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Art-Alive.com

 

PHYLLIS YVONNE STICKNEY, EBONY JO-ANN
AT SCHOMBURG

     Sponsored by Entertainment Plus and The Men’s Council of Masjid Malcolm Shabazz, and under the coordination of producer Mansoor Majeeullah and producer Rahim Ali, an evening of comedy and culture with Phyllis Yvonne Stickney and special guest vocalist Ebony Jo-Ann proved to be an exemplary evening of excitement and enlightenment.  In addition, the location at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in the Langston Hughes Auditorium provided the program with a cultural canopy of high consciousness.

     The curtain opened to the dazzling Danny Mixon with Eric Lemon on bass.  Mixon played an extended and elaborate introduction to “Autumn Leaves” before Lemon joined in rendering a medium tempo finger-popping interpretation of the standard.  Mixon’s seasoned bled of virtuosity and creativity earned instant audience appeal, accolades, and spontaneous applause.  Then the stunning Ebony Jo-Ann appeared on stage drenched with presence and poise, evoking immediate audience approval.  After a bass into, she sang a ballad slow and organically sweet reading of “Fly Me to the Moon” before double-timing it into a sultry and sassy continuance.

     She followed with “God Bless the Child.”  Without imitating Lady Day, Ebony Jo-Ann displayed a vocal comfort zone where she slid in and out of stylistic dynamics and tone textures.  Mixon’s solo was respectively framed with church chords.

     In Save Your Love for Me,” she steered the song from a graceful ballad in the beginning to a gut-wrenching blues in the development.  During Mixon’s solo, she effectively cooed in complementary creativity.  Ebony Jo-Ann’s up-tempo version of “Just in Time” found her starting off soft and smooth but soon slapping and shaking her hips into rhythmic realms of raunchiness.  It was her incendiary interpretation of “Baby, Get Lost” that elicited the greatest response from the audience.  Her comment was “The blues fit my character.”

     She continued with a mellow-toned treatment of “On a Clear Day,” swinging it into a solid state of effervescence.  Her final selection of the evening, “I’m Glad There is You,” maintained the traditional beauty of the ballad status throughout.

     As special guest vocalist, Ebony Jo-Ann did not serve as a warm-up act.  She was a vital part of the evening, a featured artist on any bill.

     Phyllis Yvonne Stickney is an encyclopedia of cultural expression.  She surrounds the audience with her spirit, then connects it into the collective consciousness and feeds of the current throughout the performance.  Her material is as meaningful as it is massive.  She has earned the respect of the people by achieving star status while submitting to community control.

     Although she possesses leading lady looks, she has the consummate craft of a character actor.  In this one-woman show, she chose not to develop a single character, nor did she focus on a designated group of characters.  However, she succeeded in doing both by spontaneously becoming a multiple voice of the masses with the singular tongue of an elder.

     In addition, Stickney pursues the premise that because humor habitually makes philosophy and politics palatable, comedy is the conduit of choice to channel commentary that would otherwise receive opposition; consequently, laughter becomes both leverage and lubricant in the facilitation of receptivity.

     Stickney began by greeting the entire audience as brother and sister.  She repeated brother and sister at least two dozen times, altering the tempo and texture, varying the accent and attitude, and shifting the emphasis and inflection.  She continued with a reminder of how the system attempts to separate Egypt from Afrika.

     In speaking on the identity crisis from which many of us suffer, Stickney summarized by stating that some of us have lost the funk.  Drawing on her Arkansas birthplace, she spoke on the below-the-Mason-Dixon line creative expansion of the language:  “Ahvah,” instead of “our,” “pinano” instead of “piano,” and “I don’t want to jump to no concussions.”

     In her “Back in the Day” segment, Stickney utilized street-tones and inner-city movements to introduce the motif of not forgetting the past.  At one point, the audience spontaneously joined her in an exhilarating rendition of the children’s chant “Mary Mack.”

     Although Stickney’s subjects varied, one continuously heard the combination of her words of wisdom with the audience’s howls of hilarity.  Some of the messages mined from her material are:  “It used to be ‘in line’; now it’s ‘on line.’”  “This is America where racism is manufactured ad distributed in large doses.”  “We watch the soaps while they prepare bootcamps for their babies.”  “Did you let the TV raise your baby?”  “Thank you for the ancestors – we don’t talk to them enough.”  “I ain’t perfect, but I’m striving.”  “I’m happy, I’m nappy – you need to know that; some people are nappy and mad.”  “I’m not one of those people who think I can improve on God’s perfection.”

     In a moving moment of audience participation, she queried, “How do you feel, brother?”  The brother spoke volumes in his one phrase reply, “Drug-free and lovely.”  In another moment, Stickney advised, “We need to relax more in life – have more bowel movements.”  A member of the audience bellowed, “Let it go!”  Stickney responded delightedly with “Who said that?”  and then spoke on enemas as if it had been rehearsed.

     She closed by confessing.  “This was a very special evening for me to be home.”  Indeed, it as an evening of magic and meaning for all who attended.

Author:  GEORGE EDWARD TAIT

Publication Name: NEW YORK AMSTERDAM NEWS

 
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