Friday, February 27, 2009

2009 Black History Month Nike Air Force 1

It’s February and you know that means the shortest month of the year, Valentine’s Day, Lincoln’s birthday, Presidents Day, Washington’s birthday, my birthday and of course, Black History Month. And once again Nike presents an Air Force 1 for the occasion...

Nike is known for producing limited edition Nike Air Force 1’s to commemorate holidays and special events. This year they have come up with Air Force 1’s to celebrate Black History Month and the 100th year anniversary of the NAACP. This limited edition sneaker features a predominately black leather upper with red and green accents on the inner lining, tongue and heel. The latter area also features the centennial logo of Black American culture surrounded by 44 stars representing the American government (44th president). Obviously, this sneaker contains the same color way of the African-American flag. More red and green is seen in the form of contrast stitching seen throughout the upper. The Swoosh has a luxury material of metallic black leather and the outsoles are marbleized like the courtrooms of the US Supreme Court – the place where many civil rights battles were fought and won. I thought the 2008 Black History Month AF1s were well thought out and developed, but these top those by far. Unfortunately for collectors, Nike only made 350 pairs and they gave them away to people they thought deserved them for their support of the Black community.

Remember back in school when you had to turn in your Black History reports… Nike challenged seniors at Miami’s Booker T. Washington High School, to create their own artistic expression regarding Black History Month through the art of spoken word. The finalists composed an original spoken word piece to interpret this period drawing upon such pivotal moments including the Civil Rights Movement. A panel of celebrities including popular former Miami Heat star Alonzo Mourning and Nike representatives announced the contest winners.

Jazmine Snyder, the first place winner received a $1000 scholarship, and both Staresha Charles and Walter Peterson, Second and Third place winners respectively received a $500 scholarship. All three will also receive a pair of the limited edition Black History Month Air Force 1 shoes.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Stevie Wonder Awarded and Performs at the White House

President Barack Obama presented Stevie Wonder with the nation’s highest award for pop music last night at a concert and award ceremony hosted by the president and First Lady Michelle Obama in the East Room of the White House. He gave the superstar the Library of Congress’ Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. In presenting the award the president said that Stevie Wonder was a major part of the essence of the now first couple’s courtship.

Stevie Wonder cited Martin Luther King Jr., his faith and his mother during an acceptance speech that flowed into a set of President Obama’s favorite songs. The 25 Grammy Award-winning musician joked that he looked forward to writing more love songs — perhaps a soundtrack for “you know, maybe I’ll be a part of creating some more of those babies.”

President Obama told guests that Stevie Wonder's music was also the soundtrack to his youth and marriage. President Obama praised Stevie Wonder’s decades-long career and a style that has blended pop and funk, R&B and gospel. First lady Michelle Obama spoke in more personal terms, calling Stevie Wonder “one of the world’s greatest artists.” She recalled how she and her grandfather would listen to Wonder’s albums together. Michelle Obama told the crowd that Wonder's love song, "You and I," had been the couple's wedding song. "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours," was often played at then Senator Obama's campaign stops.

Although the president is a well-known fan — Stevie performed at his nominating convention in Denver last summer and at a Lincoln Memorial concert before his January inauguration — the Library of Congress had decided to honor Stevie Wonder before President Obama won the election.

The Gershwin Prize honors George and Ira Gershwin and is given for lifetime achievement in popular music. Stevie Wonder’s performance will be broadcast Thursday night on PBS stations as part of a White House series on the arts.

Gospel singers Mary Mary, hip-hop musician and jazz singer Tony Bennett were among the other performers at the concert. The president said the event was part of he and the first lady’s effort to open the White House to a broader community.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Fat Tuesday: Mardi Gras in New Orleans is Almost Back at Full Strength

The city of New Orleans is not all the way back and will probably never be quite the same but the "Big Easy" still knows how to throw a party.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Sportsmanship at Its Finest.

In these times of sports celebrities in the news being busted for drugs, DUI, assault charges, I read something this morning that renewed my faith in the next generation and mankind in general. And it also shows what true sportsmanship is about.

Recently the DeKalb (Illinois) High School basketball team was on a road trip to Milwaukee, Wisconsin for a game against Madison High School. The two schools have been developing a friendly rivalry and the teams planned to get together after the game and share some pizzas and soda. But the game itself almost never took place.

In a sad turn of events, earlier in the day, the mother of Madison senior and Co-captain Johntel Franklin died at a local hospital. While Johntel was taking his college ACT exam, his mother Carlitha, who had been in remission after a five-year fight with cervical cancer, lost that fight. Johntel, his coach, Aaron Womack, Jr., and several of his teammates were at the hospital when she died.

