Friday, February 27, 2009

Wanda's Picks Radio February 27 & 25, 2009

We are joined in the studio by Jeremiah Kpoh, Maisha Productions and Eskender Aseged, Radio Africa Kitchen, who have a show: AFRICA RISING at PROJECT, 1251 Rhode Island Avenue, Saturday, February 28th at 9 p.m. Tickets are $20 and INCLUDES FOOD.

The next guests in the studio are members of the cast, playwright, William A. Parker and director, Buddy Butler, of "Waitin' 2 End Hell," at Lorraine Hansberry Theatre at the PGE Auditorium, 77 Beale Street (near Embarcadero BART), San Francisco, Feb. 27-28, 8 p.m., and 3/1 at 2 p.m.

We close the show with a conversation with Carolyn Brandy, director of Ojala and Elouise Burrell, a member of both Ojala and Linda Tillery's Cultural Heritage Choir--both are in concert, along with special guests at La Peña Cultural Center 3105 Shattuck Avenue, in Berkeley, Sat., Feb. 28, 6:30 and 8:45 PM.

Visit, for information and tickets: (510)849-2568. Tickets are $18 in advance and $20 at the door. I want to remind listeners that tonight is a poetry celebration of poet Reginald Lockett's life and work at the Humanist Hall, 390 27th Street, Oakland, CA 94612. The event, which is free, though donations are accepted, starts at 7 p.m. sharp! Door open at 6:30 p.m. There is also a birthday celebration of Oscar Grant's life at the Black Dot Art Space on 8th and Pine, in Oakland tonight. He would have been 22.


Wanda's Picks Radio Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Today during the first hour we will speak to Ntozake Shange, poet, playwright, writer, whose seminal work, "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf," is currently on stage at the Black Repertory Group in Berkeley, Friday-Sunday, Feb. 27-March 1. She is joined by the co-director, Cassandra A. Henderson. Visit For the second portion of our program guests are Dayna Stephens and Johannes Wallman , both musicians and educators. Prof. Wallman will speak about the upcoming scholarship fundraising concert, Tuesday, March 3, at Yoshi's in Oakland. Dayna is featured artist. Visit

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Celestial Celebration through Feb. 27-March 1, 2009 at Laney College Theatre

"A Celestial Celebration" directed by James Brooks, with musical direction by Bryant Bolling

Last weekend I went to a party in heaven. I was so happy to be on the A-list ‘cause everyone I’d always wanted to meet, but missed this lifetime was there. Isaac Hayes was the host—how I miss him. As he played piano, sang and introduced guests, each celebrity strolled up to the microphone to chat and sing a song or two.

There are talent shows and then there is the Celestial Celebration—can’t top heaven…I think that’s why celestial real estate is a goal human beings put stock in.

Carmen McRae was on the set that evening, along with Louis Armstrong, Mahalia Jackson, Marian Anderson and Pearl Baily early on in the show. Later on, Josephine Baker danced her way around the stage…dressed in her bananas. All the costumes were classic period pieces...from pearls to stolls.

The company collaborated with Laney College on costumes and make-up. James Brooks attends voice classes at Laney, so the team was already in place when after writing the play, he decided to mount it there. Bay Area audiences know James for his work in establishing theatre here in the San Francisco Bay Area. He and Michaal Lange founded the Bay Area Repretory Theater. He is known also for his role in Jeff Stetson's The Meeting, his role that of Martin King. He is a filmmaker as well.

Celestial Celebration is the kind of play one wants to take the entire family to. As I sat in the audience, I heard patrons speaking about how they knew one artist, but not another, knew a familiar song but not the singer. I really enjoyed the Pigmeat Markham skits.They reminded me of Sunday evenings when I was a child and we’d watch Ed Sullivan and afterwards there were skits with black comics. I remember, “Here comes the judge.”

Abbie Rhone and Edward Jackson were really funny. And the singers in both the first and the second half were outstanding. When I told a friend about the show they couldn’t believe that the level of skill was equally high for all the actresses and actors, but my favorite characters were, besides the comediennes: Shaunna McKneely’s “Ella Fitzgerald,” Brud Duckett’s “Sarah Vaughn,” Phil Lewis’ “Sam Cook” and Kwana Thompson’s “Miriam Makeba.”

Oneida Cordova’s “Eartha Kitt,” who just made her transition to the Celestial Ballroom last year, was in a class all by herself as was the host that evening Isaac Hayes (Bryant Bolling), who caught the same train to heaven, Kitt was on. I’d seen Hayes and Kitt, in concert before they died and the two actors did them proud—but as I said, the entire cast was in fine form. There was a live band which was also awesome!

James Brooks has written a winner. I don’t know where he found such an illustrious cast, but certainly the angels in heaven smiled on this production. I hope he does it again and again—it’s a musical history lesson I guess on par with “Cabin in the Sky,” but with an entirely different intent and twist. The characters here have dignity and grace, their contributions both recognized and respected in the writing and in the way the characters treat each other. I get the feeling that these Celestial Celebrations didn’t happen often, so folks were out in their glad rags strutting and I’m so happy they left the door ajar so we could peep inside.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Happy Birthday Rhonda Benin

Rhonda Benin's Birthday Concert at Yoshi's was a wonderful pre-Mardi Gras. The band was top notch and Benin, what can one say, her repertoire was fabulous and I hope she gets more gigs and doesn't relocate back to Los Angeles where the business is calling her. The songs ranged from rarely heard Stevie Wonder Ballads, where only one person could name that album...and he was at my table, my friend Kenneth Cobb, to samba remixes we--well I had to get up and dance to. Her Creator Has a Master Plan, was magnificent...the opening riffs African calls to the orisha. Benin was joined on her birthday by another guest that night, who offered her cake...the sugar high making them a bit rowdy, but it was all in fun. It was the guitarist, Charles Spikes, who stood out the most, outside of Benin, of course and Tammy Hall on piano, with his soulful solos. This wasn't to say, Ron Belcher on bass and the superb horn section with Mark Wright and Charles McNeil on tenor, weren't hitting the high notes...of course they were, it's just brother on guitar was on fire!


