Category Archives: National & Global News

Multi-Genre Violinist Finally Free To Explore His Talent Full-Time 

T-Ray The Violinist will soon debut his latest work, “Visionary.” (Devonte Williford) 

Juggling a full-time job as a music teacher while going back to school and performing open-mic nights became too much for T-Ray The Violinist. Faced with the tough decision of keeping his 9-5 job or becoming a full-time musician, the talented violinist took a leap of faith. For the last seven years he’s been living out his dream.

Louisiana native T-Ray watched his career emerge from playing at private weddings and parties, to performing for the New Orleans Saints and the NBA Pelicans, as well as opening for some of music’s biggest names, including Wale, Erykah Badu, and David Banner. Riding high on the success of his previous album, “Finally Free,” T-Ray The Violinist will soon release his latest project, “Visionary,” which was four years in the making:

Zenger takes a ride on the journey of T-Ray The Violinist from pupil to teacher to musician.

Percy Crawford interviewed T-Ray The Violinist for Zenger.

Zenger: How is everything going?

T-Ray: Everything is good. I actually just got back from a show in Pittsburgh. I went to Houston [to get out of the way of] Hurricane Ida, and it’s been nonstop trying to maintain, keep life together and keep moving forward.

Zenger: Not only COVID, but then we had Hurricane Ida hit Louisiana. For a performer, those situations can be detrimental. How have you handled it?

T-Ray: The pandemic impacted everyone in various ways. For me personally, I was without work for a solid three and a half to four months. I remember my last performance was Friday the 13th, and then I just got email after email saying things were canceled. Just like everyone else, I was in a state of shock. It was something we never dealt with before.

From a business perspective, just having everything taken away overnight… I had a lot of plans last year. I planned on doing “The Unexpected Sounds” tour. That was going to be on the back end of a project that I released in February called “Unexpected Sounds Volume 3.” That got canceled. I was going to release my debut EP, “Visionary,” and that got scrapped. It took some time to recalibrate.

There is always a blessing in disguise from things like this, and for me, it gave me chance to step back and look at life at large, not only as an artist. I said, when 2021 came around, I’m not letting anything stop me. This year has been really good. I have been executing even with the hurricane. September is a busy month for me. It’s a chance to see what we’re made of.

Zenger: I’m sure you have a greater appreciation for your craft.

T-Ray: Absolutely! One of the things I have been blessed in my seven years of being a full-time performer is my ability to perform in a multitude of capacities, including weddings, birthday parties and private events. I transitioned to doing shows, and started getting calls to do festivals. It really did make me appreciate everything that much more because last year was supposed to be that transitional year of me becoming a full-blown recording artist with my debut EP. Instead, I had to mentally prepare myself to again doing certain types of performances. I knew it was temporary, I knew it would eventually pass. I just didn’t know when.

Zenger: Your journey started with you being a full-time music teacher, while furthering your musical education, going to school, and booking shows at night to perform. A lot of sleepless nights, and then eventually you leaped out on faith, and it worked out. Tell us about it.

T-Ray: That’s interesting you bring that up. I was a full-time teacher in St. Tammany Parish [in Covington, Louisiana]. Between the time that I graduated from UNO [University of New Orleans] and the time I got hired in St. Tammany was about seven months. I was working two or three days a week with what is now known as “Make Music Nola” in the Lower Ninth Ward [in New Orleans]. In between that, I was doing open-mic nights, weddings and things to build my brand.

Once I started teaching, it was like, OK, I have a job that is an anchor for me, financially stable, and I’m able to build. If I wanted to continue doing these extracurricular activities, I could do so. But there was always something inside of me that said I need to make a decision. I took that leap of faith and went full-fledged with being an artist. It really was just putting myself in all these different spaces.

One of the opportunities I got early on was to play in the Bayou Classic Fan Fest November 2013 [in New Orleans]. I was still teaching at that time. People were still hanging on to CDs, so I remember sitting down in my apartment, me and my best friend, and we burned 200 or 300 copies of “Unexpected Sounds Volume 1.” We just gave them out. It was covers of, Jill Scott-“A Long Walk,” Jay-Z-“Tom Ford” and Jhene Aiko-“From Time.” It was songs that were hot at the time, and I figured while I had the platform of the Bayou Classic, I should give these CDs out for free. It spread like wildfire, and I started getting more and more calls. It was a get-it-out-the-mud situation as far as building a brand outside of education.

A nudge from the son of a famed New Orleans violinist got T-Ray re-energized about playing the instrument. (Courtesy of T-Ray The Violinist) 

Zenger: What made the violin your instrument of choice?

T-Ray: I grew up in Baton Rouge, and when I was in elementary school, they had what was called the Pullout Program that had a visual arts teacher and a music teacher. In my case it happened to be music. They would come to our school on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and pull us out of class, bring us to the auditorium, and we would learn how to play the violin.

