Saturday, July 6, 2019

Ridgecrest Earthquake Didn’t Faze the Excitement of Kiki Ebsen’s “Jazzin’ Up the 5th of July" at Feinstein’s at Vitello’s

As she’d just concluded her medley, “You Are My Lucky Star” and “I Got a Feelin’ You’re Foolin’”) from “Broadway Melody of 1936,” entertainer Kiki Ebsen sat at the piano to sing “Missing You,” cowritten by her father, Buddy Ebsen, and his writing partner Zeke Manners. The song is emotional, powerful, and no one else but Kiki can bring it to life as she reflects on the seven-decade career of her father's history. But then a 7.1 earthquake came, at 8:13 p.m, just one day after the foreshock quake in Ridgecrest, CA that was felt as far away as Las Vegas, Nevada.

As the patrons of Feinstein’s at Vitello’s experienced the earthquake, Kiki remained entirely in control, noting to her crowd, "The exits are there (pointing) and there." She waited the minute for things to settle down, and stated casually, “Well, we’ll keep going now, and just remember if this is the end, you’ll hear my dulcet tones as we’re going into the next world.” The audience laughed, relieved. She said, "Not one of you went for the exits! This is MY kind of audience!" and the crowd again erupted with laughter.

She re-checked, “Are you all really okay?” They assured her they were. She announced, “This is a song called “Missing You,” but I’m a little concerned that if I sing it, the earth is going to start shaking again.” As though addressing her late parents, she continued, “Let’s cool it up there. When I ask for help, that’s not the kind of help I was asking for!” The audience laughed and, without missing a beat, she went easily into her song.

Videographer Gregory Gast captured the following video of Kiki, before, during and after the quake, and you just have to hear everything she says as she maintains complete calm while sending the audience into gales of laughter. That's the mark of a real professional! This lady deserves her own TV show. Priceless comedy combined with total calm, and she sings so beautifully. Kiki Ebsen is the real deal.

Clifford Bell, jazz and cabaret empressario, offered the perfect bon mot on Facebook. He posted a photo of Kiki onstage with the caption:

At Kiki Ebsen‘s fabulous show with a packed house at Feinstein’s At Vitello’s. And EARTHQUAKE. She handled it beautifully but that was a little like The Poseidon Adventure. And the Chandelier was swinging. I hope she sings ‘The Morning After.’
Kaylene Peoples, musician/composer/publisher, added: “We survived the rolling. Kiki Ebsen is the ultimate performer and handled the situation like the pro that she is!” Those were just two of the real-time social media posts that captured the excitement and the calm of the evening, securely in Kiki’s hands.

After the show, Ebsen said, “Naturally, I realized we'd had an earthquake, but I knew I had a responsibility to my audience to assure we were all safe, the staff was safe, and we could go on with our show, as that’s why everyone had come.” Longtime fan, Jeffrey Dalrymple from North Carolina, in town on business, came dressed Hollywood style; others also chose to adopt the style of the grand old days of Hollywood.

What a difference a new perspective can bring to a performer when they take the stage at a once familiar, yet newly redesigned, venue such as Feinstein’s at Vitello’s was last evening! The evening had just started with jazz instrumental "On Green Dolphin Street."

[L to R: Grant Geissman, Lee Meriwether, Kiki Ebsen, Debby Boone, and Kim Richmond; photo by Annette Lum.] Ebsen invited two dear longtime friends to join her, Grammy-winning singer, entertainer Debby Boone, and actress Lee Meriwether, two-time Golden Globe and Emmy nominee.

Kiki intended this show as a one-time tribute to the golden age of "Old Hollywood," and its brightest stars, including Meriwether. Kiki's teen years intersected with Buddy's "Barnaby Jones" days and she recalled occasional family celebrations in classic venues such as Chasen's and Musso & Frank's. For most of her teen years, the younger Ebsen children lived near the Santa Monica mountains, away from the bright lights, but still Kiki remembered the stories of the grandest days of Hollywood jazz.

She invited renowned jazz pianist Jeff Colella as Musical Director, along with dynamic drummer Kendall Kay, who has worked with Kiki since 1993, superb bass player Granville “Danny” Young, and inimitable saxophonist Kim Richmond (from their "K Project” jazz) to set the mood for the show she called “Jazzing Up the 5th of July.” [Below, L to R: Jeff Colella, Kiki Ebsen, Granville Young, Kendall Kay, and Kim Richmond; photo by Annette Lum.]

Three-time Emmy nominee for composing, jazz guitar great Grant Geissman joined Kiki on four songs. Geissman is prominent in Kiki’s Joni Mitchell Project band, and he's part of Kiki’s new CD of original songs, coming soon. Thus, the perfect evening was set.

Champion of the Great American Songbook, musician/conductor Michael Feinstein, had recently partnered with Vitello’s owner Brad Roen to debut the all-new Feinstein’s at Vitello’s. As the band opened the show with “On Green Dolphin Street,” a 1940s tune that went perfectly with the club’s new ambience.

As Ebsen took the stage, she continued the music of early Hollywood with “You Are My Lucky Star” and “I Got a Feelin’ You’re Foolin’,” both from the movie “Broadway Melody of 1936,” paying tribute to Buddy Ebsen's passing, July 6, 2003.

Kiki continued with “Devil May Care,” written by Harry Warren and Johnny Burke, then was delighted to bring actress and singer Lee Meriwether to the stage to sing “Rendezvous,” a song written by Buddy Ebsen and Zeke Manners. Beginning her Hollywood career officially when she was crowned Miss America 1955, Lee Ann Meriwether has been a star of film and stage for so long, it’s hard to name all the works she’s been famous for. One of her favorite roles, though, was as Buddy Ebsen’s daughter-in-law Betty, on CBS' “Barnaby Jones,” produced by the prolific Quinn Martin. For eight seasons audiences loved Lee, who's said often that she adored the opportunity to work with Buddy.

Ebsen followed with a powerful arrangement of “Twisted,” written by tenor saxophonist Wardell Gray, and lyrics by Annie Ross. Stories about growing up in Hollywood were shared between tunes. Before “Moon River” Ebsen related how excruciating it was as a child to see her father’s heart breaking on that screen every time that film was seen.

As she sang, one can imagine her childhood reaction seeing tears forming in his resplendent blue eyes. Of all the roles Buddy is known for in multiple arts genres, Kiki's audience was shocked to realize that he had achieved exactly “zero” nominations for EMMYs, Oscars, or Tony Awards. Perhaps that’s the secret to having an enduring career for seven decades—work so hard that you never have time for award nominations to catch up with you!

Following another instrumental, Grant Geissman joined Kiki for “Easy to Love” and “Why Dontcha Do Right?” followed by Kiki weaving her own magic around Joni Mitchell's “Goodbye Porkpie Hat.”

Ebsen then introduced longtime friend, Grammy-award winning singer, Debby Boone, to the stage. Boone shared precious memories of growing up with her family living across the street from the Dean Martin family. She then sang “Everybody Loves Somebody” in a poignant tribute to Martin. Debby's recent album, "Swing This," exhibits her mastery of the music she loves. Boone still tours the country in concert and occasionally performs her "Reflections of Rosemary" as a tribute to her late mother-in-law, Rosemary Clooney.

Kiki returned to the stage to sing “Codfish Ball,” from the Buddy Ebsen–Shirley Temple film, “Captain January.” Ebsen then pulled out a letter that Buddy had written during the filming of that movie, addressed to his parents in Florida. Buddy’s letter and Kiki’s reading of it, sharing insight into a young Shirley Temple were both hilarious. Her rapport with the audience is so clear as Kiki is always at home on stage.

