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Black Women in Music

July 11, 2010 10 comments

Label of a Commodore Records 78 record by Bill...

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I got the idea for this story in bits and pieces over years, as I learned tidbits about several black women of a certain age who have accomplished themselves in music, whether jazz, blues, gospel, or classical, whether as singers, musicians, directors, and composers.  All the women have ties to Omaha, my hometown.  I got to meet all but one of the charming ladies profiled here and it was my pleasure to learn their stories and tell them in this piece for the New Horizons.  Only one of them achieved anything like a national reputation, but as I hope I make clear in the article they all distinguished themselves in their shared passion for making music.

Black Women in Music

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally published in the New Horizons

Jeanne Rogers
“Music is my life. I can’t live without music.” Omaha jazz singer/pianist Jeanne Rogers recites the words as a solemn oath. As early as age 4, she said, her fascination with music began. This only child lived in her birthplace of Houston, Texas then. She’d go with her mother Matilda to Baptist church services, where young Jean was enthralled by the organist working the pedals and stops. Once, after a service, Jean recalls “noodling around” on the church piano when her mom asked, “‘What are you doing, baby?’ ‘I’m playing what the choir was singing.’ So, she tells my daddy, ‘Robert, the baby needs a piano.’ They let me pick out my piano. I still have it. All my kids learned to play on it. I just can’t get rid of it,” said Rogers, who proudly proclaims “four of my five kids are in music.”

Blessed with the ability to play by ear, she took to music easily. “I’d hear things and I’d want to play ‘em and I’d play ‘em,” she said. She took to singing too, as her alto voice “matured itself.” After moving with her family to Omaha during World War II, she indulged her passion at school (Lake Elementary) and church (Zion Baptist) and via lessons from Florentine Pinkston and Cecil Berryman. At Central High she found an ally in music teacher Elsie Howe Swanson, who “validated that talent I had. Mrs Swanson let me do my thing and I was like on Cloud Nine,” she said. Growing up, Rogers was expected by the family matriarchs to devote herself to sacred or classical music, but she far preferred the forbidden sounds of jazz or blues wafting through the neighborhood on summer nights. “Secular was my thing,” she said. When her mother or aunt weren’t around, she’d secretly jam.

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The family lived near the Dreamland Ballroom, a North 24th Street landmark whose doors and windows were opened on hot nights to cool off the joint in an era before AC. She said the music from inside “permeated the whole area. I would listen to the music coming out and, oh, I thought that was the nicest music. Mama couldn’t stop me from listening to what the bands were playing. That’s the kind of music I wanted to play. I wanted to play with a band. I was told, ‘Oh, no, you can’t do that. Nothing but trash is up in that ballroom. There’s no need your going to college if that’s all you want to play.’ But, hey, I finally ended up doing what I wanted to do. And playing music in the nightclubs paid my way through college.”

Do-gooders’ “hoity-toity,” attitude rubbed her the wrong way, especially when she “found out folks in church were doing the same thing folks in the street were.”

Rogers, who became a mother quite young, bit at the first chance to live out her music dream. When someone told her local bandleader Cliff Dudley was looking for a singer she auditioned and won the job. “That’s how I got into the singing,” she said. “I was scared to death.” She sang standard ballads of the day and would “do a little blues.” Later, when the band’s pianist dropped out, she took over for him. “And that’s how I got started playing with the band.” Her fellow musicians included a young Luigi Waites on drums. The group played all over town. She later formed her own jazz trio. She’d started college at then-Omaha University, but when the chance to tour came up, she left school and put her kids in her mother’s care.

The reality of life on the road didn’t live up to the glamour she’d imagined. “That’s a drag,” she said of living out of suitcases. Besides, she added, “I missed my kids.” Letters from home let her know how much she was missed and that her mother couldn’t handle the kids anymore. “She needed me,” Rogers said. “I mean, there were five kids, three of them hard-headed boys. So I came back home.”

The Jewell Building once housed the Dreamland Ballroom

She resumed college, resigned to getting an education degree. “All I wanted to do was play the piano in the band. But I ended up doing what I had to do,” she said.

To support her studies she still played gigs at local clubs. And she nurtured her kids’ and their friends’ love of music by opening up the family home to anyone who wanted to play, turning it into a kind of informal music studio/academy.

“My house on Bristol Street was the house where everybody’s kids came to play music,” she said. Her twin boys Ronnie and Donnie Beck practiced with their bands upstairs while younger brother Keith Rogers’ band jammed downstairs. Their sister, singer Carol Rogers, imitated soul songstresses. Some youths who made music there went on to fine careers, including the late guitarist Billy Rogers (no relation). Ronnie played with Tower of Power and still works as a drummer-singer with top artists. Donnie left Omaha with drummer Buddy Miles and now works as a studio musician and sideman. Keith is a veteran music producer. His twin sister Carol performed with Preston Love and Sergio Mendes, among other greats.

Jeanne plays with her children when they come to town. In 2000 she went to Calif. to cut her one and only CD, “The Late Show,” which her son Ronnie produced. He pushed her hard on the project, but she likes the results. “My son’s a nitpicker and a stickler, but that’s what gets the job done.” One of the kids who was always at her place, Vaughn Chatman, is an attorney and the founder of the Omaha Black Music Hall of Fame, which Rogers and her three sons are inductees in.

She still plays a concert now and then but mostly for Sunday services at Church of the Resurrection, adding a piano jazz beat to traditional hymns. “I like it because it’s a come-as-you-are church. It’s a nice place to be.” She also volunteers at Solomon Girls Center and sometimes gives piano lessons.

She may not have wanted it, but she ended up a teacher and principal (Druid Hill) in the Omaha Public Schools. “It turned out to be one of the most rewarding things I’ve done,” she said. She used music to reach students. “The kids loved it because I would play the blues for them when they were doing their math lessons and stuff. Other kids would come by the door and my kids would say, ‘Bet you wish you were in here.’” Whether at home, in the classroom, at the altar or on a nightclub bandstand, she makes music part of her life.

Audience responding to Creighton Gospel Choir performance

Nola Jeanpierre

Nola Jeanpierre and Claudette Valentine
So intertwined are the lives of singer/actress Nola (Pierce) Jeanpierre and her “Auntie,” music director, pianist and piano teacher Claudette Valentine, that while not a musical partnership per se, their work is often inseparable. Some of dramatic soprano Jeanpierre’s earliest music memories involve her aunt, who’s accompanied her niece at recitals and concerts for half a century. They’ve worked together in community theater productions, including Omaha Community Playhouse and Center Stage Theatre shows. The Omaha music legends performed last month at the Cathedral Flower Festival. Their most solemn pairing occurs Sundays at New Life Presbyterian Church, where Valentine leads a choir that includes Nola as well as Nola’s sister Johnice Orduna, daughter Carole and grandkids Elyssia and Emil.

These sisters of the spirit draw on music, like their faith, as a wellspring for life. “It’s powerful,” said Valentine, an adjunct piano instructor at Creighton University, whose gospel choir she also directs. “It’s almost an ecstasy. There’s a warmth when the music touches you. It’s strength. When you’re feeling really down it can lift you right back up. The music can comfort you,” as it did when her brother recently passed. The belief described by her favorite hymn, “My Father Watches Over Me,” guides her in all she does. Jeanpierre views music in the same light. “It is so healing,’ she said. “It’s the one communication that breaks all barriers.”

Valentine’s life in music began at home, where as a 4-year-old she duplicated any tune she heard on the family piano, from hymns, chants and anthems at Zion Baptist Church to ragtime numbers a neighbor played. Her folks recognized her gift and signed her up for lessons. From a young age she’s played for and directed church choirs, first at Zion, then Calvin Memorial Presbyterian and lately New Life Presbyterian. A prodigy advanced well beyond her years, she performed at community events and school programs at Long Elementary and Tech High. After graduating Tech at 16 she was recruited to Drake University, where she obtained her BA and master’s. At 22 she opened her own studio. Always honing her craft, she earned a doctorate at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and studied at the Peabody Conservatory (Baltimore, MD). She’s attended national piano festivals and conferences. “I’ve never stopped studying,” she said. “The teaching of piano has changed so much since I hung up that first shingle, so I try to keep on track.”