At first it was just an outlet to get out of class. But it transitioned in me developing a passion for playing the violin on a deeper level. However, we’re talking about the early ’90s. Being a black kid, having the perception of that instrument being a feminine instrument, drove a lot of my peers away from doing it. The cool kids were playing, and then once they realized it was going to be a lot harder and take a lot of dedication, they didn’t want to play anymore. I happened to be one of the kids that stayed in class and the repercussions from that was, I got picked on. It drove me away from it after sixth grade.

When I got into high school, my best friend was Shaun Ward, and his dad is a well-known contemporary violinist, Michael Ward. He had just finished his CD “Continuum.” Shaun brought his CD to school, and that’s when I got back into orchestra. That was my sophomore year. Listening to this project, it was contemporary R&B. That sparked my interest, and from there I enrolled in strings again, and I found out about NOCCO (New Orleans Center for Creative Arts).

I auditioned at the center, and I was able to do the weekend and summer program my junior and senior years. I was in the jazz department. It was a different type of atmosphere, but it was inspiring and motivating. I thought I was going to be a bass player, but the violin just happened to be the instrument that I had the initial experience with, and it was also one that yielded a lot of opportunities for me.

Zenger: “Finally Free” can have so many different meanings to so many different people. When you named your last project that, what did it mean to you?

T-Ray: I’ve been a full-time artist for seven years. I’ve had a multitude of different experiences during those years. One of the things I’ve been blessed with is to have people along the way who saw something different in me tell me, “You got it!” On the opposite end of the spectrum, I’ve been in situations where I’ve performed and I felt like I was there and playing, but people weren’t really hearing me. At times, it made me second-guess myself.

I’m thankful for all the opportunities I have had, but one of the things I realized is, I knew I wanted to be a performing and touring artist. That takes me recording my own music, producing my own music and just putting it out there in the world to attract those type of opportunities. I felt like it was time to literally just free myself. I was sitting in the airport in Houston, and the title just came to me: “I’m finally free.”

It’s crazy because a lot of times we put these restraints and restrictions on ourselves. It’s all a mindset. I continued to battle with the mindset and mentality of “I have to be doing this. I have to do everything from A-Z.” When really, if I just concentrate on two or three things, and hone my sound, hone my skills in this particular area, the opportunities will start to manifest. I felt that “Finally Free” was that cleansing and that capstone of being able to move forward.

Zenger: On Sept. 24 we are finally getting your long-awaited project, “Visionary.” You will be cataloging the journey in documentary form as well. I am sure you are excited to finally be releasing this body of work.

Like many artists, T-Ray The Violinist used the pandemic lockdown to think deeply about his next career moves. (Devonte Williford)

T-Ray: “Visionary” has been four years in the making. It’s another stepping-stone within the journey of being a full-time artist. I had a band from 2015 to 2017 and we just went our own way. I sat down and really had to figure out what direction I was going to go in. One of the things was, “OK, I play the violin, cool, but I also produce. What is my sound production-wise?”

After figuring out what that sound was going to be, I just finally found the name for it, eclectic fusion. After I found that sound, I said, “OK, I need to record a project and I need to put it out, and make my sound and my voice heard as T-Ray The Violinist, not just T-Ray The Violinist who plays the dope covers of the hottest songs.” It was a process of recording the string quartets. I had someone come in to transcribe the string parts that you will hear on the project, aside from the lead violin. There are a couple vocal features on there, as well: Sybil Shanell, Alfred Banks and Gladney.

It’s a very eclectic-sounding project. It has hip hop elements, R&B, soul and house elements. But they all culminate and are reflective of my style, from a production standpoint, but also from a violinist standpoint. Raj Smoove, my big brother— I call him “Mr. Miyagi” — helped me break down all the tracks. When I moved to New Orleans, he was the first person that I worked with. I feel like this is a really good debut of who I am to the world — not just as T-Ray The Violinist, but as my given name, Trenton Ray Thomas.

Zenger: I can’t wait to hear it, good luck with all of your endeavors. Is there anything you want to add?

T-Ray: On Sept. 25, I will be in Biloxi, Mississippi, opening for Frankie Beverly & Maze at the Gulf Coast Soul and Comedy Fest, so it’s like the perfect storm for that weekend, no pun intended. We don’t need any more storms (laughing).

Edited by Matthew B. Hall and Judith Isacoff

The post Multi-Genre Violinist Finally Free To Explore His Talent Full-Time  appeared first on Zenger News.

Entering Third Bout Vs. Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder Energized By Muhammad Ali KO Of George Foreman

Deontay Wilder (left) twice floored lineal champion Tyson Fury in their first bout in December 2018, retaining his WBC heavyweight title via a split-decision draw. Fury twice floored and eventually dethroned Wilder in their February 2020 rematch. They clash a third time on Oct. 9. (Ester Lin/Showtime)  

Deontay “The Bronze Bomber” Wilder aims to give himself an early birthday present by regaining his WBC heavyweight crown from England’s Tyson “The Gypsy King” Fury.

Wilder is inspired for his third fight with Fury in part by Muhammad Ali, who became a two-time heavyweight champion on Oct. 30, 1974, with an upset, eighth-round knockout of previously unbeaten George Foreman.

