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Straight No Chaser: Extraordinary Talent Rocks the Park, Motown-Style

Op/Ed By Gloria Winston Al-Sarag


gloria_winston_al-sarag2Last year, I missed the end-of-summer concert series, Roc The Park, sponsored by the city of Rochester, and the brainchild of Mayor Lovely Warren. This year, I missed “A Night of Neo Soul” and “Rhythm and Groove R&B Tribute,” but, I decided I was not about to miss the “Tribute to Motown,” a certified throw-back from the 60s.

I missed it last year, because I was not able to find a parking space that would prevent me from walking a mile to the venue, at MLK Park, downtown.

This year, I tried to be wiser, and arrive early enough to find a prime spot, a few feet away from the entrance to the park. I had heard so many good things about what I missed last year, I was determined to make it my business to be front and center at the show.

Ultimately, there was not one moment I found myself disappointed by the decision. There had to be over one thousand people in the park for the tribute, that Saturday, Sept. 5. The event was billed as one featuring Carlton Wilcox Live and friends, along with special guest, Divine Nature.

And, in addition to those who were top-billed, there was so much more in store.

The Tribute to Motown had been hosted by Yolanda Smilez and Zack Johnson, both bringing lots of laughter to the stage, along with the introduction of the performers. Carlton Wilcox, and Grand Tone, produced the event. Ebony Dukes, of Fina Event Management, was coordinator of the event.

Here’s how the show went: Carton Wilcox Live opened the show. Carton Wilcox Live carries the distinction, in many circles, of being the No. 1 R&B band in Rochester. I first heard them perform at the Mayor’s Ball in 2014, then, again, in 2015. It is easy to see why they have, in four years time, become a favorite here in Rochester. The vocals, as well as their instrumental music, suggest the band has put in hours and hours of rehearsal time, in order to perfect their sound and showmanship.

Carlton Wilcox, the leader of the group, is an accomplished bass guitarist and vocalist. He also has an unselfish spirit, which has allowed him to showcase, and put the vocals of Nate Anderson and Renee Anderson, as well as others, out front.

Nate and Renee are brother and sister, siblings whose smooth, and sometimes lively, song-stylings will more than lift you from your seat. They’ve mastered their craft with ease. They delivered every Motown favorite you could imagine at the show, flawlessly and professionally.

And, according to the souvenir brochure, which included their bios, Nate and Renee are both native Rochesterians, and are currently producing a joint album. The name of their brother-sister duo is  “PB&J,” and the songs will have an R&B flair, the brochure said.

Why we go outside of Rochester to find people to entertain us is mind boggling to me. We have home-grown talent who obviously handles the job well. And, everyone who can sing, seemingly gets an opportunity to shine.

The vocals of Danielle Ponder, another local and seasoned talent, were also a big hit with the crowd, in addition to other artists whose names I did not secure, but thoroughly enjoyed.

Divine Nature had also been featured that evening. The group, having recently made their mark in the local and national arena as gospel singers, decided to come together, and create what they called a “special sound.”

Their cover of Smokey Robinson’s “Quiet Storm” is still with me. Group members Toussaint, Chubb, Robbie, and Kendall are all accomplished musicians and songwriters, whose music has been designed to reach beyond the church.

In addition, another highlight for me was the cast of the upcoming “Cholly Atkins Story,” who performed a couple of Motown hits with Carlton Wilcox Live. For those who are not up on their musical, or Motown, history, Cholly Atkins, a.k.a. “Pop” Atkins, was the famed choreographer who was instrumental in creating dance steps for The Temptations.

Two cast members from the performance, that I personally recognized, were Michael Bruce and Rev. Errol Hunt. Bruce is vocal director for the production, and, anyone who has ever heard him sing already knows what is in store. The rest of the cast that participated in the  show also blew the roof off the stage.

The “Cholly Atkins Story’ was written by a new, creative playwright named Michael Avent Sr. Avent also happens to be a blood relative, and first cousin, of Atkins.

The play is set to hit the stage, in its entirety, February 2016, just in time for Black History Month.

In my opinion, it is always important to document our own history, as opposed to waiting for others to do it. Atkins was a legend, having created and choreographed dance steps for artists like The Temptations, The Spinners, and many other acts who recorded with Motown.

The vocals and harmony of many of these groups were also legendary, but, many people also enjoyed the dance steps and choreography, and, fans today still recall them with delight.

The Cholly Atkins Story is curently in fundraising mode, and looking for sponsorship. Talent like this, within our own community, deserves to be supported. I’m sure the story of Cholly Atkins’ life will be historically accurate, and more than entertaining.

Wednesday, Sept. 23,  a public presentation will be given for potential sponsors. The presentation, and glimpse into such a quality production, will be held at the Frederick Douglass Resource Center, beginning at 6:30 p.m.

If anyone is interested in becoming a sponsor, feel free to call playwright and director Michael Avent Sr., at 585.987.7811, for additional information.

The Tribute to Motown more than rocked the park Sept. 5, and, next year promises to be even better.

Thanks to the city of Rochester, WDKX and others. Let’s keep these drama-free venues coming!