The genealogies of top-grossing actor Samuel L. Jackson, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and renowned educator Ruth Simmons, the 18th President of Brown University, will be explored when WHYY presents "Finding Your Roots, with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.," airing April 29 at 8 p.m.
In the 10-part series filmed on location across the United States, Gates explores the family lineages of some of America's most prominent figures including Newark, NJ Mayor Cory Booker, actress Wanda Sykes, civil rights icon and U.S. Rep. John Lewis and Grammy Award-winning singer John Legend. In this Sunday's hour-long episode, Jackson, Rice and Simmons "finally find out the truth about the white men hidden in their family trees."
Rice has her roots traced to her great-grandmother, Zine Rice, who was born around 1830. When Rice discovers that she is "slightly more than half African," she said. "I've always thought that this is the kind of unhealed wound in America...that we have trouble talking about what really happened during slavery. We have trouble talking about the scars of that...that's the unspoken and the unfinished business of race in America."
At a recent screening of "Finding Your Roots," Gates told the story of how he became interested in genealogy as a nine year-old boy after the 1960 funeral of his grandfather Edward St. Lawrence Gates. He said that he was struck by how pale his light-skinned granddad appeared in the casket, and it made him curious to know more about how he got that way.
"The next day I got a composition book, and I interviewed my parents in front of the TV about their family tree," Gates said. "That night Daddy showed me a picture of our oldest ancestor, Jane Gates, who was a slave born in 1819, and she died in 1888. I have been addicted to genealogy ever since."
Gates, the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University, director of the W.C.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research and Editor-in-Chief of "The Root," broke new ground in 2006 with his first genealogy series, "African-American Lives." He explored the roots of such Black celebrities as Oprah Winfrey, Chris Tucker, Don Cheadle, Chris Rock, Tom Joyner, Maya Angelou, Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Tina Turner.
While doing research for the show, Gates was also able to confirm through DNA analysis that his grandfather's heritage included Irish ancestry.
The Root.com and Politico.com contributed to this report.
Whether she’s stealing the show at the Welcome America! celebration on the Parkway or spreading a positive vibe at Penn’s Landing’s Global Fusion, sassy soul singer Estelle has become a Philadelphia favorite. Now the leggy London native brings her earthy energy to World Café Live, for one show only, Monday, March 5 at 8 p.m. Tickets for the concert previously scheduled for Feb. 28 will be honored.
Now living in Brooklyn, Estelle Swaray will be performing material from her new CD titled “All of Me,” released on John Legend’s Homeschool Records label, distributed by Atlantic Records.
“In 2003, I met John,” Estelle said during a recent interview. “He was so cool. He was such a nice guy, and he really loved and respected the fact that I worked hard at the music. I wasn’t trying to be a groupie or anything. And he believed in me.”
While she may not possess the raw vocal power of Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle or her contemporary, Jennifer Hudson, Estelle is blessed with a voice of many colors. The bouncy bravado of “American Boy,” for which she won the 2008 Grammy for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration” with Kanye West, gives way to the palpable pain of heartbreak in her latest single, “Thank You,” written by Akon.
“Akon was in the studio and sat down and wrote this song in like the last 10 minutes of the session,” Estelle explained. “I woke up the next morning and I was like, ‘Give me that, please!’ It felt right. It felt real.”
“All of Me,” now available in stores and at online music outlets, also includes “Break My Heart,” featuring the rugged, robust Rick Ross, as well as “International (Serious)” featuring Chris Brown and Trey Songz, and Estelle looks forward to presenting her new music to her faithful Philadelphia audience. “Philly takes a minute to listen to you and get involved if they really like you,” she said.
Philly’s adoration for Estelle was evident when she was invited by The Roots to perform at last summer’s highly anticipated Welcome America! concert on the Fourth of July. “I remember working with them over 12 years ago in the U.K., so I’ve been friends with them a long time. They’re real cool,” she said of ?uestlove & Company. “They’re great musicians and producers in their own right. I feel blessed and honored to know them.”
Though blessed with the sleek look of a high fashion model, Estelle has no immediate interest in stomping the runway. “I’m more interested in acting and animation voiceover work,” she said.
For now, music is her top priority, and as she anticipates her next appearance in the City of Brotherly Love, Estelle, who performs with live musicians, said in conclusion, “We always have fun! We always have a party! If you’ve ever been to one of my shows, you’re not leaving not singing along. So come to have fun! Don’t come there staring at me, ‘cause I won’t be stared at! That won’t happen! This is going to be the best show you’ve been to this year!”
