The mayor of Madison is proposing a task force aimed at making Wisconsin’s capital a more welcoming place, especially for hip-hop artists and audiences.
Mayor Paul Soglin’s proposed Equity in Music and Entertainment task force comes after years of efforts by the hip-hop community to address city policies and policing, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.
“There is a vibrant local scene,” Soglin said. “But their ability to reach audiences is not as good as that scene.”
Madison has an active community of hip-hop artists. But in the past, some live music venues have added what some say is excess security for events or dropped hip-hop events altogether after fights, gunfire or other violence at shows.
“To have the mayor introduce (the task force) is a breakthrough,” said Mark “ShaH” Evans, a founder of the Urban Community Arts Network, which organizes shows, school workshops and community events for adults and youth. “How can we fix this, not just for hip hop but for the whole local music scene?”
Pascal “DJ Pain 1” Bayley, a DJ and record producer from Madison, said the task force is long coming and necessary.
“There are no opportunities for hip-hop musicians to perform,” said Bayley, who has worked with artists such as Young Jeezy, 50 Cent, Ludacris and Public Enemy. “The (regulatory) climate with regard to hip-hop hasn’t changed at all. Actually, it’s gotten worse.”
The proposal is being reviewed by city committees with a decision by the City Council expected in April.
For “La La Land” composer and songwriter Justin Hurwitz, it’s been a long, laborious ride from dreaming up the musical with his old college roommate Damien Chazelle over six years ago to becoming the toast of awards season.
His catchy score and songs have broken through, too, securing their own place in the spotlight and overshadowing the likes of Justin Timberlake and Lin Manuel-Miranda in the awards races.
In the past two months, Hurwitz has picked up a handful of critics’ awards, a BAFTA and two Golden Globe Awards for score and original song (“City of Stars”) and is nominated for three Oscars — score and two songs (“The Fools Who Dream” and “City of Stars”). He knows how unique this moment is, especially for a composer.
Hurwitz recently spoke to The Associated Press about his “La La Land” score, the unusual production process and how he was an inspiration for Ryan Gosling’s character, Sebastian.
AP: This wasn’t a typical director/composer relationship during production. Can you describe how?
Hurwitz: Normally, the composer doesn’t come in until later in the process when the picture is locked. We didn’t feel like temp music (temporary music, sometimes from another film) could work in this movie since the language of the music was so important in making it all flow together, so I had an office next to the editing room where Damien and (editor) Tom Cross were working for eight months. Every day they would give me scenes and I would give them the score and they would tweak the scenes to fit the score and I would tweak the score to fit the scenes. The picture and the score were evolving together. It was kind of an unusual process.
Then there were some really weird situations where I was playing the piano while they were shooting _ like the scene where Mia (Emma Stone) is at the restaurant with her boyfriend and his brother. I was on set playing the theme because we wanted her to react to it, but we also wanted the music to react to her. I was watching her in the monitor and playing it and scoring it while they were shooting it.
AP: What was the theory behind Emma Stone’s naturalistic singing style?
Hurwitz: What we were going for would be like Audrey Hepburn in “Moon River. Emma has a similarly breathy voice. It’s a lovely voice but it doesn’t have too much of that Broadway belt to it. She can, and she does in “Audition,” but when she’s singing there’s lightness and airiness to it that I think is really charming. That kind of voice makes someone feel like a real person a little more. We wanted to still have some reality and vulnerability and humanity in all of it.
AP: You’ve been working on this for over six years. Do you see yourself in the movie at all?
Hurwitz: Damien was modeling the Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) character somewhat on me. During pre-production, he sent the costume designer and the production designer to my apartment to take pictures and take a look at everything. I was using my piano as a table. I would eat on it and put all my mail on it and pretty much everything was on my piano. Ryan (Gosling) got wind of what they were planning and he said, “I think that’s just too sad. I think that’s too pathetic.” So they made his apartment not quite as austere.
AP: What was your apartment like?
Hurwitz: It was just a white room with a piano and a bed. An “Umbrellas of Cherbourg” poster on the wall was my only decoration. That’s where I first met (producers) Fred (Berger) and Jordan (Horowitz). Six years ago Damien brought them over to my apartment to hear some of the music and they were pretty weirded out when they walked in. They didn’t know what to think. They described it various ways, one of which was, “an insane asylum with a piano in it.” I’ve acquired more furniture now. Not much. I have a dining room table but no chairs.
