Tag Archives: blues

Proper diet can combat the winter blues

Another gloomy, snow-slippery winter’s day with the sun barely penetrating the cold, overcast skies. Time to settle in and chase away those winter blues with a heaping plate of comfort food and another glass of wine, right?

Before you self-medicate on an overabundance of all the wrong calories, check your diet. Unless you’re suffering from Seasonal Affective Depressive Disorder (SADD) or some other clinical diagnosis, your winter blues may be more a function of what you’re eating and drinking than where you’re living.

Nutritionists agree that diet has a greater impact on mood than seasonal changes. You can spin your mood in a more positive direction if you eat the right food in the proper amounts, or even at the right place and time.

“Mood can be positively or negatively affected by not only by what we eat, but how we eat it,” says Susie Kundrat, clinical associate professor and program director in the Department of Kinesiology and Nutritional Sciences at UW-Milwaukee. “The food and beverages we consume provide critical energy, nutrients and fluid for our bodies to function properly. What we consume can have a significant impact.”

A good diet thrives on balance and moderation, Kundrat says. Carbohydrates, proteins and even the right dietary fats give the body the nutrients it needs to stay healthy and function at optimal levels. 

You are what you eat, as the saying goes, but Kundrat stresses that when and how you eat also go a long way toward sustaining your health, which can help chase away the blues in winter or any other season.

“A person’s eating lifestyle is most critical to enhancing mood,” Kundrat says. 

Common sense and conscientious dietary habits make the difference when it comes to maximizing one’s food intake to enhance mood, Kundrat says. Eating on a regular schedule, one that includes breakfast every day and at least three to four meals and snacks throughout the day, provides the foundation of good dietary practice.

“Balance your meals with a protein source, whole grains and plenty of produce to get a good mix of nutrients and ‘staying power’ that provides energy over several hours,” Kundrat explains. “And don’t forget to stay hydrated throughout the day starting shortly after rising in the morning. All of these pillars are so very important.”

The timing of when you eat makes a difference in how effectively and usefully your body processes food. However, most Americans do it backward, according to Beth Olson, associate professor and extension specialist in nutrition at UW-Madison’s Department of Nutritional Sciences.

“Feeling good is less about particular foods and nutrients than it is about your overall eating pattern,” says Olson, who also stresses eating a good breakfast. “If you consume all your calories at the end of the day, when the body doesn’t have anything in particular to do with them, then you won’t have access to the calories when you need them.”

Like Kundrat, Olson stresses a balanced diet to make sure the body has access to needed micronutrients. Complex carbohydrates with ample amounts of fiber to promote an extended release of nutrients, as well as beneficial fats, play a role in making the nutrients available to the body when it needs them.

Olson says the body is better able to absorb and use micronutrients when they come from the food sources rather than as supplements in a pill form. The more food is processed, the more its nutritional value suffers, so eat food that is closest to its original form when it is harvested, both experts say.

“Include a good protein source such as lean meat, fish, eggs, nuts, milk or soy products in meals and snacks to help manage blood sugar levels and satiety,” Kundrat says. “If we keep blood sugars balanced throughout the day and feel less hungry, we are less likely to feel stressed.”

Nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids — found in fattier fish like salmon and tuna and nuts such as walnuts — play a role in decreasing inflammation in the body. Lower inflammation levels also may help manage the body’s stress response, Kundrat says.

Both experts counsel against using excess amounts of sugar, caffeine and alcohol to chase the winter blues away.

“Dietary guidelines do not advocate drinking alcohol, but if you do so, make sure it’s in moderation,” Olson says. “The same holds true for coffee and other caffeinated beverages, so there is care to be taken with the beverages you consume.”

Traditional “comfort foods,” including snacks, also play a dietary role. Again, moderation is key.

“If you are trying to manage your mood by depriving yourself of comfort foods, that might make you grumpy as well,” Olson says. “Consuming these foods in the right amount — and snack foods very sparingly — might be better mood elevators than eliminating them altogether.”

In conjunction with diet, regular exercise and the right amount of sleep play a role. Research suggests people with sleep disorders also may have weight issues, both of which contribute to a lack of energy necessary for mood-managing exercise.