For tickets ($25.00 plus processing fees) call (215) 222-1400 or visit www.worldcafelive.com. World Café Live is located at 3025 Walnut St.
Company could be first to establish marketplace for African-American consumers
When it comes to determining their lineage, more people are turning to African Ancestry, Inc. for answers.
African Ancestry (AfricanAncestry.com) was formed by Black scientist Dr. Rick Kittles and African-American entrepreneur Gina Paige, who pioneering DNA-based ancestry tracing for people of African descent across the world.
The Washington, D.C.-based enterprise helps people of African descent discover where they come from in Africa through a proprietary DNA matching analysis led by Kittles.
“I never imagined that my passion for African history and the movements of its people throughout the world would have one day manifested in a much-needed consumer product among African Americans,” said Kittles, whose years of research on genetic variation in African peoples led to the founding of African Ancestry.
Launched in 2003, the company is considered the first to establish a marketplace among African-American consumers.
When consumers engage African Ancestry, they can decide whether they want to determine maternal or paternal lineage. Consumers purchase a test kit to swab their cheeks for DNA and return it to the company. Kittles and his team analyze sequences of a consumers’ DNA to determine whether his or her lineage is African, European, Middle Eastern or Native American.
“What makes us unique is that when the ancestry is African, we are the only company that can place it in a present-day country in Africa and also an ethnic group or groups in the country,” Paige pointed out.
Customers receive a comprehensive results package that includes a letter, a print out of their DNA sequence, certificate of ancestry and a guide to explain the science.
Paige noted that the company has heightened DNA literacy in the community.
“We have had to overcome the lack of knowledge about DNA in the Black community, so really what we’ve done is we’ve increased the genetic literacy of the community. So now people understand that DNA is more than something that can put you in jail or get you out of jail,” she pointed out.
African Ancestry has tested more than 30,000 people over the last nine years.
“So when you spin that out among family members there are hundreds of thousands of people who have a connection to the continent that they never had before,” she said.
“This work has had a very personal impact on people, families and communities. It’s had an impact nationally and it’s even had an impact globally.”
Finding their connection to the continent has spurred some consumers to invest in the continent of Africa and has led to the development of foundations, Paige said.
African Ancestry has helped media powerhouses deliver groundbreaking genealogy programming. Starting with African American Lives 1 and 2 nearly a decade ago, AfricanAncestry.com has gone on to play a major role on NBC’s Who Do You Think You Are?; CNN’s “Black in America” series; “Faces of America” and most recently, “Finding Your Roots” with Henry Louis Gates Jr.
“Finding Your Roots” is the latest series from renowned cultural critic Henry Louis Gates Jr., and is purposed to utilize genealogy and genetics to explore the fascinating dynamics of race, family and identity in today’s America. In collaboration with leading genealogists, world-class research and historical societies, Finding Your Roots combines to satisfy the basic drive to discover who we are and where we come from by focusing on 25 celebrity guests of all races in the 10-part series. AfricanAncestry.com picks up where the show’s paper trail ends by using DNA to geographically assess the African country for guests which have included Samuel L. Jackson, Condoleezza Rice, Ruth Simmons, John Legend, Wanda Sykes, Branford Marsalis, Cory Booker, Geoffrey Canada and Rep. John Lewis.
The next show will air May 20 at 8 p.m. on PBS. For information about Finding Your Roots visit www.pbs.org/wnet/finding-your-roots.
“Next Tuesday,” a 25-minute short film written and directed by local filmmaker Michael J. Dennis, has been selected to be a part of the new Black film anthology show “ABFF Independent,” broadcast on ASPIRE, the new African-American television network from Magic Johnson Enterprises.
“Next Tuesday” stars Damon P. Saleem as a father who decides to meet his son (Jarrod Gandy) for the first time after a 12-year absence. During the course of one day, both come of age, learning important lessons on responsibility, manhood and trust.
“‘ABFF Independent’ is the first original show that they have,” said Dennis, founder of Reelblack, an organization that vigorously advocates Black film and Black filmmakers. “Everything else that they’re showing is rerun or acquired. So this is the first original two-hour show. When they launched the network, they started with this show.
“Basically, Ralph Scott, who is executive producer of the show, and I go back almost 20 years. He was one of the first people to program my first film, and he’s been a big advocate for African-American filmmakers forever. When he was with BET, he had licensed the film “Next Tuesday,” and it’s just flattering think a film is almost 10 years old and they can still sell it. The film still has relevance.”
The soundtrack for “Next Tuesday” features music by Jazmine Sullivan, John Legend and Jazzyfatnastees, and Dennis said, “It’s a short film, but we used as much Philly talent as possible.”
