Jason Howard Green

Jason Howard Green

Monday, August 28, 2017

Jume 30 - Keke Palmer: Renaissance Woman

We will end our June celebration (LGBT Pride month and Black Music month) with a look at Keke Palmer.  She will forever be little Akeelah from Akeelah and the Bee for me.  But this little talent has blossomed into one fierce little diva who is killing it in everything she touches and in everything she tries. She is way more than a triple threat. She has tried her hand on the big screen, the small screen, the stage, and the recording studio and she's nailed them all.

Let's start with the big screen.  Keke made her film debut in Barbershop 2: Back in Business.  The little actress was suddenly working alongside some of the big names like Queen Latifah and Ice Cube.  But it would be her second feature that would be her claim to fame.  America fell in love with her in the lead role as Akeelah, the young girl on a mission to win the National Spelling Bee.  Other staring roles for her include Madea's Family Reunion, Joyful Noise, and Winx Club: The Secret of the Lost Kingdom.  Television shows featuring Keke include Knights of the South Bronx, Jump In, Rag, and my personal favorite - Scream Queens. She would also play the role of Rozonda "Chili" Thomas in the VH1 biopic "CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story. For her role in the Nickelodeon  show, True Jackson, VP, she earned $20,000 per episode making her the forth highest paid child star on television.  

In 2014, it was announced that Keke would be the first African-American to star at Cinderella on Broadway.  In October of 2015, she joined the cast of the Fox production of Grease Live.  In spite of all of this success as actress, music is her first love and her main calling.

Keke's first released album, So Uncool, draws influences from some of her pop favorites like Ciara, Janet Jackson, Brandy, and Whitney Houston.  In 2016 she released her a previously unreleased album she recorded at the age of 16 which she would call "Waited to Exhale." Please get into her video to "Wind Up" below . . . 

June 29 - Johnny Mathis: Classic Balladeer

In 2017, in an interview with Us magazine, Johnny Mathis discussed something he has been silent about in over three decades.  His sexuality. In 1982, also with Us magazine, Mathis came out by stating "Homosexuality is a way of life I've grown accustomed to."  Following that article he went silent on this issue.  

He shared in this recent interview that the reason he wouldn't discuss the issue was because of the numerous threats he received after he came out.  But he appears once again ready to address this issue.  In the new write up he claims, "I come from San Francisco.  It's not unusual to be gay in San Francisco.  I've had some girlfriends, some boyfriends, just like most people.  But  I never got married for instance.  I knew that I was gay."

He also mentions that part of the reason for his silence was generational.  Speaking publicly about being gay was just not something people from his generation would do.  

In 2003, the Academy for Arts and Sciences awarded Mathis the Lifetime Achievement Award.  He has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame for three seperate recording including "Chance Are" 1998, "Misty" 2002 and "It's Not for Me to Say" 2008.

Please check out one of my all time Mathis favorites, his duet with Deniece Williams, "Too Much, Too Little, Too Late."

June 28 - Bobby Debarge: Falsetta For the Gods

As a member of one of the most recognizable R&B families ever, Bobby Debarge's last name is one that immediately makes people pause for a moment and flashback to times of "real music."As one of the lead vocalist in Motown's sensational group, Switch, Bobby's was the voice that made the Debarge name famous.

While the group was basking in the success of some of their hits such as "There'll Never Be" and "I Call Your Name," Bobby was simultaneously dealing with his demons.  He was heavily addicted to drugs, bearing the shame of of growing up the victim of sexual abuse, and trying desperately to live openly as bisexual whle publicly being one half of one of the most famous R&B relationships there was.  He was dating LaToya Jackson.  The Debarge's and the Jackson's were the two biggest names there were in R&B. These two were Motown royalty and the entire country loved the fact that these two beautiful people were a couple.

Unfortunately Bobby would never win his fight with drugs.  He would struggle with this addiction his entire life.  In 1988 he was sentenced to five years in prison for drug trafficking.  He revealed to his family before going to prison that he had acquire HIV.  In 1995, Bobby became gravely ill and his family sent him to hospice.  He died on August 16, 1995 from HIV related complications.

His little brother El, probably the most famous of the Debarge clan, has stated that he wishes his voice was as smooth as his brother Bobby's.  Switch's song "There'll Never Be" is still played often in my home and in my car.  Please check out Switch's performance of this hit on Soul Train . . . 

June 27 - Meshell Ndegeocello: Birth Mother of NeoSoul

"If that's your boyfriend, if that's your boyfriend, if that's your boyfriend, he wasn't last night."  That is the hook of the very song I ever heard by Meshell.  I remember it vividly.  I was in college and this anthem of infidelity was bumping everywhere on campus. It was quite the hit. I was not aware that this young lady and ushering in a new wave of music that would eventually wear the title "NeoSoul."