Wilder (42-1-1, 41 KOs) gets a shot at redemption on Oct. 9 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on ESPN+/Fox joint pay- per-view against the 33-year-old Fury (30-0-1, 21 KOs), whom he battled to a draw in a December 2018 defense of his title before being dethroned in their February 2020 rematch via two-knockdown, seventh-round stoppage.

“Not only will I celebrate my 36th birthday on Oct. 22, but it’s also the same month Ali became a heavyweight champion for the second time,” said Wilder, who won the crown on Ali’s 73rd birthday on Jan. 17, 2015 with a unanimous decision over Bermane Stiverne.

“Muhammad Ali became a two-time heavyweight champion by not only defeating George Foreman, but by knocking him out, which is something almost nobody gave him a realistic shot at doing. People are saying the same thing about me after my last fight with Fury. But just like Ali, I’m going to reintroduce myself to the world as the two-time heavyweight champion.”

Fury landed in Las Vegas from England over the weekend. His trainer, Javan Sugar Hill-Steward, said the champion is holding off from meeting the media.

“Tyson is not doing any interviews. He is just waiting to fight on Oct. 9,” said Hill-Steward, nephew of the late Hall of Fame trainer, Emanuel Steward. “We are both confident and ready. Closer to the fight during fight week, I’m sure we will be talking.”

Four-time heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield watched from ringside as Wilder overcame Stiverne despite injuring his right hand in the third round. Wilder-Stiverne I was the first heavyweight title fight at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas since November 1996 and June 1997, when Holyfield recorded consecutive victories over Mike Tyson by 11th-round knockout and third-round disqualification in the infamous “bite fight.”

“To be there, and to see us [Americans] get one, that was kind of stunning,” said Holyfield, who turns 59 on Oct. 19. “As an ambassador of the sport, you wanted to see that.”

Wilder became America’s first heavyweight titleholder since Shannon Briggs in 2007, fulfilling a vow made to his daughter, Naieya, who was born on March 20, 2005 with the congenital disorder spina bifida and was told she might never walk.

Wilder entered the first fight with Fury following a three-knockdown first-round stoppage of Stiverne in November 2017 and a two-knockdown, 10th-round stoppage of previously unbeaten southpaw Luis Ortiz in March 2018.

Deontay Wilder (right) scored a 10th-round knockout over previously unbeaten Cuban southpaw Luis Ortiz in March 2018 and came from behind to win their November 2019 rematch by seventh-round knockout. (Premier Boxing Champions)

Leading up to his rematch with Fury, Wilder scored a first-round knockout of Dominic Breazeale in May 2019, and a come-from-behind, one-knockdown seventh-round stoppage of Ortiz that November.

The 6-foot-9 Fury earned the lineal title in 2015 from Wladimir Klitschko with a unanimous decision victory, escaped with a draw against Wilder despite being floored once each in the ninth and 12th, and dropped the 6-foot-7 “Bronze Bomber” in the third and fifth rounds of his victory.

“This fight will be a reversal,” said Wilder. “In the end, my hands will be raised in triumph.”

A native of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Wilder is the second-most popular sports figure in his hometown. Wilder wants to mimic the winning tradition of the University of Alabama football team, which claims 18 national titles.

Wilder has fought nine times in his home state, with four of those battles being sold-out title defenses.

Over a 20-month span, Birmingham, Alabama was home to Wilder’s championship stoppages in 2015 of Eric Molina (June) and Johann Duhaupas (September) in the ninth and 11th rounds, another in July 2016 of Chris Arreola in the eighth and in February 2017 over Gerald Washington in the fifth. Wilder fought Molina at Bartow Arena and the other three at Legacy Arena.

Deontay Wilder (left) defended his WBC heavyweight title with a fifth-round knockout of Gerald Washington at Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Alabama, in February 2017. Birmingham was home to four title defenses by Wilder over a 20-month span. The Tuscaloosa, Alabama native has fought in his home state nine times. (Premier Boxing Champions)

Wilder’s preparation under new trainer Malik Scott alternates between camps at New Era Boxing and Fitness in Northport, Alabama, and “my facility on Bomb Squad Island on my home estate,” Wilder said.

“As always, my training camp is in Alabama, and there’s no place like home,” said Wilder, whose corner will comprise Scott, career-long manager Jay Deas, Damarius Hill and Don House. “There are no distractions at all. No matter where I go, when I’m training, people respect that. I get motivation, energy and encouragement from all types of people.”

Wilder financially supports the Skyy South recreation and boxing facility, which is free for kids in Coffeeville, Alabama, said Deas.

The former champion’s presence encourages local fighters such as Junior Olympic National Champion Obed Bartee of Huntsville, Alabama, who is black, and female three-time National Golden Gloves champion Jadalie Medeiros of Dothan, Alabama, who is Latina, said Deas.

“Deontay’s inspired people across the board, whether you’re black, white, Hispanic or Asian,” said Deas. “Joe Louis, Evander Holyfield, Earnie Shavers, Frankie Randall and Tracy Harris Patterson were all Alabama-born fighters, but Deontay’s local influence is so powerful because he’s really the first fighter born locally and to accomplish everything while staying home.”