As Ebsen performed “St. Louis Blues,” your mind could easily wander back to the 1958 film “St. Louis Blues,” the story of W. C. Handy, starring Eartha Kitt, and Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Pearl Bailey, and Cab Calloway. Kiki mentioned she'd discovered a beautiful magazine photo of Eartha Kitt with her dad in Chasen's, enjoying martinis and conversation. That's part of old Hollywood evenings, time for cocktails, conversation, dinner, and music following. Today's Hollywood entertainment tries hard to recreate the "events" of yesteryear, but at least in the new Feinstein's, the setting is just right.

Ebsen prefaced her last song, “If I Only Had a Brain,” with the story of how Buddy Ebsen was cast as the Original Tin Man. She was joined by Grant Geissman for her powerful rendition as the audience reflected on what it had to have been like for Ebsen to hear he had a major role, as the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man. Yet, he never once revealed that heartbreak to his own children during his life. [Left: Grant Geissman and Kiki Ebsen; photo by Clifford Bell.]

There’s a favorite old saying, “Don’t miss something that only happens once in a lifetime.” As proof of its veracity, concluding the evening, Kiki invited Debby and Lee back to the stage. The trio blended on a priceless rendition of “Our Love Is Here to Stay,” showcasing the loving friendship and admiration shared by two Hollywood generations, each talented on their own.

Kiki then announced to the audience the fall debut of her newly expanded and revised stage presentation, “To Dad with Love: A Tribute to Buddy Ebsen,” set to premiere the weekend of September 6–8 at Hollywood’s oldest continually operating Theatre West. She also invited the audience to visit the ticket link at www.buddyebsentribute.com, to obtain a 20% discount from 7/6–7/22 for Early Bird general admission seats.

With that, the audience jumped to their feet, applauding, reacting to priceless moments of Hollywood magic they’d experienced, for a few fleeting hours in that special club. If you missed it because it was a sold-out show, you have another opportunity to get in on the beauty of more Hollywood excitement of a different type, coming this September.

There’s more magic in the true story of Buddy Ebsen’s legendary career. And with Kiki Ebsen as your guide to the past, you're guaranteed a magnificent presentation of his life, in song, story, and dance. No parent could hope to be remembered as beautifully as Kiki remembers her dad.

A favorite quote from Buddy Ebsen goes:

"Remember, that of all the elements that comprise a human being, the most important, the most essential, the one that will sustain, transcend, overcome and vanquish obstacles is--Spirit."

Just as she soared and flew on the wings of jazz at Feinstein's at Vitello's, continuing her father's tradition, even in the face of an earthquake, Kiki Ebsen will always move you with her spirit, style, and talent.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

You Can Go Home Again—50 Years Later, Keystone’s Class of ’69 is Thriving and Doing Fine!

How many of you attended your 10th high school reunion? How about your 25th? How about your 50th? Well, I haven’t been able to celebrate my 50th yet, but thanks to a very generous group from Keystone School’s Class of ’69, three of us (2 of us Class of ’68 and 1 from ’74) were offered guest passes into the wonderful world of some of the school’s most accomplished and most gracious graduates I can remember. And, I remember over 300 of you.

Keystone was founded in San Antonio in 1948 by two gentlemen, William B. Greet and John H. Eargle, Jr., originally as a program for students in grades 1–8, to strengthen and improve skills of those behind in learning—reading and comprehension, the school’s earliest academic focus. More on the beginnings from another of my projects coming in the near future, but suffice it to say that adding on a high school transformed Keystone into a competitive college-prep training ground.

Below: Class of '69 reunion organizers, Velma Nanka-Bruce, Carmen Tafolla, and Ciro Ramirez

Located in San Antonio, Texas, Keystone is a private K-12 nondenominational college-prep school and, in year 71 of its existence, continues to be well respected across the country. Many of San Antonio’s most well-adjusted scholars have flown through the hallways and down the iron steps into careers that have made them very happy. Make no mistake: it’s not a nerd school nor a site in the middle of the Monte Vista Historical District where brainiacs abound. Not one of the students even slightly resembled the characters portrayed in “The Big Bang Theory.”

I never knew that other folks in town might consider us a bit nerdy. We didn’t even know the word “nerd” back then. After all, when virtually everyone belongs to the Future Scientists of America, it is easy to assume that the place was filled with rocket scientists. Yes, we did have a few of those—actual rocket scientists, I mean—photographs on a delightful Class of ’69 slide show emphasized that very fact, but most of us weren’t. We were just interested in a lot of different things, all at the same time. Although one class member was teased as having an “epic fail” with his rocket, he turned out just fine in life, with a flourishing medical practice.

Right: Ciro Ramirez and George Farinacci.

Speaking of doctors, the private party room at the restaurant where the 50th anniversary took place was filled with those holding academic and medical doctorates (including dentistry), career educators, beloved parents who worked hard inside the home, nationally respected authors, ministers, church musicians, blues harmonica players, Nashville music insider for a major recording label, civil and nuclear engineers, patent holders, those who served in the military and those who protested injustice, those who wore POW/MIA bracelets and those who served in the Peace Corps. [Left: Judy Fitzgerald Tolbert and Carmen Tafolla.]

You know what was most impressive? It was the “other things” they had done outside their primary career work that blew me away. Starting and funding a nonprofit music organization to make sure students have access to music; spending time coordinating music for churches and special events, one who was able to play one of the most challenging complex church organs at age 16 and still plays on Sundays today (that’s the spare-time gig) after having been a world leader in AIDS research from the beginning. The hours that these grads have spent encouraging other young people to reach their dreams, mentoring and allowing others to shadow them to try on careers is spectacular.

Sharing their knowledge humbly and willingly—now THAT is the Keystone I remember. If you didn’t know them from high school, or know what they’d done in their careers so far, you couldn’t pick them out of any crowd. That was because they were relaxed and happy, many who were accompanied by their spouses who enjoyed watching “old home week,” and it seemed like just another lunch hour with family friends. In fact, it was just that, except for some in the room, it had been 50 years since they’d all seen each other. And, as everyone hugged each other “hello,” it was so easy to see that everyone in the room felt about 18 again. It was like time had been suspended for 50 years. [Left: Danny Downum and M/M George Farinacci.]

Most were world travelers at some points in their lives, having never said “no” to adventure, whether for work or for pleasure. The list of achievements overflowed today—in the Class of ’69 party room. And everyone was exactly equal with everyone else because they are all family. It’s just another Walton Family reunion, minus John-boy. That’s impressive. Respect, love, good-natured laughter, and warm memories served to undergird the appreciation for all who came together from across the country or state to share important time together.

[Right: Mary Newell Pape, Patrice Hensley, Carmen Tafolla.]

One of the most important things about Keystone graduates is that all are considered equal successes just because they survived Keystone. Oh, it wasn’t like Marine basic training school rigid, but the number of books you carried home with you each night for homework could be considered “hazardous” to balance.

Funny reminiscences were shared from “back in the day,” as when Russian-born language teacher Sergei M. Apostolov attended a basketball game and said (in full accent), “I am a great athletic supporter,” which he was. The photo of “Roscoe” brought a laugh—he was the human skeleton head on history teacher Maj. Philip E. Babel’s desk, under which all students were to place their homework and/or tests when completed. The label on Roscoe’s head read: “I flunked history.” We tried not to.

