Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category

Harmony Project

Sunday, April 22nd, 2012

I had a most wonderful tour today, courtesy of of the founder of the “Harmony Project.” Dr. Margaret Martin led a group of us through a couple of locations in the inner city, including Frank Del Olmo Elementary School – where youngsters are learning life skills through the study of music. Martin and her team have focused on some of the poorest areas of Los Angeles, including four of the so-called “Gang Zones” of the city. All the studies show, if you give youngsters that one-on-one attention, and include them in a project with the potential to elevate, they have the opportunity to transcend very difficult circumstances. These are children raised in areas where gangs, drugs and extreme poverty are a way of life. Today, the project is helping some 1500 kids in LA – and in Ventura. Martin believes she has developed a template that could be implemented nationally. Last year, Dr.Martin received the prestigious “Presidential Citizens Medal” in Washington D.C. for her exemplary work with Harmony.

My friends and I watched as children from elementary school to middle school age received instruction in their musical education. It was a thing of beauty to see these kids mastering instruments, reading music and delighting in their progress. There was love and structure in the classroom and the joy of achievement on the face of these students. This youth arts program gives kids a sense of purpose; raises self esteem; and builds good citizens. I hope you will read more about their outstanding work in the community.

Harmony Project website: http://www.harmony-project.org/

Some clips of Harmony Project kids practicing:

 

 

 

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Dick Clark: Pop Culture Master

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

Tributes continue to pour in for Dick Clark, who died yesterday of a massive heart attack, at the age of 82. In many ways, it should not have been a shock. The iconic music and television producer had been of declining health since December 2004, when he was stricken by a devastating stroke. But when news of his passing broke yesterday, it just didn’t seem quite possible. The affable television host, with the easy smile and uncanny sense of pop culture — who maintained his boyish good looks and enthusiasm for decades — was gone…

His remarkable career spanned six decades. And I suppose that’s why so many of us felt as though we personally knew him. I didn’t know Dick Clark. I only met him once. But two stories stayed with me all day long. For any kid growing up in the 60′s and 70′s- “American Bandstand” was must-see-TV. In our home, it was the chance to check out the newest dance steps — and in today’s parlance– see what was “trending.” My dad had a strict rule about no loud music in the house. So, when my parents went out and my younger sister and I were babysat by our older siblings, up went the decibel level, and out came the new, imitated dance moves! Many a evening spent dancing on the fireplace hearth– hand held over the head– with a “score” given to “best dancer.” ( This was, of course, decades before “Dancing with the Stars” or “American Idol.”)

My other memory was the at “The American Music Awards.” The awards show was the innovation of Clark. This was the year Toni Braxton was on fire on the music charts. Marc Brown and I were co-hosting for ABC local a pre show special. Clark came up to talk to us before the broadcast. He seemed like a proud papa at the event, but also like an excited kid, regaling us with stories. Ms. Braxton was flaunting an especially revealing outfit, and though she rocked the look- there was concern, it might be a tad too revealing for the broadcast sensors. Clark laughed as he told the story, like a kid, really.. And I suppose, that’s also why we loved him.. his youthful charm was infectious ..

In his words.. ” Age ain’t got nothing to do with how old you are. ”  – Dick Clark
” American Bandstand was the original reality show.” — Dick Clark

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“Mad Men” Monday

Monday, March 26th, 2012

It was great fun to watch “Mad Men” last night! Absence does make the heart grow fonder.
As expected, you could feel the winds of change blowing through this fictionalized ad agency.
The women who usually played the role of dutiful wife, deferential secretary or angelic mother were less compliant last night. Don Draper’s new bride, and former secretary, ( Megan) threw him a surprise birthday party against his wishes. Megan then went on to put on quite a show, as she sang, vamped and danced for her new husband in front of his work colleagues. It was steamy and showed a fierce independent streak.

“Joan” who runs the office, has been out on maternity leave, showed up unexpectedly at the office. She admitted that she missed work – ” Does that sound terrible? ” she asks afraid that her lack of maternal fulfillment would negate her as a woman. She makes it clear to her own controlling  mother that she “IS” returning to work, and her husband cannot order her to stay home. The stirrings of the women’s movement being touched upon in episode one.

