REVIEW: Kenny G, Blue Note Napa, and the Return of Live Music

By Michael P Coleman

I spent most of my 90 minute drive to Napa last Saturday wondering about the pesky butterflies in my stomach. I’d not been to the Charles Krug Winery, the venue for last weekend’s series of Kenny G concerts hosted by Blue Note Napa, but new places are never a problem for me. As a lifelong, habitual extrovert, trips to new venues are just opportunities for me to make new friends.

So why the nerves?

As I rolled into town for the fourth of six shows Kenny G would give last weekend, I figured it out: Saturday night’s concert was to be the first live performance I’d attended since February of 2020, just before most of the world shut down due to COVID-19.

I realized the nerves were a bit irrational: I was vaccinated two months ago (thanks Pfizer and Walgreens!), the performance would be outside and, according to Blue Note Napa’s website, socially distanced. But having gotten used to listening to the music of Kenny G and other favorite artists exclusively via streaming and CD for the last 17 months, I wondered whether I’d be able to sit back, relax, and really enjoy the show.

The Charles Krug Winery made that easy. Parking was ample and in very close proximity to the venue. Tables were well spaced and restricted to individual parties. Food and drink orders were taken via smartphone and delivered promptly to tables. And the Winery’s scrumptious pre-show sangria did the rest.

I think I missed the black-man-hat memo. Photo courtesy of Coleman Communications.

And then, like the Pied Piper of Napa, Kenny G literally blew us away, taking the stage five minutes early and whisking us on a journey through decades of jazz and instrumental music by artists like John Coltrane and Average White Band.

Photo courtesy of Coleman Communications

Kenny G played all of our favorites, like “Songbird” and “Silhouette,” and even added my personal jam, “G Bop” from his Breathless CD. The concert was as crisp and tight as ever, even with a new bandmate standing in for Kenny’s usual drummer after he’d suffered a car accident just two days before.

Photo courtesy of Coleman Communications

Don’t worry: Kenny’s drummer is ok. He let us know that during his onstage banter, which made us feel like we were a part of his family. Kenny’s been playing with members of his band for decades, and jamming with his pianist since high school. The chemistry between the band mates is palpable, even from the back of the house…and even when the “back of the house” is a gorgeous outside venue facing a stunning mountain range that folks who grew up in this part of the country sometimes take for granted.

“Our dream was to be professional musicians,” Kenny G humbly told us from the stage. “Thanks for making our dream come true — and for supporting live music again!” He sounded warmer than it was outside last evening, and as sincere as your best buddy.

Photo courtesy of Coleman Communications

After each of his shows, Kenny will greet every fan and take every picture. You walk away from one of his shows feeling like you know the Best Selling Instrumentalist of All Time. The man knows how to make you feel at home, and after the year+ we’ve all just been through, we all deserve a piece of that.

Thank you, Kenny G and Blue Note Napa, for bringing fantastic live music, and a sense of community, back to us.

If you’ve had your shots, check out the rest of Blue Note Napa’s summer lineup, which features artists like Brian McKnight and Chris Botti.

And if you’ve not had your shots…get your shots!

Check out info on Kenny G, including his upcoming tour dates!

Johnny Mathis Is Comin’ To Town!

Johnny Mathis Brings His Beloved Christmas Show To Modesto November 21

By Michael P Coleman

Santa Claus is getting a helping hand from “The Voice Of Romance” this holiday season.

The legendary Johnny Mathis is comin’ to town! He’ll be performing at the Gallo Center for the Arts in Modesto.

Look who’s comin’ down the chimney!

Christmas in July, indeed!

If you’ve not attended one of Mathis’ masterful Christmas concerts, there is no better way to usher in the holidays. The crooner is as boyishly charming performing songs like “Silver Bells,” “White Christmas,” and “The Christmas Song” as he must have been back in 1958, when he released the first of his six cherished Yuletide albums.

Since then, Mathis’ music has become synonymous with the Christmas season. And at 85 years young, Mathis has a voice that’s as smooth and sublime as ever.

Spoiler alert: Mathis has assured me that he’ll be performing some of our romantic favorites, like “Misty,” “It’s Not For Me To Say,” and “Chances Are” along with favorite holiday carols during the Modesto show.

