Archive for August, 2008

Shellie O
August 26, 2008

Introduced by her proud brother, Craig Robinson and watched from the crowd by her even prouder mother, Marion Robinson, our presumptive First Lady Michelle Obama assumed the stage at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in grounded elegance. Appearing nervous at first, she soon hit her stride and delivered a speech that was spot-on, reaffirming what we supporters already knew and introducing to both the naysayer and the undecided a poised, committed woman embodying the virtues and values that this country has always (though often hypocritically) prided itself on.

There will be those haters who say that it was carefully scripted and oft-rehearsed and I’m sure it was, but what major political speech isn’t? There is the venomous “Botox” comment to the Wired blog post (check the same page for interesting commentary from Anice Ladi) on the subject that shows that commentator’s inability to find real flaw in her delivery or the speech itself.  There will be those who were irritated rather than charmed by those two pretty little brown girls, giddy and unsure of what to do, sending love to their Daddy. There will be every petty reason to find fault.  Hopefully however, most Americans will connect with the fundamental truths of her unifying speech. Hopefully most Americans will find themselves brimming with pride at this powerful moment in US history and heading in record numbers to the polls this November to vote accordingly.  I know that I am and will.

Click here for the full text of Michelle Obama’s DNC speech

O Wear
August 22, 2008

As we draw nearer to Election Day, the Obama campaign website will, as of next month, offer up designer duds (of the CFDA variety) from talents like Tracy Reese, Issac Mizrahi and formerly staunch Hillary supporter, Diane Von Furstenberg.   It will be interesting to see how this move shapes public perception.  Though my personal preference is for logoless clothing, I’d be happy to rock some well-designed O gear.

For the skinny on the whole fashion foray, read Robin Givhan’s article for the Washington Post.

Sketch from the designer, Tracy Reese.

Chili Most
August 22, 2008

I gotta give props to my hometown hot dog haven, Ben’s Chili Bowl, on fifty years of business.  On August 22, 1958, Trinidadian immigrant, Ben Ali launched his restaurant at 1213 U Street in northwest Washington, DC in a 1910 building that once housed the Minnehaha Theater. Playing local venues, musicians and comedians frequented the area, then known as “Black Broadway.”  From Duke Ellington to Ella Fitzgerald, Dick Gregory to Bill Cosby (who remains a loyal, avid Ben’s customer) everyone who passed through the U Street corridor patronized Ben and Virginia Ali’s famous Chili and Half-Smokes.

The business has survived the tumult of history.  Following the 1968 assassination of Rev. King, when much of the city was engulfed in angry, despairing, riotous flames, Ben’s bravely remained open and served as a meeting place for Stokely Carmichael and the SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.)  The heroin trade hit the area hard in the mid 1970’s and the late 1980’s expansion of the Washington-area subway system into the “Shaw” neighborhood, though ultimately good for city residents brought a five-year period of construction mayhem and a business nadir for Ben’s.

In the nineties when two (Nazim and Kamal) of the Ali’s three sons took over the reins, sales surged and the couple felt comfortable with retiring and leaving the family business their capable hands. They’ve published a book documenting the history of “The Bowl” and recently secured a deal to vend at the new stadium, Nationals Park, home to the Washington Nationals baseball franchise.

In honor of this milestone, Mr. Cosby presided over a 50th anniversary gala last night at the neighboring historic Lincoln Theatre with a special performance by Roberta Flack.  Today brought a press conference with tributes from city officials, and words from Mr. and Mrs. Ali.  And on Sunday, from 2pm to 10pm longtime DC music venue, the 9:30 Club will host a free concert featuring (among many others) go-go legends EU (Experience Unlimited) and Trouble Funk.

Though I’m fiending for a chili dog, I’m glad to know that should I choose to go the non-meat route, I can go for a steaming bowl of Ben’s mean vegetarian chili.