For 50 years now she’s kept a schedule her niece describes as “sun up to sun down working. She is tireless,” said Nola. “A joke in the family is — What is Auntie going to get into now?” Valentine’s work is her passion. “The choral music — it’s a spiritual thing. It just hits me where I live,” she said. “The piano teaching, now that’s my first love. When the babies come to me and they don’t know anything about the piano and they go away from me and they’re playing for choirs, conducting, appearing on Broadway, in Europe, that’s my life, that’s my legacy.”

Former student Kevyn Morrow, a New York and London musical theater actor, wowed audiences last year guest starring in Ragtime at the Playhouse. Another old student, Douglas Corbin, is a top ballet accompanist and music teacher back East.

When directing Creighton’s gospel choir she said “it does my heart good” watching its white members “grow” as she “introduces them to how black people really live and what they’re really like.” She complements its student ranks with Nola, Johnice, Carole and other relatives, whose soaring voices provide a “nucleus” she draws on. Whatever Valentine takes on, Nola knows family is sure to be dragged in. “We know we’re going to have to do something,” she said, laughing. “Anything you ask of family, we’re there.” Their most personal collaboration is for a heritage program that pays tribute to the strong matriarchs in their family. Through dramatic recitation, song and music Valentine, Jeanpierre and family recount the stories of ancestors Easter, Queenie I and Queenie II, to tell a story of perseverance from slavery to reconstruction to civil rights.

Jeanpierre’s musical roots are in church, “the foundation” of her life. She and her sisters sang in choirs, for school programs and as the Pierce Trio at Show Wagon competitions. Courtesy her aunt, she was “introduced to classical music…all types of music” and trained on the piano. She did musical theater shows as a kid, once playing Bloody Mary in South Pacific, a part she reprised as an adult at the Playhouse. As a teen she left Omaha for Calif. to live with her father, who encouraged her love of opera. “He realized my talent,” she said. As a young woman she trained with Professor LeRoy Brandt, sang jazz with producer/arranger Quincy Jones and flutist Paul Horn and opera with the San Francisco Opera chorus and placed in the NY Metropolitan Opera auditions. She studied with Met coaches.

Since coming back to Omaha, she’s appeared in many stage shows here and in summer stock at the New London Barn Playhouse in New Hampshire, where she broke ground by insisting on playing nontraditional roles. She’s sung with Opera Omaha, performed cantatas, oratorios, solos, “anything you can imagine,” in churches and concert halls. “Among my favorite things to do is to sing spirituals in church,” she said. She’s directed choirs, cantored at St. Cecilia’s Cathedral and even sung for three kings. Her “lovely old voice” is widely praised. So why she isn’t famous?. Her attention to faith and family and good works has kept her from pursuing a larger career. “The voice is always in demand, but there’s always someone in need of something and that side of me wants to go do that. I love assisting people. I want to be of help,” said Jeanpierre, who counsels folks in need. “There’s a tear of helping a community and singing for that community. Sometimes they’re combined. God puts you where you need to be the most.”

Her refuge is her faith. “It carries you through every single situation. When I think I can’t go another step or something’s not going my way, I can hear Auntie Claudette’s” stirring rendition of “‘My Heavenly Father Watches Over Me’ in the back of my mind, and that’ll get me up and get me moving. Music is a celebration.”

Richetta Wilson
When Omaha jazz vocalist Richetta (Lewis) Wilson sings, she can’t help but sound a little like icons Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Dianah Washington and Nancy Wilson, as she worked and forged friendships with these legends when they performed here. Once a featured artist in Omaha’s finest clubs, Richetta naturally drew on the impeccable phrasing and posh stage craft of divas she admired. “I had a little bit of all of ‘em in me because I dealt with all of ‘em,” she said from her showplace of a home. With sophisticated ladies as models, it’s no wonder the petite Wilson has been the epitome of art and class among Omaha song stylists for half-a-century.

“Those were all my favorite people. I loved ‘em,” she said. She “especially” cherishes how she was able “to get to know” them as human beings. She got particularly “close” to Dianah and Ella. “Practically all of ‘em stayed at my house. We’d cook. We had a lot of fun together. Dianah Washington was my idol. From 10 years old I always wanted to sing like her. I did every tune she did. She put so much feeling in her tunes. She was a great person. Ella was a dream. I did her hair. We’d go to work together. She was a honey. I really enjoyed her.”

Getting schooled by old souls was nothing new for Wilson, whose father, Richard Lewis, mother Camille, and uncles and grandpa, all played professionally. Early on her dad saw his little girl’s talent and hunger to perform. She was so enamored with his life in music she’d “wait up on him” to come home from the Trocadero Club, where he played with Cliff Dudley’s band, pumping him for all the details.

“I had to know everything that went on,” she said. “He always sang ‘Laura’ to me because I loved to hear him sing that. When I got to be about 12 he let me go to rehearsals with him down to the Trocadero. I’d be wide-eyed.”

He bought her a baby grand piano for her 7th birthday and saw to it she and her four siblings learned their chops. “He dearly loved music. He instilled it in all of us,” she said, adding that a brother, Victor Lewis, has enjoyed a long career as a jazz drummer-composer. “Everybody had to play.” She balked, declaring, “‘All I want to do is sing.’ She later appreciated the training ”because that’s how you learn to phrase and get your chords down and everything.”

At home she imitated Dianah, crooning into a lamp while her brothers made believe brooms were horns or saxes. Her dad eased her into show biz by having her sing at American Legion halls. “That’s when I took off,” she said. “I told him, ‘This is what I want to do, Daddy. I want to sing.’ I threw my lamp away and picked up the real mike.” When he felt she was ready, he had her audition for bandleader Dudley. Shy Richetta was coaxed to sing “Tenderly.” She recalls finishing the tune and Dudley turning to her dad to declare, “’She’s hired.’ That got me on the circuit,” she said.

Dudley became her mentor. “He made me sing some of everything. I couldn’t just do jazz. I did country western, all the show tunes…so I have a rep where I can do a little bit of everything,” she said. “He was a heck of an arranger. He was my foundation, I’ll put it that way. He was stern…I cried a lot, but he taught me everything I know. It was worth it. It got me good jobs and sent me on my way.” She was 17 when she joined Dudley and 19 when she hooked up with Preston Love’s territory band, touring the South on a big yellow bus with a pot belly stove in it. She was the  group’s only female. Before her dad let her go he made pianist Roy Givens “promise he’d take care of me.” Givens kept his word.

Life on the road with a 17-piece orchestra was “an experience” she said. They played Jim Crow venues where the band had to enter through the back door and the crowd on the dance floor was separated by a rope — whites on one side, blacks on the other. The band slept on the bus. She got teased by the guys. Nine months away from home with all those crazy cats was enough for her.

She performed many more times with Love and Givens. She regarded them and players like Sonny Firmature and Buddy Graves “my musical family.” With her real family she sang in a trio that had her dad on sax and her mom on piano.

In her heyday she performed at swank local night spots — The Colony Club, Angelo’s, the Carnation Ballroom, Mickey’s, the M & M, the Blue Room — and the best hotels. She headlined a Joslyn jazz festival. Her “great following” went wherever she did. She took gigs in Denver, San Francisco and once had an extended, nine-month engagement at a hip Kansas City club. By then she was married with kids. It meant a weekly routine of getting her house in order before hopping a Wednesday charter for K.C, performing through the weekend there, then flying back to Omaha Sunday night to begin the cycle all over again. Her late husband, Richard Wilson, generally didn’t like her going on the road.

“I was amazed he let me do it that long,” she said. “I had many opportunities to go and do a whole lot more than I did. He said, ‘We’ve got four daughters here and I don’t think you’re going to be going away leaving girls.’ So, I made myself happy with working around here. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve done and all the people I’ve had the opportunity to meet and the good times we’ve had.”

She only plays the rare gig anymore. There’s still nothing better than blending her sweet voice with the sound of a full, swinging orchestra. She last did that in 2005 at Harrah’s Casino, singing a duet with Omaha native Eugene Booker McDaniels on his classic “Feel Like Making Love” at the Omaha Black Music Hall of Fame awards dinner. She was inducted for her lifetime as a consummate jazz interpreter.

Much of the old gang’s gone now, but she still performs from time to time with Buddy Graves at Touch of Class Lounge. She sings at her annual birthday bash, too. She and her brother Victor Lewis jammed at a recent Jazz on the Green.

“I’ve had an adventurous life with all the things I’ve done,” she said. “It’s hard to kind of believe. But I wouldn’t trade it for nothing in the world.”

