Phyllis Diller is 94. Carol Channing will be 91 at the end of January. Betty White is 90. Carol Burnett and Joan Rivers (the first female comedian admitted to the famous Friar’s Club) are 78. Mary Tyler Moore is 75. Lily Tomlin is 72. It’s hard to imagine that this country’s funniest women have become not only icons, but grand matriarchs of comedy. These women have made us laugh on radio and television, in film, and in concert time and again.
I first remember seeing Phyllis Diller on television in the 1960s. I resonated with her self-deprecating humor, huge ribald laughter, and crabby reflections on her life with imaginary husband, Fang. Little did I know that we shared a birthday of July 17. Not the same year, of course, but the day was enough for me. Then in the early 1970s, I saw Lily Tomlin in concert. What an amazing ride that was as she shared Edith Ann, Ernestine the Telephone Operator, and Mrs. Judith Beasley with us. I was transported with each new character that arrived on stage.
After Ms. Tomlin left the stage, my father dragged my brother, David, and me across the stage to the dressing room door to say hello to Ms. Tomlin. We were first in line because of Dad’s audacity. As Ms. Tomlin opened the door, she smiled at David and me, and said a gracious hello. In a fit of certain insanity, I broke into Ernestine’s voice and said, “A gracious good evening, Miss Tomlin. We truly enjoyed your show. *snort snort*”
Ms. Tomlin roared with laughter. Dad and David were not as amused. They looked simply mortified watching their 11-year-old son and brother putting the fingers of his right hand down his shirt, and the fingers of his left hand to his ear, intermittently puffing his hair mimicking what he had just seen Ms. Tomlin do. We got her autograph and started walking down the hallway in what should have been a walk of shame. The audience members lined up behind us giggled and pointed. Suddenly, they broke out in applause. I knew this would be a moment that would live in my heart forever.
Last year, I wrote to Ms. Tomlin celebrating her birthday to share this memory with her. She wrote back through her manager and invited my husband, David, and I to her show in March as her guests, with full backstage privileges. This invitation came with the caveat that Ms. Tomlin hopes I reprise my performance for her these 40-plus years later. We’re going.
Many people have memories equally as dazzling as mine because these women chose to share their enormous gifts with us. Could trailblazers such as Sophie Tucker (January 13, 1886 – February 9, 1966) , Fannie Brice (October 29, 1891 – May 29, 1951), Moms Mabley (March 19, 1894 – May 23, 1975), Lucille Ball (August 6, 1911 – April 26, 1989) and their ilk have realized what they were starting? They paved the way for our current and upcoming grande dames of delight! Through jokes, skits, and bawdy songs, these women took risks that were less common in that era. They dared to say unladylike things, at least by the standards of the day. They laughed with the big boys, even while remaining vastly outnumbered. Even today, if one looks at any random list of comedians, one finds the ratio of women to men about 1:20.
Now, the Bette Midlers, Whoopi Goldbergs, and Ellen Degenereses are already making room for the Kathy Griffins, Chelsea Handlers, and Wanda Sykeses, and others of the newer generation of funny ladies. They definitely have huge pumps to fill.
The elder stateswomen of giggles perpetuate their legacy of guffaws still in concerts, appearances, and red carpet photos. We have the pleasure of knowing that there are those who are moving ahead of a younger generation as well, learning from the dynamic mothers of comedy. We can securely know that our laughter remains in good hands.
Thank you women of laughter. We value your presence in our lives and celebrate your creativity, daring, and willingness to tell the truth in the funniest ways possible! Brava diva, one and all!
To honor these performers, my company, Sacramento Vocal Music, will produce a show of all comedy music entitled, “Grins, Giggles, and Grace Notes,” at the Woodland Opera House. The show on June 15, 2012, will feature my vocal students performing funny songs and standard pieces created to be funny. I hope that our Matriarchs of Mirth would be proud!
When I was a young parent, my children would go outside to play with the other neighbor children. Although we might be inside, we would always be aware of where our children were, what they were doing, and with whom they were playing. As they grew up, we watched them become more curious, more adventuresome, more outgoing, and even more timid in some cases. They were forming their personalities into the people they would become as adults. As a more mature adult, I find myself continuing to do the same thing, only with new eyes.
