Sunday, August 18, 2019

The Billionaire Boys' Club

Shawn Carter is not one of us. Maybe thirty years ago, back when he was still out in these streets, he was a regular person (and I mean that in a semi-good way), but that was before anyone ever heard of Jay Z. Back when he was this dude.

Now that he is this dude: married to Beyonce, Daddy to Blue Ivy and a set of twins, friend of Barack and Michelle, newly designated Black Billionaire who doesn't even bother to record his own music anymore (because why). Jay Z is no longer in our lives like he once was. To be honest, he hasn't been on our level since he and Kanye sawed up a Maybach for a joy ride in a music video. I don't care if it was a prop--who da phuck does that?

So let's break down all of this hand-wringing and public consternation about this NFL deal. Actually, let's focus on the real deal, which has yet to be officially confirmed except as told to TMZ (but they usually get it right). I suggested to the Hub after Jemele Hill and Very Smart Brothas weighed in, that this seems more like an effort to make nice with the owners because Jay probably wants to own a team. Unlike basketball where the owners tend to change regularly, NFL ownership is akin to membership in a private club. They don't let just anybody in, which is why the DESPOTUS is now leader of the free world...

And after you wrap your head around that revelation, team ownership makes a lot more sense than believing Jay wants to lock down a Superbowl Half-Time gig for Solange. Any dude that can rent out the Louvre for a music video isn't really entering into a partnership to provide entertainment that is easily obtained. And the sellout narrative doesn't fit him either since, and I repeat, this is a dude that can rent out the Louvre for his wife's music video. So no, Jay is simply doing what billionaires do, which is the type of shit that the rest of us can't fathom.

This is what Beyonce alludes to in Flawless, why she can work out her anger about his cheating on an entire album, and then go on to have twins with him. She was mad, not crazy. This is why Oprah won't marry Steadman. She did a cost-benefit analysis and determined that she only needs him for special occasions. This is why Robert F. Smith went off script, made an insane promise to a bunch of guys he never met, and has pissed off all those salty white people who have been paying off student loans for all of eternity. This is why Michael Jordan doesn't care that his visage has become the crying man meme because he's laughing on the inside. All of them can say without an ounce of irony what Dave Chappelle has been saying for years.

Billionaires operate on a level where the type of mundane stuff that the rest of us live with on a daily basis is, well mundane. Beyonce isn't clipping coupons for her children's back-to-school supplies. Of course Oprah doesn't know how to pump her own gas. Warren Buffet probably never carries cash, nor has he ever had his credit card declined. Mellody Hobson has a day job because she is just a millionaire married to billionaire George Lucas. If Robert F. Smith and his wife think the young men in the Class of 2019 need custom cuff links to wear with their off-the-rack suits, we won't suggest otherwise.

We expect Black billionaires to demonstrate a higher level of responsibility with their money and influence, which is why folks are seeing this move as a bitch slap to Colin Kaepernick. But don't feel that sorry for him. For all of his self-righteousness, that dude said that he would still play for the NFL if a team expressed interest. This is after he already signed a lucrative contract with Nike for not playing football. This is after he allegedly urged Nike to scrap a certain shoe design that was all ready to go on the shelves (and let's just ruminate on the idea that some dude who isn't selling shoes by playing in them has enough juice to kill another pair of shoes that he wouldn't even be promoting.) Kaep has every reason to be salty, but he's not operating on Jay's level. Billionaires aren't looking for jobs.

Billionaires create more opportunities for themselves to make more money. Oprah is preaching the gospel of cauliflower because she probably owns a farm somewhere. Does anybody actually believe that she eats frozen pizza? Jeff Bezos has convinced people that a trip to the store for basic items is more of a hassle than waiting 24 hours for front door delivery. He knows that we call Whole Foods 'whole paycheck' so while a few items are cheaper since he bought the chain, all of the exotic stuff is still overpriced. The Walton family makes more money per hour off the cheap crap y'all buy at Walmart than you save from shopping there (let that sink in).

Billionaires don't protest injustice the way the rest of us do. That's why Jay can declare that the time for kneeling is over because he doesn't plan on doing that and Beyonce isn't trying to ruin her expensive hosiery. Instead, billionaires use their money to address the world's problems (philanthropy is the fancy name for it), so that's why Bill and Melinda Gates are trying to eradicate certain diseases; why Michael Bloomberg is backing advocacy groups to address gun violence; and how in one grand act, Robert F. Smith has sparked a conversation about massive student debt. Jay might not have knelt or marched in these streets, but as a patron of the arts, he has been backing documentaries that address why folks are kneeling during the Anthem, such as the Kalief Browder story and the Trayvon Martin story. He has used his powers for good, and with the right type of pressure, that can and must continue. 

That doesn't absolve Jay from throwing Kaep under the bus; but let's be honest and finally disentangle ourselves from this righteous boycott/protest narrative. The real issue is not Colin Kaepernick, nor is it disrespect of the American flag. In some cases, kneeling has been in direct protest of the authoritarian posture of the DESPOTUS, which is why athletes in different sports like   Megan Rapinoe and fencer Race Imboden, have joined in solidarity. So we kind of get your point Eric Reid, but how much of your outrage is about your boy not playing, instead of about the deaths of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, and Philando Castile where it belongs?

Billionaires play these high stakes, ruthless games of 3-D chess. Or poker. Or craps. So I agree wholeheartedly with Jemele Hill and every other smart person who saw through this shuck and jive move by Jay from the beginning. He is helping the league to save face by giving them a pass. In return, his reward will be a financial stake in a franchise, which is a lot more than the traditional 30 pieces of silver we're used to seeing in exchange for one's soul. But that's because he is already a billionaire, and in his world of 99 Problems, a soul ain't one. 

Friday, August 9, 2019

This is America

This started as a statement of annoyance on the Facebook page, but then I added visuals and started using big words and...

Monticello (2019)
I saw this post on Twitter and my initial response was to allude to my recent visit to Monticello, where the updated house tour now includes a more in-depth discussion of slavery. Then I went searching through my new phone to find the pictures that I just took there of the Hemings' slave cabin and the Big House. Then I started on a rant about why these images need to be seen together, regardless of your ethnicity because, for goodness sake, YOU WERE VISITING A DAMN PLANTATION!!!

Then I started on another paragraph about the many trinkets and artifacts that get preserved at those homes for display and how no one ever seems to wonder how those items are kept in such pristine condition considering the people who lived in the house didn't do much work. Maybe the lady of the house kept her trousseau organized--hand washed and ironed her own linen tablecloths and embroidered napkins. Maybe she polished her own silver brushes and handheld mirrors, then carefully wrapped them in tissue paper before storing them in velvet-lined boxes. Maybe she endured the heat of the sun to tend to the antique rose bushes, camellias, and hibiscus. Or perhaps that was the job of her husband, who also rose early every morning to tend to his vast acreage of cotton/sugar/rice/tobacco, which he planted, picked, and prepared for sale all by himself, dressed impeccably in a perfectly antebellum seer sucker or white linen suit.