Wilder was at the White House in May 2018 when then-President Donald Trump posthumously pardoned Jack Johnson, America’s first black heavyweight champion. The pardon came nearly 100 years after Johnson was convicted of violating the Mann Act in 1913 for transporting a white woman across state lines “for immoral purposes.”

“We know the color of our skin and that racism exists from looking at what’s going on in the world,” said Scott, 40. ”Deontay understands that this fight is much bigger than him. Deontay has not just Alabama, but African [Americans] on his back.”

Johnson endured racial epithets and death threats while dominating white opponents and living an opulent lifestyle outside the ring. Johnson served nearly a year in prison from 1920-21 on the federal charge, and was 68 when he died in a car crash in North Carolina in 1946.

“Jack Johnson certainly had it a lot worse than I, but as a black athlete like Johnson, I want to inspire as a positive role model and motivator,” said Wilder. “It’s my mission to be a hero to my people. That was the mission of people like Muhammad Ali and some of our greatest black innovators and inventors.”

A 19-year-old Wilder dropped out of Shelton State Community College to support Naieya, taking one job driving a truck and another at a restaurant. He turned to boxing at a friend’s urging, winning an Olympic bronze medal in 2008.

Now 16, Naieya is the eldest of Wilder’s five girls and three boys. Wilder recently gave her a Volkswagen hardtop with a sunroof as a gift.

Wilder’s church-going minister grandmother, Evelyn Loggins, repeatedly told him as a child he was “special, anointed and ordained” before her death in 2010 at the age of 76.

“Naieya ignited my journey,” said Wilder. “But my legacy was prophesied by my grandmother.”

In October 2012, Wilder spent his 27th birthday serving as the primary sparring partner for Klitschko in advance of the then-unified heavyweight champion’s unanimous decision victory over Mariusz Wach that November.

Deontay Wilder (left) floored Bermane Stiverne three times en route to a first-round knockout to retain his WBC heavyweight title in their November 2017 rematch. Wilder dethroned Stiverne by unanimous decision on Muhammad Ali’s 73rd birthday on Jan. 15, 2015. (Premier Boxing Champions)

Wilder had been invited to Klitschko’s camp by the Ukrainian’s trainer Emanuel Steward, who named Wilder as Klitschko’s successor, calling him “The No. 1 best American prospect for winning the heavyweight title.”

“What are the chances Emanuel Steward would predict I would become the next American heavyweight champion, and that I’d do it on Ali’s birthday?” Wilder said of Steward, who was 68 when he died of cancer on Oct. 25, 2012, three days after Wilder’s birthday.

“It also happened in proximity to Martin Luther King’s birthday, which is Jan. 15. I became the world champion just like Emanuel Steward said. I am anointed like my grandmother said. These things don’t just continue to happen by coincidence as much as they’re happening in my life. I firmly believe all things happen in their appointed time.”

Even the loss to Fury?

Scott thinks so.

“It’s like God is asking Deontay, ‘Are you ready to go through an entire training camp and do it all over again?’” said Scott, a 6-foot-5 former contender Wilder stopped in 96 seconds in 2014. “Deontay’s grandmother never told him any of this was going to be easy. All of this is happening to him to see how badly he really wants it. We know we have a job to do and a mission to accomplish.”

Edited by Stan Chrapowicki and Matthew B. Hall

The post Entering Third Bout Vs. Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder Energized By Muhammad Ali KO Of George Foreman appeared first on Zenger News.

Richard ‘RichRel’ Reliford Seeks To Ease Racial Tensions With His Music And His Message

Richard “RichRel” Reliford in the recording studio. He will release his “SonShine” album on Sept. 24. (Team M1R)

Growing up in suburban Chicago, Richard “RichRel” Reliford experienced the good, bad and the ugly. However, his faith won’t allow him to focus on the negative. Instead, he uses that energy as teachable moments through his Mission1Race foundation and his music to bring people together and gain an understanding as to why to not hold on to hatred.

On Sept. 24, he will be releasing his “SonShine” album, which features songs meant to uplift spirits with music that everyone can enjoy. “RichRel” opens up to Zenger News about a trip to Africa that changed his perspective on life, the creative process behind his new album and much more.

Percy Crawford interviewed Richard Reliford for Zenger.

Zenger: How did, Mission1Race become your mission?

Reliford: I don’t push my faith on anyone. But it’s hard for me to separate the love of God and therefore the love for people that drives me. I’m a mission-driven person. It would have to go back to my youth of me being born and raised in the Chicago suburb of Bolingbrook, and experiencing the beauty of diversity and the brutality of racism. I had friends and coaches who are awesome, but also experienced physical, emotional and verbal abuse because of racism. So, that dichotomy is always there. I’ve seen it in sports, in the southwest suburbs in Chicago, in America and in my ministry.

All of a sudden, I joined World Vision [a global Christian humanitarian organization] and two things happened. First, I visited Africa, and it blew my mind because we have been misled about what Africa is. Just having freedom in the ’60s in Uganda, which is run top to bottom with Africans, it blew my mind. It kind of took some of the anger off of me and made me realize, we’ve been lied to. It didn’t make me pro black, but it made me less volatile because my history didn’t start on a ship. I can let some of that go.