Then there was when English teacher Jim Klaeveman said, “Class dismissed” that brought gales of laughter. Best photo of the set was a science teacher I’ll just refer to as Mr. O, who had drawn the ire of some female students early on in his teaching there because of some rather antiquated views of women’s abilities. He made the mistake of stating those views in his outside voice, and the women in the class got up and walked out. Not a frequent happenstance but one that was not met with opposition. At Keystone, you were encouraged to express your viewpoint as long as you did it respectfully. And how did Mr. O turn out, you ask? It was said that his outlook on life changed immeasurably after teaching Keystone’s students, and of course after he’d had his first date ever with a nice young lady (not a Keystonian). [Below: Wine bottled by "the most interesting man in our world."]

Another beautiful aspect of the school was that many of the teachers were still young enough in their credentialing to only be 5-10 years older than we were, unless they were 40 years older than we were. In fact, because Keystone was a nonprofit where it was month-to-month whether payroll could be met sometimes (I worked in the school office and the founders shared things with me because I asked questions of them), teacher salaries were not at all competitive in San Antonio.

Some of our teachers actually taught night classes at nearby San Antonio College, or St. Mary’s University, Incarnate Word, or Trinity to afford to be able to teach us. In fact, we often used the exact same college textbooks so they conveniently only needed one set of lesson plans.

As part of today’s events, special guests included Keystone’s headmaster, Dr. Billy Handmaker, and alumni coordinator, Hannah Hyde. Dr. Handmaker is exactly the headmaster to lead the school into the future as he described some of the school’s upcoming refurbishing of the present buildings (in full accordance with historical codes), and he referenced with such great ease and knowledge the various rooms, knowing where Coach Eargle’s office was, where Prof. and Mr. Greet lived, where the various locations of the Cobras student lounge was, and where the four-square courts were once. You’d have thought he’s been there for 20 years. That’s the blessing of having a headmaster who “gets” what Keystone was all about and is to become as it takes its natural course of changing to meet the demands of present-day students.

Best news also was hearing about the progress of scholarship funds available for lower-school students toward tuition, books and fee expenses. This will assure the continuation of the tremendous diversity in the student body. In reflecting today with a Class of ’69 member, we remembered that some students arrived at school being driven in late model luxury cars, others were in ten-year-old station wagons, and other students took the city bus to get to the same place.

Once inside the buildings, you couldn’t tell one student apart from another, because everyone at Keystone was family on equal footing, distinguished only by a point or two on a test score, or a place atop the Top 10 academic leader board in South Hall.. Reunion organizers presented Dr. Handmaker with a gift toward the scholarship fund from the Class of ’69. Alumni activities have been encouraged and supported substantially by the school, and it was noted that any Keystonian who wants to see the place again is most welcome to come by for a personal tour.

Following the slide show, alumni participated in a rousing game of “Who is it here who has…” questions, and for every question that was answered correctly, alums were to come up and get a brick (four different colors and sizes and would you believe that in the free choices, every alum picked out all four different types of bricks? Again, not a nerd in the batch!).

By the time the questions were done, tables were filled with bricks in front of the alumni, all rather evenly matched. Who won? That’s the beauty of the game. The winner was: The entire Class of 1969, because each one of them had encouraged, nurtured, contributed, served, given back, and furthered knowledge and inspired others to pursue their dreams both by their examples and by their actions.

As this 50 year reunion took place, it was noted by name that only one member of the class had passed away in that time. Reunion organizing committee Carmen Tafolla, Ciro Ramirez, and Velma Nanka-Bruce did an absolutely amazing job of locating as many graduates as they did. Response via the slide show (photos and life updates) was grand, and promises were made to meet again next year, because it was too much fun to wait five more years until the 55th.

For most, Keystone is a place that lives on in the hearts of those who experienced it. Time will never take away the memories of some of the very best years of their young lives, for they all went through those times—together. That’s just what family does.

It was a joy to be present today, among the upperclassmen who were my early role models, my heroes, and who showed me how to treat those students coming up in classes behind me—with love and patience. You all haven’t changed a bit, and you all will be “forever 18” to me.

Respectfully submitted,

DLW

Monday, May 27, 2019

Lee Meriwether: For a Beautiful Leading Lady on Her Birthday

The titles that have been bestowed upon the lovely and talented Lee Ann Meriwether in her lifetime are numerous. As she celebrates her birthday today, I have been in reflection for many days as to how and why I will always remember this date as “hers” on my calendar. Here she is pictured receiving her crown from Miss America 1954, Evelyn Ay, in what was reportedly the very first live broadcast of the crowning ceremony on TV. The first title I ever learned she’d won was Miss America 1955.

And, I remember exactly where I was when I learned this fact. I was 9 years old and transfixed in front of the television watching an episode of “The Time Tunnel.” This show featured a scientific team, led by Robert Colbert as Dr. Doug Phillips, and teen idol/actor James Darren as Dr. Anthony Newman. They had a machine that involved setting all the target coordinates for time travel and the plot involved a question, the journey, the action, the mystery of whether or not they could return back to present day, and the heroics to get home. It was an early Irwin Allen production of merit.

When I informed my mother that Dr. McGregor was actually Lee Meriwether, as I was an avid credit watcher at a young age, my mother one-upped me and said, “Actually honey, that’s Lee Ann Meriwether, and she’s our Miss America from 1955.” I said, “She’s very intelligent, playing a doctor in a laboratory!” Mom’s reply was, Yes, dear, and she’s a real lady, you can just see it in how she carries herself.” I nodded and watched for that, too. That wouldn’t be the last time we spoke of her.

In the opening of ABC’s “The Time Tunnel,” you saw a colorful montage and ultimate title logo (in a perfect font) with theme music that set the stage for Irwin Allen’s journey. It was amusing to learn that a (very) young Johnny Williams, had written that, and that he’d also go on to write the theme from “Lost in Space.” His career, best known today as John Williams, continues to span six decades of unforgettable scores.

Fast forward a little bit in 1966. During an episode of “Batman” I recall exclaiming joyfully, “She’s Catwoman!! Lee Meriwether is Catwoman!!! And Batman is in trouble now!” Yes, I was only 10 years old, but I knew to look for my favorite actors across episode TV even then. As Batman progressed in its full TV and movie journey, I’d also see Julie Newman and Eartha Kitt portraying Catwoman. All were good, at being bad girls, but my favorite was already Lee. Another note to self: Bad girls certainly were glamorous. I'd remember that, too.

I gave some serious thought to being a crime fighter, having been influenced earlier by Dame Diana Rigg as the inimitable Mrs. Peel on “The Avengers.” It was going to be hard to be naughty like Catwoman when all my instincts were to be a crimefighter like Mrs. Peel.

You'll remember there are three actresses who portrayed Catwoman, Julie Newman, Lee Meriwether, and Eartha Kitt (pictured). After enjoying her portrayal of such a diverse character change, I realized that I, too, could shift gears anytime I wanted to, and I found myself less interested in science and more interested in the behind-the-scenes of TV productions. My credit watching grew even more intense as I was determined to master the minutia of who did what on what shows, studying how certain talents crossed over between shows, loyal to one network or another, and I almost thought that would be my future career, again behind the scenes. Options...there were always career options; that was my takeway from seeing Dr. Ann McGregor to Catwoman from the same lovely actress.

During high school and college, TV time was tighter but I always made time for “Barnaby Jones,” where I found her again as “Betty Jones,” co-star to Buddy Ebsen and a very capable detective’s assistant who played perfectly with Ebsen’s “Barnaby” character. Betty was behind the scenes of some of Barnaby's breakthroughs and thanks to some brilliant acting, I learned that you could say more with looks and reactions than with two pages of dialogue filling up a script. I filed that fact in the back of my mind for future reference.

