Friday, February 3, 2012

Demanding Integrity and Accountability From President Obama's Administration Remains A Major Necessity For African American Voters in 2012


What brazen opportunism and calculated political cynicism by the White House this national organizing effort is! The current national black unemployment rate is 20% (the highest since 1982!) and RISING (the only national demographic population group whose rate is currently going UP instead of DOWN). Meanwhile MILLIONS of African Americans are also suffering from housing foreclosures and the national poverty rate is soaring with no end in sight. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Before anyone gets bent out of shape because I'm saying something that makes them "uncomfortable", "annoyed," or "angry" I hasten to point out that these are FACTS not mere petty accusations and SOMEONE has to be willing to acknowledge this grim reality in this election year because absolutely no "change" will happen until the actual depth and severity of these problems are fully recognized and dealt with in a serious manner.

REMEMBER: "THE PRESIDENT IS NOT YOUR BOYFRIEND"...and also please don't forget what Frederick Douglas said: "Power concedes nothing without a demand." You don't demand and fight for anything you damn sure won't get anything.
So while it's crystal clear that we MUST vote for Obama again this year because the deadly Republicans are even worse than he is, let's not fool ourselves that being trapped by this awful dilemma is evidence of real progress being made. BECAUSE IT'S NOT...Stay tuned...


‘African Americans for Obama’ Launches
By Tonya Garcia
February 2, 2012

To kick off Black History Month, President Barack Obama and his presidential reelection team has launched African Americans for Obama, a campaign that will go grassroots to build support for the President and, more importantly, encourage black voters to head to the voting booths in November.

The campaign will focus on targeting African Americans at places like beauty salons, barber shops, and HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities), targeting community leaders, business owners, and other influencers. The initiative will emphasize the accomplishments of the Obama administration and seeks to build on the President’s efforts to reaffirm ties with the black community. Issues such as unemployment, which has hit African-Americans very hard, are of particular interest.

Equality is also a big part of the messaging, with the President saying everything except “the 99 percent” in the video above.

The initiative is part of a larger effort, Operation Vote, that targets minority groups, the LGBT community, and others.

Separately but related, President Obama issued a statement yesterday that declared a theme for Black History Month this year: “Black Women in American Culture and History.”

“Today we stand on the shoulders of countless African-American women who shattered glass ceilings and advanced our common goals,” reads the President’s statement. Love!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Don Cornelius, 1936-2012; Cultural Pioneer, Media Visionary, and Innovative Producer

Don Cornelius, 1936-2012


Another GIANT has left the planet. Don Cornelius was a major visionary, innovator, and cultural leader whose fierce dedication to the best in African American popular culture permeated everything he did. Don was a truly independent black man of courage, decency, integrity, compassion, and intelligence who actually CARED deeply about black people and especially our youth. Cornelius and the legendary 'Soul Train' legacy that he left us will never be forgotten. Thank you for being there when we really needed you brother. Your dynamic television and radio programming taught the entire world just how great, inspiring, and valuable African American culture really is. RIP brother Don. You made the world a much better place and we will always be very grateful to you for that.

"You can bet your last money, it's all gonna be a stone gas honey! And in parting as always we wish you Love, Peace, and Soul!"

--Famous weekly signoff statement by Don Cornelius at the end of every 'Soul Train' program

Don Cornelius Dead: 'Soul Train' Host And Creator Dies After Apparent Suicide Soul Train Creator, Don Cornelius, Dead February 1, 2012
Huffington Post

Don Cornelius, the creator and longtime host of the groundbreaking music show ‘Soul Train,' has died. He was 75.

According to the New York Times, the police responded to reports of gunshots at Cornelius's Sherman Oaks home. They found Cornelius with a gunshot wound to the head that appeared to be self-inflicted, according to the Los Angeles County coroner.

A radio news announcer by trade, Cornelius began moonlighting at WCIU-TV in the 1960s. While there, he toyed with the idea of creating an African-American version of "American Bandstand," Dick Clark's influential music show, with live dancing five days a week. On August 17, 1970, the first episode of Soul Train premiered on the station, and by the following year, it was being syndicated in other markets.

"If I saw `American Bandstand' and I saw dancing and I knew black kids can dance better; and I saw white artists and I knew black artists make better music; and if I saw a white host and I knew a black host could project a hipper line of speech – and I did know all these things [then it was reasonable to try]," he told the Associated Press in 1995.