AP: How has this whole awards run been for you?
Hurwitz: It’s been really fun and flattering. It’s been tiring at times — getting dressed up as much as I’ve had to get dressed up. These are not things that I do normally. I’m enjoying it, but I’m also aware that this won’t happen again for me, at least in this way, on this level. Composers don’t often get opportunities like this. This was such an incredible opportunity, not just to compose so much music for a movie, but to put so much of myself in the movie. Because of the relationship I have with Damien, I got to put my musical voice in such a pure way into his movie. That’s a rare opportunity. So yeah, I’ll do film scores going forward and maybe I’ll do more musicals, but I don’t know the next time that I’ll get to be so involved in a movie creatively.
AP: That’s very wistful!
Hurwitz: Basically my life is downhill from here. This is it.
AP: What’s next?
Hurwitz: I’m writing and producing “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” It has nothing to do with music.
Katie Lafond is no stranger to the big stage. She’s performed (as Siren) all over the country alongside her partner Sam Ahmed (WebsterX), anchoring his signature hit “Doomsday.” Even before becoming the New Age Narcissism (NAN) collective’s secret weapon, she was playing to thousands of people with just her guitar and breathtaking voice, including her own sets at Summerfest and State Fair.
On February 11, Lafond performed her most high profile solo set as Siren, opening for Chicago poet/rapper Noname at The Miramar Theatre. Noname has delivered standout guest verses on Chance the Rapper’s mixtapes, but a recent appearance alongside the Grammy winner on Saturday Night Live has made her an overnight sensation.
Noname’s entire tour has sold out, evident by the number of Chicagoans who made the trip up to Milwaukee because tickets to Noname’s hometown shows went so fast. By the time Lafond took the stage, half the dance floor was packed with an eager and attentive audience.
Lafond’s charming awkwardness and magnetic vocals quickly won over the crowd. She was backed by most members of the NAN band, rebranded as “The Truth.” Lafond debuted a new song, “Context,” which had a jazzier bent than her previous material, but that could be due to the The Truth’s interpretation. Saxophonist Jay Anderson — who has added marvelous depth to live performances of Lafond’s signature track “Queen Medusa” — shined during a solo near the end of her set.
By the time Siren and The Truth played their final song, “RIP MCR,” the crowd was gleefully singing along. Lafond praised the lineup for being all-female — Rayven Lenae performed before Noname took the stage — and offered a parting refrain, “My name is Siren, I’m from Milwaukee. You can find me on the streets doing legal things.”
The next day, I spoke with Lafond over the phone.
“Last night was too much fun,” she says. “Because I’m used to doing bigger shows with Sam, it’s really different when it’s for me. I got way more nervous and I kept forgetting the spotlight would be on me.”
“I was like, ‘Why is everybody asking me questions?’ You know, stuff that Sam usually answers. It was super cool and exciting though.”
Lafond is the only member of NAN to have not yet released an EP, mixtape or album. In that respect, she has a soul sister in Noname, who had a notoriously long delay before releasing of her debut project Telefone. Noname’s live performance touched on this early in the show, projecting on the screen above her and her band a barrage of tweets from impatient fans asking about Telefone.
“Sam and I were talking about that. I was like, ‘Damn, that’s so me.’ I don’t have this EP out yet and people keep expecting it to happen. Hearing from Noname and seeing how successful she is, that was kind of a relief. It’s cool that I’ve built this buzz and it’s gonna be raw when I am finally able to get my stuff together.”
Lafond’s perfectionism is the main thing keeping her debut project from being unleashed into the world. She’s also not eager to relinquish her relative anonymity. As Chance’s skyrocketing popularity propelled Noname into the spotlight, WebsterX’s upcoming debut release and growing notoriety may do the same for Siren.
Personally, I’ve grown accustomed with Lafond being “our little secret.” But it’s only a matter of time until the Siren call spreads beyond Wisconsin.
For the bulk of its existence, hip-hop has been a culture and a music championed by youth, much to the chagrin of parents. This paradigm is shifting now that hip-hop is nearly a half century old. As I discovered talking with young Milwaukee hip-hop artists, many of their parents love hip-hop and some are even performers themselves.
