Iconic Jazz Singer Dee Dee Bridgewater and Theo Croker: A Dynamic Duo

Grammy award-winning jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgewater performs with celebrated trumpeter Theo Croker at the National Black Arts Festival Gala in Atlanta, GA 2014. (Photo Credit: Christopher A. Daniel)

Grammy award-winning jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgewater performs with celebrated trumpeter Theo Croker at the National Black Arts Festival Gala in Atlanta, GA 2014. (Photo Credit: Christopher A. Daniel)

If jazz musicians are like one big happy family, then Dee Dee Bridgewater would certainly be the protective big sister over her younger siblings.

The vocalist, with her iconic bald head, has a career that spans four-plus decades and has earned the multitalented performer a global fan base, three Grammys, a Tony award and a slot hosting the NPR program Jazz Set with Dee Dee Bridgewater.

Bridgewater credits her success to being taken under the wings of legends such as Dizzy Gillespie, Clark Terry and Thad Jones. Now, she wants to focus more on helping other performers showcase their talent.

She believes her purpose as an artist is “to get the old school jazz people to open up to something new.”

“I’m at that point in my life right now where I want to provide exposure and opportunities for young musicians to get some recognition,” says Bridgewater following her recent performance at this year’s National Black Arts Festival (NBAF) gala.

“Music is healing. I’m very pleased with this new crop of young musicians. They’re coming along and bringing something fresh and new to jazz. They’re broadening the scope of jazz and making it more accessible.”

Among the extraordinary musicians keeping Bridgewater’s attention is 29-year-old trumpeter and bandleader Theo Croker. She produced the dreadlocked instrumentalist’s third solo LP, The Afrophysicist.

Released under Bridgewater’s DDB Productions imprint, Croker’s collection seams together jazz, hip hop, soul, funk, pop, Latin rhythms and bebop. Bridgewater refers to Croker as her “adopted child.”

“He is amazingly talented,” she says with a delightful tone. “He’s allowed me to get out of the traditional vein that I’ve been in for so many years. I like spreading my wings. We’re having a good time and playing some good music.”

At the NBAF gala, Bridgewater and Croker, who frequently perform together, filled in last minute for trumpeter and film composer Terence Blanchard. The pair staged a three-song repertoire including a soothing cover of Michael Jackson’s “I Can’t Help It.”

Onstage, Bridgewater’s comforting vocals are equipped with lush vibrato. The Memphis native also scats and improvises. Croker, who arranged the pair’s set, blows his horn similar to Bridgewater’s vocals. The singer, whose father, first cousin and former husband Cecil Bridgewater, are all trumpeters, even refers to her voice as “a trumpet.”

Bridgewater and Croker met following one of his gigs in Shanghai. Post-gala performance, Croker, whose late grandfather, Doc Cheatham, was also a Grammy-winning trumpeter, spoke about being conditioned to become a road warrior similar to Bridgewater, who’s lived in France since the early 1980s.

Sitting adjacent to Bridgewater sipping on a beer, the Oberlin Conservatory alumnus, living in both Shanghai and Manhattan, goes into detail about his early morning schedules, hectic travel arrangements, sound checks and catnaps.

“I learned how to live on the road and play. I live for playing music,” says Croker relaxing in the Intercontinental Buckhead Atlanta’s courtyard. “That’s what Dee Dee does!”

Bridgewater, sitting with her legs crossed, a lit cigarette and a cocktail, chimes in. “That’s what I do…and getting ready to do it some more,” she says. “We gon’ be doing this for a while.”

As Bridgewater relaxes with Croker, she periodically laughs at a few jokes and thanks a few attendees who approach her. The ambassador to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization and board member to the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz flashes back to performing at International Jazz Day in Osaka, Japan.

She remembers performing at the inaugural show at the United Nations’ General Assembly Hall. The following year, she was on tour and couldn’t attend the event. Bridgewater hadn’t been to Japan since the tsunami hit in 2011 but made it a priority to attend this year’s festivities.

