By Michael P Coleman

I attended the second of a two night engagement at Davies Hall Saturday night, as Vanessa Williams joined forces with the San Francisco Symphony and the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir for a weekend of holiday cheer.

The Choir’s first half of the concert was excellent, with highlights being a stirring rendition of “Silent Night,” two distinct takes on the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah, and a traditional spiritual, “Lord, How Come Me Here” that had the entire house silenced one second and enraptured the next.

After a brief intermission Williams took over, strutting on stage in a striking blue dress that was more than befitting a diva.  Launching into “Dreaming,” the 55-year-old phenomenon effortlessly delivered pitch-perfect performances of her own hits and holiday classics, as she revisited highlights of her legendary career.

It wasn’t surprising that Williams saved her signature song, “Save The Best For Last,” for the end of the show.  It was surprising that she sang it, and everything else, so very well.  Her voice has lost none of its warmth, depth, range, or beauty over her three decades as a recording artist.

sweetestday williamsOther highlights were the inclusion of more obscure songs from Williams’ impressive catalog, including “Constantly” from her The Sweetest Days collection and “Love Is,” performed with her music director, Rob Mathes, standing in for Brian McKnight.  No one missed McKnight; Williams and Mathes were magic together.  

Williams ended the show with a rousing, Baptist church-worthy “Rise Up Shepherd And Follow” with the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir.  They left us, like every great performer does, wanting more. 

Hats off to the San Francisco Symphony for their commitment to presenting programs that bring all of Christmas’ best together on one stage.  I’m already looking forward to next year’s Holiday Soul event. 

Mike Coleman headshotonly nologo 300

 Connect with freelance writer Michael P Coleman at michaelpcoleman.com, of follow him on Twitter:  @ColemanMichaelP

 

By Michael P Coleman

VanessaWilliams Photo Credit Gilles Toucas 350When Vanessa Williams takes the stage, it’s hard to know exactly what she’s going to do.  She’s a riveting comedic and dramatic actress, and a master on the dance floor.  She’s also a brilliant singer, having topped a number of Billboard charts including pop, R & B, jazz, classical, gospel, and holiday music during her 35 year career. 

Williams is joining forces with two other musical treasures, the San Francisco Symphony and the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, for two evenings of Christmas favorites.  They’ll perform December 7 and 8 at Davies Hall in San Francisco.

During our recent EXCLUSIVE chat, Williams revealed that the two San Francisco performances will be as much of a thrill for her as they will be for those fans who will be lucky enough to be at Davies Hall. 

“Getting a chance to hear all of my arrangements with a full orchestra is a treat for the audience and for me, as well,” the 55 year old superstar said of the upcoming shows.  “There’s nothing like live musicians playing real music.  The show will be made up of beautifully sounding instruments in a beautiful music hall.”  

“We’ll do “Dreamin’,” “Save The Best For Last,” “The Sweetest Days,” and “Colors Of The Wind,” for sure, and then a few from the Christmas albums: “Star Bright,” which is one of my favorites, “The Little Drummer Boy,” and “Rise Up Shepherd And Follow,” which is my gospel one.”

Click here to read MPC’s full feature, including more of his EXCLUSIVE conversation with the legendary Vanessa Williams!

By Michael P Coleman

Beneath the deafening roar that followed the dimming of the lights at the Gallo Center for the Arts Thursday evening, many of us realized that we were soon to be in the presence of a true music industry legend.  After losing Aretha Franklin a few weeks ago, no one took last night’s concert by The Four Tops for granted. 

And neither did the legendary Motown group’s only surviving original member, Abdul “Duke” Fakir.  He and his Tops gave it their absolute all, singing and dancing the night away.

Flanked by three somewhat younger band mates, the 82-year-old Fakir opened the show by dedicating it to his fallen founding members — Levi Stubbs, Clarence Payton, and Renaldo “Obie” Benson — before launching into a 75 minute, non-stop set filled with chart toppers and memories.  All of the group’s signature choreography, including that sideways rock of theirs that’s easy for even the most challenged of dancers to master, were on full display — despite Fakir having suffered a broken hip just two months ago!  

