Simeon Booker’s life and legacy cannot be overstated
‘Every black journalist working today should pause for a moment and thank Simeon Booker’
9:52 AMThe life of Simeon Booker was celebrated Monday at Washington National Cathedral, a beautiful memorial service for an extraordinary journalist. Mr. Booker — and I feel compelled to call him mister — was a capital pioneer, admired by everyone who knew that he played a role in helping to better this nation.
In 1952, he became the first black reporter to work at The Washington Post. “He integrated a whole industry,” said Don Graham, former publisher of the Post whose dad, Philip, was the only white newspaper leader in America who would give Mr. Booker a chance. But that was just one milestone. Simeon Booker went on to brilliantly chronicle the civil rights movement as a reporter for Jet and Ebony magazines, covering protests and murders and otherwise bringing bright light to the struggle for freedom and equality. He smoked Kent cigarettes and wore bow ties. He became famous for his reporting on Emmett Till’s 1955 murder and trial, and it was Mr. Booker’s Jet that published the provocative photos of the 14-year-old’s mutilated body in an open casket.
Every black journalist working today should pause for a moment and thank Simeon Booker. Thank him as an exemplar of the brave black journalists who confronted danger and evaded it while unearthing essential stories in the segregated Deep South of the 1950s and ’60s. A bunch of us came to the National Cathedral just to be there for him, to salute what he meant and to hug each other. Jeff Ballou, Bryan Monroe, Mike Fletcher, Wes Lowery, Courtland Milloy, Paul Delaney, Sarah Glover, Betty Anne Williams, Fred Sweets, Bernie Shaw, Reggie Stuart. Just to name a few. We all owe him something.
Congressman John Lewis, who knows too much about danger, said of Mr. Booker at the memorial service: “He never shied away, ran away from a story.” Lewis saw him during the 1961 Freedom Rides. Saw him in Selma, Alabama. Saw him everywhere. “He did the hard, necessary work to get the story,” Lewis said, noting that without Simeon Booker “the civil rights movement would have been like a bird without wings.”
Back in Mr. Booker’s heyday, Lewis noted, black reporters could be beaten just for holding a camera and a pen. They sometimes wore disguises, dressed as sharecroppers to blend in. They were intrepid and fearless. Today, we have journalists enraged just because they were trolled on Twitter. Mr. Booker died at age 99, cheered for the magnificent life he led and the example he set. I don’t think he was worried about trolls.
Grammy weekend is about fun, but also about music’s ability to change the world
‘I liken these days to the Harlem Renaissance — that sort of artistic revolution.’ – Black Thought
12:59 PMBlack Thought, the legendary rapper and front man for the equally legendary Roots crew, takes a break from discussing his hometown Philadelphia Eagles. Like most people in a Gramercy Theater VIP section during the wee hours, the Super Bowl is a hot topic. But Black Thought soon starts talking about music’s Super Bowl — the Grammys, in particular, music’s role in a documenting this period of life. It’s a conversation that has been a constant theme of Grammy weekend — realizing the moment and embracing generational responsibility.
“Twenty years from now it would be dope to be able to say the arts, and not only music, but theater and visual art and literature had a renaissance,” Black Thought said as the final performances of The Roots Jam Sessions rage on a floor above. “I’d love to bring a new awareness to every medium. I liken these days to the Harlem Renaissance — that sort of artistic revolution.”
For fellow Roots brethren, multi-instrumentalist James Poyser, the magnitude of the moment for music, for him, has roots (pun intended) in the troubled yet transformative 1960s. That era turned Motown into a musical religion and made names such as James Brown, Otis Redding and Nina Simone synonymous and vital components of the black American experience. “The music that gave you hope. The music that inspired you to fight these battles. I’m hoping the same thing happens in this era,” Poyser said. “We know what’s going on with you-know-who and everything else that’s going on. We need music to feed our souls.”
Hours earlier, at the red carpet day party thrown by the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP), the songwriting organization made up of more than 650,000 writers, composers and music publishers, the conversation was much the same. Drinks flowed like the Nile at New York’s Standard High Line as DJ D-Nice soundtracked a breathtaking view of the Hudson. Selfies nearly outnumbered hugs and laughs. But tones shifted to a more prideful, even stern demeanor when people spoke individually.
