Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Luther Vandross Tribute: Start to Finish

(*This blog entry was written by Detrel Howell and originally appeared on her blog, The Inner Soul on April 21, 2009*)

Holding Back the Tears

Woo woo woo!

Not a hint of sadness here, whatsoever! I'm reflecting on God's blessings in my life. The desires of my heart seem to be coming to me ever so steady with each passing day. I have come to realize that joy will not simply drop at my feet ~ I have to seek it out, make some noise and let people know that I am just so serious about what I want to do and what I am capable of devoting myself to doing.In the past I have blogged about:

* Rahsaan Patterson
* Pamela Nichols
* and a young dude who calls himself "V"

Pam -- I will speak of her every opportunity that I am able to because she has been a tremendous joy in a short period of time. She's a visionary who is still getting her feet wet when it comes to the inner workings of the music biz. I laugh to myself sometimes because even her bark is absolutely opposite of mine. She's sweet as the 'suga' that she refers to in her nickname (Sista Suga).

Rahsaan -- his music is like butter! I really need not say any more than that but I will. His music moved me after the first time I'd listened and the mission began! I was out to find a song, an album, a cassingle...that's for those of us who remember the forms music were presented in after the decline of vinyl. I reached out to his manager at the time, Lucille Hunt which was one of the boldest and wisest moves ever made by this here chic. She embraced my interest and desire to help spread the word about Rahsaan Patterson's music and the rest is history. Pam and I became friends via a message board of Rahsaan Patterson die-hard fans that I put together and a short while later ONUTSS was born.

People seem to always want to know what the hell went into developing a name like ONUTSS -- another blog -- another day -- but it was a lonely late late night notion that hit me hard. And in less than three years, Pam and I have poured our hearts into what we do. There have been many a day that I've told her vehemently that I wanted out! It's hard watching others make $$ off of your passion when you have a vision to do something grand for those you support and you're lacking $$. It's also an interpretation of a very painful and saddening slap, in my opinion when people silently refuse to join forces, for the sake of a bigger movement.

The Luther Vandross Tribute Story

One night I received a call from this brother, Kenny Wesley. I have always admired Kenny because when you call his cell phone, his voicemail picks up and he begins to speak what we have adopted as proper English. He then breaks into the most perfect Spanish interpretation of what was stated in English and then he breaks into another language that I have yet to identify. (lol) In addition to that, he's a really nice guy who can sing his 'face' off and is severely underrated. Kenny called me that night because somewhere in the depths of his musical soul, he had the idea of doing an ONUTSS Listening Party in honor of Luther Vandross. As he began to share more of his vision, I had my own pictures of who all I wanted to reach out to for the sake of participating and making it the best event ONUTSS could imagine.

Kenny said that he had already spoken with Gordon Chambers about participating and he, too was on board. Well, if you have Kenny and Gordon, then... That's where V might come in.

I have been in V's corner since hearing his album, "The Revelation is Now Televised" a few years back and have told him so many times via Myspace messages. But, I didn't expect to work with him so soon and on such a level as what unfolded earlier this week. When he agreed to consider being part of the lineup, I hung up the phone and let out a squeal. Our Luther Vandross Tribute singers were nearly complete and I was more than pleased.

V: A vision in motion

Actually, before reaching out to V, I called on a friend who I thought would be a perfect addition to the growing lineup. That friend, Mike Hammond loved the idea and had songs in mind to perform before the conversation ended. It was all so perfect, in my mind. An extravaganza of this sort was a risky venture for ONUTSS because we did not want anyone whom we had worked with previously to feel slighted because they were not asked to participate. We also had not done an all-out show in the years that ONUTSS has existed. There was so much we would need to pull together, in a short period of time to make it all so right. Securing the venue was most important and what better place to present a showcase dedicated to one of soul music's greatest and most beloved crooners than the world famous Blue Note in New York City! Then, bringing in key players for the band -- and the necessity of background vocalists -- and the little details.

I have to say, Pam and I put our best hustle hats on and made sure it was all taken care of. Our band consisted of Kelvyn Bell (guitar/Music Director), Kim Davis (bass), Alex Marcelo (keys) and Daru Jones (drums). Each musician has a special story and credentials that stretch far and wide. If I took you through their collective list, your eyes would pop as the names of singers and musicians, as well as previous project involvement they've had were to become known to you. Simply marvelous! Our background singers, Tess and Ki Ki Hawkins were absolutely stellar. They were a perfect compliment, not only to one another but to each singer. We also realized that we needed a host(ess) with the ability to charm the crowd and hold their interest between singers. Who else but Lorenda Robinson would be perfect for the task. She told us that she was honored to be asked and would do the damned thing. That she did and so much more!

