Saturday, June 30, 2007


My friend (and a classical musician) Jeremy phoned last night and it turns out that he was totally unaware of the Paul Potts phenom that has swept TV and the net the past few weeks. In case you've been under a rock during this period, Potts was the final winner on the popular U.K. TV competition "Britain's Got Talent" with various performances of popular operatic arias, most significantly Puccini's Nessun Dorma (not since Aretha Franklin!). The kicker is that Potts is a somewhat schlubby, every-mannish, gap-toothed cell phone salesman from South Wales (Not that there's. . ..). A heart-tuggingly warm 'n fuzzy tale of prole triumph.

So massive is the hysteria, that Potts' steaming from the oven, trice-recorded first CD is near the top of the amazon sales charts, and it's probably not even finished being mastered yet. And so on and so forth.

Last night when I was on the phone with Jeremy, he googled the (five-a-half-million hits) clip on youtube and within a few bars was already beside himself with apoplexy. He was especially upset that out of the thousands of youtube comments, NONE were negative and so he posted the following:

"The Emperor seems not to be wearing any clothes. . . Get a clue: this guy would fail his juries in any conservatory undergrad program. No opera company worth its own weight in tenor-fat would hire him even forthe choir. Of course, given the marketing hype behind this circus, I wouldn't be surprised to see him in a Covent Garden production of Turandot, though I doubt he could make it through Act I without getting vocal nodes. . . Such a farce."

No surprise, the comment has already disappeared from the youtube site. In reality, Jeremy is right and Potts is not very good---to say the least---and so in the name of iconoclasm AND all that is holy, I am taking this opportunity of restoring to the net Jeremy's "take" on this latest installment of the mass hysteria and delusion of crowds.
I was wrong about Jeremy's post being removed. Instead, it set off a sheistorm of rebuttals that took great umbrage with his sentiments. In turn, J. answered---under the nom-de-net of "simoncowpie"--- every last one of these misguided Potts supporters with withering concision and logic that was probably lost on most of them. Pretty rich stuff.

Hear Preer!

Evelyn Preer, surely must qualify as the first or near-first example---regardless of race---of what has since come to be known in the entertainment industry as a multi-media entertainer. In the 1920s when most performers were getting their feet wet in one medium alone, Preer was firmly established not only as a film star, but also on recordings, in vaudeville and on the legitimate stage (Preer's biggest multi-media competition Ethel Waters was still years away from working legit).

Mississippi native Preer toured the Orpheum and other vaudeville circuits in the teens; then, simultaneous to her work with the Lafayette Players in the 1920s she appeared on Broadway as the star of such productions as Lulu Belle (1926), Rang Tang (1927), and the '27 dramatization of DuBose Heyward's novel Porgy. All the while, she also managed to record countless numbers with such jazz stars of the day as Duke Ellington, Red Nichols, Fletcher Henderson and Clarence Williams. So prolific was Ms. Preer's career on discs that she had to resort to a number of different pseudonyms to account for all of the sides she was cutting. Among the other names she recorded under were Evelyn Thompson (her married name), Hotsy Jarvis, Sinclair Franks and Radio Red.

1928 found the Lafayette Players, along with Ms. Preer and her husband, Edward Thompson, relocated to Los Angeles, a pioneering move made by not just with hope of stage but film opportunities as well. Preer's film activities had actually begun a decade earlier when she established herself as Oscar Micheaux's leading lady---she played Dietrich to his Von Sternberg---in such titles as The Homesteader (1918), The Brute (1920) The Gunsaulus Mystery (1921) Birthright (1924) and at least a half~dozen others, copies of which, for the most part, are believed to no longer exist. Micheaux's Within Our Gates (1920), long thought to have also vanished, was eventually discovered in Spain and subsequently shown in November 1992 at New York's Lincoln Center. In attendance was Preer's daughter, Sister Francescia Thompson, PHD, theatrical historian and leading scholar on the Lafayette Players.

One of the busiest actresses in Hollywood circa 1928-'32---by the early 1930s she was also heard on radio---Preer appeared not only in numerous black cast comedy shorts, but also in major studio features. It was shortly after shooting her last feature, Blonde Venus (from which she was eventually cut) that Preer died of pneumonia in Los Angeles on November 18, 1932.

In his 1930 book, Black Manhattan, James Weldon Johnson included Evelyn Preer in a small, select list of the most distinguished African-American artists of the day. Of those he saluted (including Bill Robinson, Eubie Blake. Ethel Waters, Noble Sissie), perhaps only Preer and one or two others would strike an unfamiliar chord with most knowledgeable readers of today. Such anonymity would probably not be the case had she not died in 1932 at the height of her career.

Thursday, June 28, 2007


Saturday, June 23, 2007

Sicko Redux

Fun fact number one: Did you know that the overwhelming percentage of your health care (if that's what you choose to call it) dollar goes to paper pushing, red tape and bureacratism, while very little of it is actually alloted toward direct Hippocratic considerations? But then, why should a nation founded on genocide place any special value on individual human life. Hillary Clinton (Universal Health Care, my foot) is the Queen of drug lobby kickbacks, and I wouldn't vote for her for dogcatcher if my life depended on it.