One of Mathis’ newer Christmas songs, 2013’s Grammy nominated “Sending You A Little Christmas,” has to be heard live to be fully appreciated. If you’ve ever spent a Christmas away from someone you love, have a hanky handy in Modesto.

Let’s welcome Johnny Mathis back to the Central Valley this November!

Catch up on Johnny Mathis, and get information on his Modesto show, and information on his 65 Years Of Romance tour, at JohnnyMathis.com.

Remembering Director Richard Donner

The freelance writer has been down since news broke earlier this week of the legendary director’s death at 91. He recalls his 2018 interview with the architect of one of his favorite films.

By Michael P Coleman

I had trouble putting pen to paper, as we used to say, after hearing of director Richard Donner’s death earlier this week.

Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you get to meet one of your heroes.

Other times, if you’re really lucky, that hero exceeds who you want them to be.

On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of 1978’s Superman: The Movie, I had the honor of a 30 minute phone conversation with the classic film’s director. Donner was gracious with his time, and much more humble than I expected. After all, the director didn’t just take flight with Superman. The Goonies, The Omen, the Lethal Weapon franchise…decades of movie fans are indebted to Donner and his genius.

But it’s his Superman: The Movie, and his uncredited direction of most of the theatrical version of 1980’s Superman II, that brought me into Donner’s orbit.

It’s not hyperbole or exaggeration for me to say that I might not be here, let alone writing this feature, had it not been for Donner’s creation, in concert with star Christopher Reeve, of a hero that I could believe in, at a time when I desperately needed to believe. I was a troubled teenager at the time, and had been contemplating taking my own life.

“You don’t have to thank me,” Reeve’s Superman says in the 1978 film’s final scene, just before flying off, that classic John Williams score kicked in, ,and the film’s final credits rolled. “We’re all part of the same team.”

Somewhere, deep down inside, I believed him. And walking out of the theatre, I wanted to see the film again.

Today, over 40 years later, I’ve seen Superman: The Movie well over 100 times, and can quote most of the dialogue. I can recite the entire “Can You Read My Mind” monologue. And when Superman caught Lois from her fall, and said “Easy, miss. I’ve got you,” I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to be Superman or Lois Lane.

While the original project for which I interviewed Donner still has not come to fruition, I published a feature centered around my interview with Donner late last year, for the Sac Cultural Hub, as the world awaited Superman’s debut on HBO Max in Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Both Snyder and Donner “enjoyed” a tumultuous relationship with Warner Bros as they attempted to bring their supermen to the silver screen.

I called my feature I Spent The Afternoon With Richard Donner, an ode to Lois Lane’s initial story from the 1978 film.

“There had been a French film called Jewels & Jim, great film,” Donner told me as he remembered the pre-production stages of his Superman. “Two guys in love with the same woman. That’s what Superman was, although it happened to be that the two guys were the same guy, but not in the woman’s eyes! I asked [screenwriter] Tom Mankiewicz ‘How do we make this into a love story?’ Tom just fell right into it.”

So did I, along with the rest of the world. And I have a closet full of Superman t-shirts, and an office that’s a The Daily Planet / Fortress of Solitude hybrid, to prove it.

As Donner and I wrapped up our 2018 chat, he couldn’t have been more kind in his thanks to me — which COMPLETELY blew my mind — or more effusive in his praise for my work.

“This was a helluva good interview,” Donner told me. “I wish you wrote for the New York Times!”

Maybe that time will come one day. And given the hundreds of interviews that Donner had to have given during his heralded career, those words meant more to me than he could have imagined.

But for now, I’m content writing here, reflecting on Richard Donner, and remembering two days over the course of my life, forty years apart, when the director made me believe that two men could fly.

Oh, it wasn’t just Superman. Donner made me believe that I could fly, too.

Click here to read freelance writer MPC’s 2020 feature on Richard Donner and the making of Superman: The Movie.

Click here to read MPC’s ode to Superman: The Movie and The Wiz, the two films that, literally, talked him down from the ledge.

If you or someone you know is having a mental health crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or text the Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741). Both services are free and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. All calls are confidential.

