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Miss Lawrence added to Lee Daniels’ ‘The United States Vs. Billie Holiday’ (VIDEO)

Photo Credit: Lee Daniels/Instagram

Lee Daniels is adding more star power to his upcoming film The United States Vs. Billie Holiday. Snowfall actor Melvin Gregg and Miss Lawrence formerly of STAR have been added to film which features Grammy-nominated singer Andra Day as the jazz and music icon.

According to DEADLINE, The United States Vs. Billie Holiday follows Holiday’s career as she was targeted by the Federal Department of Narcotics with an undercover sting operation led by black Federal Agent Jimmy Fletcher, with whom she had a tumultuous affair. It will explore Holiday’s struggles with addiction, fame and heartbreaking love. Gregg will play Joe Guy, a famed trumpet player in Billie’s band, and one of her lovers, who is battling drug addiction at the height of Holiday’s reign. Miss Lawrence will portray Miss Freddy, Billie’s stylist.

The film also stars Trevante Rhodes, Garrett Hedlund, Natasha Lyonne, and Evan Ross, whose mother Diana Ross earned an Oscar-nomination for her portrayal of Ms. Holiday in the Motown classic film Lady Sings the Blues.

Check out Andra Day’s performance of the Billie Holiday classic “Strange Fruit” below:

PHOTO CREDITS: Lee Danies and RayCornelius.com

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Lee Daniels wants to direct Andra Day in a Billie Holiday biopic?

Posted by | Ray Cornelius 

VARIETY is reporting that Lee Daniels would like to direct a new film about beloved jazz icon Billie Holiday and wants singer Andra Day as his leading lady.

The creator of Empire and STAR is reportedly in talks to direct a project titled—Billie—and wants to pair the “Rise Up” vocalist with Get Out star and Atlanta actor Lakeith Stanfield.

Daniels would team up with Pulitzer-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks (Top Dog/Underdog) as the writer along with Joe Roth and Jeff Kirschenbaum as producers.

Music legend Diana Ross portrayed Holiday in the iconic 1972 film Lady Sings the Blues along with Billy Dee Williams. Her performance earned her critical acclaim as an actress along with an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe award.

Six-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald portrayed the singer on Broadway and for HBO in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill.

Day performed her version of Holiday’s classic “Strange Fruit” last year during the Global Citizen Festival.

While I do have a lot of questions about this project, I am more than confident that Day would pour her heart and soul into this role and of course the music. She received a standing ovation recently following her performance of “I Put a Spell on You” during the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s induction of Nina Simone. She could very well be that singer who introduces Ms. Holiday to a new generation of fans.

RC will keep you posted as this project continues to develop.

In the meantime, check out Ms. Ross’ performance of Holiday’s classic, “My Man.”

Photo Credit: RayCornelius.com

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RC attends ‘Sisters in Song: Saluting Jazz Greatest Divas’ [PHOTOS]

Written by | Ray Cornelius

Dianne Reeves, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday and Shirley Horn were just a few of the iconic singers that were honored on this past Sunday evening during Kathleen Bertrand‘s musical extravaganza “Sisters in Song: Saluting Jazz Greatest Divas.”  The event was presented by RLK Events and took place at the Ray Charles Performing Arts Center at historic Morehouse College.

Every March, Bertrand celebrates Women’s History Month by enlisting some of Atlanta’s best jazz, soul and R&B singers for one fantastic evening of music. This year’s performers included chart-topping singer-songwriter Rhonda Thomas; UK Soul vocalist Julie Dexter; R&B singer and actress Chandra Currelley, accomplished jazz singer and actress Theresa Hightower, classically trained vocalist Pamela Dillard and Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Dionne Farris.

Songs performed this time around included such classics as Oleta Adam‘s “New York State of Mind,” Anita Baker‘s “Been So Long,” Billie Holiday‘s “God Bless the Child,” Shirley Horn‘s “Here’s to Life,” Nina Simone‘s “I Put a Spell on You,” and Angela Bofill‘s “I Try.” Thomas, Currelley and Bertrand also performed some of their own original songs.

