This Rapper is Joining the Fight for Mental Health Awareness and Suicide Prevention

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Waka Flocka posing at a press event

On the evening of May 25, near the end of Mental Health Awareness Month, rapper Waka Flocka tweeted that he was going to dedicate his life to suicide prevention and mental illness. This tweet likely stemmed from the reminder of his deceased brother’s upcoming birthday, which would happen less than a week later.

The rapper tweeted his support by saying, “I’m officially dedicating my life to suicide prevention and mental illness!!! Y’all not alone Waka Flocka Flame is with y’all now!!!!”

In 2017, Waka Flocka revealed in an interview with the show The Therapist that his younger brother committed suicide in 2013. In this interview, he stated that his brother, Coades, tried to call him before taking his life, leaving Waka Flocka to wonder what would have happened if he picked up the phone.

While the specifics of what the renowned rapper will do is unknown at the moment, Waka Flocka has made his goals clear, stating in a follow-up tweet that he has officially accepted his brother’s passing and believes he is now in a better place.

Waka Flocka stated, “You have no idea how it feel to wanna take your own life man…my little brother took his own life…This year I’m officially accepting the fact that he’s in a better place.”

Zendaya Opened Up About Refusing To Have Her First Kiss On Camera And Keeping Her Dating Life Private A Day Before The Photos Of Her And Tom Holland Kissing And Meeting Her Mom Went Viral

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Zendaya in a nude dress on the red carpet

By , Buzzfeed News

Ever since Tom Holland blew up the internet last week by seemingly confirming his rumored relationship with Zendaya, fans have been dying to know more about the Spider-Man duo.

But it seems that, for now at least, Zendaya is keeping her cards close to her chest, recently hinting that she prefers to keep her private life private — certainly easier said than done for one of the biggest names on the planet.

Gracing the cover of this month’s issue of British Vogue, the Euphoria star gave a rare glimpse into her infamously private romantic life, recalling her refusal to have her first kiss on-screen.

“I remember being on Shake It Up and being like, ‘I’m not gonna do this. I’m going to kiss him on the cheek because I haven’t been kissed yet so I don’t want the kiss to be on camera,” the former child-star explained.

And having gone on to make history with her Emmy win last year, Zendaya is certainly no stranger to life in the spotlight. But, despite her fame, it appears she’s remained committed to keeping her most personal moments away from the public eye.

Click here to read the full article on Buzzfeed News.

Jennifer Hudson Knew Aretha Franklin. To Play Her, She Had to Learn More

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Jennifer Hudson standing with a white button up shirt with her arms on her hips.

, New York Times

Jennifer Hudson had plenty of time to think about how to portray Aretha Franklin onscreen. In 2007, soon after Hudson won the Academy Award for best-supporting actress — for playing a girl-group singer in “Dreamgirls” — Franklin told Hudson she should play her in a biopic, starting a decade-long friendship filled with weekly conversations.

Like Franklin, Hudson grew up singing in church, and she has poured gospel virtuosity into pop songs. And like Franklin, whose mother died at 34 of a heart attack, Hudson experienced sudden, devastating loss: her mother, brother and nephew were murdered in Chicago in 2008. In her career, Hudson has repeatedly paid tribute to Franklin, from using a Franklin song for her “American Idol” audition in 2004 to singing “Amazing Grace” at Franklin’s funeral in 2018. Now, Hudson is playing Franklin in the biopic “Respect” that comes to theaters this week.

“Every artist, every musician, you’ve got to cross paths with Aretha, especially if you want to be great,” Hudson said in a video interview from Chicago, where she lives; her gray cat, Macavity, prowled in the background. “She’s always been present in my life in some form, even when I didn’t know it.”

As Hudson explained the choices that went into her performance, she said that through the movie, she came to understand just how much of a “blueprint” Franklin was. “Our church music was based solely on her. The ‘Amazing Grace’ that I grew up singing in church came from her ‘Amazing Grace’ album. I didn’t realize that until we were doing research on the film.”