Independence Day? Not Quite

But don’t get it twisted. A brutha needs his rib tips.

By Michael P Coleman

As hard as it is to believe it, June’s already behind us. I spent last evening taking my Pride decorations down and hauling out my star-spangled stuff in my annual preparation for July 4th. We have an extended weekend to celebrate it this year. With the long haul we’ve all had over the last 15 or so months, and still-fresh memories of the summer of 2020 that really never was, it was great to be out and about, enjoying a typically hot Sacramento summer.

Decorating for Independence Day is a fairly new tradition for me. I spent the better part of my life to date never raising an American flag. I still remember passionately asking my second grade teacher, the voluptuous Miss Neal (that’s a story for another day!) whether she was certain about the year that the Declaration of Independence was signed.

It couldn’t have been 1776, I posited, as that would have meant that the forefathers who fought for their independence from England were simultaneously denying freedom to enslaved Africans. Looking back, I can see the pride on Miss Neal’s face as little MPC pieced that one together!

It would be more than thirty years before I felt enough pride in this country to fly an American flag outside of my home, as I did in November of 2008, after our country finally did Spike Lee’s right thing and elected an African American president. My father, having been born and raised in rural Mississippi in the 1930s and 40s, always insisted that this country, these “united” states, would never see that day. He missed that historic event by just a handful of years, having succumbed to cancer in 2002. To this day, I think of Dad whenever I see President Barack Obama speak, and I’ve never been happier to tell Dad, as I call his name and those of all who paved the way for me, that he was wrong about that.

So it was following that election, after watching Barack and Michelle stroll down Pennsylvania Avenue and into the White House, that I began flying a flag and getting a little more patriotic, doing so on Memorial Day, Non-Trump Inauguration Day, and other events when it seems warranted. So naturally, I whip out the flag et al in preparation of Independence Day.

Photo courtesy of Coleman Communications

But this year, I found myself a little ambivalent as I hoisted Old Glory.

That’s because this year, our country finally got around to acknowledging our country’s true “independence day,” as we added Juneteenth to the list of national holidays.

Lest you think that it’s another Kwanzaa (that’s another story for another day!), let me assure you that some of us have been celebrating Juneteenth for quite some time, now. Rest assured that those enslaved Africans in Galveston, Texas celebrated back in 1865, after they learned that they’d technically been freed two years before and that the south had lost what was then called The War Between The States.

As I watched the news coverage of the institution of Juneteenth as a national holiday a couple of weeks ago, with comments from President Obama’s true successor, President Joe Biden, I couldn’t help but think that Dad might have been roused from his grave by that breaking story. A day or two later, I attended a few Juneteenth celebrations, supported a few black-owned businesses, and hoped the day wouldn’t come when we’d have to endure a Juneteenth furniture sale.

As I hauled out the red, white, and blue decorations, I wondered whether our country might surprise Dad again and abolish Independence Day, the 4th of July, as a national holiday. After all, we weren’t all demanding our independence then, and wouldn’t be granted it for almost another 100 years. We were in bondage, and had been for almost 250 years.

Photo courtesy of Coleman Communications

Let’s truly let freedom ring by retiring the 4th of July, and celebrating our collective Independence Day a couple of weeks earlier on June 19th. It would still be the thick of the summer, so we wouldn’t have to give up the hot dogs, hamburgers, booze, pool parties, fireworks, or any of that.

‘Cause don’t get it twisted: a brutha needs his rib tips.

And maybe, while we’re at it, we could jettison “The Star Spangled Banner” as our national anthem. Yes, Whitney Houston sang the hell out of it back in the day, but maybe it’s time to let that one go, too. It’s a hard song to see, and for me, the glorification of “bombs bursting in air” has never really worked for me.

Photo courtesy of ESPN. Nippy tore. It. Up. 30 years later, no one’s topped her on it.

I even have a worthy successor that that antiquated little ditty: “Happy” by Pharrell. We could even start sporting a star spangled hat, improving on his! The song was good enough for Rep. John Lewis, so it’s good enough for me.

Tszuj that hat up, Pharrell.

“It might sound crazy what I’m about to say…”

Happy Independence Day!