ASPIRE is not yet available in the Philadelphia market, but Dennis says that viewers in the area can demand the network by visiting www.aspiretv.tv.
NEW YORK — Since its beginnings in the 1970s, rap music has transformed from an underground, street-based sound to a definitive part of pop culture, transcending race and becoming one of the strongest — and most prolific — voices of today’s generation. But at the Grammy Awards, rap has had a long-lasting losing streak in the top categories.
The hip-hop sound — first recognized at the 1989 Grammys — has garnered numerous prestigious nominations over the years, and for 10 of the last 14 years, rap acts have either led or tied for most Grammy nominations. But rarely will a hip-hop act win one of the show’s top four honors — album, song and record of the year, along with best new artist. Instead, rap acts tend to win rap awards.
50 Cent, who won his first and only Grammy two years ago, believes Grammy voters are out-of-touch and need a fresh outlook on what’s going on in contemporary music.
“I think that the board is a lot older and they’re conservative, so some of the content in the music is offensive on some level,” said 50 Cent, who famously interrupted Evanescence’s best new artist speech by walking onstage when he lost to the rock group in 2004. “There’s a lot of people that don’t accept that hip-hop culture is now pop culture.”
This year, hip-hop leads the Grammys in nominations again, with Kanye West earning seven; it’s his third year as the show’s top-nominated act, and his fourth overall (he tied Mariah Carey and John Legend for most nominations at the 2006 Grammys). While his song “All of the Lights” is up for song of the year, his critically revered fifth album, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” didn’t score an album of the year nomination, a shock to many. Even Jimmy Jam — the chair emeritus of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences — was surprised by West’s snub.
“I think he’s one of the genius artists, and I’m saying this as a person who’s worked with Michael Jackson and Prince, so I don’t throw that word around lightly,” Jam said. “So, yes, I was surprised.”
West’s album with Jay-Z, “Watch the Throne,” was also left out of the top album category; both CDs are nominated for best rap album.
Jay-Z, who once boycotted the Grammys because of the show’s lack of love for hip-hop, says Grammy nominations are “cool,” but he doesn’t use the accolades as a barometer of his success.
“The Grammys and all of those other things, they’re fine and it’s a good way for everyone to get together amongst their peers and collect some trophies at the end of the night, but my whole thing is for the people, as long as the people accept it — that’s my real Grammy,” Jay-Z said. “As long as it connects with an audience in a way.”
But Steve Stoute, the former record executive who accused the Grammys of being irrelevant last year in a full-page advertisement in the New York Times after Eminem and Justin Bieber lost top awards, says there is a bigger problem. Stoute believes the Recording Academy doesn’t have board members who understand hip-hop as a true art form.
“If (The Recording Academy) understood that, then (rappers) would be scoring technical points,” he said. “They don’t get the technical points.”
In Grammy history, 14 hip-hop albums have received nominations for album of the year. Lauryn Hill has the distinction of being the first hip-hop artist to win album of the year for “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” in 1999, but the album, while featuring rap, was heavy on R&B. Hill also won best new artist that year, the second time a rap-based act had done so following Arrested Development’s win in 1993. A rapper hasn’t won the award since.
OutKast, the alternative, genre-bending hip-hop duo, followed in Hill’s footsteps with an album of the year win in 2004 for the double disc “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.” It, too, was not strictly hip-hop, as Andre 3000 blended rock and even jazz for his half of the project.
But while there have been high-profile wins, what stands out more are the losses. No rapper has ever won record or song of the year, and both Eminem and West, each nominated three times, have failed to win the album of the year trophy in years where they appeared to be critical favorites.
At last year’s Grammys, three of the five songs nominated for record of the year were rap smashes. Lady Antebellum’s crossover hit, “Need You Now,” ended up taking away the record and song of the year honors.
Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, the leader and drummer of the Roots, says the hip-hop community shares some of the blame for its losing streak. He says those in the genre aren’t involved enough with The Recording Academy, its community and its events.
“We’re not active members of (The Recording Academy) and I promise to take a more active role in that,” said Questlove, who has won three Grammys. “I should definitely come and be more involved in that. It’s taxing time-wise, but you know, I can either sit and complain ... or do something about it.”
Jam says rap’s losses are also a reflection of the Grammy membership, which he said is “traditionally very heavy” with members of the country, jazz and classical music worlds.
“We’re a membership organization and the members vote. So, if the numbers of members who consider themselves of the hip-hop genre ... if those numbers are lower, then the results probably point to that fact,” Jam said.