The drummer who came as a package deal with Belcher-- Rhonda even introduced them as a package, Ron and Robert Rhodes, was also hot! Rhonda mentioned the stimulus plan...something to get the folks into the clubs again...away from the TV. I'd have to include radio. I don't have the box and many channels like 20 and 44, I think 36 too, are gone and with them, many of the shows I used to watch. I can still get Channel 9, 7 and sometimes 5.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Ave Maria Montegue: An Angel Among Us

Yesterday at the Memorial for Ave Montegue, when the time came for community comments, and I was fifth in line, the time was cut from 1 minute to 30 seconds, so the words which I had so carefully crafted just an hour earlier were rendered useless—I couldn’t figure out where or how to cut them, so I gave them to one of Ave’s family members who is collecting the recollections in a book.

I winged it and called on the spirit of Nina Simone, whose life I’d been studying for a radio segment early Saturday that same day, what would have been the consummate artist's 76 birthday.

Nina Simone was an appropriate angel to call on when remembering and celebrating the life of our sister, Ave Maria Montegue, who passed from our earthly presence Wednesday, January 28, 2009. Like Dr. Simone she was a prodigy, supported by family and encouraged by in her dreams in fashion design.

Dr. Simone, raised in Tryon, N.C., was supported in her dream of becoming a black classical concert pianist. She studied briefly at Juilliard in New York to prepare for the entrance exam to Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. She received a letter of rejection. They were not ready for a black woman and the young Nina was crushed, but not for long.

I can imagine the same must have been true of a young Ave, who was among few women graduates from the Fashion Institute of Technology and later Macy's executive training program, but unlike Dr. Simone Ave was admitted and what she learned in these environments shaped her into the woman we knew as friend, entrepreneur, philanthropist: the Executive Director and Founder of the San Francisco Black Film Festival, Ave Montegue.

To listen to the tribute to Nina Simone and El Hajj Malik El Shabazz, who was assassinated 44 years ago, 2/21, visit (2/21/2009).

This is what I’d planned to say, revised of course with comments on the Memorial:

Ave’s passing has been hard on me. I can’t imagine a world where she is not busy organizing and planning African lives. She knew her products and her customers and if she suggested something to cover, I was there if at all possible—she’d greet me with a laugh ‘cause I was generally late. When I heard the news I called her phone, I don’t know what I expected, her ghost to say, “Ave,” but it didn’t. There was bitter sweet joy hearing her voice…I promised myself, I’d listen again and record it just as a keepsake for times when I am scattered and need someone like Ave to prioritize events for me. She wasn’t pushy, but in our busy black media world, especially at Kwanzaa and Black History Month and of course at Inaugural time this year, hers were the emails to watch.

Now there are other publicists who have to step forward and take up the slack, the poorly staffed publicity offices at the nonprofits, the non-black publicists Ave used to partner with—I hope they learned a few lessons.

I am hopeful, but I don’t think so. Ave gave journalists the feeling that you were her one and only choice for the story…she made me feel special and I didn’t want to disappoint her because of all the publicists I knew, she seemed to really value my skills as a journalist and recognized my ability to bring a certain constituency to her events. She knew everyone and if she didn’t she soon would.

Her circles were wide and affluent. She’d wield mighty power and knew how to make a small event look classy. She spoiled her patrons and their guests, a clientele which, at times, wasn’t used to gift bags and limousines, but quickly grew accustomed to the finer things when budgets allowed and even when it didn’t –money never seemed to be a problem…if Ave wanted something to happen.

I hadn’t known she was one of the founders of the Sisters of Faith Fancher or the chair of the board of the American Heart Association or that she’d started the Black Juneteenth Beauty Contest and from this came the Black Film Festival at Juneteeth.

She would look you in the eye as if to say, “Cut the crap,” the language a bit more gentile but the intent the same. She was no nonsense, quiet and as I said an elegant presence I miss.

I think I have been mourning her loss more than Chauncey Bailey’s, perhaps because I always had something to read that Ave sent me, spoke to her almost weekly, often more than that. She was like a sister, yet I didn’t really know her, know her. She invited me to her home to review films, but the distance was too great to take her up on it, and Powell’s Place closed before we could have brunch there. 1300 on Fillmore was another venue I was unable to cover or attend an Ave event there.

I wasn’t one of the “beautiful people,” but I didn’t feel like Cinderella either…she was Ave an institution within herself, and like many others in the field, she was taking on too much…but if she hadn’t, then much of what we love about this area, its rich African American culture would not have happened on the grand scale that it did.

I stopped being surprised to see her—she was Ms. Black San Francisco…I don’t ever recall seeing physically seeing Ave in the East Bay but evidence of her work was there from the now defunct Oakland Ensemble Theatre and Dimensions Dance Theatre, to San Francisco International Arts Festival, to MoAD and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre and ACT, Marcus Books and the Metreon, the San Francisco International Film Festival, the Jewish International Film Festival…not to mention all the celebrities she knew personally—if Ave wasn’t in the mix, then it wasn’t worth a gander. She even supported events at community centers like the Bayview Opera House, at the San Francisco Public Libraries, and of course the Center for African American Art and Culture. I was up early hosting a special radio show honoring the memory and legacy of Nina Simone and Malcolm X, Saturday, February 21. Malcolm was shot and killed 44 years ago this day and Nina, well as my guest said this morning, Nina was Fanny Lou Hamer at the piano. Ave was like air, invisible but necessary…I need a respirator now and haven’t been sleeping well…since she fell into her final sleep at the computer. I think about other super black women I know, myself among them…traveling without sleep…food…the tank a finger snap away from empty.

I passed out from exhaustion later on Saturday once I returned home to prepare for events that evening. It scared me, one minute I was awake, the next I’d fallen-over asleep. I am so happy I was sitting down and not at the wheel of a car.