“When I was young my mom played so much Mos Def, I just wanted to be as smooth as him,” says the magnetic Taj Raiden, 21, during an appearance on 91.7 WMSE’s Those Hip-Hop Guys.
On December 23, 2016, I had the pleasure of organizing a benefit event for Freespace, the monthly, all-ages, (mostly) hip-hop showcase housed at the Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood. There I witnessed powerful performances from artists who have not yet reached legal drinking age.
Taj Raiden— who was performing at another benefit event later that night — came out to support the young emcees. She even took the mic — after some encouragement — during the community cypher, blowing the crowd away with her ferocious brand of hip-hop.
On January 18, Taj was a feature performer at Freespace’s annual “Femmespace” event, which takes place the week of Riverwest FemFest. Katie Lafond (Siren of New Age Narcissism) hosted the event. Lafond pointed out that while Taj is a “sweet little angel baby” offstage, her onstage persona couldn’t be any different. As Taj explained, the stage is where she releases her emotions and energy. This need to release is what got Taj started doing poetry, then making music.
Taj is aware of the double standards set on women. She questions the notion that if a woman is confident onstage that means she’s going to be stuck up in person. Taj understands the importance of male support, citing male friends who gave her confidence when she was starting out. But she also says that women should be wary of men who might try to dictate their artistic path.
Strength in numbers
While the first hip-hop act to gain national attention was The Sugarhill Gang back in the late 1970s, solo rappers became the norm in the the late 1990s and into the 2000s. The last decade has seen a resurgence of the group dynamic. Though Taj Raiden often performs solo, she is also a part of Team Ugly, which includes members YL64, Wolf tha Man, and Will the Glide.
The group dynamic was on full display during the Freespace holiday benefit when A.D.H.D. (“Adolescent.Devious.Harmonic.Dominance,” members Josh Jenkins, JalenG, Liv, and G-Gifted) took the stage.
As I spoke with A.D.H.D.’s Josh Jenkins, 19, I learned the group shares core values about hip-hop culture — the propagation of lyricism, community activism, and addressing social issues. Though the group is just out of high school, A.D.H.D. already has its own business cards.
“Hip-hop is very universal, so I enjoy performing in front of diverse crowds,” says Jenkins.
Jenkins first rapped onstage at a Juneteenth event when he was just 7-years-old. His father is also a rapper, singer and guitar player.
“It’s an exhilarating feeling to be able to do something I’m passionate about and have loved since I was a kid,” he adds.
While all the members of Phat Nerdz weren’t able to make the Freespace holiday benefit, Marquise Barnes (Young Epic) represented well for the crew, who are also just out of high school. Barnes stage presence and command of the mic showed skills far beyond his years. Like Jenkins, Barnes became involved with hip-hop at an early age.
“We loved how beatboxing and beatin’ on tables sounded, and how all the chaos in the class or lunchroom stopped and people would sit around and listen to us,” says Barnes.
“For me, that was big. Knowing that the vibrations of music and the sounds of instruments and our voice can attract people or at least grab their attention for that moment. After that I was just like, ‘I want to do music,’” he adds.
Thanks to his mother’s penchant for the Fat Boys and Biggie Smalls, Barnes — who is related to B.B. King on his father’s side — was inspired to incorporate the old school slang term “phat” into his crew’s name. Young Epic is joined by Myndd, S.I.N.P., Vimmy-T, Mayyh3m, and Captain Martian in the Phat Nerdz crew.
Not your average basement party
Phat Nerdz budding career got a boost when they started going to True Skool, an organization in downtown Milwaukee that “uses urban arts as a tool to engage youth in social justice, leadership and workforce development.” In the lower level of the Grand Avenue Mall, Barnes and company learned how to network and meet people outside their circle of friends. This led to a busy 2016 — opening for Lorde Fredd33, performing at the Milwaukee Art Museum, and appearing on the radio.
True Skool is a common thread among the younger generation of Milwaukee hip-hop artists. Jenkins and the A.D.H.D. crew, as well as Taj Raiden, have all spent time at True Skool. At the beginning of the year Barnes threw a holiday party at True Skool, inviting Team Ugly, A.D.H.D., and others to perform.
“I decided to kick it off with an open mic, because the party wasn’t just for us. It was for the city and the fans. It was a way for all the people who supported us in 2016 to come express themselves and enjoy the fact that we’re all coming together for one reason, and that’s to show love,” says Barnes.