New Deniece Williams Box Set Delivers, Just Like The Songbird Herself

By Michael P Coleman

Last year, the British label Soul Music Records mined some of the best of one of our country’s musical treasures, Dionne Warwick, for a comprehensive box collection of her vintage Arista catalog.

That collection was a tough act to follow. But they’ve managed it with aplomb, as the legendary Deniece Williams herself always handled the mic, with Free: The Columbia / ARC Recordings 1976 – 1988.

All of the first 11 secular albums of Williams’ career are crisply remastered and presented in the new box set, buoyed by all five of the songbird’s crystalline, glass-shattering octaves. Williams deftly slid into the pop/soul landscape between Minnie Ripperton and Mariah Carey, with an upper range that was the envy of many an opera singer, while applying it to some of the best pop and R & B music of the day.

Photo courtesy of Coleman Communications

The new box set’s highlights include “Free” and “If You Don’t Believe” from her debut This Is Niecy album; “I Found Love” from the highly underrated When Loves Comes Calling; “Silly,” “You’re All That Matters,” “It’s Gonna Take A Miracle,” and “Waiting” from her pair of Thom Bell-produced masterpieces, My Melody and Niecy; and “Black Butterfly” from one of two George Duke-produced treasures, Let’s Hear It For The Boy.

That latter album’s title track became the biggest hit of Williams’ phenomenal career and one of two Billboard Hot 100 chart toppers. Her only other #1 record was her classic duet with one of the only singers who could vocally hang with Williams, frankly: “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late” with the incomparable Johnny Mathis. That duet is one of the bonus tracks included with the box set, as is Williams’ and Mathis’ sterling duet album, That’s What Friends Are For.

Deniece Williams

Gospel music fans also have something to look forward to here, as Williams always included at least one spiritual song on her secular albums. The new box set’s sanctified highlights include the studio version of “God Is Amazing,” a highlight of Williams’ live shows to this day, from her sophomore Song Bird album; the anointed “Whiter Than Snow” from Let’s Hear It For The Boy; the original version of “They Say,” recorded with Earth, Wind & Fire’s Philip Bailey before Williams re-cut it with Contemporary Christian music’s Sandy Patti; and the Grammy-winning “I Believe In You” from her underrated Water Under The Bridge album.

The new box set is beautifully packaged, and also includes comprehensive liner notes which include new reflections from Williams.

The collection’s sequencing of albums is a puzzle. Several of the albums are incomprehensibly paired on single CDs in the set. For example, one of the Bell produced albums is amalgamated with one of the Duke produced ones, instead of presenting each of those producers’ work with Williams on individual discs.

Ah, well. Maybe only a music purist like me would care about something like that. Decisions like the sequencing of tracks on an album or inclusions of CDs in a box set are beyond my pay grade. My job here is to report on great additions to your music collection, so let me stay in my lane:

Just as Deniece Williams always did — and still does — when onstage or in the studio, Free: The Columbia / ARC Recordings 1976 – 1988 delivers.

Free: The Columbia / ARC Recordings 1976 / 1988 is available via Amazon on July 2.

EXCLUSIVE! Johnny Mathis’ Post Pandemic Plans

The superstar reveals his secrets for staying at the top of his game for 65 years, talks about his father & Nat “King” Cole, and plans his return to the stage this summer. This feature was first published with SacCulturalHub.com.

By Michael P Coleman

With COVID vaccinations up and cases down all over the country, artists who were born to perform are ending their pandemic-driven hiatuses, putting bands together and hitting the road once again.

One of those artists is the incomparable Johnny Mathis, who suspended his long-running The Voice Of Romance Tour in March of 2020. He plans on resuming it this summer.

I was honored to speak with Mathis by phone recently as he began prepping for his upcoming tour dates. Having learned that he received his COVID vaccination in February, I first wanted to check in on the legend’s overall health.

“I’ve been great,” the 85 year old Mathis assured me. “I’ve been very lucky all of my life. I was an athlete at an early age, and I kept up with my exercise routine, so physically I’m in shape. I’ve been going to the gym for an hour a day, five days a week, all of my life.”

