Category Archives: National & Global News

Remembering the Sacrifices of the ‘Golden 13’

ST AUGUSTINE, Florida — The little-known story of the ‘”Golden 13,” the U.S. Navy’s first black commissioned officers, is chronicled in two oral histories, one compiled by historian and retired naval officer Paul Stillwell; the other by Politico journalist Dan C. Goldberg. Each reveals a similar set of facts: 16 sailors of African descent were thrust into a situation not of their own making during World War II, set up to fail, and, absent that happening, placed in positions where their proven leadership skills were obscured by the racial animus of the day.

Despite having to endure indignities no white officer would tolerate—no housing, denied access to officers’ clubs, white sailors refusing to salute, no combat assignments—these men proved their mettle and ultimately set the entire American military on a course toward increased black participation across all branches seen today.

But the path from then to now reflects a journey not yet complete.

First African-American U.S. Navy Officers, 1944. “Role models for the next generation.”  (Photo courtesy U.S. Navy)

World War II: Where it all began

At the beginning of World War II, black sailors served as cooks, waiters and valets for white officers and were not even allowed to enlist in the Navy’s general service. It was not until the spring of 1942, under pressure from First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and black civil rights leaders, that President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order banning discrimination in the federal government, thus allowing blacks to pursue jobs like gunner’s mates, quartermasters or signalmen. Shortly after, the idea of a black officers’ training program was born.

“In 1943, Adlai Stevenson, a special assistant to Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox and later two-time Democratic presidential nominee, sent a memo to Knox recommending the commission of a dozen or so black officers to respond to the political pressure,” said Stillwell, author and editor of “The Golden Thirteen: Recollections of the First Black Naval Officers.” 

Thus, in January 1944, 16 black sailors began their officer training course at Camp Robert Smalls, Recruit Training Center Great Lakes (now known as the Naval Station Great Lakes) in Illinois. Although there is scant official documentation outlining the selection process, Stillwell surmises that the men’s proven proficiency as enlisted leaders, their willingness to accept discipline and follow orders, athleticism, and a range of educational achievements matching those of white officer candidates were possible factors in their selection.

Set up to fail

Even though Great Lakes was one of the Navy’s elite training facilities, the trainees were segregated from both white officer candidates and other black enlisted men. With its 16 cots, 16-foot lockers, and table set for 16, Barracks 202 was both home and classroom for the men. In this claustrophobic environment, they crammed a normal 16-week officer training program into eight, studying seamanship, naval regulations and law, gunnery and aircraft recognition.

Retired four-star general and ex-Secretary of State Colin Powell, who himself is black, wrote in the foreword to Stillwell’s book that “history has dealt them a stern obligation” to succeed and “help open the blind moral eye that America had turned on the question of race.”

“They decided that, rather than compete, they would pool their resources so all could succeed,” Stillwell said.

The white instructors were indifferent to the black officer candidates’ plight and worked hard to make sure they washed out of the program. And, the officer who designed their coursework, Lt. Paul Richmond, was particularly hard on them, according to the recollections collected by Stillwell.

“The white officers thought it was their mission to fail the candidates,” said Stillwell. “But Richmond told me he just wanted to make the course as rigorous as possible. He was aimed at creating a better seagoing naval service. To some, he operated in good faith, others found him to be condescending.”

Nevertheless, with the odds stacked against them, the men remained laser-focused on their collective success. Each night, after the 10:30 p.m. lights-out call, they would cover the barrack’s windows with bedsheets to shield the lights, huddle in the “head” (bathroom in Navy parlance) and study by flashlight.

In the end, their strategy of group success resulted in high test scores for all 16. When the Navy challenged the validity of the scores, the men were forced to retake the exam, scoring higher the second time and earning an average score of 3.89 out of 4.0.

In March 1944, despite all 16 members passing the course, only 12 were commissioned as ensigns: John W. Reagan, Jesse W. Arbor, Dalton L. Baugh, Frank Sublett, Graham E. Martin, Phillip G. Barnes, Reginald E. Goodwin, James E. Hair, Samuel E. Barnes, George C. Cooper, William S. White and Dennis D. Nelson. Charles B. Lear was appointed the rank of warrant officer.

Three candidates—Lewis Williams, J.B. Pinkney and A. Alves—were not commissioned and returned to the fleet. No official reasons were ever made clear for their rejection, but some speculate that the group’s success rate could not exceed that of their counterparts.

African-American Naval officers reunion. (Photo courtesy U.S. Navy)

The aftermath

After an arduous two months, and to little or no fanfare, the U.S. Navy Officer Corps expanded by 12 commissioned ensigns and a warrant officer—all black.

Still, there was no way these highly qualified, highly motivated new officers would ever see combat.

“The Navy would not have black men commanding white men in battle,” Goldberg wrote in his companion piece for Politico, “The Golden 13: How Black Men Won the Right to Wear Navy Gold.” “Instead, the first black officers were given make-work jobs—running drills, giving lectures on venereal disease and patrolling the waters off the California coast in a converted yacht. They were ignored and disrespected at every turn. Still, they knew that they must keep their heads held high. They had a responsibility to be the first, not the last.”

They were not. Two months later, a new group of 10 more black officers was commissioned. They, too, were given assignments that segregated them from the rest of the fleet—training black recruits, manning harbor tugs and the like.

All but one of the original officers left the Navy, choosing to pursue opportunities in the civilian world. Nelson remained in the Navy, retiring at the rank of lieutenant commander. His 1948 master’s thesis, “The Integration of the Negro into the U.S. Navy,” argued that racial stereotypes were fictional and should be displaced by equal treatment and good leadership, and was published as a book in 1951.