Coach Womack was going to cancel the game, but Johntel told him he wanted the team to play. So they played, and early in the second quarter Johntel entered the gym directly from the hospital to root his teammates on. Coach Womack called a time out. His players went over and hugged their grieving teammate. Fans came out of the stands to do the same. The coach asked Johntel if he wanted to come and sit on the bench, but Johntel said he wanted to play.

Here is the problem. In basketball if a player is not on the pre-game roster it costs you team a technical foul and you have to give the other team two free throws if the player enters the game. But even though it was a tight game, Coach Womack was willing to give up the two points. It was more important to help his senior guard and co-captain deal with his grief by playing. Over on the other bench, though, DeKalb’s coach, Dave Rohlman, wasn't so willing to take the points. He told the referees to forget the technical and just let Franklin play.

"I could hear them arguing for five to seven minutes, saying, `We're not taking it, we're not taking it," Coach Womack said. "The refs told them, no, that's the rule. You have to take them."

That’s when Coach Rohlman asked for a volunteer to shoot the two free throws. His senior captain, Darius McNeal, raised his hand, ready to go to the line as he had many times before. Only this time it was different. "You realize you're going to miss them, don't you?" Coach Rohlman said. And Darius nodded his head. He understood what had to be done.

He went alone to the free throw line, dribbled the ball a couple of times, and looked at the rim. His first attempt went about two feet, bounced a couple of times and rolled toward the end line. The second barely left his hand. The Madison players stood and turned toward the DeKalb bench and started applauding the gesture of sportsmanship. Soon, so did everybody in the stands.

Milwaukee Madison broke open the game in the second half to win 62-47 and Johntel Franklin would go on to score 10 points. And afterward, the teams went out for pizza, two players from each team sharing each pie. Johntel stopped by briefly to thank them for being there for him. "I got kind of emotional but it helped a lot just to play," he said. "I felt like I had a lot of support out there," he said.

Yes, DeKalb would go home with a loss. But it was a trip and life lesson they'll never forget. A team and a player had decided there were more important things than winning and having good stats. This is something these kids will hold for a lifetime. They may not remember their record 20 years from now, but they'll remember what happened in that gym that night.

Carlitha Franklin's funeral was last Friday, and the school turned out for her and her son. Cheerleaders came in uniform, and everyone from the principal and teachers to Johntel's classmates were there. Even the cooks from school showed up. Coach Womack said it lets you know what kind of kid Johntel Franklin is.

I congratulate the teams and coaches involved in this great "teachable moment". There are real heroes on both teams that truly know what integrity is. Too bad this didn’t get as much media coverage as all the bad things we hear about sports. We all can learn from guys like this. This is why we should never give up on our youth and start being the village we are meant to be. The example set forth by these young men helps to renew my faith in our youth.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

New Attorney General: U.S. a 'Nation of Cowards' on Race Discussions

In his first major speech since being confirmed, the nation's first Black attorney general, Eric Holder, told an audience celebrating Black History Month at the Justice Department that the nation remains "voluntarily socially segregated." In the nation’s capitol, where it is all to often that speeches are full of bull, this straight-talking assessment, which he called the American people “essentially a nation of cowards” in failing to openly discuss the issues of race. And of course he has received much criticism.

We usually spend the month of February by paying lip service to the nation's annual observance of as Black History Month. And it would have been easy for him to simply praise Blacks whose sacrifice helped pave the way for our democracy; or to point to the triumph of both President Obama's election and his own nomination and confirmation as the first Black attorney general in U.S. history. Instead, Mr. Holder used his speech to demand that Americans confront our unfinished business on the uncomfortable subject of race.

Attorney General Holder urged Americans of all races, Black, Brown, Red, White and Yellow, to use Black History Month as a time to have an honest national conversation to discuss aspects of race which are ignored because they are uncomfortable. This kind of straight talk is what we need, not only in Washington, D.C., but all across the nation. It's not easy to talk about it. We have to have the guts to be honest with each other and ourselves, accept criticism, and accept new proposals. Yes we have had past public debates on the issue but they have been often too simplistic in not really getting past self imposed walls and barriers. And most of the times these debates have been left to those on the extremes who are not hesitant to use these issues to advance nothing more than their own narrow self-interest. But most importantly they should be conversations and not debates. We can never move forward until we get past our past. We are all different. And we need to accept that difference, but we are much more alike than we are different.

Excerpts from the speech: "Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.

"We average Americans simply do not talk enough with each other about race. It is an issue we have never been at ease with and given our nation's history, this is in some ways understandable. And yet, if we are to make progress in this area, we must feel comfortable enough with one another, and tolerant enough of each other, to have frank conversations about the racial matters that continue to divide us.

