Mother and Daughter

mother-daughterMaggie Mae Wood Godfrey  in 1945 and her Daughter Caroline Lynnie Godfrey Lee at a commercial shoot on November 3, 2015

The Play’s The Thing

By Melba Tolliver

     Once upon a time there was a place called Greenwood.  Let it never be forgotten.

This is the last line in Celeste Bedford Walker’s Greenwood: An American Dream Destroyed. When I heard those words in the first public reading of Walker’s play they left me wondering.  Were the words a desperate plea? An ominous warning?   Or both?   They come at the close of the play’s final act, spoken by the photojournalist character.  He is an outsider invited to document the glory of an unapoligetically all-black Oklahoma town. But the visitor ends up bearing witness to the town’s destruction  in two days of race riots in 1921.

Back row: Bernadette Drayton, Lawrence Cherry,Jimmy Gary Jr., Dathan B. Williams, Byron C. Saunders, Akil Williams, Guy Whitlock, Marlene Villafane, Charles B Murray, Anthony Goss, Elijah Bland and Jalene Goodwin. Seated: Playwright: Celeste Bedford Walker Yvette Ganier, Director: Lynnie Godfrey and Brenda Denmark

Back row: Bernadette Drayton, Lawrence Cherry,Jimmy Gary Jr., Dathan B. Williams, Byron C. Saunders, Akil Williams, Guy Whitlock, Marlene Villafane, Charles B Murray, Anthony Goss, Elijah Bland and Jalene Goodwin. Seated: Playwright: Celeste Bedford Walker, Yvette Ganier, Director: Lynnie Godfrey and Brenda Denmark

For now, the place called Greenwood and the people—proud and  prosperous —-who built it are not forgotten.  Far from it. Both are being remembered—in fact and  in fiction—in Bethlehem, in New York City , in Los Angeles—-and wherever folks have access to cable TV if a production now being developed pans out.   

First,  to Walker’s Greenwood.  An  original work by the Houston-based playwright, it  had its first public reading last month at  SteelStacks in Bethlehem. The reading, directed by award-winning actress  and Broadway veteran Lynnie Godfrey, played to an enthusiastic and engaged audience, most of whom had never heard of the Oklahoma town or the riots that ruined it . 

 Walker spent years digging into the facts surrounding the town’s destruction by white terrorists. Writing and re-writing, incorporating history with the story of  a Depression era community whose wealth and self-sufficiency had earned it the title “ black wall street”  Walker finally felt the work was finished and let it go.   A regional theatre took over production of the piece, originally Black Wall Street.   

But as fate and the creative muse would have it, Walker wasn’t done yet. The regional production was an audience failure. As it happened, Lynnie Godfrey got wind of the play and the story moved her, she saw  huge potential in Walker’s work.  So Godfrey reached out to the playwright,  shared her vision of how to re-work the play and together they began taking it to another level.  In phone conversations and  email and maybe with a bit of ESP thrown in, the author and the director took the play down to its bare bones and then re-built it scene by inspired scene.

 “We did not intend it as a documentation of the event,” says Godfrey speaking about the real Oklahoma race riot.  “ But what it (the race riot) did to people.  We built it around the family.”

And so it is not the gunfire, not the dead bodies of 300 black residents, not the arson fires that wiped out businesses, hospitals, schools and  left 9-thousand people homeless, and  not the vicious rioters  that keep Greenwood audiences riveted in their seats. Instead they watch  generations of the  fictional Boley family face and then deal with raw truth:  social prominence and wealth may appear solid, but are in fact only tentative,  always subject to forces beyond one’s control, forces fueled by envy and hatred.

Molly Boley, played by Godfrey  is the class conscious,  steely gatekeeper of the family’s social  status.  A veteran of Broadway, Godfrey is superb in the role, peeling  away what Molly uses to cover her vulnerable core  as a  wife and mother and the family member who  is most devastated  by the riots.  In what turns out to be excruciatingly  bad timing, Molly  has invited a photojournalist to town expecting he will come away with a glowing report about Greenwood.   Instead, the riots, sparked by accusations of a young black man making advances on a white woman, upend Molly’s attempts at self-promotion and give the photojournalist fodder for an entirely different story than the one Molly intended.  The family’s rude awakening is shared by other characters whose lives intersect with the  Boley’s. 

Walker acknowledges that playwriting, as with any writing, can be pretty lonely and she says having a partner in Godfrey was a blessing.  “I was so delighted to work with someone as gifted as Lynnie.  She made great contributions to this script.”