But Stoute, who is the author of “The Tanning of America: How Hip-Hop Created a Culture That Rewrote the Rules of the New Economy,” had harsh words for Jam, a founding member of funk-soul band The Time and best known for producing multiple hits for Janet Jackson, Usher, Boyz II Men and more with partner Terry Lewis. Stoute and Jam had a conversation after last year’s awards, and Stoute was upset that Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind” wasn’t up for song of the year: At the Grammys, a track is not eligible for that award if it contains a sample or if it’s not an original piece of work; that disqualifies much of rap, which relies heavily on sampling (“Empire State of Mind” samples The Moments’ “Love on a Two-Way Street”).
Stoute said Jam should be helping hip-hop, and blasted the renowned producer.
“What he’s doing is not right,” Stoute said of Jam. “And if he’s supposed to be the guy who understands urban music because of his famed career as a producer ... (and) if he’s not going to be sensitive to the creativity around hip-hop, I am sorry, we’re in trouble.”
Jam, who was the Recording Academy’s chairman from 2005 to 2009, says his goal was to diversify the Grammy community, and if people have an issue with traditional Grammy rules, they should demand a change.
“You can write a proposal,” Jam said. “I hope ... people step up to the challenge rather than dismiss it, which is the easy thing to do.’“
Jam also said he helped bring forth the best rap song award at the 2004 Grammys, which honors rap tracks that contain samples. Jam also implemented a new rule in 2009 that allowed anyone nominated for a Grammy to bypass the regular application process and automatically be made a member for a year. He said he did it so that nominated acts would easily be involved in the organization the following year.
“If hip-hop is the most nominated, then they should be the best represented according to what I did,” Jam said. — (AP)
WASHINGTON — Grammy award-winning singer John Legend surprised a high school choir Tuesday at the Kennedy Center to help start a program encouraging young artists to confront social issues with their art, in honor of the late Marvin Gaye.
The project, "What's Going On ... Now," echoes Gaye's lyrics and asks young people to express how things have changed in the four decades since Gaye's hit album, "What's Going On."
Students can upload videos, photos, poems, music or any recordings of creative expression to the project's website to answer that question.
Gaye's groundbreaking 1971 Motown album tackled difficult social issues such as war, drug addiction and poverty, and asked audiences to reflect on the times. His 1972 performance at the Kennedy Center in his hometown was a historic comeback for Gaye — his first live performance in two years since the death of his singing partner and friend Tammi Terrell. It's also believed to be the only time Gaye sang his entire "What's Going On" album in concert.
Legend, 33, will recreate Gaye's performance in two concerts in May with the National Symphony Orchestra and other performers. They will also incorporate recordings submitted by students. The Kennedy Center will feature user-generated content on the project's website, and two young participants will win a free trip to Washington for the concert.
Legend surprised a show choir Tuesday from Washington's Duke Ellington School of the Arts while they were rehearsing for a performance of "What's Going On" at the Kennedy Center. Many of the students' jaws dropped as Legend sat down at the piano to sing with them.
Legend said Gaye's tunes were part of his childhood because his parents were big fans. But that memorable album almost never happened. Motown founder Berry Gordy initially was against it but got on board when it started to sell.
It takes "a bit of boldness" for artists to take on social issues and political issues like Gaye did, Legend said.
"Music right now ... especially in hip hop, no one really wants to talk about poverty," he told The Associated Press. "And if people did make (such music), would the audience respond in a way that would encourage more people to make it?"
More often hip hop is about celebrating black wealth and success, he said, because people want music to be an escape, to be inspired.
Legend's recent album "Wake Up" with The Roots was more gritty and political and was successful in its own way, he said, but not like an album of love songs.
As Legend sang with the students, India Reynolds, 17, a member of the choir, said they all sang backgrounds a little softer to hear his voice.
"If 'What's Going On' came out yesterday, it still would have been a hit," she said. "He wrote that album so that people would listen."
Many of the same issues Gaye wrote about still linger today, such as war, violence and unemployment, she said.
"Using my craft to help people notice them is an honor," Reynolds said.
The Kennedy Center has partners in seven cities for the project, including Cleveland, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Santa Fe, N.M., and the Chicago-based Digital Youth Network. The center created curriculum for teachers to bring the program into their classrooms, or students can join on their own.
Darrell Ayers, the center's vice president for education, said engaging students with digital media integrates literacy and artistic literacy with lessons about history and issues of the day.
It's also a way for young people "to realize the impact the arts can have, not just to make you feel good but to make people think about things." -- (AP)