Clay Cane is a New York City-based writer who is recognized for his contributions in journalism. Clay is a regular contributor for various print and online publications such as The Advocate and BET.com. He is the author of the highly anticipated novel Ball-Shaped World, which is a fictionalized account of the black and Latino ballroom scene. Also, he is the Entertainment Editor at BET.com and a member of New York Film Critics Online.
He can be reached at email@example.com.
As a writer, Langston Hughes is the ultimate. I remember reading his work as a teenager and being so blown away by his voice and style. In some weird way I believed he was speaking directly to me. It was as if he was telling my story.
I later learned that many people felt like Langston spoke to them. He transcended race but still managed to capture the black experience. He wasn't trapped in a box of blackness, but always acknowledged his roots. He once said, "We know we are beautiful. And ugly too." He highlighted the beauty of the black experience, but didn't ignore the ugly.
There has never been another like Langston Hughes and there never will be. But, there is nothing wrong with having Mr. Hughes as the model.
A few months back I was honored to do a photo shoot in the "likeness of Langston Hughes" with photographer Dax Alexander. With styling by Yarnell McCullum and make up by Devon Fraser, we listened toBessie Smith and did our best to capture the essence of Langston.
What a voice. What an original talent. What an incredible songwriter. What a musician.
Teena Marie was a firestorm of soul that no one had ever seen. I vividly remember hearing her music as a kid and while you don't racialize music as a child, I can remember completely ignoring the fact that she was white. As a matter of fact, I can recall seeing her on BET's Video Soul and still thinking of her as black.
Teena's appeal to the black community wasn't inauthentic, it clearly was who she was. She wasn't trying to be anyone but Teena Marie. Nowadays, some artists strive for their "black card" but it's simply for marketing purposes.
I was extremely excited to interview Lady T back in 2006. She was exactly as I thought she would be - down to earth and kind. Also, she asked what songs I liked on her thirteenth solo album Sapphire, which is rare for a celebrity to ask or care what you think of their music. I told her I loved "Romantica" and "You Blow Me Away." She thanked me and her sincerity wasn't something you could pick up in a Q&A interview, but it was there.
I interviewed her again for Congo Square for The Advocate - with some of the interview not making the cut. We talked Christina Aguilera and Janis Joplin, who I always saw a similarity with. On Joplin she told me, "I love Janis. Janis Joplin was an R&B, soul, blues queen. She had an amazing voice and i don't think there has been anyone like her since. She was very much like Etta James to me. Soulful in a really deep soulful way -- much more soul than one body could contain. She was an amazing artist."
Days later, I saw Lady T live in concert in New York City. It was my second time seeing her and she annihilated it - I do remember being upset she didn't sing my favorite "Out On A Limb"!
What's interesting is Teena Marie never abandoned her core audience. She could've easily crossed over to pop, but she stayed right with her R&B roots.
It's always sad to see a legend like her leave us. I'm going to miss Teena Marie. Check out the video I recorded of her singing "Fire & Desire." I love at 4:34 when she sings, "Sometimes I just don't even know my own name!"
The violence continues in Philadelphia. During an early morning house party on July 15th in North Philadelphia there was a shooting at approximately 1:45am, three people were shot including the legendary Philadelphia DJ Randy Flash also known as Randy Miller. Yesterday, Randy Miller died. He was 42 years-old.
According to published reports, the shooters were allegedly teenage boys between the ages of 17 to 20 years-old. Supposedly, they are suspects in a shooting earlier that day. Approximately 30 people were inside the house party when a teenager opened fire, three people were injured.
I remember DJ Randy Flash from my days of the clubs in Philadelphia back in the mid to late nineties. I first met him when he worked at the old school record store Sound of Market in Center City, Philadelphia. He always had such a kind energy with his big smile and passionate love for deep, soulful house music. I would periodically see him in New York City and he always showed me love.
I just saw him about three weeks walking down the street in Manhattan. We were both in a rush and quickly said hello. I am completely blown away that he is gone and that the last time I saw him in New York City -- would be the last time I would see him.
