Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Virginia Music Hall of Fame: Making The Case

Alabama has a state music museum, as does Rhode Island. The neighbors in North Carolina too. Oklahoma not only has a music hall of fame, it has an Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame. Virginia's musical legacies arguably run wider and deeper than any of those places.

In the September issue of Richmond Magazine, I make the case for why the time is long overdue for a real, honest-to-goodness, diverse, lively Virginia Music Hall of Fame and Museum. And not just something on the side of the road with a bunch of old instruments but an institution that would pay ongoing tribute to homegrown legends, and maybe make some new music history.

I'm just scribbling ideas on napkins here. Read my argument by clicking this spot.

And go here and read the details on what such an institution would look like, and what it could do. 

(Illustration by the mighty Bob Scott!)

Evergreen Cemetery: Community Conversations

My September piece for Richmond magazine about the planned restoration of Evergreen Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia's most prestigious African-American grave site, is now online. It's been updated to include news of specific community conversations happening around the planned overhaul, which is being administered by the Enrichmond Foundation.

These public gatherings will help to determine how best to proceed with battling years of neglect at Evergreen, and how to restore it to its former glory. "We want people to get involved," says Rev. Creed Taylor. "Churches, social groups, students, family members, everybody, we need your help."

Read about all the effort by going here.

The article is an update to my earlier piece about Evergreen's dogged volunteers, and another about the concerns of descendants and stakeholders of Evergreen and neighboring East End Cemetery. Read those reports here and here.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Death Drive: The Colonial Parkway Murders

Colonial Parkway connects the southern edge of Jamestown to Yorktown via a winding 23-mile route that cuts through Williamsburg like a scenic scar.

Unfortunately, this bucolic thoroughfare will be forever associated with a brutal series of unsolved killings that occurred thirty years ago.

My latest Coastal Virginia Magazine story takes a look at the lingering questions and mysteries behind the Colonial Parkway murders. Among those I talked with were Victoria Hester and Blaine Pardoe, authors of A Special Kind of Evil: The Colonial Parkway Serial Killings, the first-ever book-length account of these four notorious double homicides.

Read the article at the Coastal Virginia Magazine website.

For more on A Special Kind of Evil, go right here

To learn more about the cases, and to share tips, visit Bill Thomas' Facebook page by clicking here.











The victims of the Colonial Parkway murders were, at top: Rebecca Dowski, Robin Edwards, Keith Call, Annamaria Phelps. At bottom: Cathy Thomas, David Knobling, Cassandra Hailey and Daniel Lauer.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Snocko's Lament: Interview with Michael Hurley

Another one from the archives that I'm happy to see on the web: My 1993 Daily Press feature on the legendary singer-songwriter Michael Hurley.

Hurley's music sure knows how to take its time, rolling along the rickety bridges connecting Appalachia, R&B, folk and blues. But where his songs -- "The Werewolf," "The Slurf Song," "Uncle Bob's Corner," etc. -- can take you is often worth the time spent getting there.

Read about Doc Snock by going here.

And Hurley's quixotic career continues to this day, with new recordings and the occasional live appearance. Get the man's latest music AND some of his past treasures by going to the Light in the Attic page.

(Photo: Light in the Attic)


Friday, August 24, 2018

Dark Star: Lost and Spaced


I found myself again.

This happens from time to time. I do a search on a completely unrelated topic and somehow one of my old stories pops up -- usually something that I had completely forgotten about. This thrills me to no end because that means I get to read it "fresh," as if someone else wrote it.

This time, I went looking for information on the films of John Carpenter and I ended up finding a review I wrote for Style Weekly of Carpenter's first movie, Dark Star.  This amazing student film manages to capture the fried zeitgeist of the post-'60s counterculture while successfully skewering the great epic sci-fi films of its day.

Surf over here to read the review.

You can snag a copy of Dark Star by going here.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Interview with Dee Dee Bridgewater

"I was gifted with a flexible voice that can sing all styles," the great Dee Dee Bridgewater says. "And if I commit to it, you'd think that was the style I've been doing all my life."

