Blue Note Napa Shifts Their Summer Shows Outside

As live music fans look forward to an end to COVID-19, Kenny G headlines a can’t-miss concert schedule.

By Michael P Coleman

Jazz legend Kenny G has a killer album cut on his 1992 multi-platinum Breathless album entitled “A Year Ago.”

A year ago, who could have imagined that we’d still be weathering COVID-19.

With the CDC’s recently issued green light on travel for the full vaccinated, and with several vaccines being rolled out this spring, fans of live music can finally see a light at the end of a tunnel that has been a lot longer than any of us could have imagined…a year ago.

While fans of great live music wait for indoor venues to fully reopen, Blue Note Napa is shifting their stage outside with a series of fantastic shows.

First up, Damien Escobar is performing four shows on June 12 & 13. Brian McKnight is performing Labor Day Weekend, September 4 & 5. And Chris Botti is doing two shows Sunday, September 19.

And if that’s not enough to get you vaccinated and your heart pumping, Kenny G is doing six concerts July 9-11.

If I were Kenny, I’d open the performances up with “A Year Ago,” ‘cause it’s been a long one!

Then again, the best selling instrumental artist of all time has done pretty well for himself for the last four decades, putting shows together without my input, so maybe I should stay in my lane!

Kenny G gave me a call late last week, just as Blue Note Napa was announcing their summer concert lineup.

“We’re very excited! It’s gonna feel like opening up a box and getting a present that you’ve been waiting to get for so long,” the 64-year-old phenomenon EXCLUSIVELY told me, of his and his band’s upcoming stint at Blue Note Napa. “We’re experiencing a new sense of appreciation for the fact that we’re able to play gigs and have this kind of life. I’ve never been off of the road for this long in 40 years.”

“I’m gonna have a newfound appreciation for every show, for doing something that I’ve loved for so long,” Kenny G continued. “I’m gonna try to make it last, to try to remember this feeling.’

‘And I love that we’re doing our first gig outdoors in Napa! It couldn’t be nicer.”

Just like the rest of us, Kenny says he’s been largely inside, avoiding crowds and keeping himself and his family and loved ones safe during the last year. In addition to his daily practicing, he’s been putting the finishing touches on a new album, New Standards, that he says he’ll release after venues are fully open again and he can tour to promote it. Several times during our talk, Kenny mentioned how much he misses connecting with his fans on the road.

But just like he has done during live performances for over four decades, Kenny has gone with the flow over the last year, and found a way to connect with his audience.

“As a jazz musician, I live a life of improvisation,” Kenny said. “The pandemic happening just meant that it was time to improvise and do what’s going to work with the situation. For the last five months, I’ve been doing Cameos, and I think it’s really going to take off.”

For those unfamiliar with the site, Cameo offers fans a chance to get personalized videos with the star of their choice.

“I’ve been doing some really, really fun Cameos for graduations and new babies — even someone’s 80th birthday,” Kenny said, with a contagious zeal. “One person wanted me to celebrate them becoming a US citizen. That’s been really fun. It keeps me connected, and that’s one of the things that I love about music: it connects people.”

Connection. It’s actually a much more accurate word to use to describe one of Kenny G’s concerts. The man is a master showman who plays the sax like no other while making everyone in the audience feel like we’re a part of the show and of his family. One of the last shows I attended before the world blew up was Kenny G’s New Years Eve concert in 2019, also at Blue Note Napa. It was one of the most memorable New Year’s Eves of my life, and one of the best concerts I’ve ever attended.

Kenny G at Blue Note Napa, December 31, 2019. Photo courtesy of Michael P Coleman / Coleman Communications.

If you’ve not experienced Kenny G live, you don’t know the man and his amazing artistry.

Get to know him — connect with him — in Napa this summer.

Tickets for Kenny G’s July 9-11 shows and all of the Blue Note Napa’s upcoming performances are available at BlueNoteNapa.com.

A Harry Carrie Easter

Superstars Harry Connick Jr. and Carrie Underwood release first-ever spiritual albums, just in time for Easter. One outshines the other by a country mile. But gospel legend CeCe Winans had given me fair warning about it!

By Michael P Coleman

It’s been a challenging year for all of us, and many turned to their faith to build a bridge over troubled waters. Jazz legend Harry Connick Jr. and country superstar Carrie Underwood have released their first full-length spiritual albums, Alone With My Faith and My Savior, respectively.

I made the mistake of listening to Underwood’s new album first, mainly because of her version of “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” a duet with gospel legend CeCe Winans. It is blissfuly buoyant, as is the balance of Underwood’s album.

