Remembering The Teddy Bear

“Remembering the Teddy Bear”

“Wake up everybody no more sleepin in bed

No more backward thinkin time for thinkin ahead

The world has changed so very much

From what it used to be so

there is so much hatred war an’ poverty

Wake up all the teachers time to teach a new way

Maybe then they’ll listen to whatcha have to say

Cause they’re the ones who’s coming up and the world is in their hands

when you teach the children teach em the very best you can”

In the last couple of weeks, America has been focusing on the catastrophic tragedy in Haiti, Obama’s first State of the Union Address, the loss of Senator Kennedy’s seat to the GOP, and the re-appointment of the Fed Chair. At the time I had written my column last week, the music world had lost one of the most important Soul singers in the last 40 years. Theodore DeReese “Teddy” Pendergrass made his transition on January 13th, 2010 due to complications from colon cancer surgery he had undergone from last year. “Teddy Bear,” as he was affectionately known by women all over the world, was the undisputed king of the “bedroom” and “dance floor” classics. He had a raspy baritone style similar to earlier soul vocalists like Wilson Pickett, Marvin Junior  of The Dells, and Levi Stubbs of the Four Tops. Pendergrass was a staple for the bedroom with classics like “Turn Off The Lights,” “Close the Door,” “I Miss You,” “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” “Love T.K.O” and other songs too endless to mention in this column.

Teddy Pendergrass was born on March 26th, 1950 in Kingstree, South Carolina to Jesse and Ida Pendergrass. His father left while he was a little boy and was murdered in 1962. Ida moved the family moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where Teddy attended Thomas Edison High School for Boys and sang with the Edison Mastersingers.  Determined to let her child not succumb to the streets of Philly, she would often take Teddy to the Uptown Theater; where she was a cook. There, he was exposed to some of the greatest R & B and soul acts of the day. From  Jackie Wilson to James Brown, the youngster knew music was in his blood. It was also the church where Teddy became an ordained youth minister and played drums.

He quit high school while in the 11th grade and decided to pursue music full-time. While Teddy was drummer for The Cadillacs, the group eventually became Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes. The Blue Notes were like the equivalent of Billy Ward & the Dominos during the 1960’s, where the group had a open door of talent and lead vocalists, but Harold didn’t lead or front the group. Melvin was brains and business behind the group. He finally asked Teddy to lead the group after an impromptu performance where he came from the rear of the stage and began belting these vocals where the women just fell to their knees. Later, producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff signed the group to Philadelphia International Records in early 1972. By this time, Gamble and Huff had made a deal with CBS to distribute their records and the hits came out by the weeks. Teddy’s distinctive baritone voice, along with M.F.S.B backing the beautifully arranged records, would become a benchmark for the group and him during his solo career. The group had a great run with hits like “I Miss You,” “Bad Luck” and “Where Are All My Friends?” The landmark “If You Don’t Know Me by Now” would go on to sell over two million copies. During the end of Teddy’s run with the group, he’d have disputes with Harold over fiances and receiving credit for singing songs with the group. According to Teddy during his 1998 interview on WHYY’s “Fresh Air with Terry Gross” he adds: “when we finished our shows, people used come up to me and say, “Harold you were great!” My reply was, “I’m not Harold, I’m Teddy Pendergrass!” The rift was so bad that he eventually left the group and went on have a successful solo career.

When Teddy left, he was bombarded with tons of offers to record with other major labels, but the chemistry between the genius of Huff and Gamble and the PIR staff was a match made in heaven. With hits like “Close the Door,” “My Greatest Inspiration,” “Turn Off The Lights,” and “The Whole Town’s Laughing At Me;” lead romantics to the dance floor and to the bedrooms. He was labeled as the “Teddy Bear” by women all over the world and was the first artist to start the “Women Only Tours” during the late 1970’s.

