The Force MD’s are ready to reclaim the spotlight with a slew of new projects including their appearance at the St. George Library Center for the Q&A series, Fame and Fortune. The R&B group best known for hits including “Tender Love” and “Love is a House” will share their financial challenges and lessons learned. One of the topics they will touch on is going bankrupt in the 1990s.
“At one time we had a whole record company and machine working with us to make momentum. When we were bankrupt we had to take the ball in our hands,” says original founding member, Stevie D. “That experience let us know who our real friends were ‘cause when the money went we didn’t get the calls no more from people in the industry. It’s hard. You gotta be in this business to maintain through all the trials and tribulations.”
Surviving is something that the group has been doing as they are experiencing a resurgence with their new single, “1-2 Step” featuring Chubb Rock from the forthcoming album, Soul School. Plus they are the subjects of a forthcoming documentary Force MD’s Relived, launching an online clothing line and a book about the group titled, Necessary Force.
The power and legacy of Chess Records will be discussed during a gallery talk for the exhibition Motown to Def Jam. Panelists include Dr. Syleecia Thompson, Chris Mooney and Jamar Chess, the grandson of Leonard Chess (co-founder of Chess Records). For Jamar, Chess was a groundbreaking label not only for its music but also for its ability to help bridge the racial divide between whites and blacks in the 1950s. His favorite example of this is an appearance by the legendary Muddy Waters at a family bar mitzvah. “It was interracial and no one did that. Muddy Waters came and it wasn’t an issue. But outside it was a big issue. This is before the civil rights movement,” he says.
During the panel, Jamar will also share stories about his grandfather’s relationship with Etta James. Although there are rumors that Leonard and James had an affair, Jamar denies this and instead remembers his grandfather as being a supportive friend to James. “The house where she passed away—my grandfather held the deed for a long time during her dark times. She had financial issues in California and he stepped in without her knowing. That shows what the relationship was in terms of him being there to help her out.” James continues to carry froth the family’s musical legacy as the co-founder of the Sunflower Entertainment Group and Revolution Songs.
Macy Gray is lending a helping hand to acclaimed jazz composer, David Murray and his Infinity Quartet as they tour in support of their ongoing musical collaboration. Gray shares that the project’s success is an example of a slow but changing climate in mainstream music that is less homogenized than in previous years. “Music is starting to open up and the beats are getting more organic and rap is getting back to rap. So people are starting to do what they feel and love again. It is gradual but you can hear it coming. It has a chance,” she says.
Murray is grateful to have a chance to introduce jazz to a younger audience thanks to Gray. Still he acknowledges that he would like to see more people of diverse racial and economic backgrounds attend his shows. “Of course I want to see more of my own but everybody can’t go out all the time and spend that money. These days the crunch is on. So we have to figure out a way to cater to our audience,” he says. “These clubs and venues want the most money they can get and they exclude a lot of people by way of economics and that’s not cool. So don’t think it’s not rigged.”
The Classical Theatre of Harlem (CTH) is also hoping to garner new audiences with Shakespeare’s classic A Midsummer Night’s Dream this summer in Harlem’s Richard Rodgers Amphitheater in Marcus Garvey Park. The play will be a continuation of CTH’s tradition of weaving the rich cultural legacy of Harlem into classical text, by combining traditions from the African Diaspora throughout this tale of spirits who revel in the magical nature of summer love.
The Harlem Arts Alliance is a not for profit arts service organization celebrating 10 years of service to a prestigious list of members such as the Apollo Theater, the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, Columbia University, Harlem Stage (Aaron Davis Hall) and over 850 more cultural/arts institutions and individuals. The weekly column, Harlem Arts Alliance Presents: On the “A” w/Souleo, covers the intersection of the arts, culture and entertainment scene in Harlem and beyond and is written by Souleo, founder and president of event/media content production company, Souleo Enterprises, LLC.