Hudson, 39, is both the star and an executive producer of “Respect.” The film chronicles Franklin’s life from her childhood — as a vocal prodigy singing in church alongside her father, the eminent Reverend Clarence L. Franklin — through her pregnancy at 12, her frustrating years singing jazz standards at Columbia Records, her triumphant emergence as the Queen of Soul at Atlantic Records, and the pressures and drinking that threatened all she had achieved. Its story concludes in 1972 with Franklin reclaiming her church heritage to record her landmark live gospel album, “Amazing Grace.”

“Respect” is the first film directed by Liesl Tommy, who was born in South Africa under apartheid and has worked extensively in theater, directing reconceptualized classics and politically charged new plays like “Eclipsed,” about women during the civil war in Liberia. (She was nominated for a best director Tony for that production.) To write the screenplay for “Respect,” Tommy brought in the playwright Tracey Scott Wilson, whose grandfather was a preacher.

“When I pitched my idea of the film,” Tommy said by telephone from Los Angeles, “it was that it should start in the church and end in the church. The theme of the film was the woman with the greatest voice on earth, struggling to find her voice. I wanted to know how a person sings with such emotional intensity.

“A lot of people have brilliant voices,” she continued, “but she’s the only one who delivers songs the way she does. I don’t think you become the Queen of Soul if you have an easy ride. There was a lived experience that allowed her to sing like that.”

Franklin was celebrated anew after her death in 2018. The long-shelved concert film made when she recorded the “Amazing Grace” album was finally released that year. And National Geographic devoted a full season of its television series “Genius” to Franklin, with Cynthia Erivo in the title role. “Aretha Franklin lived a life where there’s room for many, many versions of many stories about her,” Tommy said. “She deserves that.”

“Respect” juxtaposes the personal and political currents of Franklin’s career: forging a feminist anthem with “Respect” while grappling with an abusive husband, appearing regularly with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. while supporting controversial figures like the Black Power activist Angela Davis. One of the rawest scenes involves Franklin singing at King’s funeral. “Imagine being Aretha Franklin in that era and Dr. King, whom she was so close to, being assassinated,” Hudson said. “Imagine the suffering and the pain she was going through. But in her position, she still had to be that person to be the light in such a dark time. That’s hard.”

Click here to read the full article on the New York Times.

Black tech entrepreneurs get $1 million boost from Pharrell Williams

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Pharrell Williams in a gray hat and army jacket shirt

By Adrienne Broaddus, CNN

Entrepreneur Justin Turk knew his start-up was special, but a $1 million prize from Grammy award-winning singer and producer Pharrell Williams came as a shock.

On Tuesday, Williams announced the winners of his Black Ambition prize competition — and Turk and his business partner, Andre Davis, are in the national spotlight.

Williams’ non-profit was founded in December to help Black and Latino business owners close the wealth gap through entrepreneurship.

Turk and Davis, co-founders of Livegistics, took home the top prize of $1 million. The Detroit-based entrepreneurs run a cloud-based material management software company, which eliminates paperwork in heavy civil construction and demolition. The company also provides data and metrics that construction experts can use for efficiency.

Livegistics is also helping the environment through the elimination of tons of paper each year and helps local communities accelerate the elimination of blight in urban cities and neighborhoods.

“We knew we had something special, but you don’t go in thinking you will walk away with $1 million. But when it happens you are like, ‘Wow, we just won $1 million,” Turk said.

But the 40-year-old said he never knew joy and pain could co-exist simultaneously.

Success can be bittersweet
On the day he learned his tech start-up won the grand prize, his father-in-law died before he could share the news.

“All in 24 hours, it was the greatest and worst moments tied together forever. There we were with the our biggest business success to date along with the worst day of our lives all in 24 hours,” Turk said. “It is weird. Sometimes I feel guilty for being so happy about what’s going on, but I know he would have been excited.”

Turk, who co-founded the business three years ago with Davis, said that hours after he learned about winning he watched a team of health care professionals try to revive his wife’s father, whom he admired. He was a veteran who loved architecture. And they shared the same passion for construction.

Instead of hosting a celebration party for friends and family, Turk said he will bury his father-in-law in a private ceremony Saturday.

“He would have been enamored with what’s going on. If he would have been able to see all of this, it would have just blown him away,” Turk said. “He would walk around the city of Detroit and look at buildings on his own. This would have just made his decade.”