On March 18, 1982, Pendergrass’s brakes malfunctioned causing his car to hit a guard rail crossing into the opposite traffic lane that eventually collided into two trees. Pendergrass and his friend Tenika Watson were stuck in the car for close to an hour. Although Watson walked away with a few minor injuries, Pendergrass suffered a spinal cord injury, leaving him paralyzed from the waste down.  But this tragic event and circumstances didn’t stop his success and comeback years later. In an interview with WHYY’s Terry Gross on Fresh Air, he told her after the accident “I had to reinvent myself. I had been known for the women only concerts and was labeled as this sex symbol. Performing and my image were never the same after my accident.” The media made a spectacle of Teddy’s association with Watson, who was a transsexual nightclub performer with whom he’s become close to upon the time of the accident.

I saw Teddy Pendergrass in Detroit back in 2004 where Chaka Khan opened for him at the Fox Theater. This was the first time he played the Motor City in almost 23 years. TP only played 40 minutes due to his cold and constant pain. Fans gave him a standing ovation and didn’t fret over his short performance. What I loved was how, even though he didn’t have the strength to perform, he still performed. Yeah, he should’ve opened for Chaka, but this would be the only and last time Detroiters like myself would see the Teddy Bear perform.

My fondest memory of Teddy is his record “Wake Up Everybody” with Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes. Penned by the songwriting team of Gene McFadden and John Whitehead, who also wrote the classics “Back Stabbers” and “Bad Luck,” used the power of words to empower listeners. The song was an anthem for Blacks due to the lack of quality education, health care, equality and business opportunities. What’s worse, in 2010, the lyrics still resonate loud in many Black and underprivileged areas across the country. “Wake Up Everybody” is still a wake up call to many and over 30 years later with Teddy’s powerful voice of approval.

In closing, Teddy Pendergrass left a trait in modern music that hasn’t been copied or duplicated. TP made seven and eight minute bedroom and dance floor classics. Teddy, along with the whole Gamble and Huff formula, made a wonderful evening for dancing and intimacy. That was the whole Philly soul formula. Romantic strings and lush arrangements mixed with Teddy’s sexy and powerful vocals. Kenny Gamble once said “we wrote and produced the songs…but the artists made them their own.” All of Pendergrass’s songs were his. No one could ever redo or try to record his music and have an impact like he did. Some have tried and failed miserably. His music will live on radio and quiet storm formats around the world. But his presence on soul music will leave a mark on those who grew up listening and having fond memories of how he made you love and dance to his music during the glory days of soul music. T.K.O!

The Revolution Will Be Televised

Brian Pace

The Pace Report


The Return of “Still Bill”

One of the most important singer/songwriters of the last 30 years has finally been commemorated and acknowledged in a brilliant and witty documentary entitled “Still Bill.” Bill Withers was a musician who became an icon by accident, I mean, literally. “Still Bill,” directed and produced by Damani Baker ad Alex Vlack, examines the the rise and departure of this legend. The documentary is being screened across the country and has been highlighted at many film festivals around the world. The movie focuses on the personal and analytical side of Withers, who’s become a ghost in the record industry. For an artist who made lots of money and received many accolades for his work, this documentary dives into why he got out of the industry, and hasn’t missed a beat.

Bill Withers was born on July 4th, 1938 in Slab Fork, West Virginia. He was the youngest of six kids and grew up in the coal mining community where his dad worked until he died when he was 13. The directors take us to Bill’s hometown where he returns for his high school reunion and birthday.  As he walks through his hometown with his cousin, Withers talks candidly about his stuttering problem and how the teachers shunned him because of his disability. Also, he describes how he had to try to fit in in high school due to his sensitivity of his disability. It’s here where we get to witness the sensitive and stern side of the singer. We find out immediately his family is the most important thing to him as he introduces his children and wife at the reunion. Throughout the film, we see his wife Marcia Johnson, as the major supporter of Withers, next to his kids. His daughter Cori is also a musician, and we get to see how she’s next in line to carry out her father’s legacy later on in the documentary.

The directors even deal with Bill’s take on racism as he walks through the wooded area of the black grave yard to find his parents tombstone. As he and his cousin walk the area, they reflect on how the coal miners were “the modern day sharecroppers.” They explained how the company owned the stores, housing, and major utilities and the townspeople gave their hard earned money right back to them. Once the jobs left, so did the soul of Slab Fork.

