10 Best Black Empowerment Songs

Categories: Culture

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As we come up on the 50th anniversary of the MFDP (Mississippit Freedom Democratic Party) and the Freedom Summer, we find ourselves in the midst of the Ferguson debacle, a situation that has disarmed the pundits claiming we live in a post-racial country. This musical highlight of the Black Experience from the middle of the last century until now illustrates that though things have changed, much progress is still in order before we're all free. Calibrate your moral compass and throw up a fist as we take you through our list of the 10 Best Black Empowerment Songs.

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The Tavern Gets Us Drunk On Well-Aged Comedic Melodrama

Categories: Culture

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jordankabutphotography.com
George M. Cohan has been dust for more than 70 years and today is remembered mostly for writing popular ditties like "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and "It's a Grand Old Flag," and by film buffs for James Cagney and Mickey Rooney portraying him in several movies. But his contributions to American popular culture in the first decades of the 20th Century were far greater. He helped lay the foundation for America's sole contribution to world theater--the book musical--was a founding member of ASCAP and was one one of the first major American playwrights to write plays for the common man, instead of well-heeled douchebags.

And, had he had his way in 1919, he would have destroyed the Actors Equity Association, the union for stage actors in the United States. As a producer, he felt he took care of his actors, so viciously opposed a union strike that year, something that many in the theater community never forgave him for. He lost, the union won and after refusing to join the union, Cohan basically was unable to perform in his own shows for a number of years.

His opposition to the union sparked him to write The Tavern in 1920. Unlike the song-and-dance revues that had made him an international star, this was a far more subdued work, a comedic melodrama that was both an homage to the theater as well as a big fuck you to those who he thought were hellbent on destroying it. At least that's the impression in this excellent production at the retooled Shakespeare Orange County Summerfest, which runs through next weekend in Garden Grove.


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Punk Rock Alive & Well at Fullerton's Comic Book Hideout

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The Radioactive Chicken Heads rock Comic Book Hideout. Photo by Scott Feinblatt
Radioactive Chicken Heads
Comic Book Hideout
8/9/14

Last night, four local bands crowded into the small, warm performance space of Comic Book Hideout, in Fullerton. It was there, in the presence of their friends, families, and curious comic book readers, that they sweated through their respective sets. The environment was not ideal, yet no one complained because everyone was having a great time. The energy that the musicians put into their performances was raw and bombastic, and it resonated through the crowd. It seems like the only thing that could corrupt a scene like this would be financial success.

Though the venue is not generally known as a hot spot for bands (no pun intended), Comic Book Hideout, which the Weekly named Best Comic Book Store in Orange County, regularly hosts performances and events of varying types (including comedy shows, musical performances, and gaming nights). This and the single couch located in the performance area give the venue a very cozy feeling. Add to this space a bunch of musicians bent on tearing its roof off, and there's a recipe for fun.

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Gershwin's Americana at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater

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Photo by Scott Feinblatt
Pacific Symphony
Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre
7/20/14

From alt rock acts to classical orchestras, the cozy and scenic Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, formerly (and more dignifiedly) known as Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, has hosted many types of concerts and musical festivals. And although music appreciation depends upon the taste of the individual, it is difficult to imagine that the strains of George Gershwin's most popular compositions would not command respect from anyone who heard them performed -- much less all in one program. On the evening of Sunday, July 20, Carl St. Clair opened his 25th season as the Musical Director and Conductor of the Pacific Symphony with performances of An American in Paris, Rhapsody in Blue, selections from Porgy and Bess, and the "Overture" from Strike Up the Band.

Gershwin is popularly regarded as one of the prototypical American composers. He synthesized classical music with jazz and yielded wonderfully theatrical music, which has become hallmark Americana. Gershwin referred to Rhapsody in Blue (1924) as "a musical kaleidoscope of America." It has been influential on numerous musicians and has featured prominently in many movies -- most notably as Woody Allen's theme for New York in Manhattan and in Baz Luhrmann's recent film adaptation of The Great Gatsby.

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Set Your Boners to Hyperdrive: Star Wars-Inspired Burlesque Show Coming to Santa Ana!

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Photo of Audrey Deluxe by Maarten Deboer
A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, comic book geeks and science fiction nerds were among the least likely social groups to be associated with sexuality. However, anyone who has attended a comic book or sci-fi convention in the past 10 years, give or take, has observed that flesh, cosplay, and nerd chic have become as part and parcel of the cons as getting autographs from artists & celebrities, buying campy memorabilia, and geeking out over trailers to upcoming superhero movies. That being said, on Saturday, July 12, the girls of Devil's Playground Burlesque, in association with Yadi, will be taking all Orange County comers -- nerdly fetishists as well as civilians -- to the next level of galactic experience with their Star Wars-inspired show, "Star Girls."

