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)