Tag Archives: Richard Roundtree

Eunice Johnson: Wrought a Roadshow of Dreams

 

Eunice Johnson (1916-2010), widow of Ebony/Jet Publisher John H. Johnson, was more than Black Media’s First Lady.  As Creator and Director of the Ebony Fashion Fair (an all black roadshow of haute couture), she paved the way for generations of black models from Beverly Johnson and Naomi Sims to Naomi Campbell.  In fact, Richard Roundtree (“Shaft”) was a Fashion Fair model before he was kicking tail on the big screen. 

In the show, which was started in 1961, she included some of the most fashion forward designers, including Yves Saint Laurent (pictured with Mrs. Johnson, above).  In a time when Chicago was in many ways the hub of culture and information that bound the Black Community together (i.e., the nationally recognized Chicago Defender, Ebony, Jet, and a world renowned music and arts scene), Mrs. Johnson took her Fashion Crusade to the streets in towns both near and remote.  Accordingly, sewing machines buzzed each season, inspired by the roadshow of dreams.  Her shows, as well as so many of those classic Ebony Magazine fashion layouts, presented our people as we were (and still are) striving to be: free and uplifted. Strutting. Gliding.

As if that weren’t enough, Ebony Fashion Fair, which grew into the world’s largest traveling fashion show,  annually encompasses a nearly 180-city tour of the United States, Canada and the Caribbean.  It has raised more than $55 million for various charities.

And it keeps us dreaming.  To me, that is her legacy.  She brought the dream to our door.

Jive on!


Cult Movie of the Week: Shaft in Africa

I will start with the disclaimer: I am not really a blaxploitation film lover. I’m a lover of their funky romps-of-soundtracks. That said, I dig Shaft in Africa despite its more reserved soundtrack. Why? It’s titled Shaft…..in Africa! Not only Africa, but, specifically, Ethiopia… a country that holds a lot of romance for me because its people fought colonization (and won) in a time when Africa was being sliced up like hot apple pie.

Fast forward sixty years to this film. Shaft’s mission is to break up a human trafficking ring luring young Africans to Paris. Starring (former Ebony-Jet Fashion Fair model) Richard Roundtree and Vonetta McKee, Shaft in Africa (1973) also encompasses a love storyline between Shaft and Aleme. Lovely as McKee is in this film, amazing scenes of both Paris in the 70s and Ethiopia are enough reason to snatch up a copy of this film.

One of my favorite touches to this film is the Capoiera-styled fight scenes and the 007-outfitted wooden staff that Shaft uses when he goes undercover: the staff has a built-in camera and anything else he may need. It’s like James Bond, but he gets dirty…. and I like it.


One note about the soundtrack: the theme song was recorded by the 4 Tops (“Are You Man Enough”) and the soundtrack was composed by Chicago’s own Johnny Pate. Pate was the arranger for most of the early work by the Impressions and the man who Curtis Mayfield relied on as a orchestrator/arranger for years. In fact in Rolling Stone’s 1972 review of the Superfly soundtrack, Bob Donat stated,

…equal credit of course goes to arranger – orchestrator and long-time Mayfield collaborator Johnny Pate, who’s written charts for Curtis and the Impressions since the “Gypsy Woman” days.”

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