Even though he is technically still a teenager, Barnes is already thinking about the kids that will come after him.
“I’ll be honest, I wanted to quit making music so many times. But in my mind I kept reminding myself that I’m putting in work now so the next generation, the kid who is like me and looks up to me, I’m doing it so they won’t give up,” says Barnes.
“I want them to feel like they can do anything in the world. That’s what I represent, the fact that even when the odds are stacked against you, you can become and do whatever you want in life.”
A.D.H.D. performs this Thursday, February 2, at Club 200 in Walker’s Point. They will also play a Valentine’s Bash on Friday, February 17, details forthcoming…
Phat Nerdz will open for The Fatty Acids on Friday, February 24, at Anodyne Coffee Roasters in Walker’s Point. Stay tuned for another show announcement the week of February 13…
Wisconsin has some incredibly talented female artists. That is not an “alternative fact.”
But you might not know it if you went to any random concert, art gallery or comedy club. In an effort to address this gender imbalance, multiple venues in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood played host to a parade of female and female-identifying creatives for five days last week — from teenage rockers to soprano singers, visual artists to spoken word poets.
What was originally intended simply to be a basement party thank you to the inspiring women in Olivia Doyle’s life three years ago, has blossomed into Riverwest FemFest, possibly the state’s largest female-focused arts festival.
The third installment of FemFest took place amid an international outpouring of support for women and disapproval of President Trump. It also served as a fundraiser for the Milwaukee Coalition for Justice and the Milwaukee Women’s Center.
Rather than recap the festival, I interviewed over a dozen organizers and performers, allowing them to describe the significance of FemFest in their voice.
[All photos by Jessi Paetzke.]
Olivia Doyle, founder
I started it because I was feeling empowered by the women around me, to the point where it really changed my life. I went back to school. I started wanting more of myself because they reminded me that I deserve it. It was a truly powerful experience for me to meet all these women in Riverwest, so the first fest was really just a thank you. It was never meant to be what it is now.
Why is the diversity of arts at the festival important?
Because women and femmes are creative in other ways that aren’t just music. And we want to showcase as much of their creativity as we can.
Have there been any growing pains with the festival over the years?
This year especially has been a real learning process for us, with the expansion of everything that we’re including and also with how big we’re getting. We’re reaching a lot more people. So it’s really like a community event and there’s lots of different people in this community, so learning to be as inclusive as possible is a process.
What are some of the things you’re most proud of in terms of the festival?
As a whole, watching all these people perform that I love and I’m inspired by. I’m very proud to have created this platform. In terms of a specific moment, Jenna Knapp did spoken word, she’s a childhood friend of mine. Being able to introduce her and tell the audience why she’s so inspiring to me and then have her read her poetry, which people loved, it made me feel like a proud mom. It’s really wonderful to see all these people that I love and care about do what they love and care about.
Ellie Jackson, organizer and musician (Scape)
I’ve been involved in music and radio from an early age. I joined a community radio station when I was in college. When I got involved with music I realized there was like a 20-to-1 ratio between the bands I was playing that were male and the bands that were female. Not because I wanted to, but those were the numbers. I asked the station manager if I could do an all-female focused show and they told me that that was sexist. I said, “It doesn’t feel sexist though. The music industry is sexist!”
So for me FemFest is an opportunity to celebrate those female artists that I wasn’t given permission to celebrate before. Now we’re taking the permission. Riverwest is also where I live so the community here is very important to me. But certainly supporting creatives everywhere is also very important to me.
Why is it important to have a diversity of arts at the festival?
I think that we as a culture underestimate other arts. Like a great example is that here we are in this venue (Company Brewing) where you can come and buy a beer and watch music almost any night of the week, which is a beautiful thing. But there isn’t really that culture around 2D art, there isn’t exactly that culture around the Milwaukee Art Museum and other performance arts. They’re not quite as celebrated as musical art. We have a culture with bar venues and theater venues that make it easier to celebrate musical art, but we’re really excited to have a variety night with comedians and other performance art. There was a burlesque performance, we have an art gallery and we have a Maker’s Fair upstairs, so we’re trying to sort of spread out all the creativity.
Were you a part of the festival last year?