Featuring well-known hymns like the aforementioned, “Blessed Assurance,” “The Old Rugged Cross,” “I Surrender All,” and “Amazing Grace.” Underwood transcends genre time and again throughout the album, crooning of a god and savior who is accessible to all who will hear her.

Photo by Joseph Llanes

Winans had warned me about Underwood and the country singer’s version of one of those hymns when I chatted with her last month about her own brilliant new project, Believe For It.

“I had never heard ‘How Great Thou Art’ sung so powerfully in my life,” Winans EXCLUSIVELY told me. “I was planning a concert earlier this year, and I had my management reach out to her people because I wanted her to come and sing that hymn. I learned that her people were looking for me at the same time, and that she wanted me to sing on her new record! That HAD to be a God connection!”

“I think her plan was to have more people on her new album, but because of the pandemic I’m the only guest on her hymns record,” Winans continued. “It’s coming out at Easter time, and it’s gonna be fantastic!”

Calls to Underwood’s management for a contribution to this feature went unreturned, but the American Idol winner who began her recording career with “Jesus Take The Wheel” in 2005 has expressed equal ebullience about working with Winans.

Carrie Underwood / Facebook

“CeCe is simply gospel royalty,” Underwood recently told Apple Music. “Her voice is a gift from God and she is like a ray of sunshine when she walks into the room. The message of ‘Great Is Thy Faithfulness’ is so powerful, and you can tell CeCe means every word when she sings it. Getting to have her on this album and getting to spend time with her is just magical.”

While Underwood became famous singing country music, it’s clear after one listen to My Savior that religious music is in her heart. To paraphrase Mahalia Jackson, it’s a haunting melody of love divine. And this Easter season, music fans are all the better for it.

So since I love Underwood’s My Savior so much, you may be wondering why it was a mistake for me to have listened to the album first. The answer’s simple: after hearing Underwood tackle a dozen beloved hymns with aplomb, Connick’s well-intentioned effort, disappointingly, just doesn’t cut the mustard.

I’ve always liked Connick’s voice, and I really wanted to like his new album, but his versions of “How Great Thou Art” and “Amazing Grace” simply don’t hold a candle to Underwood’s. The New Orleans native is to be commended for the effort — he plays all the instruments on the album, and recorded his own background vocals, I’m told — but ultimately, I’d have preferred him to remain alone in his home studio with his new Alone With My Faith.

If the album bolsters one person it was worth the effort, I suppose. But for me, Alone With My Faith’s uninspired arrangements paired with Connick’s tepid vocals sound more like they should be played at a funeral than on Easter Sunday.

Easter…that’s it! I’ve figured out a way to experience both Connick’s AND Underwood’s albums. Unlike I did, I’d advise you to listen to Connick’s Alone With My Faith first.

Then, wait a couple of days and on the third day, once Connick’s is all but forgotten, play Underwood’s stirring My Faith.

You’ll experience all that the Easter season has to offer: torture with Harry Connick, Jr., followed by joyous, redemptive resurrection with Carrie Underwood.

Happy Easter!

EXCLUSIVE! You Will Remember Shaun Munday’s Name

By Michael P Coleman

I recently ran across soul singer Shaun Munday and his stirring “Remember My Name.”

The song is somewhat prophetic: I predict that very, very soon, the world won’t be able to forget his name.

The Springfield, Missouri native strums the strings and sings about as easily as most of us breathe. His powerful bass and guttural vocals are a combination that sticks with you.

During our recent conversation, Munday told me that, shockingly, there was actually a time when he didn’t think of himself as a singer.

“My parents put a little four string guitar, a ukulele, in my hands really before I could walk,” Munday said during our EXCLUSIVE chat. “I’ve got pictures of myself as a toddler, holding this little Mickey Mouse guitar, so that’s where it all started. My mother, father, and my younger brother are all musicians and singers. It was a house full of music and instruments, so that aspect of what I do was natural. I had no say into that — I was kinda born into it.”

Munday said he spent the better part of a decade before he put that little ukulele down, picked up a guitar and began nourishing his gift. But he was in high school before the Shaun Munday who we know today stepped into the spotlight.

“I signed up to do a talent show in high school. I was probably 16 or 17 years old,” Munday remembered. “I got up there and played, and everybody went crazy for it. Standing ovation from everybody. Everybody went nuts. Even the teachers started being nicer to me!”

“And everyone was saying ‘That’s the music guy’ when they saw me. That was the first public appearance after which I said ‘This could be something.’ “

That “something” has grown into a world class artist who’s graduated from the Berklee School of Music, where he studied and performed with artists like John Mayer and Esperanza Spalding.

One of his instructors, Jetro De Silva, was Whitney Houston’s keyboard player. He played a critical role in the emergence of Shaun Munday, who had been influenced early on by soul legends like Donny Hathaway, Al Green, and Marvin Gaye.

