Rockstar of the Week

Rockstar of the Week: Katie Washington

All over the country, college students are now in the midst of studying, cramming, and writing final exams and papers. This week’s Rockstar has something that no amount of energy drink, Cliff Notes, or Wikipedia articles could ever supply: a huge serving of of inspiration. 21-year-old Katie Washington has recently been declared the valedictorian of the University of Notre Dame’s graduating class of 2010. An incredible feat that’s exponentially magnified due to the fact that Washington is the first black valedictorian in Notre Dame’s 161-year-old history. Although the university does not keep record of each valedictorian’s race, no faculty or administrator has been able to recall any black valedictorian in the past.

Originally from Gary, Indiana, Washington was also crowned valedictorian in 2006 at her alma mater West Side High School. Throughout her college career, she has maintained a perfect 4.0 GPA while majoring in Biology and minoring in Catholic Social teaching. Choosing Washington’s most impressive accolade most likely leads to coin tosses. How could one possibly choose? Is it the lung cancer research she has conducted? How about her performing genetic studies on mosquitoes transmitting dengue and yellow fever? Maybe her co-authoring a research papers with her Biology professor? Of course, her mentoring and tutoring for the Sister-to-Sister at South Bend community’s Washington High School definitely gives her an A+ in our book. Following in the medical footsteps of her father, Washington will be joining the joint M.D./Ph.D program at John Hopkins University next school year.

“I am humbled,” Katie Washington said, during an interview with The Northwest Indiana Times. ” I am in a mode of gratitude and thanksgiving right now.”

Rockstar of the Week: Celia Cruz

By Contributing Writer: Amaany Clarke

When deciding who to choose for our Rock Star of the Week, the infamous woman in the above picture came to mind. She was born Ursula Hilaria Celia Caridad Cruz Alfonzo on October 21, 1925 in Santo Suarez of Havana, Cuba. To the Latin world she is the great Sonora (the great improviser), but to most she is known as Celia Cruz. Many have heard her name, seen her face, and can recall from some experience the vibrancy of this Afro-Cuban singer’s voice, but very few will truly grasp the degree to which she crossed boundaries and helped to create a genre of music that now touches people of all races and ethnicities.

Not only was she an illuminating entertainer, outstanding innovator, and leader of her time, she was quite simply a beautiful woman of color that stood out as one of the very few women contributing to an international musical movement of the 1960s. Celia Cruz is someone who was able to embrace and use her entire cultural identity to become accepted as an international icon in her own right.

Very early on in her career, Cruz became one of the lead singers of “Las Mulatas del Fuego”— a group of Afro-Cuban female entertainers that traveled Cuba and Mexico throughout the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. Cruz’s career really took flight, however, upon her arrival to New York City in 1961 where the Latin music scene was experiencing a lot of experimentation and sharing of rhythms and traditions across different Latin cultures. It was this era that created what is now known as Salsa music which finds its roots in Cuban son, rumba and a wide array of other styles and rhythms drawn from other Latin cultures. Celia Cruz was for Fania Records what Diana Ross was for the Motown Era. Fania Records galvanized salsa music throughout the U.S. and Latin America and enabled the genre’s success and the success of the artists who lived and breathed it.

In Afro-Cuban music, there are often references to food and “gustatory” terms that epitomize the way the music is performed danced, sung and played. The word salsa, alone, means sauce and Cruz was often referred to as the true embodiment of “sabor” or flavor. Over time, her style and aesthetic became more and more unique and over the top. Cruz was known for shouting “azucar!” or “sugar!” at the beginning of each show. While it began just as a memorable expletive in a story she liked to tell before each performance, it soon became symbolic of her Cuban heritage and culture. Sugar is an essential agricultural product in Cuba’s history that is directly linked to both the vibrant diversity of the island and the violence of slavery that consumes much of its history.

This beautiful singer passed on July 16, 2003 after battling brain cancer and as she requested, was given two funeral services—one in Miami and one in New York. Her life achievements prove that her 78 years spent on this Earth were worthwhile having earned five Grammy awards, many a gold record, countless honors and Lifetime Achievement awards. She received three honorary doctorates from Yale, Florida University and the University of Miami and was a guest of the White house for five presidents. She also founded the Celia Cruz Foundation in 2002 dedicated to raising funds for cancer research and providing scholarships for young Latino music students.

This is definitely one woman of color that sizzled on and off stage throughout her entire life and we hope her memory lives on for generations to come. Her unapologetically dark skin, heavy accent, fiery moves, soulful voice, and infinite doses of “azucar” speak volumes to the Afro-Latino experience that so many other women can relate to. That is why she is our Rock Star of the Week!

Rockstar of the Week: Shingai Shoniwa

According to the dictionary, rock and roll music is a fusion of black rhythm and blues and white country music, usually based on a twelve-bar structure and an instrumentation of guitar, bass, and drums. Yet, despaite the heavy influence that people of color have had on the genre, they continue to be excluded from this musical culture and industry. Over the decades, a handful of men of color have managed to successfully break into the scene, but the women of color rock artists come few and far between.

