Kindred Presents: Valerie Simpson

by: cathy foreman

If you’ve never been to or seen a Kindred Presents Event, you’ve been missing out on some great candid and intimate conversations with some of the best artists around. This husband and wife duo have cultivated the age old format of variety shows and successfully crafted their own little niche, making it an opportunity for us mere mortals to catch real glimpses of some of our favorite artists. Yes, I know it’s nothing new … but guess what, it’s familiar to us, their audience who are of a certain age group. It’s nostalgic. They’ve stripped it down to the bare bones and given us an intimate conversation, where they ask the questions that quite honestly we’ve been wanting to ask ourselves. And from these questions we get these beautiful and colorful stories that tie things up in a bow for us. As you sit there listening, you are literally like… “oooohh, that’s what that meant” or “that’s where that came from” and you come away learning something. I know … utterly unheard of right?

On the Road Again

To say I’ve been looking forward to this show since Kindred announced it back in January is an understatement. A month later they announced that Guordan Banks and Ray Chew would also be in attendance that night. I managed to get one of my girlfriends to play the role of navigator, since my mother was not able to travel with me this time. For two months I have been praying that there would not be any crazy weather situations that would prevent me from traveling. You know mother nature has been real finicky these past few months … so snow was always in the back of my mind. Thankfully, things seemed to have stabilized and we were in for some decent but chilly weather. So, we hit the road at 3am Monday morning headed to Philly.

After collecting ourselves, we arrive at The Clef Club with enough time to find pretty prime parking and to meet the acquaintance of beautiful and interesting people. The doors open and we make our way to the seating area. I can touch the stage from where we sat. And as the room continued to fill our table grew by the numbers with more colorful people. I’m sharing a table Bruce Wallace, choreographer for Luther Vandross, James Carter, drummer with Teddy Pendergrass and Ray and Vivian Chew. To quote one of our other table mates, ” I am surrounded by greatness”. It was truly amazing.

Now on to the show.

Guordan Banks interview by Kindred the Family Soul. Image by Cathy Foreman
Kindred interviews Guordan by Cathy Foreman

Out the box is Philly native, Guordan Banks. You really got a sense of how thankful he was to Kindred for bringing him back home and having him on stage. And they wasted no time getting the nitty gritty of it all starting with Fatin asking: “What is it that you get started in the music industry, here in Philly? What is the thing that gets you in the door?

“Consistency is the key because every night of every day and every morning, there is someone in some house in some studio making music.”

Guordan Banks performs at Kindred Presents. Image by Cathy Foreman
Guordan Banks

I have to tell you that statement alone rings true on so many fronts, for me. While Guordan made it seem the idea of consistency is relegated to only Philly, I believe it applies to anywhere in the world and for anything you want to make a success with … even for life in general. Consistency is definitely key.

When asked about the challenges he faced, in the beginning, his response was something like you heard parents telling their kids not so long ago. “Having the right people around you is so important”. He goes on to tell us that he was blessed early on as a lot of the issues that he would have stumbled over, had he been alone, he did not because he had a great attorney who helped navigate his way through. Just to bring this back home for you, while a lot of us questioned the “meaning” behind this oh so ominous charge, we would later find out just how utterly true it would ring.

During the interlude, right before the next guest, Kindred gave us a little impromptu version of them, which is the next best thing to actually seeing them perform. But in these glimpses we see the love and goofiness that bonds them. Fatin starts growling and Aja just brings in the melody that rounds them out. Coy and playful, that’s who they are and that playfulness makes you smile from the inside out; it showcases all that black love is … all that is black love that the mainstream refuses to let us see.

Kindred the Family Soul. Image by Cathy Foreman
Kindred the Family Soul by Cathy Foreman

Next up is Ray Chew of Ray Chew and the Crew. For those of you who don’t know who is he is, I want to ask… where have you been? If you’ve ever watched any awards show, Showtime at The Apollo or American Idol then most definitely you have heard him play and heard his name when they give the band credit. He’s a producer and director, a maestro and a musician in his own right.