I started my venture into music in February 1969. At this point, I’m an old hand in the industries of music, theater, and business. Now, I am beginning to see the up-and-comers starting to develop. Perhaps because I’ve crossed the 40-year mark, I am not so focused on my own success, but rather prepared to lend a hand, if invited, to those who will take my place when I retire, after creating their own place with their work. It’s not just in music, though. It’s also in the arena of personal growth.
The beginning of my new attention began almost imperceptibly. Glimpses of talent, tenacity, intelligence, and creativity caught my peripheral vision. These young upstarts started showing some real gifts. At first, I smiled paternally at the young whippersnappers as they started showing their mettle. Slowly, my focus changed. I’m now taking an interest as a mentor as they become my peers, working with great alacrity in my industry. Their sense of innovation, fearlessness, and indefatigability become a constant source of amazement.
Was I like this as a younger actor, musician, singer, conductor? Perhaps. I certainly did not see myself in the same way as I perceive these vital young people. I do recall, though, those who took the time to guide me through my growth. It appears it’s my turn to offer that support as our youthful invigorati, if you will allow me a new word, start building their curriculum vitae. The lines in my face are like directional arrows pointing toward extended experience to which some of these newer adults gravitate. It’s like that for everyone I suspect.
So, in the same way as I did for the young ones in the neighborhood 35 years ago, I again am keeping an eye out in case I am needed by a budding musician, a neophyte writer, or simply someone who is searching for his or her identity. I still turn to my elders for their wisdom because I’m not done yet. I still need guidance sometimes; only now, I live on both sides of that line. As I contemplate this topic, I believe I care for our developing success stories because once upon a time, someone else helped me achieve mine.
I woke up on this particular November Wednesday having more work to do than I’d like. I couldn’t begin to imagine how I was going to do everything ahead of me, so apparently, my brain shut down and I began to procrastinate. As I was staring at my miniaturized Samsung Netbook, I saw the tiny dot that was the lens for the video camera. I opened the program and began to play. I wanted to see all the things it could do. I started making convoluted, misshapen faces with the video effects. It was entirely too much fun.
When I was done filming the snippets of silliness, I compiled them into my Windows Movie Maker, added titles and credits, and I had a movie. As I completed my film, I realized that all I really needed to do that morning was play. Sometimes, play is all there is to do; at least, for one’s soul. Enjoy the fruits of my labor.
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When my friend, Rick Gott (who would hate the title of this blog, certainly insisting, “This is all of ours”), first told me about his web-based television series, “Dark Pool,” I instinctively knew he would find success with this project. I don’t mean the contemporary view of success, fame and fortune, which also may come; no, I mean the success of his true intention. Rick intended to create a vibrant environment wherein his students, both past and present, would join with seasoned professionals to create a project that would transform how people viewed watching television.
“Dark Pool” is about a man, Jim Krall, who discovers his daughter is kidnapped at her sixth birthday party. The bizarre aspect is that no one, not even his wife, seems the least bit concerned, and for very ominous reasons. His search for his daughter leads him to DNA manipulation, string theory, and the underbelly of national finance. Not only are these topics timely, but the script and series, I’m certain, will be dynamic.
I haven’t seen any part of it, except for the brief scenes I was in as an extra on the set, but I know Rick. I’ve known Rick since the early 1990s when he was a well-respected actor in local Sacramento theater. Ten years later, we ended up teaching together for eight years at Natomas Charter School Performing and Fine Arts Academy; he in acting, and me in vocal music. We collaborated on musicals and projects together. After 20 years of knowing this man, I am certain that he has inspired everyone around him to achieve at the highest levels they’ve probably ever accomplished. That’s just the effect Rick has on people.
The inspiration for this project was the suicide of one of Rick’s beloved students, Sam. Sam was a deeply talented young man. He was gracious, thoughtful, and intelligent. At only 18, though, he must have felt very much alone and directionless, and as too often happens in our country, he took his own life.
