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This monthly podcast looks back at the pop culture of Generation X, from an African-American perspective.

May 1, 2019

Topics: Black Hair/Jheri Curls, Luther Vandross, Ragtime (Film) - Howard Rollins Jr., Nell Carter (Tv). (Bonus Artist: Luck Pacheco)


1981 Notes

1.      Snapshots

2.      Ronald Reagan is President

3.      Jan - Ronald Reagan is sworn in as the 40th President of the United States. Minutes later, Iran releases the 52 Americans held for 444 days, ending the Iran hostage crisis.

4.      Mar - U.S. President Ronald Reagan is shot in the chest outside a Washington, D.C. hotel by John Hinckley, Jr. Two police officers and Press Secretary James Brady are also wounded.

5.      Jun - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that five homosexual men in Los Angeles, California, have a rare form of pneumonia seen only in patients with weakened immune systems (the first recognized cases of AIDS).

6.      Jul - President Ronald Reagan nominates the first woman, Sandra Day O'Connor, to the Supreme Court of the United States.

7.      Aug - MTV (Music Television) is launched on cable television in the United States.

8.      Aug - The IBM Personal Computer, commonly known as the IBM PC, is introduced.

9.      Nov - Luke and Laura marry on the U.S. soap opera General Hospital; it is the highest-rated hour in daytime television history.

10.     Dec - The first American test-tube baby, Elizabeth Jordan Carr, is born in Norfolk, Virginia.

11.     Open Comments:

12.     Popular Music Scene

13.     Top 3 Singles

14.     1 - "Bette Davis Eyes", Kim Carnes

15.     2 - "Endless Love", Diana Ross & Lionel Richie

16.     3 - "Lady", Kenny Rogers

17.     Record of the Year: "Bette Davis Eyes" performed by Kim Carnes

18.     Album of the Year: John Lennon & Yoko Ono, Double Fantasy

19.     Song of the Year: "Bette Davis Eyes" performed by Kim Carnes

20.     Best New Artist: Sheena Easton

21.     Open Comments:

22.     Popular Movies

23.     Top 3 Grossing Movies

24.     1 - Raiders of the Lost Ark

25.     2 - On Golden Pond

26.     3 - Superman II

27.     Open Comments:

28.     Popular TV

29.     Top 3 Rated Shows

30.     1 - Dallas

31.     2 - 60 Minutes

32.     3 - The Jeffersons

33.     Open Comments:

34.     Black Snapshots

35.     Feb - Funky 4 + 1 perform "That's the Joint" on NBC's Saturday Night Live. This makes them the first hip hop act to perform on national television. 

36.     Mar - Toni Morrison gave her next novel, Tar Baby (1981), a contemporary setting. In it, a looks-obsessed fashion model, Jadine, falls in love with Son, a penniless drifter who feels at ease with being black.

37.     Jun - Wayne Williams, a 23-year-old African American, is arrested and charged with the murders of two other African Americans. He is later accused of 28 others, in the Atlanta child murders.

38.     Aug - Bryant Gumbel: The candidates auditioned for Brokaw's job throughout the summer of 1981 when he was on vacation. Gumbel became a candidate for the job just by chance when he served as a last-minute substitute for Today co-anchor Jane Pauley in August 1981. 

39.     Oct - Gimme a Break! is an American sitcom that aired on NBC for six seasons from October 29, 1981 until May 12, 1987. The series starred Nell Carter as the housekeeper for a widowed police chief (Dolph Sweet) and his three daughters.

40.     Sep - Isabel Sanford - For her role on The Jeffersons as "Weezy", she won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series in 1981, making her the first African American actress to win in that category.