More like brothers
Turk’s and Davis’ friendship goes back decades. The two met in elementary school when they were 5 years old, Davis said. Then, they were college roommates at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. Davis, the chief financial officer, said it was never a goal to become business partners but it made sense.

“He’s been in just about every special moment in my life,” Davis said. “Not only are we solving the single most significant reason construction companies go out of business (cash flow), we’re doing so in a manner that creates less work and makes the lives of our customers easier to manage.”

Davis, 41, said he worked at Financial One as an outsourced CFO to clients in the Metro Detroit area. He started and operated his own accounting and financial services practice for 10 years, managing to keep one foot in the non-profit sector to give back. He wants to encourage other Black and minority entrepreneurs looking to start their businesses to take the leap of faith.

“A thought today, backed by effort today, is one step closer to your dream tomorrow. Justin is brilliant. His background is the foundation for what I forsee as a unicorn in the making,” Davis said. “A third generation business owner, minority-owned, who understands all facets of large construction projects at an expert level…who also has a degree in computer science to speak tech geek language! You don’t find a Justin Turk walking around every day.”

Click here to read the full article on CNN.

Lil Nas X ‘Will Never Trust Pants Again’ After ‘SNL’ Wardrobe Malfunction

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Lil Nas X seated on the set of Jimmy Fallon's talk show with special guest David Groll.

, HuffPost

Lil Nas X is setting the record straight about splitting his pants on “Saturday Night Live” over the weekend, assuring fans the wardrobe malfunction was not a publicity stunt. Appearing on “The Tonight Show” Monday, the two-time Grammy winner recalled what was going through his head during the memeable moment, which took place toward the end of his debut live performance of the No. 1 smash “Montero (Call Me by Your Name).” “I’m pretty much going down the pole, doing my little sexy drop down and boom! I feel air,” he told host Jimmy Fallon. “I’m like ‘OK, there’s definitely a breeze going on.’ And I also felt some popping still happening while I was down there.” Lil Nas X was unable to halt the “SNL” broadcast, of course, so he held a hand over for his crotch for the remainder of the song to avoid a Lil Nas X-rated moment. “You know what the worst part is? At the end of the performance, the dancers are supposed to touch me and tug on me and they were tugging on the pants,” he said. “I was like, ‘Please God, no.’”

Though the Atlanta rapper and singer has a sense of humor about it now, the wardrobe malfunction apparently weighed on his mind as he prepared for his late night television spot. As the interview aired, he joked on Twitter that he’d opted for a red tartan skirt for his “Tonight Show” appearance because he “will never trust pants again.”

Click here to read the full article on HuffPost.

Billboard Music Awards: Drake’s son joins him to accept artist of the decade

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Drake and his son standing on stage accepting his award at the billboard music awards

By Mark Savage, BBC

Drake’s son Adonis made a surprise appearance at Sunday’s Billboard Music Awards, joining his father onstage as he won an artist of the decade prize. The rapper, 34, gripped his son’s shoulder throughout his speech, before hoisting him into the air and saying: “I want to dedicate this award to you.” The three year old burst into tears, and left the stage clinging to his father’s leg.

Meanwhile, The Weeknd was the night’s big winner, taking home 10 awards. Among his prizes were best artist; top Hot 100 album for After Hours; and top Hot 100 song for Blinding Lights. The star, whose real name is Abel Tesfaye, more than doubled his career total of Billboard Music Awards, having previously received nine trophies.

Korean pop band BTS also picked up four prizes, winning best group for the second time in three years; and top social artist for the fifth consecutive year. The band is now just one year short of equalling Justin Bieber’s six-year hold on the social award from 2011- 2016.

Here are some of the other highlights and talking points from the show.

Machine Gun Kelly painted his tongue black

Best rock artist winner Machine Gun Kelly arrived at the ceremony with a rather unusual oral condition: A jet-black tongue. Had he gone overboard with the charcoal toothpaste? Developed a crippling liquorice habit? Been cursed by an evil dentist? Sadly not. A visit to his Instagram reveals that the musician had someone paint his tongue carefully with a cotton bud. On the red carpet, he made sure everyone noticed, sticking his tongue out for fans, sticking his tongue out for the cameras, and (hold your stomachs) touching tongues with his girlfriend, Megan Fox.