This year’s event was emceed by Atlanta media maven Angela Robinson.

Take a look at my best shots below:

JULIE DEXTER

RHONDA THOMAS

CHANDRA CURRELLEY

DIONNE FARRIS

KATHLEEN BERTRAND

PAMELA DILLARD 

THERESA HIGHTOWER

JAZZ DIVAS WITH ANGELA ROBINSON

Photo Credits: RayCornelius.com

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Coming to the Stage: The Ballad of Klook and Vinette + King Hedley II + Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill

Posted by | Ray Cornelius 

A new year means all new stage plays and musicals and I have compiled a few Atlanta theatrical productions that I think are worth checking out. They feature a number of the city’s rising talent and veteran players who can still command an audience.

First up is Horizon Theater‘s production of Che Walker‘s “The Ballad of Klook and Vinette.” It stars Amari Cheatom and my girl Brittany Inge. The show is adapted from Walker’s book of the same name and features Cheaton as Klook, a drifter who’s tired of drifting and Inge as Vinette, a beauty who is on the run but she doesn’t know what’s chasing her. Together, they make a tentative stab at love and reach for hope until the past catches up to the future and smacks it in the face. Horizon kicks off its 2018 season with this love story set against poetry and jazz. “The Ballad of Klook and Vinette” plays 1/19-2/18.

Tony-winning Broadway director Kenny Leon and his True Colors Theatre Company continues to uplift the legacy of his mentor and friend August Wilson by presenting a new production of his classic, “King Hedley II.” The show is directed by True Colors’ new Associate Artistic Director Jamil Jude and will feature an array of amazing ATL stars (pssst the cast hasn’t been announced yet but I know who they are). Set in the 1980’s inner city Pittsburgh, King Hedley II is an ex-con peddling stolen refrigerators to save up for his own business and hopefully a new life. Desperately fighting to overcome his record, his family and a world that’s against him, King spends his time trying to plant seeds in a garden where nothing can grow. This becomes the perfect metaphor for his life and his dreams seemingly doomed to a violent end. “King Hedley II” is the eighth play in Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle, a haunting and challenging tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. “King Hedley II” runs 2/13-3/11.

Theatrical Outfit will take on the award-winning Broadway musical, “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill.” The show is directed by my fraternity brother, Eric J. Little and features veteran stage actress—Terry Burrell—as the one and only Billie Holiday.

The show is set in 1959 at Philly’s seedy Emerson Bar on the south side and features songs that Lady Day performed four months before her death at the age of forty-four. Full of heart-melting numbers like “God Bless the Child,” “Strange Fruit,” and “What a Little Moonlight Can Do,” Billie shares with the audience tunes about her loves and losses.  The show’s musical director is S. Renee Clark. “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill” plays 1/11-2/4.

See you at the theatre!

Photo Credits: Horizon Theatre + True Colors Theatre + Theatrical Outfit

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Recap

WATCH Andra Day perform ‘Strange Fruit’ for ‘Lynching In America’ (VIDEO)

Posted by | Ray Cornelius

Check out Andra Day‘s soul-stirring rendition of Billie Holiday‘s classic jazz tune, “Strange Fruit.” The Grammy-nominated performer released the song and video on Friday (September 15) as part of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) “Lynching in America.” Day will also perform the song during her set at this year’s Global Citizen Festival in NYC on September 23.

The goal of “Lynching in America,” is to spark a national conversation about the connection between America’s painful history of racial violence and the forms of injustice that exist today, including racially-biased capital punishment, excessive sentencing, disproportionate sentencing of racial minorities, and police abuse of people of color. The project has investigated more than 4,000 reported racial terror lynchings that took place in the United States during the period between Reconstruction and World War II. Google has also given more than $2MM in grants to the project as part of the company’s focus on inclusion.

