Books

They Raised Me Up: A Black Single Mother And The Women Who Inspired Her

 At the height of the cocaine-fueled 1980s, Carolyn Wilkins left a disastrous marriage in Seattle and, hoping to make it in the music business, moved with her four-year-old daughter to a gritty working-class town on the edge of Boston. They Raised Me Up is the story of her battle to succeed in the world of jam sessions and jazz clubs in a man's world where women were seen as either sex objects or doormats. To survive, she had to find a way to pay the bills, overcome a crippling case of stage fright, fend off a series of unsuitable men, and most important, find a reliable babysitter.

Alternating with Carolyn's story are the stories of her ancestors and mentors - five musically gifted women who struggled to realize their dreams at the turn of the twentieth century:

Philippa Schuyler, whose efforts to "pass" for white inspired Carolyn to embrace her own black identity despite her "damn near white" appearance and biracial child;

Marjory Jackson, the musician and single mother whose dark complexion and flamboyant lifestyle raised eyebrows among her contemporaries in the snobby, color- conscious world of the African American elite;

Lilly Pruett, the daughter of an illiterate sharecropper whose stunning beauty might have been her only ticket out of the "Jim Crow" South;

Ruth Lipscomb, the country girl who dreamed, against all odds, of becoming a concert pianist and realized her improbable ambition in 1941;

Alberta Sweeney, who survived a devastating personal tragedy by relying on the musical talent and spiritual stamina she had acquired growing up in a rough-and-tumble Kansas mining town.

They Raised Me Up interweaves memoir with family history to create an entertaining, informative, and engrossing read that will appeal to anyone with an interest in African American or women's history or to readers simply looking for an intriguing story about music and family.

Excerpt from They Raised Me Up: A Black Single Mother And The Women Who Inspired Her

Chapter One Carolyn and Sarah Somerville, Massachusetts, August 1986

Blam!

A heavy object thuds against my bedroom wall, startling me from a deep sleep. Heart pounding, I prop myself on one elbow and listen intently. Silence. I squint at the clock on the cardboard box beside my bed: 1:45 a.m. Stumbling into the bathroom, I press my ear against the wall. The banging has stopped. I tiptoe back into the bedroom to check on my daughter. If Sarah wakes up now there'll be no getting her back to sleep for the rest of the night. Fortunately, my four-year-old continues to sleep peacefully, sprawled in the center of the sagging double bed we share. As always, she is wearing her favorite pair of PJ's, the pink ones with the polka dots and the booties on the feet. And, as always, my daughter has her thumb in her mouth. Of course I know it's bad for her, but I just can't bring myself to make her stop. Over this past year, Sarah has watched her parents fight more often than I care to admit. If she needs to suck her thumb to cope with the stress, I am not going to stop her. I lift the covers and slide back into bed next to her.

Blam!

The thud of something falling in the next apartment rattles the only picture on my wall, a colorful Romare Bearden print of jazz musicians I'd bought three months ago to celebrate my divorce. This time, the banging is accompanied by the sound of voices - a man's yelling, a woman's high-pitched screams. I can't make out what they are saying, but clearly something ugly is taking place. A minute later I hear the sound of running footsteps, and the voices retreat, presumably to the other end of their apartment.

For the tenth time this week, I ask myself whether it was a mistake for me to leave Tacoma. And for the tenth time this week, I remind myself that if I am ever going to realize my dream of "making it" as a jazz pianist, Boston is the place to be, at least for now. Maybe one day I'll move to New York City, the Mecca of the jazz universe. But I am a black single mother with a four-year-old biracial baby and no money. At the moment living in Somerville, a working- class suburb on the outskirts of Boston, is difficult enough.

 

Damn Near White: An African American Family's Rise From Slavery to Bittersweet Success

Damn Near White is an explosive memoir that deals with race, identity and the importance of family.

Because of her light complexion and wavy hair, Carolyn spent years struggling to convince others that she was black. Her family's prominence set Carolyn's experiences even further apart from those of the average African American. Her father and uncle were well-known lawyers who had graduated from Harvard Law School. Another uncle had been a child prodigy and protoge of Albert Einstein. And her grandfather had been America's first black assistant secretary of labor.