41.     Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female: Aretha Franklin for "Hold On I'm Comin'"

42.     Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male: James Ingram for "One Hundred Ways"

43.     Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal: Quincy Jones for The Dude

44.     Best R&B Instrumental Performance: David Sanborn for "All I Need Is You"

45.     Best Rhythm & Blues Song: "Just the Two of Us" performed by Grover Washington, Jr. & Bill Withers

46.     Open Comments:

47.     Economic Snapshot

48.     New House: 78k

49.     Avg. income: 21k

50.     New car: 8k

51.     Avg rent: 315

52.     Postage Stamp: 18c

53.     Movie ticket: 2.25

54.     Open Comments:

55.     Social Scene: The Jheri Curl

56.     Brief History of Black Hair

57.     For centuries black communities around the world have created hairstyles that are uniquely their own. These hairstyles span all the way back to the ancient world and continue to weave their way through the social, political and cultural conversations surrounding black identity today.

58.     Ancient Origins: Headdresses and wigs symbolized one’s rank and were essential to royal and wealthy Egyptians, male and female alike. 

59.     Twisted Locks: Dreadlocks have often been perceived as a hairstyle associated with 20th century Jamaican and Rastafarian culture, but according to Dr. Bert Ashe’s book, Twisted: My Dreadlock Chronicles, one of the earliest known recordings of the style has been found in the Hindu Vedic scriptures and worn about 2,500 years ago.

60.     Intricate Braids: Braids were used to signify marital status, age, religion, wealth, and rank within several West African communities.

61.     Bantu/Nubian Knots: Bantu universally translates to “people” among many African languages and is used to categorize over 400 ethnic groups in Africa. 

62.     Cornrows: Africans wore these tight braids laid along the scalp as a representation of agriculture, order and a civilized way of life. These types of braids have served many purposes, from an everyday convenience to a more elaborate adornment meant for special occasions. In the age of colonialism, slaves wore cornrows not only as an homage to where they had come from, but also a practical way to wear one’s hair during long labored hours.

63.     Madam CJ Walker and The Quest for Straight Hair: Even after Emancipation, there was a growing notion that European textured hair was “good” and African textured hair was “bad,” foreign and unprofessional. Wigs and chemical treatments became the means to achieve smoother, straighter hair. Cornrows were still popular, but this time only as the base for sew-ins and extensions, not something thought of as for public display. In the early 1900s, Annie Malone and Madam C.J. Walker started to develop products that targeted this want for straighter hair. 

64.     Dreadlocks: In the 1920s, Jamaica born Marcus Garvey began a black nationalist movement in America to spread his belief that all black people should return to their rightful homeland of Africa. Although many associate dreadlocks like Bob Marley’s with what became known as the Rastafari movement, the Ethiopian emperor, who the movement was named for, was better known for his facial hair than the hair on his head. Early Rastas were reluctant to cut their hair due to the Nazarite vow in the Bible. Tensions started to build regarding debates on whether to comb these locs. In the 1950s, a faction within the Rastafari movement, the Youth Black Faith, rebelled against any visual signs of conformity, and split into the “House of Dreadlocks” and “House of Combsomes.”

65.     Afro: With the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and ‘70s, came the rise of the natural hair movement that encouraged black communities to accept their hair and turn away from damaging products. The notion of conforming to European standards did not fit with their message of black power.

66.     Jheri Curl (Thanks Michael Jackson):  The Jheri curl provided a glossy curly style that became uniquely iconic in its time. The name comes from its inventor, Jheri Redding, a white man from an Illinois farm who turned into one of the 20th century’s leading hair chemists. In the 1970s, Jheri Redding Products created a two-step chemical process that first softened the hair, then sprang it up into curls. However, Comer Cottrell is the man responsible for taking this product to the masses. In 1970, Cottrell and two partners started mixing hair care products by hand for their new L.A. company, Pro-Line Corporation. By 1980 they were able to create a product that replicated the look of the Jheri curl for much cheaper. The Curly Kit cut out the need to book an expensive salon appointment and in 1981, Forbes magazine called it “the biggest single product ever to hit the black cosmetic market.” In their first year of business, the $8 kits took in over $10 million in sales.

