Category Archives: Music Musings

I know this is mainly a political blog, but I love to write about music too. This wouldn’t be my blog if I didn’t.

Music Musings: Glowing- Nikki Williams

The first thing anyone needs to know about the music business… for every “star” out there, there are a hundred people just as dedicated, just as hard-working and just as talented waiting for their shot. The names we know are people that were all of those things, and lucky enough to have their “big break” pay off. Many times the superstars-in-waiting get their big break not from storming into a record exec’s office, but from being a songwriter, background singer or both. It can be a long road for some.

Thankfully for South- African singer- songwriter Nikki Williams, she’s right on the cusp of taking the music scene by storm. After co-writing Demi Lovato’s smash hit Heart Attack, Nikki is now getting noticed on her own. Her album is yet to be released, but expected to come out in late summer. The second single from that anticipated album, Glowing, is a massive dance force with an incessant house beat and titanium-strong vocals. It’s a summer jam that’s not to be missed. Check it out…

Music Musings: Celebrating 40 years of Chaka Khan

As a musician and singer, I can tell you that there are actually a lot of good “voices” out there. So many people really can sing and perform. But one measure that separates the good from the great? Longevity. Some artists have been able to stay relevant through the very short attention span that is today’s music and entertainment industry.

I’m not sure how she’s done it, but Chaka Khan is the epitome of a music Superstar. 2013 celebrates her 40th year as a world-wide musical icon. Starting as a soul-force of the 70s black power movement with her band Rufus, Chaka Khan went on to become one of the most prominent artists of the disco era with songs like I’m Every Woman. Then at a time when many artists were rejected in the “Disco Sucks” era of the 80s, Chaka jumped to super-stardom with hits like I Feel for You and Through the Fire. And to think that today after 40 years in the business, she’s still sounding as good today as she ever did? That’s the mark of a true legend. 

UPDATE: Ms. Khan is also a legend even outside of the music world. She’s never been one to shy away from some of our nation’s toughest issues. Just today (July 27th), Khan sang for the Rainbow Push Coalition’s forum to combat gun violence in Chicago, just one day before her 40th anniversary concert in Millennium Park. She, like fellow music legend Stevie Wonder, has cancelled all upcoming performances in the Florida to protest the state’s Stand Your Ground law. 

Music Musings: Sebastien De La Cruz’s National Anthem

As a singer, I can confess that it’s an honor to sing the National Anthem at any public event. But imagine having to get up and sing on camera, at the NBA Finals in front of Tens of Millions of viewers? The pressure of that situation is enough most adult professional singers, much less anyone born in the 21st century. But 11 year-old Sebastien De La Cruz not only sang the song, he did it about as well as anyone has ever heard… twice in one week. No wonder he’s been given the name El Charro de Oro.

Despite some idiotic racist tweets after his first, little Sebastien was asked back by the Spurs to again take the international spotlight, and once again he gave the crowd a slam dunk.

For those that see fit to pick on an 11-yr old is disgraceful. But here’s the missing part of the story… the hatred is simply a cover-up for fear. Kids like Sebastien are the new face of America, as we become a more diverse, less Anglo nation. Hopefully the hate will die away, and more people can learn to accept, even embrace the changing US population. Either way, it’s going to happen. As for Sebastien’s response to all the hateful tweets??

Another slam dunk. I’ll be looking for more from this talented young Texan!!

Music Musings- Vetrate di Chiesa by Ottorino Respighi

I wanted to start something new for the blog… A discussion and promotion of music that I enjoy. And it doesn’t always have to have a direct political connection.  

But the first in the series kinda does? I’ll let you be the judge of that.

Upon hearing the news that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has picked State AG Jeffrey Chiesa to be the Interim United States Senator, one of my favorite musical works flooded the old noggin. BTW congratulations Garden Staters, you’ve got a Republican in the Senate… at least for a brief period. 
Vetrate di Chiesa (Church Windows) is an orchestral suite by Italian Composer Ottorino Respighi. He’s perhaps best known for his other orchestral work, the Pines of Rome. But this piece from 1926 is every bit at as exciting as his other works, or anything else in the era of Neo-Classicism. In fact, many would separate his work aside from the Neo-Classicist composers (Stravinsky, Satie, Hindemith) because of his careful study of older composers like Vivaldi and Marcello. It’s an on-going debate among Musicologists.

The second movement, Saint Michael the Archangel, is a particular favorite with its huge wind and string flourishes over a relentless brass phalanx. The sense of visual imagery created (you literally see the stirring of a thunder storm from the sounds) remind us just how masterful Repsighi’s orchestration abilities were. And this piece was in fact orchestrated, as it was originally based off of a piano etude he had composed years before in 1919. 

One more interesting fact… though Respighi himself was born in 1879 and died in 1936, his wife Elsa lived until 1996, reaching the tender age of 102. She was a tireless champion of the composer’s work.

Well anyway, check it out, and let me know what you think in the comments!!

Star-Spangled Scandal or Legacy? Beyonce and “Anthem Gate”

Ok, Full disclosure…

I am most certainly a fan of politics, and something of a citizen blogger. But above even these noble exploits, my first love is music. I am a singer. Throughout the years I’ve performed various styles of music, from classical and jazz, to gospel and pop. I’ve had the privlege of getting to also learn about different aspects of the music industry as well. Though I have certainly never attained celebrity status, or risen to the level of music mogul like Beyoncé or Jay-Z, I do know a thing or two about music, and stage performance.