Carolyn's parents insisted she follow the color-conscious rituals of Chicago's elite black bourgeoisie - experiences Carolyn recalls as some of the most miserable of her entire life. Only in the company of her mischievous Aunt Marjory, a woman who refused to let the conventions of "proper" black society limit her, does Carolyn feel a true connection to her family's African American heritage. When Aunt Marjory passes away, Carolyn inherits ten bulging scrapbooks filled with family history and memories. What she finds in these photo albums inspires her to discover the truth about her ancestors - a quest that will eventually involve years of research, thousands of miles of travel, and much soul-searching. Carolyn learns that her great-grandfather John Bird Wilkins was born into slavery and went on to become a teacher, inventor, newspaperman, renegade Baptist minister, and a bigamist who abandoned five children. And when she discovers that her grandfather J. Ernest Wilkins may have been forced to resign from his labor department post by members of the Eisenhower administration, Carolyn must confront the bittersweet fruits of her family's generations-long quest for status and approval.

Damn Near White is an insider's portrait of an unusual American family. Readers will be drawn into Carolyn's journey as she struggles to redefine herself in light of the long-buried secrets she uncovers. Tackling issues of class, color, and caste, Wilkins reflects on the changes of African American life in U.S. history through her dedicated search to discover her family's powerful story.

Excerpt from Damn Near White: An African American Family's Rise from Slavery to Bittersweet Success
Excerpt from Chapter One

The Black Bourgeois Blues

That girl was staring at me, I could feel it from across the room.

Tugging surreptitiously at the hem of my miniskirt, I pushed my way through the crowd and poured myself another drink from the makeshift bar. A second paper cupful of cheap Chianti did little to relieve my anxiety.

I didn't know a soul in the room.

It was September 1969, and I was attending my first-ever party as a college student. I had never lived away from home before, and hard as I was trying to hide it, I had never tasted an alcoholic drink before that night. More than anything, I wanted to be as cool as the other longhaired, blue-jeaned flower children who filled the small apartment. Jefferson Airplane's music poured from a colossal speaker propped on a milk crate in the corner. "Don't you want somebody to love? Don't you need somebody to love?" screamed Grace Slick. Yes I did. Desperately.

Clutching my drink, I took a deep breath and headed toward the kitchen. When I turned around, the girl was standing right in front of me. She was staring even harder.

"What are you?" she said, inspecting me through her granny glasses.

"Excuse me?"

"What are you? You know, what country are you from?"

"I'm American. I was born in Chicago."

Clearly unsatisfied, she twirled a lock of strawberry blonde hair between her fingers.

"You know what I mean. I mean, what ethnicity are you?"

Here we go again, I thought. A familiar knot began to tighten in my gut. I looked around for someone else to talk to, but the girl had planted herself directly in my path. There was no escape."I'm black," I replied, using the terminology of the day.

A wrinkle of irritation creased her face and twisted her thin lips into a pout. "No you're not," she said. "Your skin is nowhere near black. You're more like tan. Are you Israeli?"

"I told you, I'm black." My mother had raised me to be polite to strangers, but this was getting ridiculous. The girl's high twangy voice reverberated across the room, and a small crowd began to gather.

"I know. One of your parents must be white, then," an onlooker piped up.

"You definitely don't talk like a black person," offered another voice from the back of the room.

"Yeah. You don't even have a southern accent."

This was getting way out of hand. "I'm black. Both my parents are black. My whole family is black. Excuse me."  Abandoning all hope of ever fitting in with this crowd, I pushed past my tormentors and fled into the crisp September night.

Tips for Singers: Performing, Auditioning, and Rehearsing
Book and CD

Learn the secrets to a successful singing career. A perfect complement to books about singing technique, this essential handbook gives you the skills you need to achieve your full potential as a professional musician.

Learn to:

  • Develop stage presence and musical identity
  • Choose songs that showcase your voice
  • Understand musical notation and create lead sheets
  • Find the best key for your song Rehearse your band
  • Choose and use microphones and PA systems Overcome stage fright Ace auditions
  • Write promos and generate publicity

PRAISE FOR TIPS FOR SINGERS

"Carolyn's Tips for Singers is know-how that works right now. The teacher's teacher tells all. Thank you Carolyn for the insights. A great read." Livingston Taylor, Singer/Songwriter

"Take command of your career! Tips for Singers gets to the core of essential skills beyond vocal technique, underscoring all facets of a professional singing career in a clearly written, all-encompassing format. Arm yourself with the tools to gain confidence and competence, and garner the respect of your fellow musicians. An invaluable complement to vocal study." ”Leanne Summers, performer and vocal coach (preparing singers for appearances on American Idol, Star Search, The Tonight Show, and more)

"Professor Wilkins' excellent account is a must for all singers - professionals and amateurs alike. These are the necessary steps for improving your performance. Whatever your musical style, it will give you and your band immediate benefit." Jetro da Silva, Keyboardist/Producer/Music Director/Arranger (Whitney Houston, Gladys Knight, Patti Labelle, Patti Austin, and many others).