Not to rant in cliches, but it's so true, you never know when a hello, handshake, hug and goodbye will be your last with someone. My sympathies go out to Randy Miller's friends and family. Also, please keep the other two who were injured in your thoughts.
In the image above you will see there is a fundraiser for DJ Randy Flash. For all of my Philly househeads, I hope to see you out there. Below is a link to one of Randy's favorite songs, Carl Bean's "I Was Born This Way."
Rest in peace Randy, I know you are in the highest light.
Lawd why! We all know that The Golden Girls are heading to a golden heaven sooner or later, but doesn't it feel like they will always be around? They are constantly on television, people always quote the lines and if it wasn't for these broads there would've been no Living Single,Sex and the City and several other shows. The Golden Girls created a mold that has been imitiated ever since.
Now, Rue McClanahan has passed away at 76 years-old. Check out the YouTube clip below of my favorite Blanche moment.
The iconic Lena Horne passed away at 92 years-old in Manhattan on Sunday, May 9th.
By the way, does anyone ever wonder why when someone older passes they use the most recent image they have them? Damn -- why not use a pic when they were young and luscious? I am using an image of Lena when she was the cat's meow -- mama sits down all these girls of today and yesterday with this look!
Today, we casually toss around words like "icon" and "legend," barely understanding what it means to break barriers, set the standard and create a new standard. Anyone of any race, gender, orientation, era, or class can break barriers. But, being a black female entertainer during a tumultuous time in an American history and not ending in tragedy like many others (Josephine Baker, Dorothy Daindridge, Billie Holiday)... that is a legend.
Lena Mary Calhoun Horne was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1917. Having grown up with the likes of Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington, it was destiny for her to become an entertainer. By 17 years-old she had a featured role in the Cotton Club Parade and would go on to join several other orchestras and bands.
Nonetheless, Horne was not receiving the respect she deserved in the entertainment industry, mainly because she was a black woman. Lena endured immense pressure from management and industry insiders (black and white) to "pass" for white or Hispanic. Horne aggressively refused and when she finally came to Hollywood she also refused to play a maid.
Over ten years after Horne debuting in the jazz clubs of Harlem, Lena got her big break in 1943's Cabin in the Sky. Still, outside of those two films, Horne was never featured in a leading role.
Lena Horne was considered to play the lead role in 1951’s Showboat, but Ava Gardner was chosen because interracial relationships were banned in films. However, according to Wikipedia, "MGM executives required Gardner to practice her singing using recordings of Horne performing the songs, which offended both actresses." Ain't that something?
It was in 1947 when Hollywood truly began to turn on Lena Horne. She married a white man, composer/conductor Lennie Hayton, in France because they could not be legally married in California. Hollywood was mortified.
By the mid-1950s, Horne was an activist more than ever. She worked closely with the NAACP, the Urban League and was close friends with Paul Robeson, which resulted in her being banned in Hollywood and branded a Communist. Hollywood was intent on destroying another black woman who had too much resiliency, pizazz, and intelligence.
Horne survived. Venturing to Broadway, winning a Tony for her one-woman show Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music, which holds the record for the longest-running solo performance in Broadway history. Her last major film appearance was in 1978's The Wiz and by 1995 Horne was a four-time Grammy winner.
Sidenote: By all accounts, Lena Horne was supportive of the gay community. She was extremely close to Billy Strayhorn, openly gay and Duke Ellington's right-hand man. Lena has said Strayhorn had a huge influence on her career.
For over ten years there has been talk of who play Horne in a biopic.Janet Jackson was the main pick but supposedly after the Superbowl incident Lena Horne refused (I heard this was not Lena herself but her management), now I heard Oprah handpicked Alicia Keys... I like Alicia, but I don't see it, maybe a lil' remix for the soundtrack.
I hope in choosing who will play the great story of Lena Horne they will select an actual actress, not a singer. Some great choices would be: Jurnee Smollett, Thandi Newton, Nicole Ari Parker, Paula Patton, or maybe even Vanessa Williams—hell, at least let them audition!
Rest in peace Lena Horne!
Check out this clip of Lena showing Judy Garland how it should be done.