No, I just came to it. I came to it on Saturday, one year ago today, and I remember walking into this space and just being so impressed with all the performances and I guess just feeling like, “Duh. Of course we should celebrate this, these people are amazing!” And the fact that the ratio is still not even.
It’s a no-brainer that this festival needs to happen and people need to come and experience the talent that these female performers have. And then to be in a room with people that are genuinely interested in celebrating femme creativity and supporting Milwaukee organizations, because it’s all a fundraiser. Also actively working on not being sexist and being allies for that cause. It felt great, so as soon as it happened last year I was like, “Who do I talk to? How do I get involved in this?”
I got involved with FemFest last year when I was a part of another show with one of FemFest’s organizers, Johanna Rose. We were in Prince Uncovered together and we just connected musically. She said, “You and Cree Myles have to be a part of FemFest!” So we called Jay Anderson, and I wasn’t even in Foreign Goods at the time, but we were all friends because my husband is in the band. They backed us and the experience was so incredibly invigorating. Not only performing, but also watching all of these women command the stage and the audiences.
There was one group in particular, Mary Allen and the Perculators, and I was just blown away. I couldn’t believe that we have this much power! And then when I saw that the festival was coming back around and I was more developed with my own solo stuff at this time, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to recreate the same magic that I experienced. I’m very happy to have the opportunity.
What does it mean for you to be a part of female focused gatherings?
It makes me feel like what I’m doing is purposeful. As we mentioned in the show this evening, ‘It’s really hard out here for a pimp.’ (laughs) It’s hard being a woman in this industry, let alone in this world. And to be able to be a thriving example of someone who not only has a craft but also makes a livelihood with it, that sets the tone for all the generations to come. I feel really good about letting the young ones know that no matter your background, or gender or creed, you can do whatever makes you happy. Forget everybody else’s standards that they place on you. I really feel like that’s the spirit behind FemFest. Celebrating that we’re not going to let you think of us as the lesser gender or anything, we’re equally as talented and important.
Gabriella Kartz, music organizer and performer (Faux Fiction)
It’s about supporting each other and celebrating people who add a lot to the Milwaukee scene in general through their various art forms. I think we’re really trying to make sure that we’re inclusive of all groups. People who are women or identify as women, we’re really trying to embrace all of that diversity. It’s what makes the fest a wonderful thing.
For me, last year was just a really positive experience. We got great feedback about our music and it was a really comfortable space to be able to express yourself. I think that’s what I really liked about it and why I wanted to be more involved this year.
Kelsey Moses, comedian (Goodlanders)
This was the first time we’ve done anything outside of ComedySportz. , so it was a great opportunity to share what we do with people who might not come to ComedySportz. How could you not enjoy a giant collaboration of beautiful, strong, powerful women being funny, being creative, being artistic, being musical? Women coming together to celebrate women, I love it.
Ashley Altadonna, filmmaker and musician (The Glacial Speed)
One of the great things about FemFest is that it is so inclusive. I know that they’ve had other transgender performers besides me at the festival and I think that’s great. I also had two films in the film showcase, plus all the workshops and community organizing they’re doing is fantastic. There’s just so much to see and do.
Jessi Paetzke, photographer
I attended last year because a friend invited me and it was really inspiring for me, so I wanted to get involved and photography is what I do. It’s really encouraging to see a bunch of diverse and talented women doing what they’re supposed to be doing and living out their passions. And also hearing about other people’s struggles, those of us who aren’t white men, what we face in society, how people might try to make us feel small or not welcome, and knowing that we’re not the only ones who feel that way.
Mary Joy, organizer and musician (Fox Face)
I didn’t have a strong female role model growing up and I had a lot of self-esteem issues. For me, music became that outlet of expression and that confidence builder. I’ve been playing in bands since I was 16 and that’s really where my female role models emerged. Music has been such an essential part of my identity and I realize that my story, my feminism, can relate and intersect with other people’s feminism. Our stories can come together and change a community. Our stories can help us find that self-esteem and whatever is missing in our lives.
It’s been a very empowering experience for me to have my own journey, but also to bring together other people’s journeys, wherever they’re at. And I hope they find something at FemFest, find something that they’re looking for, find a new relationship, find meaning somewhere.
D Kirschling, volunteer (Ladies Rock)
This year the fest has really expanded and added all types of artists. I’ve known about women in the arts and music scenes for a long time and it’s great to see everybody getting together to spread the word and get to know each other and share. It’s a pretty awesome feeling. I’m hearing bands I’ve known and loved and I’m hearing new bands I haven’t been exposed to before.