“Physical activity and just being outside generally contribute to a better mood,” Olson explains. “It also helps you mobilize fuel more effectively and helps you think more clearly, but don’t go to the gym without eating something first.”

The short supply of sunlight in winter does bring down moods, due to the vitamin D that sunlight supplies. Vitamin D can be found in supplement form, but that might not necessarily make you feel better if you take it. Good eating habits, exercise and sleep can go a long way to make up for sunlight’s absence.

“No matter what you do, make sure your diet draws from a more complex food matrix that supplies the necessary nutrients,” Olson says. “Add variety to each and every meal.”

New documentary a powerful portrait of Nina Simone

Through archival footage and interviews with her family, closest confidants and collaborators, Nina Simone comes to life again — still enigmatic but more easily understood — in the new documentary “What Happened, Miss Simone?” which premiered Thursday night at the Sundance Film Festival.

A classically trained pianist, accidental singer, passionate activist and often-lost soul, Nina Simone’s many facets are illuminated in the film by director Liz Garbus, whose first film played at Sundance 16 years ago.

“This is the film I’ve been practicing to make all these years,” Garbus said before the screening.

The film opens with Simone onstage in 1968, just before her self-imposed exile to Liberia, then goes back to her childhood piano lessons. She took instantly to piano as a young girl, catching the notice of a white teacher who offered to provide lessons. Still known then by her given name, Eunice Waymon, she is shown walking across the train tracks that separated whites from blacks in her North Carolina hometown to reach the teacher’s home.

Eunice Waymon dreamed of becoming the first black classical pianist in the United States, and she saw herself at Carnegie Hall — until she was denied admittance to the Curtis Institute of Music because of her race.

That denial turned her into an entertainer. She started playing in bars to make a living, and the managers there required her to sing. Before long, she was playing at the Newport Jazz Festival, and, eventually, Carnegie Hall.

Still, she felt a profound emptiness, reflected in her journal entries included in the film. She was lonely and depressed, and her husband and manager, Andrew Stroud, was abusive.

Simone found purpose in the civil rights movement, and realized she could use her fame and talents to support the fight for equality.

“I could sing to help my people,” she says in the film, “and that became the mainstay of my life.”

“What Happened, Miss Simone?” – the title taken from a Maya Angelou quote – tells the story of a troubled, gifted and passionate woman who found her voice in music. She was fervent about the dignity of African-Americans and fought staunchly for equality.

Simone’s songs for justice are just as relevant now, the film’s director said.

“If we had voices like Nina Simone’s today, speaking the pain and the passion of the movement that’s been building, I think, on the streets in the past six months…” Garbus said, “I think we can all see the place of these songs today.”

Queen Latifah takes long road to ‘Bessie’ film

When Queen Latifah was approached 20 years ago to play Bessie Smith, she had to do some research.

“I was Queen Latifah the rapper. I had no idea who Bessie Smith was,” the singer-actress told the Television Critics Association this week.

Since then, she’s been thoroughly schooled in the life and talent of the legendary blues singer, whom Latifah, 44, finally gets to portray in the HBO film “Bessie.”

Her music “may be almost 100 years old, but it has a power a lot of artists could learn from today,” Latifah said. Smith herself would be a success if she were a contemporary artist, Latifah said of the singer who died in 1937 at age 43.

“Bessie,” whose cast includes Mo’Nique, Michael Kenneth Williams, Khandi Alexander, Mike Epps and Charles S. Dutton, will air this spring. A date was not announced.

The film was directed and co-written by Dee Rees and includes among its producers Lili Fini Zanuck and Richard D. Zanuck, who first brought the idea of a Smith film to Latifah. Richard Zanuck died in 2012.

Aretha takes on divas, comes out swinging

Aretha Franklin, “Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics” (RCA Records)

Aretha Franklin sings the sound of America like nobody else alive — a point of unceasing pride for Detroit, the place she was raised and remains near today. So the release of “Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics” raises one question right off: Does the singular Queen of Soul really need to borrow from other divas?

The answer is she doesn’t need to do anything, but a dive into the realm of other divas is a solid move.

