The Very Thought of You

Today we say goodbye to the one and only Nancy Wilson. Formidable jazz singer, R&B artist, blues musician, actress and entertainer, Nancy hailed from Chillicothe, Ohio. Her career spanned more than five decades with Nancy retiring in 2010. Wilson recorded more than seventy albums and won three Grammy Awards for her work. She was 81 years old.

“The Girl With the Honey-Coated Voice”, was the first of six children, and was influenced by the music of Nat King Cole, Billy Eckstine, and Dinah Washington, at an early age. By the age of 15, while a student at West High School, Nancy won a talent contest sponsored by a local television station. The prize was an appearance on a twice-a-week television show, Skyline Melodies, of which, she became the host. She also worked at clubs on the east and north sides of Columbus, Ohio, until she graduated from high school. Unsure of her future as an entertainer, Nancy began college to pursue a degree in teaching. She spent one year at Ohio’s Central State College (now Central State University), before dropping out and following her original ambitions. Miss Wilson auditioned and won a spot with Rusty Bryant’s Carolyn Club Big Band in 1956, and toured with them throughout Canada and the Midwest from 1956 to 1958. While in this group, Wilson made her first recording under Dot Records.

In 1959 Nancy moved to New York City where her career bloomed. Within four weeks of her arrival in The Big Apple she got her first major break, a call to fill in at “The Blue Morocco”. The club booked Wilson on a permanent basis–she was singing four nights a week while simultaneously working as a secretary. When her manager, John Levy, sent two demos to Capitol Records, they signed her in 1960.

Wilson’s debut single, “Guess Who I Saw Today”, was so successful that between April 1960 and July 1962 Capitol Records released five Nancy Wilson albums. Her first album, Like in Love, displayed her talent in Rhythm and Blues. When her friend and fellow musician Julian “Cannonball” Adderley suggested she focus on jazz music and ballads, they collaborated and produced the album Nancy Wilson and Cannonball Adderley in 1962, which propelled her to national prominence.

In 1963 “Tell Me The Truth” became her first truly major hit, leading up to her performance at the Coconut Grove in 1964 – the turning point of her career, garnering critical acclaim from coast to coast. 1964 was a golden year as Wilson won her first Grammy Award for the best rhythm and blues recording for her album How Glad I Am. Nancy was also dubbed a “consummate actress” and “complete entertainer” as her talents weren’t reserved just for the recording booth. In 1967, after making numerous television guest appearances, Nancy got her own series on NBC, The Nancy Wilson Show, which ran until 1968 and won an Emmy. From the late 1960s through 2005, Wilson appeared in hundreds of films and television shows including The Red Skelton Hour, Hawaii Five-O, The Cosby Show and The Parkers. 

In addition to her musical accolades and achievements Nancy was recognized for her humanitarian and human rights work garnering awards from the NAACP, the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, Oprah Winfrey’s Legends Award, and the UNCF. A member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Wilson also has a street named after her in her hometown of Chillicothe, Ohio. She co-founded the Nancy Wilson Foundation, which exposed inner-city children to the country, and until she fell ill in 2008, continued her work in civil rights.

As with many others, I can say with all certainty and ease that Nancy Wilson has always been one of my favorite songstresses. And I’m not just biased because I too am an Ohio girl. That silky voice and amazing style made her the Queen of entertainment. And yes but oh yes, she was indeed royalty. Personally, my favorite Wilson tune which I never tire of hearing is The Very Thought of You, but you can’t go wrong with any Wilson melody. If you’re not familiar with her cannon, listen to How Glad I Am, My One and Only Love, Never Let Me Go, or Here’s That Rainy Day.

Fancy Miss Nancy–singer and storyteller, legend and legacy, thank you for blessing our souls with your voice. We will always smile at the very thought of you.

Love,

BCM

Creed II Review: Can You Smell the Oscar?

I hope everyone enjoyed their Thanksgiving and week after. Unlike the rest of the world, I was lying on my couch with a fever and missing the opening weekend of Creed II! But don’t fret, the first day I was able to live again I took myself to the movies. I thoroughly loved this sequel.

Just in case you don’t know, Michael B. Jordan plays Adonis Creed, son of Apollo Creed from the classic Rocky series. Basically, he fights, loses, goes through a journey of depression and self- discovery, trains with his mentor, fights, and wins. Along the way, he is in love with Tessa Thompson’s character, Bianca, and they go through some trials.  Which may sound incredibly predictable and boring, but I promise, it wasn’t boring.