You heard him: the man works out an hour a day every day. Right after we hung up the phone, I jumped on my bicycle and took at hour-long ride along the river near my home. If Mathis hadn’t become a world-class singer, he might have been a motivational coach or physical trainer!

“I’ve also been lucky enough to have some really wonderful voice teachers along the way, and my voice is holding up,” Mathis added with a laugh. “So now, all I have to do is stay alive!”

Our phone chat was peppered with that kind of self deprecating humor. While Mathis joked that he couldn’t remember how old he was, his wit is still just as potent as ever, as is his voice. He has sold tens of millions of albums since 1956, and is Columbia Records longest-signed recording artist.

Mathis’ 1956 debut album.

During our talk, Mathis teased that, hopefully, he’ll be heading back into the studio soon to record what would be his 80th album, a follow-up to his 2017 collection, the critically acclaimed Johnny Mathis Sings The Great New American Songbook.

“We are just sort of waiting around until things get back to normal, if they ever do,” Mathis said. “After that, perhaps I might go in and make some more recordings, hopefully.”

“Chances are” Columbia Records would be hard pressed to keep the five time Grammy nominee out of that recording studio. No one’s managed that feat since 1956.

Understandably, with all Mathis has accomplished, he had trouble naming a singular highlight.

“I’ve had the opportunity to sing with some of the greatest singers in the world,” Mathis shared. “I’ve done recordings with Sarah Vaughn, Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald — they were all famous when I was a little kid, and I got to sing with them! And then later on, I started singing with Dionne Warwick, Barbra Streisand and all of the amazing, wonderful ladies in my life, so I’ve been a lucky, lucky person.”

With the list of legends he’s worked with, I asked Mathis whether there was someone that he would have like to have worked with but didn’t. I should’t have been surprised to hear of his love for another brilliant balladeer.

“I always wanted to sing with Nat Cole,” Mathis wistfully recalled. “He was a lovely, gentle human being who was so kind to me. When I started singing, I was 18 or 19 years old, and Nat was at the height of his success and must have been in his 40s. I had such admiration for him. And I got a chance to meet him when I would go and watch him sing on occasion.”

Mathis spoke almost paternally of Cole, so much so that I was led to ask him about his own father.

“My father was a singer, and he’s the reason that I sing to this day,” Mathis said. “I remember hearing him sing around the house, and he’d just say ‘Come on, son, you and me: let’s sing.’ He was a wonderful person who put me on the right track at an early age, [and] started me with a voice teacher who was absolutely essential in my success.”

“My dad was my best pal in the world,” Mathis continued. “My folks had seven kids! I’d always joke with him ‘Pop, leave Mom alone!’ We laughed a lot about that. He say ‘Shut up, boy!’ We fished together, and travelled all over the world together. I’m so grateful for being born to that wonderful man.”

Mathis was the last singer I saw live before COVID-19 shut the world down, in February of 2020. The consummate balladeer shocked me that night, as he brought the house down during the concert’s finale with a rousing rendition of Ray Charles’ “Let The Good Times Roll.” As we wrapped up our conversation, I asked Mathis about his process for selecting songs for his dynamic live shows.

“It’s very easy,” Mathis promised, with a boyish chuckle. “Sing it. If they like it, fine. If they don’t, don’t sing it again!”

“You find things that work, and you hang on to them,” he said. “And God willing, it will go well, and you’ll get to sing them again.”

It’s gone well, for the last 65 years, and Mathis sung them, “Misty,” “Chances Are,” “It’s Not For Me To Say” and countless other hits, again and again.

Mathis circa late 1950s

Here’s to putting the pandemic behind us and getting back out to see Johnny Mathis live on stage. I don’t typically presume to speak for a legend, but I know he’d be happy to see you.

Information on Johnny Mathis’ 2021 and 2022 shows is at johnnymathis.com.

REVIEW: In The Heights, And Three Critical Confessions

By Michael P Coleman

Before I tell you about the new cinematic adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In The Heights, I have two confessions:

First, I’m not a rabid fan of Miranda’s. I saw the filmed version of his Broadway phenomenon Hamilton. It was good. Very good, in fact. But perhaps because the hype and expectations were so high, I was not blown away.

I’m also not a rabid fan of movie musicals.

