Chuck Berry, Rock ’n’ Roll Pioneer, Dies at 90


Chuck Berry, who with his indelible guitar licks, brash self-confidence and memorable songs about cars, girls and wild dance parties did as much as anyone to define rock ’n’ roll’s potential and attitude in its early years, died on Saturday at his home near Wentzville, Mo. He was 90.

The St. Charles County Police Department confirmed his death on its Facebook page. The department said that it responded to a medical emergency at the home, about 45 miles west of St. Louis, and that lifesaving measures were unsuccessful.

While Elvis Presley was rock’s first pop star and teenage heartthrob, Mr. Berry was its master theorist and conceptual genius, the songwriter who understood what the kids wanted before they knew themselves. With songs like “Johnny B. Goode” and “Roll Over Beethoven,” he gave his listeners more than they knew they were getting from jukebox entertainment.

His guitar lines wired the lean twang of country and the bite of the blues into phrases with both a streamlined trajectory and a long memory. And tucked into the lighthearted, telegraphic narratives that he sang with such clear enunciation was a sly defiance, upending convention to claim the pleasures of the moment.

In “Sweet Little Sixteen,” “You Can’t Catch Me” and other songs, Mr. Berry invented rock as a music of teenage wishes fulfilled and good times (even with cops in pursuit). In “Promised Land,” “Too Much Monkey Business” and “Brown Eyed Handsome Man,” he celebrated and satirized America’s opportunities and class tensions. His rock ’n’ roll was a music of joyful lusts, laughed-off tensions and gleefully shattered icons.

Mr. Berry was already well past his teens when he wrote mid-1950s manifestoes like “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Rock and Roll Music” and “School Day.” Born Charles Edward Anderson Berry on Oct. 18, 1926, in St. Louis, he grew up in a segregated, middle-class neighborhood there, soaking up gospel, blues, and rhythm and blues, along with some country music.

Charles Edward Anderson Berry was born in St. Louis on Oct. 18, 1926, and grew up in a segregated, middle-class neighborhood, soaking up gospel, blues, and rhythm and blues along with some country music. By the early 1950s, he was playing with local combos and joined Sir John’s Trio, led by pianist Johnnie Johnson, right. Michael Ochs Archives, via Getty Images

He spent three years in reform school after a spree of car thefts and armed robbery. He received a degree in hairdressing and cosmetology and worked for a time as a beautician; he married Themetta Suggs in 1948 and started a family. She survives him, as do four children: Ingrid Berry, Melody Eskridge, Aloha Isa Leigh Berry and Charles Berry Jr.

By the early 1950s, he was playing guitar and singing blues, pop standards and an occasional country tune with local combos. Shortly after joining Sir John’s Trio, led by the pianist Johnnie Johnson, he reshaped the group’s music and took it over.

From the Texas guitarist T-Bone Walker, Mr. Berry picked up a technique of bending two strings at once that he would rough up and turn into a rock ’n’ roll talisman, the Chuck Berry lick, which would in turn be emulated by the Rolling Stones and countless others. He also recognized the popularity of country music and added some hillbilly twang to his guitar lines. Mr. Berry’s hybrid music, along with his charisma and showmanship, drew white as well as black listeners to the Cosmopolitan Club in St. Louis.

In 1955, Mr. Berry ventured to Chicago and asked one of his idols, the bluesman Muddy Waters, about making records. Waters directed him to the label he recorded for, Chess Records, where one of the owners, Leonard Chess, heard potential in Mr. Berry’s song “Ida Red.”

A variant of an old country song by the same name, “Ida Red” had a 2/4 backbeat with a hillbilly oompah, while Mr. Berry’s lyrics sketched a car chase, the narrator “motorvatin’” after an elusive girl. Mr. Chess renamed the song “Maybellene,” and in a long session on May 21, 1955, Mr. Chess and the bassist Willie Dixon got the band to punch up the rhythm.