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LA Horror Show and Music Fest - Hollywood Sports Complex - June 14, 2014

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Photo of Rick Galiher by Scott Feinblatt
There are not enough musical festivals dedicated to spooky music. Sure, there are alt rock and metal fests, which attract some goth and death metal characters, but festivals with lineups of bands that share imagery--in lieu of musical style--are rare. Granted, there are not a whole lot of events at which fans of horror imagery and entertainment can unify, in general [Horror Works is one website that promotes various horror-related events for fans to discover]; however, as far as a horror fest with live musical acts as its main draw is concerned, the LA Horror Show & Music Fest was an anomaly.

The festival took place at the Hollywood Sports complex, in Bellflower. And although the entire grounds seemed decked-out, all spooky-like, for their annual Haunted Hollywood Sports event last October--wherein there were haunted mazes and "kill zones," where you could shoot live zombies using paintball guns--this event was restricted to the immediate courtyard and indoor performance area. This was fine considering there were not the hordes of fans who had come during October to shoot performers with faux weapons. Still, the courtyard featured a decent amount of space, which was occupied by various horror-related vendors and a side-show stage.

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Ghost Road Keeps Thoughtful Productions Light On Their Feet

Categories: Culture, Theater

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Patti McGuire
As Katherine Noon, artistic director of the Los Angeles-based theater troupe Ghost Road Company, says, South Coast Repertory's Studio SCR series is unique in Southern California:
"There is nothing else like it in Southern California," Noon says of the series, which brings smaller, alternative companies into SCR's intimate Nicholas Studio for weekend runs. "This major cultural institution putting time and money into new, innovative local work is such a boon to the theatrical community here."
Ghost Road's offering is The Bargain and the Butterfly, an ensemble-driven work based on a Nathanial Hawthorne short story that the company's website calls "a beautifully haunting new play, which explores the delicate intersection between genius and madness."

We caught up with Noon, who directs and developed the show in collaboration with her ensemble, and asked some deeply probing questions about one of the more interesting troupes in the greater Los Angeles area, which was founded in 1993 by fellow students at the California Institute of the Art's.


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Lightwire Theater Brings Us Puppets, Ballet and High-Tech Wizardry

Categories: Culture, Theater

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Most of us have seen some kind of puppet show. One or two may have seen a ballet show. But we've all turned on a light or two in our time. Lightwire Theater does all three. The troupe, which has performed across the world and nearly won the 2012 season of "America's Got Talent," brings its unique blend of very different art forms to Costa Mesa for three shows this weekend.

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'The Laramie Project' High School Production Gets the Boot in Fullerton

Categories: Culture, Theater

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Tim Chesnut

Four years ago, Fred Phelps, the now banished (and the God-who-Hates-Fags-willing soon to be dead) founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, announced plans to boycott a Santa Ana staging of The Laramie Project, an oral history project turned play that documented the events surrounding the 1998 killing of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming and, most important, the repercussions in that university town two years later.

It's doubtful that Dr. George Giokaris, the superintendent of the Fullerton Union High School District, shares Phelps' views, but, apparently, he's got something against Troy High School producing the play, because he's put the kibosh on a production.

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Shen Yun - Segerstrom Center for the Arts - March 12, 2014

Categories: Culture

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Image taken from the promotional video of Shen Yun.
Most Americans don't know a thing about traditional Chinese music and dance, so when a performance group like Shen Yun comes along proclaiming that their show is a celebration of China's cultural traditions, we go along for the ride. However, there's a lot more than music and dancing going on in this show.

As far as tradition is concerned, the marketing for the show does not explicitly state that this is an authentic representation of the Chinese arts. In fact, they advertise that their show is a "Perfect Harmony of East & West," and given that most of the music is performed by a modern orchestra, complemented with Chinese instruments such as the erhu and the pipa, its sound is more reminiscent of John Williams's score for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom than of traditional Chinese music. Musical highlights include the incredible pipes of sopranos Tianling Song and Haolan Geng and, in perhaps the most traditional moment of the show, the erhu performance of Xiaochun Qi. All three solo artists are accompanied by the talented pianist Xin Lian.

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