May 21st, 2012, by

The annual film fest at Cannes is always a great preview of some of the best and most interesting films of the coming year, and the first standout seems to be Rust and Bone (De Rouille et D’Os), which some have postulated might be this year’s The Artist.

The film certainly seems to have plenty going for it, including a quirky and touching love story and a cast featuring can’t-miss French sensation Marion Cotillard (see: Coco Avant Chanel, Midnight in Paris and, of course, La Vie en Rose). The story surrounds the love that grows between a 25-year-old unemployed kickboxer/bouncer and a killer whale trainer who has been disabled in a horrific accident–far from your standard Hollywood premise.

Further to the film’s credit is a recent four-out-of-five-star review from Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian. Bradshaw writes, “its candour and force are matched by the commitment and intelligence of its two leading players. These factors, linked with the glowing sunlit images captured by cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine and emotion-grabbing music from Alexandre Desplat make for a powerful spectacle. It is a passionate and moving love story which surges out of the screen like a flood tide.”

In past years, the film’s French language would have been a huge detriment to getting masses of people into theaters, but as The Artist proved, it is possible. The combination of all of the above, and the fact that the script is based on a collection of stories by Canadian novelist Craig Davidson–whose writing is reliably fresh, weird and visceral–suggest this will be one of the best films, if not the film, to see this coming fall.

May 20th, 2012, by

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Legendary recording artist Donna Summer passed away this week, and, in tribute, songs like “I Feel Love” and “Hot Stuff” have been in heavier-than-usual rotation on the airwaves. You can also check out Tavis’ tribute on the show this week. To celebrate the life and legacy of a very influential musician, here are a few things about Summer you may not have heard:

– In 1978, Summer became the first female artist in history to have a #1 single (“MacArthur Park”) and a #1 album (“Live and More”) simultaneously on the Billboard charts. She broke her own record just a few months later in 1979 when her single “Hot Stuff” and the album “Bad Girls” both reached the #1 position on the Billboard charts at the same time.

– Bruce Springsteen, a great admirer of Donna Summer, wrote “Cover Me,” from his “Born in the USA” LP for her.

– Upon hearing the 1977 song “I Feel Love,” Iggy Pop declared it the “future of music.”

– Her  16-minute song, “Love to Love You Baby”, was the first extended release single.

– Summer was also a successful visual artist, selling over $1.2 million in original art over a 20-year career.

– She spent several years in West Germany, married a German man and spoke fluent German.


Source: IMDB

May 20th, 2012, by

Soul, R&B and Motown were defining musical genres in America that helped shape the course of not just this country’s cultural history, but many others’ too. The powerful songs of groups like The Supremes, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and so many others live on, of course, and can still get a dance floor moving like little else–except possibly Robyn.

The legacy of soul, however, isn’t limited to golden oldies. The last few years have brought with them artists like Amy Winehouse, Adele and Sharon Jones, all of whom endeavored to bring soul music to a new generation. The success of these artists has led to something of a mainstream soul revival, led by musicians intent on carrying the genre’s legacy into the future.

Here are three of my favorites:

Lee Fields and the Expressions

If Fields sounds like the real deal, that’s because he is: the North Carolina native has been making R&B records since 1969, toured with the likes of Kool and the Gang and has a huge back catalog of recordings. It just goes to show: if you stick around long enough, you’ll eventually get the recognition you deserve. Fields’ “You’re the Kind of Girl” sounds like it could have come out in the heyday of soul.


Nick Waterhouse

Holding down the R&B corner is upstart Nick Waterhouse, a 25-year-old LA-based singer/producer who looks like he stepped out of a time warp from 1962. Waterhouse has the aesthetic down pat, and his music is set to do for neo-R&B what The Black Keys did for blues rock.


Aloe Blacc

You’ll probably recognize Aloe Blacc’s “I Need a Dollar” from a phone commercial (or perhaps from the opening to HBO’s How to Make It in America) but don’t let that detract from the song’s inherent listenability–in fact that’s a pretty good argument in favor of it.




May 18th, 2012, by


Two years ago, I was invited to go to Canada as a member of the official Presidential Delegation to the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games. I was thrilled to once again represent my country in a Paralympic milieu, albeit from the cushy sidelines of the VIP seats. To serve side by side with distinguished fellow Paralympians Jim Martinson, Mike May and Melissa Stockwell, not to mention a Special Assistant to the President, two Cabinet members, and the U.S. Ambassador to Canada, was one of the most exciting honors I have ever experienced.

