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Broadway Extravaganza “Motown the Musical” Brings Legends to the Bay Area Story and Photos by Shelah MoodyPublished on Saturday, 30 August 2014 20:18
Motown founder Berry Gordy addresses the crowd at Frank Ogawa Plaza in Oakland, CA
Since it’s opening on August 15, there has been quite a buzz about the Broadway hit “Motown the Musical” and its run through Sept. 28 at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco. The extravaganza has generated much excitement and curiosity and attracted a number of music industry legends to the Bay Area, including Motown founder Berry Gordy, Jr., Motown’s former creative assistant and producer Suzanne de Passe and former Motown recording and visual artist Chris Clark.
Shelah Moody with former Motown Creative Director Suzanne De Passe
In conjunction with welcoming “Motown the Musical” to the Bay Area, the glitterati also celebrated the life of icon Michael Jackson, who would have turned 56 on Aug. 29.
“Motown the Musical” revolves around the life of Gordy, the music mogul who launched the careers of Marvin Gaye, the Jackson 5, and Gladys Knight, Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross, the Temptations, Stevie Wonder and more. “Motown the Musical” follows Gordy’s life and career from a featherweight boxer to one of the most influential men in the music industry. Gordy is noted for making soul music appealing to mainstream audiences and branding what came to be known as the Motown sound, out of Detroit, MI.
On Aug. 18, Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson presented the 84-year-old visionary with a county proclamation declaring “Berry Gordy Day in the East Bay” at Frank Ogawa Plaza. Gordy was also presented the key to the city of Oakland, with Mayor Jean Quan present.
Gordy cited Sly Stone, the Pointer Sisters and En Vogue as some of the great artists who have come out of Oakland.
“Motown is weaved into the life of Oaktown,” said Gordy. “Oaktown has always been a part of the Motown family. Indeed, my dear friend, (former Black Panther) Elaine Brown was also a great artist who recorded for Motown’s Black Forum label.”
“I started out as a songwriter, but as a songwriter, I had to create dreams that people didn’t believe were possible,” said Gordy. “All people have feelings, so why wouldn’t my music be with black people, white people, Chinese and Australians? I think that here in Oakland, there’s always been a push for that understanding—of one race. The people of Oakland have always been fighting for equality. Everybody who believes in themselves inspires me, because the magic is inside of us. We have to recognize it and be confident and not let other people tell us that we are bad and that we don’t know what we’re doing.”
After the ceremony, the Joyce Gordon Gallery in downtown Oakland (www.joycegordongallery.com) hosted a media preview and reception for the exhibit: “Motown Legends: Artwork by Chris Clark,” attended by Suzanne de Passe, Mayor Jean Quan, Supervisor Keith Carson, Elaine Brown and Dorothy King, owner of Everett and Jones BBQ, www.eanjbbq.com, (who hosted and reception later that evening for Gordy, who I’m told, got caught up in the excitement and danced).
Clark was one of the first white singers signed to Motown records, releasing her debut “Do Right Baby, Do Right” in 1965. Clark eventually ventured into photography, videography, graphic design, screenwriting and painting, documenting the great moments in Motown history. Clark worked for Motown for 18 years.
Longtime Motown artist Chris Clark beside her painting "Michael Jackson" at the Joyce Gordon Art Gallery in Oakland, CA.
“Chris Clark was always somebody who was different in her thoughts, and they were always above everyone else’s,” said Gordy. “She lived with the artists and she knew their wishes, their feelings, their arguments and mostly, their dreams and where they wanted to go. I tell a lot of people: be careful what you wish for because you might get it.
“Chris’ work is so deep; it’s hard for people to understand,” said Gordy. “Take an artist like Michael Jackson. Chris captured him in the car dreaming about what he wanted to be. Michael wanted to be what he became—the greatest artist in the world, and Chris saw that before anyone else. ‘Michael Jackson’ is a magnificent piece because it tells a story. All of her pieces tell a story.”
Clark was especially fond of one of Motown’s founding artists, Marvin Gaye, who inspired several of her paintings.
A painting of Marvin Gaye by Chris Clark.