67.     Audio Clips

68.     Shape-Ups and Fade: (Thanks Michael Jackson) The 1980s ushered in the birth of Hip Hop, which had a huge cultural influence on style. Black barber shops around the U.S. had perfected the fade but the ‘80s allowed them to blossom with more forms of creativity and expressionism. Afros were shaped up with the sides cut short for a hi-top fade, and cornrows were braided in with flairs of individuality. Icons like Grace Jones sported inspired looks on their album covers, and by the 1990s the fade was being beamed into television sets across the U.S., via Will Smith in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. [Source:]

69.     Open Comments:

70.     Question: What is your "back in the day" hair horror story?

71.     Music Scene

72.     Black Songs from the Top 40 

73.     #2 - "Endless Love", Diana Ross & Lionel Richie

74.     #6 - "Celebration", Kool & the Gang

75.     #7 - "Kiss on My List", Hall & Oates

76.     #13 - "Being with You", Smokey Robinson

77.     #18 - "Just the Two of Us", Grover Washington, Jr. & Bill Withers

78.     #19 - "Slow Hand", The Pointer Sisters

79.     #22 - "Sukiyaki", A Taste of Honey

80.     #39 - "Lady (You Bring Me Up)", Commodores

81.     #45 - "How 'Bout Us", Champaign

82.     Vote:

83.     Top R&B Albums

84.     Jan - Hotter Than July, Stevie Wonder

85.     Feb - The Gap Band III, The Gap Band

86.     Mar - The Two Of Us, Yarbrough & Peoples

87.     Apr - Being With You, Smokey Robinson

88.     May - A Woman Needs Love, Ray Parker Jr. & Raydio

89.     Jun - Street Songs, Rick James

90.     Oct - Breakin' Away, Jarreau

91.     Nov - The Many Facets Of Roger, Roger

92.     Nov - Never Too Much, Luther Vandross

93.     Nov - Something Special, Kool & The Gang

94.     Nov - Raise, Earth, Wind & Fire

95.     Vote:

96.     Key Artists: Luther Vandross, "The Velvet Voice"

97.     Luther Ronzoni Vandross Jr. (@ 30 yrs. old), was born and raised in NYC. He was a singer, songwriter and record producer. - "For many years, Luther Vandross was the vintage Cadillac among the banged-up jalopies in the used car lot of male pop singers. 

98.     With a sound that echoed the smooth soul stylings of the 1960s, Vandross was a fixture on the rhythm and blues charts from his solo recording debut in 1981 until his tragic stroke in 2003. Over the course of his career he released a string of platinum albums and established himself as one of the leading romantic singers of his generation. Much of his appeal came from his emotional approach to music, which he modeled after great female vocalists such as his friends Aretha Franklin and Dionne Warwick."

99.     He Came from Musical Family:  His father, an upholsterer, died when Luther was eight years old, and his mother, a nurse, supported the family (4 children) while living in lower Manhattan housing project. His first piano lessons came at the age of three and his sister was a member of a doo-wop group. By 13, Vandross was obsessed with the girl groups of the Motown label, as well as the gospel-based soul sounds being produced by the likes of Aretha Franklin and Cissy Houston. He liked to hang out in the school hallways and sing doo-wop. In 1972 (@21 yrs. old) a song written by Vandross, "Everybody Rejoice," was chosen for the Broadway musical The Wiz. Although he received substantial royalties for the composition, the money was not enough to support him completely, and Vandross continued to work at a variety of "day jobs".

