Uncle Jed’s Barbershop is a new family musical coming to Denver’s Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theater, Sept. 26 – Oct. 18, 2015.
Set in rural Arkansas near the Mississippi Delta, Uncle Jed’s Barbershop tells the story of Sarah Jean and her Uncle Jed, the only black barber in the county. Uncle Jed has a dream of opening his own barbershop. Even though he meets with setback after setback, he doesn’t give up on his dream.
I’m excited to see the characters I created in my book come alive on stage. I have followed the show through its development phase and have always appreciated the hard work and dedication the show’s creators have invested into making it a reality. I’ll be in Denver to see the show.
Here are 9 reasons why you should see it too:
1) Uncle Jed’s Barbershop is a new family musical adapted from the award-winning book Uncle Jed’s Barbershop by Margaree King Mitchell, illustrated by James Ransome, published by Simon & Schuster. The book has received numerous awards including a Coretta Scott King Honor Book Award, the Living The Dream Book Award, and is a featured Reading Rainbow book.
2) The creative team of David Wohl, Kenneth Grimes, and Susan Einhorn, who shepherded the show into an award-winning musical. From the ASCAP/Disney workshop winner to a finalist in the O’Neill Musical Theatre Conference, to a finalist in the Richard Rodgers Awards, to winner of the National Music Theater Network’s Director’s Choice Award, to the New York Musical Theater Festival, the show has wowed audiences with its soaring and soulful music. David Wohl says, “Uncle Jed’s Barbershop is your story, the story of everyone who had a dream and achieved it. We are absolutely certain that your story will never ever be told in this dramatic and musical way ever again.”
3) Broadway veteran Ken Prymus, who stars as Uncle Jed, the only black barber in 1928 Monroe County, Arkansas. His Broadway credits include Cats, Ain’t Misbehavin’, and The Wiz. Prymus says, “Uncle Jed is a lot like me. He’s a good guy who’s just trying to work hard. He loves his family and his friends. He’s stable. And he really loves his great-niece.”
4) Broadway veteran Nora Cole stars as Uncle Jed’s wife, Twyla. Her credits include Your Arms Too Short To Box With God, Jelly’s Last Jam, On The Town, and Joe Turner’s Come and Gone. Recent credits include Katherine’s Colored Lieutenant and On Golden Pond. Nora is delighted to return to the cast of Uncle Jed’s Barbershop.
5) Veteran actor Mary Louise Lee, singer/actor extraordinaire and First Lady of Denver, stars as adult Sarah Jean. Mary Louise has performed in theaters around the country and has toured internationally with The Mary Louise Lee Band.
6) Introducing Yasmine Emani Hunter as child Sarah Jean. Yasmine is very passionate about singing, having participated in the Rocky Mountain Children’s Choir for 4 years.
7) Broadway veteran Terry Burrell (Dreamgirls, Honky Tonk Nights, Three Penny Opera, Swinging On A Star, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Eubie, Show Boat). Her one woman show “Ethel” can be seen at The Alliance Theatre in Atlanta next Spring.
8) Virtuoso pianist and composer/arranger Joel A. Martin, who arranged the music for the show.
9) Uncle Jed’s Barbershop is a rollicking new musical. It is a celebration of hope, love, work, faith, and the power of dreams that never grow old!
For More Information:
I’ll see you at the show!
Today marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act. Let’s not forget what life was like before President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law. Various tactics, like poll taxes and literacy tests, were used to deny black people the right to vote. Following is an excerpt from Granddaddy’s Gift which demonstrates the problems African-Americans encountered when they went to register to vote.
The next day Granddaddy rode into town and parked his truck in front of the courthouse. He walked like he was going somewhere, the way he always did. As usual, I was right behind him.
He went into one of the offices and told the lady behind the counter that he wanted to register to vote.
The lady went into the back room and came back with a man. “Well now, Joe,” the man said. “You see, there is this test you have to take on the Mississippi constitution. It’s hard, real hard. You’re doing all right, Joe. Just be satisfied with what you have.”
Granddaddy left the office. I turned and walked after him, my head hanging down. I didn’t want to look at Granddaddy’s face, because I knew he felt bad, too.
He waited for me at the top of the courthouse steps. He took my hand. “Daughter,” he said, “Hold your head up high. We have done nothing wrong.”
Granddaddy told me there was something important to strive for in addition to the good things we had. There were some things that made a person feel good inside, like having the rights we were all entitled to as citizens of these United States.