“I’m happy to be a part of something that I think is historical,” says Bridgewater. “That was really fun. It was a beautiful experience, and there was so much talent. I got to sit down at breakfast with Lalah [Hathaway] and Esperanza [Spalding].”

“It’s nice to have that kind of respect for musicians that I hold in high esteem, and they hold me in that same category. It’s wonderful. It’s humbling,” adds Bridgewater.

Bridgewater is quite fond of Spalding. When the young bassist received the “Best New Artist” Grammy, Bridgewater, then sitting in the audience, called Spalding’s recognition “a magical moment.”

The singer jokingly admits she didn’t want to attend International Jazz Day’s press conference because she was too busy enjoying her chats with Spalding, who she affectionately refers to as “Espe.”

“She’s one of my babies,” says Bridgewater. “I’m really proud of her, too.”

Still sharing a few laughs and talking amongst themselves, Croker and Bridgewater have incredible chemistry. She can’t stop stressing how extremely proud and grateful she is to be in his company. He’s a sought after festival performer. Her longtime agent also wants to represent him.

Croker, on the other hand, is equally grateful to have met Bridgewater. Having studied under jazz greats like Donald Byrd and The Heath Brothers, the Presser Foundation Music Award recipient and former artist-in-residence at Ritz Theatre and Museum says Bridgewater’s mentorship has helped him to fully embrace his musical identity.

“[Dee Dee] helped remind me it’s all about being yourself,” says Croker. “It’s really not about following trends or trying to make other people like or understand it necessarily.”

“Being accessible is always important. Maintaining who you are within is really what matters,” adds Croker.

Bridgewater concurs.

“I tell him don’t be afraid to do the things that he hears,” she says. “Gaining confidence from the response that he gets is something invaluable…and to be able to hang with my crazy butt doing two-and-a-half-hour concerts when we’re supposed to do 90 minutes.”

Christopher A. Daniel is the pop cultural critic and music editor for The Burton Wire. He is also a contributing writer for Urban Lux Magazine and Blues & Soul Magazine. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.

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Metalworkers Strike Ends in South Africa

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) members strike for better wages. (Google Images)

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) members strike for better wages. (Google Images)

BBC Africa is reporting that a four-week strike in South Africa has come to an end after the country’s largest trade union reached a deal with employers.

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) said its 220,000 striking members had “unanimously” accepted the employers’ offer.

The deal promised three-year fixed annual wage increases of 10% for Numsa’s lowest-paid workers.

Both sides compromised significantly on the agreement.

The author writes:

“Numsa lowered its initial demand of an increase between 12 and 15%, while Steel and the Engineering Industries Federation of South Africa (Seifsa), the body representing employers, increased theirs, up from an opening 7%.

Seifsa chief executive Kaizer Nyatsumba said he hoped ‘all parties would honor the letter and spirit of the agreement.’”

The strike cost the engineering sector about R300m ($28M USD) a day.

Read more on BBC Africa.

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African American Families: Balancing Business and Family

African American families are succeeding at business and life. (Google Images)

African American families are succeeding at business and life. (Google Images)

On a summer evening, Karen Tappin pulls up to collect her 6-year old daughter from a full day of African, tap, ballet, and hip-hop dance classes.

Fresh from a speaking engagement, the Brooklyn native and founder of hair and body care line Karen’s Body Beautiful situates her daughter in the back seat as we chat about balancing the beauty business and family life. She politely excuses herself for a moment to give her dance-weary daughter some dinner.

“You want your food now, or something to drink first?” Tappin asks her young daughter. “Sorry, I’m driving, I’m trying to feed my daughter, and I’m like multitasking here.”

Act I in the metaphorical musical “How to Succeed in Business While Being Parents.”

The sparse offerings of products with natural ingredientsfor naturals has begun a paradigm shift in the black beauty industry, which The Huffington Post estimates at $500 billion, with young, black entrepreneurs like Tappin at the helm.

Karen’s Body Beautiful is the end product of a care package mail order business Tappin started while a student at the University of Virginia. She left teaching to focus on the business full time in 2004, a transition made easier by having family involved.