"Soul Train" would go on to become the longest-running nationally syndicated show in history, airing from 1971 through 2006. Cornelius held down the hosting duties for most of that run, before stepping away in 1993. He remained as the program's executive producer and expanded the brand into an annual awards show.

“It’s just so sad, stunning and downright shocking and a huge and momentous loss to the African-American community and the world at large," Aretha Franklin said. "Don Cornelius singlehandedly brought about a melding and unity of brother and sisterhood among young adults worldwide and globally with the unforgettable creation of Soul Train.”

The Rev. Al Sharpton, who was a protegé of James Brown, echoed those sentiments.

"I have known him since I was 19 years old and James Brown had me speak on 'Soul Train,'" Sharpton said in a statement. "We have maintained a friendship for the last 38 years. He brought soul music and dance to the world in a way that it had never been shown and he was a cultural game changer on a global level. Had it not been for Don Cornelius we would not have ever transcended from the Chitlin circuit to become mainstream cultural trendsetters."

Cornelius recently told the Los Angeles Times that there were early plans to create a movie based on the franchise. "We've been in discussions with several people about getting a movie off the ground," he said. "It wouldn't be the 'Soul Train' dance show, it would be more of a biographical look at the project. It's going to be about some of the things that really happened on the show."

In 2008, Cornelius was arrested and charged with spousal battery and dissuading a witness from making a police report, and assault with a deadly weapon. He was sentenced to three years probation.

During his rocky divorce battle with his ex-wife, Viktoria, TMZ reported that Cornelius made a morbid request in the couple’s divorce papers. "I am 72 years old. I have significant health issues," Cornelius said. "I want to finalize this divorce before I die."

Cornelius is survived by his two sons, Anthony and Raymond.

More from Jeff Wilson at the AP:

LOS ANGELES — Don Cornelius, the silken-voiced host of "Soul Train" who helped break down racial barriers and broaden the reach of black culture with funky music, groovy dance steps and cutting-edge style, died early Wednesday of an apparent suicide. He was 75.

Police responding to a report of a shooting found Cornelius at his Mulholland Drive home around 4 a.m. He was pronounced dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound about an hour later at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, according to the coroner's office.

A police cruiser sat parked at the entryway of Cornelius' home on a two-lane stretch of Mulholland Drive in the hills above Los Angeles as detectives searched inside. News cameras camped outside as drivers on their morning commute drove by.

Police Officer Sara Faden said authorities have ruled out foul play. Detectives have not found a suicide note and are talking to relatives about his mental state.

His death prompted many to speak of the positive influence he and his show had on pop culture, music and the black community.

"God bless him for the solid good and wholesome foundation he provided for young adults worldwide and the unity and brotherhood he singlehandedly brought about with his most memorable creation of `Soul Train,'" said Aretha Franklin, an early performer on the show.

Franklin called Cornelius "an American treasure."

The Rev. Jesse Jackson told KNX-Los Angeles that Cornelius "was a transformer."

"`Soul Train' became the outlet for African-Americans," Jackson said, adding that he talked to Cornelius a few days ago and there were no signs Cornelius was upset.

Others also expressed their grief.

"I am shocked and deeply saddened at the sudden passing of my friend, colleague, and business partner Don Cornelius," Quincy Jones said. "Don was a visionary pioneer and a giant in our business. Before MTV there was `Soul Train,' that will be the great legacy of Don Cornelius.

"His contributions to television, music and our culture as a whole will never be matched," he said. "My heart goes out to Don's family and loved ones."

Clarence Avant, former chairman of Motown Records, said, "Don Cornelius' legacy to music, especially black music, will be forever cemented in history. `Soul Train' was the first and only television show to showcase and put a spotlight on black artists at a time when there were few African-Americans on television at all, and that was the great vision of Don."

"Soul Train" began in 1970 in Chicago on WCIU-TV as a local program and aired nationally from 1971 to 2006.

It showcased such legendary artists as Franklin, Marvin Gaye and Barry White and brought the best R&B, soul and later hip-hop acts to TV and had teenagers dance to them. It was one of the first shows to showcase African-Americans prominently, although the dance group was racially mixed. Cornelius was the first host and executive producer.

"There was not programming that targeted any particular ethnicity," he said in 2006, then added: "I'm trying to use euphemisms here, trying to avoid saying there was no television for black folks, which they knew was for them."

