Posted by: exiwp | August 8, 1991

Business Unusual (1991)

NOTE: Interesting how Newman used to be more than willing to step up to the plate and take full responsibility for every single front group (and, more importantly, to openly acknowledge a connection among the IWP’s cultural, political, therapeutic and business ventures). In the article below, Newman is assigned full credit for a variety of artistic and financial schemes, and crows about having the support of prominent members of the black arts community—all this and corporate sponsorship, too! With the exception of the All Stars Talent Show and the Castillo Cultural Center, all of the projects mentioned in this article were either abandoned (by Newman) or were jointly disbanded after bitter contests for artistic and financial control. Guess who served as free labor in all of these businesses—social therapy patients and rank-n-file cadre.

By Michael Klein
National Alliance, August 8, 1991

When the Party Boat set sail for Bear Mountain up New York’s majestic Hudson River on a foggy May morning seven wars ago, Dr. Fred Newman didn’t know at the time that the all day outing would lead, a few short years later, to a corporate sponsorship of an immensely popular summer entertainment extravaganza that has become the talk of the town. Not to mention finding himself neck deep in film, theater, video and cultural enterprises.

And much, much more: there’s the corporate sponsorship deals with Anheuser-Bush Companies, Inc, the giant brewer behind Budweiser beer, a feature film production, a hit off-off Broadway show, the largest and most successful talent show network for youth in the country, business ventures with a sparkling of some talented and creative people, all of them innovators, in their respective fields. People like the Reverend Sharpton, America’s premier civil rights leader, who is less widely known for his role in bringing millions of dollars from the billion dollar entertainment business back into the communities from which they come; multi-talented music producer and publicist Tony Rose; writer, actor and director James Chapman who leads the Living the Dream theater company; songwriter Annie Roboff and countess more performers, artists, DJs, promoters, recording engineers, investors, publicist, rapper, songwriters, roadies, writers, clowns and fire-jugglers.

Not to mention the hardest working man in show business, America’s most beloved contemporary artist, James Brown. This fall, one of the record companies Newman founded will release a fabulous lost masterpiece, a set of recordings by the Godfather featuring none other than Reverend Al Sharpton preaching alongside Brown singing a series of gospel classics, including “God Has Smiled on Me,” “Power in the Blood” and “Nearer My God to Thee.”

Welcome to Fred Newman Productions, Inc., the business empire built by America’s most controversial political figure, with a portfolio that includes some of the hottest acts and talents around.

But back in May of 1984, Newman was concerned with managing the first presidential campaign of the then fledgling New Alliance Party, the independent party he had been instrumental in bringing into being five years earlier when he brought together progressive leaders of the welfare rights movement to form a people’s party in New York City. By ’84, NAP was ready to go national, and that was going to cost money. Newman opted for a cruise up the Hudson, which would give members of NAP’s New York community the opportunity to have some fun and sun on the Hudson and raise money for the campaign.

It was a hit—so much so that by August they were back on the boat, this time for a moonlight cruise named “Jumpin’ in ’84,” which was not only a fundraiser for the campaign but also a tribute to top African American artists starring alumni of the legendary Count Basie Band. It was fun, moonlight, and all-important dollars for an historic move onto the national arena, for progressive independent politics.

Newman was convinced that the key to successful fundraising was professionalization. For the two summer cruises, New Alliance Party activists and volunteers took on the job of planning and running the rides, the primary goal being that everyone who came on board would have a BLAST. The idea was doubly radical; it revolutionized not only how entertainment events were done, but gave a new and radical twist to how leftist politics was done as well.

“There has always been, tragically, a glorification of poverty in progressive politics,” Newman recalled, citing the instance of a progressive Southern state legislator who had complained about how the New Alliance Party violated the tenet that for a movement organization to be legit, it had to be poor. “We do not glorify poverty,”

And out of that simple dictum—that poverty is an evil which needs to be battled out of existence by any means necessary—Newman has fashioned an extraordinary, new way of doing business, a business as unusual as anything in these trying times that is committed to the needs of people and our communities above all else.

From the stage of the popular downtown club, Wetlands, Cantor Cohen Debo’rah Yahvah and company, dressed in biblical garb complete with swords, leads a crowd of hundred of mostly white young people in a chant/rally/sing-along, turning the trendy, alternative music club in to a rocking call and response happening.

“C’mon, ya’ll, let me hear you!”

