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Spoken Word Artist Nubia:  Poetic Arousal For Sure

Nubia is a spoken word artist, writer and performer whose CD is quite hypnotic and stimulating to say the least.  Speaking of stimulating, the title cut “Poetic Arousal” is very arousing but in an intellectual stimulating kind of way if that makes sense.  You have to hear it to believe it. 

Check out Gary Johnson’s interview with Nubia. 

The Nubia Interview I want to talk about your spoken word CD, “Poetic Arousal.  The CD is stimulating, spiritual and thought provoking.  How has the CD been received? 

Nubia The CD has been received well by many.  I’ve received positive responses from both male and female (all ages and races) as to how the music as well as the words motivate and up-lift them spiritually, which encourages me to keep pushing to a wider audience. How did you become a spoken word artist? 

Nubia My life has led me to writing and from writing to wanting to express verbally thus opening a door for me to perform and share my passion by speaking words from within unto listening ears and longing souls. What makes a “successful” spoken word artist?

Nubia Diligence, Faith, Commitment in your art, acknowledging and appreciating others that have helped along the way. Staying positive, not for the accolades but for the love of what you do and being True to SELF. How often do you tour? 

Nubia Every moment I get LOL!  I enjoy sharing my passions in life. You wrote the music, you speak the music, and you sing the songs.  I get the sense that you’ve had a wide variety of musical influences.  Who are some of your musical influences? 

Nubia This is a good one.  Sade, Erika Badu, Patti Labelle and Maya Angelou.  All of these women express UNIQUELY from their soul. What do you want people to “get” as a result of listening to your CD? 

Nubia Through my writings I aspire to evoke thoughts of candor, open the doors of consciousness for self-reflection, and to encourage /motivate all to be free spiritually. My CD contains many messages. How much of your personal life is reflected in your music? 

Nubia Most my music is a reflection of my life.  As a writer, I am inspired by all situations in life.  Whether it affects me directly or indirectly. Sometimes I reflect upon personal experiences through my writings or merely through observation of some one else’s experience. Sometimes I just write about life. Do you have any professional ambitions outside of music? 

Nubia I am what some would call a Nubia of all trades.  I am owner of "Nubia's Baskets-N-More" (my gift basket company), I am a health care professional/counselor for the VA Medical Center.  I work with substance abusers.  I’m also a licensed massage therapist.  My company’s name is "A Touch for Better Health." How would you describe your sound? 

NubiaLike none other.  It is unlimited and uninhibited.  Uniquely flavored with a sultry mix of thought provoking lyrics. What’s the best thing about being Nubia? 

Nubia I possess an open mind, linked with a heart that allows me to do what I can for others without a thought of how it affects   me.  Nubia allows me to voice my heart to many souls. How involved are you with the business side of your career?

Nubia I am the Alpha and Omega within my businesses.  I know where I want my talents to take me, so I keep things flowing from the cradle to grave. How much can you share about your personal life?  Are you married?  Single?  Have a significant other? 

Nubia I am married to my passions in life. Where do you see Nubia 5 years from now? 

Nubia:  Getting better with each passing day.  Still learning, growing and accomplishing different and new endeavors.  I do not put a time span on my goals and future accomplishments. My future is NOW!!! What can be done within 5 years can also be accomplished in within 1 month, 3 months, 1 year or 3 years.  It is merely up to the individual and how they carry out their Plan of Action. What are the most important issue facing black men in America?  Black women? 

Nubia Education, and not focusing on our children’s future, and supporting each other as one.  Color is just that, color, and it does not dictate who you are, what you can do, or where you can go in life.  Each person, controls that walk individually.  Life is what we make it. Always has been and always will be. How can we support you and your career? 

NubiaNetworking, word of mouth as well as online advertising.  I am thankful to God for people such as you for the support and promotion.  Gary I would like to give a special thanks to you, not only for what you do, but also for who you are.  You’re a positive Black Man in America.  ”Keep on doing what you do.” 

Special thanks to the Omnipotent One (God), Phillip Gregory of Jazz Poetry Café’, Kimberly Banks of Promise Land Productions, Cassandra Faye Armstrong, Darryl (D’Poet) Thomas, Lajeanne’ Mizell, Allen James the Chef, family, friends and fans for all of the love and support.

You can learn more about Nubia by visiting her web site at  You can purchase her CD from CD Baby at

Deanna James-McCray - Mrs. Maryland United States 2005

Deanna McCray-James was born and raised the in Washington, DC Metropolitan Area.  Showing an early interest in politics and government, she served as a State Page in the Maryland Senate as well as a Congressional Intern.  Mrs. McCray-James is a graduate of the University of Maryland University College with a B.S. in Management Studies.  She is currently pursuing a dual Masters of Science in Management/MBA with a focus in Marketing from the University of Maryland University College.  In 2003, she and her business partner formed the Metropolitan Young Ladies Council (MYLC), a program dedicated to mentoring young women ages 13-18. MYLC efforts focus on guiding financial, intellectual, cultural and social development–preparing young women for a brighter, diverse and independent future.  Deanna by way of her platform is making a difference in our community.  You can learn more about this multi-talented woman by reading our interview with her.  Hello Deanna.  Thanks for taking the time out for this interview.  However, you have a very impressive and eclectic background that I will get to in a minute.  I know that you grew up in the Washington, DC metro area and graduated from the University of Maryland University College.   You also served as a State Page in the Maryland Senate as well as a Congressional Intern for the Honorable Albert R. Wynn, (D-MD) during the 104th Congress’ 2nd session and the Democratic National Committee.  How in the world did you get into pageantry?

Deanna James-McCray:  Well as most young ladies, I grew up watching the Miss America pageant on TV every year and dreamed of being on stage like those women.  I really didn’t understand that it was a scholarship pageant, nor did I understand what it took to be a part of that world, in terms of financing, talent and time.  I just knew they were on stage, they were princesses and they won lots of prizes.  As I grew older and began to research it I became very disheartened about how to become involved.  In the late 80's and early 90's pageantry in Maryland was pretty much a predominately white and well to do arena.  I wasn’t aware how to get financial and in-kind sponsorships that would help me enter the local pageants and as a result I was never able to compete.  There were a few local titles that I tried to enter in PG county but somehow they always ended up being cancelled due to lack of participation.  I did however when Homecoming Duchess, my sophomore year at Forestville High School.   I decided to try again when I entered college and subsequently competed and won the title of Miss Black Student Alliance.  It was a very interesting pageant for the university’s black student group was a lot of fun to represent at Homecoming.  Unfortunately I never got to fulfill my dream of being in that pageant system because I never fully understood how to get financing and I became pregnant with my son.  As you know – you can’t enter Miss America once you have a child, especially if you are unwed.  Once I got married, I started surfing around on the web to find out if there were pageants that were available for married women and to my surprise there are.  To the best of my knowledge there are four major pageants for married women:  Mrs. America, Mrs. United States, Black Mrs. International and Mrs. International 2000. Can you share what its like to be Mrs. Maryland in terms of the challenges, responsibilities and the opportunities? 

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Deanna James-McCrayBeing Mrs. Maryland United States is absolutely dynamic.  Pageants and the women that enter them often have very bad reps.  A lot of it is misunderstandings about the culture and the preparation that goes into competing.  As Mrs. Maryland, I have had the opportunity to volunteer for a number of causes and bring attention to a number of issues in the state.  For instance, currently I am on the planning committee for the Alzheimer’s Association’s –National Capital Area Chapter’s annual fundraising event.  This event will raise thousands of dollars for Alzheimer’s care and research.  Of course I could have volunteered on my own and raised money on my own – but there is something different about calling a company to solicit a sponsorship or a donation and to say the call is coming from Mrs. Maryland – for whatever reason it makes a difference.  Throughout the year, I have also been able to work with the Asthma & Allergy Foundation, Black Women’s Health Imperative and my organization, the Metropolitan Young Ladies Council.   I have also had the opportunity to do some very fun and exciting things – I went to Las Vegas in July to compete for the national title of Mrs. United States.  I didn’t win, but I met 50 dynamic women from across the country all different races, ages, ethnicities, educational backgrounds, etc. and we had a ball developing lasting friendships and sharing experiences about things we would have never otherwise encountered.  You couldn’t have told me three years ago that I would have a dynamic friendship with a 35-year-old white woman from Wyoming or Idaho, but now I do.  I was also able to meet Mrs. Starr Jones-Reynolds, which was really a highlight – LOL.  In terms of challenges, I haven’t had very many.  Perhaps that is due to my attitude and temperament.  I have always been very much of a go-getter and don’t let to much get in my way.  I don’t believe in the first no being a final answer and have a pretty good negotiating strategy. 

What’s good about the title and what makes it different from some of the "Miss" titles is that there really aren’t a lot of demands and requirements on your time.  It is truly what you make of it.  The systems understands that the women who hold these titles are wives and oftentimes mothers first and have a number of other responsibilities and priorities that will take precedence over making an appearance for a store.  The director looks to me to outline my goals and my time commitments and I fit them in where I can.  Talking with my husband and my family also helps to determine where I can give and to whom.  I understand that some of these pageants are very competitive and grueling.  Is it tougher for a black woman to compete in pageants today?

Deanna James-McCray:  It is still very tough and competitive for black women in the pageant industry.  Despite the gains that have been made by Vanessa Williams, Suzzette Charles, Ericka Dunlap and Shauntay Hilton, there has NEVER been a Black Mrs. National Titleholder.  Additionally, the most famous black Mrs. state titleholder just happens to be Omarosa, so you can only imagine how that plays with folks sometime.  Ultimately, I can’t say why it is so difficult for us, without pointing to the traditional stereotypical reasons of they just don’t want us to have it.  I don’t like to say because it sounds like such a cop out.  I personally have never faced anything negative being said to me, or at least to my face, or have I had people outwardly act indifferent to me.  But you read things on some of the pageant message boards and you hear things in passing that people say in general conversations.  My Mrs. United States class (contestants that competed in 2005) had seven Black women.  Seven sounds good, but seven out of 52 doesn’t sound too exciting. No Black women made it to the top 10, but you can’t think it was a conspiracy it is just the way it happened.  In the Mrs. America pageant, there were no black women at all this year.  Unfortunately, there is really no clear way to remedy these types of instances because we don’t know the route of the problem. It is easy to say, “oh they are trying not to pick black women,” but then you realize – “”hey there aren’t many black women competing.  When I won Mrs. Maryland United States last year, there were only two black contestants and I think the total number of women was 10.  Now we know there are way more competent, beautiful black women in Maryland than that, but that is the way it was.  So the statistical probability of a black woman winning last year wasn’t very high – but it happened.  I was the only black woman in the top 5 and I won, so it is hard for me to say they are truly targeting against picking a black women.  I just knew going in it I had to be at the tip top of my A game and bring it because I won’t be able to slack – since I am black.  By the grace of God and a lot of preparation I won.  You can tell sometimes that the pageant systems, don’t “expect” to have a black or any minority winner for that matter.  There was a pageant for another system in Maryland a few years back that had a black winner, you could clearly tell the director and the organizers weren’t expecting that because the prize package included things like: tickets to the hockey game, a years worth of tickets for tanning, standing appointments at a very exclusive white salon, and other things that are predominately used by white women.  Do I think the director did this to be malicious or anything – no, but she just wasn’t expecting a black woman to win.  It is just a lot of people’s way of thinking. 

Another fact is that it is VERY expensive as a Mrs. to compete in pageants, because you aren’t very likely to get the same types of sponsorship opportunities that the teens or single women may get.  Entry fees alone can run between $400 - $1000 and then you still have to prepare your wardrobe and think about any “training” or assistance you may need – exercise, bio preparation, interviewing skills, stage presence, etc.  Not to say that black women can’t or won’t spend this kind of money, but it is something to think about and this is not how we traditionally spend our discretionary income and there aren’t usually a lot of monetary awards for Mrs. pageants.  One thing that is beginning to change with the increase of black state winners is society’s notion that we are not going to be rail thin and we aren’t matching the norm for model beauty.  As you can see in the picture of the Black contestants at Mrs. United States – we are some nice healthy sisters.

I am however, delighted to see the increase of black teens competing in pageants.  One of my goals through the year has been to motivate and assist young black women to become more involved in pageants, if for nothing else the scholarship dollars.  A winner of a local Miss Maryland America title (say, Miss College Park or Miss Suitland) can win anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 depending on how the pageant is run. What was the best part of being Mrs. Maryland 2005? 

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Deanna James-McCray:  I would have to say the best part of being Mrs. Maryland was actually winning.  The pageant was exactly one week after my graduation from college so I was still riding high.  Also, I had the biggest personal audience I have ever had at a competition, including my parents.  Of course, my husband is always there but my parents had never seen me compete so I felt so blessed they were there to witness it.  My younger sister, my cousin and her husband and two of my very good friends all made the trip to Delaware to support me.  I know I will compete again, but if I never win another pageant – having all of them there to witness that win would really be enough for me.  Do you still attend the University of Maryland University College? 

Deanna James-McCray Yes, I do still attend the University of Maryland University College.  As I stated previously, I graduated in May of last year with my Bachelors of Science degree in Management Studies.  I took the summer off and returned in September to pursue my first of two masters degrees. What is your major? 

Deanna James-McCray:  Currently, I am working on completing my Masters of Science in Management (MSM) with a focus in Public Relations.  UMUC has this dynamic option where you can earn a dual degree by taking a few more classes.  I will complete my MSM in the summer of 2007 and then I will begin working towards my MBA and hope to complete that in summer 2008. By pursuing both degrees consecutively without interruption, I am only required to take ½ the credits of a traditional MBA.  It is great, right now I am contemplating going for my Doctorate in Management after that – but we will have to see how I feel about that in a few years. Clearly, education was important in your life.  How did education become so important in your life? 

Deanna James-McCray:  You know, it’s very funny – I actually started out wanting to be “smarter than my mom.”  My sister and I grew up in a very loving family but no different than a lot of people. We were lower middle class and had average experiences.  I don’t remember how my mom actually told me, but somewhere along the way she mentioned graduating number 7 in her class at Anacostia High School.  I thought okay, well she was number 7.  I have to do the same or better.  I attended Prince George’s County Public Schools for my entire education and had the best time and think I received an education that is on par or better with that of a private school, so I have no regrets.  In Kindergarten they tested me for Talented and Gifted (TAG).  I don’t even think they told my parents they were doing it.  I vaguely remember being pulled out of class and told that I was taking a test and that was that.  So I was labeled as a TAG student very early and was always placed in talented classes.  I really don’t remember thinking anything special about it because all my friends were doing it also.  My mother was very important in making sure that my sister and I understood there was a whole world out there for us to explore and made sure we did a variety of things.  She introduced us to different types of music, literature and art.  It was never explained to us as a “white thing” or something that we should think of as special it was the norm.  I guess it helps that I went to a pretty integrated elementary school and a lot of my friends were military brats who lived on Andrews Air Force Base, so I was constantly being exposed to kids that had lived overseas who had parents that spoke different languages.  I began playing the flute in the 5th grade and loved it and learned from there that I could earn scholarships and that I had an opportunity to do things that all the kids in the school couldn’t do – get out of class early, perform for the student body.  Things like that.  The year I started middle school at Andrew Jackson, was the same year they were instituting the magnet program in Prince Georges County Schools.  I had the opportunity to be in the inaugural class for the Humanities and Social Sciences program in the county.  My mom had spoken often of learning Spanish in school, of course wanting to be just like my mom, I wanted to learn Spanish also.  Well I got my wish and more, one of the components of the program was that each student in the cohort had to take one quarter of a different language and one full year of Latin.  So in the 7th grade, I studied French, Spanish, Japanese, German and Latin.  In the 8th grade, you picked a primary language, which was Spanish or French, and then you had a semester each of Japanese and Latin.  It was very different although to this day, I can’t stand the sound of German – too much hacking and coughing with your words.  It did however give me the opportunity to learn about careers that required these skills and how those careers could allow you to see the world at little cost to you.  To excel in these careers you needed a supreme education.  When I got to high school, I still had the same dream of being better than my mom and surrounded myself with like-minded people.  I took plenty of advanced placement classes and faired very well throughout my high school career.  I did achieve my goal of being just as smart as my mom (at least in my mind.)  I graduated in the top 10% of my class and received several scholarships and acceptances to a number of universities on the east coast. 

Education remains so important to me because I can see the difference it really makes in one’s life.  I had been in my same career field for about six years before receiving my degree however once I attained that goal, higher level positions and higher salaries were no longer considered out of the question for me.  Personnel directors looked at my resume with a little more respect after that.  Now I realize that if I want to continue to go further, I need to continue my education.  I am also involved with my alumni association and will serve on the Board of Directors beginning in September of 2006.  Lost in the “pageantry” of being Mrs. Maryland, you are quite the entrepreneur.  What type of businesses are you involved in? 

Deanna James-McCray Well I operate a consulting and event-planning firm in the area.  For a number of years, I have worked in the association management industry doing membership, chapter relations, marketing and event planning.  With my company, I outsource my skills to associations to help them better develop their membership departments, analysis member records and help them determine how to use their data to better understand their membership demographics and what services or benefits they may want to offer or discontinue.  I also do event planning for a number of smaller groups and causes.  I do a series of networking and informational workshops for African-American women and really try to stress the importance of networking for them.  Often times the difference between getting that job is who you know and what they know about your character and work.  My latest project is actually a pro-bono effort that I connected with through Mrs. Maryland.  I will be working with the Educators Serving the Community (EDUSERC) Organization to plan their 2007 Awards program and conference.  I made an appearance for them and was subsequently asked to serve as the Spokesperson for the organization.  As I learned more about them, I knew I had to work in a greater capacity for their mission outside of just making appearances.  I am so excited and can’t wait to start publicizing the event.

I would eventually like to open up a teen center so that my kids will have somewhere to go when they get to that age.  Let’s talk about work and family.  In 2002 you married the love of your life Darrin.  You also have two children (Amira and Demitri).  Is it hard for you to find a comfortable balance between work and family?  What’s the biggest challenge in this area? 

Husband Darrin and Deanna
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Deanna James-McCray:  Well I am a pretty high strung and active person so it isn’t hard for me to find the balance, but it is quite the balancing act.  I would be totally lost without my organizer. There are certain days that I dedicated to being outside of my home to work on “extracurricular things” so I am able to maintain, somewhat of a steady schedule.  I have the old fashioned big book – can’t do the electronic thing.  My family is a blended family; my husband and I both brought a child to the relationship.  The children get along wonderfully and we are both very fortunate to have good, open relationships with their other parents.  This makes life a lot easier for us and makes planning things simpler.  My husband is a HUGE support system for me I guess we compliment each other well.  I am very outgoing and very into community service and doing things and having lots of appointments and meetings to do this and do that. Where as he is laid back, very relaxed and can just chill and watch sports and be happy.  He is a southern guy, he is from New Orleans so he loves to cook and entertain friends at home.  As I get older, I am starting to slow down more and appreciate being home more but I don’t think I will ever completely empty my calendar.  My parents and sister are a huge support system as well.  My dad is very instrumental in after school care for my son and because of this he has developed a strong and loving bond with his grandparents.  Ironically, the biggest challenge might be keeping up with the kids’ schedule as it begins to take on a life of its own.  Pretty soon I will have no choice but to rearrange my life around them.  Between the two of them, there is track, basketball, soccer, softball, Girl Scouts and football. That’s not even including homework and academic pursuits.  I am very happy to say that my son and daughter usually maintain between a 3.75 and 4.00 GPA and take a lot of pride in doing well in school and being their best.  What are you doing now? 

Deanna James-McCray:  Well currently, I am preparing to crown my successor for Mrs. Maryland United States – it will truly be a bittersweet moment but all good things must come to an end.  My family just moved into a new home so I am constantly finding something to redecorate.  Of course, I am spending a lot of time right now preparing my final research papers and other items for class as well as getting my children settled for summer camps and activities for the summer.  My next pageant isn’t until April 2007, so I have a little time to rest on the pageant front.

