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Nat’l Center for Civil & Human Rights hosts Conversation with Ailey’s Judith Jamison [PHOTOS]

Written by | Ray Cornelius

Atlanta’s own National Center for Civil and Human Rights hosted an intimate conversation recently with dance icon and former artistic director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre – Ms. Judith Jamison. The event was held in the main ballroom of the center and was moderated by CNN’s Fredricka Whitfield.

The conversation was in preparation for Ailey’s 60th Anniversary Tour which makes its stop at Atlanta’s Fabulous Fox Theatre February 21-24. During the discussion, Ms. Jamison reminisced about meeting Mr. Ailey for the first time, the preparation for her iconic solo performance Cry and becoming the company’s fearless leader after Mr. Ailey passed away in 1989.

In addition to Ms. Jamison’s conversation, rising Ailey star Christopher R. Wilson conducted an afternoon workshop for youth performers. Wilson, who is from Augusta and was inspired to become a dancer after seeing Ailey at the Fox, will make his Atlanta debut there next month. I got a chance to chat with him for this weekend’s edition of UPFRONT where he talked about the moment he became a member of the company and his desire to pass along the rich cultural legacy of Mr. Ailey.

I also got a chance to sit down with Ms. Jamison for an upcoming Ailey 60 Special I’ll be producing for CAU-TV23’s Black History Month programming. It will also feature a segment with the Center’s Interim CEO Brian Tolleson, who discussed Mr. Ailey as a human rights activist and LGBTQ advocate.

Special invited guests to the conversation included Greenleaf actress Merle Dandridge, Beyond Her’s Brandi Harvey, former Ailey dancer Anthony Burrell, former Michael Jackson dancer and famed choreographer Travis Payne and dance sensation Juel D. Lane.

Check out more photos below:

Photo Credits: Ray Cornelius.com

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Dancer Juel D. Lane honors painter Ernie Barnes in ‘The Maestro’ (VIDEO)

Posted by | Ray Cornelius

Check out the extraordinary dance interpretation of Ernie Barnes’ iconic painting, “The Maestro.” It was choreographed by my good buddy and dance star Juel D. Lane. The whimsical, mystical and magical video features all kinds of #BlackBoyJoy and was released this week on social media by AfroPunk.

“The Maestro” is a 1978 painting that depicts a black man as a conductor of sounds spilling out of a jukebox style radio. Barnes was one of the country’s most sought after African American artists of the 1970s. His work was featured each week on the classic sitcom Good Times (remember JJ’s paintings). His iconic image of black folks “gettin down” in the “Sugar Shack” was featured on the cover of Marvin Gaye‘s hit record “I Want You.”

“As a black man I’m deeply moved by the language Barnes paints; from the lanky extremities flowing freely in space to a bold sense of culture, color, and pure-ness on the canvas. Now I’m bringing that all to life. It’s really exciting,” said Lane in a statement.

Photo Credit: Instagram/MikeBNote

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Brandon Victor Nixon, Norm Lewis and more join NBC’s ‘Jesus Christ Superstar Live’

Posted by | Ray Cornelius 

NBC’s live version of the Broadway musical classic Jesus Christ Superstar has added more big names to its cast. The new theatrical production will air on Easter Sunday April 1.

CONGRATS goes to Power actor Brandon Victor Dixon who will portray Judas, Daytime Divas star Norm Lewis as Caiaphas along with  Jason Tam as Peter, Ben Daniels as Pontius Pilate, Jin Ha as Annas and Erik Gronwall as Simon Zealotes. 

As previously announced, Grammy-winner John Legend is Jesus Christ and rock-n-roll legend Alice Cooper is King Herod.

Jesus Christ Superstar Live In Concert is loosely based on the Gospels’ accounts of the last week of Jesus’ life, beginning with the preparation for the arrival of Jesus and his disciples in Jerusalem and ending with the crucifixion.

S/O to my buddy and accomplished dance choreographer Juel D. Lane. He will also appear in the live production as one of the show’s dancers.