For example, it is fair to argue that no one goes to Versailles to learn about the people who worked there, so why should anyone care about the people employed on southern plantations? Of course, Versailles is a beautiful palace museum, a showcase to the excesses of the French Monarchy, and we know this because once the servants got tired of going hungry while serving cake, enleves leur tĂȘtes!

Hemings' Cabin (2019)
But again, what does that have to do with visitors to an historic plantation home somewhere in the American South where once upon a time, people were enslaved? Why should you care that Miss Anne compelled her half-sister to serve as her chamber maid? Or that Master Tom worked his own son, whose mother was the head cook (upon whom he forced himself in the hidden places at night after everyone else was asleep), as his coachman? Who wants to hear about all of that depressing shit while on vacation? How dare they make you think about other people's suffering?

After all, your grandparents came to America years after all of that happened via a 'legal' immigration system that excluded Chinese immigrants, for example. Black people were already emancipated, so your Sicilian/German ancestors didn't own any slaves. Instead, they worked hard at those jobs in the industrial North and Midwest in factories, building trades, and shipyards (where the Blacks who had escaped Southern peonage could only secure work as janitors, cooks, and manual laborers). Your ancestors were allowed to fight to defend their adopted country, while Black and American Indian soldiers languished in segregated units or were barred from joining the unions. While it is tragic and unforgivable that 11,000 Germans and less than 2,000 Italians were interned during World War II; between 110,000 and 120,000 Japanese-Americans (note the hyphen, because many were naturalized citizens) were interned on the US mainland and in Hawaii. After the War, your ancestors took advantage of the GI Bill and moved to suburbs like Levittown, NY and Clybourne Park, IL, while we faced restrictive covenants and redlining.

But by all means, do not allow these pesky facts to ruin your visit to Tara, Twelve Oaks, Nottoway or whatever other plantation you visit during your stay. (Update: I've learned that your Yelp complaint was posted about McLeod Plantation in South Carolina...did you even look at the brochure?) I'm sure that the little old ladies in lace white gloves who maintain these historic homes would rather host an upcoming wedding/vow renewal, prom, debutante ball, etc., than answer hard questions. For decades, they didn't want to talk about the slavery either because their side lost that war, so instead they regaled visitors with alternative tall tales like Gone With the Wind. That's a far more interesting saga than say...the story of why Hattie McDaniel couldn't attend the premiere of the very film that won her an Oscar.

Guess what, we (the Blacks, Native Americans, Latinos, Asian Pacific Islanders) are tired too. We're tired of insisting that our stories are as valid and as important and as significant as others. We're frustrated that the history of slavery and segregation in this country are considered optional, as if racism was no big deal. Because an understanding of slavery makes it a lot harder to ignore the Trail of Tears, the role of Chinese railroad workers in westward expansion, the Bracero Program and migrant farmwork, Hawaii, and the immigration raids in Mississippi. Understanding our history in this country is acknowledging that it is all American History--including how your Sicilian and German ancestors were similarly victimized.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

An Appreciation: Toni Morrison

When I first heard the news, I immediately thought about my Mother and how if she was lucid and able to articulate, she would write a more fitting tribute to Toni Morrison. That is because my Mother was one of Morrison's biggest fans--she read all of her books, taught several of them as well, celebrated her birthday in the same month, etc., while I can admit to having latched onto my Mother's appreciation. Like many of the Black women writers who came into my life in my youth, I loved Toni Morrison because my Mother loved her first.

So as I pondered the type of tribute that my Mother would have written, I decided to visit her. My Dad and I discussed Morrison's transition, but he said that he hadn't told her yet...because to him, my Mom is still very much aware of the world. The Alzheimer's has only made her mechanical existence a challenge, so I went along with his reasoning. Instead of sharing the sad news, I told her how I would download some of Morrison's audio books for us to enjoy together on my next visit. And she smiled.

Then as usual, life intervened, but before the great calamity of technical difficulties and shitty customer service, I had an epiphany via a text message exchange with one of my line sisters. I just learned that she is also a writer, so it seemed rather out of the blue that she would reach out to praise Morrison's well-known accomplishments. I responded with my wish that we could have had the chance to sit at Sister Toni's knee just to inhale her wisdom...but then it occurred to me that is why she wrote and became so celebrated--so that we all could receive her gifts.

I did not formally meet Toni Morrison in the flesh, but in hindsight, it would be inaccurate to say that I never sat at her knee. I heard her speak at Spelman College more than 25 years ago. It was right after she had been awarded the Nobel Prize. She came to Sisters Chapel for a reading that was open to the public, so the gathering was standing room only. Somehow, I managed to find a seat while she stood at the podium and read from Beloved and Jazz (just published). Afterwards, she offered some thoughts on reading and memory and history. I recall being childishly underwhelmed...

That story of my youthful foolishness could be another reason to cede this task to my Mother, who clearly would have had a different, more appreciative recollection. And that is entirely the point--I can't ghostwrite a tribute from my Mother's perspective on her favorite author. I must write from my own collection of experiences and encounters with Morrison's work. I must admit that I never could get through more than half of Beloved, despite several attempts. I must admit that I have only read a few of her books; yet the impact of those was profound. I must admit that I had been hoping to see the film about her life in the present tense before...because I had some sense that this moment was imminent.

My initial encounter with Toni Morrison came in high school. My Mother was teaching The Bluest Eye to her high school students and had accumulated a collection of her other works. I picked up Sula because of the cover art and inhaled that book twice. Then by chance, it was part of our summer reading list for Spelman, so I read it again. Then as we discussed it in our Freshman Composition class, I read it for a fourth time. Because of Sula, I met one of my best friends forever. Because of Sula, I earned a nickname that allowed me to finally appreciate the birthmark above my right eyebrow.

I re-read Sula every so often because it is a profound statement of womanism--the Black woman's assertion of her worth, her value, and of her free, defiant, and unrepentant self. The book was published the year I was born, in a time when society was beginning to debate the roles that were prescribed for women overall, so I am sure that it caused quite the scandal. I imagine that many good church ladies saw themselves in Nel, as many of us continue to do so now. I was always drawn to Sula, so I re-read this book to remind myself that whenever in doubt, I just need to live. And in my mind, Toni Morrison was a real-life avatar of the character she created.

I also read The Bluest Eye, Tar Baby, Song of Solomon, several of her essays and editorials, and her collaborations with her late son Slade on children's books. But whenever I heard Toni Morrison speak, it was as Sula. I especially enjoyed her interviews with unsuspecting journalists who assumed that she should be honored by their attention. She wasn't--why would Sula be flattered by adoration? In hindsight, I understand now why Morrison seemed so unbothered, including the harsh critical reception of the movie version of Beloved. If we didn't get it, that was our fault for expecting it to be easy to read, easy to watch, easy to process...