“I had a class with Jetro in college in which you had to sing to pass the class. I couldn’t just sit there and play the bass and be a cool guy. I had to sing some songs,” Munday remembered. “And they picked the songs and the artists that I had to study. Otis Redding was one of the artists that I had to familiarize myself with. So now I’m this guy who never had any intention of singing, and certainly didn’t have any intention of singing classic, perfect soul songs by these perfect artists.”

“After learning and performing those songs, Jetro told me he was pleased with my performances, and he told me to keep singing,” Munday continued. “He was very encouraging about what I did. After getting an ‘OK’ from the keyboard player for one of the greatest vocalists of all time, I figured I should be ok.”

Today, Munday is far from “ok,” having shared the stage with greats like Andra Day, Corinne Bailey Rae, Robert Cray, Collin Raye, and the daughter of an artist who had influenced his style early on. I asked what it was like to take the stage with the incomparable Lalah Hathaway.

“A goal of mine when I started this whole solo career was to work with Lalah in some capacity,” Munday shared. “I’d been listening to her vocals and her music before Donny. She’s got her own thing and is a fantastic jazz, R & B, and soul vocalist. She had a big video that went viral a few years ago, where she was singing two notes at the same time! Just to be with a musician of that caliber is an incredible thing, but to also realize that you are next to an incredible lineage…the whole experience was just beautiful, in every way.”

In addition to Munday’s 2017 debut full length solo project, which is also “beautiful in every way,” fans of great music can look forward to his next album. He hopes to release it by the end of the year.

“I’ve been working on it pretty much since the first one came out,” Munday confided. “I’ll be expanding on some of the ideas and concepts on the first album, which was pretty much all electric bass and vocals. This one will have more conventional instrumentation: drums, keys, guitars and everything.”

Yes, lest you wonder: Munday plays all of those instruments, too.

So now you get where I’m coming from: we WILL remember Shaun Munday’s name!

Shaun Munday’s music is available on all major digital platforms.

EXCLUSIVE! CeCe Winans Talks First Live Album

“I believe this album is going to minister joy to those who hear it.”

By Michael P Coleman

Lucky gospel music fans were blessed by CeCe Winans’ first live-streamed event last month. It was one of the best concerts I’ve ever attended — live, virtual, gospel or otherwise.

As if to placate those who weren’t able to catch the show, Winans is releasing Believe For It on March 12. Continuing the legend’s string of “firsts,” it’s the first live album of Winans’ heralded, five decade-spanning career.

Photo credit: Kris Rea

I’ll confess to having been worried for Winans leading up to Believe For It’s release. The legend had done such a phenomenal job during her first live streamed event that I was anxious about whether she could match, let alone top, that performance on the new album.

As Winans would encourage us to do, I turned to scripture: “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.” -Proverbs 12:25

A good album makes me glad, too. And after listening to Winans’ outstanding new Believe For It, I’m overjoyed.

But then, can one have too much joy?

Upon my initial listen to Believe For It’s first song, the uptempo “Fire,” I had to fight to keep seated. It’s a rouser that sneaks up on you, and will remind you of just what is shut up in your bones.

As Winans shouted when I asked her about the album’s barn-burning opener, “Come ON, Holy Ghost!”

“I did what I always do,” Winans shared during our EXCLUSIVE chat, as I inquired about her song selection process for Believe For It. “I focus and believe that God is taking me in a certain area, whether it’s worship or contemporary. I believe that when a song ministers to my heart, it’s going to minister to other people.”

Photo credit: Marissa Roberts

“I recorded a lot of songs that I hear every Sunday. I wanted to encourage us to worship,” Winans continued. “My prayer is that churches will embrace these songs if they don’t already know them. I wanted to create something that people could sing along with, and that choirs could sing. They’re songs that I totally enjoy.”

CeCe Winans is, quite simply, one of the world’s greatest gospel singers. The multiple Grammy, Dove, and Stellar Award winner is this generation’s Mahalia Jackson, pairing her unquestioned, multi octave vocal gifts with her unwavering faith. That combination is nothing short of spellbinding, and that’s never been more on display than on the new Believe For It.

Other album highlights include the stunning new single, “Never Lost,” the gorgeous ballads “King Of Glory” and “Just To Be Close To You,” live versions of Winans classics “Jesus You’re Beautiful” and “Alabaster Box,” and the title track, which has just snagged the #1 spot on Billboard’s Gospel Digital Song Sales chart.

Clearly, a lot of people are ready to “believe.”

This writer also loves “I Have A Savior,” which includes a bona fide altar call. If that doesn’t give you an idea of what this album is all about, nothing will!

