By Bill Vaughan
The life and spirit of legendary gospel queen and civil rights trailblazer Mahalia Jackson is beautifully captured by Tony Award nominee, SAG and Grammy Award winning actress Danielle Brooks in Lifetime’s highly anticipated biopic “Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia” premiering April 3 at 8 p.m.
Who knew that the woman who portrayed Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson on “Orange Is the New Black” had these pipes? Apparently, the film’s director, Tony Award-winner Kenny Leon, who suggested Brooks for the role after working with her in New York’s Public Theater production of William Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.” Good call!
Born in New Orleans, Jackson began singing at an early age and despite criticism of her style being “a discredit to the Negro race,” she went on to become one of the most revered figures in U.S. history, melding her music with the civil rights movement.
Her recording of the song “Move on Up a Little Higher” sold millions of copies, skyrocketing her to international fame and gave her the opportunity to perform at diverse settings including in front of a racially integrated audience at the prestigious Carnegie Hall and at John F. Kennedy‘s inaugural ball.
An active supporter of the civil rights movement, Jackson sang at numerous rallies, including the March on Washington in 1963 alongside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., in hopes that her music would encourage and inspire racial equality.
An impressive supporting cast includes Tony nominee Joaquina Kalukango (“Slave Play”) as Mildred, Mahalia’s talented and opinionated, long-time pianist; Olivia Washington (“The Butler”) as Estelle, a piano teacher Mahalia meets at church who goes on to become her life-long friend; and Jason Dirden, usually portraying scoundrels in TV series such as “Greenleaf” and “American Soul,” refreshingly going against type as Russell Roberts, the dashing, music-loving reverend who falls for Mahalia when they first meet in the late 1940s.
A disclaimer at the film’s end announces that it was made without the cooperation of Mahalia Jackson’s estate. That appears to have been reserved for another movie to star Jill Scott with Queen Latifah and Jamie Foxx as producers.
In the meantime, do yourself a favor and be sure to catch this worthy tribute to a true giant of song and praise.
GOLDEN: PBS viewers were captivated last month with their fundraising special featuring legendary Soul-Funk-R&B band Tower of Power. Now, that star-studded homecoming concert is available as a 3-LP set, a 2-CD/DVD combo, a standalone DVD via Artistry Music/Mack Avenue, as well as digitally (on Qobuz).
“50 Years of Funk & Soul: Live at the Fox Theater – Oakland, CA June 2018” was recorded live over two concerts with a string section and some elite ToP alumni invited by bandleader and saxophonist Emilio Castillo, including saxophonist Lenny Pickett (musical director of the Saturday Night Live band); keyboardist Chester Thompson (Santana); guitarist Bruce Conte and former vocalist Ray Greene.
They join the renowned modern line-up of the band, featuring co-founder Stephen “Doc” Kupka on baritone sax, longtime drummer David Garibaldi and lead vocalist Marcus Scott. Adding a bittersweet tinge is the presence of founding bassist Francis “Rocco” Prestia, who died last September.
The setlist spans the group’s history, from classic hits “You’re Still a Young Man,” “So Very Hard to Go,” “What is Hip?” and “Don’t Change Horses” to newly minted favorites from recent albums “Soul Side of Town” and “Step Up.”
Despite the band’s long and storied history, Castillo has no plans for retirement.
“B.B. King is my role model,” he says. “He just kept on playing to the bitter end. No matter how B.B. was feeling on the bus, he’d step on stage, the lights would go on and he’d come to life. I’ve always said that’s who I want to be. My plan is to continue working and spreading the good news of Tower of Power.”
CLIPPETTES: Afro-beat legend Femi Kuti performs from Lagos’ New Afrika Shrine followed by a live Q&A on April 2. Get tickets at plus.bandsintown.com …
Also that day, California African American Museum presents author Anthea Butler (“White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America”) in discussion with Wake Forest University professor Melissa Harris-Perry. RSVP for Zoom details at caamuseum.org …
One hundred years ago, the Los Angeles Philharmonic played for an Easter sunrise service, marking the first concert at the Hollywood Bowl. The tradition continues April 4 at 6 a.m. as Gustavo Dudamel and the LA Phil celebrates this anniversary with gospel duo Mary Mary. Attend virtually at soundstage.laphil.com or YouTube app/Facebook Watch …
Then at 5 p.m., get ready to be entertained by the music of two of the greatest soul groups of all time via Verzuz as The Isley Brothers put up their hits against Earth, Wind & Fire! View the battle at instagram.com/verzuztv/, Triller or AppleTV …
Wynton Marsalis, Dr. Cornel West, Jason Moran, Bobby Sanabria, Ron Carter and more are set for The Louis Armstrong International Continuum, a free virtual symposium and concert on April 8 and 9. Guests must register at www.armstrongcontinuum.eventbrite.com …
SISTER ACT: Debbie Allen and Phylicia Rashad unite to star in the Spotlight on Plays production of Pearl Cleage’s “Angry Raucous and Shamelessly Gorgeous.” The virtual event begins April 8 with on demand playback available through April 11 at stellartickets.com. All proceeds benefit The Actor’s Fund.