“Marvin Gaye wanted to do a protest album, because his brother was in Vietnam,” said Gordy. “All of this is in the play. He didn’t want to be a pop star anymore; he wanted to be an activist. I wanted him to be a singer of love songs because he was our top. ‘What’s Going On’ turned out to be Motown’s biggest selling album.”
The soft spoken Chris Clark shared her personal memories of Michael Jackson during the week of his 56th birthday.
“You know, when he was a little kid I caught him his first snake at the beach,” said Clark. “Back then, I raised big cats—cougars, lions, jaguars and a Florida panther. Michael came to my house and fell in love with exotic animals. He was amazing.”
On Aug. 25, Yoshi’s San Francisco hosted “San Francisco Welcomes Motown the Musical,” (www.yoshis.com). featuring several members of the touring cast. San Francisco District 5 Supervisor London Breed presented the production and cast with a City proclamation in honor “Motown the Musical.” The event was also a fundraiser, with proceeds going to benefit Project Level, The African American Art and Culture Complex and the San Francisco Arts Education Project.
Rodney Earl Jackson, Jr., Linda Stewart, Supervisor London Breed and Patrice Covington
One of the young men living Gordy’s dream is Rodney Earl Jackson, Jr., who grew up in San Francisco’s Fillmore district and went on to earn his degree from Carnegie Melon University. A seasoned singer and dancer, Jackson portrays Jermaine Jackson and other characters in “Motown the Musical.” Jackson kicked off the entertainment at Yoshi’s performing the Temptation’s hit “Get Ready” with cast member Patrice Covington, who plays Martha Reeves.
“I auditioned in New York for Berry Gordy himself, and actually, after three or four auditions, I got a call from my manager telling me that they had offered me the role,” said Jackson.
Jackson, who heads the Bay Area Theatre Company in San Francisco, is thrilled to be part of the touring cast of “Motown the Musical” and also thrilled to be performing for family and friends in his hometown.
Like many of his generation, the Motown Sound was a soundtrack of his life.
“My earliest memories of Motown music and its energy would have to be the record player that my mom kept in the house, with old Temptations records as well as the Supremes and Gladys Knight,” said Jackson. “I haven’t met any of the Jacksons, but I’ve met Smokey Robinson and Diana Ross. Berry Gordy was in the audience during the process, so I felt that we had an encyclopedia right there with us.”
Reflecting on the legacy of Michael Jackson, Rodney Jackson, Jr. refected: “Someone asked me who I would most like to meet, alive or dead, and I said Michael Jackson. More than a performer or an entertainer, I would have liked to have known who he was as a human being.”
Leon Outlaw, Jr., 12 and Reed Lorenzo Shannon, 13,
portray young Berry Gordy, Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder in “Motown the Musical.”
During the reception, the two young actors danced with the band Top Shelf as they performed a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish” and gave the audience a sample of their stellar vocal skills. Don’t let their size fool you; these kids can blow the roof off of the theater! (http://youtu.be/s47BrZFKvHs).They thrilled the crowd with two of Motown’s famous songs of longing and lost love, with Reed singing the Smokey Robinson-penned “Who’s Loving You” a Capella and Leon singing the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” a Capella.
Both boys have a private tutor of the set of “Motown the Musical and like the young Michael Jackson, demonstrate a level of maturity and professionalism beyond their years.
Asked what he likes best about performing in “Motown the Musical,” Reed said:
“The audience varies every night, from quiet and observant to loud and fun loving.
“The cast is great and the crowd encourages me,” said Outlaw.
Leon and Reed also reflected on the legacy of Michael Jackson.
“I’ve been listening to him ever since I was really little,” said Leon. “There was a Michael Jackson DVD set that I’d always play. I would dance to it all day.”
Said Reed: “My parents always played Motown music and Michael Jackson has always been there. I’ve always been listening to his music. He was a great human being, despite what anybody says about him. He will always live through his music.”
“Motown the Musical” runs through Sept. 28 at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco. For information, go to www.shnsf.com, call (888) 746-1799 or go to www.motownthemusical.com.”
