SweetLeigh

A Sustainable Life. Make Magick.


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The Little Things – Valerie June

 

Valerie June PushinSometimes more often than not these days, it’s just about being in the moment. And as Beltane passes and the Moon is in Pisces, and the days continue to get longer,  I celebrate the little things that bring me joy. So I thought I’d share them with you.  I am so in love with Valerie June and love roots music so much. I’m listening to her album Pushin’ Against A Stone. I came across this collaboration between her and my loves Style Like U. The mother-daughter duo who examine style beyond the surface…. So very lovely. Be grounded in the magick….

xoxo,

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Icon: Sister Rosetta Tharpe

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Rosetta Nubin Tharpe was a gospel superstar in the 30s 40s. Born in 1914 in Cotton Plant, Arkansas off of the Mississippi Little Rosetta’s deeply religious pentecostal family migrated to Chicago, on route bringing with her Delta Blues and her gospel roots. In Chicago she began her career placed on the piano – a 6-year-old singing and playing her guitar for all of her new church congregation to see.

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When you think of Rock n’Roll who do you imagine? I’ll bet it’s not a thick, chic, cherub faced Black woman with the voice of the gospel carrying an electric guitar who made rhythm & blues a whole new animal….

She was one of only two gospel artists who recorded V-discs for the troupes during WW2. Her recording of “Strange Things Happening Every Day” in 1944 with boogie-woogie pianist Sammy Price was the first gospel song to make Billboard’s Harlem Hit Parade Top Ten and is considered by some to be the first rock and roll record.

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Tharpe’s biographer, Gayle Wald put it this way, “If this woman was doing this in the 1940’s, then you have to go back and re-write the whole story of rock-and-roll, and rock-and-roll guitar playing specifically.” source

Married off to a tyrannical minister Tommy Tharpe at 19, she would eventually leave him and take her mother to NYC. There she started singing at the Cotton Club with Cab Calloway and scantily clad showgirls. Although gospel fans felt betrayed, her musical world opened up and started recording with Decca Records. RosettaTharpe1938_byJamesJKriegsmann_t640

She ultimately chose to keep with Gospel songs giving them a popular upbeat spin. People paid to see her wed her third husband in 1951 at a baseball stadium followed by a concert in her wedding dress. By 1957 she had disappeared from popular music. That however, doesn’t change her undeniable influence.

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Sister Rosetta died a legend for musicians in 1975. She was and is the influence to the likes of rock artists everywhere. One of my favorite bands the Noisettes have a great song about her. From Chuck Barry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley and generations to come they all have been influenced by the amazing Sister Rosetta. Peter Townsend of the Who no doubt got his windmill signature move from Sister Rosetta as shared in this TV appearance from 1962. Just a little shredding with the choir to Up Above My Head.

Not only is she a pioneer but she is one sharp Goddess. Her style foresees some of my favorite glam designs of the 70s. Maxis with fabulous sleeves and simple timeless numbers.

Once you know about Sister Rosetta, it is impossible to forget her. Amen.

xoxo

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Character Study: Denise Huxtable

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Oh my GAWD! The television show A Different World just showed up on Netflix to stream in its entirety! Leave it to Netflix to get me waxing nostalgic! A Different World was a great show that showed a diversity of Black people going to college that had never been seen before. Such a great funny show. And yes it had a lot of lesson episodes, because college kids are still kids, growing up.If you haven’t seen it check it out!  It was the the spin off of a little show called The Cosby Show that starred Lisa Bonet as Denise Huxtable going to historically Black Hillman College. Oddly enough I had been planning on donig a DH tribute anywho so can’t give them all of the credit! So Cool! Marathon is pending. But first we have to talk about Lisa or actually, Denise.

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Denise Huxtable was my first Alternative Black Girl. I later learned that she was almost every teenage girl’s favorite 80s TV style icon!  Not to mention just plain cool girl. Never mean, always cool. even when she was riled up. spoke her truth and kept it real. Vanessa was a little more shrill(!) in her early days but cool too as she became a teenager! #justsayin. Denise’s wardrobe full of Japanese designer pieces, prints and fabulous asymmetrical voluminous clothes screamed Bohemian art chics unite! Most of all it said Be your own fabulous self. And although there were plenty of outfits I would gladly have worn out of that closet, It wasn’t just about the sense of style that she had! Denise just resonated ease and confidence.That’s what we all admired, her ability to be that easy, that confident, AND that unique. Even if its total mythology, we still do!