Taking on standards is a common, often lucrative, move for career artists of a certain age and older. But it can be risky, revealing unfavorable comparisons and weaknesses brought on by the march of time. Yet in her uniquely Aretha way, she emerges largely ready for the challenge and more often than not scores commercial and artistic points.

The next question many prospective listeners will ask is if the 72-year-old Franklin can still bring it. The answer is, for the most part, yes, and she makes a strong case on “At Last.” The demanding range of the song made famous by Etta James can lay bare deficiencies, and Franklin reveals none — nailing the opening line and even coming back at the end for some swoops to show she’s got chops to spare.

Aretha goes into the domain of a 21st-century soul diva and returns with a thumping disco version of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.” While it doesn’t eclipse the original, it offers some new perspective as well as an inspiring mash-up with Motown Records’ “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” The result shows the timelessness of both Aretha and Adele’s new classic.

Somewhat less deep is “I’m Every Woman/Respect,” which seems to be a battle to a draw with Chaka Khan’s original — at least until “Respect” pops up in the middle. It’s a groovalicious and welcome update of her own classic — so much so that many listeners might wish it didn’t disappear so quickly and return to the pleasant but by no means persuasive “Woman.”

“You Keep Me Hangin’ On” is another Motown throw-down — a disco take on the gem by Diana Ross and The Supremes. Franklin, who didn’t sing for the hometown label, comes confidently and in full voice as if to say, “Diana, you may be Supreme, but I am the Queen.” That said, it could have benefited from a different arrangement, built on soulful funk or jazz found elsewhere on the album.

To that end, one of the finest moments is the straight-up swing of “Nothing Compares 2 U,” written by Prince and popularized by Sinead O’Connor. Franklin expertly recalls the First Lady of Song, Ella Fitzgerald, with some spot-on scatting. It’s light and tight all at once — a fitting way to close out the collection.

Aretha’s latest clicks by spanning genres and generations. And even if it wasn’t her intention, it’s hard not to see the album as part compliment, part competition. “Divas” proves Franklin’s still got it, and it shows that we’ve still got her.

WiG Holiday Gift Guide: Tinsel Tunes

The reissue of the Cotillion Records compilation Funky Christmas gets off to a fabulously funky start with “May Christmas Bring You Happiness” by a quintet called Luther. Led by the late Luther Vandross (shortly before his disco breakthroughs with Bionic Boogie and Change, and his subsequently soaring solo career), both of Luther’s tracks (including the other Vandross original “At Christmas Time”) are the main reasons to unwrap this disc. Margie Joseph’s “Christmas Gift” and “Feeling Like Christmas” also rank high on the list. 

Comprised of songs culled from Gladys Knight & The Pips’ Christmas discs The Christmas Album (1975) andThat Special Time of Year (1982), The Classic Christmas Album make the season bright. Knight and company’s renditions of “Do You Hear What I Hear?,” Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas,” “It’s the Happiest Time of the Year” and “That Special Time of Year” are standouts. Cuts featuring Johnny Mathis, including “When a Child Is Born” and “The Lord’s Prayer,” wrap everything with a pretty bow.

Speaking of Johnny Mathis, the legendary (and out) vocalist has been releasing Christmas albums since 1958. His latest, Sending You A Little Christmas, is a delightful addition. More than half of the seasonal selections are duets with a stellar array of guests, including Billy Joel (“The Christmas Song”), Natalie Cole (“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”), Gloria Estefan (“Mary’s Boy Child”) and Jim Brickman (the title tune, co-written by Brickman), to mention a few.

From snowballs to matzo balls

Mary J. Blige’s A Mary Christmas could be included in the above category, but her bright “When You Wish Upon a Star” duet with Barbra Streisand (featuring Chris Botti on the horn) puts her in this category. Blige earns kudos for her choice of duet partners throughout the disc, including bi Brit Jessie J (on the popular “Do You Hear What I Hear?”), gospel goddesses The Clark Sisters (on “The First Noel”) and Marc Anthony (on the bilingual “Noche De Paz/Silent Night”). Blige’s “The Little Drummer Boy” is also spectacular, and her reading of “My Favorite Things” suggests that she should do an album of standards.

