The Great Comet of 1812 : Catch it if You Can!

denee-comet-danceWe lucked out and received theater tickets last night — one of those unexpected perks we New Yorkers sometimes joyfully encounter when friends unexpectedly have to forego their evening plans. It’s now intermission at the Imperial Theater on Broadway in Manhattan. The play is Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, based upon a portion of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. The musical stars singer/actor Josh Groban as Pierre in mid-life existential crisis, paired with a lovely rising young African American co-star, Denee Benton, as Natasha, an alluring young love interest.

Now by intermission I can say that this is shaping up to be a great show with a fantastic musical score that combines elements combining a Russian Pop and Bolshoi Opera production blended with postmodern urbanity. There’s the “street” rhythmic energy of Hip Hop’s cultural panache,  captured with riveting precision and style similar to Lin Manuel Miranda’s block-buster Hamilton.

The Great Comet’s clever staging sets the entire Imperial Theater’s ambience as a night life cabaret soiree in 19th century Moscow. Embellished in period costumes of pre-Soviet-era Russian bourgeoisie life, dancers and instrumentalists festively romp throughout the entire theater, surrounding the audience’s 1000 seats in a uniquely entertaining manner, capped by a marathon of Vodka toasts and Cossack dancing.

This production is loaded with unanticipated active engagement of full audience participation, but not in a gratuitous pandering manner. The high-energy bombardment of the audience’s sensory field helps bring alive a ebullient pre-Bolshevik spirit of 19th-century Moscow’s elite social class with a bristling verve that seems to nearly burst at the seams at times. The merriment belies the story’s original backdrop of Napoleon’s French Brigades impending invasion.

The musical is anchored by the rich mercurial baritone of co-star Josh Groban as Pierre, an heir to a wealthy Count’s estate, who struggles with his existential crisis, reflecting on life’s meaning with the aid of an ample stock of Russian vodka. The Great Comet of 1812 appears, and through his struggles to pursue a righteous, meaningful life, Pierre, having been protector, patriarch, and bedrock of his family, discovers his love for Natasha.

Lovely and vibrant Ms. Benton’s Natasha, a dainty girl scarcely past puberty who is poised, refined, and impressionable. Betrayal by her lover, the carouser Anatole, leaves her forlorn and she’s eventually rejected by her fiancée, Andre, who discovers their affair.

Denee Benton is indeed well suited for the demands of the complex role of Natasha. Given the current tensions between Russia and the U.S.A over allegations of Russian sanctioned cyber-hacking of the U.S. 2016 presidential campaign, it’s a breath of fresh air to see classical Russian literature come to life on the “Great White Way” with a beautiful and talented African American actress.

The songs performed by the cast are powerful – some whimsical and joyful, others haunting. The music and lyrics explore the reaches of the interior lives of Tolstoy’s nuanced characters; conflict, joy, disappointment, rage, and aspirations – all qualities theater goers are privileged to experience via the adaptation of the great Russian writer’s 19th-century characters to our 21st-century sensibilities.

Some observers in 1812 viewed t Comet as an apocalyptic event signaling the end of the world, while others saw it as a symbol hope. During this current transformational period in Russian-American relations let’s hope that our nation’s love of art and the cultural appreciation of heritage in literature and music we share in common will steady our course towards a continued peaceful co-existence.

Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 is a theatrical experience that I highly recommend. (D.Day Media 2016)

Ancient Egyptian Africans and EXODUS the Movie

With the 2015 holiday’s season’s movie Exodus anticipating great expectations at the box office during the last quarter and season,director Ridley Scott and producer Rupert Murdock Fox News media magnate’s epic film continues to generate controversy.
Anthony T. Browder who is the author of “Nile Valley Contributions To Civilization: Exploding The Myths” noted archeologist ,author and historian,
states: “Rupert Murdock a principal producer of the movie recently tweeted: “Since when are Egyptians not white? All I know are. They treated blacks as slaves.” Browder adds,Ridley Scott,renowned English director and producer said that “he didn’t hire any Black leads for the film because, “I (can’t) get it financed. So the question doesn’t even come up.”, referring to the question of racial representation and authenticity in casting the film’s principal characters.
 