Ruth Norman
In a career spanning 60 years, Omaha native Ruth Norman has made a name for herself as an organist, pianist, composer, music educator and choral director. She left Nebraska decades ago to pursue a life in music, settling back East, where she got her master’s at Eastman School of Music (Rochester, NY), but she credits her early start here for her later success. Her introduction to music began at home.

“All the females in my family played the piano quite well,” she said by phone from her adopted hometown of Bethesda, MD. “I grew up playing the piano. I was always at the piano, always. I didn’t know what else to do but that.” Except for tennis, her second passion. Her grandmother, aunts and cousins all played piano, but her “dominating” grandma set the tone. She made sure Ruth took lessons — from instructors Edrose Willis Graham and Frances Baetens. But it was an inner stirring that drove young Ruth. “I’ve always just been led to do it,” she said. “It is deep within me.” Her many compositions, from “The Rapture” to “Introspection,” speak to music’s profound pull on her and her interest in “metaphysics.”

Despite being black in an era of overt racial bias, she said, “I grew up with every advantage to grow into music. I was always given the opportunity to play. I often played for classes at Lothrop Elementary and Central High. I played at Central’s Road Show…Baetens would drag me all over Nebraska and parts of Iowa playing programs here and there. I did a lot of concertizing from age 10 or 12. I loved it.”

Ruth Norman is featured in the above anthology

Some might say she’s followed an unusual path for an African American by concentrating on classical music. “I always played classical music and I always played sacred music (at Claire Chapel Methodist Church). Jazz and blues and gospel were not even on my menu,” she said. “I did not have that exposure at all.” That’s not to say she couldn’t play or appreciate those styles. Summers home from her studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln found her playing “cocktail-lounge music for some of the better hotels in Omaha (among them, the Fontenelle) as I’ve done here in the D.C. area. I don’t consider myself a cool, swinging jazz player, but I found I could always play something like ‘Blue Moon’ or ‘I’m in the Mood for Love’ or ‘Night and Day’ without any trouble because I could play ‘em by ear.” A diverse repertoire, she said, served her well. “The way you can survive as a musician is to prove you can do several things. If you’re going to write music it’s to your advantage to play and hear different things…different rhythms. Playing by ear gives you help and freedom in playing and writing classical music.”

It was at UNL, where she got her BA, she began composing. “It was just sort of a natural process,” she said. “I thoroughly enjoy composing and I’ve written for many mediums — choral, chamber, piano and organ works.” Much of her work’s published in anthologies of black composers. She’s also recorded pieces. In a career that’s “been a whole mix of things,” she’s always conducted choirs and played organ at churches. “The organ is very rewarding. There’s an inner feeling you can get from playing the organ you don’t get from playing the piano,” she said. “An ethereal expression deep within. I thoroughly enjoy that. I don’t mean a Hammond or Wurlitzer organ. I mean the actual pipe organ.” She’s played some of the best.

It was during her academic career, including a stint teaching music at a string of black colleges (Spelman, Morehouse, Bowie State, Texas Southern), she developed an interest in researching the works of black classical composers. “Annoyed” that blacks were relegated in many quarters to certain strands of music she said, “I decided I would set the record straight. I realized black composers had lived in many parts of the world and written in every style of music. They didn’t do just blues, jazz and gospel.” Her studies, funded by National Endowment for the Arts grants, found “a lot of classical composers we thought were white were black or mixed race. That led me to a wide avenue of music and many adventures” in Latin America and beyond. She’s given much of her life to sharing her findings via piano lecture recitals and interviews/performances on radio (Pipedreams) and television.

Her career’s been about taking the path less traveled. It’s why she left home. “I’ve always liked a challenge and I felt one was never challenged enough in Omaha. The worst thing you can do is stay where everyone thinks you’re wonderful. You get so comfortable. I don’t believe in limiting myself or patting myself on the back. I knew I belonged in the East. That’s what made me stay here (after Eastman). If you’re going to be in the field of performing you have to drive yourself alone,” she said. “You can’t just loaf through. You have to have that self-motivation as I did. You have to be honest with yourself, you have to be willing to criticize yourself, you have to realize I could have done better and I will do better.”

These days her playing’s curtailed as the result of injuring a hand in a fall. “To find yourself in a situation in which your playing ability has been hampered is devastating at first,” she said, “but I don’t let myself focus on that. I’m a very positive person. I do a lot of meditation and prayer. Independence is a state of mind. Besides, I never was one to sit still.” Norman was inducted in the Omaha Black Music Hall of Fame in 2005. She’s been honored by a concert of her works at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington DC, where she’s served as Artist-in-Residence at the Sumner School.

NOTE: Fellow Central grad Cherie Curry, a distinguished pianist and piano teacher, also traces her musical start to Omaha’s north side. She played for church (Zion Baptist) and in concert (an all Chopin recital at Joslyn). After graduating Omaha University she pursued advanced studies at San Jose State University, where she taught many years. Her concert/recital career took her all over the U.S. and Europe, where she also studied. In 1976 she performed the Aaron Copland Sonata before the iconic composer himself at a concert in San Jose, where she resides.

Mt. Nebo Missionary Baptist Church

Veola Dryver
Veola (Seay) Dryver of Omaha was a girl of 8 when she said she received the call to serve the Lord through music, something she’s done for 70 years. “I knew God had called me. It’s sort of a wonder way that He does, but you know it’s His voice. It’s like a whisper. And sometimes it’s really loud.” She attended Mt. Nebo Baptist Church at the time. She sang in the choir, but insists she had no real knack for music. She trusted God would show her the way. “I didn’t know anything about music,” she said. “I asked Him, ‘Are You sure this is what You want me to be?’ He told me, ‘I looked for a man and I found none.’ I was reading my Bible when I turned to the first chapter of Jeremiah and that’s exactly what this passage said.”

It was all the confirmation she needed. “There are those who are called into the ministry and there are other ones that are gifted. They are special chosen, ” she said. For years she kept the calling a secret, even from her parents. “Most people, if they have this kind of a gift, they’re afraid to tell it,” she said, “because people won’t believe them and they’re jeered at.”

She was 15 before she revealed her calling. By then she was showing promise at church, although her family was too poor to send her for lessons and “everybody except my father,” she said, “thought I would never make a musician.” Veola would not be dissuaded. She said unlike her demure mother, “who always believed women should be sort of docile, I was not. It just didn’t suit me.”

Then fate or divine inspiration struck again. “Eulah Billingsley, a very sincere, very religious person — what we called a Christian that knew God — said the Lord had led her into forming a youth choir for the church…and to appoint me as the minister of music. I just burst into tears because I hadn’t told anybody that secret.” Dryver “had a lot of studying to do and music lessons to take, much under the guidance of “a marvelous teacher named Florentine Pinkston. She was a beautiful person…very strict and austere.”

Despite some training, she credits the Lord for her directing prowess. “I never have taken directing lessons. I just knew.” Being a female music minister in the Baptist church was unheard of then, but she pressed on anyway. “So many people were saying women don’t teach music, women don’t direct…but they all accepted me.” Further setting her apart was a dynamic directing style, gesticulating hands keeping beat and bringing voices in. She was minister of music at Mt. Nebo for years and enjoyed a long tenure at Trinity United Methodist Church. Over time she’s directed youths and adults at many churches of varied faiths. She even directed a choir of doctors and nurses at Immanuel Hospital. “Music is music,” she said.

Her son Michael Dryver, a noted Omaha music minister, director and teacher in his own right, considers his mother “a pioneer” for the “total” way she integrated the arts into sacred rites and overall church development. “She’s very creative. She’s also a visual artist. She pioneered liturgical dance in Omaha…she had dances that were actually part of the worship services. There was a spirit of music ministry she brought to this community, especially to north Omaha, that was unseen before.”

Mother and son collaborated on productions of Ahmal and the Night Visitors and The Messiah and she sung in the Voices of Omaha when he directed it. His mother and father, the late Herman Dryver, provided artistic and technical support, respectively, for many concerts/recitals he directed. She was a lead teacher for the Wee World fine arts program at her son’s Omaha School of Music.

Years earlier she directed large events herself. She was music director for several state Baptist conventions and once, for a national ministerial congress Martin Luther King, Jr. attended. The late ‘50s gathering marked MLK’s lone visit here. She befriended the young Southern minister and led a choir of some 1,000 voices.