“No justice.”

“No peace.”

They chant for Tawana Brawley, and Phillip Pannnell, Jr., and other victims of racial violence, here in the middle of the New Music Seminar. The Castillo International recording artist was one of the featured performers during the annual showcase of the cutting edge of music and performance. Debo’rah has already sold over a thousand copies of her “Reggae Down Babylon” single, recently out on Castillo International, a record, tape, video and publications production and distribution company that is among the latest of Newman’s enterprises, and which is in the midst of discussing licensing for the record, which has made a splash as far away as Japan.

Castillo International’s Gabrielle Kurlander, special assistant to Newman, built CI into a vital force in the publishing and recording business, developing a national sales team that pounded the pavements to build the grassroots network, and bringing on as national spokesperson, Moses Stewart, who rose to national prominence as a much-respected battler for social justice following the murder of his son, Yusuf Hawkins in Bensonhurst in 1989. The funky “Reggae Down Babylon” was the label’s first straight-ahead dance release.

A powerful vocalist and songwriter who refined her art in the churches and clubs of Florida (she was once dubbed “Jacksonville’s own Aretha Franklin”), Cantor Cohen Debo’rah Yahvah’s music is an organic part of the new and righteous movement for social justice on the streets of African America whose call and response rallying cry: “No justice, No peace,” has shaken the forces of evil and injustice across this land. The regulars at Wetlands, where the radical alternative culture of the 60s has been revived, had just joined forces with a new movement—a social/cultural/political happening of the 90s based in the African American communities, new and unusual business. The performance/get together is rocking, passionate, historic and fun. Newman strikes again.

Back on the Hudson—around 1985.

Out of the success of the boatride/fundraisers, the idea for a concert series on the water—Musicruise—was born. Key to making it happen was the coming “on board” of respected concert producer Julie Lokin of New Audiences, Inc., one of the largest such enterprises in the New York area. Lokin had started out as a patient of Newman’s, whose burgeoning Social Therapy practice had grown over the past decade and a half to become a significant force in the mental health field. Newman established himself in the field of business counseling; among a group of business people who had sought out Newman’s much respected services was a young Jewish businessman Bob Levy of the advertising firm Levy, Sussman and Levine, who today serves as executive vice president of Fred Newman Productions, Inc.

Together Lokin and Newman, with Levy providing management support, have piloted Musicruise into what is now its eighth and most ambitious year, having established itself over that period with a roster of top acts and the Newman brand of fun. Before you even embark from Manhattans Pier 81 (every Friday night throughout the summer there are two sailings, and some nights three), you can spend (free) the early evening hours on land enjoying a unique “carnival of possibilities” with fire-jugglers, slack-rope walkers, belly dancers, stilt-walkers, clowns and wandering musicians, not to mention food, drink and crafts for sale. By the time you board the boat, ticket in hand, you are most definitely chillin’ and ready for some of the hottest acts around. The whole experience of mingling top talent and a delightful array of acts that would make Broadway Danny Rose green with envy has resulted in rave reviews across town from customers, weekend guides and trade magazines.

“Musicruise Mixes Music, Social Message,” says the headline in Amusements and Business, a respected industry journal. “Before the ship sets sail, guests are courted on the pier by an offbeat carnival of mimes, clowns and stilt walking poets, produced by New York’s Castillo Cultural Center,” AB notes in a flattering profile. “The venture is not operating without a social conscience: Mingled with the free entertainment are vocal representatives from the Community Literacy Research Project, a New York organization combating the city’s drug problem. The representatives speak to the public, call for donations and sell merchandise to support their causes.” Newman strikes again.

What’s a veteran political activist such as Newman doing, swimming in the mainstream of the billion dollar entertainment biz reading Variety, auditioning talent and sitting down to hammer out a string of deals with all sorts of people you might ask. Those who first saw him in the entertainment [magazines] or chatted with him after a theater performance of “Our Young Black Men Are Dying and Nobody Seems to Care,” James Chapman’s extraordinary and moving play that Newman is directing at the Castillo Cultural Center (where he is the executive director) may wonder how one of the keenest minds in show biz wound up as America’s most important and controversial political activist and organizer.