Chairman and chief executive of Black Entertainment Television Debra Lee cited Cornelius as a personal role model. She said she used to finish her chores early on Saturday mornings so she could check out the latest music, fashions and dance moves on the show.

"He was such a pioneer in the black music space but also in the black business space," she said. "He created the show in a very hostile environment. He made it a success and he made it a destination for African-Americans and lovers of our culture all over the country and all over the world.

"His reach is just amazing, and personally he was such a charming man," she continued, calling Cornelius "a great interviewer who knew how to connect to artists" and had "the best voice in the world."

Earvin "Magic" Johnson also cited Cornelius' business acumen.

"Don Cornelius was a pioneer & a trailblazer," Johnson wrote on Twitter. "He was the first African-American to create, produce, host & more importantly OWN his own show."

And, Johnson added, "Soul Train taught the world how to dance!"

Other entertainers and music fans also shared their thoughts about the show and its creator on Twitter, where both Cornelius and "Soul Train" were top topics Wednesday.

Singer-actor Ginuwine remembered the smooth-voiced producer as "someone who paved the way for black music."

"I still remember my first time on soul train," he wrote, "what an experience."

On his blog, music mogul Russell Simmons called Cornelius "one of the greatest music legends there was."

"Don Cornelius gave artists who had been segregated from most mainstream vehicles of expression a chance to perform in front of a huge national audience," Simmons wrote. "It was a tremendous opportunity that changed their careers and the whole music industry. To win a Soul Train Music Award meant that the most sophisticated tastemakers in the world loved your work."

"Soul Train," with its trademark opening of an animated chugging train, was not, however, an immediate success for Cornelius, an ex-disc jockey with a baritone rumble and cool manner.

Only a handful of stations initially were receptive.

"When we rolled it out, there were only eight takers," he recalled in a 2006 interview with The Associated Press. "Which was somewhere between a little disappointing and a whole lot disappointing."

The reasons he heard? "There was just, `We don't want it. We pass,'" he said, with race going unmentioned. "No one was blatant enough to say that."

"Soul Train" had arrived on the scene at a time when the country was still reeling from the civil rights movement, political upheaval and cultural swings. It also arrived when black faces on TV were an event, not a regular occurrence.

"Soul Train" was seen by some at first as the black "American Bandstand," the mainstay TV music show hosted by Dick Clark. While "American Bandstand" featured black artists, it was more of a showcase for white artists and very mainstream black performers.

"Soul Train" followed some of the "Bandstand" format, as it had an audience and young dancers. But that's where the comparisons stopped. Cornelius, the suave, ultra-cool emcee, made "Soul Train" appointment viewing by creating a show that showed another side of black music and culture.

When it started, glistening Afros dominated the set, as young blacks boogied and shimmied to the music of the likes of Earth Wind & Fire and other acts perhaps less likely to get on "American Bandstand."

"May u rest in peace and thank u 4 ur platform," rapper Q-Tip wrote on Twitter. "U will always be remembered."

People tuned into to see the musical acts, but the dancers soon became as much of a main attraction. They introduced Americans to new dances and fashion styles, and made the "Soul Train" dance line – where people stand line up on each side while others sashay down to show their moves – a cultural flashpoint.

"The `Soul Train' line – that will go down in history as a way of dancing at parties all around the world," Lee said.

Though "Soul Train" became the longest-running syndicated show in TV history, its power began to wane in the 1980s and `90s as American pop culture began folding in black culture instead of keeping it segregated. By that time, there were more options for black artists to appear on mainstream shows, and on shows like "American Bandstand," blacks could be seen dancing along with whites.

But even when Michael Jackson became the King of Pop, there was still a need to highlight the achievements of African-Americans that were still marginalized at mainstream events. So Cornelius created the "Soul Train Awards," which would become a key honor for musicians. The series also spawned the Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards and the Soul Train Christmas Starfest.

Cornelius, who was inducted into the Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame in 1995 and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, said in 2006 he remained grateful to the musicians who made "Soul Train" the destination for the best and latest in black music.

"I figured as long as the music stayed hot and important and good, that there would always be a reason for `Soul Train,'" Cornelius said.

Neil Portnow, president and chief executive of the Recording Academy, called "Soul Train" a cultural phenomenon and its creator "a true visionary and trailblazer."

