Gigi Mac’s Cool Chicks For Black History Month (Part 3)

 

Kathleen Battle- B, August 14, 1948

 

I heard Kathleen Battle is difficult. I heard she’s a bit of a b*, and demanding, and prissy, and was fired [oh yes, the MET canned her, dahling… didn’t you hear??] and complained about peas in her pasta, and, and, and… frankly, I’m afraid of her. Kathleen Battle is the quintessential Mozart soprano. Light & trilly, with a warmth that surprises you, then washes over you. I don’t even get that super-psysed for opera… I like it well enough for certain songs, but a steady diet? nahhh…. But I like Ms Battle!

 

Seriously, tho, I’ve never heard a better Susanna in “The Marriage of Figaro”. Whenever I hear her I always think about the scene in “Amadeus” where that soprano tries out for Mozart… I wonder what he’d do if he heard Kathleen! Then again, not entirely sure if she’d make it to Salzburg, or if she’d even be in a position to be heard… hm…;) in MY story she would! She’d be some charming washer woman singing thru her window, and Wolfgang’d be stumbling home from a night of debauchery in the wee hours… then all of a sudden he stops in his tracks: “Wer ist dieser singvogel??“ you betcha Wolfie! The Dark Continent doesn’t disappoint!

 

 

Yes, Kathleen Battle is [was?] a Diva. Entitled didn’t even begin to describe her. Perhaps her very public firing from the Metropolitan Opera House humbled her? I hope not too much. Her soprano is extraordinary and will hold you happily captive. Being a woman of color in this particular vocal arena is tricky – why not jazz Kathleen? How about R&B? or that intriguing pop cross-over?? NO. Tiptoe around & bow obsequiously? Not even slightly. I understand her motive. May have been a bad PR move to go that over the top, but maybe not, because she’s still around, a little older, a little wiser, a little chubbier– still gorgeous… doing her more humble ‘redemption‘ performances- it’s still a business after all… those famous trills don’t go as high, but that voice isn’t going anywhere, while she’s still with us.

 

“The question is not… if art is enough to fulfill my life, but if I am true to the path I have set for myself, if I am the best I can be in the things I do. Am I living up to the reasons I became a singer in the first place?”

 

 

Maya Rudolph- B, July 27, 1972

 

I haven’t watched Saturday Night Live in a hot microsecond… Not even sure who the cast is anymore [not since Seth Myers did the weekend update… that ‘era’… but if Larry David is hosting, I’ll hunt down the clips to the ends of the earth!!

 

I love funny stuff & funny people, and Maya is a very talented chick, so SNL is privileged to have her — if she’s even still part of cast! since once anybody gets any notoriety on there, they spread their baby bird wings & soar off to the undiscovered lands of sitcoms, movies & specials. Plus, she’s half jewish! Judea in the house!! Mazel! …and Minnie Ripperton! That was her lovely mama – “Loving you, it’s easy, cuz you’re beautiful”-Minnie Ripperton, squeaky high part-Minnie Ripperton…

 

 

Anyway, that’s it – getting a bit heavy-handed with the written stuff, and I just woke up, so I’m a little cranky & disgusted with my pathetic life, and in my mind, I’m eyeing my super-ripe bananas & persimmons [rock-solid in the freezer] coconut water, a little cinnamon & some unsweetened vanilla Spirutein – SMOOTHIEEEEEE!!!! lataz…

 

“Most of my life I didn’t feel very normal. There’s definitely been some moments where I feel like, all right, I’ve finally graduated and I’m a normal lady.”

 

Editor’s note:We here at loosehandlebars LOVE Ms Rudolph’s work (& her mother’s too). We are prepared to overlook any number of movies about Bridesmaids because of Maya’s starring role in the great comedy/documentary of modern American society “Idiocracy”.