A recent article in the Daily Monitor Ugandans’ largest newspaper writes : “Ancient Egyptian Pharaohs related to Ugandans DNA”,reporting in December 2012, DNA tests were conducted on the mummies of Pharaoh Rameses III and his son, which proved that they belonged to human Y chromosome group E1b1a. This is the Y chromosome group of Sub Saharan Africans who speak Niger–Congo languages.
The disclosed Y chromosome group of the Pharaoh, at the time of releasing the report, was considered as just one of the details to make the investigation scientifically solid with facts. But its revelation caused a stir equal to the purpose of the original forensic investigation.
Another group of mummies from the Amarna period of Egyptian pharaohs were tested by DNA Tribes, an American Company which specializes in conducting DNA tests, in 2013.
The conclusion of the tests were that the mummies autosomal profiles would be most frequent in the present day populations of the African Great Lakes region and Southern Africa. Subsequent analysis of the autosomal profile of the mummy of Pharaoh Rameses III also concluded that this matched the genetic profiles of the population of the Great Lakes region as well.
It was reported in the DNA Tribe’s digest of February 2013, that the DNA match results of the ancient Egyptian armana royal mummies with the present day world regions reflect the population changes in Africa after the time of Rameses III .
One issue which remains unresolved is that of language. The language of ancient Egypt is classified as belonging to the Afro-Asiatic family of languages, which are spoken by people like the Somali and Amhara of Ethiopia, while the genetic profiles of the mummies match those of Niger–Congo language speakers. The most likely explanation is that some of the Niger-Congo speaking people, who were carriers of human Y chromosome E1b1a, moved into ancient Egypt along the Nile from the Sahara region as the region dried up and fused with the Afro-Asiatic speaking people, giving rise to the unique language of ancient Egypt.
 
When billionaire Rupert Murdock is quoted as having made such an asinine statement that “all Egyptians are white” he has either been misquoted,is poorly educated ,uninformed or pandering to the Fox News conservative fan base and likely white movie goers he hopes will fork up $12-15 bucks for the feel good movie ticket this season.But at what price for expanding authenticity and historicity.
 
Recall last Christmas season 2013 and Fox News anchor Megan Kelly exclaimed in an archeologically baseless rant “Jesus was a white man, too. It’s like we have, he’s a historical figure that’s a verifiable fact, as is Santa, I just want kids to know that. How do you revise it in the middle of the legacy in the story and change Santa from white to black?” Well Mr. Scott, Murdock and Ms. Kelly it’s called science;enlightenment, truth seeking and removal of your historically biased blinders that stifle ones comprehension and acceptance that all human beings origins are in Africa. Egypt is part of the African Continent and at various epochs in time different dynasties ruled over Africa’s empires for centuries at a time. And based upon substantial archeological, forensic and DNA evidence, including drawings on cave walls, statues,pyramids, sphinxes and thousands of artifacts the African presence in Africa was ubiquitous. It doesn’t take rocket science to figure this one out,only an open non-threatened mind! D.Day 2014
 
Pictured: LUPITA NYONG’O (top left) IDRIS ALBA (top rght.)
 
SIGOURNEY WEAVER – TUYA(bottom right)
Tuya, not portrayed in Biblical accounts, is believed to have been the wife of Pharaoh Seti I and mother of Ramses II. She has been portrayed in movies as the Egyptian woman of royalty who pulled baby Moses from the Nile River, while the Bible presents the Hebrew deliverer’s foster mother as “the daughter of Pharaoh” who named him Moses (Exodus 10:1-10).
 