I’m in South Africa now on another trip, and that’s when it really broke me. I experienced a post-apartheid [situation], and I thought to myself, this is way more intense than I thought, and this is not just domestic, this is a worldwide problem. People are believing a lie that we are of different value, and/or better or less than, when everyone should just be thankful for with who and how they were created.

I can’t tell this in any short way. I come back to the States, and I’m getting off of a stage, spreading a message because we’re World Vision. We are preaching and inviting people to partner to help extreme poverty. But what God was doing was giving me a voice and my message. It’s about hearing clearly from God. My question I would ask the audience is, “How many times have you clearly heard from God?” I would ask old and young. And the number I would get, Percy, it’s only a handful of times that we really hear from God. And God pressed this on me, what’s our responsibility when we do? Because it’s precious and rare. Shame on us if we don’t do it wholeheartedly. I get off the stage and God was like, “I’m glad you said that because I got something for you to build.”

He gave me the seed for Mission1Race in 2010. While working with a non-profit and doing other things, I started submitting the paperwork to create that organization. When God told me it was going to start with a 250-mile run from San Diego to Santa Barbara, I did what every good person in the Bible does: I started negotiating. Wait, did you say, run part of it, and then bike part of it? “No, you are going to run, from mission to mission. I am reclaiming the story of these historic missions on the coast, and you’re going to tell people that we are uniquely the same.” We are unique, so we don’t have to assimilate. Be black, be Hispanic, be white.

Let’s just say I get a chance to talk to someone who I feel is walking in bigotry and hate. One goal is to stop it and build systems to stop it, but I really want a racist not to be racist. I didn’t say I want to round them up and muffle them. I actually want to ask them, “What in your heart has lied to you that you can judge me? Or be a sexist, or homophobic, go down the list, think you’re better than a person because they served time in prison?” I’ll challenge all of that with Mission1Race. It’s challenging the value of humanity from the false degrees of separation. That’s what fuels me. I can’t separate that mission from my music. Whether you call it gospel or not, whether it sounds churchy enough or not, it depends on the song. I’m also not trying to alienate people.

Zenger: This mission to abolish inequality isn’t just about race for you.

Reliford: It’s tough, but God has built me for this. I have always kind of been an outcast. I’ve never fit in any of the boxes. I did football, but music was actually first for me. My father was a by-ear blues guitarist. I was making tracks and beats talking about a different subject matter because I didn’t grow up in the church coming up in Chicago. If I tell you some of the hooks I had then, it wouldn’t be the same album. I have been doing that all of my life.

I play the guitar on “My Always Love.” That’s my heart, that’s my passion, bringing folks together. And that’s not weakness. I know that doesn’t sound militant enough for some people, but calling someone to be one with you is actually more than just give me my rights and my respect, and leave me alone. I don’t want a new separate but equal. I want to a right-next-to-and-equal. I want in the same building and equal. I want in the same program and equal. We gotta be careful because right now it’s like we’re trying to build this separate society. No, we’ve been there. We don’t want that.

Richard “RichRel” Reliford seeks to break down barriers between the races. (Courtesy of Richard Reliford) 

Zenger: You played Division 1 football at the University of Akron. Does part of the togetherness you’re calling for stem from that?

Reliford: You just hit it: sports, and athletics. If you look up the word, community, one definition is, though we are many parts, we are in harmony and are one. No one’s asking anyone to destroy that. Community says, you don’t have to be in close proximity and all the same. Instead, you share common interest, causes and ideas, and that builds an affinity towards a person and those walls come down.  Sport does that. If a classroom is run right, it does that, and the diversity of a team does that.

I can’t tell you that the white man is the problem for everything. Do you know what the problem with that is? You would have to throw out Coach Guernsey, my youth football coach, who was one of the nicest men to me in my life, who mentored me. I would have to throw out the three people that introduced me into gospel. God was very intentional about the fact that, “That’s not your story, Richard. Be proud to be black and be who you need to be, but you love on these folks, don’t go left because it’s not real.” Anytime you take a paintbrush and say, “all of these people or all of that, or everyone from here,” it’s usually wrong.

Zenger: Absolutely! Your album, “SonShine,” seems to have something for everyone on it. I guess it follows your goal to spread diversity. Was that intentional?

Reliford: It was. My first performance ever was, ‘SonShine.’ Shout out to The Tabernacle Church in South Southaven, Mississippi, and Bishop Vincent Matthews, who is the head of all missions for The Church of God In Christ. Using a very traditional denomination like that, you would think it would not be a match. And yet this man is such a movement-minded man, I had to give him his props. He invited me to come out to this event on July 3 and 4, performing on Saturday and then saying a message on Sunday.