“It’s not difficult at all, my husband’s the COO, which makes life a hundred times easier than it might be if he weren’t,” said Tappin. “Sometimes during events, I’ll have my daughter introduce me. I make her feel included in that regard. When she was younger, I would take her to the factory and her job was to sort the bottles.”

Managing beauty and babies has been a bit more challenging for Oyin Handmade founders Jamyla and Pierre Bennu. Like Karen’s Body Beautiful, the popular brand grew out of Jamyla’s frustration with products containing ingredients such as petroleum and mineral oil.

“I began experimenting with my own kitchen concoctions for personal use, and because I was a freelance web designer at the time, [I]eventually built a website to sell the products to others with similar needs.”

Pierre is also an award-winning artist, writer and filmmaker who with Jamyla runs the alternative arts and media company Exittheapple. Combine all of this with two small boys, whom they describe on their website as “somewhat distracting, but super fun,” and you have the recipe for a hectic life.

“It’s almost impossible,” Pierre says of balancing business and the boys. “We are only just getting our babysitter game together this year, and [we] do not get enough sleep.”

Still, their earthy approach to business and the way the Bennus revel in the glow of family garnered them the honor of Ebony Magazine’s Coolest Black Family in America in 2012.

Balancing acts like Tappin’s family and the Bennus are becoming the norm among beauty mavericks catering to black naturals as a primary market. Dr. Debra Nixon, celebrity marriage and family therapist and entrepreneur,  believes the key to balance lies in planning.

“Couples have to plan it. That’s my husband and I too. We have to make sure that we schedule meetings for what we have to do in terms of the business so things don’t go undone.”

Also a professor, Dixon feels that complimentary roles aid in maintaining a healthy relationship.

“He’s way more romantic than I am, so he’ll make sure that the personal parts don’t get left out of the equation. So they have to balance each other in terms of asking ‘how do we attend to our personal relationship and then how do we attend to the business’, and it’s not always easy. ”

Based on her own personal and professional experiences, Nixon suggests that couples need to allow the person with expertise in a particular area to exhibit their skill, without assigning tasks along gender lines. She further believes that training children to understand the time involved with business activity, and that parents have lives too, assists in performing the business-family shuffle.

Both Karen’s Body Beautiful and Oyin Handmade recently negotiated coveted distribution deals with Target, a move that could take both businesses to the next level. As such, life will only get busier, as evidenced by Tappin’s new ventures.

“I’m working on an app, called Afroji, with images that look like us. I’m also working on a web-based talk show on natural hair, called ‘Karen Says.’”

Yet, the thought of adding more to her already full plate does not phase her, especially since she has the support of family.

“I really enjoy what I do. I have zero stress in my life. I hire people who I enjoy, I don’t sweat the small stuff, and I’ve gotten rid of stressful people in my personal life.”

It appears that the secret to striking a work-life balance in business and family may literally be in a jar.

This post was written by Dr. Chetachi A. Egwu, Associate Professor of Humanities at Nova Southeastern University. Her scholarship focuses on Black Internet Usage and the African image in film, with an emphasis in documentary. The Howard University alumna is the owner of Conscious Thoughts Media. Dr. Egwu is a regular contributor to The Grio. Follow her on Twitter @Tachiada.

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Cameroon: Boko Haram Kidnaps Vice Prime Minister’s Wife

Cameroonian Vice Prime Minister Amadou Ali in Kolofata. (Google Images)

Cameroonian Vice Prime Minister Amadou Ali in Kolofata. (Google Images)

Tansa Musa of Reuters Africa is reporting that Nigerian Boko Haram militants kidnapped the wife of Cameroon’s vice prime minister and killed at least three people on Sunday in a cross-border attack involving more than 200 assailants in the northern town of Kolofata, Cameroon.

Musa writes:

“A local religious leader, or lamido, named Seini Boukar Lamine, who is also the town’s mayor, and five members of his family were also kidnapped in a separate attack on his home…Boko Haram, an Islamist group which made international headlines with the abduction of 200 Nigerian schoolgirls in April, has stepped up cross-border attacks into Cameroon in recent weeks. Cameroon has deployed troops to its northern region, joining international efforts to combat the militants.