In a career spanning 50 years, Bridgewater has traversed the tonal spectrum with her chameleonic voice and boisterous stage presence. From avant-garde jazz to disco to show tunes, Bridgewater has been all over the place. The Grammy- and Tony-winning vocal stylist — recently an expatriate residing in France — is enjoying meaty reviews for her new disc, Memphis...Yes I'm Ready. Here, she sinks her teeth into Bluff City classics by Elvis, Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes and Ann Peebles.

Read my Richmond Magazine interview with this fascinating diva (and careful with that alligator, Ms. Bridgewater).

For more on the lady's music, go here.

Virginia Music Hall of Fame: The Blueprint

Roanoke has a pinball museum, Arlington can boast a museum that honors the Drug Enforcement Agency, and there's a place in  Colonial Heights that pays homage to tractors and farming equipment. Virginia has a Sports Hall of Fame and a Communications Hall of Fame. There's a spot in Harrisonburg that honors Virginia quilting culture, and there also exists a (what?) Charlottesville Business Hall-of-Fame. 

All of that, and Virginia still don't have an official museum or hall of fame dedicated to its music. 

Alabama has a state music museum, as does Rhode Island. The neighbors in North Carolina too. Oklahoma not only has a music hall of fame, it has an Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame (believe it or not). West Virginia? You've got to be kidding me. Virginia's musical legacies arguably run wider and deeper than any of those places. 

In the September issue of Richmond Magazine (on newsstands now), I make the case for why the time is long overdue for a real, honest-to-goodness, diverse, lively Virginia Music Hall of Fame and Museum. And not just something on the side of the road with a bunch of old stuff but an institution that would pay ongoing tribute to homegrown legends, and maybe make some new music history.

But what would such a place look like? For this online extra, I get into the weeds, scribble on some napkins and outline just what an official Virginia Music Hall of Fame and Museum might look like. It's a daydream, sure, but let me dream. 


Read the rest by buying the September issue of Richmond Magazine (print lives!) or watching this space

On The House: North Shore Point

Jim Morrison, a veteran journalist from Hampton Roads, has been putting on concerts at his Norfolk, Virginia home for years. His backyard has grown to become the area's often sold-out venue of choice for national singer-songwriters and unplugged rockers.

Morrison’s North Shore Point   House Concerts convinces  Grammy-winning troubadours and acclaimed up-and-comers to perform on his lawn, and they always come back. The likes of Steve Forbert, Garland Jeffreys, Chris Smither, Kelly Willis,  Todd Snider, Della Mae, Marshall Crenshaw, Chuck Prophet, Lloyd Cole, Alejandro Escobedo, Peter Case, the Blasters’ Dave Alvin, and many more.

Read my Virginia Living Magazine story on Morrison's promotions, and how North Shore Point is now partnering with the Virginia Arts Festival to bring even more live music to Tidewater.

Read "On the House" at this location.

For more on North Shore Point House Concerts, go here.

(Photo: Della Mae)

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Interview with Melissa Manchester

Melissa Manchester learned songwriting from Paul Simon, made her recording debut with National Lampoon (imitating Yoko Ono) and got her start singing backup for Bette Midler. In the 70's, she was the soulful singer behind hits like "Midnight Blue," and in the 80's, she revamped her style and cut the leg-warmer classic, "You Should Hear How She Talks About You," copping a Grammy Award. In the 1990's, she could be found portraying Mayim Bialik's sitcom mom on TV's "Blossom."

For Richmond Magazine, I recently spoke with the one-and-only Melissa Manchester about all of her different phases and stages, as well as her new CD of standards saluting classic male singers.

You should hear how she talks about it all right here.

For more on the music of Melissa Manchester, click this spot.