As we moved closer and closer to the date, things seemed to fall into place. The rehearsals were scheduled. The event was listed on The Blue Note's calendar and the unbelievable was unfolding into the realistic. Unexpectedly, we got a call that Mike Hammond unfortunately needed to cancel. We wished him well and needed to decide quickly if he should be replaced or whether we should fill his slot or not. Filled, it was! I called on Bradd Marquis who had been a featured performer at our ONUTSS Listening Party and he agreed immediately to be on the bill. There it was -- done!
~ ~ ~

Kim Davis (our bass man)

Tess and Kenny

Lorenda Robinson & Kenny Wesley

Bradd Marquis (in a zone)

Working it out at rehearsal: Alex Marcelo & Kelvyn Bell

(l to r) Gordon Chambers, Lorenda Robinson, Kenny Wesley & Alex Marcelo

Daru Jones killing the skins!

Kenny Wesley & Bradd Marquis

* * *

So it was ... Monday, April 20, 2009 ... a very rainy and cold day in New York where the weather made not a bit of difference to the packed house at The Blue Note. People came out for a show honoring a legend and left with names they had not known before, right at the forefront of their thoughts.

The night began with the band playing a funky rendition of Luther's Til My Baby Comes Home featuring Kelvyn Bell. Heads in the crowd were nodding, fingers tapping and I'm sure feet stomping too. Hot!

Lorenda Robinson stepped on stage and set the tone by introducing One Nation Under The Soul Shack like we'd never heard ourselves described previously. It was so touching that I found myself wiping my eyes. Damn her! I'd bet Pam that she was going to be the first to break down and here I was on the verge of an outright babbling sob. (smile) But it was dark where I sat and very few seemed to notice the waterworks. (whew!)

Kenny Wesley came out and sang Luther's song, "Any Love" in such a way that was similar to the original but certainly with his own impression. Kenny is unassuming until he opens his mouth to belt out some sounds that definitely make you want to stand up and scream out, "You'd better sing, sugar!" He then went to the piano and played for himself as he sang, "Time" a song that Billy Porter put his stamp on, but Kenny Wesley put his foot in twice!

Bradd Marquis was next to hit the stage and hit it, he did! Bradd is a handsome drink of water, so I watched closely as the ladies near the stage gave one another 'that' umm hmm glance. He certainly didn't disappoint either. His two Luther covers, Never Too Much and So Amazing would have pleased Luther. The crowd rocker for sure was Bradd's original song, "Radio" ~ a feel good tune that you can't help but bounce to. The hook draws you in before you even realize what has happened. Bradd's smoky raspiness has brought comparisons of Teddy Pendergrass, Jaheim and Marvin Gaye. What wonders lie ahead for him and the other singers is all in God's control.

Kenny Wesley returned to the stage after being summoned by our hostess, Ms. Robinson who kept the crowd laughing and thoroughly entertained between performers. They then engaged in musical love before all hungry eyes. The sultry ballad, If This World Were Mine that Luther Vandross and Cheryl Lynn made a staple for all of us romantic-types had come to life. In Lorenda and Kenny, I saw Donny and Roberta, Ashford and Simpson, Marvin and Tammi, Rick and Teena and any other fabulous male/female duo who possessed the ability to join genetic forces, blend souls and deliver a heartfelt performance dripping with sensuality!
I loved the show, as a music fan first and then, pridefully as a co-producer and promoter. I couldn't help but reach out to Pam and share a smile. This is what we had brought together. The Blue Note was packed -- you know how they somehow manage to put twenty people in a space that should rightfully hold about five -- there were faces I'd never seen, faces I didn't expect to see and even more faces of people whom I love (my mom, my sister, my friends). I turned to take it all in as Lorenda introduced V. He stepped on stage and this is when the show turned into a personal concert for me. Having listened to his music for so long, witnessing the live performance -- even after two rehearsals -- was special. I zoned out as he sang If Only For One Night. I remember clapping when the song ended but my mind was so far away from what my eyes were taking in. I thought back to how scary it was for me to send him a note on Myspace in which I'd shared how much I loved his cd, or the time I was brazen enough to ask him to be part of an ONUTSS listening party. Let me say, there was little room for disappointment as he sang one of my very favorite songs that Luther blessed the world with, Make Me A Believer. V's song ,This Moment from his recently released sophomore album, The Paradox has quickly become a song that touches me to the core. He sang that and I was filled...period! Tess and Ki Ki's backing vocals were just sheer perfection.

