Kay Bourne Arts Report – Issue #30

January 16th, 2007  |  Published in Kay Bourne Arts Report


by Kay Bourne
(pictured: Charles “Burt” Walker, Jr. and his wife Mercedes and his great grandson Bernadotte and Mercedes’ granddaughter Kelly Lawrence)

265 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #30Our “Father Time” is musician/activitist Charles Burton Walker, Jr. “Burt” celebrated his 90th birthday with some 80 or so of his friends and family Sunday afternoon at the Prince Hall Masonic Hall in Grove Hall, Roxbury. Among his important accomplishments with the Masons is the restoration and rededication of the Prince Hall Mystic Cemetery, the only Masonic cemetery in the nation and now included in the National Register of Historic Sites. Walker’s wife Mercedes was the chief planner of the get-together at the hall.

A descendent of sea captain and merchant Paul Cuffee through his mother’s side, Walker comes by his commitment to community naturally. Scholarship on the important African American figure of the late 1700′s and early 1800′s point out how the wealthy ship builder of Buzzards’ Bay established trading links between Britain, Africa, and the U.S. A battler against slavery and an early African nationalist, Cuffee was a visionary.

Walker, born in Malden, Massachusetts, January 9, 1917, was interested in music early on. He learned clarinet in grammar school but went on to become a saxophonist. As a senior in high school, he performed in 1934 at Symphony Hall with the Victorian Concert Orchestra, an all Black, 67- piece band. (That same occasion saw an all Black male chorus of 65 also on the Symphony Hall stage.) Walker was active with the Black Musicians Union # 535 and currently is a Vice President of the New England Jazz Alliance.

Walker qualified for the U.S Postal Service in 1937, retiring in 1983 with Ceremonial Honors from the Post Master General of the U.S. While with the Post Office, he was a founder of the Postal Association of Minority Supervisors for the Boston Postal District.

As Walker thought back over his years as a community builder he offered two pieces of wisdom. “Put into office a person you have faith in that he’ll do the right thing. As soon as I was old enough to vote, I registered.”

His second observation combines music and community. “Working with the New England Jazz Alliance, I hope to get music back in the schools like it was when I was in school. I believe it would keep lots of kids from getting into trouble.”

by Kay Bourne
(pictured: Cliff Odel and baby)

264 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #30Baby Georgia Eva Mazzy (GEM) Odle-Perkins came into the world as the New Year bells rang out. Born January 1 at 12:40 a.m. to actor Cliff Odle and his wife Dawna, their GEM of the ocean was the second child born in Rhode Island by three minutes. She weighed 7lbs, 5ozs.

Odle’s specialty is acting in plays by August Wilson. The play “Gem of the Ocean” begins Wilson’s investigation of how Black people have fared in 20th century America.

Cliff’s work in plays by Wilson is extensive. He was Troy Maxon in the Up You Mighty Race production of “Fences” staged at UMASS/Boston. He has performed the soliloquy from the Pulitzer Prize winning drama of taking on death many other times, including a program memorializing Wilson held at Roxbury Community College. Wilson died in 2005, as did his long time producer, Benjamin Mordecai to be followed a year later by Wilson’s first mentor in professional theater and director of “Fences” and other Wilson plays, Lloyd Richards.

Most recently Odle understudied the roles of Elder Joseph Barlow and Sterling Johnson for the Huntington Theater’s production of “Radio Golf.” This is Wilson’s final play in a 10 play cycle about the Black experience in this country in the 20th century, which Wilson finished writing shortly before his passing.