The animated ones (Disney’s The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, etc) are great, but when we’re talking live action, I more often than not begin to check out the minute a character breaks into song.

We just don’t do that kind of thing in real life, right? Not while we’re sober, anyway. So if it’s not The Wiz or anything Rogers & Hammerstein produced, pretty much, I have to suppress chuckles if not outright guffaws the minute a character starts to warble a little expository dialog.

Now, if you’re still with me, and if I’ve not lost my LGBTQIA+ card, maybe I’ll earn it back with this: In The Heights is brilliant.

Photo courtesy of Macall Polay / Warner Bros Entertainment

The two hour, 23 minute feature held my attention for the entire time. Set during a scorching summer in New York’s Washington Heights neighborhood, it tells the story of dreams, both realized and elusive, that begin in a corner bodega. It’s all expertly done on a modest $55 million budget.

Several of In The Heights’ set pieces, including the opening number, a swimming pool routine, a beauty shop scene, and an evening in a dance club deserve to be seen on as big a screen as you can manage. If you’re fully vaccinated, go to the theatre.

There’s a dance sequence near the end of the film that would make Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers green with envy. It tops anything in La La Land. Reality is one of a couple of “truths” that’s suspended during this mind-blowing sequence!

All of the film’s music will get and keep you moving. One of the songs, “Alabanza,” is so well-crafted that I caught myself singing along with its chorus as I listened for the first time.

In The Heights stars Anthony Ramos, who delivers what should be an Oscar-nominated performance. The man sings, dances, and acts his ass off, and his onscreen charisma is unquestioned. A star is born, indeed.

Photo courtesy of Macall Polay / Warner Bros Entertainment

Melissa Berrera and Leslie Grace impressed me as well. The trio lead an ensemble cast that includes Jimmy Smits and Marc Anthony but is not nearly as culturally diverse as any of us would have hoped, while being much more colorful than most of us get from Hollywood, even today.

I cannot talk about In The Heights’ cast without mentioning Olga Merediz as Abuela Claudia, the heart of the neighborhood and, possibly, the film.

Merediz is the rare actor who got to bring a character she originated on stage to the silver screen. When you experience her performance, you’ll understand why she was director Jon Chu’s choice for the role. Merediz’ performance is transcendent. In one key scene, she coaxed a tear as I remembered my own “Ma.”

I loved In The Heights so much that I’m listening to the soundtrack now as I write this, swaying to and fro at the keyboard. I plan on watching the movie again this weekend.

In fact, I’m going to risk losing that aforementioned LBBTQIA+ card again with this third confession:

I preferred In The Heights to Hamilton.

In The Heights is in theaters everywhere and streaming on HBO Max through July 11.

REVIEW — Apple’s Mirthful New Macs

By Michael P Coleman

I’m not one to want the brightest, shiniest, newest piece of tech or equipment.

Who am I fooling?

I live for Apple’s periodic product launch events, during which they tease new iPhones, iMacs, smart devices and the like.

I have one of each, and several of some, of their devices. I switched over from a non-Apple platform — I don’t even remember what it was called…Microsoft? Android? — over a decade ago, and I haven’t looked back.

That said, I also form an odd, very personal attachment to my tech devices, and I hold onto them, sometimes, until well after their expiration dates. I like to run my devices into the ground before I replace or upgrade them. I’m still carrying an iPhone 8, although its battery is starting to fade.

Last fall, the hard drive on my five year old desktop died, and as the warranty had expired, I decided to try to limp through the winter with just my MacBook, in the hope that Apple would upgrade their desktops and present something worth adding to my office.

They did. The mirthful new iMacs with Apple’s new M1 chip are amazing.

The front

“Fast” is an understatement when describing the speed with which my new iMac opens apps, switches between tasks…even turns on! Yesterday, I upgraded software on it more quickly than I ever did on the 2015 model it replaced — I got everything started and took a quick coffee break, and I was off to the races when I got back to my office.

The back!

The new, spacious 24-inch monitor adds almost three amazingly vibrant inches of real estate to my desk, and paired with the 8-core CPU and 7-core GPU, multitasking via multiple windows is a breeze.