With Believe For It, Winans has delivered more than just an album. Like last month’s concert, the new project is an experience.

“It’s more on the worshipful side, but we’ve got ‘gospel’ going on all in between,” Winans said of the new Believe For It. “It’s live, so we’re going in and praising God, and we’re having fun in His presence.”

“I can’t live without His Presence,” Winans preached. “The Word says ‘In His presence, there’s fullness of joy.’ And we need joy right now. We have lost loved ones. Hearts are broken. We need joy, and I believe this album is going to minister joy to those who hear it.”

You can get your piece of that joy on March 12 via Amazon, retail and all major digital outlets.

This feature was first published via the Sac Cultural Hub.

An EXCLUSIVE Chat With Cinderella’s Director, Robert Iscove

“I’m thrilled beyond belief that our film can live on and that it still has a life in the present day.”

By Michael P Coleman

Musical theatre fans have been in seventh heaven since the February debut of the 1997 production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella on Disney Plus.

Photo courtesy of Disney Television.

As I prepped to speak with Prince Christopher himself, Paolo Montalban, I checked out a virtual reunion of the surviving cast, including Brandi, Whoopi Goldberg, and Bernadette Peters.

As entertaining as it was, and as thrilled as I was to see them all together, I missed seeing and hearing from one major player in that production. He’s a guy we never got to see on film, but without whom the groundbreaking television movie may never have happened.

His name’s Robert Iscove, and he directed the masterpiece.

I was thrilled to share a few minutes by phone with Iscove recently — almost as thrilled as I was to watch Cinderella again!

“I was delighted that it was being rereleased, too,” Iscove said. “I actually thought that Disney would wait until the 25th anniversary, if they were going to do it, so I was pleased that they did it a year before.”

That’s right: it’s been almost a quarter of a century since Brandi warbled “Impossible” with Houston, and crooned “Ten Minutes Ago” with Montalban just before the clock struck midnight. From soup to nuts, their Cinderella was a flawless production.

After speaking with Iscove, I realized Cinderella’s success was almost a foregone conclusion: it wasn’t the director’s first time at that rodeo.

“I had done a series called Profit for Fox, and it was their highest rated show,” Iscove remembered. “After it was cancelled, I said I didn’t know how to do dramatic television better than that, [and] I was looking for something different.”

Director Robert Iscove.

“I had the same agent as [Cinderella executive producers] Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, who were looking for a director for Cinderella, and they knew I’d done musical theater. I was thrilled, and jumped at it.”

Iscove said the project’s grandeur wasn’t lost on him and the cast.

“We filmed it on the sound stages at Sony where they had filmed The Wizard Of Oz,” Iscove recalled. “I remember the first time they closed the set and brought the lights up. It felt that big, that rich, and that special.”

Although Brandi and Houston had already been cast when Iscove came onboard, the Rodgers & Hammerstein organization gave him and writer Robert Freedman plenty of freedom to write the book, including the liberty to add songs like “Falling In Love With Love” for Peters’ Stepmother and “There’s Music In You” for Houston’s Fairy Godmother.

After all, how could one have Houston in a musical like Cinderella and not give her a solo?

“She was the most brilliant lip syncher I’ve ever met,” Iscove said of Houston. “The fact that she could have her throat vibrate with no sound coming out of it, and make it look totally natural, astounded me.”

“We went to New York to do a looping version of ‘Impossible’ because we wanted a different high note at the end,” Iscove continued. “Whitney came in and I said ‘Do you want to do the run up to it at the end?’ She said ‘No, I’ll just hit the note.’ I don’t remember the note, but it’s impossibly high.”

“She opened her mouth and that one note came out of it, and it was that brilliant Whitney. I asked her how she did it, and she said ‘I don’t know. I’ve just always been able to open my mouth and sing.’ “

“Whitney was very involved with the production, and she loved encouraging Brandi. She loved teaching, and she was very, very warm. I think the fact that she loved being a mentor to Brandi and loved seeing talent come along is what made her so natural in those scenes. She was allowed to let her warmth come out, and her motherly instincts, as opposed to having to be the sex symbol that people wanted her to be.”

With an all-star cast like Iscove’s, I asked the veteran director whether there was a moment on set when even he was awestruck.

“Almost every single day,” Iscove laughed. “Especially in rehearsals. When I was staging the scene where they get the slipper, with Jason, Bernadette, Vianne [Cox], and Natalie [Desselle Reid], we put that together in 25 minutes or so. Craig came in and said ‘If you did that on stage, you’d get a standing ovation.’ No matter what you asked that cast to do, they all were so immensely talented that they brought so much to it, and they fed off of each other.”