Other Wilson productions Odle has been associated with include understudying Mister in the Huntington Theater’s production of “King Hedley II” (Odle went on stage for seven performances). He was the assistant stage manager for “Seven Guitars” at the Huntington, and has performed in readings of “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and “The Piano Lesson.”

by S.L. Hemingway
(pictured: Henri Simith, vocals and Nate Simpkins on Sax)

266 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #30“Play it for the soul folks, and you’ll really have a ball!” advised singer, Henri Smith to a group of tweed and corduroy regulars clustered around the bar January 7 at the Landing Restaurant located in Manchester-By-Sea: a suburban yuppie enclave way north of Boston. There might not have been dishes of ‘red beans and rice’ or ‘gumbo’ on the menu but the message of survival was not lost on deaf ears.

Henri’s sometimes grainy, sometimes mellow voice with his ever present handkerchief waving like a ‘second-line’ instrument vibrated hits made by Ruby and The Romantics, Sam Cook and even Peggy Lee. He also gave nod to Bacharach’s ‘Walk On By’, and Carmichael’s ‘New Orleans,’ shaking the tree with Adderley’s jazzy blues composition, ‘Work Song.’ Although I heard many of the songs before, they had never been simmered in that special New Orleans “sauce” Smith and ‘his partner in the sublime’ saxophonist Nat Simpkins provided. For me, as well as, those present, the highlight of the set was the Simpson/Smith collaboration on “Spanish Red Beans and Rice”, with its story of tragedy turned hope, encased in a joyous upbeat Crescent City style.

Smith and Simpkins had played the venue before. During the first time, it began to snow and Smith confessed that the initial thought that crossed his mind was that in coming north he had “traded a hurricane something he knew for something he didn’t, a blizzard.” It was easy for listeners of his music to understand his soulful renderings then. The tragedy was news. He and his girlfriend had just escaped Katrina. His music partner, Nat, a native of Manchester-By-The Sea had reached out to them and helped them settle in neighboring Gloucester.

Henri was a part of that explosion of New Orleans musical talent that seeded America after the disaster. He even found himself on “Good Morning America”. That was quite a highlight for someone who as a young boy started off his musical career rigging up his mother’s beauty salon with stereo speakers to hear Stanley Turpentine, without permission. Celebrity is fleeting, especially when you’re always the ‘special guest’. Now is the hard part, surviving the survival. If you think of it, that’s the definition of New Orleans music, from its birth in Congo Square, through its escape with King Olivier and Louis the Great, up the Mississippi.

As Sam Cook sang it, and Henri interprets it, when will come the time to “bring it on home”? Everyday Henri, thinks of returning home to his beloved New Orleans. Yet, now the city is not the same. It’s a city, as he calls it, of broken hearts. One day he promises to write a song with that title, until then he wants to spread the joy.

You can share that joy with the Smith/Simpkins big band featuring Charles Neville at Bob’s Southern Bistro on Mardi Gras day in February. Henri Smith’s compact discs are available on the Blue Jay record label.

Blue Jay Records official website

by DeAma Battle
(Sony Pictures)

269 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #30Stomp the Yard (Sony Pictures) – What an exciting and powerfully motivating movie to see, especially for the youth into the latest music and dance styles. Stomp the Yard not only looks at the importance of education but the power of the dance.

As an artist with a long time interest in education through the arts, I could see the flavors of South African Boot Dances, Hambone (early African American dance with body patting rhythms, rhythmic song/stories and some footwork). Tap dance (foot rhythms) obviously floats through the rhythmic styles. Other rhythmic dance styles such as Flamenco and Irish Step dancing have been performed with tap to show cultural similarities. Hmmmm, a global affair – education through the arts.

What particularly impressed me was the energy and spirit that Stomp the Yard ignited in the youth. As the movie progressed they had chosen their heroes and who they wanted to see win. Though I know it’s their role, and they were good actors, the power and intensity of concentration on the faces of the dancers was impressive. I felt it sent a powerful message to the youth that translates into a focus on the level of achievement one can strive for.

The movie’s story-line? Following the death of his younger brother, a troubled 19-year-old street dancer from L.A. is able to bypass juvenile hall by enrolling in the historically black, Truth University in Atlanta. But his efforts to get an education and woo the girl he likes are sidelined when he is courted by the top two campus fraternities, both of which want and need his fierce street-style dance moves to win the highly coveted national step show competition.