What self-respecting homosexual doesn’t have both of Barbra Streisand’s Christmas albums — 1967’s A Christmas Album and 2001’s Christmas Memories — in their holiday music collection? So as not to make Streisand’s The Classic Christmas Album completely superfluous, think of it as a good way to initiate the next gay generation in the joys of Barbra at the time of the winter solstice. The disc, featuring 16 selections, is split almost evenly between the two source albums. It would also make a lovely gift for straight friends and family members.

Nice Jewish boy Joshua Bell fiddles with friends on Musical Gifts. Bell jingles the holiday songbook with Alison Krauss (“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”), Straight No Chaser (on the “Nutcracker Medley”), Kristin Chenoweth (“O Holy Night”), Renee Fleming (“I Want an Old-Fashioned Christmas”), Placido Domingo (“O Tennenbaum”), Branford Marsalis (“Amazing Grace”), fellow NJB Michael Feinstein (“The Secret of Christmas”) and Steven Isserlis and Sam Haywood (“Baal Shem, Simchat Torah”).

Released in time for Hanukkah, the double-disc set It’s A Scream How Levine Does the Rhumba, subtitled The Latin-Jewish Musical Story: 1940s-1980s, tells the tale of “Jews falling in love with Latin music.” From resorts to bar mitzvah parties and weddings, from mambo to limbo to cha-cha, Jews and Latin music go way back (can you say “Spanish inquisition”?). The 41 tracks compiled here feature Latino and Jewish musicians, such as Xavier Cugat, Ruth Wallis, Perez Prado, Carole King, Tito Puente, The Barry Sisters, Celia Cruz, Mickey Katz, Willie Colon, Eydie Gorme, Eddie Palmieri, Abbe Lane, Ray Barretto, and, of course, Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass. The spicy collection is perfect for playing at any winter holiday gathering. 

Christmas (past)

Andy Williams’ name is synonymous with Christmas music. Williams’ three Christmas recordings, The Andy Williams Christmas Album from 1963, Merry Christmas from 1965 and Christmas Present from 1974, along with a few singles and unreleased tracks, have been compiled on the two-disc set The Complete Christmas Recordings. Questionable politics aside, the late Williams had one of the most distinctive singing voices in popular music, and these renditions of seasonal favorites are classics.

You may already have The Original Sound Track of the CBS Television Special A Charlie Brown Christmas, by the Vince Guaraldi Trio, in one of its previous configurations. However, the latest one includes a make-your-own Snoopy doghouse, complete with festive trimmings and Peanuts characters cutouts. Of course, the music, consisting of jazzy renditions of “O Tannenbaum” and “What Child Is This,” as well as Guaraldi originals “Christmas Time Is Here” (both the instrumental and vocal versions), “Skating,” “Christmas Is Coming” and “Linus And Lucy,” are the real reason to make this part of your holiday music library. 

If you have a hankering for some country this Christmas, then The Classic Christmas Album by George Jones & Tammy Wynette should fill the bill. Bookended by a pair of duets — “Mr. & Mrs. Santa Claus” and “The Greatest Christmas Gift” — this set mainly consists of Jones and Wynette’s solo recordings from the ’60s and early ’70s.

Almost worth owning for the cover alone, Christmas with Patti Page, “the singing rage,” is as much of interest for such novelty music as “The Mama Doll Song” as it is for Page’s renditions of traditional holiday music. Six bonus tracks, including three songs from her short-lived The Patti Page Show, fill up this musical holiday stocking.

Patti Page wouldbe at home on the 12-song compilation soundtrack Mad Men Christmas: Music From and Inspired by the Hit TV Series on AMC. Mostly comprised of vintage holiday recordings, such as “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” by Darlene Love, “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” by Teresa Brewer and “White Christmas” by Rosemary Clooney. The disc also features newer recordings, including “Christmas Waltz” by Nellie McKay, “Zou Bisou Bisou,” sung by cast member Jessica Paré, and RJD2’s Mad Men theme “A Beautiful Mine.” 