After completing high school, he enlisted in the United States Navy where he served for nine years. We eventually meet his old Navy buddies and they recall him as the same person he was before he became a recording star. Withers elaborates on how he sang in the nightclubs while serving his stint in Guam, but explains it was just for fun and he didn’t take it seriously. It was also in the Navy where he decided to confront his disability and not use it as a crutch. Throughout the entire documentary, the directors show us how Withers has used his wit and humor to overcome his obstacles. In fact, you’ll laugh at some of the most touching and personal parts of this movie.

After his discharge from the Navy, he moved to Los Angeles where he installed toilets on airplanes. It was during this time during the late 1960’ he began writing songs. As he explains in the documentary “I never had any formal training. The only music I was exposed to was the hymns in church. The ones my grandmother taught me and sang with me growing up here.” This is where the story begins to pick up. As Withers explains in the interview clip with Johnny Carson, “I just picked up a guitar only a year ago. I just started writing and writing and I recorded my demo and began sending it out to all of the record companies.” Withers was signed to Sussex Records in 1970 founded by record mogul and producer Clarence Avant. Booker T. Jones (of Booker T. & The MG’s) produced Withers’ first album. His debut album “Just as I Am” was released in 1971 introducing his signature records “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Grandma’s Hands.” From there, his career soured as well as his dislike for the record industry throughout the decade. He eventually explains how he became board with traveling extensively and how the industry wanted to place his talent in a “box.” We see his private home life and clearly see why he chose to exit the music scene. He talks about how he wanted to be there for his kids and not be absent like his father was while he was growing up. Withers dislike from the record industry is shown when he and his daughter Cori are in his recording studio and she asks him to critique a her music. He was a bit stern, but you can see he approves of her gift and later he cries when she recorded a song for him. Clearly, you see the personal tug of war as he knows his daughter must endure of becoming an aspiring artist, something her father can’t protect her from.

One of the standout scenes of “Still Bill” is where noted scholar Dr. Cornell West and talk show commentator Tavis Smiley have a candid conversation with Withers on his musical legacy. Both men credit him on “his down home” singing and how his talent couldn’t be stuck or defined in a specific genre.

This is one of the most important music documentaries I’ve seen in a long time. Bill Wither’s music is timeless and was one of few black singer/songwriters whose music touched a nerve with music fans all over the world. His music reflected love, wit, and southern folk music that was prevalent in songs like “Grandma’s Hands,” “Lean on Me,” and “Use Me.” His personal convictions allowed him to choose family over music which forced him to drop off the music scene. Seeing the poet and artist in this documentary makes me have another appreciation for Wither’s genius and love for his music. All aspiring songwriters should watch how this man became an icon without trying to become one.

2010 NEA Jazz Masters Induction Ceremonies

The 2010 Association of Performing Arts Presenters ended this year’s conference with the 2010 National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Masters Induction Ceremonies. Held at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City, this years induction class included composer and pianist Muhal Richard Abrams, pianist Kenny Barron, composer and saxophonist Bill Holman, vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, reedman Yusef Lateef, vocalist Annie Ross, pianist and composer Cedar Walton, and record producer and visionary George Avakian.

The NEA Jazz Masters began in 1982 as a way to recognize the outstanding contributions of  jazz artists and visionaries for jazz music as a great American art form. During the early 1960’s when jazz music was becoming less visible in the clubs and on radio, the NEA was formed and has awarded grants to artists and composers to help establish scholarship funds, research for educational pursuits, and a vast range jazz related programs all over the country. According to the NEA “jazz funding went from $20,000 in 1970 to $1.5 in 1980 to more than $2.8 million in 2005, supporting a wide range of activities, including jazz festivals and concert seasons, special projects such as Dr. Billy Taylor’s Jazzmobile in New York and the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz’s Jazz Sports program, educational jazz programming on National Public Radio, artists-in-school programs, and research.” Each inductee will receive a $25,000 fellowship award and a lifetime achievement award. The ceremony festivities were broadcasted live on XM, Sirius, and WBGO-FM based out of Newark, New Jersey and New York City to fans all over the world.