Andra Day says, “Billie Holiday is one of the greatest inspirations for what I do now. She used her music as her platform and her voice to speak for people who were not able to speak for themselves. I am equally inspired by the work of Bryan Stevenson and EJI and I hope this song ignites new conversations about the connection between our past and present.”

In the same spirit of music as activism, Andra will also appear on soundtrack for the upcoming film “Marshall” starring Chadwick Boseman as legendary Supreme Court Justice—Thurgood Marshall. She performs the title track, “Stand Up For Something.”

Tell us what you think of Andra’s version of “Strange Fruit” below:

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Patti LaBelle salutes Jazz Idols with new album, ‘Bel Hommage’

Posted by | Ray Cornelius

Music legend Patti LaBelle is making good on a promise she made a few years back to her die hard fans and is finally releasing a jazz album this May.

Bel Hommage, is a 13-track CD that includes such jazz standards as “Moody’s Mood for Love” featuring Kem, Billie Holiday‘s classic “Don’t Explain,” Nina Simone‘s “Go To Hell” and one of my personal favorites “Here’s To Life,” which was made famous by one of Ms. Patti’s music idols—Shirley Horn.

LaBelle says, “I’ve been saying for years that I was going to record a jazz album, but I hadn’t taken that leap of faith to try something different. Now I’m so happy that I did because I really love all of these songs and I pray that everyone else will too!”

In addition to Bel Hommage, Miss Patti is releasing her sixth book and fourth cookbook, Desserts LaBelle, on April 25th and has a line of successful food products, Patti’s Good Life, which is carried at Walmart stores. You can also catch her on the hit Cooking Channel show, “Patti LaBelle’s Place.”

Check out the full track list below + click here to get your copy:

The Jazz In You
Wild is the Wind
Moanin’
Till I Get It Right
Moody’s Mood For Love (featuring Kem)
Softly As I Leave You
Peel Me A Grape
Don’t Explain
I Can Cook Too
Folks on the Hill
Go To Hell
Song For Old Lovers
Here’s to Life

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All That Jazz! 5-Minutes with Grammy Winner Cécile McLorin Salvant (VIDEO)

Written by | Ray Cornelius 

April is Jazz Appreciation Month and yours truly caught up with one of the music genre’s rising superstars—Cécile McLorin Salvant. The 26-year-old classically trained pianist and singer has taken the industry by storm and is quickly becoming one of the most sought after artists with her unique vocal stylings, signature eyewear, and retro fashions.

Salvant first burst onto the scene in 2009 when she recorded her first album, Cécile. Although she had been training, singing, and performing since the age of eight, this was her first professional project. A year later she competed in the coveted Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition for vocals and walked away with the first place prize and a recording contract with Mack Avenue Records. In 2013, she released her second album, WomanChild and received her first Grammy nomination the following year.

In 2015, Salvant released her second album under Mack Avenue Records titled For One to Love and earned her another Grammy nomination and her first win for Best Jazz Vocal album.  With success like that, you would think it has gone to her pretty little head. But for Salvant, the accolades and sold-out performances around the globe are more than she could have imagined for herself growing up in Miami, Florida with her French mother and Haitian father.

“I didn’t know this would happen and I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I had ideas but it was all very vague. I will say that everything has been like a wonderful pleasant surprise one after another,” said Salvant during our recent phone interview.

When asked what she thought about critics comparing her sound to the greats like Ella [Fitzgerald] and Billie[Holiday], Salvant immediately credits her mother’s love for mainstream jazz and Sarah Vaughn as a point of reference. It was something in her voice that gave Salvant permission to sing without boundaries.

“I love listening to Sarah Vaughn a lot because my mom loved listening to her. I think for me, the appeal was she was so virtuosic and I really appreciated that. I really loved how she could do anything with her voice and make any kind of sound and had this incredible range. So it was really the quality of her voice that fascinated me. Having come from a classical background, I felt that she too was this classical singer that was never able to do classical and somehow ended up doing jazz.”