"As a nation we have done a pretty good job in melding the races in the workplace. We work with one another, lunch together and, when the event is at the workplace during work hours or shortly thereafter, we socialize with one another fairly well, irrespective of race.

"And yet even this interaction operates within certain limitations. We know, by 'American instinct' and by learned behavior, that certain subjects are off limits and that to explore them risks, at best embarrassment, and, at worst, the questioning of one's character.

"And outside the workplace the situation is even more bleak in that there is almost no significant interaction between us. On Saturdays and Sundays, America in the year 2009 does not, in some ways, differ significantly from the country that existed some 50 years ago. This is truly sad.

"This will be, at first, a process that is both awkward and painful, but the rewards are, I believe, potentially great. The alternative is to allow to continue the polite, restrained mixing that now passes as meaningful interaction, but that in reality accomplishes very little."

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Television Pioneer and Musical Chameleon

When movie producers offered Black actors only stereotypical roles and long before the civil rights movement made organized protest common for Black Americans to voice their desire for equal rights, Hazel Scott, defied racial stereotypes, portraying a positive screen and stage image, thus improving the opportunities for other Blacks in the entertainment industry. Hazel Dorothy Scott was the first Black woman to have her own television show; The Hazel Scott Show, premiered on July 3, 1950. Needless to say that during this Jim Crow era that it was not received well in some parts of the U.S. She publicly opposed racial segregation, and the show was canceled in when she was accused of being a Communist sympathizer. The last broadcast was 29 September 1950. And it didn’t help that she was married to controversial Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.

Hazel Scott, one of America's foremost pianists, was born in Trinidad, June 11th 1920 and raised in New York City from the age of four. She performed extensively on piano as a child. By 1929 Scott had acquired six scholarships to Julliard School of Music in New York City. Unfortunately she, at fourteen, was under age (the school admitted at the age of sixteen only). In the meantime she joined her mothers All-Woman Orchestra, playing piano and trumpet. By the time she was sixteen, in 1936, Hazel Scott was a radio star on the Mutual Broadcasting System and playing at the Roseland Dance Hall with the Count Basie Orchestra. In the late thirties, she appeared in the Broadway musical Singing Out the News and after that, Priorities of 1942. Her training in classical music was received at Juilliard School of Music in New York and her jazz technique, she says, she owes to Art Tatum and Teddy Wilson. She performed numerous times at the famed Carnegie Hall. Her motion picture career included the films Something To Shout About, I Dood It, Broadway Rhythm, The Heat's On, and Rhapsody in Blue.

Even for a celebrity of her caliber, Hazel Scott, like most Blacks during the 1950's, was no stranger to Jim Crow segregation. She, however, acted with dignity while promoting American patriotism and racial integration, and denouncing communism. She was known for her skill in combining jazz improvisations with a classical piece. She was a consummate performer and her nightclub performances were well patronized and acclaimed. Called a "musical chameleon" for her ability to shift from jazz to classical to blues, Scott continued to perform until her death. In 1978, she was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame. Hazel Scott continued to perform until her death in 1981.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Nate Robinson Pulls Superman’s Cape

Nate Robinson tugged on Superman’s cape—and won. Robinson of the New York Knicks captured the NBA’s All-Star Saturday Night's Slam Dunk Competition. Listed at 5-9, Robinson sprung over the top of 6 foot 11 defending champion Dwight Howard, who stood in front of the basket as his counterpart leaped over his head electrifying the crowd.

Dwight Howard, who donned a Superman cape en route to last year's title, kept that theme this year. This time, Howard rolled out a 12-foot basket then disappeared into a phone booth just off the court, emerging with a Superman cape. He then took a bounce pass from Orlando Magic teammate Jameer Nelson and tomahawked a dunk as U.S. Airways Center exploded.

Nate Robinson then entered the finals wearing all-green including a lime green ball. The green jersey represented Robinson as kryptonite - or KryptoNate - to Howard's Superman.

Earlier, Miami Heat’s Daequan Cook connected over and over again when the 3-Point Shootout went to an extra session cruising past Orlando’s Rashard Lewis to win the title.

Chicago Bull’s Derrick Rose capped his Skills Challenge victory with a double-pump reverse dunk defeating New Jersey Net’s Devin Harris in the final round, navigating the obstacle course consisting of dribbling, passing and shooting stations in 35.3 seconds, 4.4 seconds faster than Harris.

In the H-O-R-S-E competition, Kevin Durant capped his All-Star weekend with an amazing comeback to beat O.J. Mayo and Joe Johnson. Durant started slow then began to hit from long range, just as he did Friday when he won Most Valuable Player after he scored a Rookie Challenge-record 46 points to lead the NBA’s sophomores to a 122-116 victory over the rookies.