The NEA also gives the A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Master Award for Jazz Advocacy. This award is generally a non-music recipient who’s made contributions to the history, technology and advancement in jazz, and appreciation. This year’s Spellman recipient is legendary record producer and executive George Avakian. Avakian is best known as one of the record industry’s first record producers. He invented the LP, the long-playing record in 1948; producing the first 100 records of jazz and popular music on Columbia Records. Liner notes became the standard on most jazz recordings during the 1950’s and currently due to George’s relentless passion and vision for record buyer to know who they’re listening to. Part of jazz’s legacy on the history of the artists and music was a by-product of Avakian produced records. Soon, labels like Blue Note, Prestige, and Atlantic would use this style of journalism to market and sell their records. Benny Goodman’s recording “Live at Carnegie Hall” was produced by Avakian in 1938 and was one the first jazz recordings to sell over a million units. His other production highlights include Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, and Dave Brubeck.

This year’s class, like all other inductee classes, are without question contributors to modern music. I spoke with many of the inductees before the ceremonies during dinner, and many of them were somber and quiet as they were eating with their families. The reality of them being acknowledged by their peers and fans was indeed a humbling and eye opening experience.

I asked reedman Yusef Lateef, who’s best known for his mastery of Middle Eastern and Asian reed instruments, on how he felt to be acknowledged after 60 years in music? He paused and and responded, “it’s about time!” Lateef’s musical experiences include his stint with Cannonball Adderley, Dizzy Gillespie, and Curtis Fuller. The Grammy-Award winner was also a Professor at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst from 1987 until 2002.

Composer, educator, and pianist Muhal Richard Abrams is the co-founder of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians and is currently the president of the New York Chapter. The organization is known for teaching and representing musicians who are knowledgeable on the development of compositions and improvisation. Over the last 40 years, Abrams has taught both jazz and improvisational classes at many universities and colleges all over the world. He’s recorded and played with Art Farmer, Hank Mobley, Max Roach, and Sonny Stitt just to name a few. Currently, Muhal performs and composes with groups and ensembles all over the world.

Pianist, composer, and educator Kenny Barron has backed and performed with the heavyweights in jazz music. This Philadelphia, Pennsylvania native first got his start in New York when he played with saxophonist James Moody. Moody gave Barron’s induction speech and talked about him “playing like a painter. Kenny plays like he’s painting a portrait, it’s like a masterpiece. In all the years I’ve played with him, I’ve never heard him make a mistake! Never!” Since the early 1960’s, Barron has played and recorded with Dizzy Gillespie,  NEA Jazz Master 2010 Inductee Yusef Lateef,  Freddie Hubbard, and Milt Jackson. Over the years Barron has received nine Grammy nominations and six Jazz Journalist Association’s “Best Pianist Awards.” As part of the induction ceremonies, Barron played a composition dedicated to his mother backed by the JALC Orchestra.

Vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson was a major voice on vibes during the 1960’s as a session musician and eventually leader while at Blue Note Records. He’s best known for his work on Eric Dolphy’s landmark “Out to Lunch” recording in 1964. While at Blue Note, he recorded some 45 records as a leader and over 250 as a session musician with the label. After the induction ceremonies, Hutcherson explained, “coming to New York was dream. Playing with some of the greatest musicians wasn’t something you thought about…you just played and it felt great.” He was the only inductee that didn’t perform a body of work or composition during the entire ceremony. Instead, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra performed Hutcherson’s “Uhmmm” to a tremendous response.

During the late 1950’s vocal group Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross made the singing style “vocalese” a mainstay in jazz and vocal music. Annie Ross was destined to become a performer as she stated in her induction speech. Ross was born in Surrey, England, but was raised in Los Angeles were she became an actress and eventually a singer. When she returned to England, it was there she became a singer backing artists like Coleman Hawkins and James Moody. It was her debut as a solo artist in 1952 where she caught the attention of vocalists Dave Lambert and Jon Hendricks. The unit won endless poll and critics awards. Over the years Ross has been a staple on stage, screen, and jazz clubs. During her induction speech, she credits her love for song and how music has been her existence during her whole life.

Bill Holman and Cedar Walton also gave riveting speeches and performances during the evening.

The 2010 NEA Jazz Masters Induction Ceremonies were well-produced and orchestrated. Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra deserve a lot of recognition for their time and efforts in backing these legends. Also, the few journalists who covered this and the showcases during the conference. Without journalists like myself and others from across the country, we’d never be able to cover these events so you could keep abreast of what’s happening in the jazz community.