Easy to assume that a Black woman with (or without) a Nobel Prize somehow needed permission to be free. To be Chloe Wofford. Toni Morrison. Mother. Sister. Elder. Audrey's favorite writer.

By reading her work, we all had the opportunity to meet her. If you have a favorite from her magnificent opus, you had the privilege to sit at her knee. If you have yet to make her acquaintance, lucky you--prepare yourself for a sumptuous feast, prepared lovingly like a Sunday spread.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

That Special Place in Hell

Madeline Albright famously said "There is a special place in hell for women who don't help other women," and Lord, I hope she's right. I have a list of recommendations for a few special ladies who deserve first-class accommodations in their expensive handbags...

1. Let's start with Tomi Lahren, who recently had to apologize for a particularly vulgar tweet aimed at Sen. Kamala Harris. It was so offensive that even her colleagues at FOX took issue with it, which is probably why she eventually apologized. Because really, of all the glass houses from which to throw stones...

2. Every single woman who still stans for R. Kelly.

3. If the world needed a nastier British version of Ann Coulter, there is Katie Hopkins. She is mean, and that is the most respectful thing I can say about her without insulting her looks or using an expletive. She gets regularly re-tweeted by our DESPOTUS, which means she is as deplorable as he is, but with an accent which might make it appear that she's a tad more polished, but racism and xenophobia coming from the gutter or from some lonely woman's parlor is still bile. And her obsession with hating on the Duchess of Sussex reads a lot like she once fancied herself as a contender for Prince Harry's affections (as if).

4. I have several Facebook friends who support her candidacy, but Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is absolutely on the midnight train to crazy town. And that is not my salty opinion in the wake of her debate night attack on Sen. Kamala Harris (because all's fair and politics ain't beanbag). However, it is my humble opinion that Gabbard is playing a very cynical game by going after Harris--the only other woman of color in the race. Take note of the fact that none of the other women have taken similar swipes at each other.

5. Every self-righteous pearl-clutching Christian lady who expresses an opinion on the DESPOTUS's strong faith and values. Yeah, I'm thinking specifically of statements made by former Rep. Michelle Bachmann, but she's not alone as there are clearly churches full of the faithful who agree with her. Believe whatever you need to in order to justify your misguided support for him, but be reminded that this is a man who endorsed a pedophile, has been accused of sexual assault by at least 12 women, and who bragged about grabbing women by the crotch. By biblical, do you mean the plague of evil he has unleashed in the world that has us needing the patience of Job to endure it?

6. Those sisters who proudly support and promote hotepian pontificating on social media. Like one sister I know who is on a self-appointed mission to convince Black women that our choices about everything are solely responsible for the deterioration of society. Or Yvette Carnell, who co-founded the American Descendants Of Slaves (ADOS) Movement which is another name for hotep with a hashtag. Of course, there are times when someone might inadvertently share hotepian booshay like a computer virus, such as those instances when someone posts what they think is a harmless meme of some dude sitting in a wicker chair with a barefoot woman standing next to him. If your Pavlovian response is to 'like' any picture that mentions the words queen and real man without taking note of the context, just know that is the same as buying raw shea butter from Walmart...

7. Mean mommies. We already know that abusive and neglectful parents deserve a one way ticket down under, but this special section is reserved for the mean moms who judge everyone else for their parental shortcomings. The women who would never forget the sunscreen or who always bring healthy snacks. The women who troll social media to shame other mothers. And if you don't immediately have an image in your mind of a woman who fits that description, you might need to look in the mirror...#ijs

8. The woman whose personal life impacts the environment of the entire office. And I'm not talking about Miranda Priestly at Runway (because her personal life was the office), I'm talking about that passive aggressive supervisor who makes everybody miserable, even her boss. As she sees it, part of her job is to micromanage everything, so she makes everyone clock in and out and has something to say if anyone lingers too long past a designated coffee break or lunch hour. If she doesn't have children, she brings her dog(s) to the office, but has an attitude whenever someone's child spends more than 20 minutes there. If she does have children, then their schedules dictate your access to her, so she's at work sending emails as soon as she clocks in at 7:30am, but refuses to respond to anything work-related after 4:30pm. You feel compelled to buy wrapping paper, popcorn, and Girl Scout cookies from her but she will call the cops on the kids selling water at the train station. And she is best friends with the woman in HR so there is no point in filing any complaints.

9. The Three Sirens of the Trumpocalypse: Lady Ivanka, Melania Antoinette, and because she is new to this blog and hasn't been properly introduced, the Lovely Lara, wife of Eric the Spare, the Duchess of Cork (since her husband runs the family winery). It seems rather fitting that if you listen to any of their lies long enough, you're headed for certain death...kinda the way our country appears to be heading. We already know that Ivanka only cares about her image, Melania doesn't care about anything, but what Lara cares about is dooming us to another four years of this madness. Which makes her the most dangerous head on the Hydra (yeah, I'm interchanging Greek metaphors all over the place).

10. Again, the Lovely Lara, Duchess of Cork, because for all of her hard work behind the scenes, she has earned her own paragraph. Of course there are plenty of other women who support the re-election of the DESPOTUS and they each have reserved seats (Ronna Romney McDaniel, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and everyone else mentioned in this article). But isn't it a little strange that the Duchess, a relative newcomer, has surpassed the other ladies-in-waiting? I just watched The King's Speech recently, so I can't help but to wonder if we are witnessing some kind of abdication now that Junior is more interested in romancing his new spokesmodel.

You know what, who cares about whatever Game of Thrones shenanigans they have going on because the point is that on some level, we need to look out for each other! I'm not saying that women have to agree on every issue, but there are a few matters where our interests in the common good should overlap. Like at the very least, we should all want clean air and water.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Revisiting Charlottesville

I had the pleasure of being invited on a girls' weekend trip to Charlottesville, and in as few words as possible, I will share everything that we did (because our trip coordinator RBP, one of those ultra efficient types who kept things moving, would want it that way):

On Saturday we went to the grocery store, got gas, greeted the other ladies, packed the car, then chose an 80s radio station for traveling music. We arrived at Monticello for our 11:45am tour, watched a short film on Sally Hemings, saw an exhibit at the visitor's center, then left for lunch at a nearby winery. We passed by the DESPOTUS's vineyard on the way to Blenheim winery where we had lunch, enjoyed a wine tasting, then left for our hotel to check in. We sat by the pool, had drinks there, then got showered and dressed for our 7pm restaurant reservations in town. We had dinner, took a walk through the downtown outdoor area, had ice cream, and headed back to the hotel for an hour of girl talk. On Sunday morning, we hiked four miles, showered and packed, had brunch, went back to the downtown mall to window shop, then returned home in time to prepare for the week ahead.

So why bother to write about all of that since that looks to be a very full and engaging outing? Well, because in the midst of that whirlwind, I was able to take a few mental notes about where I was, what had happened there, and how all of it relates to current events.