“Everyone was just having the best time,” Iscove continued. “And the scene that they did when Bernadette is lacing up Natalie’s corset and she’s bending over? We had to literally put our fists in our mouths watching it, so that our laughter didn’t go into the soundtrack!”

It’s been widely reported that Montalban was the last of over 800 wannabe princes to audition for the highly coveted role of Prince Christopher. Iscove put that story into its proper context during our chat.

“Once you’ve found your Prince Charming, why would you continue to look,” Iscove asked.

“Not only was Paolo that tall and that good-looking, and charming, but he had that voice, and was a Broadway talent. He impressed all of us with his audition, and then we flew Brandi to New York to do a chemistry reading with him.”

Montalban and Brandi in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella. Photo courtesy of Disney Television

“They were amazing together, and you could see them spar off of each other,” Iscove continued. “You could see the differences between them. Brandi was earthier, and more ‘pop-y’ and Paolo had a presence about him — you could believe that he was royalty.”

“The two of them were just wonderful together. The fact that Paolo held his own with all of those brilliant talents just shows you what a talent he is in his own right.”

“I’m just thrilled beyond belief that our Cinderella can live on,” Iscove said, “and that it still has a life in the present day.”

An EXCLUSIVE Chat with Brandy’s Prince, Paolo Montalban

“Doing ‘Cinderella’ opened a dear and close relationship with the African American community that I never would have had, and it’s really overwhelming.”

By Michael P Coleman

Once upon a time, back in 1997, word spread far and wide, throughout the kingdom. The prince was giving a ball!

Well, Disney was.

Relaunching their classic series The Wonderful World Of Disney, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella premiered almost 24 years ago on ABC. With Brandy making history in the title role and featuring an all-star cast including Whoopi Goldberg, Victor Garber, Bernadette Peters, Jason Alexander, and Whitney Houston (who also served as executive producer), the Emmy winning event was a critical and ratings smash.

It was also a breakthrough for Paolo Montalban, a Filipino American actor who beat out over 800 other actors for the role of Prince Christopher.

With the launch of the new streaming service, Disney Plus, a few months ago, fans — many of whom had grown up watching a weathered and worn DVD of Cinderella — demanded the film be added to the platform. It debuted on Feb 12, and Montalban, a New Jersey-based actor, was shocked when he learned that a new generation of fans would get to enjoy the masterpiece.

“I just found out that it was going to be released on Disney Plus about a month ago,” Montalban, now 47, EXCLUSIVELY told me by phone. “That was a very emotional moment for me. I was blown away to hear that our Cinderella had stayed in the hearts and minds of the people who saw the first broadcast, and that they want to share it with their kids. When we made the movie, we didn’t even know that it would be released on VHS or DVD! We didn’t know that there would be something called the internet, with streaming abilities to allow for it to be encapsulated for all time, or at least for the foreseeable future.”

Photo by Roberto Vivancos.

Fans looking for a crisply remastered, 4K version of Cinderella will be disappointed, as the film has been uploaded to Disney Plus in standard definition. Impossibly, that misstep doesn’t remotely diminish the movie’s magic. In addition to Montalban’s and Brandy’s star turns, Houston delivers the best acting performance of her career, and her voice, paired with Brandy’s on “Impossible” and closing the show solo with “There’s Music In You” are more than worth the price of “admission,” as it were.

It took every iota of will power that I could muster to keep me from fanning out during my conversation with Montalban. His performances of classic Rodgers & Hammerstein songs like “Ten Minutes Ago” and “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful” are stunning, and his lovestruck performance with the lovely Brandy, and the chemistry between the two, were critical to the film’s success.

When Montalban greets Brandy’s Cinderella at the base of that ballroom staircase, he had me at “Hello” — along with over 60 million other television viewers. And in a breathtaking twist to the typical telling of the timeless tale, Cinderella sweeps the prince off of his feet.

Montalban & Brandy from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella. Photo courtesy of Disney Television.

“In a way, Brandy was the royalty on set,” Montalban shared, “Maybe the shoe was on the other foot! She was the royal princess, already a star, and I was coming up from nowhere. I was a fish out of water during the whole process. Not the process of putting up a musical — I knew how to do that — but I didn’t know how to put up a movie, or work with celebrities, people who were at the top of their games. Jason and Whoopi killing the comedy game. Victor killing the TV and film game. Bernadette killing the musical comedy game.”

“I felt like the out of place one, and Brandy made me feel welcomed,” Montalban continued. “I really want to thank her for changing my life. Just by being who she is, the person who has worked her tail off since I’ve known her, young black women all over the world have a great mentor to look up to, and I get to be associated with her. That’s changed my life.”