I was lucky enough to have her there for eight seasons. Through her role, the role of assistant to a forensic detective with his own in-office laboratory looked just fine as a career choice from this side of the screen! She always looked so capable, and it felt like it went far beyond acting talent. It would be clear later that her projection of confidence invoked confidence in me. Message sent and received. I'd use this fact a few decades later when having to address a room full of scientists on the topic of quantum mechanics. My pre-talk preparation included reminding myself that "Look like you believe in what you're saying, even if you don't!" Thanks to "Betty" with a dash of Susan Lucci's "Erica" thrown in for good measure, I made it through quantum mechanics. I should have sent her a thank-you note...but...

Lee spent a good portion of her career (my graduate school days) acting in movies with occasional guest spots on TV shows. Lee didn’t know this but she was an early role model for me, one I recalled as I was busy carving out my graduate studies in physical chemistry, stuck in the library or the lab most of the time doing research. Turns out I wasn’t the only one. On Father’s Day 2016, I was fortunate to attend Kiki Ebsen’s cabaret version of her theatre show “To Dad with Love,” where Lee Meriwether and her daughter Lesley Aletter were special guests.

Following the show I waited in a (long) line of people waiting to speak with Kiki and Lee, and said to Lee, “Thank you so much for being such a beautiful role model. I went to grad school in science because you made it look beautiful and fun!” She was so gracious, noting “Over the years, I’ve had so many women (and men) come up to me today and say that her year as Dr. Ann McGregor had made such an impact on them, that they, too, earned PhD degrees.” Some were working at NASA and others in chemical laboratories. It was predictable and yet adorable, how she was so modest and humble about inspiring the youth of the day to strive for advanced degrees.

Now, Lee had made it look delightful and even glamorous to be in a lab with a clipboard while wearing makeup. Reality was that my white lab coat had a “Mr. Bill” character over the back saying, “Oh Nooooo!” because I taught chemistry and empathized with my students about the work it was going to bring. I did strive to be like Lee but my lab coat had a few hard-earned ink stains and a few mementos of various reagents.

Life went on and one day in 1996 while playing back the “Beta” recording of “All My Children,” there Lee was again! A complete surprise, I was delighted to see her taking on the role of “Ruth Martin,” one that had been identified so closely with actress Mary Fickett, who inaugurated that role from the beginning of the show on January 5, 1970. That day matched the month and year I’d begun watching Agnes Nixon’s best daytime TV creation and I was one of the regulars who followed the show whenever time and videotape permitted.

Lee’s entrĂ©e to this show was opposite actor Ray MacDonnell as Dr. Joe Martin, and to switch out “Ruth Martin” was rather groundbreaking for the show. Frankly, Lee was the only actress who could immediately become known for and “as” a role that had been the mainstay identity of Mary Fickett for 26 years! For the next two years, she held audiences’ favor until Mary Fickett decided to unretire and returned to the show in 1998. Mary stayed two more years and then retired again and Lee returned once again in 2002. Even today, she’s beloved by the acting ensemble of “All My Children” as “one of Pine Valley’s originals.” Equal acceptance and adoration for both actresses highlights her abilities.

Lee’s popularity as actress and voice talent moved forward into the 21st century as she took on the role of “Miss Hastings” with James Garner in “The Ultimate Gift,” a film that’s shown regularly on the Hallmark Channel. She also starred in the sequels, “The Ultimate Life” and “The Ultimate Legacy.” She had an abundant tv career with guest appearances on episodic TV including five roles in 2018 alone.

Because she played in one episode of “Star Trek,” and multiple times in “Batman” and “The Time Tunnel,” Lee spent the past several years traveling as a special guest at Comic Con events, to the delight of everyone there. She patiently posed for photos, answered multiple questions multiple times, and is as gracious today as she was when first greeting the public as Miss America.

Her life and home and away from home, however, has been one of first loves, the team at Theatre West. In recent years during her involvement, her dearest friend, the late Linda L. Rand, was often her sidekick in all good things and joyous occasions. On Feb. 10, 2018, a sold-out audience enjoyed a star-studded tribute to her in “Love Letters to Lee Meriwether,” coinciding with the 55th anniversary of Theatre West. Both James Darren and Robert Colbert were there from “The Time Tunnel,” Betty Garrett’s sons, Garrett Parks and Andrew Parks, represented their mother and father (Larry Parks) in saluting her, as did Kiki Ebsen, representing her father, Buddy Ebsen, in paying tribute and sharing fond memories, as did so many others.

Lee’s involvement in Theatre West spans many decades as both board member and actress. Her stage involvement is of long-standing. Her one-woman rendition of the show “The Women of Spoon River” was highly acclaimed. In April 2000, she starred in Doug Haverty’s play, “Come Baby, Cradle and All,” the world premiere at Theatre West; at age 78 she starred in William Blinn’s play, “A Short Stay at Carranor,” and in the Los Angeles Times, she referenced the longevity and bright career of her former co-star, Buddy Ebsen: “He really worked at being at the top of his game. You had to keep up with him. I adored him. I think he had feelings for me too.”

In February, 2018, coincident with the event “Love Letters to Lee,” Theatre West members paid tribute to her talents, as seen in this beautiful YouTube salute:

This is just a sampling of the heartfelt thoughts and memories of theatre colleagues—playwrights, actors, producers and directors. In December 2015, Lee was invited by Cabarabia producer Clifford Bell to participate in his and Tiffany Bailey’s showcase, “Season’s Greetings from the Corner of Jazz and Cabaret.” Lee’s medley had a funny story that she shared, and unsurprisingly it involved Theatre West. Enjoy it here:

As she celebrates her 84th birthday today, Lee is fortunate to have two her loving daughters, Lesley Aletter and Kyle Aletter, as the best gifts in her life she can count among the likely multiple accolades via social media, phone calls, and good old-fashioned greeting cards she received today. Her birthday was listed first in newspapers across the country today, as just one small example of how faithfully she is remembered by those she will never know or meet in person.

Last summer, Lee was out on the town with her daughter Lesley and dear friend, the late Linda Rand, to hear Kiki Ebsen sing jazz at the San Gabriel Mission Playhouse. Sharing this picture because no matter where she is, you will always see Lee smiling, from the inside out.

L to R: Lesley Aletter, Linda L. Rand, Kiki Ebsen, and Lee Meriwether [Photo: Steve Wallace]

In this way she reminds us that projecting joy is a great way to feel that joy. Lee continues to be an advocate for live theatre, one “home base” that she loves so much. For just this one writer, I will always appreciate the example of beauty, grace, style, class, intelligence, strength of character, devotion to family, and the ability to take whatever life throws at you and never look dismayed or perturbed as “life happens.” She’s been a role model to so many for so long.

Today, she stands as an example of elegance as a gently aging star in our present-day galaxy. Hollywood needs to return to that day and time where people took time to prepare thoroughly for the roles we play in life. It was best in a day and time in life where we were kind and gracious to others, mentoring those behind us, while paying tribute to those who paved the way for us. Perhaps we can return to that kind of life once again. There’s always hope.

Love, light, laughter, and bouquets of pink roses to Lee. Happy birthday and many, many more.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Marking a Memorable Day and Remembering a Loved One

It was a beautiful sunny afternoon as I was leaving Callaway-Jones, headed into the back parking lot last Thursday, when I spotted something you don’t see every day here. A rooster and a hen were strutting down a nearby driveway, headed home after a visit to one of the neighbors’ lawns to search for who knows what. I just stared at them, amused, thinking that they didn’t think anything about what I was thinking. They were on a mission of their own and heading home afterwards. Country living in the middle of a city. I guess that’s what you call mixed-use development.

