Wellington Mackey proves down isn’t always out, receives Scholarship to Ivy League School
*It is stories such as this that I hope will inspire all who are suffering at this moment junction in their life’s’ journey. I hope it will make us realize that down doesn’t necessarily mean out; That even in the worst of times, tomorrow can change the course of your life, without warning. I hope it really let’s you know that Hope is not just a word that is reserved for everyone but you.
Wellington Mackey is a good example of this. After being evicted from his apartment in the Bronx, New York, in January 2003, his life was the closest thing to a living hell.
Lee slaughters Adele’s ‘Rolling in the Deep!’ Photo by L Wright Photography
*Let’s keep it real. You’ve got to be pretty outstanding for somebody like Quincy Jones to give you the time of day.
I mean c’mon, “Q”? The man who made a pivotal dent in the direction of careers belonging to artists like The King of Pop, The Queen of Soul, The Brothers Johnson and Donna Summer?
And they are just the tip of a humongous iceberg.
Shoot, as quiet as its kept, some people would consider it an honor just to smell this man’s breath.
I’m jus’ sayin’.
So for him to be so impressed by the talent coming from a relatively unknown musician, a skinny dude with the face of a teenager, that even makes playing a violin look cool, whew!
If the music coming from Lee England, Jr.was a meal, you’d be ready to slap somebody.
The dude is bad.
DANGEROUSLY IN LOVE? Shown here with Erynn Hill on Violin (Rear Left) and James Thompson on Viola (Rear Right) Photo by L Wright Photography
And to see the poise and ease and passion that he exudes while he’s playing, he’s gotta know this.
But what in the heck did he do to attract Quincy Jones? Why would Q, who not unlike any other megastar, probably looks for the nearest exit as soon as the lights come up—make a beeline to meet up with this dude?
Not only that, the icon was so taken with him, he pretty much signed him up to do an entire concert using his name: Quincy Jones Presents: Lee England, Jr.
“In March I did a show at the Geffen Playhouse that was honoring Elton John and George Lucas. And Lady Gaga pretty much opened the night and I came on in the middle of the show. Apparently, I did a phenomenal job because afterwards I garnered the attention of Quincy Jones,” says the young virtuoso about the Backstage at the Geffen fundraiser that sparked the relationship with Jones.
NO SHOW IS EVER THE SAME: Lee is pretty spontaneous, and keeps his musicians that way too. Here he calls one of them out for a solo. Photo by L Wright Photography
England tells EURThisNthat editor DeBorah B. Pryor, who went to see him perform to a packed house and very appreciative crowd (he got several standing ovations and Quincy even showed up!) The event was another fundraiser for The Geffen; this time for the center’s Arts Education program.
England continues, elaborating on that first meeting with Q…
The musician says he had been so hyped preparing for the Elton John event, now that it was over, he was “cooling down. So he grabbed a glass of wine and went and found a seat in a quiet place where he could just relax and watch the rest of the show.
Then Quincy Jones approached.
“I was like, ‘Oh my god its Quincy Jones,'” England sounds excited even now, as he describes the scene.
“So he sits down next to me and we exchange a couple of words; and I’m like, ‘man, I’ve got to come up with something cool to say,'” recalls the musician, as he shares what he was thinking while the two Pisces men are having small talk.
England says Jones soon went onstage to present an award to Elton John, and afterwards, appeared to be making a quick exit to the elevator, but then he turned and saw the young musician again.
“He took about three steps and turned around and saw me still sitting there,” England states. “We talked for about an hour. The show was over and we were still sitting back there. People were looking for us. They were like, ‘where’s Lee,’ because they wanted me to come out to the lobby to see people. And they were like, ‘well where’s Quincy!'” he laughs at the memory.
QUINCY JONES HANGIN’ TOUGH: Lee says “Q” hung out upstairs for two hours after the show! Here he chats with guitarist George Jackson III. Photo by L Wright Photography
“He had so much information, and I just sat there being a sponge, and soaked it all up.” England recalls.
Just one week prior to the Elton John event, England says he was in a meeting with people at The Geffen; who were trying to figure out the logistics of what they were going to do.
“At a certain point in the meeting I told them, ‘This is where you’ve got to trust me…I’ve got you!” England told them.
“They were so ecstatic with the response and how well I had put things together,” he said. “It’s funny because the first thing Quincy asked me was, ‘who arranged the music.’ And I was like, ‘I did.'”