Rick decided that talented people like Sam had to have more in their lives than time to contemplate their own deaths. They needed to be in the middle of life, so as is Rick’s way, he took the bull by the horns and created just that type of environment. He and his amazingly talented wife, and theatrical artist in her own right, Karen Pollard, along with an ever-increasing team of vitally talented professionals in the field of video and film production, came together to mentor our young local artists in this project. The feedback I’ve gotten from those with whom I stay in contact has been nothing less than radiant in praise for this project and Rick, Karen, and the team.
Today, October 13, 2011, “Dark Pool” premieres on YouTube. Mark my words, it will be a magnificent success. It necessarily has to be because Rick is driving the train, and the cargo on board is full of love, right intention, and padded with the support of the best Sacramento has to offer.
Good luck, Rick! I know you won’t need it, but Good Luck, anyway!
Author’s Note: I just watched the first two episodes. Wow!
Update: As of February 17, 2012, the Dark Pool YouTube channel has had more than 15,000 hits in just a few weeks. Viewers are discovering what quality web-based filmmaking is all about!
Although this may not be the most opportune time, I must mark this moment with a personal observation at the culmination of two years worth of work as it approaches. This coming Saturday, August 20, 2011, at 7:00 PM, at the stage in Fairytale Town, the curtain will rise, if only metaphorically, on the release of a CD that was created with love, hard work, and many tears. Rindy Sumners was a beautiful, talented young woman; a talented singer-songwriter so full of music that in a five year period, she composed more than 150 full and partial pieces of music. On Saturday, 36 tracks of her music will be available for sale to the public in the self-titled CD, “Rindy.”
It is unfathomable that she has been gone for nearly two years following the car accident that claimed her life. I admit, preparing for this day has helped to distract me from my grief in a small way. My husband, David, and I have been essentially glued to the hip of her parents, Rick and Sandy Sumners, to make sure this event is everything they want it to be. Their focus solely has been on what Rindy would have wanted. Being who she was, she was very clear about that.
The music in the CD is glorious. Her soaring voice, her intricate harmonies, her dynamics lyrics, and her moving melodies are compelling, even beyond my imagination. I watched her grow up from a bubbly eighth grader with blue hair to a world-conscious young woman, commenting through her music on every facet of her life. One thing that people who knew her can attest is that Rindy never lied. She didn’t know how. Her music is a testament to that fact. The truth she tells in her storylines is intense and direct. I love that about her.
Life will never be the same without Rindy’s vibrant presence on this planet, but my one comfort is that I will now be able to slip her CD in my car stereo or computer and hear her voice, her laughter, and her spirit. This event is a powerful moment for everyone. For me, as her teacher for five years, her mentor-teacher for one year, her friend, and someone as whom she dressed up on switch day at school, this is an intimate, difficult, wonderful day that approaches. Words allude me as I try to explain the dichotomy of the heights of joy I feel that her dream is coming true as I experience the deep sadness that still exists at her physical absence.
I love Rindy. As it is for everyone who worked so hard on these events, every little bit of effort I’ve expended on her memorial service, RindyFest 2009!, and this CD project, has been offered with that truth cemented in my heart and spirit. After months as production assistant, press officer, support person, and friend, it becomes necessary to be just James for only a moment, to have the human experience of working on a project that, once upon a time, seemed as though would be very different, indeed; but, that’s not what is and today, I must rise to the occasion, and what an thrilling occasion it is! I hope we will see a huge number of people attend to celebrate the release of Rindy’s music into the world! I know with all my heart that everyone who hears this music will be enthralled. I know it!
On the eve of my most recent birthday, I had the opportunity to attend my friend, Rick Dean’s première performance at The Station Lounge in Roseville. He offered marvelous music and charming banter, worthy of a large crowd; however, there were only a few people present, most of whom were his family and friends. It was 9:00 PM on a Saturday night in July, with cool, beautiful weather in a 4,620 square foot building, charmingly developed out of rail cars and good taste. Where was the crowd?