Stay tuned…

Photo Credit: NBC/Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert

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#UPFRONT featuring Juel D. Lane, A.D. Dolphin + Smokey Joe’s Cafe (AUDIO)

Written by | Ray Cornelius

Don’t forget to check out this past Saturday’s edition of my radio show #UPFRONT. My special guests included celebrity health and wellness expert A.D. Dolphin. He was in the studio to discuss DHerbs, his work with Steve Harvey, Hollywood’s latest obsession with plant-based diets and more.

#UPFRONT also talked to Marietta’s New Theatre in the Square’s Raul Thomas along with director Nic Starr. The two stopped by the studios this week to chat about the company’s new production of “Smokey Joe’s Café,” which is playing now through October 22.

Closing out the show was my exclusive interview with Atlanta-based dancer and choreographer Juel D. Lane. He has a new work that will be making its Atlanta premiere as part of the Ailey II engagement at the Rialto Center for the Arts on October 21. Juel also opened up about his time with Atlanta’s acclaimed Freddie Hendricks Youth Ensemble and more.

We also played music from the legendary George Benson along with H.E.R. and throwback sounds from Erykah Badu.

 #UPFRONT Inside Atlanta Entertainment Industry is a 30-minute radio magazine that features one-on-one interviews with all of the major players and behind-the-scenes superstars that make Georgia the new “Entertainment Capital.” It airs every Saturday morning at 9 a.m. on Jazz 91.9 WCLK.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN

Photo Credit: RayCornelius.com

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Ailey II recruits ATL Choreographer Juel D. Lane for 2017-18 Season

Written by | Ray Cornelius 

When Ailey II goes on tour this fall, audiences may notice a lil southern twang to their intricate dance moves. That’s because the company is using Atlanta choreographer—Juel D. Lane.

Lane, an alumnus of Tri-Cities High School and Youth Ensemble of Atlanta (YEA), was selected to participate in the 2015-16 Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation New Directions Choreography Lab that was curated by the company’s Artistic Director, Robert Battle.

The program enables chosen dancers and choreographers to explore new ideas, take creative risks and find their voices by removing constraints of time and space, immediate financial burdens and deadline pressures. For Lane, this was an absolute dream come true.

“Ailey II Artistic Director, Troy Powell, invited me to create a new work for the company and I happily accepted. I’m truly excited to share my voice to an establishment that I’ve always admired and showed that brown bodies are transcendent geniuses on and off the stage,” said Lane in a statement. He currently dances with Bessie award winning Camille A. Brown & Dancers and is a graduate of University of North Carolina School of the Arts. 

Ailey II has become universally renowned as one of the world’s finest dance companies and continues the legacy of its founder, Alvin Ailey.

RC can’t wait to see what Lane has put together for this season. If it’s anything like his past work, we are in for a treat!  Click here for tickets to their Atlanta engagement on 10/21 at the Rialto Center for the Arts at Georgia State at 8 p.m.

Photo Credits: Shocphoto x Kendrick Daye + Alvin Ailey

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Jasmine Guy directs reading of ‘First Noel’ for Kenny Leon’s True Colors [PHOTOS]

Written by | Ray Cornelius 

I had the pleasure of attending True Colors Theatre Company’s “Annual Spring Reading” last night featuring the Off-Broadway musical, “The First Noel.”  The show, which is penned by Lelund Thompson and Jason Michael Webb, has been performed in New York City for a number of years now and Kenny Leon is bringing it to Atlanta this December 8-24. He has tapped triple threat performer—Jasmine Guy— to direct the show along with musical direction from Keith Williams.

Set in 1980’s Harlem, “The First Noel” is a musical that follows three generations of a family forever changed by the tragic loss of a loved one, when an unexpected visit reveals some long-absent Christmas joy. It is a story about how a community is healed, one family at a time, as everyday people do extraordinary things to help one another receive the gift of love at Christmas time. Music includes a reimaging of the traditional holiday favorites in both Gospel and Pop styles.