‘I can confirm that the home of Vice Prime Minister Amadou Ali in Kolofata came under a savage attack from Boko Haram militants,’ government spokesman Issa Tchiroma, who is also communications minister, told Reuters by telephone.

‘They unfortunately took away his wife. They also attacked the Lamido’s residence and he was also kidnapped,’ he said, adding that at least three people were killed in the attack.”

The Cameroonian army has reclaimed Kolofata from Boko Haram. This is Boko Haram’s third attack in Cameroon since Friday.

Read more at Reuters Africa.

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Separate and Unequal: NYC’s ‘Poor Doors’


‘Poor Doors’ are coming to New York City. (Google Images)

Writing for Crain’s New York Business, Daniel Geiger examines the New York City approved proposal for developers to build a separate door entrance to identify residents who are part of the affordable housing program when living amongst wealthier residents of the same building. Known as “poor doors,” these separate entrances have come under fire by many including Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gale Brewer, the Manhattan borough president for being biased, unfair and segregationist.

Geiger raises an important issue that has been left out of the debate which is that the segmented residential buildings are built using incentives for creating affordable housing. This factor makes it even more disgusting that the developers then demarcate the affordable housing units with separate entrances.

Geiger reports:

“The Manhattan borough president took aim at so-called ‘rich door/poor door’ residential towers that allow developers to construct high-priced units while reaping a key zoning bonus in return for creating low-income apartments that are separated off and have fewer amenities, worse views and their own entrances.”

Developers claim that the “poor doors” are important incentives for residents paying market rate.

Let’s see — use working and lower middle-class residents to get full funding and then disrespect them afterwards. Classy.

Read more at Crains.

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Author James Hardy: 20th Anniversary of ‘B-Boy Blues’ Makes ATL Stage Debut

Hardy_BBBThePlayATL_WebFlier_FinalSOLDOUT2_6_16_14This year marks the 20th anniversary of author James Earl Hardy releasing his debut literary masterpiece, B-Boy Blues.

His groundbreaking, best-selling novel tells the story of Mitchell (or Little Bit), an Ivy League-educated print journalist, who connects with and ultimately becomes romantically involved with Raheim (aka Pooquie), a ‘round-the-way high school dropout and bike messenger.

The breakthrough, hip hop-themed love story emerged because Hardy, at the time a research fellow in Newsweek’s arts department, couldn’t find books that told stories exclusively portraying contemporary black gay male culture and relationships.

Hardy’s assignment was to sift through dozens of titles by burgeoning authors and then make recommendations to the staff editor. Explicitly comparing his daily writing frequency to breathing, a passionate Hardy started to draft B-Boy Blues.

The award-winning pop culture columnist and essayist was partly inspired by James Baldwin’s 1979 book  Just Above My Head.

James Baldwin on Kindle

“I had an epiphany. If I wanted to see a title on the bookshelf that has a reflection of me and the world other black same gender loving (SGL) men lived and loved in, I’d have to write it myself,” says Hardy.

The Brooklyn native whose byline has been featured in Entertainment Weekly, Essence, Out, The Village Voice, The Advocate, The Source, Vibe and The Washington Postlists some of the necessary components it takes to write. “It takes focus and patience,” he says.

“You can’t force it or will it. Someone needs to read your story. Give yourself the proper space, place and time to create. You can’t call yourself a writer if you haven’t written,” Hardy adds.

Upon completing the manuscript, publishers told the esteemed Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism alumnus that his work didn’t have an audience. They passed on it: further suggesting that Hardy write either a black love story of a gay love story.

Committed to his vision, Hardy had 5,000 copies printed. By word-of-mouth, he completely sold them all in one month.

B-Boy Blues, a Lambda Literary award finalist,not only struck a chord with the black gay community; it carried over into heterosexual and white readers who identified with the story’s relationship trajectories.

Lambda Literary Award Winners

By coincidence, Hardy’s pioneering, gender bending book also became required reading in numerous university-level courses. “There was a conspiracy of silence amongst too many black heterosexuals to even acknowledge that we exist,” says Hardy. “It offered black America points of reference to begin having open, constructive dialogue about SGL people.”