Photo: CoolTown Studios

Interesting links:  Washington Post article;  YouTube video

Summer @ SONYA
August 20, 2008

This Thursday, South of the Navy Yard Artists (SONYA), a non-profit collective of Brooklyn-based visual artists, opens their show Summer @ SONYA. Curated by artist Kennis Baptiste, the exhibition includes more than twenty-eight works created this year and/or inspired by the summer of 2008 in painting, drawing, printmaking, sculpture and photography by seventeen emerging and established artists who are current members of SONYA. Artists featured include Pamella Allen, C.Bangs, Kennis Baptiste, Ramona Cnady, Cochrane, Francks F. Deceus, Angela Earley, D. Lammie Hanson, Natasha Harsh, Kathleen Hayek, Nikita Hunter, Musa, Douglas Newtown, Sally Mara Sturman, Lawrence Terry and Iram Yeates.

The opening reception on August 21 is from 6:30-9:00pm at  Sonya Center (South of the Navy Yard Artists) 394 Waverly Avenue between Greene and Gates Avenues in Brooklyn.  I am honored to own First Born, an early work of the Haitian-born artist (and friend), Francks Francois Deceus and am proud to have witnessed his artistic development over the years, so it is his new work that I most look forward to seeing.

A detail from Francks Deceus’ series Pilgrimage from Scattered Points. Photo, loisinwonderland. This particular work is part of another group exhibition,  “Ancient Futures: The DNA of Culture & Civilization”, up at MoCADA until September 7th.

Artist Statement:

Pilgrimage from Scattered Points

I have always been interested in events and issues that affect large groups of people simultaneously. The question at the root of the statement is what does it take to change a collective mentality? I deliberately take away the individuality of the characters in this series in order to challenge the collective mindset. We live in a society where individualism is championed; I often wonder if there were no way to differentiate one person from the other, how would we define ourselves, if we were all the same?

Omar + Lila
August 20, 2008

Though he landed on the UK music scene in about 1990, Omar Lye-Fook first registered on my radar when his For Pleasure dropped in 1994 and I fell in musical love (as did Angie Stone, Common, Erykah Badu, Estelle, even Stevie Wonder, all of whom have recorded with him.)  The velvet-voiced multi-instrumentalist was a fresh alternative to the R.Kellian ilk.  With his heavy touring schedule, I’ve seen him several times since at Joe’s Pub, SOB’s The Canal Room and Brooklyn’s Southpaw, enjoying every soulful, spirit-raising gig. I revisited SOB’s last week for yet another Omar sighting, and yes, the crush continues.  An evening with Omar is a veritable love fest, a family reunion of sorts, where loyal fans gather blithely together in shared ardor for the oft-pierced performer.  Petty grievances are cast aside and knowing hugs given. Head-bobs and hands thrown up, it’s all love.

I first caught wind of Lila Downs in when she appeared in the 2002 film Frida and have been reintroduced more recently by a friend who enthuses mightily about her Sade-esque vocals on the reggae-tinged single, One Blood (2004.)  When I heard that she was headlining the Latin Music Series at Celebrate Brooklyn, I grabbed some music-head compadres and boarded the “F” to Prospect Park.  We arrived just as she took the stage.  Her range is phenomenal; she glides effortlessly from smoky contralto to ether-grazing heights without capricious pretense.  Her father, a Scottish-American filmmaker met her mother, a Mixtec Indian singer when he traveled to Mexico to film a documentary.  Her peripatetic upbringing in Tlaxiaco in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, St. Paul, Minnesota and later schooling in California gives her a tremendously appealing openness as an artist. She joyfully embraces the music of her Mixteco heritage, using it as both celebration and didactic discourse, her study of anthropology evident in the melding of other cultures indigenous to Mesoamerica.

Her band was tight: her husband, saxophonist, Paul Cohen; on the Brazilian accordion, Rob Curto; the consummate harpist, Celso Duarte; guitarist/vocalist, Juancho Herrera; bassist, Booker King; drummer, Yayo Serka; percussionist, Samuel Torres and Lila herself, variously on guitar and percussion. We were floored!  I wanted to chat her up and share a Mezcal. Her energy is boundless and fun and like Omar, she seems to truly enjoy the music, her audience and her incredible gift.