Monticello Revised

Slave Burial Ground (Jan. 2009)
My first visit to Monticello was ten years ago right before the historic inauguration of Barack Obama. The Hub and I went there to ring in the New Year and stayed at a local bed & breakfast. Until that time, I never had much interest in visiting any of those old plantations, but in 2009 I was still teaching American Government and History, so I saw this as educational research. I distinctly recall how the tour guides were very deliberate in their language--there were servants who worked in the house and workers who toiled in the fields. And given their reluctance to acknowledge anything illicit about the relationship between Jefferson and Hemings, I just bit my tongue, took a few pictures, and rolled my eyes at all of the hypocrisy on display.
Gate to Monticello Cemetery

So I had no expectations for this visit. I just prepared to endure it as part of the weekend's itinerary. I did note that the tour offerings had expanded to include a separate tour about Sally Hemings, but I assumed that was due to the recent excavation of her living quarters. To my pleasant surprise, the general admission tour had been revised to be a lot more honest and forthright about Jefferson's complicated legacy, and that included a very moving presentation about Hemings' life. I won't spoil anything, but let's just say that there are no more euphemisms about whether the workers had the ability to leave their employment if they were disgruntled...

The winery

As previously stated we drove past the spare's property, with all of its gold-lettered pomposity on full display, staffed by H2-A visa holders.

Heather Heyer Remembered

On the corner where her life ended so tragically nearly two years ago, there is a makeshift memorial dedicated to Heather Heyer consisting of artificial flowers and homemade signs (a common sight in many urban communities, btw). There is also an honorary street sign. However, a few blocks away, there is another memorial to Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson protected by state law and orange construction netting. I didn't see the Robert E. Lee statue, but no worries, I remember the one that stood in New Orleans and have seen countless others (including one in Gettysburg).

Jamestown 1619: The American Paradox

Tuesday in Jamestown, Virginia a ceremony took place earlier to commemorate the first legislative session held in the English-settled colonies 400 years ago. Because an invitation had been extended to the current President, most of the Democrats in the Virginia Assembly opted to skip the festivities. As a public service to my readers, I listened to his remarks and as usual, his speechwriters did a decent job of keeping him on topic. Only one reference to the indigenous people who were already here in 1619, but he denounced slavery and quoted MLK (who was born in Georgia). However, the highlight of the event was the heckling he received by one of the few Democrats who opted to attend, Del. Ibraheem Samirah:

I know that Jamestown is miles away from Charlottesville and was not part of my weekend getaway; nevertheless, that commemoration brings everything full circle to this moment where we are debating the meaning of symbols and language and intentions, as well as redefining what it means to be an American.


What does it mean to visit the plantation home of a Founding Father that only recently began to acknowledge his participation in certain aspects of the peculiar institution? Or to hike and/or drive through the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountain trails and not contemplate the Monacan, Powhatan, and Manahoac who once inhabited these lands? Why should there be permanent bronze monuments situated in city parks dedicated to men who rebelled against their country? Have grapes replaced tobacco as Virginia's most lucrative cash crop, and are we cognizant of what that means?

Is it ironic that situated adjacent to another Founding Father's plantation home is a property now owned by the 45th President whose unrepentant nativism, racism, and sexism brings to mind the very Disney animated villain whose story just happens to have taken place in Jamestown?

Before I lose track of my point, the past two weeks have given us this moment to confront who we are and the America we purport to be. Is it that fantastical crusading hero booshay that was offered up by the DESPOTUS in his remarks at Jamestown--hours after he disparaged the American city where the Star Spangled Banner was written as a rat-infested mess? Is it their land because they took to the streets to reaffirm their hegemony, or is it our land because we have been here since 1619 too and Woody Guthrie said so?

Maybe these are all rhetorical questions with no straight-forward answers, but at the very least, if we are attempting to reconcile with the past, that is progress worth celebrating. Or perhaps what I need is another fact-finding/soul-searching weekend trip to Charlottesville to visit two or three wineries...

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Lovers, The Dreamers, and Me

Last week I made the utterly insane declaration that I was going to take the Kid to see The Muppet Movie for its 40th Anniversary limited release in theaters. And then I promised to share the tale of our adventures, so here I am to made good on that along with sharing a bit about my nostalgia for the muppets.

It was just last month when I wrote this piece about Sesame Street's 50th Anniversary. A few days afterwards, I began to see advertisements on Facebook for the 40th Anniversary of The Muppet Movie, which made me suspicious about those algorithms, but also curious if it would be worth the trouble to see this at the theater with the Kid. And until late last Thursday morning, I had determined that given our past experiences (Hidden Figures, Coco, Moana, Ferdinand, Despicable Me, Misty Copeland in Swan Lake, etc.), it would be great in theory, but not worth the effort.

Mind you, I just passed on a formal outing to see the new CGI version of The Lion King for all of the above-referenced reasons (to which I will add Toy Story 4). Because in spite of her ability to sit quietly with a hand-held device for at least 30 minutes without so much as a peep, THIS KID CANNOT SIT STILL IN FRONT OF A LARGE SCREEN. And nobody has good money to waste on popcorn when half of it will end up on the floor. Nor can I afford to rent an empty theater for her to run around in for an hour in the dark.

But Thursday morning, two friends posted this article. And the next thing I know, I was recalling the words to this song and then I went looking for YouTube videos to post on the FB page and then I started searching for the closest theater with the best showtime and then hours later I'm on this improbable, hapless mission to drive across the Wilson Bridge in rush hour traffic by 4pm. Just as improbable and hapless as it was for an unlikely bunch of Muppets to travel across country to achieve Hollywood stardom.

As I shared in my Facebook post, this movie is peak nostalgia for me. And as I heard in the voices of the commentators who were discussing it the next day on Morning Edition, it has that same effect on all of us Gen X-ers who have seen this movie at least a dozen times (and its various sequels, and the original show, and Labyrinth, and Fraggle Rock, and the Muppet Babies).

Maybe I shouldn't try to speak for everyone in my generation, but there is something very emotional about seeing Kermit the Frog on that log with that banjo singing a song that many of us probably sang for some elementary school assembly (kinda like this clip from the Queen Latifah Show). There is the sweet nostalgia of looking back on that era of our youth--the innocence of a time when we could be entertained by the corniest of premises.

So yes, I got a little dust in my eye when those first familiar chords were strummed. I looked over at my sleeping Kid and had a full circle memory of being at the theater with my mother to see this movie (again for the umpteenth time) with my younger brothers. Now I'm the mother with the high strung little person who had to be taken out of the theater to diffuse a 20 minute meltdown in the bathroom...(and maybe I'll share the entire story at another time), but thankfully, we returned to enjoy the rest of the film without incident.