His reasons are still unclear. Is it a reference to The Rolling Stones Paint It Black? Or is he simply a big fan of giraffes? We may never know.

Pink admitted her childhood crush

Pink accepted the Icon Award from rock star Bon Jovi, and confessed she’d been obsessed with the star when she was eight – locking herself in her bedroom for a week after he got married.

“I’m very glad you found lasting love, Jon, but you broke my heart. I take this as an apology,” she laughed, indicating her trophy.

To celebrate her prize, the star performed a career-spanning medley of hits, including Who Know, Get The Party Started and Just Give Me A Reason.

But the highlight was a breathtaking aerial acrobatic routine, performed with her nine-year-old daughter Willow, set to their duet Cover Me In Sunshine.

Click here to read the full article on BBC.

Billy Porter Breaks a 14-Year Silence: “This Is What HIV-Positive Looks Like Now”

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Billy Porter in a black and white photo posed to the side looking at his right hand

BY BILLY PORTER, AS TOLD TO LACEY ROSE, The Hollywood Reporter

Billy Porter takes a long deep breath. “I have to start in 2007,” he says, having settled in across the table. He’s here, at Little Owl in the West Village, to get something off his chest — something that’s been shrouded in secrecy so long, he can barely remember life before.

“In June of that year,” he continues, a ball of nerves, even if the performer in him refuses to let on, “I was diagnosed HIV-positive.” In the 14 years since, the Emmy-winning star of Pose has told next to no one, fearing marginalization and retaliation in an industry that hasn’t always been kind to him. Instead, the 51-year-old, who has cultivated a fervent fan base in recent years on the basis of his talent and authenticity, says he’s been using Pray Tell, his HIV-positive character on the FX series, as his proxy. “I was able to say everything that I wanted to say through a surrogate,” he reveals, acknowledging that nobody involved with the show had any idea he was drawing from his own life.

Now, as the Peabody Award-winning series, a ball-scene drama set against the backdrop of the AIDS crisis, concludes its third and final season, Porter is preparing for what’s next. There’s a memoir, over which he’s agonized and blown deadlines, set for later this year; a Netflix documentary about his life, which will keep him in business with Pose co-creator Ryan Murphy; a 2021 take on Cinderella, in which he’ll play the fairy godmother; a directorial debut; a host of new music; and much, much more.

But the Broadway-trained actor, who is an Oscar shy of an EGOT, isn’t interested in entering the next phase of his life and career with the shame that’s trailed him for more than a decade. So, with Murphy by his side for support, and a cadre of documentary cameras hovering above, Porter tells his story. An edited version follows.

Having lived through the plague, my question was always, “Why was I spared? Why am I living?”

Well, I’m living so that I can tell the story. There’s a whole generation that was here, and I stand on their shoulders. I can be who I am in this space, at this time, because of the legacy that they left for me. So it’s time to put my big boy pants on and talk.

Click here to read the full article on the Hollywood Reporter.

Last Name Ever, First Name Greatest: Drake to Receive Artist of the Decade Award at 2021 Billboard Music Awards

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Drake poses in the press room during the 2019 Billboard Music Awards in Las Vegas, Nevada

By Shanelle Genai, The Root

Cue the “Toosie Slide!” On Tuesday it was announced that Drake will be receiving the Artist of the Decade Award at this year’s Billboard Music Awards.

Variety reports the award takes into account Billboard consumption data from 2009 through 2019, noting that during that time the Canadian rapper racked up a historic 27 awards—the most of any artist ever. Additionally, during his 10-year run, producers also pointed out that Drake had nine No. 1 albums, the most of any artist during the decade and 33 Top 10 singles on the Billboard Hot 100, the most by any artist ever. (GOAT shit, I know that’s right!)

This year’s BBMAs will also see Drake vying for eight more ‘“Ws,” including Top Artist, Top Male Artist, Top Billboard 200, Top 100 Artist, Top Streaming Song Artist, Top Rap Artist, and Top Streaming Song alongside fellow “Life is Good” rapper Future. I don’t know about you but as The Root’s resident Drake stan, I have to say—I’m glad to see the Certified Lover Boy getting this recognition.