Ave was connected to the clergy, her pulse on what ailed Black America and what we needed in our lives as a cure…the perfect film, a piece of chocolate, or perhaps the ultimate networking opportunity. Ave was about connecting people and ideas and making magic happen. She honored filmmakers who were just coming into the business and those who’d laid the groundwork.

The memorial or celebration of Ave’s Life at the West Bay Conference Center, a lovely venue, hosted by Belva Davis and Barbara Rogers, attracted hundreds of people to pay their final respects to the family, Ave’s son and daughter-in-law, and her two grandchildren. When I walked into the full room there was a Tribute in Dance by Dimensions Dance There being performed as a slide show was projected of Ave in all her splendor which repeated for the entire afternoon. Deborah Vaughan was seated on the front row, as was Tamika who worked closely with Ave, on the Black Film Festival. As my eyes perused the audience I saw many media friends such as Lee Hubbard, Harrison Chastang and Sheila Moody. I also saw Timothy Simon, London Breed, singer Kim Nalley and Tammy Hall, though I’d missed Kim’s song for Ave. In line to say a few words, I saw David Roach, Oakland International Film Festival and Kevin Epps, whose first film Straight Outta Hunter’s Point was a SFBFF premiere many years ago, and this is how I met Kevin whose The Black Rock is opening at the Red Vic, in San Francisco, February 27.

I saw my good friend and colleague Karen Larson, director, Larsen Associates, as I stood in the hallway getting ready to leave. I thought about going back into the room to take more photos but I couldn’t. This was a hard event to cover and I was there because it was Ave, my last personal call from her to honor.

Some of the comments that afternoon were personal. Childhood friends from her hometown spoke and gave us a perspective on this dynamic woman born in East Orange, New Jersey, where she left after graduating from East Orange High School to attend the Fashion Institute in New York City where she earned a marketing degree. She went from there into the Macy’s executive training institute where she became one of the company’s first African American senior managers. There she was a group sales manager and buyer for J. Magnin.

Between New York and San Francisco Ave had a son, though not much was said about him or his father. I hadn’t known up to a month ago, that she was a mother and a grandmother, but as I said earlier…I knew her more professionally. No one mentioned her body either…what happened to it? Was there a will?

Even when Ave slowed down enough to finally grant an interview after years of denied requests last year, as we spoke about the San Francisco Black Film Festival founding not much about her personal life. We didn’t even speak much about the Black Film Festival Hall of Fame which she was also involved in. I wish I’d been able to speak to the founder of Black Filmmakers, who is now teaching in Los Angeles. I remember when I was invited to screen films for the SFBFF the then director of the BFFHF was a part of the training which was held at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. Between Ave’s SFBFF and Black Filmmaker’s Hall of Fame, I learned about black film and the role these early innovators played in documenting and shaping media perceptions for black people first, then later as a residual benefit those interested in truer perceptions of black life, black family and black people in America and elsewhere. BFFHF and the SFBFF organizations were telling our stories as only someone inside the flesh and blood of the experiences spoken of is capable of doing. That said, this meant that each year what SFBFF under the guidance of Ave Marie Montegue, after BFF was gone and before David Roach’s Oakland International Film Festival came on the scene to somewhat fill the vacuum in the East Bay that BFF’s left— one was guaranteed a view of black life invisible to mainstream American cinema, even the most well intentioned media outlets because black cinema, the black directors, black life wasn’t a segment, it was the entire program at San Francisco Black Film Festival. The festival grew so big, I couldn’t hope to cover it all, so I was happy to make the highlights and even then, last year, 2008, one of the highlights, an Oscar Michele tribute fell on the same date as the African Ancestor Libation which was an international pouring we have participated in for the past three years. See

My first vivid memory of Ave was at YBCA, when the Center opened with a Black Restaurant. Another vivid memory of Ave was Dr. Julianne Malveaux. The economist, As of June 1, 2007 is the 15th President of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Dr. Malveaux’s career was certainly jump-started by Ave Montegue. Ave was there promoting her books and setting up interviews, I believe before her syndicated column and multiple books, but maybe not (smile). Malveaux was a native San Franciscan and as such Ave’s friend and someone she supported.

Ave Maria –I love the hymn, a friend spoke of Ave’s mother playing the song often when Ave was a child and of course before she was born, thus the name. I hadn’t known Ave had had a stroke 20 years ago and doctors predicted that she wouldn’t walk again, but as her friends stated, she had too many pairs of shoes in her closet she wanted to wear, so she was determined to learn to walk again and she did.

Dr. Joe Marshall, whose Omega Boys Club, Ave represented told how Ave Maria Montegue called him from the hospital, after having suffered the stroke trying to organize the benefit that evening from Emergency. He couldn’t help but shake his head, “She’d had a stroke…”.

Talk about conscientious. That was Ave.

One young man, Mateen Kemet, said that BFF gave him his first screening opportunity and from there he was able to complete graduate school and now has a deal with Dreamworks. I remember his film, Silences.

Ave was a good listener and supported the young entrepreneurs and let them hang out with her and see how she got her work done. There are so many words and then there are no words to fill the space the shoes the …see I have no more adjectives left…to describe our collective loss.

I hope Ave’s journey is smooth, the ride in the boat pleasant, the place on the other side one with options…Ave, after all had class and well…I don’t know if her room will be to her liking at first glance.

“Ave”—our prayer
Imagine, every time we called her, it was an invocation. Now I understand why I wanted to record her voice—the outgoing message on her machine, why so many people at the Memorial stated that they knew her phone number by heart, even though they weren’t in the habit of memorizing numbers. It is fitting that we remember her the week before Lent season…a time of self-reflection or repentance, its conclusion the resurrection or renewal, the chance for a new start.

Here is the song sung by Celine Deon with lyrics translated. I read that the song was a prayer to the Virgin Mary for her grace or intercession. It’s so Ave Maria Montegue isn’t it, her council often sought, as Harrison Chastang ( stated at the memorial when the doors were closed to the Black Press.