As I said earlier, my two key projects right now are the Alzheimer’s Association and EDUSERC.  The Alzheimer’s Association is so important to me because I lost one of my great aunts to this horrible disease. This was a woman who was so vivacious and was the life of the party in our family. Very stylish and would often teach the younger ones how to crochet.  When she was struck with this disease, she became a very violent and volatile woman who was often angry and mad at the world.  We eventually had to put her in a home in an effort to stop her from being a danger to her self and others.  Right now, I have a very dear Uncle, well family friend – you know how we are, that is suffering from this disease.  It isn’t really bad yet, it is in the early stages. However because of the disease he had to resign his post as a minister at a local church.  The event that I am working on with the DC Chapter is called the Maintain Your Brain Challenge and it will be held at American University in Washington, DC on Saturday, June 10th.  The event is being held to bring awareness to the importance focusing on your brain can play in the prevention of Alzheimer’s. It is a family event and will have a few areas of interest for just about everyone.  A few of my friends from Mrs. United States will be there to help out, including Mrs. United States – Dr. Chiann Fan Gibson.  Anyone that wants to donate or learn more about the event can do so by going to my team’s webpage -  Who are some of the people that motivate and inspire you? 

Deanna James-McCray My number one inspiration has been my grandmother.  She passed away in 2001 but we were so very, very close.  She was born in 1911 and as most young black women in that era she didn’t have a lot of education and had to sacrifice a lot for the good of the family but she persevered.  She was just a shining example of self-determination, faith and belief in Christ, doing the right thing and just living life in such a happy way.  She always had a kind word for people and didn’t believe in harping on the negative.  I initially left my first college because I wanted to be grown.  I wanted to get a job and work and all the things I thought were fun in life.  After that, I became pregnant and couldn’t return to school for some time.  Through it all, she never told me she was disappointed and just hoped that I would return to school and achieve all the things she wanted for me and knew I wanted for myself.  I finally returned to UMUC after she passed and didn’t go to visit her gravesite until I picked up my cap and gown for commencement activities from school.  Something in my psyche didn’t want to go until I could tell her that I would be a college graduate. 

My motivation now is my family, my children.  I am not motivated to make a lot of money or be the most popular however I am motivated to live a good example for my kids and try to demonstrate to them what success and happiness can be.  Everyone has to define success for themselves, but I want them to be able to say great things about me and my influence and impact on them the way I do about my parents.  Even today, in my 30s I think my parents are the best people in the world.  In high school, all my friends would call my parents the Huxtables.  At the time, I hated it but now I see what an honor and a blessing that was.  They were together, they were PRESENT, something a lot of kids are missing now, and they were supportive.  That’s what I want to be for my kids and in order to do that I must strive to make myself happy, I have to continue to try to achieve things that make me feel fulfilled and happy and useful.  I am motivated by my husband and my family in a sense I want to continue to make them proud of the things I am accomplishing and the way I serve my community.  What advice would you give to women who want to compete in pageants? 

Deanna James-McCrayI would definitely advise them to not be deterred by cost factors. Where there is a will there is a way and anything you want is worth working hard for.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help and look for out of the box and unconventional ways to get what you need.  Never be afraid to self-promote, just be honest and humble about it.  No one is ever going to love you as much as you love yourself and there is nothing wrong with that.  Most importantly don’t be afraid to try and fail – if you don’t win the first time, don’t give up.  Take your experience and learn from it, study it, eat and sleep it and figure out how to make it better.  Competing in pageants is no different that competing for other things in life.  If you put in half work, you will get half results.  If you go in scared, that fear will show and overtake you. 

On my first attempt at Mrs. Maryland United States- I BOMBED, so badly.  I was afraid to ask about things I didn’t understand and I didn’t think outside the box.  My next competition, Mrs. Maryland America I asked for help.  I had friends quiz me, I asked my husband his opinion on outfits and I read a lot on what people were saying about the industry.  I was lucky enough to place 2nd runner up and won the Mrs. Congeniality award.  My second attempt at Mrs. Maryland United States, I prepared I read everything, I sought the help of a coach, I asked friends for their help and I even went to local business to see what types of sponsorship opportunities were available.  If I had quit after my first disaster, I would have never won this dynamic title.

Deanna and Star Jones-Reynolds at Karibu Books (Bowie, MD) 

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Producer/Songwriter/Author Kashif - Poised To Be Black Bill Gates 

(Marina Del Rey, Ca.) Super producer, songwriter, artist and author Kashif, is taking his music game to a whole new level with the Music Business 411 software. Famous for having written and produced some of the most memorable songs of the eighties and nineties for notables such as Whitney Houston, Kenny G., George Benson, and many others Kashif has now produced what might possibly be his sweetest song by launching this incredible new software.  

Musicians, songwriters, producers, artists and music industry hopefuls have a lot to sing about with the release of the Music Business 411. Developed by the six-time Grammy nominated trailblazer, the software allows users to search, locate, and connect with over 35,000 top music industry executives.  

Here’s how it works. You have just finished recording a demo and want to send it to record companies for review. Music Business 411 allows you to search for record companies or individuals by specific genre - R&B, Hip Hop, or Rock. Once it has completed the search (almost instantly), a list appears. Click on any name on the list and gain access to telephone numbers, addresses, e-mails, fax numbers, staff information and a whole lot more. You can then use the software’s auto-letter-writing function to write to hundreds of record companies or thousands of radio stations at one time. You can even e-mail your music to managers and agents right from the software.   

Having grown up in eight foster homes and never knowing any real family, Kashif says he is used to exploring uncharted territory.  “I spent most of childhood moving from home-to-home and had to be inventive in order to survive, so I am more apt to think outside the box and willing to take bigger chances than most of my peers.  Even with my music, I am more comfortable blazing trails than following the pack.”  My experiences in foster care taught me that nothing is promised and that life is uncertain, therefore I had to learn to trust others and seek mentorship in many areas of my life. Just as important is my trust in my own instincts.” His success in music inspired him to write the enormously successful Everything You’d Better Know About The Record Industry book, considered by many to be the music industry bible. “Kashif is a bit of a genre hopper,” says mentor and business associate Bill Shack. “He is just as comfortable writing books, and software as he is writing/producing music.” 

Music Business 411 also boasts an impressive list of type of contacts it contains including; record companies, publishers, radio stations, press contacts, producers, recording studios, managers, agents, attorneys, distributors, retailers, and manufacturers. The information contained in Music Business 411 would otherwise be expensive and/or time consuming to acquire. Costs can range from several hundred to even thousands of dollars. However, Kashif believes in simple solutions for big problems that are affordable for the masses.  

“Whether a novice music maker or an established music organization, your biggest challenge in realizing more success is connecting with people and organizations that will share your dreams, and are willing to support you and your goals.” Music Business 411 solves that problem. 

“Bill Gates is one of my heroes. If I am going to be in software I might as well pattern myself after one of the best,” says Kashif. CNN says, “It appears to put all the tools for success in music right at your fingertips.” Cynthia Johnson of Warner Brothers Records calls it “The best way to break into the music business, period.” Brooklyn Boy Software is projecting $35 million dollars in sales revenue in 2006.  Annual growth is expected to be between 15-20 percent.  

You can learn more about Music Business 411 and Brooklyn Boy Software at  

For interviews:

  • Contact: Dax Brooks                            

  • Brooklyn Boy Software          

  • Email:

  • 310.827.1819 Phone

  • 310.564.0444 Fax

Read our exclusive interview with Kashif below.


Kashif:  “Brooklyn Boy” Does Good (Real Good)

His career spans over four decades.  He’s sold over 70 million records.  He’s the author of arguably the most recommended book on the music business.  Who is he?  Want a few more hints?  OK.  This man has written and produced for award-winning albums for Whitney Houston, George Benson, Al Jarreau, Kenny G., Evelyn “Champagne” King, Melba Moore, Me’lisa Morgan, Barry White, Da Brat, Glenn Jones, Howard Johnson, Lil’ Kim, and Dionne Warwick. 

Still don’t know?  Folks, I’m talking about the one and only Kashif.  With hit records like “I Just Got To Have You (Lover Turn Me On),” “Stone Love,” “Help Yourself To My Love” and the Grammy-nominated instrumental “The Mood,” Kashif began creating a solid reputation among record buyers for his distinctive musical sound. 

Never knowing his real parents, Kashif grew up in eight foster homes.  Learning to play a $3.00 song flute at the age of seven provided him with what turned out to be an important common denominator in his unstable environments.  By age 15 when he joined B.T. Express whose credits included early funk/dance hits like "Here Comes The Express" and "Do It 'Til You're Satisfied," Kashif was already an accomplished musician.

Kashif teamed up with then-newcomer Whitney Houston and contributed to her first smash hit “You Give Good Love,” which he also co-wrote, and “Thinking About You,” on Houston’s astounding 17-million selling debut-album.  Kashif has also amassed gold and platinum albums for his work with Evelyn King, George Benson and Kenny G. 

In the 90's, with an invitation from the famed UCLA Extension program, Kashif created a course called “Contemporary Record Production With Kashif.”  He wrote and released the now highly acclaimed book Everything You’d Better Know About The Record Industry, as well as The Urban Music Directory, A&R Source Guide, and Music Publisher’s Source Guide. Each of these books is designed to assist people that have an interest in the music industry.  

The Kashif Interview  Hey Kashif, thanks for taking the time to do this interview.  I want to jump right into the interview.  In preparing for this interview, I’ve discovered quite a few folks, under 35 years old, who may not be familiar with you or your music.  So hip these “new schoolers” to you.  How long have you been in the music business? 

Kashif:  I have been in the music business for 32 years. My first professional gig was when I joined BT Express back in 1974.  The name Kashif is very unique.  What is the origin or significance of your name? 

Kashif:  It is Arabic. I first took on this name back in 1975. One of the members of BT Express, Jamal Rasool – The bass player was a Muslim. The group was on tour and I had seen a lot of musicians and people about that lived with low morals and little discipline. But I respected Jamal as he demonstrated personality traits that I aspired to. He was studious, respectful, a hard worker, and seemed to have a real plan as to where he was going. He became my role model. He had a great influence on my life. He offered me a book of Islamic names and I chose the name Kashif – Which means discoverer and inventor. Saleem, my last name means one who comes in peace.  Tell us about your background.  (Where you grew up, family background, level of education, etc). 

Kashif:  I grew up in Brooklyn New York. My early childhood was spent moving from foster home to foster home, eight, to be exact. I never know any real family but found a solid foundation with the Simpson family. I stayed with them until I was 14 when my foster mother died. The next year I graduated high school. I did not attend any college because I was on the road with BT Express. But that was not the end of my education. To this day I spend a lot of hours doing research and studying business, music, science, and other subjects.  How old were you when you joined the group B. T. Express?  What did you learn from that experience? 

Kashif:  I joined B.T. Express when I was 15 years old. Up until then I had done little traveling and was not exposed to things outside of Brooklyn very much. But when I toured with the Express all that changed.  We visited Thailand, Japan, Hong Kong, Kwala Lumpur, and all over the America in the first year alone. I gained an appreciation for the variations in life, to respect and value the way other people lived.  I’ve been playing your music (albums and CD’s) in the office.  When I think back to the early 80’s, you had a very distinctive sound with such hits as like “I Just Got To Have You (Lover Turn Me On)”, “Stone Love”, “Help Yourself To My Love” and the Grammy-nominated instrumental “The Mood.”  When I listen to music recorded in the 90’s and today, I can hear your influence in other artists.  Who are some of the artists that you’ve influenced? 

Kashif:  I really don’t think about that at all. When I create I try to practice what I call free thinking. That means that I try not to adhere to any school of thought as far as making music is concerned. Of course there is a natural tendency to give into the gravity of past successes that I have experienced. But I really try to ignore what has worked in the past and try to give into what I feel is the best choice for that record and production at that time. As far as fine art goes whether we are play writes, dancers, painters, scientist etc., the things we admire influence us all.  Approximately how many records have you sold and who are some of the people that you’ve written and produced for? 

Kashif:  My recordings have sold over 70 million units worldwide and counting. I have been so fortunate to have worked with some of the most talented artists during my career. They have been the vehicles for my songwriting and productions. Whitney Houston, Kenny G., George Benson, Evelyn “Champagne” King, Barry White, Will Downing, All Jarreau, B.T. Express, The Stylistics, Dionne Warwick, make up some of the people I have worked with.  How many gold and platinum records have you earned? 

Kashif:  I have no idea! I don’t think about that.  Who are some of the people who influenced you? 

Kashif:  My influences come from many different disciplines.  Science, politics, music, art, technology, business, and humanitarian. Leonardo Di Vinci, Mahatma Gandhi, Steven Jobs, Steven Covey, Deepak Chopra, Bono, Bill Gates, Dr, Charles Drew, Quincy Jones, Bill Clinton, Kofi Annan.  How much time do you have?  We have all the time you need.  One of the things that I noticed about you early on in your career was a determination to be diversified.  Did you make a conscious effort to prepare for life after the music business? 

Kashif:  I will always be involved with the music business. Music is my first love. But my interest in science, medicine, art, technology and other disciplines also drive me. Music gives me the financial support to dabble and exercise my interest in the others areas. It’s really funny to me when I see other music artists with great big egos. After all it is  only entertainment. But it is courage and the willingness to challenge the status quo that makes one great.  Most folks don’t know that you’re a successful entrepreneur.  What made you write the highly acclaimed book, Everything You’d Better Know About The Record Industry, and your software enterprises?  How did this all start? 

Kashif:  When I am out touring I get questioned quite a bit about what it takes to be successful in the music business. In 1996 I decided to write a book that would help newcomers and veterans of the music industry. That book became a big seller for me. I really had no intentions of becoming a book publisher but 10 years later here I am. 

The software that I developed is called the Music Business 411. It was developed to help anyone who is interested in the music industry connect with the right people. There are over 35,000 music industry contacts in the professional version of the program, including; record companies, talent scouts, publishers, attorneys, agents managers, producers, recording studio, radio stations and much more. With this we have solve the number one problem of getting into the music business… You now have thousands of contacts that you can reach out to who can help you find success.  What do you want people to “get or learn” as a result of reading your books? 

Kashif:  I want to teach people how to think for themselves, to learn the basics of the music business so that they can make the proper decisions to have health and prosperous careers.  The other night I watching a re-run of “VH-1’s Behind The Music,” featuring New Edition.  The show pointed out that after their first major tour, the group got a check for $1.87.  How can artists protect themselves from being ripped off? 

Kashif:  Again, the most important thing about the music business is that you realize that it is in-fact a business first. Take care of your business and your business will take care of you.  It is as simple as that.  Most people react on emotions and that tends to get them in trouble.  When you act on facts and you are clear about that agreements that you make then you can make decisions that will work for you and not against you.  Is the FOX TV show “American Idol” good for the music business?  Why or why not? 

Kashif:  I think “American Idol” is good in a sense that it provides a real career opportunity for a very limited number of singers to showcase their talent.  However, that is precisely why it is not that great for the business.  American Idol looks for one type of singer.  But there are all types of singers, folk, and gospel, R&B, Rock, etc.  There are also People who do not sing but play an instrument instead. They too deserve a chance.  American Idol is about stardom, not music.  Imagine Janis Joplin, Jimmy Hendrix, John Denver, or any other superstar that did not have the all American belting voice that Idol looks for. They would be booted off right?  You do the math.  It is one-dimensional at best.  Is there anyone that you haven’t worked with but would have liked to? 

Kashif Alicia Keys, Stevie Wonder and Seal.  Seal is my favorite artist, and others.  OK Kashif, this is the part of the interview where we “strap” you in the Black Men In Hot Seat.  This is our version of “Call and Response,” where we say something and you call out the first thing that comes to mind.  Are you ready?  Great. 

  • Whitney Houston - Great Talent but Challenges
  • Kenny G – Playing below his real talent
  • Clive Davis - Legend
  • P Diddy – Ground breaker
  • Jay Z - Industrious
  • Sly Stone – Universal Sound
  • Favorite female artist – Alicia Keys
  • Favorite male artist - Seal
  • Favorite charity or cause – Rainbow Push
  • Favorite way to relax - Sailing
  • Favorite song of all time – Too many to list
  • Top 3 things you must do to make it in the music business – Work hard, be aware, network
  • Most common mistake people make when starting out in the music business – Signing agreements without the advice of an expert music industry attorney

Kashif, you are officially out of the Black Men In Hot Seat!  What are the biggest challenges facing black men in America? 

Kashif:  America itself. The playing fields are still not even and fair. But as black men don’t have time to stop and complain to the referee. We must forge ahead dunk the ball celebrate for a moment get back down the court and do it all over again.  How can people reading this article support you? 

Kashif:  Tell their friends that we have a web site devoted to helping musicians, singers and songwriter become successful in the music business.  Tell us the name of the company again and give us the web site address? 

Kashif:  The company is Brooklyn Boy software and the web site is  Any final words? 

Kashif:  Live life to the fullest.  Enjoy your health, family, and loved ones.  Say hello to a stranger.  Seek to understand your adversaries before you demand that they see things your way.  Lead by example.  Smile all the time.  Eat healthy.  Avoid stress.  If you can’t avoid stress then make sure to do things that will help to offset it.  Avoid toxic people and substances at all costs.  Be proactive about your health.  Spend less on cars and more on organic fruits and vegetables.  Where light colors.  Get plenty of sun.  Call someone and tell then that you appreciate them.  I could go on and on but I think I made my point.  I wish you all health, wealth and happiness.  Brother, you said a mouthful.  Wow!  These are certainly words to live by. 

Kashif:  Thank you. 

Note:  Gary A. Johnson conducted this interview for Black Men In


Eli Harris Continues To Make The Home Folks Proud

Eli Harris is from Lynchburg Virginia.  He started acting at age 6 when his parents had him doing theatre and various plays.  He acted in all his schools from Elementary to High School and in other things for the city and churches. 

Eli credits everything to God, his parents (who are now deceased,) supporters and mentors. "Well, it's self explanatory why I credit God. I wouldn't be without Him.  Everything that I hoped in my heart has been made a reality, and is being made a reality. My parents, were, and still are, my best inspiration.  They encouraged me to be myself and do what I enjoy, as long as I don't hurt anyone intentionally.  They taught me to be humble because you can lose things faster than you got them." 

This is a talented young man who epitomizes what this web site is all about and we are proud to bring you his story. 

The Eli Harris Interview  Eli, thank you for taking the time to participate in this interview.  Brother, you are some kind of talent.  Where do I start?

Eli Harris:  It’s my pleasure to talk with you and be part of  You’ve got a very comprehensive, one of a kind site here, Gary  Tell us about your background.  (Family background, where you grew up, etc.)

Eli Harris I’m originally from Lynchburg Virginia.  I was adopted by Louis and Margaret Bradley at the age of 2 months.  I had ADD so they got me involved in theatre and martial arts as a way to channel my energy.  I have been active in martial arts since the age of 13 and have been acting since I was 6 years of age.  You are accomplished at so many things.  You’ve worked on stage, television, and films.

Eli Harris Yes I have worked in all those areas.  But I am also a script writer and that’s where I found I can be the most expressive along with my acting.  I am looking forward to being able to do greater things.  I feel The Lord has blessed me.  I want to be able to be a blessing to others through my work and to be able to provide work for other hungry artists.  My goal is really to establish my own entertainment company with various branches of talent.  How long have you been in the entertainment business?

Eli Harris I have been entertaining since I was 6 years old.  I really didn’t do anything major until my early 20’s, but now my career is starting to rocket.  What TV shows and movies have you been a part of?

Eli Harris My list of shows is Psychic Witnesses, FBI Files, Hack, Monk, Sex and the City, Law and Order, New Detectives, Surface, Line of Fire, The District, The Sopranos and The Wire.  Films I have been in: Saga Tier, The Departed, 16 Blocks, XXX2 and The Interpreter.  Do you consider your talents to be a gift?  Hard work?  Or both?

