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Apologies for really dropping the ball at the end of my intended online celebration of BHM. I had wanted to make a post every day, then it turned into every other day, and now it's been almost two weeks since the last post. I definitely should have planned things out before taking it on.

Well, this month is coming to an end - but I celebrate Black History year round anyway. Some of that History is wonderful, and some of it is heartbreaking. My biggest wish in life is to go down in History as being significant to someone's life choices. Maybe a supportive word to one person will encourage them to go on and do something grand, or maybe a stern warning to another will prompt them on the right path. Who knows?

These past two weeks have been somewhat tiring for me. There has been another blackface incident, there's been this whole issue with a movie about Alexandre Dumas (the writer of the Three Musketeers and other books - who was also partially black), there's been the noose incident (thanks to that ridiculous "Compton Party"), and there's even been a pro-life politician implying that black people were better off during slavery than now. During all that, there's been people who have constantly dismissed the reactions to them all as black people being "too sensitive".

Can't help being sensitive when every day is a struggle. Just sayin'.

Well, this concludes my month of serious business. Next month: 31 days of Circus Clown Porn!

....

Okay, I'm kidding about the Clown porn. Honestly.
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Today's entry deals with a remarkable woman of talent and achievement, and her decision when faced with the cost of fame.

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Fredi Washington was an African-American actress who's most groundbreaking role was in the 1934 movie version of the book "Imitation of Life" (not to be confused with the remade later version made in 1959, starring Lana Turner and Juanita Moore). Not only was she an actress, she also helped found the Negro Actors Guild of America(NAG) back in the 1930's, which exists to this day.

Back then, most movie roles for black people were highly limited. We were usually only able to portray maids and other domestic workers. And romance on screen? Out of the question - and especially not with a non-black man! We were portrayed as sexless, and our beauty was downplayed or ridiculed for not being the "standard" - either through dressing us in drab servant garbs or through caricature and minstrel acts poking fun at our physical features.

What's notable about Fredi Washington is that Hollywood was astounded by her talent - especially after her role as Peola (a biracial woman who was light enough that she could "pass" for white, and her troubles dealing with her heritage). Interestingly enough, when the movie was remade two decades later, the actress playing the role that Fredi Washington played (plenty of things were changed between the two movies, including the names - Peola was now called Sarah Jane) was a white woman (of Mexican and Jewish descent), and not a biracial one of African descent as the role was about. In a way, the 1934 version was slightly more progressive than the later version! Most importantly though, Hollywood recognized Fredi Washington's talent due to the role, and Hollywood was willing to make her a star - with one exception: they wanted her to "pass" for white.

Here it was; the chance of a lifetime. Become a fabulous movie star, getting role after role while calling yourself a white woman and getting all the perks of being white - or, sticking with your heritage as a black woman and being relegated to roles as domestic servants, being treated as a black woman, and even darkening your skin to play more roles as a black woman. These two choices: fame and ignoring your heritage, or no fame and being proud of your heritage.

Peola, the character Fredi Washington played in Imitation of Life, probably would have chosen to pass. However, Fredi Washington - the actual woman - chose otherwise: to remain true to her heritage, even in the face of a diminished career. Eventually, she quit making movies in disgust at her treatment as a black actress - but that did not prevent her from fighting back against such treatment of black actors and actresses throughout the rest of her lifetime.

Truly a woman to admire.

Sources:

Fredi Washington on Wiki; a fansite; IMDB
Imitation of Life (book version) on Wiki
Imitation of Life (1934 version) on Wiki and IMDB
Imitation of Live (1934 version) Movie Playlist on Youtube.
Imitation of Life (1959 version) on Wiki; IMDB and the Movie Playlist on Youtube
Negro Actors Guild of America (NAG) on Blackpast.org
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Apologies for being late on this one. Anyhow, music has always been one of my favorite things, and while I am not a musical fan per se, I do love movies based on the kinds of music I like. Here are five excellent movies based on music to watch.

5) The Five Heartbeats (starring Leon, Robert Townsend, ) - This movie showcased the lives of the fictional (but loosely based on the singing group "The Dells") recording group "The Five Heartbeats", and their rise - and individual member's falls - in the music industry. Hilarious at moments, and heartbreaking at others, it's a great movie to watch. Standout songs are "A Heart is a House for Love" and "Nothing But Love".

4) Dreamgirls (starring Jennifer Hudson, Eddie Murphy, Anika Noni Rose, Jamie Foxx) - One of the few musicals that I like, this movie is another one featuring the rise of a fictional (but, once again, based loosely off "The Supremes") group called "The Dreametts", who eventually become "The Dreams". Stunning performances by the cast (with one exception: Beyonce), with Jennifer Hudson and Eddie Murphy especially standing out, it has a soundtrack that I play on a daily basis. Standout sequences are Jennifer Hudson's renditions of "And I Am Telling You" and "One Night Only", and the cast song "Steppin' to the Bad Side".

