Entries from November 2005 ↓

The Intersection of Talent and Perseverance

The phenomenal Billy Porter performed two shows Monday night at Joeís Pub in New York, showcasing his many vocal gifts, his skills as a songwriter and his showmanship at entertaining an audience. Enjoyable as the show was however, viewers were left with the thought that if the world were truly a fair and equal place, and people were judged solely on their talent, Porter would be ten times the star he is today.

The eveningís performance coincided with the release of his second album, At The Corner Of Broadway + Soul, and allowed the veteran actor-singer-dancer to draw on his experience in musical theater, his gospel roots in the church and his natural soul instincts. What resulted was an enjoyable program of up tempo R&B, stirring ballads and music with a real message.

This was his first return to Joeís Pub since his triumphant autobiographical one-man-show, Ghetto Superstar, earlier this year. It is also where he debuted the current material more than a year ago. Porter is quite an accomplished songwriter and performed a number of his original compositions. Feel It to Heal It was penned after 9/11 and speaks of using love to overcome the pain of that event. Hell or High Water is a danceable track with the message that no is not an answer, while Worldís Gon Hav 2 Wait had Billy taking us to church, as he puts the world on pause in order to make time for his own needs. Capathia Jenkins, Aisha de Haas and Marty Thomas made a joyful noise in the background.

About two or three songs in, Porter matter-of-factly restated the obvious. ďYíall know Iím gay, right?Ē Not only was that known but it was also one of the unifying elements to the evening. Gay or gay affirming seemed to be the general audience demographic. He further reminded folks of his recent appearance on Oprah. And therein lies the great paradox of his career.

While record companies fawn over the next teen heart-throb, with talent about as long as the stubble on their pubescent chins, Porter can easily put all of those whiney little kids to shame. He can out sing any number of Grammy-winning adult performers as well. But heís gay. Open, proud and unapologetically gay. No doubt because of that, he does not have a recording contract and doesnít neatly fit into the marketing packages producers and record execs try to craft for todayís stars. How do you sell the masses on a great soul singer who happens to be gay and refuses to hide that fact? (The late Luther Vandross clearly took a different approach.) They havenít figured that out yet, meanwhile Porter forges ahead with his career largely through his own determination and the support of fans enlightened enough to look beyond sexual orientation.

At one point during the show, he and his lover and fellow out gay singer Ari Gold, performed another Porter original All That Matters which may have been the first time two men sang a love song to one another before an audience. Porter joked, ďWeíre the gay Jay-Z and Beyonce,Ē coyly asking audience members to guess which one of them was who.

While their song spoke of love being all that should matter in a relationship, it could just as easily have referred to oneís talent being all that should matter in show business. Nevertheless, Billy Porter continues on, demanding the entertainment world to take notice.

Save The Date: ďVoodooĒ

No one will ever confuse me for a party animal. Workaholic maybe, sports nut, recluse. Guilty as charged. But just because you wonít find me up in the clubs doesnít mean I donít know whoís doing what around town.

Nathan ďSevenĒ Scott produces some of the newest and most popular events targeting a Black gay crowd in NYC. In addition to running three regularly held events, on December 7, heís hosting a special fundraiser at Club Shelter, for Bailey House, Inc., New York Cityís largest provider of housing for people living with HIV/AIDS. Bailey House is also my employer and so we e-chatted to find out more of what heís up to and what this event is all about.

Bernie: You seem to have at least an event a week somewhere around town. How many do you produce a year?

Nathan: Oh gosh, well Iím really just getting into producing. In the past I’ve produced maybe 3 events a year, but I’ve definitely produced more events this year.

B: You’ve got regular events plus special events that you do, right?

N: Yes, I have a weekly party at Luke and Leroy called 7:THE PARTY. I produce a once a month spoken word event called WORK, it showcases artists and it’s been amazing, and we’ve started a discussion group of sorts called Last Wednesday.

B: I think most folks may be familiar with your party at Luke and Leroy. Tell me how that all started and how it’s developed over time.

N: Hmm… well we’d have to go back about 2 years. Nathan Williams and I started a party at Bar D’o on Thursdays for the afterwork crowd. That party “SPRUNG” outgrew the space and then moved to Luke & Leroy. This past march I had a conversation with the owner of L&L via Nathan and he gave me the chance to create a new Sunday party there and 7 was born. It started off with a BANG! The party had a tough time finding it’s crowd, sometimes there was a mature crowd, a young crowd, a mixed crowd, it’s sorta been up and down, but it’s now starting to get it’s groove.

B: And how about the spoken word event. How’d that start and how’s it progressing?