Anskar Thorlac, performance artist (Maplewood Gardens – Chicago)
We’re really interested in intersectionality in our audiences. Our rituals are meant to be public and shared by large groups of people. It’s really exciting to find different communities and especially a femme identifying community, being femme identifying artists ourselves. It’s exciting to have an entry point into that community in a different city. It’s also sort of liberating doing a shared ritual for people you don’t know. Plus all of the femme organizers have been so generous and supportive and responsive.
Katie Lyne, musician (New Boyz Club, Ruth B8r Ginsburg, The Grasping at Straws)
It shows that if we have to put on a whole entire festival of female or female-fronted acts, there’s obviously something missing. We have to do this to put it at the forefront. It’s not a female-dominated scene, but it’s going to be one. The dynamic is changing. And it’s just such an awesome festival, having safe places for women like Company Brewing, places that include everyone and bring the power back to where it belongs.
I love hearing the poetry too. Hearing females tell their stories of sexual abuse or whatever it may be, especially friends of mine who I see everyday. Everyone has a struggle as a woman and to have that on stage alongside these awesome bands, it’s such a great place for women to collaborate and remember that we’re all in this together.
Rachel Clark, gallery team
FemFest is an opportunity to bring a lot of people together to talk about females and female-identifying folks. Like when we did the interviews for gallery artists, we had meetings at our houses just so people could meet and have conversations. So not only is the festival important to me because of what it stands for, but also it’s an opportunity for people to get to know each other and build community.
Alexandre Maxine Hill, musician (LUXI)
FemFest means a lot to me. In the past it was harder for me to book shows as a female artist. I’m not sure people really took me seriously. So I think it’s really important that we have a place where we can have a voice and express ourselves in whatever way we want and just be the awesome women that we are.
Gabriela Riveros, gallery and Maker’s Fair artist
I think these kinds of fests are needed, especially for all the creatives that exist in Milwaukee. We need a space for other women creatives to come out of their own neighborhoods and communities and be a part of a larger project. I love the fest. There’s so much going on.
Casey O’Brien, festival-goer
I feel that women tend to have a somewhat secretive supportive role that isn’t always publicized. It sort of feels like the foundation that supports something else. And this festival puts a spotlight on people who don’t normally get a spotlight.
I think it’s easier for a woman or femme-identifying person to get up on this stage versus being on an everyday Milwaukee lineup, when too often girls are judged based on how they look or people say stuff like, “Oh she’s good for a girl.” Here no one is looking at the stage and saying, “Look they have a girl in that band!” It feels more comfortable.
Katie Lafond, musician (Siren)
I want female-focused gatherings to be unnecessary. We shouldn’t need to have an all-girl thing for people to start putting more girls on shows. I think it’s more important for the guys because it gives them something to look at and be like, “Oh, this has been in our city this whole time and I just never knew it.”
But it’s also good for younger girls to see there are women out there who are doing what they might want to do. So I think it’s good to educate men and to show kids there are better opportunities and that we’re able to do these things on stage. It’s kind of like a teaching moment where we’re saying, “You can do this too, you’re not alone.”
See more of Jessi Paetzke’s photos from Riverwest FemFest 2017 by clicking the links below.
Day 1 (Wednesday @ Art Bar)
Day 2 (Thursday @ Groovy Dog Gallery & Riverwest Public House Cooperative)
Day 3 (Friday @ Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts and Company Brewing)
British singer George Michael, who became one of the pop idols of the 1980s with Wham! and then forged a career as a successful solo artist, died at his home in England on Sunday. He was 53.
In the mid-1980s, Wham! was one of the most successful pop duos ever, with singles like “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” and “Careless Whisper”, “Last Christmas” and “The Edge of Heaven.”
“It is with great sadness that we can confirm our beloved son, brother and friend George passed away peacefully at home over the Christmas period,” his publicist said in a statement.
“The family would ask that their privacy be respected at this difficult and emotional time. There will be no further comment at this stage,” the statement said.
British police said Michael’s death was “unexplained but not suspicious.”
Born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou June 25, 1963 in London to Greek Cypriot immigrant parents in a flat above a north London laundrette, Michael once played music on the London underground train system before finding fame with Wham!.