Eli Harris Both. It helps to have both so they can compliment each other.  But I’d say mainly a gift.  When you think about all of your entertainment talents, which one is your favorite?

Eli Harris That’s hard to say.  If I had to say just one, I would say my personality in acting, because it takes a lot of personality to be able to reach people.  Some people can act well but have no personality.  Let’s talk about the whole experience of your independent film “Saga Tier.”  Tell us about the origin of the film and then talk about what it was like to write, cast, direct, act and raise money for the film.

Eli Harris “Saga Tier” was conceived from a series of dreams; it means the “Highest Saga”.  It actually took me a little while to sit down and write the script because when I get my creative spells I have a flurry of ideas coming in.  What really motivated me to sit down and write this is when “Soul Plane” came out.  I think that was my breaking point.  I got fed up with the films that African Americans were coming out with.  Often times we complain about being typecast, yet we feed into it and I felt it was time to make a change.  So I got on my grind.  After the script was completed, I drew up a business proposal and met with several businesses.  I was blessed with being able to secure 6 sponsors for the film.  Then I did a casting call and held auditions.  After selecting my roles, I held a meeting with all of the cast members so they could have a chance to meet with each other, practice their roles together and also meet the driving force behind the film.  I wanted to make sure the story I did wasn’t typical and stereotypical.  In fact, that’s part of the problem we had when seeking distributors ~ our film isn’t considered urban.  It’s too commercial, especially with the multiple ethnicities in it.  So we have many businesses interested in it because this film is so different.  We have a few offers we’re considering, but we also want to do a re-shoot, be it now or later.  That’s that with that.  Who are some of the people in your life that you admire?

Eli Harris I admire my parents because they were a huge influence on my life and how I got my strengths and my relentless persistence.  I admire my business partner for his professionalism and smoothness in dealing with things.  I admire my pastor because unlike the majority of the pastors I have dealt with he is real and not on an “I am a pastor-God” status.  I admire my publicist.  I have never met anyone in my life (aside from my parents and partner) who is as loving and caring as she is.  Even on my worst day, she makes me smile.  I admire my ex-wife.  Her support and care for me is unheard of for an ex.  She’s always there no matter what.  I admire my supporters.  It takes a lot of love and faith to stand behind someone through thick and thin. You’ve worked with a lot of talented people.  Who are some of the people in “show business” that have mentored or helped you in your career? 

Eli Harris:  Woooooo.  That is a good question.  I have had the honor of working with some great people but the ones that stand out to me the most are (1) Danny Glover.  Let me feed you the situation on how we met.  I was working on the film “16 Blocks” (Mos Def, Bruce Willis) and I was resetting to re-shoot a scene and someone leans over in my cab and says,” What’s up man?”  So I look over and I’m like “Danny Glover?  What the hell are you doing here?”   LOL, it was in a funny way.  So I parked the car and we sat down for a while and talked and he gave me tons of insight on the business.  He was a huge blessing. 

Eli and Danny Glover

(2) Matt Damon.  Oh man where do I begin?  Damon has to be the most humble, genuine, talented person I have ever met.  Man we talked for a good while when I was working on The Departed.  We not only talked about the forms of martial arts that we took, but he also showed an interest in my film and gave his agent the OK to receive the package.  So he is looking at it right now as we speak. 

(3) Let’s see, Anthony Anderson was mad cool, hilarious really.

(4) I was mentored by the late Carl Anderson who was best known for his role in “Jesus Christ Superstar”.  He was a very passionate man and he will be greatly missed.  There are many others but those stand out the most. What role did they play in your personal and/or professional development? 

Eli Harris:  All of them taught me humbleness, hard work and perseverance ~ to stay on my grind. 

OK, this is the part of the interview where we “strap” you in the Black Men In Hot Seat.  This is our version of “Call and Response,” where we say something and you call out the first thing that comes to mind.  Are you ready?  Great. 

  • Favorite male actor - Samuel L Jackson

  • Favorite female actor - Sanaa Lathan

  • Favorite movie - The Negotiator

  • Favorite Cause or Charity - Urban Outreach

  • Ice Cube  - New level of acting

  • Anthony Anderson - Too funny for words

  • Sean Penn - Focused

  • Bruce Willis - Taller than expected

  • Denzel Washington - Well respected

  • Leonardo Dicaprio - Not as stuck up as people say

  • Mos Def - Mad Chill

  • Russell Simmons - The life of the party

  • Martin Scorsese - One of the best directors

Eli Harris, you are officially off of the Black Men In Hot Seat!  What’s the best thing about being Eli Harris? 

Eli Harris The willingness to bless everyone around him.  What’s the hardest thing about being Eli Harris? 

Eli Harris Being so honest and straightforward.  In your opinion what’s the biggest challenge facing black men in America?

Eli Harris The lack of support and willingness to be open to new ideas.  Thinking outside of the box.  How can people reading this interview support you? 

Learn what Midnite Oil (my company) is all about.  Invest in what we are doing because it is something completely different and groundbreaking.  I would like to encourage everyone to see the movie trailer by going to  See what we did with no budget.  See what projects we are doing and get ready for the ride of your life.  I can be contacted at or via my publicist at  What’s next for Eli Harris?

I’m very excited to let the BMIA site visitors be among the first to know about the World Premiere of my independent film “Saga Tier I.”  I’ll be at the Channelside Cinemas & IMAX in Tampa Florida on Friday, March 24 to meet everybody, watch the film, and participate in an informal Q&A about making “Saga Tier I,” my experiences working in the new Martin Scorsese film “The Departed,” my career, martial arts, and anything else people want to talk about.  TV 32 Film Critic Miguel E. Rodriguez will host the event.  Hope to see you there!  That’s great.  What else is new?

Eli Harris:  This summer I'm scheduled to appear in Black Belt, the world's leading magazine of self-defense.  I grew up reading that magazine, so I'm really looking forward to it!

Initially we were going to start on Tier 2, but an interesting event took place.  I don’t know if you remember the movie Breakin’ with Turbo and Ozone, but I was listening to Chaka Khan’s “I Feel for You” and it brought that movie to mind.  So I started watching both Breakin’ 1 and 2 and started developing ideas for a new script.  I started on this and one thing people will realize about my writing is that it’s deep and dramatic.  So I contacted Ozone’s agent and she got back in touch with me and relayed the message to me.  To my surprise, she called back not only telling me that Ozone was interested, but he wanted to co-write and join the team.  We had a conference and went from there.  So we have him attached.  I spoke with Turbo and he’s interested.  We’re looking to have Ginuwine in this and I have already talked with his manager.  We’re pretty cool with each other.  We’re also looking to have Mary J. Blige.  I have also spoken with her agency, so this is going to be tight.  Ozone and Ginuwine will be archenemies in this.  The film is a dramatic piece, still all of the dancing, but dramatic and definitely groundbreaking.  So we will be looking for more investors for this one.  What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into the entertainment industry?

Eli Harris Have faith.  It definitely takes faith to be in this business and realize you’ll get a thousand no’s.  You’ll get friends and family members who tell you to give it up and that it’s a dream.  My faith in the Lord has been my basis, but one thing that applies across the spectrum, whether you’re a believer or not, is perseverance.  Be strong and when you get a "no," thank them for it and keep on because someone will say "Yes."  Eli, thank you for taking the time to do this interview. 

Eli Harris Thank you for having me Gary, and I look forward to speaking with you again. Be blessed.


Photo #1:  Eli, Mos Def and Bruce Willis  Photo #2:  Anthony Anderson, Eli and Leonardo Decaprio  Photo #3:  Eli and Ice Cube

Click On Photos To Enlarge

Find out more about Eli’s “Saga Tier I” premiere in Tampa Florida on the Events page.

This interview was conducted by Gary Johnson for Black Men In  Special thanks to C. Ann Bloom for all of your hard work and perseverance.  You made this happen.


Richard Otto:  Man About Town

Richard Otto, or “Rich,” as his friends know him, greets me with a smile and a handshake as he opens the passenger door to a BMW 745. 

Rich is the proprietor of Mansfield’s Executive Transportation Services. Mansfield’s Executive Transportation Services is known for their superior fleet of luxury cars and SUV vehicles, namely Mercedes Benz, Cadillac, and BMW. 

It’s a who’s who from celebrities to diplomats to politicians along with providing a service to each individual that goes above and beyond of just providing a car to get one to their appointed destination. 

Rich was born and raised in New York City; he is the son of musician parents. His father, Richard Otto, was a violinist. His mother, Sarah, McLawler, is an accomplished jazz organist. 

Owning a limousine service was not what he envisioned for himself. In fact, he was interested in the arts. “Art is my first love”, says Otto. “I was actually a schoolteacher in the New York Public School System when I realized this wasn’t for me, so I decided to try something different and go into business for myself.” 

Since making that lifestyle changing decision Rich has done very well, employing a staff of approximately 12 drivers, including him. It’s obvious Rich loves what he does, judging from a ride one evening. He’s full of stories about his experiences, from his childhood, being in such an artistic family, to the stories he shared about the entertainers who have a favorite vehicle, or the story as to how he managed to get a famous singer to their destination with minutes to spare before the singer went on stage to perform. 

We go to our destination, Chez Josephine’s, owned by the legendary entertainer’s son Jean-Claude. He greets us with open arms and we are escorted to a table where we watch the main attraction, Sarah McLawler, his mother. She’s a vivacious woman who is very proud of her son. “Some of Richard’s best traits is that he’s a perfectionist, practical, and honest - sometimes too honest”, says McLawler. She wishes that he would go back to pursuing his art, which he’s always loved. 

As we’re waiting for Ms. Mc Lawler to perform, I ask him about the differences between a car service and a limo service. “With a car service you’re on the driver’s time,” says Otto. “They’re in a rush to get you where you have to go without going the extra mile and giving you the personal touch. With a limousine service the driver works on your time, helping you with your luggage, if necessary, opens your door for you, and if asked, gives you ideas on where the popular spots are in the city. The chauffeur is like a mobile concierge, and that’s what you get from my company, the personal touch.” 

As the evening comes to an end and we navigate through the streets of New York on a mild winter night, Rich has some last thoughts. “I believe that positivity overcomes adversity. I had, and still have a lot of adversity in this day and age, unfortunately; but in the long run my record and quality of work speaks for itself. I believe in giving the best of what I have to offer to my clients in terms of service and competence, and in the long run that’s what is most important.” 

Spoken like a true artist.

Click on Photos To Enlarge


Photo #1:  Tonya Giddens and Richard Otto  Photo #2:  Richard Otto

Thanks to Ms. Tonya Giddens for writing a wonderful article and to F. Justin Hall (Editor).  Also, a big thanks to Mr. Terrance Russ of The Russ Group of Companies for arranging this interview.

To contact Richard Otto for an event you can e-mail him at or at 212-281-0017. 

Click On Photo To Enlarge

Vicki Vann - Country Music Goddess

Vicki Vann is one of country music’s hottest new artists. Her CD entitled “Dream Catcher” was released to popular acclaim and her single "This Is Where I Get Off" moved up the charts in 30 countries. Vicki Vann is one of the most requested female artists on the international country music scene. Vicki's CD “Dream Catcher” was one of 2005’s hottest country music releases. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is with great pleasure that we present the Vicki Vann interview. 

The Vicki Vann Interview

Click On Photos To Enlarge

BMIA: Hey Vicki!  Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions.  How have you been since our last interview? 

Vicki Vann: Great Gary.  Things have been wonderful. 

BMIA: OK, let’s get started.  What was it about country music that made you want to do it for a career?  

Vicki Vann: Country music tells "real-life" stories, and I was drawn to that even when I was a little girl. There's nothing like a song that helps you escape in life for 3 minutes. Country music has always done that for me.  

BMIA: Vicki, who are some of your favorite artists?  

Vicki Vann: Growing up, I wanted to be just like Dolly Parton. I also loved Barbara Mandrell, Crystal Gayle, Patty Loveless, Trisha Yearwood, and Reba McEntire. I also enjoy Garth Brooks, Loretta Lynn, The Eagles, Rascal Flatts, Keith Urban, and the late, great, Patsy Cline. I have too many favorites to name them all!  

BMIA: How long did it take for you to get to where you are now, from the time you started your career?  

Vicki Vann: I first went to Nashville in June of 1998 to Fan Fair (before it was named Country Music Festival) I played a show while I was there also, so about 7 years.  

BMIA: I’ve seen you on television.  What was it like to have CMT's (Country Music Television) cameras following you around when you appeared in the documentary “Waiting In The Wings?” 

Vicki Vann: I was tickled pink!  I wanted them to follow me everywhere! I thought ‘how cool is this to have cameras shooting me as I go about my day, having coffee, talking to my doggie, puttin’ my make up on, getting ready for a gig, etc.’ It was all very surreal.  I told myself to remember that feeling because that doesn’t come along too often in one’s lifetime.  I savored it for every moment. 

BMIA: Would you do it again?  

Vicki Vann: Yes, in a New York minute!  I think as long as the fans want to know what’s going on with me.  I’ll let them in.  It’s when they don’t care about what I’m doing - that’s when I’ll get nervous.  After all, it’s not that difficult when you’re a natural born ham in front of the camera!  

BMIA: Your CD opens up with the song "I Should Have Left You In Tucson" What drew you to that song?  

Vicki Vann: "I Should Have Left You In Tucson "  This song was sent to me by my producer John Northrup. When I heard it for the first time, I thought about how much I love the southwest and turquoise and anything relative to Native American culture being that it’s also a part of my heritage as well which I happen to embrace.  I thought right away to have this song on my record, as the lead off song, well it shows you "me" right away. I like to think that I'm ‘embracing my heritage’ through my music. So I decided it should be on my album.  

BMIA: Wow!  That’s great.  Your CD features songs written by many of Nashville's finest songwriters, do you feel lucky to have such a strong group of songs on your CD?  

Vicki Vann: I am very blessed that these amazing songwriters shared their gifts with me. When I started looking for songs for this record, I was worried that I wouldn’t be presented with top-notch songs since I’m a new artist. I am so thankful that I had a bunch of amazing songs to choose from. They’re all very close to my heart, the songwriters, as well as their compositions. 

BMIA: What qualities do you look for when choosing songs?  

Vicki Vann: The song has to touch me in some way. "I look for how I can relate to a song."  

BMIA: You related to a song?  Say more about that. 

Vicki Vann: If I haven't lived the song personally, then someone I know has to have lived it. This allows me to pour my emotion into it every single time I sing it. Basically I look for my ability to interpret a song with my gift much like the way an actor interprets a screenwriter’s script in a film. 

BMIA: Was it a long process in searching for the songs?  

Vicki Vann: We (myself, my manager, & Red Canyon Records A&R) listened to hundreds of songs and attended many listening meetings. It took months to find all of the songs.  I can usually tell by the time we get to the first chorus whether or not the song works.  If I want to hear it a second time that’s usually a good sign.  

BMIA: Country music has really evolved.  Do you favor the more traditional country music or the pop sounding country music?  

Vicki Vann: I love country music!  Period! To me, it doesn't matter if it's traditional or pop sounding. As long as the song moves me, I like it. I really relate to songs that make me feel something, good or bad, it’s about the emotion the song brings about. 

BMIA: What track is your favorite off of the CD?

Vicki Vann: My answer to this question changes day to day.  I just spoke with a dear friend who just broke up with her boyfriend of 6 years.  He kept promising her they would get married, but it was all lies, so today I will say that my favorite song is "White Lies and Picket Fences." The lyrics are so true to her life.  

BMIA: Where were you when you heard your song on the radio for the first time?  

Vicki Vann: I heard it first on KFRG, 95.1 FM, on my radio tour, driving from San Diego, CA. to San Antonio, TX!  It was early in the morning, and I was so excited! I was kinda waiting for it because I had just finished an interview with the station earlier, but the actuality of it playing just completely blew me away.  I’ll never forget that feeling as long as I live! To me, that’s what success feels like. 

BMIA: Can you compare that feeling to anything else?  

Vicki Vann: No, not really.  That’s an emotion all its own.  That feeling deserves its own page.  I have to say singing the National Anthem to fans before the races at Irwindale Speedway up there right above the track where the cars race pulls a pretty close second.  Man!  What a rush!  That was EMOTIONAL!  

BMIA: Let’s switch gears for a moment.  What are some of your goals for your career?  

Vicki Vann: Well first of all, longevity.  I don’t want to be a one hit wonder and then show up on the “whatever happened to....” page in the tabloids.  I want to sing great songs, and give outstanding performances.  I want people to be touched somehow by sharing my gift.  Because that’s why I believe I was given the gift in the first place, to share it with all of you. 

BMIA: If you could sing with any artist who would it be? 

Vicki Vann: Vince Gill!  Our voices would blend so nicely together. I absolutely love to listen to his voice, and he can sing and play guitar on a country song like nobody else can!!  

BMIA: What are three words you would use to describe yourself?   

Vicki Vann: That's a hard question because I’m a complex, eclectic person. 

But I’ll give it a try... a little bit glamorous, extremely passionate, and spiritual, but very easy going.  I guess I need more than three words.  

BMIA: What CD is currently in your CD player? 

Vicki Vann: Usually I listen to my iPod which holds about 1000 songs, and I listen to different genres of music depending on my mood - everybody from Aaliyah and Alicia Keys to Keith Urban, Vince Gill, Wynonna, to The Winans and Yolanda Adams!  

BMIA: We understand that you were chosen as a spokesperson for the Native American Futures program.  What can you tell us about that? 

Vicki Vann:  This program is all about encouraging and empowering kids to stay in school because of the huge drop out rate of Native American kids in particular.  It involves mentoring a child with the support and encouragement necessary to continue in school. 

BMIA: Do you have a motto that you live by?  

Vicki Vann: I have several actually.  “Life is short, so don’t put off ‘til tomorrow what you can do today.”  “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try and try again.”  “Smile and the world smiles with you, frown, and you frown alone.”  “Love what you do, and do what you love.” 

BMIA: You always look so fashionable yet relaxed. How would you describe your style?  

Vicki Vann: I tend to go for timeless, classy, yet sexy without looking like I’m ‘trying too hard’ sense of style. I tend to stick to what fits and feels good.  Except with shoes. I’ll wear uncomfortable shoes for just a little while just because they’re fabulous!

BMIA:  What is your favorite thing to cook?  

Vicki Vann: I’m crazy about cooking!  I love to cook for the fun of it, not because I have to.  My favorite thing to cook is Linguini with a red clam sauce.  I’m getting hungry just thinking about it! 

BMIA: You are gorgeous and your body is in great shape.  Do you maintain a fitness schedule?  

Vicki Vann: Yes, when I’m home I work out every morning for about an hour of cardio 3 days a week, and with weights 3 days a week, followed by a half hour of yoga for stretching my muscles followed by eating whatever I want and pigging out on Sundays!  Ha!  Ha!  Ha! 

BMIA: What would you like to say to your fans reading this interview?  

Vicki Vann: Thank you so much for your interest in my music and me! Please visit to purchase my CD “Dream Catcher” as well as my debut CD “Vicki Vann” merchandise. Gary, I cannot thank you enough for all that you're doing to help me live out my dreams. I can't wait to meet you all out on the road soon! God Bless you all!!! 

Sax Man Mike Phillips Is An “Uncommon Denominator”

By Mike McKoy 

Saxophonist Mike Phillips has taken his game to a new level with release of his new CD “Uncommon Denominator.”  Phillips, who hails from Harlem, NY, has played with former NBA Power Forward and now jazz musician Wayman Tisdale, Jonathan Butler and Rachelle Farrell.  In R&B quarters he’s shared the stage with Babyface, Brian McKnight, Teddy Riley, Simply Red and Boyz II Men.  And in the summer of 2001, Mike blazed a trail across the country as the opening act for his Hidden Beach Records label mate Jill Scott during her sold-out "Words & Sounds" tour. 