Up Close and Personal With D’wayne Wiggins of Tony! Toni! Tone!: By Shelah MoodyPublished on Saturday, 12 July 2014 05:45
D’wayne Wiggins and R&B super group Tony! Toni! Tone!, featuring Timothy Christian Riley and Amar Khalil (lead vocals) perform 8 p.m. and 10 p.m., July 11-12, Yoshi’s San Francisco, 1330 Fillmore Street, SF, 415-655-5600. http://www.yoshis.com/sanfrancisco.
Who are the cool cats from Oakland CA, who helped develop a style of music called neo-soul? They are Tony! Toni! Tone!, who have produced hits such as “Little Walter,” “Lay Your Head on My Pillow,” “It Never Rains (In Southern California) “Whatever You Want,” “Let’s Get Down” and the wildly popular ballad “Anniversary.”
Tony! Toni! Tone!, consisting of original members D’wayne Wiggins, his brother, Rafael Saadiq and their cousin, Timothy Christian Riley, released their first album, “Who?,” produced by Denzil Foster and Thomas McElroy, in 1988. After more than 25 years in the music industry, it still feels good, said Wiggins. .
I recently spoke with musician/entrepreneur/community activist D’wayne Wiggins, who has produced his own solo projects and other artists including Keyshia Cole and the cover band PopLyfe, featuring his sons Dylan (guitar, piano) and Jaden (bass) Wiggins and nephew, Ali Khan (DJ).
In the early 2000s, Wiggins opened the Jahva House café, where he would showcase the work of community musicians, poets and visual artists. The likes of KRS-One, E-40 and Dennis Kucinich walked through the Jahva house doors. In fact, Wiggins still markets his family blend of Jahva House coffee.
On June 2, D’wayne Wiggins hosted a record release party for British reggae star Maxi Priest, who was presented with a proclamation and a key to the City of Oakland, at Jeffrey’s Inner Circle. Their Q&A session led to a beautifully improvised unplugged version of Priest’s 1991 chart topper “Close to You” featuring Priest on vocals and Wiggins on acoustic guitar. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RopvkRNSmS8
During the week of our conversation, Wiggins was enjoying the sunny weather in the Bay Area with his daughter and one-year-old grandson, Carter. This weekend, Wiggins and Tony! Toni! Tone!, take the stage for two nights at Yoshi’s San Francisco.
Shelah Moody: What was it like hosting Maxi Priest listening party at Jeffrey’s Inner Circle?
D’wayne Wiggins: I’ve got a new friend. Maxi and I had a great time. First of all, I think that the event was something very new for Oakland and it came off very organic. We spoke on the phone a week and a half before when Maxi was in London. We met on the day on the event and I told him that his song “Close to You” was dope to me because it crossed the reggae and the R&B vibe perfectly. We got into a good conversation but once I started jamming with him, I thought, oh, he’s for real.
SM: Everyone loved your spontaneous, acoustic version of “Close to You.”
DW: We are from two different nations, but we were speaking through music. Maxi started out the key and I just followed him on guitar. I know how the song goes and I played it the way I felt.
SM: Do you, like Maxi Priest, have a key to the City of Oakland and a proclamation?
DW: I have a key, but I haven’t been able to use my key yet; I don’t know what doors it opens. (laughs). I have a proclamation, and Tony! Toni! Tone!, has a proclamation. We’ve also got one for my family group, PopLyfe. I received my proclamation in 1999 when I did my solo album, “The Eyes Never Lie.” The Bay Area has been supportive of true entertainment. I have to say that there has been a resurgence of that whole vibe. I’ve been lucky; I’ve been blessed to have been supported by five mayors of Oakland. I’ve been staying connected to what’s going on in Oakland since the start of our group. Tony! Toni! Tone!, which was one of the founding bands of the annual Art and Soul festival in Oakland.
SM: You’ve produced a lot of artists out of Oakland, including Destiny’s Child, Keyshia Cole and PopLyfe, featuring your sons Dylan and Jaden Wiggins. Do you consider Oakland a music mecca?
DW: I’ve always considered Oakland a music mecca. It goes back to me growing up and being able to experience artists like Carlos Santana playing in the parks. As a kid, I would see Larry Graham and Sly Stone and the local grocery stores. I would watch them rehearse. When I started traveling to other countries--Australia, Indonesia and Japan--I would see all of this information about Oakland. I was able to see the impact that we had outside of Oakland years ago. I kind of vowed to myself, whenever I work with artists, that the key is exposure and getting them out to speak about what it’s really like to have this gift, on the guitar, on the microphone, on the piano. I stress to them the impact that they can share when they take it outside of Oakland. Every artist I’ve worked with—Alicia Keys, India.Arie—they’ve all been to my House of Music recording studio in Oakland.