(Photo by Jennifer O. Hill)

Arthur Ashe: A Life

The author of the best-selling books “Freedom Riders” and “The Sound of Freedom,” Raymond Arsenault says that his new exhaustive biography of the late Arthur Ashe was born out of a longtime fascination with his legendary subject, a Wimbledon and U.S. Open champion who spoke out against injustice and was eager to break down society’s color barriers even as he was battling the AIDs virus.

According to Arsenault, who spent nine years researching and writing the biography,  Ashe was "so honest and candid, revealing his soul, which is interesting because he had this reputation of being kind of cool and aloof. He was way Obama-esque. I swear sometimes that they were separated at birth. "

Read my Richmond Magazine interview with Raymond Arsenault, the author of "Arthur Ashe: A Life," by going right here.

Click here for more on Arsenault and the book, published by Simon and Shuster.

(Photo by Rob Bogaerts / Fotocollectie Anefo / Nationaal Archief)

Annabelle's Curse is Lifted

Imagine being the best death metal band in New Orleans. Or an acid jazz combo in Utah. Or an ace Memphis-based polka ensemble. You might feel a little out of place.

Much like Bristol's Annabelle’s Curse, a genre-defying indie-rock outfit that is making some unexpected noise in the mountainous Virginia/Tennessee border town acknowledged worldwide as the birthplace of country music.

Read my Virginia Living Magazine feature on the band right here.

And for more on Annabelle's Curse, go here.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Laughing Mirror: A Talk with Christopher Titus

With Donald Trump in office, you'd think that the comedy of Christopher Titus would practically be writing itself.

After all, Titus is the amarcho-liberal comedian who, when he wasn't plumbing his turbulent family life for jokes, made his outrage over the policies of George W. Bush a consistent rant point in shows like "Norman Rockwell Is Bleeding" and "The Fifth Annual End of the World Tour."

But "Amerigeddon," Titus' eighth comedy special, isn't about Trump, or taking jabs at right-wingers, he says. "It's about us. All of us, left and right, and how we continue to be manipulated."

For Richmond Magazine, I recently talked with Titus, the host of the popular weekly "Titus Podcast," and an entertainer who originally rose to fame as the protagonist of an angst-ridden sitcom that was a little too real for FOX.

Read "The Laughing Mirror" here.

And for more on the world of Christopher Titus, go right here.

(Photo by Kimo Easterwood)

Working For My Baby: Interview With Lenis Guess

As a writer, producer, vocalist and label owner, Lenis Guess was the architect behind some of Virginia's best soul and funk music, even if few outside the crate-digging music world (and diehard fans in Britain and Germany) know his name.

The gruff-voiced renaissance man -- who has also delved into theatre and filmmaking -- was an integral part of what is now known as "The Norfolk Sound." In the '60s and '70s, he
recorded indelible regional hits (and misses) for producer Frank Guida's local music labels, as well as his own imprints.

Check out my Coastal Virginia Magazine Q&A with this influential Virginia soul legend by clicking right here. 

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Completing the Picture: Live Audio Description

Virginia Voice’s new Live Audio Description service offers commentary and play-by-play action to visually challenged theatergoers, to help them better "see" plays and musicals. I recently wrote about this unique new offering for Richmond Magazine after attending a Virginia Repertory Theatre performance of "Peter Pan" where the LAD component was featured.

The special play-by-play service -- where patrons are also encouraged to feel the props, costumes and sets in a tactile tour before the show -- is being offered at one performance of each major play and musical at Virginia Rep, and other Richmond playhouses, in 2018.

To read my article on this unique descriptive service, "Completing the Picture," go right here.

And for more on Virginia Voice, a non-profit that offers reading and audio services to visually-impaired people, go here.

(Photo by the mighty Stephen Clatterbuck / Virginia Voice)

Exebelle and "After All This Time"

As you may know, I write a regular column for Virginia Living Magazine that takes a look at the music of the commonwealth, from new bands to old traditions. I've been doing it, off and on, for more than a decade and it's still the only column of its kind. (Here's a list of some of the topics I've tackled over the years). The only problem is that the Virginia Music column is not always available online -- which should compel you to actually go out and buy the handsome glossy print edition of VL.