"He made an indelible impact on American television, one that will continue to be appreciated for generations to come," Portnow said. "His beautiful, deep voice and measured pace always sounded warm and familiar to the millions who admired and followed his broadcasts."

Cornelius stepped down as "Soul Train" host in 1993. The awards returned to the air in 2009 after two-year hiatus. Last year's awards were held on Nov. 27 in Atlanta, with Earth Wind & Fire receiving the "Legend Award."

In his later years, Cornelius had a troubled marriage. In 2009, he was sentenced to three years' probation after pleading no contest to misdemeanor spousal battery. In his divorce case that year, he also mentioned having significant health issues.


Moody reported from New York. Associated Press writers Robert Jablon, Anthony McCartney, Lynn Elber and Sandy Cohen in Los Angeles contributed to this report.,0,2718985.column

Don Cornelius:
Peace, love, soul -- and civil rights

by Greg Kot

Music critic

February 1, 2012

Chicago Tribune

Don Cornelius, who died Wednesday at 75, was a civil-rights pioneer disguised as a dance-music-show host. He used to sign off the “Soul Train” show he founded by wishing his viewers “love, peace and soul,” and devoted every programming minute to proving he meant it.

The baritone-voiced host slipped into many roles on “Soul Train” and made it look easy, like he was trying on just another tailored double-breasted suit. He was a music tastemaker, fashion leader, smooth talker and business innovator, a national icon who could broker a deal or bust a move on the dance floor without seeming to break a sweat.

But his role as a civil-rights leader is perhaps his most significant contribution, even though he didn’t call attention to it. Cornelius worked uplifting community messages into his programming, and created a social context for “Soul Train” that was as radical and empowering as any equal-rights speech or rally.

As Roots drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson wrote Wednesday after Cornelius was found dead of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound at his Sherman Oaks, Calif., home, “Next to (Motown founder) Berry Gordy, Don Cornelius was hands down the most crucial nonpolitical figure to emerge from the Civil Rights era post-‘68.”

Thompson went on to amplify that assertion on his blog at “To say with a straight, dignified face that ‘black is beautiful’ was the riskiest, (most) radical life-changing move that America has seen. And amazingly enough for one hour, for one Saturday out (of) the week, if you were watching ‘Soul Train,’ it became contagious. Next thing you know you are actually believing you have some sort of worth. The whole idea of Afro-centrism in my opinion manifested and spread with ‘Soul Train’ in its first six years.”

To do it, Cornelius had to break through the walls that had barred African-Americans from power in television and music. In 1970 he went from juggling jobs as an insurance salesman, police officer, TV reporter and radio DJ in Chicago to hosting a local, low-budget African-American answer to Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand.” By the next year, he was going national and soon every major black performer was clamoring to be on his syndicated show. James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Al Green and Sly Stone were among his guests. Barry White showed up in a black velvet tux with a 40-piece orchestra in the midst of his larger-than-life heyday. The renowned Philadelphia songwriting and production team of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff wrote the show’s theme song.

At a time when commercial radio was segregating across lines of style and race, Cornelius presented the richness of black music in all its variety to a national audience. He effectively became the most powerful DJ in America.

He also showed the ability to adapt, keeping the show relevant through the disco and hip-hop eras, even though he was not particularly a fan of either style of music. He hosted the most important hip-hop artists of the time, including L.L. Cool J, Snoop Doggy Dogg and Public Enemy. For many of these acts, “Soul Train” would be the first national television exposure they would receive.

“We didn’t get nationally known until we did ‘Rebel Without a Pause’ on ‘Soul Train’ in 1987,” Public Enemy’s Chuck D said Wednesday on Twitter. “We thanked Don forever.”

“Soul Train” did more than just passively present the music. At its core, Cornelius’ show was about a community responding – creatively, spontaneously, ecstatically -- to the music made for it. The palpable excitement of that interaction opened up African-American culture to the rest of the world and made it not only more accessible but also desirable, hip, fun.

Cornelius’ primary ambassadors were the dancers he hired. Initially, they were teenagers and young adults he met at the parties he used to DJ in Chicago. A number went on to become famous in their own right: Jody Watley, M.C. Hammer, and future Bears running back Walter Payton. They brought a street flair to the show that made “American Bandstand” seem tame, and their dance moves – the pop and lock, robot, moonwalk – were studied and often emulated by viewers, including a young Michael Jackson.