TC ON TV: April 2 – “Concrete Cowboys” (Netflix): Idris Elba and Caleb McLaughlin (“Stranger Things”) star in this coming-of-age drama with Lorraine Toussaint, Jharrel Jerome and Cliff “Method Man” Smith. “Moment of Truth” (IMDb TV): The five-part series tells the never-before-seen story behind the 1983 murder of James Jordan, father of NBA superstar Michael Jordan. “Ready To Love” (OWN): “Nephew” Tommy Miles returns to Houston to hook up more singles. “Behind Every Man” (OWN): Faith Evans “The Graham Norton Show” (BBCA): Cush Jumbo (“The Good Fight”) and singer Laura Mvula
April 3 – “Saturday Night Live” (NBC): Oscar nominee Daniel Kaluuya (“Judas and the Black Messiah”) hosts with musical guest St. Vincent.
April 4 – “Stellar Music of Hope Easter Special” (UP): Hosted by Jekalyn Carr and Tauren Wells with performances by Yolanda Adams, Donnie McClurkin, Marvin Sapp, Karen Clark Sheard, JJ Hairston, Kierra Sheard, Cece Winans and more. “Color of Love” (Lifetime): Inspired by a true story, Deborah Joy Winans stars as an African-American widow with two kids who provides a foster home for a troubled white brother and sister. “Malika The Lion Queen” (Fox): Angela Bassett narrates this all-new wildlife special following a powerful pride in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. “Screen Actors Guild Awards” (TBS/TNT): Sterling K. Brown, Common, Viola Davis, Daveed Diggs, Cynthia Erivo, Riz Ahmed, Henry Golding, Ethan Hawke, Mindy Kaling and Rita Moreno are some of the stars involved. “Unsung” (TV1): Hezekiah Walker
April 5 – “Family Reunion” (Netflix): A third season of the wholesome family sitcom with Loretta Devine, Tia Mowry, Anthony Alabi and Richard Roundtree which earned an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Children’s Program. “Running Wild with Bear Grylls” (NGC): “Terry Crews in the Icelandic Highlands”
April 6 – “Nick Cannon Presents: Wild ‘N Out” (VH1): Returns with back-to-back episodes featuring Lost Boyz, Fatboy SSE, Trinidad James and Bic Compton. “Soul of a Nation” (ABC): “Reconstruction”
April 7 – “Kung Fu” (CW): Hanelle Culpepper, winner of a NAACP Image Award as the first woman of color to launch a “Star Trek” franchise, directs this premiere episode rebooting the 70s TV western in a modern setting with a female lead (Olivia Liang). “Exterminate All The Brutes” (HBO): Filmmaker Raoul Peck (“I Am Not Your Negro”) digs deep into the exploitative and genocidal aspects of European colonialism — from America to Africa. “Queen of the South” (USA): The saga of drug trafficker Teresa Mendoza (Alice Braga) gets a 10-episode fifth and final season. “Snowfall” (FX): This episode is written by famed novelist Walter Mosley (“Devil In A Blue Dress”) with Tyger Williams.
April 8 – “Chef Boot Camp” (Food): Global restaurant brand culinary director Cliff Crooks puts a trio of underperforming chefs through grueling challenges to test their real-world culinary skills with their jobs on the line.
WISE WORDS: “This disease is beatable if you catch it in its early stages, so you don’t have any time to waste even if you have no family history and even if you think nothing is wrong. And if you are younger than 45, please be proactive about your health. Know the signs, know the science, listen to your body. If you need more information and for a full list of colon cancer symptoms you can visit standuptocancer.org/coloncancersymptoms. Please, you are so needed, and you are so loved. Please take your health into your own hands. Thank you.” – TAYLOR SIMONE LEDWARD BOSEMAN upon tearfully accepting her late husband Chadwick Boseman’s NAACP Image Award for his role in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
As featured in the Los Angeles Wave and Independent, Tasty Clips is one of the leading entertainment columns in the nation, serving nearly one million weekly readers. Bill Vaughan may be reached at email@example.com, via Twitter @tastyclips, or Instagram @tasty_clips.