Eartha Kitt Dies of Colon Cancer at 81

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eartha-kittFor years we can admire the work of a particular actor or actress and never really take the time to learn anything about them until they are gone. Eartha Kitt was one of the greats. I remember her playing Catwoman in Batman; her role as the too-hot-to-handle Lady Eloise in Boomerang, and of course, one of my favorite Christmas songs, Santa Baby. But today, I found out a few other things about her that I never bothered to look up before. For example, I didn’t know that she was the product of rape and an abused child. Orson Welles was one of her suitors when she was younger and called her the “most exciting woman in the world.”

According to the entry on Wikipedia:

Kitt was born Eartha Mae Keith on a cotton plantation in the tiny town of North, South Carolina. She had stated that her mother was of Cherokee and African-American descent, and her father, German and Dutch descent. She claimed she was conceived of rape.[4] Kitt was raised by Anna Mae Riley, a black woman whom she believed to be her mother, but after Riley’s death, she was sent to live in New York City with Mamie Kitt, reportedly Riley’s sister. Eartha Kitt believed that Mamie Kitt was her biological mother; she had no knowledge of her father’s identity, except that his surname was Kitt and that he was the son of the owner of the plantation on which she had been born. Kitt suffered terrible abuse and neglect at the hands of a family to whom Anna Mae Riley entrusted her, or “given away for slavery” as Kitt described in many interviews.

She was very outspoken and it caused trouble in her career. According to NYTimes:

But she took the steeliness with her, in a willful, outspoken manner that mostly served her career, except once. In 1968 she was invited to a White House luncheon and was asked by Lady Bird Johnson about the Vietnam War. She replied: “You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed. No wonder the kids rebel and take pot.” The remark reportedly caused Mrs. Johnson to burst into tears and led to the only derailment in Ms. Kitt’s career. (Ms. Kitt claimed that the C.I.A. drafted a negative memo that referred to her as a nymphomaniac.)

As bookings dried up she was exiled to Europe for almost a decade. But President Jimmy Carter invited her back to the White House, and she earned her first Tony nomination for her work in “Timbuktu!,” an all-black remake of “Kismet,” in 1978.

Twenty years after that incident with Lady Bird Johnson, in an interview with Essence magazine, Kitt  said, “The thing that hurts, that became anger, was when I realized that if you tell the truth—in a country that says you’re entitled to tell the truth—you get your face slapped and you get put out of work,” Kitt told Essence magazine two decades later. [Huffington Post]

As Lady Eloise in the movie Boomerang, 1992

As Catwoman in the television series Batman, 1967 & 1968

C’est Si Bon—Live Kaskad, 1962

I Want To Be Evil—Live Kaskad, 1962

Santa Baby, 1953

Sources: cnn.com, nytimes.com, The Huffington Post, Wikipedia

Who is Peter Schiff and Why Did Everyone Try to Shut Him Up?

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The other day, I came across this video. It is a complication of clips from different financial news channels—beginning in 2006. From time into 2007, Mr. Schiff was saying that a “financial storm” was brewing and that sub-prime mortgages were going to present a big problem. Every time he said that, other guests on the show called him crazy. This made me wonder, why did he see the signs and no one else did? Check out the video and see for yourself.

Tina Turner Rocked the Prudential Center in Newark

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I’ve been a fan of Tina Turner’s for a long time, but have never had an opportunity to see her perform live until now. And the opportunity came as quite a surprise to me. I got to the office on Wednesday morning and found a FedEx package on my desk. At first I thought it was one of those cleaver promo pieces that artists and photographers use to try and get hired, until I looked closer. They turned out to be real tickets to see Tina at the the Prudential Center in Newark on Thanksgiving night—mezzanine level, first row, stage left. It turned out to be a good seat.

I was able to find some videos on YouTube.com that were taken the night I was there. So if you click on the links that are song titles, you will get the actual performance from Thanksgiving or the night before. But be warned, the quality is not that great. There are clips at the end.

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Tina Turner definitely rocked “The Rock” (the nickname for the Prudential Center). To say the least, the show was exciting and high-energy all the way. It was really special being once I found out it was her 50th Anniversary Tour. Each time something exciting happened, I would use my BlackBerry and “tweet” updates to my friends who use Twitter. The show opened with “Steamy Windows” and just got hotter from there. At one point during the show, Tina left the stage. The band was still playing and a guy seemed to jump on the stage from the audience. A security guard chased him around the stage while the band played on. Once the stage jumper began doing acrobatic moves we realized it was all a part of the show. They were “special guest” called The Ninjas. There were two other “fight” scenes when it was time for costume changes. Tina performed for two hours, with a thirty-minute intermission in between each hour. Right before intermission the stage exploded with pyrotechnics and fireworks. The place was literally smoking.

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After intermission, there was an acoustic type set with several bluesy numbers that started with “Help.” The large screens projected in black and white, which was a nice added touch. Next came one of my favorites, her cover of “Let’s Stay Together.” The song was sweet! The backup singers were killing it on that song.

Speaking of backup singers, one of them was Lisa Fischer. She is known as the long-time backup singer for Luther Vandross. She also won a Grammy for her single, “How Can I Ease the Pain.” Lisa and I graduated from high school together—the class of 1976, Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art in NYC. She was a vocal major, of course, and I was an art major. It’s been a few years since I’ve spoken to her so it was a pleasant surprise seeing her on stage and hearing that incredible voice of hers. She got a little of the spotlight with “Only Rock and Roll.”