The show’s cultural cache – documenting and spreading the gospel of not just music, but African-American dance, slang, hairstyles and fashion – was tied to Cornelius' acumen as a businessman. As Berry Gordy was to music, Cornelius was to the intersection of music and television. He cut a path for future African-American music moguls such as Russell Simmons, L.A. Reid, Sean “Puffy” Combs and Jay-Z, as well as Bob Johnson, who founded the Black Entertainment Television cable network in 1980. Cornelius partnered with George Johnson and Johnson Products, another black-owned Chicago institution, as an early sponsor.

“At the time, there weren’t many black advertisements or black figures appearing in ads, so there really was no place else to put them,” said Todd Boyd, a professor of critical studies at USC. “If you want to go back in the late 1950s, Nat King Cole’s show was canceled because they couldn’t find a sponsor. By the ’70s, Don Cornelius was pushing the [black] culture into the mainstream and also introducing concepts around sponsorship and advertising that previously had no other places to exist except the pages of John Johnson’s publications (Jet and Ebony).”

Cornelius quit as host in 1993, but continued to oversee everything from behind the scenes until the show’s demise more than 15 years later. Last September, Cornelius was coaxed back to Chicago from his California home for a week of festivities honoring the show’s 40th anniversary. About 15,000 people attended a concert at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park headlined by his friends Jerry Butler, the Impressions, the Emotions andChi-Lites. Cornelius, dressed in black leather, got the biggest ovation, the decades of memories compressed into a sustained moment of appreciation.

“It was pretty emotional,” said Richard Steele, the old friend who co-hosted the concert with DJ Herb Kent. “To look out and see all those people who came because it was ‘Soul Train,’ he was really moved by that.”

“At the end they also presented him with a street sign,” said Steele, now a host and producer at WBEZ-FM 91.5. “He was pretty shook up… When he did the customary sign-off he used to do, ‘Love, peace and soul,’ well, they went crazy.”

The Tribune’s Steve Johnson and Los Angeles Times staff writers contributed to this report.

Don Cornelius
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Don Cornelius at the 40th anniversary event for Soul Train. Born Donald Cortez Cornelius September 27, 1936 Chicago, Illinois, U.S. Died February 1, 2012 (aged 75) Sherman Oaks, California, U.S. Occupation Television host/Producer Years active 1966–2010 Known for Creator of Soul Train

Donald Cortez "Don" Cornelius (September 27, 1936 – February 1, 2012) was an American television show host and producer who was best known as the creator of the nationally syndicated dance/music franchise Soul Train, which he hosted from 1971 to 1993. Cornelius sold the show to MadVision Entertainment in 2008.

Cornelius was born in Chicago's South Side on September 27, 1936,[1] and raised in the Bronzeville neighborhood. Following his graduation from DuSable High School in 1954, he joined the United States Marine Corps and served 18 months in Korea. He worked at various jobs following his stint in the military, including selling tires, automobiles and insurance and as an officer with the Chicago Police Department.[2] He quit his day job to take a three-month broadcasting course in 1966 despite being married with two sons and only US $400 in his bank account.[1] In 1966, he landed a job as an announcer, news reporter and disc jockey on Chicago radio station WVON.
Prior to moving the show to Los Angeles where it went into national syndication, Cornelius began SOUL TRAIN as a local show on WCIU-TV in Chicago in the mid 1960s.[3][4][5]

Originally a journalist inspired by the civil rights movement, Cornelius recognized that in the late 1960s there was no television venue in the United States for soul music, and introduced many African-American musicians to a larger audience as a result of their appearances on Soul Train, a program that was both influential among African-Americans and popular with a wider audience.[6] As writer, producer, and host of Soul Train, Cornelius was instrumental in offering wider exposure to black musicians such as James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and Michael Jackson, as well as creating opportunities for talented dancers that would presage subsequent television dance programs.[7] Cornelius said "We had a show that kids gravitated to," and Spike Lee described the program as an "urban music time capsule."[7]

Besides his smooth and deep voice, Cornelius was best known for the catchphrase that he used to close the show: "... and you can bet your last money, it's all gonna be a stone gas, honey! I'm Don Cornelius, and as always in parting, we wish you love, peace and soul!" After Cornelius's departure, it was shortened to "...and as always, we wish you love, peace and soul!" and was used through the most recent new episodes in 2006. Another introductory phrase he often used was: "We got another sound comin' out of Philly that's a sure 'nough dilly".