“We’re soldiers. We’re pioneers. We made it through a crazy couple of [months, years] for the world. Yet and still, music is thriving. I feel better than ever,” said ASCAP senior vice president of membership Nicole George-Middleton. “Despite it all, we persevered. We made things happen.”
Representing the full palette of emotions is important as well — that’s the message from production team/Grammy nominees The Stereotypes. Jeremy Reeves and Ray Charles McCollough II, are half of the collective that co-produced Bruno Mars’ “That’s What I Like.” They stress that stepping back and finding peace amid the turmoil is a part of life. “It’s such a serious time in history … The music we made with Bruno is like a break from the seriousness. You need the breath,” said McCollough. Reeves followed up, “Not everyone is gonna watch a suspense movie. You gotta throw some comedy in there sometimes. Not that this music is funny, but it releases those endorphins that make you feel good.”
Shortly before returning to the stage (after Big K.R.I.T.’s performance) Black Thought was still optimistic. The world, at times, is difficult to stomach. The headlines that populate phones, websites and televisions is daunting. And also draining. But for Black Thought, it’s easier to make change to than complain about the symptoms. The time is now. “Sometimes we take the day — today — for granted. It’ll be dope to look back a quarter-century from now to look back and say this was when the tipping point of the greatness that’s about to come began.”
Migos don their ‘CRWN’ in exclusive, intimate interview
As Grammy weekend heats up, the rap supergroup basks in success — while respecting the grind
10:29 AM“We the young kings of hip-hop right now,” said Quavo. He was laughing, and playful. Yet serious.
Their new album, Culture II, had hit all streaming services less than 24 hours before. The 24-track double album boasts verses and production from Drake, 2 Chainz, 21 Savage, Big Sean, Metro Boomin, Mike Dean, Kanye West and more. The group is up for two Grammys Sunday night: best rap album, 2017’s Culture, and best rap performance by a duo or group for the monster hit “Bad and Boujee.” But it made a weird kind of sense that the first time Migos (whose “Stir Fry” is the official song of NBA All-Star Weekend) spoke on Culture II, it would be in an intimate setting.
Elliott Wilson, Tidal’s editorial director of hip-hop content, revived his famed CRWN interview series Friday night with Quavo, Offset and Takeoff before an energetic crowd of just 100 people. The nearly hourlong sit-down, which included impromptu questions from the audience, spanned an array of topics: Quavo and Offset’s decisions to do separate projects (and Takeoff’s impending solo efforts), management company Quality Control’s influence on their glow-up, their “connection” to Joe Budden (“I never looked up to Joe Budden,” Quavo said, sarcastically), reuniting with Drake for the first time since “Versace,” and how the trio got both the iconic Nicki Minaj and Offset’s superstar fiancée Cardi B (who is also nominated for two “Bodak Yellow” Grammys) on “Motorsport.” “The girl power,” said Quavo, “was just so strong.”
“Yessir!” Offset followed up, drawing applause and laughter from the audience — and Offset and Cardi’s relationship of course quickly became a provocative topic. “We just stay focused on our craft. I always tell her, You gotta stay on they a—,” Set said. “To keep giving it to ’em … Cardi is a star.”
Migos is a rare superstar conglomerate in an era where groups — as opposed to solo artists — aren’t trained to thrive. They said a number of times that loyalty is what keeps them together. “And don’t get [us] wrapped up in that mumble rap bulls—-,” said Quavo. Defiantly, he followed up: “We really do this.”
It’s showtime: The Apollo welcomes the Grammys back to New York
Fat Joe, Doug E. Fresh, Elle Varner — Harlem’s iconic theater hosts an artist-studded luncheon
One doesn’t just see Harlem, New York. You feel Harlem. You smell Harlem. You vibe with Harlem. From the backseat of a Lyft, you pass the stalwarts of the community — the Duane Reade pharmacies, General Grant Houses, the countless delis — many of which will sell you a delicious “chopped cheese” sandwich — if you’re hip on how to order them. Black Panther promotional posters adorn nearly every bus stop, it seems. Even as the gentrification of the Harlem becomes more and more entrenched, the spirit of Malcolm X lives on in the creative, cultural and social melting pot where he stood as a titan on its street corners, and died as an icon.
