Saturday, December 31, 2011


It’s so hard to say goodbye.  But, here is a final adieu to some of the celebrities, politicians, newsmakers and community leaders who influenced lives in the African-American community and beyond.

The following are those who passed away in 2011:


Jan. 13 - Ellen Stewart, the founder and director of the Off-Off-Broadway pioneering group La MaMa Experimental Theater Club. She was 91.

Jan. 14 – Mississippi Winn, oldest living African American in the U.S., March 31, 1897-Jan. 14, 2011

Jan. 18 – Gregory V. Lange, WRVS Program Director. He was 56.

Jan. 26 - Gladys Horton, a member of the Marvelettes. She was 66.


Feb. 6 - Damian Bruce, ESP publicist. He was 51.

Feb. 8 - Gospel singer Marvin Sease. He was 64.


Feb. 19 - Ollie Matson – played in the NFL for 14 years. He was 80.

Feb. 20 - Dave Duerson, former NFL safety. He was 50.

Feb. 21 - Dwayne McDuffie, Creator of the television series Static Shock. He was 49.

Feb. 23 - Allen Willis, filmmaker. He was 96.

Feb. 24 - Joseph Dyer, a retired KCBS-TV executive who was one of the first African American reporters hired by a major network television station in Los Angeles. He was 76.



March 8 - Dr. Billy Ingram - founder of the Maranatha Community Church in Los Angeles. He was 58.


March 15 - Nate Dogg. He was 41.

March 18 - Drew Hill of Rams, Oilers and Falcons. He was 54.

March 21 - Willie “Pinetop” Perkins, blues piano player. He was 97 or 98. Born in 1913.

March 21 - Disco singer Loleatta Holloway, known for the 1980 hit "Love Sensation," She was 64.

March 23 - Elizabeth Taylor, actress, HIV activist. She was 79.

March 25 - Almena Lomax, civil rights activist launched Los Angeles Tribune newspaper. She was 95.

March 27 - DJ Megatron, urban radio and TV personality.

March 31 - Eugenia Wright, Hollywood Publicist.


April 1 - Manning Marable, African-American Studies Scholar. He was 60.

Apr. 5 - Ange-Felix Patasse, deposed President of the Central African Republic. He was 57.

April 20 - TV On The Radio bassist Gerard Smith.  He was 36.

April 26 - Singer-songwriter Phoebe Snow. She was 60.


May 1 - Osama Bin Laden.  He was 54.

May 11 - Mia Amber Davis, plus-sized model.

May 15 - Rapper, M-Bone from the group Cali Swag District, best known for their hit “Teach Me how to Dougie.” He was 22.

May 15 - Kenyan Olympic marathon champion Sammy Wanjiru. He was 24.

May 17 - Richard Gregory "Greg" Lewis, journalist for the South Florida Sun Sentinel and the San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle. He was 57.

May 19 - Don H. Barden, a Detroit businessman who built an empire from the cable company, casinos and other ventures. He was 67.


May 27 - Gil Scott-Heron, musician and poet. He was 62.  "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised."

May 30 - Clarice Taylor, perhaps best known for role as Bill Cosby’s matriarch mother on the “Cosby Show.” She was 93.


June 2 - Fayrene (Faye) Treadwell, one of the first female African American entertainment managers in history. She was 84.  

June 2-  Elmer 'Geronimo' Pratt, a former Black Panther Party leader who spent 27 years in prison on a murder conviction that was later overturned. He was 63.

June 8 – Clara Luper, Oklahoma City, Civil Rights. She was 88.

June 18 - Clarence Clemons, the legendary saxophonist in the E Street Band, who played alongside Bruce Springsteen for the past 40 years. He was 69. 

June 18 - Frederick Chiluba, second President of Zambia. He was 67.

June 19 - Carl Gardner, original lead singer of the R&B group the Coasters. He was 83.

June 29 - Gladys Wesson-Strickland. Mother of Herb Wesson, Jr. She was 79.


July 1 - Raymond Jones, producer and keyboardist for Chic.  Also a composer, writer, recording artist and engineer.  He was 52.

July 5 - Armen Gilliam, former UNLV and ex-NBA player. He was 47.