As a young man Mike began experimenting with different instruments, including acoustic and electric bass, piano, trumpet, and French horn.  By age 16, “Mike Philly” knew that the saxophone would be his instrument of choice. 

Mike Phillips has had a number of milestones in his career.  He performed at President Clinton's Inaugural Gala, the 80th Birthday Celebration for President Nelson Mandela in South Africa, a Super Bowl appearance with Stevie Wonder and the Billboard Music Awards.  His television credits include Saturday Night Live, The David Letterman Show, BET On Jazz, BET Sound Stage, and The Tonight Show. 

His new CD, “Uncommon Denominator,” reflects a new age jazz sound that’s certainly unique.  Sitting down with him, I couldn’t help but notice the brother’s humorous and articulate charisma.  This is an artist whom at a young age not only understood the music business but also understood his fans.  Throughout the interview Mike made constant references to the spiritual-ness of his music and the spiritual connection with his fans. 

But he also has an edgier side as captured in this “Mike-on-Mike” interview. 

The Mike Phillips Interview  Where do you come from? A lot of artist’s creative passions start in childhood. How did it happen for you?  

Mike Phillips:  It was my mother really. When I was younger my mother bought me a toy record player. I played with it so much that whenever a record was missing I would make a big fuss about it. I mean I would play these records and didn’t hear everything I figured out that a certain sound was missing. So she knew then that something musical was happening.  

Nobody in my family is musical inclined. So I’m like the black sheep. She was observant towards me and nurtured my interests. I feel this is really important for us as parents to create the infrastructure for support. When I took a left she took a left with me. She bought me a little piano. It was like she thought “He’s getting into music so let me get into music with him”.  So you started out on the Piano? And then you went from the piano to saxophone?  

Mike Phillips:  Yes Piano first, then bass, and then saxophone. I ended up playing saxophone because it was like the ultimate instrument of expression. When I put it to my lips and there’s something in me that can transcend through that instrument that I don’t think any other instrument can do. For me it’s like when I want to get down, the saxophone is the only instrument that can squeal it out. For me it’s just the ultimate expressive instrument.  When was your first professional gig? Did you start in the church?  

Mike Phillips:  Yea I played in church. That’s where it’s at. I had no formal school training so church was the breeding ground for my ear. Basically, I heard something then I figured how to play it. I never went to Berkeley school of music or those big programs that charge 50,000 per year because I didn’t have the music background to get in. I tried out for it but they told me I had to take remedial music reading courses. I said “You know what? You’re not going to clown or down play God’s gift.” That’s how I took it. I was like “I don’t need your schools” and started playing wherever I could on my own. The church setup the scenario of understanding that when I learned to play something that has spiritual ramifications in a good way; I could see the connection between what I do and how the music affects people that hear it. Getting that experience helped me to understand that it’s bigger then how many notes I’m playing. If your music doesn’t spiritually connect with the people that you’re playing for then it’s just sonic wallpaper.  When you started playing out in town did you have your own band? 

Mike Phillips:  Well, in NY I used to sit in clubs all the time. Certain clubs I wasn’t even old enough to get into so I would sneak in and do the Quincy Jones juke joint thing. I’d listen, play, do my thing and get home before I got in trouble.  So tell me about your first time on stage in public. Were you nervous?

Mike Phillips:  Yea bit but I was so focused that it alleviated me being nervous. It really didn’t factor in. I just wanted to get it over with. Sitting in those juke joints like Sylvia’s and Wilson’s and other places in NY that had live music, really helped me because I was able to step onto the stage with other people before I tried to do my own thing. I kinda weaved into it.  How’d you feel when you got off the stage?  

Mike Phillips:  It felt good. I mean when people clapped and stood up and told me “Man, I really felt something when you played.” It was like everything I’d done had come to fruition and affected somebody. I could only feel good about that.  So tell us about your new album Uncommon Denominator different from the first one. “You’ve reached Mike Phillips.”  Where did the name come from?  

Mike Phillips:  Well, “You’ve Reached Mike Phillips” was like an introduction. Not really a concept album but it was like letting everyone know I’m here. “Uncommon Denominator” was like showing that I’ve grown. It came after I toured with Prince and Stevie Wonder. Being exposed to all of that music made “Uncommon Denominator” a more mature sound of what I was exposed.  Where did the name “Uncommon Denominator” come from? It’s pretty unique?  

Mike Phillips:  Well you know, if you look it up in the dictionary “uncommon” means different and “denominator” is something common. It’s a word play because basically it’s something different that is still common. You know jazz music is a denominator in American society. It’s an art form that was built here. Look at Bird, Sonny Rollins, Duke [Ellington], and Sara [Vaughn] that laid down the infrastructure. Now I’m into this genre called smooth jazz that has the opportunity to grow but some reason until now hasn’t. This is how the industry is now. For an instrumentalist like me smooth jazz is the genre that validates who I am. I listen to this elevator music sometimes and I think, “You know I’m going to play jazz but I’m not going to be like you.” That’s where “Uncommon Denominator” came from. So in the end “Uncommon Denominator” is about staying true to what Mike Phillip’s sound is. I play jazz but I’m totally different.  There’s one particular song, “It Takes All night” and I like that song. How did that come together? 

Mike Phillips:  Well, umm, someone played the track for me and it had some vocals on it. I was like this is nice. But I wanted to do it my way. I told them to take the vocalist off the lead and let me do the lead melody. Now, the background music was like crazy. So I dealt with about a week and it was a wrap. I originally heard the track with the singer and I was like man, I want to keep that concept but I want to use my sax to express it in a totally different way. I mean saxophone is like the closest instrument to the human voice.  “If You Had A Heart” is a song that kind of makes me reflect. It’s seems like and emotional song.  

Mike Phillips:  Yea! That’s another one to that was played for me first. When I heard it I asked the producer to explain it to me. You know, explain to me what the song is about. He told me that it’s about this couple who has been dating for years and the dude is basically playing with the girl’s feelings. She says to him “if you had a heart you’d let me go.” So once he told me what it was about I was able to recreate it in my way. It’s a really deep song and I had to be able to visualize the song before I could just put notes to it.  Now “Crazy,” that song is just fun? What was that about?  

Mike Phillips:  That was me just wilding out. It was basically me having fun. Almost like I’m saying look what I can do. Think of it as a street ball player coming to the NBA and saying, “I know that we don’t play this way here in the NBA, but look this is what I can do.” I broke out with all kinds of crossovers and fancy dunks on that one. That’s the whole analogy of that is what “Crazy” is about. Basically I’m letting all the competition know to practice because I can pull this out of my hat at any time. And don’t let me catch you at a live show where I have a chance to show everyone.  So do you have a favorite track? What is it?  

Mike Phillips:  The last one with my daughter singing. She’s six years old and I gave her some notes to sing. A four-point harmony. The computer was on at the time. So when she sang, Pro Tools printed out the waveforms and they came out the identical every single time! To sing four different octets and have Pro Tools recognize it to have the same wave patterns every time? That’s wild. I mean I just had her to sing for fun and she nailed it precisely! That’s like amazing.  So two more questions and then we’re done. The tracks on your album flow really well. Did you only have 16 tracks? Was it hard to pick which ones to release?  

Mike Phillips:  Yea man I recorded 40 tracks for this project and all were good. It was one of the hardest decisions ever. Seriously, when I get check out of here I’ll be another Tupac. There will be so many tracks that albums will be coming out long after I’ve gone.  So what’s next for Mike Phillips?  

Mike Phillips:  Well Stevie Wonder has a new album dropping on October 17th. We’re talking about touring together and all that is left is to solidify the dates. Other then that I’m taking my sound to everyone that hasn’t heard it yet. 

You can listen to some cuts from Mike's new CD.  Click on the song titles below.

You can learn more about Mike Phillips by visiting the Hidden Beach Records web site at:  Special Correspondent Mike McKoy of FullBlown Entertainment conducted this interview.  This interview was posted on 10/3/05.


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The Genius of Photographer Richard Franklin

Some people have an eye for beauty.  If you’ve looked at some of the black models on the Internet, chances are you’ve experienced them through the eyes of glamour photographer Richard Franklin.  This distinguished Englishman has made a name for himself creating masterpieces in the form of photography featuring beautiful black women.  

I don’t consider myself to be particularly artistic, but I know good work when I see it.  Richard Franklin has a gift for photographing models and adding a fresh and unique flair to their existing beauty.  When you look at the wide range of models that he has photographed you just get the sense that Franklin has brought out the best in each model.  Simply put, Franklin has the skill and the talent to capture in print, the essence of beauty, and he does it exclusively with women of color.  

Franklin’s photography includes fitness, bikini and lingerie shots.  He’s conducted shoots in Miami, the Caribbean, Los Angeles and Brazil.  This self-taught photographer has no nudity on his web site Richard Franklin Photography.  Franklin prefers to bring out the natural beauty of his models.

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Franklin has a very interesting background.  The son of a banker, Franklin was born in London in the house of Sir Alexander Fleming, the man who discovered penicillin.  His father’s side of the family was one of the oldest Jewish families in England. His grandfather was a cantor, the singer of Jewish prayers in the Synagogue service.  

His family moved to the U.S. in 1980, and his father found success in New York where he became a leader in the corporate takeover movement until he retired in 1990.  “I first lived in Miami for a while and ran an unsuccessful furniture company and for a very short while owned a model agency,” said Franklin.  In 1984, he joined his father’s company and had a very exciting time at his side for four years.  After the company disbanded, Franklin decided not to follow in his father’s footsteps and turned his attention to other projects.   

Over the next several years Franklin worked on improving the education in the American school system, made a documentary on the Holocaust for PBS with Dr. Ruth, was instrumental in launching the career of Fabio, produced a play and worked with pop singer Toma.  

When you look at his work its hard to believe that Franklin got into photography about five years ago as a form of therapy to cope with the disappointment over the failure of some of his ventures.  Franklin explained, “My parents had retired to Antigua in the Caribbean and I first began to shoot pictures of the beach and of my family. I read camera books and manuals and gradually began to think of shooting girls.  I made friends with other glamour photographers mostly from the adult world and started to shoot (very erratically) girls in my home.  I had only been attracted to dating black girls since Alex (a former black Flight Attendant he met and moved in with.  She later co-starred in the movie Passenger 57 with Wesley Snipes).  Since that time Franklin said he began to concentrate on black women, his main subject and passion.  

Franklin was kind enough to answer questions about his success as a glamour photographer.  We hope you enjoy this interview.

The Richard Franklin Interview

Click On Photo To Enlarge  What was your earliest or most vivid recollection of being or feeling different?  

Richard Franklin:  I was an unhappy child and that continued quite late into adulthood. I had low self-esteem and basically disliked myself. I had a very sensitive nature and loved classical music from a very early age. I fantasized a lot about being a sports or movie star or a superhero! Being the son of a successful father can have disadvantages also. Looking back I think I had an artistic and creative mind but had no outlet for it. The banking background I came from is based on logic and verification. The arts are very much based on the emotions. I suspect I only became a contented person after much struggle to recreate myself as an independent creative soul in Los Angeles . For most of my life I lived in the past or future. It took many years to learn to live in the present.  How old were you when you moved to the United States of America?   

Richard Franklin:  30.  What makes you different?   

Richard Franklin:  I think that concentrating only on women of color is the first thing. That’s almost unique. Secondly I clearly have a love for very vivid colors and that is also a signature of my work. My love of color came long before my interest in women of color. When I was a child my bedroom had a purple carpet and my walls were bright yellow. I simply loved bright colors. I remember having a lust at a very early age for a black woman that I saw in a naughty magazine. However, amazingly enough I don’t believe I ever met a black person until I was in my thirties. I never heard a word of prejudice against blacks in England.  There just were very few living on my side of the Thames in London when I was growing up and they had not yet become a successful minority.  I never met a Japanese, Chinese, Russian, etc, etc growing up.  Life in England is very different now and there are many very successful minority groups.  Why do you think models come to you?  

Richard Franklin:  I would like to think that I have a good reputation for quality work. Girls are attracted, I think, to my use of color and hopefully my good taste in composition. They want to look as sexy as possible and also to have a distinctive look. My reputation is “sexy but classy” and I think the majority of women want that look.   

Click On Photo To Enlarge  Have you always wanted to be a glamour photographer?  

Richard Franklin:  At different times in my life I have wanted to be a great skier, tennis player, violinist, actor and martial artist! Glamour photographer is pretty cool so I can dig it and do without the other dreams on my list!  What other creative endeavors are you a part of?  

Richard Franklin:  I have an active interest in an Internet business.  Do you have any hobbies?  

Richard Franklin:  My photography is my hobby. I read a quote the other day, attributed to Socrates which said, “…the man that truly loves his work never works a day in his life.”   

Richard Franklin:  How involved are you with the business aspect of your career? I am a latecomer to photography.  I think the time is coming nearer when I can turn whatever skills I have acquired to profitable use. Up until now I have not really capitalized on my work.  I wanted to build up a quality site and then let people come to me who liked the work. That is now happening. I want to expand my range in the coming months by doing a lot of exotic beach shoots in the Caribbean and Brazil.  I am also planning some calendar shoots. I subscribe to the old maxim “do what you love and the money will follow.”  I hope to have a long and profitable career in this field but it takes a long time to get established and to find your niche. Van Gogh never sold a painting in his life! Hopefully I will have a more enjoyable and lucrative career than him but there is a lot of luck, and sometimes politics in the subjective artistic field.  Are there any photography jobs that you won’t do?  

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Richard Franklin:  Frankly I don’t take on jobs if I don’t have a passion for my subject. I shoot girls that I see as cute or beautiful. If I feel that they don’t appeal to me or that I cannot give them the quality they deserve I simply decline to do the work. I don’t rely on photography for my livelihood and so I have the luxury of being able to make choices. But I am not frivolous about it. A more direct answer to your question is that I seldom shoot children, products, fine art or frankly even much fashion. I stay in a fairly narrow band of glamour work.  What’s the best part of being a glamour photographer?  

Richard Franklin:  The satisfaction of a job well done, a satisfied client and a new addition to my web site (Richard Franklin Photography).  What’s the worst part of being a glamour photographer?  

Richard Franklin:  Failing to live up to the expectations of my client and of myself. In addition I try to reach a new plateau each time I shoot. Accordingly it is very hard to come up with an original concept, particularly on a limited or zero budget.  What do you look for in a model?  

Richard Franklin:  The first thing is whether I see her as having a cute or beautiful face and a body that will look great in a bikini. The second thing I look for is her attitude and energy level.  What makes you accept a model assignment or turn it down?  

Richard Franklin:  I shoot girls that I think I will succeed in making sexy and glamorous and that I would be proud to have on my web site.

Click On Photo To Enlarge  When people look at your work, what do you want them to see?  

Richard Franklin:  An impressive gallery of beautiful and sexy girls presented with a distinctive and classy style.  Of all the models that you've photographed, who do you think yielded your best work and why?  

Richard Franklin:  I have always loved my close up shots of DIA who was one of my first models. She has one of the cutest faces I have seen. She recently married one of the Tennessee Titans, Samari Rolle so I am delighted for her.  How big a factor is sex in the modeling business?  

Richard Franklin:  I am no saint but I am frequently surprised by how few of my photographer friends hit on their models even though they have the opportunity. The truth is that shooting and modeling are pretty intense and exhausting activities and so there is probably less sex going around than one might suppose.  Are you married?  Single?  Have a significant other?  

Richard Franklin:  I am single and have no particular significant other at present. I am a happy bachelor. I love getting to know some of my different models and have dated a few.  Hollywood is notoriously shallow when it comes to relationships. I like the single life and I think that that probably derives from a deep seated fear of being vulnerable to being hurt or of disappointing someone else by failing to live up to their expectations.  Does being a successful glamour photographer affect your personal relationships?  

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Richard Franklin:  I don’t think so. I am grateful that I meet more eligible girls than most men dream of. I think it makes both men and women intrigued. Since I am very upfront I wouldn’t want to date a girl who was insecure about what to me is my passion and a very pivotal part of my life. If they can’t accept that then goodbye!  Take us through a typical day with Richard Franklin.  What time does your day start and when does it end?  

Richard Franklin:  I am an early riser. I like to be busy and I go to sleep late. I usually work out in the morning and if I have a shoot planned usually meet up with the model, stylist and make-up artist around noon.  I usually start shooting at two and go on until we run out of ideas. I then enjoy editing the shoot and that can go on until two or three in the morning. Like anything else this is work and is only glamorous to outsiders who don’t know any better.  Would you say that photographing black beauties is your claim to fame?  

Richard Franklin:  Well it’s certainly what I am known for in the photography world as it’s the only type of work that I do. I am proud of the fact that I took a stand and decided to focus on that. It gave me a pretty unique and pleasurable niche that made me stand out. If I was more of a general photographer shooting men, children, fashion, portraits, black and white etc, I suspect I would be unknown. I am proud of other things that I have achieved in my life that may never have fame or fortune attached to them but were deeply meaningful to me. Personally I am not a religious person but am very motivated and optimistic nonetheless. I see life as essentially meaningless other than the meaning we personally choose to give to our lives. Then it becomes totally and overwhelmingly meaningful. I have stood for ideas and for causes that were often stressful and lonely. But by taking a stand I achieved distinction in my own mind and at the end of the day that is the only place where it counts.  I get the sense that you feel more comfortable with black women and black people than any other group.  If this is true, why do you think that’s the case?  

Richard Franklin:  Ok you asked for it!  I am a Jew and I think the Jew’s are a colored race. We both share a terrible history. My people suffered for two thousand years at the hands of the same people who brought slavery to your people three hundred years ago. We know all there is to know about ghetto’s. The word ghetto comes from 15th century Venice and describes the area that the Jews were forced to live in. Although I am a very secular Jew I wish that more black people would look at Judaism as a more logical alternative to some of the other religions being shopped around. It’s not my nature to generalize, particularly about an entire racial group but I am definitely more physically attracted to black girls than white and I like the warmth that I have found in much of my interactions with the black community.  How would you describe your style of photography?   

Richard Franklin:  “Sexy and classy photographs of beautiful women of color.”  What advice would you give to people who want to make a living in the photography business?  

Richard Franklin:  Develop your eye and develop your mind. Study your craft by reading photography books and learning to duplicate other shoots in order to hone your skills. Make friends with other photographers in order to learn from then. Develop your own unique style by allowing out your inner passion and creativity. Create a website that tastefully showcases your work. Put together a portfolio of your best work, printed by a lab and not from your home printer. Relentlessly take it to potential clients such as model and ad agencies. Keep hope alive!

Richard Franklin lives in Los Angeles, CA.  You can see more of his photography at or contact him at

Click here to read our updated feature on Richard--The Genius of Richard Franklin (Part II)

Laughing with Comedian Marc Patrick

By Ted White, Black Men In Staff Writer 

I would describe Marc Patrick as a person with great confidence.  I had an opportunity to see Marc Patrick headline at a comedy club in Centerville Virginia called “Lafter Hours“.  When Marc came onto the stage, I was unsure of his ethnicity.  As if reading my thoughts, Marc says, “I know what you’re thinking.  He’s not a Black comic.”  Marc Patrick boldly proclaims, “I know I’m Black!”  I have two dark skinned parents who told me, “You are growing up in a Black house, you’re living in a Black neighborhood, you are Black!”  Marc goes on to perform a funny routine about being adopted.  The routine transcended race and culture by posing the question, “What if I had been adopted into an Oriental family?”  While watching Marc’s routine, you see his confidence in his performance.  I witnessed his sense of timing, delivery, and body language.  Marc Patrick performs clean comedy. 

His style of humor is self-revelatory.  He tells stories and performed routines you can relate to.  He also talks about the joys and pains of raising children.  The difficulty of understanding the opposite sex, and the harsh realities of managing money.  He is a comedian for all people.  Here's the rest of my interview with comedian Marc Patrick.