When I asked Salvant her opinion about what “jazz is and isn’t,” she had no problem giving me her “two cents” about the decades-long debate among musicians and enthusiasts.

“Everything is kind of changing and fusing with other stuff,” said Salvant. But jazz is one of those things that is free and you can go so many places with it. The danger in that is you end up mixing it with so much that we kind of lose what it is and we don’t know what it is anymore. You’ll go to a jazz concert and you hear it and it sounds exactly like hip-hop or this 1960’s semi-soul Motown funk thing. And that can be kind of tricky.”

Salvant performs tonight at Atlanta’s Rialto Center for the Arts at Georgia State at 8 p.m.  Check out her video for the single “Wives and Lovers” below and click here for other tour dates.

Photo Credit: WNYC.org

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‘Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill’ airs TONIGHT on HBO at 9 p.m. (VIDEO)

Posted by | Ray Cornelius 

Fans of the late, great Billie Holiday are in for a treat tonight as HBO debuts Audra McDonald in her Tony winning performance of “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill” at 9 p.m. EST.

As previously reported, the special was recorded before a live audience at Café Brasil in New Orleans and features many of Holiday’s biggest hits including “God Bless the Child,” “Strange Fruit” and “What a Little Moonlight Can Do.”

Take a look at the clip below:

https://youtu.be/4Uq79ifnfBM

Photo Credit: HBO.com

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First Look at HBO’s ‘Lady Day’ featuring Audra McDonald (VIDEO)

Posted by | Ray Cornelius

If this new 50-second clip of Tony winner Audra McDonald as Billie Holiday is any indication of what’s to come for her upcoming HBO’s special “Lady Day At Emerson Grill” then she better make room for an Emmy! Not only does she embody the jazz icon in style and grace but she sounds just like her vocally.  I literally got chills!

Check it out below and see for yourself!

https://youtu.be/llZRcLoV5Ag

As previously reported, “Lady Day at Emerson ‘s Bar & Grill” was recorded before a live audience at Café Brasil in New Orleans and features many of Holiday’s biggest hits including “God Bless the Child,” “Strange Fruit” and “What a Little Moonlight Can Do.”

It premieres on HBO March 12, 2016.

Stay tuned…

Photo Credit: VARIETY.com
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‘The Miki Howard Story’ is coming to TV One 2016 [PHOTOS]

Posted by | Ray Cornelius 

It looks like TV One is getting in on the biopic action with a brand new project in the works on the life of Unsung R&B/Jazz diva Miki Howard.

According to S&A, The Miki Howard Story (working title) will premiere on the network during Black Music Month (June 2016) and stars Chi-Raq actress Teyonah Parris as Howard along with Darius McCrary as one of Howard’s closest friends and former lovers Gerald Levert.
the-miki-howard-story-4 The film will chronicle Howard’s rise to superstardom during the 1980’s and 90’s and the numerous trials she faced to get to the top. It will also focus on her professional life and those who helped her throughout her 30 year plus career.

The Miki Howard Story will also feature Gary Dourdan as Side Effect founder Augie Johnson, LisaRaye McCoy as music executive Sylvia Rhone, Amari Cheatom as Howard’s ex-husband Eddie Phelps and Vanessa Bell Calloway as Miki’s mother Josephine Howard. 

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The project is produced by Carl CraigEric Tomosunas, and Rob Robinson of Swirl Films and is directed by Christine Swanson. The script is penned by A Baby For Christmas writer Rhonda Baraka and is based on Howard’s soon-to-be-released memoirs.

Howard was one of the hottest voices on R&B radio and enjoyed a string of hits including “Imagination,” “Come Share My Love,” “Baby Me Mine,” “That’s What Love Is,”and her classic “Love Under New Management.” She also covered Aretha Franklin’sUntil You Come Back to Me” and released a hugely successful tribute album to Billie Holiday titled Miki Sings Billie. Howard even played the jazz icon in Spike Lee‘s epic motion picture Malcolm X.