For more information about Granddaddy’s Gift visit: Granddaddy’s Gift
President Obama has issued a proclamation naming June as African-American Music Appreciation Month. I recently sat down with the Jazz Collaborative to discuss When Grandmama Sings. Following are excerpts from that conversation.
JC: Your book, When Grandmama Sings, intermingles jazz with Southern history. Describe the story.
MM: When Grandmama Sings takes place in the 1940’s. Belle’s grandmother is a local singer in a small town in Mississippi. She gets an opportunity to go on a tour of the South and she takes Belle with her.
When Grandmama Sings shows what life was like for black entertainers who traveled from place to place. Grandmama is protective of Belle but she doesn’t shelter her from the harsh realities of life. They encounter separate hotels for blacks and whites. They can’t eat in a restaurant after a show because of the color of their skin. Grandmama meets with injustice in New Orleans when a club owner wants her to perform without pay. And when she performs in a big venue in Atlanta the audience is segregated: whites sit on the main floor and black people have to sit in the balcony.
JC: But after the tour great things happen for Grandmama.
MM: Absolutely. I love happy endings. I want students to know that life isn’t fair or equal at times. Regardless of how you are treated, if you remain focused on the gift you have inside of you, no one act or person can put your light out.
JC: What defines the relationship between Belle and her grandmother?
Trust defines their relationship. Bell travels with her grandmother and helps her read signs, menus, newspapers, etc. Even though she is a child, Belle is providing a valuable service to her grandmother. Grandmama trusts Belle to read everything to her. And Belle trusts her grandmother to take care of her.
JC: I love the relationship between Belle and her grandmother. Tell us about your relationship with your grandmother.
MM: My grandmother and I were very close. When she visited her sisters in other cities, she took me with her. My earliest memories are of me sitting in a chair beside my grandmother and she is teaching me how to read. When I was older my grandmother taught me how to cook. I will always cherish those moments in the kitchen with her teaching me her secret recipes. I wanted to show the same closeness between Belle and her grandmother.
JC: Why is it important for children to read books like When Grandmama Sings during African-American Music Appreciation Month?
MM: With budget decreases in schools and arts programs being cut, students are not being exposed to music and art programs. It is important that students learn to appreciate different types of music. They should know that certain types of music were born out of struggle. If students hear music and can read about the challenges the artist faced, they will have a better appreciation of what it takes to build a career.
JC: Students loved your program on When Grandmama Sings where you introduced female blues and jazz singers. Why is it important that they actually hear the music from that era?
MM: Students are familiar with music of today: rap, hip hop, and pop songs. It isn’t every day that they hear a different type of music. By introducing them to blues and jazz singers, I hope the music will speak to something inside of them. They will see that stories can be told through music.
JC: When Grandmama Sings is a recipient of the Living The Dream Award. What does this honor mean to you?
MM: It is extra special because students voted on the books. I am honored that When Grandmama Sings touches the hearts and minds of students.
JC: What does African-American Music Appreciation Month mean to you?
MM: It means that adults and children can learn about the rich heritage of African American music. African-Americans played an integral role in all types of music: blues, jazz, soul, rock & roll, musical theater, opera, classical, and choral music. This month is a great time to learn about their contributions.
JC: Any final thoughts about music?
MM: There is strength in music. The songs of the Civil Rights Movement provided strength and hope during the entire struggle for equal rights. There is joy in music. A song has the ability to lift people to a higher realm. That’s joy! There is power in music. Music has the power to change moods. Music, in all of its styles, is part of our lives. It is like the different color strands in fabric that when woven together creates a beautiful garment.
JC: Thanks so much for talking to us. If people want to learn more about your books, where can they reach you?
Book information, as well as contact information, is there.
Recently I visited Schertz Elementary School near San Antonio to talk about Uncle Jed’s Barbershop. My main goal when visiting with students is to inspire them to dream big dreams for their lives. Students were excited to share their dreams. My heart is filled with joy because Uncle Jed’s story is just as relevant today as it was when it was first published.
Uncle Jed’s Barbershop tells the story of Uncle Jed who goes house to house cutting hair in the 1920’s and 1930’s. His dream is to open his own barbershop. However he meets with setback after setback. But he doesn’t give up on his dream. He finally opens his barbershop when he is 79 years old.
When I ask students to share their dreams of what they want to be when they grow up, I find that students fall into three categories: those who are eager to share, those who are shy and don’t want to voice their dreams, and those who have no dreams at all.