Montalban’s portrayal of Prince Christopher was life changing, as well. My eldest daughter told me recently that she began looking at herself in the mirror differently after Montalban and Brandy danced around that ballroom in 1997. The production was groundbreaking in its multicultural casting, with nary an explanation, for example, of how Goldberg and Garber, in their roles as the queen and king, could be Montalban’s parents.

The actor insists that that was by design.

“To call out the differences consciously would have been a disservice to what our country and society is,” Montalban reflected. “It was no accident that there was no on-screen mention of that, or that the film included the assortment of people in a world that reflected what America looked like in 1997 — and what it looks like in 2021. Our film’s executive producers — Deborah Martin Chase, Neil Maron, Craig Zadan, and Whitney Houston — were the matriarchs and patriarchs of the film and they had their hands in every stage of the process, in every creative decision.”

“They were so committed to do Cinderella right, right up until the last moment of filming,” Montalban added. “The last scene that we shot was the wedding. It was the only time that we had that many extras on set. The producers found themselves going into overtime, and they ran out of money to pay the extras. It’s nothing against Disney or ABC: it’s show business, and a budget is a budget. To pay the extras for that last day, our executive producers wrote checks out of their pockets. That reflected the level of belief and faith that they had in our cast and that production. They believed in it, and they wanted to do it right.”

A lot of people wanted to “do” Cinderella, and specifically, play the coveted role of Prince Christopher. Montalban reportedly beat out several up-and-comers for the role, including Taye Diggs, Marc Anthony, and Wayne Brady.

Montalban as Prince Christopher in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella.

Montalban was too much of a gentleman to reference his competition for the role by name, but he shared a story about one would-be prince who still held a grudge years after Cinderella had been shot.

“I got to meet one of those actors at a celebrity event,” Montalban confided of his royal competition. “He actually went to school with a buddy of mine in Orlando. He’s very rich and very funny.”

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Wayne Brady is from Orlando. He’s also very rich and very funny. IJS]

“He said ‘You know? I’m still mad at you for beating me out for that role! I have a bone to pick with you!’ “

I’m not mad at Brady. I wanted to sing “Ten Minutes Ago” with Brandy, too!

After Montalban’s star making turn in Cinderella, he reprised the role onstage for years. He also starred on the TV series Mortal Kombat: Conquest, and has been working as an actor in the years since.

By phone from his home in New Jersey, Montalban was as accessible, honest, funny, smart, and…well, charming as you’d want a prince to be! He was also tremendously moving, and even got a little emotional as he talked about his relationship with the black community that came as a result of Cinderella.

“Doing that movie opened a dear and close relationship with the African American community that I would never have had, and I had a great relationship with my black friends growing up,” Montalban shared. “I grew up in Jersey City — white people were the minority! My roommate and best friend in college was African American.”

Montalban got choked up just then, and had to pause the interview as he wiped away a tear before continuing.

“But to be able to reach out to a community that has been so vocal about it over the years, and has come up to me and embraced me in person, has been really overwhelming…to receive that kind of love and support.”

Brandy & Montalban in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella. Photo courtesy of Disney Television.

Oh, we love you, Paolo. Thanks to you and Brandy for giving us a prince and princess in whom we could see a bit of ourselves.

Follow Paolo Montalban on IG and Twitter. And get info on his new film, The Girl Who Left Home, at girlwholeft.com.

EXCLUSIVE! CeCe Winans Raises Her Voice For Children In Need

Get your ticket to the gospel legend’s February 21 performance, An Evening Of Thanksgiving, sponsored by Compassion International

By Michael P Coleman

Chapter 3 of the book of Ecclesiastes says there’s a time for everything under heaven.

Few would doubt that this weekend, February 21, it’s going to be CeCe Winansseason. And the 12-time Grammy winner will be spending it — and raising her incomparable voice — in support of children who are in need the world over.

An Evening Of Thanksgiving will air this Sunday and will be sponsored by Compassion International. The exclusive livestream will be available until March 7. Your whole household can enjoy the show / worship service for the price of a single ticket.

Joined by special guests Carrie Underwood, Tauren Wells, and her brother Marvin Winans, CeCe will be bringing her first-ever live-streamed concert into homes as she raises awareness and funds for children facing poverty every day of their young lives.

“It’s about love,” Winans EXCLUSIVELY said of this weekend’s event. “You can sponsor a child for only $38 a month. People might say that they’re having a hard time right now and that they can’t afford that.”

“I’m here to tell them that they can’t afford not to.”

Chatting from her home in Nashville, Winans spoke with the candor and zeal for which she’s known. When you’re in CeCe’s orbit, it’s impossible not to get caught up in her enthusiasm — whether it’s about the love of God or a hungry child on the other side of the world.

“I have been sponsoring children for years, and I just started sponsoring two more,” Winans continued. “You start out on this journey wanting to be a blessing to the children, and you will be.”