He had a small number of film roles, most notably as record producer Moe Fuzz in 1988's Tapeheads.

The 2008 Soul Train Music Awards ceremony was not held due to the WGA strike and the end of Tribune Entertainment complicating the process of finding a new distributor to air the ceremony and line up the stations to air it. The awards show was moved in 2009 to Viacom's Centric cable channel (formerly BET J), which now airs Soul Train in reruns.

Cornelius last appeared at the 2009 BET Awards to present The O'Jays with the 2009 BET Lifetime Achievement Award.

He not only brought us the music, birthed stars and started dance crazes, but he also did insightful interviews with musicians that gave us a unique peak into their lives, values, and personalities. He integrated messages on social justice into the music setting. He was the epitome of cool! Mr. Cornelius was a pioneer in every sense of the word.

--He was the first Black owner of a nationally syndicated TV franchise
--He set the precedent for a wave of Black entrepreneurship in the entertainment business and formed powerful alliances with Black-owned sponsors
--He hosted a program that endured for 35 seasons
--He founded the “Soul Train Line” that is the mainstay of most African American parties
--He increased the hiring of Black professionals in the entertainment business both in front of and behind the camera

Soul Train was one of the first brands other than Motown to take its brand into other business areas, like the Soul Train award shows.

Dr. Boyce Watkins On What African Americans Should Expect of President Obama (Or Any Other President)

"Above all don't forget that the President of the United States is NOT your boyfriend. So grow up and stop treating him like he is. He is a politician and your fundamental obligation as a mature and thinking citizen is to demand at all times that he (Obama)-- like all politicians-- be held strictly accountable for what he actually does and says. Anything less is a major disservice to both him and us, and to to pretend or act otherwise can only result in you becoming a naive romantic fool who is finally ignored, dismissed, or taken advantage just like a former lover who has lost all respect for you because you have lost respect for yourself. For the record: I voted for this President in 2008 and will do so again but that doesn't mean that I will not continue to criticize him severely if necessary or vigorously oppose him when he's wrong or that I will simply give him a pass in dealing with or changing what's really important and necessary in this country just because I am so 'in love' with him or he seems like such a 'charming guy.' Only a childish idiot would do that."
--Bill Maher

Should Black Americans Expect More From Obama Than Any Other President?
by Dr. Boyce Watkins
Huffington Post

I've heard people say that the expectations on Barack Obama are greater from our community than they have been for any other president. When someone highlights the fact that black unemployment has actually worsened under the Obama Administration while improving within the white community, the quickest reaction I typically hear is "He's president of all of America, not just black America," which appears to be an excuse for him not to do anything. There is no question that President Obama has bigger issues to worry about than us 'lil old black folks,' but we seem to become pretty important to the White House around election time.

While one might argue that some black Americans expect more from Obama than any other president, we must also remember that we supported him more than any other president. So, I argue that, if we are being asked to expect the same from him that we would anyone else, then we should give him the same support as any other Democrat on election day. In other words, don't ask for more if you are not prepared to give more. Extraordinary benefits and expectations are a double-edged sword.

Has the Obama presidency been good for black America? It depends on who you ask. But what I ask, quite simply, is that we focus on tangible results and not symbolism when making our assessment. Singing Al Green songs might seem pretty cool, but it's not so cool when black Americans are singing the blues in the midst of foreclosure, poverty and unemployment unlike anything we've seen in the last 25 years.

I long for the day that the leading reason to support the Democrats in the next election doesn't simply amount to, "Well, the Republicans are going to be much worse." That's like a woman choosing whether to work for the pimp who beats her or the one who steals all of her money. Perhaps she should remove herself from prostitution entirely.

Three years ago, the Obama Administration made it clear that they would not have a targeted policy to deal with racial inequality in wealth or unemployment. The president said that he believed that "the rising tide will lift all boats," implying that targeted policy would not be necessary to deal with inequality. My Finance PhD led me to interpret these words as a racialized-version of trickle-down economics, another failed policy of the Reagan Administration. The notion that racial inequality will simply "fix itself" is socially lazy, naive and counterproductive. The same government that played a role in solidifying inequality in our society must also play a part in correcting that inequality -- we didn't get to this place by ourselves.