July 6 - John Mackey, Hall of Fame tight end and union president.  He was 69.

July 11 - Gospel icon Bishop F.C. Barnes.  He was 82.

July 18 - Mother Lillian Mobley. Known as a mother to the community.   She was 81.

July 23 - Butch Lewis, Legendary boxing promoter. He was 65.

July 24 - Jane White, singer/actress. She was 88.

July 26 - Famed Jazz Saxophonist Frank Foster He was 82.

July 27 - Charles L. Gittins, First Black Secret Service Agent. He was 82.

July 28 - Rev. Howard Creecy Jr., president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He was 57.


Aug. 2 - Delois Barrett Campbell, a member of the award-winning Barrett Sisters trio.   She was 85.

August 3 - Former NFL defensive star Bubba Smith. He was 66.

Aug. 5 - Meda Chamberlain, former executive director of the National Council of Negro Women Inc.  She was 95.

Aug. 12 - Pastor Zachery Tims of Orlando, Florida.  He was 42.

Aug. 22 - Nick Ashford of Ashford & Simpson. He was 70.

Aug. 29 - Bluesman David 'Honey Boy' Edwards dead at 96.

Aug. 24 – Esther Gordy Edwards - who helped build Motown Records alongside her brother Berry Gordy Jr.  She was 91.


Sept. 2 - McKinley "June Bug" Williams, of the R&B group Maze.

Sept. 4 - Lee Roy Selmon, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Hall of Fame defensive end. He was 56.

Sept. 16 - Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith, blues musician. He was 75.

Sept. 22 - Vesta Williams, R&B singer. She was 53.

Sept. 22 - Otis Smith. Music industry executive.

Sept. 25 – Wangari Maathai- The first African woman to win a Noble Prize. She was 71.

Sept. 26 - Jessy Dixon, a gospel legend. He was 73. 

Sept. 28 – Sylvia Robinson, the woman some call the mother of hip-hop. She had a hit as a singer-songwriter with the sexually charged "Pillow Talk."  She was 76.

Sept. 30 - Marvin “Marv” Tarplin, Motown guitarist. He was 70.


Oct. 5 - Fred Shuttlesworth, who helped lead the civil rights movement. He was 89.

Oct. 5 - Derrick Bell, first tenured Black professor at Harvard Law School. He was 80.

Oct. 13 - "Diamond" Jim Sears, radio legend.

Oct. 28 - David Watkins, an award-winning event marketing and advertising visionary. Worked with UPTOWN and Vibe.


Nov. 17 – Walt Hazzard, Former UCLA Player and Coach. He was 69.

Nov. 18 - Greg Halman, a Dutch baseball player who was an outfielder for the Seattle Mariners. He was 24.

Nov. 28 - Comedian Patrice O'Neal. He was 41. 

Nov. 30 - Chester McGlockton, former Oakland Raider. He was 42. 

Nov. 30 – J. Blackfoot, Memphis soul singer. He was 65.

Nov. 30 - Barry Llewellyn, Jamaican reggae singer and member of the Heptones. He was 64.


Dec. 2 - Soul singer Howard Tate.  He was 72.

Dec. 6 - Dobie Gray, who recorded “Drift Away” in 1973.  He was 69.

Dec. 11 - Ofield Dukes, public relations executive. He was 79.

Dec. 12 - John Atterberry, record producer. He was 40.

Dec. 16 - Rapper Slim Dunkin (real name Mario Hamilton). He was 24.

Dec. 26 - Sam Rivers, jazz musician. He was 88.

Dec. 26 - Houston Antwine, former NFL defensive end, played with the New England Patriots and Houston Oilers.

Dec. 28 – Sam Logan, Detroit newsman and publisher of the Michigan Chronicle. He was 78.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


*Once “Fela!” starts, there’s no turning back.

Audience members should come prepared to strap themselves in for a high-octane experience that takes them on a musical and historical ride that is inspiring, informative and completely entertaining.

Currently playing at the Ahmanson, “Fela!” is the true story of the legendary Nigerian musician Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, whose affecting Afrobeat rhythms is said to have sparked and reenergized a generation. Afrobeat is a mix of jazz, funk, highlife (a popular West African horn-based style) and traditional Yoruba music.