JOEL EDGERTON – PHARAOH RAMSES (bottom left)
While Ramses is not identified in the Bible as the pharaoh who Moses faced, extra-biblical accounts suggest that Ramses II ruled over Egypt during the 13th century BCE, the period suggested by some experts for when Moses might have lived. The Book of Exodus portrays the pharaoh as defiant to Moses’s claims that God required the enslaved Hebrews to leave Egypt. The Book of Exodus indicates the pharaoh pursued the Hebrews as they left Egypt. Moses and the pharaoh have been portrayed in popular movie accounts as sibling rivalries. 

lupita-_idris-as-egyptiansexodus-eygpt-sorjorney-weaver-actressexodis-eygptian-joel-edgerton

Two Words : White Backlash an Electoral Factor

“White Backlash”, two words nullify the need for further paralysis of analysis by media talking heads.I am not surprised nor will I succumb to fear or cynicism.Cast the blame on globalization as you may; scapegoat hard working immigrants, lawlessness and urban crime as the culprits or dismantle every vestige of social progress, health care, banking and financial reform or climate change.The people have spoken through it’s electoral college.They seem to be saying, “we’re afraid, losing our grip help us we’re nearing a tipping point.”Halt the pace or change direction before the “others” change us or our way of life and the America we used to know.Take back our nation, secure my place and identity in the fast paced, over whelming competition of ever expanding technological advances and new global digital economy.”

Trump has successfully tapped into those fears and promised results without well articulated policies or programs.It matters not to Trump supporters, they were eager to buy whatever he branded and sold as long as it bought them personal validation.The campaign slogan,”Make America Great Again” by default became the mantra in the minds of many black, hispanic, Muslim and “otherAmericans, code for”Take Back America”, “Make “America White Again”.This may or may not have been the sentiment intended but it was for many ethnic minorities the covert message.

Now that Donald Trump has become president-elect of the U.S.A. he will need to summon his better angels to build bridges and mend the trail of brokenness his divisive candidacy has left behind in an already bitterly divided nation.Frankly, I don’t expect too much. I will try to respect the office of the presidency,although his behavior throughout the campaign hasn’t predisposed me favorably to that attitude.I will observe scrutinize,editorialize, blog and report to the best of my ability on the workings and dealings of a Trump administration. With God’s grace,I will prepare my spirit and resolve to refuse to be burdened or cowed by Trump policies or proposals I may not agree with.I will observe, blog, listen, research,probe, question, challenge and rigorously critique governance under a Trump administration as long as I am able and their remains a United States of America.May God Bless America.(D.Day 2016)

 backlash

“Maggie’s American Dream” an ORAL History: Quest for Education, Dignity, Self-Discipline, Inspired by a Mother’s Love and Dedication.