The men are still macho – boys will be boys – but you get the feeling, women will be giving them – ” what for? ” in future episodes.

The civil rights movement also being touched upon … As dozen of black Americans show up at the firm, in hopes of getting a job. Some polite and impolite conversation is triggered by their presence. Once again, seems to be setting the scene for subsequent episodes.

We also saw glimpses of the future in the apparel. Bright neon colors, mini skirts. ( That made Megan’s dance all the more suggestive) The mod, counter culture 60′s are seeping their way into the show. It will be interesting to see how ” Mad Men” evolves….. If you missed it last night , no worries. AMCtv.com is streaming the entire episode for free. It’s limited offer … so hurry !

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Crazy Mad for “Mad Men” the Return

Monday, March 26th, 2012

It’s been nearly a year and a half since a new installment of “Mad Men” aired. The episodic show which is set in the 60′s is an enormous hit for AMC. With smart writing and beautiful people, we are transported into the fictional world of the “Sterling Cooper” Ad Agency. This is an era where the three-martini-lunch was encouraged; office romance a way of life; and women treated like girls, no matter their age or station. The Boys Club was the only club. Women and minorities need not apply. All of this set in the hard driving world of advertising in its golden era. The “Marlboro Man” was created during this time.. Need I say more?

Which brings me to tonight and the 5th season of “Mad Men.” When we last saw Don Draper, the fundamentally flawed ad man, played by Jon Hamm, he has just gotten engaged to his secretary. ( The divorced Draper has a deep secret- which he wears with great complexity )  The agency was spinning out of control on the brink of financial ruin. Some of the women in the office are just beginning to be taken seriously in the workplace. Draper’s Number 2 in the office is his former assistant, Peggy. “Peggy” is played brilliantly by Elizabeth Moss. While Peggy shows promise as an ad executive with a flair for writing winning campaigns she worries she won’t find a husband if she finds a successful career. Such were the times…

From what I’ve read, the new episodes of “Mad Men” will start to take on the seismic shift that occurred in this country in the mid 60′s and beyond: feminism, civil rights, and the anti war movement all part of the script. I personally can’t wait to see how the show’s creator, Matthew Weiner, takes on these watershed moments in history.

But for pure entertainment and visual splendor, I adore the clothing and the sets. For women, the pencil skirts, and pointy-toe high heels. For men, sleek suits, with narrow ties. And the muted colors of the era displayed in the office and the home. I know I will be sitting on the edge of my “S” chair tonight, clutching my Pucci scarf before each scene! (Okay,that was for dramatic effect) but trust me, I can’t wait for the return!

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Latina History Day Conference

Friday, March 9th, 2012

A special day is kicking off in the City of Angels today. It’s the Latina History Day Conference.

Today, women from all over, will gather to discuss some of the most important issues of the day : politics, the economy and the state of public education. This annual event draws Latina heavy-hitters from all disciplines of the public and private sector. The day-long event includes workshops, speakers and inspiration. Think of it as “Red Bull” for the heart and soul of your career. It celebrates the historic achievements of Latinas. But at the same time, casts an eye to the future. How do we build upon past success? How do we continue to grow and improve in a challenging economy?

The gathering is unique on many levels. It was designed to meet the needs of Latina professionals. Here, women can bond, schmooze and elevate their professional game. Last night we met for a discussion with leaders in local and state politics. I enjoyed leading the discussion at an event which was a warm up to today’s main event. We had a wonderful time! Among the issues discussed were how to continue to grow in a financial climate that fosters feelings of cut backs and austerity; future of children in the public school system and taxes and small business.

It’s a sold out conference. 700 women will gather today. I’m inspired already!

You can learn more at latinas.org.  Enjoy some images and video from last night’s HOPE salon.

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Salon Night

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

This evening I will take part in a salon. It has nothing to do with beauty, fashion or primping. Quite to the contrary, a salon is a term that originated in France, and means quite literally living room or parlor. It is a conversational gathering. Art historians will tell us a salon includes a select group of artists, intellectuals and politicians who met in a private home for spirited conversation. Many wealthy women presided over salons in France and England since the 17th century. One of those women was American playwright , Gertrude Stein. Picture a living room filled with some of the greatest minds and talents of the day: Picasso and Matisse to name a few.