Determined and undeterred, Fela followed in the steps of his mother, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, herself a civil rights defender. Through his pulsating music he challenged a military government he deemed tyrannical and dishonest and garnered a loyal following in the process.

Inspired by his mother, Fela defied a corrupt and oppressive military government and devoted his life and music to freeing his people and restoring their human dignity.

Fela’s story is both provocative and controversial.
It’s the ’70s and Fela, arguably one of the hottest and most popular musicians in Africa at the time, has a club called The Shrine. Club attendees were privy to a new sound Fela dubbed Afrobeat, which was a pounding eclectic rhythm that was clearly infectious. It was mixed with what some called incendiary lyrics about the repressive military dictatorship that ruled Nigeria at the time.  His music eventually found its way around the world, not surprisingly igniting a rather contentious relationship between the musician and the government.

Fearless of government reprisals, the iconic composer and performer wasn’t afraid to die for what he believed. He urged others to fight repression as he amassed a small army of his own and even surrounded his compound with electric wire.
An endearing, feared, reviled (by the government) and revered political and musical figure in African history, Fela’s story is not only told through music, but also some incredible dancing – choreographed by Tony-Award winner Bill T. Jones. Jones also conceived, directed and co-authored the book to the biographical musical.

Not an easy story to turn into a musical, the producers, directors and cast have essentially hit a home run.

This is a tough (in every sense of the word) show with an emotional subject matter, but the pay off is worth every drop of sweat and tears the actors exude.

The show moves from explaining Fela’s musical influences, to how he went about creating his unique sound. Honing his craft in New York, London and Los Angeles, Fela inhaled and digested the Black Power movement in America through a woman named Sandra Isadore who opened his mind to the writings of civil rights icons Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X.

Paulette Ivory is intoxicating, stealing the show the moment she opens her mouth to sing the role of Isadore.  Her voice is like buttah! She is a force who commands the stage. Kudos!

Fela’s spiritual and philosophical transformation was palatable.

The show, produced by Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter and Will & Jada Pinkett Smith, is driven not only by the music and the choreography, but also by some powerful performances.

Sahr Ngaujah, (who was nominated for a Tony Award for his performance), is stunningly brilliant and engaging in the role of Fela. He draws the audience in with an authentic presence that fills the stage. His magnetic personality paired with his robust performance effectively carries the show from beginning to end.

Melanie Marshall is equally impressive, portraying Fela’s fearless and unwavering mother, Funmilayo. She gives a bold, yet subtle performance that is affecting and gut-wrenching.

There is no weak link in this show, making Fela! a satisfying theatrical experience.

The dancers, with their enviable firm, elongated and beautifully cut bodies, are full of inexhaustible energy.  Like free spirited gazelles they move about the stage pushing the story forward with their technically precise, yet free-styled gyrations. 
The efficient and splendid set design, mood lighting and costumes assist in making this show a full package.

And, the music, of course, is exceptional!

“Fela!” is more than a play. It’s more than a musical. It’s an experience!

Kudos to everyone involved.

The musical opened on Broadway at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre, Nov. 23, 2009, after an acclaimed run Off-Broadway in 2008.

“Fela!” stars Sahr Ngaujah, Adesola Osakalumi, Melanie Marshall, Paulette Ivory, Rasaan-Elijah “Talu” Green, Ismael Kouyate, Gelan Lambert, Sherinne Kayra Anderson, Jonathan Andre, Cindy Belliot, Nandi Bhebhe, Catia Mota Da Cruz, Nicole Chantal De Weever, Jacqui Dubois, Poundo “Sweet” Gomis, Wanjiru Kamuyu, Oneika Phillips, Thierry Picaut, Jermaine Rowe, Daniel Soto, Ade Chike Torbert, Jill Marie Vallery, Iris Wilson, Aimee Graham Wodobode.

Fela!, directed and choreographed by Bill T. Jones with a book by Jim Lewis and Bill T. Jones, and music and lyrics by Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.