CeCe Winans

“When I saw how people live, all over the world, it just marked my life. It marked my heart,” Winans added. “I look at my grandson, Wyatt, and he doesn’t have to worry about diapers. He doesn’t have to worry about food or clothes — and no child should. By sponsoring a child, you will make a difference in a child being able to eat, having clothes & clean water, and knowing that they’re going to be ok.”

“I want to challenge people to sponsor children who are really hurting. They were already dealing with a level of poverty that most of us have never seen before, but since the pandemic it’s even more extreme.”

Winans hopes to get at least 500 children sponsored by this Sunday.

“When you bless the poor, the word says you’re lending to God, and God will repay you,” Winans said. “What a great position to live in, where God’s got to bless you!

Whether you sponsor a child or purchase a ticket to Winans’ concert, another great position to be in this weekend will be your favorite seat in front of your TV or computer. A VIP pre-concert event will feature Winans with her mother and sisters, Angie and Debbie, gathered around the piano, singing hymns they sang together back in Detroit, years before Winans catapulted to international fame as one of gospel music’s most awarded artists. The sponsorship of a child with Compassion International will secure your virtual spot at the VIP event and the concert.

“We’re going to have an awesome time worshipping God and bringing the love of God into the home,” Winans promised. “People are hurting. People have lost loved ones. I just got off of the phone praying for a couple — the wife just got back from the hospital, dealing with COVID, and the husband just went to the hospital. It’s not over yet. So I’m excited about getting a chance to minister!”

See you this Sunday, CeCe!

For tickets to CeCe Winans’ An Evening Of Thanksgiving or to sponsor a child, go to CompassionLive.com.

Look to The Sac Cultural Hub In the coming weeks for more of our EXCLUSIVE conversation with CeCe Winans. She gave us the scoop on her upcoming, first LIVE album, Believe For It, to be released March 12!

Impossible Things Are Happening! Cinderella with Brandy and Whitney Houston Arrives On Disney Plus

By Michael P Coleman

For those of us “of a certain age,” November 2, 1997’s episode of ABC’s The Wonderful World of Disney decades ago was mind boggling.

That Sunday evening, a new production of Rogers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella was enjoyed by over 60 million television viewers. Television audiences had not seen a new production of the classic musical in over 30 years.

If you’ve not seen it, and no disrespect to Leslie Ann Warren, but that earlier, 1965 version of Cinderella was snow white. And the 1950 Disney animated classic didn’t have any black or brown folks in it, either. Brandy’s version has been out of print, and off of streaming platforms, for years.

Finally, the definitive, multicultural version of Cinderella is coming to Disney Plus Friday, February 12.

Can you guess what time it’s showing up? “At the stroke of minute,” according to a teaser sent to media.

In this production, R & B star Brandy convincing plays the title role, and in doing so became Disney’s first African American princess. Brandy made dreams possible for a whole new group of black girls who’d not seen themselves in the fairy tales of our childhoods. Those girls would grow into women who would help elect President Barack Obama and, later, Joe Biden & Kamala Harris.

That’s not a stretch. My eldest daughter recently told me that she’s never forgotten that November, 1997 night, when she was just 10 years old. It was a lovely night, indeed.

Brandy’s never forgotten it, either.

To paraphrase The King in Disney’s Cinderella, Brandy was a vision in this production.

“I’m so excited that Cinderella has a home now at Disney Plus,” Brandy told ABC, “and we can celebrate, and share, and inspire a whole new generation.”

Superstar Whitney Houston not only produced Cinderella, but played The Fairy Godmother in a performance that, to my mind, stands as her best acting performance. The sass she brings to the role — “Well turn around, Cinderella! Don’t make me do all of the work!” — was hysterical.

As stunning as the casting of those two roles was, others were even more shocking. Unlike The Wiz a generation before, which reimagined The Wizard Of Oz with an all-black cast, this Cinderella’s colorblind casting featured Whoopi Goldberg as The Queen, Victor Garber as The King, and Paulo Montalban as The Prince who’d be smitten by Cinderella at first glance. Broadway legend Bernadette Peters almost stole the show as Cinderella’s wicked Step-Mother (“Beauty has no pain, girls!”), and her two daughters almost assuredly had two very different looking fathers. Seinfield’s Jason Alexander was along for the ride, and a little comic relief.

Of the film’s brilliant Rodgers and Hammerstein score, I promise you’ll be singing “In My Own Little Corner,” “Ten Minutes Ago,” and “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful” for days. The production added a couple of songs to the original score, ‘cause after all, Houston had to sing something by herself! Her “There’s Music In You” doesn’t disappoint. And all of the movie’s sets are magnificent.