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Apparently we have Costume Designer Sara Lemire to thank for the unique and extremely stylish Huxtables. In a 1987 Interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer. “With Lisa, I would have gone much more outrageous with the hair and hats, but I don’t have much control over the hair,” says Lemire, 44. (Other people are in charge of hair and makeup.) “Lisa always had great taste and liked great things. For me, it was like dressing myself if I was 20 years younger.” Can you imagine if she did what she wanted to do with Denise’s look??  Gush!

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Fun Fact: Lisa Bonet had eloped with musician Lenny Kravitz on November 16, 1987, announced that she was preggers in early 1988. A pregnant college freshman was not what the producers of A Different World had in mind, so she was fired! Of course she was rehired back on The Cosby Show for Season Five. Of course, she was outfitted in even bigger oversize jackets and loose-fitting patterned shirts until she conveniently went away to  Zaire to work with a photographer. When she came back from Africa, she was Denise Kendall, wife of a Navy officer and her wardrobe took another fabulous turn, as did her hair! Different as it should be but still fab. As always not afraid of perception and a stylin Icon. Who never took herself too seriously.

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Denise Huxtable and all of the Huxtable women were in fact Style Icons of not only the time, but forever! I love how the Philadelphia Inquirer piece ends. It is still so very relevant: ‘ “Most of all, Lemire keeps exploring the power of television, how it affects clothing and clothing affects characters and viewers. “I look at a lot of television and can’t understand what the costume designers are doing,” she says, shaking her head. “It looks like a lot of people have forgotten that it’s a visual medium.” ‘ So Freakin’ True, almost 30 years later!  I LOVE You Denise! No worries there will be a Lisa Bonet Style Icon post in the near future! I got you.

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For amazing Denise Love check out HuxtableHotness on Tumblr and a google search will hook you up like it did me. Thanks gawds I have responsibilities!

xoxo
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Girl Gang: The Dinner Party

March is Women’s History month here in the U.S.  Women are spectacular and women’s day is every day in my world. Well some of my favorite women, the women of #UntamedStyle, have gotten together for March to celebrate Women with this month’s theme of Girl Gang. I was reminded of feminists icon, Judy Chicago’s feminist art installation, The Dinner Party which I had the chance to see when it was installed in the Brooklyn Museum. If I could gather any group of women together  for my Dream Dinner Party it would be much more intimate then over a 1,000 women represented in that work of art. Maybe 6 iconic living or dead women who fascinate me. I would love to pick their brains, share our experiences and lure them into becoming members of my girl gang.

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I’d take a page from Frida Kahlo’s cookbook and prepare a Zucchini Salad, have a wine seltzer and fresh fruit bar for improvised Sangria. I would invite everyone to  bring a dish of their creation, after all,  we’re all creatives here. We’d mill and settle as we please around a lovely outdoor area with candles and faerie lights for when the wind picked up. I imagine lots of foliage and lush flowers. More lanterns to move with us as our engrossing conversation leads us easily all night. 15150459048_13eacb5727_b

THE GUEST LIST Nona Faustine, a radiant artist whose projects rock my world! In her artist statement, Nona says that her “work starts where intersecting identities meet history. Through self-portraiture, I explore issues about the body within photography.” One of her most mesmerizing works is the “White Shoes” series. She tours locations of New York City’s 250-year history of hidden slavery through photographs. In these locations, she takes nude self-portraits in white shoes. Stunning, shocking, and moving are these intersections.  Nona Faustine currently has a GoFundMe along with amazing photographer Marilynn Nance to fund their travel to “Black Portraiture[s] II: Imaging the Black Body and Restaging Histories”, conference in Italy.  Yes Nona, so much yes.

“From Her Body Sprang Their Greatest Wealth” 2013 Site of Colonial Slave Market, Wall Street Copyright of Nona Faustine All Rights Reserved

Iris Apfel is a Style Genius, in her youth she worked for Women’s Wear Daily, became an interior designer and along with her husband ran a textile imports company. Let’s not even mention her huge collection of vintage costume jewelry. GaH! I would love to sit down with her and pick her brain for fashion and design stories for days.  At 93 years old her wit is as sharp as ever and she is about to finally be the star of a documentary of her life. I’ve been waiting for this one for a while. But I’d rather sit and talk to the woman whose wardrobe was worthy of a museum exhibition, fabulous Iris.

Carol Rossetti,  you know. If you don’t know her by her name you know her by her deceptively simple and kind Women Project. The illustrator and designer created a series of biographical images of named women, some inspired by women she knew personally and many more as a result of fans contributing to her work.  These simple illustrations are lessons in identity politics. In her project statement she says “I feel very disturbed by the world’s attempts to control women’s bodies, behaviors, and identities; so I’ve started a series of illustrations in a friendly tone hoping to reach people about how absurd this really is.” Her illustrations of women with names and identities completely their own, and without apology have been translated into innumerable languages. Any woman can relate to this important body of work that will soon become a book. Carol inspires!

