BILL VAUGHAN’S TASTY CLIPS: Davis, Boseman shine in ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’

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By Bill Vaughan

Entertainment Writer

The long gestating film version of two-time Pulitzer Prize winner August Wilson’s play, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is at last unveiled Dec. 18 on Netflix.

The story looks at the tensions that rise over the course of an afternoon recording session in 1920s Chicago as a band of musicians await trailblazing performer, the legendary “Mother of the Blues,” Ma Rainey, portrayed in a stunning transformation by Academy Award winner Viola Davis.

Late to the session, the fearless, fiery Ma engages in a battle of wills with her white manager and producer over control of her music. As the band waits in the studio’s claustrophobic rehearsal room, ambitious trumpeter Levee (Chadwick Boseman in his final performance before his death from cancer) has an eye for Ma’s girlfriend and is determined to stake his own claim on the music industry while spurring his fellow musicians into an eruption of stories revealing truths that will forever change the course of their lives.

Directed by George C. Wolfe and adapted for the screen by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, the movie is produced by “Fences” Oscar nominees Denzel Washington (whose mission is to film all of Wilson’s works) and Todd Black.

Colman Domingo (“Fear The Walking Dead”), Glynn Turman (“Fargo”), Michael Potts (“Law & Order: SVU”), Taylour Paige and Dusan Brown co-star alongside Grammy winner Branford Marsalis‘ score.

On Dec. 19, the August Wilson Society is planning a virtual jam session with Howard University from 2 to 5 p.m. to spotlight the playwright’s work, recognize Boseman’s contributions and to point out the differences and similarities of the multiple versions.

Santiago-Hudson, actress/director Phylicia Rashad and recording artist/actress Ebony Jo-Ann will participate in the panel discussion led by Society president Sandra G. Shannon, Ph.D. To register, visit howard.edu/marainey.   

POSTERITY: A number of films featuring and/or made by African Americans highlighted the selections this year by the Library of Congress for the National Film Registry. Among the titles given this honor are “Lilies Of The Fields,” featuring Sidney Poitier’s historic Oscar-winning Best Actor performance; Melvin Van Peebles’ landmark X-rated 1971 film “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song;” and the all-Black 1943 musical “Cabin In The Sky,” starring Lena Horne, Louis Armstrong, Ethel Waters, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson and Rex Ingram.

Also among the 25 films to be preserved are the 1973 concert film “Wattstax” with Richard Pryor, Isaac Hayes and the Staples Singers; the 2010 civil rights documentary “Freedom Riders;” “Daughters Of The Dust” director Julie Dash’s student film about Hollywood racism, “Illusions;” 1999’s “Buena Vista Social Club;” DreamWorks Animation’s “Shrek;” and the 1980 John Belushi/Dan Aykroyd comedy “The Blues Brothers,” with standout musical turns by Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Cab Calloway and John Lee Hooker.

TASTY QUIP: “RIP Tiny ‘Deebo’ Lister. America’s favorite bully was a born entertainer who would pop into character at the drop of a hat terrifying people on and off-camera, followed by a big smile and laugh. Thank you for being a good dude at heart. I miss you already.” – ICE CUBE on Twitter about his iconic “Friday” co-star.

CLIPPETTES: A wonderful 2018 holiday performance by the Blind Boys Of Alabama will be presented online at 5 p.m. on Dec. 18.  The show at www.sfjazz.org/fridaysatfive/ draws upon the trove of classic songs from their star-studded 2003 Christmas release, “Go Tell It on the Mountain” (with guests including George Clinton and Mavis Staples), and their 2014 collaboration with blues great Taj Mahal, “Talkin’ Christmas”

Later that day, 12-time Grammy nominated powerhouse Ledisi is performing live at The Troubadour. Tickets, VIP and merchandise will be available at boxoffice.mandolin.com

With last weekend’s Verzuz battle between Keyshia Cole and Ashanti postponed until January due to the latter testing positive for COVID-19, the last musical bout of 2020 will be between Bay Area rap stars E-40 and Too $hort on Dec. 19 at 5 p.m.

Howard Hewitt will also be singing live that day with $10 tickets available at citywinery.com

The soulful Anthony Hamilton will be teaming with AARP for an exclusive performance and sharing information on the connection between music and brain health on Dec. 21. Register for the stream in advance at aarpconcerts.org/anthonyhamilton.