The moment our plane landed in Vancouver, I tried to conjure images from the Innsbruck Games, where I competed in 1984. But nothing came. Not the long, transatlantic plane ride, nor the airport, nor the majestic Alpine scenery. There were some hazy recollections of schlepping all my gear around narrow icy streets, sharing a tiny room in a B&B with two teammates, getting nothing but hard rolls and salami for breakfast and waiting in the freezing cold for my turn to hit the gates. But all I could clearly remember was my laser-like focus on the job at hand, the terror of potential failure and the dizzying prospect of taking home a medal—or three.

As our motorcade (yes, we had a motorcade—with Mounties!) led us to the gigantic BC Place arena for the opening ceremonies, I was overwhelmed with how completely the Paralympic experience had changed in the last 26 years. Back in 1984, we got a plane ticket, a jacket and a bib with a number on it. I remember skiing with mismatched gloves I got out of the lost and found because I didn’t have the money to buy new ones. Friends and family attended the events only if they could get there on their own, and there was virtually no media coverage. If you wanted a souvenir, you had to place first, second or third, and wear it home around your neck.

Now, 60,000 people gathered into this enormous arena to cheer the crutches and wheelchairs of the finest athletes with disabilities in the world. Everywhere we turned, we were imbued with all the color and pageantry of Olympic competition. The athletes were ferried around as celebrities—in full Paralympic regalia paid for by the same sponsors footing the bill for “normie” athletes. They were housed in the same gorgeous, comfortable village with trainers and full service gyms. The special events and media coverage were top flight. They even had a mascot! This was a world-class event in every sense.

I felt a personal sense of pride because, in some small part, the hard work and long years of training we all did way-back-when has helped to pave the way for the recognition of people with disabilities as world-class athletes today. Back when we didn’t get the coverage, the funding or the access to the Olympic training centers, I worked in a gift shop on Mt. Hood, so I could pay my own way into the most elite able-bodied summer ski training camp in the country. I convinced Burke Mountain Academy to give me a full scholarship to train in Vermont as their first full-time disabled athlete. I skied in 10 below weather, suffered a broken leg, stitches in my lip and spent most Christmas and New Year’s holidays away from home. I raised funds, courted sponsors and worked odd jobs from Colorado to Lake Tahoe to make it all work. I thought about how many hundreds of us athletes back then used all kinds of guerilla tactics to overcome the tremendous odds and carve out opportunities to show everyone what a disabled athlete could do. 

Now, the whole world was witnessing what we in the Paralympic world had known since the beginning: athletic competition among people with disabilities is intense and exciting. From the careful precision of Wheelchair Curling, to the slam-bang action of Ice Sledge Hockey, my senses were overwhelmed with joy and awe. I saw fellow amputees whiz by at staggering speeds, grueling prosthetic punishment on the cross-country courses, even an armless biathlete, who shot the gun with his teeth.

So, as we head to London for the Paralympic Summer games this year, I know that these athletes have access to greater resources than we did for training, travel, coaching and more; I know that they have broken our old records and, once again, redefined what is possible for the human body. And while I feel a tinge of envy wondering what it would be like to compete in today’s environment, I feel proud of the small part we earlier competitors played in helping to make it possible. I can only hope that these athletes, too, will someday sit where I am and watch a new crop of Paralympians running faster, flying higher and performing stronger than any before them.

Congratulations to all the Paralympians who have earned a place in the London Olympics this summer. Not only are you making your own mark on history, you are part of a growing movement that continues to inspire us all with the possibilities of beauty, speed and greatness…no matter what the challenge.



Bonnie St. John is a Paralympic medalist, Rhodes Scholar and best-selling author, whose latest text is How Great Women Lead: A Mother-Daughter Adventure into the Lives of Women Shaping the World. For a look at the backstory on other amazing Paralympic athletes, check out Medal Quest.


May 12th, 2012, by

The last two weeks’ conversations highlighted themes of education, life experiences and love.

Bill Bennett, former education secretary, radio show host and author opened up the floor for the conversation on the impact of education in our country. Microsoft’s vice president of Worldwide Public Sector Education, Anthony Salcito, shared how technology affected his education and how he plans to pay it forward to today’s youth. Sheryl WuDunn, one of Newsweek’s 150 Women Who Shake the World, also touched upon how the need for education is a global issue. And actor Ed Helms of The Office fame joked about some news outlets that educate our TV-watching youth.