Team Detroit—former Piston Bill Laimbeer, present Pistons guard Arron Afflalo and Detroit Shock star Katie Smith—won the Shooting Stars competition, in which players shoot from six locations of increasing difficulty.

Nate Robinson could face an even tougher field if he decides to defend his title in Dallas. LeBron James tentatively placed himself into next year’s contest during the television broadcast.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Love 365

Let me preface this by saying, I love my wife. She is truly an awesome woman who is intelligent, talented, fine, and, did I say fine? But do I really need a special day to show my affection for her? With all the hype about a down economy, a recession, a depression, here is a thought that will probably not go over too kindly with females. Stop spending your money on diamonds or other expensive gifts for the so-called “Valentine’s Day.”

I personally have never been a fan of this made up “holiday.” (I thought you were supposed to get a day off for a holiday anyway). And no I'm against love and relationships, but I don’t like this sham mainly because the holiday is such a farce. It is not built around a religious event like Christmas or Easter; nor does it have any special meaning to the nation such as Independent’s Day, Memorial Day or Veterans Day. It is nothing more than a commercial con created by retailers who needed a major shopping day between Christmas and Easter in order to give people a reason to spend money.

My wife loves flowers and even she tells me not to buy her flowers during this time because they are so high. Why do I have to fall victim to peer pressure and send her some roses that have tripled or quadrupled in price leading up to February 14? And it better not be anything but roses. We are flooded with newspaper ads, mailings, e-mails and commercials telling us to show her that you love her by buying jewelry or clothing? Your credit card is just starting to see day light from Christmas and now zap, back in the hole again.

Where are all the “go green” people during this time? Million of flowers are killed during this time just so they can sit in water for a few days. Why can’t we give beautiful plants in soil that will last for a long time? And if there are flowers on the desk of other women at work and one woman doesn't get anything, gossipers start whispering as that something is wrong in her relationship. Listen, even if you get the biggest, most expensive bouquet of rose the relationship could still be in trouble.

Oh yeah, retailers know the con game. They give you that look when you buy a lesser priced item. Because they know that most guys are pitiful saps who have ignored their wives or girlfriends all year, so they buy the flowers and candy, and set a reservation at one of the city's most expensive restaurants, all to say, "Honey, I love you." If last Valentine's Day was the last time you took your significant other out to a really nice restaurant, you deserve to be in trouble. And ladies, is this only a one-way street?

Ladies, and men, stop it! It's time to say enough is enough with Valentine's Day. How about men and women loving, caring and sharing the other 364 days a year? February 14 isn't the only time to send flowers to your mate (we wouldn't mind getting a surprise delivery also). It's time that we all take stock of our relationships and learn that we should be loving and fulfilled 365 days a year, and not reduce our affection to flowers, candy, jewelry, clothes and a meal on one day a year. The people who plan their lives around Valentine's are like those who spend more time planning their wedding day rather than planning their marriage. How about dropping her a flower arrangement on May 14? I'm sure he or she would thoroughly enjoy the same in April or September. And on that card write, "Just because..."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

First Lady Michelle Obama to Grace Vogue Magazine

First lady Michelle Obama, who has been called a new fashion icon, will grace the cover of Vogue’s March issue. And she is interviewed in an article inside. The first lady said that first and foremost she wears what she loves. And that is exactly what you should do; wear what makes you happy and what makes you feel comfortable and beautiful. Men and women should feel good about what they wear and have fun with fashion. You do you because in the end, someone will always not like what you wear. Take a second and closely look at your thumb. There is not another one like it on the planet. We are all different and we all have different tastes. The life of a first lady is not easy, you try to raise two kids in a fish bowl, dress impeccably, support your husband's message, and satisfy every armchair critic.

The first lady is quickly building a reputation for spotlighting the work of young, up-and-coming designers with her outfit choices. Her choice of a Jason Wu inauguration ball gown thrust the 26-year-old designer into the spotlight, designer Isabel Toledo also garnered attention because of the ensemble Michelle Obama chose to wear to her husband’s swearing-in, and J. Crew has benefited from the first lady’s attraction for the company’s clothing.

Michelle is a one woman stimulus package! Do you realize how many women are going to the J. Crew stores for Michelle-look-a-like outfits? It’s good for the economy.
Of course she's not going to wear J.C Penney when meeting with dignitaries, but First Lady Obama doesn't insult the American public by wearing ridiculously expensive clothes and jewelry in this economy.