"Tips for Singers is a great resource for singers of any style. Carolyn Wilkins takes the singer through developing musicianship skills, rehearsal guidelines, and auditions preparation in a way that is right on point and easy to understand. It's a wonderful reference book for singers to have." Jan Shapiro, Singer and Chair of Vocal Performance at Berklee College of Music

Melody For Murder
Book

On the South Side of Chicago, one sour note can lead to murder.

When recently-widowed college choir director Bertie Bigelow reluctantly accepts a New Year's date with Judge Theophilous Green, she never imagines the esteemed civil rights pioneer and inveterate snob will be found shot to death the next morning. She's even more surprised when her talented but troubled student LaShawn Thomas is arrested for the crime.
      But Bertie suspects that someone in her tight-knit social circle is really the killer.
      Is it hot-tempered Patrice Soule, the voluptuous diva and recent winner of the Illinois Idol contest?
      Is it Charley Howard, the BBQ Hot Sauce King, a self-made millionaire with Mafia connections?
      Is it the mysterious Dr. Momolu Taylor? Newly arrived from Africa, he's invented a hot new sex drug that's got some powerful politicians feeling frisky.
      Or could it be Alderman "Steady Freddy" Clark, corrupt South Side ward boss and would-be patron of the arts?
      One thing is certain: Bertie Bigelow will need to keep her wits about her to avoid becoming the killer's next victim.

Melody For Murder Chapter One

Chapter One Friday, December 21, 2012

Bertie Bigelow had not had a decent night’s sleep in over a week. Since the incident last Saturday, she’d tossed and turned until the wee hours every night, her mind a tumult of doubt and recrimination. As the founder and director of the Metro Community College Choir, Bertie was an old hand at coping with dramatic situations. Tantrums, turmoil, and tears were par for the course in the hours before an important performance. But this year’s Christmas concert had been different. Never before had a student taken such flagrant advantage of her trust.

For days after the concert, Bertie refused to set foot on campus. She’d graded her exams at home, steadfastly ignoring the messages piling up in her email inbox. But finally, on the last day of the semester, she had agreed to meet her best friend, Ellen Simpson, in the Starbucks across the street from school.

“In ten years of teaching, I thought I’d seen it all,” Bertie said. “I’ve had gangbangers, thugs, and hustlers in my choir. But none of them has ever pulled a stunt like this—ever.” She stirred her latte and stared glumly out the window at the students picking their way through the snow and slush on Halsted Street. “I’m lucky I didn’t get fired.”

Short and soft-spoken, with a full bosom and generous hips, Bertie Bigelow was just shy of forty. With her thin lips and aquiline nose, she liked to think she looked a lot like Lena Horne, if perhaps a bit heavier. As usual, she was impeccably turned out in an elegant, black power suit, her reddish-brown hair straightened to within an inch of its life and cut so that it framed her tan face in perfect symmetry.

“Have you even looked at the video?” Ellen said, reaching across the table to pat her best friend on the arm. “You know how critical you are. I’ll bet it wasn’t nearly as bad as you think.”

Referred to as the Dynamic Duo by their students at Metro Community College, Bertie and Ellen had been friends for nearly ten years. While Bertie was short and round, Ellen Simpson was tall and slender with ebony skin, a raspy voice, and a no-nonsense Afro. As chairman of the English department, Ellen was as well known for her sharp tongue as for the colorful African dresses she wore.

“You’re only saying that because you weren’t there,” Bertie replied, shaking her head mournfully.

“Fat chance,” Ellen said tartly. “But until this college recognizes Kwanzaa as an official school holiday, I am boycotting all college- sponsored Christmas celebrations. Whatever this horrible incident was, Professor Bigelow, you’re going to have to tell me about it yourself.”

“I’m sure it’s all over YouTube by now anyway,” Bertie said with a sigh. Located in a squat, concrete fortress at the epicenter of Chicago’s impoverished South Side, Metro Community College was the last remaining cultural outlet in this once vibrant area. More than two thousand people had turned out to hear Bertie’s choir perform, and the Metro Performance Center had buzzed with anticipation as the evening began.

“Every seat in the house was taken,” Bertie continued. “And just in case I wasn’t feeling enough pressure, Alderman Clark and Mayor Davis were sitting in the first row next to our beloved Chancellor Grant.”