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Maya Angelou was lost to our physical world in May of 2014. She posthumously released a recording completed before her death of a collaborative hip hop album of her seminal work I know why the Caged Bird Sings. The album is called Caged Bird Songs and it is amazing. What is most interesting for me about the project is that through it I learned that Maya Angelou – before she was one of our most revered poets – was a musician, a calypso singer, and modern dancer. I have fallen in love with Maya all over again. I would love to spend some time with the divine Ms. Angelou. slide_351348_3790147_free

Amaryllis DeJesus Moleski. There is little I can say that can begin to summarize the work of this Queer mixed Afro-Latina artist. Her artist statement speaks for itself. I can only offer the final paragraph of it for you to – like me – imagine how amazing her company might be. ” I call my works experiments because I don’t see them as conclusive or original.  I am acutely aware that whatever I make is in constant dialog with what has been made before, and see my practice as a continuation of variables that are in the persistent rotation to produce unending results.  I experiment so that I may allow myself the freedom to change my mind, to be pushed into new ways of thinking, making, and naming.  I am interested in using the future as a site of experimentation, as well as a space to gain freedom and visibility around the conversations of race, gender, sexuality, and class. I see this making a kind of sympathetic magic. Not because it calls into being that which is rendered, but because it calls into question that which has already been, and dreams up that which could be.” Sounds like magic to me.

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Storm Sayer by Amarylis DeJesus Moleski

Ruth Asawa was an incredible artist. She is known for both her large-scale public sculptures in San Francisco, co-founding the Alvarado Arts Workshop for young students developing a teaching method for arts and gardening used all over the bay area.  She died in 2013 after living with Lupus since 1984. My favorite work of hers are her wire sculptures, pictured below. I would love to engage with this forward thinker and creative mind.

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Portraits of Ruth Asawa with her work by Imogen Cunningham (Left) Her work as displayed on her living room (right)

And there you have an amazing Dinner Party my loves and secret Fantasy Girl Gang. I think I would call it a gathering of Unicorns.  Who would be on your Guest List? Check out some members of my real life Girl Gang, my #UntamedStyle Cohorts on their amazing blogs: Michelle, MargotVeronica

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Icon: Geoffrey Holder

Arnold-Newman-22Dancer, choreographer, director and actor Geoffrey Holder died this weekend and I am so sad to have waited so long to do a post on this amazing talented spectacular human being. I warmly recognized the amazing animated charismatic face of Geoffrey Holder from from movies like  Annie, Live and Let Die and Boomerang, and even as the spokesman for 7Up, but it wasn’t until I saw the documentary Carmen & Geoffrey that I fell in love a little with both Geoffrey Holder and his extraordinarily talented wife Carmen.

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Geoffrey Holder is like me, a Leo, born in 1930, Trinidad. One of four children, he was taught painting and dancing by his big brother Boscoe Holder who ran the Holder Dance Company. Geoffrey joined the troupe at seven years old and by the late 1940s after his brother moved to London, he had become the director of the Holder Dance Company.  Agnes de Mille, choreographer/daughter of Cecil B. DeMille saw the Holder Dance Co. perform in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands and is credited for Holder’s “discovery.”  Geoffrey moved to the US in 1954.

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On December 30, 1954, Holder made his Broadway debut (so did Diahann Carroll) in the Caribbean-themed musical “House of Flowers”. The cast included Alvin Ailey and Carmen DeLavallade. This show was beautifully received. Holder and Ailey both fell madly in love with DeLavallade. In the end, Carmen fell for Geoffrey and they married. He would next become a dancer in the Metropolitan Opera Ballet, father a son, hold several roles on Broadway, write two books around Caribbean culture and direct The Wiz for which he won a Tony in 1975.

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His life is amazing and you must see the film, Carmen & Geoffrey, they are two stunning artists. Besides being wickedly good humored, having had amazing careers and being truly gifted, their love story is epic. Trust me you will be inspired! To celebrating a life well lived!

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There is a wonderful series of videos called The Visionary Project in which both Geoffrey and Carmen are featured. Absolutely worth watching if you’d like to know more about Geoffrey Holder.


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Icon: Edith Head, The Living End.