Role models for the next generation

After the intense shared experience of the Great Lakes base, the men known as “those black naval officers” went their separate ways.

“[The Navy] had reluctantly made officers of the men,” Stillwell writes in his book, “but it wasn’t going to accord them any special treatment. For many years, they had no group identity.”

That changed in 1977 when Nelson tracked down the surviving members of that first class of officer candidates and hosted a reunion in Monterey, California. It was there that Capt. Edward Sechrest from the Navy Recruiting Command coined the term the “Golden 13.”

By the time of the reunion and nearly 35 years removed from the pressure-cooker environment of their officer training, the “Golden 13” were then able to operate in a more “racially aware” Navy, forging friendships amongst themselves, gaining official acknowledgment of their accomplishments from the service, and becoming a potent recruiting tool.

“In the spring of 1994, a federal agency held a forum where Paul Stillwell and several of the surviving Golden 13 members spoke,” said retired Adm. Michelle J. Howard, also former vice chief of naval operations. “To a person, they were humble and sincere and were all surprised to meet a surface warfare officer who was a woman of color. They rightfully saw me as their legacy, and I found them inspiring.”

Building a new normal

Howard’s ascension to the second-highest ranking officer in the Navy, and the highest-ranking African American and woman in the military, glosses over a larger systemic issue. While 43 percent of the 1.3 million men and women on active duty in the military are people of color, its leaders are largely white males. Only two senior commanders—those with four-star rank—are black: Gen. Michael X. Garrett, who leads the Army’s Forces Command, and Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., commander of the Pacific Air Forces, according to a May 2020 New York Times article.

To address this problem, the Defense Department and each of the service branches are instituting new programs to bring more underrepresented demographics into the commissioned officer corps.

“There’s always enough minority talent in the pipelines to make GOs [general officers],” said Col. Timothy Holman, the Army’s chief diversity officer. “We don’t have a minority talent problem, we have a process problem. We need to change how people are selected. But we want to move beyond the conventional visual representation [of more blacks in the officer corps], and focus on the optimization of talent.”

The Army, added Holman, is taking a multi-tiered approach that includes mentoring programs and fostering better relationships with historically black colleges and universities to include increased research grant opportunities.

(Edited by Ganesh Lakshman and Matthew B. Hall)

The post Remembering the Sacrifices of the ‘Golden 13’ appeared first on Zenger News.

After Surviving Horrific Car Crash, Errol Spence Jr. Ready to Prove He’s the Best

Arguably one of our generation’s best fighters, undefeated (26-0) welterweight boxing champion Errol Spence Jr. was riding high after defeating Shawn Porter in 2019.

He couldn’t have known he was on a path that nearly ended his life. Just a month later, photos surfaced of Spence’s demolished vehicle. One look at the condition of Spence’s Ferrari and many critics wondered if he would ever be able to fight at the same level again.

As speculation about Spence’s health circulated, more graphic footage hit the Internet revealing just what one of boxing’s pound-for-pound best had endured. Somehow he walked away with no broken bones. He came back with something to prove.

Many thought Spence’s career was over. It hasn’t been an easy road, but a little more than a year later, Spence is finally ready to defend his WBC and IBF welterweight titles on Dec. 5 against the dangerous Danny Garcia of Philadelphia.

Spence opens up about facing Garcia, the car accident, fighting in Dallas and much more.

Zenger: What’s up with you?

Spence Jr.: Nothing much, tired of doing interviews (laughing).

Zenger: They gave you country-ass livestock and acres! You are a full-fledge farmer now! (laughing).

Percy Crawford interviewed Errol Spence, Jr. for Zenger News (Photo courtesy of Percy Crawford)

Spence Jr.: Yeah, man. Well, I’m not a farmer, I’m a ranch hand. Farmers got all types of fruits and things like that, I just got cattle. So, I’m a ranch hand. I got horses, cows, I’m going to get some chickens in here when this fight is over with and some more horses and stuff like that. I’m a real Texas boy now.

Zenger: That’s a lot of work. Do you get a hand with it, or is it mostly you right now?

Spence Jr.: Me and my dad. I have people come and put horseshoes on and stuff like that.

Zenger: Danny Garcia got into the ring after your win over Shawn Porter, and we see fighters enter the ring all the time. Sometimes those fights come to fruition, sometimes they do not. From the outside looking in, it seems this fight was fairly easy to make. Is that accurate?

Spence Jr.: It was easy to make for the most part. Danny Garcia and myself have the same advisor, so we only had to talk to one person. I feel like it was basically simple, A to B. There was no negotiation or anything.

Zenger: Where Ángel García seems to irritate other opponents and their camps, it seems like you like the fact that he believes in his son so much to make such boastful statements when discussing Danny.

Spence Jr.: I mean, that’s what he’s there for. He’s the man’s father, so it’s only right that he does believe in him. And he’s his trainer too, so it’s only right that he believes in him. I’m not irritated by him. I’ve been seeing his dad talk crazy to other people and everything, but he’s been showing me a lot of respect. I don’t have anything bad to say about him. I just think that it’s a father that believes in his son and he knows how to pump his son up. I feel like the way he be ranting and stuff like that, it’s a way to get his son ready for the fight.

“For me, it was the anniversary, and I just wanted people to see my journey. How hard it was to get to the point where I am now? I just wanted people to see how hard it was. It wasn’t an easy comeback journey to get to where I am now.” (Ryan Hafey/Premier Boxing Champions)

Zenger: Aside from the Kell Brook fight where there seemed to be a little animosity, you always seem to share a mutual respect with your opponents. Do you have a mutual respect for Danny as a fighter and his body of work?