“Buy political,” says Newman. That was a slogan he coined in the early 80s, when the political community he was building was increasingly reaching out to and getting support from local businesses eager to be a part of a movement for political empowerment. Political community has distinguished the tendency Newman founded in the late 60s throughout its nearly 25-year existence. Newman was born in the Bronx to a poor Jewish family during the depths of the Depression, artistically and literarily-gifted, those talents were forced below the surface by the survival needs that followed the tragic death of his father when Newman was nine years old. The gifts came out instead in the machine shops of the Bronx and Manhattan, where he learned the craft of tool-making. After service in Korea, Newman took advantage of the GI Bill to earn a doctorate in philosophy at California’s prestigious Stanford University.

Following graduation there was a series of teaching posts at colleges coast to coast, but by the mid-60s Newman was being bounced out of school after school for giving all A’s to every one of his students so as to keep them from being drafted. His academic career finished after that rebellion, Newman—now quite radicalized by the turmoil of the times—turned to political organizing.

In contrast to the various leftist “party builders” who’ve come and gone, Newman’s burning concern was to sink roots into the heart of the community by building, from the bottom up, independent political, cultural, economic and therapeutic institutions.

“Buy political” grew from the success of that new kind of building: neighborhood businesses, mom and pop stores, the local dental clinic and scores of other establishments were happy to support the efforts, with advertising, contributions of goods, services and money; lots of other ways: Newman insisted that the support be mutual.

“It has been African American artists who have made the music business in this country.” says CI’s Kurlander. “But distribution is owned lock, stock and barrel by companies with no concern for the African American community. We’ve had the beginning, with CI of establishing a truly independent distribution network. All of the profits go back into the community. We’re here to make money and we know what we are going to do with it—reinvest it in the community.”

By the time of its first outing up the Hudson, Newman’s tendency was ready to branch out with the particular brand of professionalism that Newman had developed, moving ever more deeply into both the high-rolling entertainment business (although the base of community business support was always nurtured) as well as other arenas. The Rainbow Lobby was launched in Washington, DC to apply grassroots pressure on Capitol Hill that would force the powers-that-be to pay attention to the yearning for peace and decency that politicians generally ignored. Very rapidly, the Lobby became a million dollar operation, investing the funds contributed by tens of thousands of supporters back into legislative and lobbying efforts that have already won a number of significant victories for the national and international democracy movement.

And NAP was getting ready to launch its second national campaign, with Newman managing the 1988 Presidential run of Dr. Lenora Fulani, the dynamic national spokesperson for the party who made history by becoming the first African American and the first woman to get on the ballot in every state. The professionalism that had by now become the hallmark of the tendency not only pulled off the almost superhuman feat of gathering the necessary million and half signatures (striking down a number of anti-democratic state election laws in the process) but also qualifying for over a million dollars in federal primary matching funds. Between the Lobby, the national campaigns, Musicruise (and other entertainment ventures launched by New Alliance Productions), Newman’s Social Therapy practice and that of other therapists he trained at the Institute for Social Therapy, the tendency had become a “millionaire,” but with a twist: all of the money is reinvested back into the community, to fund local campaigns, develop young artists, build schools, expand health care and legal services, and much, much more.

Musicruise and the All Stars Talent Show Network in particular had sunk themselves deep into the cultural mainstream. The boat rides have had continuous corporate sponsorship and support, while the talent shows culminating in the twice yearly National Finals in New York’s Town Hall have become star-studded, gala affairs. Throughout the year, young people who join the talent show network not only get to display and develop the awesome creative talent they have honed in the ‘hood, but also run lights, stage manage, sell tickets and build audiences in their communities, creating the infrastructure necessary for the network to grow and thrive at the grassroots.

Because this isn’t about simply dropping some dollars into a community, but actually creating what is needed for a whole new way of doing entertainment, and business, so as to grow and expand.

“This business enterprise is one which has been built to support our people and our community,” says Newman. “People like Cantor Cohen to Tony Rose to James Chapman are contributing to that.”

It’s quite dialectical really, the community contributing to an enterprise that makes it possible for the community to be given to, all in one business package. Most importantly, the model breaks out of the traditional scheme which has devastated under-served, and downright exploited, communities dependent often for their very lives on the uncertainties of corporate largesse. Even the most conscientious businessperson has to weigh a whole host of factors in giving back something to the folks who made success possible in the first place.

“Individuals and businesses have always given back to the community in some way or another, but now there is a business designed to do just that,” Newman explains. “Not just a portion of the money, but the bulk of it goes into the community, because that is how the business has been set up.”