Fela!, Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles; plays Tuesday –Friday 8 p.m.; Sat. 2 and 8 p.m.; Sun. 1 and 6:30 p.m.; There is no performance on Mondays. Through Jan. 22, 2012; $20-$120;

On the Donloe Scale, D (don’t bother), O (oh, no), N (needs work), L (likable), O (OK) and E (excellent), “Fela” gets an E (Excellent).

Friday, December 16, 2011


Janet Jackson 

Singing sensation Janet Jackson recently announced on Good Morning America that she has become  the new face of NutriSystem's national advertising and marketing campaign.

Jackson will unveil the company's new NutriSystem Success Program, which features new Chef’s Table entrees, new protein shakes, a My Daily 3 customized activity plan and a new transition and maintenance plan.

Jackson has made no secret that she has struggled with yo-yo dieting, which she revealed in her New York Times’ best selling book, “True You.”

“Dieting never worked for me, counting calories never worked for me, and denying myself the foods I love never worked for me,” Jackson said in a statement. “With NutriSystem I am seeing results already, and I am so impressed by both the thought and the nutritional science behind the program.  There are millions of women like me who want to be successful but don’t have the tools to do it on their own.  I hope I can help inspire them.”

“She is very open about her personal weight struggles and will be appearing in a substantial national advertising campaign to help inform and motivate consumers,” said a NutriSystem spokesperson. 

“The ads, which were shot on location in Australia during Ms. Jackson’s recent worldwide tour, will debut before the end of the year.”

Jackson’s print and television ads for NutriSystem will be seen on various media platforms through 2012.

Monday, December 12, 2011


At a press conference held today at the Universal Hilton, Gil Robertson IV, the president and founder of the African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA) and actress Salli Richardson-Whitfield, announced the organization's picks for the best in film in 2011.


Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life," received the association's top honor as Best Picture of 2011. "The Help's" Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer both scored acting honors.

VIOLA DAVIS (3rd from left) in "THE HELP"

AAFCA's Top Ten Films of 2011 are as follows in order of distinction:

1. The Tree of Life
2. Drive
3. Pariah
4. Rampart
5. Shame
6. Money Ball
7. The Descendants
8. A Better Life
9. My Week With Marilyn
10. The Help

Best Actor                              Woody Harrelson, "Rampart"
                                               (Millennium Entertainment)
Best Actress                           Viola Davis, "The Help" (Dream Works Pictures)
Best Supporting Actress        Octavia Spencer, "The Help"  (Dream Works Pictures)
Best Supporting Actor           Albert Brooks, "Drive"  (Film District)
Best Foreign Film                  Alrick Brown, Kinyarwanda (AFFRM)


Breakout Performance           Adepero Oduye, "Pariah"  (Focus)


Best Director                         Steve McQueen, "Shame" (Fox Searchlight)
Best Screenplay                    Ava DuVernay, "I Will Follow" (AFFRM)
Best Song                              Jason Reeves & Lenka Kripac, writers, "The Show"
                                              from "Moneyball"
Best Independent Film          "Pariah" (Focus)
Best Documentary                "The Black Power Mix Tape"

Special Achievement: George Lucas will receive the Cinema Vanguard award; Richard Roundtree (AAFCA Legacy); Hattie Winston (AAFCA Horizon) and Sony Pictures Entertainment will receive the Institution award.


AAFCA will present this year's honors during a private dinner on Sun., Jan. 8, 2012 at the Light Space Studio at Helms Bakery.

AAFCA, founded in 2003, is the only organization of African American film media professionals. Members represent a geographically diverse cross-section of media covering the cinematic arts. It also supports the development of future black film critics and filmmakers. AAFCA is based in Los Angeles.

For more information visit

Monday, December 5, 2011


Ten new episodes of NAACP Image Award-winning series premiere Monday nights beginning Jan. 2, featuring Vesta, Bobby Womack, Atlantic Starr, Sheila E, Ray Parker, Jr., Freddie Jackson, Full Force, Millie Jackson, David Ruffin and Whodini

TV One gets the New Year off to a rockin’ start with ten all-new episodes of Unsung, its NAACP Image Award-winning series of one-hour biographies celebrating the lives and careers of successful artists or groups who, despite great talent, have not received the level of recognition they deserve or whose stories have never been told, beginning Monday, January 2 at 10 PM ET. 