After the movie the youth spilled out into the lobby. Suddenly there was a group of students surrounding someone dancing in the middle – cheering their favorite moves. They had their own stomp session, a few trying their hand at some of the movements they saw in the movie. I had an immediate flashback to the African Bantabas or dance circles I have seen and danced in. When drumming was heard, you could follow the sound to the center of the action.

As I moved down the lobby and into the main area, I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. James Lopes and some of his students from the Freedom House in Roxbury. The movie seemed to spark his intent to do a six-week program on the history of Steppin’, the meaning of the Greek letters of fraternities and sororities and a focus on higher education. Mr. Lopes was so excited to have his students see this movie since their six-week program begins next week. I plan to see the movie again.

By the by, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. recently announced that after talks with Sony Picture and the others responsible for the movie Stomp the Yard, that the black fraternity had been satisfied with revisions of the film before its release. The concern was with how the movie portrays the role of stomping the yard vis-a-vis fraternities at traditionally black colleges. The 100 year old Alpha Phi Alpha also noted that Sony and Screen Gems had also agreed to make a donation to the MLK Memorial Foundation (The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was an Alpha Phi Alpha.)

STOMP THE YARD official website

by Lisa Simmons
(Panther Bior, center, and Daniel Abul Pach, right, in a scene from “God Grew Tired of Us,” which follows three young Sudanese immigrants.
National Geographic Films/Newmarket)

271 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #30What an amazing film. Captiviating, stirring, heart-wrenching, GOD GREW TIRED OF US is a documentary narrated by Nicole Kidman, produced by Christopher Quinn, and executive produced by Brad Pitt. A 2006 Sundance Film Festival award-winning film, it successfully tells the story of three of the 25,000 boys who fled the Sudan during its Civil War. John Bul Dau, Panther Blor and Daniel Abol Pach, along with the other orphans ranging in age from 3- 13, had nothing more than the shirts on their backs, and travelled over thousands of miles over years, walking barefoot seeking refuge from a war whose leaders wanted them dead. Their final resting place, a refugee camp in Kenya. Talk about strength, perserverance and a will to live… these young men demonstrated, everyday, the true meaning of courage and bravery.

As the older boys took care of the younger children, they became a family. Nuturing, comforting and often times burying their loved ones. They experienced moments in their young lives that many adults in America have never or will never experience in a life time. Forced away from their mothers, fathers and siblings, these boys had no other choice but to leave their nurturturing environments if they wanted to continue living.

GOD GREW TIRED OF US is a film that everyone should see. It digs deep into many aspects of the Lost Boys of the Sudan that were only touched upon in the American media. “It tells the story,” John Bul Dau, one of the Lost Boys who is featured in the documentary says, “It is not as detailed as to all that we went through, but it tells a true story.”

John Bul Dau, now in his thirties, is one of 3,800 Sudanese boys who came to the United States through a program created to resettle them in America. The heart of this film is that journey, of these young men who came to a country and a culture entirely different from their own, and survived. From the moment they board the plane, leaving their “family” and familiar surroundings, to their intergration into American society one, two even four years later, we are mesmorized by their ability to adapt, accept and assimilate into American culture.

John Bul Dau became a leader in the refugee camps because he says, of his size and strength. John, almost 20 years after coming to America has founded the American Care for Sudan Foundation, which raises funds to build the Duk Lost Boys Clinic, the first medical clinic in Duk County where Dau lived as a boy. In additon, he has written the book, AND GOD GREW TIRED OF US about his journey and from which the film is based. I asked John how he kept going if he really felt that “god grew tired of them.” and he said because he held on to his faith.

An amazing young man, an amazing film and a wonderful story of hope, love and faith, currently showing at Kendall Sq. Cinema in Cambridge.