The reading included a number of Atlanta theater actors and television stars including T.C. Carson, Margo Moorer, Brad Raymond, Terry Burrell, Maeisha McQueen, Benjamin Moore, Lydia Pace, Jasmyne Hinson, Kelsie Broughton, River Kearse, Sara Von Zine, Ayla Eastering, Lamont Hill and Geoffrey D. Williams.

Atlanta notables that were in spotted in the audience included “Greenleaf” actresses Tonia Jackson and Jen Harper, playwright Claudette Alexander-Thomason and dancer/choregrapher Juel D. Lane.

Check out all of the photos below:

T.C. Carson 

Benjamine Moore and Margo Moorer

Lydia Pace and Sara Von Zine 

Terry Burrell

Benjamine Moore, Lamont Hill, Margo Moorer, Lydia Pace + T.C. Carson

Guy with her cast + Keith Williams and LeLund Thompson (front)

 Tonia Jackson + Margo Moorer

Jen Harper + Claudette Alexander-Thomason + T.C. Carson 

Keith Williams + Ayla Eastering

Brenda Nicole Moorer with her daughter River Kearse

Juel D. Lane and Maeisha McQueen doin a 2-step!

Kelsie Broughton, Benjamine Moore, River Kearse, Jasmyne Hinson, Sara Von Zine and Maeisha McQueen

“The First Noel” plays at the Ferst Center for the Arts at Georgia Tech December 8-24. Click here for tickets and information.

Photo Credits: RayCornelius.com

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Alvin Ailey & NCCHR Present ‘Legacy of Dreams & Revelations’ [PHOTOS]

Posted by | Ray Cornelius

I had the pleasure of attending the “Legacy of Dreams & Revelations” event Wednesday night presented by The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre and The National Center for Civil and Human Rights.

The invitation only event featured a lively panel discussion about how the arts and social movements have connected over the years to become vehicles for change. The conversation included Ailey’s Artistic Director, Robert Battle along with veteran Ailey dancer and choreographer, Hope Boykin and Andrea Young, Executive Director of the ACLU of Georgia. CNN news anchor Fredricka Whitfield served as the evening’s moderator.

Ailey’s current North American Tour is comprised of a number of socially conscience works including Masekela Language, which spotlights South African apartheid and 1960s violence in Chicago and Kyle Abraham‘s Untitled America, which takes a haunting look at the impact of the prison system on African-American families. But it Boykin’s new work, “r-Evolution, Dream” that was at the center of last night’s discussion. It is an ensemble piece that was inspired by a 2015 visit she had at the Center and from the numerous Dr. Martin Luther King’s sermons and speeches that got her creative wheels spinning. Music for “r-Evolution” is composed by Ali Jackson from NYC’s Jazz at Lincoln Center and narration is provided by Tony Award winning-actor Leslie Odum from Broadway’s “Hamilton.”

Boykin opened up about the creative process of “r-Evolution, Dream” and how Dr. King’s voice had a certain rhythm that she was able to match with intricate dance steps and movement. She also wanted this work to reflect Alvin Ailey‘s longstanding belief that “dance comes from the people and should be delivered back to the people.”

Following the discussion was brief Q&A and an intimate cocktail reception. Atlanta notables in attendance included Civil Rights icon, Rev. C.T. Vivian, city councilman and mayoral candidate Kwanza Hall, media personality Rashana Ali, UPSCALE Magazine’s Satchel Jester, media personality Angela Robinson, noted dancer and choreographer Juel D. Lane, and Executive Director of the City of Atlanta’s Office of Cultural Affairs, Camille Russell Love.

See more photos below and click here to purchase tickets to Ailey’s Atlanta engagement at the Fabulous Fox Theatre. Also, don’t forget to tune into my radio show “UPFRONT” on January 21 at 9 a.m., where I talk exclusively to Hope Bryant about “r-Evolution, Dream” and more.