The full picture of black music in America is a rich kaleidoscope of talented artists and so much bigger than acknowledged superstars and household names like Aretha, Whitney, Stevie and Marvin. Many of the greatest have either failed to achieve that same level of superstardom - or have compelling life stories the details of which have largely remained untold.  Ten of black music’s most talented artists and groups will be recognized this winter in all-new episodes of Unsung, TV One’s top-rated and most highly anticipated series. The episodes will air weekly on Mondays at 10 PM, repeating at 1 AM (all times ET) and will chronicle the careers of: 

Vesta Williams (January 2) With one of the biggest, brassiest voices in R&B and contemporary jazz, along with a four-octave range, Vesta Williams charged through the 80s from an A-list backup singer, who recorded with the likes of Gladys Knight, Anita Baker, and Sting, to a hit-making diva.   Her 1986 debut album included two top ten singles,  "Once Bitten, Twice Shy" and "Don't Blow a Good Thing," while her follow-up produced the classic, "Congratulations."  But Vesta’s surging stardom overwhelmed her, and she comforted herself with drugs and food. Her weight ballooned, she was dropped by major labels, and her career seemed over. But Vesta vowed to clean up her act.  She quit drugs, lost over 100 pounds, and kept her musical chops limber while working with artists like George Duke, Howard Hewitt and Lee Ritenour. Though she continued to rely sporadically on pain-killers and sleep medication, she was determined to survive.  In 2011, as she completed the definitive profile of her life for “Unsung”, Vesta Williams was back in high spirits, optimistic that this filmed portrait would help re-ignite her career. Then on September 22, 2011, she suddenly died in her sleep, at age 53. This is her story. 


Bobby Womack (January 9) - He’s been called the Poet, the Preacher, and the last Soul Man. By whatever name, there’s never been anyone quite like Bobby Womack, who has lived an eventful life that mirrors the painful dramas of his classic songs. He grew up as the middle child among the talented Womack brothers, later re-named the Valentinos, where they forged success as a pop group under the tutelage of soul icon Sam Cooke. Bobby became Cooke’s protégé, a guitar-playing and songwriting prodigy who penned his first number one hit, ‘It’s All over Now’, as a teenager. But his budding career took a wild turn when, within months of Cooke’s shocking murder in 1964, the 21-year-old married Sam’s widow, Barbara. He became a pariah among former fans, a target for violence by Cooke’s brothers, and was all but banned from the record industry. But talent persevered, and Womack emerged in the ‘70s and ‘80s as a singer-songwriter of uncommon range, penning soulful standards, from ‘That’s the Way I feel about Cha’ to ‘Across 100th Street,’ to ‘If You think You’re Lonely Now.’ Then an astonishing string of tragedies, including the death of Bobby’s brother Harry, and the loss of two of his sons, sent his life and career into a tailspin. Now, after five decades of making music, he’s a storied survivor, who tells it all – as only he can - in this riveting episode of ‘Unsung.’

Atlantic Starr (January 16) - Atlantic Starr made their mark with slow grooves like “Secret Lovers” and the wedding classic “Always”. But the band had its roots as a close-knit group of nine friends and family members, hailing from a small town in upstate New York, who were devoted to fun and to funk. With help from Commodores producer James Anthony Carmichael, and songs written by group members David and Wayne Lewis, they shot to stardom with “When Love Calls” and “Circles” - both featuring singer Sharon Bryant. But the band’s sheer size, and the fight for control within it, led to conflicts which ultimately split the group in two. Bryant was replaced by Barbara Weathers, after which Atlantic Starr achieved its greatest success with “Always.”  But more personality conflicts spurred Weathers to quit the band, leading to a steady march of replacement singers, and ultimately, to the departure of key songwriter David Lewis himself. In this episode of ‘Unsung’, members of Atlantic Starr, past and present, come together for the first time to discuss candidly the rise and fall of a group whose bonds of friendship frayed in the crucible of making music.