Imagine being able to provide such an answer!
England says, with this being the icon’s thing , there was a mutual understanding that needed no words.
“He just paused and looked at me. [It was like] ‘OK, we don’t even have to talk about that because you’re well versed in this and that,” said England referring to the understanding that the well established musician came to after realizing he was not talking to an amateur.
England was first introduced to the violin at the age of six. He tells a funny story of how after hearing the beauty of the instrument when someone played it, his father suggested he play the violin. But when he tried, it sounded nothing like he expected, so he told his dad that he didn’t want to play.
But his dad, who has since passed away, yet he speaks so lovingly of him, “tricked him” and said it was OK if he didn’t want to play; but he should “practice for 15 minutes each day.”
And his talent today is the result.
England, who has performed for Jay-Z & Beyonce, at Rihanna’s Diamond Ball, for the NAACP Image Awards and at the John WayneCancer Institute, tells this loving story to his audience.
THE SHOWMAN: Lee engages his audience in his “Living Room” with George Jackson III on guitar (L) and Brent Easton on drums (R). Photo by L Wright Photography
Born and raised in Waukegan, a suburb of Chicago, Illinois, England reminisces, “my father was a very quiet man, but when he said something it was [either] profound or hilarious. When he disciplined us it was not out of anger or rage; it was more like ‘I told you if you do this, this is the consequences. So if my father was reprimanding me, I knew exactly what it was for. I knew exactly what I did. There was almost a military precision to the way he disciplined us.”
He has been fortunate to travel the world and has appeared on Jimmy KimmelLive, the Mo’Nique Show, and on Sean “Diddy” Combs’ “Making the Band.” He even performed his own rendition of “Clash of the Titans” for a Super Bowl 2014 commercial.
B-Ball legend Michael Jordan even tapped England who was on tour when he was invited to perform at the player’s birthday dinner celebration. Jordan was so enamored with England, he offered Lee an endorsement through the Jordan Brand to support his artistic endeavors, a spot usually reserved for athletes, making Lee one of four non-athletes to represent the brand.
Quincy Jones must have been so proud of him at the “Quincy Jones Presents…” event; especially seeing how the people kept jumping up and applauding (he had them eating out of his hands). Q describes Lee as a “remarkable talent that comes by very rarely, creating original and unique music straight from his soul.” The “Listen Up”and “Q: Soul Bossa Nostra“ composer adds that England’s “…imagination and musical innovation speaks to all of us, reinforcing that music is, indeed, a universal language.”
Lee England Jr., left, and Quincy Jones attend Backstage at the Geffen on Sunday, March 22, 2015, in Los Angeles. Photo credit: Jordan Strauss
I asked Lee, who has three music degrees and previously taught music in public school in Chicago, what he thinks he would be doing now had he not become successful in his music career.
“I think about that all the time actually. I enjoy so many things, but…I would probably be trying to figure out how to fly.”
How to fly, this writer asked, befuddled…
“Because I’ve seen the guys in Dubai with all the flight suits and stuff. And when I was younger I always had a fascination with roller coasters and because of that fascination… I wanted to be an astronaut, he says.
This brilliant artist and humble human being has not let fame go to his head. One of the best past-times for him…still…is hanging out on Venice Beach (near Santa Monica) California and playing his violin. He has quite a community of friends there; including other street musicians, vendors and residents, who he learned has nicknamed him “Carnegie” because of his giving nature.
The name holds a special place in Lee’s heart because of the man it came from, Andrew Carnegie, an industrialist by trade, but known for his enormous acts of philanthropy.
An example of this in Lee England is his own nonprofit organization, Love Notes, LLC. And his dedication and commitment to those less fortunate (he always gives a percentage from his performances to charity); and even before he started working regularly, whenever he had an extra buck from his work as a street artist, he shared it with others.
His respect for the work of other artists is clear. At the fundraise for The Geffen, where he and all of the artists that joined him donated their time and talents, he had an incredible group of talented musicians that included one of the most incredible spoken word artists you will ever hear in Brandon ‘Real Talk’ Williams, George Jackson III on guitar, Brent Easton on drums, AJ Fanning on Cello, funky bassist Dale Black, James Thompson on Viola and Tommy King on an awesome piano. He even brought in two young violinists that he had only recently met: Erynn Hill and Lucine Fyelon, who did an incredible “call and response” violin challenge with England.