Collaboration is obviously part of the total Godfrey package and keystone of a process  she has aptly named “From the Page to the Stage and Screen.” With SteelStacks as the venue and ArtsQuest as the artist incubator, Godfrey is the catalyst for providing a safe space where the projects of  writers, actors,  and other word-workers and performers can be polished and road-tested.  Charles White is an example. A playwright and lawyer, White had the benefit of Godfrey directing a first public reading of his Unentitled last June. “I once heard that you should make your plays director-proof because directors will ruin your vision,” White says.  “That is not the case.  She (Godfrey) was a marvelous director, wonderful to work with.”

White’s Unentitled, like Walker’s Greenwood, explores the dynamics of financially well-off black families.  What happens when unexpected events force hard choices on such families,  threatens their status, and undermines the images they hold of themselves? Q&A sessions  which Godfrey held immediately after both  readings gave the  director and the actors a chance to hear audience comments and field their questions.

Most of the Greenwood audience  admitted that their knowledge of American history didn’t include the Oklahoma riots or those that wrecked  58 similar  black communities in the early 1900’s. One person  even remarked that he found the wealth of Greenwood blacks, “unbelievable ” because he had no idea that wealthy black people existed.

Godfrey’s collaborative approach saw both Bethlehem readings repeated at off- Broadway venues in New York City. And five actors from Unentitled  were in the eleven member cast of  Greenwood.   Jalene Goodwin brought a youthful and winning playfulness to both readings as a daughter who takes for granted the material things her moneyed parents can give her, but rebels against their class-conscious rules.  Brenda Thomas Denmark was  a standout in both readings. Though the characters differed, Denmark was thoroughly believable , both as the stylish mother-in-law in Unentitled  and the entrepreneurial  Boley family matriarch who  helped keep Greenwood money circulating within the community. The photojournalist was  given a strong presence as played by Dathan B. Williams.  Willing to see and report the picture Molly wants to paint of her beloved town, he  cannot escape the racial undertow  surging  just below its surface.

   

What’s next for Greenwood and Unentitled?  The question pops up after every reading and Godfrey and crew have been ready with some possibilities:   Workshop productions with sets and costumes. Maybe even Broadway if the readings result in the kind of word-of-mouth that attracts “angels” with investment dollars.

Yet more evidence of Greenwood’s re-surfacing  is Tulsa a 4-hour made-for-tv mini-series currently in development for the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) where money is apparently not a challenge.  Based on the same 1921 race riot history that inspired playwright Walker’s Greenwood, Tulsa also reportedly plans to  center its plot on a fictional family.

In a call to a reporter for the Tulsa World who wrote one of the first stories about the OWN mini-series I learned that it is still in the works, though the cameras have yet to roll  and it’s not certain when or where it will be shot. 

Almost daily, news headlines from Missouri, and Staten Island and elsewhere in America give weight to Walker’s closing line, “Let us not forget.”   Are those words  a passionate plea? Or a worn-out warning?  And who among us is really listening?

Meanwhile, Godfrey already has plans for her and ArtsQuest’s next project:  a play reading in March of Lois’s Wedding by Bethlehem publisher and writer Bathsheba Monk.

 

What is Happening????

Don’t ask…Look at the calendar page and you will see how blessed I am with projects…But the one that has touched my heart and soul lately is the MEMOIR PROJECT…Yes, that is right  I am working on a writing project with Bathsheba Monk and  she and the project have sent me searching for ME! What a trip that has been. Thank you Bathsheba for making me dig and find all of those MEs..The younger one, the youngest one, the silly one, the stupidly arrogant one…You brought me back there and yanked me forward to now all in one visit. I found ME!! How great was that. I hope this writing of this book helps some…after all that is what it is for.

Why do it???Why not!!WHY NOT!!!!!

Dynamic play reading directed by local resident going to NYC

Unentitled Cast Top Left to Right: CB Murray, Ron Scott, Charles White, Anthony Goss, Cole Taylor, Justin Walker White,  Bottom Left to Right: Brenda Thomas Denmark, Alexandra Foucard, Lynnie Godfrey, Jalene Goodwin

Unentitled Cast
Top Left to Right: CB Murray, Ron Scott, Charles White, Anthony Goss, Cole Taylor, Justin Walker White,
Bottom Left to Right: Brenda Thomas Denmark, Alexandra Foucard, Lynnie Godfrey, Jalene Goodwin

By Ewuradjoa Dawson

BETHLEHEM, PA -The upper level of the ArtsQuest Center was abuzz with chatter Tuesday night as people gathered with drinks in hand anxious to view Charles White’s original play, Unentitled.

“Dynamic!” was the unanimous take away from the audience. You could hear that word tossed around during intermission and again during Q&A.