Edith-without-specs-832x1024Legendary costume designer, Edith Head or the “Dress Doctor” is the living end.  Her distinct individual style and her gglamorous hand in creating some of Hollywood’s most iconic fashion design is stunning.   Edith is known for her signature costuming of Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday and Grace Kelly in to Catch a Thief, but there is so so so much more. Ms. Head started her career in 1924 as an uncredited textile designer on a production of Peter Pan and ended in 1982.he is responsible for “It” girl Clara Bow’s charming closet,  Mae West’s vampy style in She Done Him Wrong ,while also the woman behind my favorite Cleopatra, Claudette Colbert’s costumes to her last film, Steve Marin’s Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid.  Edith Head is Genius. clara bowclaudette-colbert-cleopatra EdithWongEdith head margo channing coctail party dress design, All About Eve SweetCharityCS   Ms. Head won eight Oscars, nominated for an 34, and worked on over four hundred other films. Most of which she admitted never seeing.

‘Fashion is a language,’’ legendary Hollywood costumer Edith Head wrote in her 1959 biography, “The Dress Doctor.’’ “Some know it, some learn it, some never will – like an instinct.’’

Ms. Head once described Old Hollywood as a “Barnum & Bailey World,” filled with gold bathtubs, ermine bathrobes, and film actresses draped in satins and minks. Clearly that would make her something of a ringmaster.  Her imagination and execution of beautifully clothed women in film play a huge role in my own aesthetics. As competent in fantastic fantasy costumes as divine day wear she is a huge inspiration to me.  Not only is her costume design sublime, but her personal style is also fabulous. My favorite note of knowledge from Edith Head? “You can have anything you want in life if you dress for it.” Happy 116th Birthday to Ms. Head. Forever Inspiring. alfred-hitchcock-edith-head-family-plot edithhead0306 edith head with Glioria SwansonDesigner Edith Head holding up material, working on costume for a movie.[4] edith-head EdithHead2 edith-head-surrounded-by-some-of-her-fashion-designs (1)2010-10-30-edithhead

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According to a profile of Edith Head on Turner Classic Movie’s website  :The eulogy at Ms. Head’s funeral was given by Bette Davis, who said, “A queen has left us, the queen of her profession. She will never be replaced. Her contribution to our industry in her field of design, her contribution to the taste of our town of Hollywood, her elegance as a person, her charms as a woman – none of us who worked with her will ever forgot. Goodbye, dear Edith. There will never be another you.” Like Ms. Chanel and all great designers before and after her, Ms. Head let the woman, the man or the character take the lead. Touche darling Bette, touche. XXO

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Ebony Fashion Fair 50th Anniversary

My recent piece for the Morningside Park Chronicle Newspaper.

Eunice W. Johnson and her husband, publisher John H. Johnson, co-founded Black lifestyle magazine, Ebony. Eunice Johnson founded Ebony Fashion Fair in 1956, a feature in Ebony magazine that would evolve into a traveling fashion show bringing the latest in haute couture fashion to Black communities across the United States. The Chicago History Museum honors Mrs. Johnson and her massive collection of couture in Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair. It is now on exhibit through January 2014.

Eunice was often the only black buyer in the room on her trips to shop the Fashion shows in Europe. She didn’t necessarily gain entrance very easily. Johnson represented an invisible affluent black population able and willing to wear the best fashions. Unfortunately they were hindered by limited access to high fashion, necessitating the traveling shows. They were glamorous shows in which comedians, singers and musicians took part.

However, the huge ensembles packed on to not-so-glamorous Greyhound buses. For the fashion troupes, it was fashion democratized right down to its essence.

Oscar De La Renta credits Johnson for being the first fashion show producer to put music on the runway. In the midst of segregation, Mrs. Johnson brought top European designers of the season like Yves Saint Laurent, Halston and Christian Dior to black Americans. In the course of it, she altered perceptions and inspired designers like Emilio Pucci to cast black models in their shows.

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Being a part of Fashion Fair was a brave endeavor and not without risk.

As the civil rights movement—and reactions to it— grew, the Greyhound busses were often met by Ku Klux Klan members; race riots were the occasional result. The fashion shows were hosted by sororities, churches and the like, and the models and performers were often put up in private homes when denied access to hotels. Mrs. Johnson’s mission of bringing high fashion to Black America was a model in grass roots organizing.

The Fair gave back to the community raising $55 million dollars for charities over its duration. As time progressed she made it a priority to feature great black designers like Stephen Burrows, Willi Smith and Patrick Kelly.

By the 1970s Mrs. Johnson had started Fashion Fair Cosmetics in response to the challenges her models were having with finding the right makeup for their skin color.

Bringing the latest in European fashion to black Americans on black models told black women that we deserved luxury, were capable of having it and as museum exhibit co-curator, Joy Bivins told W Magazine, “You are your own beauty standard.”

I call that nothing less than revolutionary for fashion and society, in 1958 or today.

I think it’s time for a trip to Chicago.

 

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All images in this post are readily available on the Internet and believed to be in public domain.