From Roxbury to Oaktown: review of NE Karaoke Night

I was bursting with giddy happiness after attending NE Karaoke Night at Liege Oakland. The sold out event (with a waiting list!) was sponsored by Oakland’s Family Wellness Group. It was an amazing event full of positive energy, love, joy, and warmth. Our MC Shawn William mentioned that there’s so much negativity about Oakland but tonight’s event was so positive. It was a night in My Oakland. There were no hipsters in sight. Sorry hipsters, sometimes I can’t with y’all. A few walked past and probably wondered why we were dancing on the benches. It was the Oakland I treasure and want my daughter to treasure.  It was a great way to kick off the week.


I had wanted to be there when doors opened at 5pm. I met my good friend Ulili about 15 minutes later. We managed to get seats across from the DJ booth and mic. Before we entered the venue, we ran into her auntie. Once inside, we saw an old friend from the high school Ulili attended and where I once taught.  There were hugs and greetings. The New Edition Story was playing on the TVs so even though the sound was off, we were able to enjoy the Bigs(how NE fans refer to the handsome young men portraying the group as teens and adults) in scenes from the miniseries.  The club played a 90s soundtrack so we danced and sang along.


Photo by Katrece Avery

There were two rounds of karaoke before I left for the evening. Our opener was a former Soul Train dancer named Jeffrey. He was rocking a vintage Cross Colours button-down. He performed “Humpin’ Around” by Bobby Brown. His performance showed us the discipline and energy required to sing and dance at the same time.  One of the highlights was my Facebook friend’s husband, Raul, who despite not knowing the lyrics to classic BBD slow jam “When Will I See You Smile Again?” , absolutely killed it. There were initial technical difficulties but once he began to sing, he won the crowd over with his talent and getting audience participation. Raul’s wife, my Facebook friend, Michelle sang “Hit Me Off.” I wanted to sing with her since there are so many parts. I sang along with practically every performance though I never signed up to take the stage. I lost my nerve when I saw the long line into the club. I was worried that my horrible voice would lead folks to be rude. However, there was nothing but love during this event. Even when folks hit some odd notes, everyone was supportive.

The large crowd was warm and welcoming. I was shown love for wearing my New Edition shirt. I finally got to meet Michelle in person after our interactions on the NE fan Facebook group. So it was fun to get a photo opp with her.


Bay Area NE fans unite

At one point, there were shout outs for folks born in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.  New Edition has been in our lives for over 30 years. That is most of our lifetime.  We all knew the lyrics. We were full of emotion. I posted an Instagram video of us singing “Mr. Telephone Man.” I know many of us were reminiscing about who we were when we first heard these songs, remembering people and situations connected to these songs. These are songs and music videos that meant and mean so much to us.  It felt great to share that common experience with so many others.

New Edition’s music unites so many people across the country and across generations. Several viral videos showcase kids singing or dancing to New Edition. They have a new generation of fans who were born in the last decade. They are feeling NE like we do. M would have loved the event. She would have known all the lyrics.

I want to thank Family Wellness Group, Liege Oakland, everyone who sang or danced for us, and all the New Edition fans that came through.  When New Edition comes back to Oakland, we will be there at Oracle or the Fox. NE4Life!

New take on a timeless tale


We saw Beauty and the Beast on opening night. The movie is the live action version of the 1991 Disney cartoon. From the beginning to the final credits, it was both a tribute to the original and a beautiful stand-alone.


Belle is my favorite Disney “princess.” She’s a farm girl, daughter of an inventor (in this version, he’s an artist). She lost her mother at a young age. They are living in a small town where she is often misunderstood because she is bookish. (I love that word.) I wasn’t sure how I felt about Emma Watson being cast in the role. She’s a smart, beautiful young woman. I wasn’t sure if she could be Belle and not Hermione. She proved me wrong as she was Belle in appearance and spirit.

The cast is full of familiar favorites. They can sing and act. I know there were complaints about who played Mrs. Potts but I suppose Angela Lansbury passed up the role. A lot has been said about the Beast. No one is going to be happy when he becomes the Prince. (So everyone needs to calm down on that issue.)


Josh Gad as LeFou steals every scene where he is featured. He hams it up yet adds a human element to that character. He is a buffoon and a villain, though not as half as mean-spirited as Gaston. In this version, LeFou adds some camp to the film.

Music and additional scenes

I’m grateful didn’t have to listen to Ariana Grande and John Legend sing. (MAC makeup and sleek high pony aside, the girl just doesn’t do it for me.  Be mad!)  Nothing against John Legend but he’s no Peabo Bryson.  As for the new songs which have received mixed reviews, I thought they were appropriately placed into the plot.


I cried through the whole movie. I started during “Good Day” through “Beauty and the Beast “and “Something There.”  I cried the most during “Be Our Guest.” For one, it’s a Busby Berkeley-style over-the-top production number; a similar favorite is “Just Can’t Wait to be King” in The Lion King. “Be Our Guest” takes place in the enchanted castle’s dining room and kitchen.  It showcases traditional French cuisine and retells the story of the servants’ enchantment. It didn’t disappoint. At one point, I tearfully looked over at M and her mouth was literally hanging open.  “Be Our Guest” was one of M’s first competition dances. Aside from their cute costumes, they also had a big finish. I found myself remembering many key choreography moments from M’s dance so this added to my wistfulness.