Dryver, who attended then-Grace College and Omaha University, has done her share of preaching, too. “I do preach,” she said, “but the radio is my pulpit. I have a program on KCRO (660AM) called In His Image.” Airing Saturdays at 12:15 p.m., the program has her deliver an inspirational scriptural message each week under the guise of her radio handle — Teacher Mary D. Before that, she hosted a weekly Sunday television show called Soul Searching on KETV Ch. 7, for which she interviewed clergy and other religious figures from Omaha and other communities. Her charisma made her “an Oprah Winfrey” in her own time.

Aside from her media-ministerial work, she’s best known as a private piano-music theory instructor. She’s taught countless youths at her home, many of whom have gone onto music careers, such as singer Yolonda Johnson, who enjoys a concert opera career in New York. Old students often check in on her. “I live for that,” she said. “It’s just wonderful, I tell you.” Her impact is everlasting. “Well, my mother, she’s my mother, but she’s mother to a lot of children,” Michael said. “She’s inspired lots of people. Lots of women pastors have been inspired and encouraged by her leadership,” including his sister Rosalind Dryver-Scott, pastor at Menomonie (Wis.) United Methodist Church. Many music ministers, Michael among them, followed her path, which she calls “a blessing.”

As immersed as the family was in church and music, her children were bound to carry on. “We all loved music and we all loved God,” Veola said. “We lived in the church. I think that was our advantage.” For her, music and faith are inseparable. “I’ve always been very fascinated with it. It’s just been an exciting journey and an exciting call,” she said. “It’s a healer, it’s a testament and it’s a witness. Music has an effect upon people. You really can control an entire audience through music. I believe music is the one gift God has given to mankind we enjoy on Earth that we will take back to heaven with us. We won’t be barbers, butchers and businessmen in heaven, but we will sing.” A vision has showed her a million heavenly voices raised in song. “I look forward to being part of that number,” she said. Amen.

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BLACK HISTORY MONTH CONCERT DIVA 3 A TRIBUTE TO HISTORY OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN WOMEN IN CLASSICAL MUSIC

January 28, 2015 2 comments

I have the distinct pleasure of being friends with a remarkable group of women musical artists in Omaha who are all related to each other. Once in a while they gift the community with their individual and collective talents in concert. Their DIVA 3 concert on Sunday, February 8 at New Life Presbyterian Church will commemorate Black History Month with performances of arias and spirituals from the classical canon that celebrate the legacy of African-American women in classical music. Nola Jeanpierre, her daughter Carole Jeanpierre and Carole’s daughter Elyssia Reschelle Finch possess powerful, dramatic soprano voices that will raise the rafters and give you goosebumps. They are all classically-trained. Nola’s sister Johnice Orduna will add her fine vocals as well. As if that’s not enough this musical line, those three generations of performers will be joined by a fourth generation, in the person of Nola’s aunt, Claudette Valentine, who will accompany this family of vocalists on piano. It will be a program you won’t soon forget. Your heart and soul will never be the same. I’ve always thought that if someone with a video camera would record oen of this family’s concerts and post it to YouTube that the video would stand a good chance of going viral because people all over world will be struck by the magic of their music. Nola, Carole and Elyssia deserve the recognition.

 

 

Diva3 (NS)

 

BLACK HISTORY MONTH CONCERT DIVA 3 A TRIBUTE TO HISTORY OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN WOMEN IN CLASSICAL MUSIC

Three generations of classically-trained Omaha singers bound by blood, faith and black musical heritage will perform a DIVA 3 concert on Sunday, February 8 at New Life Presbyterian Church, 4060 Pratt Street.

The 6 p.m. Black History Month show will feature Nola Jeanpierre, her daughter Carole N. Jeanpierre and Carole’s daughter Elyssia Reschelle Finch performing songs celebrating African-American women in classical music. In the tradition of Marian Anderson, Leontyne Price, Jessye Norman and Kathleen Battle, the three local women will use their dramatic soprano voices to interpret arias and spirituals from the classical canon.

Nola is a veteran musical theater performer on Omaha stages. She portrayed Bloody Mary in South Pacific at the Omaha Community Playhouse. She sang the role of the High Priestess in the memorable Opera Omaha mounting of Aida at the Ak-Sar-Ben Coliseum. She’s the featured soloist at the St. Cecilia Cathedral Flower Show each year. She’s done summer stock back East. She traces her vocal abilities to her mother, Bernice Bragg.

 

Carole Jeanpierre

Carole has performed with national artists on stage and in the recording studio. She is often a guest soloist with the University of California Davis Gospel Choir. She also composes music, including an original, faith-based opera she wrote, Noalia: An Opera of Love that she is workshopping She recently adapted the opera into a children’s book.

Ejyssia, a student at Concordia University in Seward, Neb., has a goal of auditioning for the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, which her grandmother Nola did as a young woman.

Nola’s sister, Johnice Orduna, will lend her own fine voice to the concert. Nola and Johnice’s aunt Claudette Valentine, a piano instructor and choir director, will accompany the vocalists, which means a fourth generation of musicianship will be represented.

This long line of musical talent is viewed by family members as a gift from On High they feel called to share.

“As a family music represents the fruits of the spirit,” says Carole. “It is our hope to enlighten hearts, to share the gift with love and with unity so that audiences are uplifted. That’s the bottom-line.”

“I’ve always been so appreciative that we were blessed with a gift that we could give back,” says Nola.

“Music is love,” Valentine says simply.

Carole created DIVA 3 as a vehicle for the family to sing together, just like they did at family reunions back in the day.

“We’d have family gatherings and someone would bring the macaroni and cheese and someone would bring the guitar, and we would all sit up under each other and sing. That was our best times,” recalls Carole.

“The piano was the center of everything we did,” Valentine says of growing up.

As each next generation came into the family’s musical fold, a new talent was nurtured and another voice added to the mix. When Nola and her two sisters showed a musical knack as toddlers, their mother had them start piano lessons. Voice lessons followed. Claudette formed the girls into a sweet harmonizing trio that performed widely. As Nola’s music career blossomed her first-born, Carole, soaked it all in.

Nola recalls their earliest musical bonding, “She would be under the piano and sometimes I would sit her on the stool next to me and we would sing. She’d touch the keys and play the piano. When I heard the talent then it was time to use it because she has the most phenomenal gift of pitch and mimicking a sound of a one I’ve ever known. She can sound like anybody.”

“I picked up everybody’s gift,” says Carole, who made her public performing debut at age 3 in church.

“I just gave her what was given to me and passed it on down,” says Nola.

Truthfully, it probably started in the womb,” Carole says of this music osmosis. She went on to train with some 17 vocal coaches but says her mom’s “the best.” Nola and Carole both teach vocal students.

The family’s closeness carries over to performing, where their intuitive understanding allows them to cover for one another.

“We feel each other,” says Nola. “We just know when one is going to drop out and the other needs to pick it up.”

Elyssia, who has a mixture of her grandmother’s and mother’s voices. appreciates the musical legacy she is part of and the warm comfort of performing with loved ones.

“I definitely recognize how special that is. Not everybody has that and it does bring your family into a closer connection because we all do share something and we all display our gifts in the same kind of way.”

For the February 8 concert the doors open at 5:30 p.m. for a private auction from the Creations 2 Bragg About Collection.

DIVA tickets are $15. Purchase advance tickets by calling 402-.281-5396. A portion of the proceeds will go to the Raw DAWGS after-school program.

For more information, call 402-281-5396.