3) Ray (starring Jamie Foxx, Regina King, and Terrance Howard) - Another excellent film, this one showcases the life of Ray Charles, and his rise to fame, drug use, and eventual comeback into becoming one of America's most beloved recording artist. Jamie Foxx really digs into his dramatic side and delivers an excellent portrayal of Ray. Standout songs are all of them (LOL, it's Ray Charles, everything about him stands out), but I particularly liked the "Hit the Road Jack" and "That's What I Say" segments.

2) The Jacksons: An American Dream (starring Angela Bassett, Jason Weaver, Wylie Draper, Bumper Robinson, Terrance Howard) - This was actually a made-for-television miniseries, but nevertheless it was still excellent. This movie portrayed the Jackson family from when their parents were young, while the Jackson five were still kids, up to the 80's after MJ went solo. I've always been a fan of the Jackson 5, but not really one of MJ - but this was a likable movie nevertheless. Standout songs/performances in this movie were plentiful, but Wylie Draper's portrayal of MJ during the "Billie Jean" performance wins it, hands down.

Finally, my top pick!

1) What's Love Got To Do With It? (starring Angela Bassett, Laurence Fishburn, Jenifer Lewis, Vanessa Bell Calloway) - I don't even know where to start with this excellent movie - which was a portrayal of the life of Tina Turner and her rise from a young country bumpkin to the star she became in the 80's (and still is to this day). Standout performances from two of the most talented black actors - Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburn - really made this film. I felt Tina's hurt, and mused over how Ike Turner's reputation overshadowed the brilliant musician he was (after all, this is the man that wrote one of the first rock songs - "Rocket 88" - which was sung by "Ike Turner" in the movie) while at the same time condemning him for being an abuser. Standout performance is definitely "Rolling on the River".

Honorable Mention: The Temptations Miniseries; The Wiz; Purple Rain; Lady Sings the Blues.
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Today's feature is a list of five groundbreaking black sitcoms that you may or may not have heard of, in no particular order.

1) "Julia", starring Diahann Carol - notable for being one of the first black shows that did not show black women in then-stereotypical roles as maids and other domestic workers.

2) "The Cosby Show", starring Bill Cosby and Phylicia Rashad - Need I really expand on this one? The Cosby Show is groundbreaking due to being the first black show to show two highly-educated blacks raising a family. Speaking of Bill Cosby...

3) "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids" starring Bill Cosby - This show, conceived of by Bill Cosby, was one of the first animated show to feature a predominantly black cast.

4) "Good Times", starring Esther Rolle and John Amos - One of the first shows to depict a working-class black family, and the day-to-day struggles they had to go through.

5) "A Different World", starring Kadeem Hardison and Jasmine Guy - This show was a spin-off from "The Cosby Show", and originally the main character was Lisa Bonet's character from The Cosby Show. However, she left prior to season 2 and the other cast started to become more notable. Notable due to addressing issues that were not usually addressed on other television shows at the time (especially racism, sexism, and the likes). I wish they would release the DVD of this show (they released the first season, but most fans of the show prefer season 2 and beyond due to how drastically the show changed between season 1 and 2).
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There have been many family acts, and many musicians who have watched their offspring go on to become performers as well. Today's post is dedicated to Eddie, Sean, and Gerald Levert - as well as The O'jays, LeVert, and LSG (Levert, Sweat, and Gill) by extension.

This legacy all started when Eddie LeVert and a few of his acquaintances formed a singing group, which would eventually be known as the R&B/Classic Soul group The O'jays. Eddie Levert(the lead singer) had a massive amount of success with The O'Jays throughout the 1960's and 1970's, with hit songs such as "Backstabbers", "For The Love Of Money", "Brandy", "You've Got Your Hooks In Me" (my absolute favorite song of theirs), "Love Train", "Stairway to Heaven", a very beautiful live rendition remake of "Wildflower" (Eddie Levert really outdoes himself on the vocals on this one!), and several others.

Years later, in the mid-1980's, Eddie Levert's sons, Sean and Gerald (he has another son - Eddie Jr. - who runs an Entertainment company), would go on to form a singing group of their own with a friend (Marc Gordon), with Gerald usually singing the lead.

This group, known simply as LeVert (the V was capitalized in the group's name, but their last name does not have a capital V), also spawned several R&B hits throughout the late 1980's - early 1990's, such as "Casanova", "ABC-123" (not a remake of the Jackson 5 song, btw), "Baby I'm Ready", "(Pop Pop Pop Pop) Goes My Mind", and "Just Coolin'". I'm showing my age here, but I remember when all of those songs came out and were played regularly on black radio. They wore OUT Casanova.

