The Queen of Soul

America lost a queen, the “Queen of Soul”, Aretha Franklin.  I remember the first time I heard one of her songs.  I asked my father who she was.  He said you are listening to America’s Queen, “The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin”.  I remember my father turning up the radio in his old “Square Back” Volkswagen, then singing along and clapping to her song “Respect”.  I also remember my mother looking at him like he was possessed and trying to lower the radio.  My father would brush her hand away and would say “No one lowers the Queen”.

The Queen of Soul You Me NYC
I absolutely fell in love with her music the first time I heard it.  The power and strength of her voice gave me chills up and down my spine.  Her music inspired me then and still inspires me today.   Outside of the music she is just as inspirational to me as well, especially with her involvement in the civil rights movement and her philanthropic generosity.

Image via Atlantic RecordsThe Queen of Soul You Me NYC

Aretha was born to preacher and civil rights activist Clarence L. Franklin(CL Franklin).  Activism surrounded Franklin in her youth, which she quickly became actively engaged in.  According to a Detroit Free Press interview with Reverend Jesse Jackson, she often used her talents to help further the civil rights movement.  Franklin toured with Doctor King and fellow singer/activist Harry Belafonte.  According to Reverend Jackson, Aretha helped make payroll several times when Dr. King was alive.  That is just one of the many contributions Aretha provided to the “Civil Rights Movement” that changed America for the better.

Let’s not forget that Aretha was the first lady to be nominated to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  She was also the recipient of 18 grammy awards, the singer at President Obama’s first presidential inauguration in 2009 and so much more.  With all her accomplishments, she is truly a queen among queens.

Image via Getty/Kevin WinterThe Queen of Soul You Me NYC

My Passion – My Therapy – My Life

From Hitsville USA (Detroit Michigan) to Bed-Stuy (Bedford Stuyvesant) Brooklyn, Kendra J. Ross, professional dancer, professional choreographer, teaching artist, arts administrator, and community organizer was able to set aside some time out of her extremely busy schedule for us so that we may get to know more about this “Detroit” native, now one of the most well-known performers in the Brooklyn and New York City dance community.  Growing up in Detroit has shaped Kendra into the proud black woman she is today.  One of the most segregated cities, Kendra was always surrounded by black people of all shades, colors and aptitudes.  According to Kendra, black has always been beautiful, she never experienced being a “token” until her adulthood.  Being from Detroit, has given Kendra a love for the flashy elements with a little bit of grit.

Kendra J Ross Teaching Artist

In her early years, growing up in Detroit, Kendra (pictured here courtesy of Longtower Photography) was always a performer.  Her career started with a performance of an assortment of MC Hammer and Michael Jackson interpretations, in a well-know venue to her, which was her living room in front of a very tough crowd, which happened to be her parents and grandparents.  Even though Kendra did not start taking formal dance lessons til she was twelve years old, she was always fascinated with dance.  Her eternal love for the art was conflicted with also wanting to go into the legal profession as an attorney and she would have, until her AP Chemistry teacher told her that aspiring to be a dancer is a “waste of her talent”.  “I do not take kindly to people telling me what I cannot do so I decided to prove her wrong” Ross says.

When asked what she loves and what are some of the challenges she faces in her field of expertise, we find that connecting with other people through movement is what Kendra loves about what she does in her chosen profession.  She can express so much more than words can signify through her choreography,  especially at that moment when she discovers a quality about herself through dance and when she is able to help someone else reveal an attribute about themselves through their progression as well.  With her love for contemporary dance and folkloric dance, specifically Afro Caribbean dance, which tends to be underfunded, coupled with the fact that people aren’t going to live shows as much, unless it’s Broadway or a very well known company, due to the growing popularity of the Internet,  Kendra has to take on the role of multiple jobs while creating and performing her masterpieces.  Fortunately she works in the realm she also creates in, Kendra is the “Director of Programs and Administration” for “Cumbe: Center for African and Diaspora Dance”.  According to Ross, the labor can be exhausting and not as financially rewarding as the amount of work she puts in, however, in her own words “art is my passion, my therapy and my life so I do it anyway”.

Kendra J Ross Teaching Artist

There is a large source of influence and inspiration Kendra pulls from, including, her family, ancestors, the Orishas,  Detroit and Bed-Stuy and her appreciation for music, all of which inspire her and the different moods it creates.  As far as individual influences, Kendra holds in high regard, both Katherine Dunham and Pearl Primus for their movements and strict commitment to evolving tradition.  Adia Tamar Whitaker the “director” of the “Ase Dance Theater Collective” and the way she continues the legacy of being grounded in tradition along with creating new tradition also has quite an impact on Kendra, who is also a member of this company.  Efeya Sampson, a beautiful dancer, teaching artist, cancer survivor and Kendra’s best friend also inspires and influences her by reminding her to be strong, to walk the world with grace and power, while challenging her to be a better dancer because she doesn’t want to be out-shinned by her “bestie”. (photo courtesy of Erik Bandeiro)

With all that is going on in Kendra’s life there is actually a fraction of downtime.  Kendra has started a new Sunday morning self care ritual.  She starts off by playing her music, then she starts dancing in the mirror, followed by dancing over to the kitchen, to fix herself some “gluten free” pancakes.  On other days, she likes to talk to friends and family in person or over the phone or watch television, her new fix is a show called “This is Us”.  She loves to cook and on days where the weather is cooperating, she loves to walk around  the rapidly changing Bed-Stuy especially during the warm months or sometimes just sitting at home in silence contemplating in her peaceful surroundings.

Kendra J Ross Teaching Artist

Her current residence of Bed-Stuy surrounds her with diverse motivations, ideas and enthusiasm, all a part of community and legacy the two most important factors about what she does.  Since her work is rooted in the African Diaspora, she believes in upholding and carrying on these traditions that hold the ancient knowledge that the people of the African Diaspora have used for survival. Through her work, the companies she dances with and the art she administers, Kendra believes that she is creating community for people.  Hence her creation and founding of “STooPS” a conduit for community building and intentional artistic experimentation.  New York City is massive, it can feel over crowded and lonely at the same time, the community she creates along with other communities she is a part of, serve as a family support system for herself, for those she works with and the continuing of the “Kendra J. Ross Legacy”. (photo courtesy of Ivan Forte)

Kendra J. Ross Teaching Artist

(photo courtesy of Erik Bandeiro)