 

Commemorating Black History Month – Links to North Omaha stories (Part IV of four-part series)


Commemorating Black History Month

Links to North Omaha stories from 1998 through 2018

 

 
Articles on social justice, civil rights, race, history, faith, family, community, business, politics. education, art, music, theater, film, culture, et cetera

A weekly four-part series

Final week: Part IV – Soul food and soul sports

 

https://leoadambiga.com/2019/01/16/the-long-road-to…ear-as-a-bluejay

Charles Hall’s Fair Deal Cafe | Leo Adam Biga’s My Inside Stories

 
https://leoadambiga.com/2012/04/10/onepeachof-a-pitcherpeaches…
 

 

Commemorating Black History Month – Links to North Omaha stories (Part III of four-part series)

February 26, 2019 Leave a comment

Commemorating Black History Month

Links to North Omaha stories from 1998 to 2019

 

Articles on social justice, civil rights, race, history, faith, family, community, business, politics. education, art, music, theater, film, culture, et cetera

A weekly four-part series

This week: Part III – History, art, music, theater, film, culture, entertainment, society

 

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/11/25/cathy-hughes-for…g-the-status-quo

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/12/12/as-screen-vetera…-big-career-move

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/11/berthas-battle/ ‎

Burden of Dreams: The Trials of Omaha’s Black Museum | Leo Adam …

https://leoadambiga.com/…/burden-of-dreams-the-trials-of-omaha’s-black museum/

Great Plains Black History Museum Asks for Public Input on its …

https://leoadambiga.com/…/great-plains-black-history-museum-asks-for- public-input-on-its-latest-evolution/‎

Long and Winding Saga of the Great Plains Black History Museum …

https://leoadambiga.com/…/long-and-winding-saga-of-the-great-plains-black- history-museum-takes-a-new-turn-2/

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/04/30/omahas-sweet-six…master-battalion

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/18/the-tuskegee-airmen/

https://leoadambiga.com/2019/02/09/omahas-jazz-past…ge-at-the-jewell/

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/11/25/funny-yet-seriou…ber-ruffin-story

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/12/08/putting-it-on-th…in-late-night-tv/

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/04/30/north-omaha-rupt…f-playfest-drama/

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/04/24/stage-screen-sta…e-omaha-symphony

soul sisters – The Reader

http://thereader.com/visual-art/soul_sisters/

Camille Metoyer Moten | Omaha Magazine

http://omahamagazine.com/articles/tag/camille-metoyer-moten/

Camille Metoyer Moten: With a song in her heart | Leo Adam …

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/12/26/camille-metoyer-moten-with-a

Art imitates life as themes in play cut closely for its stars – The Reader

http://thereader.com/visual-art/art_imitates_life_as_themes_in_play_cut_closely_for_its_stars/

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/02/18/blacks-of-distinction-2/

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/04/01/blacks-of-distinction-ii/

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/09/05/after-night-of-v…s-venue’s-future/

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/11/20/finding-forefath…limpse-of-future/

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/07/09/actor-kelcey-wat…es-of-separation/

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/04/22/john-beasley-living-his-dream/

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/06/john-beasley-making-his-stand

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/02/01/john-beasley-act…nt-believability

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/09/03/john-beasley-and…kshop-and-beyond

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/09/30/tired-of-being-t…-beasley-theater

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/18/get-your-jitney-on

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/05/29/polishing-gem-be…gem-of-the-ocean

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/14/what-happens-to-…aisin-in-the-sun

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/10/04/michael-beasley-…-steel-magnolias/

Life comes full circle for singer Carol Rogers | Leo Adam …

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/08/28/life-comes-full-circle-for

Sisters of song: Kathy Tyree connects with Ella Fitzgerald …

http://thereader.com/visual-art/sisters_of_song_kathy_tyree_connects_with_ella_fitzgerald/

Black Women in Music | Leo Adam Biga’s My Inside Stories

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/07/11/black-women-in-music

Now Wasn’t That a Time? Helen Jones Woods and the …

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/04/29/17

Kia Corthron | Leo Adam Biga’s My Inside Stories

https://leoadambiga.com/category/kia-corthron

Bomb Girl Zedeka Poindexter Draws on Family, Food and …

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/03/11/zedeka-poindexter-draws-on..

Lit Fest Brings Author Carleen Brice Back Home Flush with …

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/07/02/lit-fest-brings-author-carleen

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/10/26/novel’s-mother-d…it-to-the-screen

Wanda Ewing Exhibit: Bougie is as Bougie Does | Leo Adam …

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/12/08/wanda-ewing-exhibit-bougie-is

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/06/17/color-me-black-a…ications-of-race/

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/22/frederick-browns…ing-on-of-legacy

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/08/28/artist-bernard-s…-revival-worship/

Jana Murrell: Working Towards a New Standard of Beauty …

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/07/04/jana-murrell-working-towards-a

Gospel Playwright Llana Smith Enjoys Her Big Mama’s Time

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/07/gospel-playwright-llana-smith

Quiana Smith’s Dream Time Takes Her to Regional, Off …

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/01/23/quiana-smiths-dream-time-2

Jill Scott Interview | Leo Adam Biga’s My Inside Stories

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/08/08/interview-with-jill-scott

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/07/05/a-woman-under-the-influence/

Crowns | Leo Adam Biga’s My Inside Stories

https://leoadambiga.com/tag/crowns/‎

Tiffany White-Welchen delivers memorable performance in …

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/10/14/tiffany-white-welchen-delivers

Enchantress “LadyMac” Gets Down | Leo Adam Biga’s My …

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/21/enchantress-ladymac-gets-down

Preston Love, His Voice Will Not Be Stilled | Leo Adam Biga’s My …

https://leoadambiga.com/…/preston-love-his-voice-will-not-be-stilled/‎

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/05/05/preston-love-a-t…late-hepcat-king/

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/03/mr-saturday-night

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/03/omaha-blues-and-…end-preston-love

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/03/preston-love-192…ed-at-everything

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/01/hard-times-ring-…uthor-laura-love/

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/04/27/laura-love-omaha…r-gal-comes-home/

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/12/19/preston-love-jr-…e-man-chautauqua

Cool Cat Billy and the Sportin’ Life | Leo Adam Biga’s My Inside Stories

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/07/01/sportin-life/‎

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/18/puttin-on-the-ritz/

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/08/28/soon-come-nevill…hing-north-omaha

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/12/27/gabrielle-union-…-from-the-camera

Gabrielle Union having it all between her own series, new …

http://thereader.com/news/gabrielle_union_having_it_all_between_her_own_series_new_film_producing_mar/

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/09/29/gabrielle-union-…ary-half-the-sky/

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/21/the-gabrielle-union-chronicles

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/21/gabrielle-union-a-star-is-born

Dope actress Yolonda Ross is nothing but versatile – from …

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/10/18/dope-actress-yolonda-ross-is

Yolonda Ross adds writer-director to actress credits – The …

http://thereader.com/visual-art/yolonda_ross_adds_writer-director_to_actress_credits/

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/21/yolonda-ross-takes-it-to-the-limit

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/09/13/tim-christian-ch…film-in-nebraska

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/11/29/vincent-alstons-…nd-love-all-over

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/03/09/master-of-many-m…ms-jason-fischer/

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/09/01/an-inner-city-ex…range-of-stories/

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/09/01/art-from-the-streets/

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/07/20/omowale-akintund…new-cinema-voice/

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/21/deconstructing-w…ost-racial-world

Commemorating Black History Month Links to North Omaha stories from 1998 through 2018 (Part II of four-part series)

February 9, 2019 Leave a comment

Commemorating Black History Month

Links to North Omaha stories from 1998 through 2018

 
 
 
Articles on social justice, civil rights, race, history, faith, family, community, business, politics. education, art, music, theater, film, culture, et cetera
 
A weekly four-part series
This week: Part II –  Faith, family, community, business, politics

 

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/11/16/interfaith-journ…rfaith-walk-work/

Good Shepherds of North Omaha: Ministers and Churches Making a …

https://leoadambiga.com/…/the-shepherds-of-northomahaministers-and- churches-making-a-difference-in-area-of-great-need/

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/30/two-blended-hous…houses-unidvided

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/11/14/small-but-mighty…idst-differences

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/09/16/everyones-welcom…g-bread-together/

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/02/02/upon-this-rock-h…trinity-lutheran/

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/31/gimme-shelter-sa…en-for-searchers

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/01/09/an-open-invitati…-catholic-church

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/07/15/everything-old-i…-church-in-omaha/

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/03/10/the-sweet-sounds…ts-freedom-choir/

Sacred Heart Freedom Choir | Leo Adam Biga’s My Inside Stories

https://leoadambiga.com/tag/sacred-heart-freedom-choir/‎

Salem’s Voices of Victory Gospel Choir Gets Justified with the Lord …

https://leoadambiga.com/…/salems-voices-of-victory-gospel-choir-gets-justified-with-the-lord/

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/07/11/the-myers-legacy…ng-and-community/

A Homecoming Like No Other – The Reader

http://thereader.com/news/a-homecoming-like-no-other/

Native Omaha Days: A Black is Beautiful Celebration, Now, and All …

https://leoadambiga.com/…/nativeomahadays-a-black-is-beautiful- celebration-now-and-all-the-days-gone-by/

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/11/back-in-the-day-…party-all-in-one

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/05/how-one-family-d…-during-the-days/

Bryant-Fisher | Omaha Magazine

http://omahamagazine.com/articles/tag/bryant-fisher/.