SM: On the subject of Tony! Toni! Tone!, did you take a hiatus from the group to work on your solo projects like your brother, Rafael Saadiq did?
DW: I did, and my solo project came out of a bad situation. There was an incident involving me and a police officer in Oakland. I did the song “Strange Fruit,” and Kedar Massenburg at Motown happened to hear the song as well as some songs that I was writing for other musicians, and he asked me to put a solo project together. The Tonys are always the foundation of whatever we do. When we do our own solo projects, like Rafael’s project or whatever, it’s still “Tony” blessed. Our foundation is very solid and we appreciate it. We are going on 26 years in the business. Truthfully speaking, that’s half the time of the Beatles. Twenty-five years of Oakland boys staying focused--what about it!
SM: How many of your family members will be a part of the Tony! Toni! Tone!, experience at Yoshi’s?
DW: It will include the originals—myself and my cousinm Timmy Christian and the band members. Our family is so broad in this industry, and we want to bring some of the people who we’ve had the opportunity to bring into the industry. There was a group called Kenya Groove that I produced years ago. They had a song on the “Menace II Society” soundtrack. I call that song the hit that never was, because that song is known all over the world; Master P sampled it and got off on it. I want to invite people like that to the stage. I don’t know if the Art and Soul festival got its name from one of the groups that we developed. I’d like to bring some of them to the stage. There are some new people who I have been gettin’ down with lately, who I might bring to the forefront. On stage, I leave it open. We are definitely going to give you the hits and we have some new followers who need to find out what the hype is about Tony! Toni! Tone!; the hype that has inspired kids to start playing guitar and piano, and developed a sound that they call neo-soul. There is a lot to say; a lot to put in those two hours or so of music that we’re gonna do at Yoshi’s. We are like a miniature Apollo Theater! There is a lot of music in our show, a lot of songs, a lot of history, a lot of information and a lot of fun!
SM: Will your sons Dylan and Jaden be a part of the show?
DW: I don’t know if they’ll be home for the summer, but if they’re in town, they definitely will be smackin’ the stage. That’s when it gets real Wiggins right there! They are currently in Los Angeles, working with Rafael Saadiq; working with his production and doing a lot of music for television. The more recent thing they did was some of the music for the film “Black Nativity” the opening piano piece.
SM: Give us some brief background on how Tony! Toni! Tone!, formed.
DW: Tony! Toni! Tone!, formed in the living room of our house on 80th and Olive Street in Oakland. It was a family business with musical instruments around and the whole bit—pianos, drums and whatever. My mother and father were supportive of us. I’m not saying that they pushed us into the industry. My mom always supported me being in talent shows and whatever else. You know, that guitar has always been like a savior for me because it distracted me from a lot of things that were going on right there in my neighborhood. I moved from west Oakland to east Oakland. That’s how it all started. Tony! Toni! Tone!, happened to be a nickname that I came up with making fun of a friend of mine. We started incorporating the name with the way we used to dress and go out to the clubs back in the day. We were playing at a friend of the family’s wedding, and we really didn’t have a name, because it was always me, my brother and Tim. It really wasn’t a full band; it was the three of us, jamming. When someone asked, what’s the name of the group, and as a joke, I’d say, Tony! Toni! Tone!, and we’d start laughing. The whole night we kept it going; and one thing led to the next and here we are.
SM: Everybody has their favorite Tony! Toni! Tone!, song. What’s the one song that you can’t leave the stage without playing?
DW: Well, of course, “Feels Good,” you know, because it just feels good. Oh man, “Lay Your Head on My Pillow,” that song reminds me of when we used to play our music and hear it coming through the speakers; when we would play the Isley Brothers. Being in the industry for 25 years, we’re celebrating our anniversary, so we’ve gotta do “Anniversary.” We have some new music that we feel really good about because it has a lot of information and it’s about celebrating life and partying.
