Wednesday, August 19, 2009

"Get Together" - U.N. World Humanitarian Day

Today is the first United Nations World Humanitarian Day, honoring international aid workers. The event is meant to highlight the critical role played by those who bring humanitarian relief to those in need, often due to conflict or natural disaster. This aid is provided impartially and without cost, regardless of the race, creed, color or religion of the aid recipients.

Aid staff have increasingly been the target of kidnapping and physical violence: in fact, last year there were more deaths of aid workers --- "armed" only with food, medical supplies and emergency shelters --- than of UN peacekeeping troops. This date (August 19) was chosen to commemorate the sixth anniversary of the bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad, an attack that killed twenty-two workers.

It may be hard for some to understand that the aid workers only agenda is to help ensure the survival of people whose lives have been disrupted. It is especially important to lend aid when the victims of circumstances not of their own making are children.

I have been a supporter of the U.S Fund for UNICEF since I was a grade school girl carrying my bright orange Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF donation box each Halloween. Through college and into my early professional life, I supported the UNICEF gift shops in Westwood Village and in Beverly Hills. I've sent UNICEF holiday cards for over twenty years.

But in recent years, it took the campaigns of UNICEF's celebrity ambassadors to bring the organization back into sharp focus for me. I don't have children, so my social activism was not specifically directed at them. Now it is. The celebrity ambassadors were not the reason for my involvement, but they were the catalyst. As UNICEF knows, fame has its uses, and one of its best uses is to raise awareness of critical concerns.

UNICEF works through their thousands of unsung staff and field workers, as well as through their Celebrity Ambassadors, Corporate Partners, NGO Partners, Sports Partners and their indispensible volunteers.

For more information of UNICEF's essential work and to see what you can do to help, download the 2009 UNICEF Humanitarian Action Report.

Follow U.S. Fund for UNICEF on MySpace, Facebook and Twitter.

In honor of all international aid workers, it is time to stop making excuses. Act now to do your part to help UNICEF do "whatever it takes to save a child."

Love is but a song we sing
And fear's the way we die
You can make the mountains ring
Or make the angels cry
Though the bird is on the wing
And you may not know why

C'mon, people now
Smile on your brother
Ev'rybody get together
Try to love one another right now

Some will come and some will go
And we shall surely pass
When the one that left us here
Returns for us at last
We are but a moment's sunlight
Fading in the grass

C'mon, people now
Smile on your brother
Ev'rybody get together
Try to love one another right now

If you hear the song we sing
You will understand
You hold the key to love and fear
In your trembling hand
Just one key unlocks them both
It's there at your command

C'mon, people now
Smile on your brother
Ev'rybody get together
Try to love one another right now

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Clay Aiken Upgrades Record Label, Inclusion Project Foundation

Six and a half years after hitting the public spotlight, Clay Aiken is moving to a higher level, both in his professional career and in his work as an advocate for children.

From the Clay Aiken Official Fan Club:

We Are Excited To Announce...
Clay Aiken signs record deal with Universal Music’s Decca Records. Expect new music in the first half of 2010! Keep checking back here for more details to come.

With this signing, Clay has moved on from the second largest music group, Sony Music Entertainment, to the world's leader, Universal Music Group, clearly a sign of UMG's faith in Clay's talent and potential to create premiere music. Clay's new label, Decca Records, was the original label of some of the greatest vocalists in the world (including Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Judy Garland and Bing Crosby), and has evolved into the home of some of the most eclectic, singularly gifted and respected singers and musicians in the contemporary music scene.

From James to Sting.

From Marianne Faithfull to Alison Moyet.

From Rufus Wainwright to Boz Scaggs.

From Andrea Bocelli to Boyz II Men.

And with hot breaking acts like Gary Go, the Love Willows and Brendan James, Decca continues to innovate, to experiment and to provide the best in music, from the classic to the avant garde.

Clay has shown himself to be a phenomenal interpretive singer and consummate entertainer, who can go from pop-inflected rave-ups, to tender ballads, to social anthems, to inventive reinterpretations, to heartbreaking revelations, all with absolute authority and conviction. He's going to fit in just fine.