Who will hear our prayers now?

Ave Maria!
Maiden mild!
Oh, listen to a maiden's prayer
For thou can't hear amid the wild
This thou, this thou can't save amid, despair We slumbers safely tear the Mother
Though we be man outcast relived
Oh, Mainden, hear a maiden's sorrow
Oh, Mother, hear a suppliant child!
Ave Maria
Ave Maria, gracia plena
Maria, gratia plena
Maria, gratia plena
Ave, ave dominus
Dominus tecum
The murky cavern's air so heavy
Shall breath of balm if thou hast smiled
Oh, Maiden, hear a maiden pleadin'
Oh, Mother, hear a suppliant child
Ave Maria
Ave Maria

Friday, February 20, 2009

Minister Farrakhan commemorates Oscar Grant III

Turning Pain to Power Tour stops in Redwood City

On Wednesday, February 18, Paradise's birthday, I traveled to Redwood City for one of a few Bay Area stops on the Turning Pain to Power Tour with Eve Ensler and Dr. Denis Mukwege, the focus rape in the Congo. I felt so honored to be in this man's presence. I was literally awe struck...I couldn't imagine how men could turn something inherently beautiful and life-giving into such a horrendous weapon of terror. The doctor said the war is economic and the rebels go into towns and on GP rape all the women and girls, some infants, many captured and used as sex slaves. The idea is to completely humiliate the population and strike fear into all hearts --male and female as the rape is carried out in public spaces.

Eve Ensler, a woman warrior who work The Vagina Monologues gave voice to women in a way previously unheard. The idea of asking vaginas to speak and then providing a place for listening, was and continues to be phenomenal. Dr. Mukwege spoke about his inability to find people interested in what he was learning about women in his second clinic in Eastern Congo, the first one burned down. Stories have only recently been written. He also spoke of Eve Ensler's introduction to these women who have suffered so much physically from the multiple rapes--they have no vaginas, rectums or urinary tracks. Many are unable to be reconstructed, the damage is so great.

He had no allies and now he has one, a woman who has an audience who is interested in women in we were interested in women in Afghanistan. She was careful to note that the men who are raping women are not the majority in Congo, just as they are not the majority anywhere, but silence is tacit complicity when others like you are committing such atrocities. This is what is so honorable about what Dr. Denis is doing. The work has taken over his practice for the past 13 years. Prior to his first few cases, he hadn't know about rape as a weapon of war.

Guy Patrice Lumumba is another man, a young man, son of the first Prime Minister of the DRC, whose name he bears. He is raising his voice to protest what is happening to the women in Congo. Here in Northern California last week, he has shown Lisa F. Jackson's wonderful film, "The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo," at every stop along the way. (Listen to an interview on http://www.wandaspicks.asmnetwork,org (2/11/2009). He and Lisa are joined by Muadi Mukenge, Regional Director of Sub-Saharan Africa Global Fund for Women, the Turning Pain to Power" Bay Area sponsor.

Eve Ensler said that what happens in Congo to women affects all of us, because if we let it continue to grow unchecked then it shifts the world's tolerance for atrocity into a place humanity should fear treading.

Humanity...the quality of being human is not an inalienable right like justice and freedom. If one doesn't participate in those acts which reinforce our human spirit, we lose it.

Dr.Denis said, "They didn't want to talk about vaginas." I just loved hearing him save the V-word with respect and honor and love. I could see right then how he and Eve would find such comrodery within each other's souls.

The doctor then spoke about his invitation to Eve and her first visit to the clinic, how she sat with women who had no control of their body functions, colostomy bags connected to internal organs, many of the women suffering from fistula, a condition where one leaks feces and urine because those organs have been destroyed. (This is what happens during a brutal rape, it also happens when children are married off to adults or women are malnourished.)

The doctor told the story of a young woman who was raped and then shot in her vagina. It reminds one of Emmit Till and how he was hung and then shot and the courage of his mother Mamie.

These women were the ones who found their way to Dr. Denis' clinic, he one of few doctors who are repairing this damage and embarking on a new project, building a city--the City of Joy for those women who cannot return home because of stigma and also because they are permanently disabled.

The Panzi Hospital repairs the women physically, 10 a day, as well as, addresses their patients' psycho-spiritual scars and the economic effects of the rape. The women are also supported in their desire for justice, even though the DRC government does not address rape as a war tactic, because many of those in office were once a part of a rebel force, doing the same thing.

The doctor said the politicians' guilt makes them immobile, yet he is not throwing stones at glass houses, he just wants the problem addressed.

Eve Ensler opened the forum with a new theatre piece,"This journey began with art, theatre," she said. The piece she performed was part of a larger work gleaned from the stories she gathered while with the women on her visits to the Democratic Republic of the Congo over the past two years. In the story, the girl-woman is raped and then stolen and kept as a sex slave for two years until she escapes. It was moving, one could hear the fear and survival instincts kicking in as the girl-child and at the end of the ordeal girl-mother shares with us the rules of the game.

"Number 1," she says, "Do not call him by his name. Call him 'you,' 'him,' but not by his name. Never forget his does not love you. Do not care about his problems, Remember is not your friend."

I'd planned to attend the Eva Patterson and Tim Wise event the next day, and then I changed my mind and planned to attend instead, the Yuri Kochiyama Benefit at the Humanist Hall, but ended up missing both, because I was physically tired. I guess after four days of a 5 a.m. to 2 a.m. schedule, something gives--and it did.

But I was glad I made it to Redwood City. If anyone missed the tour, its stops at Hastings Law School in San Francisco 2/18 also, or and then a day later at the Herbst Theatre at the City Arts and Lectures, Thursday, Feb. 19, the City Arts lecture will air on KQED 88.5 FM and the World Affairs Council also broadcasts on KQED and also from their website (hosts of the Redwood City Event--it was hosted by the Global Philanthropy Forum. You can also visit (They were there filming.)

Wanda's Picks February 20, 2009

I had to postpone the tribute for Lanier Pruitt, educator, musician, to April 2009. Stay tuned for the new date.