I tried to imagine how our parents reacted to all of that ribald adult humor and how so much of it went above our little heads. How Henson and Co. were clearly fans of Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles and how significantly this Muppet film must have influenced the Coen Brothers' O Brother Where Art Thou. How normal it was for us to accept that there was barely a handful of female muppets (all of whom were voiced by male puppeteers except for Fran Brill over at Sesame Street); yet, the diversity on display in that menagerie of characters would eventually inspire the likes of Kevin Clash (Elmo) and Leslie Carrara-Rudolph (Abby Cadabby). And let's not forget to mention Avenue Q...

Back to the myriad reasons for our sentimentality--I was five when this movie was released and I can't name a single memorable Disney movie from the 70s. The 80s was a slightly more creative decade for the Mouse, but all in all, big screen kid's fare consisted of superheroes, George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg blockbusters. And that was one of the inside jokes of watching the Muppets and SS during that time, because their parodies for younger audiences featuring real-life stars in comedic spoofs of their work was a wink at our parents. Who can forget Pigs in Space? And why else would we have tuned in to see Lynda Carter, Christopher Reeve, or Sylvester Stallone sing?

Ultimately, I realize that my own nostalgia for the Muppets has been the combination of this year marking a series of transitional personal milestones and the need for some form of escapism. Nostalgia during tumultuous times is like eating comfort food in the winter. Each of my recent trips back down memory lane has been akin to wearing my favorite pajamas, hugging my favorite stuffed toy, and eating my Grandmother's Sunday cooking. Which of course evokes the bittersweet acknowledgement of time and loss...because the longer we live, the more we have to look back on.

Hence that lump in the throat that develops whenever we hear Jim Henson as Kermit the Frog. To a lesser extent, we know that most of the other familiar voices have moved on (died or retired), and everything must change. In addition to Jim Henson, who created our beloved Kermit, many of the actors who had cameos in that movie are gone. Some of those classic muppet characters didn't return for subsequent incarnations of the show. Some of the people from that era in our lives may be gone or perhaps we're taking care of them. Our lives are busy, hectic, chaotic, and preoccupied; yet there is something so calming and special about that moment when an unassuming felt puppet frog tells us that we too can chase our dreams. 

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Lazy Sundays: Thirty Years of Romantic Comedies

It has gotten to that point in my life where every week it is brought to my attention that some major pop culture milestone occurred at least 25 years ago. And after I adjust to the shock, do the necessary calculations in my head, and then accept that yes, I am that old, I take a few moments to reflect on said milestone or event at issue. This isn't a scientific fact, but it feels as if this phenomenon is happening with more frequency now that I am on the other side of my big college reunion in May. So I have to admit to being a little caught off guard when I learned that one of my favorite movies, When Harry Met Sally, is turning 30 this year.

I am sure that I knew this because I still watch the Today Show and they are always good for a cast reunion segment. And I seem to vaguely recall that Rob Reiner, Meg Ryan, and Billy Crystal appeared together on the red carpet earlier this year, but for whatever reason, here I am scratching my head in disbelief that somewhere at my parents' house there is a well-worn VHS copy of this film that I can't watch anymore because no one owns a working VCR.

I won't take you through a sentimental re-visitation because there is really not much to unpack here. This movie is still one of the funniest and is IMHO, the ribbon-cutting high water mark for the romantic comedy genre for our generation, so there is no need for debate or additional discussion. Instead, I offer my Busy Black Woman list of other great romcoms that I believe merit some appreciation along with WHMS. My criteria highlights films that: (1) were released after July 1989; (2) place a coupling as the central vehicle for the plot; (3) I can enjoy watching at any point i.e., beginning, middle, or end; and (4) the comedy still holds up however many years after its theatrical release.

Boomerang (1992)
This is one of the funniest romcoms that almost never makes anyone else's favorites list, which is a shame. I'm guessing that is because it is tempting to see this movie as just another classic Eddie Murphy performance, but it is so much more. Instead it offers a role reversal scenario with the notorious womanizer who has seemingly met his match in his femme fatale boss...before the era of #MeToo. And it features an all-Black cast, so that also makes this movie a stand-out for me (while others might overlook it).

Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
It might be tempting to assume that Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan merit their own category; however, they only starred together in one other movie, You've Got Mail (1998) which is certainly a good film, and despite being perennially enjoyable, it isn't my favorite. My reason for selecting SIS over YGM is simple--the earlier film is sweet and timeless, which seems rather ironic when you consider that both films were made in the era before social media, smartphones, and even the internet. 

Forget Paris (1995)
I've read negative reactions to this movie over the years (as a Billy Crystal vanity project in which he wrote, directed, and starred), but it is brimming with hilarious moments. And while it might be tempting to compare it to WHMS and find it lacking, that's actually the point. This is the aftermath to happily ever after, with the tests and trials of two adults in midlife working to build a life together after the honeymoon.

Hav Plenty (1998)
This film is an underrated indie gem. The Hub, his sister, and I are probably the only people on the planet who think this movie even merits inclusion on any list. It's not that obscure, given Babyface's involvement in getting it produced and distributed, but it definitely doesn't get the same level of attention as most of the other films on this list. But it is at its heart a hopeless love story that makes the guy the lovelorn party who, as it turns out, is better off without the girl (if you believe the original ending).

High Fidelity (2000)
Jon Cusak is the anti-hero of this movie as the schmuck who does not deserve the love of any woman, let alone the ex-girlfriend who gives him what must be the third or fourth chance to screw things up. But he is self-aware of his fuckery while she apparently believes that her bad taste in men could only get worse, so maybe it will all work out.

Bridget Jones' Diary (2001)
If the category is a love triangle set to a soulful Motown soundtrack, then this is your movie. I never read any of Helen Fielding's books, but that doesn't mean they had the right to ruin everything with two sequels, as if maybe we care what happens after the first happily ever after. Well, no matter because as the Brits say, the first movie was brilliant with Hugh Grant cast as the bad boy our mothers warned us about (but we ignored her and enjoyed fucking him anyway).

My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)
There isn't anything that unique about this movie except for Joey Fatone. And I mean that in all sincerity. It is literally the same plot as every other sitcom or Lifetime movie that tells the story of a plain, awkward, sheltered girl who eventually blossoms/gets a makeover to become a less awkward, sheltered woman to win the heart of the really nice hot guy. Except in this version, her cousin is Joey freaking Fatone!

Two Weeks Notice (2002)
Are you even surprised that Hugh Grant makes another appearance on this list given his prolific success as a romcommer? I know that the die hards prefer him in Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) or Notting Hill (1999), but his chemistry with Sandra Bullock in this film is undeniable. I mistakenly thought that she was also a constant presence on the romcom scene, but her only other title is While You Were Sleeping (1995). I like this movie for its modern take on the His Girl Friday (1940) theme.

Something's Gotta Give (2003)
I watch this movie in amazement that Jack Nicholson agreed to be the actual butt of the joke...but he is and it is hilarious. And because of that, it is even funnier at the end when he laments to being the chick in the chick film right before everyone lives happily ever after.

