Feature: Black History In The Making

Concerning the artists who will be celebrated in black history months of the future.

By: Feb. 25, 2021
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Feature: Black History In The Making

It's February and every year at this time the United States and Canada recognize Black History Month. Other countries have chosen October for their observance but each year this month is the one when this country puts a spotlight on black members of society who have left behind them a legacy of note, and important events worth remembering. In the opinion of this writer, a month isn't enough time to acknowledge these people and events, but just like my tribe gets the month of June for Gay Pride, the black members of our family get February to celebrate their history. As an entertainment journalist, I'd like to write something about black artists in the cabaret and concert industry, a business with a fabled history of contributions from black performers - after all, Mabel Mercer is considered the godmother of cabaret. There are books about Bobby Short, movies about Billie Holiday, and plays about Dinah Washington. Halle Berry won an Emmy for playing Dorothy Dandridge and Lynn Whitfield got the same award when she played Josephine Baker. Recent years have seen film portrayals of Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey, and Whoopi Goldberg created a documentary so that people would always remember Moms Mabley. What, I asked myself, could I tell Broadway World readers about the history of black artists working in nightclubs, jazz joints, speakeasies, and cabarets that couldn't be found online in some form?

Then I thought of something Natalie Douglas had said to me once about supporting the artists who are alive, not just remembering the ones who have died, the ones who opened the doors and paved the roads for the artists who would come after them. The industry of small venue performing overflows with talented artists of varying natures, some that are just beginning, some with a little more experience, but all of whom are a part of the fabric that is the history of black performers. During the last year, there have been some discussions in various news outlets questioning the imbalance of white artists in the community to BIPOC performers, and while it is true that the scales do tip in a certain direction, there is no reason why that number can't change in the future. Artists of color have a voice, a point of view, and a story - all of them beautiful, human, and worthy of a stage and a spotlight. These days, like all performing artists, their live performance possibilities are on hold, but many of them have an online presence and, in the opinion of this writer, they are all worth looking up because they are all special people and dazzling artists, each with a unique artistic voice that should be heard.

These are some of those creatives who have caught my attention, and I think they might just capture yours, too.

James Delisco Beeks
YouTube - click HERE

One of the most exciting performers seen on Broadway or in concert, Mr. Beeks is a musical theater triple threat, a songwriter, recording artist and published author. This Las Vegas headliner has been nicknamed "The Entertainer" and online video footage of him in Jesus Christ Superstar certainly shows why. Especially riveting is his music video LOCK YOU IN. A man of some mystery, Mr. Beeks is definitely an artist to have on your radar.

Tislarm Bouie
Website - click HERE

This dancer/choreographer with a quest for storytelling and a story to tell is finding innovative ways to bring his tales and those of others to the world by combining movement with filmmaking. His series THUG is already underway and currently seeing new developments, thanks to his determination and personally informed vision.

Christopher Brasfield
Online presence - click HERE

This AMDA alum and oft-working musical theater actor has spent the last year writing and recording his own music after wowing crowds in the Feinstein's/54 Below staff shows. With a magnetic personality and death-defying vocals, Brasfield is bound to attract attention, but not till he is ready: right now is the time to lay down the foundation for that career but his talent shows through on Tik Tok OhSoChrisB

Titus Burgess
Twitter - click HERE

Like many New York actors, this true original paid his dues, did the auditions, worked the gigs, and built up a reputation based on pure talent, hard work, and professionalism. When the perfect role came along, Titus Burgess was ready, and that role made him a star, overnight. Except that overnight took him a lot of years, so he's enjoying his success on TV, in the theater, and on the concert stage, every chance he can get. He's earned it.

Deborah Cox
Website - click HERE

A star of the r&b and dance club circuits, this powerhouse has played Broadway twice, wowing audiences with her presence and powerful voice. With the exception of an appearance with Scott Nevins at Therapy, Ms. Cox has yet to play the nightclubs of New York City, but this writer and devoted fan is waiting patiently for her to bring her jazz stylings to an intimate setting, where more audiences can fall in love with her one of a kind magic.

Aisha de Haas
Website - click HERE

A Broadway veteran, Ms. de Haas has captured the attention and the hearts of nightclub goers with an affinity for the intimacy of the chanteuse. With a particular knack for jazz stylings, Aisha is a favorite of the crowds at Birdland and, one year ago next month, she was the recipient of a prestigious BISTRO AWARD for excellence in the category of Jazz Vocalist. Aisha was one of the artists to test the waters of virtual performing with a solo concert filmed at the Birdland Theater, proving that, whatever direction the business goes in, she's going with it.