Robert Battle with Fredricka Whitfield

Hope Boykin with ACLU’s Andrea Hope

Hope Boykin with Judith Service-Montier

Juan Montier and Angela Robinson

Camille Russell Love 

Rev. C.T. Vivian and Hope Boykin

Juel D. Lane with Robert Battle

Robert Battle and the Atlanta Ailey Ambassadors

Ray Cornelius with Robert Battle

Photo Credits: Ray Cornelius.com

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NBAF presents ‘New Movements in Dance’ feat. Juel D. Lane & More (VIDEO)

Posted by | Ray Cornelius 

The National Black Arts Festival (NBAF) continues its October events with “New Movements,” a day-long program from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. that features some of Atlanta’s top dancers and choreographers.

The program is presented in partnership with the High Museum of Art and puts a spotlight on young choreographers and rising stars who are defining and shaping the new direction of dance in Atlanta. The featured presenters include Juel D. Lane, dancer, choreographer and film director; Kenya Griffin, Founder of the Amazing Grace Dance Company and Daryl Foster, Founder/Director of Lift.

Each one will discuss their creative process, approach, the current state of dance and choreography, works in progress and focus their presentations on audience engagement and participation. There will also be performances and workshop demonstrations.

Check out one of Lane’s newest works below, which he released last spring:

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Dance Choreographer Juel D. Lane’s ‘When the Beat Drops’ debuts TONIGHT at 8 p.m.

Written by | Ray Cornelius 

Congratulations to my friend and celebrity dance choreographer Juel D. Lane. The triple threat performer, who has worked with such divas as Jasmine Guy, Lynn Whitfield and D. Woods, is gearing up to launch his newest work “When The Beat Drops” TONIGHT at 8 p.m. EST on YouTube.

“When The Beat Drops” is a film project that Lane conceived, directed and choreographed with students from his alma mater—The University of North Carolina School of the Arts. The piece explores the relationship between the physical, material world and the sonic world and it features the work of film students Chris Matthews and Ryan Civale. Lane also received assistance from film faculty member and renowned cinematographer John LeBlanc and composer Reggie Croslan.

“I had this idea about a joint project where I could fuse the students from the school of dance with students from the school of film. So I choreographed a piece in the fall of last year and my plan was to put that same idea on film. It sort of reminds you of how you are when you listen to your favorite song and the feeling you get when that beat drops,” said Lane.

He also stated that the film pays homage to Yeek, a form of high energy dance moves that originated in his native Atlanta, GA. “I really wanted to keep it as authentic to the Yeek style of dance as possible. It means a lot to me and it’s the style of dance I learned growing up in Atlanta. It was the first dance style that was really relevant in my community and it just stuck with me. I promised myself if I ever got an opportunity, I would just shed some light on it and it’s history.”

In addition to “When The Beat Drops,” Lane is also working on another new work as part of Alvin Ailey’s New Direction Choreographic Lab Fellowship. It’s an opportunity for him to create the blueprint for a new piece that he can premiere at some point in the future.

“It’s an opportunity to work on your process. They’re not as concerned with you having a finished product as much as they are about you embellishing on your ideas and what you want to do. Because there are no timelines, I am able to play with different styles and techniques of choreography,” said Lane.

Check out a snippet of “When The Beat Drops” below and catch the premiere tonight at 8 p.m. on YouTube!

Photo Credit: Facebook/Juel D. Lane

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RC attends Lalah Hathaway’s ATL CD Release Concert [PHOTOS]

Written by | Ray Cornelius

I was in absolute music heaven last night for the Atlanta CD Release Party and Concert for two-time Grammy winning-songstress, Lalah Hathaway. The beloved R&B/Jazz/Soul singer performed not one but TWO sold-out shows Friday night at Center Stage-Atlanta.

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I actually caught the second show which began around 11:25 p.m. Hathaway opened with one of her dad’s signature tunes, “Little Ghetto Boy” before going into other classics hits such as “Summertime” and “Baby Don’t Cry.” Hathaway appeared on stage in a fitted, black graphic T-shirt with “Racism Sucks” across her chest and a black floor length skirt that shimmied like rose petals in the wind.