My eyes then moved right as I saw a delivery truck backed up and ready to offload. The truck’s logo bore the name of a well-known casket manufacturer of whom I’d been aware for close to 15 years now, today being 14 years to the day of my mother’s passing. The year before her death, my best friend and I had driven to two manufacturers’ sites in Texas, while I was studying the pricing, quality, and elements of exactly the kind of casket I wanted for Mom’s burial. As a good nerd, research is always comforting. Understand the unknown and it can’t flummox you later.

When you think about these topics early, it takes much of the emotion, grief, and trauma out of the equation. I wanted time to think about what I’d like, what I could afford, and what was available. As an only child, all decisions were up to me. Don’t feel sorry for me, because I had no one telling me I was “doing it wrong,” ha.

By the time my research and review of caskets was done, I knew the top manufacturers’ names, the model names of many caskets, the difference between various metal gauges, and other terms that don’t come up often in daily conversation. And I knew the pricing. When it came time to select Mom’s casket, I was well prepared and trusted Cody and his grandfather, Raymond, to make sure the casket of my choice would arrive on time. They did, precisely. It was exactly what I wanted for Mom, and it was beautiful. And then I forgot about all that, for 14 years in fact.

As some of you know, I now work for Callaway-Jones as their Certified Life Celebrant and Life Tribute Writer, so you think I’d be thinking a lot about caskets, but in fact I don’t. I think about life after death, about celebrating the life that meant so much to those they left behind, and on constructing services that provide healing and celebration of the best times of their lives. But Thursday afternoon was different.

As I stood there actually seeing the delivery truck back into position, time froze for a few minutes as I just watched something profound happen. I’ve known my friend and work colleague Catherine Ewing-Cates for over 20 years, and I know she’s been a Funeral Director for many years. But most recently I have thought of her as the manager of Restever Cemetery in Bryan, because that’s where I see her often.

But Thursday, Catherine was outside in the parking lot standing quietly until the driver had opened the bay of his truck and she moved forward with the carrier that the casket would be offloaded to. She greeted the driver respectfully and professionally, and there was no idle chatter. Both driver and funeral director offloaded the casket and transferred it onto the carrier with such respectfulness, that it reminded me exactly of the scene I’d seen many times on “NCIS,” when a military serviceperson is flown home to the United States and military personnel await the transfer of the casket. There’s a quiet reverence about that process. And yes, I've been known to shed a tear at the beauty of the ceremony because of what it means.

And Thursday, there was a similar stillness and solitude in that scene. In fact, neither Catherine nor the driver even noticed me watching them. They were doing their jobs so professionally, even when no one was (seemingly) watching. There was a beautiful cover over the casket, for protection during the drive, and yet another layer of secure covering after the cover was removed. Catherine handled that transfer with exactly the same level of respect as she would have, were there someone inside it. That just hit me as profound. It’s the parts of the world we work in that the public doesn’t see that are even more impressive than all the things you do see that cause you to have confidence in us.

Yes, it’s how we make you feel after losing a loved one that you remember most of all, but I really wanted to say that, even though I’ve seen many aspects of afterlife care that most of you have not, I’m really proud of the family team I work with, because I see what you can’t, and don’t, and it is truly as worthy of lifting up. Yet, there’s no standing ovation for honor and grace, although there really should be. At the end of the day, you can know you’ve done your job well, and served your families with total respect and appreciation because of all who see you doing that, but it’s who we are when no one is watching that I think is worth just as much merit.

I just took a few minutes again this afternoon to vote in The Eagle’s Reader’s Choice Awards 2019 contest. You can vote once a day through tomorrow. I’m proud that Callaway-Jones is in the Top 3 as best funeral home and that two of the Top 3 best funeral directors are ours, as well as one of the Top 3 receptionists in the competition. I may be biased because I work there, but I only work there because many years ago, I was their customer first. And my confidence in them has only become stronger with every day I interact with them.

I do so love “country living” in the middle of Bryan, Texas. I’ve got deer in my front yard looking for supper and a rooster and a hen strutting up and down driveways and parking lots out for a walk. It just doesn’t get any better than this. As we begin to prepare for Memorial Day weekend ahead next weekend, we remember and appreciate all the professionals whose work involves paying respects to those we’ve loved and lost. Their memories, and their love, remain with us forever.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Women-Powered Music Panel Offers Solid Advice in Gracious Spirit of Sharing

California’s Laemmle Monica Theatre in Santa Monica hosted the Fifth Annual Artemis Women in Action Film Festival the weekend of April 26–28. The event honored writers, producers, directors, music composers, arrangers and stuntwomen—whose careers have brought them to recognition long deserved. Festival attendees found inspiration from group and individual mentoring, which flowed from panel discussions after various film premieres.

Paul Feig presents The Artemis Women in Action Film Festival was cofounded five years ago by Melanie Wise and Zac Baldwin and is supported by Board of Directors members Sheena Metal and Heidi Mastrogiovanni, financial advisor Malissa Wise, Marketing/PR director Eric Vollweiler, and Iranian correspondent, Maryann Haddadi.

On Saturday afternoon, award-winning journalist Sheryl Aronson led an accomplished group on the Women-Powered Music Panel, sponsored by Bella Composers, featuring three multifaceted speakers who shared passions for music, each having chosen three distinct paths towards achieving their goals. [Photo (R): L to R: Kaylene Peoples, Sheryl Aronson, Kiki Ebsen, and Starr Parodi.]

The panel included Kaylene Peoples, Founder of Bella Composers and CEO of KL Publishing; Kiki Ebsen, Composer, Recording/Touring Artist, Actor, Writer,and Producer; and, Starr Parodi, Composer, Recording Artist and President of the Alliance for Women Film Composers. The group was moderated by Aronson, who covers music, entertainment and theatre for national audiences in her Agenda Magazine online blog “Arting Around,” and is a feature writer for their print edition.

What was the audience’s common denominator? All came brimming with talent and hope, but no defined understanding of how to reach their next level. When Kaylene Peoples inaugurated the “women-powered music” panel, she chose wise, experienced professionals to inspire the audience. Peoples, Ebsen, Parodi, and Aronson possess an abundance of talent and the willingness to share advice and encouragement.

Sheryl introduced each panelist and asked them to describe their path to their first career success. Delightful stories were shared, with honesty and humor, immediately putting the audience at ease. Each panelist shared how, while searching for their first open door, the resounding thud of silence confronted them once, twice, or more, so they had to keep going, determining not to quit until they’d achieved their first breaks.

Modest, beautiful, and just a tad shy, Starr Parodi lights up when she speaks of the opportunities she’s found on her musical path. An award-winning composer and recording artist, you might have first seen her in the house band on TV’s “The Arsenio Hall Show.” Given millions of people watched that show, they saw Starr nightly—that’s a great place to start!

Ultimately, Parodi became highly respected for her motion picture and television scores. In 2017, Parodi was invited by the New York Times to conduct “To All the Little Girls,” a work she produced at Lincoln Center, another example of her inspiration to future achievers with dreams. Forbes magazine noted Starr had “reinvented the modern action movie trailer” with her production and arrangement of the “James Bond” movie theme. Starr spoke of the importance of having an agent representing your work, depending on your specialty, and how each artist should evaluate and monitor their own progress rather than turn your career future completely over to someone else.

Kiki Ebsen recognized early in life that she and music would be together forever. As early as high school, Ebsen wrote her own music and played with an established band, then started two of her own bands. Kiki found national acclaim early, winning a national collegiate competition. She and her band made it into final rounds on “Star Search” before elimination. Ebsen didn’t quit after the first loss; she began a solo career and eventually recorded and released her first CD.

