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NAACP Theatre Awards Nominate John Stephens for I WANNA BE LOVED, Coming to Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center, 10/19


John Stephens has been nominated for Best Musical Director-local by the NAACP Theatre Awards for "I Wanna Be Loved," the story of Dinah Washington's life and loves starring Barbara Morrison which returns to the stage Sunday at Morrison's Performing Arts Center in Leimert Park. The show begins at 4 p.m.

It's the first nomination for Stephens by the Beverly Hills/Hollywood branch NAACP Theatre Viewing Committee, which considers productions from Bakersfield to San Diego which ran for five consecutive weeks in 2013. "I Wanna Be Loved" opened in February, 2013, and played to sold-out houses for more than a month before switching to a once-a-month schedule.

"The more I heard about the award, I started to feel really good about it," Stephens said. "It means so much to be nominated for such a prestigious award."

Stephens leads the 18-piece Barbara Morrison All-Star Jazz Band in the musical tribute to Washington, whose legendary career ended in her accidental death at age 39 in 1963.

Stephens and the Morrison big band have been playing on Sunday afternoons since Feb. 15, 2012. They had worked together early in their careers and when Morrison opened her Performing Arts Center, Stephens approached her about doing regular performances.

"Barbara and I go back a long way," Stephens explained. "When I was in college (at Cal State Northridge in the early 1970s), Barbara was singing with Johnny Otis and I played saxophone with them. I couldn't go with them when they went on the road. I didn't get to know Barbara that well, but over the years I followed her career. When she opened the center, I called her and she invited me to it. She always wanted a regular big band and she said, 'Why don't you come every Sunday and lead my band,' and that's how we started."

Morrison and Michael Cormier had co-written "I Wanna Be Loved" and it was a natural fit for Stephens to be the music director for it.

"She had the script and I started writing and arranging the music," Stephens said. "She uses three or four songs from other arrangers, work that had already been done, and I did the rest. It's been wonderful to work with Barbara. What's best about her is she knows what she wants and how she wants it. It's been great."

Stephens was born and raised in Beaumont, Texas, and played saxophone in his high school band. He didn't realize it was launching a career.

"I never thought about it being a career," Stephens said. "My band director in high school got me a partial scholarship to Houston Tillotson College in Austin (Texas) and I majored in music."

Stephens' education was interrupted by a four-year stint in the United States Marines, where he played in the Marine Corps band. He was released in San Diego, decided to stay in California and graduated from Cal State Northridge with a bachelor's in music in 1975.

Stephens joined Marvin Gaye Productions as a sax player. He also plays the flute and clarinet. He's performed with Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Patti LaBelle and band leaders and arrangers Buddy Collette and Gerald Wilson.

Collette and Wilson were instrumental in Stephens in becoming a band leader, composer and arranger.

"I always wanted to do some arranging," Stephens said. "When I heard the way songs were written and played on the radio, I wanted to do them in my own way. When you arrange, basically you need to conduct it. Buddy Collette was prominent in getting me involved in music and Gerald Wilson told me, 'To get it right, you need to conduct it.' "

Stephens has composing and arranging credentials that include Motown 25th Anniversary Special and several motion pictures.

"I Wanna Be Loved" has been nominated for three NAACP Theatre Awards: Stephens, Ron and Mara New and Harold Garrison for Best Producer-local, and Morrison for Best Costumes-local. The show also stars Jay Jackson as Brook Benton, who had a pair of crossover rhythm-and-blues and pop hits with Washington in 1960. Washington had hits as a solo artist on both charts, most famously with "What a Diff'rence a Day Makes!" in 1959. She was known as the "Queen of the Blues" and inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.

For more information on the Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center, go to

For more information on John Stephens, go to

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