Our Time Press

Lonette McKee On What Matters … and What to Remember

Why Lonette McKee — who exploded on the scene in “Sparkle” and has shone like a diamond, indeed, in every one of her appearances on film, television and stage ever since — is not called a great singer, great actress, great lady of our time (as in Lena-type great), is anyone’s guess. A former child prodigy who excelled in music arts, she is multi-faceted: actress, writer, playwright, producer, director, pianist, music director, renaissance woman and more. Still, she is not a household name, and people may believe that McKee’s voice is a dub-in –Not and Never! Tomorrow night, in a one-night-only performance with world renowned legendary bassist Michael Henderson (McKee’s teen years musician pal — he taught her how to play bass), the Detroit native will give her audience an earful, live and in-person, at her “A Night to Remember”concert. “Night” event takes place at Aaron Davis Hall, tomorrow, Friday, November 30, 7:00pm, in The City College of New York (where Ms. McKee teaches drama). The award-winning actress is pulling out original songs and classics from her own suitcase of memories for some vocalizing for which she will be remembered. Last Sunday, Our Time Press caught up with the star, and following are excerpts from her messages to our readers. And by the way, it’s not too late to get tickets. See you there. (See adertisement on next page.) (BG)

On Early Appreciation for Music …
My love for music came from God. And it evolved naturally. In fact, I had no formal training. My mother took me to several major universities to get formal training, and the professors said, ‘Let her play by ear, leave her alone, she has natural talent. If you put her in class you structure her natural ability,’ they said. Some people say about their lives, ‘Oh no, I wouldn’t do anything differently.’ This is the part of my life I would have done differently, if I could have. I regret not having formal instruction.. In the Actors Workshops that I teach, I tell my students you need more than natural gifts to learn technique. You can be self-taught, but you need structure and knowledge for balance.

Entrepreneurism …
I teach entrepreneurism in my acting class. I tell my students that having a gift is great, but you must take it one step further and get into ownership, or you spend the rest of your life going on auditions and begging white folks for work. But entrepreneurism for people of color in the entertainment world began in earnest 20 years ago with rap. Master P took the reins and started building an empire by selling his records from the back Master p selling out of their truck. We seem to be a little slower getting on that tip and getting into that mindset, but that’s the only way we’re going to have control over our images and ownership of our stories. I think we have to walk the talk.

On the Planet Earth …
I think we have to walk the walk. I rescue animals and I am a planet earth advocate. I feel we have raped the planet into global warming. The Ice caps are melting; the Gulf Stream that goes around the earth has warmed up and that’s causing massive damage to the atmospheric conditions of the earth. We can’t just continue on this path. There must be a paradigm shift of consciousness. And I’m not saying everybody needs to be a vegetarian. I’m saying that we cannot continue to harm the other species and we need to treat the earth in a humane fashion. According to Stephen Hawkings , the mathematician and theoretician, if populations are not curbed, every individual will have 13 square inches of space. There won’t be any greenery or animals left. There will be no room.

On what’s going on and
why we should pay attention …
We must educate ourselves. I like Michelle Alexander’s book on Jim Crow. She talks about what they are doing to young black men: incarcerating them, getting them out of society. Outside of prison, they can’t get jobs, being enslaved for nothing. In fact, we really have not come out of slavery; we have just shifted gears and changed the date. Look at what’s happening to the kids. There’s some kind of negative new wave. I believe it has something to do with the Internet. I think there’s too much information coming at once, and it is hard for the Average Joe to comprehend and assimilate. I treat my internet activity as a very personal interaction. I read my fan mail, and write to my fans. I use it as a tool to communicate, but your mind has to be geared into a deeper level (when you’re on the Internet).
Global warming is definitely happening. Vibrant storms are getting ready to heap up on us. And we cannot continue to let people like Donald Trump’s son go over to Zaire and shoot elephants for the trophies. They have enough money to buy their way and we all know that is what’s happened. We need to pass legislation that does not allow these wealthy white men to take out the he last few endangered species in Africa just because they afford to do it. And the ‘green movement’ is nothing new; we are good with living close to the earth and obeying its laws. It’s selfish folks with great wealth that come in and have to tear everything down; we have always been good with living with nature, learning how to adapt, and respecting its resources. We just need to get a little closer to our roots. That’s all we should have to do.

On entertainers’ accountability
to the community …
I feel entertainers have an opportunity to say something and do something much deeper than entertain whenever they step on the stage, or behind a camera. We must use this to bring folks together. We can bring an idea to our work based around compassion, and use it to teach. Success is being spiritually connected to the God force. If we are spiritually connected and more compassion for the animals, everything will become clear to us and you know what you need to do.

On children …
They are innocent, pure gold, until we mess them up, and they start learning from an early age how to wheel and deal and all that stuff.

On a personal passion …
I love to ride horses. I’ve had horse fever since I was a little girl. I actually wrote a letter — when I was growing up in Detroit — to President Kennedy and begged him to let me have a horse in my backyard. And,they of course wrote back, saying that the laws of the city might not allow for it and I should check there. Later, I lived near a horse farm, and eventually got a lovely horse. I learned everything I needed to know about horses. I was in heaven. My horse could hunt and jump; he was huge and gentle. I could crawl under and around him. My best day was sitting in the barn listening to the horses eat, and being with my dogs and tractor, and being at one with nature.

On a turning point …
Fifteen years ago one of my agents sent me a script… to play a maid, and don’t’ get me wrong, I want to be very clear that being a maid is not anything to be ashamed of. All work is noble work. Certainly our greatparents did what they had to do to build the foundation. I felt that in 2000, for me, with my background and credits to be sent a script like this as the best thing that could happen to me forced me to instead of talk, I had to walk the waltk. I fire the agent and I told everyone I was going to write my own projects and become a filmmaker. And I would create them for women of color. I went into a self-imposed reclusive state for two and a half years, reading and writing, writing and reading. When I came out of this, I had screenplays, television concept. I realized that we can do this and it takes different motivators to inspire different people.

For me it was my disappointment in the project I was offered. I said: I don’t have to settle. I can do this. “Dream Street” is a work in progress, it’s happening.

On A Night to Remember …
I will perform with a friends Michael Henderson, who taught me bass when I was about 13. We grew up together in Detroit, and performed together back in the 60’s as teens. He was in the Funk Band and I had a local hit record. We were s too young to have driving lessons. Our parents had to drive us around town. Michael is a living legend; he performed with Miles Davis. And Friday –for this one night show – we are performing with some members of Miles Davis’ band. Michael wrote What’s Going On with Marvin Gaye. He also was the vocalist on the hit, You are my Starship. During ‘Night,’ I will pay homage to Billie Holiday. I’m enamored of her story and everything about her. What made her so great? She was the greatest interpreter of music. Other great ones: Nat King Cole, Dinah Washington, Della Reese, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland – I respect all of them. A night to remember is truly going to be a night to remember. A lot of people don’t know that I actually sang my songs in the films Cotton Club, Sparkle and other productions. What will surprise the audience, too, is when they see that I am a real singer, a real pianist.

For more information on Lonette McKee’s life stories, journey and interests, visit:www.lonettemckee.com. Box office: www.adhatccny.org,212.650.6900.

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