Lisa Fischer on the left page second from the top. Aside from touring with Tina, she has also been a part of the Rolling Stones' tours.

Lisa Fischer on the left page second from the top. Aside from touring with Tina, she has also been a part of the Rolling Stones' tours.

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It’s hard to select a highlight of the show—there were so many high points. But I guess the main highlight has to been during the “encore” segment when Tina sings “Nutbush City Limits.” She gets on this mechanical arm that has a long catwalk and a “basket” like platform at the end. The arm swings out over the audience and Tina hangs over the edge of the basket doing a call and repeat with the audience answering with “Nutbush, Nutbush city limits…”  The catwalk section has no rails and is about three-feet in width, but Tina runs, struts and dances along that thing like there’s nothing to it. I was nervous for her, but obviously she is used to it. Watching her dance along that thing was definitely a highlight for the audience.

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I found out that for the previous night’s show, Beyoncé and Jay-Z showed up backstage to wish Tina a happy 69th birthday. That night, after the intermission, she dedicated one of the songs to them.

Since I didn’t take my camera, all these images are photos I took of the souvenir program. They are much better than any photos I could have taken from my seat in the mezzanine section.

I searched to YouTube for some clips from this current tour. It seems quite a few concert-goers used their camera phones or just wiped out camcorders. Though they are from different venues, the shows are basically the same. Hopefully, this gave you a taste of the Tina Turner experience.

It was simply the best!

Genius

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If you have iTunes and have not tried the “Genius” feature yet, you are missing out on a musical treat. I’ve been working at my computer and jamming for over an hour. I happen to have over 3,000 songs loaded on my iTunes/iPod. Some of the songs haven’t played since 2004. The Genius feature of iTunes does an awesome job of creating a playlist of similar music—often pulling in stuff you haven’t heard in years. And the other great thing is that you can save the playlist for future use—when you sync your iPod that playlist will be loaded also. It is so simple and so cool to use.

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To get started, all you do is:

  1. First, you have to upgrade to iTunes 8. Once it is installed you have to “update” Genius so that it can gather information about your music collection.
  2. Select a song from your iTunes library.
  3. Click the Genius bottom at the bottom of the iTunes window.
  4. iTunes will now give you a list of related or similar music. You will have to “train” Genius about the music that is in your collection for it function correctly. If you purchase new releases, it may take a little time for Genius to recognize the new releases.
  5. You can limit your play list to 25, 50, 75 or 100 songs.
  6. Based on what in your collect, iTunes will recommend other songs that you can purchase at the iTunes Store (of course there was ulterior motive—to get you to purchase more music).

It’s that simple and easy.

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Genius is simple and easy to use.

You can customize the length of your playlist.

You can customize the length of your playlist.

Genius will recommend music you that might be missing from your collection.

Genius will recommend music that might be missing from your collection.

No Tina Fey, But Justin and Beyonce Were There

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All week I wondered, “Now that the election is over what will SNL do for fun?” How about Justin as one of the leotard dancers in Beyonce’s video, “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)?”

I missed the beginning of the show, but when I turned the channel to SNL, this is the skit that was in progress. I admit, it cracked me up, but there was something really freaky about those guys in dancing around in leotards and heels. And Justin… I’ll let you watch it.

Here’s the real video in case you haven’t seen it or can’t get enough of “B”…

60 Minutes with President Elect Barack Obama

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President-Elect Barack Obama, along with his wife Michelle, sat down with 60 Minutes for his first interview since winning the election. I just happened to notice the buzz about it on Twitter, otherwise I would have missed it.

Some may consider it fluff, but I thought it was a good chance to see them after the campaigning is done. They seemed relaxed there are touches of humor.

I was able to find parts of it in case you missed it. The color is a bit odd, but it’s the video I found.

UPDATE: If the video is no longer available on You Tube, you can view it on CBSNews.com.

Wow, It’s a New Day

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Will.i.am is at it again. I’m sure you remember his “Yes We Can” video that became a “viral” sensation. Well, he is back with “It’s a New Day.” I still get chills thinking about Election night and it’s simply amazing how emotional people have been—myself included. It’s a turning point in American history. But I’ll comment more on my reflections later. In the meantime, enjoy the video—it’ll put a smile on your face.

The Audacity of Hope in Pictures

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Some of you may know that I’m a photographer. It is my great passion. There is no better why to capture history and to tell a story than with a camera.

Recently I was sent a link to a photographers website that that I consider to be one of the best examples for photojournalism. The photographer is Scout Tufankjian. She is a Brooklyn-based photographer who is considered the official photographer for the Barack Obama campaign. Because of her access, she has been able to capture the full scope of Obama on the campaign trail.

As Election Day nears, I wanted to share these inspiring images. On the left hand side of the home page is the navigation to the various portfolios. If you want to know why people are excited about Barack Obama, click the link for “Obama Supporters” at the bottom of the list.

The haters and naysayers think it’s the “Kool-Aid.” But it is really about common sense, hope for a positive future and a “united” United States of America (all inclusive of regardless of our viewpoints). I much prefer a leader that is positive and motivating than someone who operates using fear.

So, enjoy the work of Scout Tufankjian and don’t forget to vote on Tuesday, Nov 4. Oh, and make my Kool-Aid grape.