Well, the facts have made it clear that the "rising tides" policy has been a miserable failure. Over the last three years, white unemployment has improved, while black unemployment has gotten worse. During the last two months, when the Obama Administration celebrated improved employment numbers for the economy, the fact was that these improvements missed the black community entirely. During the past year, white unemployment has dropped from 8.3 percent to 7.5 percent, while black unemployment has risen from 15.2 percent to 15.8 percent, more than double that of white Americans.

Supporting a black president is very important. But the same courage that it takes for us to get out and vote for the president must be returned with courageous policy that reflects the interests of those who support him. You can't ask for extraordinary support and then turn around and say, "Hey, I'm just a regular guy." Also, avoiding favoritism toward the black community is very different from the abandonment of political responsibility. There are times when it seems that the administration works so hard to avoid appearing biased that it goes to the other extreme - sort of like when a father hires his son and then treats him worse than everyone else.

At the end of the day, the proof must be in the pudding. If the numbers on unemployment, foreclosure and wealth inequality show that Obama has done a good job for black Americans, then we should support him. But if the numbers do not justify his re-election, we should not allow anyone to play the race card to convince us to vote blindly. In fact, I don't even blame those who choose to sit out of the election in protest. Al Sharpton, Tom Joyner, Steve Harvey, Melissa Harris Perry or other Obama surrogates should not be making the decision for you - taking care of a few select members of the black community is not the same as taking care of the community itself. We must be sure to vote intelligently.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.

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Monday, January 30, 2012

The Magnificent and Indefatigable Etta James, 1938-2012

Etta James, 1938-2012

via Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Etta James in the studio in Chicago with the Chess Records founder Phil Chess, left, and the producer Ralph Bass in 1960

“A lot of people think the blues is depressing,” she told The Los Angeles Times in 1992, “but that’s not the blues I’m singing. When I’m singing blues, I’m singing life. People that can’t stand to listen to the blues, they’ve got to be phonies.”

--Etta James


This woman was the absolute greatest blues singer of the past half century and one of the most profound, mesmerizing and enduring artists in U.S. history. It's hard to know where to properly begin with such an iconic and legendary figure whose work is as inspiring, influential, and significant to any true understanding and appreciation of 20th century popular song as Etta James. A pure and towering musical force of nature, Ms. James's extraordinary and endlessly expressive voice, profound depth of feeling and emotion, and an enormous musical and vocal range encompassed every single major creative tradition in African American culture from blues and Gospel to R & B, Rock and Roll, and Jazz. As one of the immortal titans of our music and songcraft Etta, like so many other legendary black female GIANTS who happened to be Ms. James's contemporaries and elders (Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Betty Carter, Abbey Lincoln, Nina Simone, Dinah Washington Aretha Franklin, Mavis Staples, Clara Ward, Mahalia Jackson, Alberta Hunter, Bessie Smith, Victoria Spivey, et al ) completely revolutionized the genre of vernacular and popular song and made it into one of the greatest, inspiring, and most beloved artforms of our epoch.

So thank you Ms. Etta James for sending any and everyone who was fortunate enough to hear your incredibly moving and arresting voice into sheer ectasy. Likle so many other couples throughout the globe my wife and I was blessed to have your ever enduring classic song "At Last" grace our wedding. And while Beyonce did an adequate job covering what was indisputably your song at the inauguration of President and First Lady Barack and Michelle Obama in 2009, EVERYBODY with ears to hear in the world KNOWS that your eternally captivating version of that song could never possibly be approached let alone duplicated by ANYONE on this planet. Rest in Peace sister. You changed the world with your voice and spirit and we who hyave been privileged to hear and embrace it will always be eternally grateful that you came along to show us what great art and great singing was REALLY all about. The following outpouring of words, sounds, and video is a humble tribute to that beautiful, very powerful, and haunting legacy that you've left us and will never be eclipsed. You were a national treasure Etta. Thank You...


Etta James Dies at 73; Voice Behind ‘At Last 

January 20, 2012
New York Times

Etta James, whose powerful, versatile and emotionally direct voice could enliven the raunchiest blues as well as the subtlest love songs, most indelibly in her signature hit, “At Last,” died on Friday morning in Riverside, Calif. She was 73.

Her manager, Lupe De Leon, said that the cause was complications of leukemia. Ms. James, who died at Riverside Community Hospital, had been undergoing treatment for some time for a number of conditions, including leukemia and dementia. She also lived in Riverside.