Spence Jr.: I think so. He is a great fighter, I’m a great fighter. I respect his skills and the opponents that he fought, he respects the opponents that I have been in there with, and I feel like, it’s going to be a great fight come December 5. So I appreciate him taking this fight. I know he appreciates me taking the fight and putting my two-belts on the line to fight him. He’s coming to my hometown; I appreciate that too. I feel like it’s going to be an electrifying fight in front of my hometown. I just want everybody to tune-in to Fox PPV or grab their tickets because it’s going to be a one-sided legendary fight for myself.

Zenger: I remember we spoke years ago when you first fought in Dallas and you were kind of hoping that it would become a thing. Now, you have the fanbase, the city behind and it is a thing. It’s gotta be a great feeling to have that thought manifest into what it is now?

Spence Jr.: Definitely man! Fighting at home, I just feel like a lot of fighters don’t get a chance to do that or can do that, but they don’t put butts in the seats. At the end of the day I feel like I’m able to do that and put on great performances when I do that. I’m not losing or anything like that. It’s basically shutout decisions. Last time I fought in Dallas, it was a unanimous decision, the time before that it was a knockout.

The other time was a knockout too. So, every time I have fought there it has been great performances. I want to continue to do that on December 5th and if this all goes well maybe I can come back sometime soon and fight again.

Welterweight world champion Errol Spence, Jr. prepares for a match against Danny Garcia on Dec. 5 in his hometown at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Ryan Hafey / Premier Boxing Champions

Zenger: It feels like you are the chosen athlete in Dallas right now and maybe even the entire state of Texas. With so much violence in Dallas of late, do you hope your fight and your story can bring a little bit of unity to the city?

Spence Jr.: Definitely! It’s been a lot of crazy stuff happening in Dallas. Hopefully, my fight will bring people together, everyone stay safe so nothing tragic happens. I want to see everybody come together. Praying for Dallas.

Zenger: How do you view Danny as an opponent and size him up from being around him?

Spence Jr.: He’s tough. He can be rugged. He’s a guy with a great chin. I feel like he is a counterpuncher with great timing. He is a guy that will punch when you punch, or he will take a punch to give a punch. That’s basically how I size him up. He’s not quick, he’s not fast, he just does everything right.

Zenger: You eventually shared the picture of you in the hospital bed after your car accident. What made you share that picture? Was it just a matter of letting people see what you overcame, your journey leading to December 5th?

Spence Jr.: For me, it was the anniversary, and I just wanted people to see my journey. How hard it was to get to the point where I am now. I just wanted people to see how hard it was. It wasn’t an easy comeback journey to get to where I am now. It was real hard. I put it out to remind people that you can persevere through anything. The power of the mind and staying focused, if you really want something if you put your mind to it, you can do anything and you can persevere through anything.

Zenger: You look to be in amazing shape, physically, how do you feel?

Spence Jr.: I feel good physically. Mentally I feel great. I’m just 100% focused. I’m just ready to put on a great performance, man.

This is something I’ve been waiting for. This is my second opportunity, not only in boxing but in life. I’m not nervous at all or anything like that. If that was anybody else, probably wouldn’t be here right now or they would probably be a vegetable. For me, it’s about staying focused and getting ready for the task at hand and that’s winning in front of my hometown.

Zenger: It didn’t even seem like an option for you to take a fight against a lesser opponent to test out your mental and physical standings after the crash. Why not?

Spence Jr.: I was going to fight him [Danny Garcia] before my accident.  For me, I felt 100%, I felt prepared and I felt like Danny Garcia is the type of guy, his record, who he is and his name, he was going to push me to get back to 100%. I couldn’t slack off because if I would’ve slacked off, there’s a chance that he could have beat me. So, I knew that I had to focus and have tunnel vision and make sure that I’m all the way back. If I do that, I will make this a great, entertaining but one-sided performance.

Zenger: Always great talking to you, good luck and I look forward to December 5.

Spence Jr.: Appreciate it!

(Edited by Daniel Kucin, Jr. and David Matthew)

The post After Surviving Horrific Car Crash, Errol Spence Jr. Ready to Prove He’s the Best appeared first on Zenger News.

Legendary Singer Donell Jones Converts Setbacks into Positive New Way of Life

R&B legend Donell Jones wants his fans to know he’s no longer in the clutches of debt, addiction, a smoking habit and other vices that affected him throughout his career. His new album “100% free!” is exactly that: 100% free. Jones will release it to his fans in a matter of days.

Jones cemented his musical legacy long ago with chart-topping hits like “Where I Wanna Be” and “U Know What’s Up.” 

But all that glitters is not gold. Jones says he dealt with crippling addictions along the way, and they led him to take a break from making music.

He built a successful career despite his demons. Now, clear of the crushing weight that hampered his personal life, the R&B icon feels he’s reborn and just getting started again. He even gave up smoking. 

Jones is open and honest about his setbacks and his triumphs, and explains how “100% Free!” is his most daring step yet. 

Jones explains how “100% Free!” is his most daring step yet. (Photo courtesy Donell Jones)

Zenger: How have you been during this Covid-19 Craziness?

Jones: You know what? Man, to be honest with you, this thing has kind of made my life a lil’ better in a sense. And let me explain to you why… I’m already an introvert, and I stay in the studio all the time. 

So, it really didn’t change my life as far as that. But what it really made me do is made me think about my life and changed a few things. I got out and started working out a lil’ bit. It made me want to get out in that sun, so in that sense, it kind of helped me a little bit because I’m always in the house.

Zenger: It definitely changed all of us in some way, shape, or form. I think it stinks that you guys aren’t able to promote and tour. Still, most of you have been using social media and the internet in a remarkable way to supplement the lack of touring and public appearances.