With a school friend, Andrew Ridgeley, he formed Wham! in 1981, a partnership that would produce some of the most memorable pop songs and dance-floor favorites of the 1980s.
“I am in deep shock,” said Elton John. “I have lost a beloved friend – the kindest, most generous soul and a brilliant artist. My heart goes out to his family and all of his fans. @GeorgeMichael #RIP.”
‘I WANT YOUR SEX’
The duo had their first hit with their second release “147;Young Guns (Go For It)” (1982) before their debut release “Wham Rap” became a hit the following year. The 1984 album “Make It Big” was a huge success in the United States.
“No way could I have done it without Andrew,” Michael once said. “I can’t think of anybody who would have been so perfect in allowing something which started out as a very naive, joint ambition, to become what was still a huge double act but what was really … mine.”
But Michael was keen to reach beyond Wham!’s teenage audience and to experiment with other genres. Wham! announced their split in 1986.
A pilot solo single “I Want Your Sex” was banned by daytime radio stations but was one of his biggest hits.
“I want your sex, I want you, I want your sex,” he sang. “So why don’t you just let me go, I’d really like to try, Oh I’d really love to know, When you tell me you’re gonna regret it, Then I tell you that I love you but you still say no!”
In the space of the next five years, Michael had six U.S. No. One hit singles including “Faith”, “Father Figure,” “One More Try,” “Praying For Time” and a duet with Aretha Franklin “I Knew You Were Waiting For Me.”
Questions about his sexuality were raised when he was arrested in 1998 for “engaging in a lewd act” in a public restroom of the Will Rogers Memorial Park in Beverly Hills, California.
“I feel stupid and reckless and weak for letting my sexuality be exposed that way,” Michael told CNN at the time. “But I do not feel shame )about my sexual orientation”, neither do I think I should.”
“I can try to fathom why I did what I did,” he continued, “but at the end of the day, I have to admit that maybe part of the kick was that I might get found out,” he told CNN.
Though he had relationships with women and once told family members that he was bisexual, Michael, then 34, said he was gay.
“Rest with the glittering stars, George Michael,” said Star Trek actor and LGBT rights activist George Takei. “You’ve found your Freedom, your Faith. It was your Last Christmas, and we shall miss you.”
While Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was in power, Michael voted for Britain’s opposition Labour Party but criticized Tony Blair’s support for George W. Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq.
“Sad to hear that George Michael has died,” said current Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. “He was an exceptional artist and a strong supporter of LGBT and workers’ rights.”
Michael’s death comes at the end of a year that has seen the passing of several music superstars, including David Bowie, Prince and Leonard Cohen. Rick Parfitt, the guitarist of British rock group Status Quo, died on Saturday at 68.
Our politics is often reflected in our pop culture, and vice versa — especially in an election year. That relationship seemed closer than ever in 2016, when a TV personality was elected president, reality shows and beauty contests were referenced in presidential debates, and even a Broadway show ignited partisan sparring.
At times, it seemed like the election overshadowed everything, but of course there was more. The diversity issue again roiled Hollywood. The old-style musical made a glamorous comeback. One of Hollywood’s most scrutinized couples called it quits. And we said a series of painful goodbyes: to legendary rock stars, cinema and TV greats, and The Greatest himself. Our annual, highly selective journey down pop culture memory lane.
Ground Control to Major Tom: We shall miss you. The death of DAVID BOWIE casts a pall over the pop culture scene as the year begins. The elegant rock star succumbs to cancer — an illness he fought in secret — just a few days after his 69th birthday and the release of his final music video, “Lazarus,” which begins with the line: “Look up here, I’m in heaven.”
A year after (hash)OscarsSoWhite in 2015, the Oscars are … (hash)SoWhiteAgain! For the second year, all 20 nominated actors are white. The lack of diversity leads to some sweeping membership changes at the Academy. Meanwhile, the Super Bowl halftime show is allegedly headlined by Coldplay. But it’s BEYONCE who rules with a commanding performance of her new song, “Formation,” proving that Queen Bey is still very much among our royalty.
The ROLLING STONES perform in Cuba, a once-unthinkable event that happens a week after President Obama visits the island nation. Speaking of Obama, he hosts a White House concert performance of “HAMILTON,” part of a remarkable 2016 for LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA and his rap-infused Broadway musical about founding father Alexander Hamilton. We say goodbye to GARRY SHANDLING.