Having said that, my April column on the Richmond band Exebelle, and their new, ambitious 2-LP set, "After All This Time," has just been posted, and I'm happy to see it out and about. I've been a big fan of this underrated and under-heard country-rock outfit since they were known as Exebelle and the Rusted Cavalcade. The new release, six years in the making, features a cascade of catchy refrains, sing-along choruses, stacked harmonies and ear-grabbing instrumental hooks.  It's the best record of 2018 you haven't heard..

Read my column on Exebelle right here.

And for more on the band and its music, go here.

Bonus: I taped an interview with Exebelle's Phil Heesen III and Kerry Hutcherson for my Richmond news-talk radio show on WRIR 97.3 FM, Open Source RVA. Listen to it right here.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

My Radio Life (an update)

Hey, this is pretty cool. A radio commercial that I produced and helped to voice just copped WTJU 91.1 FM a "Best Station Promo" award from the Virginia Association of Broadcasters.

This is the third of these beautiful statues that I've helped WTJU to snag (he said humbly) over the years. Thanks to brilliant engineer Lewis Reining, and "The Mighty WTJU Art Players" -- Erin O'Hare, Colin Powell and Nick Rubin.  And, of course, WTJU station manager Nathan MooreCheck out the winning promo, entitled "Rocco," by clicking here.
I hardly ever put stuff about my radio work on this blog, so I guess this is a good time to mention Radio Wowsville, which I co-host on WTJU 91.1 FM and http://wtju.net with fellow DJ Colin Powell (pictured right). "The Wow" (as the kids call it) is heard every Sunday night at 11PM EST, and has been broadcasting new, obscure and often audacious music across the Central Virginia airwaves since the Eisenhower administration.

Listen to WTJU's live online stream right here. And to call back past WTJU shows, including the last two weeks of Radio Wowsville on Sunday nights, go right here.

That's the music side of my radio life. I also co-host a news-talk show, Open Source RVA, that airs every Friday at noon EST on WRIR 97.3 FM and http://wrir.org.


Open Source RVA covers mostly Virginia topics, with a focus on the Richmond region, and brings listeners long-form interviews with politicians, newsmakers, musicians, artists. chefs, writers and historians. On the hosting front, I'm joined by fellow journalists and writers Kate Andrews, Piet Jones, Angela Lehman, Dina Weinstein, Dale Brumfield, Bryce Maddox, Baylen Forcier, and the intrepid ladies from RVA Dirt, Melissa Vaughn and Jessee Perry. Each week on the Source, producer Krysti Albus and I (pictured) try to inject a little fun into local coverage of people and events, and we pack each episode with everything from original news coverage to stories about the arts, literature, music and theatre.

Listen to WRIR's live stream right here.  And to  hear previous Open Source RVA broadcasts and special audio features, go to the show's Soundcloud page right here.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Straight Edge on the Tube

Straight Edge music on public television. That's not something you see every day.

I recently wrote about "sXe," a new documentary by student filmmakers at Virginia Commonwealth University that takes a look at Richmond, Virginia's thriving straight edge punk scene. It gets an airing on local WCVW-TV on June 1.

Read my Richmond Magazine piece on the doc right here.

(Photo: Virginia Commonwealth University)

Bound to the Fire: Virginia's Enslaved Cooks

Kelley Fanto Deetz says she’s “restoring culinary justice” with her new book, "Bound to the Fire: How Virginia's Enslaved Cooks Helped Invent American Cuisine." 

“I think food is an important part of everyone’s culture, and it’s a topic that allows you to segue into talking about other issues, like race,” she says. “Everybody eats.”

The book, published by University Press of Kentucky, explores the lasting contributions of the early slave kitchens of Virginia—tracing everything from okra stew to collard greens to gumbo back to West African roots. Deetz pieces together the lives of the colony’s enslaved cooks, detailing their back-breaking labor and ingenuity, and her book includes centuries-only recipes created by slaves and passed down from generation to generation by white masters.