Marc Patrick

BMIA: What made you get into comedy? 

Marc: I was in the Air Force for twenty-three years.  I was an Air Force recruiter. High School kids would not listen to you if you were boring.  So, I started telling jokes to get them to listen.  In 1996, one of the teachers selected me for an open mic night.  I performed open mic night and a couple of weeks later, I entered a competition.  I received third place for my performance.  My comedy career went on from there.   

BMIA: When did you first realize you were funny?   

Marc:   I never knew I was funny until I performed in my first competition in 1996.  I performed the same material I did for High School kids.  I changed the material so it would be appropriate for adults.  I knew I had a lot of material because I have a lot of experience to draw upon.  I am able to do an hour of clean comedy.  I do all Black material, all Hispanic material.  I can perform for all kinds of audiences and keep it clean.  I have learned one lesson in comedy and that is, know your limitations.  I am out of my element in comedy rooms that want to hear the dirty jokes.   

BMIA: What was your first professional gig as a comic? 

MarcMy first big break or show came about six months after I started doing comedy.  A friend of mine name Sam Bam put together a comedy event in Stockton California called “Drop Your Drawers.”  It was in the Stockton Civic Auditorium which held approximately 600 people, which to me was the greatest number of people I had ever performed in front of.  I did physical comedy and dancing.  I had an amazing show.  That was the greatest high I have ever had in my life.  I sent that tape to Michael Williams in L.A. who connected me with Comic View.  I did Comic View in 2002.  My next big comedy opportunity was The Bay Area Black Comedy Completion.  I performed there for two years.  I performed in front of many prominent Black promoters.  Even though I did not make the finals, a lot of people enjoyed my act. 

BMIA: Who are your comic inspirations? 

Marc: I enjoy the comedian SinbadSinbad was also in the Air Force and performs a clean comedy act.  I also enjoy Richard PryorRichard Pryor was such a comedic pioneer. 

BMIA: Which comedians if any have helped you? 

Marc: One of the comedians who have helped me is Chris Thomas.  Chris has given me opportunities.  T-Rex has helped me also.  The promoters of the Washington Improv have helped me also.  I admire people like Bernie Mac, Cedric the Entertainer and George Lopez.  These guys have performed comedy for a long time.  The comedy business is about persistence.  You have to be active in putting your tape out there, doing guest spots and taking chances.   

BMIA: What was your worst experience in comedy? 

MarcI performed in a USO show at Hanson Marine Core Base in Okinawa. There were four hundred marines, age nineteen to twenty-five with like fifteen women.  They wanted to hear the Def Jam type of comedy which was not my forte‘.  I was booed off the stage.   

BMIA:  What was your best experience? 

Marc: Comic View was good but I don’t consider that to be my break out performance.  I have gotten a lot of validation from shows like the D.C. Improv.  I’ve done shows at the Black Rock in Germantown, Maryland an all Black audience I did great shows there, everybody love me.  A lot of people told me how well I performed but I haven’t really had a show that I want to hang on my wall as my best show ever yet.  I’m doing a Christian Comedy Show in San Diego April 25 with Lester from BET.  I am looking forward to that. 

BMIA: How would you describe your comedy? 

MarcMy comedy is real.  After I have said something, I want people to say; “I’ve done that.”  Or, “that has happened to me.”  When I do my bank routine, (bouncing checks) or my Kool Aid routine, most people love that stuff.   I want people to think that the comedian is talking about them.  I want to make the audience a part of the show.  I don’t do a lot of current events.  If your audiences are not into current events, they are not going to get the joke.  I don’t do Michael Jackson jokes either because so many comics are doing those jokes.    

BMIA:  If you were not in the entertainment industry, what would you do to earn a living? 

MarcSales, because I can sell anything.  I’m really good with people. 

BMIA: Being a comedian is hard, is it harder being a Black comedian? 

Marc: I have a harder time sometimes with Black audiences because I have to identify myself with belonging there.  When a White comic goes before a Black audience and he says something Black, some people respond:  "This guy is cool.”  But with me, I have to give myself credibility to talk about Black stuff.  That's why I do the adoption comedy routine first.  It is easier for me to talk with mixed audiences.  I am a comedian for all people.   

BMIA:  Is there anything Black Men In can do to help your comedy career? 

MarcLet people know I’m out here.  Let them know my show is about real reality where people will be able to relate to my comedy as their story.  

BMIA:  Thanks Marc this was great.

Marc:  You're welcome. 

Final Thought:  The final word I would use to describe Mark Patrick he is illuminating.  His boldness and confidence in sharing his story (in a funny way) opens you up to like this guy.  You can appreciate that he has come far in a relative short period of time.  You see his work ethic, which he has carried over from twenty-three years of service with the United States Air Force.  You can see Marc’s strong sense of family.  Yet, he struggles with being mixed and adopted into a Black family.  You see his struggle with being separated from his kids.  His material might be clean cut, but all men can relate to his struggles with pleasing and displeasing the opposite sex.  His drive to be a top comic allows a confidence to shine through his comedy.  We can look into Marc’s life through his comedy and laugh with him as we laugh at our lives and ourselves.   

Black Men In would like to thank Lorn Hinish, of Hinish & Associates Red Carpet Talent Agency for arranging this interview.  This interview was conducted by Ted White.

Bridgett Hollingsworth:  The Force Behind Bahiyah Women Magazine 

She describes herself as a Black Christian Woman, living the Christian Experience.  She is Serene Bridgett Hollingsworth, the driving force behind Bahiyah Women Magazine (Bahiyah pronounced Bye-hee-yah, a Swahili word meaning beautiful).  Known to her friends around the web as Bridgette, Hollingsworth holds no punches when she disclosures the intimate details and struggles of being a single black woman, mother of four, and how she is managing to climb the slippery slops of entrepreneurship.  We had the pleasure of speaking with the woman behind the pages of "Bahiyah Women Magazine" and we were quite impressed with her profound interest in sharing her experiences. 

Our Midwest correspondent Staceé Hardiman caught up with Bridgette in Chicago to learn more about the journey that this entrepreneur has traveled and the sistah-friends who have helped to shape her along the way. 

The Bridgette Hollingsworth Interview  Tell us a little bit about your background.  Where did you grow up?  Level of education? 

SBH:   I am a born and raised Buckeye; Columbus Ohio is my hometown.  I attended Columbus public school system and graduated from Ohio State University. It was my desire to major in advertising, but there was not a program for advertising at the time.  I majored in communication, which allowed me to have an advertising focus.  I thought I was going to be an advertising executive and move to New York and make bank!

I got a taste of the advertising business through an internship and it was there that I realized that was not the field for me.  I was totally disillusioned, when I realized what advertising really was, which was to create a need in people for something they didn’t need and probably didn’t want, but we had to create a desire.  

When I saw how they did that for us, black folks, and people of color, I said to myself, wow, I don’t know if I can do that and I don’t know if this is what I want to do forever.  I tried it for a while, but I realized that I did not want to be a part of this market and if I wasn’t going to be in advertising.  Then I said to myself, well what will I do?  Armed with a degree, some experience, a lot of creativity and clueless as to what my next step would be.  

A friend encouraged me to move to Chicago. Now after being here for twenty years, its home for me.  Although, I did think about leaving on a few occasions after I went into business for myself.  I didn’t find Chicago to be friendly to black businesses.  I found it very difficult to really maneuver within the business arena, especially not being a Chicago native.  I wasn’t politically connected, I had to learn the ropes, in Chicago there is no black business district, like in Atlanta, DC, Maryland, Houston (Laughter).  But I’ve stayed here and it is working.  How did you learn about spirituality?   

SBH:  My father was an Associate Pastor in Columbus Ohio and I’ve always believed in God.  The colors of the sky, the air I breathe, the blooming flowers, the blood flowing within my body, nobody could just make that happen, it takes a supreme creator to make that happen.  I am very open about my spirituality, and the fact that I am a Christian Black Woman.  We have a lot of readers of Bahiyah who are Muslims, Jewish, Jehovah Witness, I do things very differently, and I am very inviting to people of all religious walks of life.  I am also very firm in the fact that I am a Black Christian Woman who lives the Black Christian experience.  I can agree to disagree with you and I would love for you to be where I am, but I can also respect where you are.  I have that spiritual foundation from my dad.  Have you always wanted to be doing what you’re doing now? 

SBH:  I can recall when I was in college and I said to a friend of mine, “one day I’m going to have my own magazine.”  However, I thought it was going to be a fashion magazine. I use to cut out pictures in the different magazines like Right On, Ebony, and Essence with the thought of my own magazine in mind.  Years later, after two marriages, two divorces, comes the birth of Bahiyah magazine. 

I have a love for black women, just to see us succeed and excel, and to get places that we’ve never been and to make our dreams a reality.   

Bahiyah affirmation is a reflection of my spirituality.  It is very personal and I expose an element of me that is very intimate.  People don’t always understand, there is this illusion that I’m all of that and I’m doing it.  I like to keep it very real and share that I have the same challenges as everyone else, financial, relationships, and family.   

People call us the best kept secret.  I don’t like that.  I don’t want to be the best kept secret anymore.  Did you have a difficult time starting Bahiyah?  

SBH:  Yes.  I’m still having a difficult time starting Bahiyah.  We are four years old and in the magazine world that is still very young.  It’s a tough business; it is not for the weak at heart.  You can’t go into this industry with thin skin, you need to have some alligator, hard tough skin.  There will be times that you are let down, your numbers aren’t where you would like them to be, and once you are in this business, it’s very hard to get out.  It consumes you from all angles.  The work in publishing a magazine is never done, you are always way ahead of the game, and I’m already planning for February 2006.  You are never really in the moment. You have to work hard and create a balance with your family life as well.  Especially, if you are dating or married, the demands of this industry are hard for your significant other to understand the demands of the business.  You should probably have a significant other that really understands publishing and somehow bring them aboard, keeping the bond is important.  Having your family involved when you are in the publishing industry is paramount.  Let’s talk about the Bahiyah Woman Magazine Auxiliary Projects.  How did this come about? 

SBH:  A few of the Auxiliary Projects are Bahiyah Women Magazine live on, Monday 9pm-11pm CST, now preparing for our third show; Bahiyah Woman Magazine Dialogues, which is a talk show, kind of on an Oprah scale.  We’re at African American Images Bookstore every 4th Saturday.  We are trying to make Bahiyah available because we understand that everyone is not going to go online to read the magazine, everyone is not going to buy the print copy, but some people listens to the radio and others love to be out in the community.  We are trying to cover the bases and that is the heart of the Auxiliary Projects.  What do you hope to accomplish by branching out into radio? 

SBH:  Bahiyah is for black women and men.  I know we have readers who are Asian and Caucasian and that’s great, I love it.  However, it is a magazine for black women, written by a lot of black men.  We give, what I call a quality voice to black women and black men, because it doesn’t exist.  We are not an underground media; we are an independent black media.  Our goal is to become a media mobile, an independent media mobile; where I don’t have to depend on CBS, ABC, or NBC to do what I want to do.  Brownstone is our online drama that has an ongoing story line that we would to see produced and on television.  We get emails all the time about Brownstone, our Managing editor is a phenomenal writer and we collaborate and define these characters, Brownstone is awesome.  Do you have any mentors? 

SBH:  My dad, before his Alzheimer’s, there was nothing he didn’t know about, he had 3 or 4 degrees, a writer, an artist, a business man, and he is spiritually grounded.  He’s just a phenomenal brother.  I could always look up to him, always.  How important is it to have mentors and role models? 

SBH:  I think it is very important to make the connection and have someone to learn from.  I think that is one of the things I think I missed a lot of, I would love to just call Oprah and say, Oprah look, you don’t have give me any money, but can I come over there and sit next to your editorial director and see how thing is really done, when you really got a lot of money to play with.  Oprah, can I just call you once in while, run an idea by you just to see what you think. 

It’s very difficult in this industry because a lot of people don’t want to give up where they got where they are, unless they write a biography and you can read about it.  In your opinion, is the road to success, however you define success different for women than men? 

SBH:  Yes.  How so? 

SBH:  If you are married and if you are married with children that is different.  As a woman there is just another dynamic adding to your lifestyle.  Most black women in business will not forego, or forsake their children and marriage to make something happen.  There is that attitude of I want to do it all and it is very difficult to do it all.  Most of us have children and have been married and it is very difficult to be an entrepreneur given these circumstances.  

Entrepreneurship as a single black woman with children is very difficult because you have to keep food in your babies’ mouths and a roof over your head.  Where if I were not with children or if you were not married, where I lived wouldn’t necessary matter, I wouldn’t have to worry about the school district, I could just live in a little whole in a wall, be there 24 hours a day and do my thing.   

If you have a husband, you have another component, you want to make sure that relationship is tack that you give him his time, you take care of him, and he’s able to take care of you; that you have that quality time together and you are going on dates and live is still good.  All of which takes times, and being an entrepreneur is like having another husband or child, you have to nurture it and do the research. 

I will say this about entrepreneurship, at least there are lots of books written and you can find a mentor.  Raising children and having a husband is a bit different (laughter), not a lot of good books written on that. 

I don’t think black men have it quite as hard.  Expectations of the relationship is that he is the man that goes out and bring home the bacon, and we’re not expected to go out traveling all the time.  Women are expected to come home, cook, clean, take care of the children, and go on field trips. There is a difference.  I wish we could get to a place where black men and black women worked together.  I noticed that you speak very passionately about relationships and how important it is to have a balance with your business and your mate, tell us a little about you in that areas, starting with, are you single and available? 

SBH:  (Laughing)  I’m single, I don’t know how available I am.  Relationships are very important to me.  The relationship with my children, friends and family members are very intimate and personal for me.  I’ve been married twice, both very good men, and I was really ready at the time of the marriage.  We were both Christians and I thought we should have been able to make it, but we weren’t.  We were able to maintain a healthy friendship.  I one day hope to have a healthy relationship with someone of the opposite sex.  I don’t want to grow old by myself. 

When I hear people say there aren’t any good black men out there, I disagree with them 100%.  Why is that? 

SBH:  I believe my God hasn’t made a shortage of men.  Before I can make a list of what he has to be, I have to make a list to make sure I am all that I can be.  I don’t go looking for a man either.   I believe when the Bible says he who finds a good wife, finds a good thing.  So I expect him to come knocking on my door, or he will know me when he see me.  What do you enjoy doing in your limited free time? 

SBH:  It is very limited.  I am an avid reader, I will get a hotel room, with a pool, and take three books, and I am in heaven.  The water, the books, and relaxation.  I also enjoy time with my girls, the movies, or just some time together, that is great to me.  What has been your biggest challenge in life? 

SBH:  Raising my children and making them positive and productive girls, with good self esteem.  How important is it for black women to see someone who looks like them achieving success? 

SBH:  On my scale of 1-10 it’s a 10, we need it and have to have it.  Do you feel a sense of responsibility to the black community and do you see yourself as a role model? 

SBH:  Absolutely.  If we don’t, who does?  If I look across the street and the broken down house, I have to say, what can I do to help.  We have to make the support our community.  What is the connection with Bahiyah and black men?   

SBH:  You cannot have a black magazine for women that don’t embrace black men.  I don’t know how we have done it for some many years that we can have a full magazine devoted to women’s issues and it doesn’t include anything about black men.  Essences will do something annually, but Bahiyah does it with every issue.  We have article written by black men for our black female audience and then we have conversations with black men who speak unedited from their heart about issues from fatherhood, politics, and relationships, and these brothers are on point.  Why is this (the connection with black men) important? 

SBH:  I have brothers who are Black men, I hear so often, where are the black men, and I need to put them in the faces of the people who are asking the questions.  More women than men read Bahiyah.  I have a duty to present to us, men that look like us, read, think, and live in our communities.  I can’t wait for someone else to do it; I am obligated to present black men who are doing their thing.  What’s the best part of being Serene Bridgett Hollingsworth? 

SBH:  I would say my honesty.  The ability to just tell people where I am, this is who I am.  I’m not Oprah, I’m not Susan Taylor, and I am cutting out my own piece of the pie in this world.  It’s time for our Famous Hot Seat.  I will shoot a few questions at you, and you just select the answer that best suits you and your personality, Ready? 

SBH: (Laughing)  Okay, let’s do it!  If given a choice what would you prefer:  A blind date or reading a good book? 

SBH:  A Good Book!    Listen to Luther, Maxwell or Will Downing. 

SBH:  Maxwell, I love Will too.  Favorite Author. 

SBH:  Mikaylah Simone, James Ellis III, these are real contemporary writers, Nicki Giovanni, Toni Morrison.  I love the poets.  Favorite musical group. 

SBH:  I like old school.  Let me go old school on yawl, I like the SOS Band, The Isley Brothers, I do like Will Downing.  I really like the old school.  If you could go anywhere tomorrow for a vacation, where would you go? 

SBH:  Barbados!  That’s my favorite place.  What are the biggest challenge facing black women in America? 

SBH:  Financial stability, familiar stability, keeping our families in tack.  What are the biggest challenge facing black men in America? 

SBH:  The same as the women, keeping our homes and family in tack, raising our children, and being present.  Where do you see Bahiyah 5 years from now? 

SBH:  It’s taken us 4 years to get to where we are today, so five years from not, I like to see us with our own studio production, where we could do our own taping and filming of Brownstone and other quality programming; where our talk show could be filmed live.  I’d like to be able to offer scholarship to students, I’d like to see us supported by readership and not dependent on advertising.  It is our magazine, for us, written by us, and we should support it and I’d like to see us there.  How can people reading this interview support you? 

SBH:  Visit Bahiyah Women Magazine online frequently, purchase a copy of the print edition, we have an Annual Collector’s Edition; it’ comes out in February 2006, it’s a 150 page full color magazine filled with inspiration, information, and resources for women and men of color.  A must have for every home or office! It’s limited printing, we suggest that the readers reserve a copy early by visiting  We also have an opportunity for our readers to support us by giving a monthly donation.  They can come to site and click on the link and make a minimum donation of $5.00.  I tell our readers all the time, if our entire readership, donated just $5 a month, we would be printing monthly.  I mean $5.00 a month, we spend triple that a day on coffee, snacks, and other vices.  If we could do just $5.00 a month that would help us tremendously.  Okay, that’s a rap!  On behalf of Black Men In, thank you and I look forward to reading the issue of Bahiyah Woman Magazine.

SBH:  Thank you and Black Men In for the opportunity to be featured. 

Bridgett Hollingsworth is available to speak at your next event.  More than inspirational, "she is real and brings gut wrenching power, humbleness and truth to her experiences."  Click here to book Bridgett now!  

This interview was conducted by Staceé Lewis, Midwest Correspondent for Black Men In


She Quit The Apprentice and Sparked An Already Hot Debate About The Portrayal of Blacks on Reality TV

An Interview with Verna Felton

Verna Felton is an accomplished Business Manager and Communications professional.  Some of you may be asking:  “Who is Verna Felton?  Should I know that name?”  If you watch the hit NBC TV show, you know that the third installment of The Apprentice, pits college graduates against entrepreneurs with only a high school diploma.  The winner of the competition will be granted a job with The Trump Organization and a hefty six-figure salary.  With all of that at stake, Verna, a member of the “Book Smarts” team quit the show.  That’s right, girlfriend quit! 

"The Apprentice" premiered Jan. 8, 2004 and immediately became a cultural phenomenon, scoring the highest ratings for any new series introduced throughout the 2003-04 season and outscoring every established series in the key adult 18-49 category except "American Idol." The Apprentice continues to deliver the strongest concentration on primetime network television of upscale viewers in such key categories as adults 18-49 living in homes with incomes of $75,000 and more.  