But Shanelle, Drake always gets recognized. What are you saying?

OK, but not like this. This award is for Artist of the Decade, which means whether you wanted to or even knew it or not, you have been hearing Drake consistently in some form or fashion for the last 10 years. “Nonstop.”

I don’t think that’s technically what it me—

And if you haven’t heard Drake, then you’ve most definitely been privy to the influence he’s had on the culture. Whether it’s through his gif-worthy facial expressions and debatable dance moves or a caption on Instagram, Drake’s influence is unmatched. Period point blank. And I, for one, am always glad when people have to talk about it. He told us back in 2013 to see who’s still around a decade from now; seeing as how we’re just two years shy of 2023 and he’s still relevant—it’s safe to say that Drizzy Drake is here for a good time and a long time.

Click here to read the full article on The Root.

Ask a Black therapist: 4 ways to support Black people’s mental health

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A young man cries while being consoled by female friends during a group therapy meeting.

By Ashley Vaughan, CNN

“There is a difference between being informed and getting retraumatized.”

That’s what clinical therapist Paul Bashea Williams tells himself and his clients as they struggle with the distressing images that resurfaced during the Derek Chauvin trial.

The proceeding churned up a persistent trauma. The frequent replay of George Floyd’s final moments may have left many feeling raw, vulnerable and without relief.

While the evidence surrounding Floyd’s death is distressing for most people, it is overwhelming for African Americans — and especially excruciating for Black men who see their very humanity reflected in him.

“Sometimes you are visualizing you,” says Williams, lead clinician and owner of Hearts in Mind Counseling in Prince George and Montgomery counties in Maryland. Ninety percent of his clients identify as Black.

In the aftermath of Floyd’s murder and Chauvin’s trial, African Americans are fighting harder than ever to protect and prioritize their mental health.

Caught between hope and hopelessness
According to Williams, his clients are continuously cycling through feelings of hope and hopelessness. While many hope for justice, they are also bracing for disappointment, one that feels familiar when unarmed Black men and women are killed by police officers.

Williams also points out the secondary trauma African Americans experience from the images and video surrounding Floyd’s death.
“It is the emotional and psychological effects experienced through vicarious exposure to the details of traumatic experiences of others,” he says.

Among the private concerns Black men have shared with Williams are “feeling anxiety around leaving the house” and “depression over not having control over one’s life.”

Tip 1: Acknowledge your feelings

Take a moment to be present with yourself and to name the feelings and experiences you may be having, Williams suggests. To begin, you can start with this question, “What am I experiencing now?”
The answer to that question may be fatigue, headaches, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, irritability, and anxiety. Emotional and physiological responses can be helpful gauges of knowing when enough is enough.
“If I know what is happening in my environment, I can allow myself to make shifts,” he says.

Tip 2: Create community

A trusted support team is helpful in gently identifying changes you may not readily see in your mood or behavior. The therapist is clear that one’s self-care community must be grounded in relationships they can trust.
Helpful communities can flourish online through group texts and at socially distanced meetings.

Tip 3: Prioritize self-care with boundaries

In his practice, Williams helps his clients identify ways to care for their mental health in their everyday lives. One way to do this individually is to take an internal inventory of moments when you historically experienced joy.
Williams mentions that, culturally, Black individuals are often taught to care for others ahead of themselves, while balancing the pressures that come with daily life.
“We have to have self-advocacy. We have to prioritize ourselves,” he says. “And it is not selfish.”
To begin this process, Williams suggests asking yourself, “What are the things I liked growing up?” and “What are the things I like now?”
Williams says this step is often unfamiliar for men.
When asking male clients “What does your self-care look like?” he’s often met with blank stares and hesitation.
“They were like, ‘Man, I don’t know what that is,'” he says.
Seeing this need among his clients and social media following, Williams created a men’s self-care calendar to help men rediscover their own individual needs.
The next step is to create boundaries to prioritize needs. For example, Williams says using the “do not disturb” option on a phone is one way of “putting the responsibility on the boundary.”
“Boundaries allow you to protect yourself,” he says. “Boundaries are like a set of rules that you have in order to function, and to have healthier experiences with people, places and things.”