Her new CD drops September 2 and she’ll be in concert at NYC’s Town Hall on September 15 at 8pm.

pb & Caviar
August 19, 2008

Tucked away on Manhattan’s Thomas Street, in the shadow of the looming Art Deco edifice which once housed Western Union, an airy boutique has opened to cater to the beauty and sartorial needs of women and their small children.  Evin Cosby, the youngest daughter of Bill and Camille recently launched pb & Caviar just around the corner from the famed eatery, The Odeon and near her own Tribeca home.  The mother of two small children herself, the FIT graduate wanted to create a shopping environment in which kids are welcomed.

Evin Cosby in front of the Sam Simon mural in her new shop.

Readying the 1700 square-foot space for her August 7th opening was a year-long labor of love.  From building out the space to the adding the finishing touches like the whimsical custom-painted mural and three distinct chandeliers, each detail was overseen by Evin’s exacting eye. The pb & Caviar merch mix includes organic bath and beauty products; a carefully curated home decor collection; hip, clever kids clothing (and the New York exclusive on “Heelarious” baby heels) and for the moms (as well as their childless friends) wonderful frocks from the likes of Melissa Odabash, Ingwa Melero and the versatile Butter by Nadia.

Evin’s passion for fashion was ignited in childhood, by her decidedly glamorous babysitters, Diana Ross and Tina Turner, who would care for her in their nearby dressing rooms when her father, who’d brought her on summer tour, took the Las Vegas stage.  She was entranced by their beautiful dresses, alluring makeup and “intoxicating” perfume.   These loves have found a place for their expression at pb & Caviar.  88 Thomas Street between West Broadway and Hudson. 212.608.1112.

Pretty, sweet-smelling things for the home.

The children’s section features non-toxic, fair trade specialty toys from around the world, and a place for kids to sit, read and color.

The convertible satin wrap dress from Butter by Nadia can be worn limitless ways.

August 18, 2008

After the well-regarded choreographer Doug Elkins became a father, he made a choice to shutter his dance company to free his time to be with his new family.  Nevertheless, he and his wife parted ways and a few years ago amid a despairing funk over the demise of his marriage and the loss of his company, he found again his muse in a bonding session with his young son.  The genesis of his re-emergence on the dance scene was watching the 1965 film The Sound Of Music and singing along with his three-year-old to the musical number “The Lonely Goatherd.”

In Fräulein Maria, his loving parody of the seminal musical, three Marias twirl about. One is comically danced by Arthur Aviles, his bald pate conjuring a The King and I Yul Brynner to a Julie Andrews soundtrack. In another stroke of drag brilliance, the demure Liesl “I am sixteen going on seventeen, I know that I’m naive.  Fellows I meet will tell me I’m sweet and willingly I’ll believe,” is performed to prim perfection by the hulking David Parker slipcovered in satin.  Innuendo abounds, yet the quirky, campy style makes it completely kid-friendly–fun for everyone.

The clever sets and costumes by Lake Simons offer sight gags and quick changes integral to the movement of the show.  When Elkins himself dons a black hoodie and yoga pants, his face framed by a coronal sliver of white for an epiphanic solo, “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” we are transported to the abbey and Maria’s (and perhaps more importantly, Elkins’ own) moment of truth.

An expanded version of the show, which received accolades during two Joe’s Pub runs in 2006 and 2007, was commissioned by Lincoln Center for its Out of Doors series.  In a wink-wink reference to the song “Maria” from the score, Doug Elkins is described in the show’s program as “a flibbertigibbet, a will-o’-the-wisp, a clown.”  His tomfoolery is as quirkily endearing as the straw-hatted, pinafore-wearing, guitar-lugging Maria when first we meet her in The Sound of Music.  I, along with the rest of the charmed audience remained in a state of delight throughout, in spite of the unrelenting midday sun in the largely treeless Damrosch Park.

Maria gets her confidence.

Meeting the VonTrapp children.

“My Favorite Things.” Just before the thunderstorm that sends the children scurrying into Maria’s bed.