You won’t believe how crisp the speakers are, making music playback, not to mention audio calls & Zoom meetings, sound incredible.

And I’m told that the 1080 camera is a sharp upgrade from the 2020 iPad one I’d been using for video productions.

But the real star of the 2021 iMac show is the color. Harkening back to their fun, translucent Macs from the late 1990s, Apple has served up a fun, funky line of iMacs in eight brilliant hues, which made it challenging to settle on the “pop” of color I needed for my office.

As there may or may not be a bit of a Superman theme going on in here, I opted for the blue Mac to complement the crimson walls. Don’t judge. I feel like I’m working in the Fortress Of Solitude!

Up, up, and away! Photo courtesy of Coleman Communications

Even the accessories are color matched, including the mouse and / or trackpad (I went with the latter) and the cords.

The new iMac isn’t cheap, starting off at $1,299. But that’s a small price to pay for making office-bound work fun again. And with Apple’s new Apple Card, you can pay for your new iMac via 12 monthly, interest-free payments of just $108.25! As we used to say back in my NPR days, “for less than the price of a cup of coffee…”

Go ahead: gratify your desire and get that new iMac. After the year that we’ve all been through, you deserve it!

Apple’s new iMac, and all of their beautiful, shining, incredibly personal toys are available at apple.com

Just In Time For Black Music Month, Cherry Red Records Releases Atlantic Starr Box Set

By Michael P Coleman

If you were alive during the 80s, or know great pop music when you hear it, you know Atlantic Starr’s sole #1 smash, “Always.” It was the follow-up to their breakthrough single “Secret Lovers,” which revitalized their lagging career and paved the way for a lucrative, three album run with Warner Bros.

Just in time for Black Music Month, Cherry Red Records has released Always: The Warner Reprise Recordings (1987 – 1991), a three CD compilation featuring meticulously remastered versions of the group’s All In The Name Of Love, We’re Movin’ Up, and Love Crazy albums. The former two titles are expanded editions, featuring extended and remixed versions of singles from each album.

Photo courtesy of Coleman Communications

Beginning in the mid-70s, Atlantic Starr featured a revolving door of female co-lead vocalists, but for this writer, none was as brilliant as Barbara Weathers, who brought a worldly sophistication to the aforementioned ballads that belied her years. She was only 21 years old when she recorded “Secret Lovers.”

With this new box set, we get a whole album of Weathers’ brilliance with All In The Name Of Love. She elevates that era’s pop music, like the album’s opening “One Lover At A Time,” proves she could have hung on the dance floor with Janet Jackson on “Armed And Dangerous,” and does an ample job navigating Whitney Houston’s lane on the gorgeous “Don’t Take Me For Granted” and “I’m In Love.” The album also features “Thankful,” Atlantic Starr’s little known Winans-esque entry into the then-bourgeoning contemporary gospel music movement.

But “Always” was the wedding song of the decade, sung by Weathers with real-life lover Wayne Lewis, and it holds up very well over 30 years later. According to the box set’s liner notes, the song was written for country star Kenny Rogers, but he passed on it. That was a huge misstep on his part. The underrated song, and the underrated All In The Name Of Love album, belongs in everyone’s collection of great 80s pop music.

I can’t say the same for Atlantic Starr’s follow up album, We’re Moving Up. The group had lost Weathers to a short-lived solo career, and the well-intentioned Porsche Martin just couldn’t carry the torch…or deliver the torch song. As such, We’re Moving Up never delivers any of that promised, upward momentum. The third album in the box, Love Crazy, is even worse, miring Atlantic Starr in early 90s new jack swing, just before they faded from view.

As of this writing, I’ve got All In The Name Of Love on repeat and I’ve been unable to connect with Weathers to talk about her sterling tenure with Atlantic Starr. But I’m going to keep trying.

Always.

Tyler Perry: Billionaire, Media Mogul, and LGBTQIA+ Ally. And He Started It All with a Wig and a Cheap House Dress

By Michael P Coleman

It all started with a wig and a cheap house dress.

Tyler Perry’s name is becoming more and more prominent every day. Earlier this year, he made Forbes’ world billionaires ranking, which also includes celebrities like Jay-Z and Oprah Winfrey.