Let’s break down why this movie was so great. First, Michael B. Jordan, and not for the reasons you think. Yes, we can see he is a beautiful man and he may possibly taste like tootsie rolls; clearly, this is a major reason we are intrigued by him; but for me, his acting has always seemed a little vapid, like it was missing some depth. With this performance he showed maturity and growth with his craft.  Sitting in the audience, I could feel his emotions through the screen, not because Adonis’s inner struggle was relatable, but because Jordan did such a terrific job depicting his character’s state of mind throughout the whole film. This performance felt more profound than his others. He really seemed like he held his own with veteran actor Sylvester Stallone. He shared the screen with him instead of just being in a scene with him. Can we smell an Oscar nomination? Hope so.

Reason number two, Tessa Thompson. She transforms herself into her characters like an ice cube melts in water. Thompson’s portrayal of Bianca was strong, confident and independent. She was not Adonis’s trophy but his equal. She had her own life outside of him but she knew when he needed her and how he needed her.

Sometimes women in these types of movies are depicted as shallow, weak, and expendable. As if their whole lives are revolving around this one man and they don’t have anything else going for them. Not this time. She has a career that was making big moves alongside his fighting career. And it was evident that he needed her just as much as she needed him. She was not replaceable. As a black woman I saw myself in her. I saw myself in her fears, her strength and the love she had for her man. For the record I would have also been the loudest person in the Arena in Russia that night as well, “Drago who?”

Reason number three, can we talk about the amazing way this movie was shot? Not only was it beautiful, but I appreciate long medium shots to build suspense, with slow-motion close-ups, as opposed to fast cuts with close-ups. I get it, we learn in video editing 101 that in order to show action we need fast cuts but it doesn’t always get the audience to lose themselves in the movie. The verisimilitude of the fighting scenes had me holding my breath with every punch. I was literally sitting at the edge of my seat watching this movie and the only thing that would bring me back to reality was someone coughing in the theatre.  Kudos to director, Steven Caple Jr., for capturing those moments perfectly. Can you believe this is his first major motion picture? Well, I hope to see a lot more from him.

Reason number four,  the love story between Adonis and Bianca. Bianca was everything Adonis needed. When he was weak, she was his strength. When he needed to be humbled, she was there to bring him back to Earth. When he needed encouragement, she cheered the loudest. Ryan Coogler did a fantastic job of writing a love story that was based on real love and admiration. Adonis never cheated on her, hit her or hurt her in any way. He praised and supported her music career, he was her strength when she was weak, and he made sure he provided for her. They were a team. That is the way love is supposed to be.  

This movie was a great sequel to the first one. If you haven’t seen either Creed films, you should. Go to Amazon Prime and rent the first one, then go online and buy your tickets for the second. It’s worth it.

African Stories in Hull and East Yorkshire Project: Laureen Sylvestre

October is Black History Month in the U.K., so, with the permission of Cleo Sylvestre (aka Honey B Mama), and the African Stories in Hull and East Yorkshire Project, we share this story of herstory, triumph, power, and love.

on-tour-in-ireland-1935

A wedding whilst on tour in Belfast. Laureen is in the second row between the Bride and Groom

In 1983, a few weeks before she died of cancer, my mother told me that she had been brought up in a children’s home. As we were very close, this came as a complete surprise because she had always led me to believe that she had been brought up by her grandmother. When I asked her to elaborate she wouldn’t, but said she’d never told me before as she thought it would upset me.

Eight years later, I was appearing at the Theatre Royal in York. An article appeared in the local newspaper and members of my mother’s family contacted me. Through them I discovered that there was more to her life than I had ever imagined. Not least, I began to discover what it must have been like to grow up as a mixed-race, illegitimate child in a Yorkshire village during the early part of the last century. I also began to reconsider the history of Black people in Britain. Historically, it is generally believed that Black people arrived in Britain in the 1950s yet, as a child growing up in London during the 50s, all the ‘coloured’ people I knew had been born here.

​This is my mother’s story.


nidd-school_orig

Laureen at Nidd School – third row up.

Winifred Laureen Goodare was born 19 February 1911 at 37 Peel Street, Hull and was baptised at St Paul’s Church on 23 March 1911. Her mother, Jessie Goodare, was 22 years old and lived at 16 Ellen’s View, Goole. According to the census Jessie was a variety artist, earning 4/- (shillings) a week. Laureen’s father was unknown. There is little mention of him in her file from the Children’s Society, although at one point he is referred to as “probably an African.”

