Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Wanda's Picks Radio: Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013 "Family Legacies"

Today we look at Family Legacies, first in the life of Margo Hall as she pays tribute, in BeBop Baby: A Musical Memoir at Z Space, Nov. 19-23, 2013, to the life of her beloved step-dad, artist and musical ambassador of Detroit, Teddy Harris, Jr. and her biological dad, Armsby Hall.  BeBop is a love story, that of a daughter for her dad, the man who raised her and forgiveness for her biological father whom she still nurses a grudge when we meet her on stage in this fantastic play.  The tension is filled with broken promises and betrayed trusts between father and daughter who initially is finding it hard to see past the decades of disappointment. How many children have two fathers? What a potential opportunity, this father throws away repeatedly. As he stands in his former wife’s basement, the shrine for his rival, her husband, Teddy Harris, Jr. boxed up, we see his desire to mend the shredded space between he and his younger daughter, Margo. Will Margo extend her hand for him to cross?

Bebop Baby shows how girls need their father’s too, despite popular opinion to the contrary, and her dad, Teddy Harris, Jr. steps into this role for two girls whose father has fallen down on the job again and again.
Yet the door stays open. It is even open beyond the grave as Margo steps back into time, when she visits her mom’s house and finds her past visibly erased. Evidence of her life with Teddy Harris gone, her biological father’s presence an unwelcome reminder of so much that went wrong. But Mr. Hall tries to make amends and over the course of Margo’s short stay in the basement where she reminiscences on her childhood, adolescence and young adulthood, each highlighted by musical interlude complete with choreography, we see the child-Margo speak to the adult-Margo, especially when her biological father shares photos of her paternal grandmother who performed in a circus and when not on stage, took on another role, that of a white woman.

Margo speaks about this without bitterness as she shares the story of her grandmother’s refusal to open the door for her brown-skinned granddaughter one afternoon when she knocks on the door one afternoon after school. She can’t stay mad at dad who recalls memories of the two of them singing Beetles’ songs, her dad in a red wig.

Margo’s lyricism captured by Shelby’s superb orchestration seen in Be Bop Baby is evident in several moments of Memoir, specifically “When the Time is Right,” where her dad sings his sorrow. Mujahid Abdul-Rashid’s Armsby Hall is a man who loves his daughter, and as he looks at her preparation for a tribute for her step-father wonders aloud if she will do the same for him, when he dies.

This question remains unanswered as Margo tries to ignore him and with that a piece of her life and heart. The amputation is not complete—there is still feeling in the limb and with that lingering feeling, hope.

The man tries awfully hard to not intrude, but his presence clearly interrupts what Margo saw as a reunion of sorts with her memories of mom and dad and a life that laid the foundation for the one she lives today. The intimate moments with dad when he’d return late from a gig and play the piano softly before retiring, his love for Margo’s mom and his desire to join her once she died, which he did shortly thereafter; Margo as a child performing with the band and on stage with her idols . . . the encouragement she received from her dad and other artists, her feisty mom who slapped the heavyweight boxing champion with a wet towel when he got fresh with her. . . wonderful fantastic stories set music about a life long ago, but not too long ago.  
New Breed Be Bop Jazz Orchestra, founded by Teddy Harris, Jr. performs with one of many archival photos projected on stage. The setting is Margo’s family home basement, the smaller more intimate space set within a larger stage where Margo’s memories touch a larger world stage.  There are articles and photos of Mr. Harris in the theatre lobby.

Teddy Harris, Jr. represents safety for his younger step-daughter who sings of waiting up for him to return, memories of the scary world outside their door intruding as family members are injured and killed. Her childhood Detroit was not always a safe place, yet at the same time, her street was lined with floor room model cars as visitors stopped by the basement to jam. Being a resident of the Motor City meant that even if you didn’t have a home, you certainly had a fine car.  The home Harris and his wife made for their daughters seemed exceptional and full of love a love which included space for Margo’s biological father who was offered many opportunities to continue to participate in his daughter’s lives.

We fall down, and hopefully we get back up again. This Memoir is Margo, his daughter’s acknowledgement of that. Visit

Idris and Seun
American Promise

We conclude with an extended conversation with directors, husband and wife team, Joe Brewster and Michelle Stephenson, whose film American Promise, covered 13 years of their lives as they document their son, Idris and his best friend, Seun's educational journey kindergarten to high school in one of this nation's most prestigious private schools. What is America's Promise to its citizens and does its educational system uphold this for these families. Opening just a week ago in the San Francisco Bay Area and in Oakland this Friday, Nov. 22 at the New Parkway, American Promise takes this nation to task as it shows how even among the best schools, it is still not doing its best for its black boys.Visit


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