Bernie Worrell R.I.P

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Dr. George Bernard “Bernie” Worrell, Jr.

(April 19, 1944 – June 24, 2016)

Bernie Worrell, composer and keyboardist, lost his fight with lung cancer on Friday. He was 72. Worrell was one of the original funk masters performing with the “Parliament/Funkadelic” and the “Talking Heads”. (for which I will always remember his frenzied playing style)

Worrell was classically trained. Taking up the piano at age 3, he later studied at the Juilliard School and the New England Conservatory of Music.

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Parliament/Funkadelic

Among the many P-Funk jams he co-wrote, played on, or co-produced were “Flash Light,” “Atomic Dog,” “Aqua Boogie,” and “Red Hot Mama”.

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David Byrne (Talking Heads) and Bernie Worrell

David Byne of “The Talking Heads” remarked at a benefit concert for Worrell earlier this year – “He gives you the theology of funk. Bernie can take the music to a very cosmic place.”

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Worrell released several solo albums, including “All the Woo in the World” and “Funk of Ages”. Presented by Prince, Bernie Worrell was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with other members of Parliament-Funkadelic in 1997.

In 2015, Worrell appeared in the movie Ricki and the Flash as the keyboard player in Meryl Streep’s band. The movie reunited Worrell with director Jonathan Demme, who had directed “Stop Making Sense”. (If you haven’t, I highly recommend checking out Stop Making Sense!)

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Talking Heads – “Stop Making Sense”

During May 2016, the New England Conservatory of Music gave Worrell, who studied at the school until 1967, an honorary Doctor of Music degree.

The following video is – “Stranger: Bernie Worrell on Earth”. It is a documentary film about Worrell’s life, music and impact.

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I’ve Got the Music in Me Two!

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I’ve loved musicals my entire life. Going back to Frankie and Annette in the beach movies when a mandatory song would break out and a beach full of teenagers would get busy doing the watusi.

Frankie and Annette

Some musical numbers stand out more than others. This is Part Two of a glimpse into some of my favorites.



Streets of Fire 1984

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I’ve written about Streets of Fire before as my guilty pleasure. It’s a rock ‘n roll tale about gangs, ex- lovers (Diane Lane and Michael Pare) and some fantastic music! I give mad props to Fire, Inc. featuring Holly Sherwood (on lead vocals), Rory Dodd, and Eric Troyer for their music in the song “Nowhere Fast”. (Diane Lane did not sing) First, because it’s the right thing to do and second, they kicked butt!!

I got into the film primarily because of the musical sequences even though it failed critically and commercially. Its musical score, however, by Jim Steinman, Ry Cooder, and others, as well as the hit Dan Hartman song “I Can Dream About You”, from the film’s soundtrack, helped it attain a cult following.

Fame 1980

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I’ll round out this post with one of my favorite inspiring films, Fame. Produced by David De Silva and directed by Alan Parker, its screenplay is by Christopher Gore, choreography by Louis Falco and musical score by Michael Gore.

Starring Irene Cara, it’s a peek into a year of study at a New York school of performing arts. As a result of being fired up by this movie, I took my love of musicals and turned it into a path as an actress in community theater.

“Fame, I’m gonna live forever, baby remember my name!”

 

I’ve Got the Music in Me!

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I’ve loved musicals my entire life. Going back to Frankie and Annette in the beach movies when a mandatory song would break out and a beach full of teenagers would get busy doing the watusi.

Frankie and Annette

Some musical numbers stand out more than others. This is a glimpse into some of my favorites.



Little Miss Sunshine 2006

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Technically not a musical, the plot involves young Olive’s (Abigail Breslin) pilgrimage to the “Little Miss Sunshine” Beauty Pageant. Of course, everything that could go wrong does which is both totally hilarious and sad. But, Olive’s dance performance at the competition is worth everything as she gives it her all with choreography conceived by her beloved grandfather, played brilliantly by Alan Arkin. Arkin won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

What warms my heart is the love and commitment of Olive’s family (Greg Kinnear, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, and Paul Dano) who support her and her dreams. Do your thing, Olive. Awesome!!

 

Rocky Horror 1975

Truly a classic, this cult marvel became a must see and do experience when audiences began participating with the film at the Waverly Theater in New York City in 1976. Based on the 1973 musical stage production The Rocky Horror Show, the music, book, and lyrics are by Richard O’Brien. The production is a parody tribute to the science fiction and horror B movies of the 1930s through early 1970s.