I watch The Apprentice and wondered why Verna walked off the show.  I wasn’t sure if she let her team down or if she was justified in walking away.  I figured that there was more to the story and to Verna than what was portrayed on television.  Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth, the diva from the first season who many blame for backstabbing Kwame Jackson shared some insights about what goes on behind the scenes on reality television shows and how black people are portrayed.  In a February 16, 2005, press conference, Omarosa said black participants seemed to be ignored by the cameras if they don't fall into a certain stereotype.  She specifically cited Verna’s quitting the show as one example.  She said the depiction of Verna as a quitter supported her theory of black folks being purposely portrayed in a negative fashion on reality television.  Omarosa also said that Verna being portrayed as a quitter made her cringe "in the biggest way." 

The best way to find out what happened with Verna was to go directly to the source.  Before I contacted Verna, I checked around and the word on the street was that Verna was intimidating.  I didn’t get that sense at all.  Verna Felton is straightforward, thoughtful and engaging.  Verna also impressed me as being very smart and aware of the realities of “reality TV.” 

Verna Felton grew up learning how to dream.  She is goal oriented and her experience on The Apprentice has only strengthened her ability to reach her dreams.  Verna has created her own dreams, and enjoys living them every day with her two children and husband. 

I thoroughly enjoyed my interview with Verna.  Whether you agree with her or not, you know where Verna stands on an issue.  What impressed me the most about Verna is that she doesn’t make excuses.  Verna Felton accepts responsibilities for the decisions that she’s made and moves on.  The sister has no regrets. 

Verna may have quit the show, but she ain’t no punk.  Today, Verna works for one of the largest technology companies in the world, and is always on the lookout for that next "big" opportunity.  If you want to know about the logic that drives this sister’s behavior, her views on reality television or just want to be inspired, you must read this interview.


The Verna Felton Interview  Hey Verna.  Thanks for taking the time to talk with us.  You’re probably best known for your participation on The Apprentice #3.  You were the first participant to quit the show.  We’ll talk about that in a few minutes.  I want to start off talking and learning about Verna, the married woman with children.  Tell me about your background. 

Verna:  I thank God for blessing me with not only a successful career, but with a happy family life as well. Growing up, there were a number of successful business and entertainment figures that I looked up to. Although I don't think my parents consider themselves "successful" in the typical sense, they are very successful people when it comes to knowing what is important in life and being able to live without worrying about petty things. They taught me to create my own American Dream. They showed me the importance of family, health, and a strong belief in God. There are no better role models I could have asked for.  Before you joined the cast of The Apprentice, you worked for Microsoft in the IT (Information Technology) field.  What are you doing now?  Are you still working for Microsoft? 

Verna:  I do still work for Microsoft and have been there for a number of years. Through my experiences I have learned how to move up the corporate ladder, how to be the best at what I do, and how to strive to compete with the top minds in the industry.  Before you joined the cast of The Apprentice, how did you define success? 

Verna:  I define success as being able to take care of my family and my life's needs - enjoying each day as it comes. Looking at my children and knowing that I am teaching them how to be good people, driven, and to have goals in life. I define success as looking forward to each day, and being considered the best at what I do. When people can look at you to fix their hardest problems, and have no doubts that you are able to do it... you have achieved success. When you can face each day with anticipation of what's ahead, instead of dreading what's to come, you have achieved success. Success to me means that I don't have to wait for things to happen, but I am the one who can make them happen.  Now that you’re off the show has that definition changed?  If so, how? 

Verna:  That definition has not changed. I still hold my values and beliefs very high. Participating in a TV show cannot and did not change who I am. I think that every person’s definition of success is personal to him/her. Each person has to look at their life, and see how they want to make it better, where there is room for improvement and growth. I too have examined my life, and truly believe that success comes with satisfaction. If you have a life that is full of the joy and laughter that comes with happiness, and you do not have to worry about paying the bills or struggling month to month, in my opinion, you have achieved success. Some of the richest people are not happy; can you tell me they are successful? Success has to look beyond your pocket book.  OK, let’s get right to it.  Have a seat.  This is the Black Men In “Hot Seat.”  This is where I fire rapid questions and you respond with rapid-fire answers.  Are you ready? 

Verna:  I’m ready… go for it!  You obviously watched The Apprentice before you were selected to go on the show.  What were your expectations and what were you told before you became part of the show? 

Verna:  I had actually never watched The Apprentice. I had heard about the show, but figured, why watch TV to see what I live and breathe everyday. Because of my background, when The Apprentice auditions came to town, my brother convinced me to go out to the casting calls. The producers loved me and obviously felt that I had the professional background, along with the personal confidence needed to succeed in this type of competition. After I made it on, I went out and bought the Season 1 DVD set and sat down and watched it from beginning to end. My expectations going onto the show were that I was going to be competing in the ultimate business arena. This was going to provide me a chance to combine my two greatest strengths… my passion for business and drive for competition. Boy, was I in for a rude awakening.  Specifically, where was “the disconnect” between your expectations and the reality of being on the show? 

Verna:  I decided to move forward with participating on this show because I wanted an opportunity to demonstrate the skills and strength that have made me so successful in life. This was my chance to showcase my talents, and get the “opportunity of a lifetime” to do it with (supposedly) the best and brightest that America has to offer. However, in my opinion, it turned out that the show was not about demonstrating business talents, rather, something altogether different. It is evident that these shows try to bring out the extremes in people. Whether it’s only showing you when you’re emotional, or getting the cameras in your face when you’re angry, or filming you while you’re sleeping and showing that as the majority of your footage to show viewers that you’re lazy. There are things that go on behind the scenes of “Reality TV” that I discovered and did not want to be a part of.  What happened?  Can you give us some kind of build up to help us understand why you left the show? 

Verna:  Yeah, why don’t I just do that and break my NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement). That sounds like a good idea. Oh, by the way, as I’m moving my family out on the street, and all of my worldly belongings get confiscated, why don’t you get that spare bedroom at your house ready, because my family and I will be moving in soon.

What I will tell you is that I have built my expertise around sales, marketing and communications. This show was the perfect opportunity for me to showcase my business savvy and strengths when it comes to competing. I do not bow down to anyone. I hold strong to my beliefs and do what it takes to win… In this case, nothing changed. The only thing that is different is the way that I have defined winning. To many, winning would have been staying in the game and fighting with the other contestants for the (smirk) pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Instead of this misguided belief of what winning was supposed to be, I examined the real situation and determined that winning would be holding strong to my morals and convictions and not taking part in something that I felt went against that. If you think that I am lazy or weak, you need to think again. I am not that little pitiful person that you saw walking across your TV screen. You can either take me at my word or not. Your choice. Either way, it doesn’t detract from the fact that I know I am the real winner for not putting up with that situation.  OK, you made that point crystal clear.  I’ve heard from a number of black folks who are wondering what goes on behind the scenes on that show with respect to black women.  So far, there seems to be some sort of drama associated with black women.  In the first installment there was Omarosa, we don’t need to talk about her.  The second installment involved Stacie, who was portrayed as mentally unstable.  And for the third installment many felt that you were portrayed as somewhat unstable or having a nervous breakdown.  Do you have a response or reaction to this perception? 

Verna:  I personally do not believe there is conspiracy to make black people look bad on these shows, or to even demonstrate that they don’t “fit in.” However, I do believe that the producers are trying to play up common stereotypes that make for entertaining TV. When I sat down and watched the show at home, I used to think, my goodness, these people have serious problems. Now that I truly understand what “Reality TV” is all about I have a completely different outlook on the situation. I don’t sit in judgment of others who participated in these games. Instead, I sit back and observe what they’re doing with their 15 minutes. That is a truer testament to who they really are. If you are going to capitalize on being an evil witch, then so be it. No one can look at you and think any different. However, if you are going to go out and truly represent the person that you are, the strong, level-headed, business-minded qualities that supposedly got you onto the show, that is altogether a different story.  What did you learn about teamwork on the show? 

Verna:  During my brief stay on the show I did have a chance to mingle with contestants from both my team (book smarts) as well as the other team (street smarts). Looking beyond the “people” who were competing on this game show, I was able to have some real conversations with them as well. I found a group of very likeable people, whom I continue to keep in touch with. The main lesson that I learned from participating on the show was that you should not let the situation shape who you are. Instead, your personality and demeanor should shape the situation. I came out of my space to play the game. Luckily, I realized that it was not worth it to be something that I did not want to be, to go against my integrity. So, I quit. To me, it does not matter if the other contestants were aware of this or not, or even if they were able to share this information if they knew. What mattered is that I learned a personal life lesson. If nothing else, this experience was worth it just for that. I think the entire cast are good people. I look beyond how they are being portrayed, or even how they are trying to present themselves to win in this game. I enjoyed each and every one of them as human beings, and wish them all continued luck and success.  What was your most significant personal learning as a result of being on the show? 

Verna:  This experience has taught me so much. Mainly, it has taught me to never watch TV the same way again. I have no regrets about doing the show, just like I have no regrets about quitting. However, if you ask if I would do it again, I would have to say absolutely not. There is so much that you do not see that has nothing to do with "reality." I went on this show, because this was supposed to be a different kind of "reality TV" competition. It turned out, that it is just like all of the other TV game shows out there. I would do this show, just as quickly as I would go out for a show like "Real World" or "Trading Spouses." If you're looking to compete in business, this show is not looking to showcase that talent. I have no hard feelings though. It is about entertainment. If people were entertained, and found the show interesting, the producers are doing their jobs. All that glitters isn’t gold.  Did you learn anything about yourself that you weren’t aware of? 

Verna:  The Apprentice has taught me that so many people wish for something they don't have, and then you finally get it, and only wish to go back to what you had. The Apprentice has taught me to value and respect people as individuals. Don't get so caught up in the game that you become something that you are not. And lastly, The Apprentice has taught me that just because it glitters doesn't mean it's gold.  What are your impressions about Donald Trump? 

Verna:  I had liked Trump. Every interaction that I had with him was a positive one. He is doing his job, as you would expect, but also seems to me to be a very likeable person.  How much of the show is real?  How much of an impact do the cameras have on your behavior?

Verna:  I see “Reality TV’ very similar to watching horror movie sequels. Remember the rules? The first time you play by the rules to get the audience hooked. Second time, you try to break the rules to keep them coming back for more. The third time there are no rules, you’re going for shock value. Although I cannot tell you how much of these shows are real, how much of it is all in the editing and splicing…I can tell you that these people (producers, editors, etc.) are really good at their jobs. I didn’t appreciate the skills that they brought to the table before going through this experience. They are truly amazing and I have to respect that talent.  How big a factor was editing in how you were portrayed before the American viewing public?

Verna:  Of course there were things that the viewers missed that made me finally say, "enough is enough." I am not that little weak, lazy girl that they tried to depict on the show. I would not have made it on the show or have had as much success in my life if I were simply a person who would give up because I couldn't handle the pressure. I deal with pressure, stress and working in ambiguous environments everyday. There is so much that the viewers don't see, because there is so much that the viewers aren't supposed to see. I simply tell people to get over it and don't take it so seriously. This is entertainment. If you are entertained by the show, then they are doing their jobs well. If you think you can tell everything you need to know about a person based on a 45 minute edited TV show, there is a lot more you need to learn about life.  Can you talk about the support you received from your husband and family?

Verna:  My husband and friends were completely supportive of my decision to leave. They know what kind of person I am. I am a strong person, with a good head on my shoulders. I have always been blessed with making good decisions in my life, which ultimately work out for the best. My friends and family understand that if I decided to leave the show, there was definitely a good reason. They don't even question it. I do not bow down to fatigue. I do not stop just because something gets "hard." Rather, I fight until victory is won. In this case, I did just that. I fought until the victory was mine...that victory was that I was able to keep my integrity and moral values to remain true to myself and my family.  How has being on The Apprentice changed your life? 

Verna:  I am a strong, determined, spiritual person will not let others dictate my action. Not only do I think about how this experience has changed my life, but I hope others can learn from my lesson as well. There are other people out there who will come to a crossroads in their life, and need to make a decision about which direction to go. For these people, follow your hearts. Don't wait for the door to open, you have the power to open the door yourself and determine which direction to take. In the end, if you trust in yourself and trust in God, you will be lead down the right path. No one else has to understand your reasoning, if you have no regrets, walk with your head held up high. You are a strong beautiful, unique person and no one can take that away from you. 

BMIA.comLet me wrap up by doing a quick word association.  Just share the first thing that comes to your mind in terms of your preference. 

Verna:  OK.  Read a good book or watch a reality TV show. 

Verna:  I have always been a fan of a good book. Curled up in the bed or on the couch, I don’t think anything can beat that.  Untold wealth and riches or Family and Friends. 

Verna:  Both. I strive within my life to have a balance. I want to be successful, want to be able to live that carefree life with my family, and provide for my children many of the things I’ve never had. To me, you don’t have to give up who you are to achieve success. As long as you hold true to yourself and your loved ones, success and all that goes along with it is just around the corner.  Steve Forbes or Donald Trump. 

Verna:  Would I choose Steve Forbes or Donald Trump? Well, that completely depends on the situation and opportunity. Let me read the fine print first though!  OK, favorite singer. 

Verna:  My favorite musician is Elton John. Call me crazy if you like. I am also a child of the 80’s, so I can sit down and listen to just about anything that came out during that time.  No, that’s not crazy.  What’s next for Verna Felton? 

Verna:  I have been blessed to have many accomplishments in life. I will continue to stay focused, keeping my eye out for the next big thing. I don’t let one supposed “failure” get me down.  How can we support you? 

Verna:  I appreciate all of the support that people have sent, but I also have understanding for those who do not support my decision. I knew going into this race that my image and the way I would be perceived were all in the hands of the production crew. I signed up for that. So, ultimately, if I wanted to get mad at someone, who could I get made at? The people who believe what is being shown to them on TV, or the person who signed up to be portrayed in whatever way the production crew saw fit. I have no hard feelings--this is TV. I take it for what it is. I know who I am; I know what skills I bring to the table. That is what matters to me. 

Thank you Verna.  You are officially out of the Black Men In Hot Seat.   

Verna:  Thank you, Gary. 

To learn more about Verna Felton, visit her official web site at 

This interview was conducted by Gary Johnson for Black Men In

So what do you think?  If you would like to respond to this article click here and sign our Guestbook to leave a public or private comment. 


She’s A Little Bit Country:  An Interview with Vicki Vann 

Question:  Can you name a black female country singer?  (The Jeopardy game show theme song is playing).  Typical answer:  “I don’t know.”  In preparing for this interview, I asked dozens of people the same question and no one had an answer.  I can’t name a black female country singer.  Well after reading this interview, you will have an answer.  So the next time you’re at a party and someone tries to stump you and asks:  “Can you name a black female country singer?”  You will pause confidently, look at them and respond:  “Is that the best that you can do?  The answer is Vicki Vann.”  That’s right boys and girls.  Vicki Vann.   

In a little more than a year, Vicki Vann has caught the collective ear of country music fans from California to Nashville.  Her voice has earned her a reputation as one of the newest talents of country music.  Vann’s debut self-titled CD reflects a refreshing collection of country flavor tunes.  Her unique phrasing along with her soulful interpretation of songs has given Vicki Vann a distinctive sound.  I’ve listened to her music and she definitely has a country sound.  Country music experts and aficionados say they hear the influences of Barbra Striesand and Crystal Gayle.  When I listen to Vicki Vann I’m reminded of Deniece Williams.  Vann’s song “This Wall,” reminds me of Williams during her “It’s Gonna Take A Miracle” days in the late 70’s and 80’s.  Whatever you hear, make no mistake this is country music and Vann represents a bridge between the past, the present and the future style of country music. 

So who is Vicki Vann and where did she come from?  Vicki Vann was born in Los Angeles, California as Vicki Denise Turnbough to a Baptist Minister/Pastor and a bookkeeper/homemaker.  Her father is from Mississippi and was an original member of the gospel group, The Mighty Clouds of Joy.  She earned a degree in Psychology from Occidental College in Eagle Rock, CA 

Her mother, originally from Oklahoma, sang in the choir at church on Sundays, every Sunday from sunup 'till sundown.  The family consists of her parents, Art and Carol Turnbough, Rudy an older brother, and her younger brother Rick.  They lived in suburban Los Angeles on a few acres of land with horses, chickens, rabbits, dogs, cats, and a mule.  The Turnboughs, a very spiritual family, always looked forward to Sundays where they would spend the day at church with family and friends.  Vicki sang throughout school and idolized Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton, Aretha Franklin, Crystal Gayle and Barbara Mandrell.  In the sixth grade, Vicki entered her school talent show and took first place along with a standing ovation. 

Vann said that she realized early on that she had a special gift from God.    She’s maintained this gift by successfully balancing the demands of career and family, and not sacrificing her values.  She can keep her music country and “keep it real” at the same time.  "I sing so I can feel.  When I can really feel it in my soul - I know my music is coming across the way I want it to,” says Vann. 

Our own Gary Johnson caught up with Vicki Vann for this illuminating interview.  So without further adieu, here is the Vicki Vann interview.

The Vicki Vann Interview


BMIA Tell us about your debut CD “Vicki Vann.”  How has the CD been received? 

Vicki Vann:  My debut CD consists of 11 tracks and a bonus track.  All the songs were handpicked through thousands of songs we listened to.  I felt a deep connection with each and every song that made the CD.  The CD has been quite receptive.  I think people can relate to the songs.  There’s a little something for everybody.  For example, two favorite tracks among most female fans are, “Wednesday Kisses”, and “He Was Leavin’ Anyway.”  We’re hoping for a nationwide release in October.   

BMIA:  When did you first know you wanted to be a singer and how did you end up singing country music? 

Vicki Vann:  I first knew I wanted to be a singer when I saw Barbara Mandrell on TV getting picked up and thrown about all with her microphone still intact, and smiling.  She looked like she was having the time of her life!  I fell madly in love with country music mostly because the songs tell real stories!  I’m a storyteller!!  I began writing poems and plays at age seven or eight.  I got one of my poems published in the local newspaper, and there was something grand about seeing my thoughts, in print.  At that point, I began writing songs from my poems.  I’m a literary fool!  I can relate to hearing and telling a story from beginning to end.  It makes me feel comfortable, like being at home.  Country music fit well with my personality.   

BMIA:  You describe yourself as being “spiritual.”  Can you elaborate on that? 

Vicki Vann:  Sure!  I am a spiritual person in that I take God with me in everything I do, and everywhere I go.  I’m not so much of a religious person because often I am out of town and away from church and cannot go, but I’m never without God.  That was instilled into my skull by my parents at a very, very, young age and I’m so glad they did.  I meditate daily to start my day, and I look at the Bible as my manual for life.  In addition, I always insist on praying before we go on stage.   

BMIA:  What was your earliest or most vivid recollection of being “different?” 

Vicki Vann:  My earliest recollection of being different was when I was about five or six years old and I would perform at the drop of a hat for anyone who asked, even though I was painfully shy.  I craved so much attention!!  My whole body would just shake until I got passed the first line of the song or so, and then well, IT WAS ON!!  The applause made me glow.  I became addicted to performing. 

BMIA:  From listening to your music, I get the sense that you’ve had influences outside of the country genre.  Who are some of your musical influences? 

Vicki Vann:  My musical influences include:  Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, Aretha Franklin, Stephanie Mills, Anita Baker, Luther Vandros, Peobo Bryson, and the late, great singers, Donny Hathaway, Ella Fitzgerald, Phylis Hyman, and Sarah Vaughn. 

BMIA:  Who is your favorite singer and why? 

Vicki Vann:  My favorite singer is Celine Dion because she does not sing a single note without some type of emotional thought process behind it.  She takes you (the listener along with her for the ride) throughout the duration of her performance, which is my goal whenever I sing. 

BMIA:  Are there any other female country singers of color of note?  If so, who are they? 

Vicki Vann:  No, there aren’t any that have reached major stardom and, or popularity to represent people who love country music who have brown faces, like me.   

BMIA:  The music business is a hard hustle.  Is it harder for a black woman to be successful singing country music?  Is it harder than singing pop or adult contemporary? 