100.    Entered the Music Industry through the Back Door: In 1974 (@23 yrs. old), Vandross received his first real professional break. A childhood friend landed a job backing British singer David Bowie, and he invited Vandross to accompany him to a recording session during the making of Bowie's album Young Americans. During the session, Bowie overheard Vandross mentioning some background vocal arrangement suggestions to Alomar. Bowie loved the ideas, and he immediately hired Vandross to sing and arrange backup vocals for the album. He also recorded a Vandross-penned song, "Fascination." When the album was finished, Vandross joined the Bowie tour as a backup singer. Through Bowie, Vandross made many important connections in the music industry, laying the groundwork for his own budding career. Bowie introduced Vandross was Bette Midler. She hired Vandross to sing backup vocals on her next two albums. Vandross soon became much sought after. Among the artists whose recordings his voice appeared on during the next few years were Chaka Khan, Carly Simon, Ringo Starr, the Average White Band, Barbra Streisand, and Donna Summer. He also became one of Madison Avenue's favorite voices for commercial jingles. During the late 1970s, Vandross's anonymous voice was used to sell everything from fried chicken to long-distance telephone service, not to mention as a recruiting tool for the U.S. Army.  Artistically, however, those jobs did not satisfy him, and he continued to try to break out as a solo act. He formed or joined several groups, with such names as Luther, Bionic Boogie, and Change, but none proved commercially viable. He also sang the lead vocal on Chic's song "Dance, Dance, Dance."

101.    Hit the Big Time: Part of the problem in landing a solo recording contract was Vandross's insistence on total creative control of the recording process. Another problem was the prevalence of disco, a musical form antithetical to Vandross's lyrical approach. Finally, in 1980, Vandross used his own money to rent a studio and began recording. He took the resulting handful of songs to Epic Records, and he was immediately given a contract. Epic released Vandross's first solo album, Never Too Much, in 1981. The album sold more than one million copies cracked the top ten on black pop charts, and effectively launched Vandross's career as a solo superstar.

102.    Audio Clip / Open comments:

103.    Achievements: Grammy Awards, 1979, 1990, 1991 (2), 1996, 2003 (4); NAACP Image Awards, 1990, 2003.

104.    Health and death: As Vandross's career expanded, so did his waistline. At times his weight soared to well over 300 pounds. Angered by the constant mention of his size in the press, where he was tagged with such nicknames as the "heavyweight of soul," Vandross shed 120 pounds, only to seesaw back and forth between weight extremes for the next several years. In several interviews, Vandross attributed the yo-yoing to his love life. When things were going well, he lost weight; when he was heartsick, he overcompensated with food. Sadly, in April of 2003 Vandross suffered a debilitating stroke that left him temporarily in a coma; the stroke was likely caused by a combination of his recent weight gain and his ongoing struggle with diabetes. He never fully recovered. 

105.    Vandross died on July 1, 2005, at the JFK Medical Center in Edison, New Jersey, at the age of 54 of a heart attack. [Source:]

106.    Movie Scene: Ragtime

107.    A 1981 drama, directed by Miloš Forman, based on the 1975 historical novel Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow.  Starring: Howad E Rollins Jr, Moses Gunn, Debbie Allen, and Samuel Jackson.

108.    Review: "Profound as Coalhouse's story might be, Ragtime is about far more. Set in early 1900s New York, at the beginning of America's so-called Gilded Age, the movie is about the radical and long-lasting changes, including the onset of the industrial revolution, and increased importance of civil rights and sexual equality issues. As in E.L. Doctorow's novel, the characters in Forman's film each represent those changes, with Coalhouse just one in a complex and compelling mix. [Source: Nikki Tranter - 28 Nov 2004]

109.    Roger Ebert - “Ragtime” is a loving, beautifully mounted, graceful film that creates its characters with great clarity. We understand where everyone stands, and most of the time we even know why. Forman surrounds them with some of the other characters from the Doctorow novel (including Harry Houdini, Teddy Roosevelt, and Norman Mailer as the architect Sanford White), but in the film they're just atmosphere, window dressing. Forman's decision to stick with the story of Coalhouse is vindicated, because he tells it so well. [Source:]