Some of the dishes that came out of the early slave kitchens will be familiar indeed. You probably ate them last night. My Savor Virginia Magazine interview with the Randolph College professor, and former chef, is now online. (And, yes, it does include recipes). Read the article here.

And for more on "Bound to the Fire: How Virginia's Enslaved Cooks Helped Invent American Cuisine, go right here.

The World of Saw Black

Saw Black's warbly, idiosyncratic voice and plaintive country-rock brings to mind the best of Neil Young, and he doesn’t hide the stylistic influence. “My dad was always listening to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; my mom also loved Neil Young,” Black recalls. “But ‘Harvest’ was it. It was the lyrics and the sound of the acoustic [guitar] and the drums. When I heard it, I said, ‘This is what I want to do.’ ”

My feature profile of the singer-songwriter is now online at the Richmond Magazine website. The Richmond-based performer has a new album, “Water Tower,”  on the local label he co-founded, Crystal Pistol Records. Awash in rustic atmospherics and a yearning pedal steel, "Water Tower "is already garnering raves and listeners beyond Richmond, Virginia, where Black has a growing fan base.

Find out more about the World of Saw by clicking here.

And for more on his music, go here.

(Photo by the mighty Joey Wharton!).

Dangerous History at Blackbeard's Festival

"What people know about pirates is what they've seen in the movies, and that's as far from reality as you can get," says Randy Gnatowsky. "Like walking the plank. That wasn't done until the movies came out."

Gnatowsky, a retired 30-year veteran of the Hampton, Virginia Police Department, is better known under his pirate alias, "Constable Heartless." He's the captain of Blackbeard's Crew, a group of living history interpreters who partner with the City of Hampton to throw the annual Blackbeard Pirate Festival.

A two-day exploration of eyepatches, peg legs and cannon fire from tall ships,  this festival invades Hampton's downtown waterfront this weekend every June, projecting visitors back in time to the early 18th century when Virginia was awash in thieving buccaneers.

My article on Blackbeard's Crew, the Blackbeard festival, and the early days of piracy in Hampton Roads, is online at the Coastal Virginia Magazine website. You'll lose your head over it.

Sail here and steal it.    

And find out more about the festival right here.

(Photo: Hampton History Museum)

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

How to Read Nancy

In the world of Ernie Bushmiller's classic comic strip, "Nancy," it was all about the gag.

"It was whatever works," Paul Karasik says. "Maybe you look inside Nancy's brain, or Ernie's hand suddenly jams in the final panel, anything to deliver the goods. Everything was up for grabs."

Karasik and fellow illustrator/educator Mark Newgarden have written a new book, "How To Read Nancy: The Elements of Comics in Three Easy Panels" (Fantagraphics), that explores the significance -- and yes, genius -- of Ernie Bushmiller's wacky and deceptively brilliant strip.

Read my Richmond Magazine interview with Paul Karasik and Mark Newgarden right here. 

For more on the book, go here.

And to take a peek at the duo's epic breakdown of a single "Nancy" strip from 1959, go here.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Interview with Victor Wooten

Victor Wooten is best known as the much-celebrated low end of the Grammy-winning jazz-fusion group Béla Fleck and the Flecktones. He's also an educator, an author and a solo bandleader who has been playing music professionally since he was a small boy. He's currently touring behind a new solo album, “Trypnotyx,”  another expansive genre-mixing of jazz, funk, hip-hop and experimental fusion,

Read my Richmond Magazine interview with this singular instrumentalist -- named one of the greatest bassists of all time by Rolling Stone -- by clicking here.

And for more on Victor Wooten, go here.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Fallen Angels: It's a Long Way Down

I don't normally put my "smaller" work on this blog - reviews, previews, blurbs-- but my recent piece in The Washingtonian on the legendary Washington D.C. psych band, The Fallen Angels, grew out of a longer feature that I wrote for the magazine that got cut down for space.