Ms. James was not easy to pigeonhole. She is most often referred to as a rhythm and blues singer, and that is how she made her name in the 1950s with records like “Good Rockin’ Daddy.” She is in both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Blues Hall of Fame.

She was also comfortable, and convincing, singing pop standards, as she did in 1961 with “At Last,” which was written in 1941 and originally recorded by Glenn Miller’s orchestra. And among her four Grammy Awards (including a lifetime-achievement honor in 2003) was one for best jazz vocal performance, which she won in 1995 for the album “Mystery Lady: Songs of Billie Holiday.”

Regardless of how she was categorized, she was admired. Expressing a common sentiment, Jon Pareles of The New York Times wrote in 1990 that she had “one of the great voices in American popular music, with a huge range, a multiplicity of tones and vast reserves of volume.”

For all her accomplishments, Ms. James had an up-and-down career, partly because of changing audience tastes but largely because of drug problems. She developed a heroin habit in the 1960s; after she overcame it in the 1970s, she began using cocaine. She candidly described her struggles with addiction and her many trips to rehab in her autobiography, “Rage to Survive,” written with David Ritz (1995).

Etta James was born Jamesetta Hawkins in Los Angeles on Jan. 25, 1938. Her mother, Dorothy Hawkins, was 14 at the time; her father was long gone, and Ms. James never knew for sure who he was, although she recalled her mother telling her that he was the celebrated pool player Rudolf Wanderone, better known as Minnesota Fats. She was reared by foster parents and moved to San Francisco with her mother when she was 12.

She began singing at the St. Paul Baptist Church in Los Angeles at 5 and turned to secular music as a teenager, forming a vocal group with two friends. She was 15 when she made her first record, “Roll With Me Henry,” which set her own lyrics to the tune of Hank Ballard and the Midnighters’ recent hit “Work With Me Annie.” When some disc jockeys complained that the title was too suggestive, it was changed to “The Wallflower,” although the record itself was not.

“The Wallflower” rose to No. 2 on the rhythm-and-blues charts in 1954. As was often the case in those days with records by black performers, a toned-down version was soon recorded by a white singer and found a wider audience: Georgia Gibbs’s version, with the title and lyric changed to “Dance With Me, Henry,” was a No. 1 pop hit in 1955. (Its success was not entirely bad news for Ms. James. She shared the songwriting royalties with Mr. Ballard and the bandleader and talent scout Johnny Otis, who had arranged for her recording session. Mr. Otis died on Tuesday.)

In 1960 Ms. James was signed by Chess Records, the Chicago label that was home to Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters and other leading lights of black music. She quickly had a string of hits, including “All I Could Do Was Cry,” “Trust in Me” and “At Last,” which established her as Chess’s first major female star.

She remained with Chess well into the 1970s, reappearing on the charts after a long absence in 1967 with the funky and high-spirited “Tell Mama.” In the late ’70s and early ’80s she was an opening act for the Rolling Stones.

After decades of touring, recording for various labels and drifting in and out of the public eye, Ms. James found herself in the news in 2009 after Beyoncé Knowles recorded a version of “At Last” closely modeled on hers. (Ms. Knowles played Ms. James in the 2008 movie “Cadillac Records,” a fictionalized account of the rise and fall of Chess.) Ms. Knowles also performed “At Last” at an inaugural ball for President Obama in Washington.

When the movie was released, Ms. James had kind words for Ms. Knowles’s portrayal. But in February 2009, referring specifically to the Washington performance, she told an audience, “I can’t stand Beyoncé,” and threatened to “whip” the younger singer for doing “At Last.” She later said she had been joking, but she did add that she wished she had been invited to sing the song herself for the new president.

Ms. James’s survivors include her husband of 42 years, Artis Mills; two sons, Donto and Sametto James; and four grandchildren.

Though her life had its share of troubles to the end — her husband and sons were locked in a long-running battle over control of her estate, which was resolved in her husband’s favor only weeks before her death — Ms. James said she wanted her music to transcend unhappiness rather than reflect it.

“A lot of people think the blues is depressing,” she told The Los Angeles Times in 1992, “but that’s not the blues I’m singing. When I’m singing blues, I’m singing life. People that can’t stand to listen to the blues, they’ve got to be phonies.”

Selected Videos of Etta James