Within the hour, I heard a story that explained the vast emptiness. It was beyond belief. It was a story not all together unfamiliar to me, though, as I had first read about it in the Sacramento News & Review (SN&R) only the day before. The July 14, 2011 article, entitled “Footloose in Roseville,” reflects on the downward spiral that The Station, and its owner, known only as Travis, has seen burgeon in the last year since the City of Roseville Planning and Development director, Paul Richardson, and his team revamped the zoning requirements a year ago. This rezoning, and the subsequent ordinance amendment, prohibits dancing without the correct permits. These changes are purportedly to prevent nightclubs within 500 feet of residential areas from impinging on the quiet of local citizens. The only problem is that since Travis and his team took over The Station in 2008, there have only been two complaints. Two.
According to the City of Roseville Planning and Redevelopment website, restaurants must apply for a zoning clearance permit for any dancing that is not school, church, or non-profit agency related. The Station, currently zoned as Residential Commercial, is subject to this ordinance. According to Travis, he has applied for zoning as Community Commercial, which facilitates dance permits. The problem is that Travis must attend hearings for the zoning change, and the red tape keeps growing by hills and mountains.
During the planning stages, the ordinance, amending Chapter 9.40 of the Municipal Code, described “no significant fiscal impact.” They must have been talking about impact on the city, because there has been a huge impact to The Station. According to the SN&R article, The Station’s manager, Brian Vokal, reported that they are losing $7,000 per month in revenue from this ordinance, and $11,000 in fines. “Fines?” you ask. Yes, fines. Nearly nightly, Roseville police officers arrive to inspect the premises to ensure that no one is dancing at The Station; or more specifically, that no “movement of the human body accompanied by music or rhythm,” occurs. This is the verbatim language in the ordinance; language used on the required notice posted on the door of the establishment. In other words, if music is playing, no one can dance, tap their foot, snap their fingers, be-bop to the lavatory, or anything else. One must sit still as the music plays. If there is silence, apparently, one can dance up a storm, perhaps to the level of the whirling dervishes. This requirement is not just theory.
Travis related a story that one evening, during a police visit, an elderly woman unfamiliar with the issues at hand, began walking to the bathroom. As she was doing so, she began swaying to the music playing over the speakers. As she passed a table full of regular patrons, one of them took her arm, seated her in a chair, and explained the situation, narrowly avoiding yet another fine for The Station.
Why is this transpiring? Is The Station Lounge, at 1100 Orlando Avenue in Roseville, a haven for drug dealing, violence, racism, or bad taste? No, no, no, and no. The beautiful facility welcomes everyone who wants to have a good time, be respectful, enjoy delicious food, listen to music, and hopefully, dance someday. The focus of the evenings throughout the week include, Country night, Latin night, an evening for those of us “of a certain age,” and those who enjoy drag shows. The Station and its owners, Travis and his wife, Gail, are genuinely welcoming when one arrives at their establishment. The serving staff and managers treat their customers as respected friends.
Jeff Nichols, a relatively recent addition to The Station community, said that when he first came in, he felt, “so welcome, learning to Western Country swing dance,” before the ordinance took effect. He animatedly reflected how much he loves that, “every night is different” at The Station Lounge.
So, if The Station is such a grand place to meet and have fun in a safe environment, then what is going on? One might want to ask Paul Richardson, the director of the Office of Planning and Development for the City of Roseville. He and his team have invested in the redevelopment of the historic section of downtown Roseville. It’s lovely… and empty. Not the best investment so far of $13 million, one might say. The fascinating part of this development is that restaurants and nightclubs in the redeveloped area are exempt from the “no dance” ordinance. A $13 million redeveloped, historic downtown – no ordinance. An established place of business outside the redeveloped section – ordinance.