The film stars Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, and Barry Bostwick along with cast members from the original Royal Court Theatre, Roxy Theatre and Belasco Theatre productions. Tim Curry was magnificent as Dr. Frank N. Furter. (“I’m just a sweet transvestite…”) Love this number and the Dr.’s strut.

Chicago 2002

What’s hotter than Jazz, sex, scandal, and murder? The incredible dance numbers in the movie Chicago!

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Chicago tells the story of  Velma Kelly (Zeta-Jones) and Roxie Hart (Zellweger), two murderesses who find themselves in jail together awaiting trial in 1920s Chicago. Directed and choreographed by Rob Marshall, and adapted by screenwriter Bill Condon, Chicago won six Academy Awards in 2003, including Best Picture. The film was critically lauded and was the first musical to win Best Picture since Oliver! in 1968.

Let’s keep this party going by checking out Part Two of “I’ve Got the Music in Me!” in my next post to see more music favorites.

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That Cat Can Swing! – Dance in Film 💃

Dance and I go way back. I have memories of American Bandstand and “bopping” with the staircase banister. There have been hundreds of dances long before I came along and even since. But, the most incredible dance craze I’ve ever seen by far is “The Lindy Hop”!

Don’t get me wrong, The Nicholas Brothers are my boys and their performances were breathtaking! No matter how many times I watch their dance routine from the Lena Horne/Bill “Bojangles” Robinson film “Stormy Weather”, I hold my breath in disbelief.

Like the Nicholas Brothers, the Lindy Hop is a marvel to behold! An assemblage of gymnastic, caution to the wind, I can’t believe they just did that dance moves. The coordination and imagination alone make this form of dance tops in my book.

I watch the television dance competition program, “So, You Think You Can Dance” for the myriad of styles and routines. However, I challenge even these dancers to impress me with the moves of the likes of the legendary Lindy Hopper Frankie Manning! (featured in this routine from the 1929 film, “Hellzapoppin”, he and his partner are last.)

The Lindy Hop was developed in Harlem, New York City, in the 1920s and 1930s and originally evolved with the jazz music of that time. It was very popular during the Swing era of the late 1930s and early 1940s. Lindy was a fusion of many dances that preceded it or were popular during its development but is mainly based on jazz, tap, breakaway, and Charleston. It is frequently described as a jazz dance and is a member of the swing dance family. (Wikipedia)

Just as jazz music emerged as a dominant art form that could absorb and integrate other forms of music, Lindy Hop gained its own fame through dancers in films, performances, competitions, and professional dance troupes.

 

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Frankie Manning was part of a new generation of Lindy hoppers and is the most celebrated Lindy hopper in history. Some sources credit Manning, working with his partner Freida Washington, for inventing the ground-breaking “Air Step” or “aerial” in 1935. An Air Step is a dance move in which at least one of the partners’ two feet leave the ground in a dramatic, acrobatic style. Most importantly, it is done in time with the music. Air steps are now widely associated with the characterization of lindy hop, despite being generally reserved for competition or performance dancing, and not generally being executed on any social dance floor. (Wikipedia)

 

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The popularity of Lindy Hop declined after World War II, and the dance remained dormant until revived by European and American dancers in the 1980s.

The closest I’ve ever come to Lindy hopping is a gymnastic dance sequence in a community theater production of “West Side Story”. I executed a “back flip” move with my partner which for me stands out as the most exciting dance routine of my community theater career.

I was 40 years of age when I performed the “back flip” routine so, hey, maybe I’ve got a Lindy Hop left in me! 😎

 

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School Daze (1988)

This controversial 1988 musical comedy-drama was written and directed by Spike Lee and is based in part on Lee’s experiences at Atlanta’s Morehouse College, Spelman College, and Clark Atlanta University. (Spike Lee also has a role as “Half-Pint”, a pledge for Gamma Phi Gamma) It is a story about fraternity and sorority members clashing with other students at a historically black college during homecoming weekend and also touches upon issues of colorism (discrimination based on skin color) and hair texture bias within the African-American community. The film stars Larry Fishburne, Giancarlo Esposito, and Tisha Campbell-Martin.

School Daze resonates with me for a couple of reasons, first, as a member of a sorority and second, because of my love of the musical genre, the well-produced dance sequences.

Spike went out on a limb challenging black colleges, politics, and internal racial relations. At the time, some people felt he was airing family business. Discussing subject matter usually not shared with the world at large. Good and bad hair, light skinned vs. dark skinned, social class. Spike touched a nerve on all these issues, garnering mixed revues from audiences.