Many of the jazz legends and fans showed their support and appreciation not only for these musicians, but for jazz music as a whole. Throughout the week, the NEA Jazz Masters coordinated workshops and seminars along with this year’s Association of Performing Arts Presenters Conference. Many of the workshops helped raise the awareness, direction, and promotion of jazz music. Promotors, artists, journalists, and publicists met at showcases and dinners during the week, to keep programs like the Jazz Masters and festivals around country visible, when coverage and exposure is limited.

This is an event that everyone should try to attend at least once in your life. The event is free and the National Endowment for the Arts gives out tickets to the induction ceremonies months after the new class has been announced. For more information on the NEA Jazz Masters visit them on the web at

2010 APAP Conference: Motema Music Winter Showcase

This year’s 2010 Association of Performing Arts Presenters kicked off this past Thursday here in New York and it’s been a music lovers dream with all of this wonderful music going on here. With all the NEA Jazz Masters and Winter Jazz Festival activities I can’t really give you all the details of my adventures over the last few days. But, I can tell you Motema Records is the record label to look out for in 2010. Their showcase featured a diverse range of both jazz, world, and folk music which was a big hit here with APAP attendees and music fans.

Founded by Jana Herzen in 2003 in San Francisco, the label is currently based in Harlem and has been producing some of the most “slept on” recordings during the last decade. Last year, Herzen launched The Motema Foundation, a not for profit label for projects that extend services to fundraisers for medical or social causes that artists are passionate about. Over the years Motéma has worked with and continues to extend its arms to the corporate and nonprofit sector, while producing some of the most eclectic music on the planet.

Saturday night’s Motema Showcases were broken into four parts throughout the evening. The “In the Pocket” Jazz Series, “Without Border” Vocal Series, “World/Jazz Series,” and the “Groove Jazz” Visionary Series. Each set featured all of the label’s artists and gave APAP attendees and promoters an opportunity to experience the artistry of their music.

Motema’s “In the Pocket” Series featured pianist Antonio Ciacca, who’s latest disc, “Lagos Blues,” with saxophonist Steve Grossman, is getting a lot positive press and is one the label’s first releases of 2010. Others in the set included guitarist Roni Ben-Hur and vocalist Amy London.

The “World/Jazz”  series featured and spotlighted percussionist Babatunde Lea and Umbo Weti and his tribute to Leon Thomas. Lea’s 2009 disc, “Umbo Weti,” his fourth release for the label,  is a tribute to legendary jazz vocalist and composer Leon Thomas, whom influenced him tremendously throughout his musical career. Thomas, who’s musical style was influenced by the Twa People of middle Africa, became his signature yodeling singing style up until his untimely death.  Umbo Weti took ten years to record and features Dwight Trible  on vocals, Ernie Watts on sax, Gary Brown on bass, and  Patrice Rushen on piano.

His performance was outstanding. Lea had the audience eating out of his hands! You couldn’t hear a pin drop when he performed and the crowd gave him a standing ovation. If you haven’t bought his disc, make sure you check out the DVD of his concert at Yoshi’s, which is also included with the disc.

Pianist and composer Marc Cary kicked off the “Groove Jazz” Visionary Series with a complimentary soul food buffet which included jerk chicken, greens, mac and cheese, and dirty rice. Cary’s prepared music fans for his upcoming spring release “Marc Cary Focus Trio Live 2009.” His piano playing reminds me a lot of a younger Keith Jarrett with a “funked out” Herbie Hancock approach to it.

The highlight of the evening was the performance by the Geri Allen Trio featuring tap dancer Maurice Chestnut. Allen, who’s also releasing her solo piano project on the label this spring, will also be touring and performing with the young dancer. For well over thirty minutes, Chestnut’s tap dancing was the fuel to Geri’s piano playing. Those might remember Maurice from The Apollo Theater,  the Tony Award winning “Bring In ‘Da Noise, Bring In ‘Da , and ABC-TV’s Dancing With The Stars. Allen’s finale was a blues composition and everyone performed like is was their last performance.