The worst part of this is that the person who spearheaded this ordinance was Paul Richardson. This is the same Paul Richardson who pushed through the $13 million dollar redevelopment of Historic Roseville. One would think that in this economy, Roseville would be deeply interested in elevating every business to increase tax revenue, transportation and entertainment revenue, and diversity-friendly environments in the area. When a smaller community is so close to a larger metropolis, such as Sacramento, one surmises that a city like Roseville would rush to support its own activities and draw people from surrounding areas, such as Lincoln, Citrus Heights, and Folsom to their fair burg. It seems that Roseville is more interested in bringing people to only one part of town. The only problem, no one is coming. One must wonder if The Station is suffering from the putrid stench of conflict of interest and bad planning festering in the City Planning and Redevelopment office. But, how would I know? I’m not a lawyer, Roseville community leader, or even a resident of this lovely town. I will say, though, that it sure smells unpleasant from here. A friend of mine, Judy, who is more well-versed on these types of matters than I, and not given to hyperbole, wrote about this topic, “I find this idiocy upsetting and think it should be exposed for the lunacy it is. Agree? Land of the free? Not in Roseville, CA.”
So, what happens to The Station Lounge? Time will tell. As the fines get paid, the zoning hearings move forward, and the stalwart patrons quietly, and with as little movement as possible, attempt to keep this business… and their community… alive, Roseville Police daily continue to spend their precious time, often reluctantly, if patrons’ descriptions are believed, observing and fining this venue for the crime of dancing.
Everyone who hears this tale reiterates the SN&R correlation to the 1984 movie, “Footloose.” Only in this case, Paul Richardson is John Lithgow’s character, Reverend Shaw Moore; The Station owner, Travis is Lori Singer’s character, Ariel Shaw, the person who supports the lead character; and Kevin Bacon’s character, Ren McCormack is played by a swingin’ elderly lady on her way to the bathroom.
Kelly Clarkson. Ruben Studdard. Fantasia Barrino. Carrie Underwood. Taylor Hicks. Jordin Sparks. David Cook. Kris Allen. These are the winners of the last nine seasons of American Idol.
Unless one has been living in an alternate universe, everyone in the United States of America has heard of American Idol, the television show where people between 16 and 29 vie for a recording contract, automobile, and a variety of other prizes and cash. They sing their little hearts out every week until, finally, one person is selected as that season’s American Idol.
Clarkson, Barrino, and Underwood are the only three winners who have become actual stars. Others contestants, including Clay Aiken, Jennifer Hudson, Chris Daughtry, and Adam Lambert have moved forward in their careers in huge ways; however, the other winners have had moderate to little success along the way.
All this is to say, here we are again. Next week we will see another person crowned as Season 10’s American Idol. The two contestants are Lee DeWyze and Crystal Bowersox. Both are unique and powerful personalities… sort of.
As a vocal director and music instructor, I would like to take a minute to look at each of them as performers and to address their vocal qualities.
Lee DeWyze is an enigma. He seems to have very little self-confidence; yet, there is something I intuitively sense about his ability to manipulate the public with his humble persona. DeWyze never seems to find a comfort zone with his music. It’s almost as though he is afraid we will discover his vocal skills really aren’t that good. His gravely voice clearly will not last beyond two or three more years. He will most likely develop nodes on his vocal cords and require surgery. His inability to stabilize his pitches without sounding like sandpaper on metal makes very little sense for him to win. This is not the end of the story, though.
Crystal Bowersox is a powerhouse, internally and vocally. She has an understanding of her craft that belie her 24 years on this planet. Her self-assured defiance of some of the judges recommendations have served her well. She continues to make the right choices week after week. The clarity of her sound and her understanding of her vocal instrument ensures many years of successful singing ahead of her.
Most importantly, she seems to know exactly who she is as a person. She makes no excuses for her methodical analysis of what is happening around her. She is a thoughtful person focused on growth, manifesting her art, and taking care of her family.
With regard to her presentation, it cannot be understated how important pulling her look together is going to be on a global stage. She must get her teeth repaired and if she is going to continue to maintain her hair in dreadlocks, she should use more colorful elements, such as scarves and jewelry to create a more finished look. This, however, is just dressing because her art is where her strength is. Let there be no misunderstanding – she is an artist. Lee DeWyze – not so much.
The likelihood is that Lee will win American Idol. He is being perceived as a smoldering sex symbol in the mold of James Dean of yesteryear, and it is this alone that is moving him toward winning this competition. If all is right in the Universe, however, Crystal will win. She deserves to be on top.
In this case, I can only hope my view into my crystal ball is wrong and Crystal will win. I know I’m going to vote next week.
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