A Family Thing – The Reader | Omaha, Nebraska

http://thereader.com/news/a_family_thing/.

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/11/big-mama’s-keeps…ve-ins-and-dives/

Big Mama, Bigger Heart | Omaha Magazine

http://omahamagazine.com/articles/big-mama-bigger-heart/

Entrepreneur and craftsman John Hargiss invests in North Omaha …

http://thereader.com/visual-art/entrepreneur_and_craftsman_john_hargiss_invests_in_north_omaha/

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/06/30/creative-to-the-…s-handmade-world/

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/09/27/minne-lusa-house…on-and-community/

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/10/22/a-culinary-horti…ommunity-college/

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/08/28/revival-of-benso…estination-place

A Mentoring We Will Go | Leo Adam Biga’s My Inside Stories

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/18/a-mentoring-we-will-go

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/01/08/tech-maven-lasho…past-stereotypes/

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/08/22/omaha-small-busi…rs-entrepreneurs

Omaha Northwest Radial Hwy | Leo Adam Biga’s My Inside Stories

https://leoadambiga.com/tag/omaha-northwest-radial-hwy/

Isabel Wilkerson | Leo Adam Biga’s My Inside Stories

https://leoadambiga.com/tag/isabel-wilkerson/

The Great Migration comes home – The Reader

http://thereader.com/visual-art/the_great_migration_comes_home/.

Goodwin’s Spencer Street Barber Shop – Leo Adam Biga’s My Inside …

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/04/29/goodwins-spencer-street-barbershop-we-cut-heads-and-broaden-minds-too/.

Free Radical Ernie Chambers – The Reader

http://www.thereader.com/post/free_radical_ernie_chambers

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/03/15/deadeye-marcus-m…t-shooter-at-100/

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/01/15/north-omaha-cham…s-the-good-fight

North’s Star: Gene Haynes builds legacy as education leader with …

https://leoadambiga.com/…/norths-star-gene-haynes-builds-legacy-as-education-leader-with-omaha-public-schools-and-north-high-school…

Brenda Council: A public servant’s life | Leo Adam Biga’s My Inside …

https://leoadambiga.com/…/brenda-council-a-public-servants-life/‎

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/04/17/carole-woods-har…ess-and-politics/ ‎

Radio One Queen Cathy Hughes Rules By Keeping It Real …

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/04/29/radio-one-queen-cathy-hughes…

Miss Leola Says Goodbye | Leo Adam Biga’s My Inside Stories

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/09/01/miss-leola-says-goodbye/.

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/09/02/leola-keeps-the-…-side-music-shop/

Aisha Okudi’s story of inspiration and transformation …

http://thereader.com/news/aisha_okudis_story_of_inspiration_and_transformation/

Alesia Lester: A Conversation in the Gossip Salon | Leo …

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/03/09/alesia-lester-a-conversation-in…

Viv Ewing | Omaha Magazine

http://omahamagazine.com/articles/tag/viv-ewing/

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/02/11/sex-talk-comes-w…rri-nared-brooks/

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/29/strong-smart-and…-girls-inc-story/

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/10/13/omaha-couple-exp…ica-in-many-ways

Parenting the Second Time Around Holds Challenges and …

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/11/25/parenting-the-second-time…

Pamela Jo Berry brings art fest to North Omaha – The Reader

http://thereader.com/visual-art/pamela_jo_berry_brings_art_fest_to_north_omaha/

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/06/its-a-hoops-cult…asketball-league/

Tunette Powell | Omaha Magazine

http://omahamagazine.com/articles/tag/tunette-powell/

Finding Her Voice: Tunette Powell Comes Out of the Dark …

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/01/24/finding-her-voice-tunette..

Shonna Dorsey | Omaha Magazine

http://omahamagazine.com/articles/tag/shonna-dorsey/

Finding Normal: Schalisha Walker’s journey finding normal …

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/07/18/finding-normal-schalisha-walker..

Patique Collins | Omaha Magazine

http://omahamagazine.com/articles/tag/patique-collins/

Commemorating Black History Month: Links to North Omaha stories from 1998 through 2018 (Part I of four-part series)

February 1, 2019 Leave a comment

Commemorating Black History Month
Links to North Omaha stories from 1998 through 2018
 

Articles on social justice, civil rights, race, history, family, community, faith, education, art, music, theater, film, culture, et cetera
 
A weekly four-part series
This week: Part I
Redevelopment, vision, advocacy. protest and empowerment
 

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/10/16/nonprofits-lever…hem-to-the-polls/

https://leoadambiga.com/…/when-omahas-north-24th-street-brought-together -jews-and-blacks-in-a-melting-pot-marketplace-that-is-no-more/‎

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/07/10/greg-fripps-whis…ghlander-village

 https://leoadambiga.com/2019/01/27/hope-hero-vanessa-ward

 https://leoadambiga.com/2018/04/30/north-omaha-rupt…f-playfest-drama/

https://leoadambiga.com/…/art-as-revolution-brigitte-mcqueens-union-for- contemporary-art-reimagines-whats-possible-in-north-omaha/
https://leoadambiga.com/…/brigitte-mcqueen-shews-union-of-art-and- community-uses-new-blue-lion-digs-to-expand-community-engage…
https://leoadambiga.com/…/carver-building-rebirthed-as-arts-culture-haven- theaster-gates-rebuild-and-bemis-reimagine-north-omaha/‎
https://leoadambiga.com/…/artists-running-with-opportunity-to-go-to-the- next-level-carver-bank-resident-artists-bring-new-life-to-area/‎
https://leoadambiga.com/tag/the-rhythmboys-of-omaha-central/

 

As screen veteran Yolonda Ross from Omaha enjoys today’s black renaissance, she gears for next big career move

December 12, 2018 1 comment

Yolanda Ross

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As screen veteran Yolonda Ross from Omaha enjoys today’s black renaissance, she gears for next big career move

©by Leo Adam Biga

Appearing in the December 2018 issue of The Reader (www.thereader.com)

In her two decades as a working screen actress Omaha native Yolonda Ross has seen Black Cinema explode and women filmmakers assert themselves. She’s “making it happen” herself as a recurring character in Showtime’s The Chi after recurring parts in How to Murder Your Wife, The Get Down and Treme. She’s in HBO’s latest hit Random Acts of Flyness. She plays opposite Patricia Clarkson, James Caan and Toby Jones in the new indie feature Out of Blue.

Next spring, she breakouts behind the camera for her feature writing-directing debut, Scenes from Our Marriage. It shoots in her adopted hometown New York City with the same production team from the 2012 short Breaking Night she wrote-directed. She’s also executive producing and starring in Scenes. She and Clarke Peters are husband and wife theater artists dealing with professional challenges, jealousy, infidelity and race.

Omaha native Tim Christian’s Nightfox Entertainment is co-producing.

Ross left Omaha for NYC to pursue a fashion career. The multitalented artist (she also sings and paints) is glad for more opportunities today than ever.

“Yeah, this is a great time to be a black creative in our industry,” Ross said.

The emergence of Shonda Lynn Rhimes, Lena Waithe, Ryan Coogler, Jordan Peele, Terence Nance and other black TV-film players marks a wave if not sea change.

“Things have improved some,” Ross said. “I think it’s great there’s more people of color telling their own stories and not having pretty much the white race telling everybody else’s story. It makes for more specific voices for people to really see themselves on screen. It’s from a more authentic place because it’s coming from the people that live it.

“There’s still a lot of change that can happen though. There needs to be more people of color on the other side as far as green-lighting and distributing because you can produce things, but that still doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to get picked up.”

Ross has also seen her industry change in terms of how talent and content get discovered.

“Now having the Internet very much planted in the middle of everything, because you can stream everything, definitely has broadened the industry and made it smaller at the same time. There’s a whole crop of people that are stars now for not really doing anything but talking to a camera telling you about something, which is not actually acting.

“They’re just very different things.”

She sees a content glut.

“I feel it’s all very saturated right now. There’s an overload of material out there. You have to really look for the quality stuff. As far as acting, I feel if you are at the top of what you do in your work, the cream of the crop still rises no matter the clutter. You just have a lot more to get around than before because everybody’s jumbled up into one big industry.”

Concurrent with these trends are new funding, production, distribution mechanisms to help women get their work seen and supported.