Eventually, however, Gerald Levert branched off on his own in a solo career, with hits such as "I'd Give Anything", "Taking Everything" and its remix with the loltastical video, and "Made To Love Ya". He also released a collaboration album with his father, Eddie (he had previously collaborated with him on the #1 single "Baby Hold On To Me") - appropriately named "Father & Son", which spawned two hits ("I'm Already Missing You" and a soulful remake of "The Wind Beneath My Wings").

Also, he managed to form the group LSG (Levert, Sweat and Gill) with fellow R&B singers Keith Sweat (another hit singer) and Johnny Gill (a former member of New Edition who also had quite a few hit songs). LSG had hits such as "My Body" and "Door #1". Gerald Levert also founded several groups (Men at Large, Rude Boys) and penning hit songs for them and others (the late Barry White among them).

His brother, Sean Levert, also released solo works. However, although he had a singing talent equivalent to his brother and father - as evidenced in this tribute to legendary group The Dells (Sean is the shortest one) - he did not gain their level of success, sadly (even sadder is that I couldn't find working audio files of his solo work).

Sadly, both Gerald Levert and Sean Levert passed away within two years of each other (Gerald from accidental prescription drug overdose in 2006; Sean from sarcoidosis/withdrawal from prescription drugs while in prison in 2008), leaving behind their father and other families. Sean's death is under investigation by the FBI. As I posted once before, Gerald's death was the celebrity death that has - to this date - affected me the most. I still can't listen to his music without feeling such an absolute loss. In fact, going and finding all the Youtube videos and audio files of their songs brought me to tears.

My intentions on posting all of these posts this month is to recognize black men and women who have left a legacy in American History. Where does the Levert family fit into this - a group of men who have had tons of hits, but have been undersung in comparison to other singers and groups from the same time periods?

These men have left a legacy on R&B/Soul music that mainstream America will never fully fathom. The O'Jays - who have been inducted in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame - are not nearly as wide-known as the Temptations, but they left an impact on the soul singers that followed them. The group LeVert is an afterthought in comparison to - say - Boys II Men - but their music helped shape contemporary R&B groups and singers that came after them. Gerald Levert did not have nearly the radioplay as Usher, but he is a singer that several Neo-Soul and modern R&B/Hip Hop artists point to when discussing the artists that influenced their works. That, combined with many of the songs they put out and all the fans they touched, is their legacy.
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Black History is not just limited to real-life people and real-life events of blacks in America. There's still fiction characters that were groundbreaking because - sadly - even in fiction we were often stereotyped or stigmatized.

The predecessors of current American comic books came about in the early 20th century, with Superman being the character that really set things off in 1938, followed a year later in 1939 by Batman. In the year 1940, Fawcett Comic's Captain Marvel appeared on the scene, and - at the height of his popularity before Fawcett was forced to shut down due to DC Comic's being upset over his perceived similarities to Superman - had the highest selling book of any comic character.

It would take a few decades before black characters that were not caricatures to show up.

Falcon (Sam "Snap" Wilson) was the first mainstream superhero of African-American descent to be introduced into mainstream comics (Captain America in 1969). While he was not the first black superhero, nor is he the most widely-known, he was one of the first ones that was not a caricature of black people (exaggerated African features, portrayed as dull-witted and like a child, etc.) that took off in comics.

It is the same for Storm - who was not the first black superheroine, but was one of the first mainstream one. Storm was also one of the first superheroes of African descent (Storm is African, whereas Falcon was African-American) to lead a group (the X-men), among many other groundbreaking things her character did.

Also, there was a reason I went out of my way to mention Captain Marvel.

Upon reading some old Captain Marvel comic books, I had the misfortune to come across a black character called "Steamboat Willie". I read a few stories featuring him, and was horrified. Not only was he a caricature, but every single stereotype of blacks seemed to have been hit upon. It's why - although Captain Marvel and his mythos are one of my favorites - that I cannot read a good bulk of his old comics. Even in what should have been escapism, blacks had to deal with that sort of thing.
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I watched my friend's kids today, and me and the brat got home rather late. Yesterday's BHP will be combined with today's, and I'll post it later.
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Today's featured woman - Otelia Cromwell - has the honor of going down in History for two different accomplishments.

She was the first black woman to receive a degree from from both Smith College and Yale University.

What's even more interesting, aside from her achievements (which not only include being the first black woman to receive degrees from those institutions - but also writing an often-cited biography on Lucretia Mott as well as having had a school founded in her name) is that Smith College has been holding Otelia Cromwell Day since 1989. On this day, they will cancel classes and hold workshops on race and diversity, in her honor.