On 30 March 1911 she was admitted to All Saints Nursery College, Harrogate. Laureen was described as healthy, good tempered and attractive with nice habits and as having a foreign appearance and being very dark. She was accepted by the Society on 14 August 1912 and was boarded out with a foster mother, Mrs. Mary Dinsdale of Burnt Yates, Harrogate.

report-from-children-s-home

Report from Children’s Home

In January 1917 Laureen was removed from Mary Dinsdale’s care as the foster mother felt that the responsibility of looking after a young child was becoming too much for her in her old age. Laureen went to live with another foster mother who lived nearby but missed Mary Dinsdale and repeatedly ran back to her. As a result it was decided to remove her to St Margaret’s home, Nidd and she was admitted on 14 February 1917. A letter of 26 February 1917 describes her as happy and settled.

It was common practice for the supporters of the Society to sponsor named children. They would often select a child from a group of candidates presented to them by the Society and would receive chatty reports of their protégee’s progress as well as a photograph. In May 1922 Laureen was the beneficiary of money donated by Mrs. Carrie Bennett of King’s Bromley, Lichfield. She had lost her little girl in December 1919 and sent money on the anniversary of the child’s birthday in April. Mrs. Bennett could not guarantee regular donations but was anxious to help Laureen as much as she could. She included extra donations to help buy the child nourishing food as she was recovering from scarlet fever in May 1922. Laureen had spent over a month in an Isolation Hospital returning to St Margaret’s on 1 June 1922. When the supervisor of St Margaret’s was writing to the Society authorities about the sponsor money in May 1922 she described Laureen as a “fascinating clever pickle and a clean, pure, lovable girl.”

On 3 August 1926 she left St Margaret’s to go into service with Mrs. Gethin, Cayton Hall, South Stainley near Harrogate. Her wages were £18 per year.

In January 1930 Laureen was back at St Margaret’s helping in the kitchen. A letter dated

laureen-s-birth-certificate_orig

Laureen’s birth certificate

24 January from Mr. J H Hayers, the Secretary of the Ripon-Wakefield and Bradford Branch to Revd. A J Westcott, the Secretary of the Waifs and Strays Society stated that she was determined to join a coloured troupe of dancers. Laureen had had difficulty in Yorkshire with the public making remarks about her colour and this influenced her decision to seek employment elsewhere in the country.

On 14 April 1930 Mr. Hayers reported that Laureen had communicated with a Mons Paul, an illusionist, and had made arrangements to work as his assistant in Bognor  and then for a season at Morecambe. After that she traveled with him to Cork, Ireland.

Having fulfilled her engagements with the troupe, Laureen moved to London where, in 1931, she worked in a coffee shop in Aldgate.  Later that year she took up service again for a Jewish family (The Kauffmans) in North West London, remaining in contact with them until the 60s. As a child I remember that she would cook the most delicious Jewish food, which she had probably learnt from them.

Determined to enter show business, Laureen studied tap in London under Buddy Bradley a well known American dancer and choreographer and started working on ‘coloured’ shows as a chorus girl touring around the UK. Once, when she was in a show in Cork, she was approached by a very old woman who said “Jesus, I haven’t seen one of my own kind for years.”

working-for-the-kaufmanns

Laureen working for the Kaufmanns

Laureen was based in London and started working at the Shim Sham Club. The Shim Sham was a popular night club in Wardour Street, Soho. It was frequented by the likes of Edwina Mountbatten, the Italian boxer Primo Carnera and musicians playing there included Fats Waller, Nat Gonella and Garland Wilson.  Laureen worked there as cigarette girl and also danced in cabaret as one of the four ‘Chocolate Drops.’ She told me that once when people got up to dance, they would stub out their cigarettes, even if they had only taken a couple of puffs. Laureen would collect them and on her way home would take them to the homeless people who congregated under Hungerford Bridge. It was whilst working at the Shim Sham that she met the conductor Constant Lambert. They began a long affair and friendship which lasted until his untimely death in 1951. During the war she volunteered as a Firewatcher and was based in Manchester Square, London.

In 1944 she married Owen Oscar Sylvestre from Trinidad, a Flight Sergeant in the Air Force, who came to England to fight in the war. Owen had been awarded the DFM which  was  awarded to non-commissioned officers and men for exceptional valor, courage or devotion to duty while flying in active operations against the enemy.

On 19 April 1945, she gave birth to a daughter. I was named Cleopatra Mary. Constant

laureen-cleo-1951

Laureen and Cleo, 1951

Lambert wrote to Laureen asking if he could be  my godfather, which indeed he became.

Laureen’s marriage to Owen was somewhat rocky. Like many other service personnel from what was then known as, ‘the Colonies’, Owen was unable to find employment with a commercial airline company, so he enrolled at the LSE (London School of Economics). However, he developed a passion for gambling which eventually destroyed the marriage and he and Laureen divorced in 1955.