The song was “SonShine,” which came from brokenness. “SonShine” is because the enemy didn’t want me here. I went through some struggles in my life very recently that actually had me praying for death. I was saying, “I’m ready to go.” There is some spiritual truth when God says, “The sun is coming up tomorrow.” The lie that the enemy tells you is, “It’s always going to be like this.” No, the sun will come up tomorrow means God is still running things and there is still hope. I did a testimony in church and did the song, and God reminded me why he gave that to me.

Every song is eclectic because of Rickey Lumpkin II, a producer I work with. I want to prop him out because I’ve made a lot of music, until this phase of my life, and it’s all about the collaboration. I have a ton of songs that are unreleased. I would go to Rickey, and he would say, “I’m feeling that one, I’m not feeling that one.” That was very humbling for me. All of those songs had stories. God gave me gifts. “Good Friday” was actually written on Good Friday, while I sat outside a mall on my MacBook. “SonShine” has something for everyone because I’m all over the place and because of the diverse person I am.

Zenger: Tell us about the event you have lined up for Sept. 24, the release date of “SonShine.”

Reliford: The event will be a fundraiser concert. Here is where you will see the marriage between Mission1Race and RichRel. It’s branding, we have apparel, and my intention is, if I can pull people together, why not have a cause? I’ve done Iron Man, marathons and all that, but that was because of World Vision at the time. If you’re going to do something that’s entertainment, for me attaching it to a cause where there is so much need is a must.

Edited by Matthew B. Hall and Stan Chrapowicki

The post Richard ‘RichRel’ Reliford Seeks To Ease Racial Tensions With His Music And His Message appeared first on Zenger News.

Gary ‘G7’ Jenkins Serving A Life Sentence In The Music Industry 

Gary “G7” Jenkins plans to release his latest project, “G7 No Parole,” by the beginning of November. (Kimberly Jane)

Peeling back the layers of Gary “G7” Jenkins’ musical talent could be an endless process. Jenkins — also known as Lil G from famed R&B group Silk — is back in the studio working on his solo album, “G7 No Parole,” a title which symbolizes his devotion to making music.

His first single, “That’s My Baby”, provides authentic R&B lovers with a sense of relief by delivering offering a sound that’s seemingly absent from today’s genre. Feeling as though his supporters have waited long enough, Jenkins plans to release “G7 No Parole” before the holiday season.

With more than 30 years in the industry under his belt, Jenkins admits that life keeps him connected and inspired to continue using his gifts.

Zenger News talks with Jenkins about “G7 No Parole,” his collaboration bucket list and which Verzuz battle he enjoyed the most.

Percy Crawford interviewed Gary Jenkins for Zenger.

Zenger: What an honor: The new single is available. It provides a sound I’ve been missing. What made “That’s My Baby” the lead single?

Jenkins: Man… just the way we started putting that thing together, my dude, producer extraordinaire Mr. Jhot Scott. He was playing a track, and he wanted me to add some guitar to it, right. When the beat came on, I strapped on my guitar, I started listening to it, and I said, “This dope.”

So, I started doing my little riffs or whatever. The more I got to playing the song, the more I started grooving to it, and then lyrics started popping in my head. Soon after I got the guitar part laid, I said, “Put the microphone up. Let’s go.” I didn’t even put it down on paper. I went right off my head. I wrote the song, did all the vocal parts and it just came together. It was so fire the way it just came together.

Zenger: Sounds like when a baseball player knows he got the perfect swing, or when that basketball player leaves his hand in the air after a shot.

Jenkins: Yes! I had done some other stuff, too, but when we started that one, and it started coming together, I got a feeling, man. I said, “This is the one.”

Zenger: It’s that R&B that’s not afraid to tell a woman how you feel about them, and we miss that. Trust me.

Jenkins: That was my intent and that’s what you can expect to hear from me, because I’m taking it back to true R&B. Ninety-five percent of R&B is about who?

Zenger: The women.

Jenkins. The women. There you go. And with music today, some of it I like, some of it I love, and some of it I’m not crazy about. Our music used to uplift the women. We used to praise the woman and make her feel like she wanna give you those panties (laughing).

Zenger: I could thank you for many nights during my younger days (laughing).

Jenkins: (Laughing). It was all about that. Women appreciate you more, the more that you show them that you appreciate them. The more that you show them that you see who they are.

Gary “G7” Jenkins recently released the single, “That’s My Baby” (Courtesy of Gary Jenkins)

Zenger: When I watch you speak about music and obviously through your vocals, that passion is real. What’s the driving force behind that 30 years later?

Jenkins: Life! Not everybody is afforded this opportunity. I thank God every day for every instrument that he’s allowed me to play, for giving me this voice and for allowing me to continue to have the same voice and to keep it safe and proper. Music is my life. I’m calling my album, “G7 No Parole.” G is the seventh letter of the alphabet, I’m the seventh child, and seven is the number of completion.

And I said, “No parole,” because I’m sentenced to life in music. I’m not getting out. That’s the whole process behind my whole album, to bring real raw music back to the way it used to be back in the day. From the ’70s, to the ’90s, up to the 2000s. You know what that era was.

Zenger: Now that you are serving this life sentence, what’s the creative process to “G7 No Parole”?