“The big beat, cars and young love,” Mr. Chess outlined. “It was a trend, and we jumped on it.”

The music was bright and clear, a hard-swinging amalgam of country and blues. More than 60 years later, it still sounds reckless and audacious.

Mr. Berry articulated every word, with precise diction and no noticeable accent, leading some listeners and concert promoters, used to a different kind of rhythm-and-blues singer, to initially think that he was white. Teenagers didn’t care; they heard a rocker who was ready to take on the world.

The song was sent to the disc jockey Alan Freed. Mr. Freed and another man, Russ Fratto, were added to the credits as songwriters and got a share of the publishing royalties. Played regularly on Mr. Freed’s show and others, “Maybellene” reached No. 5 on the Billboard pop chart and was a No. 1 R&B hit.

When the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum opened in Cleveland in 1995, Mr. Berry performed at an inaugural concert, backed by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Mark Duncan/Associated Press

In Mr. Berry’s groundbreaking early songs, his guitar twangs his famous two-stringed lick. It also punches like a horn section and sasses back at his own voice. The drummer eagerly socks the backbeat, and the pianist — usually either Mr. Johnson or Lafayette Leake — hurls fistfuls of tinkling anarchy all around him.

From 1955 to 1958, Mr. Berry knocked out classic after classic. Although he was in his late 20s and early 30s, he came up with high school chronicles and plugs for the newfangled music called rock ’n’ roll.

No matter how calculated songs like “School Day” or “Rock and Roll Music” may have been, they reached the Top 10, caught the early rock ’n’ roll spirit and detailed its mythology. “Johnny B. Goode,” a Top 10 hit in 1958, told the archetypal story of a rocker who could “play the guitar just like ringin’ a bell.”

Mr. Berry toured with rock revues and performed in three movies with Mr. Freed: “Rock, Rock, Rock,” “Mr. Rock and Roll” and “Go, Johnny, Go.” On film and in concert, he dazzled audiences with his duck walk, a guitar-thrusting strut that involved kicking one leg forward and hopping on the other.

Continue onto the New York Times to read more about Chuck Berry’s legacy.

Disneyland honors 6 Tuskegee Airmen during flag ceremony


Six men, most of them in their nineties, proudly stood at attention as the Disneyland Band played “Wild Blue Yonder,” the official song of the U.S. Air Force.

The men were Tuskegee Airmen, and were there to be honored during the Flag Retreat Ceremony in Town Square at Disneyland on Friday, March 23, 2017.

“I was the last operations officer in the combat organization,” said retired Lt. Col. Bob Friend, 97, of Irvine.

Friend and the others are members of the Los Angeles chapter of the organization of African Americans who served in that branch during World War II.

He was also a pilot, and flew 142 missions in a P-51. He was based in Italy and provided coverage for the bombers as they would make their way to their targets, over the targets and then back to base.

“I would also strafe the enemy and more,” he said.

Tuskegee Airmen
Tuskegee Airmen, Dr. Isaac Walker, greet Mickey Mouse after a flag lowering ceremony at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, on Friday, March 24, 2017.
The Tuskegee Airmen were honored during the daily flag retreat ceremony in Town Square at the base of Main Street U.S.A.
(Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Friend stayed in the military until he retired in 1971.

“I loved to fly airplanes,” he said.

As his Air Force career continued, he qualified to fly jets, too. His family also became members of the Airmen, but for a different reason.

“My sisters all married Tuskegee Airmen.”

Retired Lt. Col. Ted Lumpkin, 97, of Los Angeles, is also a member of the group, but on the ground.

“I was drafted,” he said.

His eyes were not good enough for him to become a pilot; so instead, he became an intelligence officer.

“I would brief the pilots before the missions, then debrief them when they came back,” he said.

The pilots were the best of the best, Lumpkin said, adding that they were in the best physical shape and had strong egos. But those egos didn’t matter at the end of some missions.