For all of you complaining that she is buying dresses while the economy is tanking: That is one reason why the economy is tanking! We need to be more responsible, of course, but the people hanging on to every penny need to get it circulated. It's a vicious circle! We need to keep the money moving. If we buy a dress, the salesclerk get paid, the store owner gets paid, the factory worker gets paid, and on down the line. First Lady Laura Bush was in Vogue also. But, we did not hear some of the hateful comments then. Oh, I forgot, we have to treat Mrs. Obama differently because she doesn’t bake cookies and has a darker skin pigment.

This is a good distraction for us. Griping and moaning about the economy every minute of everyday is not going to help. Yeah there are more important things but hey even God rested on the seventh day. Maybe we should have told the former first family to not purchase their new 3 million dollar home in Dallas; better yet, tell Rush to give up his new multi-million dollar radio contract. The current president and first family should not stop living because of the economy. They had money before they became the first family.

Years ago, it was very common for a woman to go out of her way every Sunday to put on her best, gloves and hat and men in suit and tie. It didn't matter how poor you were, the purpose was to look good at least for one day. And yes, it was also to look ones best in the Presence of the Lord. To this day I love wearing a long-sleeved heavy starch white shirt and me a special feeling.

Michelle Obama is a very attractive woman. Beautiful eyes, fabulous bone structure, with gorgeous skin! She is a woman, who is comfortable with herself. She is definitely not a lolli-pop girl (stick for a body). There is nothing slim about the first lady. She has hips like most women her age. That is why women can relate more to her. They look at her and think I can do me.

One hater said that she’s no Jackie Kennedy. No, she's no Jackie Kennedy; she's Michelle Obama! She is brilliant, beautiful, elegant, classy, intelligent and articulate. First Lady Michelle Obama is such a beautiful person inside and out. She seems to be a great mom and a wonderful wife. I can't wait to see her in Vogue. Vogue is banking on selling a lot of copies of that issue. Hey, I may buy an issue myself (for my wife of course).

Monday, February 9, 2009

Sons of Lwala

The village of Lwala is a small farming community of 1500 in Kenya. Two things stand out in Lwala: the sense of community and the lack of health care. In Lwala poverty, impassable roads during the rainy season, lack of electricity, unsafe drinking water and poor nutrition create an environment where poor health is rampant and access to care practically nonexistent. Malaria, diarrhea, skin diseases, respiratory diseases and tuberculosis are rampant. Women give birth in their dirt-floored huts, and complications in delivery often lead to death. Children suffer from malnutrition, which makes worse the problems of malaria, diarrhea and skin diseases. But despite their difficulty, these problems pale in comparison to the problem of HIV/AIDS, which is the primary cause of death in Lwala and infects as much as a third of the population. The nearest hospital is over 40 miles away. Lwala is basically a community struggling to keep afloat. In all this misery and despair, the residents of Lwala somehow carry themselves with a sense of joy.

‘Sons of Lwala’ is a documentary film that follows Milton and Fred Ochieng’. Milton and Fred are two brothers from Kenya whose village sent them to America to become doctors. But after losing both parents to AIDS they were left with a heartbreaking task: to return home and finish the health clinic their father started before getting sick. Unable to raise enough money on their own, the brothers were joined by students, politicians, and Christian rock band - Jars of Clay to launch a fundraising drive among young people across the United States. The documentary follows Milton and Fred on their incredible journey as they find a way, despite all odds, to open their village’s first and only clinic. Both have been speaking all over the northeast lately to doctor’s conventions while filmmaker Barry Simmons been showing the film in dozens of venues, from universities to medical conferences to church gatherings to fund the clinic. The clinic has already made a huge difference in the lives of Kenyans living in and near Lwala. But the greatest challenge facing the clinic continues to be funding. The lack of an ambulance to transport patients, refrigeration to store drugs like snake anti-venom, staffing and supplies, especially medicine. The clinic is staffed by one physician’s assistant and three nurses, a nurse’s aide, a lab technician and a pharmacist. Treatment is free for children under 5, seniors over 70, pregnant women and HIV/AIDS patients. The cost for those who pay is usually about 70 cents a visit.

The Lwala villagers sold livestock, the equivalent of us selling our cars, to send Milton and Fred Ochieng’ to the United States for medical training. Milton is currently pursuing his residency in St. Louis, Missouri and Fred is a third year med student at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. The brothers’ achievement is a village affair and it is also a family affair. Two of their sisters are also in the U.S.: Florence is a second-year nursing student at St. Joseph’s College of Nursing in Syracuse, New York and Grace is attending high school in New Hampshire. A younger brother, Solomon, is in high primary school in Kenya. He is taken care of by the oldest brother Omondi who was enrolled at a local teacher’s college before dropping out to care for the sick parents. Omondi looks after the homestead and runs the clinic in Lwala.