[One last look in the rearview mirror: Clay was signed to (then) SonyBMG's RCA Records in 2003 after finishing the second season of American Idol in a statistical dead heat, just one half of one percent behind winner Ruben Studdard. He then went on to record four studio albums: the number one hit Measure of a Man, which sold nearly three million copies and made Clay the top selling artist on the RCA label in 2003; the record-breaking holiday album Merry Christmas With Love; A Thousand Different Ways, and; last year's On My Way Here, which became his fourth album in four releases to debut in the Billboard Top Five. He also released a holiday EP, All Is Well, for the label. (A compliation disc, Playlist: The Very Best of Clay Aiken,was also released by Sony Legacy after Aiken left RCA.) Total sales of CDs, EPs and singles, approximately six and a half million.]

August is shaping up to be a time of lots of good news from Clay.

Five days previously, on August 5, Clay's Official Fan Club and his foundation simultaneously announced the decision to change the name of his inclusion advocacy charity from the Bubel/Aiken Foundation to the National Inclusion Project.

Explaining the change in An open letter from co-founders Clay Aiken and Diane Bubel, Clay and Diane write:

In the six years since, the Foundation has established itself as a leading voice for inclusion working with a “Who’s Who” list of youth organizations – YMCAs, Best Buddies International, Boys & Girls Clubs, CampFire USA, 4H, the ARC – as well as many other local parks and recreation departments, community centers, and privately-run programs. The Foundation has formed partnerships with Johns Hopkins University’s National Center for Summer Learning, the University of Massachusetts-Boston’s Center for Social Development and Education, the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability, the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Community Integration, and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s FPG Child Development Center.

As we realized the impact the Foundation has already made, it became apparent that even bigger accomplishments could be on the horizon. To that end, we along with the rest of the Board decided that a new name for the Foundation would establish long-term credibility and stability. We sought a name that would signify the Foundation’s position as a national leader on inclusion as well as recognize the Foundation’s start and the efforts of its faithful supporters. After much thought and deliberation, we are proud to introduce the organization we co-founded as the National Inclusion Project.

Be sure to check in with the National Inclusion Project's website often to learn what's new in their work "to make full inclusion for children with disabilities an everyday reality."

This year's Champions Gala, honoring those whose "substantive efforts have helped to give children with disabilities the opportunity to experience life alongside their peers," will be held in Raleigh, NC on October 17. Individual tickets for the event are sold out.

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

James Thompson's "Different Faces" --- an 'Opening Night' Feature Story

A few years ago, I went to hear some music at the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood. The headliner was Zucchero, a funky Italian superstar musician whose style is part rock, part blues, part soul and all energy. It was a terrific show.

There was this tall thin dude in an apple cap playing in the band that night, and he was all kinds of incredible. His name is James Thompson. He moved effortlessly from funky saxophone to cool flute to soulful harmonica, then used his honeyed baritone-tenor in both feature solos and impeccable backing vocals.

Damn, but that James Thompson stole the show.

I could be a bit prejudiced. I've known James all of my life.

He's my brother.

James is one of those people who could not possibly have grown up to be anything else than what he became --- one of the most gifted and versatile sidemen in the world, true, but a brilliant musician in his own right. Accomplished at bass, guitar, piano, keyboards, saxophone and flute, James, except for a single year in his life, has always made his living as a working musician.

It shows.

As I wrote in the blog "For Free", James, who is based in Italy, has played everywhere from the Vatican to Red Square, from Montreux Jazz Festival to the Royal Albert Hall. He's jammed with legendary musicians, shared a bottle of wine (or two) with some of the most important artists of the last thirty years, and continued to hone his craft before millions of music lovers worldwide.

James has also fronted his own band in various combinations for some time now, but he's finally released his own CD, entitled "Different Faces." It is as diverse, as unexpected and as entertaining as he is (James is also one of the funniest people I know), with music ranging from pop, rock, soul, and acoustic to tropical and smooth jazz. That's just for a start.

James’ first solo CD “Different Faces”, his debut CD as leader, is a project one year in the making.

Take a short trip into his multi-faceted world, where he negotiates some often peculiar musical twists and turns. You’ll hear irony, humor and sometimes abrupt mood swings in action on this pleasantly unpredictable CD.

There’s a common thread running through “Different Faces” that holds it all together nicely.
--- from the "Different Faces" album notes

Check out James Thompson's "Different Faces" --- as singer and songwriter, and playing sax and flute, he reveals his own unique appeal.

Available now at CDBaby, and coming soon to iTunes!

Listen to samples at James Thompson's MySpace.

Also visit James Thompson's website.

-- photo from musicclub

"Opening Night" is a recurring feature, spotlighting newly announced projects, new releases and new artists --- often at the same time.

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