England in a show of “Call & Response” with Lucine Fyelon (This girl KILLED IT!) Photo by L Wright Photography
Photo by L Wright Photography
As our interview began to wind down, I asked Lee England, Jr. something that I have heard EURweb publisher, Lee Bailey, ask many of the celebrities he interviews before shutting down: Is there anything you’d like to reveal that I may not have asked you about?
To this Lee says,
“I heard Louis Farrakhan say this, just recently, and the questions that you’re asking, this brought it all into perspective. He said “he realized that playing classical music as a violinist, opens you up to a universal language. And it makes you start to understand the commonality that we all share and puts you in the position to speak to everyone.”
I’d say that makes you, Lee England, Jr., multilingual.
In the video the man wearing the black cap on the right, takes the cap off. You won’t believe what you see underneath! GRAPHIC.
*Your heart will break as you watch the man in this video who not only speaks on the subject of being experimented on as a child, but shows the horrible proof that he lives with to this day.
We know that African Americans in America have endured unspeakable injustices; and those of us who know of slavery only through what we have read and heard are angered and enraged and scream about reparations.
But I find it interesting that someone like the gentleman in this video, who has actually gone through those horrible indignities; which I find unfathomable, says he is not even angry or bitter.
Wren T. Brown, Actor and Founder of the Ebony Repertory Theatre in Los Angeles
*I know, the headline is a general one, but unfortunately, that doesn’t make it any less true.
Overall, it seems black celebrities…even the ones working regularly now on TV and in film, don’t support black theatre. At least not in the way that they should.
Oh, I’m not talking about just showing up to a production at the theatre (probably comped) because you feel your presence alone is enough to bring it attention. I’m talking about the nuts ‘n bolts stuff. The kind you have to take your checkbook out for. Or dig deep in your pockets to find.
That kind of support.
I am so proud of writer/executive producer Shonda Rhimes on so many levels. Her works on the small screen (Greys Anatomy, Private Practice, How to Get Away With Murder, Scandal) has not only employed, but opened the door for so many black actors and actresses and directors to finally show that skills are not limited to the Caucasian race. And that they have just as much of a right to demonstrate those talents on major networks as anyone else.
This is also true for Tyler Perry; especially since he has teamed up with Oprah Winfrey‘s OWN network.
Many of these actors started in theatre, and many of them return; if only in their “spare time” when not employed in film.
So now I think, great! Black folks are working in their craft! So is it too much to ask that these talents now pay-it-forward and invest in projects coming out of Black Theatre?
It’s not like they can’t afford to.
Roger Robinson currently stars as Oedipus in “The Gospel at Colonus” at Ebony Repertory Theatre
And no, not just any black theatre, but professional, quality, black theatre.
For those reading this who are not theater-oriented, what I mean by “professional” theater is that only actors, actresses and stage managers working under the laws of Actor’s Equity Association, the labor union representing American actors and stage managers in the theatre, can work in professional theater.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with two very distinguished and accomplished gentlemen on the topic of Black Theatre.
Mr. Wren T. Brown, an accomplished actor that has been a staple in the industry for decades. You’ve seen him in popular films (Waiting to Exhale), on television (Grey’s Anatomy, The Practice, Moesha) and in theater for decades; and Mr.Roger Robinson, a Tony-award winning stage and screen actor who is currently starring in ‘The Gospel at Colonus’ presented by the Ebony Repertory Theatre, founded by Mr. Brown in 2008.
The two gentlemen are not only colleagues in the business of show, they are also friends.
This writers’ own beginnings in the entertainment industry was through Black Theatre; which makes the topic one that I am passionate about. I saw the hard work and dedication of a woman named Nora B. Vaughn, who founded the Black Repertory Groupin Northern, California along with her husband, Birel Vaughn, in 1964. I walked into her theatre in 1977, three months after giving birth to my daughter, and since that day I saw the diligence, first hand, as I worked in many of the productions before leaving to become Equity-eligible by working in professional theater. The friendships I developed during that time have still endured.
That’s the special ‘village’ the black theatre nurtures. And to know that a busy actor like Wren T. Brown, now dedicates his passion to nurturing an arts establishment in his community, for his people, is at the very least commendable and praiseworthy.
In our interview I asked him where he finds the time to run the Ebony Repertory Theatre.
“Well, you make the time. Honestly, the investment in building this theatre became the real priority. And I could not have endeavored to build this company and keep an absolute 100% full time schedule with my acting career; so it was not about turning away from it, it was pivoting to build something else all along, and now I am moving back into the activity of my career,” Brown states.