To hear columnist-author Anna Quindlen speak on life experiences and learning is no surprise, since her memoir, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, celebrates life and aging gracefully. Television network heavyweight Warren Littlefield also paid a visit and reflected on what he’s learned from his experience in the entertainment business. It’s true what they say: hindsight is 20/20.

Of course, the show wouldn’t be the same without a little humor. In this case, actor Damian Lewis pokes fun at President Obama.

And finally, shedding a little light on love was singer-songwriter Jason Mraz. Love Story star Ryan O’Neal closed out the week and sat down with us to detail his memoir about his relationship with his soul mate, the late actress Farrah Fawcett.

All images by Van Evers, Tavis Smiley Media, Inc.

May 10th, 2012, by

You asked for it, and it’s finally here. Robert Blake’s autobiographical text, Tales of a Rascal, is now published and available on Amazon.

Our exclusive two-part December 2011 conversation with Robert Blake revealed much about the actor’s life and times since his famed murder trial. At the time he sat down with us, the Baretta star was still working to market the book, but gave us a sneak peek on the details of his life, since he maintained a low profile.

“But you could ask me that about anything in my life, because that biography is really a biography about God, because I ain’t smart and I ain’t tough, and I’m not a lot of things, but God has always had some kind of plan for me.” -Robert Blake, December 2011

Here’s a clip from the December 2011 conversation:


May 7th, 2012, by

Photo courtesy: Van Evers, Tavis Smiley Media, Inc.

Airdate | Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Why You (Should) Know Her:

  • She’s the first Asian American to win a Pulitzer Prize.
  • WuDunn was included in Newsweek’s 150 Women Who Shake the World.
  • She is currently Mid-Market Securities’ senior managing director, where she raises capital for clients.

Why She’s Buzzing | Coming in hot with momentum from the “Made Visible” panel discussion and the best-selling success of her latest text, Half the Sky, WuDunn is an advocate for women’s rights, making a name for herself in the global war against the oppression of women. The Half the Sky Movement will also include a four-part series featured on PBS.

Sheryl WuDunn Trivia

  • A Cornell University graduate, she’s also a member of the university’s Board of Trustees and Board’s Finance Committee. She earned her MBA from Harvard Business School and her MPA from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School.
  • WuDunn is also a recipient of honorary doctorates from the University of Pennsylvania and Middlebury College.
  • In fall 2011, she was a senior lecturer at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs.
  • In 1988, WuDunn married reporter Nicholas D. Kristof. They became the first married couple to receive a Pulitzer Prize for journalism when they reported from Beijing on the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.
  • The couple received the Dayton Literary Peace Prize’s 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award.
  • Her first best-selling book, China Wakes, was a result of her experiences in China from 1988-1993. WuDunn had to travel as a tourist through China when her press credentials were revoked by the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
  • WuDunn was the first Asian American reporter hired at The New York Times.
  • She worked as an executive and journalist at The New York Times, covering international markets, energy, global technology and industry. She was anchor of The New York Times Page One, which was a nightly program that featured the next day’s Times stories and was one of the few Times employees who juggled the news and business sides of the publication.


  • Pulitzer Prize (for reporting in China)
  • George Polk Award (for reporting in China)
  • Overseas Press Club (for reporting in China)

Bibliography (co-written with her husband)
1994   China Wakes: The Struggle for the Soul of a Rising Power
2000   Thunder from the East: Portrait of a Rising Asia
2009 Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

WuDunn with her husband, Nicholas Kristof, and their son Gregory in Tiananmen Square in 1993. (from

May 6th, 2012, by

To mourn the very sad and untimely passing of Adam Yauch, better known as MCA, here are three pieces from the archives commemorating the golden years of his group, The Beastie Boys. Whether you’re a fan of the three rapping Jews from New York or not (or even a fan of early hip-hop in general), the cultural impact of Yauch and his bandmates, Adam Horovitz and Michael Diamond, cannot be denied. The fact that the group was still touring and selling out arenas within the last few years speaks volumes to not only their beloved place in pop culture, but their musical chops as well.

First, here’s their classic video for “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)”


Second, here’s a touching compilation of remembrances compiled by NPR’s Nina Gregory.

And third, here’s an awesome early profile of Yauch’s group from a 1987 issue of the legendary Creem magazine by Chuck Eddy.