Tip 4: Seek therapy

“It is important for the Black community to get into therapy,” Williams says.
He recommends finding a therapist whom you trust and who fits with you.
“Your first therapist might not fit,” he cautions.
When seeking a clinician, he encourages individuals to try out therapists. He also recommends pushing back if you feel you aren’t getting enough in sessions.
“Be empowered to find another therapist.” He says. “Say, ‘Hey, I don’t feel like I am getting what I need. Can we try something else?'”
And, if your therapist isn’t working out, Williams recommends acknowledging it and finding someone who may be a better fit.

Click here to read the full article on CNN.

A Black woman is hosting the Academy of Country Music Awards for the first time

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Mickey Guyton wearing a long sleeve black gown smiling at the camera and holding up her country music award

By Alexis Benveniste, CNN

Country music singer Mickey Guyton will make history Sunday when she hosts the Academy of Country Music Awards with Keith Urban.

The 37-year-old singer from Arlington, Texas, will be the first Black woman to host the awards ceremony.
And this isn’t Guyton’s first time making history in the country music world. In September 2020, she became the first Black female solo artist to sing her own song at the ACMAs. And in March, she became the first Black solo female artist to earn a Grammy nomination in a country music category. At the ceremony, she performed “Black Like Me,” her song that address the discrimination she has experienced as a Black woman. The song was released just eight days after George Floyd was killed.
The door to country music has long been closed to many Black artists, with just a handful of exceptions. Starting in the 1920s, record labels deliberately marketed what was once called “hillbilly music” as the music of the rural White South, historians say.
But the thumbprints of African American culture are stamped on virtually every facet of country music, including its vocal harmonies, instrumentations, and some of its most popular songs. Black artists helped build country music.

Click here to read the full article on CNN Business.

THE WEEKND DONATES $1 MIL FOR 2 MILLION MEALS … To Help Ethiopians

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A headshot of the weeknd from a concert of his with the WFP logo next to him

By TMZ

The Weeknd is getting involved with the military conflict in Ethiopia — donating a million dollars, which will provide food for people who need it there.

The singer, who is of Ethiopian descent himself, partnered with World Food Program USA — a UN World Food Programme affiliate — to send over a million bucks toward relief efforts in the North African country … which has been mired with bloodshed and chaos for months. Specifically, Abel’s money will provide the equivalent of 2 million meals for citizens there who have been caught in the middle of the feuding factions … many of whom are running out of resources, like food.

TW says, “My heart breaks for my people of Ethiopia as innocent civilians ranging from small children to the elderly are being senselessly murdered and entire villages are being displaced out of fear and destruction.” He goes on to encourage others who can to donate as well.

If you haven’t heard, Ethiopia has been embroiled in a bitter battle with its own people since November — when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered an attack on the Tigray People’s Liberation Front — the ruling party in the northern part of the region.

Click here to read the full article on TMZ!

Beyonce Makes History Winning The Most NAACP Image Awards

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Beyonce performing in a rose gold off-the-shoulder gown with built in cape from Ralph and Russo’s Fall 2018 couture collection

Beyonce has made history at the 2021 NAACP Image Awards.

The music icon now has the most NAACP Image Awards in history after she racked up four awards for the 52nd event, NAACP president and CEO Derrick Johnson announced on Saturday.

The NAACP Image Awards hosted a series of non-televised virtual events recognizing winners in over 60 categories in the five days leading up to its televised ceremony on Saturday. The two-hour virtual event, which was hosted by Anthony Anderson, aired live across ViacomCBS networks including BET and CBS.

Beyonce took home wins in the Outstanding Female Artist, Outstanding Hip Hop/Rap Song, Outstanding Duo, Group or Collaboration (Traditional), and Outstanding Duo, Group or Collaboration (Contemporary) categories during a virtual event on Thursday.

Johnson celebrated Beyoncé’s achievement on Twitter, writing, “Congratulations
@Beyonce on winning the most #NAACPImageAwards in history!”

Representatives for the NAACP Image Awards did not immediately return requests to confirm Beyoncé’s total tally of wins, but the “Black Parade” artist has won at least 20 Image Awards as a solo artist since the 2004 ceremony when she first won the Entertainer of the Year award. She won that award again in 2019. Her former group, Destiny’s Child, racked up a handful of wins in the Outstanding Duo or Group category in the early to mid-2000s.