Proud and passionate about the fact that the neighborhood he now runs a theatre in, is just steps away from the home he grew up in, Brown could see it no other way than to build and develop a business right in his community.
“This is the community that raised me and nurtured me and shaped me. I was born 150 yards from the front door of the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, so to return in a role of cultural leadership and bring professional theatre to this community; you know, we do professional theatre for the community, not community theatre,” Brown clarifies.
“And we absolutely believe that this community, Washington Blvd., is one of the main arteries. And the surrounding community in the whole of Los Angeles, deserves a professional theatre that speaks to the issues that we’re addressing and the work that we’re addressing. For the community that addresses the ethnic minority, we want people to be able to walk through these doors and to be able to see themselves as whole. As defined by us.”
Roger Robinson introduced Brown to the late Israel Hicks, after he learned that the actor had been given the opportunity to take the building that was not really generating any revenue as Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, to a new level as Ebony Repertory Theatre in 2008 (they had actually started the process in 2007).
Mr. Hicks was the co-founder and Artistic Director until his passing in 2010 at the age of 66 from prostate cancer. Hicks was one busy man. At the same time he served as Chair and Artistic Director for the Theater Arts Department at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University.
At his passing, Brown told the Los Angeles Sentinel, “The American theatre has been made better because Israel Hicks lived. Words cannot express my depth of love for this extraordinarily brilliant man.”
When I spoke to Robinson, who is bi-coastal to both Los Angeles and New York, as he was preparing to star in his current work, “The Gospel at Colonus,” we got so carried away talking about Black Theatre in general, he didn’t say much about his work in the play.
You can just feel the admiration and respect he has for his friend, Wren T. Brown.
“People don’t know this about Wren. But he has been an aficionado and a working actor for many years. He has a wealth of experience,” he says.
“My only regret is that more celebrities don’t come on-board and support this theatre. They just don’t…If they can just give money because it’s a tax write-off, this is a nonprofit organization, and that hasn’t been forthcoming.”
And sidebar: You wouldn’t believe the hoards of black celebrities who have performed at this theatre, and the shows that originated at ERT that went on to larger theaters and even Broadway.
Robinson does acknowledge a group of women who under the guise of being “Friends of the Theatre” have a goal to support the theatre in their fundraising efforts.
“This theatre is going to need a million, a million-and-a-half per year to function properly,” Robinson elaborates. “I’ve seen how theaters operate and what their budgets are (because I perform in them all over the country). Most of them are in the million-and-a-half and up [category]. The Music Center is $50M a year. The Geffen is $15M. So we’re talking about small potatoes when you come to this.”
“If we had 400 people who gave $2500 per year, and most celebrities can afford that, we would have a million dollars a year; just from our own community, and that’s no money. I know I am putting my support out there.”
I asked Wren about the audiences; if the people in the community (not necessarily known for their interest in theater, historically) support the theater by coming out to see the productions.
“It’s really all about awareness…It’s also about what one is accustomed to, DeBorah,” he says. “And unfortunately, we have never had, in the black community in Los Angeles, from the time of the 30s when the Club Alabam …was one of the greatest arteries in the world; we’ve never had a place where we could consistently go to see the theatre, and be in the theatre, and see plays that were designed, directed and produced by us.”
Photo: Club Alabam at 42nd Street and Central Avenue, 1945.
“It has been a beautiful privilege to be here on Washington Blvd., to cultivate an audience from scratch. We don’t have an anticipation that we’re going to be sold out every single show when we began our existence here. But you continue to build and in the 7-1/2 years that we have been here we have built a very solid audience base. We desire for that base to grow and to add new voices all the time…When you learn that something is there, and that it is there for you.”
–Wren T. Brown
“I am deeply, deeply invested in this community, which is my community. I’m deeply invested in it. It’s not at all superficial,” Brown concludes.
So I ask again, WHY are our black celebrities, and other African American leaders of financial means, not supporting this worthy theatre.
It’s just like Roger Robinson said.
“If we had 400 people who gave $2500 per year…we would have a million dollars a year; just from our own community, and that’s no money. I know I am putting my support out there,” Robinson reveals.
EURweb/ThisNthat Editor, DeBorah B. Pryor with Ebony Repertory Theatre Founder, Wren T. Brown at the post production party celebrating the 2014 production of the play, Paul Robeson.
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