Jones: Yeah, man! It really opened up the social media thing for me. But not only that, man, it made me just think about life and made me realize I gotta live my life to the fullest, man.

Percy Crawford interviewed DeAndre Ware for Zenger News (Photo courtesy of Percy Crawford)

Zenger: ‘Karma (Payback),’ love the new single. I’m always amazed how artists like you are able to not only create timeless music but relative music as well. Is it just a matter of keeping your ear to the street?

Jones: Thank you! For me, it’s always been just following my heart. 

That record was an old record from, The Stylistics. I used to love that record. Me and my group used to sing that record. So, I always knew one day I was going to do something with that particular record. 

I woke up one day I was in bed with my wife, and I woke up singing the song. She asked me, ‘Damn, what song is that?’ And I told her that it was The Stylistics joint. 

So, immediately I went downstairs and started making the music, and just wrote a whole new song from it, but I kept their thing, which was, “Payback.” 

I added the ‘Karma’ thing. When songs hit me like that when I’m sleeping, that means I’m supposed to do it. And that’s exactly what happened with that particular song. It was something that I was supposed to do, and it hit me at that specific moment.

Zenger: ‘Where I Wanna Be’ has to be one of the greatest songs ever made. But I gotta tell you, your rendition of Stevie Wonder’s, ‘Knocks Me Off My Feet,’ I believe you outdid the legend on that one. I’m not just saying that either.

Jones: Wow! I don’t know about that (laughing). Let me be completely honest with you, man…and I’m a Stevie Wonder fan. When I did that particular song, I didn’t even know it was a Stevie Wonder song. 

A lady had sung it to me, a producer’s wife sang the song to me, and I sang it back to the tape. I didn’t even know it was a Stevie Wonder song. 

Had I known it was a Stevie Wonder song, I probably would have been so intimidated to do it, and it probably wouldn’t have even come out right. So, I’m glad I didn’t know, but I think that added to it a little bit.

Zenger: When I watched your ‘Unsung’ on TV One, you had a very brutally honest episode. I learned things about you that I didn’t know. Was it therapeutic for you at that moment to share so much of yourself and get things off your chest?

Jones: It was. You know why? I had watched that ‘Unsung’ show a few times with artists on there. I just felt like…I didn’t know I was going to get the opportunity to do it, but I said, ‘If I ever do this show, I’m going to let it all out because if I’m going through it, maybe my story can help somebody else.’ 

And I just wanted to be 100% real. My family asked me, ‘Do you want me to talk about this?’ I was like, ‘Man, ya’ll just keep it 100 and tell the truth. That’s what we gonna do on this one. We’re going to tell the truth. We’re not holding anything back, and we’re going to give it to them in the raw, and that’s how I approached it.

“I feel like R&B can never die.” (Photo courtesy Donell Jones)

Zenger: Do you see a void in what is deemed real R&B music? And when will we see a Donell Jones record or a case record? So we know we can expect that void to be filled.

Jones: I feel like R&B can never die. 

I feel like the lines are blurred right now between the youngsters doing their thing. They’re mixing the rap with R&B. It’s like a hybrid right now. 

But true R&B, I don’t think it will ever die. You got people like H.E.R. you got people like Ella Mai, a lot of youngsters out there doing it. I think the difference between the R&B of yesteryear and today is the fact that our subject matter was different. 

We talked about love a little bit more. Today they talk about how much money they got, how many chicks they are going to get into the bed. And our stuff was mostly based on relationships with one person.

We had a couple of swagged-out records, but for the most part, it was mostly about love, makeups and breakups, and all things that happen in relationships. 

I think that’s what makes our generation of music a little bit different. One thing about music, man, is we’re always going to be in relationships out there, but ain’t nobody talking about what they are going through. 

So, I feel like there is a street that ain’t nobody driving on, and an artist like myself can just drive on that street by myself and just have a lane to myself and an artist like me.

Zenger: Absolutely! I was bugged out when I found out ‘Where I Wanna Be’ was a real-life situation for you.

Jones: Every song I always write is based on my personal experience. 

Because I feel like, if I’m going through it, then I know other people in the world are going through it, and not only that, when I’m singing it, I can give it the type of emotion it needs because it was my life. It was a part of me. Not only am I singing about something that I have been through, but I’m still feeling the emotions of it when I’m trying to deliver it on record.

Zenger: Your upcoming album is titled ‘100% Free!’ That’s a compelling and profound title. Why is Donell Jones 100% Free now?

Jones: Well, I can say that I don’t have any contracts. I’m not signed to anybody. I paid everybody back all the money they said I owed them. 

So, I’m free. I’m in the green now as well as I used to think negatively. I used to smoke cigarettes. I used to smoke marijuana on a regular everyday basis. I used to drink. All those things, man, just fell away. 

I’m not interested in those things any longer. I’m free. I’m free from addiction. I used to be addicted to porn, man. I’m free from all of those things that were addictions for me! Negative thoughts come, but I don’t pay attention to them anymore. Anything you pay attention to is something that has a hold on you. I don’t pay attention to things that don’t mean anything to me anymore.

Zenger: Would you say too much too fast is why you fell into those traps? Or do you feel that was something within you that money and fame brought out?

Jones: I think born into this world; we all have to go through it. We all have to face something. We have to overcome something, and those were some of the things I had to overcome. 

My life situations brought me to that point. Those were the things that I was addicted to; those were the things that were in my life. My pops and my mom smoked cigarettes when I was very young. So that’s why I started smoking. 

My grandpop was an alcoholic; that’s what made me become an alcoholic and made me want to pick up drinking. All of my life situations brought me to the point where I was at…but I think we as human beings all have to overcome something. 

Whether it be an addiction to social media, addiction to pills…anything, we can be addicted to people too. I think we have to overcome those things and just understand that loving yourself is more important than anything.