HAMILTON wins the Pulitzer for drama (to add to a Grammy and, soon, 11 Tonys), and current Treasury Secretary Jack Lew reverses a plan to bump Hamilton from the $10 bill after fans kick up a fuss — undoubtedly the first time a Broadway show influences currency policy. And April showers bring Purple Rain: Rock legend PRINCE dies a shocking death at 57 of an accidental opioid overdose, launching countless poignant tributes.
“It’s not over ‘til I say it’s over,” says BERNIE SANDERS to HILLARY CLINTON, of the fight for the Democratic nomination. Actually, that’s LARRY DAVID talking to KATE MCKINNON on “Saturday Night Live.” As MCKINNON hones her acclaimed, manically ambitious portrayal of Clinton — one of nine actresses to portray her in SNL history — DONALD TRUMP (in real life) clinches the Republican nomination. We’ll have to wait a few months to see who plays him on SNL….
The greatest is gone: MUHAMMAD ALI dies at 74 after a three-decade battle with Parkinson’s disease. It’s CLINTON’s turn to clinch her party’s nomination, becoming the first woman in U.S. history to lead a major party ticket. At the Tony awards, host JAMES CORDEN opens with a tribute to the Orlando nightclub shooting victims, and MIRANDA does the same with a tearful sonnet, declaring that “love is love is love is love.”
Hollywood always turns out for Democrats, and the Democratic National Convention is no exception. Performers include KATY PERRY, ALICIA KEYS, CAROLE KING, DEMI LOVATO, BOYZ II MEN and PAUL SIMON, among many others. In media news, ROGER AILES is out at Fox News Channel, following allegations of sexual harassment. And the retired JON STEWART — missed by many fans in an election year — returns to late night, bearded and in a bathrobe, for an appearance with STEPHEN COLBERT.
SCOTT BAIO is the biggest celebrity at the Republican National Convention. And some sports news: In Rio, MICHAEL PHELPS ends his historic Olympic career (or so he says) with a mind-boggling 23rd career gold. But the U.S. swim team’s achievements are overshadowed by RYAN LOCHTE’s drunken night and evolving explanation. Goodbye, Willy Wonka and Leo Bloom: Actor GENE WILDER — whose name could easily describe his famous eyes and untamed hair — dies at 83 of complications of Alzheimer’s.
The first CLINTON-TRUMP debate draws 84 million viewers, the most ever for a U.S. presidential matchup, and yields at least one catchy meme: The “Hillary Shimmy.” Clinton tries her hand at comedy with ZACH GALIFIANAKIS on “Between Two Ferns.” JIMMY FALLON famously musses TRUMP’s hair, and is criticized for the friendly encounter. Bye Bye, BRANGELINA: One of the most high-profile couplings in Hollywood is over.
Hello, NASTY WOMAN: Trump’s frustrated comment about Clinton in their third, extremely contentious debate becomes one of the more famous exchanges of the season, launching “nasty woman” merchandise like the “Madam President If You’re Nasty” T-shirt. We meet ALEC BALDWIN’S Trump on SNL. TRUMP — the real one — tweets: “Alec Baldwin portrayal stinks.” And the candidate’s “grab ‘em” comments on “Access Hollywood” emerge, sending his campaign into damage control.
Something happens in early November … what was it again? Meantime, let’s remember singer LEONARD COHEN, dead at 82. Many find themselves singing “Hallelujah,” his much-covered ballad — including a somber MCKINNON on “SNL,” a few days after the election. BALDWIN reprises Trump, the real TRUMP settles into meetings at Trump Tower, and his vice president-elect, MIKE PENCE, goes to HAMILTON, where the production appeals to him directly from the stage to work on behalf of all Americans. Pence says he doesn’t mind, but Trump tweets: “Apologize!”
It’s been quite a year for the musical, and not just on Broadway. “Hairspray Live!” continues the live TV musical fad. And movie audiences are enchanted by a candy-colored, old-fashioned musical ode to Tinseltown itself, “La La Land,” by young director DAMIEN CHAZELLE. Finally, for those craving a little consistency in this turbulent year, it’s perhaps nice to know that December arrives bearing the same Christmas gift as it did last year: A new “STAR WARS” movie.