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson and studentdr-tyson-w-kid-excelmaggie-comer-aahcm
Mrs. Maggie Comer  ( picture: African American Museum of History and Culture 9/2016
Over the week end, I re-read the book, “Maggies American Dream” a story about the Comers an African American family who migrated from the deep south to my hometown of East Chicago, Indiana in the 1920s.Narrated through voice of family matriarch Maggie Comer as written by her son,Dr. James P. Comer M.D., who became Maurice Falk Professor of Child Psychiatry at Yale University Child Study and has been a Yale medical faculty member since 1968.During these years, he has concentrated his career on promoting a focus on child development as a way of improving schools. His efforts in support of healthy development of young people are known internationally.
Dr. Comer, perhaps, is best known for the founding of the Comer School Development Program in 1968, which promotes the collaboration of parents, educators, and community to improve social, emotional, and academic outcomes for children that, in turn, helps them achieve greater school success. His concept of teamwork has improved the educational environment in more than 500 schools throughout America.
To say the Comers as a family are remarkable is not mere hyperbole.
After a visit during opening week of the African American Museum of History and Culture I was reminded of just how inspiring and sterling an example the Comer family set for students growing up in the rough urban industrial terrain of East Chicago. The AAMHC exhibit on the “Great Black Migration” to the north beginning after WWI includes a section devoted to selective stories of individuals and families from the period.I’d lie, if I were to say “my chest didn’t swell with pride” seeing among the photographs exhibited along with written narratives of each persons’ or family’s personal quest in succeeding at attaining the “American Dream”.
The “Comer Family” saga for me is personal and visceral.A chapter in “Maggies American Dream” is devoted to my third grade teacher Louise Comer the only daughter of the five Comer siblings.The museum entry for Maggie Comer simply states: “Maggie Nichols Comer was born in Woodlawn, Mississippi and moved to Memphis, Tennessee, with her mother and stepfather. In 1920, at age 16, she moved to East Chicago to join her sister and brothers. There she unsuccessfully tried to balance working and going to school. She eventually married Hugh Comer and had five children, all of whom graduated from college.” (Courtesy of Dr.James P. Comer)
What the book “Maggie’s American Dream” does so powerfully and adeptly through sharing a family’s rich oral history is provide context for Maggie and husband Hugh Comer’s struggles to educate, raise and train five children whom would each reach the pinnacle of success,and effectiveness within their given professions, community service,and leadership within their respective fields.My third grade teacher Louise Comer and I reconnected and remained in touch over the years.She had tutored me as she had generations of third graders. After her retirement she remigrated to live near her large extended family on her palatial Alabama estate.My mom,gospel singer Irene Day-Comer eventually remarried a family member, Richard Comer a relative of Hugh Comer .
The Comers of Alabama are a tightly knit family with southern roots who love God, life, family and value academic achievement.I was pleased my mom and Richard spent many of their happiest last days together traveling, visiting and reconnecting with their own southern roots. I didn’t get to see my third grade teacher, we’d talk and she assured me a standing invitation to visit her like my mom and Richard had. And based upon the book’s oral descriptive account, she achieved her own”American Dream” to own a beautiful home; a fete teachers could somewhat more easily attain “back in the day”.
But more than aspirations for material success Louise Comer imparted a lifetime of invaluable skills in the bright eyed, eager children she taught. She believed in her students; and she knew and understood the challenges poor and aspiring middle- class black kids would face during the pre-civil rights era of “Northern Jim Crow” tactics.
She taught at Columbus elementary school, which was built to educate black children in the New Addition neighborhood comprised mostly of black steel-workers’ families and served as a “fire-wall” against the increasing population over-flow of black grade schoolers attending the pseudo integrated Washington Elementary school and being taught in a separate “But in no in hells way” equal wood constructed annex located on the school property near the integrated predominately white middle and secondary school.Like Maggie Comer, daughter Louise refused to believe that we as African American students were any less capable than others. In her eyes we could achieve anything we set out to do.She believed we could over-come any obstacle encountered along the academic chain to achievement emerging into the “world of work” with study and discipline as our tools for success.
As I reflect on this important presidential election tomorrow, and stories like those of the Comers and more currently, individuals like astrophysicist, Dr.Neil deGrasse Tyson, I’m reminded just how important creating and sustaining equal educational opportunity is for our children.
Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson had been an excellent athlete, and found that he was not only lauded, but his qualifications and abilities were never questioned. Besides his accomplishments on the Harvard wrestling team, he was part of the rowing team and a gold medal-winning ballroom dancer. These activities didn’t conflict with society’s perceptions of where his talents should lie. However, in his academic pursuits, he often found himself faced with questions and disbelief; he had transgressed against the recognized order of things, and his path became a difficult one. But he wasn’t deterred from his goal to become a world class scientist.Pictured below Neil deGrasse Tyson as a college student at Harvard pictured after a dance contest in college.
Society sorely need teachers like Louise Comer as well as engaged parents like Hugh and Maggie Comer along with effective and committed political and educational leaders to lift up, guide and encourage our students being left behind without hope, dream or direction for a better future.Maggie Comer knew back then that “It Takes a Village”and to develop successful, well children with healthy self-esteem in their educational pursuits, parents, students, teachers communities and administrators must be accountable. (D.Day Media 2016) Top two pictures: Dr.Neil deGrasse Tyson, Mrs. Maggie Comer, below Dr Neil DeGrasse Tyson  as a student at Harvard and Dr. Tyson at work as an Astrophysicistneil-degrasse-tyson-harvard-danceneilbydavidgamble-300