It begins, “At 32 minutes past two the morning of 16 January 1987, two Beastie Boys broke into my West Hollywood hotel room and dumped a wastebasket of extremely wet water on my head, my bed, the carpeting and my Converse All-Stars. (I’d stupidly left the chain-lock unsecured, and I suppose they bribed the night clerk into giving them a key.) Earlier that evening, after Pee-Wee Herman had visited their dressing room and before they appeared on Joan Rivers’ show, the Beasties were tossing parsley at me, dropping ice cubes in my hair, and “dissin’” (graffiti-artist lingo for “saying bad things about”) my brown socks and flannel shirt. I interpreted all of this to mean that they did not like me.”

While Eddy’s profile reveals Yauch and his bandmates to be nothing short of out-of-control hooligans in their early days, they mellowed with age, becoming outspoken activists for human rights, particularly Tibetan freedom.


May 6th, 2012, by

In this series of posts, I will be highlighting some of the best and most innovative podcasts on the web, as well as a few that I just think are plain cool.

My introduction to Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim came first through B’Owl, a mock-infomercial for a children’s toy that is part bat and part owl. It’s taken from Heidecker and Wareheim’s Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! and is a very strange video, satirizing TV-borne consumerism with a level of absurdity not seen since Monty Python’s heyday. At the time it was like nothing I’d seen before, and, for a while, I was convinced it was the funniest thing I’d ever laid eyes on. Then I discovered their series of vodka commercials for Absolut, co-starring Zach Galifianakis, and I became convinced that they were the funniest things I’d ever laid eyes on. I subsequently became a huge Tim and Eric fan.

If you enjoyed either of those phenomena as much as I did, you’ll also enjoy Heidecker’s satirical podcast series, On Cinema. If you were staring at your screen in puzzlement, wondering why those grown men are wearing beehive wigs and sitting in too-small furniture, well…you should probably just move on to the next post. While some have attempted to explain their humor, it’s something, much like cilantro or Kevin Smith movies, that you either like or you don’t–explanation rarely makes a difference.

Heidecker’s deliberately DIY-sounding On Cinema features him playing himself (or a version thereof) across from his friend and fellow comedian Gregg Turkington, a self-proclaimed “film expert.” Together, the two of them set out to discuss a new favorite film in each week’s podcast, from 12 Angry Men to the recent remake of The Three Stooges, and usually don’t get very far. What happens, instead, is the two of them end up passive-aggressively bickering about minutiae for a few minutes, while trying to remember if the film in question won any Oscars or is available on DVD.

Beyond that, it’s a bit hard to explain why On Cinema is so funny, but it’s clearly a send-up of the podcast medium, and those who take to it without really having anything to say. At an average of about three minutes per episode, they exemplify Heidecker’s unique sense of humor, while not overstaying their welcome. If you enjoy it, this could open the to door to the rest of Tim and Eric’s oevre. If you find it too weird, you’re certainly not alone.


May 1st, 2012, by

Screenshot from satellite interview


Airdate | Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Hometown | Pass Christian, MS

Parents | Lawrence E. Roberts and Lucimarian Roberts

Why You (Should) Know Her:

  • She’s the co-anchor of ABC’s Good Morning America.
  • When she joined ESPN as a sportscaster in 1990, she made a name for herself with her catchphrase “Go on with your bad self!”
  • She was the first journalist to interview President Obama after his inauguration.

Why She’s Buzzing | Just in time for Mother’s Day, her new text, My Story, My Song, which was written with her mother, shares stories of their lives and what they learned from each other through their collaboration.

Robin Roberts Trivia

  • During the 2011 WNBA All-Star Game, Roberts’ broadcasting work was honored for its impact on women’s basketball.
  • Roberts was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.
  • Her father, Lawrence, was a pilot with the Tuskegee Airmen.
  • Roberts graduated cum laude from Southeastern Louisiana University with a degree in communication.
  • A skilled basketball player, she turned down an athletic scholarship to Louisiana State University after visiting the campus. She still played for the Southeastern Louisiana University team, becoming one of only three Lady Lions to score 1,000 career points and claim 1,000 career rebounds. Her #21 jersey was retired during a ceremony held in February 2011.
  • She earned three Emmy Awards for her work with ESPN.
  • She was also given the WBCA’s Mel Greenberg Media Award in 2001.
  • Roberts drove the Pace Car for the 2010 Indianapolis 500 in May 2010.
  • On July 31, 2007, during a live broadcast, Roberts announced that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Ironically, it was after she had worked on a special covering Joel Siegel’s farewell on GMA. Siegel died from colon cancer. By March 2008, she had completed her chemotherapy and radiation treatments. (see video here)


2007   From the Heart: Seven Rules to Live By
2012   My Story, My Song: Mother-Daughter Reflections on Life and Faith

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