The theme is Mardi Gras this weekend in the San Francisco Bay Area, especially on the East Bay side of things. I will have as my first guest Sophis Dorsainvil of Kalbass Kreyol, an Afro-Caribbean band and the sensational Brazilian Dance Group Samba Mora at Ashkenaz Music and Dance Center in Berkeley, 9:30 p.m. He will be followed by members of the cast of the Men's Story Project, now a film screening Sunday, Feb.22, Shatuck Theatre in Berkeley, as a part of SF Indie Festival We will then be joined by members of the cast of "Tough Titty" at the Magic Theatre, through Feb. 22, 2009. Visit We'll close the morning with Michelle Jacques who's band, Chelle! has a concert "Voodooville," Saturday evening at the Jazz School in Berkeley celebrating Mardi Gras For the latest in what's going on visit Visit

Friday, February 13, 2009

Wanda's Picks February 13, 2009

Today we feature Tony Spires, producer of the Bay Area Black Comedy Competition and Festival, Feb. 13-15, at Tommy T's in Pleasanton (; Isaura Oliveira, whose work is a part of Black Choreographers Here and Now, week 2 at Dance Mission, 3316 24th Street @ Mission:; "My Children, My Africa" (by Athol Fugard) cast: L. Peter Callendar, Lloyd Roberson II, and Laura Morache. The play is currently on stage at the Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., in Mill Valley through Sunday, Feb. 15, (415) 388-5208, (; some of the cast from "Gem of the Ocean" (by August Wilson) cast: C. Kelly Wright, Donald Lacy, and Hosea L. Simmons. The Sacramento Theatre Company production is up through 2/15, and is located at 1419 H Street, Sac., (916) 443-6722.

Photos: Cast from Gem of the Ocean: Hosea L. Simmons, Donald Lacy (center), Hansford Prince; Donald Lacy with C. Kelly Wright (right)and Lisa Lacy (left). The other photo is of L. Peter Callendar (left), Laura Morache, and Lloyd Roberson II (right) (My Children, My Africa).

HBO's Black List Vol. 2 Screening, and Tribute to Ave Montegue

Tuesday, February 10, at Ft. Mason's Cowell Theatre, HBO previewed its Black List Vol. 2, which was a continuation of a now two-part series which profiles successful African Americans from a variety of backgrounds and fields. What continues to set this series apart, and what makes it a unique and special journey, one doesn't tired from, is the quality of the storytelling. Each of the persons interviewed has an interesting perspective on black life, which complements and expands on other perspectives, even though each interview happens in isolation of the others.

The producers', Elvis Mitchell, interviewer, and Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, photographer/cinematographer, are committed to covering a range of black experience in these interviews which include: activists, educators, artists, actors, clergy and politicians. The roster, while not overwhelming, is impressive and what they cover in just 60 minutes is testament to the untapped greatness we overlook daily. The men and women profiled see themselves as a product of a community, and not exceptional. What they have done with their lives is something they see others capable of doing also.

Those interviews I enjoyed the most were with filmmaker pioneer, Melvin Van Peebles, whom I'd seen in Isaac Julien's installation, Baltimore, at the New Orleans Museum of Art, Propect One New Orleans, last month. See Van Peebles spoke of the power of positive thinking--he didn't know that he couldn't make films or that certain ideas weren't practical or possible, so he made his films the way he wanted to, the first one, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971), a genre setting model for independent film.

He spoke matter or factly of homelessness, of literally doing without to make art. One night while sleeping on a park bench, he said a commotion woke him, and this domestic altercation is a scene in his film.

Lawrence Fishburne, post-Boyz in the Hood, didn't understand what this film meant to a generation of boys in South Central LA, New York, America--until his friend told him after a kid gushed over an opportunity to speak to him one day. Fishburne learned that the role extended past the screen into the streets, that he is father to a generation of youth, who have adopted him.

I remember Angela Davis stating at a Sister of Fire event--an event Women of Color Resource Center put on each year to honor other women who are shaking things up and knocking down edifices, that she didn't understand why people were so awed by her...until she learned that she represented a period of hopefulness and change for a generation, so when they saw her, they saw a realization of possilities.

During the Q&A one sister, who had been waiting almost a lifetime to tell her this, stated that Davis was her hero because of what she stood for and what she did.

I enjoyed Elvis Mitchell's conversation with Anglican Bishop Barbara Harris too, and found Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick's comments about how moved he was when then President-elect Barack Obama accepted the Democratic nomination moving as well. He spoke of how choked up he got when Obama gave his acceptance speech at the Deomcratic National Convention--and he wasn't the only man crying that day.

This kind of revelation is what makes, The Black List Vol. 2 and Vol. 1, a moment to treasure and revisit when the world just doesn't get it and your need an affirmation to attest to your innate greatness.

I hadn't known the history of Meharry Medical College ( either. I'd heard of Meharry, but didn't know it was a training ground for black doctors, and loved Valerie Montgomery-Rice, academic and physician's comments on why she chose medicine over engineering--"I was just too cute." She was wonderful! All the men and women profiled in the Black List are equally powerful. And if they are, so are we. Their stories, like the ones of other unsung heroes like those honored at KQED in San Francisco, Wednesday, Feb. 11, give one hope and are one of many reasons why we should be celebrating our black lives, instead of wallowing in despair.

Those honored in San Francisco at the KQED event, were Charlotte Bremond, Bay Area Regional School Scrabble Championship; Coyness L Ennix, Jr., M.D., Center for Cardiac Surgery in Oakland; Walter J. Hood, Jr., Hood Design, Oakland/San Francisco, CA; and Mike Robinson, a.k.a. Big Mike, founded UndaGround Music Xtreme (UGMX)in Oakland/San Jose. Visit

Sometimes the horror is all we see, when the horror, though real, is not all there is. If it was, then I'm sure we would not be here today in all our African American, African Diaspora glory.