Vicki Vann:  As far as my audiences are concerned, no, I feel it isn’t harder and harder is the operative word here, for a Black woman to be successful singing country, but I believe as for the music industry and industry professionals making all the decisions it’s extremely difficult to break new ground because here I am trying to do something that hasn’t been done before, ever!  The industry in a sense is afraid of me.  I think it would be easier, or perhaps it would be a more expedient road to worldwide recognition and super stardom singing pop or adult contemporary because that is what Black female singers before me have done, and have been successful, to the heights of mega stardom, because it’s always easier to follow someone rather than step out and create your own way.  That can often take a little while and maybe shake a few people up along the way.   

BMIA:  Do audiences react differently to you? 

Vicki Vann:  My audiences don’t expect me to sing country!  I guess I don’t appear like a typical female country singer, you know, Anglo, with serious twang and all.  However, once they experience my songs and my show, they’re ready to stand in line for CD’s and pictures to shake my hand and say  “Wow!  You oughta be on the radio!  You’re just as great as any female country singer out there!” 

BMIA:  Is there an advantage being a country singer of color? 

Vicki Vann:  Yes, the advantage of being a country singer of color is it’s ‘refreshing’ to see something different.  People are curious, and their curiosity pulls them in, makes them listen and then, the gifts that I’ve been given and Blessed with take over from there.  So far, it’s all been extremely good and well received. 

BMIA:  Do you feel like you have to work twice as hard to get recognized or is the playing field for you level? 

Vicki Vann:  I feel as though I do have to work twice as hard because of the work ethic my mom taught me.  She always said, “There’s always gonna be somebody prettier, who can sing better, dance better, and charm better who probably woke up much earlier than you and is way ahead of you, so put your best out there plus whatever else is left to create your own path.”  I believe the playing field is level if you know the rules to the game and have many angels along guiding your steps. 

BMIA:  What do you want people to “get” as a result of listening to your music? 

Vicki Vann:  I want people to come away from listening to my music with some heartfelt emotion.  I want people to be able to look past the music and hear my soul, because it’s my job to present it.  The emotion they feel can be happy or sad, or even remembering an experience, or an experience of someone else just to be able to relate and feel connected with me for delivering. 

BMIA:  How much of your personal life is reflected in your music? 

Vicki Vann:  Very much of my personal life is reflected in my music.  For every word I sing I have either been there, done that, or I know some one well enough who has.  It’s how I can make the soul connection. 

BMIA:  Do you have any professional ambitions outside of music? 

Vicki Vann:  My ambitions outside of music include acting.  I’ve always considered myself an actress.  I love writing, screenplays, etc.  I’d also love to be a spokesperson for a worthy cause I believe in like animal rights or be a children’s’ advocate for literacy or adoption!  I’d love to write a book someday. 

BMIA:  How would you describe your sound? 

Vicki Vann:  My sound can be described as.....The Vicki Vann sound!!  I don’t sound like any one else really.  It’s a unique blend of country soul, sprinkled with southern gospel and rhythm and blues.   

BMIA:  Tell us about the Vickie Vann Band.  Are they like family to you? 

Vicki Vann:  The Vicki Vann Band is my local band that I perform with in California only.  We perform at local venues.  They’re very much like family whom I care about.  I admire them for their expertise and for putting up with me. 

BMIA:  What’s the best thing about being Vicki Vann? 

Vicki Vann:  The best thing about being Vicki Vann is waking up each morning and seeing the gift of another day to possibly share my gifts with those I care about, and I have some pretty cool jeans to wear!! 

BMIA:  Is there a down side to being Vicki Vann?  If so, what’s the down side? 

Vicki Vann:  The only down side I have is I can be a perfectionist with a hurry up and wait mentality.  However, I remain an optimist. 

BMIA:  How often are you on the road performing? 

Vicki Vann:  We’re currently not on the road because we’re finishing the CD for a major release soon.  We’re fine-tuning all the small details for the next few weeks.  But typically, I’m out for a few show dates a month.  We completed a great show in Switzerland recently, and we had a fabulous time rockin’ the house!!  We tore it up!!!! 

BMIA:  You are very talented and attractive.  What is your ethnicity? 

Vicki Vann:  Thank you!!  I’m all mixed up like a mutt!  Actually, I have black, French, Spanish, American Indian, and German roots from my parents.  My father hails from Mississippi and Louisiana, and my mother originates from the Oklahoma Texas area. 

BMIA:  How involved are you with the business side of your career? 

Vicki Vann:  I’m very involved with the business side of my career.  I feel that it is extremely important for every artist to be.  I’ve researched and studied many facets of this business and therefore I am equipped to make professional and positive decisions about my career. 

BMIA:  How much can you share about your personal life?  Are you married?  Single?  Significant Other? 

Vicki Vann:  As far as my personal life goes, yes, there is someone very special!! 

BMIA:  What does the future hold for Vicki Vann?  Where do you see Vicki Vann 5 years from now? 

Vicki Vann:  I see myself in the next five years selling so many CD’s that they can’t keep them on the shelves, bringing a whole new untapped market of fans to country music all at the same time while I’m driving down the highway, in my huge tour bus, to play a show, and being so excited about seeing my fans like it’s my very first gig!!  I see myself being just a breath of fresh air in an industry and in particular, a genre of music that’s gone a little stale.  And, of course, I’ll be at the Grammy’s, to win! 

BMIA:  What are the most important issue facing black men in America?  Black women? 

Vicki Vann:  Deep question.  The most important issue I see facing many black men, in America, is gaining the ability to claim their worth, on a widespread front, and view themselves as God views them, and continuing the fight to keep HOPE ALIVE!  As for all black women in America, we must see another sistah and give her MUCH LOVE & SUPPORT to the point that together, we will move mountains, and ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough....’ 

BMIA: How can we support you and your career? 

Vicki Vann:  You already have by printing this interview and asking great questions!  Oh, you can send your readers to my website at to buy my CD!! Thanks!! 

BMIA:  What advice would you give to young singers? 

Vicki Vann:  Advice I would give young singers is; realize you will only be as successful as your dreams will travel.  So, pack your suitcase early, get your passport ahead of time, and prepare yourself for the voyage of your life, but keep God close by always, and you’ll never, ever fall, and if you do, know He’ll be there to catch you and pull you up again to start over.

Thank you & God Bless!  See you on the road! 


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Dorien Wilson:  Sexy, Single and Syndicated

Actor Dorien Wilson is celebrating an exciting career.  He'll appear on the big screen in B2K’s new movie, “You Got Served” slated to open at the end of January 2004, and he’s enjoying the success of his fifth season as Professor Oglevee on UPN’s hit comedy show, “The Parkers”, which is now also syndicated.  In fact, the NAACP Image Awards have recognized the engaging actor with a nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series.  Sexy, syndicated and now nominated, Dorien Wilson is hot property!

No stranger to network television, the veteran actor has consistently held roles for the past decade, including his stint as Eddie Charles in HBO’s “Dream On” and the Reverend Franklin Goode on UPN’s “Goode Behavior.”   In addition to “You Got Served”, Dorien will also appear in the upcoming film “Gas,” written by Ralph Farquhar, directed by Henry Chan and starring Flex Alexander.

The recent NAACP Award nomination is especially gratifying to Wilson.  “Professor Olgevee has been one of my most endearing roles.  I literally can't cross the street without someone recognizing me or asking me, ‘when am I going to get with Nikki Parker,’ who is played by Mo'Nique on the show.  Mo’Nique and I are like brother and sister in real life, and we have a blast taunting each other on the set.”

“This season is an exciting one for the cast.  There are all kinds of surprises in store for our long time fans, so my advice is that they not miss an episode!”

Nikki Parker is nobody's fool.  Laugh if you want, but Nikki has relentlessly pursued Professor Oglevee for four straight television seasons for good reason.  As millions of viewers of the highly popular UPN series, "The Parkers" can attest, Professor Oglevee is good looking, single, intelligent, funny and charming.  What more could a woman want? 

"The Parkers" will enter syndication this fall in conjunction with their fifth season, which launches Monday, September 15.  In addition to the new episodes, the show will begin airing five days a week on stations throughout the country.    

"I have worked consistently for over a decade here in Hollywood," says Wilson.  "So I feel very blessed. 
Wilson has demonstrated Hollywood’s most elusive trait:  Staying power.  “The Parkers” is his 3rd television show.  'Television audiences have embraced me as family, and it is a sincere delight," expresses Wilson.

Wilson's screen characters embody intelligence, wit and professionalism with a keen sense of humor, all qualities that make him a positive role model.  He may also be remembered for his comic turn on HBO's "Dream On," as the smooth-talking, womanizing talk show host Eddie Charles, a role for which he received a Cable ACE Award nomination.  Other television credits include starring as Franklin Goode in UPN's "Goode Behavior" with Sherman Hemsley and recurring roles on "Living Single," "Friends," "The Steve Harvey Show" and "Sister, Sister." He has guest starred on "Seinfeld," "Moesha," "Friends," "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air," and "Martin."

I caught up with Wilson last week and found him to be a down-to-earth brother who is truly humbled and feels blessed to be successful.  Wilson remembers the struggles and the sacrifices that he made to get to this point in his career.  During our conversation he recalled paying his dues by teaching acting in the Bay area and his 10 years working in theater.  Wilson was a student of the Pacific Conservatory of Performing Arts in Santa Monica, CA and the prestigious American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco.  Working hard and paying his dues has garnered Wilson a very stable and established career.  “There’s no substitute for hard work when it comes to success,” says Wilson. 

Although I didn’t spend any time talking with Wilson about him being a sex symbol, I was well aware that the brother is in the 2003 Alayé Mens Calendar.  We spent most of our time talking about his career. 

I asked Wilson to describe the down side of being an actor.  “The worst part of being an actor is giving up part of yourself, especially when I’m with my children.  I appreciate the enthusiasm of fans who want to meet me but sometimes folks can get excited and over due it with their enthusiasm.”  Wilson clearly accepts the good with the bad.  “I try to be as gracious as I can.  When I’m by myself it’s much less of a problem.”  Wilson also talked about the best part of being a celebrity.  “The best part of being a celebrity are the perks – clothes, reservations in restaurants, invitation to clubs and feedback from fans.  I always feel good when I can bring a smile to the face of his fans.”

I also asked Wilson to describe what it's like working with Mo’Nique and doing the TV show "The Parkers."  He immediately got excited and said:  “That’s my girl man.  Mo’Nique is my heart--she’s the best.  She's like a sister to me.  What you see is what you get.  She is truly a beautiful person.”   

Wilson credits Mo’Nique and the crew with making the set feel like home.  “I feel like I’m going to work every day and playing with my friends all day long and still getting a pay check,” said Wilson. 

In my opinion, part of Wilson’s success is because he’s a talented actor who appeals to both men and women.  The women love him because of his talent and good looks.  The men can relate to him because of his consistent depiction of the professional working man.

Wilson attributes his charisma as probably being one of the key elements to his success.  He says his parents are his mentors because they taught him that he could achieve anything in life.  When I asked him to name some of his favorite actors, Wilson cited Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Denzel Washington, Cicely Tyson, Sidney Poitier and James Earl Jones as some of the people that he grew up admiring. 

When I asked Wilson to talk about his accomplishments, I expected him to talk about his numerous awards or something along those lines.  Instead Wilson boasted that his two children are his proudest accomplishments.  He said:  “I swear from the bottom of my heart, my kids are my proudest accomplishment.  I pride myself on being a great Dad.” 

You can see Dorien Wilson on “The Parkers” on UPN on Mondays at 9:00 p.m. (ET/PT).

Thanks to Makeda Smith from Jazzmyne PR for arranging this interview.  Original interview conducted November 2002 and updated January 2004.  Click here to read about the "best kept secret in Hollywood."



Karibu Books:  A Great Experience

For the best in black book and the black book experience, you must visit Karibu bookstores, either live or online.  When I walked into the Karibu store in Bowie, MD, an immediate sense of pride came over me.  That is one impressive store.  Karibu's Lee McDonald wanted to know if Black Men In would be interested in doing a feature on the store.  Many of the authors featured on this site have book signings at one or more of the Karibu stores.  When I arrived I was warmly greeted by Rico Morris (pictured above), the Store Manager.  The Bowie location is impressive.  The atmosphere was great.  I had a great time.  Thanks to Lee, everyone can benefit from knowing more about this black owned business.

BMIA:  When and how did Karibu Books get started?

Yao Ahoto started vending oils, incense, etc in the DC area in 1992.  In early 1993, Simba Sana joined and the focus shifted to books.  Karibu was the name chosen and it was incorporated in March.  Yao and his wife Karla and Simba are the owners of Karibu.  The original vision was to open one store in Southeast DC.  Karibu is a DC corporation but is still working on a store in DC proper.  Infrastructure, infrastucture, Infrastructure!  We stay away from the hype and keep our noses to the ground.  Also, location, location, location.  We have a large selection of black literature.  We really focus on customer service.  We have stores in malls which offer consumers convenience.  We also offer nice-looking stores that use the latest bookselling technology.

Karibu has four stores in PG County Maryland (Prince George’s Plaza, Bowie Town Center, Iverson Mall, Forest Village Park Mall) and one in Arlington Virginia (Pentagon City).

BMIA:  How many employees?

Over 40 full and part-timers.  

BMIA:  Who selected the name Karibu?  What does it mean?

Simba approached Yao with the name since he was studying Kiswahili at the time.  Karibu means “welcome, come-in”  It was chosen to emphasize good service.

BMIA:  Who are some of the authors that Karibu has helped launch?

Omar Tyree, Darren Coleman, Zak Kondo, Brian Gilmore.  We have also completed a poetry/jazz cd project with poet DJ Renegade.

BMIA:  What can we (the black community) do to support Karibu?

Just continue to buy books and give us feedback on good and not so good experiences so we know how to move ahead.


Click On Photos To Enlarge

Seven years ago, EMI Gospel recording artist, Darwin Hobbs was working at Saks Fifth Ave. in his hometown of Cincinnati, OH.  He decided to move to Nashville, TN, to break into the music business.  Shortly after arriving in Nashville, he became a professional background/studio session singer.  Today, Hobbs is pleasing gospel music fans with his new CD “Broken.” 

“Broken” is my best work yet.  It’s the best of both worlds.  Groove and Worship,” says Hobbs.  In the midst of what Hobbs’ calls his “incredible journey,” the album title itself captures where the much sought after vocalist is in his life both spiritually and creatively.  This release, Hobbs’ third since signing with EMI Records six years ago, follows his 1999 debut, “MERCY” and sophomore follow-up, “VERTICAL.” 

This may be Hobbs’ third CD but he’s no newcomer to the music business.  “I sang on over 700 records/sessions during my 4 years in Nashville,” explained Hobbs.

Hobbs says the new CD is different from his first two releases.  He explained, “Broken is different because I'm different.  Broken displays my writing and producing skills that have never before been shown.”  Hobbs wrote three songs and used some of today’s top musical producers including Tommy Sims (Amy Grant, CeCe Winans, Kenny Loggins), Kevin Bond (Donnie McClurkin), Mike City (Brandi, Sunshine Anderson), Bernie Herms (CeCe Winans) and Danny Weatherspoon (Tri-City Singers, Shirley Murdock).  A talented songwriter, Hobbs enjoys listening to CeCe Winans, Mary Mary, Tommy Sims, Usher, Luther Vandross, and Kirk Franklin. 

All of that talent explains the wide range of musical tastes that are evident on “Broken.”  When you listen to the CD you’ll get your “praise on.”  You’ll also hear ballads, R&B, and even hip-hop grooves! 

Hobbs hopes that the mixture of songs included on the CD will appeal to today’s modern Gospel music audience.  The discs’ diversity is demonstrated in songs such as the first single, “Nobody Like Jesus,” a luscious duet with label mate Shirley Murdock that features a mix of gospel, pop and R&B. 

Hobbs has a nice philosophy about him when it comes to music.  “I believe music serves several purposes.  Some music is meant to assist you in your private worship experience, while other music is simply great for mood setting, like vacuuming your house, or riding in your car on a sunny day,” says Hobbs. 

Hobbs said he grew up in the church singing in the choir.  “I didn’t do it by choice, my mother MADE me join the choir.”  I asked Hobbs who helped him to get to this point in his career.  I figured he had several mentors.  Hobbs explained it this way, “I had a mentor named John W. Stevenson in the area of worship, but other than that, I really had no mentors to speak of, especially male mentors, but that’s another interview.”  Hobbs made it clear that when the rubber meets the road he draws his strength from God and his wife Traci.  When I asked Hobbs to talk about the best part of being Darwin Hobbs, he responded as follows:  “The best part of being Darwin Hobbs is being married to the most beautiful black woman in the universe--Traci Rene Hobbs.  We've been best friends since 5th grade.  She knows enough about me to condemn me, but chooses to love me instead.” 

Hobbs thinks about his future and believes that 5 years from now, his fans will see growth in the form of more music, more production and writing.  Hobbs is even considering public speaking engagements and partnering with his wife Traci to mentor others and instill positive energy into marriages. 

For those of you who want to get into the music business Hobbs suggest the following:  “Make sure you pray and ask God where He wants you.  Are you supposed to be a label artist?  If so, you need to network to get to know the right people who can help catapult you.  If you're digging for oil, get to an oil field for this business like Nashville, New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta.  Go to where the atmosphere is conducive to what you're trying to accomplish.” 

I asked Hobbs what could his fans do to support him.  Hobbs replied, “Pray that I'll walk through every door God opens for me.  Visit my web site and keep in touch with what I'm doing.  And, encourage others not to download music--purchase it!  We artists have to buy groceries and pay rent just like y'all do.”  Amen to that! 

For more information on this dynamic artist, check out his web site at

Click On The CD Cover To Purchase "Broken" by Darwin Hobbs

This interview was conducted by Gary Johnson with a special thanks to Robyn Ryland-Sanders of GQ Media for her help in arranging this interview. 

So what do you think?  If you would like to respond to this article click here and sign our Guestbook to leave a public or private comment. 

Jamie Foster Brown:  Sister 2 Sister and Family Too!

Jamie Foster Brown is the publisher and sole owner of Sister 2 Sister magazine.  She is also the celebrity news personality on the syndicated Tom Joyner Morning Show.  She has won numerous accolades as a trailblazer in the entertainment industry.  Her talent and toughness have made her one of the most prominent African-American women in entertainment journalism and her monthly publication a staple for entertainment industry insiders. 

I found Jamie Foster Brown to be one of the nicest people that I’ve ever interviewed.  She was very gracious with her time and was a delight to talk to.  I caught up with Brown last week.  I must tell you this is a very well rounded woman with a wealth of life lessons and experiences that have given her the tenacity to persevere and succeed during tough times. 

Since launching in September 1988, Sister 2 Sister magazine has grown exponentially.  In addition, Ms. Brown has significantly influenced not only the entertainment industry, but also the entertainment audience.  She has proven herself to be more than just another female journalist with quick wit.  Her open moral outrage over the excessive violence in "gangsta" rap lyrics and its increasing negative influence on young people served as the catalyst that began the dialogue between members of the African-American leadership and music industry moguls.  

Because of her high visibility in the entertainment world, this 15-year veteran is frequently quoted by major news organizations.  Newsweek magazine, lauding Ms. Brown’s influence, recently listed her among the nation’s top “buzzmakers” along with such notables as talk show hostesses Oprah Winfrey and Rosie O’Donnell.   

As an extension of her magazine, Ms. Brown founded the syndicated radio show, “The Sister 2 Sister Celebrity Update,” which aired on 46 radio stations including the BBC in London, and reached over a million listeners.  Jamie airs every Tuesday and Thursday in an entertainment segment of the popular “Tom Joyner Morning Show” reaching an audience of over 9 million on over 100 radio stations across the nation. 