Subsequent titles such as 2nd Time Around(1996), If Only For One Nite(1998), Love The One You’re With(2003), The Day Eazy-E Died(2002) and A House Is Not a Home(2006) were a continuum of Pooquie’s and Little Bit’s relationship.

A huge fan of the late Grammy-winning vocalist Luther Vandross, Hardy, by design, named some of his novels after some of the performer’s songs. “The way his voice wrapped itself around the music and captured you is the way I’ve always wanted to write,” says Hardy.

“It’s breezy and easy. Nobody sang about the highs, lows and in-betweens of love like him. His songs and lyrics illustrate a character’s point of view better than I could.”

B-Boy Blues, according to Hardy, was never supposed to expand into a book series. However, the books resonated with audiences that defy age, gender and ethnic categories. By February of 2000, the iconic novel had sold over 100,000 copies.

Pooquie’s and Little Bit’s saga explored themes like unconditional love, raising a family, coming out, the DL lifestyle, monogamy, addiction, heartbreak and abandonment. Hardy points out that he received “letters with Ella Fitzgerald and Martin Luther King, Jr. postage stamps that are now emails, Facebook posts and tweets.”

Hardy’s readers, he says, have declared to him that Pooquie and Little Bit are their “extended family members.”

“The work has helped mothers and sons, fathers and sons, brothers and brothers and brothers and sisters break that silence, repair relationships and build bridges of mutual understanding and respect,” says Hardy.

“A community of fellowship was created. I’m so blessed to have been a part of it.”

B-Boy Blues was Hardy’s release therapy, too. When B-Boy Blues was completed, the GLAAD Media award nominee wasn’t out of the closet yet. He even admits to rarely focusing on gay subject matter in his journalism work.

B-Boy Blues, Hardy says, was his official “coming out.”

“Writing became my voice, the way I best communicated with people,” says Hardy. “I don’t believe I would be secure in my own skin if I hadn’t created it. I refuse to be anyone’s user-friendly Negro homo. My life is so much richer and fuller because of it.”

“Fear is a dream crusher,” adds Hardy. “It can be a road block and lead you to a dead end.”

To commemorate B-Boy Blues’ 20th anniversary, Hardy, who developed the compelling one-man play on adult film star, Tiger Tyson, Confessions of a Homo Thug Porn Star, in 2009, has adapted his own seminal opus into a stage production.

Hardy’s debut full-length dramatic interpretation was no easy task. Even with no desire to become a dramatist, the Downtown Urban Theater Festival award honoree had to decide on what characters to include and simultaneously develop a cohesive, 90-minute story.

“One of the most challenging aspects was making it contemporary but still being true to the source material,” writes Hardy. “It had to possess the same soul but a different sheen.”

Hardy, remains grateful that the stage version of B-Boy Blues, resonates with diverse audiences.

“Witnessing your work being brought to life right before your very eyes is truly an out-of-body experience,” says Hardy. “There is synergy between the audience and the cast that is so electric and palpable.”

A week before the premiere, the matinee performance had already surpassed the 50 percent sales mark. The excitement leading up to the commemorative shows, Hardy believes, reiterates that B-Boy Blues is a universal story that affects various communities.

“Be open to all of life’s possibilities,” adds Hardy.

“My journey is a testament to that. The play is bringing those who are not black, gay or male into the theater, proving once again that our work is just as so-called mainstream as those about whites and/or heterosexuals. The audience sees and responds to it as a love story, not a black gay love story.”

James E. Hardy’s imprint, IAJ Books, will reissue a 20th Anniversary edition of B-Boy Blues in December 2014.

The stage play B-Boy Blues will premiere at Atlanta’s Balzer Theater at Herren’s on Saturday, Aug. 2. For ticket information, click here

To celebrate B-Boy Blues’ Atlanta debut, Hardy is offering his fans 60 percent off the eBook version of his short story anthology Can You Feel What I’m Saying?and 75 percent off his eSingle How Stanley Got His Back In Groove.