The cuteness

On our way out, Rambo made mention of Belle being a victim of Stockholm syndrome.  I had a smart retort since I usually don’t expect him to have a serious read on pop culture. Still, I had no problem taking M to see this film.  Belle is one of the few Disney protagonists I like. Belle is a strong, smart woman.  Gaston shoulda, woulda, coulda been the right match but he was truly rotten whereas the Prince undergoes an n external and internal transformation. I recommend Beauty and the Beast; bring a sense of humor and sense of wonder.

My NE Heartbreak

A week and a half ago, I had a meltdown.  I’m not proud of it.  I predicted it would happen. But to understand how I nearly lost my mind, I have to explain the context for my near-breakdown. This past January, along with millions of other fans, I fell out when trailers for The New Edition Story hit social media. My love for New Edition predates my New Kids fandom. I have been a New Kids on the Block fan since I was sixteen; I was 11 when “Candy Girl” debuted. It was catchy, cute, and reminiscent of the Jackson 5, the Sylvers and the Motown super groups I heard growing up thanks to my music lover dad. I was a fan of bubblegum, R&B, doo-wop and harmonizing. This song was all those and more. Who could resist Ralph T with his cute face and great falsetto?  Everybody, including me, wanted to be a Candy Girl. So I became a fan.



Memories of my youth are connected to New Edition. I played “If It Isn’t’ Love” to death the summer I worked one of my first jobs at a yogurt shop.  I remember seeing the video on MTV for the first time and thinking they had grown up. They were a bunch of cute boys and I was close in age to them. They looked like boys I could possibly see in my high school.Like most girls, I had posters on my bedroom walls. The cast of The Outsiders, Menudo, Duran Duran, and New Kids on the Block were all featured at one point or another.  I never put up a picture of New Edition. I would have liked to but it would have been questioned simply because they were black. I thought Ralph T was cute. I found Bobby Brown and the oversexed bad boys of BBD adorable. They were all attractive, fun guys. It was natural that I would be attracted to them. Millions of people were and are. I could not own outwardly that I admired and liked these young men. That’s a shame. As I’ve gotten older, I’m not bound by those old restrictions of my childhood household. I am attracted to whoever I find attractive. I told M about how I couldn’t put any New Edition posters and she was perplexed.


Church fainting! 

I anxiously awaited the debut of The New Edition Story. I watched the first episode and I was entranced. Several articles and blogs have been written about how this miniseries has impacted people culturally and emotionally. The recreation of the videos and photo shoots and musical performances were perfection. (Yes I’m singing, or rather butchering,  “Still in love.”) After watching it myself, I decided to share Episode 1 with M. The littles were too brilliant for her not to see them. (Caleb is my favorite so I have started watching Stranger Things.)There are scenes towards the end of that episode when they’ve transitioned into teens that were not for her eyes so M saw an edited version. Nevertheless, M was hooked. We watched the rest of the miniseries together but I had to be careful about certain scenes. I would stop the film and we’d start the “clean version” the following evening. Not surprisingly, we both became NE-obsessed.  We downloaded all their hits on our devices. It’s been nonstop New Edition ever since.

My DVR is always set to record a dozen shows. My few shows are on Netflix but the DVR is almost always packed with our family faves, Rambo’s shows, and news shows. It’s always between 75 to 95% full. I foolishly deleted The New Edition Story because it was available on demand and I knew it would re-air. My daughter and I had watched it three times and Episode 1 five times. I was excited to record it. When I came home and realized it didn’t record because repeats were not part of the recording settings, I had a fit. I was livid. I raised my voice at M (yes I broke my Lenten promise) and Rambo. I paced back and forth like a madwoman. Eventually I headed into my home office and logged onto Facebook to vent with my NE4Life group. Other group members had posted about what they are doing as we wait for the DVD. Within the hour, I downloaded the BET app on my phone. M and I watched part of Episode 1. The evening ended on a happy note though we missed bedtime.

New Edition has been around in all the phases of my life. I feel as if we have grown up together. While I have seen Ralph and BBD perform in the past, I have never seen all six together. I’m looking forward to enjoying a group I have loved for over 30 years. NE4Life!!!


All six receive their long-overdue star on the Walk of Fame 


Another fashion mag fail

Elle Magazine (I’m not going to call you dear); I’m shaking my head at you. In what you say is your well-meaning attempt to battle PeopleMagazine’s biased taste in men, you have compiled a list of gorgeous men of color.  But, as with Allure’s lame attempt at celebrating natural Black hairstyles with their article, “You (yes you) can have an Afro,” your writing leaves a lot to be desired.  Your headline alone, “30 of the Sexiest Men Alive Who Aren’t White” was cringe worthy and insulting in and of itself.

I was so taken aback by your headline I reposted it on Facebook. My post opened with “What in fresh hell kind of headline is this?” My friends had reactions similar to mine.