Read the complete story at the OC Register.

Hamilton makes NASCAR history as first black race director


Jusan Hamilton grew up working on cars in his grandfather’s garage, and he has been in love with motorsports ever since.

He dreamed of driving all the way from upstate New York’s dirt tracks to the bright lights of NASCAR. When it didn’t work out behind the wheel, he poured himself into a career behind the scenes of racing.

Hamilton hit a milestone Saturday when he debuted as a NASCAR race director for the Xfinity Series event at Fontana. He is the first black race director in NASCAR history, and his co-workers say the 26-year-old can go any direction he chooses in the sport he loves.

“I think this sport is open to everyone,” Hamilton said. “Like myself, if you find a passion in this sport and it’s something you enjoy, I think there’s an opportunity for everyone to come into the sport.”

Hamilton likens a race director to a quarterback. Wearing a headset in the control tower high above Auto Club Speedway, Hamilton communicates with track and race officials while overseeing everything that occurs in the race, including penalties, crashes and cleanups.

Hamilton has to make quick decisions involving safety personnel and even emergency services, and he had plenty to do in an eventful Xfinity race that featured several yellow flags and plenty of car damage.

Just three weeks after getting married to his college sweetheart, Hamilton ran his first race without a significant hitch.

After getting extensive experience in other areas of NASCAR’s operation, Hamilton has been preparing for this new role for several months. He oversaw the practice sessions at Fontana earlier in the week before his first chance to run the show in a real race.

“Having a really good understanding of racing coming in has definitely benefited me,” Hamilton said. “I’ve been observing, and I’ve been on the radio for a while now.”

Continue onto USA Today to read Hamilton’s complete story.

Ava DuVernay And Chance The Rapper Land On ‘World’s Greatest Leaders’ List


Fortune magazine’s list also features the likes of LeBron James and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Ava DuVernay is among the several black influencers who have been named on Fortune magazine’s annual “World’s Greatest Leaders” list.

Now in its fourth year, the list highlights people around the world who “excel at leading effectively in today’s environment.” This includes, according to Fortune, offering hope, bringing people physically together, and building bridges.

DuVernay is No. 6 on the list, which was released Thursday. The magazine praises her for continuing “to draw attention to Hollywood’s need for better representation of women and minorities both in front of, and behind, the camera.”

Chicago native Chance The Rapper is No. 46, thanks to his rise in the music industry as an independent artist, and his activism surrounding police violence in predominantly black communities.

Continue onto Huffington Post to read more about the other black leaders who have made the list.

Mostly Lit: The Multicultural Millennials Using Their Podcast To Make Reading Cool Again


The Mostly Lit Podcast is hosted by a diverse trio who met on social media and has become one of iTunes ‘Best of 2016’ podcasts, introducing many guests and literary topics to its growing audience. The hosts of this podcast have compelling individual stories which prove that the millennial generation is more determined than ever to find beauty in the traditional, not just the modern.

Derek Wiltshire, 28, never read a book cover to cover until the age of 23. After a research methods lecture on the importance of reading, Derek found himself perusing the English literature section of his university library where he discovered D.H. Lawrence. He stumbled upon Mostly Lit after having an argument with Alex Reads, one of two co-hosts at the time, about the literary merit of Junot Diaz’s This Is How You Lose Her, which subsequently, led to him becoming a host. Being on the show has given Derek an outlet for his musing on literature and philosophy and has put him in a position to encourage the young, black and mentally isolated boys he sees around him to read and find their place in the world.