When Milton left Kenya to study in the U.S., he became the first person from his village to board an airplane. He received a college scholarship to Dartmouth but was unable to afford the airfare until neighbors came up with the money by selling chickens and cows. Fred followed his brother to Dartmouth two years later, becoming only the second person from their village to set foot in the United States. Fred raised $9,000 at a Christian conference while at Dartmouth in one day to begin the building of their father’s clinic.

Since its independence from Britain in 1963, Kenya has achieved a level of corruption unrivaled almost anywhere else in the world. According to studies, the government steals and wastes $1 billion. Yet Kenya spends just $14 per person on health each year and pays it young doctors about what a U.S. cab driver makes. It’s no wonder that nearly 1,700 physicians have fled Kenya in the last 10 years in search of better jobs, leaving their families and neighbors in the villages with no one to care for them.

The “Sons of Lwala” DVD is available and on sale for $19.99 at According to the producers all proceeds go to the clinic. If you use Facebook, join the Sons of Lwala group to receive regular updates on where the film is being shown and how you can make a difference in this project.

To find out more about the village visit:>

Friday, February 6, 2009

Etta James Disses President Obama and Beyoncé

Etta James, famous for her rendition of the song “At Last,” is apparently miffed that pop star Beyoncé was tapped to perform the ballad as the president and first lady slow-danced during the Neighborhood Inaugural Ball on January 20. The 71-year-old singer, who rose to fame in 1950s, recently made it clear that she was not a fan of Beyoncé. Based on Ms. James' rant, she is not a fan of the president either. After initially praising the performance, Ms. James later responded critically during a show at Seattle's Paramount Theatre on January 28, 2009. “You guys know your president, right? You know the one with the big ears? Wait a minute, he ain't my president. He might be yours; he ain't my president. But I tell you that woman he had singing for him, singing my song.... she's going to get her ass whipped. The great Beyoncé? Like I said, she ain't mine. ... I can't stand Beyoncé. She has no business up there, singing up there on a big ol' president day, gonna' be singing my song that I've been singing forever”

Ms. James' son came out on Etta's behalf and said she was speaking in anger, after feeling snubbed for the honor herself, and has "Nothing but love for both Ms. Knowles and President Obama."

Turns out Etta James has just been adding a little standup comedy to her concerts, wink, wink. The veteran singer said Thursday that she was purely joking — despite the fact that she feels she would have done a better job singing her signature tune, "At Last," to President Barack and First Lady Michelle Obama at the Neighborhood Inaugural Ball.

"I didn't really mean anything," Ms. James told a New York newspaper of her onstage rant. "Even as a little child, I've always had that comedian kind of attitude...That's probably what went into it." "Nobody was getting mad at me in Seattle," she added. "They were all laughing, and it was funny." She also said that her little speech did not arise "from a vicious place."

But when asked if she could have out-sung Beyoncé, who played James in Cadillac Records and walked the red carpet with her at the film's premiere, the elder stateswoman of R&B replied, "I think so. That's a shame to say that." Ms. James also figures that President Obama probably isn't too bothered that she referred to him as "the one with the big ears" last week. "He's got other stuff [to worry about] besides Etta James."

Is Etta James flip-flopping on Beyoncé? She did not raise an objection when the singer portrayed her in the film “Cadillac Records” — and just recently, her son told a New York paper that his mother was moved by the inauguration night performance. Maybe the whole thing was just Etta James joking around with her audience and really has no riff with President Obama or Beyoncé.

If this wasn’t so funny it would be pathetic. After all her career has been reinvigorated by Beyoncé’s portrayal of Etta James in the recent movie “Cadillac Records” and performing the song Etta made famous at the Inaugural’s Neighborhood Ball. And maybe someone should tell Etta that “At Last” was originated by the Glenn Miller Band and also recorded by Nat King Cole before Ms. James sang it.

Who knows what Etta James would bring to the table since she is known for exactly what she displayed in Seattle? This was the first song at a presidential ball – probably a song chosen by the president and first lady. It's just like choosing a song for a first wedding dance. If you like the song and the emotion it presents, then you choose it. Ms. James has made clear that she does not like or agree with President Obama's politics, so she then made herself left out of the loop. Her bad. Don't get angry at Beyoncé because she has aligned herself with a winner. Whether you like Beyoncé or not, she has made wise and savvy choices in the music business to be on top. If they had chosen to go out to a "jook joint" then they might want to see Etta James. With national TV and the world watching, they wanted that song and not the potential drama of the singer. After all it was about them and not about the singer.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Great Lady of Soul: Bettye LaVette

Bettye LaVette received universal praise for her outstanding rendition of Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” in a duet with Jon Bon Jovi on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at the Inaugural Celebration on January 18th. This marks the second time in the past two months she has been in the capitol making an unforgettable impression with anyone lucky enough to have the chance to hear her. The first was at the Kennedy Center Honors when she amazed the audience with her own very unique version of the Who's "Love Reign O'er Me." Not many people can say that they song for two presidents in six weeks (George W. Bush at the Kennedy Center Honors and Barack Obama at the Inaugural Celebration). And like me, most of you probably never even heard of Bettye LaVette. And I like to think of myself as well versed in music.