Meshell was born Michelle Lynn Johnson but adopted the surname Ndegeocello which means "free like a bird" in Swahili.  Her biggest hit to this date is her duet with John Cougar Mellancamp.  "Wild Nights" was their cover of the Van Morrison hit.  This song would reach number 3 on the Billboard charts.  She has also collaborated with such greats as Herbie Hancock, Madonna and Chaka Khan.  

Since 1993 she has released 11 studio albums and her twelfth is scheduled for release in November of this year.  In addition to her studio albums, she has released quite a bit of music that is featured in the soundtracks of movies.  Some of those include How Stella Got Her Groove Back, Love and Basketball, The Best Man, and Tyler Perry's Daddy's Little Girls. My favorite song by her would be a song from one of those soundtracks.  It is simply called "Untitled."  Get into it below . . . 

June 26 - Kevin Aviance: Din Da Da

In 2016, Kevin Aviance made the 93 slot on the list of most successful dance artists of all time. A drag personality known the whole world over, he has worked with the likes of Janet Jackson and Whitney Houston and even appeared in Madonna's "Secrets" video. 

Kevin has been able to carve a bit of a niche for himself in music and on film.  Some of his hits include "Rhythm Is My Bitch," "Cunty," and "Strut."  And some movie titles to his credit include, Punks, Naked Fame and also Freaks, Glam Gods and Rockstars.

He began his career as a drag performer but moved far beyond the queen just prancing on the floor and lip syncing to the songs of others.  He was determined to make his own music, develop his own sound, and build a brand for himself as a gender bending, non conforming performing artist.

Despite his success, his fame would not hide him from ignorance and violence.  In 2006 while leaving a bar in New York City, he would become the victim of a hate crime.  Outside of the East Village bar called Phoenix, he was robbed and beaten.  The attack would require him to have his jaw wired shut for over a month.  He also suffered from a fractured knee and neck injuries.  

Please get into one of my favorite songs by him below . . . 

June 25 - Raven Symone: Undetered and Undefined

For most of us, the first time we laid eyes on Raven Symone was when she played  the adorable little girl on The Cosby Show.  Denise (Lisa Bonet) has returned to the show after dropping out of college.  She was now married and she had a step daughter.  Olivia Kindall was an excellent addition to the cast and she immediately captured everyone's hearts. America well in love with young Raven Symone.

The Cosby Show would air it's final episode in 1992.  Although she would go continue to act in many small parts, it would be another decade before we saw Raven spearheading a show.  In 2003 she began playing the role that would make her a fan favorite of an entire generation of Disney kids.  "That's So Raven" would make her a household phenomena once again.  And with the title character wearing her real name, it brilliantly gifted her undeniable name recognition that she will carry with her for life.

Most were unaware that of Raven's same gender attraction until tweet that would cause everyone to pause and go "huh?"  Following the Supreme Court's decision to make marriage equality the law of the land, Symone posted the following tweet to her account, "I can finally get married. Yay government.  So proud of you"

Many folks, myself included were dumbfounded.  Who knew America's sweetheart was a lesbian? While she'll be the first to say that she does not like labels and probably would not self identity in this manner, she is now very open about her same gender attraction and lives her life publicly with her partner.

She is definitely more famous as an actress, but she is also a recording artist.  She has recorded with the young girl group, The Cheetah Girls, and she some solo projects under her belt.  Please check out her Backflip video here . . .

June 24 - Rev. James Cleveland: Gospel Legend

 Most fans of gospel music are familiar with this legendary recording artist.  He earned four Grammy awards for his music and he would become the first gospel artist to earn a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He was the incomparable James Cleveland.

Reading his Wikipedia page you would never know that James Cleveland was a gay man.  Until you get to the final passage on the page which briefly speaks of an individual that sued the estate of Cleveland claiming that he was sexually molested by the man and became HIVpositive because of these actions.

Growing up in the South and growing up in the choir, I heard numerous stories about Cleveland. When I went off to college I continued to sing and would eventually start to attend the National Baptist convention of America.  I swear to you it was like a black gay pride.  Most of the men at the convention were gay men and all of us would praise God through song during the day and rush off to the clubs at night.  Oh Happy Day!

I heard numerous stories from various men about their escapades with James Cleveland. I'm not going to fault Cleveland for his downlow behaviour or these young men for hooking up with someone they considered a hero to them.  It was simply the way things were.  If you were active in the church you were not allowed to be honest and live and out and proud life.  It was required that you put on a facade.  You were not allowed to live your life authentically.

So although he may not have been an "out" gay man.  I feel very comfortable in including him on this list.

My favorite song by James Cleveland was and still is "Peace Be Still." Please check it out below.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

June 23 - Carl Bean: Born This Way

Who knew that a Motown recording artist would go on to create an opening and welcoming church for African-American LGBT individuals?  Carl Bean was signed to Motown during the peak of the disco era.  Decades before Lady Gaga would climb the charts with her hit, "Born This Way," Carl Bean had a disco hit with the exact same name.  His tune was an anthem for gay pride and LGBT inclusion and equality.