And now we dissolve back to today… Our salon is taking place Thursday, March 8, in downtown Los Angeles. It falls on the eve of the 21st Annual Latina History Day Conference. We will focus on some of the weighty topics of the day: Women, Politics and the Economy. It will be my pleasure to gently guide this intellectual conversation with some heavy hitters in the world of business, and politics. It’s the ultimate “spa day” for the brain — kind of a female ” think tank.” If you would like to learn more about this conference visit www.latinas.org or follow on twitter @hopelatinas #LHD2012.

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“The Artist”

Monday, March 5th, 2012

“The Artist” was the big winner last week at the Academy Awards. Despite its five awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Director — I had no burning desire to see it. However, this weekend I relented and went to a local movie theatre and watched this film, which won the affection of Oscar.  I wasn’t alone. According to Box Office Mojo, now playing in 1,756 theaters — “The Artist” finally cracked the top 10 with a 3.6 million gross.

Now back to the essence of the film. The very premise of the film seems to fly against everything we know today in modern film. It was shot in black and white, silent; with occasional subtitles and a lovely musical score. But it was the absence of audio that served as a masterful tool in story telling. It was so quiet in the theatre, I could actually hear the twirl of a straw, the rustling of popcorn from my neighbor in the theatre. At times I found myself straining to read lips — but in the end, just surrendered to the quiet. This beautiful story of joy and sorrow, cast against the backdrop of Old Hollywood, explores the age-old themes of love, loss and redemption.

When the movie begins, we are dropped into the success-dizzying world of George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) — who is the toast of the town in silent film. Rich, handsome and famous — he is everywhere. But when he refuses to change with the times — and speak — he hits a downward spiral. His co-star, Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) — is sweet and a great foil to Dujardin. And then there’s “Uggie” (the dog) — talk about a scene-stealer! The film takes us through the transition into “talkies” and thru the financial implosion of the Wall Street Crash.

But mostly we travel through the human emotions of Valentin. I found the film to be utterly charming. And in a time when films so often are overwhelmed by special effects, it was wonderfully one note; wonderfully understated.

I hope you see “The Artist.” It’s a film without sound, but fills your heart like poetry.

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To the Artist in Us All

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

By the time you have read this– practically the whole world knows  that “The Artist” cleaned up at the Academy Awards. This silent film left guests at the Kodak Theatre speaking in superlatives last night. The French production, which was shot right here in LA… won five Academy Awards. I enjoyed watching the Oscar telecast, as I always do. It’s glam, and maintains more of an ” Old Hollywood” feel, which I think  can be refreshing.

But that was Sunday. On Saturday I visited the extraordinary exhibition of my friend, Victor Hugo Zayas. Zayas’ work is described as a “synthesis of many styles: modern, expressionistic, impressionistic, abstract and figurative.” The Laguna Art Museum is presenting an overview of Zayas’ work, representing twenty years of his remarkable career. My friends and I were honored to be there at the opening last Saturday. Please make the visit, you will be lifted…!

On Friday night, I enjoyed the evening at the Beverly Wilshire, where the National Hispanic Media Coalition held its annual gala for media advocacy. Stars from the large and small screen mingled and swapped stories, laughs and leads. It was a great glam night — and we even had an Oscar nominee in our midst — the very talented, and handsome lead male actor, Demian Bichir. Bichir gave a haunting performance as an undocumented worker trying to provide for his son in a new country. He presented to the director of the film, “A Better Life” — Chris Weitz.

Just wanted to share some snapshots of a great three days. Where the common thread was art… And our longing to express ourselves creatively on film, canvass and paper. Here’s to “The Artist” in us all!

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Whitney’s Funeral

Saturday, February 18th, 2012

I wish people would stop trying to instill controversy into Whitney Houston’s funeral on Saturday. Isn’t there enough controversy over the manner in which she died?

I know many people in Newark wanted some kind of public memorial. It would’ve lifted spirits in the beleaguered city. But it’s not going to happen. Those are the wishes of the family, and they must be respected.

The pastor of the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, Joe Carter, also tried to convince the Houston family to hold a public memorial at the Prudential Center, a gleaming new arena in the middle of a city with a reputation for being dangerous. ( Whitney sang in Reverend Carter’s church choir as a child). Critics say the Reverend had selfish motives for pushing a public memorial; that he wanted to put on a grand show to promote his church and his town.