Hitch (2005)
It makes all the sense in the world to cast Will Smith as a relationship consultant to an awkwardly funny guy like Kevin James, but what makes this movie hilarious is how undone Smith becomes when the tables get turned on him. Not that he is even naturally awkward around Eva Mendes, it just becomes clear that for all of his charm and expertise, even the most confident guy in the room can lose major cool points and still win the girl.

Knocked Up (2007)
This movie offers another version of the boy-meets-girl-and-gets-her-pregnant-after-one-night romcom theme. Even though we know it will all work out in the end, because only Fools Rush In (1997); yet somehow it is a lot funnier to wonder what might happen if the guy is an unemployed stoner and the girl is an up and coming TV personality (hint: hilarity ensues). Just know that an improbability isn't an impossibility, which makes this film both enjoyable and endearing. 

Baggage Claim (2013)
This movie is so bad with its borderline Tyler Perry-esqe qualities, but because there is no preachy lesson about finding true love with the blue-collar brother who lives next door...nevermind. At least it manages to be funny without relying on the man wearing a dress trope (although Jenifer Lewis does appear as somebody's mama). More importantly, it is on this list as one of my guilty pleasures because as much smack as I talk about bad Black movies, I like this one.

Honorable Mentions

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, so these two classic films that obviously pre-date WHMS merit a mention:

The Philadelphia Story (1940)
I'm not a film historian, so I can't call this the original romcom, but I think it qualifies as a contender for that title. I love this movie although its casual references to domestic abuse are definitely problematic some 80 years later...(the 1956 remake High Society isn't funny at all).

Cabin in the Sky (1943)
Definitely not on your typical romcom favorites list, but once you consider that this is a classic love triangle embedded in a classic morality play set to a classic 40s-era big band musical, this movie is the real deal.

And finally, let's skip ahead four decades to mention these films:
Splash (1984)
One of my all-time favorites and also, one of Tom Hanks' very first starring roles.

The Princess Bride (1987)
Yep. Inconceivable, right? And the director is Rob Reiner, who later goes on to direct WHMS.

Roxanne (1987)
Another sentimental favorite from my youth, back when Steve Martin was a wild and crazy guy, and Daryl Hannah was the golden girl.

Coming to America (1988)
This movie was released a year prior to WHMS. And yes, this most certainly is a romcom (actually one of the first to feature a Black couple). She's your Queen to BEEEE!

And that's all folks! There are quite a few films that were considered but didn't make the cut this time around, but no worries because when Steel Magnolias turns 30 later this year, we'll revisit the broader genre of favorite chick flicks.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Black Music Month 2019: Diamond R&B Divas

This time last year, I don't recall if any of us knew that by summer's unofficial end, we would be saying our earthly goodbyes to Aretha Franklin, but we were. If there are any lessons that we should learn from that, one must be not to take anyone for granted. So for the last big Black Music Month piece (yeah, I know it's July), let's give some proper respect to a few R&B Divas who celebrated their 75th birthdays this year!

Apparently, 1944 was a great year to be born. On the Busy Black Woman FB page, I posted mini-tributes to Diana Ross, Patti LaBelle, and Gladys Knight on their respective dates of birth, so in keeping with my goal to provide an index of those selections for posterity, here are those playlists. In addition to those music selections (with contributions that were made by my guest music editor and good friend RC), there are a few other song choices, remakes, memorable performances, and additional biographical information on each diva.

The Boss, Diana Ross (March 26)

So I am going to state my case at the outset about Ms. Ross--there is NOTHING you can say about her that will ever lower her status in my mind as one of the greatest divas on the planet. NOTHING. I am an eternal fan of hers ever since I saw her in The Wiz and decided that she was a better Dorothy than Judy Garland had been in The Wizard of Oz (and I am not here for any back talk about Stephanie Mills either).

I made individual posts on the Facebook page, so I can't link to them as a whole, but here is the initial post (from The Wiz) and I chose four others. From the early days of her career with The Supremes, my favorite song has always been their first hit Where Did Our Love Go (1964).  From her solo career I chose Reach Out And Touch Somebody's Hand (1970), Upside Down (1980), Endless Love (1981) her duet with Lionel Richie, and Missing You (1984) her song released in tribute to Marvin Gaye.

At first glance, that would appear to be a very straight-forward playlist, so let's deep dive into several of these choices. I have to admit that my fascination with The Supremes was a by-product of my love of Ross, so nowadays my reaction to a lot of their songs is meh. While I am 99.9999% sure that I heard the original version of "WDOLG" at least a hundred times before I heard this remake by the British group Soft Cell in 1981 (part of the extended version of Tainted Love), if we're being honest there is that .0001% chance that it was the other way around...

The other Supremes songs that I liked were not even sung by the entire group. For example, Someday We'll Be Together (1970) was supposed to be the farewell number sung to set up the transition of Ross to a solo act, but Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong aren't singing background on the track. Instead, they appear in the performances and are recorded on the B-side song, He's My Sunny Boy (which sounds better as a Jackson 5 song, too bad it was unreleased). The version of "Someday" we know was recorded with Johnny Bristol, one of the original writers of the song, which had previously been released with another singer, Jackey Beavers when they were a duet known as Johnny & Jackey in 1961. Later when the Supremes performed, Jean Terrell who replaced Ross in 1970, sang the lead (here with Smokey Robinson). Another song in that same category is Ain't No Mountain High Enough (1970) which I have seen billed as sung by the Diana Ross and The Supremes...which it technically was, but as a duet with The Temptations in 1968. The older version sounds like an okay karaoke rendition next to the superior Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell megahit from 1967; the remake was on Ross's solo debut.

Speaking of Marvin Gaye, the one thing I recall hearing when he died in 1984 was that he and Ross had a tumultuous working relationship on Diana & Marvin (1973), so it was ironic opportunistic that she would dedicate "Missing You" to him. Apparently, that wasn't a rumor... Nevertheless, their album had several UK hits, including You Are Everything and Stop, Look, Listen To Your Heart, both remakes from the Stylistics self-titled debut album released in 1971.

As for remakes/samples of Ross's hits, I heard "Endless Love" every day during a cross-country family trip, so the original is hard-wired into my memory, but the Luther Vandross/Mariah Carey remake isn't half bad. On 1997's Life After Death, Biggie Smalls famously sampled Ross's I'm Coming Out on Mo Money Mo Problems, but he also less famously sampled Missing You. Is that why Puffy sampled Sting's Every Breath You Take for his tribute to Smalls (to avoid confusion)?

So back to what I said at the outset--nothing diminishes Diana Ross in my eyes as a diva. She didn't discover the Jackson 5, but they did tour with her so theoretically, she introduced them to the world. She got to be Dorothy in the movie because she wanted the role and in hindsight, I still don't care that y'all think Stephanie Mills sang Home better because Ross was the bigger star at the time. Yeah, it might have been potentially dangerous to continue an outdoor concert in a thunderstorm, but YOLO and it was in Central Park and it was to build a playground (and sentimentally, I remember watching it with my Mom). It is entirely possible that she and Marvin Gaye had patched things up by least it looked like they had during the Motown 25 tribute. Over the years, everybody has had their say about Diana Ross: from Dreamsgirls, the Broadway play (1981) and the film (2005); to Mary Wilson's original memoir (an excerpt of which I recall reading when it was published in ESSENCE magazine in 1986); to Barry Gordy's 1994 autobiography (which inspired another Broadway production in 2013, Motown: The Musical); to the Unsung episode about Florence Ballard (2009).