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Hathaway also performed Anita Baker’s early ballad, “Angel” and did an impromptu tribute to the R&B diva by humming snippets of other songs like “Good Love.” At that point, she had the audience literally eating out of the palm of her manicured hands and decided to sing other popular songs from The Whispers, Chaka Khan, Zap and Maze featuring Frankie Beverly.

Towards the end of the show, Hathaway reached back into her own vault of hits and performed the Grammy-winning single, “Something,” as well as the Joe Sample duet “One Day I’ll Fly Away,” and her now famous cover of the Luther Vandross song, “Forever, For Always, For Love.”

DSC_0190-2Lalah, who had received a proclamation from the City of Atlanta during the first show, is also celebrating 25 years in the music industry. She later announced that her CD, Lalah Hathaway Live is already No. 1 on Amazon.  Following the show, Hathaway signed CDs and chatted with fans!

The full production was presented by Next Level Events in conjunction with Invictus Productions. Check out more photos from the second show below:

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Hathaway’s mother showing off her daughter’s photo

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Dancer/choreographer Juel D. Lane and friend attending the show

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Bishop William Murphy and congregants taking in the show

DSC_0101Ladies Night Out

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Harold Watkins of Invictus Productions (center) with family and friends

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Next Level Events’ Craig Garrett with AList’s Aalyah Duncan

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WCLK’s Jamal Ahmad hosted both shows

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Hathaway singing “Little Ghetto Boy”

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Hathaway is celebrating 25 years in the music industry!

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Hathaway signing CDs for fans after the show

Photo Credits: RayCornelius.com

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HBO & GA Film Office host Atlanta Premiere of ‘BESSIE’ [PHOTOS]

Written by | Ray Cornelius 

I had the pleasure of attending a private screening Monday night for the new HBO film, “Bessie” starring Queen Latifah, Mo’Nique and Tika Sumpter. The advanced screening was held at the Rialto Center for the Arts at Georgia State University and was hosted by the film’s producer Shelby Stone and the film’s star Tory Kittles. “Bessie” also features Michael K. Williams, Khandi Alexander and Mike Epps.

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 “Bessie” actors Tory Kittles and Sylvester James

“Bessie” stars Latifah as legendary blues singer and actress Bessie Smith. The film, which took 22 years to make, takes an intimate look at the determined woman, whose immense talent and love for music took her from anonymity in the rough-and-tumble world of vaudeville to the 1920s blues scene and international fame, capturing her professional highs and personal lows, and ultimate legend. The film was directed by acclaimed filmmaker Dee Rees of “Pariah” fame and is executive produced by Latifah’s Flavor Unit. Smith was known as the “Empress of the Blues” and influenced such illustrious singers as Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Janis Joplin and Nina Simone.

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 Jasmine Burke, Jasmine Guy and Shelby Stone

A  number of Atlanta celebrities were in attendance including film and stage actresses, Donna Bisco and Maria Howell; legendary casting director, Reuben Cannon and his wife, “Drumline 2” actress, Jasmine Burke; “Living Single” actor, T.C. Carson, “A Different World” star, Jasmine Guy; comedic actor, Rodney Perry; Bronze Lens Film Festival Founder, Kathleen Bertrand, media personality, Karyn Greer; and actress, Tammy McGarity.

“Bessie” was film mostly in the Atlanta metropolitan area and featured a number of recognizable singers, actors and  jazz musicians including Kamryn Johnson, Sylvester JamesJoe Knezevich, Reggie Hines, Joe GransdenDashill Smith and more.

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After the screening I attended a private dinner with HBO and the film’s stars at the Ritz Carlton. I also received a “Bessie” pocket watch and one of the film’s iconic posters with Tory Kittles signature.

My2Cents: “Bessie” will do for Queen Latifah, what “The Josephine Baker Story” did for Lynn Whitfield. Latifah nailed this role and should receive an Emmy nomination for Best Actress. The film tells the story of an amazingly talented woman who was unapologetic about who she was and who she loved. Her music was wrought in pain but opened a door for so many African-American singers, we deem legendary, to walk through. Casting is always king for any film and I believe the actors chosen for their respective roles were “right on the money.” Kudos to HBO and Latifah! I can’t wait for it to premiere on May 16.”