Which has led to some extraordinary and important collaborations of late. In association with Carl Clay, the moving force behind Black Spectrum Theater in the African American community of Queens, Fred Newman Productions and the Community Entertainment Group is producing “Let’s Get Busy,” a powerful film starring rap idol Doug E. Fresh as a young artist who organizes young folks in his community to challenge the corrupt political machine that’s selling them and their families down the river. Doug E. is on of a crew of talented and socially concerned artists who have lent their support to the Talent Show Network, as have Regina Belle, Kool Moe Dee, MC Lyte, and actor Giancarlo Esposito.

Clay—who describes Black Spectrum as “dedicated to producing a theater of social relevancy”—first met Newman’s enterprise through the All Stars. “There was a very positive gravitation toward both entities we had developed mutual respect about programs that we were both doing with young people,” Clay recalled in an interview at the start of the project last year. “I had gone around trying to get the resources to do this film, and there was a great deal of interest—but a different type of interest. A lot of people didn’t want to get involved in the politics, no matter how much I talked about this being the wave of the future, and that it’s the kind of thing we need to talk about with young people. A couple of foundations wanted to help out, but the bottom line was a lot of ‘interest.’”

Sated for release later this year, “Let’s Get Busy” will be the first full-length film Fred Newman Productions will have helped to make happen. A number of distributors are already looking with interest at the film, which is now getting the finishing touches put on its soundtrack.

I don’t want nobody to give me nothing. Open up the door, I’ll get it myself.”
James Brown, 1968

That’s the Godfather of Soul himself talking. And as everybody knows, there is probably no artist in America who ha been a more passionate advocate of folks and communities doing it for themselves with their own strength. “Just open up the door,” James has always demanded.

And there has probably been no more forceful door opener in the past 15 years than the Reverend Al Sharpton, currently president of the National Action Network. who in addition to being the most important civil rights activist in the nation today, has also specialized in putting heat on corporations to give back to the communities some of the money they take from it (fully 25% of all U.S. entertainment consumer dollars are generated from the African American community).

Forged in the crucible of Dr. King’s “Operation Breadbasket” by the Reverend Jesse Jackson, throughout the 1990s Sharpton led numerous campaigns that leaned on big entertainment to give something back, using community mobilization as muscle.

In 1980, while Sharpton was heading up the National Youth Movement, he went into a studio in Augusta, Georgia with Brown, who since the early 70s has been a surrogate father to the civil rights activist, to lay down the only gospel record that Brown has cut in his extraordinary 30-year recording career.

At the time of recording I had already been involved for years in the movement, and he had supported me, doing concerts with the Youth Movement,” Sharpton recalled. “He and I decided we wanted to do a record, and this was the only time that he wanted to do gospel. He wanted to record me preaching, so we decided to [combine] it as a rap/gospel record with me preaching and him singing.”

They put down the two main tracks with James’ powerhouse band, the JB’s: “God Has Smiled on Me” and “Power in the Blood,” a pair of powerful and inspirational rockers with Brown and “Rev” trading off on the vocals (“Preach. Rev” Brown exhorts his surrogate son in the course of the tracks). Three years later they were back in the studio to round out the collaboration, laying down more tracks, including a beautiful arrangement by Brown of the classic “Nearer My God to Thee.”

Recently, Brown decided that he was going to pull the lost masterpieces from the vault to lay on Sharpton as a gift.

“The ultimate gift that a musician can give is to do his music with somebody,” says Sharpton proudly. “To have James Brown record you—that’s like having Picasso do a portrait of you so this is an ultimate, personal gift he gave me, more as a result of our father and son relationship than anything else.”

Sharpton brought the tapes to Newman, whose Castillo International had already produced and marketed Reverend Al’s first release on tape, the remarkable “Sharpton and Fulani in Babylon.” Produced, mixed and mastered by the enormously gifted Tony Rose, “Babylon” was Castillo International’s first tape release. Rose took the documentary audio footage from the movement on the streets for justice that Sharpton and Fulani had been leading and transformed it in the studio into an extraordinary audio experience, mixing in raps, beats, samples and adding special effects that created a brand new genre altogether which grabs you, the listener, from your chair and gently but firmly thrusts you into history.