So if there is anything more we need to know, we can read her memoir, or we can just listen to what she sang in the Theme from Mahogany (1975)...she's always known where she wanted to be.

The Godmother, Patti LaBelle (May 24) 

If there was ever a sanging sister who defies all categories, it is Mama Patti. She is a music diva, an accomplished actress, a published author of several cookbooks, an entrepreneur, AND (I know this is shouting, but) SHE HAS HAD THE SAME SINGING VOICE throughout her career! My little tribute can't do justice to all that she is, but I'm undaunted...

First, here are the selections from the mini-Patti Playlist that was posted to the FB page. From her days with LaBelle (with Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash) hits include Lady Marmalade (1974), What Can I Do For You? (1975), and Isn't It A Shame (1976); and then solo Patti was represented by a definite disco/roller-skate jam Music Is My Way of Life (1979), and these Quiet Storm standards You Are My Friend (1977), Over the Rainbow (1981), Love, Need and Want You (1983), If Only You Knew (1983), and Somebody Loves You (1992).

And each of those selections offer an adequate sampling of the classic Patti that we all know and love, but if you dig a little deeper, there is so much more to discover. For example, there is very early Patti from her days as the lead singer of The Bluebelles singing Down the Aisle (1963), as well as an earlier version of Over the Rainbow (1966). If you've never heard her version of You'll Never Walk Alone (1964), you'd be surprised to learn (like I was) that was originally a show tune (1945) and a sports anthem, not gospel (1985)! Such is the transformative power of Patti's voice. She can do Broadway just as easily as she can do church. And jazz. And country.

There is also Patti the actress, who made one of her first appearances on screen in A Soldier's Story (1984) as Big Mary, and then later turned up as Dwayne Wayne's mother, Adele, an epic scene stealer on A Different World (in one of my favorite episodes). She also had her own short-lived sitcom Out All Night in 1992. There is Patti the lifestyle guru who had her own show on the Cooking Channel and is now planning to venture into the frozen food business (beyond those legendary Patti pies). And again, that just barely scratches the surface.

As is always the case whenever I put these playlists together, I learn so much, so the big revelation here was the interesting rivalry between LaBelle and Diana Ross. Not that it isn't surprising among the various girl groups of that era, but if you are at all familiar with the plot of Dreamgirls, this interview is classic #PettyPatti. At the end, it references how Cindy Birdsong, who had been a member of the Bluebelles left that group to join The Supremes, under circumstances that allegedly influenced Nona Hendryx to write Can I Speak to You Before You Go To Hollywood. (By the way, Patti told Andy Cohen in a more recent interview that she and Ross are on better terms now. She and Cindy Birdsong have made up as well.)

So on that note, let's give an Honorable Mention to Nona Hendryx, who will also celebrate her 75th birthday this year (October 9). This gem from the 80s archives, I Sweat comes from the soundtrack of one of those utterly forgettable 80s movies, Perfect...about aerobics. Sarah Dash, who will celebrate her 75th birthday next year (August 18), pursued a solo career as well, but she is probably better known for her work with Keith Richards and the Rolling Stones. Here is Patti reunited with Hendryx and Dash in 2008 (not missing a beat after 30-some years singing solo).

So how does one sum up such a fascinating career? Well you can't, so either check out her memoir or sit back and listen to When You Talk About Love (1997).

The Empress , Gladys Knight (May 28)

Now I know she's been a solo artist for 30 years, but it is nearly impossible to talk about Gladys Knight without acknowledging the Pips, with whom she recorded all of her hit music during the first half of her career. In fact when the FB list was published, only one of those songs came from her solo career.

From their days at Motown, the hits included: I Heard It Through The Grapevine (released in 1967, before Marvin Gaye's 1968 release, and after it was recorded by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles in 1966); If I Were Your Woman (1970); and Neither One Of Us (1972). Then they decamped for Buddha Records and scored major hits and success with Midnight Train to Georgia (1973) and The Makings of You (from the Claudine soundtrack in 1974). In the 80s hits included Save the Overtime (1983), Love Overboard (1987), and License to Kill (1989).

But the fact that she spent the greater part of her career in a group doesn't diminish her stature, especially since she was the lead singer. It isn't like they broke up and the Pips went on to score hits for themselves...At Last (1977). As this hilarious clip from the Richard Pryor Show (1977) demonstrates, the Pips were always a class act, but without Gladys, they were three guys in tuxedos. And that skit is even funnier when viewed along with this clip from the PBS special of the Three Mo Tenors (2001), with their tribute to the Pips (around 4:30) as well as this spoof (circa 2008). It just took a while for us to adjust to seeing and hearing her as a soloist as was the case in this memorable scene from A Different World--part of an entire episode about her needing new backup singers.

While her music career was inextricably connected to the Pips, her forays into acting allowed us to see her as a star in her own right. She guest-starred as herself on The Jeffersons (1983) and was good-natured enough to tolerate the joke that Diana Ross was a better singer (and then later came by to rehearse). As is always the case when I research these types of pieces, I found this gem from Charlie & Co. (1986), a show that I had forgotten about (so we'll be revisiting the topic of forgotten Black sitcoms in the near future). We saw another examople of an unfazed Gladys in this episode of Living Single...because only a saint could endure Denise Nicholas's off-key singing (it cuts off, but if you're a fan of the show you've seen it and know that Gladys mercifully takes the mic). At least Jamie Foxx was able to hold his own during this touching duet when she guest starred as his estranged mother.

Hence, my premise is that of these three divas, Gladys is the Gamma Girl, the type who possesses the quiet confidence to let you realize her greatness without her having to announce it. Listen closely to her music, and that is how nearly every song unfolds. She starts off sweet, as she does here in her first hit song, Every Beat of My Heart (1961), then allows the excitement to build, like she does in I Don't Want To Know (1994). Then she just knocks it all the way out of the park, as she does with this version of How Great Thou Art (1968) and the Star Spangled Banner at the most recent Superbowl (yeah, I know but goosebumps). She can hold her own with other divas and knows exactly how much to give and keep (after all, this was on her album). And despite the crazy costume, how could anyone not recognize her unmistakable voice (come on Dr. Ken, Anita Baker???)!

The other big revelation from this project is that when Gladys Knight and the Pips were signed to Motown during that storied label's heyday, they discovered the Jackson 5 and made the initial recommendation to sign the group. But as she recounts in her understated manner, she didn't have the stature of her label-mates, so the credit went to others. That story also hints at the rivalry that has existed between her and Diana Ross all of these years...but I am not here to take sides. Because Gladys ain't never been shy about spilling tea, which we know from her 1997 memoir in 1997 and 2013 reality special on OWN.