2010 will be an interesting year for Motema Records. The talent that surrounds the label is what makes them a possible contender for the future of music listeners. They cover a wide gamut of music ranging from folk, jazz, and world music producing projects that help charities and projects around the country.  I must commend Jana’s relentless vision for Motema and wish her and her artists for 2010. For more information on Motema Music visit them on the web at

The Revolution Will Be Televised

Brian Pace

The Pace Report

Pace’s Top Ten Artists who made an impact on the last decade

Everyone has been bugging me to put out my best of the decade. This has been one of  the hardest lists that I’ve had to create due to the intense volume of music and shows I’ve witnessed over the last 10 years. So, what I decided to do, is to create a list of artists who’ve made an impact on the entire decade. I hope you enjoy reading this and please feel free to leave me your comments on my Facebook, Blogger, and Twitter pages. Thank you for your continued support and I wish all of you a Happy New Year.

Brian Pace

The Pace Report

Top 10 Artists Who Made An Impact on Music Over the Last Decade:

1) Jay-Z. Sean Carter without a doubt has been consistent on his lyrical style, while also adding his own take on social commentary in his music. Carter has been an innovator in how he markets his music and concert tours. Globally, his music and impact in hip-hop and fans are as big, or bigger than Michael Jackson. He’s one of a few MC’s that always sells over a million CD’s or digital downloads every year.

2) Lil’ Wayne. He’s paid his dues and then some. Wayne has made a name by using the world wide web as tool to market his music. Not only that, he cameos on everyones songs and makes a killing off his mix CD’s. Like Carter, he’s tapped into the global hemisphere as a groundbreaking artist who also incorporates rap, rock, R &B, and some house in his music. Wayne is a marketing genius by using ringtones to ESPN to help increase his music and his brand. You can’t knock his hustle.

3) Coldplay. These British Rockers have revived Rock and Roll by packing stadiums around the world to record ticket sales. Their 2000 debut “Parachutes” was the calm before the storm. The band’s second disc “A Rush of Blood to the Head” was an instant hit. This album made me realize these guys were hungry and were a baby “U2” in the making. The band has kept evolving and will eventually record their “Joshua Tree” in due time. Enlisting famed record producer Brian Eno was a major step in the right direction for their last project “Viva La Vida.” Coldplay has made an impact on industry and like U2, took years for them to become bona-fide rock stars. Don’t sleep on these guys…their best is still yet to come!

4) Jill Scott. I saw this woman for the first time on December 15, 2000 at St. Andrews Hall in Detroit, Michigan. She was to play two sold-out nights, but could only play one night due to a blizzard that hit the city. She acknowledged the tickets from the night before and packed the house, which was a major fire hazard for the venue. Jill played almost 3 hours and I’d never witnessed nor heard anything this incredible. The last 30 minutes of the show, she sat on a bar stool, accompanied by her piano player, and read her poetry. Her private thoughts and moments were exposed to music and words.

Her debut disc “Who is Jill Scott?” generated a lot of buzz by word of mouth. In fact, the disc was released on the Hidden Beach label during May of 2000 and didn’t pick up steam until the following summer. For almost a half a year, Scott’s disc was strictly an off-label, underground cult recording.

Jill was the first plus-sized African-American woman who embraced her size as both powerful and beautiful. When the media has and continues to portray Black women as demeaning sex kittens and hoochies, Scott has empowered and encouraged a lot of black women to stay positive and love themselves.

5) J Dilla a.k.a James Dewitt Yancey (February 7, 1974 – February 10, 2006). Was one of the most prominent hip-hop and R & B producers that evolved during the mid-1990s in Detroit, Michigan. Was the producer of the group Slum Village, Yancy, according to his obituary on, credits him as ” one of the music industry’s most influential hip-hop artists, working for big-name acts like De La Soul, Busta Rhymes and Common.” Dilla’s career, like most underground hip-hop producers, began slowly and took off after Slum Village’s debut disc. Yancey died in 2006 of the blood disease TTP.