The play’s backdrop is one many are familiar with. Set in 2008 at the brink of national recession when job security, financial stability, and a historic election consumed the minds of Americans. Unentitled addresses themes of family unity when things go awry.

“It’s a slice of African American life we don’t get to see,” says White. “We’re either thugs or gangsters or extremely perfect. But here are regular people with regular people problems.”

In the play, Patriarch Frank Saunders, played by Ron Scott, is a successful lawyer one promotion away from becoming partner when he is abruptly laid off. Frank sees this as opportunity to revisit a 20-year-old business venture to start a sports agency. Much to the disapproval of his socialite wife Deanna –played by Alexandra Foucard –whose family vacation home may be on the line.

Although not autobiographical, White shares some similarities with Frank having gone to law school and worked in corporate America before pursuing his desire to be a playwright.

The 5 year labor of love could not be without the support of Lehigh Valley resident, Director Lynnie Godfrey.

“I once heard that you should make your plays director proof because directors will ruin your vision. That is not the case! She [Godfrey] was a marvelous director, wonderful to work with” says White.

Award winning actor and director, Godfrey wants to introduce spoken word theatre to the Lehigh Valley. The striped down spoken word reading was a hit among the lively audience who described the reading as impressive and fierce.

Unentitled has been paralleled to the momentous Raisin in the Sun. What happens when the upper middle class black family is challenged? Do they cling to sentiment and status or clasp to strategy and survival?

Both Godfrey and White express a willingness to allow the play to evolve.

“When you live with it as long as I have its all really flat, so you look to the audience for their reaction,” says White.

When asked, “What’s next?” Godfrey energetically responses, “There will be a next! We’re hoping that there will be a similar reading in New York City followed by a workshop.”

White’s Unentitled was produced by ArtsQuest and GodLee Entertainment, Inc. with special thanks to Air Products.

Lynnie Godfrey: Spending the Holidays with Lynnie Godfrey

by George W. Harris

888295154659.600x600-75If you want a little swing in your Christmas stocking, here’s a nice one for you. Vocalist Lynnie Godfrey teams up with Roger Latzgo/p-g, Neil Wetzel/sax-fl, Anthony Marino/b and Gary Rissmiller/dr as the main team on this collection of traditional Natal tunes. Her mezzo soprano voice has a warm vibrato, and she knows how to step up to the plate with some bopping on ”Let it Snow” but can also keep it soft and gentle with Wtzel’s sax on the fragrant “Winter Wonderland.” She gets coy with Marino on “Santa Baby,” but saves the best for a wonderfully intimate duet with Latzgo on “Sweet Little Jesus Boy.” Enjoyable in season and out! www.lynniegodfrey.com

Originally published here: http://www.jazzweekly.com/2014/12/lynnie-godfrey-spending-the-holidays-with-lynnie-godfrey/

CONVERSATIONS WITH A PROTECTED CHILD

One might wonder about the title of my first foray into dialogue through the social media…What is a “protected” child?

Well, let me explain as much as I as can? As a child of my generation …a child of the ‘the greatest generation’ I was protected from the vicious, venomous reaches of racism by two parents who employed the tactics of a military general.

I was an adult on the set of the Norman Lear Television series I starred in called 704 Hauser before I discovered I was protected. The unaired episode was discussing the ways Black parents of the 1940s, 1950s and even 1960s sheltered their children from the indignities of racisms. It hit me on a break that my parents had practiced this and I was never aware of it. Sadly my Father (Fred Godfrey) had passed away from the aftereffects of an abdominal aneurysm months before; however my Mother (Maggie Godfrey) was still alive. I rushed to the phone and posed the question to my sweet ailing, fiery Mother… ”Mom, did you create picnics and events on our trips to protect me from thinking or finding out that I was …no we were not welcome somewhere?” There was a silence and then an uncharacteristic “Uh huh” with a slight break in her voice…Tears immediately came to my eyes, for I know that even then my Mother never wanted me to think I was not allowed to do anything any other child could do. She was still  protecting  me.

Then a rush of memories came to my mind that over those formative years where My Mother and her friends… Black and White had protected me from the harsh stares and whispers.

I will recall one event….  My Mother’s  Jewish friend and customer Rhoda Lipoff of Englewood, New Jersey invited me with her daughter Lisa and Laurie (I think Laurie was home that day) to swim in the building pool downstairs. I remember my Mother’s funny hesitancy to have me participate. I thought ‘Oh, she’s afraid, because I really don’t know how to swim” She needn’t have worried about my swimming safety or my getting my hair wet because I was never going out of the shallow water and never putting my newly pressed hair under water…. 🙂

No …My Mother knew the women in that building, some of these same women being the product of racism at its worse decades before…but there was no desire to have their pool shared with any child that did share their same color unless the child’s parents were celebrities…maybe.