“It’s a better version of me now.” (Photo courtesy Donell Jones)

Zenger: This album’s content, was it a freeing experience because you’re finally making music without those vices?

Jones: In a way, yeah! For me, it’s free because my mind is free, my heart is free, and I love myself. I found love in me. 

Many people listen to that ‘Karma’ song and think it’s all about revenge or getting somebody back. But the real truth and the whole story behind it is the second verse when it says, “I fell in love with me. I fell in love with the person I am. I love myself more than I love anybody else, more than I love anything else. I love myself more.” 

And that means I’m not going to allow anybody to treat me any kind of way because if you aren’t gonna love me like I love me, you can just go on ahead about your business. And that’s why I’m naming this album ‘100% Free,’ because I’m free from all those vices, and it’s also going to be 100% free to the fans to download for free.

Zenger: Will that be available on your website

Jones: It is. It will be on my website. I’m still going to put it on iTunes and all that, but I’m asking my fans if you want to download it for free, you can, if after you download it and you feel like you want to support me, you can. 

But I’m not asking for any money. I’m doing this out of the kindness of my heart because…you know, man, they have been waiting around for me, and I want to do it. And my next album, the one I’m going to come with after this one, I’m going to ask for the support.

Zenger: Your debut album, ‘My Heart’ came out in 1996, ‘100% Free’ will have a 2020 release date, musically, what can we expect to hear from you?

Jones: It’s a better version of me now. Back then, I was so young, man. My voice has changed. My voice is not as high as it was back then. I was like 19-years old. 

I’m 40-years old. And I smoked for 30-years. A lot of things have changed. At the end of the day, it’s still Donell. It’s just a more polished Donell because I know who I am now. The younger me…if I had known then what I know now, things would have been a lot different. I appreciate my growth and who I’ve become.

Zenger: Is there a collaboration that has escaped you in your 25 years or so in the industry you would like to fulfill?

Jones: I’m just getting started to be honest with you. One artist that I would love to work with is Mary J. Blige. I never got a chance to work with her. Hopefully, one day, we will get a chance to get it in.

Zenger: It’s an honor speaking to you, brother, continue to make good music for us, and anytime you have anything you want to get out, feel free to hit me up. Is there anything else you want to add?

Jones: I just want to tell the fans; I appreciate them for rocking with me all these years. Again, my album is called ‘100 Free’ will be on my website to download for free. Thanks again for rocking with me. And thank you, brother, for allowing me to speak with you today.

(Edited by Daniel Kucin Jr. and Annie Yanofsky)

The post Legendary Singer Donell Jones Converts Setbacks into Positive New Way of Life appeared first on Zenger News.

Nearly a Half-Century into Legendary Career, Lenny Williams Still Doing ‘Fine’

Lenny Williams launched his solo career in 1974 with “Pray for the Lion.” In April 2020, a full 46 years later, he’s still making records. His latest studio album, “Fine,” is his 18th. Few recording artists have shared Williams’ consistency and longevity.

Best known for his 1975 hit, “’Cause I Love You,” Williams has been sampled by top artists in the industry. Steve Harvey dedicated a segment in the hit comedy movie, “Kings of Comedy,” to Williams, highlighting the impact of the hit love song.

Today his delivery is as smooth and passionate as it was in the 1970s, and the accomplished R&B and soul singer has no plan to slow down.

Williams discussed the necessary adjustments he has made in order to remain relevant in the music industry his new album, “Fine,” the challenges that Covid-19 posed during the record’s release and his love of boxing.

Lenny Williams remains consistently relevant. (Photo courtesy Lenny Williams)

Percy Crawford interviewed Lenny Williams for Zenger News.

Zenger News: You are very health conscious, and because of that you don’t age one bit. How are you keeping so fit and looking so young?

Lenny Williams: You know, it’s very important to me, because I know that all the statistics and all the research says if you’re healthy you live longer. It helps your mind fight Alzheimer’s and stuff like that. So physical fitness has always been very important in my life.

Zenger: I love the new album “Fine” for many reasons. I love the diversity of the album. I love that you gave us 15 songs. It just hits all the benchmarks for a great album. Did you intentionally make this a diverse album?

Williams: In a way I was trying to create a diverse album because I was working with Levi Seacer. Most of the songs I’ve done on the album, Levi produced. He was the bass player and the guitar player for Prince and the New Power Generation Band. He had played with Sheila E. and people like that. He was able to help me with making the album have a diverse sound. I really enjoyed that.

Percy Crawford interviewed Lenny Williams for Zenger News (Photo courtesy of Percy Crawford)

Zenger: You released this album in April, at the same time the country was shutting down and Covid was being taken very seriously. Did that affect the album and plans you had for the album?

Williams: Yeah, it definitely did affect it, that Covid virus. Because in terms of promotion and things of that nature, I haven’t been able to get out on the road to support the project or things like that. So I had to be like these youngsters in terms of employing some skills of using the Internet and things of that nature. That’s kind of been new territory for me. We’re learning on the job.

Zenger: Things are definitely different in terms of ways to get your music out now, as opposed to when you first came around. You use Instagram effectively and wisely. How have you learned to navigate the Internet and use it to your benefit?

Williams: I’m just feeling my way through it. I’m using my wife to help out. She’s pretty adept at it. I have a daughter that is a computer scientist so she helps some. I also have a grandson and he’s pretty good with it. Kids just kind of grow up with it, you know. He’s 17, so he helps me. We are just finding our way through it. We’re using the services of people we know that are referred to us. We don’t get into the negative aspect of it. We don’t even respond to any negativity. We haven’t had much negativity come our way, though.