Carl Bean would go on to find the Unity Fellowship Church (UFC).  Now going under the moniker Archbishop Carl Bean, he created UFC because for many black queer folks, the black church was not a welcoming place.  

If you would like to learn more about this remarkable disco diva turned spiritual leader, please check out his autobiography "I Was Born This Way: A Preacher's Journey through Gospel Music, Disco Stardom, and a Ministry in Christ."  

Check out his hit below . . .

Friday, August 4, 2017

June 22 - Todrick Hall: YouTube Sensation

Perhaps the most creative and talented millenial we've seen, Todrick Hall's viral YouTube videos have earned him his star status and made him a household name.  Original songs, innovative parodies, stunning visuals, and gifted choreography are just some of his trademarks and the videos just keep coming. Because of the brilliance of his videos (and I'm sure thanks to his number of social media followers), Todrick was picked by MTV to star in his own series simply titled "Todrick."

Some of us were first introduced to Todrick when he tried out for American Idol.  And though he was successful in his audition and received a golden ticket to go to Hollywood, he was an early elimination from Season 9.  Following the Idol, he returned to the stage and did some work on Broadway.  Though he was finding work in New York, Todrick felt like Las Angeles was where he should be.  So he eventually packed up and relocated even though he had no idea what he would be doing upon arrival.

Although Todrick had a longing for Hollywood, it seems like Hollywood did not have a longing for him.  After months of pounding the pavement, he started to think that maybe he made a bad decision in the relocation.  During this time of uncertainty, he gathered a group of friends and organized a flash mob that would happen at Target and would be performed to Beyonce's "End of Time."  The Beyonce garnered millions of videos and was so popular even Beyonce took to YouTube to thank Todrick for the tribute.

With no offers of stardom heading his way, Todrick decided to throw all of his money into another YouTube video.  This one would be more than just a mall flash mob.  This one involved casting and costumes and a song parody.  His video "Beauty and the Beat" was another internet sensation and suddenly Todrick was becoming "one to watch."

Todrick soon realized that making viral videos could be his avenue to making it.  And guess what, he was right.  The videos got bigger and bigger, eventually there would be tours and before you know  it was "Todrick" the MTV show.  

My favorite project by Todrick thus far would be "Straight Outta Oz."  This film which he released directly to YouTube told the story of a young Todrick who loves music but is different from other kids in his family and in his town.  And upon learning that he likes boys falls out of his mother's graces and eventually leaves home to make his own way in the world. Please get into it below . . . 

June 21 - Little Richard: A Wop Boppa Lou Bop

Richard's signature sound, flamboyant look, and electric moves on stage always made him a showstopper. For most audiences he was mesmerizing.  For many artists, he was the blueprint.  At the 1988 Grammy's while presenting the award for Best New Artist, he proudly proclaimed, "I am the Architect of Rock & Roll." I would be hard pressed trying to find someone that would disagree with his statement. He is quick to make statements like "Elvis Presley, he stole from me! James Brown stole from me! I'm the originator!" 

After reading Wikipedia's list of artists that claim to be influenced by Little Richard, I'm going to have to say, he is absolutely right.  The paragraph below outlines those individuals . . .

Richard influenced generations of performers across musical genres.   James Brown and Otis Redding both idolized Little Richard. Brown allegedly came up with the Famous Flames debut hit, "Please, Please, Please", after Little Richard had written the words on a napkin.  Redding started his professional career with Little Richard's band, The Upsetters. He first entered a talent show performing Little Richard's "Heeby Jeebies", winning for 15 consecutive weeks.  Ike Turnerclaimed most of Tina Turner's early vocal delivery was based on Little Richard, something Little Richard himself reiterated in the foreword of Turner's biography, King of Rhythm.  Bob Dylan first performed covers of Little Richard's songs on piano in high school with his rock and roll group, the Golden Chords; in 1959 when leaving school, he wrote in his yearbook under "Ambition": "to join Little Richard". Jimi Hendrix was influenced in appearance (clothing and hairstyle/mustache) and sound by Little Richard. He was quoted in 1966 saying, "I want to do with my guitar what Little Richard does with his voice." Others influenced by Little Richard early on in their lives included Bob Seger and John Fogerty.  Michael Jackson admitted that Little Richard had been a huge influence on him prior to Off the Wall. Rock critics noted similarities between Prince's androgynous look, music and vocal style to Little Richard's

While he may be quickly recognized by many (and that is musically and by appearance), most are probably unaware of his troubled childhood or his interesting, complex relationship with the church. Both of these were brilliantly reflected in the television biopic of his life. Directed by Robert Townsend, starring Jennifer Lewis and featuring Leon as Little Richard; the movie does an amazing job narrating us through his rough and rigged bond with his father, to his development of his stage persona to his introduction to make-up.  

Little Richard was indeed a trailblazer and though he may not have numerous awards or accolades, he is tremendously respected by his peers and countless artists still point to him as a source of inspiration.  Check him out below performing his hit Lucille.