The final performer for this magnificent evening was Gordon Chambers, who becomes a vibrant character on stage. His stage presence brings from within all of the charm, personality and vigor that he possesses. His interaction with the crowd exemplified the professional entertainer he truly is. His Luther song choices included Creepin', Superstar and a personal dedication to the departed crooner, I'll Miss You Most. Gordon took the audience through a range of emotions and vocal acrobatics. From encouraging the crowd to celebrate the life of a talent gone all too soon on what was to have been his 58th birthday, to having them participate in the songs to applauding his parents who were in the crowd for a lengthy union, Gordon Chambers was sheer perfection as he brought this incredible showcase to a close.

No Luther Vandross tribute show could have ever been complete without a rousing rendition of The Power of Love/Love Power. Gordon called all of the evening's performers, even the hostess Lorenda back to the stage and they rocked out as Luther would have had it!

All in all, I think Luther was proud of these young musicians and singers who came together to pay homage to the legacy he's left for us all.

Here are a few shots from the show and the backstage smiles!

(Daru Jones ~ getting ready! They have NO idea...)

(Kenny & Lorenda ~ The duet that wowed the crowd)

(V ~ tearing it up!)

(Gordon Chambers)

(Ki Ki and Tess held the background down!)

(The finale)

(The Power of Love)

(Alex Marcelo)

(The ONUTSS Ladies with Kelvyn Bell)

(Soul Power: V & Daru Jones)

(Chinahblac, Elsa & Detrel)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Bursting With Live Music!

On Monday, April 7, 2008 we were joined by Rogiérs and Liv Warfield, two fantastic musicians. This was something that you most certainly did not want to hear about from someone else because you would have wanted to witness it for yourself. Shrine World Music Venue is the place you should have immediately been after work - to have gotten there as early as possible for the best view of the stage.

These ONUTSS Ladies lived high for quite some time off of the momentum of what unfolded. From the humble artist known as Rogiers to the big red tour bus that took up a nice chunk of 7th Avenue to the slimmed down musical powerhouse named Liv Warfield and the legendary Leroy Burgess coming in as a special guest -- the night was one that we both will cherish forever, for always, for the music! Rogiérs graced the ONUTSS stage and gave it his all in all and Liv blessed the ONUTSS audience with a rare New York performance with her band, an ONUTSS oddity. These listening parties get better and better each time!

Check out their videos; we can attest to the fact that you will love them both!

Liv Warfield, is a name that seems to be popping up everywhere you turn these days. Michael Baisden has found his next future ex-wife, and Billboard (online) is now playing her music.

Rogiérs has accomplished heights that others can only wish to attain. Having played alongside Alicia Keys and countless other well-known musicians, this humble brother has an album entitled, "Life & Music: All Of It" - a rarity that gives you head-nodding cuts, midtempos and some mellow grooves that will make you more than satisfied with the investment.

Tomas Doncker & La Sonya Gunter CD Release/Listening Party

What better way to close out a summer filled with unexpected musical moments with a marvelous array of talent like what we had planned for our audience on Thursday, August 28, 2008!

We brought together Tomas Doncker, LaSonya Gunter and Kuku under one roof, on one stage for a special evening -- ONUTSS told you that you needed to add it to your calendar with all the reminders necessary because this was one NOT TO HAVE BEEN MISSED! We celebrated the release of Tomas' new cd, "Small World" -- check out the first single, "Children of Darfur" and share in the experience from his vantage point while jamming to the music.

All three artists are gifted, no question and have special talents in their own right -- did you see the beautiful makeup and artwork displayed on Maya Azucena's "Junkyard Jewel" -- did you know that the lovely LaSonya Gunter was the makeup artist who created that masterpiece? KuKu is based in DC but has begun to make a name for himself and his special blend of acoustic soul.

The turnout was great and the music was fabulous; it was a night that could have gone on into the wee hours of the night!