Insight News

Oct 06th

Leading artistic and professional lives

Leading artistic and professional livesThis is the second in a series of artist biographies aimed at illuminating the depth of talent, creative and productivity Minnesota artist bring to their craft and to our community and culture in the broadest sense. This week we focus on three incredibly talented members of Grammy Award-winning Sounds of Blackness.

Ashley Nicole Commodore
Ashley Nicole Commodore was born into a truly musical family. Her mother, father and brother are all musicians.

After high school roles in “Fame” and “Godspell” and the lead role of Dorothy in “The Wiz” Ashley joined the cast of “Black Nativity” at the Penumbra Theatre, St. Paul MN and debuted as reindeer “Dasher” in the award winning Sounds of Blackness musical “The Night Before Christmas”. She was also featured in the “Twin Cities Tribute to Michael Jackson”.

Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family

Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family“John and Angelena Rice were extraordinary, ordinary people. They were middle-class folks who loved God, family, and their country. I don’t think they ever read a book on parenting. They were just good at it… They built a world together that wove the fibers of our life into a seamless tapestry of high expectations and unconditional love. And somehow they raised their little girl in Jim Crow Birmingham to believe that even if she couldn’t have a hamburger at the Woolworth’s lunch counter, she could be President of the United States… Good parents are a blessing. Mine were determined to give me a chance to live a unique and happy life. In that they succeeded, and that is why every night I begin my prayers saying, ‘Lord, I can never thank you enough for the parents you gave me.’” - Excerpted from the Author’s Note (pg. x)

Denzel Whitaker: The My Soul to Take interview

Denzel Whitaker: The My Soul to Take interviewDenzel Dominique Whitaker was born in Torrance, California on June 15, 1990 to Dale and Younalanda Whitaker. He made his acting debut at 11 in Training Day opposite his namesake, Denzel Washington, and he was subsequently directed by and co-starred with Denzel in The Great Debaters. Whitaker has also been on the big screen in The Bad Lieutenant and as the voice of Albert in The Ant Bully.

As for TV, Denzel has appeared on UPN’s One on One, and played recurring roles in Nickelodeon’s All That and FOX’s The War At Home. His other television credits include such hit shows as ER, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. Furthermore, he was a series regular on the ABC pilot House Rules. Plus, this past year, he was cast in Gavin O’Connor’s Warrior, which is set for release in 2011. And he currently appears as a recurring character on ABC’s Brothers & Sisters and is developing several projects of his own.

Going all the way

Going all the wayThis is the first in a series of artist biographies aimed at illuminating the depth of talent, creative and productivity Minnesota artists bring to their craft and to our community and culture in the broadest sense. We begin focusing on the stellar, Grammy Award-winning Sounds of Blackness and its leader and founder, Gary Dennis Hines.

Since January of 1971, the Grammy Award-winning Sounds of Blackness have consistently performed and proclaimed the music, culture and history of African Americans to audiences all over the world.

From Jazz and Blues, to Rock & Roll, R&B, Gospel, Spirituals, Hip-Hop, Reggae and Soul, the group colors each and every "sound of blackness" with uplifting messages of hope, unity, love and peace for all humankind - and then works passionately to achieve it. These are the milestones marking 35 years of tireless endeavor, creative genius, and business excellence:

Makin’ The Choir TV show holds live auditions

Makin’ The Choir TV show holds live auditionsMakin’ The Choir Reality TV Show, created and hosted by Bishop James Gaines, formerly of the group Devoted, (Savoy/Maleco Records), auditions Minnesota this month on the way to its creation of America’s Gospel Choir.

“For those of you who have had the opportunity to marvel in the joyous sounds of a powerful gospel choir ensemble, you know exactly what I’m talking about,” said Bishop Gaines last week in a “Conversations with Al McFarlane” broadcast interview on KFAI FM 90.3. “Regardless if you have or have not, I guarantee you do not want to miss this event,” he said.

The event is a live audition for solo singers, solo musicians and choir directors, who are ages 18+. The Makin’ the Choir Reality Show Auditions will be held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in St. Paul, MN on October 16th.

To become a contestant, go to to download an application. Rules require auditioners to be onsite at 7am with an 8×10 headshot and $10 entry fee.

Legends series at Capri Theatre highlights jazz favorites

The torch songs are passed to a new generation as the Capri Theater’s “Legends” series begins its fourth season with “Blue: Songs on the Indigo Side” set for 7 pm Saturday, Oct. 9, and 3 pm, Sunday, Oct. 10. Three young Minnesota natives – Katie Gearty, Nancy Harms and Rachel Holder – will perform an evening of jazz standards, plus some pop favorites in jazz-shaded arrangements.

Single tickets are $25 ($20 for groups of 10 or more) and can be ordered online at, or by calling OvationTix at 866-811-4111. In addition, season tickets for the three-concert “Legends” series, under the artistic direction of Dennis Spears, are still available for $60 and include “Nancy Wilson & Peggy Lee: The Sultry Divas of Jazz,” with Ginger Commodore and Connie Evingson 7 pm, Saturday, Feb. 12, 2011, and 3 pm, Sunday, Feb. 13, 2011, and Greta Oglesby in a solo concert, “I Sing Because…” 7 pm, Saturday, April 9, 2011, and 3 pm, Sunday, April 10, 2011.

The Grace of Silence

The Grace of Silence“As a young man, my father had been shot by a white policeman, but never spoke about the incident after leaving Alabama and moving north. He never even told my mother. He took the story to his grave… Every household is different but in my childhood home the window to that painful past was never widely opened.

Our parents felt we needed to know only so much. No time for tears. No yearning for sympathy. You see, you can’t keep your eye on the prize if your sight is clouded by tears. How can you soar if you’re freighted down by the anger of your ancestors?”

-- Excerpted from the Introduction (pgs. xi-xii)

I’ll be honest, I’ve listened to Michele Norris for years on National Public Radio in her capacity as host of All Things Considered without knowing that she was black. After all, I couldn’t see her, and she speaks in a fairly nondescript Standard American English accent which makes it difficult to discern her ethnic roots.
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