N: Oh that’s been AMAZING! It’s hosted by Raymonde Green who is an amazing poet/writer. Each month we’ve had the most talented muses and it’s outgrown Luke and Leroy so we are moving to a new location…GROOVE, it’s right down the street from the BLUE NOTE on West 3rd street. We’ve only been doing it for 3 months and each time there have been 100+ attendees. It’s like a broadway show…LOL.

B: Fantastic. And so what is the discussion group about?

N: Basically Last Wednesday was created to foster relationships outside of the bar scene. We’ve been hosting it at Factory Cafe on Christopher Street. We talked about sex (Can I put the head in?) and the last time we did a social mixer using cameras, it was so much fun. I co-host it with a guy named Cisco. and it’s supported by GMHC.

B: How’s the turnout?

N: There have been over 20 men in attendance.

B: But this is the newest of the three, right, so there’s room for growth.

N: Yes of course but I’m learning that brothas aren’t as open to having real conversations. The bar scene dominates our community.

B: This is true.

N: Everyone wants to pick up a date but nobody REALLY wants to talk.

B: Hmmm…we may need to talk further later about that problem. One of my pet peeves.

N: My pet peeve too.

B: On December 7, you are hosting “Voodoo.” Tell everyone about it, because it’s not just a chance to socialize but also do something for a good cause.

N: Oh man, this VOODOO thing has been in the works for about 3 months. We are raising money for Bailey House. Our goal is to raise enough money to buy toys for the children. I honestly think we should be buying them something more useful like a savings bond or something that can grow, but kids want toys so i guess that’s what we’ll give them.

B: hehehe. You’re thinking long range, they want immediate gratification.

N: Quentin Harris (dj, producer), L.A. Thomas (dj), Audi Thomas (dj) and myself are the major players in this. We tapped our resources to get the live performances which include Joi Cardwell, Cordell McClary, Dawn Tallman and Buttaflysoul. I think it’s going to be an amazing night, things have been shaping up so well, we have ads coming out in HX and NEXT and we didn’t expect that at all.

B: It’s at Club Shelter, 20 West 39th Street, btw 5th and 6th, for those who don’t know. What’s the cost to get in? Can people just show up?

N: $10 is the minimum donation, but folks can donate more.

B: What else would you like folks to know, either about this event, or anything else you’ve got upcoming?

N: Hmmm… well let’s see… we are making WORK bigger and better so I think that people should definitely support us at the new venue, it’s much more conducive for performances. I’m so very excited that I will be working with executive producers Nathan Williams, Keith Boykin and Maurice Jamal on Maurice’s new film ‘Dirty Laundry’. I’ll be a producer on that. I cannot wait! People should also know that they can support that at www.dirtylaundrythemovie.com. I have been very blessed and I feel that with the community’s support I can continue to develop and produce interesting events for New York City nightlife and more. i’m having a blast.

B: I think by the continued success you’re having, the community appreciates your hard work. Thanks for talking with me.

N: Thank you for the conversation.

Nathan blogs at The 7 Magazine and Got Nathan.

Voodoo, a special benefit concert for Bailey House, will be held Wednesday, December 7, 2005, at Club Shelter, 20 W. 39th Street, New York, NY.

Whipped!

I used to be amused by stories of (mostly rich, pampered, white) people who checked into hospitals suffering from exhaustion. But honestly, if I had it like that, that would be a wonderful vacation right about now.

Friday night I completed a long journey that began with an idea more than a decade ago. I finally completed my culinary school externship requirement, all 210 hours of it, when we closed the kitchen at 11:00 pm.

Officially, I did 212 hours, that started on August 17, done 16 hours a week at three nights a week. This in addition to my 9-5 job during the day. The externship came after 11 months of going to school full-time while also working full-time. The job was Monday through Friday, culinary arts all day Saturday and Sunday, culinary management, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday nights after work. That started in August 2004 and ended in June of this year.

I spent the remainder of June, July and part of August relaxing by just doing my day gig before school reminded me, none too subtly, that if I didnít start the externship soon, I would be dropped without receiving my diploma. I took the hint and found a location and have been at it ever since, up until Friday night.

I wish I had decided to do this, oh, maybe 20 years ago, when I had more stamina, but all the same, I am surprised at how fast the time flew and proud of myself for getting through it. About 10 years ago, when my acting career was starting to plateau, I asked myself what else would I like to do that would be creative but perhaps more in demand than a show business career. Iíve always enjoyed cooking and began exploring culinary schools way back then, but for various reasons (mostly financial) never acted on it until now.

My day job afforded me the means to make it happen, but I still had a psychological barrier to overcome. Could I work and go to school and not kill myself? Well, the answer is a qualified yes.

I am a mental and physical wreck right now. I crave about a month of uninterrupted sleep. Iíve lost weight largely from only eating one good meal a day. Iíve got achy knees, strained muscles in my back that have enabled my chiropractor to purchase a home through the regular visits, and a perpetually dazed look in my eyes that wonít go away easily.