My Mother’s friend assured her fears by saying…”Oh no worries…I am going down with the girls”. I remember the stern looks displayed and then the those same looks vanished as the over powering presence (silently, of course) of Rhoda, made it perfectly clear she was ready to confront each and every one of them and their husbands if a moment of discomfort occurred. I saw it but paid no attention…I never thought it had to do with me…I was truly a product of childhood naiveté.

How I wish today I could hug and kiss both of these ladies for their bravery and love. That is not to be…. for my Mother passed away in 1996 and her friend Rhoda is still alive but is now the victim of Alzheimer’s as her loving family surrounds her; recognizes none of them. My hug and kiss would go unrecognized.

Yes, as I recall these stories I know there are countless more that can be discussed and recorded. SO here is my point…I was protected as a child…now it is my turn to protect…even if it is wanted or not.

My husband, Carl is a Mathematic genius in his own right, but has no patience or very little patience. When he decided to tutor children in our area…I thought…”Oh My”… But he returned home from his first session, he was exuberant, talkative and concerned but not inpatient. His concern was that many or most the children in this lovely program were without fundamentals. You know those things that teach reasoning and deduction in life.  The children did not know their multiplication table. Now as any adults now should be able to tell you, multiplication tables are memorization…but they teach us other things. They teach how to reach solutions, deductions, reasoning etc. Our children are entering our society and are not equipped to deal with the challenges…Why? Many reasons…

Budget cuts, no job incentives given to teachers…but what is our solution…I can type here and type a number of reasons…We need solutions. Let us protect our children as we were protected…ALL our children… All COLORS AND RACES… to rephrase a Beatle tune…

HELP! We need somebody

Please just everybody…HELP!!!

So, I invite a conversation…from those of you on line…teachers, parents, insightful adults…Where do we go from here?

Let us find some solutions

Let us have a conversation….share some of your protection stories…Let us find an answer for the CHILDREN!!!!

Write me on twitter @ #lynniegodfrey

Upcoming CD Release

UPDATE:

I have completed my two CDs… my debut CD…LYNNIE GODFREY…DOING IT HER WAY …and my Holiday CD …SPENDING THE HOLIDAYS WITH LYNNIE GODFREY…both are available on this web site for purchase as promised.

I am also starting a theatrical project…a new play…working with a wonderful writer and wonderful creators…Will let you know more as the project get closer to the finishing product. I am due to direct a reading of it NEXT SEASON!!!!

LOOK FOR IT!!!!

The passing of Broadway producer Ashton Springer has prompted me to reflect on his influence on my career as well as the industry in New York City.
His determination to produce theatrical works that featured people of different colors was the impotence that drove me into working theater. One may be enthusiastic about going into the theatre but Ashton Springer made it possible to make a living. Thank you Ashton Springer.
He was brave enough to take a chance on a young girl fresh out of college who did well in his showcase of SHUFFLE ALONG and bring that same naive child to Broadway in the musical revue …EUBIE! and start a career that is still going today…
Thank you Ashton Springer and in the same breath thank you Dr. Chauncey Northern Sr. of Carnegie Hall for nurturing my passion for music and performing from my early teens until my forties…You were an inspiration…
I am involved in the creation of a wonderful program that is being started at Arts Quest/SteelStacks that will honor the artists of Leigh Valley. It is called “Artists Among Us”….What a wonderful idea that was started by the chair of the Committee I serve on Robin Staff. I am also involved in the presentation of a Theatrical reading scheduled to take place at SteelStacks …what another wonderful opportunity to showcase the fabulous talent of the area….
So much talent in one area….

On a sadder note…I want to express my sadness at the passing of the son of Ms. Toni Leslie James (designer)…the senseless killing of our young beautiful men. The same horrible action occurred to the son of my friend Dwight Cooke (director,stage manager )…Senseless and Horrible…My heart and prayers go out to the families who must experience this heartbreak… God Bless

Great Review from Jazz Weekly

George W. Harris offered a glowing review of  Lynnie Godfrey: Doing It Her Way. Read below or visit  Jazz Weekly at this link: http://www.jazzweekly.com/2014/08/lynnie-godfrey-doing-it-her-way/

Lynnie Godfrey: Doing It Her Way

Vocalist Lynnie Godfrey delivers a song like a stage production. You can tell she’s comfortable acting, as each of these songs with the mix and match team of Roger Latzgo/p-g, Tom Hamilton/ts, Anthony Marino/b and  Gary Rismiller/dr is delivered like a story being told. Her dramatic vibrato inflections on a dramatic intro lead into a swinging and enthusiastic “It Don’t Mean a Thing” while other tunes with the whole band such as “The Best is Yet to Come” and “L-O-V-E” feature her in respective moods of saucy and coy. When she Spartans down the support with simple support by Latzgo and Hamilton, she glows with an evocative “Moon River” or reaches down deep and gets the red clay beneath her fingers on “But Beautiful” as her inflections give descriptions to each adjective. A sole duet with Latzgo on guitar during “Send in the Clowns” makes you want an encore performance, which is what all actresses desire-leave the crowd wanting more. Impressive tales!