Darius de Haas
Website - click HERE

A successful stage actor with eight Broadway shows under his belt, Mr. de Haas keeps busy on and off-Broadway, on regional stages, in concert halls and cabaret rooms, and in recording studios and film studios. In recent years he picked up a lot of new fans when Marvelous Mrs. Maisel fans rushed to their computers to find out if the actor playing Shy Baldwin was doing his own singing... he wasn't. Exciting things can happen, even when you've been in the business a few years.

Andre De Shields
Website - click HERE

A true legend of the Broadway stage, Andre De Shields shocked everyone in 2019 by winning a Tony Award. The shock wasn't the win, the shock was that he didn't already have one. A master of every branch of the business and the art of survival, Mr. de Shields puts on the best clubs acts in the business... because he, himself, is the best in the business.

Natalie Douglas
Website - click HERE

One of the jewels in the crown of the nightclub industry, this one-of-a-kind artist has made her living at the microphone for some time now, and she has done it through hard work and savvy choices, both on the stage and off. In an industry where many work the clubs by night and their jobs by day, Douglas stands out as an artist who only sings for her supper, and that says a lot about her skill, talent, and determination.

Brandon Victor Dixon
Website - click HERE

One of the great leading men of Broadway, Brandon Victor Dixon is as at home in front of the camera as he is on the stage. Always looking for artistic growth, this dynamic performer applied his know-how and vision to the art of producing and took home a Tony Award for Hedwig and the Angry Inch. With his commanding presence and beautiful voice, Mr. Dixon is always a thrill to see, in any medium of show business.

Kevin Ferguson
YouTube - click HERE

This young actor and singer has been building up to creating his own production company, and last year announced the launching of that company - Kevin Ferg and friends. Now Ferguson is a producer who focuses on projects for the stage and the screen, and just to prove that he knows what he's doing, Kevin created a splashy music video to announce his mission statement... on the coldest day of the year.

Grace Garland
Website - click HERE

A staple of the jazz and r&b scene, Lady G. has made her living in the intimate rooms of the five boroughs for most of her adult life. Specializing in sultry sounds and sexy moves, Garland has ventured into songwriting and studio work, expanding her fan base with the new holiday classic SINGLE JINGLE MINGLE and the anthem for the city NEW YORK ATTITUDE. Grace Garland mingles with attitude alright.

Nathan Lee Graham
Website - click HERE

An exciting talent and one of the industry's most fashionable men, Nathan Lee Graham has made his way onto stages everywhere, garnering acclaim, attention, and accolades, including a Grammy Award for his soloist work on the album Songs of Innocence and Experience. Whether appearing as an actor on film, a singer in cabaret, a triple threat on Broadway, or any red carpet anywhere, Mr. Graham always puts his best foot forward, making an unforgettable impression.

La Tanya Hall
Website - click HERE

When you start your career singing with Harry Belafonte the bar is set pretty high, but La Tanya Hall continued her association with legendary artists by working with the likes of Diana Ross and Aretha Franklin. Her impressive list of colleagues is long, but it is not her work alongside others that makes her a standout - it is her individual take on standards and the Great American Songbook that fills jazz clubs like her artistic home, Birdland. Whether working as a soloist, a duet partner, or a musical theater actor, Hall has the kind of talent that creates endurance in the music industry.

Nicole Henry
Website - click HERE

A jazz singer of international acclaim, Nicole Henry has been lighting up the cabaret world with a Whitney Houston tribute show that not only shines a light on her idol but also on her own versatility in ability. Keeping the Whitney theme active, the singing actress recently toured with the musical The Bodyguard in the role of Nicki Maron. Henry is much more than a Houston devotee, though, as evidenced by a resume of renown and a fan base of over nine hundred thousand. Yeah. 900,000.

Paula Dione Ingram
Website - click HERE

Classically trained in opera, Paula Dione Ingram has achieved international success by not limiting herself to any one thing, which has opened doors for her in the worlds of opera, musical theater, and cabaret. Her nightclub act "Dark Legacy: Bright Lights of Black Broadway" captured everyone's attention, not only with Paula's overwhelming charm and vocal talent but with its' important focus on the history of black performers working on The Big Street. The show has played many cities and, hopefully, will be back in NYC when the clubs reopen. New York needs more PDI.