Attention all editors: I still have a wonderful long-form feature article here, if you want it. Contact me if there's interest.

The story of the Fallen Angels is rich with period detail, and several key members survive to tell it. Popular in Georgetown clubs in the late '60s, the group opened for  bands like the Velvet Underground and the Yardbirds, recorded at the same time and in the same studio as Hendrix, and had the misfortune of getting tied up with the Roulette record label, which was mob-owned.

The piece that ran in the Washingtonian is mostly about the band's rarer-than-rare second album, It's a Long Way Down, which was released 50 years ago.  Read the article here. 

And here's a Fallen Angels' promotional video from that album, a strange little time capsule.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Interview with Bettye LaVette

"Bettye LaVette does Bob Dylan. It's like those movies they did in the '50s, like 'Dracula Meets Frankenstein.'" 

For years, Detroit native Betty LaVette was the secret weapon of soul, beloved by music purists and record collectors, but comparatively little known next to her peers Aretha Franklin and Diana Ross.

All of that is changing these days, thanks to a series of well-received comeback albums and a jaw-dropping autobiography, “A Woman Like Me.” She's got a brand new album of Dylan covers, and a new, autobiographical one-woman show that reflects on her rocky past, the people she's known, and her signature songs.

Read my Richmond Magazine interview with this soul music legend right here.

(Photo by Mark Seliger)

A History of Jazz in Virginia

Even in unlikely hamlets like Bedford, Suffolk and Lawrenceville (home of legendary saxophonist Sheldon Powell, pictured), Virginia has been one of jazz music’s most fertile growing fields.

My cover feature on Virginia's jazz history is now online at the Virginia Living Magazine website, tricked out with all kinds of rare photos, music clips and supplementary pieces -- like my feature article on Salena Jones, and Markus Schmidt's interview with Richmond jazz keyboardist Lonnie Liston Smith.

Spend some time here and learn about all that jazz.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Reel Life: How to Make a Documentary

Thanks to advances in technology and online distribution, it’s never been easier for budding Michael Moores to make and market their own documentaries.

But what does it take to create reality-based films? For a recent feature in Richmond Magazine, I picked the brains of some Virginia documentarians: Hannah Ayers and Lance Warren of Field Studio, co-directors of “An Outrage” and the recent “The Hail-Storm: John Dabney in Virginia”; Nathan Clarke of Fourth Line Films, co-director of numerous shorts and feature-length docs, including the forthcoming film “The Funeral Home”; and Brad Johnson, a longtime DJ and the man behind El Bravador Filmworks, which has made two independent documentaries, “The Soul: R&B Radio Legends of Central Virginia” and “Hip-Hop Legends of Central Virginia.”

Read "Reel Life" by clicking right here.

(Photo courtesy Field Studio)

Funny Business: Interview with Bryan Tucker of SNL

Veteran comedy writer and Virginia native Bryan Tucker celebrates his 13th season with NBC-TV's Saturday Night Live this year. A multiple Emmy nominee and Peabody Award winner, the boyish co-head writer, 45, works at 30 Rock but has some interesting side-gigs too, like his new sports comedy website, The Kicker.

Recently, Tucker took some time to talk to me about, among other things, how SNL has kept its mojo after all these years, writing comedy in the age of Donald Trump, and what in the heck is so funny about Chesterfield County.

Read my Virginia Living Magazine interview with Tucker here. 

(Photo courtesy NBC-TV)

Interview with Gary Lucas

Gary Lucas has been the guitar sideman of choice for some larger-than-life singers — like Jeff Buckley and Captain Beefheart -- so maybe backing up a golem and Popeye the Sailor Man isn't such a stretch.

The Syracuse, New York native recently came to Richmond's James River Film Festival to be a live soundtrack provider at a screening of the 1920 German silent film, "Der Golem" (cited as the first superhero movie), and provide the tunes for a Sunday-afternoon program at The Byrd Theatre of vintage cartoons from the legendary Fleischer Studios (Popeye, Betty Boop, etc.).