TASTY QUIP: “[Clark Terry] championed me as my first trumpet teacher, and it brings me great joy to share this film [In honor of what would’ve been his 100th birthday], which champions his story.” – QUINCY JONES on the documentary “Keep On Keepin’ On” now streaming for free at bit.ly/ClarkTerry100!

TC ON TV: Dec. 18 – “Small Axe” (Amazon): “Education” closes out director Steve McQueen’s five film project covering Britain’s West Indian community. “The Mandalorian” (Disney+): The hit “Star Wars” spin-off series that spawned one of the season’s hottest toys in the affectionately dubbed “Baby Yoda” concludes its second season. “El Cid” (Amazon): Retells from a contemporary perspective the story of the most famous Spaniard in history, a man trapped between two worlds and two cultures. A nobleman, a hero, a mercenary, a vassal, but also a man who could have been king. “The View” (ABC): Viola Davis, Darlene Love

Dec. 19 – “Feasting With The Stars” (Food): Geoffrey Zakarian, his family and his celebrity friends spice up their holiday menus and share their most-special Christmas traditions. “Global Citizen Prize” (NBC): Host John Legend honors those making extraordinary efforts to lift up the world’s most vulnerable, inspire others to stand up and take action, help end extreme poverty and make the world a better place. The special will feature performances from Alessia Cara, Common, Gwen Stefani and others. “Saturday Night Live” (NBC): Kristen Wiig and musical guest Dua Lipa.

Dec. 20 – “The Story Of The Songs” (Reelz): Three signature tracks are selected to examine the careers of music’s superstars through the recollections of the people who worked on them.  Up first is Whitney Houston with commentary by producers Narada Michael Walden and Jerry Wonda, and back up vocalist Jeanie Tracy.  An episode focusing on Diana Ross follows with prolific Motown songwriters Brian and Eddie Holland. “A Home For The Holidays” (CBS): The 22nd annual edition special spotlighting uplifting stories of adoption from foster care is hosted by “CBS This Morning” anchor Gayle King with performances by Leslie Odom Jr., Meghan Trainor, Andrea Bocelli and more.

Dec. 21 – “Ariana Grande: Excuse Me, I Love You” (Netflix): The pop superstar takes the stage in London for her Sweetener World Tour (which sold 1.3 million tickets worldwide) and shares a behind-the-scenes look at her life in rehearsal and on the road. “Dr. Pimple Popper” (TLC): Back by popular demand, new episodes of the fan-favorite series featuring Dr. Sandra Lee, one of America’s top dermatologists, are here kicking off with the holiday-themed special, “Season’s Squeezings.”

Dec. 22 – “London Hughes: To Catch A Dick” (Netflix): Kevin Hart executive produced this provocative, funny stand-up special based on the bawdy comedian and television producer’s popular UK tour. “First Christmas” (OWN): Idara Stewart, Tonea Stewart and Mason Beauchamp lead the cast of this film, executive produced by Tia Mowry, about an adoptee getting to know her biological family during the holidays. “Under The Grapefruit Tree: The CC Sabathia Story” (HBO): In this documentary using as its foundation behind-the-scenes footage from his final season with the New York Yankees in 2019, the Vallejo, California, native tells how he honed his skills to become one of baseball’s preeminent pitchers, as well as his longtime battle with addiction. “A Saturday Night Live Christmas Special” (NBC): Two hours of the show’s best holiday sketches.

Dec. 23 – “The Midnight Sky” (Netflix): George Clooney directs and stars in this post-apocalyptic saga featuring David Oyelowo, Tiffany Boone, Demián Bichir, Felicity Jones and Kyle Chandler.

Dec. 24 – “A House Divided” (UMC): The family drama starring Lawrence Hilton Jacobs, Paula Jai Parker, Demetria McKinney, Brad James and Art Evans is back for a third season.

TASTY QUIP: “He took the road less traveled by becoming not just a country singer but a driving force in country music. More than 50 of his songs have been in the top 10 AND his music has hit No. 1 30 times. I wanted Charley to be recognized by the Kennedy Center because as a black man his life was large and I thought after being a baseball player, a business owner, and the only black man most of us knew who sang country music, he should have gotten the Kennedy Center Honors. I will simply say he was a wonderful man & a great artist. My condolences to his family and the fact this is also another COVID-related death breaks my heart because it didn’t have to be this way. Rest In Peace Charley Pride, RIP. ” – WHOOPI GOLDBERG

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 tastyclips@yahoo.com, via Twitter @tastyclips, or Instagram @tasty_clips.