“It’s wonderful,” said Ross, who’s worked with many women directors (Cheryl Dunye, Reed Morano, Carol Morley).

Her upcoming feature is getting love from Level Forward, a female-run production company supporting women’s stories and women of color.

Her project is also nurtured by Film Independent and its Fiscal Sponsorship Program, which opens the door to nonprofit funding for independent filmmakers and media artists. The Friends of Mary Riepma Ross (no relation) Media Arts Center in Lincoln, Nebraska made a grant to her project through the program.

“My film is also going to be in Film Independent Fast Track,” Ross said. The film financing market held during the LA Film Festival helps producers-directors “fast track” their projects via intensive meetings with executives, financiers, agents, managers, distributors, granting organizations and production companies.

Meanwhile, Ross, who’s worked with Denzel Washington, John Sayles, David Mamet and Baz Luhrmann, continues keeping good company. Being part of Terence Nance’s Flyness is the latest example.

“I think Terence is one of those voices we need to see. We need his Afropunk voice. We need voices like his. We need Lena Waithe’s voice. We need my voice. We need these different kinds of voices with black skin to show that we are not all the same. We don’t all think the same, we don’t all process things the same.”

Ross has prepared to make her own feature for years.

“I’m really psyched about it. We have a lot of things to say. I’m so ready. All the directors I’ve worked with, all the Sundance labs I’ve done, all the different mediums I’ve worked in – it all helps with making my own first feature film. Also, I feel I understand how to deal with other actors to get emotion without over-talking, overdoing things – but just letting people do their work.

“My experience working with so many people allows me to get the best actors, and they’re willing to do favors, which is great. In terms of production, I understand how to get things in an efficient way because I’ve dealt with so many different types of situations. I’m able to look at things from the outside in and from the inside out, where sometimes directors kind of get stuck in the writing or the set. I also have a strong team around me to keep me on track so that I can lock down and streamline what I want to get in a moment, in a scene.”

Doing Breaking Night was “extremely important,” she said. “I needed to learn every step in making a film – from writing it to getting it out to festivals. Not only did I learn everybody’s job, I dealt with everything from insurance to licensing music. I needed to understand the business side. It’s helped me preparing to make this feature. I can talk to my producers about different elements and guide the project in a way that will be bes as far as time, money, creatively, everything.

“I like the producing aspects of filmmaking.”

Her screen journey began in earnest with her breakthrough in the 2001 HBO movie Stranger Inside.

“When you’re in it, sometimes you don’t look back on it because everything is about the next job. You’re always striving for more. Whatever you did in the past is great, but it’s also the past. But I’m very thankful to be here and to be able to have touched people in various ways. I’m thankful to continue to work on great projects and to be able to support myself by doing my passion, my art.”

She’s never forgotten her roots.

“I’m always down to do things in Omaha. I was just there (May) at the Dundee Theater for a panel on women in television. Supporting artists there is totally my thing. I feel seeing people who grew up in the same setting as you living their dream is a really powerful thing.”

Visit yolondaross.com.

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.com.

 

Life Itself XIII: Music stories through the years


Life Itself XIII:

Music stories through the years

 

 

Omaha blues man Hector Anchondo riding high

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/08/01/omaha-blues-man-…ondo-riding-high/

Paul Serrato finds balance as musician and educator

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/06/01/paul-serrato-fin…an-and-educator 

Stage-screen star Vanessa Williams in concert with the Omaha Symphony

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/04/24/stage-screen-sta…e-omaha-symphony

Roni Shelley Perez staking her claim as Nebraska’s next “Broadway baby”

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/02/01/roni-shelley-per…xt-broadway-baby

 

Screen Shot 2018-04-11 at 11.16.01 AM.png

 

 

Glen Campbell’s sweet goodbye

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/02/06/glen-campbells-sweet-goodbye

Camille Metoyer Moten: With a song in her heart

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/12/26/camille-metoyer-…ong-in-her-heart/

Creative to the core: 

John Hargiss and his handmade world

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/06/30/creative-to-the-…s-handmade-world/

Entrepreneur and craftsman John Hargiss invests in North Omaha: Stringed instrument maker envisions ambitious plans for his new Hargissville digs

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/12/26/entrepreneur-and…argissville-digs

 

 

A MOTHER’S DAY TRIBUTE Mother-Daughter Music Legacy and Inheritance: Jeanne and Carol Rogers

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/05/08/a-mother-daughte…and-carol-rogers

Music-Culture Mixologist Brent Crampton: Rhythmic anthropology and pure love of human bodies moving

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/07/04/brent-cramptons-…an-bodies-moving

Stephanie Kurtzuba: From bowling alley to Broadway and back

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/08/27/stephanie-kurtzu…roadway-and-back

Making the cut: 

Music video editor Taylor Tracy

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/05/08/making-the-cut-m…tor-taylor-tracy

Paul Williams: Alive and well, sober and serene, making memorable music again

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/05/01/paul-williams-al…usic-again-at-74

 

 

Charles Ahovissi brings West African culture to the Heartland: African Culture Connection uses dance, music to tell indigenous yet universal stories

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/12/12/charles-ahovissi…niversal-stories/

Rock photographer Janette Beckman keeps it real: Her hip-hop and biker images showing at Carver Bank as part of Bemis residency

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/09/19/rock-photographe…-bemis-residency

Goin’ down the Lincoln Highway with Omaha music guru Nils Anders Erickson

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/10/01/goin-down-the-li…-anders-erickson

Omaha Songstress Mary Carrick Takes Flight in New CD  

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/07/14/omaha-songstress…flight-in-new-cd/

Omaha performer Brenda Allen recalls her friendship with Johnny Cash: “Ring of Fir”e pays tribute to iconic singer-songwriter

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/08/08/omaha-performer-…inger-songwriter/

Brenda Allen’s real life country music drama took her from Nebraska to Vietnam to Vegas

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/06/01/brenda-allens-re…vietnam-to-vegas

Life comes full circle for singer Carol Rogers

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/08/28/life-comes-full-…ger-carol-rogers

Rogers cover (reduced)

 

 

Sisters of song: Kathy Tyree connects with Ella Fitzgerald; Omaha singer feels kinship to her stage alter ego

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/03/12/sisters-of-song-…-stage-alter-ego/

Tiffany White-Welchen delivers memorable performance in “Lady Day”

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/10/14/tiffany-white-we…s-left-oct-23-24

Faith, Friends and Facebook: The Healing Journey of Camille Metoyer Moten

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/12/13/when-cancer-stru…aith-on-facebook

Camille Metoyer Moten: A singer for all seasons

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/22/camille-metoyer-…-for-all-seasons

 

 

Omaha’s black sirens of song and spoken word

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/02/15/omahas-black-sir…-and-spoken-word/

Omaha theater gypsy Gordon Cantiello back with new show

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/08/09/omaha-theater-gy…ck-with-new-show

 

IMG_1622

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jocelyn and Deven Muhammad: Creative Siblings Move Past Labels to Make Their Marks

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/09/15/jocelyn-and-deve…make-their-marks

Passion Power: Dominique Morgan’s voice will not be stilled

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/04/07/passion-power-do…l-not-be-stilled

After decades in NYC, Omaha native jazz pianist Paul Serrato proves you can come home again

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/06/06/jazz-pianist-pau…in-new-york-city

 

 

Opera Omaha re-imagines the gala with “A Flowering Tree”

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/03/24/opera-omaha-re-i…a-flowering-tree

Breaking the mold: 

Opera Omaha re-imagines the gala

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/12/11/breaking-the-mol…gines-the-gala-2/

BRAVO! Sing for the Cure

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/05/22/14215

Jazz-Plena fusion artist Miguel Zenon bridges worlds of music

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/07/21/jazz-plena-fusio…-worlds-of-music

 

Identical twin horn players set to lead Omaha jazz revival

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/03/27/identical-twin-h…aha-jazz-revival

Potash Twins making waves in jazz: Teen brothers count jazz greats as mentors

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/06/05/potash-twins-mak…reats-as-mentors

Indigenous music celebrated in Omaha Conservatory of Music Nebraska Roots concert

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/03/25/indigenous-music…ka-roots-concert/ 

Omaha’s KVNO 90.7 FM turns 40: Commercial-free public radio station serves the community all classical music and local news

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/02/11/omahas-kvno-90-7…ent-set-it-apart

20130928_bs_4919

 

Artists running with opportunity to go to the next level; Carver Bank resident artists bring new life to area