The Four Tops performed all of their hits — “Baby, I Need Your Loving,” “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch,” “Standing In The Shadows Of Love,” “When She Was My Girl, and “Bernadette” among them — along with a couple of surprises.  After Fakir warned us that he was “not a soloist,” he delivered a jaw-dropping, lyrically altered version of the standard “My Way,” transforming the song into a benediction of sorts on behalf of his fellow original Tops.  In flawlessly doing so, Fakir earned the first of a handful of standing ovations over the course of the night. 

With no disrespect to the brilliant fellows who are helping Fakir continue The Four Tops’ legacy, last night’s concert was a love affair between a living legend, his lifelong fans, and a Motown group that still can get people on their feet and dancing, recalling a musical time that sometimes seems as if it’s in the rear view mirror.  Last night, it was the same old songs — and we loved every single one of them. 

 Connect with freelance writer Michael P Coleman at michaelpcoleman.com, of follow him on Twitter:  @ColemanMichaelP

 

By Michael P Coleman

If you make the very wise decision to see the first national tour of On Your Feet! The Emilio & Gloria Estefan Broadway Musical during its Sacramento run, you’ll find that the show’s title gives you a clue of what to expectPlan to spend a lot of the evening on your feet!  The show opened last night at the Community Center Theater and runs through November 4. 

On Your Feet!’s music is nostalgic and phenomenal, which is to be expected given many of the Grammy Award-winning musicians from Miami Sound Machine are on the road with the show.  Its first half ends with a raucous rendition of “Conga,” the band’s massive breakout hit from the 80s that introduced them to most of the english-speaking world. 

For the full review, visit: http://www.sacculturalhub.com/item/11658-hub-review-the-rhythm-will-get-you-on-your-feet-the-emilio-gloria-estefan-broadway-musical-at-sacramento-s-community-center-theater

 

“There Will Never Be Another Motown.”

By Michael P Coleman

Just seconds into my EXCLUSIVE chat with Abdul “Duke” Fakir, the only surviving original member of Motown’s legendary vocal group The Four Tops, it was clear that he is a tried-and-true family man. He was enjoying a visit with his daughter in Florida, and graciously took time away to chat with a kid from Detroit who considers him music royalty.  

Fakir exudes all of the warmth and accessibility that’s inherent in every chart-topper The Four Tops enjoyed.  He has been performing with The Four Tops since the 1950s, and now carries on the group’s legacy with a trio of talented singers, one of whom is the son of another original member, Lawrence Payton.

During our refreshingly candid interview, the 83-year-old legend spoke about why he chose to carry on after the deaths of his childhood bandmates, his bond with his “Baby Sis” Aretha Franklin, overcoming self-destructive behavior, changes in the music industry over the last half century, and his thoughts about whether or not we’ll ever see another phenomenon like the one we call Motown.

Casual fans may be surprised to learn that after Lawrence Payton’s death in 1997, Fakir, Renaldo “Obie” Benson, and lead singer Levi Stubbs carried on as a trio — but didn’t change The Four Tops’ name. 

“We did that because we had branded that name — it wasn’t just a number.  It was the name of the guys who were still standing,” Fakir says.  “As kids, we had made a commitment to each other that we would be together forever. We thought ‘forever’ would be 10, 12, 15 years maybe.  We didn’t think we’d be together as long as we were.”

“When Lawrence passed, it was really a shock to us,” Fakir continued. “It was something that we hadn’t prepared for. We almost retired then.  But one thing we knew: we were not going to have just anybody in that spot. Our managers, our agents, everybody wanted us to change our name to The Tops. But we refused. We were still The Four Tops even though there were only three of us onstage.  Lawrence was still with us.”

Just a few weeks ago, Fakir lost another lifetime friend, Aretha Franklin.  Given their lifetime friendship, he’s understandably wistful in speaking of her.

“I lost someone who seemed like a real sister, almost like a blood sister,” Fakir says. ‘We’ve come a long way together.   I called her “Baby Sis.”  I’ve been knowing her ever since she was a young girl, and we became very good friends, The Four Tops and her entire family, and that lasted throughout the years. We did many concerts together. We ate dinners and lunches and shared food together quite a bit. We had a lot of laughs, and we had a lot of good times. So I really miss her.”