A few years later Ebsen was performing internationally on stage (or behind the curtain for the band Chicago) as a sideman on keyboards and vocals for Grammy-winning and platinum-selling artists including Al Jarreau, Tracy Chapman, Boz Scaggs, Michael McDonald, and Namie Amuro. Her talents resonated with audiences she found early in her travels.

While touring, Ebsen used breaks to write her own songs and perform them in small venues wherever she was, feeding her own soul as an artist while helping major stars shine. Some of her early compositions were autobiographical; others were fueled by her imagination. Panel members agreed that, at first, you might have to keep the “day job,” but you can always pursue your passions during your free time.

Kiki noted how “important it is to have your own unique voice, to follow your heart, and to not take ‘no’ for an answer.” Writing what you know assures your songs are authentic, which may mean tackling some uncomfortable subjects in exercising and exorcising your feelings. Ebsen says, “There’s a lot of pain in this world, but the arts can lift us up and bring us out, and get us to where we want our lives to be.” Seven solo CDs later, Kiki is excited about her next CD of original songs, saying “It’s hard to decide which ones to record now, and which to save for another time.”

Kaylene Peoples is, first at heart, a musician. With each story she told, you could feel her warrior spirit gently confined inside a dignified beauty as she explained how “no” was a word that was not going to sit well with her, much less any suggestion that a path involving the “me, too” world was going to fly. Rather than sitting bitter on the sidelines waiting for the business to change to adapt to her, Kaylene found a path around the norm.

Creating many of her own opportunities as musician and writer, Peoples built on her early music experiences and persevered, and almost like magic, doors kept opening. Ultimately, she became an accomplished musician, songwriter, arranger, composer, and publisher. And she’s not finished. Peoples never forgot the feelings of doubt and the need for affirmation that she had early on her journey. She could only look to herself then, and progressed forward, one step at a time. Heads nodded in the audience affirming that the road was long and hard but worth it.

As the audience posed questions about how you get your music heard and your story told, Kaylene encouraged attendees to "stay the course and not give up." Importantly, she patiently guided one talented audience member who almost missed Peoples’ message while listening to her own internal fears of rejection.

Everyone in the audience benefited from the panel’s answers; no one was left behind. Sometimes it’s a kind word, a solid idea, or literally it’s a woman of strength and courage reaching an outstretched hand to another like-minded soul with affirmation, “You can do this; you’re almost there” to drive home a victory.

Sheryl Aronson is author of “Passing Myself Down to the Grave: A Woman’s Rise from Darkness” (KL Publishing Group), released last year. Her story chronicles her personal journey from cancer diagnosis to survivor with powerful emotion. Sheryl strongly believes that more women need to be in the spotlight, especially women composers. Aronson’s journalism goal was to be a published author which, at first, seemed beyond reach. How to get your first assignment? She didn’t know, but she persisted until she found outlets to publish her interviews and profiles with artists who inspired and moved her to write about them. She never gave up.

One of Sheryl’s first interviews was prodigy Terri Lyne Carrington before Carrington’s career took off. It just seemed to springboard from there. Aronson emphasized her ability to say “yes” to an assignment, even when initially she lacked the required background. Sheryl quickly learned from an accomplished sound man, Bryan Bell, who gave her a brief master class in sound gear, as he patiently and clearly taught her technical details so she could finish her story.

Panel attendees were enthralled, inspired, excited, and encouraged to continue their journey toward their next accomplishment. With each question the audience was revealed to be an exceptional group of achievers with great potential, as they interacted with the panelists so enthusiastically. One woman had just completed a beautiful CD of healing music, and Kiki pointed out several areas of the healing industry as potential markets. Starr added that the more metadata the woman could tag and furnish in her music compositions submitted to collections and libraries would help. Identifying more potential audiences for her music would move her closer to being picked up when a film or television producer searched for a certain feel or background for their work.

There were some discussions of the impacts of Apple Music, YouTube, individual Web sites and personal social media in impacting and safeguarding an artist’s creative identity. No label deal? Don’t worry. Peoples said, "Not everyone needs a label to succeed when social media is free."

A Midwestern woman posed a question regarding a symphony she’d written. “How could she get PR?” she asked, having never done publicity before. Turns out, with the panel’s encouragement, the audience learned that she was an Artemis award winner with her latest symphony. Kiki noted, “See, you’re an award-winning composer and that title remains with you forever.” The woman was stunned but pleased to hear that said out loud. Even though she had received the distinction, the woman had not yet connected herself as an “award-winning composer.” That’s the beauty of looking at yourself through the eyes of other accomplished artists. They see you as the “best you” possible. When one has attained their own level of excellence, then they can help and serve as a mentor to someone else.

Kaylene, who owns a PR firm, shared, “Everyone needs publicity to get the word out. Whether you have a budget to hire a major firm to create and project your image, or you have to save up to hire a publicist for one project, you need PR.” She also noted, “Many established artists choose PR firms to help reinvent their careers or to rebrand a performer’s image.” For those who have no budget to hire a professional, Peoples recommended searching Amazon for books on PR for beginners.

Another audience member highlighted she had multiple types of music projects and described how she’d created a new name for a duo project, separate from her individual work. Branding, then, was another topic about defining one’s image, keeping elements of information consistent so that, over time, the brand comes to stand for exactly what you want to communicate.

Starr Parodi shared that you can be established in one area, but if there’s another area you want to pursue, you must communicate to others that you’d like to expand what people know you for. Diversity keeps you from being trapped in a single talent area. Parodi’s own career as musician, composer, producer, and arranger appeared to flow smoothly from one area into another, as her interests and options grew. Hearing her share her thoughts, each attendee got the sense that they, too, could flow and grow in their accomplishments.