Zenger: There was a time I never thought cassette tapes would be obsolete. Obviously I never thought CDs would be obsolete. Yet here we are. What are your thoughts on music being streamed now and the streaming platforms being able to get your music out so quickly?

Williams: It’s really interesting. We have been—when you say straddling the fence, that’s kind of how we’ve been doing it. I got some CDs made because of people in my age group. They still like their CDs. And then the younger crowd, or the crowd that’s kind of in the middle, they like going to Spotify and those various outlets and download it or stream it or whatever. We’re just adapting to the times. If you don’t get with it, you just get run over. We just have to do what’s happening. Progress just moves and you have to move with it or just get left behind. We are just adapting and going with the flow.

Zenger: Do you have a favorite track on this “Fine” album?

Williams: I really like the song “Fine.” I really like the song “Southern Girl.” I really like the song “All Night” that I did with my friend “DOA,” Derek Allen. He is quite a producer. I did two songs with him. He just got through producing Kem’s new album. I’m really excited about those songs. You gotta listen to it. It’s hard to pick just one, but right now we are just concentrating on “Southern Girl.” That’s our single right now. Actually, this week it came in at #45 on the media-based charts, so we are really excited about that.

Zenger: “Southern Girl” is my favorite. I love that Southern soul sound. And “Say So” is another amazing song. But you are right, the entire album can be played with no skips.

Williams: It’s interesting to hear you say you like “Say So,” because that was our first single. We thought that we would successfully be able to have a hit with that. I think it would have been a gigantic single, but unfortunately it came out right with the Covid virus. We were moving up the charts and then they had the blackout day and certain things happened that stalled it. And radio is a difficult beast to conquer right now in this era, especially if you are an older artist. Just trying to navigate radio is a tremendous undertaking. But I’m not quitting. We are just going to keep on keeping on.

Zenger: Is there anyone you wanted to collaborate with that you have not had the opportunity to work with yet?

Williams: I definitely haven’t conquered all of my musical goals yet, so yeah, there are all sorts of people I would like to collaborate with or work with. Kanye—although him and Twister sampled me, I never worked with Kanye directly or been in the studio with him. I would definitely like to do that. Dr. Dre is somebody I would like to go in the studio with. David Foster, the great producer from Canada. I’d really love to go in the studio with him. There are just so many people. I wouldn’t mind doing a collaboration with Beyoncé. I think that would be nice. There’s all kinds of things I would like to do musically.

Zenger: “’Cause I Love You” has 56 million views on YouTube on a single search. To make a song released in 1975, and to still have it viewed so much and revered so much, that has to be an amazing feeling of timelessness.

Williams: Most definitely! It’s just amazing to sit here and think, I could just sit in my little music room back in the day, me and my friend, Michael Bennett. To sit at the piano and write that song. We actually did it twice. We did it on my first album after I left, Tower of Power. We did it on the Motown album, and it didn’t have the talking in it, and it was a little more up-tempo. It wasn’t fast but it wasn’t as slow as it is now. We went on the road singing it for about a year. Then we slowed it down and put the talking in it. And then I had left Motown and went to ABC Records and we put it out and, boom! It hit and it’s just amazing. I go do shows and I see people my age and their kids, their kids’ kids and their great-great grandkids and all of them know the words. It’s just mind-boggling and it’s humbling for sure.

Lenny Williams, right, is pictured with former professional boxer Zab Judah, left. (Photo courtesy of Lenny Williams)

Zenger: To capture that many generations is amazing. Also, with attention spans being so short now, for a seven-minute song to still be relevant is impressive.

Williams: It actually was longer than that. Frank Wilson my producer said, “We gotta leave some of this out,” (laughing). So, that’s kind of interesting. Everybody talks about the passion that’s in that song. And they say, “That girl must have really hurt you,” and I say, “Well, part of it is autobiographical and part of it is just seeing and listening and talking to friends when they have difficulties in a relationship.” And then another thing that happened is, the day I recorded it Andraé Crouch and Sandra Crouch, his twin sister, came to the studio. And I’m singing this song and here is the greatest gospel singers of that era just looking down my throat as I’m singing, so you know I had to dig deep. I had to try and impress Andraé. Get him to waive his hand, say hallelujah or something. So, that contributed to a lot of that passion in that song.

Zenger: I was always a huge Lenny Williams fan. Then I’m watching your TV One’s “Unsung” and discover you are a huge boxing fan, and that put you over the top for me. What made you gravitate to the sport and become a fan?

Williams: Yeah! I love boxing. When we came from Arkansas to California we moved to Oakland. We lived right in the back of the church. Right across the street from the church was the boxing gym, and right down the street from the church was the radio station. So my three loves, the church, boxing and radio, were all right there. As a kid I can just leave home and walk to each one of them. It was real interesting. When I was a teenager, I was in Boys’ Camp. At the gym one day this guy was up in the ring, and he’s just standing there. Everybody was in the gym, but nobody would get in the ring to box him. And I had never boxed before, but I had seen it. I been around it, watching the fights with my dad, and going over to the gym and watching it. I had grown up around it. I was like, “I could outbox him.” I don’t know what made me say that. I got in there and I was slipping punches. It was like it was a natural thing. And I beat the guy. Everybody was like, “Ah, you can box?” I had never been in a ring before. I just used to watch it for hours and hours. I guess by watching it I just absorbed it. I just became a big boxing fan and would go to the gym all the time, hit the bag and jump rope, and try to watch all the fights. As a matter of fact, I was working in San Francisco with a youth group and talking to the principal we noticed that most of the boys at lunch time would go to the park and smoke weed. So, we instituted a boxing program at the school. We would have the kids come down and teach them techniques and stuff. Devin Haney was actually one of the kids who we influenced back in the day.