But the production’s real highlight is the chemistry between Brandy and Montalban. When Cinderella descends that ballroom staircase, the music stops, and The Prince freezes in his tracks at the sight of her, you’ll feel it, too. And that dance…

“Ten minutes ago, I met you, and we murmured our ‘how do you dos’ “

Cinderella earned seven Emmy nominations in 1998, winning for art direction for a variety or music program.

“I am absolutely thrilled that our Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella will finally be available on Disney Plus,” producer Debra Martin Chase told Variety. “As the service got up and running, I became inundated on my social media by inquiries from fans asking why the movie was not included in its programming. It is so rewarding that…our Cinderella is still relevant and beloved.”

Shockingly, the soundtrack album to this masterpiece never materialized. Maybe if the musical proves popular on Apple Plus, I won’t have to record the songs as voice memos on my iPhone and transfer them to my Apple Music library.

Don’t judge.

Bravo and thanks to Disney for unearthing this Cinderella, just in time for Valentine’s Day!

Look for part two of this series soon, featuring an EXCLUSIVE interview with one of Cinderella’s principal cast!

The Best Of This Year’s Black History Month Swag

By Michael P Coleman

I’m typically not one to buy into — or buy — Black History Month swag that’s produced or offered by large corporate entities who have varying degrees of commitment to the African American community during the other 11 months of the year.

But I look great in red, black, and green, so as Grandma Coleman used to say, there are exceptions to every rule.

This year, Apple blew my mind with a Black Unity edition of their wildly popular Apple Watch Series 6. I almost bought it, until I realized that the watch band was for sale aside from the watch, and that it would look GREAT on the Product (Red) Series 6 that’s been on my wrist since Christmas.

Doesn’t it?

According to Apple’s site, the watch and band were “…inspired by the colors of the Pan-African flag — red for the blood that unites people of the African Diaspora and was shed for their liberation, black for the Black people whose existence is affirmed by the flag, and green for the vibrant natural wealth of Africa.”

Doesn’t it??

Tim Cook and Company did their homework. And according to their site, Apple supports a number of organizations dedicated to advancing racial equity and justice, including the Black Lives Matter Fund; European Network Against Racism; International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights; Leadership Conference Education Fund, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund; and Should Grown Deep.

Read more about Apple’s commitment to challenge systemic barriers that exist for people and communities of color, particularly the Black community.

If you’re still reeling from last year’s holiday spending or you don’t want to make an additional Apple purchase at all, you can add a Unity watch face to your existing Apple Watch for free.

For real. Apple’s offering something for free.

Another corporate entity that surprised me this year was JCPenney, or JCP as they’re going by these pre-bankruptcy days. They have a whole line of Black History Month stuff to go along with my watchband. I had to stop into their Arden location a few weeks ago to return a Christmas present, and their Black History Month collection caught my eye.

Which do you prefer, the hoodie?

Or the long sleeve t-shirt?

It was a close call for me — so I bought both.

But if I had to chose, I’d go with the t-shirt. I don’t know if you’re lucky enough to be, but I’m happily black all year!

Apple’s Black Unity collection is available at Apple.com.

Check out JCPenney’s Black History Month collection at JCP.com.

COVID CONVOS — Influenza Cases Are WAY Down This Season, and We May Have ‘Rona To Thank For That

By Michael P Coleman

We’re hearing about a coronavirus that won’t retreat, and COVID-19 cases that are higher than they need to be, but what’s not being talked about is the seasonal flu. Unlike past seasons, influenza has not been covered in the mainstream media at all. And although we’re in the middle of peak flu season, this writer doesn’t know a single person who has or has had it this year.

A quick check in with Aron King of the Capital City Black Nurses Association confirms my hypothesis: we’ve pretty much got the flu beat this season!

“My hospital has a pretty detailed dashboard built into our electronic medical record (EMR) system listing numbers for both COVID and influenza (flu) — both suspected and positive,” King told me via email. “We have experienced very low flu numbers [this year] when compared to previous years.”

Aron King, RN and member of the Capital City Black Nurses Association

Initially, I scratched my head about that one. But as it turns out, the answer to that conundrum is as plain as the not-at-all-stuffed-up nose on my face.

“I would assume that it is related to the precautions [being] taken for COVID,” King posited, of the lower number of influenza cases. “Social distancing, increased hand washing, and masking. California shut down large public gatherings, malls, etc. I also believe that most people are going a step further and limiting interactions with the general public.”

I know I am — and always have, especially during flu season. I’ve actually not had a cold or the flu since 2001. I’ve also remained COVID-free during this pandemic, and I intend to do everything I can to stay that way!

Learn all about the work being done by the Capital City Black Nurses Association at ccbna.org.

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