I try to draw out the shy, reticent ones to let them know that their dreams matter. And even if their friends laugh at them, it doesn’t matter. You see, my friends laughed at me too when I said I wanted to get my books published. But I didn’t listen to them and set about pursuing my dream.
When I encounter students who have no dreams I try to get them to think about what they like to do. As they think about the things they like soon the light comes on and there is a secret dream that they have but they don’t think they can accomplish it.
So I tell them my story, complete with the heartaches that made me want to quit and the successes that came because I didn’t give up on my dream.
Then we discuss Uncle Jed’s Barbershop and the setbacks Uncle Jed encountered on the way to achieving his dream.
By the end of the visit students realize that they can dream of accomplishing a goal. And they can achieve it, regardless of the challenges they encounter.
I know because of the many letters I receive from students. I also hear stories from people who met me at their schools years ago and are pursuing their dreams because of my encouragement.
I am overjoyed that a new generation of students is now hearing the Uncle Jed’s Barbershop story in a variety of ways: literature textbooks, required reading lists, social studies textbooks, financial planning lessons, entrepreneurship lessons, studying about relationships with older people, philanthropy education, lessons on the Great Depression, etc.
Because of the many lessons that have been developed from Uncle Jed’s Barbershop I am getting invitations to schools to tell students the story behind the story. If you would ask a student what they remember most about my visit, they will tell you that I encourage them to dream and to believe those dreams can come true, whether they are saving to buy a video game, or planning to go to college, or dreaming of becoming a scientist.
Students in other countries are also reading Uncle Jed’s Barbershop. The book has been translated into many languages. Students in China, South Korea, Israel, Japan, and other countries are hearing about Uncle Jed and his dream. I recently received an email from a father in Israel who told me how much the book impacted him and his daughter and the discussion that ensued because of it. Regardless of where they live, students are learning to dream big dreams for their lives. And in the process, they are learning something about the history of the American South.
The team of David Wohl, Kenneth Grimes, and Susan Einhorn has adapted Uncle Jed’s Barbershop into an award-winning musical featuring Broadway veterans. Students and their families can now see the story come to life on the stage when it comes to their cities.
I had a wonderful visit with teens in Memphis this week. We discussed having a special place to go when life turns upside down.
In my YA novel The People In The Park, Lauren seeks refuge in the park. This is how she describes her special place.
River Landing. A small but beautiful, scenic park with huge sprawling trees that stood guard over the playground and gazebo and lined the winding walking path was tucked into a natural preserve off downtown Fairfield. One side of the v-shaped three-mile walking trail meandered along the Missouri River. The other side bordered the railroad tracks.
The special places Memphis teens mentioned that they go to think about their lives were also in nature. Parks, hiking trails, lakes – Each had the ability to calm and provide serenity.
Stephanie says, “I like to draw. So any place I can sit and draw is a place I can get lost in and take me away from my troubles. My favorite place is a flower garden.”
Arie’s grandparents have a farm close to Memphis. She says, “I can go there and escape from life. The wide open spaces make me realize that there is more to life than petty problems.”
Caryn says, “I like to go to the lake. Any lake. And just sit and stare out at the water. When I leave I feel refreshed.” She adds, “I could identify with Lauren because her special park has a river. There is something about water that soothes your soul.”
When life gets hard nature beckons Memphis teens. It is a place to be alone with their thoughts. A place to renew & refresh.
Teens in Fayetteville, a south suburb of Atlanta, are reading The People In The Park and talking allowances. Their reaction to Lauren’s father being arrested, his bank accounts being frozen, placing his daughter on a $100 a week spending budget, and taking away her credit cards is sparking lively conversation.
Most teens in Fayetteville do not receive an allowance. They got one when they were younger and just learning about money. As they grew into their pre-teen years there wasn’t a need for allowances because their needs varied from week to week.
By the time they reached their teens it was understood that their needs would be met.
Teens thought that Lauren was being unreasonable and complaining about having to get by on $100 a week. “Lauren needs to learn that family is more important than money,” says Christina.
Dani says she could spread $100 over 3 weeks if she had to cut back. She goes on to say, “It was great Lauren’s father got in trouble because Lauren needed to learn how to exhibit discipline in how she spends money.”
Leslie considers herself a really smart shopper. She actually makes her own clothes. Therefore Leslie says, “I wouldn’t spend $100 a week. I would keep it in my bank account because I wouldn’t know how long it would be before things returned to normal.” Leslie thinks if she had to cut back she could get by on $10 a week. “If someone needs $100 a week to get by, they are really using it on stuff they don’t need.”