Ellen, an outspoken left-wing activist, pulled a sour face at the mention of Grant’s name. “I can see that pathetic old toady kissing up to those politicians now,” she said. Bobbing her head submissively, she continued in an exaggerated Southern dialect. “Metro College is sho ’nuff workin’ wonders with dese here underprivileged masses, Mistuh Boss Man. Just lissen to muh little darkies sing.”

Bertie giggled. “Don’t start with this mess, Ellen. Let me finish telling you what happened.” After a week of self-imposed isolation, Bertie was suddenly eager to tell Ellen her version of the story.

“By all means, my dear,” Ellen laughed. “Out with it.”

As she relived the events leading up to the incident, Bertie felt her stomach tighten. How could she have failed to anticipate such a terrible disaster? As usual, she’d rehearsed the choir right up until the last moment, making sure the performance was as polished as possible. When she’d walked out on to the stage in her favorite evening gown and a pair of four-inch, Italian heels, Bertie had been absolutely certain the evening would be a success.

“Everything was going along perfectly,” she said. “The altos were in tune for once. The tenors even remembered their lyrics. Tamara Dupree sang ‘O Holy Night’ so beautifully that even Old Man Grant was wiping away the tears. And then it happened.”

“What happened? Come on, Bertie. The suspense is killing me.”

“LaShawn Thomas happened,” Bertie said. Tall and spindly, LaShawn had cornrowed hair, big ears, chocolate colored skin, and an infectious smile. The boy had been Bertie’s special project for over a year. For his first six months at Metro, LaShawn barely said a word. But after Bertie had encouraged him to join the choir, he’d blossomed into a star performer. This semester, LaShawn had even made the Dean’s List. Just before LaShawn’s number, Bertie introduced the two politicians sitting in the front row to the audience. As the crowd applauded dutifully, Mayor Davis, a stocky white man with a bulbous red nose, grinned genially and waved. Not to be outdone, Alderman Fred Clark, known to his constituents as “Steady Freddy,” stood up and blew kisses. Elegantly turned out in a silk shirt and designer suit, Alderman Clark was the epitome of the successful South Side politician—smooth and genial, as long as you stayed on his good side.

Now it was time for the grand finale, the showstopper Bertie and her choir had been rehearsing for months. Hip-hop music began to throb from the sixteen speakers lining the walls of the auditorium. On a screen at the back of the stage, the image of a black Santa waved from the driver’s seat of a Hummer H2 convertible. Illuminated in the glare of a single spotlight, LaShawn Thomas danced his way to the microphone at the center of the stage.

“Yo, Englewood, whazzup!” LaShawn shouted, pumping his fists in the air. “Before we go ahead with our final number, I wanna give a shout-out to my man, Alderman Fred Clark. Can I get a spotlight here? That’s right. Shine the light on our one and only Steady Freddy Clark—the Voice of Englewood. Did you know he’s running for reelection this spring?”

As the white circle of light focused on the Alderman, LaShawn pulled the microphone close to his lips. But instead of singing “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” he began to rap:

Here in the hood, we think Clark’s a saint

But I wanna tell y’all A saint he ain’t

Clark talks all fine Like his shit don’t stink

But the man be lyin’ Lemme tell you what I think

Steady Freddy Clark is a butt-kissing flunkie

A liar, a crook, and a pill-poppin’ junkie

A liar, a crook, and a pill-poppin’ junkie.

“I’m standing in the wings watching this and thinking to myself, this can’t be happening,’” Bertie said. “It’s like I was stuck in the middle of one of those 3-D horror movies.”

“Bertie, you’ve got to be kidding me,” Ellen said, shaking her head in disbelief. “What happened next?”

“By this point, the entire Performance Center is in an uproar,” Bertie continued grimly. “LaShawn is standing in the center of the stage, spewing profanity with a spotlight on his face and a death grip on the microphone. Every other word out of his mouth is the n-word, the f-word, or worse. The students are stamping their feet and hollering. Steady Freddy is shaking his fist and shouting. Mayor Davis looks like he’s having a heart attack, and Chancellor Grant is trying to pull himself up over the footlights and onto the stage.”

“It’s a good thing I wasn’t there, Bert. I’d have slapped that boy upside his nappy little head. What on earth was his problem? Do you think he was high or something?”

“Didn’t seem like it. When the lights finally came on, LaShawn was standing there with tears running down his face. He ran out the stage door before I could say a word. I haven’t heard from him since.”

“Bet you’ve heard from our Fearless Leader, though.”

Bertie sighed. “He left a pretty intense message on my cell phone the next day. Lucky for me, he was on his way out of town for the holidays. Otherwise, I’d be sitting in his office getting chewed out this very minute.”