This post was written by Christopher A. Daniel, pop cultural critic and music editor for The Burton Wire. He is also a contributing writer for Urban Lux Magazine and Blues & Soul Magazine. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.

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Air Algerie: Flight 5017 Drops Off Radar; 116 People On Board

Air Algerie flight 5017 is missing. (Photo: FlyFlyTravel.com)

Air Algerie flight 5017 is missing. (Photo: FlyFlyTravel.com)

CNN.com is reporting that Air Algerie’s flight 5017 has fallen off of the radar 50 minutes after takeoff. Laura Smith-Spark and Claudia Rebaza of CNN write:

“An Air Algerie flight with 116 people on board has dropped off radar, prompting a search for the missing plane, the airline’s operator said Thursday.

Flight 5017 lost radar contact 50 minutes after takeoff from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, early Thursday. It was supposed to arrive at Algiers’ Houari Boumediene Airport about four hours later.

The plane, an MD-83, was carrying 110 passengers, two pilots and four crew members. The MD-83 is part of the McDonnell Douglas MD-80 family of twin-engine, single-aisle jets.

The plane belongs to a private Spanish company, Swiftair, but it appears to have been operated by Air Algerie.”

It is believed that the plane vanished somewhere over Mali. This story is developing.

Read more on CNN.

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Opening Statements Have Begun in Renisha McBride Case

Walter Wafer, 55, is charged in the murder of Renisha McBride, 19, whom he killed by shooting in the face.  (Photo Credit: Google Images)

Walter Wafer, 55, is charged in the murder of Renisha McBride, 19, whom he killed by shooting in the face.
(Photo Credit: Google Images)

Jackie Taurianen of HLNTV.com is reporting that opening statements in the case against Theodore Wafer, 55, who shot and killed  Renisha McBride, 19, an unarmed 19-year-old girl on his porch last year, after McBride allegedly approached Wafer after being injured in a car accident.

Taurianen writes:

“Defense attorneys opened their case by telling jurors Wafer had heard banging on his door at least four separate times before he opened it and shot Renisha McBride in the face in the early morning hours of November 2, 2013. Wafer is charged with second-degree murder, manslaughter and felony use of a firearm.”

Wafer’s defense team is claiming that he shot McBride in the face in self-defense. Prosecutors allege that Wafer murdered McBride whom he shot through a locked screen door. Wafer is white and McBride is African-American. If convicted, Wafer faces life in prison.

Read more at Headline News.

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Nigeria: Eleven Parents of Missing School Girls Killed in Boko Haram Attack

Chibok after Boko Haram bombings. (Photo: TalkofNaija.com)

Chibok after Boko Haram bombings. (Photo: TalkofNaija.com)

Al Jazeera is reporting that at least 11 parents of the 200+ missing school girls in Chibok have been killed in a Boko Haram attack on Tuesday. The attack took place on the 100th day since the missing school girls were kidnapped. The author writes:

“Seven fathers of kidnapped girls were among 51 bodies brought to Chibok hospital after an attack on the nearby village of Kautakari this month, a health worker told AP news agency on Tuesday.

The worker asked for anonymity for fear of reprisals by Boko Haram, an Islamic armed group that claimed responsibility for the mass abduction of the girls.

At least four more parents have died of heart failure, high blood pressure and other illnesses that the community blames on trauma due to the abductions, said community leader Pogu Bitrus.

‘One father of two of the girls kidnapped just went into a kind of coma and kept repeating the names of his daughters, until life left him,’ Bitrus told AP.”

Boko Haram has intensified attacks on the Chibok region, which has now been cut off due to the frequent attacks. Planes are no longer being allowed in the region and survivors of the attacks are leaving the area.

Some also speculate that there are more missing girls than accounted for because parents are withholding their names for fear of stigmatization of the girls (rape, forced religious conversion) if they are found and brought home.

Although authorities say they know the location of the girls, they believe it is too dangerous to go in and get them. As for the inability or unwillingness to protect Chibok, there has been little to no information.

Read more at Al Jazeera.

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