I  recently spoke with Gary Lucas about the art of film music, collaborating with legends and his love for vintage Chinese pop. Read my Richmond magazine interview with the man the New York Times called "the guitarist with 1,000 ideas" right here.

(Photo: Bram Belloni)

Take the Richmond Barbecue Tour

Too much pork for just one fork.

I don't do much food writing, but I have a greater appreciation for the work of my taste-describing brethren after my latest assignment from Savor Virginia magazine.

My cover feature in Savor's March/April edition is all about the barbecue renaissance happening in Richmond, Virginia. Tangy, salty, tomato-y, sweet, hashed, pulled, minced or deliciously charred -- whatever your preference, it can be found in the RVA region.

Some spots may be more authentic, others a bit more adventurous, or a little pricier, but RVA is filled with mouthwatering ‘que -- King's, Alexander's, Alamo, Buz and Ned's, Ronnie's, Extra Billy's, HogsHead Cafe, Q Barbeque and more.

Take the Richmond Barbecue Tour with me by clicking here, and don’t forget the bib.

(Photo by the mighty Jim Pile!)

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Selena Jones: Virginia's Lost Jazz Diva

For many across the globe, the clearly phrased, softly soulful jazz of singer Salena Jones is shorthand for class, sophistication, romance. The active octogenarian still sells out venues and jazz festivals from Japan to the U.K. But she is virtually unknown in her own country, and her hometown of Newport News, Virginia.

More than a decade ago, Virginia Living Magazine flew me to London to interview Virginia's great lost jazz diva, and to tell her story for the first time. The feature article is now (finally) online, and designed to complement my current Feb. 2018 cover feature in the magazine on the history of Jazz in Virginia.

I'm ecstatic that it is finally online because this  feature profile on Salena Jones is one of my personal favorites, and Ms. Jones was one of the most fascinating people I've ever had the pleasure to profile. You'll understand why when you read the piece.

Saxophone legend Richie Cole has called Salena Jones “one of the greatest singers alive,” and she’s toured and sung with Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, Johnny Ray, Tom Jones, Antonio Carlos Jobim; been backed by ace sessioneers such as Steve Gadd, Kenny Burrell; was responsible for giving “King” Curtis—a.k.a. Curtis Ousley—his nickname. Formerly known as Joan Shaw (her given name) she's also a genuine female R&B pioneer—her early recordings on labels like Savoy, Gem and Jaguar, leading revved-up “orchestras” like Paul Williams’, Russ Case’, Luther Henderson’s and Danny Small’s, didn't spawn big hits, but they showed her undeniable vitality as a creative pre-rock innovator.

In the mid '60's, after releasing two major label albums as Joan Shaw, she would boldly change her act, her whole persona, and say goodbye to her country, transforming herself completely into Salena Jones. “Before I went, the march to Washington had just happened," she told me. "Kennedy had just been shot. I looked at myself and said, ‘What am I going to do here—with my career? I’m only one person, what can I do?’ The best thing to do is to go to another world.”

Read my profile of Salena Jones here.

And for more on her music, go here.


Doubling Down: The 2nd Street Festival

Richmond, Virginia's 2nd Street Festival will celebrate its 30th anniversary this year.

Held on the first weekend in October, this vibrant, two-day neighborhood tradition in the Jackson Ward area boasts musical performers, dance showcases, gospel choirs, food and merchandise vendors, and a whole lot of happy people in the streets greeting each other with loud, joyous squeals. It also honors the area's formidable musical history.

My new Richmond magazine feature takes a look, step-by-step, at how planners pull the big show together each year.

Read "Doubling Down" by clicking here.

And for more on the 2nd Street Festival, go here.

(Photo by the mighty Sandra Sellers/Richmond Free Press!)