Beyoncé has already made music award history this month.

She won four awards at the Grammys on March 14, bringing her total wins to 28 ― the most Grammys won by a female artist.

Click here to read the full article on HuffPost.

Miko Marks is blazing trail again as Black women find place in country music

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Singer Miko Marks poses for a portrait outside a studio

By Andrew Gilbert, Datebook

Nashville can be a lonely place for a Black woman breaking into the country music scene. And Miko Marks knows this firsthand.

The Oakland singer, who recorded two well-regarded albums during a Tennessee sojourn in the mid-aughts, said she found a warm welcome just about everywhere she performed except for the home of country music itself.

“I was always open to wherever my path would lead, but things did not work out in Nashville,” Marks said, noting that she felt fitting in required tamping down her identity.

Music City may not have been ready for Marks, but she helped clear a country music trail for other Black women, and now she’s getting back on the horse with her first new album in 14 years. Working closely with the creative team at the recently launched East Palo Alto label Redtone Records, Marks recorded “Our Country,” a rollicking, gospel music-infused session that thrums to the justice-seeking frequency of Black Lives Matter.

“These songs were made out of the experience we’re going through right now,” said Marks, who celebrates the album’s Friday, March 26, release with an acoustic performance that will be live-streamed on her YouTube channel and Facebook page. “The music is there to speak to the times.”

Miko Marks sins autographs in front of a wall of her album covers
Miko Marks is blazing trail again as Black women find place in country music. Photo: Paul Chinn, The Chronicle 2008

The album grew out of a vivid dream Marks had, but not in the sense of fulfilling a long-held ambition. Rather, late in the summer of 2019, she literally dreamed about musicians she hadn’t worked with for more than a decade. A quick phone call put her back in touch with Justin Phipps and Steve Wyreman, the Redtone Records founders who perform together as the Resurrectors.

Phipps and Wyreman were excited to get back in touch with Marks and realized a song they’d recently written, “Goodnight America,” would be ideal for her rich contralto. An elegy for a country headed in the wrong direction, “it didn’t fit anyone we were currently working with,” Phipps said. “When Miko reached out, we sent it to her and she sat with it for a while. Ultimately, she felt it resonated with where she was and where she wanted to be going.”

When Marks released the song as a video last year, a few weeks before the pandemic lockdown, it was definitely a departure from where she’d been. Before “Goodnight America,” she’d always avoided taking a political stance in her music, preferring to focus on personal themes. With “Our Country,” she’s jumped into the fray.

“I definitely feel like there’s a conversation being had that’s long overdue,” Marks said. “I am hopeful. I feel that the times are different than when I started out.”

Marks grew up with gospel music, singing in church in Flint, Mich., “but I was always drawn to country music,” she said. “Loretta and Patsy, Kenny Rogers and ‘Hee Haw’ were huge in my household. It was a normal thing. It wasn’t until I was older that there was this line clearly drawn, but country music has its roots in Black music. Even the banjo is from Africa.”

She met her San Francisco-raised husband David Hawkins when they were students at Grambling State University in Louisiana, and by 1996 the couple settled in the Bay Area. Though she loved singing, Marks said she wouldn’t have pursued a career in music without Hawkins’ encouragement, and after recording a Jeffrey Wood-produced demo at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, she decided to give up her day job in San Francisco as a legal secretary and try her luck in Nashville.

Working with producer Ron Cornelius at Mirrome Records, she released her debut album, “Freeway Bound,” in 2005 and followed it up with 2007’s “It Feels Good.” Both albums featured first-call studio talent that caught the attention of mainstream country music audiences. And yet, while the sessions were well received, the indie label couldn’t break Marks into country radio and it became clear that Nashville didn’t really know what to do with her.

In 2006, the Bay Area welcomed her back. Marks became one of the region’s most visible country music singers, performing everywhere from the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo and San Francisco’s Pier 23 to the Saddle Rack in Fremont and Oakland’s Overland (the latter two permanently shuttered during the pandemic).

Click here to read the full article on Datebook.

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