Enter Shingai Shoniwa, frontwoman of the UK band The Noisettes and this weeks’ Rockstar of the Week. While growing up in the UK public housing system, Shingai would use music as a form of escape from her surroundings. As she stated in an interview:

With my music and lyrics I’m communicating the perseverance of the human spirit… and that doesn’t come without tragedy or comedy. Music is the soundtrack to my life and I see everyone’s life as a feature film – it’s not a rehearsal. [1]

The name Shingai actually means perseverance in Shona, a language in Zimbabwe, the country where Shingai’s roots reside. Her desire to experiment with rock and roll music stems originally from Zimbabwean musician Thomas Mapfumo’s guitar translations on the mbira. After honing her musical gift at the BRIT School of Arts and Technology (the alma matter of Leona Lewis and Amy Winehouse) and a brief stint as a burlesque performer, Shingai decided to pursue her dreams and create a band with friend and classmate Dan Smith on the guitar. Later, drummer Jamie Morrison would join to make the trio complete.

With two albums to date—the 2007 What’s the Time, Mr. Wolf? and the 2009 Wild Young Hearts—The Noisettes have brought a wonderfully refreshing element to rock and roll music, not only musically but aesthetically as well. Normally, Billie Holiday, Diana Ross, and Karen O comparisons would make even the most original artist become a bit jaded, but not Shingai. In an interview with Venus Zine, she reveals her thoughts on the origins of these comparisons:

It’s because I’m a girl and because we’ve come so far as women in the music industry. We are able to speak for ourselves through our music rather than being defined and put into the spotlight in a very male kind of groomed way for an obviously predominantly male audience…I feel like it is our time now…There are a lot more women behind the scenes and lots of the people who end up comparing us are male journalists writing for men who might not get it.” [2]

Of course, any feature on Shingai would be incomplete without any mention of her distinctive style and her fierce showmanship abilities. In terms of style influence, Shingai has credited her infatuation with bright colors and loud prints to the bold and fabulous flamboyance of African women. In addition to her extraordinary fashion sense, Shingai rocks Google-worthy hairstyles that defy gravity while rivaling the beauty and grace of traditionally classic coifs. The same goes for her performances, when her natural rockstar quality really shines through. Not only has this leading lady dislocated her shoulder while rocking out on tour, but she’s even jammed on the bass with a loaf of bread! “Someone handed me a stale baguette and I carried on playing with that,” she said.

Shingai Shoniwa proves that black girls can and do rock, literally!

Check out some of The Noisette’s tracks and performances below:

“Don’t Upset The Rhythm”:

“Never Forget You”:

“When You Were Young” (cover of The Killers):

Rockstar of the Week: The Obama Women

“Behind every great man is a great woman.” Ideally, the “behind” would be replaced by a “besides,” but in President Obama’s case this cliché is quite accurate. While the media chooses to focus on Mrs. Michelle Obama’s outfit of choice, seven black women from President Obama’s administration work diligently behind the White House scene. These women, also known as “The Obama women” or “The Sisterhood,” constitute “the largest contingent of high-ranking black women to work for a president.” [1] In addition to making history, all women boast impressive resumes and exemplary achievements. Readers, please meet our rockstars of the week!!

courtesy of
from far left, clockwise: Susan Rice, UN Ambassador; Mona Sutphen, deputy chief of staff; Melody Barnes, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council; Desireé Rogers, White House social secretary; Cassandra Butts, deputy White House counsel; Lisa Jackson, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency; Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser.

Now, seven may seem like a large number, but in relation to the amount of academically and professionally successful black women in the United States, these powerful women remain outnumbered:

“Women earn about two-thirds of the associate and bachelor’s degrees awarded to black students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, and Bureau of Labor data show that more than 2.6 million black women were employed in management and professional jobs last year […] Even so, women and minorities still lack representation in proportion to their numbers on the federal level.” [2]

We here at BLACK GIRLS ROCK! are all about black women breaking barriers, especially in areas as influential as the government, not to mention The White House. Fundamentally, the significance of these sisters parallels the significance of President Obama’s victory–their presence in a predominantly white male field signifies possibilities that, before now, some black girls only dreamt of. Yet, with great power comes great responsibility, so as these great women continue to address their designated tasks to the best of their abilities, they ought not forget about the many little Valerie Jarretts and Susan Rices in training.

If you’d like to learn more about these rockstars, HERE is a great starting place.

Rockstar of the Week: Aaliyah

aaliyah14Where to begin? Was it the low bang cooly swept over one eye? The effortlessly, comfortable baggy pants? The innovative choreography and music videos? The blissfully mellow soprano vocals? From her beautiful music down to her fly style, Aaliyah undoubtedly deserves the honor of being named Black Girls Rock!’s inaugural Rockstar of the Week. Eight years ago from yesterday, we lost this songstress, but we will never forget how Aaliyah reached the highest level of stardom withoutresorting to any vulgar, hypersexual images. Unconcerned with the popular adage “Sex Sells,” Aaliyah broke down multiple barriers while remaining true to her self. Current and budding female singers, take note.

Check out some of her videos below:

Vibe Interview:

Interview from her “Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number” Days:

Music Video: “Are You That Somebody?”


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