Jenkins: You can expect instruments, collaborations, my writing abilities, my production abilities, along with Jhot, other fire producers, Wally Morris, Chip. I’m trying to do it all. I got a couple of rappers on there that I will be giving an opportunity to later on with my company and bringing them along. I have a live band that I plan on doing some things with called Salty Suga. I got some big ideas. I’m bringing that whole vibe back.

Zenger: You are a musical cheat code because not only do you have the voice, but you also play several instruments, and are an amazing writer. What makes you branch out and not do it all yourself?

Jenkins: I’m one of those who likes to spread the wealth. I believe that there is room in this industry for everybody. I believe there is power in numbers. Somebody can always do something a little different than you and give you a different feel. Some songs just hit me like that, and I have to go ahead and do it right then. Or Jhot will tell me, “You need to play that, bruh.” Sometimes I’ll call him in quick and be like, “Put your flavor in for me.”

Zenger: Are we going to have to wait on “G7 No Parole,” or is it coming soon?

Jenkins: I’ve had the people waiting long enough. That’s why I did the single release and the video on Sept. 7. Shout out to Jazsmin Lewis, who was my leading lady. And to Free Boogie, who shot the video for me. He called himself “Quarantine Tarantino.” It was a great experience. I’m probably going to do one more single after “That’s My Baby,” and then I’m planning on having the whole project ready for Nov. 1, or maybe sooner, like the end of October.

Gary “G7” Jenkins, also known as Lil G from the legendary R&B group, Silk. (Courtesy of Gary Jenkins)
Gary “G7” Jenkins, also known as Lil G from the legendary R&B group, Silk. (Courtesy of Gary Jenkins)

Zenger: Who would you like to share the studio with that you haven’t worked with yet?

Jenkins: Stevie Wonder! Yes lawd! Also H.E.R. 

Zenger: It’s crazy how many legends name H.E.R. as someone they would like to work with or whose music they love. She’s special.

Jenkins: She’s real special. You got some other ones out there; Summer Walker is good. There’s just something about H.E.R., though.

Zenger: Did you still enjoy the process of creating “G7 No Parole”?

Jenkins: Ah man, yes! Anytime I’m able to put my creative juices out there in the synergy, I’m right with it. It’s something I can’t get rid of. I can’t put it away. Sometimes it will wake me up while I’m sleeping. I did this song in Memphis, it’s called “I Am Amazing.” You can see it on my social media. There was a young lady, Tenia, and she had cerebral palsy. Her dad asked me to come over to the house and sing “Happy Birthday” to her. They had the news channel down there in Memphis. I just took to her.

I adopted her as my little niece. Her mother is a gospel singer, JustTina. Something came to my mind—  I said, “We need to do something in honor of Tenia.” I said, “I’m going to do a song.” I came home to Atlanta, and I was in the bed sleeping. At about 5 in the morning, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I woke up and the words just started flowing. I started writing them down. I went downstairs to my studio and started putting it together.

Zenger: Great story. However, I can’t let you go without bringing up these Verzuz battles.

Jenkins: (Laughing).

Zenger: You already know where I’m going with this.

Jenkins: Jodeci (laughing).

Zenger: Silk Verzuz Jodeci. Do you enjoy that?

Jenkins: That’s what I’m talking about, man. I’m digging them, dog. They are fire.

Zenger: I love the R&B Verzuz battles because it went from being a competition to a celebration. That seems to have started with the R&B side of things.

Jenkins: That’s it right there! It did become a celebration. That Isley Brothers/Earth Wind & Fire Verzuz was the beginning of that — it was amazing.

Zenger: It has been an extreme honor, the single is amazing, and I’m sure the entire project will follow suit. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Jenkins: Tell everybody to keep up with me on my social media pages. My website will be up really soon.

Edited by Matthew B. Hall and Stan Chrapowicki

The post Gary ‘G7’ Jenkins Serving A Life Sentence In The Music Industry  appeared first on Zenger News.

Togolese College Student, Burgeoning Luxury Brand Owner Finds Success Via Social Media  

Hogoe Kpessou (Courtesy of Hogoe Kpessou)

A college student from the West African nation of Togo has a side hustle that is starting to set fashion trends.

Hogoe Elimiera Ivana Kpessou’s luxury womenswear brand HK — named after herself — is “an empire of uno [one]” for now. But the entrepreneur-designer is motivated toward greater success. For her, that means a better life for her family and her country.

So far, the traffic to her website has been steadily rising, climbing to the hundred thousands, with total revenue nearing $500,000. She began only last year.

Though Togo has a long history of political turmoil and is among the world’s poorest countries, Kpessou has established a path for herself through her business success.

An HK saddlebag modeled by Richard Awumi. (Fiifi Abban) 

“I can’t ‘Kumbaya’ my way into having a better life for my extended family back home. The issue isn’t a lack of love, its resources, it’s capital.

“Contrary to popular belief, the best way to achieve that [stability] when it comes to dealing with a country like Togo is money,” said Kpessou, now a student at Florida State College in Jacksonville.