“She always had a beautiful aura around her,” Fakir continues. “I was always almost spellbound, believe it or not, in my young days when I was around her, ‘cause she was just such a great artist. Her voice and her spirit…she’s going to be around forever, to me.”

The Four Tops continue to tour the world, and Fakir promised retirement’s not a part of his plan for the future.  In fact, he says that continuing to do what he loves is what’s kept him surprisingly spry.

“I love entertaining people. I love making them feel good. And it’s wonderful that we have the type of songs to do that,” Fakir says.

That’s an understatement. “It’s The Same Old Song.”  “Reach Out, I’ll Be There.” “Standing In The Shadows Of Love.” “When She Was My Girl.” “Baby I Need Your Loving.” “Still Water (Love).” “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch).”  Fakir promises all of that and more in Modesto.

“I love being on stage, looking in people’s eyes, and seeing the love, respect, and joy that they have,” Fakir shares. “It makes me feel great that I can pass that on, and I can get it back from them. It’s the greatest feeling of my day.  I’ve been high off of a couple of other things, but never as high as what I get on stage!”

“I was a big drinker for awhile. I’ve smoked some weed and I’ve done cocaine,” Fakir confides. “It was all a part of being in the business for awhile. I enjoyed my youth!  We partied, we had fun, we celebrated. We did all of the things you do as a young man making money.”

“But as I got older, I decided I couldn’t keep doing that.  There’s more to life than just that.  And I started enjoying the true essence of living — as a husband, father, grandfather, and great grandfather!  And I’m still enjoying it!” 

Fakir’s talk of the generations who’ve followed him prompted me to ask about the changes that he’s seen in the music industry since he started singing over 60 years ago. 

“I’m from really old school, from way back,” Fakir says. “The stage was, and still is to me, precious.  It’s hallow ground. Onstage, we felt like we needed to be dressed as well and be as good mannered as we would be anywhere, almost like we were in church. And I still feel that way.”

“When I look at the business now, many of today’s artists don’t care about how they’re dressed onstage, the words they use onstage, or the things they do onstage.  Some of it’s hard for me to watch and to listen to.”

Fakir shared that he thought the strong religious communities in 1950s Detroit, along with the vision of Motown founder Berry Gordy and, he says “…the great hand of God…” created a cocktail that led to the international success of Motown Records.  He says “The Motown Family” was much more than a marketing campaign, as some have claimed. 

“We were, we are, and we always will be family,” Fakir asserts.  “We were friends, and we helped each other out. We started out dreaming together, hoping and wishing.  It was like our own musical college, and was just wonderful. It was amazing.”

As we talked, the Detroiter in me became wistful.  I had to ask the legend whether he thought we’d ever see a phenomenon like Motown again.

“I never say ‘never’ because I’ve seen so many different changes that I thought would never happen,” Fakir says. “But I do believe, in my estimation, that there will never be another Motown or anything similar. That’s my personal opinion — absolutely not.”

As long as the music — which over the course of my lifetime has gone from 45s to 8 tracks to cassettes to CDs to downloads to online streams — is available, we don’t need another Motown: it’s still alive and well in our hearts, and on stages like the Gallo Center’s in Modesto.  See you November 1st! 

Click here for tickets to see The Four Tops! 

Connect with Sacramento-based freelancer MPC  at michaelpcoleman.com, or follow him on Twitter:  @ColemanMichaelP

 

By Michael P Coleman

It won’t be hard for me to write one of my “spoiler-free” reviews for this one. 

Jamie Lee Curtis reprises her starring role in this new movie, which is kinda a Halloween / Aliens mash-up.  If you’ve seen the original, you know why she’s so shaken.  She has a couple of lines that should become catch phrases.  But I don’t think I ever want to hear anyone say “Happy Halloween, Michael” to me again. 

See Halloween.  But catch a matinee.  An early matinee. 

Halloween is in theaters everywhere.

Click here to read MPC’s full review.

Freelance writer Michael P Coleman is hiding somewhere in his house, waiting for November 1.  If you need him before then, go to michaelpcoleman.com, or follow him — but not too closely! — on Twitter:  @ColemanMichaelP

I recently attended a VIP Open House for Heartstoppers Haunted House in Rancho Cordova.  The attraction is very aptly named. 