Rai is a 20-something East Londoner hailing from East Africa. She is a proud black Muslim Woman with interests in post-colonial literature, Jane Austen, and philosophy. She started her literary interest in the corridors of an east London school where she could not speak English (her first language was Swahili). By finding comfort in books such as Elma the Patchwork Elephant, she learned to read and speak the language that she would go on to further study at university – English Literature. “Mostly Lit has been one of my greatest achievements as I can bring my passion for literature and black culture together to get people ‘thinking better’ and being better.” – Rai

Alex Reads is a reader and writer from London, and a professional journalist working in the media. The lack of opportunity in publishing led Alex to train as a reporter and become part of a diversity scheme. His passion for reading and writing came from years of fighting against the notion of ‘doing what real boys do’ and as such, kept his imagination alive by engrossing himself in works of fantasy, crime fiction and later poetry. Finding it difficult to find his place in the world through adolescence and childhood as a black boy who wanted to read, he sought solace in books such as Harry Potter, His Dark Materials and Noughts and Crosses, to help him challenge his own questions about his identity whether racial, sexual or political.

After years of trying to fit into this masculine stereotype, Alex began writing his first short stories and performing poetry, giving him the creative expression and confidence he gained through reading. As a writer in London, Alex wanted to create a space where people spoke about books and topics of pop-culture simultaneously. He met Rai and Derek through social media, and as a trio, the show has gone from success to success.

Read more about Mostly Lit on Blavity.


11-Year-Old Starts Club For Young Black Boys To See Themselves In Books


Sidney Keys III hopes Books N Bros can help promote literacy among his peers.

An 11-year-old from St. Louis wants to celebrate black books and improve the literacy rate among other boys at the same time.

Sidney Keys III started his own reading club for boys called Books N Bros to show his peers that reading can be fun.

Sidney told radio program St. Louis on the Air” earlier this month that “every time I go to the library at my school, there aren’t many African American literature books there.” After a visit to EyeSeeMe, a bookstore in University City, Missouri, that promotes African American children’s literature, he yearned to see more of himself reflected in books.

Sidney’s mom, Winnie Caldwell, shot a video of him reading in the store in August that gained more than 62,000 views. She told the program that her son had never been to a store that housed so many books that reflected his culture.

“You get to a point when he is 11 years old and it was so shocking for him to relate to someone on the cover in a positive aspect rather than it be some negative urban story we see a lot,” she told the local outlet. “I would like to make sure he sees himself in being whatever he can be.”

Caldwell said her son immediately had the idea to form a book club, using EyeSeeMe as their designated bookstore, after the video gained popularity. They did some research and decided to target boys 8-10, around the age their reading skills begin to lag behind girls.

Since September, the club has met monthly to discuss one book with a black protagonist, which they vote on. Some of the books the club has read so far are Hidden Figures, The Supadupa Kid and A Song for Harlem: Scraps of Time, which they read during Black History Month.

Read the complete article on Huffington Post.

‘Get Out’ and Jordan Peele just made movie history


Jordan Peele’s horror flick “Get Out” is among the year’s biggest breakout hits. And with it, Peele has also surpassed a benchmark for box-office success.

“Get Out” has now earned more than $100 million at the box office, making Peele the first African-American writer-director to pass that threshold with his debut feature film.

Peele, who is most well-known as half of the comedy duo Key and Peele, wrote on Twitter that he’s “the first of many” such black writer-directors to hit that $100 million debut target. Then, he added:

As points out, other black directors have seen their feature debuts go on to earn $100 million — Clark Johnson’s 2003 film “S.W.A.T.” grossed nearly $117 million — but none have done it with their own screenplays.

Peele reached the $100 million milestone in just 16 days, which also makes “Get Out” the fastest film from production company Blumhouse to hit that mark, according to Deadline.

Typically, horror movies make most of their money during opening weekend and then fall off quickly. But “Get Out” proved to have atypical staying power, with only slight dips in ticket sales. It currently ranks as the fifth highest-grossing film of the year.

And “Get Out” achieved all this on just a $4.5 million budget and a lead cast devoid of big names.

While Hollywood continues to debate diversity (or rather, lack thereof), the success of “Get Out” is another addition to the list of recent films directed, written by or starring African Americans that have gone on to become major surprise hits, commercially or critically — sometimes both.