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/05/20/artists-running-…new-life-to-area

Shirley Jones Interview: Classic Hollywood star to appear at Omaha screening of “Carousel”

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/05/01/shirley-jones-in…ning-of-carousel

Hollywood legend Debbie Reynolds and classic film “Singin’ in the Rain” to be saluted

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/10/31/hollywood-legend…d-at-nov-5-event

Jill Scott Interview

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/08/08/interview-with-jill-scott

Oklahoma!, Gordon MacRae, Shirley Jones, 1955 Photo

 

Life is a Cabaret, the Anne Marie Kenny Story: From Omaha to Paris to Prague and Back to Omaha, with Love

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/05/28/life-is-a-cabare…-omaha-with-love

From Omaha to Paris to Omaha, with Love, Anne-Marie Kenny’s Journey in Song and Spirit 

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/06/21/from-omaha-to-pa…-song-and-spirit

A queen gets his day in the sun: Music director Jim Boggess let’s it all out in “Jurassic Queen” cabaret

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/01/04/a-queen-gets-his…ic-queen-cabaret

Martinez Music Legacy: 311’s SA Martinez takes music tradition laid down by father and grandfather in new direction

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/12/19/a-martinez-music…-a-new-direction

Tito Munoz: Rising young conductor leads Omaha Symphony Chamber concert

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/07/22/rising-young-con…-chamber-concert

Peter Buffett completes circle of life furthering Kent Bellows legacy

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/07/21/peter-buffett-co…-of-kent-bellows

Heart Strings: World-renowned cellist Alisa Weilerstein refuses to let chronic illness slow her down and she encourages others to pursue their dreams, too

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/02/19/heart-strings-wo…their-dreams-too

 

Miss Leola Says Goodbye

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/09/01/miss-leola-says-goodbye/

Leola keeps the faith at her North Side music shop

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/09/02/leola-keeps-the-…-side-music-shop

Laura Love: Omaha’s High Yaller Gal Comes Home

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/04/27/laura-love-omaha…r-gal-comes-home/

Hard Times Ring Sweet in the Soulful Words of Singer-Songwriter-Author Laura Love, Daughter of the Late Jazz Man, Preston Love Sr.

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/01/hard-times-ring-…uthor-laura-love

 

 

Omaha Symphony Maestro Thomas Wilkins and His Ever-Seeking Musical Journey

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/01/12/omaha-symphony-m…-musical-journey

House of Loom weaves a new cultural-social dynamic for Omaha

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/02/02/house-of-loom-we…ynamic-for-omaha/

The Sweet Sounds of Sacred Heart’s Freedom Choir

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/03/10/the-sweet-sounds…ts-freedom-choir/

Blizzard Voices: 

Stories from the Great White Shroud

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/12/24/blizzard-voices-…eat-white-shroud

 

 

 

 

Bobby Bridger: Singing America’s Heart Song

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/12/09/bobby-bridger-si…ricas-heart-song/

Bobby Bridger’s Rendezvous

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/11/bobby-bridgers-rendezvous

 

 

 

Open Minds: “Portals” explores human longing in the digital age

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/04/15/open-minds-porta…-the-digital-age

“Portals” opens new dimensions in performance art – Multimedia concert comes home for Midwest premiere

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/10/06/portals-opens-ne…midwest-premiere

More than Buddy: Billy McGuigan expands on Buddy Holly shtick to collaborate with his brothers and band in Beatles tribute

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/03/06/more-than-buddy-…les-tribute-show

 

 

Tyler Owen: Man of MAHA

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/03/20/tyler-owen-man-of-maha

Quiana Smith’s dream time takes her to regional, off-Broadway and Great White Way theater success

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/01/23/quiana-smiths-dream-time-2

Quiana Smith’s Dream Time

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/22/quiana-smiths-dream-time

High Res Can't get enough of Q. Smith. Photo by David Wells.

 

Hadley Heavin’s Idiosyncratic Journey as a Real Rootin-Tootin, Classical Guitar Playing Cowboy

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/01/a-real-rootin-to…r-playing-cowboy

From the Archives: Hadley Heavin sees no incongruity in being rodeo cowboy, concert classical guitarist, music educator and Vietnam combat vet

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/10/17/from-the-archive…etnam-combat-vet/

 

Luigi’s Legacy: 

Omaha jazz artist Luigi Waites fondly remembered

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/07/18/luigis-legacy-th…ondly-remembered

Get Crackin’

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/21/get-crackin/

Arno Lucas, Serious Sidekick

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/21/arno-lucas-serious-sidekick/

Big Bad Buddy Miles

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/21/big-bad-buddy-miles

Enchantress “LadyMac” Gets Down

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/21/enchantress-ladymac-gets-down

 

Rich music history long untold revealed and celebrated by Omaha Black Music Hall of Fame

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/07/02/a-rich-music-his…sic-hall-of-fame

Black Women in Music

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/07/11/black-women-in-music/

“Walking Behind to Freedom” – A musical theater examination of race

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/21/walking-behind-t…mination-of-race/

Tiempo Libre kicks off Jazz on the Green at Midtown Crossing in Omaha

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/07/04/tiempo-libre-kic…rossing-in-omaha

Home Girl Karrin Allyson Gets Her Jazz Thing On

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/22/home-girl-karrin…er-jazz-thing-on

 

Song girl Ann Ronell

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/08/19/song-girl-ann-ronell/

Kevyn Morrow’s homecoming

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/14/kevyn-morrows-homecoming

Frederick Brown’s journey through art: Passage across form and passing on legacy

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/22/frederick-browns…ing-on-of-legacy

Marcia Hinkle and Bill Sprague are the Omaha Symphony Orchestra’s Golden Anniversary Players

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/03/marcia-hinkle-an…iversary-players

Playing to the beat of a distant violin

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/07/06/playing-to-the-b…istant-violinist

A Woman Under the Influence: 

Robinlyn Sayers as Hattie McDaniel

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/07/05/a-woman-under-the-influence/

Cool Cat Billy Melton and the Sportin’ Life

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/07/01/sportin-life/

Salem’s Voices of Victory Gospel Choir Gets Justified with the Lord

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/07/salems-voices-of…ed-with-the-lord

 

Voices of Victory Mass Choir of the Salem Baptist Church CD

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Radio One queen Cathy Hughes rules by keeping it real: Native Omahan created Urban Radio format

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/04/29/radio-one-queen-…-keeping-it-real/

Now Wasn’t That a Time? Helen Jones Woods and the International Sweethearts of Rhythm

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/04/29/17

Omaha Music Legend Preston Love

Preston Love: A Tribute to Omaha’s Late Hepcat King

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/05/05/preston-love-a-t…late-hepcat-king

The Smooth Jazz Stylings of Mr. Saturday Night, Preston Love Sr.

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/03/mr-saturday-night

RIP Preston Love Sr., 1921-2004, He Played at Everything

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/03/preston-love-192…ed-at-everything

Preston Love: His voice will not be stilled

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/03/preston-love-his…l-not-be-stilled/

“Omaha Blues” and “Preston Love’s Omaha Bar-B-Q’”: Two scorching instrumental blues journeys by Omaha music legend Preston Love

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/03/omaha-blues-and-…end-preston-love

 

 

 

 

War and peace: Bosnian refugees purge war’s horrors in song and dance that make plea for harmony

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/08/18/war-and-peace

From the Archives: Opera comes alive behind the scenes at Opera Omaha staging of Donizetti’s “Maria Padilla” starring Renee Fleming

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/09/26/from-the-archive…ing-rene-fleming

A series commemorating Black History Month – North Omaha stories Part IV

February 22, 2018 Leave a comment

Commemorating Black History Month
Links to North Omaha stories from 1998 through 2018.
Articles on social justice, civil rights, race, history, faith, family, community, business, politics. education, art, music, theater, film, culture, et cetera
 
A weekly four-part series
Final week: Part IV –  Soul food and soul sports
 
 
https://leoadambiga.com/2012/04/10/onepeachof-a-pitcherpeaches…
 
 

A series commemorating Black History Month – North Omaha stories Part III

February 14, 2018 Leave a comment

 

Commemorating Black History Month
Links to North Omaha stories from 1998 through 2018.
Articles on social justice, civil rights, race, history, faith, family, community, business, politics. education, art, music, theater, film, culture, et cetera
 
A weekly four-part series
This week: Part III –  history, art, music, theater, film, culture, entertainment, society
 
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