“I’d like to stay and taste my first champagne”  Though this Liesl prefers a dry martini, with olives.

Gone Too Soon
August 13, 2008

I, like most of us was stunned this weekend by the news of comedian Bernie Mac’s early death at age 50 and that of music icon Issac Hayes the very next day at age 65. I recalled the 2006 passings, one day apart, of revered journalist Ed Bradley, age 65 and singer Gerald Levert, age 40.  I thought of the tragic, successive loss of Sean Levert, Gerald’s younger brother at age 39 just this past spring and the July passing of 52-year-old jazz guitarist Hiram Bullock. Rest in peace, brothers.

In a time when the average life expectancy of Americans is at an all-time high, 77.8 years, African-American men swim in the shallow end of the statistical pool at 68.9 years.*  None of these men, nor my own father, reached the age of the lowest national statistic, yet none of them fall among the staggering number of Black men who meet violent ends. So while violence within and against the African-American community must be addressed with urgency, so too, must we examine and ameliorate the factors that shape the health of the community–from systemic disparities to shifting long-held cultural notions which no longer serve our common good. I have borne witness within my own large family to the acceptance of hypertension and diabetes as a given, a natural consequence of the process of living and aging.  No, folks, having “Sugar” and its attendant complications is not our birthright.

Whilst I pour mental libation in honor of the “brothers who ain’t here,” I pray for the mental, spiritual and physical well-being of those who are.  I wish for them the wherewithal to create individual changes which ultimately, will alter the collective numbers.

*Statistics from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention/National Center for Health Statistics

Thurgood: Just Days Left
August 8, 2008

As I mentioned in a previous blogpost, Thurgood on Broadway is a must-see!  If you can fit it into your schedule, do, you won’t be disappointed. The show is in its last days (through August 17) at the Booth Theatre and I received the following discount ticket info from marketing maven, Donna Walker-Kuhne.



1. ONLINE. Click here, or visit
and enter code THWCEB8.

2. BY PHONE. Call 212-947-8844 and mention code THWCEB8.

3. IN PERSON. Bring a print out of this offer to the Booth Theatre Box Office, 222 West 45th Street.

Performance schedule: Tues.-Sat. at 8; Wed. & Sat. at 2, Sun. at 3

Offer valid for performances now thru AUGUST 17. Blackout dates may apply. A $1.50 facilities fee is included in the price of each ticket. Schedule subject to change. Offer subject to availability. Normal service charges apply to online and phone orders. No exchanges or refunds. All sales are final. Cannot be combined with other offers. Not valid for prior purchases. Offer may be revoked at any time.
Present your ticket stub and get 10% off dinner at Spoonbread Restaurant, renowned for Authentic Southern Cuisine.
One Offer Per Customer. Excludes Sunday Brunch.Present original ticket stub to server when placing order.

Valid At Both Spoonbread Locations:

Miss Mamie’s Spoonbread Too
366 W 110th Street
(at Columbus Ave)
Miss Maude’s Spoonbread Too
547 Lenox Avenue
(btw 137th & 138th St)

Donna Walker-Kuhne
718 757 6206

August 8, 2008

Considered auspicious in many traditions, the number eight symbolizes luck, divinity and renewal.  So on this day I find myself thinking of the pending ’08 election and the real possibility of Senator Barack Obama becoming President Obama, heralding a fresh beginning for our country, and indeed the world.  The America reviled by many across the globe could be seen in a new, progressive light.

Yet, as evidenced by the arrest of Raymond Geisel for threatening the Democratic presidential candidate’s life, there are those whose intentions are to go beyond vitriolic spew and silence forever a voice of expansive worldview and the best of the American “Melting Pot” ideal.

I think of my candidate today and wish him “a hedge of protection,” “a surrounding of angels,” “white light.”  I hope others will join me in keeping a good thought for his safety, be it a prayer to the Creator, a vibration sent into the universe, or even crossing fingers and hoping for the best.

Laying on of hands. This widely forwarded photo says it all.