After the panel ended, Peoples, Parodi, Ebsen, and Aronson offered one-on-one advice and more encouragement to attendees, who clearly didn’t want their time together to end. Kiki noted that the “energy in the room had gone from respectfully quiet to wildly effusive.” It’s always helpful to focus on your dreams inspired by like-minded achievers with a similar mindset and determination to accomplish their goals. Women can champion other women to help preserve their dreams. When you climb the stairs on your pathway to success, when a hand reaches out for you, clasp it tightly in yours and hold on. And when you get where you’re going, reach out your hand to another who needs encouragement. And on it flows.

~~~

For more information on the Artemis Women in Action Film Festival, visit www.artemisfilmfestival.com/

For more on Bella Composers, visit www.bellacomposers.org

For the Alliance for Women Film Composers, https://www.theawfc.com/

Women-Powered Music Panel Members’ Web sites include: www.KaylenePeoples.com, www.KikiEbsen.com, www.StarrParodi.com, and www.SherylAronsonauthor.com.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Aggie Women’s Basketball Team Refuses to Quit in Quest for Sweet 16 Spot

You know that point in the game where you have tried to coach, along with the head coach, what might happen yet to get from a tie game to a championship win? Today, I was dead wrong because I didn’t think there was any way that the natural go-to shooter, Shambria Washington, would have the adrenaline left in her system to find the position and take the shot she did. I’ve never been so happy to be wrong in recent memory. The final score was 78 to 76, Aggies over Marquette, but yet another big victory beyond that was the Aggie WBB team gelling to smooth operating efficiency in the most important game of their season (thus far).

After playing the entire game without a break, just one minute previously, we all saw Sham moving in a labored, exhaustive fashion up and down the court, having played the game of her life already. Marquette was all about expecting Chennedy Carter to go for the money shot, which was all Sham needed to show opponents not to ever put her into the offense equation. She made her third 3-pointer of four attempts to give the Aggies the lead they needed to claim the trip to Chicago that was on the line.

Three hours ago I just stood and stared blankly at the slowly clearing floor of Reed Arena after today’s crowd of 2767 basketball fans. Never in my (mumbles something) years of attending Texas A&M women’s basketball games have I ever witnessed such an exciting, breathtaking and exhausting competition between two really good teams as today. No. 5 seed Marquette had played hard Friday afternoon, March 22, in a surprising defeat of the Rice Owls that, frankly, I didn’t see coming. I had Coach Tina Langley’s team in my bracket to face the Aggies today as I’d been paying attention to Rice’s progress all season, and I also follow Coach Brenda Frese’s Maryland Terrapins team.

Just as exciting as this team’s victory was that it was, truly, for the first time this season, in this writer’s opinion, that the Aggies played like a team that had truly gelled, that finally had all five players focused on team. For 40 minutes, Chennedy Carter, Shambria Washington, Ciera Johnson and N’dea Jones played every minute of the game; Jada Walton substituted for Kayla Wells for one minute and then Kayla came back in with Blair’s info to share. Caylinne Martin came in on a free throw shot to stand guard and rebound. So, for 99% of the game, these five young women guaranteed several outcomes for the appreciative audience who, frankly, didn’t know what to expect.

It used to be a slogan for Aggie men’s basketball, slapped on a t-shirt: “Play smart, play together.” And, for most of this season, the Aggie women have played smart, when it came to what was best for them. Individual records were set and every single week of the season, we'd see a press release of yet another regional or national award that Chennedy Carter had become eligible, or stayed in the running. Each week I ignored them, because what I was seeing on the court, in my highly overly opinionated view, was a team that was fractured between trying to win and making sure the star remained the star for the stat books and records.

Understandably, when other players are not having their best games and are committing errors, at some point in the game, you just have to let whoever is hot and can make the shots take and/or make the shots. But it was very disappointing after one particular game. Kayla Wells had just made the game high score, might have been career high, but no matter. She shot lights out and basically saved our necks to win that game. She was ushered over to talk to the SEC hosts on camera, and the first question Nell Fortner asked her was, “Kayla you played great tonight. Let me ask you, ‘What’s it like to play with Chennedy Carter’?” Nell, NO! to purloin her own catch phrase.

There’s been no greater advocate and friend of Chennedy Carter since last year than Kayla Wells. Journalists and viewers alike saw Kayla’s huge smile fall and she recovered quickly and spoke so highly of her dear friend and teammate. It’s the 2019 version of “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” out there from some journalists, but each of our players deserves their time in the spotlight. Coach Blair corrected that tonight in a major way.

As he needed both hands to hold the microphone, filled with emotion and holding back tears, Blair thanked everyone for their attendance and support of this team, this school, and this sport. He lauded Marquette and said, honestly, that he wasn’t sure who was the better team tonight and that they had fought hard. Blair asked the audience to consider “How about Sham Washington?” and the Jumbotron showed Sham next to Chennedy Carter, each of them dealing with ESPN and other TV journalists on the sidelines. Both young women were smiling, but definitely gratefully sitting down on comfortable chairs because if you’d have asked either of them to stand another moment, surely they could not have.

They were both in overdrive or overload but total exhaustion was the outcome, exhilarated though they were. The score was 70-70 with 4:10 left, part of 11 times the score was tied and 9 lead changes during the game. The audience wanted to collapse, to be sure, but we were between exhilaration and exhaustion. It would be just like that, and more, for the next four minutes for team and the audience to reach the final destination.

Next, Blair asked team captain Ciera Johnson to address the crowd. Showing her leadership and composure, Ciera was gracious, welcoming and showed the poise of a senior, even though she’s not. The final and best “play of the day” came in the post-game press conference. Journalists gathered to ask the individual players about the game, with Coach Blair holding up Shambria’s 3-point shot with 0:22 left in the game as the turning point, as it was.

In her individual remarks, Chennedy Carter was truly gracious, sharing, complimentary of all of her teammates and spoke of them proudly. She knew they had her back and she had theirs. How refreshing that was to see and hear.

When it was Sham’s turn at the mike, one of the journalists asked her (paraphrasing) “How does it feel tonight to have done well when most of the time you play in the shadow of Chennedy Carter?” And Sham just smiled quietly, and said, “I don’t mind being in Chennedy’s shadow,” and more to the effect of “we all play on this team together.” Further, she spoke highly of how Chennedy was an amazing guard on defense tonight and how an early assignment of hers was to guard Chennedy during practice, so it prepared her well for the SEC players and today’s as well.

Chennedy quickly jumped right in with “Sham is NOT playing in my shadow,” noting that she’s got her own play and she’s outstanding and you couldn’t ask for better. Never was I prouder of Chennedy Carter than that remark. First, last and always, these Aggies are a team, for a season and for life. It’s hard to bring together people from all over Texas much less all over the United States and ask for personalities, work styles, and dedication to excellence to all gel in the same fixed set of airspace on a basketball court. You can look to Bob Starkey on defense, Kelly Bond-White on offense, and Amy Wright on point guard play to shine some light where it belongs, along with Gary Blair for keeping the entire battalion marching forward all night long.

Perhaps what more journalists can do to help teams come together is to find a way to focus on all the players on the court, whether their statistics give them cause to be lifted up or not. Unsung heroes are the backbone of this team all day every day, and this includes the unseen practice squad who puts our team through their paces to give them new challenges each day. Even though Caylinne Martin played one play and Jada Walton played for one minute tonight, they were not only ready to come in when needed, they were tearing up the bench standing, cheering, and encouraging their teammates on, and few people ever spot that and lift them up for it.

The dynamic duo of N'dea Jones and Ciera Johnson combined for 25 rebounds and 24 points between them. Every Aggie scored in double figures and each player had assists in this game, more evidence of true team play. Chennedy Carter finished with 30 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 block and 1 steal, Shambria Washington had 13 points, 6 assists, and 1 rebound. Kayla Wells had a key 3-pointer among her 11 points, 3 rebounds, and 1 assist. N'dea Jones had 13 points, 3 assists, 1 block, and 13 rebounds, while Ciera Johnson had 11 points, 12 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 block.

Hats off to Marquette, who played 8 players with only one, the legend in her own right, Natisha Hiedeman, playing all 40 minutes, for which she garnered 18 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, and was a major force in what has to be Marquette's best game of the season. They were well coached, well prepared, and they had a great band, cheerleaders and fan base in attendance, given the distance between schools.