Capathia Jenkins
Website - click HERE

An accomplished actress with film and stage credits galore, Capathia Jenkins has the great good fortune to enjoy singing in concert - actually, it is the concert audiences who have the good fortune. With her vocal range and her acting prowess, Ms. Jenkins is responsible for many a thrill for the people sitting in the seats, wherever those seats may be, because her work as a soloist takes Capathia to different cities, countries and concert halls around the world. Naturally, New Yorkers are happiest when the Broadway baby plays here in her own home town, where she also teaches others the craft that has made her so famous.

Jayson Kerr
Website - Click HERE

With a bass/baritone that is as big as his smile, this singing actor has spent his life as a performer focused on musical theater, though he has been trained in everything from Shakespeare to stage combat. Though schooled in clowning, that is a talent that comes naturally, as has been duly noted in his larger-than-life performances on the Feinstein's/54 Below stage. With an energy that is as infectious as his stage presence, Mr. Kerr is all about breaking boundaries and breaking hearts, and so far, he's right on target.

Kevin Smith Kirkwood
Website - click HERE

An actor with an extensive resume of roles in theaters that stretch from Broadway to the West Coast, Kevin Smith Kirkwood has taken his passion for his craft and for the queer community and turned himself into a beacon of light for like-minded artists living inside of their truth. He has stood out through his work with organizations like The National Queer Theater, and in shows like The Gorgeous Nothings, but Kevin has developed a particularly large following with his series of Classic Whitney shows, which defy delectable, diva-licious description.

Blaine Alden Krauss
Instagram - click HERE

Blaine Alden Krauss is more than a Broadway baby with three shows on his resume - he is a leader in the cabaret and concert community and on the internet. Using his social media to inspire others, to speak out on topics weighty and frivolous, and to entertain, Mr. Krauss has claimed his place as one of the new generation of talents that the young people dreaming of show business look to for guidance. It's a role he takes seriously and invests in, with all his being. Before the shutdown, Krauss was working in a little play called HAMILTON - you can bet that he will be back in those breeches soon.

David LaMarr
Facebook - click HERE

After coming up through the ranks in musical theater, David LaMarr turned his sights to the concert stages, where he has been killing it. Something didn't feel quite right, though, and during his time off from raising his voice in song, Mr. LaMarr is raising his voice in protest in an effort to create greater equality in the arts for members of the BIPOC entertainment community. His activism has not fallen on deaf ears and there is great hope that, when the industry is once again open for business, doors will open to a more diverse level of casting. Whether working with music or rhetoric, David LaMarr is here to be heard.

Norm Lewis
Website - click HERE

Now, this is a leading man. The beloved Broadway star is never lacking in work of any kind but he has carved out a niche for himself with his regular Christmas gigs at Feinstein's/54 Below. Nobody would complain if he did shows on Valentine's Day, the Fourth of July, or Arbor Day, but the way the incomparable singing actor feels about the Yuletide season makes his holiday concerts a yearly sellout for the Midtown Manhattan club. It's the event of the season and Mr. Lewis is always at the top of his game. He looks good in sequins, too.

Audra McDonald
Website - click HERE

The undisputed First Lady of the American Theater, Audra McDonald has a strong presence in the concert scene, thrilling throngs of fans with symphonic concerts all over the world. A benevolent force for good away from the footlights, Ms. McDonald uses her platform to illuminate and facilitate the work of many organizations attempting to better the world. She has been known to stay at the stage door until every autograph has been signed and every selfie has been taken, earning her the nickname "Godra McDonald." Boy, I wish I'd thought of that.

Brian Stokes Mitchell
Website - click HERE

When one of the all-time great leading men of the Broadway stage takes to the small venue circuit, you can bet the fans will show up, and that's exactly what happened when Tony Award winner Brian Stokes Mitchell made 54 Below his musical home away from home. When he plays that room he makes a lot of people happy - almost as many as when he hung out his window and sang for the neighbors during the early days of the pandemic. The man is a mensch, and that's why everyone loves him -- the voice of a god in the person of a great guy.

Melba Moore
Website - click HERE

This Tony Award recipient is happily still sharing her immense talent with club and concert audiences, and she's just as winsome and wonderful as ever - take it from this writer who still hasn't recovered from her 2015 appearance at The Metropolitan Room. That Melba Magic reigns supreme and it is easy to see why the power diva has had the longevity she has. She is a gift to the industry and an inspiration to the artists who have come after her.

