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You go, Freda!
February 7, 2012 - Rick Chatenever
She’s hardly a household name. Were it not for Jon Woodhouse’s enthusiastic write-up last week and a little YouTubing of her greatest hit, I wouldn’t even know who Freda Payne is.
But the background research got me to the 2012 Maui Invitational Music Festival’s Tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. in McCoy Studio Theater at the MACC last Thursday. Presented by Maui’s nonprofit Arts Education for Children, it featured a gospel choir preshow, a tasty opening set by Cheryl Renee and Clay Mortensen, a stirring delivery of MLK’s “I Had a Dream” speech by Bryant Neal, nice emceeing by Kathy Collins, fine backup musicianship from Brian Cuomo and friends … and then, Freda.
The artist is best known for that one huge hit, “Band of Gold.” Considering that it was a huge hit in the disco era, you can do the math.
But trying to guess her age turned into an exercise in seeing’s-not-believing when she voluptuously took the stage in her clinging gown and her silky hair and started doing her slinky struts and girly dance moves.
While her youthful presence seemed more goddesslike than diva-ish, the surprise was her voice. “Band of Gold” turned out to be the aberration in a career owing more to Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington and Lena Horne than to fleeting mirror-ball fads.
Paying tribute to legendary jazz vocalists, she was almost their match, scatting like Ella, coaxing all the emotion from Lena’s ballads, turning standards like “The Lady is a Tramp” or “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” into perfect martinis in an elegant rooftop nightclub above the lights of Manhattan.
The fact that the Ella Fitzgerald voice comes in more of a Tina Turner package was an added bonus. Freda Payne could do a Victoria’s Secrets calendar all by herself. The months and years pass, new models come and go, but her brand of sexy is forever.
A gospel singer in the audience best summed up the show when she called out, You go, Freda!”
This mix of feminine talent, beauty and confidence is the kind of thing that transforms men to boys, leaving us awed, if not speechless, in her wake.
It’s the kind of phenomenon that can produce howling at the moon or the banging of heads against walls … which is why we have the Super Bowl every year, so guys can all do it collectively.
It’s been a yearly custom to take note of the Super Bowl in this column, not so much as a mega-entertainment event—although it certainly is that —but more as annual snapshots of American culture.
In other words, the ads.
On Super Bowl Sunday, Doritos and Bud Light cover all the essential food groups, dogs are far smarter than the typical American male, and all the conversation in the room ceases whenever a Go Daddy.com ad comes on, even if no one knows to this day what Go Daddy.com is.
This was the year the ads went to film school. There was the Pepsi epic about Sir Elton John’s medieval court. Audis took a starring role in the “Twilight” series as vampire slayers. The end of Prohibition assumed the dimensions of a Ken Burns documentary … for Budweiser. Ferris Bueller’s day off turned into more of a midlife thing, for Honda. And we learned that Chevy pickups are engineered to withstand the apocalypse, or the movie equivalent.
There’s also the Super Bowl tradition of making this year’s ads be about last year’s ads — embodied in Volkswagen’s embrace of all things Darth Vader to sell their cars. A new wrinkle this year was two-for-one spots, as when the commercial for General Electric turbines worked in a plug for Budweiser, or that Chevy truck that survived the end of the world had a box of Twinkies in the passenger seat.
The evolution of the Super Bowl from being about football to a celebration of ads for their own sake might signal an economy regaining its health, and its swagger. Clint Eastwood hinted at this in a “Halftime for America” spot for Chrysler that generated all sorts of Monday morning armchair quarterbacking in political quarters.
But does anyone else experience a pang of paranoia at seeing actual movies — our favorite form of storytelling — replaced by these micro-epics, brilliant little jolts of mind control in the name of knee-jerk consumerism?
Guess not, especially since everyone seems not only willing but anxious to pay the price for them.
And as for Madonna’s halftime extravaganza … they should have let Freda Payne do it.
• Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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