 

Hatshepsut, c. 1508 BCE–c. 1458 BCE

 

SCANDALOUS! Picture this: 18th Dynasty, ancient Egypt — so what do you do when your father, the king, dies, and you’re forced to marry your half-brother, then this obnoxious dimwit half-brother goes and knocks up one of his courtesans, and the product of that unholy union, barely finishing up potty training, ends up being king when this same half-brother kicks the bucket [and you know this fool was in a compromising position at the time]what do you do?? well… YOU RULE EGYPT, OF COURSE! Hatshepsut was my favorite! What a life! In ancient Egypt, while a female pharaoh was rare, it wasn’t unheard of. Hatshepsut was actually the third such, and there were a couple more after her, including Cleopatra & we know how all that ended… [cue the Debbie Downer music]

 

The title of ‘Regent’ was normally given in a case like this, but not for Hatshepsut, ‘Pharaoh’ was what she wanted and what she was. In fact, after Thutmose III came of age, she didn’t give it up. Why should she? Egypt flourished & prospered during her 21 year rule. There was actually more to her staying in power – that royal family was pretty diabolical, and there was a theory that her strategy was to actually secure the seat for Thutmose III so that nobody else would take it.

 

There was more intrigue in Hatshepsut’s life, a rumored affair with her chief architect, and even at her death, as her team feared desecration of her remains at her mortuary temple in Deir el Bahri, they ended up hiding her body at a different burial site! After her death, a most-likely ill-advised & hot headed Thutmose III had her statues torn down, monuments defaced & her name removed from the records. Up to 2007 with the presentation of a missing tooth, finally a confirmation, there had been much speculation & arguments as to who this particular discovered mummy was, as she wasn’t where she was supposed to be… SCANDALOUS I say! One thing remains however, Hatshepsut was one of the best Pharaohs, male or female, ever to rule Egypt. I’m dying to see this story turned into a big budget film! could totally envision Thandi Newton & Oded Fehr as Hatshepsut & her architect Senemut…

 

“I have commanded that my [titulary] abide like the mountains; when the sun shines its rays are bright upon the titulary of my majesty; my Horus is high upon the standard … forever.”

Gigi Mac’s Cool Chicks For Black History Month (Part 2)

 

Nanny of the Maroons, ca 1686 – 1733

 

I was born in Jamaica, and my little island home has a motto: “Out of Many, One People” — we’re a blendy bunch! West African slaves, British landowners, Portuguese & Spanish slave-traders, Irish & Scottish indentured servants & sailors, Syrian & Jewish merchants, Chinese & East Indian workers, Germans shipwrecked on their way to the Americas, Indigenous Native Islanders – the Arawaks… over the years creating a rich mosaic of gorgeous, hard working people. There are a few people who weren’t that keen on the blendiness however… These people, steeped in mystery, would be the Maroons.

 

So let’s get into the word Maroon. Derogatory terms describing blacks have come and gone, with a few harsh ones lingering… this one is subtle & not so popular these days , but holds its own to the N* word –I suspect anything expressed to mentally & emotionally browbeat an individual to keep them submissive & docile would be used liberally to maintain one’s position… yeahyeahyeah! enough of that! I feel my secret ‘egghead’ trying to bust thru, and I like to keep things lightish… ‘Maroon’ was simply a derivative of the Spanish word ‘Cimarrone’ which means to flee, as the rebellious slaves fled to the [at the time] unexplored mountains of Jamaica to get away from the harsh treatment by their masters.

 

So enter Nanny, along with a majority of the slaves in Jamaica, brought over from Ghana—rumored to be part of the Ashanti tribe. There isn’t much written information on her, most of her story has been passed down by word of mouth with a bit of embellishment and slightly differing storylines– negligible, but fun to piece together. Some have her as a queen when she was in Ghana, sometimes married, sometimes she was a spinster & chaste, she was a witch, or Obeah woman… one thing is certain, she was an extremely organized leader, along with her brothers, and if they weren’t going home, they WERE going to be free in this new place.

 

OK, let’s just bring this home—there were in total 16 slave rebellions in Jamaica between 1655-1813. Clearly, this ‘slavery thing’ wasn’t for them. According to the timeline, Nanny & Crew may have jumped into the thick of things [remember she was born @ 1686] perhaps 1720ish? Up until her death @ 1733. The rest carried on the rebellions until the final straw, ‘The Baptist War Rebellion of 1831’ ending in total abolition of slavery on August 1, 1834. Nanny may not have lived to see all of her people be free and flourish as they were meant to, in well-organized sections throughout the Island – 11 in total, but she had quite a hand in the efforts, even for the rest of the slaves. She continues to be a hero in Jamaica, and paintings & etchings of her are recognizable all over the Island.