6) Christian McBride. This bassist, composer, bandleader, lecturer, program director, and now syndicated radio show host; has been one of the hardest working leaders of jazz music. Not even in his 40’s, McBride is one of the most requested session bassists in music. Playing with the likes of Sting, Pat Metheny, Chick Corea, the Roots and many to great to name, he’s what jazz music has needed in quite sometime. His radio show on XM and Sirius allows him not only to play with the upcoming and jazz legends, but he’s keeping the music alive and has been on a mission to pass the baton to other musicians and fans. McBride’s role as Program Director of the Detroit International Jazz Festival has allowed him to focus on elements of jazz that must continue to be a mainstay in music.

7) Kem. He’s been described as a baby “Al Jarreau meets Lionel Richie.” The Detroit native has overcome drug addiction, homelessness, suicide attempt, and a abusive childhood to become one of R & B’s saving grace of the decade. It wasn’t until he found God when his life and career began to take off.  Kem wrote, produced, and financed his self-released debut album with credit cards while singing top 40 cover tunes in a wedding band and waiting tables. Motown Records signed him in November of 2001 and re-released the disc the following year. His debut single, “Love Calls,” became a staple on all urban adult contemporary and smooth jazz radio stations all over the country.

He’s only released two discs, but his songwriting is reminiscent of Lionel Richie and he sings almost like vocalist Al Jarreau. What makes Kem so unique is his vocalese jazz stylings like Jarreau, but he blends it with contemporary R & B.

8) Saul Williams. In the 10 years that performance artist Saul Williams has become the person he’s evolved into, his personal life also seen changes as both a father and now rock star. Williams has been enjoying the success of his latest disc The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust produced by Nine Inch Nails co-founder Trent Reznor.

Williams role in the 1998 feature film Slam was both actor and writer. The indie film earned both the Sundance Festival Grand Jury Prize and the Cannes Camera D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

In addition to his acting and music, Saul is an accomplished writer and poet. His books include: “The Seventh Octave,””She,” “said the shotgun to the head,” and “The Dead Emcee Scrolls.”

9) N’Dambi. For over ten years, I’ve seen and heard the growth of N’Dambi since her days as a backup singer and performer with Erykah Badu. To her evolution as an independent soul singer with her critically acclaimed debut CD “Lost Little Girl Blues” to her latest Stax Records release “Pink Elephant.” Although she may not be a household name like her best friend, N’Dambi chose to create music on her own terms and not deal with majors. In fact, some of her songs are longer than five minutes, something that mainstream radio shuns upon.

N’Dambi was born Chonita Gilbert and raised in Dallas, Texas. Her parents were Ministers so most secular music wasn’t allowed in the house except for some County. It was her church upbringing was what influenced her musically. Even as a teen, she was interested in the arts. It was at Southern Methodist University, N’Dambi wanted to become a writer. Upon graduation from college, her talents were noticed around the Dallas area.

It was also the same time N’Dambi’s best friend Erika Wright was performing at local talent shows. She changed her real name to N’Dambi, meaning “most beautiful.”  Wright would rap and N’Dambi would sing at many of the functions. Erika became Erykah Badu, signed a major record deal and the rest is history.

She sang back-up for Erykah for 6 years and is remembered as the woman with the large afro in the “On and On” video. Also, the BET Badu’s Unplugged Concert.

Despite the fact she was on the road with Erykah, she recorded her debut “Lost Little Girl Blues,” which she was reluctant to put out at first as an independent project. It was this landmark recording that circulated a lot of underground buzz both here in the states and oversees. Her projects were released under her Cheeky-I Productions.

10) Victor Lamonte Wooten. He knows the road to success and has what poet Robert Frost describes as taken “the road less traveled.” Wooten has taken the electric bass and took it further than his predecessors like the late Jaco Pastorious, Marcus Miller, and Flea from the rock group, The Red Hot Chili Peppers. This three time bassist of the year has written a book that has been on New York Times best seller list and a new instructional DVD in stores. 2008 was a hectic and fruitful year for bassist, instructor, and now add author to Victor Wooten’s plate. As the lead bassist for Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, his innovative bass playing set a new dynamic to the electric bass. As a leader for over 15 years, he’s combined both soul, funk, rock, and all other musical genres in his music.

The Revolution Will Be Televised,

Brian Pace

The Pace Report