SM: I know that you do a lot for the City of Oakland. Have you considered running for mayor?
DW: I don’t think I want a job! (laughs). No, I’ve never really considered it because it’s a lot of focus and a lot of responsibility. I think that I’m just doing it from my heart and my spirit and I get along well in Oakland. I know a lot is changing; a lot of people are not feeling good about the change that’s coming about in our city, but I embrace it. I really support what’s going on because I know that we’re gonna change history, and we’ll fix it. I know that a lot of people have to understand why we are so proud of our city and we walk around like we own the world. We do own the world! Oakland California! What!!!
SM: You have done a lot of work with the community. What causes are you currently involved in?
DW: I’ve worked with a lot of non-profits since 1988/1989. I got involved when I was doing stuff with the mayor back then. Right now, I am supporting Oakland Natives, a couple of young ladies who are originally from Oakland; they do the back pack giveaways every year to kids in school. I also have my own non-profit called Oakland Youth Aid. We have some things that are in store for the years to come that I want to make happen. Also, every other Wednesday night at 8 p.m. I host Oakland R&B Live, which is something I’d like to get people to come out to. It’s at the Imagine Affairs Art Lounge in the beautiful hub of Oakland, off of 14th Street and Broadway. It’s fly, you know; we feature all of the backline instruments like the piano, drums and guitar. People show up, sign up and get it in. Every now and then, you will catch somebody from LA pop into the spot and take the stage.
SM: Give us a preview of your new album.
DW: We have a song called “It’s a Beautiful thing; in fact I may have to give you a sample of that one. It’s straight from the guitar. We will definitely perform it at the show. It’s a beautiful thing just being able to celebrate 25 years of being in the business. We did a little something different, everybody knows, when the Tonys come, we come a little bit different that what’s out there; we stay in our lane, we run our own race.
For more information on “Tony! Toni! Tone! go to: http://www.tonytonitonemusic.com.
Black Music Month Exclusive--Shaggy, Tarrus Riley, Morgan Heritage and World Class Musicians Headline the 21st Annual Sierra Nevada World Music Festival, June 20-22 By Shelah MoodyPublished on Friday, 20 June 2014 07:35
Black Music Month Exclusive--Shaggy, Tarrus Riley, Morgan Heritage and World Class Musicians Headline the 21st Annual Sierra Nevada World Music Festival, June 20-22
By Shelah Moody
Well it’s that time again--Summer Solstice which coincides with one of northern California’s largest musical extravaganzas, the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival. Presented by founders Warren Smith and Gretchen Franz of Epiphany Artists, SNWMF XXI kicks off on Friday, June 20th at Mendocino County Fairgrounds in Boonville, CA and runs through June 22nd.
Recently, I spoke with some of the SNWMF XXI headliners and also, the supporting musicians that help shape their sound.
I remember when I first interviewed a young and upcoming singer named Tarrus Riley during his first San Francisco performance at the Apple Store in Union Square with Wayne Wonder. Since then, with hits such as “She’s Royal” “Lion Paw,” “Stay with You” and his cover of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature,” Tarrus Riley, the son of veteran singer Jimmy Riley, has emerged as one of reggaes most in demand acts. During a Valentine’s Day concert this year in San Francisco presented by DJ Smoky, the bespectacled vocalist and his band, Black Soil, won the hearts of the audience—especially the women in the crowd. Riley performed tributes to those who paved the way for him including Jimmy Riley, Buju Banton, and Third World’s lead vocalist William “Bunny Rugs” Clarke (who passed away earlier this year).
I asked Riley about his personal concept of soul.
“It comes from my culture, my emotions, and my experience,” said Riley.
Riley described his band, Black Soil, which includes acclaimed saxophonist/producer Dean Fraser and bassist/producer Glen Browne, as the best group of musicians to come out of Jamaica. Riley’s latest album, “Love Situation” rose to the top of the reggae iTunes and the “Billboard” reggae Charts. Riley described “Love Situation” as a tribute to the rock steady era of Jamaican music, featuring original love songs.
I asked Riley if he aspired to receive Grammy recognition.
“I mean until I win a Grammy, I will be singing for the aunties and the uncles and the mommies and the daddies and the grannies,” said Riley. “It’s a family thing. Grammy’s are nice, but if not, we’re still here.”