Ray Chew, interviewed by Kindred the Family Soul. Image by Cathy Foreman
Ray Chew, interviewed by Kindred the Family Soul Image by Cathy Foreman

Ray and Kindred go back for almost 20 years. Fatin and Aja actually give us a little insight into how Ray and Valerie (coming up), both directly and indirectly have been a part of their musical journey. So, we found out that Ray was responsible for the one and only time, thus far, that Kindred performed at Carnegie Hall. Talk about making waves. If you know a little about the struggles musicians had with making it “uptown”, you’ll know that Carnegie Hall was where it was at. It was the place where you strived to be. If you made it there, you had made it big. Well, it’s another time and while Carnegie Hall may not seem as big of a deal today, trust me when I tell you … it is.

At five, Ray would be admitted into Julliard, the most prestigious performing arts school known for producing some mega talent. His mother being one of his biggest supporters would tell him:

“You will not be a product of your environment, but a product of what we make you.” – Ray Chew’s mother

At 16, Ray would audition for singer Melba Moore, who had a show running at the MET. He was the last one in and whatever he did in that audition set him up for what was to come: a tour with Melba Moore. That’s right, they offered him a year long gig. Melba really liked what he had done and he was ready. He was more than ready, but he was 16 and in the 11th grade. This gig would take him away from school. So, he went home and shared the news with his mother. He found her to be as supportive as she had always been and told him to go, but she also encouraged him to finish school and get his degree, which he would inevitably do.

ray chew at kindred presents. image by cathy foreman
Ray Chew by Cathy Foreman
ray chew at kindred presents. image by cathy foreman
Ray Chew

There were two questions that resonated with me. The first being when Aja asked, “Of all the tv and shows you’ve done, which one has been the most enjoyable, really kind of giving you freedom and joy?” Ray has done a myriad of tv and surprising to me, the one he says gave him the most pleasure was the work he did at BET. To be specific, he spoke about the Celebration of Gospel and just being able to work with such great gospel artists as Shirley Cesar, Yolanda Adams and Hezekiah Walker to name a few. He brings it all together by saying, “It was as simple as that I was entrusted to do their music and it was also doing music for God.. the Lord’s music.”

The second question was when Aja asked, “Is there anyone you have not, played for, arranged for, performed with … is there anyone you have not worked with?” Ray responded ….. “Celine Dion“. While he has not yet worked with her, he hopes to and at the rate he’s going everyone believes it’s only a matter of time. So, come on through Celine!

Valerie Simpson speaking truth at Kindred Presents. image by cathy foreman
Kindred interviews Valerie Simpson . by Cathy Foreman

I love intimate moments, such as this. I enjoy learning more about artists with whom I’m familiar and feel a sort of kinship with. It humanizes them, as my friend said to me on our way back home. She didn’t know what to expect, but she didn’t expect them to be so casual and down to earth.

And Now

… to the stage we welcome the incomparable Valerie Simpson. Valerie is one half of the hit-making, chart-topping and inspiring black love duo Ashford and Simpson. With over 50 years of classics and numerous lessons to be shared, she and Nick have pretty much given us the soundtrack to our lives, as so eloquently put by Fatin. I have to say, we did not get nearly enough time with this grand dame.

The thing I remember most vividly about Miss Valerie was simply that she spoke to the audience. There were several instances when she shifted her body weight and seemingly looked me dead in my face as if to say, “Girl, you better listen” and I did.

Valerie Simpson speaking truth at Kindred Presents. image by cathy foreman
Valerie Simpson

A couple of noted things that stood out from the conversation, for me, were when Aja asked, “As a women, have there been experiences when you had to overcome a situation where people underestimated you and what you were bringing to the table?” Valerie went on to laugh and say how that’s a beautiful thing when that happens. She said, “It works for me, not against me and I’m short too. When people underestimate you … what they think you can do, my thing is always be prepared. If you got your stuff together, people will accept you.”

And secondly, in a moment of story-telling, Valerie spoke about greatness. She talked about how when you have the opportunity to be around someone great, in her case the likes of Nina Simone or Maya Angelou – that what they give you, what they impart on you is something beyond words. I personally know this to be true. She also said that you can’t just take from these souls. You have to be giving and bring something to the table because they are not there just to teach you. The very same way they stir something within you, you should be able to stir something within them.

Valerie Simpson . by cathy foreman

And I’ll leave you with these words that she quoted from Maya and I want you to think about what she meant and what they means to you and what you want to accomplish. It seemed to be the theme of the night.