Freddie Jackson (January 23) - Freddie Jackson’s soulful ballads are the stuff of velvet sheets, intimate encounters and rose petaled Jacuzzis. With nine number one hits, including ‘Rock Me Tonight (For Old Times Sake)’ and ‘You Are My Lady’, Freddie gave voice to sentiments men often struggled to communicate, and women longed to hear.  But super-stardom wasn’t all strawberries and whipped cream. Struggling with his weight since childhood, Freddie found his persona at odds with his ballooning figure, while whispers questioning his sexuality swirled amongst fans. Through the 1980s, Freddie helped catapult the Hush productions sound to the R&B forefront - but when the hits ran out, he found himself facing financial ruin. In this revealing episode of ‘Unsung’, Freddie and his closest collaborators, including Melba Moore and M’lissa Morgan, chart his popular success and his personal struggles.

Full Force (January 30) - Few musical artists can boast a career as wide-ranging, influential and yet truly ‘unsung’ as Brooklyn's Full Force. For more than three decades the pioneering three brother, three cousin collective have broken ground as writers, producers and performers. They’ve helped launch the careers of pop stars as diverse as Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam, the Backstreet Boys and Cheryl Pepsii Riley, while reviving the career of the Godfather himself, James Brown. They gained cult status after portraying hilarious bullies in the classic comedy "House Party", by playing up their buffed out & Jheri curled image, and rocked the dance floor with irresistible jams like ‘Ain’t My Type of Hype’ and ‘Alice, I Want You Just For Me!’  But behind the scenes, the band members have battled career ups and downs, along with health issues that have imperiled one member’s survival. On this remarkable episode of Unsung’, one of popular music’s most prolific musical families gets busy one more time.

Millie Jackson (February 6) - Millie Jackson’s voice was enough to make her an R&B singing star, but it was what she said between songs – and how she said it – that made her famous. Tackling topics previously considered taboo, and with unrivaled comic timing, Millie spoke to a generation of young black women who didn’t often hear themselves represented on TV or on the radio. Years later, her place in music history grew when the first wave of female hip-hop stars anointed her the Godmother of Rap. From renegade to pioneer, Millie made her mark. Now, along with testimony from some of the artists she’s influenced, including Roxanne Chante’ and Da Brat, Millie Jackson tells her story to ‘Unsung’ – and needless to say, she doesn’t mince words.

Ray Parker, Jr. (February 13) - Whether singing, playing guitar, or crafting smooth-sailing hits like ‘Jack and Jill, ‘The Other Woman’ or ‘You Can’t Change That’, Ray Parker Jr. made success look easy. But behind the show-biz façade, Parker was an obsessive musician - a guitarist who’d cut his teeth with Motown’s house band, the Funk brothers, as a teenager, and later played with Stevie Wonder and Barry White. Long before his emergence as a headliner, he’d written hits for White and Chaka Khan, while crafting a Grammy winning single for Leo Sayer - ‘You Make Me Feel Like Dancing’ – for which he never received credit, a hard lesson in business that drove him to contemplate suicide. All of which was just a prelude to Parker’s own Grammy winning triumph with  ‘Ghostbusters’ – and the controversy  which followed, in which he stood accused of plagiarizing someone else’s hit.  A double-dose of baby mama drama, family loss, and an ill-advised decision to leave his safe haven at Arista Records accelerated his descent from the top of the charts. But Ray Parker proved unsinkable, and along with testimony from his extended musical family – including Cheryl Lynn, Chaka Khan and Clive Davis - he tells ‘Unsung’ the tale of his still-unfolding journey.

Sheila E. (and the E. family) (February 20) - While the Jacksons, Sylvers and Debarge define family singing groups, the Escovedos are something else: a family that learned how to stay together by playing together.  Even before Sheila E. garnered international celebrity for 80's mega hits "The Glamorous Life" and "A Love Bizarre," her father, brothers and extended family were acclaimed musicians, with associations ranging from Santana to Tito Puente, Lionel Richie, Jennifer Lopez, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. Of course, Sheila remains the family’s shining star, whose partnership with Prince on songs like ‘A Love Bizarre’ and ‘Erotic City’ produced plenty of heat on stage and off.  But her rise to the top as a lovely Latina with serious musical chops came with a cost, including serious health issues, and a childhood trauma which would shadow her direction in decades to come. On this episode of ‘Unsung’, Sheila, her father, and her talented siblings come together to trace the remarkable journey of Oakland’s musical first family.