Riley’s bassist, Glen Browne is a world renowned musician, producer, arranger and devout Rastafarian from Kingston, JA. He has previously toured and recorded with many reggae and jazz greats including Jimmy Cliff, Ziggy Marley, Luciano, Monty Alexander and Delfeayo Marsalis. On his Island Treasure label, Glen Browne recently produced a remake of the Mighty Diamonds’ reggae classic “Sweet Lady,” featuring vocalist Kamau. Glen Browne has also teamed up with his wife, Marjorie-Kay Browne and dub poet Mutabaruka on a remake of James Moody’s jazz standard “Moody’s Mood for Love.”
Tarrus Riley and Black Soil perform Sunday, June 22, on the Valley Stage at 5:30 p.m.
Grammy winning crossover reggae/dancehall artist Shaggy and his band, Hot Shot, will be bringing sex back to the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival. Shaggy, a Desert Storm veteran who was raised in New York, rose to international stardom and gained his moniker “Mr. Lova Lova” with hits such as “Boombastic,” “Luv Me Luv Me,” with Janet Jackson and his signature track, “It Wasn’t Me,” a song that made Michael Jackson smile during a tribute concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden in 2001. Speaking of crossover appeal, Shaggy was one of the few reggae acts to open for the Rolling Stones several years ago.
Eclectic guitarist Robert “Dubwise” Browne (son of Glen Browne) has been touring with Shaggy for more than a decade. Browne has also toured with Jimmy Cliff and Morgan Heritage. Browne has recorded two instrumental solo recordings, “Birth” and “Electrifying Grooves of Diversion.” He recently remixed Pharell’s megahit “Happy” in reggae style.
I caught up with Browne when Shaggy and the Hot Shot band performed at the Mezzanine nightclub in San Francisco. Browne’s influences include Jimmy Hendrix, George Benson and Junior Marvin. Browne is thrilled to be performing once again with Shaggy at SNWMF.
I asked Browne about the chemistry that has kept he and Shaggy performing together for so many years.
“Obviously, Shaggy likes how I play, but I guess it’s mutual respect,” said Browne. “I don’t do anything that he would not approve of. I tour with other artists as well, so when Shaggy is not touring, I let him know in advance so there is no clash. I guess in any job situation, when you behave yourself, you can stay as long as you want.”
Shaggy and the Hot Shot Band perform on the Valley Stage on Saturday, June 21 at 10:30 p.m.
When you think of the royal families of reggae, Morgan Heritage comes to mind. Morgan Heritage features siblings Peter, Gramps, Una, Mr. Mojo and Lukes Morgan. They are the children of veteran reggae singer Denroy Morgan.
Morgan Heritage rose to fame with conscious reggae tracks such as “Don’t Haffi Dread (To Be Rasta),” “Down by the River,” “Jah Seed” and “She’s Still Loving Me.”. During a recent performance at Slim’s nightclub in San Francisco, a third generation of Morgans, crooner 18-year-old Jemere Morgan, son of Gramps, opened the show.
I spoke with singer/keyboardist Una Morgan about the groups’ latest projects. Some members of the family, such as Gramps, who opened for India.Arie, and Mr. Mojo, who recorded a version of “The Girl is Mine” with David Hinds of Steel Pulse” have ventured into solo careers but still come back to Morgan Heritage.
“We never separated, we’ve been taking time to raise our children; as you can see, my nephew, Jemere, is here with us tonight,” said Una. “I had time to be a mom, and now I’m preparing for my solo album. Gramps and Peter have both had solo albums, and now it’s time for me to represent the women. I’m excited about it! The first single will be out this summer and the album will be out next year.”
I asked Morgan for a few words on the loss of one of the greatest voices in the industry, Bunny Rugs.
“Oh my goodness, he was one of our biggest inspirations,” said Morgan. “He and my dad were really good friends. We are very blessed and humbled to have known such a great man. May he continue to rest in peace.”
Morgan Heritage performs on the Valley Stage on Sunday, June 21 at 1:30 p.m.
For information on the Sierra Nevada World Music Fest, go to www.snwmf.com.
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