Throughout the marriage Laureen worked in various jobs from catering at Bridge parties to cleaning, and when I started school in order to be with her during the holidays, she became an artist’s model working in various Art’s Schools such as The Slade, Sir John Cass, Chelsea and Guildford. Although having left formal schooling at an early age, she was exceptionally well read and attended adult education classes throughout her life. She studied French, recorder, upholstery, pottery and in her 60s took on a new challenge of silver jewellery making. By then I had begun my career as an actress and Laureen’s jewellery proved to be very popular- getting commissions from my colleagues both at The National Theatre and Young Vic.

Laureen Sylvestre

Laureen Sylvestre

In 1960 Laureen developed breast cancer, and, worried that Cleo would be left orphaned, wrote to the Registrar in Hull trying to find any members of the Goodare family. As a result she managed to contact a brother of Jessie (her mother). He was living in Goole with his wife and family and invited us to stay. We received a warm Yorkshire reception and Laureen met many cousins for the first time. Through them she learnt that her mother (my grandmother) had married, then emigrated to America where she set up a dancing school. She never had another child and although she would send money back to England for her nieces and nephews, she never remembered her own daughter Laureen. It was said that one of her dance pupils was Ginger Rogers, but we haven’t yet been able to prove it.

Laureen’s culinary skills stayed with her. She would easily prepare a Chinese meal for 12 or more in the tiny kitchen of the council flat where we lived near Euston. As a teenager when I discovered a passion for the Blues and started going to music clubs, she would rustle up food for various ‘poor’ musician friends I brought home, including Brian Jones (of the Rolling Stones) and his girlfriend Linda, Mick Jagger and Long John Baldry amongst others.

zoe-palmer

Zoe Palmer

In 2014, Laureen’s granddaughter (my daughter) Zoe Palmer, won a seed commission to begin a piece based on Laureen’s life called Fosterling. This work-in-progress was performed at Ovalhouse Theatre in London to great acclaim and at some stage we hope it will have another life.


Cleo Sylvestre

Cleo Sylvestre

Nappily Ever After Review: It’s Not for Everyone

It was Coco Chanel who said, “A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life”.  For Sanaa Lathan’s character, Violet, in Netflix’s Nappily Ever After, truer words have never been spoken. Nappily Ever After is a romantic comedy, reminiscent of the 90’s formulaic romantic dramedy, about a very successful yet deeply shallow woman who shaves her head after a break-up and begins her own journey of growth and self-actualization. She meets a man that gives her the love she has been longing for and they ride off into the sunset at the end. If that synopsis sounds like it could be about any romantic comedy, well that’s because this movie was just like any romantic comedy. There was nothing impressive about it; we’ve seen this story many times before, but executed in a better way. The acting was sub-par-we’ve seen better performances from these actors in other films. There were also some pretty glaring plot holes that made certain scenes seem disconnected from the story.  

 

Now, I’m not saying this was a bad movie, it was just predictable and underwhelming compared to all the hype that surrounded it. It’s not surprising that it took so long for this story to migrate from book to film. I mean, Universal Studios has owned the rights to the film since 2003. They previously secured Halle Berry as the lead, and with that star power alone the movie should be successful, right? I guess not because they dropped it and now we may know why.

 

Maybe if the writing was stronger, maybe if Lynn Whitfield didn’t overact as Violet’s bougie mother, maybe if they didn’t use a man to help Violet realize her own worth, it would be better, and what is that about? Why is it that in all of these movies a woman needs a new man for her to realize her worth? What is so bad about letting her figure it out all by herself? In the real world women are perfectly capable of going through emotionally distressing times without having a complete emotional breakdown, and if we do have an emotional breakdown we are perfectly able to crawl out of the hole of despair healthier, smarter, and stronger than before by our damn selves. We don’t always need a man to tell us our worth. We just need a few good friends, our mama, that one auntie that keeps it real, and God to give us support.

 

Let me just step down from my soapbox and continue my review. We will save those arguments for another day. As I was saying, the movie could have just been better all around. I honestly believe this movie has a very specific demographic and I just don’t fit into it. Personally, I feel if someone liked the movie, they are probably in their late 30s to early 60s, African American, and a heterosexual woman. Or, they are all of those things except they are the only white woman in their friend group. They remember going to the theatres to see, Waiting to Exhale, The Best Man, The Wood, or the one and only How Stella Got Her Groove Back. They really like Tyler Perry movies and maybe a few of his shows, but they definitely remember when he was writing plays-before Oprah launched his career. They might even have some of the plays on DVD, like my sister. There is nothing wrong with any of that. They like what they like and this movie was made just for them. To entertain them and give them a break from everything else that’s going on in the world. That’s great, I’m happy they enjoyed it; but for the rest of us, it missed the mark.

 

Written by Liz Bennett