I don’t think so. Rev. Carter told a journalist friend of mine that in the past week, every time he turned on the TV set and they were talking about Whitney, they were speculating about drug and alcohol abuse, and not talking about all the good she had done for the community; the thousands of dollars she gave to worthwhile causes in Newark and Orange. The Reverand hoped that a grand memorial would change the narrative, as it did for Michael Jackson when a huge memorial service was held at Staples Center after his death. I was at that event, and I can tell you that it practically canonized Jackson. There was no talk of drug abuse, propofol or Conrad Murray- just emotional, heartfelt speeches which shed a different light on Michael and the tragic circumstances surrounding his death.

Having been at Staples that day, I can understand Rev. Carter’s desire for a large public gathering. In my opinion, he was only advocating for what he thought was right. As it turns out, one camera will be allowed into the church on Saturday- tomorrow- and the ceremony will be broadcast live around the world. Whitney’s godmother, Aretha Franklin will perform. So will Stevie Wonder. Kevin Costner, Whitney’s costar in “The Bodyguard,” will speak. But the audience will include only invited guests. In the end, I think it’s the best compromise.

The other controversy, even if it sounds a bit contrived, is the disagreement over New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s decision to have flags in the state fly at half staff on Saturday to honor the memory of Whitney Houston. Some people say it’s too high an honor for someone who died under a cloud of drug and alcohol abuse.

Why is this an issue?

To best illustrate my point, let me tell you about a CNN report that aired on Friday morning. The correspondent went to a V.A. center in Orange, N.J. He couldn’t find ONE veteran who objected to the flags being flown at half staff! One veteran pointed to an elementary school across the street from the V.A. center to which Whitney had donated money. Another veteran said, “All you have to do is look at the way she sang the National Anthem at the Super Bowl during the Gulf War, and you’ll know why the flags will be flown at half staff.” Well said. End of controversy, as far as I’m concerned.

Fans of Whitney Houston, including me, will have to be content with watching the memorial on TV, and enjoying the performances and anecdotes being broadcast. I’m out the door early tomorrow – but the Tivo is set to watch it.

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Whitney Houston: The Death of a Super Star

Monday, February 13th, 2012

Whitney Houston had that kind of soaring talent that eclipsed all others in her presence. A young girl who grew up singing gospel in her local church choir … she developed into one of the most  famous singers in the world. At the height of her career — it was hard “not” to hear Houston’s trademark sound on the radio, see the brilliant smile on billboards and her tousled curls emulated by young girls everywhere. She was an American icon.

The facts are indisputable. From the mid 80′s to the late 90′s, Houston was one of the world’s best selling artists. There was the enormous success in music, followed by success on film. Houston starred in box office hits like “The Bodyguard” and “Waiting to Exhale”. She was a crossover hit, bringing elements of the vocals found in the black churches, while at the same time, possessing an ear the for the pop cultural hit. Whitney’s achievements included six Grammies. Her success was staggering. She sold more than 55 million records in the US alone.

But as fierce as her talent was, so were her demons. A downward spiral of alcohol and drugs. A volatile marriage to singer Bobby Brown. The once pristine voice had been reduced to a whisper. So, when news spread quickly on Twitter early yesterday evening that the singing sensation was dead, people were saddened; but not really shocked. An enormous talent was gone.

Just this evening, the coroner’s office said it would be weeks until the final results were revealed as to precisely how Ms. Houston died. Her teenage daughter had been rushed from the hotel where her mother died by ambulance today, some reports said she was overwhelmed by grief. But as we gather round to see and hear the tributes to Whitney Houston today and in the coming days, I only wish the lyrics off her last album had been more prescient. In the song, “I didn’t know my own strength” .. she sang with warmth and understanding the following lyrics:

There were so many times
I wondered how I’d get through the night
I thought I took all that I could take

I didn’t know my own strength
And I crashed down and I tumbled, but I
did not crumble
I got through all the pain
Oh, I didn’t know my own strength

My faith kept me alive
I picked myself back up, I hold my head up
high

I was not built to break
I didn’t know my own strength

I was not built to break, no, no
I got to know my own strength

Rest in peace, Whitney Houston.

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