More on Otelia Cromwell, and the day that honors her can be found at the Smith College page, as well as here.
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Today's person is a rather interesting story, and one that highlights how the major media tends to ignore it when black youth do positive things.

It is unclear at this point as to whether Tony Hansberry II will be an important figure in History, but I'm putting him here anyway because his achievement is outstanding for someone his age.

Fourteen year-old Tony Hansberry II invented a new surgical stitching technique that can be used to reduce surgical complications, as well as errors from less-experienced surgeons.

He did this, and he is not even in medical school! Tony Hansberry II attends (yes, attends - this was first reported a mere few months ago in 2009) a magnet school that allows kids to take advanced medical classes.

Article: Black Teen Invents New Surgical Technique
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Octavia E. Butler was the first prominent black female sci-fi author, and one of the most well-known black women in the genre. Not only that, she was also the first sci-fi author ever to receive the MacArthur Fellowship (and also won several other awards such as the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus).

Her works often tackled regular sci-fi issues such as corruption due to power, breeding a "master" race/biological engineering, bodysnatching, historical elements, telepathic mind control, and time-travel - but often introduced racial elements within it.

The first book of hers I read called "Wild Seed" (which is the fourth book - but a prequel to the previous books - in her "Patternist" series of books), I was wowed. It was THE book that got me interested in sci-fi outside of comic books, and while I usually don't care what race or gender the protagonist is, it was nice to have one that was black, female, and most importantly well-written and strong.

I recommend the Patternist series, with "Wild Seed" as the starting book if you are interested in reading something new. "Wild Seed" starts off during the time of African slave trading, with later books going up to beyond the space age.

For more on Octavia E. Butler, visit Wikipedia and check out her book reviews on Amazon.
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Today's person is not only an actress, but also a rapper as well as a singer. Queen Latifah. I, personally, find her inspiring not only due to her uplifting lyrics (she often addresses misogyny), but the fact that she's so multitalented. Also, she's has been out there representing women who's body types are not "Hollywood Normal" as well.

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Queen Latifah (who's real name is Dana Owens and got the name Latifah from a cousin) started out as a rapper, who was one of the first visible female MC's (as well as the first female solo rappper to win a Grammy), and a powerhouse to boot. With rap songs such as "Ladies First" (featuring Monie Love), "U.N.I.T.Y", "Latifah's Had It Up 2 Here", and "Just Another Day", she carved recognization for herself in the male-dominated genre of Hip Hop/Rap and is cited as one of the best female rappers that have ever existed (alongside other talented female rappers such as MC Lyte).

Her talents are not only limited to rap. Queen Latifah has also released two jazz singing albums that showcases a lovely voice, and I remember being wowed by her performance of "My Funny Valentine" on an awards show some years back. Also, her rendition of "I'm Not In Love" is a most-played track on my mp3 player, lol.

And that's not even touching the surface! She has also been in many movies, like "House Party 2", "The Last Holiday" (with fellow rap pioneer LL Cool J), "Set it Off", "Bringing Down the House", and was even a star on the acclaimed TV series from the 90's "Living Single". She has also become a spokesperson for Cover Girl cosmetics - one of the few plus-size who have done so. She even has her own line through them (The Queen Collection - which is geared towards black women of all skin tones).

More about Queen Latifah can be found at Wikipedia and IMDB
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It's Black History month in the United States, and in celebration of it every day I will be posting about black musicians, artists, actors, movies, and authors save for the same 5 black people American History prefers to focus on.

Today's featured musicians, the Motown group The Temptations, were one of the most popular and successful black music groups of the 60's and 70's - with songs like "Ain't Too Proud To Beg", "Cloud 9", "I'm Losing You", "My Girl", "Papa Was a Rolling Stone", "Get Ready" and "Just My Imagination" dominating the R&B/Soul charts. The group was not without its member's personal drama, as well as alcoholism, drug use, and debilitating conditions (Sickle Cell Anemia and Rheumatoid Arthritis). If you want to watch a good movie about them, I recommend the made-for-tv movie "The Temptations" - but be warned that a lot of artistic creativity (read: lying) was taken with the backgrounds and histories of what happened to each member. It's still a good music movie, however. To learn more, you can read more on Wikipedia.

Here's a video of "Papa Was a Rolling Stone". I chose this one not only because it's one of my absolute favorite song from them, but because this live version of the song shows how energetic these men were during their live performances, how their choreography was almost flawless (and an influence to later groups), and it showcases the four-way microphone they used in their performances. Sadly, this song does not feature David Ruffin, who was the lead singer on earlier songs like "My Girl" and "Ain't Too Proud to Beg". Instead, the lead is Dennis Edwards.

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