But I am here to pay tribute and give credit where it is due, and as such, Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me (1974) is one of the greatest songs. Ever.

WHEW. There is so much more to these three women, and as you might imagine, the attempt to compile and condense 55+ years (about 170 years or more combined) in the music business into brief career snapshots is more than a notion for some casual music blogger. But I tried. Happy Black Music Month!

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Black Music Month: Pride Month Playlist (2019)

Call it divine inspiration or just one of those random ideas that pops into one's head while sitting up wide awake in the middle of the night, but when you suddenly realize that Black Music and LGBTQ Pride are celebrated in the same month, what else would you do?

You post a song to your Facebook page and tease that as the spirit hits you throughout the month, more songs will follow. And then after the second post, you realize that you should probably have a plan in advance so that you don't run out of songs or ideas. The result of those plans is this index, and as usual, the process of putting it together has been quite the education. Enjoy!

Sylvester - You Make Me Feel (1978)
It was this song that started this. I was minding my business, but then the spirit came over me and I had to hear this song, see the video again for the umpteenth time, and then of course I had to post it. And from that chain of events this playlist was begotten. We know Sylvester wasn't the first gay choir director, but he was probably the most famous. Watch him werk that fan.

The Weather Girls - It's Raining Men (1982)
This song came out when I was in elementary school in the very early days of music videos. It is so obviously cheesy and over-the-top, which is how I never even noticed anything subliminal. However, now that I have seen the remake with RuPaul...

From Sylvester's episode of Unsung, we learned that The Weather Girls were his backup singers, known then as Two Tons of Fun. Here they are performing Disco Heat (1978) together on American Bandstand (stick around for the interview with Dick Clark and another performance of "You Make Me Feel").

Village People - YMCA (1978)
There is no sugar-coating how terrible this song is, so let's not even address that. Let's focus instead on the fact that in 1980 there was an entire movie built around that song that starring the Village People and Caitlyn (formerly Bruce) Jenner, which is why NO ONE should have been surprised about anything.

Diana Ross - I'm Coming Out (1980)
There is no way that I could have excluded this song, so in honor of the trio of R&B Divas who have already been profiled, here are some pride month selections as honorable mentions. While it might be obvious why Patti LaBelle's New Attitude (1984) works for this playlist, I could just as easily have chosen her homage to Judy Garland in her solo version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow (1981). As for Mama Gladys, there is That's What Friends Are For, a collaboration released in 1985 that featured her along with Stevie Wonder, Dionne Warwick, and Elton John, to raise money for AIDS research.

Luther Vandross - Never Too Much (1981)
Save your outrage because more of you would be more offended if he wasn't on this list. And it was either this song or Bad Boy Having a Party (1982). However, an honorable mention goes out to Everybody Rejoice/Brand New Day from The Wiz (originally written for the play in 1975; featured here in the 1978 film version) because if that song ain't an anthem, I don't know what is.

Cheryl Lynn - Got to Be Real (1978)
This song is a lot older than I realized, but that's what makes it timeless and perfect for this list. Without a doubt, if it ain't playing in the club every weekend, you need to hit up a different spot. Here's something I bet you didn't know: Lynn was Evilene in the touring company for The Wiz, but got her big break after appearing on The Gong Show.

Freddie Jackson - Jam Tonight (1986)
Yeah I know, but who does he think he's fooling by not coming out?

Meshell Ndegeocello - If That's Your Boyfriend (1993)
We were driving back from NYC Easter weekend when the Hub had me listen to a podcast about Ndegeocello's debut album, Plantation Lullabies. The conversation was largely on point, and it's interesting how listening to that put this notion in my head that I have a perspective on music that might be worth sharing. The very next day is when I was inspired to post that Prince tribute on the FB page, which is what led me to devoting this month to writing about music. Look at God.

This was one of the very first CDs I bought back in law school, based on a recommendation made by an ESSENCE magazine article that declared this album as a must-have. So I bought this as part of that buy 6 CDs for a penny scam that everyone did before we could sample music on the internet. Hands down, this is one of thee best albums I have in my collection. And this song is thee sexiest cat joint ever!

RuPaul - Supermodel (1993)
Yes, that is Aunt Esther's voice in the intro. #thatisall

Brownstone - If You Love Me (1994)
Yes, because once you see this scene from Living Out Loud (1998), it makes perfect sense. Trust me.

Billy Porter - Show Me (1997)
GTFOH!!! I did not intend to find this clip and Lord knows this video has my jaw on the damn floor! Even if I had remembered this (which is a very good remake of the 1984 Glenn Jones original, which I did remember), I NEVER would have made the connection between this R&B heartthrob version of Billy Porter and the Goddess of Camp who has been slaying us this year with the most savage of red carpet lewks. Kinky Boots indeed. 

Rahsaan Patterson - You Make Like So Good (2004)
Unlike some other soul singers of earlier eras, Patterson doesn't hide the fact that he is gay. And while this has probably impacted his market appeal, it doesn't impact the beauty of his voice. This brother could sing the phone book and I would pay good money to hear him.

Beyonce - Get Me Bodied (2007)
Of course Queen Bey is on this list. Not only is this is probably my favorite Beyonce song, but it received that status courtesy of a cherished memory involving a dearly departed friend and a wild drunken escapade at a gay club in Rehobeth Beach. All I remember before I got really drunk is the dance challenge I won for dropping it like it was hot against some youngin who just couldn't believe that I had 30 years of dance training. More importantly, this song makes a lot more sense on this list than Formation (2016).

Big Freedia - Y'all Get Back Now (2011)
Confession time: I should hate this song, because when I lived in New Orleans I really hated bounce music. But for whatever reason, those sentiments are meaningless when it comes to Big Freedia (you already knooow). But trust, you will never catch me twerking (not even to this collaboration with my girl Lizzo :)

Janelle Monae - Tightrope (2010)
Monae put the word pansexual in my evolving vocabulary, but I dare not google it (NSFW or for creepy search engines) I'll just post a link to this cover story from Rolling Stone and like everybody else, I will wait to learn if her bae is Tessa Thompson or Lupita Nyong'o. In the meantime, check her out in Make Me Feel (2018) and if you got a Prince vibe from this song like I did, you would be right.

Lizzo - Juice
Although I'm not sure if she has reached that level yet, Lizzo totally comes across as someone who should already be a gay icon. Between her body positivity and unbothered-ness, if she was not the Honorary Grand Marshall of someone's Pride Parade this month, y'all slipping (but I think GLAAD got the memo).

There you have it folks. This is what happens when you allow the spirit to move you. There are a lot of artists who were not included on this playlist, but no worries. A few of them were probably featured elsewhere on the blog this month, or I will just have another topic to revisit next year.