As we listened to these engaging conversation at the theatre last week, one could hear the audience laugh, and later on in comments many people remarked on the ease with which the creative team: Elvis Mitchell, interviewer, and Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, filmmaker, were able to capture the conversations. Many commented on how well-prepared Elvis was and how even for those segments which were little more than talking heads, Timothy's lighting and framing added to the aesthetic quality of the work.

Getting back to the film, I have to say that Tyler Perry's story was another one I liked. His late arrival on the stage and screen, is testament to the adage, "it's never too late." RZA's discussion of how Wu Tang started, the black fraternity on a hip hop vibe which swept the country and the world, was another case of "keeping it real." He said he speaks publicly to youngsters and at one school a child told him that he wasn't being true to the image, because he didn't live in the ghetto. RZA told the child, "No one chooses to live in a place where you could be easily killed by a stray bullet. He said, he and his son love their 50 acres. People live in the ghetto because they can't afford to live anywhere else, I guess was the message. But perhaps if people with vision and creative and positive resources lived in the ghetto because this is the place which needs the most transformation, then perhaps the ghettos would disappear?

I was so happy to have seen Wu Tang late last year, post-Old Dirty Bastard (ODB) and without Method Man. It as still good(smile). Charlie Pride,country western singer, was great, especially coming on the heels of my first time seeing Oakland's own country western singer, "Miko Marks," at the Oaktown Jazz Workshop Fundraiser last month. Miko is from Detroit.

I also liked hearing from Patrick Robinson about fashion design, something one doesn't hear about often--who are the mavericks and what does it take to make it in this field? Bishop T.D. Jakes was so humble, yet I admire his ability to tap into multiple genres: romance novels and film to show how religion is relevant and fun and can shape popular culture.

Kara Walker and Suzanne de Passe were two others interviewed. Kara's segment was highlighted with her artwork and photos of her as a child. When she spoke of the perception that black artists were innately angry, "no matter how many smiling pictures they paint," I was reminded of my daughter TaSin and her label in art school.

de Passe's behind the scenes tales of Motown and Berry Gordy were better than the most popular sitcom. She had stories of the Jackson 5 and The Wiz, which she wrote and got an Academy Award nomination for co-writing the screenplay "Lady Sings the Blues." de Passe garnered two Emmy Awards (the first black person to win this award). She also received the NAACP Image Awards as Executive Producer of "Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, and Forever," and “Motown Returns to the Apollo." I loved hearing about her creative genius and how she got along with the boss. Her story was also illustrated with pictures.

I guess you can tell, those were the segments which worked best aesthetically, also, the narratives for some persons, needed editing as they jumped--the cuts not clean. I am looking forward to seeing the televised version which might be better edited.

The show premieres Feb. 22, on HBO and then rebroadcasts often. Visit There is another film, Witness from the Balcony, which airs Feb. 18, 8 p.m.

On April 4, 1968, a day after delivering his stirring "Mountaintop" speech, Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated while standing on the balcony of his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN. With King on the balcony that tragic day was his good friend and fellow civil-rights activist Rev. Samuel "Billy" Kyles. His vivid memories serve to recount the events that led up to King Jr.'s assassination in this deeply felt documentary. Also included are firsthand accounts from fellow civil-rights leaders Dr. Benjamin Hooks and Mrs. Maxine Smith, as well as former sanitation worker Taylor Rogers. (NA) ()

The Black List Part 1 is available on-line for $9 at (or in the store), and features: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Sean 'Diddy' Combs, Lou Gossett, Jr., Bill T. Jones, Vernon Jordan, Toni Morrison, Richard Parsons, Chris Rock, Al Sharpton, Slash, Faye Wattleton, Keenen Ivory Wayans and Serena Williams. It is longer too, 90+minutes. You can watch outtakes here:

Speaking of Target, this weekend is a Target Family Matinees: All Seats $18, at Lorraine Hansberry Theatre's "Waitin' 2 End Hell" (A Man's answer to the dilemma posed in Terri McMillan's "Waiting to Exhale.") Sundays, Feb. 15, Feb. 22 and March 1, there will be free hot lunch catered by Ms. D's Fabulous Kitchen, with dessert and an opportunity for the audience to meet and greet the director and cast. Waitin' 2 End Hell is at PG&E Auditorium, 77 Beale Street (near the Embarcadero BART Station), San Francisco. Visit

Ave Montegue, founder of the San Francisco Black Film Festival and a sponsor of this event with HBO, was also saluted Tuesday evening. She died a few weeks ago and people have been asking about arrangements. We learned Tuesday that her memorial is Saturday, Feb. 21, at the West Bay Center on Fillmore at 12 noon.

Other Films
Other great black history programming is on the Documentary Channel this month. Additional content is located at and its primary Web site located at

Telecast on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT, DOC began its tribute by presenting the 1968 Oscar® nominated “A Time For Burning” on Feb. 4, a wonderful discourse on civil rights issues, a conversation between black youth and white. This program was followed by “No Short Climb: Race Workers & America's Defense Technology” on Feb. 11. Next week the film, “Have You Seen Drum Recently” is shown on Feb. 18, and “New York Noir: The History of Black New York” on Feb. 25.

The rare screening of “A Time For Burning” marked only the second time in more than 40 years the film has been presented to a television audience since first appearing on public television. “A Time for Burning” was directed and produced by New Jersey-based filmmaker William C. Jersey and nominated for an Academy Award® for the Best Documentary Feature in 1968. Shot with no script or narration, the film commissioned by the Lutheran Church chronicles the attempts of an Omaha, Nebraska minister to persuade his all-Caucasian congregation at the Augustana Lutheran Church to reach out to African-American Lutherans in the city’s north side of town. In 2005, it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

In addition to the film, DOC’s telecast and online presentation of “A Time For Burning” will feature an all-new original “DOC Talk” special, including the
network’s own exclusive interviews with filmmaker Jersey and a key figure in the controversial film, former barber Ernie Chambers, who later became the longest standing state senator in Nebraska political history.