Lynnie Godfrey’s New CD “DOING IT HER WAY” Is NOW AVAILABLE !!!!

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Lynnie Godfrey”s debut CD “DOING IT HER WAY” is available at all performances and events. and on cb.baby.com and itunes and very soon on this web site.

Here are several excerpts of a few choice song selections.

 

 

Little lady Lynnie Godfrey shows big personality/voice in cabaret at Symphony Hall

6a00d8341c4fe353ef019b002570b2970cSinger Lynnie Godfrey charmed a sold-out crowd last night during her first appearance in Symphony Hall’s Rodale Room as part of its Jazz Cabaret Series.She brought it all – fabulous dresses, theatrical savvy, witty banter, a crackerjack backing band, a powerhouse voice and a selection of popular classic songs presented in uique style.

Sheila Evans, Symphony Hall Executive Director, addressed the audience happily.

“I can’t tell you how much fun it is to post a sold-out sign on the front door,” she said.

Jazz Series head Ethel Drayton-Craig introduced Godfrey with a long list of her credits, which include a Drama Desk nomation for her Broadway debut in the musical “Eubie” and a starring role in “704 Hauser,” the Norman Lear sequel to “All in the Family.” Godfrey moved from New York to the Lehigh Valley a few years ago and has been creating a stir ever since.

The expectation was high and Godfrey met them from the moment she made her dramatic entrance from the back of the room in a hot pink sleeveless gown, shouting “Hello,” “Hello,” “Hello” as she worked her way through the tables to the front of the room.

The more than two-hour concert, with one intermission, featured nearly two dozen songs with focuses on Johnny Mercer and Ethel Waters. Godfrey introduced most songs with some background.
She opened with a songs by hitmaker Mercer, starting with “Accentuate the Positive,” and including “Jeepers Creepers “ and “Moon River.”

A series of what she called “boo hoo ballads” included “Lush Life,” “Guess Who I Saw Today” and “Cry Me a River.”

Then things turned more upbeat — “It’s time for us to fall in love again,” she said — with “L.O.V.E.,” “When I Fall in Love” and “The Best is Yet to Come.”

An interesting turn came with her performance of George Harrison’s “Something in the Way She Moves,” a contemporary song not part of Godfrey’s traditional songbook.

She ended her first set with a growly version of “Fever” that showcased her large vocal range, and the zippy “It Don’t Mean a Thing.”

Godfrey’s second entrance was as dramatic as the first, coming through the room in a snug black and brown striped halter dress with a black and pink feather headdress.

Numbers included “The Last Time I Saw Paris,” “Bye, Bye Blackbird,” “Good Morning Heartache” and “God Bless the Child.”

She got “down and dirty” with songs by her main inspiration, Ethel Waters. Godfrey does a one-woman show of her songs.

She started with a dramatic “Stormy Weather,” then got teary and choked up during “Suppertime,” an Irving Berlin song about a woman about to make supper for her children when she learns her husband won’t be coming home because he’s been lynched.

She ended her main set with what she said was her favorite, the gospel song “His Eyes on the Sparrow,” and returned for two quick encores.

Godfrey made it a fun evening with jokes and stories. At one point, she got the crowd laughing as she did a “little something” for Bill Steele, owner of Mr. Bill’s Poultry, which provided the light meal for the evening. A couple times she held some long notes, encouraging the audience to encourage her to keep going. Over and over again she expressed appreciation to the audience, which included family and many old friends.

Godfrey is a little lady with such a big personality, it was easy to forget there was music behind her, but there was a talented band – Gary Rissmiller on drums, Roger Latzgo on piano, Gene Perla on bass and Tom Hamilton on saxophone.

The band is working with her on her first CD, which she expects to have out in early 2014. The concert was sampler of what to expect.

Read the original article here: http://blogs.mcall.com/lehighvalleymusic/2013/10/little-lady-lynnie-godfrey-shows-big-personalityvoice-in-cabaret-at-symphony-hall.html