Check out a few more “first look” images below courtesy of S&A:

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Photo Credits: S&A
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José James thrills Atlanta with new show dedicated to Billie Holiday [PHOTOS]

Written by | Ray Cornelius 

Jazz singer José James kicked off his new world tour over the weekend with a sold out performance at Atlanta’s Variety Playhouse. The intimate concert featured James along with opening act Detroit jazz drummer, Brandon Williams. The Atlanta show was presented by Harold Watkins of Invictus Productions and Craig Garrett of Next Level Events.

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The tour is in support of James’ new album, “Yesterday I had the Blues – The Music of Billie Holiday.” The project is a tribute to the legendary jazz singer, who would have turned 100-years-old today (April 7). James honors the Centennial of his “musical mother” with nine stunning songs written and popularized by Lady Day. The album, produced by Blue Note president Don Was, features: pianist Jason Moran, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Eric Harland.

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James’ set on Saturday night included such classics as “God Bless the Child,” “Fine and Mellow,” and one of my personal favorites, “Body and Soul.” But it was his encore performance of Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” that had everyone mesmerized. James used a looping machine which allowed him to stack three different layers of his unique vocals and hand claps for one impactful performance. It was without a doubt the most powerful moment of the night.

James’ world tour continues with a stop in Tunisia, Oregon and New York and then back to Europe for the entire month of May.  Check out exclusive “black and white” photos below of James, Williams and a variety of special musical guests below:

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José James’ Atlanta performance was the kick-off of his new world tour

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James’ album along with other items for purchase in the Variety Playhouse Lobby

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Invictuis Productions’ Harold Watkins with the show’s host Jamal Ahmad

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Celebrity publicist Aalyah Duncan with Next Level Events Craig Garrett

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Tomi Martin, Jamal Ahmad, José James and Craig Garrett

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#showtime

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Singers Carmen Rodgers and Matt Cusson backstage

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Singers Deborah Bond, Matt Cusson, Joy Tiffany, Cleveland P. Jones with Craig Garrett

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Jamal Ahmad hosted the show

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Detroit Jazz Drummer Brandon Williams 

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Cleveland P. Jones 

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Matt Cusson

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Anesha Birchett

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Deborah Bond

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Joy Tiffany

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Artia Lockwood

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Khari Cabral Simmons with Aalyah Duncan

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#stylingandprofiling

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#maninthemirrortest30

#fineandmellow

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#showtime

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test29Photo Credits: RayCornelius.com

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Audra McDonald’s ‘Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill’ is coming to HBO

Posted by | Ray Cornelius

BroadwayWorld.com is reporting that cable giant HBO is bringing Audra McDonald’s Tony winning performance as Billie Holiday in “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill” to the small screen. The news was announced on Wednesday by HBO’s president of programming, Michal Lombardo.

“The great Audra McDonald’s brilliant performance as the legendary Billie Holiday was a Broadway landmark,” said Lombardo. “I’m thrilled that we will be able to bring this riveting show to viewers who weren’t able to experience it in person.”

The special will be recorded before a live audience at Café Brasil in New Orleans this month and will feature many of Holiday’s biggest hits including “God Bless the Child,” “Strange Fruit” and “What a Little Moonlight Can Do.” The original play was written by Lanie Robertson in 1987.

McDonald made history earlier this year when she picked up her sixth Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play. She has appeared in such classics as “A Raisin the Sun,” “Ragtime “and “Porgy & Bess” and is slated to star in “Night Mother” opposite Oprah Winfrey in 2015. She is also the rumored front running actress for the proposed Aretha Franklin biopic.

Check out Audra McDonald’s stellar performance as Lady Day in a clip below:

[youtube id=”OyfkgDvpfvM” width=”600″ height=”350″]

Photo Credit: TheBirdFeedNYC.com