And can we puh-leese stop calling it Universal Health Care and, instead, what is is. . .Socialized Medicine. As Michael Moore so succinctly points out in his new film Sicko, we have free libraries, police and fire protection. Why not free health care and protection? What good are free books if I'm not alive to read 'em?

Some time back, a quite close friend of mine was told that all his vital signs were normal and sent home from Midway Hospital in L.A. with blood pressure of 220 over something-or-other. Maybe "normal" for someone such as himself who did not have health insurance. (No names please. It was David Ehrenstein.) If I had not intervened just in the nick of time, he would have bit the dust just like that poor woman who died recently at King-Drew in L.A., where I've directly witnessed a bit of inhumane disconcern myself. Yeah, shut it down.

Actually, there is a quite simple solution to nearly all the ailments that plague this country, and it is called political campaign reform. But why is there literally no discussion in the mainstream media regarding this matter. If you can't figure that one out, then you're already so dumbed down that there's no hope left for you.

That's all.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Required viewing

I was going to write something here about Michael Moore's Sicko, but my good friend and constant traveling companion of the past 35 years beat me to it, and has said it all. . .here.

I've little to add except that. . .What an absolutely great film! I saw a screening of it last night. I fell out laughing---I really did----and I cried---that, too---and loved every minute of it. By turns mordant, slapstick-y, informative, thoughful, sensitive, angry, and muckraking, it is the best big screen experience I've had in years. But then I've not been out to the movies in years. Cell phone aversion, and multiple chemical sensitivity disorder (perfume, patchouli, etc.), ya know. But that's neither here nor there. AND, the first time I've heard the dread phrase "socialized medicine" in ages. That's what we usta call it before the euphemistic "universal health care" swept in to take its place. Come to think of it, I prefer the phrase, "socialized medicine" thankyouverymuch. VIVA LE REVOLUCION!
When, a couple of years back, I first learned of Moore's plans to make this film, I emailed him a missive detailing my long and painful experiences as a subscriber to HMO Kaiser Permanente, which included two false diagnoses of life-threatening ailments, and that's just for starters. Needless to say, everytime the Kaiser logo came on the screen---several times---I felt at least somewhat vindicated and relieved that finally someone was taking on that evil medical empire ("Kaiser is the Devil"). When the last legend on the screen flashed on. it was a special thanks to all those who'd sent him their U.S. health care horror stories. That was ME he was thanking. Right back atcha, Mike!

Monday, June 18, 2007

It's that time of year. . .

Happy Birthday, Sue Raney

A while back, I posted a clutch of jazz singer videos on youtube. By far, the most watched of the lot is the clip of Sue that I uploaded.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Millie Vernon addenda

A short while ago, I emailed a friend in Japan about the unprecedented and out-of-left-field hit recording by singer Millie Vernon (see below). Here is what he wrote back to me:

"It became a hit mostly because it was introduced recently in Asahi Newspaper as a favorite album of the very popular scenario writer, Ms. Kuniko Mukouda who passed away more than 10 years ago."

The Japanese: A people of taste AND boundless curiosity! The same thing could happen here and it would sell three copies. In the immortal words of Rufus Wainright, "I'm tired of America." Elba will do quite nicely. Anywhere there's no rap, Paris Hilton or American Idol.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Better late than never. . .or not

The album at the the top of this month's Swing Journal (Japan) vocal jazz sales chart is easy enough to guess; it's the new-ish Norah Jones. The number two CD, however, might cause more than a few jaws to drop... Millie Vernon's 1956 Storyville LP! A singer so obscure that even I hardly know her.

I first heard of Vernon as late as 1981 when I wrote an extensive article about comedian Lord Buckley for the now DEFUNCT L.A. Reader. It was around the time that I was also writing for the olddddd Los Angeles Herald-Examiner. When I interviewed her, Buckley's widow referred, in passing, to Vernon being a member of Buckley's semi-fabled Royal Court, into which I was also inducted by "Lady Buckley" (and have the papers to prove it). I am "Prince William," (aka "The Hillbilly Prince"), while Vernon is known as "Lady Renaissance." I have also have recently had a record, one that I produced, on the Swing Journal chart, so it's been a truly exciting year CD-saleswise in Japan for us members of the "Court."

Here's a track from Lady Renaissance's, I mean, Millie Vernon's somewhat belated hit album.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Dr. Chilledair on the air flakkin' his wares

Hot from Harlem: Profiles in Classic African-American Entertainment by Bill Reed

Part one

Part two

Part three

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Munch's Dream

Oil on canvas rendering from photo of Pinky Winters and her band in Tokyo 12/15/06, by the ghost of Edvard Munch.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Happy Birthday, Molly Picon

Remembering Molly Picon (b. 1898 - d. 1992), the Helen Hayes of Second Avenue. Seen here on the beach at Atlantic City, 1929.