There’s not many things more authentically Harlem than West 125th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard — dubbed “the cultural heartbeat of the city.” And with the Grammys back in New York for the first time since 2003, the iconic Apollo Theater hosted a luncheon in celebration. “When you do something special in New York, you feel the vibration,” said pioneering hip-hop artist Doug E. Fresh said on the red carpet. “I’m glad they decided to do this at the Apollo. It’s Harlem. I am Harlem.”
Also in attendance is five-time Grammy-nominated Fat Joe, Rotimi, current Grammy nominees The Hamiltones, Dapper Dan, the Grammy-nominated Elle Varner and many more. These creative professionals understand the Apollo’s place in black culture, and know about the legends who stood on the stage – not 50 feet from the red carpet. “I wish I would’ve seen Lauryn Hill. They booed her,” said singer and Power cast member Rotimi. “Then 10-15 years later seeing she’s one of the greatest of all time, that’s the ultimate story.”
“Aretha,” Varner said without hesitation about who she wishes she’d seen, live at the Apollo. “Absolutely.”
An Apollo institution himself, Doug E. Fresh flips the script. “Me and Stevie Wonder was here one night. That was crazy!”
The energy was one of reverence. With celebrities and Harlem luminaries scattered through the stage and carpet, the collective perspective was one of privilege and respect. “The best night in the Apollo was when Ice Cube first came here,” Fat Joe said from the stage. “We gotta protect this. This our home.”
Janet Jackson surprises ‘Essence’ award winner Missy Elliott
The 9th Annual Black Women in Music event sets off a week of Grammy festivities
10:09 AMThe vibe was old-school glamorous New York last night for the Essence 9th Annual Black Women in Music event. Missy Elliott was honored at the jam-packed Highline Ballroom, and phones were in the air as none other than Janet Jackson surprised Elliott with a truly emotional speech, and presentation of the award.
“Some rhyme, some rap, some act, some choreograph, some write hit songs, some create whole new sounds,” said Jackson. “Some women are able to make [their] mark in some of these fields. But there’s only one woman who has made her mark in all of these fields…Not only have you made your mark, but she’s done so with boldness and courage.” Love & Hip Hop empresario Mona Scott-Young also spoke on behalf of her client and friend Elliott.
The drinks were flowing as luminaries such as Grammy-nominee Rapsody, as well as the Grammy-nominated Janelle Monae, Remy Ma and T.I. toasted Elliott’s creativity and 1990s dominance. Also enjoying the evening: Epic Records president Sylvia Rhone, Atlantic Records Chairman/COO Julie Greenwald, and BET Chairman/CEO Debra Lee. “I wouldn’t wanna be any other color but black,” Missy Elliott said, award in hand. “There’s something about our DNA that can’t be taught, it comes from a different place.”
The Plug, ‘Awards Season: Jemele Hill’ (Episode 7): Who’s the Best of the Best?
The co-host of ‘SC6’ talks about meeting Issa Rae — and Hill also talks about Tom Brady’s dominance
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It was only a matter of time before this happened: Chiney, Kayla, Tes, Terrika and I nabbed none other than friend-of-the-family, SC6‘s Jemele Hill. We wasted no time getting Jemele to spill the beans about she and Michael Smith’s time at the recent NAACP Awards. While there, Hill met Issa Rae as well as Congresswoman Maxine Waters. On The Plug, we also got Jemele to weigh-in on the NFL’s run-up to Super Bowl, and our NBA mid-season awards…with a twist. Also on deck? The Houston Rockets’ dominance, Kawhi Leonard’s supposed San Antonio angst, and this weekend’s Grammys. As always, the support is absolutely appreciated, my people. Continue to tell your circle to to subscribe to The Plug on the ESPN app! Until next week…