I’m a grown ass man.  A family man.  A man of faith.  And I cussed like a bitch trying to get out of that event.  Lord, Jesus.  That was no way to treat a “VIP.”  “VIP” my ass. 

Very specifically, two parts of the attraction killed me:  upstairs was “The Asylum.”  Downstairs, “The Catacombs.”  I can’t honestly tell you about the rest of Heartstoppers Haunted House, because after I flew up those stairs and out of that underground death trap, I ran to my car and bolted.

Here’s the situation:  I’d never been to a “haunted house” attraction before, except for the decidedly G-rated, family-oriented Haunted Mansion attractions at Disneyland and Walt Disney World.  So guess what your boy thought?  I thought that the night’s frights were going to be provided by animatronic figures.  NOT “living,” breathing zombies, etc. 

Like. A. Bitch.   I’d lost my voice by the time I got out of there… from screaming…

And I’m a claustrophobic bitch, so I should have NEVER agreed to go UNDERGROUND into those Catacombs.  NEVER!

For the full story, visit http://www.sacculturalhub.com/item/11555-heartstoppers-haunted-house-in-rancho-cordova-scared-the-out-of-me-nsfw.

Connect with freelancer Michael P Coleman at michaelpcoleman.com, or follow him on Twitter:  @ColemanMichaelP

 

 By Michael P Coleman

Anyone who has ever been followed around a store while shopping, or pulled over by a police officer for no apparent reason, or read about Stephon Clark will “get” Anthony Ray Hinton’s new memoir, The Sun Does Shine.  It’s the harrowing account of a man who was accused and convicted of two murders he did not commit.  Hinton was sentenced to death, and spent 27 years waiting to be executed in the state of Alabama. 

I was raised in an “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” household. The only cheek my mother ever turned was her ass to you with an invitation to kiss it.  So capital punishment was an institution that I grew up supporting, without the knowledge of a criminal justice system that overwhelmingly convicts men of color and issues harsher sentences for them.  It is estimated that one in ten people on death row in the United States are innocent of the crimes for which they were sentenced.  One of those inmates was Hinton, despite a rock solid set of alibis and irrefutable evidence that was contrary to the charges against him. 

Most of The Sun Does Shine is akin to a great suspense novel, as Hinton displays a gift for prose that is surprising for a man in his late 50s who was educated in the deep south and spent almost 30 years on death row.  Hinton also displays a phenomenal sense of humor and an almost unbelievable sense of optimism, both of which undoubtedly served him well in his quest for emotional survival in the face of seemingly impossible odds. 

And like the best of novels, this memoir includes a cast of villains: the police officers, prosecutors, and others who were complicit in sending Hinton to prison and keeping him there for almost three decades.  There are also a couple of heroes in the book, but surprisingly, Hinton is not one of them. 

That’s not to say that Hinton’s not a sympathetic “character.”  He’d have to be in his own memoir, right?  But attorney Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative displayed dogged determination in seeking justice for him.  And everyone needs a friend like Lester Bailey, the childhood buddy of Hinton’s who never missed a visit with his pal in all of the years Hinton was locked up. 

As an African American man who has been accused of things I didn’t do, The Sun Does Shine wasn’t the easiest of books to read.  The enormity of Hinton’s plight got the best of me in the middle of the book.  Also, Hinton’s penchant for printing the actual legal correspondence in support of and in opposition of his case grew a little tiring.  And the memoir suffers from the reader’s knowledge of how it all turns out, removing some of the dramatic tension I look for in a great page-turner. 

That said, when Hinton gets the word that he’s finally free, and he steps into the light — figuratively and literally — for the first time in 27 years, the reader has taken the emotional journey with him.  The payoff was almost as sweet for me as it was for him.  Almost. 

Overall, The Sun Does Shine is a incredible read that shines a light on a corrupt, broken criminal justice system.  I told you earlier that I used to be a capital punishment advocate.  If I hadn’t already been “woke,” Anthony Ray Hinton brilliant new memoir would have changed my mind.

The Sun Does Shine is available at retail, on Amazon, and at all major digital outlets. 

Mike Coleman headshotonly nologo 300Connect with freelancer Michael P Coleman and Coleman Communications at michaelpcoleman.com, or follow him on Twitter:  @ColemanMichaelP