The past two weeks have been particularly stressful. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel and decided nothing was gonna stop me from completing this task, not even illness. And this was my two weeks to get sick. The late fall temperature change left congestion in my chest and a raw throat I havenít been able to shake. This past Wednesday, I had to conduct a training at work and was talking for the better part of four hours. By Thursday, I had no voice at all. For a guy who used to make a good living doing voiceovers, to not be able to speak can be pretty disturbing. Iíve got a little of it back now however. Just imagine if Kathleen Turner and Harvey Fierstein had a love child, thatís about the way I sound.

And while Iím physically banged up, the rest of my life is in somewhat of a shambles as well. My apartment is a fucking mess. A_fucking_mess! I just havenít had time. Havenít paid bills in a while either. Iíve got plenty of money in the bank. I just havenít had the brain power to sit down and see who is owed what. And for the remaining few people who still consider me a friend, I really owe them phone calls and visits. Iíll need to spend time reconnecting.

I also have to reconnect with my love for cooking. Truth be told, if you ever want to hate cooking, do it professionally. There is a certain assembly line nature to the work that cuts out the creativity for the sake of expediency. The executive chef gets to be creative. Those of us who execute his vision just follow the recipes. I need to get away from it for awhile, then go back in a kitchen and just experiment.

While I wonít miss the long hours, I will miss my co-workers at the restaurant. There are some fine, very hard working men and women working in the kitchen and among the wait staff. Most in the kitchen are immigrants from Latin and Caribbean countries. I was surprised at how easily my high school Spanish came back to me and how useful it was. The world-reknowned New York restaurant scene would cease to exist were it not for immigrant labor, many of whom are undocumented. For relatively low wages, they easily work ten times harder than most native born Americans. I have much love for those guys and will genuinely miss them. Now, if only they had ownership and management that truly supported their efforts and knew how to run a restaurant.

Iíll close now, but to show you how tired I am, it took me all day to write this entry. I had fleeting moments of energy and clear thinking and couldnít have done it any faster. Iím off to rest.

Rubbed Him the Wrong Way

Singer Johnny Gill went to great lengths to dispel the Internet rumors swirling around about his close relationship with newly divorced actor/comedian Eddie Murphy.

In an interview with Patty Jackson on WDAS-FM in Philadelphia, Gill spoke briefly about an upcoming concert there with Bell Biv Devoe, then spent the bulk of the phone call interview addressing the rumors. Listen for yourself and decide what to believe.

The Right to Bear Arms

A spate of recent attacks on gay men and lesbians in different cities has had differing results, raising the issue of what personal steps people should take to defend themselves.

On October 25, writer, actor and performance artist Emanuel Xavier was beaten up by a group of 15-20 teenagers as he walked to his motherís house in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, NY. Although his injuries did not require hospitalization, he suffers hearing loss for which he will require treatment for the foreseeable future.

Just four days later, in Philadelphia, 21 year old aspiring singer Lucas Dawson was chased and beaten by four men as he walked to a bus stop. When he pulled a knife and confronted one of the attackers, he wound up stabbing and killing the man. After a brief period of time in jail, Lucas was released and a judge dismissed manslaughter charges against him.

And in Hartford, Connecticut, two lesbians were beaten by a gang of men as they walked from a nightclub to their car. The men shouted offensive epithets as they assaulted the pair, and the women also claim that after someone called 911, it took Hartford police more than an hour to arrive.

The fact that some homophobes, prone to violence, would choose to attempt to assault and victimize lesbians and gays should come as nothing new. That some of us are getting fed up with it and the indifference from law enforcement officials, may be a surprise. A more militant LGBT community does exist and they have no plans to be anyoneís victim.

Personally, I am not a violent person, but neither am I one to back down from a fight, particularly if my life depends on it. I wonít start it, but given a choice between me or you, I plan to be the guy who comes out of the fight alive.

Which brings me to the issue of guns and weapons. Iíve never been a fan of guns and tend to veer left on most gun control issues. But in light of these recent accounts, I canít argue with someone elseís right to do what they feel is necessary to protect themselves. And I reserve the right to re-evaluate my own needs for firearm-based protection, within the confines of legal usage.

Whatís your opinion? Should we start carrying knives, mace, pepper spray, clubs, guns or other weapons and be prepared to bust a cap in somebodyís ass if they want to jump us? Do you do so already? Or should we continue to take the moral high ground, advocating respect for and faith in the legal system to protect us and prosecute any and all attackers?

If we fight fire with fire, will that make these roving gangs of cowards back down, or cause them to become even more violent? Is it better to reason with homophobes, attempting to build bridges with our confused and misinformed enemies, and change their attitudes through dialogue and education?