CI also produced and distributed “Independent Black Leadership in America,” the only collection of the writings of Sharpton, Fulani and Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam currently available under one cover. The book, released last year and now in its second printing, is carried by a number of national distributors, including Baker and Taylor, the nation’s largest. Building upon the support provided by community-based book and record stores, “Independent Black Leadership” has now landed on the shelves (and the best seller lists) of chain stores like B. Dalton’s and Tower Books, generating profits that can be sunk back into attracting and supporting more talented authors from the community. And this September, CI will publish “The Man Behind the Sound Bite: the Real Story of the Reverend Al Sharpton,” the first biography of the “people’s preacher.”

FN Productions’ executive [vice president] Bob Levy is thrilled with the forthcoming release of the Brown/Sharpton gospel collection on the CI label, and was equally thrilled with the opportunity to meet Brown in Augusta recently. “I had been directly responsible for the marketing and advertising for Polygram Records with Levy, Sussman and Levine in the 70s—when James Brown was on the label,” Levy recalled. “I hadn’t had an opportunity to meet him until now. 1 first saw him perform in 1963, and I wanted him to know that there were millions of young people like me who grew up on him. He was part of our lives how we dressed and how we danced. And he’s one of those legends who—when you meet them—lives up to the legend.”

What they were like as kids

“Nothing runs on air. WE MUST HAVE MONEY to do our dream.”

Tony Rose—musician, producer, engineer, publicist, a modern day Renaissance man—is a living, breathing example of the power, creativity and hope for a new life in our communities unleashed by the unusual business of Newman’s enterprises.

Brought up in the African American community of Roxbury in Boston, Rose, like Newman. hoisted himself to the pinnacle of excellence in his field, in this case, the recording business. As a manager and engineer (among Rose’s countless credits was the engineering of the New Kids on the Block “Merry, Merry Christmas” mega hit), Rose was at the height of his creative powers when he first met Newman at the Castillo Cultural Center. They have, in a short time, developed a strong and intimate relationship based on their shared commitment to give their all to the community, and to make all the money they need to make it happen.

Tony Rose does not glorify poverty either.

“Fred Newman appeals to every person on the planet,” says Rose. “He gives 100% and more to every thought and idea that comes in to him. I’ve seen and met a lot of people, but he is the first I have connected with. He can understand everybody who comes across his way. His love of people—of human beings—is enormous. And his business acumen; we’re talking about a Stanford graduate, that’s no joke. I’d love to know what he was like as a kid, you know, ages 5 to 15.”

Like Newman, Rose grew up in poverty, an experience which helped shape a powerful commitment not just to making it, but to do whatever was necessary to ensure that everyone makes it.

“Myself as a Black man in America—I’m a captive,” says Rose. “We’re all people, with our hopes and dreams, but someone like George Bush sees himself as a conqueror. And I’m the captive. So it’s my job to overthrow the conqueror. It’s a fight of good against evil, and at the end of the day, Fred Newman is a good man against evil. He’s in history.”

Rose, like Newman and all those involved in the enterprise, is confident that CI—including the profits—will continue to skyrocket. “The business success is naturally there, because I’ve never seen a person give people so much as much as Fred does, in so many ways, what they need,” says Rose. “And Bob Levy, that cat is something else.”

Rose described a typical evening hanging out with Newman. “First he would do business, business, business with me. And then business, business, business with Al Sharpton. And then do a newspaper meeting. And then, he put on a smock, and he started to paint. You know, we’re here for a short time, and he knows that.”

Newman and Rose have recently become partners in a new record label, Cold Sweat Records, which is about to rock the house and the clubs with its first release, “Debbie’s House Party.”

“Hey, ‘Debbie’s House Party’ is a great record. I’m proud to do this in partnership with this person. We’re on to the next level in business, we’re rocking and we’re rolling and we’re in business. It’s designed for a purpose. It’s our coming out.”

Barely a year old, Castillo International is indeed coming out, all over. The James Brown/Reverend Sharpton collaboration promises to thrill the millions of fans of both. “It’s going to be a classic, and ironically, he’s hotter now than he’s ever been commercially, and I definitely wasn’t the household name I’ve become when we recorded it,” says Sharpton. “James was a victim of police brutality as well as police misconduct, but because of the spiritual side of James Brown and his understanding of oppression, he came through without bitterness because he had a depth that was deeper than they thought, like a Mandela. He was able to turn a negative situation into a resurrection of his entire career.”

Is the entertainment world ready for Reverend Al Sharpton, rock star?

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