Jack Johnson:World Champion Heavyweight Boxer Wrongfully Convicted, Exonerated as A Patriot in Death

Jack Johnson is one of the greatest heavyweight champions of all time. Books,movies and plays have been written and produced about his pugilistic fetes and his defiant  larger than life persona in the face of  American racism during the height of the Jim Crow era. Elite black athletes have long held vaunted , if not ambivalent roles in American history and folk lore. Heavy weight boxing champion Jack Johnson is among the most prominent. Johnson was vilified for violating racial taboos, often dating white women  as well as being indefatigable in the tortuous whippings he publicly unleashed on his white challengers.After serving a prison sentence for violation of the Mann Act a federal law in part crafted to wrongfully entrap Johnson as criminal miscreant and menace by enforcing a prison sentence for his public contempt of miscegenation codes forbidding black and white romantic trysts. Decades would pass before  Johnson’s tainted legacy as an American hero would be rightfully ensconced into the national Congressional record.The shameful facts of the extent of racial animus toward a Negro reviled for defying servile racial stereotypes, powerfully built,bold, brash and flamboyant, he was most reviled for contempt he showed for social norms and legal restrictions on interracial dating. by openly escorting and traveling with white women lovers. In September 2008 the U.S, congress with concurrence of the U.S. Senate entered an historic resolution and posthumous apology to the world’s first black American heavy weight champion  via congressional resolution. Included here are significant excerpts from the congressional resolution.

September 25, 2008 CR- House, Vol. 154,Pt 16

The House Congressional Resolution 214 begins: “Whereas John Arthur Jack Johnson a flamboyant, defiant and controversial figure in American History who challenged racial biases; whereas Jack Johnson was born in Galveston, Texas in 1878 to parents who were former slaves;

Whereas in Reno, Nevada, in 1910, in what was called the “battle of the Century”, a white former heavy weight champion named Jim Jeffries came back from retirement to fight, and lose to Jack Johnson;

Whereas the defeat of Jeffries sparked rioting and aggression toward African Americans and led to racially motivated murders of African Americans nation=wide; Whereas the resentment felt toward jack Johnson by many Whites was compounded by his relationships with white women;

Whereas between 1901 and 1910, 754 African Americans were lynched, some simply for being to familiar “ with white women;

Whereas in, Congress passed the hite-slave traffic ,commonly known as the Mann Act”),which outlawed the transportation of women in interstate or foreign commerce “for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose;

Whereas Jack Johnson was arrested by United States marshals on October 18, 1912 for transporting Lucille Cameron across State lines for an “immoral purpose” in violation of the Mann act, but Cameron refused to cooperate with authorities., the charges were dropped, and Cameron later married the champion; whereas federal authorities continued to pursue Jack Johnson and summoned Belle Schreiber, a white woman, to testify that Johnson had transported her across stateliness for the purposes of prostitution and debauchery”;

Whereas in 1913 Jack Johnson was convicted of violating the Mann Act and was sentenced to 1 year and 1 day in Federal prison, but fled the country to Canada and then to various European and South American countries;

Whereas; Jack Johnson returned to the United States in July 1920, surrendered to the authorities , and served nearly 1 year in the United States Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas;

Whereas Jack Johnson fought boxing matches after his release from prison, but never regained the heavyweight championship title;

Whereas Jack Johnson supported this nation during World War II by encouraging citizens you buy war bonds and by participating in exhibition boxing matches to promote the sale of war bonds; whereas Jack Johnson died in an automobile accident in 1946; and

Whereas in 1964, Jack Johnson was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame: Now, therefore be it Resolved by the House of Representatives ( the Senate concurring) that it is the sense of congress that Jack Johnson was wronged by a racially motivated conviction prompted by his success in the boxing ring and his relationships with white women; The criminal conviction of Jack Johnson ruined his career and destroyed his reputation; and the President should grant a posthumous pardon to Jack Johnson to expunge from the annals of American criminal justice a racially motivated abuse of the prosecutorial authority of the Federal Government and to recognize Jack Johnson’s athletic and cultural contributions to society.

