Black In The Day: Excellence Express

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Welcome to Black In The Day, your bi-weekly serving of yesteryear’s magical, inimitable and unforgettable Blackety Blackness courtesy of Alex Hardy.

As creators of culture and keepers of “The Cool,” our well of greatness is infinite and our brilliance knows no bounds. Let’s keep it funky: even when we’re not physically present, we (and the shadow cast by our inescapable influence) are there. So since the Black Excellence Express shows no signs of slowing down and because there’s a whole generation of babies out here who don’t know about Amanda Lewis or Rolonda Watts, here are 10 gems from our ever-expanding catalog of greatness to remind you that french fries do not influence potatoes.

Let’s start the party with a vibrant, cussin’-ass Alfre Woodard performing “Somebody Almost Walked Off Wid All My Stuff” from PBS’ 1982 adaptation of Nzotake Shange’s choreopoem, for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf. She’s joined here by a cussin’ ass Lynn Whitfield and a cast of chocolatey sweet things who touched and agreed as the woman who lost her stuff told her man, “the one with the curl in yo’ hair — Mr. Louisiana Hot Link,” a thing or two about her glory.

Have you seen Jackie’s Back yet? If not, why not? Jenifer Lewis, everybody’s favorite loud auntie, stars as Jackie Washington, a comeback-seeking diva documenting her journey out of obscurity. Robert Townsend, Uncle Blackness, directed this mockumentary, which also features Loretta Devine as Jackie’s salty homegirl and Whoopi Goldberg as Jackie’s salty sister. There are more celebrity cameos than the season 2 premiere of Empire, but these cameos actually make sense.

Among the things I miss most about the 90s is the talk shows. ‘Member Brian Bey? Rick Lake and Rolonda Watts? *sucks  teeth* Those born in post-Homeboys In Outer Space America missed out on a time when talk shows were about more than celebrity face swaps, Kardashian fuckery, and DIY home makeovers. (I still can’t fully trust someone who’s never witnessed a Jenny Jones makeover.) They tackled real shit…like surly teen bootcamps and I-know-you’re-gay-but-I-wanna-buss-it-open-for-you-anyway moments. ‘Twas the best of times. Anything was possible, from rapper roundtables to four-part paternity test sagas and everything in between. One such treasure from the Age of Skort Sets is Sister Souljah, Czar of the Strong Side Ponytail, schooling the masses (including a spirited, politically passive Cornel West) as part of Phil Donahue’s lively “The Race Issue” panel. Get your life. 

Twenty years before she made headlines by reading today’s trend-hopping poptarts into oblivion, Grace Jones gave Playboy intimate access to her unpredictable one-woman show after her 1985 pictorial. Here, she raps with the magazine about nudity, sex, and Grace Jones magic while contending with an interviewer unable to digest her unapologetic unfuckwithableness.

And here is TLC rapping about school lunches, proving that we can make a jammy jam out of anything.

“The Last Black Mama Play” from George C. Wolfe’s 1986 play The Colored Museum, is a masterful parody of A Raisin In The Sun, starring Walter-Lee-Beau-Willie Jones, whose “brow is heavy from 300 years of oppression.” This genius sketch was one 11 “exhibits” that explored, satirized, celebrated and subverted issues important to and surrounding contemporary Black life. Wolfe’s insightful social and political commentary, along with career of cast member Loretta Devine (seen alongside Danitra Vance and Vickilyn Reynolds in “The Hairpiece“), remain relevant in 2015, as the sentiments, stereotypes, overacting and strife addressed in his work still plague our post-Cita’s World society. And peep how Mama coordinated her dress with her couch, silently launching the upholstery dress movement.

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Part Two:

Back when filling a stage with chart-topping lady rappers didn’t require a time machine and a hologram, Lil Kim hosted one of hip-hop’s greatest group affairs for her performance of “Not Tonight” at the 1997 MTV VMAs. In true late 90s fashion, her four-minute hippy hopstravaganza featured a bejeweled Left Eye; a sword-bearing Da Brat on a gold chariot; a bopping, befingerwaved Missy Elliott; and a dollop of endearing pre-Milennial futuristic tackiness. Fun for everyone.

After the show got off to a questionable start, legendary choreographer, dancer, director, actress and chocolatey wonder Miss Debbie Allen stepped onto the set of A Different World and breathed new life into The Cosby Show‘s primetime sidepiece. Thankfully. (An episode summary from a pre-Debbie Allen episode: “Maggie cares for an egg as part of a psychology class assignment on parenting.” I see.) She’s been helping beautiful Black folks get their steps and posture and lines together for decades, so Phylicia Rashad’s boundlessly talented sister was the perfect addition to this thoroughly Blackety Black affair. Here she is speaking with Emmy TV Legends about how she walked up in the piece, put her thing down, flipped it and saved the show.

“Your teacher says take off your robes.” 

Queeeeeeenie?! Queenie, where are you, baby?!”

This entry was posted in Art & Culture, Featured.