Alex Newell
Website - click HERE

A groundbreaker and trailblazer, Alex Newell's life in the public eye has never been tailored to suit other peoples' picture. A gender-nonconforming male, Alex goes by all the pronouns and dresses in whatever mode of fashion strikes his fancy on any given day. As chic as they come and as talented, too, Alex has triumphed in every show business corridor she has attempted, landing on Broadway in Once On This Island and on television in the magnificent Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist. A concert performer who is always in demand, Alex often lends their voice to concerts benefiting causes like The Trevor Project and The Human Rights Campaign. Alex Newell is the future.

Perle Noire
Website - click HERE

An artist and a healer, Perle Noire has been a Burlesque Queen for a long time. There came a day when her calling turned into a movement, as she became a mentor and mother to other burlesque performers, teaching them the craft and sharing the art. Creating the House of Noire Burlesque allowed Perle Noire to bring the art form and the artists to more audiences by packing the Laurie Beechman Theatre with regular performances. When not entertaining, Perle continues to teach and heals through seduction. She is a marvel and a superhero... with a lot of beads and feathers.

Nicole Vanessa Ortiz
Website - click HERE

A winner of more singing competitions than can be listed, Nicole Vanessa Ortiz is a singing actress who has played such impressive roles as Deloris Van Cartier in Sister Act and Sarah Brown Eyes in Ragtime so she has, clearly, got some serious chops, both acting, and singing. Her club and concert appearances always draw big crowds and her social media videos are some of the most fun this writer has seen during the last year. Nicole Vanessa Ortiz is, what (in my day) people called "Fierce."

Marvin Parks
Facebook - click HERE

This American ex-pat is all the rage in Paris, where he is a well-known busker (some even say notorious). While making his name as a jazz singer and comedian, Parks was named on the "Best of Paris 2018" list in Expatriates Magazine after releasing his eponymous CD - one this writer has listened to and can recommend. What could be more interesting or cool than an American jazz singer busking the Parisian subways? It's right out of an MGM movie. Mr. Parks is a charmer of a performer with a heck of a voice, and he really rocks a blue feather boa... but that's another story.

Tonya Pinkins
Twitter - click HERE

A Tony Award recipient and multiple nominee, Tonya Pinkins is not a woman or an artist to rest on her laurels. With successes in every corridor of the performing arts, these last few years have seen Tonya embracing podcasting with a show titled You Can't Say That!, as well as inspiring fans by sharing stories, opinions and travel photos on her social media. Now she is a bona fide filmmaker, having recently completed writing and directing RED PILL. These days Ms. Pinkins is submitting the film to the festival circuit as she awaits its official debut at the Pan African Film Festival. There's no stopping this force of nature. Thank goodness.

Billy Porter
Twitter - click HERE

Billy Porter is a show business success story. After an auspicious debut on Broadway and an LGBT film, the doors of opportunity mysteriously closed to him for a long time. Tenacious as hell and just as talented, Mr. Porter never quit, kept on moving, and while he was recording songs for BCEFA Christmas albums and singing in cabaret shows at Joe's Pub, the world was waiting for things to change. Now they're changed because he changed them, and he is a piece of history. He survived and he thrived and today he lights the way for BIPOC and LGBT+ artists and humbles every day. If that's not a success story...

Vivian Reed
Website - click HERE

The Tony Award nominee for Bubbling Brown Sugar was a ball of fire in 1976 and she is a ball of fire in 2021. Never one to slow down, Ms. Reed has sung for her supper and for our pleasure, putting out CDs and producing some of the best nightclub acts anyone is likely to see. Ever. Her Lena Horne tribute show left jaws dropped at every performance but Reed had to move on to something new, so in 2019 she presented Little Bit of Soul, Little Bit of Pop for one night only. If there is any justice in the world when the clubs reopen she will present it again. Vivian Reed is not a survivor - she is a warrior.

T. Oliver Reid
Website - click HERE

A singing actor with an enviable number of Broadway shows to his name, T. Oliver Reid has been lovingly embraced by the club and concert industry. Thanks to repeatedly delivering thrilling vocals and emotional connection to the solos he performs, T. Oliver has been bestowed with multiple awards as a vocalist, as well as repeat invitations to appear in benefits, tributes, and galas. His recent appearance in the film SONDHEIM UNPLUGGED brought to the screen all of the intimate majesty of his work, perhaps paving the way for some virtual shows of his own.