Pacific Film Archive African Cinema
Don't forget the African Film Festival continues through next week, and it is followed by the Human Rights Watch Film Festival. Visit

The Indie Film Festival continues through this week Feb. 22. Visit The Asian American Film Festival starts March 12. Visit

On Feb. 11, “No Short Climb: Race Workers & America's Defense Technology” brings to the forefront the contributions of African-American scientists and technicians who helped shape America’s defense efforts in World War II. Just after the America’s Great Depression, young college educated African-Americans found themselves unemployed and unemployable because of racial barriers. As the U.S. geared up for war in Europe, efforts were made to aggressively recruit and place African-Americans in the military and in civilian service corps. Despite efforts that hindered acceptance, promotion, and recognition of their accomplishments, African-Americans made major contributions to the technological success of “state-of-the-art” defense weaponry during the WWII era. Combining personal memoir with archival footage, still photography, and graphics, filmmaker Robert Johnson, Jr. presents a first-hand account of this previously unknown story.

DOC’s celebration of Black History Month continues Feb. 18 with “Have You Seen Drum Recently,” directed by Jurgen Schadeberg and executive produced by James R.A. Bailey, which is regarded as one of the most important films to emerge from apartheid South Africa. Filmed by the father of South African photography and former photographer and artistic director of Drum Magazine, this is the story of a black magazine in a white world. The 1998 film explores the golden era of the South African magazine during the 1950s and its contribution to the cultural and political life of the country, before the system of apartheid had been fully implemented.

On Feb. 25, “New York Noir: The History of Black New York” examines the history of New York's African-Americans, who have had a profound impact on the history of New York City, from the early 1600s through to today. Produced by MyMar Entertainment, rare historical footage is featured in the film that includes segments on civil rights, politics, business, science and discovery, military heroes, sports and entertainment, the Harlem renaissance and much more. Above all else, this film honors and pays tribute to the many great contributions African Americans have made to New York, the nation, and the world.

The Black Rock World Premiere on Alcatraz @ Pier 33 and Alcatraz Island, Feb.17

The Black Rock World Premiere on Alcatraz
A Kevin Epps Production

On February 17, 2009, 300 (100 spots available for general public) guests will be invited to Alcatraz Island for the highly anticipated premiere of The Black Rock. Filmmaker Kevin Epps is partnering with Golden Gate National Parks to bring forth this historical event. This cinematic unfolding of history and untold accounts of African American Prisoners and Correctional Officers (1934–1963) will take place in the actual Dining Hall of Alcatraz.

The Black Rock is a documentary feature chronicling the role of African-Americans in the first super-maximum security prison from the 1930s to the 1960s. Alcatraz "The Rock" an island in the middle of the San Francisco Bay was meant to hold high-security prisoners. This feature highlights the truth about the African-Americans who experienced Alcatraz during a time of racial prejudice and discrimination. Interviews with historians, the utilization of archived documentation, and other methods, such as visual imagery, photography, re-enactments are used to present an entirely new perspective on the most feared prison of its time. Join us on February 17, 2009 as we explore the cultural and socio-political dynamics.

A yacht will be taken from Pier 33 to Alcatraz Island. Food and music will be part of this historic, life changing event. Once we are on the Island, the screening will take place followed up with a Q&A before we journey back to mainland.

A historical event. After this premiere, a 15 minute segment will become part of the historical archives of Alcatraz.

The event is Tuesday, February 17, 2009, from 5:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. for adults, 18 years old and over. It is free. Contact information is

RSVP at:

Wanda's Picks Radio Feb. 11, 2009

We will be speaking with former Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney who is giving the keynote address this week, Feb. 13-15, at the 11th Annual Leadership Conference of The Black Caucus of California Student Association of Community Colleges (CalSACC). The conference theme for 2009 is: "Ujima: Utilizing the Power of Education for Collective Empowerment," and the working title is: "The Glass Ceiling has been Broken, The Inauguration Parties are Over, Now the Work Begins." It is hosted by the Black Caucus at Foothill College, Foothill College, 12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills. Ms. McKinney will be joined on the air by Glen Ford, publisher of Black Agenda Report. We will have a 50 minute conversation, followed by a short talk with Black Caucus leadership about the conference this year.

We will also talk to Guy Patrice Lumumba, son of the first Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, along with Lisa F. Jackson, director of the film, "The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo,", and Muadi Mukenge, Regional Director of Sub-Saharan Africa Global Fund for Women She will also act as translator for Guy, who will speak in French

Friday, February 06, 2009

Rokia Traore at Stanford Lively Arts

Hank Jones Trio

Hank Jones Trio, with Clayton Cameron on drums and John Clayton on bass, at Yoshi's San Francisco, Feb. 5, 2009. Others pictured are Peter Fitzsimmons, director of the Fillmore Heritage Center

Wanda's Picks Radio February 6, 2009

Learning Curves
This morning was amazing! Pearl Cleage called in to speak to the artistic director of Brava and cast of the play currently on stage there, Song for Coretta,! The playwright doesn't fly, so she isn't able to see the show in person, she said. It takes a week to travel from Atlanta to San Francisco. I wonder if this is by train, bus or car?

I missed the confirmation email she'd sent, because I was having trouble signing in. The website would not recognize my phone number, and it was getting close to showtime. I was like AWWWW!

I hate to use the cell, but I had not choice. So a little after 9 a.m., I'm listening to a comment from one of the guests, and I see a number I don't recognize, but I patch it in anyway, and I hear this voice asking, "Can anyone hear me, it's Pearl Cleage." Needless-to-say, the women on the air, including this one, go wild!

The learning curve here is: "Don't be afraid to ask for what you want." I did and look what happened, one of my favorite living writers, Pearl Cleage was on my radio show! I'm like, oh my goodness! It doesn't get any better.

The second learning curve was, don't invite casts from two plays on the air at the same time. It gets confusing.