Continue onto the Washington Post to read the complete article.

MIT Students Give Us Our First Cinematic Look At Riri Williams, Marvel’s New Iron Man


The fictional MIT student gets portrayed by real MIT students in a fan film.

Marvel’s Riri Williams—the star of the comic book publisher’s Invincible Iron Man, flying around in her suit of armor since Tony Stark disappeared at the end of the Civil War II crossover event—is one of the more promising characters the company has introduced in recent years. (And with a lineup that includes America Chavez, Miles Morales, and more, that’s no mean feat.) But as great a character as Riri, who fights crime under the superhero name Ironheart, has turned out to be, she’s probably got a while before she replaces Tony Stark in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Still, if you want a glimpse of what the young genius-level engineer would look like in the real world, students at MIT—where the fictional Williams built her suit of Iron Man armor—have given you the chance. In their annual “Pi Day” film, released to remind prospective students that March 14 can also be stylized as 3.14, a current MIT student plays the hero, showing her journey from invention to flight in the university’s labs.

Source: Fast Company

Seahawks Star Michael Bennett Follows Chance the Rapper’s Lead in Helping the Youth


Chance the Rapper‘s recent million-dollar donation to Chicago public schools has inspired stars beyond rap. Seattle Seahawks star Michael Bennett recently vowed to donate his 2017 endorsement money to the community.

“I was inspired by Chance the Rapper to ‘think bigger’ when he pledged one million dollars to Chicago kids and their school system. So, I’ll be joining him by investing in the future of our youth,” he wrote in an Instagram post.

“I have decided to donate all of my endorsement money in 2017 to help rebuild minority communities through s.t.e.a.m programs, as well as initiatives that directly affect women of color in hopes that we can create more opportunities for our youth and build a brighter future.”

The defensive end — who recently penned an essay for The Player’s Tribune about standing with the women’s strike for International Women’s Day and also spearheads community efforts with his family through The Bennett Foundation — also encouraged his fellow athletes to join in supporting the cause by offering up a portion of their endorsements. He also said fifty percent of his jersey sales will go towards helping inner-city garden projects.

Continue onto Billboard to read the complete article.

Laverne Cox Just Shattered Another Major Barrier


The thing about writing about the first gay man to play in the NFL, or the first Black man to play professional baseball, or the first person of any group to do anything, is that there’s rarely just one “first.” Before Jackie Robinson, there was Satchel Paige. Paige was no less great than Robinson (he may in fact have been the greatest pitcher of all time), but he was kept from prominence by exclusionary and prejudiced bylaws and de facto segregation. So we celebrate the first, but there’s a silent acknowledgment that a whole rich history came before.

The second revolution happens, of course, when it stops mattering that a ball player is Black or an actor is trans — then, they’re finally just a person with a skill.

Laverne Cox is the first trans actor to appear as a regular on network TV. Now she’s taking a small step towards making that second revolution, as she’s been cast as a character who is not specifically trans in ABC’s upcoming The Trustee, Deadline reports. She will be co-lead with Meaghan Rath in a show described thusly:

“Written by [Jay] Scherick and [David] Ronn and directed by Michael Engler, The Trustee is described as a fun, female buddy cop comedy about Eliza Radley (Rath), a driven but stubborn detective who finds unlikely help from her precinct’s trustee, Amanda Jones (Cox) a larger-than-life ex-con finishing out her prison sentence doing menial tasks for the police department. Though these two have completely opposing views on crime and punishment, a highly entertaining and successful partnership is born.”

Continue onto Refinery29 to read the complete article.

Delta Airlines Has Its First Black Female Captain


Twenty years ago, Stephanie Johnson became the first black female pilot for Northwest Airlines.

And in 2016, Johnson made history again as Delta Air Lines’ first black female captain. Delta celebrated Johnson in February, but Women’s History Month is also a fitting time to recognize the aviation pioneer.