Bettye LaVette stole the show at the Kennedy Center Honors. She gave the powerhouse performance of the evening when she sang her unparalleled version of “Love Reign O’er Me” as part of the Who tribute. She wasn't the biggest name on stage, but her performance provided the evening's most spectacular moment. She was so phenomenal. The room was pin-drop silent when she sang. "The Kennedy Center Honors was the most exciting thing I have every done in my life, because there were so many of my favorite politicians there," says Bettye. "And this year has been the greatest year of my life. Who would have ever imagined both Barack and I going to the White House?” said Ms. LaVette.

Of singing for then President Obama, Ms LaVette said: "In the middle of the song I turned and looked and Obama was on the stage, the whole group of them, and my eyes were just fixed on him for a moment. I was singing the line 'I always believed that a change would come,' and just as I turned, our eyes locked and he was mouthing the words along."

Utne Reader had the best headline of the event: "Bettye LaVette and the Soul of Barack Obama." And even the sports world took notice. Roger Craig, former NFL running back for the San Francisco 49ers confessed to the San Francisco Chronicle: "Oh…when Bon Jovi and Bettye LaVette sang Sam Cooke's stirring civil-rights song, 'A Change Is Gonna Come,' on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday? I cried like a baby."

Bettye LaVette did not disappoint. Revered for her ability to take other's compositions and make them her own, LaVette performed brilliantly. Ms. LaVette, the reigning "Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year," is once again nominated in that category for the Blues Foundation's 2009 Blues Music Awards.

Ms. LaVette has been on a roll since her 2005 release on Anti- Records, My Own Hell to Raise which brought her back into the national spotlight, 43 years after her first single "My Man is a Loving Man," was released in 1962 when she was a teen. This roll only gathered more strength and critical acclaim when Anti- issued her second CD for the label in 2007, the Grammy nominated, The Scene of the Crime.

A partial list of musical performers at the Inaugural Celebration includes, Beyonce, Mary J. Blige, Sheryl Crow, Heather Hedley, Herbie Hancock, John Legend, Usher Raymond IV, Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor, U2 and Stevie Wonder. Among those reading historical passages will be Jack Black, Steve Carrell, Rosario Dawson, Jamie Foxx, Tom Hanks, Martin Luther King III, Queen Latifah, Laura Linney and Denzel Washington.

- "LaVette... isn't just an engaging performer, she's a musical force of nature, a hurricane in heels that whips up a fiery mix of soul, jazz, country and blues." -The Houston Chronicle.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Denny's Slammed by Breakfast Giveaway

If you visited a Denny’s restaurant yesterday you now have proof that Super Bowl commercials work - especially when they advertise something free. During Sunday’s big game the Denny’s advertised a free Grand Slam breakfast between 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Tuesday at all its restaurants in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico. People lined up and waited for as long as two hours. Some customers were still wearing their pajamas and slippers, and strangers were sharing booths.

Denny's called the promotion a little "economic stimulus" for the average hardworking person. And that this is their way of reacquainting customers with Denny's real breakfast and with the Denny's brand. I am not so much of a Denny’s fan but I occasionally ate there when I lived in California. There are Denny’s in Texas, but not one close to where I live.

A lot of restaurants have been going out of business and it would seem Denny’s is aggressively going after the business. In this economy, businesses have to be creative to attract new customers. Denny’s says their objective is to rekindle awareness of their brand and remind people of the high-quality and good value of the famous Grand Slam breakfast offered at Denny’s.

The Grand Slam breakfast consists of two pancakes, two eggs, two strips of bacon and two sausage links. It weighs in at 44 grams of fat, 56 carbohydrates and 770 calories. The Grand Slam started as a baseball-related promotion in Atlanta, Georgia, in the mid-1970s and has been served chain wide since 1977. Its normal price varies by market but averages around $5.99.

The meal was free but customers were ordering drinks and other foods and gave tips so Denny's did not come out of the day empty handed. And there are reports that Denny’s in some places like Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania charged $.99 for each Grand Slam if you didn't order something else like a cup of coffee which cost $1.75 or orange juice for $2.50. Some places were serving about 110 people an hour and with just $1 per person that’s almost $900 for the 8 hours. But they are expected to make their money some way. They are a for profit business after all.