110.    Audio Clips

111.    Open Comments

112.    The actor Howard E. Rollins Jnr made his film debut in Milos Forman's Ragtime (1981) as Coalhouse Walker, the cool, sophisticated ragtime pianist. who becomes head of a group of black revolutionaries. Variety praised his "staggeringly effective portrayal of conscience-wracked pride" and "intense screen magnetism that bodes instant stardom". For a time, it looked as if Rollins would become Sidney Poitier's successor. However, in spite of unanimous praise from the critics, and an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, Rollins made only one other film appearance. This was A Soldier's Story (1984) ...Rollins gave another memorable performance as the stylish, self-assured but intense Captain Richard Davenport, one of the first black officers in the US Army, who arrives in a racially segregated training camp in wartime Louisiana to investigate the murder of a black sergeant. But this time there was no Oscar recognition or any follow-up movie roles. Years passed before Hollywood felt ready to promote a serious black actor: Denzel Washington.

113.    Question: Was he better than Denzel?

114.    Black Television: Gimme a Break! [PLEASE!]

115.    The series aired for 6 seasons and starred Nell Carter as the housekeeper for a widowed police chief (Dolph Sweet) and his three daughters.

116.    Nell Ruth Hardy, (@ 33yrs old), born and raised in Birmingham, AL was an award-winning singer, actress, Broadway and television performer. She possessed a powerful, sultry singing voice and had a very strong stage presence; she deftly handled roles in drama, comedy, and musicals with equal capability.

117.    Carter was the fifth of nine children. When she was a toddler, her father died of electrocution. At 15, she was raped at gunpoint and gave birth to the child. That same year, four of her friends died when a bomb planted by segregationists exploded in a local church. Later, Carter would say she found solace in listening to music, having a fondness for her mother's Dinah Washington and B.B. King tunes as well as her brother's Elvis Presley records. Carter developed her performance skills by singing in church groups, on the gospel circuit, on a weekly radio program, and coffeehouses. At age 19, she moved to New York City to study acting at Bill Russell's School of Drama. There, she began to appear at several nightclubs.

118.    Carter's Broadway debut came in the 1971 musical Soon. (@23 yrs. old), – unknowns Richard Gere and Peter Allen were in the cast. Carter also had a bit part in the film Jesus Christ Superstar in 1973. She moved overseas and studied drama in London before being cast in the 1978 Broadway production of Ain’t Misbehavin' (@30 yrs. old), where it ran four years. She would win a Tony Award for her performance in Ain't Misbehavin' and won an Emmy Award in 1982 for the television version of the show. In addition to her stage roles, Carter appeared in a handful of television shows in the late 1970s and early 1980s, including the soap opera Ryan's Hope in 1978 and 1979 and in the television series The Mis-adventures of Sheriff Lobo in 1980. Sensing her appeal, network executives offered her the lead role in the sitcom Gimme A Break! in 1981.

119.    Audio clip:

120.    After Gimme a Break went off the air in 1987, Carter took various parts in films, on television shows, and on stage. Even later in her career, Carter kept active with cabaret performances and concerts.

121.    Eating disorders, alcohol and drug addiction, and other health concerns plagued Carter for years. In a 1994 interview, she admitted that she first tried cocaine the night she won her Tony Award. In 1992, Carter had two brain surgeries to fix an aneurysm. In 1997, Carter learned she had diabetes. Carter was married in 1982 and divorced in 1992, then married again that same year. She was divorced again in 1993. In 1989 and 1990, she adopted two sons. Carter died on January 23, 2003, at the age of 54 due to natural causes likely caused by heart disease and complications from diabetes. [Rumored: After her passing, friends and family were surprised to discover that Carter had been living as a closeted lesbian, and that custody of her children had been left to her domestic partner, Ann Kaser.] [Main Source:]

122.    Open Comments

123.    Question: Was this just a show about a modern Mammy?

124.    Vote: Favorite Pop Culture thing for the year?