God Grew Tired of Us official website

by Josiah Crowley © 2007
273 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #30After a Royal Command Performance, comic actress-singer Kaye Ballard – nervous about meeting The Royals – blurted out to Princess Margaret: “Gee, I’m crazy about your mother and father!”

This memoir, concerning a first generation Italian-American performer who goes against her parents wishes and actually pursues a career, (which was an unheard of phenomenon in her Catholic-Italian neighborhood in 1940′s Cleveland, Ohio…only sons, not daughters, were sent to college to pursue careers) is a rollicking, funny take on a life both on and off the stage and screen.

Ballard’s book addresses serious issues: sexual harassment, women’s body images, breast cancer, AIDS with humor and, at times, surprising poignancy; surprising because, mostly, “How I Lost 10 Pounds in 53 Years” (Backstage Books) is laugh-out-loud funny.

Ballard’s tale starts out with a look at what it meant to be a daughter in her Italian heritage. Her parents were too worried about keeping a roof over their heads to concern themselves about what today would be considered physical and mental abuse.

“My mother was always disappointed that I wasn’t Ava Gardner.”

Sons were thought to have career prospects. Daughters should learn how to cook and land a decent husband. One problem: this daughter never learned how to cook, though she loves to eat; thus, the title. Also, Ballard was intent, from a very young age on becoming a performer.

In many ways, the 80-year-old Ballard’s book intrigues as she describes forms of show business that simply don’t exist anymore – here are her exploits working as a comic in burlesque and vaudeville. The “girl comic” in seedy strip joints where the patrons were not too interested in hearing the hefty female’s comic patter between the strippers’ routines. The “girl singer” for Spike Jones’ Big Band… In 1940′s Greenwich Village clubs, she sang on the same bills as Josephine Baker, Pearl Bailey and Barbara Cook among others.

By the time Ballard gets to NYC and studies “The Method” at the Actors Studio, where she has an affair with the young Marlon Brando (they kept in touch until his death, swapping diet tips for 50 years), Ballard has already survived Phil Silvers‘ sexual harassment. He was the star of the national tour of TOP BANANA and he made her life hell during the 10-month tour, after she rejected him.

Because of her versatility – singer, actress, comic – Ballard has worked in all media. And with performers one wouldn’t associate with her, from Michelle Pfeiffer (in her long-forgotten film debut, the young actress played Ballard’s daughter) to Nijinsky (her description of the dancer’s highly unorthodox funeral – including scantily dressed young men dancing at his grave, per the late dancer’s request, is hysterical.) Her accounts of some of the biggest, and not so big, stars in the last 100 years of entertainment are unique and makes for a terrific read. For example, Ballard’s concise portrait of Lucille Ball, who produced her hit 1960′s TV sit-com THE MOTHERS-IN-LAW – confirms why Lucie Arnaz once said of the comic: “Even God is afraid of my mother.”

Boston native Ruth Gordon came backstage to visit Ballard after seeing her in previews in a Broadway show: “Honey, you’re in a bomb”, Gordon told her, “so I want you to go out there opening night and just have fun with it.” Taking her advice, Ballard walked away with the only rave reviews, while her frantic co-stars were decimated by the critics.

Which is, in a way, how Ballard lives her life. At age 80, having survived a double mastectomy, loneliness, tough family relationships, intense Catholic guilt and attended many funerals, her philosophy is: “Live life to the fullest and give one of your wonderful friends a call.”

So, if one of your friends has any interest in what life was like in just about any area of show business over the last 100 years, you might want to give him or her a copy of Kaye Ballard’s book.

Kaye Ballard’s official website

by Lisa Simmons
274 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #30Living a day in someone elses skin would do a world of difference for a lot of people who can not comprehend what life is like in an urban environment based on daily survival skills. FREEDOM WRITERS tells the true story of a class of Long Beach teenagers who encounter a teacher, Erin Gruwell played by Hillary Swank, who engages them and makes them understand that their voices are important for the world to hear and understand.