 

One of the unusual practices of the Maroons, I’ve heard, is that out of the whole populous on the Island, this group of people would never mix with any of the other Jamaicans. To them we are tainted. Their vow is that the blood of the oppressors would never run through their veins. Perhaps the astringency has changed by now, but for quite a while they were known as extreme isolationists. As a kid I was conflicted because how can we be ‘Out of Many, One People’ with this sort of thinking? However, now understanding the concept of ethnic cleansing and other abhorrent practices, my frustrated 6 & 7 year old little wrinkled brow has relaxed with a nod of acknowledgment. Still don’t like it! But I get it… sadly…

 

Don’t really have a quote from Nanny of the Maroons, but I suspect at some point, when the group was dillydallying, she got irritated and did a very loud & stern whisper of something that meant: “Let’s GOOOOOO!” oh, wait, that’s something I’d do…:)

 

Sarah Vaughan, March 27 1924 – April 3 1990

 

One summer when I was little, like @ 9 or 10, my oldest brother and I were driving around in his old Peugeot on a Sunday morning– flea market, roadside fruits & veggies people, auto parts store – then later, a patty & a cola champagne. His sunroof had a crank & I’d always open it up! That was our routine, with a few switch-ups here & there… then the minute we got home I’d hightail it to the pool with my best friend Suzie before it got too dark. So that one time I noticed he had a Sarah Vaughan cassette tape in the side pocket thingy… ‘Who’s this?’ I asked… then with my nose wrinkled up ‘she’s not very pretty…’ and to be fair, it wasn’t a great picture of Sarah… she was older, years of hard work & partying [oh she liked to party!] mid-sweat, mid-belting of something fabulous I’m sure, and whoever the art director was of this particular recording wasn’t doing her any aesthetic favors… Donnie didn’t say much, he chuckled & mumbled “well….” So off to various stops we’d go! Later, after jumping back in the car, the news station was off, and this cool tune with this ridiculous voice was playing, then another song– I don’t even remember what songs they were! It was like magic! This voice!! Donnie goes, “that’s her, ‘The Divine One’ the incomparable Sarah Vaughan…” and he winked at me & smiled. Her voice… it was like silk & velvet with a couple bits of caramelized sugar melting back into what it was caramelized in… and honey, loads of orange blossom honey… no, it wasn’t all blended together, ew… it was more like separate yet culminating moments, all different, yet all related… that make sense? I was enamored – I was like ‘that’s that lady??’

 

That lady… now I’m not a Jazz aficionado by any means, but I do dig it… jazz is more than music to me, it’s the purest form of audible abstract art, enhancing everything it touches. Paco de Lucia added jazz to flamenco, and was nearly shunned in the genre for disturbing the ‘Puro’ until… until… long story short, his style became the New Standard. How about that flamenco huh?? 😉 another time, kids… so back in the day I made a mix cd [thank you Napster! shhhh…] I called it ‘the goils’ and on it was a fetching ditty called “Key Largo”, Sarah’s voice on it is absolutely stunning, weaving gracefully in & out of the band— breath control! timing! melody! discipline! Wow… granted every time I hear it now outside of my cd –which I can’t find– when it’s done I automatically hear ‘Shoo Fly Pan & Apple Pan Dowdy’ [June Christy’s version] which was next in the queue…. I don’t even know why I told you that! It’s a hot song tho! Ha!

 

 

Sarah Vaughn’s career is extensive & impressive. Like any great artist she would immerse herself in different styles- ever growing, evolving, but retaining her basic, comfortable awesomeness, and doing it all with such grace & ease… and everybody wanted to work with her! So at the start, although she had a few late-night sneak out moments when she was in school going to clubs to both watch & perform in secret, her official starting off point was in 1942, and she would build her career & legend all the way thru to her death in 1990. It seems during 1989 after a doctor’s visit for an arthritic condition that was so bad she had cancelled show dates,sadly resulted in a discovery & diagnosis of lung cancer. Terminal. She was only 66. The music world mourned her, the’ grown up people’ music world really felt the sting that something truly special, so very beautiful, was gone back into the universe.