On a low note, one senior citizen reported this episode: “standing in line ...a college girl kept referring to the disabled parking spot that was open as the ‘Rockstar’ special parking and wondering why people did not take advantage of it. And the straw that broke the camels back was when she referred to the spot as Handi-crapped. Mind you I was right if front of her and I was holding unto a ‘walker’... she must have forgotten her brain and manners. And I Said ‘Excuse me!’...and she immediately apologized left and right ...but at that point after listening to her for a few minutes it seemed a bit lame.

That was an exception as most people said they enjoyed their free breakfast and met some very nice people while standing in line or eating. They also said the servers were good despite the rush. One person said the place was packed so he went next door to IHOP, but he said it got him out of bed early. He thought other food chains should try it. Maybe President Obama should talk to the person that came up with this stimulus plan and put them to work on his plan. This kind of promo is good all the way around. It makes people happy and they interact in a positive way with people they have never met before and it might be a big gain for Denny's in the long run.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Michelle Obama Makes First Official Visit

First Lady Michelle Obama took a first step in bringing working-family issues into the White House yesterday. She made her first official trip outside the White House to visit the Department of Education. If you somehow thought she was going to be a first lady focused on designer dresses and hairstyles think again. This is the first step of a woman who is focused on much more serious issues.

She has put together a veteran team of family oriented and seasoned policy advocates, including her chief of staff Jackie Norris who helped organize and win the Iowa campaign. Norris is described as fair-minded and tough, and a skillful multitasker who can send an e-mail, talk on the phone and play with her three young boys all at once; deputy chief of staff David Medina who served as political director of John Edward’s presidential campaign; Jocelyn Frye, director of policy and projects and a former general counsel at the National Partnership for Women & Families, a nonpartisan group that has championed equal opportunity issues; and Trooper Sanders, deputy director of policy and projects and former policy aide to Vice President Al Gore. Sanders also led and developed mentoring and entrepreneurship programs for low-income neighborhoods, as well as efforts at the Clinton Foundation to highlight the problem of childhood obesity. He also advised former President Bill Clinton on domestic policy matters.

First Lady Obama has been working to shape her new role and now appears poised to resume some of the outreach she did during the campaign — to women, especially, to working women. She did small “girlfriend” forums with women and also held roundtables with military families. In brief remarks to a group of Department of Education workers, the theme revolved around good jobs and education in the public schools. The first lady said that the administration is going to be making investments by creating good jobs while renovating and modernizing more than 10,000 schools and improve the learning environment.

Aides said she will visit every Cabinet-level federal agency in the coming weeks in a kind of get-to-know-you tour. She plans to expand her role as a listener on the national stage, but her first stop is her local community and getting to know Washington, D.C. She will have more of a local focus, working to make the White House more of the “people’s house” and find ways to open it up to tourists
The Obamas are the first White House occupants to come from an urban environment and seem to not be so reluctant to venture out among the people of Washington, D.C. They have called to unite the “two halves” of the capital, the well-to-do government sections and the economically stressed residential parts of the city. The first lady dined last week with Mayor Adrian Fenty at Georgia Brown’s, a popular D.C. restaurant. And President recently ate with Mayor Fenty recently at Ben’s Chili Bowl. You can not really know what is going on in the outside world if you keep yourself hidden behind the confines of the White House and listening to aides who also do not venture outside its gates.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Serena Williams Strolls to Australian Title: Regains No. 1 Ranking

Serena Williams won her fourth Australian Open with an easy win in only 59 minutes.
She joined the double-digit club by winning her 10th grand slam event and played terrific tennis over the past two week tournament. Serena continued her streak of winning the Australian Open in odd-numbered years, after triumphs in 2003, 2005 and 2007. This year Serena beat Russia's Dinara Safina 6-0, 6-3. .

The win also returned Serena to the top of the ranking computer as the number one woman tennis player in the world. She is now the reigning U.S. Open and Australian Open ladies singles champion, placing her halfway to doing another 'Serena Slam' – holding all four major championships at the same time but not winning them over a calendar year. She has won 20 Grand Slam titles: ten in singles, eight in women's doubles, and two in mixed doubles. She also has won two Olympic gold medals in women's doubles. The next slam is the French Open, which she last won in 2002 by defeating her sister Venus.

It seems that the Williams sisters are back at the top. A Williams girl has won the last three slams, as Venus won at Wimbledon last summer. Serena and Venus also won the Australian Open doubles championship.

She is the most recent player, male or female, to have held all four Grand Slam singles titles simultaneously. Serena Williams has won more career prize money than any other woman, in any sport and has held the No. 1 ranking on three previous occasions.