That’s right: Perry’s net worth exceeds a cool $1 billion!

The 51-year-old media mogul got his start in theater, writing and producing I Know I’ve Been Changed, about survivors of child abuse and the first of a string of successful plays. Perry eventually earned over $100 million in total ticket sales, and millions more via videos and merchandising, according to Forbes.

Although Perry had conquered the African American theatre circuit, Hollywood dismissed him and his creative ideas. So he did what any strong black man would do: he set out to bring his ideas into reality by himself.

Tyler Perry’s House Of Payne eventually found a distribution home on the foundling CW network. Perry’s first feature film, Diary Of a Mad Black Woman, was released in 2006. Lucrative production deals with Black Entertainment Television and the Oprah Winfrey Network followed.

In his spare time, Perry produced films like the critically acclaimed Precious, and acted in movies including Vice and Alex Cross. He also founded Tyler Perry Studios, located on a 330-acre former Confederate Army base in Atlanta, Georgia.

I’m sure that several good ol’ Southern boys were rolling in their graves while Perry cut deals to shoot films including Black Panther, Coming 2 America, and Bad Boys III on a lot that used to be home to Confederate Army soldiers, as they were fighting to continue enslaving our ancestors.

Some of the descendants of those enslaved Americans just graduated fromTyler Perry Studios’ coding academy, launched to teach elementary school students the fundamentals of coding.

Largely due to a savvy decision to retain sole ownership of his content, the formerly homeless Perry netted most of the $200 million that TBS paid for House Of Payne. Today, the mogul’s content library alone is worth $320 million. He also owns his studio outright — and it’s worth another $280 million. Perry’s 19 feature films have grossed over $864 at the North American box office alone.

“I own the lights. I own the sets,” Perry told Forbes. “So that’s where the difference is. Because I own everything, my returns are higher.”

While Walt Disney started with a mouse, and the Jim Henson juggernaut started with a frog, Tyler Perry’s media empire began with his drag persona, Madea, who was inspired by Perry’s late mother, Maxine. Madea was “born” in 1999 in a play called “I Can Do Bad All By Myself.”

I’ll confess to having never seen a Madea film, but I’m in the minority. The matriarch is beloved the world over.

Perry has said that his mother was “the wisdom of Madea.”

“[My mother] loved Madea,” Perry said. “.Even though [my mother and I] look alike, she was a much more beautiful version of the character, for sure! [My mother] told me whatever you do, don’t stop playing this character.”

A few years after Maxine’s death, in 2019, Perry defied his mother and retired Madea.

“I’ll be 50 this year,” Perry said at the time, “and I’m just at a place in my life where this next 50 I want to do things differently. This character has been amazing. So many people have loved her. It’s been a great franchise.”

Although Perry insists that he’s donned the wig and cheap housedress for the last time, he left the door open for more.

“You can’t kill [Madea],” Perry told CNN. “I mean, that’s like killing Rocky! I left the door open because I don’t want people to have a finality that she’s gone. That final thing, she’s dead and gone…I don’t want that.”

Perry got more than the inspiration for our beloved Madea from his mother. She taught him several guiding principals that he carries with him, even today.

“My mother taught me to refuse hate,” Perry said during his Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award acceptance speech at this year’s Academy Awards. “She taught me to refuse blanket judgement. And in this time, and with all of the internet and social media and algorithms and everything that wants us to think a certain way, the 24-hour news cycle, it is my hope that all of us will teach our kids…just refuse hate. Don’t hate anybody.”

Perry elaborated on that point, making it clear that he’s an ally to the LGBTQIA+ community.

“I refuse to hate someone because they are Mexican or because they are Black or white or LGBTQ. I refuse to hate someone because they are a police officer. I refuse to hate someone because they are Asian. I would hope that we would refuse hate.”

“And I want to dedicate [this award] to anyone who wants to stand in the middle, no matter what’s around the walls. Stand in the middle, because that’s where healing happens. That’s where conversation happens. That’s where change happens. It happens in the middle.”

“So anyone who wants to meet me in the middle, to refuse hate, to refuse blanket judgement, and to help lift someone’s feet off the ground, this one is for you, too.”

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