Admist the worst outbreak of interracial gang warfare and just after the LA riots, these Long Beach teenagers learn that writing down their stories, their pain, their dreams, their fears helps allow others to hear their voices. It is these stories on which FREEDOM WRITERS is based.

Powerfully portrayed by Academy Award winner Hillary Swank, Erin Grunwell’s journey as the teacher who leads these teens to believe in themselves is yes, somewhat of a Hollywood cliche, but it has a bit more heart than other movies of this genre. It is the direction and the script that helps it from being to preachy and over the top.

The film is really about respect, respect for themselves, their peers and respect for authority figures, like teachers. It is inspiring to see the teenagers feel such a strong sense of confidence in who they are and what they can become.

I know that there are so many teachers out there in the Boston Public School system and other urban school systems who fight as hard and as long as Erin Gruwell to engage the youth, to find ways to make a difference, to communicate and we commend you and thank you for all of your hard work.

Freedom Writers Official Website

275 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #30Friday, JANUARY 26, at 7pm and 10pm, CEDRIC “The Entertainer” performs at the Fox Theatre at Foxwoods Resorts Casino. Tickets are $44 and $55, for more info call 1-800-Foxwoods.

JANUARY 18 -21, Amazon/Haiku: Two One-Act Plays , presented by JRV Productions at Boston Playwrights’ Theater, 949 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston. For info call 617-661-7930. Sailing Down the Amazon by Rosanna Yamagiwa Alfaro and Haiku by Kate Snodgrass. Directed by Victoria Marsh. Suggested donation $15 Handicap accessible.

January through April New Exhibit: A GATHERING PLACE FOR FREEDOM. A new exhibit commemorating the bicentennial of the historic African Meeting House. View original photos of Prince Hall, Frederick Douglass, Lewis Hayden and other Boston Abolitionists. Celebrate the 200th anniversary of the African Meeting House. Free Admission Gallery Hours: 10:00 – 4:00 PM – Monday through Saturday Museum of African American History, 46 Joy Street, Boston. Call 617-725-0022 x 25 for details.

The Korean Film Festival runs JANUARY 24-28 at Remis Auditorium at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. All films in Korean with English subtitles. Tickets are $8 for MFA members, seniors, and students; $9 for general admission. Please call the Box Office at 617-369-3306 for ticket orders.

WGBH and Coolidge Corner Theatre host a Free Sneak Preview of the documentary on Percy Julian in “Forgotten Genius” on Wednesday, January 31, 7pm at Coolidge Corner Theatre, followed by a Q&A with director and producer Llewellyn Smith. Then February 6 at 8-10pm, WGBH 2 debuts the documentary on tv.

JANUARY 31, meet world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma as he joins Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra for a Benefit Concert and Auction/Gala Reception. Tickets start at $75 For info click here.

Sweet Honey on The Rock and Dr. Cornel West raise their voices in distinctive harmony FEBRUARY 1 , Together for the first time, at Berklee Performance Center. Tickets are $25; seniors $18.75, available at the Berklee box office or through Ticketmaster. For more information, call 617-747-2261.

Wheelock Family theatre, presents click Beauty and the Beast starring Angela Williams as Belle, FEBRUARY 2 – MARCH 4. Tickets are $23, $19, $15 with group rates and performances during February school vacation week. For info call The Wheelock Family Theatre Box Office at 617-879-2300. Wheelock Family Theatre is located at 200 The Riverway. Discounted parking is available at 375 Longwood Avenue.

ESSENCE MAGAZINE AND BERKLEE COLLEGE OF MUSIC ANNOUNCE THEIR SECOND NATIONAL HIP-HOP SONGWRITING CONTEST for teens, 15-18 yrs. old. deadline is March 9 and three winners will attend a high school music program at Berklee this summer. For complete contest rules click here.

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