Jack Johnson 5_searchJack Johnson 3Jack Johnson 2images-2Jack Johnson _1search-3Jack Johnson4Speaker: Ms. Zoe Lofgren of California

Although this nation failed him, Jack Johnson remained a patriotic American; He supported this nation during World War II by encouraging citizens to buy war bonds and by participating in exhibition boxing matches to promote the sale of war bonds. It is time we recognize this wrong that was done and do what is in our power to make amends for this wrongful conviction, which destroyed a boxing career, but not a courageous and indomitable sportsman.

 

John Woodruff Olympian Hero and Gold Medalist

John Woodruff gold Olympicn

John Woodruff, Gold Medal winner 1936 Olympics Berlin 800 meters

Randi Woodruff

Randi Woodruff Gilliam,as a student  Fisk University 1966

John Woodruff was a member of the 1936 U.S.A. Olympic team that destroyed Hitler’s failed narrative of Aryan superiority by joining America’s African American team mates Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalf , winning Gold medals in track and field.

John Youie “Long John” Woodruff (July 5, 1915 – October 30, 2007) was an American middle-distance runner, winner of the 800 m event at the 1936 Summer Olympics.[1](Wikipedia)

Woodruff was only a freshman at the University of Pittsburgh in 1936 when he placed second at the National AAU meet and first at the Olympic Trials (in the heat 1:49,9; WR 1:49,8), earning a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.

Despite his inexperience, he was the favorite in the Olympic 800 meter run, and he did not disappoint. In one of the most exciting races in Olympic history, Woodruff became boxed in by other runners and was forced to stop running. He then came from behind to win in 1:52.9.

John Woodruff entered military service in 1941 as a Second Lieutenant and was discharged as a Captain in 1945. He reentered military service during the Korean War, and left in 1957 as a Lieutenant Colonel.

Pictured here with in the frame next to her father is daughter Randi, from her college days at her alma mater, Fisk University. This  profile of John Woodruff was originally  posted on my Facebook page. It includes photographs of both John Woodruff and  daughter Randi Woodruff Gilliam, also published here.During this year’s 2016 Olympics it seems only fitting to remind not only my fellow citizens but college friends  and fellow Fisk classmates of what a true American hero John Woodruff  is and just how proud his legacy has made us all.

 

Tony Bennett, An American Treasure: A Hard Act to Follow

Happy 90th. Birthday Tony Bennett,Born April 3, 1926 an “American Treasure”. Thank

Dennis &Tony Bennett 1993you!

Photo: Legendary award winning singer, Tony Bennett and jazz singer Dennis Day among those in musical tribute to American singer, Billy Eckstine  at the Bluenote, March 1993.

The picture above was taken at The Bluenote  Jazz Cub’s Tribute to singer Billy Eckstine in New York City in 1993. Tony Bennett came out to pay homage to his old friend the late, great Billy Eckstine. Unfortunately for me and the audience, Tony had to leave early,and I was called on by the stage manager to go on after him,I said,”they expect me to follow “you Mr. Bennett? He had floored the packed house., and the audience hadn’t settled down quite yet.He said. “I’ll stick around to hear you, and give you a little moral support, you’ll do just fine”. Afterward I came off stage we took pictures and he told me, kid you’re a natural, just keep singing,stay at it, you’ll do just fine Dennis”. His words of encouragement sustain me to this very day, even those days I feel like throwing in the towel.It was one of my most memorable nights. The line for the night’s tribute doubled half way around west 4th. st. on Bleecker in the West Village. The artist roster read like a veritable”Who’s Who” in Jazz. By some strange twist of fait, I made the bill as one of the few male singers honoring one of the greatest of all time that incredible night.