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Bonus Level: Devonne Harris

Some have likened the 29-year-old Devonne Harris (only half-jokingly) to Prince.

Producer, solo artist, DJ, engineer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, sideman—the Petersburg, Virginia native wears many hats, and has been a prime mover in Virginia’s jazz and hip-hop scenes for years while dabbling in blues, rock and other styles. Now the world is noticing. Harris—aka DJ Harrison— had his solo debut, "Hazy Moods," released last year by the Los Angeles-based Stones Throw label, winning raves and establishing him as a hip-hop beat master.

Virginia Living Magazine has now posted my Virginia Music column profile of Harris at the VL website. Read "Bonus Level" by going right here.

And for more on the work of Devonne Harris, in all his many guises, go here.

Awareness Art Ensemble: Pollak Prize

Awareness Art Ensemble -- or AAE -- didn’t just introduce reggae to Virginia, it made us love it.

Formed in 1979, AAE helped to spur a vibrant Rastafarian scene in Richmond, popularizing a colorful (and aromatic) club at Harrison and Broad streets, New Horizon’s Cafe, which was like Jamaica in miniature. Serving as reggae ambassadors,. in its ’80s heyday, the unit popularized island sounds across the East Coast, and integrated itself into the city’s burgeoning new wave/punk scene at clubs like Hard Times and the Flood Zone.

AAE recently copped a much-deserved Pollak Prize for Excellence in the Arts from Richmond Magazine. Click here to read "Coming Home," my inducting feature on this pioneering American reggae band, 

Rediscovering Margaret Sullavan

Chances are, if you know Margaret Sullavan's name, it is because of the films she made with her longtime pal James Stewart -- like The Shop Around the Corner. Or perhaps you know the actress through the devastating book that her daughter Brooke wrote, a bestseller called "Haywire" that chronicled her later mental illness and suspected suicide.

But Margaret Sullavan once meant much more. At the height of her fame—the 1930s and early '40s—this Virginia tomboy was a mark of quality in American motion pictures, and a bracingly independent presence in a changing entertainment industry. Sullavan was not easy to miss, with a trademark husky voice and a chameleonic look that could be dowdy one moment and tinseltown glamour the next.

She preferred the stage, refused long contracts, chose her own co-stars, and made moguls (and Henry Fonda) cry. Her personal story is ripe for bio-pic plundering, and her relatively small body of work deserves rediscovery. Today, of all the actresses from Hollywood's golden era, Margaret Sullvan seems the most modern, the least stilted, the one player unlikely to succumb to a false moment even when everything else seems unnatural or dated.

Her own story unfolded in the best neighborhoods of Norfolk, Virginia.  My Coastal Virginia Magazine retrospective on Sullavan's life and career includes unpublished photographs from the archives of Chatham Hall, the Virginia school for girls that she attended, and a sidebar list of her best movies. Many of these gems -- The Mortal Storm,  The Good Fairy, Three Comrades, The Moon's Our Home, The Shopworn Angel  and more -- are currently available on Turner Classic Movies and through streaming services like Warner Archives and Universal Vault.

Learn all about "Sullavan's Travels" by going here. 

Unavailable on video or streaming, here's Sullavan's stunning film debut in "Only Yesterday" (1933)

(Bottom photo: Chatham Hall Archive)

The Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel

“With this bridge tunnel we have destroyed distance and conquered time.”

After years of studies, plans, commissions and community angst, the congested Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel —nicknamed “Hampton Roads No. 1” by appreciative engineers worldwide—is about to get some much-needed relief. A $4 billion overhaul will see this key coastal Virginia passage expanded with another underwater tube.

But how did we get here? And how did this incredible submerged roadway ever get built in the first place?

On the 60th anniversary of it’s opening, my feature article in CoVaBiz Magazine reveals how the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel made history, changed the region, and continues to inspire and innovate. It's not just any ol' bridge-tunnel.

Connect with "Hampton Roads No. 1" by going right here. 

(Photo: The Virginia Department of Transportation)