Another thing I learned today was the importance of being able to match the phone number with a name. I was so confused today during the second interview. There was a lot of static and feedback --I had to ask guests from one theatre company to hang up and call back in 10 minutes when the other company finished talking. The interview became a little more manageable after that.

The interview with Meklit Hadero and Gabriel Teodros regarding the ensemble, "Nefasha Ayer," went well. I wish we had another 20 minutes to play more music. I didn't go to the Black Health Summit this afternoon either. I am tired (smile). I wasn't sure if Gabriel's song sounded louder to the listeners than it did to me while I listened. It didn't, I noticed when I listened to the show later. I should have saved it at another level, but I didn't know it would play so low. The closing song has better volume.

Learning curves.

I missed an appointment to preview an art exhibit opening tonight...I will be at Wicked with my daughter. Kamal's show opens at Nonesuch Gallery on Broadway near 28th Street. I missed the opening of the Tenderloin Black History Month Theatre Festival last night, although I don't know when or how I could have fit it in (smile).

The 19th Annual African American Celebration through Poetry at the West Oakland Branch Library, 1801 Adeline Street, is tomorrow afternoon, 1-4, and I didn't write a new poem yet. I have to work on this. I also have to go shopping and figure out who can tape the show for me.

I went to see Hank Jones Trio at Yoshi's last night and left the club after midnight. All the lights were out and the music was bumping in the lounge where youth were dancing and drinking. I walked through some of them hanging out in front of the club smoking. One man had on this awesome shirt with Bob Marley on its front. I tried to take a photo of the back of the shirt and he posed for me.

I have an interview with Mr. Jones at 6:30 this evening. He will be in LA.

Between classes yesterday I drove to Lake Merritt and walked, did my 30 knee bends. My pants were too tight to stretch. It started raining really hard and then it stopped, thank goodness. I took some photos on my way back to the car. I called the series, "open spaces." I was looking for framed open space in open space. I was trying to illustrate a metaphor about fluidity. We are only stuck when we forget to take our hand out of the trap--fingers can be sown back on, our foot out of the shoe, which is stuck in the glue...we always have a choice,we are not is abut mobility...keeping everything in motion or maybe not.

It could be a Gemini thing...the motion, but I know I can't allow myself to get stuck in anything.

When I got back to the college yesterday I was a bit wet. After my shift ended in the Writing Center at 3 p.m., I sat there for another three hours.

As I was leaving, I saw the former head librarian, Mary Kay, she retired almost five years ago and she looks great! I took a photo of her to reflect on when I feel like the time is too long...she is my light at the end of the tunnel. She and Arvis and I spoke about Obama and what we were doing on January 20.

This was a busy week. I hosted the Black Faculty Meet and Greet on Tuesday. I thought, as I contemplated not going to Yoshi's.

Tonight I want to see Sister-I-Live at Ashkanzez. I'd also like to see Ledisi. Yoshi's in Oakland had to add a third show Sunday early evening, Feb. 8, at 5 p.m. That's 7, 9 and 5! More power to the sister!

I have to get to Black Choreographers Here and Now too and then there is my brother's birthday this weekend--where does one fit it all in? I can't get to the Tenderloin Theatre Festival this week either. I am really disappointed. My only consolation is that the Lower Bottom Playas will have a production, February 22, at Prescott Joseph Center in West Oakland.

Did I say I need to write a poem?

Another learning curve is to note when I invite someone on the show. I can't remember who I was considering for the rest of this month. I know I wanted Kevin Epps to talk about "Black Rock," a segment on Haiti, the Black Comedy Expo this coming week, artists Hilda and the other artist at the Rae Louise Hayward gallery at the Women of Color Resource Center. I have to get to Richmond to see the Art of Living Black. I wanted to get cast from My Children, My Africa, Gem of the Ocean, the tribute for Lanier Pruitt, Michele's gig, Irma Thomas, Lou Donaldson, Little Jimmy Scott, Mable Jones again to talk about her books, the Women in Hip Hop special, Kamal, the ITVS folks, the Afro-Cuban All-Stars, Cicely Tyson, Esperanza Spaulding, some shows coming up at The Intersection for the Arts, Rokia Traore.

I wonder when Ave's funeral is? I wonder if my cousin, Della, was buried this week back home in New Orleans? I haven't called anyone to inquire.

Happy Birthday Bob Marley! A Belated Happy Birthday Langston Hughes. Happy Birthday also to my brother Fred Batin and friends: Sister Geri Abrams, Portia Anderson, Raymond Nat Turner, Jamal Ali and all other Aquarians.

Program Schedule
8-8:30 AM
Laura Elaine Ellis and Kendra Kimbrough: Black Choreographers Here and Now, opening tonight at Laney College in Oakland and continuing in San Francisco at Dance Mission next weekend.

8:30-9 AM
Ayodele Nzinga and Geoffrey Grier re: The Tenderloin Theatre's Night at the Black Hawk: 2/5-7 & 2/12-14, at the NMTL/CBD Community Center, 134 Golden Gate St., in San Francisco.

They are joined by the cast of Ellis Berry’s Production of “MOSES,” a dramatic, inspiring and powerful stage play about the life of Harriet Tubman. Starring Yehmanja Houff as Moses, opening at the Malonga Casquelourd Theater 1428 Alice Street in Oakland, Friday, February 13 @ 8:00 p.m., continuing through the weekend, two 8 p.m. performances and a Sunday matinee. Tickets are $20.00 for age 18 and above and $10.00 for youths 17 and below. All youth tickets are sold at the door the night of the performances only. For further information please call Herma Jean Gardere at (510) 904-8520.

9:00 AM
A Song for Coretta by Pearl Cleage, directed by Victoria Erville, at Brava for Women in the Arts!, 2789 24th Street, SF, through tomorrow, Feb. 7. Visit

9:30 AM
Nefasha Ayer or “The World that Travels”: with guests: vocalist, songwriter Meklit Hadero and her cousin, MC, Gabriel Teodros. The ensemble hits tonight, 2/6 and tomorrow, 2/7, 8 p.m. at Brava on the main stage.