“I’m trying to build a name for myself in such a way that everyone knows who I am. So that when I am in my country, I don’t have to feel this threat — that they’re just going to make me disappear. It’s sad to say, but that’s the point of change when it comes to interacting with my country.”

Into the world of fashion

In the world of fashion, the HK brand is rising at a time when independent black brands are hitting the spotlight. Designs from Brandon Blackwood, a Jamaican and Chinese designer from Brooklyn, New York, began popping up in fashion news feeds and social media with his “ESR” bags, engraved with “End Systemic Racism.”

Blackwood flourished in 2020 when Kim Kardashian posted a photo holding one of his signature tiny bags.

Telfar bags, created by Liberian-American fashion designer Telfar Clemens, gained in popularity when the New York Times dubbed 2020 “The Year of Telfar.” Clemens appeared on “The Wendy Williams Show,” telling viewers he had been building a brand since he was 15. Now high-profile women, including Williams, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) and Oprah, are shown with his bags on social media.

With brands like Telfar and Brandon Blackwood rocketing seemingly from nowhere and grabbing the limelight, the fashion world may be primed for Kpessou’s luxury brand.

She started out with a small business that sold plants and some of her poems to make ends meet as a college student. When the pandemic hit in 2020, she decided it would be a great time to start her own brand. With zero design experience and  little business or marketing experience, she spent the past year establishing her womenswear business online and learning what it takes to produce luxury fashion.

She designs her handbags, swimsuits and accessories and sends them to manufacturers she finds through Ali Baba, a wholesale site used by many small businesses to turn their designs into products. Quality control and shipping are up to Kpessou.

Though problems arise — like the time the shipping company lost 100 of her handbags — she perseveres.

Initially, Kpessou recognized that as a young woman, she began at a disadvantage in the world of business.

“I have to do a lot of random talking to a bunch of people, not knowing what the heck I was saying, pretending I knew what I was doing, like I was some big shot company,” she said. “I was really secretive about my gender and age … just because I didn’t want people to catch on that I was younger,” she said. “Because what if they lie to me and say [the price of the product] is $20 million, and I fall for it? So my first main manufacturer didn’t know I was a woman until they saw my picture on Whatsapp.”

Now, Kpessou works with manufacturers from Peru, Italy, and Brazil for various projects. While her mastery of several languages helps her, she still has to rely on intermediaries for manufacturers in places like Italy. She practices her Spanish language skills when working with a small, family-owned manufacturer in Peru.

“I’m working with smaller manufacturers simply because I can afford to pay. I don’t want to be that person who is so caught up in money that I don’t pay people their asking price,” she said.

“I don’t like exploiting people, because I’m making that sacrifice is the reason why I do work by myself, because at the end of the day, there’s always going to be some kind of exploitation. If you’re not exploiting someone else, you’re exploiting yourself. For me, I can live more with my own hardship than screwing other people over.”

Kpessou promotes herself on Twitter, where she also finds supporters.

Hogoe Kpessou’s original design for the bee bookbag modeled by Alison Lee. (Kat Tarbet)

Many of her pieces are inspired by meaningful insects:

The bee emblems on the bag reflects attracting sweetness; the luna moth reflects rebirth; and the fireflies represent a guide. As she increases sales, she plans to use her HK logo more often.

The study of luxury brands

Brenna McCormick, graduate program director and brand and marketing strategist at Emerson College, studied the history of how luxury brands are established. She said the progress of HK, Telfar, and Brandon Blackwood are partially a product of social media.

“There is something really fascinating coming out of what is essentially the power of social media as it is revolutionizing the fashion world.”

She said fashion is about what we can see and what is accessible in terms of price and availability. When companies like Gucci destroy their own merchandise, it becomes less available by design, whereas HK works double time to meet demand.

Small businesses like HK should decide quickly what their business stands for, she said,

“You know what your values are, so you make sure that everything is in alignment. And then, when a big opportunity comes along, you’re in a space where you can say in your negotiations, this is why I built this business. This is what it stands for, and this is what needs to be also included in the contract,” said McCormick.

Another important aspect of a new brand, McCormick said, is price point. HK’s products are nowhere near the price range of older luxury brands, though they still sell at a higher price than standard fare.

“If she is positioning her brand as a luxury fashion brand, it is going to be inevitable that you want it to be more expensive because the price is another signifier to the customers about the premium quality,” McCormick said.

“However, new age brands may be a subversion of these expectations. Telfar makes it a point to make his luxury products accessible to all, battling against scalpers and characterizing his business with this quote: ‘Not for you, for everyone.’”

Respect for her name

For Hogoe Kpessou, whose first name means “firstborn,” “gift from god” and “light” in Togolese culture, it hasn’t been an easy path. Her first name attracted the attention of school bullies when she was young and new to the United States, but today her brand carries her name for a reason.

“I felt like it was a duty to myself to use my name. Everyone is willing to pronounce Gucci and these European names when it comes to luxury,” she said.  “It would be disrespectful to me to not use that name.”

Edited by Judith Isacoff and Fern Siegel

The post Togolese College Student, Burgeoning Luxury Brand Owner Finds Success Via Social Media   appeared first on Zenger News.