Zenger: That’s awesome. Do you have a favorite fighter, past or present?

Williams: Floyd Mayweather without a doubt is my favorite current fighter, or fighter from this generation. I would say one of the greatest fighters of all time that I grew up watching is Sugar Ray Robinson. I got to be pretty good friends with Muhammad Ali. I met a lot of fighters. I actually got the chance to shake the hand of around 10 to 12 heavyweight champions. But right now I think Floyd Mayweather. A lot of people get surprised when I say that, but it’s called prizefighting and he’s won the biggest prizes. You definitely have to say that Floyd is the king of the hill for sure.

Zenger: I remember a picture surfaced with you and Sam Watson, and I wanted to reach out to Sam to get an interview with you. I’m glad I was able to find you and get it. This has been an honor.

Williams: Sam is my good, good friend. Al Haymon also. I used to work for Al back when he was doing music shows, back in the day. We were promoting music shows back in the ’70s and ’80s before he got into boxing. I love boxing. It’s my favorite sport. I try to sit around here and throw left hooks and jab a little bit. I got a heavy bag out there and a speed bag and I try to work on it every day.

(Edited by David Matthew and __________________.)

The post Nearly a Half-Century into Legendary Career, Lenny Williams Still Doing ‘Fine’ appeared first on Zenger News.

From Pigskin to Podcaster: Brandon Marshall Keeps it Real on ‘I AM ATHLETE’

Brandon Marshall ate defensive backs for lunch during his 13-year NFL career. The 6’5″ former All-Pro receiver conquered entire defenses. Now he aims to conquer the podcast and fitness lanes.

Growing by leaps and bounds, I AM ATHLETE is in its second season. Other former NFL standouts—Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson, Channing Crowder and Fred Taylor— join Marshall for every episode. The set stays lit and the topics jump from sports and politics to relationships, money, mental health and beyond.

Like-minded but contrasting personalities set the crew apart from any other podcast. It’s off-the-cuff and in-your-face with absolutely no holding back.

Marshall’s other passion is his House of Athlete empire, which focuses on athletes’ mental and physical fitness, diet, nutrition and lifestyle habits.

Brandon Marshall, #15 of the New York Giants (at right), links arms during the national anthem before the game against the Philadelphia Eagles on September 24, 2017 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. (Elsa/Getty Images)

Like and subscribe to the I AM ATHLETE Podcast channel and be on the lookout for new episodes every Monday.

Percy Crawford interviewed Brandon Marshall for Zenger News.

Zenger: B Marsh! What’s good, brother?

Brandon Marshall: I’m great. How are you?

Zenger: I’m great, bro’. I’m talking to you, so I’m even better.

Marshall: Awesome. Awesome. I enjoyed my time when I was down there [New Orleans]. Y’all know how to take care of people down there.

Zenger: We were pulling for you to get on the field and for it to pan out. I hate it didn’t.

Marshall: Yeah man. So much love down there, bro’. Go into Walgreens or into a gas station and people were like, ‘When they gonna let you play?’

Zenger: I actually approached you and shook your hand in Vegas for Mayweather-Pacquiao. You were cool as hell.

Percy Crawford interviewed Brandon Marshall for Zenger News (Photo courtesy of Percy Crawford)

Marshall: Okay, well you got me at a good time [laughing]. I’m just playing.

Zenger: I am an avid watcher of the I AM ATHLETE podcast. You guys are doing an amazing job, and Chef Nancie be doing her thing in that kitchen. You are into Season 2 now. Did you even expect this level of growth so fast?

Marshall: Yes, I did. But I didn’t know how hard it would be. I’m just one of those guys who tries to figure it out and find the answer. My thing is, if there is someone else that has done it before, why can’t I? Or why can’t we do it? That’s always been my mentality. Now, this is my first time doing this, obviously, so I didn’t know how popular it would be and how impactful I AM ATHLETE would be for our followers and viewers. That’s the most impressive thing, and shocking thing is people love tuning in. They participate in what we’re doing and give us amazing feedback. I think that’s the coolest thing so far with building I AM ATHLETE and having this opportunity to be a part of it.

Zenger: It feels like the timing for this type of podcast, one that is culturally appropriate and culturally responsible, I think the timing and topics have been perfect.

Marshall: I wanted it to be authentic and real. I wanted to pull back the curtain on the locker room. I just feel like people want authentic and organic conversations. When you think about the conversations that we’re used to, it’s too buttoned up, it’s too traditional. Everyone is wearing suits and ties and talking about X’s and O’s. I don’t think people want to hear that stuff anymore. People want to hear the stories; people want to see the characters behind the stories. I think being authentic and real was the main thing we were aiming for.

Brandon Marshall (Photo courtesy I AM ATHLETE)

Zenger: You couldn’t have found three better personalities to match yours than Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson, Fred Taylor and crazy-ass Channing Crowder. What makes this group so special when behind that camera?

Marshall: I think you need guys that are going to be real. A lot of times when we tune into these major networks, people are really buttoned up and they are performing. What we set out to do is be real and give our real opinions, and whatever happens happens [laughing], good or bad, after that. Channing, I think what makes him unique is there are not too many people willing to go there, and he does it every single show. With Fred Taylor, it is his wisdom. He may get mad at me for saying this, but he’s like grandpa, the guy sitting on the porch in the rocking chair who you can always listen to his stories and you can learn something. Ocho brings this spark to the show where you never know what he’s going to say. His lifestyle, and the way he thinks and the way he approaches things, is really unique. You don’t get too many people that are the same way all the damn time. That’s Ocho. I think for me, I just try to play my part and make sure I’m giving good sound bites and leaving people with something that they can say, “You know what, I learned something.” I try to play that role of, what are we talking about today that’s going to change someone’s life?