Here’s me and my friend, American Idol quarter-finalist Wendy Taylor, singing a duet version of the song “Gravity” by Sara Bareilles…

This is one of my favorite songs, and considering that I got to work with a super-talented artist like Ms. Taylor, it turned out being one of my favorite videos to shoot as well. On the recording, you hear us singing. On the video you “see” us singing. But we’re not doing both at the same time. This video, like most music videos you’ll ever see, shows the artists lip-syncing. It’s industry standard now to never sing live while one is on film, especially if you’re trying to save that particular footage for re-use (to be played on MTV), or for posterity. As you can tell, I’m TERRIBLE at lip-syncing!! But I’m very glad for how the video turned out.

I share all of this because of the fascinating debates that we’ve had this week over lip-syncing. After Beyoncé’s performance at Monday’s 57th Inauguration, there have been no shortage of opinions on whether or not she lip-synced. Initially, everyone thought it was great. Commentators were left speechless about how beautiful and graceful the diva looked, and what a magnificent, and appropriate arrangement of the Star Spangled Banner she delivered. That was the news about Beyoncé before allegations of lip-syncing broke out.

The one question I have for everyone… are any of those comments no longer true? She DID look beautiful. She DID sing the Anthem. It WAS a great arrangement, and it WAS very appropriate for the occasion. Watching on that day, many people moved by it. The only question that could possibly remain… did Mrs. Knowles-Carter sing our Nation’s Anthem in real time?

The answer is… it doesn’t matter. Yes, Beyoncé is a singer, but she is also a major force in American popular culture. Out of 315 million citizens in the United States of America, President Barack Obama asked her to be the one and only American to step into recorded history, and deliver our nation’s National Anthem on January 21st, 2013. She was THE person to deliiver that Anthem to over 1 million pepople on the national mall, and now Billions of people that have watched it in the hours and days following. Pre-recording or not, that is what happened at the Inauguration.

Long after Mrs. Knowles-Carter, myself or anyone else reading this blog can utter even a sound from our voice box… long after the full history of Obama’s second-term Presidency is just notes on a page and files in a 22nd, 23rd or 24th Century version of Cloud data, and long after any sort of controversy over whether she lip-synced or not is a barely readable footnote, the Anthem heard that day will still stand, and the video of who sang it will too.

So before you judge the singer in the heat of the moment, take a second to go back and listen to that version of our National Anthem. If you listen closely, you can hear not only Beyoncé’s voice, but the immense care that she took to make every note and every sound just perfect. You can hear the full weight of responsibility that she felt preparing for one of our nation’s most public moments of time. You can hear her sheer patriotism, love for this country, and respect for our nation’s President in that recording. Maybe Beyoncé played it safe that day. But she still played it well.

There you go folks… history.

Mariah Carey, Jimmy Fallon and The Roots take us to SCHOOL

Now this is a clip that every elementary music teacher can be proud of. Jimmy Fallon teams up with The Roots and THE Mariah Carey to do a live cut of her Christmas classic All I Want For Christmas Is You. The video is cute and instantly infectous… obviously the kids at the bottom of the screen popping in and out of the shot was all I needed to turn my frown upside down.

And cute may have been all that they were going for here. But even if unintentional, this video serves as a powerful reminder of where our music and arts education actually begins. It starts in a classroom with recorders and Fischer Price Xylophones. It starts with dedicated teachers that give of their time and energy to invest in our nation’s children. How beautiful of these international superstars to join forces and remind us… everyone has to start somewhere. Somebody invested in those music teachers through tax dollars, and in turn the teachers invested in little Mariah, little Jimmy and Lil’ Questlove. If not for that, the world may never have encountered their immense gifts of music and entertainment. As federal, state and local governments continue to posture and postulate over what is “important” to fix the nation’s fiscal issues, maybe they will also stumble upon this video, and be reminded… what good is saving the country, if we have nothing of value left to save?

Sheesh! Maybe that was too political. I think I better watch this again!!

The Only Way is UP

So far 2012 has proven to be a tough year for the US, both economically and politically. Sometimes it feels like we just get lost in the shuffle… especially those who don’t have Billionaires or campaign machines to speak for them.

But on this Recall Day for Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, we are finally reminded that Democracy can’t be killed. All the rights that people have fought so hard for are still alive. Even if the efforts of the Recall are unsuccessful, the citizens of Wisconsin still made their voices heard, and stood up to the forces that are constantly trying to drown them out.

Wisconsin, we’ve heard you, and we’re responding to the call. My hope is that we’re finally beginning to awake the sleeping giant of Democracy, and we will soon tell the Washington oligarchy that enough is enough.

Seeing the long lines to the voting booths, I’m inspired by one of my favorite songs by British phenoms James Morrison and Jessie J…

It’s never too late to turn it back around, yeah I know you can!

Don’t bury your demons deep in the ground.

When it all falls down, the only way is up.

For Wisconsin voters, and for everyone else, the only Way is UP.