Gloria Reuben
Website - click HERE

An actor of acclaim, Gloria Reuben has stood out as remarkable for her entire career. With her role as Jeanie Boulet on ER, Reuben took chances in storytelling that were considered daring at the time. Then she dared to leave the show to sing backup for Tina Turner. Today Ms. Reuben continues to stand tall as an actor (Mr. Robot), as an author (My Brother's Keeper), and as a musician - her nightclub work features Gloria at the microphone and Gloria at the piano. This is an artist who isn't interested in doing the easy stuff - Gloria Reuben is interested in getting at the real stuff. That's what she does.

Latrice Royale
Website - click HERE

One of the greatest stars to emerge from the Drag Race empire, Latrice Royale is one of the entertainers of the drag persuasion most likely to sell every seat in a nightclub. Although the history of drag is based on lip-syncing for your life, Latrice Royale brings her own story to the stage through comedy, storytelling, and song - and it's a fabulous, personal, and very sparkly story with a happy ending, something in which Latrice Royale specializes.

Shalewa Sharpe
Tumbler - click HERE

This performer is a black female stand-up comic that works all the time. Do you know how hard that is? In spite of advancements made in the comedy industry, it is still a men's club, right ladies? So when the BIPOC comediennes of the comedy world make it, it tells you two things: they are funny, and they are determined. Shalewa Sharpe is definitely both of these things, but, dudes, don't take my word for it - you have to see the funny part for yourself. Click on the video and see what I'm talking about (profanity alert).

Avery Sommers
Facebook - click HERE

A Broadway veteran from early on in her career, Avery Sommers has spent her life on the stages of this country, whether acting a part in a play or singing songs in a club. Most recently Ms. Sommers' focus has been a musical memoir in which she reminisces about Broadway, her family, and her life in the spotlight, using both storytelling and music to lull audiences into a state of blissful wonder. She may have been Nell Carter's replacement in Ain't Misbehavin' but there is no replacement for Avery Sommers.

Ty Stephens
Website - click HERE

A musical theater triple threat who has acted, sung, and danced on Broadway, Ty Stephens has found a special niche for himself in the world of jazz. With numerous awards to his name and a sound that is uniquely his own, Mr. Stephens has become a jazz genius, writing and recording songs with his own band, (the) SoulJaazz. The list of legends with whom Ty has worked is impressive, but the truth is that he is the legend now, and not just stateside, as Stephens has regular gigs in Europe and the Far East. That's what happens when you make music this good.

Wayne Tucker
Facebook - click HERE

This singing trumpet player is so prolific in his work that he has managed to form his own jazz band, Wayne Tucker and The Bad Motha's, and play out with them all over New York City, all the while composing, arranging, teaching, and playing for other artists like Cyrille Aimee, and Taylor Swift. He's been seen at The Kennedy Center and on The Tonight Show, he's played all over the world and he has scored motion picture soundtracks. He's a popular performer at Birdland and the videos on his YouTube channel have thousands of views because they are Worth. Watching.

Darnell White
Website - click HERE

A prodigy if ever there was one, Darnell White works all the aspects of the music business, whether musical directing, playing in the band, entertaining the club crowds, or producing his own music. Particularly passionate about writing and producing, last year Mr. White created an epic and epically beautiful hour-long video of his compositions being performed by BIPOC artists of note. The special title ALL THE FEELS VOL. 1 is a happy indication that there is more to come...

Lillias White
Website - click HERE

No stranger to the world of musical theater, Lillias White is a star of iconic status whose fans are always ready for a night out to see her on and off-Broadway or touring with musicals or concerts. A Tony Award recipient for The Life, Ms. White puts on one of the best nightclub acts around, whether it's a show made up of her favorite tunes, or one of the best Christmas shows of the holiday season. Neither her originality nor her light can be dimmed by anything, which is just the way everyone likes it.

Editor's/author's note: This list was compiled from artists whose work I know - people whose shows I have seen, whose CDs I have heard, whose videos I have watched. I sincerely hope nobody is hurt by any omissions, and I hope that the next year will give me an opportunity to learn the names and work of artists I have not yet encountered.

Photo of Deborah Cox by Stephen Mosher