David Ruffin (February 27) - The raspy and anguished lead voice on mega-hits "My Girl," "Ain't Too Proud to Beg," and "I Know (I'm Losing You)," David Ruffin was the center of The Temptations in their peak years. But his expanding ego forced his bandmates to cut ties with him in 1968. And with only one significant solo hit, "My Whole World Ended," Ruffin never again reached the heights he'd enjoyed as the swoon-inducing leader of The Tempts. In private life, David was a talented, self-tortured soul, capable of kindness and generosity along with untempered anger. But drug abuse wore him down in the '70s and '80s, costing him precious opportunities to reunite with friends and former bandmates, and damaging his relationships with those closest to his heart. Less than two years after joining The Temptations onstage for their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he was found dead from an apparent drug overdose at the age 50. Now, his family, friends and musical associates come together to help ‘Unsung’ portray the tumultuous life and career of a legendary singer.

Whodini (March 5) - With a string of up-tempo, R&B inflected hits in the mid to late 1980's, the New York bred rap trio of Jalil Hutchins, John Fletcher (aka Ecstasy) and Drew Carter (aka Grandmaster Dee) dominated the Billboard charts to become one of rap’s first superstars. Along with Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, LL Cool J, RUN-DMC & The Fat Boys, they helped define hip hop’s ‘golden age’ with platinum success. And with hits like "Friends," "Big Mouth" & "Five Minutes of Funk," Whodini mastered a difficult magic trick by making danceable music that was reflective and thoughtful. But along with the perks of success, Whodini battled cocaine addictions, squabbles over money and clashing egos, which ultimately caused the group to break up. Yet the group never completely lost sight of their earlier ambitions, reuniting after realizing they were stronger together than apart. For ‘Unsung’, Whodini’s members tell the story of a fun-loving, trailblazing brotherhood who have survived 3 decades of wild ups and downs.

“There’s no better way for TV One to say Happy New Year to our viewers than with new episodes of Unsung,” said TV One Executive Vice President of Original Programming Toni Judkins. “We are honored that Unsung has become a beloved classic, and are confident that these talented artists and their stories will resonate with our viewers and continue to build on Unsung’s legacy of helping to paint a richer portrait of black music in America.”