“Good thing you’ve got tenure,” Ellen said. “Otherwise, he’d have fired your behind on the spot.”

The two women contemplated the gravity of the situation in silence.

“When I got my tenure, Delroy went over my contract with a fine- toothed comb.”

Nine months ago, Bertie’s husband, Delroy, a brilliant lawyer and the love of her life, had been killed by a hit-and-run driver. She knew she needed to get on with her life, but at times like these, ‘getting on’ barely seemed worth the effort.

“In that case, I wouldn’t give Grant and his minions another thought,” Ellen said. “Delroy Bigelow was the finest lawyer on the South Side of Chicago. If your husband gave it his seal of approval, I’m sure your contract is unbreakable.”

Bertie sniffed and wiped away a tear with the back of her hand. “Honestly, girl. You’re the best friend anyone could ever have.”

“So they tell me,” Ellen said with a wink. “At the risk of opening up the waterworks again, may I ask what you’re doing over the holidays?”

Bertie shrugged and stared down at the unfinished blueberry muffin on her plate.

“What about going out to a party or something? You can’t spend the rest of your life in mothballs. If Delroy were here, he’d be the first to tell you not to sit home alone brooding.”

“I know,” Bertie said with a sigh. “I’m going to my sister Della’s in Boston for Christmas, and I’ve been invited to the Octagon Gala for New Year’s Eve, but I don’t know if I’ll go.”

“The Octagon Society? Well, la-di-da.” Extending her right pinky, Ellen took a delicate, aristocratic sip from her coffee cup. “They’re way too rich for my blood. Even if I could afford to join, I’d be way too dark for those damn-near-white Negroes.”

Bertie blushed. “Girl, please. They’re not nearly as color struck as they used to be. But it really doesn’t matter. I’m probably not going anyway.”

“You need to get out and circulate,” Ellen said. “Even if it’s with those snobby-assed Octagons. Who invited you?”

“Judge Green. He left a message on my voice mail about it last night, but I haven’t gotten back to him.”

Ellen’s eyes widened in surprise. “Theophilous Green? The man’s got to be at least a hundred years old. Wears the worst toupee I’ve ever seen, and I’m not so sure his teeth are real, either.”

“He’s more like seventy, but you see my problem,” Bertie said. “The gala is strictly a couples affair—no unescorted women allowed. If I want to go to this thing, it’s probably Judge Green or no one. But like I told you, I doubt if I’m going to go.”

“Nobody is saying you shouldn’t go, Bert. The Octagons throw the most extravagant dress ball in all of black Chicago. If I’m not mistaken, the Temptations played there last year.”

“It’s going to be the Count Basie Orchestra this time,” Bertie said. “I haven’t seen them since the Count died. Everyone says they’re swinging just as hard as ever.”

“Promise me you’ll think about going,” Ellen said. Wiping her mouth with a napkin, she stood up and planted a kiss on Bertie’s cheek. “I know Judge Green is a pompous, old fuddy-duddy. And yes, he’s almost twice your age. But on the bright side, you’ll be catching up with old friends and dancing to the Count Basie Orchestra. What could possibly go wrong?”

Mojo For Murder
Book

AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER SEPTEMBER 3, 2016 FROM 

www.Pen-L.com/MojoForMurder.html

 

Mojo For Murder: A Bertie Bigelow Mystery  

 

Do you believe in magic?

There’s a hex on Charley Howard’s Hot Links Emporium, and Charley, a.k.a. the Hot Sauce King, is furious.  He suspects the Jamaican psychic who’s been “advising” his gullible wife Mabel is a phony, and he asks choir director Bertie Bigelow to do a little amateur sleuthing to help him prove it. 

But Bertie’s already got all the drama she can handle. 

The high-profile concert she’s doing with The Ace Of Spades, an ageing (but still sexy) rap star, has Metro College in an uproar.  Her on-again, off-again flirtation with attorney David Mackenzie has hit a dead end, and her best friend Ellen Simpson has been seduced and abandoned for the third time this year.

 When a Chicago Zoning Commissioner is rushed to the emergency room after filling up on the Soul Food Special at Charley’s restaurant, Bertie is forced to take action. She doesn’t need a crystal ball to know that there’s trouble on the horizon.

On the South Side of Chicago, a murderer lies in wait for Bertie Bigelow.  To solve this case, she's going to need all the mojo she can get.

Can Bertie get her mojo working?

 

AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER ON SEPTEMBER 2, 2016 FROM 

www.Pen-L.com/MojoForMurder.html

 

 

 

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