Zenger: I think for you, B Marsh, it showed another side of you. I think there was this perception out there that you were this angry, unapproachable guy. You watch the podcast and you’re funny, you don’t have a problem laughing at yourself. It just shows a different side of you and I think that was very important.

Marshall: Yeah! When you look at the greatest and the best on television in front of the camera, you gotta be able to lean into that. Sometimes we take ourselves too serious as athletes, entertainers and people with influence. We’re just like everyone else, and that’s the way I approach it.

Zenger: We get so much news at the palm of our hands now, and social media makes it even more accessible. How do you come up with the topics to discuss show after show?

Marshall: Alicia [Zubikowski, his producer] and I will talk. We’re always talking and communicating about what’s going on in the world, in the culture, politics and business, and sports. So we look at those areas and we try to be a part of those conversations. But at the same time, we try to create the conversations. I think that’s what makes our show really good. You’ll come on the show and sometimes we’re in the discussion. We’re talking about the trends, but then you’ll also get us starting the conversation about finances and relationships and mental health. I think that’s what really makes our show unique. Alicia does a great job of just making sure that we’re just consistent in delivering great topics.

Zenger: One of my favorite episodes was the one about finances. The Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems episode. You spoke about the show being real. I was actually shocked how open and honest you guys were about your financial gains and mishaps. Not only could that serve a purpose for young athletes, but anyone in general could have learned a lesson during that episode.

Marshall: Yeah, 100 percent! It has to be that way. So many people would get up there and talk about, this is what you should do and here are the steps you should take. I just think we learn better from hearing people’s experiences and hearing how other people approached it. Using our stories to help others is why I think people are engaging with it at this level.

Zenger: Your passion for mental health stability came to life during the episode discussing Antonio Brown’s NFL return. You were very vocal during that episode. You played the same football position as Brown and you understand how important it is for him to seek help. How important was it for you to address Brown the person just as much as Brown the player?

Marshall: It’s everything. That’s my purpose. That’s literally why I’m here, to help bridge the gap in the mental health community. Use every platform that I have, whether it was when I was playing in the National Football League, or now through I AM ATHLETE, and Showtime and FS1. That’s why I wanted to be on these platforms, was to get those opportunities to just be real and organic. If you look at it, man, mental health affects all of us some way somehow. And if it’s not us it’s a loved one, which means it comes back around and affects us. We just need to have organic conversations about it because it is a taboo topic. We need to have these conversations every single day, whether it’s in our government, in our school systems, in our homes, our relationships. We gotta talk about mental health. We gotta talk about: Where is your mental fitness level today?

Zenger: I was impressed that you were encouraging people to not only focus on the major ballots, but the local ballots as well. The things you discuss, you can tell you do your due diligence, and it’s intriguing topics to you.

Marshall: Yeah, my experience, the first time I voted—I thought I was just going to vote for the president. I had no clue that there were other races. There were bills that I was voting on. I had no clue. And during this pandemic and during this time where racial tensions are soaring, everybody is saying, “Go vote, vote, vote,” and nobody was standing up and teaching people how to vote or the mechanics of voting. I just didn’t want people to go out there and vote for the first time and not be prepared. I still have a lot to learn. And I think this is a conversation that we will continue to have, more so on educating people on the mechanics and the process of voting, how to prepare to vote. There’s so much more to learn. Yeah, looks like Joe Biden is our president, a lot of people are happy about that, a lot of people are sad about that, but the job isn’t done. We still have work to do. Like you said, that’s at the local level and that’s where our power is. And there is a lot for me to learn, and I think through my journey of learning, and sharing that on the platform I AM ATHLETE, I think we will teach a lot of other people as well.

Zenger: The voting process can be intimidating, so I thought it was pretty cool for you guys to open up about your voting experience and be vulnerable enough to say, “I just started voting a year ago,” or two years ago.

Marshall: Yeah, it is intimidating. Again, there are a lot of people that are afraid to talk about politics and afraid to say “I don’t know,” so when you see Channing Crowder, myself or Ocho say, “You know what, I’m not strong in this area,” it gives other people the room to stand up and say the same thing, and maybe ask more questions.

Zenger: I cannot let you get out of here without talking about House of Athlete. Tell us about what you’re doing with that and what inspired it.

Marshall: I’m taking my 13 years of experience—so House of Athlete, I’m taking my 13 years of experience in the National Football League and I have fused it into this fitness concept. When I walked into the New York Jets facility, all the guesswork was taken out of it for me. And I was able to come in and optimize my performance, optimize my health in every single area. Whether that was around my food, whether it was around my supplements and how I train, my mindset, my body, everything was taken care of. I think there is a huge void in our industry. People are looking for a place to go, where everything is integrated, and all the guesswork is taken out of it. We can’t have the conversation around optimizing our health, when we’re not talking about food, we’re not talking about supplementation, we’re not talking about mental fitness, we’re not talking about training. It takes all of that to unlock ourselves and optimize our full potential no matter who you are or what you’re doing. We are just saying athletes are the healthiest people on the planet. Why don’t we train like them and adopt their lifestyle? And so far the response has been amazing with our athletes, and there’s big things ahead for us.

Zenger: B Marsh, it’s been a pleasure and an honor. Keep doing your thing, brother, and continue to make us proud. Is there anything else you want to add?

Marshall: No, that’s it, man. I see why you got your job. I’m happy to learn from you how to interview people. Great job!

(Edited by David Matthew and Ganesh Lakshman.)

The post From Pigskin to Podcaster: Brandon Marshall Keeps it Real on ‘I AM ATHLETE’ appeared first on Zenger News.