Thursday, December 1, 2011



On the very broad shoulders of Stanley G. Robertson, stands a generation of African American producers, writers, directors, actors, technicians and executives, who are perhaps, unaware of the first black Vice-President of both a major TV network and a motion picture company, who worked tirelessly behind the scenes for over 50 years to make minority inclusion possible. He died November 16, 2011 at his home in Bel-Air, California at 85 years of age.   “Even in death, I feel Stan still fighting,” said friend and colleague, Bill Cosby, who had a long-standing professional collaboration with Robertson.
Some could say it was his stature, 6’2”, with the physique of a linebacker that made people first pay attention. But what came out of the mouth of the black man who looked like an athlete, but spoke with the sophistication of a polished executive was what impressed everyone.  “His wonderful, encyclopedic knowledge of film was what set Stanley Robertson apart. He appreciated the art and the history of film.  He loved the medium. He understood what made a story work,” says University of Dayton Law Professor and former studio executive, Dennis Greene.
Robertson’s knowledge of story-telling began during his stint in the Music Clearance Department at NBC, after first being hired as a page for the network in 1957.   His drive to learn as much as possible found him in his spare time devouring as many scripts he could get his hands on.  A voracious reader, his career as an accomplished writer in the field of journalism had already reached a zenith before Robertson set his sights on working in the TV/Film industry, despite a chorus of nay-sayers who advised him of the impossibility of a black man making a career of it. 
After receiving a degree from Los Angeles City College in 1949, for two years Robertson worked as a general assignment reporter for the Los Angeles Sentinel, (the largest circulated black paper in the west).   He rose to become the paper’s managing editor and resigned to become an associate editor of Ebony Magazine. “I had attained a status very few black writers had, at a time when there were very few places blacks could go. But it turned into a dead-end.”
            The decision he made to leave his post at Ebony Magazine and go back to school in 1954 to study telecommunications at the University of Southern California was perhaps fueled by a determination forged in childhood.
The only child of working class parents, Robertson was born in Los Angeles, California on November 20, 1925 with the handicap of limited vision.  By the time he was 20, he had undergone 14 major eye operations, but none successful enough to preclude him from attending a school for the blind, which specialized in visually handicapped students.  It was his good fortune to have been nurtured by an astute elementary school teacher, Marie Johnson, who encouraged him think beyond his boundaries, be curious about the world around him and express himself through writing.  Later matriculating at California School for the Blind in Berkeley, Robertson remarked that as lovely as the campus and surroundings were he sensed he was “being prepared to make brooms, chairs and tune pianos.”  Breaking away, he insisted on enrolling in John F. Francis Polytechnic High School, where he survived and flourished, mustering the mettle it would take to continue breaking down barriers for himself and others.
            Having worked as a post office janitor, dishwasher in a drugstore, and doing menial work in a hospital lab, Robertson gained the insight and motivation to represent the inarticulate in his community and give a legitimate voice to their stories and concerns. His passion, both humanistic and political, came at a time when minorities were largely unrepresented behind the scenes and on the screen. Top brass at NBC recognized Robertson’s talents where he was promoted into the executive ranks, first as a Manager of Film Program Operations in 1965, then as a Director of Motion Pictures for Television and eventually Vice President of Motion Pictures for Television in 1971.  Herb Schlosser, Vice President of Programs, at the time, stated, “He earned the title by doing the best job.”  Robertson later ascended to the position of Vice President of Film Programs, where he was responsible for all programming produced on the network’s prime-time schedule.
            Later, in an attempt to further mainstream minority images, Robertson launched his own production company, Jilcris Inc., sealing a deal with Universal Studios as a contract writer, producer and executive. It was at Universal where Robertson continued  to create positive images of African Americans, (during an era when TV comedies were the only representation of blacks on TV.)  “The unspoken attitude is still that blacks are great for singing and dancing, but not for giving orders,” Robertson remarked, having worked his way up to giving orders which were both respected and implemented. Robertson developed and produced, “Harris and Company,” the first weekly dramatic TV series to depict a black family, starring Bernie Casey as a father of five.  The series was short-lived, but by then Robertson understood the value of being the forerunner and chipping away at perceptions. Later, his involvement with “America’s Favorite Dad,” Bill Cosby, would yield a fruitful collaboration. Robertson would come to run his production company at Universal.  He, subsequently, went to Paramount Studios where he was instrumental in the production of the film “Men of Honor,” as well as other projects.
It was his prior accomplishments, however, that had been recognized by top brass in the motion picture industry when in 1984, Robertson was brought to Columbia Pictures by Frank Price, Chairman of the Motion Pictures and subsequently made Vice President of Production by Guy McElwaine, the President and CEO of the Studio.  Price recalls the esteem in which Robertson was held, “I had previously gotten to know Stan as a highly respected executive at NBC.  He was a superb, well-liked exec, who got the job done.”  That job included Robertson’s dream to innovate minority programs in the hope of integrating more blacks and women into the mainstream of the filmmaking industry.  His efforts resulted in the creation of the first Creative Access Program at a major studio, in which the studio focused on developing minority writers and directors. He also started a New Producers initiative as well as a management training program, which developed new minority management personnel. However, with the merger between Columbia and Tri-Star, the programs ceased to exist.  This did not dampen Robertson’s convictions. “There is a sizeable black market out there, and they will pay to see themselves. Whites worldwide will pay to see them also. These movies are reaching more than blacks. Black filmmakers can make films about their lifestyles and they can be enjoyed by a broader society.”
Always aware that his presence behind the scenes was vital in shaping perceptions of minorities, as well as breaking down institutional barriers which limited the inclusion of minorities in policy making positions, he persisted. Robertson was intent on opening the doors for others and mentoring a new generation of diverse artists and executives.   Rather than focus on the difficulties he faced, Robertson lasered in on what it took to survive and help others. Using the tunnel vision of his early days, he blocked out obstacles and soared ahead.  His success was an art form in and of itself, forged with diplomacy, erudition, frankness and humor.
He is survived by his wife Ruby of 58 years, his daughter Jill Francesca and son, Christopher John.