As a black, sorority girl, I found that Spike was telling truths that I’ve experienced over the course of my life. Skin color, hair texture, and social standing. These are issues we still deal with today. As far as the politics, my college class was very political and our participation ranged from running for our dorm governing counsel to initiating the first black cheerleader. Because we grew up in the 60’s and the civil rights movement we understood that we benefited from the sacrifices of others and it was our responsibility to pay it forward.

But, the bottom line of my enjoyment of this movie is I absolutely loved the production numbers! When the film was made you didn’t see lots of musicals like in the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s. More serious subjects were generally being portrayed due to the politics of the times. Remember, Nelson Mandela was still in prison and apartheid was full on in South Africa.

Now, let’s check out my very favorite performance – Gamma Rays!

These divas are working it in this dance piece! I can still perform this entire routine and it continues to make me smile. Absolutely fabulous!!

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times noted School Daze’s significance as a film with a “completely black orientation. “All of the characters, good and bad, are black, and all of the character’s references are to each other.” (Wikipedia)

School Daze is relevant, witty, and worth viewing. Two Thumbs Up!

 

“Back in the Day” – Let’s Hear it for the VCR! 📼

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Can You Guess What This Does?

My ideas for posts come to me in a very organic way. Doesn’t matter where I am or what I’m doing, if a thought comes to mind I immediately write it down. (if I don’t, it can be lost in the ether forever:) This time, sitting under the dryer at the salon, I came up with the idea for a flashback look at the revolutionary video format from “back in the day”and some of my favorite titles from the hundreds of tapes in my VCR library.

The Video Home System (VHS) is a standard for consumer-level use of analog recording on videotape cassettes. It was developed by Victor Company of Japan (JVC) in the 1970s. (Wikipedia)

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Over the years, I’ve been upgrading my VHS tapes to DVDs because of the quality. But, I’d also kept my VCR because of my extensive VHS collection and besides, it was in perfectly good condition. That is until about a year ago. The rewind ceased to function and upon ejecting the tape it became a projectile, hurling itself across the room.

I recently celebrated my birthday and received an Amazon gift card which I was very excited to use in purchasing a new, used VCR. As I started taking inventory of tapes I hadn’t been able to or just forgot about watching over the years, I was like a kid in a candy store, discovering these titles all over again.

Anyone who knows me understands I’m a movie junkie. As a kid, my mom and I went to the “show” (as we called it) on a weekly basis. And on Saturdays, I’d tag along with my sister to the monster matinees.

Growing up in the sixties, I only had access to my favorite films at the movie theater. However, I always believed the day would come when I’d assemble a film library and be able to watch my faves as often as I’d like. It would take another decade, but I got my wish when in 1977 the VCR player became available to the general public.

From the 1950s, magnetic tape video recording became a major contributor to the television industry, via the first commercialized video tape recorders (VTRs). At that time, the devices were used only in expensive professional environments such as television studios and medical imaging (fluoroscopy).

In the 1970s videotape entered home use, creating the home video industry and changing the economics of the television and movie businesses. The television industry viewed VCRs as having the power to disrupt their business, while television users viewed the VCR as the means to take control of their hobby. (Wikipedia)

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First VHS Logo

In the beginning, there were few titles available and the tapes were expensive. ($60-$80) It would take until the early eighties before the format was feasible as prices came down.

The first theatrical film ever released to the public on VHS was the South Korean drama, The Young Teacher, in 1976. The first three titles to become available in the U.S were – The Sound of Music, Patton, and M*A*S*H (at an average retail cost of $50-$70, each).

I have such happy memories of watching The Sound of Music (1965) for the first time and being swept up in the majestic opening number and loving every song. At that moment, Julie Andrews became my favorite songstress and I would forever perform as a soprano!

West Side Story (1961) also made an impression and was one of the coolest musicals of the 1960’s. Winner of ten Academy Awards including Best Picture, this electrifying musical sets the ageless tragedy of Romeo and Juliet in the slums of 1950s New York.

My personality is the type that will watch a movie over and over again and I’m so thankful for the advent of the VCR which has allowed me to collect and enjoy my film library anytime I desire. These films have also impacted and inspired me to take my love of musicals and eventually perform in community theater productions.

It’s so wonderful to be able to relive fond big screen memories, and relish home movies of when my kids were young. Starting my video collection was a wish come true and I often enjoy revisiting these special films and moments of days and times gone by.

 

VHS Legacy

Often considered an important medium of film history, the influence of VHS on art and cinema was highlighted in a retrospective staged at the Museum of Arts and Design in 2013. In 2015 the Yale University Library collected nearly 3,000 horror and exploitation movies on VHS tapes, distributed from 1978 to 1985, calling them “the cultural id of an era.” (Wikipedia)

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