Tomorrow night we’ll find out whether the Aggies face Notre Dame or Michigan State this weekend in Chicago. One thing is for certain: the team riding the charter up north will indeed be the best possible compilation of quality players who are united for a purpose. Reaching the Sweet Sixteen status is something they get to do all day tomorrow between classes, because Coach Blair is giving them the day off, which it will take for them to rest each sore, tired, and hobbled muscle left in their bodies.

Their spirits and hearts are all fresh and ready to go, though, because of true team play. When one wins, they all win, and thus, there’s not the giant hoopla made about this achievement as they deserve, one of these days Texas A&M will be considered a “basketball school” and Aggie women’s basketball will have been the driving force behind that distinction.

As Coach Blair said tonight, if the opponent is Notre Dame, they could have as many as 8,000-9,000 fans on “their side.” May Aggies everywhere and anywhere near Chicagoland get over to Wintrust Arena at McCormick Square. It’s where DePaul plays their home games and they have 10,387 seats available to sit. If you can, let your maroon flag fly high. Best of luck to our truly fightin’ Texas A&M Women’s Basketball team.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

“Recording Academy” Overlooks Peter Tork’s Passing: They Missed the Boat Again

As one of probably thousands of media members on the distribution list for press releases for “all things Grammy,” my inbox has been waiting for about twelve hours now. I’ve been wondering whether “News from the Recording Academy” would land, to let me know what most of America already knows, that a Baby Boomer favorite musician, Peter Tork, passed away today at the age of 77. So far, I’ve received two communiques from that august body known simply as the “Recording Academy,” neither of which referenced Tork.

The first missive arrived at 5:02 CST, “Recording Academy™ Statement RE: Fred Foster. Everyone knows Fred, right? Fred was a good fellow alright, and he had a 60-year career as a “famed producer, songwriter, and music business executive” who is credited with the “...launch of many iconic artists into the spotlight, including Kris Kristofferson, Dolly Parton, and Roy Orbison.” The release continues: “Fred will be deeply missed by many, but remembered as a pioneer within our industry. Our thoughts are with his loved ones during this difficult time.” Signed by (good ol’) Neil Portnow, President/CEO Recording Academy.

My thoughts at 5:02pm ran something akin to “Hey Neil, Peter Tork died today. Anyone run down the hall to tell you?” I must confess I pictured the former head of Casablanca Records with a cartoon balloon over his head with the caption: “Unless someone brings me something to sign, I don’t have anything left to do today.” Again, I’m miffed, and my emotions could possibly be guiding my dispirited thoughts.

But wait, there’s more! At 6:18 pm CST, there was a new e-mail in my inbox from the “Recording Academy” alright, but this time it was a “Recording Academy™ Statement RE: Dominick Argento.”

Naturally, he’s an important figure in classical music with unquestioned contributions to the music industry—no disrespect there. However, I learned only today that “Dominick was a GRAMMY® and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer recognized for creating musical masterpieces inspired by the literary works of renowned writers such as Charles Dickens, Edgar Allen Poe, and Virginia Woolf…In 2003 he was honored with the Best Classical Contemporary Composition GRAMMY for ‘Argento: Casa Guidi at the 46th Annual GRAMMY Awards®.”

Here’s the thing. Fred Foster and Dominick Argento are most deserving of recognition and remembrance in their fields, unquestionably so. But the point is that Peter Tork also deserves a statement from the Recording Academy®.

To be sure, the individuals in the made-by-TV-for-Baby Boomers group, The Monkees, may arguably not top your list of favorite singers, musicians, and none of them were (at that point, save Mike Nesmith) considered composers, at least initially. They were actors who brought personalities on paper to real-life pop music fun, the remembrance of which has endured for six decades now. The popularity of The Monkees, however, and the death of Peter Tork has spread across social media today. The notice of his passing made a real impact. The Monkees’ vocals were unique at the least and considered the very best, especially if you were an impressionable teenage girl who read “Tiger Beat,” “16 Magazine” and similar publications among those that advertised Dippity Do, Noxema, and Breck and Prell shampoos. Let’s face it, in the summers of love that were the 1960s, the eyes heard what they wanted to hear.

The Monkees, created in the clever mind of Don Kirshner, were manufactured to meet the need that Kirshner was visionary enough to see—four “zany” guys who could capture the hearts of teenage girls sufficient for them to buy their albums. Estimates are that The Monkees sold over 75,000,000 records. Their first label, of course, was Colgems, because of Don Kirshner’s relationship as director of Screen Gems’ Music Division as he’d sold his Aldon Music to Screen Gems-Columbia Music. (Those interested in the definitive book on Don Kirshner should check out Rich Podolsky’s “The Man with the Golden Ear.”)

And, cards on the table, those in the know realize exactly who it was in the studios and on their instruments, and whose voices were augmented now and again, same as virtually 90% of every other 1960s pop band in the country—manufactured for consumption. Also, as virtually everyone knows, without The Wrecking Crew, virtually every single album pressed in California for at least a decade of pop-rock would not be the hitmakers they were for the performers whose photos were all over the album covers and teen magazines.

To be fair, the musicians portraying The Monkees on TV, without much time to learn their instruments and practice together certainly did a terrific job of coming together sufficiently to perform their hits for audiences’ delight and 100% satisfaction. You could estimate that millions of approving fans who respect and regard Peter Tork have seen him over the decades, whether in the first go-round of The Monkees, or his own band, Shoe Suede Blues, or since 2012, the various configurations of Dolenz-Nesmith-Tork as whomever could work their schedules around appearing together for tours of varying lengths. Micky Dolenz, of course, was a popular regular in the “Happy Together” reunion tours, currently enjoying their 10th anniversary season.

Those at the “Recording Academy” who overlook the contribution made by Peter Tork by not noting his passing today along with two others who died have missed the boat…again.

The most recent example of missing the boat before this was their failure to include the 2016 passing of songwriter/musician/recording artist, Rob Meurer in their 2017 ‘In Memoriam’ segment, in print and on the GRAMMY® telecast. It’s like the lyricist to cowrite nearly 50 songs with Christopher Cross wasn’t important enough. I’ve stated my opinion on that topic before. But here today, the “Recording Academy” has done it again. As we say in Texas, “Y’all goofed up.”

Anyone who’s slogged through the GRAMMY® telecast the past few years has been dragged through the sea of banality and boredom that comes with pyrotechnics, yelling, and a few performers pretending they deserve to be on stage, attempting to add to the case for why various musicians are deserving of adulation, even if they’re 100% autotune and Brylcreem. Your mileage may vary. Some acts (can’t bring myself to call them musicians) you simply cannot unsee.

One might argue that The Monkees were not (originally) accomplished musicians, though Peter Tork played keyboard, guitar and banjo, but very quickly they became a genuine musical group. Their music is still in demand in concert today. So are the performances of their contemporaries, the pop-rock veterans. For example, the latest Concerts at Sea cruise currently sailing has The Buckinghams, Paul Revere’s Raiders, Joey Molland’s Badfinger, 1910 Fruitgum Company, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Peter Rivera (original singer/Rare Earth), and Danny & the Juniors.

Their genre is still wildly popular as the same group that includes The Monkees. The upcoming Flower Power Cruise is similarly packed with 60s acts who have lodged themselves well into the hearts and minds of Baby Boomers who can afford a week or two away from the office to have the opportunity to meet favorite musicians from their teenage years. It’s not just floating concerts—these artists still fill arenas, theatres, state fairs, and perform individually and in package shows.

Of Tork’s passing, fellow Monkee, Micky Dolenz (@TheMickyDolenz1), said, “There are no words right now…heart broken over the loss of my Monkee brother, Peter Tork.” Rolling Stone (@RollingStone) magazine tweeted Monkee Michael Nesmith’s words, ”I can only pray his songs reach the heights that can lift us and that our childhood lives forever—that special sparkle that was the Monkees.” Iconic songwriter Brian Wilson (@BrianWilsonLife) tweeted, “There are no words right now…heart broken over the loss of my Monkee brother, Peter Tork. #paperwork #Themonkees.”

Actor Mark Hamill (@HamillHimself) tweeted, “So sorry to hear we lost #PeterTork. The Monkees never got the respect they deserved. Their music catalogue remains one of the richest in Pop History. Thanks for being such a big part of my childhood & beyond, Pete. #RIPPeterTork”.

It would be my hope that, given the number of people who’ve posted their photos of, or with, Peter Tork on Facebook today, they’d all appreciate the “Recording Academy” doing the decent thing. Well, I guess, if Neil has a few spare minutes tomorrow, he can do the right thing. I'll be right here watching my inbox.