Simon & Schuster recently released Ms. Brown’s first book, "Betty Shabazz: A Sisterfriends’ Tribute in Words and Pictures."  In the book, Ms. Brown amassed some of America’s most prominent women, including Dr. Maya Angelou, Gloria Steinem, Whitney Houston, Myrlie Evers-Williams and Dr. Dorothy Height, who in their very personal essays commemorate the life and accomplishments of the late Dr. Shabazz. 

Not bad for a woman who used to be Bob Johnson’s secretary.  That’s right Bob (BET Billionaire) Johnson.  She later moved up to produce two of BET’s flagship shows, “Video Soul” and “Video LP.” 

Having appeared on national television outlets such as, “48 Hours,” “The Leeza Show,” “Sally Jessy Raphael,” “Entertainment Tonight,” “The Maury Povich Show,” CNN, and BET, Ms. Brown is held in the highest esteem by her peers in recognition of her work.  She also received the Anheuser Busch Eagle Award, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship Award for Outstanding African-American Women in the ‘90s and the IMPACT Super Summit Award, which is one of the most prestigious music industry awards in the country. 

Ms. Brown’s career in the entertainment business began in 1979 when she founded the Washington Theater Group (an entertainment service group focusing on theater group sales.)  Later, she worked for Black Entertainment Television (BET) and at one point served as Bob Johnson’s secretary. 

I asked Brown to identify her “big break”.  She struggled with the question and after thinking for a few moments acknowledged that there was no one big break, but a series of little steps.  Brown says she had no mentors along the way, and explained that Sister 2 Sister magazine was never planned.  “I was told by some people in the music industry that I had a knack for writing.”  Brown started writing for Impact Magazine and other publications.  Brown’s writing style was conversational and engaging.  She continued to generate interest in the industry.  When it comes to her success, Brown made it clear:  “Black people put me in business.  I’m in love with black people.” 

Having quit at BET, Brown borrowed money from friends and called on her industry contacts for advertising revenue.  Soon after, her husband, Dr. Lorenzo Brown, an economist, who worked at the Energy Regulatory Commission helped out by buying a computer.  Dr. Brown taught himself how to use the computer and although her publication at the time was just a hobby, Dr. Brown quit his job in 1992 to work with his wife.  Today, her two sons also work in the business to make it a true family affair. 

When I asked Brown to talk about what its like to be Jamie Foster Brown, she credited her parents.  “One thing I’m very, very happy about is that I had great parents and they taught me a lot and along with my grandparents gave me the foundation for what’s right and wrong.  Now I have my life somewhat complete and I feel that if I were to leave this earth today, I would be all right.  That’s the best part of being Jamie Foster Brown.” 

Brown credits her mother and father with having the most influence over her.    “My family background has really paid off.  My sisters and I were raised with honesty and integrity and we know how to receive people without judging them.  I also lived in Europe for 9 years.  I had my children there and I was educated there.  Ms. Brown is a graduate of the University of Stockholm in Stockholm, Sweden.   

According to Brown, although Sister 2 Sister Magazine is doing well and many consider it to be a success, she feels like it will be a success when she can do more things to help black people.  “Right now, I’m still building and growing.  I can’t spend the time and the money the way I want to, says Brown.”  “I want to grow black businesses and help people along the way.  I’d also like to see more black people save their money and direct that money toward their own business.” 

Jamie Foster Brown has a vision that many black folks don’t have.  She’s developing a legacy for her children to take over and manage.  I asked Brown if she had any advice for people who wanted to start their own business.  She stated, “If you want to start a magazine, you have to have an advertising base.  I had an advertising base in the music industry.”  I interpreted this as another critical skill that successful people use daily.  Folks, a large part of Jamie Foster Brown's success is that she knows how to build and maintain relationships.  She also noted that you must have good credit to be successful in business.  You have to pay your bills. 

I asked Brown if there was a person (outside of her family) that has influenced her more than others.  Her answer:  “No.  They’re all about the same.”  Brown did single out Bobby Brown.  That’s right, troubled R&B singer Bobby Brown.  According to Jamie, Bobby helped her during a critical time with her business and he did it for FREE.  She says Bobby Brown is kind, thoughtful and not self-centered.  Why the kind words for Brown?  It's simple.  Jamie Foster Brown is loyal to people who have been kind to her. 

Jamie Foster Brown is a graduate of the University of Stockholm in Stockholm, Sweden.  In 2008, she received a Doctorate in Humane Letters from Bennett College. Originally from Chicago, Illinois, she currently lives in Maryland with her husband, Lorenzo Brown, who is an economist and the managing editor of Sister 2 Sister magazine. Their two sons, Randy and Russell Brown, are, respectively, associate publisher and business operations manager for Sister 2 Sister.

This interview was conducted by Gary Johnson in September 2003.  A special thanks goes out to Robyn Ryland-Sanders of GQ Media Public Relations who arranged this interview. 

Makeda:  Hollywood’s Best Kept Secret

What do Tonight Show bandleader Kevin Eubanks; Queen of Comedy Mo’Nique, comedian J. Anthony Brown, actor Dorien Wilson and Black Men In have in common?  They’ve all worked with the “secret weapon.”  That’s right, the secret weapon – “Makeda.”  How do you think I manage to get these celebrity interviews for the web site?  Certainly not with my charm and good looks.  Makeda Smith has been instrumental in helping us bring you features on folks like Ronald Jones and Mark Bush, inventors of the SongPro Player, the hottest electronic product on the market and Real Estate mogul “Boss Bill” Hankins.

Several months ago I told Makeda that I thought that she had a story worth telling.  Smith has a harmonious spirit, and she’s always upbeat and positive.  Talking to her is a ‘high energy” experience.  Like me, she spends much of her workday at the computer or tied to a telephone or some other form of electronic media.  I caught up with Makeda and got her to share some aspects of her life that I find inspiring.

In 1988, Gwendolyn "Makeda" Smith resigned her position as Associate Director of West Coast Publicity at Hervey & Company, a public relations firm headed by music industry veteran, Ramon Hervey.  Shortly thereafter and with a simple press release she launched her firm, Jazzmyne Public Relations, named for her oldest daughter.

As the president and sole owner of Jazzmyne Public Relations, this former welfare mother decided to develop a personalized approach to the vast and hectic world of entertainment public relations.  That decision paid off.  A home-based operation, Jazzmyne Public Relations has consistently boasted a client base that competes with the major firms.  Specializing in publicity, media management and management consulting, Smith has been instrumental in launching, establishing and maintaining several highly visible publicity campaigns over the years.  I do business with a lot of people and Makeda Smith is at the top of my list.  She’s one of the best at building and maintaining relationships.  I love doing business with her.  She’s thorough and professional.  If she commits to something, you can count on it!

Many of us are familiar with some of the names on her client roster.  Comedians J. Anthony Brown, co-host of the nationally syndicated Tom Joyner Morning Show, TV star and Queen of Comendy, Mo’Nique, A. J. Jamal, and Paul Mooney to name a few.  Other clients include the Tonight Show's bandleader, Kevin Eubanks; child actor Michael Pagan from "How Stella Got Her Groove Back" and actor Dorien Wilson from the hit TV show “The Parkers.”

Interestingly enough, Smith didn’t know anything about entertainment public relations.  In fact, she walked away from a regular paycheck.  “I worked temp for about 6 months and was extremely frustrated job hunting.  A guy I was dating at the time located an ad in the USC school paper (where I had just completed graduate school) for a non-paid internship at an entertainment pr firm in Hollywood.  I told him he was crazy and there was no way I was going to work anywhere for free (my oldest daughter was 2 at the time.)”  Smith was uncomfortable working at night with a young daughter.  “I felt like my daughter was going to grow up without me.”  Smith really wanted to be home and decided to take a leap of faith and venture out on her own.  She did this with no savings or formal business plan.  

“I’ve known that I wanted to be a public relations person and entrepreneur since high school.   The field of PR has always intrigued me.  With regard to entrepreneurship, my late father was an entrepreneur and he would always say:  “You don’t want to work for someone else, you want to be your own boss.”

"The fact that I'm a single mother of two, African American, and a woman, has always served to make me work even harder.  One, because I believe all these factors offer me a springboard of strength and empowerment, and two, because I believe in dispelling people's stereotypes and exceeding their expectations," offers the Chicago native.

Armed with a Master's degree in Communication's Management from the University of Southern California, and a Bachelor of Science in Public Relations from Boston University, Smith admits that the life of an entrepreneur has been an uphill battle. "Like Whoopi Goldberg and Roseanne, I also was once a welfare mom.  Unyielding faith and perseverance have gotten me through the roughest of times," reveals Smith.

It’s those rough times that also keep Smith focused and grounded.  “I would have to say that I am influenced and motivated by the struggles and accomplishments of Black women in general, throughout history, named and unnamed.  I can’t name just one person.”  I think the success of this woman is due in large measure to her mindset.  For example, Smith does not acknowledge failure.  I find that this is the case with most successful people.  She defines success as attaining inner peace and noted that Erika Badu’s music calms her spirit.  She says her biggest business success is that Jazzmyne Public Relations is 15 years old.  On the personal side, she recently purchased her first home.

Jazzmyne Public Relations is a home-based business.  A typical day for Smith is going downstairs to her office in her pajamas and working on the computer.  “E-mailing and phoning is 85% of my workload.  Talking to clients, networking folks, coordinating interviews, tracking press, etc., that’s a typical day at home in the office.”

I could not resist asking Smith to give me her reaction to the recent Whitney Houston interview with Diane Sawyer, which many people viewed as a PR nightmare (including yours truly).  Here’s what Smith had to say:  “I love and respect Whitney Houston.  I believe she held her own in the interview.  This business is a tough and cruel one.  I applaud her for standing by her Black man (“they” don’t want to see us do that) and for holding her ground with Sawyer.  She didn’t break down, she broke it down!”

Is there a down side for Smith?  You bet.  “The worst thing I have experienced and still experience is clients not having a full comprehension of the scope of my work and therefore not appreciating it.  That and clients not paying their bill is THE WORST!” 

I believe that everyone does something better than everyone else.  Smith says her ability to “read folks” is her gift.  According to Smith, intuition is power.  “Peace is my constant mantra, inner peace.  On those days where I really don’t want to get up and face whatever, again, I channel the energy of all the sisters before me, their struggles and accomplishments; and then whatever I’m going through pales in comparison.  I channel that energy and strength through prayer and then I know, Goddess has my back and I’m going to be alright!” 

Of all the funny people that she works with Smith says her boyfriend is probably the funniest.  He’s the one who makes her laugh.  I asked Smith to share her thought on what it takes to succeed in show business.  “Succeeding in show business (in front of the camera) takes more than just talent.  It takes savvy, perseverance, knowledge and faith, combined with talent.  My best advice is to learn everything you can about the business and keep reaching for your dream or goal.

From gangsta' rappers to celebrities to special events, Jazzmyne Public Relations has publicized a wide range of projects and personalities.  "I'm told that most small businesses don't make it past five years.  I'm blessed to still be here and going strong!," asserts Smith.  And I’m blessed because I can still land that occasional celebrity interview—thanks to Makeda, the best-kept secret in Hollywood.

Mo'Nique:  More Than Just A Funny Lady

Mo'Nique, winner of the 2001 and 2002 NAACP Image Awards for Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series (The Parkers), stars as Nikki Parker, a bold, big-hearted single mother who attends college with her daughter Kim (Countess Vaughn) in the UPN hit comedy series THE PARKERS.  When television’s long running show, “It's Showtime At the Apollo” decided to revamp for the new season, Mo’Nique emerged as the natural contender for a show that is also a staple in African American households. 

Mo’Nique shows that she’s more than just a funny lady.  Mo’Nique is also a savvy businesswoman with a new book entitled, “Skinny Women Are Evil” (Atria Books/Simon & Schuster), a new comedy CD in the works, her own clothing line, (BBLI - Big, Beautiful and Loving It), and a signature fragrance to launch soon.

I asked Monique to recall when she first realized that she was funny.  “I first realized I was funny when my brother Steve told me I was funny.  A lot of people assume that I was the class clown.  No.  I was very prissy in high school.  I wore my heels, my skirt and had my briefcase.  My brother Steve, who’s been my manager for 15 years, tried to be the family comedian and was horrible.  He went on stage at the Comedy Factory Outlet in Baltimore.  Steve got out there and got booed.  They cut the microphone off; they cut the lights off, so I teased him the next day.  I told him what I would have said.  I did a 40-minute routine.  So Steve dared me to go down there the next week and get on stage.  Well I did it and got a standing ovation.  And somebody offered to pay me $25.00 to do a hair show.  Steve negotiated that I get an additional $5.00 for gas and we became manager/client.  The rest is history.”

“I have never written a joke --- ever,” Mo’Nique reveals, “because I'm not a typical joke teller.  I just talk about my life. ”  The technique worked as Mo’Nique soon found herself headlining the Queens of Comedy tour.  The female counterpart of the highly successful Kings of Comedy Tour, fronted by Steve Harvey, Queens of Comedy was one of the most successful all-women comedy events ever.  With audiences reaching 40,000 upward, the album version of the tour earned a Grammy nomination for Best Spoken Comedy Album.

She’s also starred in the movies "3 Strikes", "Baby Boy", and "Two Can Play That Game."  I asked Mo’Nique if there were any similarities between her and the character she portrayed in the movie “Two Can Play That Game.”  “No!  Monique is very opinionated, very outspoken, but she’s not quick to fight.  The character I played in the movie was quick to fight.  I related that character to my best friend Michelle.  I had to put me and Michelle in that character because my best friend Michelle is a fighter.  Other than that the character is very real.”

In September 2000 Mo’Nique launched a new fashion line based on the custom-made designs of her stage clothes.  Managed by her sister, Millicent Imes, MO'NIQUE'S BBLI, (BBLI standing for Big Beautiful and Loving It), is "The Classy Fashions for the Lovely Full-Figured Woman!"  I want to change the standard of beauty in this country,” she states.  I was a fat baby coming out and I'm going to be a fat baby leaving.  I've always been comfortable with that.  I wasn’t a size 2, I didn’t have hair all the way down my back.  I was very okay with who I was as a size 22 and with all of my curves and rolls.  I wasn’t willing to eat carrots and celery sticks all day to make you like me.  I’m okay with Mo’Nique.  I think it was time for people to see that I’m the norm.  Size 2’s are not normal Gary.  Hollywood women are not normal people.  They get a lot of work done.  I’m not getting a doctor to cut shit off of me.  I put it [the weight] on and if I want it off I’ll take it off. (Laughing)  Mo’Nique hopes that her fashion line will be in major department stores, such as Macy’s by next year.

Last month, I interviewed Mo’Nique’s TV co-star Dorien Wilson.  She talked about working with Dorien.  “Dorien is my baby.  We have so much fun doing something we love and we get paid a lot of money to do it.  When you’re around good people that you love it makes the job so much easier.  Dorien is my shoulder.  When I first came into this show it was my first TV show.  I never had a TV show, let alone the starring role and it was so many things that people thought I should know.  I didn’t know shit.  It was new to me and Dorien was the one who took me by my hand and walked me through it.

Mo’Nique is very excited about her new book, “Skinny Women Are Evil:  Notes Of A Big Girl In A Small Minded World.”  She kept telling me that skinny women were evil.  The book is scheduled for release on April 1st.  “I’m really excited about the book.  The book was co-written by Sherri McGee.  I wanted to use another word for women in the title but they [the publisher] wouldn’t let me, so I just used the word women.  It’s a funny book that compares the differences between skinny women and big women, about traveling, sex, eating, exercise and everything.  The book is hilarious!"

One of the things that impressed me about Mo’Nique was how grounded she was when it comes to reality and success.  When I asked her about this, she attributed her outlook on life to her family.  “I credit my parents for my outlook in life.  I grew up in a middle class environment where my parents had to punch the clock.  My father told us that whatever we wanted out of life we better go get it.  He said:  ‘Never call on Moses, cause Moses gotta get back to you.  Call on Jesus.  He’s the one who has the answer.’”  Mo’Nique is also close to her siblings.  “My brother’s my manager and my sister Millicent runs the clothing line and she’s also my Personal Assistant.  When all of this goes away, they’ll still be my brother and sister.  I don’t trust nobody else with my shit.  I can’t kill them, but I can kill you Gary.” (Laughing).   

Professional comedy is a highly competitive business.  I found it interesting that Mo'Nique doesn't compete.  When I asked her to clarify this she reiterated:  “First of all I don’t compete.  What God has planned for me you can’t do anything with that.  I never compete.  I never say:  ‘I gotta beat them out.’  No, never.  I think that my greatest challenge was when I performed at the Georgia Dome and there were 44,000 people.  It wasn’t even a challenge it was uh, overwhelming because Atlanta was really where I got started doing comedy.  So to go back in front of 44,000 people that was my own personal challenge.  As far as competing against men, let me say that for so long it was a lot of white men doing comedy, because that’s all that was accepted.  Then you had Redd Foxx, Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby.  These guys were brilliant, but as funny as they were, there was still a double standard.  If Bob Hope said “mutherfucker” he was brilliant.  If Richard Pryor said “mutherfucker” he was dirty.  It was always a different standard.  I think now when it comes to men and women, women have positioned themselves to a point where they can say:  ‘I don’t care if you’re black, white, whether you where skirts or pants, funny is funny.’  It’s not just that black men are funny if they are really, really dirty.  Now we’ve reached a point in comedy where funny is funny.” 

Persistence, hard work and dedication to your craft have always been the formula for success with most people.  When I asked Mo’Nique what advice she would give to people trying to break into show business, I was not disappointed.  “Never have a Plan B.  Only have a Plan A.  When you have a Plan B, it makes it easier to give up on Plan A.  If you have Plan A, and Plan A only, you’re either going to make it or die trying.  I made it 15 years ago.  Nobody knew it.  I did.  My big break didn’t happen when I landed the TV show “The Parkers.”  All of this shit right now is gravy.  My big break happened when I packed up my desk at MCI and said:  ‘I Quit’ with a baby in my arms.  That’s when my big break happened.” 

When asked about her preference of television, stand-up or movies, Mo'Nique replied:    “Hmmm.  I’m gonna say, stand-up.  Stand-up keeps you sharp.  It keeps you sharp for television and movies.  Have you ever noticed when comics stop doing comedy, they’re not funny anymore?  That’s because they’re not sharp.  Stand-up is the dance that got you to the party.  I love being on stage.  Stand-up keeps you real because the people will let you know that night if you were funny or if you weren’t.  They don’t give a damn about you being on TV, they don’t care about you being in movies.  All they know is:  ‘I paid $40.00 to come see your ass, and you better make me laugh.’  That’s the real test.  When you do television and movies, someone yells ‘cut’ and you do it again.  By the time you see it, I’m at my best.  On that stage, that shit is live action right then, right there.  You either do or you die.  Stand-up gets me in my gut.  Look at Jerry Seinfeld.  That’s six generations of wealth.  He’s not back on the road for the money.  He’s doing it for the passion because he’s a comic.  That’s what we do.  When you get people who say:  ‘I don’t need to go back on the road.  I’ve made it.’  Well, they’re shit ain’t really funny anymore.”  (Gary and Mo’Nique laughing). 

So what’s next for Mo’Nique?  “I’m hoping that the book will be a bestseller and staying prayerful that my movie career will continue to do what it’s doing, staying prayerful that “The Parkers” will be around for another 3 or 4 seasons.  There are a lot of things that Mo’Nique wants but I will be with God and what he has for me.  Mo’Nique wants to do a lot of things but it ain’t my call.  Today may be my last day.  I will be wherever God will have me to be.  I hope he don’t take me no time soon, God knows I ain’t asking for it.  But wherever he’s going to have me is where I will be.” 

Hollywood had better take note.  Mo’Nique is unique and here to stay.  Check out her web site at 

This interview was conducted by Gary Johnson.  A special thanks goes out to Makeda Smith from Jazzmyne PR for arranging this interview.

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