The headline gets the side-eye for real!
 Because heaven forbid we have a list of the 30 Sexiest Men without another requirement. That would take away white men’s spots!
Unlike · Reply · 1 · 23 hrs
 I think they’re trying to make a point.
Like · Reply · 23 hrs
 Its cultural ignorance….so men of color can’t be white. Rubbish!!!
Unlike · Reply · 1 · 23 hrs
 They still would have gotten the side-eye, but why not just label the headlong, “30 of the Sexiest Men of Color.” Simple as that!
Unlike · Reply · 1 · 23 hrs
Like · Reply · 23 hrs
 I think they’re pointing out that the world’s sexiest man has mostly been white.
Like · Reply · 1 · 22 hrs
I don’t know the intent here, but yeah, there’s better ways to make the point that sexy comes in all sorts of different colors, shapes, and sizes. Why is race even called out?
Unlike · Reply · 1 · 22 hrs
 The only problem I have is that they didn’t put me on that list.
Unlike · Reply · 3 · 20 hrs
Now I love me some beautiful men. Harry Shum Jr. and John Cho have both been called my husband over the years. 

Mario Lopez has been fine since 1989. 
I can’t wait to see Michael B. Jordan in Creed.

 Idris Elba is my James Bond. 

Jesse Williams is not only a handsome man but a deep thinker with tweets worth reading and retweeting. 

Boris Kodjoe: I’m speechless.

 Elle, the problem isn’t the gentlemen chosen. It’s the implication that they are an alternative, an also-ran. Your poor choice of words, presented as the hook for the audience, rendered them the second choice. Why not simply refer to them as men?  

I suppose you will argue that your title was your way of countering People’s lily-white choices over the years. But sexy is sexy.  Mentioning race was unnecessary.  Y’all need tougher editors and more thoughtful writers.  If you want to tackle the challenge of media bias, you will need to step up your game. 

The resurgence of redneckery

“What kind of redneckery is this? “ The question sprung from my lips without much forethought. It was Shark Week and rather than focusing on the gargantuan great whites or terrifying tigers, an entire special, “Voodoo Sharks” placed the spotlight on Blimp, the portly shark hunter, his relatives, and their country ways. Blimp was later featured on the Shark Week talk show, “Shark after Dark,” doing his bizarre Shrimp Dance.  Hollywood has gone south; even the Discovery Channel is milking this pop culture trend for ratings.
While I confess to never watching Honey Boo-Boo, our household is one of millions that are tuning in to the new Beverly Hillbillies. We laugh at the antics of those rascally (and yes, somewhat endearing) Robertsons on the reality hit Duck Dynasty; we recently watched their appearance on Dr. Oz. Still, as more and more reality shows about Southern folks hit the airwaves, I wonder why.  Why now?
I’m no history buff but reading Howard Zinn as a high school junior has made me question historical events, and pop culture in particular, consistently over the years.  Back in the 1920s, usually remembered for the Jazz Age, there was a resurgence of interest in the Ku Klux Klan. The Reconstruction-era hate group was cast as the heroes in the 1915 film, The Birth of a Nation, a movie so popular that President Woodrow Wilson held a screening at the White House. White farmers and working class people felt threatened and disenfranchised by the rise of cities, the growing elite and their culture of glitz and glamour, increasing immigration, and the growing migration of African Americans to the cities.  The movie’s glorification of Southern history, however divisive and racially inflammatory, struck a chord. The Ku Klux Klan began to recruit new members across many states and grew so popular as to host two separate marches to Capitol Hill in 1925 and 1926. When people get scared, they get scary.
We are living at a time of great social and economic change. We are led by a black President. Latinos make up the growing majority of many states. Gay couples can marry.  Even the Pope is calling for a new open-mindedness on the issues of homosexuality and abortion. But for every person who is celebrating these milestones, there is likely someone who feels alienated, undermined, and frightened about the place they hold in society now and in the future. Redneck reality shows about good old boys hearken back to someone’s good old days.  I’m not claiming Bravo will debut a reality show about the Klan’s Grand Cyclops anytime soon; I’m arguing that these shows are appealing for many reasons, including the way they could assuage fears about our changing America.
Pop culture does not merely entertain; it reveals our values, our morals, our doubts. I have the right to enjoy—and question.

Why a belly matters

In the last few weeks, my blog has received hits from all over North America, from the US to Canada, because I mentioned the physical changes in a Degrassi star. She’s been wearing baggy clothes and looks very pale and tired despite the hours in makeup. All over Google and Yahoo, folks are wondering if she’s pregnant. Why all the fuss?

True, she is only 20. But she is an adult and a real person. Why should we care about her pregnancy or lack thereof? It’s our continued cult of celebrity. I’m guilty of it. I admit I’ve become intrigued by fellow moms to be Jessica Alba and Halle Berry. I’m happy about J Lo’s new twins. And yes I’m curious about the actress too. Maybe it’s reassuring. Maybe it makes our fave celebs seem more real.

So is she or isn’t she? Her people aren’t commenting. I take that as a sign that we should respect her privacy. Having a baby, after all, is the most natural thing in the world, even for a TV actress.