Johnson’s trailblazing path was decades in the making.

“For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated with airplanes and would think, ‘What a great thing it would be to know how to fly,’’’ Johnson told Delta News Hub last month.

One of the first in her family to complete college, the Kent State University graduate was a flight instructor for her university’s aviation program.

Before scoring her historic position at Northwest, Johnson held a number of part-time gigs, including working at Blockbuster.

Now a seasoned pilot, Johnson wants to encourage young children to consider a career in aviation, and has worked with the Detroit Aviation Career Education Academy and served as director of the Cleveland ACE Academy.

Continue onto Huffington Post to read Stephanie’s complete story.

Chance the Rapper donates $1 million to Chicago Public Schools


After a disappointing meeting with Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner last Friday to discuss recently announced cuts to school funding, Chance the Rapper has decided to address the issue himself.

The Chicago-bred rapper, whose full name is Chancelor Bennett, announced in a news conference Monday that he would be donating $1 million to the Chicago Public School system.

“As a CPS graduate, Chance has shown Chicago students not only the heights they can achieve but the generosity they can share,” school district spokesperson Emily Bittner said in a statement. “We also appreciate his strong advocacy for Chicago schoolchildren, who suffer under the state’s discriminatory system of funding, which Gov. Rauner continues to perpetuate.”

“Today, I’m proud to announce that I am donating $1 million to CPS to support arts and enrichment programming,” Chance said in the news conference at Westcott Elementary School on the South Side of Chicago.

The announcement comes just days after the three-time Grammy-award-winning rapper brokered a half-hour meeting with the Republican governor after an exchange on Twitter.

“He gave me a lot of vague answers, so we’ll see what happens,” the rapper told reporters Friday after the two met.

On Monday, Chance said he and the governor spoke by phone over the weekend, but the talks did not yield a solution.

Continue onto CNN to read the complete article.

The Oscars Makes Strides in Diversity and Technological Advancement


This past Sunday, the 89th Annual Academy Awards did more than award great films and acting, it also celebrated diversity, technological innovation, as well as the power of strong mentorship.

Earlier in February, the Oscars presented the Scientific and Technical Awards, which celebrated technical innovation within the film industry. The awards acknowledged the technologists, innovators, engineers and inventors who have greatly impacted and expanded the realm of creative storytelling. The awards honored the revolutionary advancement of digital cinema cameras that gave filmmakers the technology to convert the capture of electronic images for motion picture production. Global diversity was also strongly represented with award recipients from Japan, Germany, and New Zealand.

New technologies and media services received accolade as well. Amazon became the first streaming service to acquire a Best Picture nomination for their film, Manchester by the Sea for which Casey Affleck, the film’s protagonist, won Best Actor. Netflix also received an award for best documentary short for White Helmet. These awards symbolize a new technological era in which untraditional entertainment platforms can now produce and compete with major film companies.

Another reoccurring theme of the night was the importance of mentorship and inspiration. Several actors and actresses mentioned a few of their favorite movies and film stars who inspired them to join the acting profession. Strong mentorship is an integral component in youth development, especially in STEM fields. For instance, Hidden Figures’ positive portrayal of African-American women in STEM industries has inspired young women across the country to pursue STEM related fields and occupations. A pivotal moment during the Oscars occurred when 98 year-old Katherine Johnson, one of the real-life NASA mathematicians portrayed in the film, received a standing ovation, becoming a “hidden figure” no longer.

The prevalence of diversity was also seen in the acting nominations as well. All acting categories contained at least one person of color and several of the nominees and subsequent winners were people of color. In fact, 4 of the nominees for best picture (Lion, Hidden Figures, Moonlight, and Fences) featured people of color as their leading characters. In response to last year’s #OscarsSoWhite outrage, Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs initiated a campaign designed to diversify the academy’s predominately male-dominated membership.

Continue onto STEMconnector to read the complete article.

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