were between the ages of 15-21.
The distinguished panel of judges included Grammy-Nominated Producer Ivan "Orthodox" Barias, Philly Live Pod’s John Barber, Chester Fine Arts Center’s Anzer Kirkland, and Chester Alumni Foundation Board Member Scott Reid. The panel judged the finalists on style, appearance, stage presence, quality, and artistry.
Brown, who sung “At last” by Etta James, won Chester Idol. She will receive studio time with Grammy nominated producer Barias, a professional photo shoot by Shark images, a featured performance at the Philly Live Pod, and vocal training. She will also be opening up for the headliner act at this year’s Chester Fourth of July concert. The A Brothers, who sung “Stay” by Tyrese, won second place and Abner, who sung “Love” by Musiq, won third place.
“By participating in Chester Idol, the contestants will get the exposure that they need, but I also want to see the importance of giving back to the community,” Ekundare said. “It’s great that we did a show like this, but we always give back to the Chester community. We wanted the community to come out and enjoy themselves. Despite what the media says about Chester, Chester is still vibrant and great community with a lot of talented kids that comes from these schools.”
The sponsors for the competition included: Shark Images Photography, Michael Bradley Photography, Chester Fine Arts Center East, Philly Live Pod, Sam & Sams Meats, Howard University Alumni Association, Giant, Shoprite, and BJ’s.
All proceeds from the Chester Idol will benefit scholarships for graduating seniors in Chester High’s Class of 2012.