 

“When I sing, trouble can sit right on my shoulder and I don’t even notice”

Gigi Mac’s Cool Chicks For Black History Month (Part 1)

Through every day of February our international correspondent Gigi Mac will celebrate a different woman of color to mark Black History Month. This is too good an idea to slip off the following day’s F-book feed so here, for our delectation & education, is Part 1 of her selection.

 

Josephine Baker 6/3/06 – 4/12/75

 

Normally we see ‘La Baker’ dancing around being the life of the party– topless, in her little banana skirt, feathers, tulle, dripping with pearls & other costume jewelry… I liked this shot, not just because it was glamorous & elegant, but I love her eyes, and how slightly sad they are… tough life in the ’20s, being a flapper of color, not being accepted in her own country, and having to fight her way thru an odd paradox of being the toast of Paris and at the same time exploitation in a new country, but having the smarts & wit to flip it to make it work to her benefit. Later, having the resources & tenacity to pave the way for others as a civil rights advocate. A bittersweet life, but Josephine endured.

“The things we truly love stay with us always, locked in our hearts as long as life remains.”

 

 

Eartha Kitt 1/17/27 – 12/25/08

A life of controversy and drama makes some people more than ready to be a performer. Like Josephine, Eartha Kitt was not a stranger to the success one could garner overseas…in this case, the result of that forced foray produced world-wide notoriety, multilingual fluency and a hunger to perform. Broadway, cabaret, film, dance, comedy, vocals, Eartha did it all! There was a little kerfuffle later regarding her statements about the Vietnam War, but to be that bold to voice her opinion, at a White House luncheon mind you, as foolish as it appears to be, was well-calculated and needed to be expressed. Might as well add activist to Eartha’s list of accomplishments as she was inclined to give back in droves.

 

While Julie Newmar could do amazing hypnotic things with her eyes, making her a very close second, Eartha was still my favorite Catwoman… slinky, playful, crafty… was she just a villain? or purrrrrfectly misunderstood…? I love this shot of her laughing. I suspect a dastardly plan was being cooked up for her lovely Batman as we speak!

“My recipe for life is not being afraid of myself, afraid of what I think or of my opinions.

 

 

 

Louise Vyent – b, January 7th 1965

What?! You don’t know who Louise Vyent is?? The nerve! 😉 I needed to get a model in here somewhere… Actually I wasn’t going to even use lovely Dutch-African Louise, even tho she was my favorite thing in the world when I was 15 – it was a toss-up between Beverly Johnson or Iman, as they were both iconic and ceiling busters when it came to black models… so many women of color in the industry have those very two goddesses to thank for their careers. Figured I’d go with Beverly. I was actually searching for a pic of her to use, and came across an old Revlon ad that had the goddesses and guess who? Louise! Pretty impressive company Ms. Vyent! That’s quite the gig!

 

Well for a while there, without even knowing her name, Louise was all anybody could talk about, but she seemed to do her own thing. There was the supermodel justice league – Cindy, Naomi, Linda, Christy, Elle etc… even your 2nd tiers– Tatiana, Leticia, Veronica… all sort of clumped together, and then you had Louise, working hard and quietly garnering tons of Glamour covers [just pick up a random Glamour from say 1987 and I guarantee Louise will be on it] a few Vogues or Harpers Bazaars here & there… but as their stars rose & shone, hers leveled off, and she all but disappeared, especially in the American market. No, she’s not selling french melon skin care products at 3 am on VH1, she’s not flinging cellphones at her assistants or dating married losers, she’s not laying about in an opium den in Dusseldorf… Louise Vyent rode her career out as a model as long as she could, then got her life back, that’s why I adore her! she didn’t let the Industry dictate her existence. I suspect she witnessed the damage it does, said no before anything got out of hand, and walked away — that’s what I like to think anyway… In reality, perhaps Louise had a bad runway walk, or maybe a designer thought she had a limited look—sometimes it only takes one time for the right person to say ‘feh’… and that ‘feh’ may have saved her life.

Presently Louise Vyent runs a communications firm on the East Coast, and still models from time to time – when SHE decides. Here is an older, wiser, current Louise– my first girl crush. Bone structure still ridic!

“Photography remains the most powerful medium, specifically when it comes to tragic events.”