Check out more photos below and along with the film’s trailer:

[youtube id=”w79dRXLUOVE” width=”600″ height=”350″]

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 Dresses worn by Queen Latifah and Mo’Nique were on display in the theater’s lobby

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Actresses Maria Howell and Donna Bisco

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Comedic actor Rodney Perry

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 Actress Tammy McGarity

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 T.C. Carson and Jasmine Guy

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Reuben Cannon and his wife

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 “Bessie” actors Kamryn Johnson and Sylvester James

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 BLFF’s Kathleen Bertrand with Karyn Greer

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 Author Mary “Honey B” Morrison with Christal Jordan of Enchanted PR

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 ATL Notables: Jacquee Mnor, Kemi Bennings, Margaret Kargbo, Leatrice Ellzy & Imara Canady

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 “Bessie” actors Tory Kittles, Sylvester James and Reggie Hines

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“Bessie” producer Shelby Stone bringing greetings before the screening

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Queen Latifah delivered a special message to the Atlanta audience before the show

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Donna Bisco with “Bessie” actor Joe Knezevich

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“Bessie” received a proclamation from the City of Atlanta

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Dancer/actor  Juel D. Lane

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AAFCA’s Gil Robertson and  Georgia Film Office’s Asante Bradford

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Maria Howell, Brad James and Donna Bisco

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Attendees received free refreshments

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“Bessie” actors

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“Bessie” actors, singers and dancers

BESSIE premieres on HBO May 16th

Photo Credits: RayCornelius.com

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RC attends the Red Carpet Premiere of ‘Rebirth: The Musical’ + PHOTOS

Jamie Foster, Rob Jackson, D. Woods, Q-Parker, Keith Hale and guest

Written by | Ray Cornelius

Atlanta’s Fox Theater was transformed into a post-apocalyptic America Friday night for Rob Jackson’s new sci-fi musical, Rebirth.  The 3-hour long production, which used mixed-media and slick dance choreography, was part Romeo & Juliet  part The Bible  and part Wizard of Oz.

Rebirth  featured an all-star cast including Q Parker from the R&B group 112 as a futuristic “John the Baptist” chosen to lead the citizens of Bethel in a revolt against the false prophet and mind-controlling dictator, MIA. The show also starred D. Woods, formerly of Danity Kane, neo-soul singer Algebra Blessett, ‘Nephew Tommy’ Miles from The Steve Harvey Morning Show,  Latrice Pace of the Anointed Pace Sisters and Emmy-winning actress Lynn Whitfield as MIA, The Mother of Earth.

A number of ATL’s brightest and biggest stars attended the red carpet premiere including R&B Divas’  Nicci Gilbert, Jasmine Guy, Demetria McKinney and The Kandi Factory’s  Victor Jackson. Take a look at the photos below:

Chanita Foster, Nicci Gilbert, Jamie Foster Brown and Nicci's husband

 Sister2Ssiter’s Chanita Foster, Nicci Gilbert, S2S Publisher Jamie Foster and Leonard M. Daniels

Juelz D. Lane

Rebirth’s  dance choreographer, Juel D. Lane

Jasmine Guy and Rob Jackson

Jasmine Guy with Rebirth  writer, director and producer Rob Jackson

Nicole Garner

 Celebrity Event Planner Nicole Garner of The Garner Circle

Demetria McKinney

 The Rickey Smiley Show’s  Demetria McKinney

Victor Jackson

The Kandi Factory’s  Victor Jackson

Rahbi and Rob Jackson

Neo-Soul singer Rahbi and Rob Jackson

Nephew Tommy

 ‘Nephew Tommy’ Miles with guest

Kadijah Rowe, Q from 112, Quiness Jr. and Sabrina Rowe

 Q Parker with daughter Kadijah Rowe of Big Rich Atlanta,  Quinnes Jr. and Sabrina Rowe of Big Rich Atlanta

Photography Credit/Megan Alodie Photography