Christmas present(s)

Along with the Mary J. Blige disc, Kelly Clarkson’s Wrapped In Red ranks among the best of this year’s new seasonal music offerings. The original tunes, including the title cut, “Underneath The Tree,” “Winter Dream (Brandon’s Song),” and “4 Carats,” are worthy of standing alongside the standards. Clarkson is radiant on “Silent Night” (on which she is joined by Reba McEntire and Trisha Yearwood), as well as her jazzy readings of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” “My Favorite Things” and “White Christmas.” 

Is there anything better than holiday music sung phonetically? You can answer that for yourself when you hear Buon Natale — The Christmas Album, by Italy’s trio of teen tenors Il Volo. Combining traditional Christmas fare (“Silent Night,” “Ave Maria,” “O Holy Night”) with more contemporary titles (“I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree”), Il Volo continues to aim for crossover success, this time with an accent on the holidays.

Contemporary country diva Mindy Smith must love Christmas. The five-song EP Snowed In is her second holiday-themed release this century. Smith’s lighthearted originals (“Tomorrow Is Christmas Day” and the title track) balance out the seriousness of the more traditional selections. including “Silent Night” and “Auld Lang Syne.”

File this under: Oh, no she didn’t! Susan Boyle opens Home For Christmas, her second Christmas CD in three years, with “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” a duet with none other than Elvis Presley (gulp). Not her best idea. Johnny Mathis reprises his “When a Child Is Born” duet with Boyle. It’s one of the more pleasing moments on the album. Also a joy is Boyle’s version of “The Christmas Waltz” (written by two Yids, no less!).

Not sassy or brassy enough, despite the implied wackiness of the cover, Christmas Time Is Here, by Canadian Brass, features thoroughly delightfully playing throughout. The horns shine, particularly on Guaraldi standards, such as the title cut and “Christmas Is Coming.” “Bach’s Bells” trumpets the arrival of the holidays, and you could even say “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” glows. But when all is said and done, it’s a bit too restrained.

“YouTube sensations” (now that’s a gift you can’t return!) The Piano Guys take the holidays seriously on A Family Christmas. It’s not clear what it is about the song selection — including traditional Christmas favorites and a handful of originals by piano guy Jon Schmidt — that qualifies this as a “family” event, but everyone will find something to like here. 

Not their first time at the Christmas music rodeo, the four Celtic women of Celtic Woman come to your home for Christmas with their fittingly named CD/DVD set called, you guessed it, Home for Christmas. The 12-song studio CD features their renditions of beloved Christmas selections. Expanding considerably on the CD, the DVD, recorded live in Dublin, adds more songs and also features four more songs from an “intimate acoustic” performance.

Not quite The Nutcracker, the Broadway musical Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical has the potential to become an annual holiday theater event. Consisting of recognizable songs written by Dr. Seuss and Albert Hague (i.e., “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch”) and new tunes by Timothy Mason and Mel Marvin, the Grinch lives on (stage).

It isn’t specifically a Christmas album, but the self-titled debut album by multi-cultural America’s Got Talent finalists Forte does close with the trio’s version of “Silent Night” and includes their interpretation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Pie Jesu.”

Dee Dee Bridgewater returns to stage as Billie Holiday

Dee Dee Bridgewater might have been a Broadway star were she not so successful as a jazz singer. She won a Tony Award in her Broadway debut as Glinda the Good Witch in “The Wiz.” But she later rededicated herself to her jazz career, touring the world, winning three Grammys Awards and hosting NPR’s nationally syndicated “Jazz Set.”

Now the 63-year-old Bridgewater has put her jazz career on hold to return to the New York stage for the first time since 1979 in the off-Broadway musical play, “Lady Day,” about legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday. The role not only involves more than 25 musical production numbers but also 16 monologues, or “regressions,” that look at the brilliant singer’s troubled life.

“It’s just a very difficult and demanding role,” said Bridgewater. “You have to call on so many different emotions and different periods in her life: you have to play a 10-year-old girl, a young Billie and then your present Billie,” said Bridgewater, interviewed at Sardi’s restaurant in the theater district.

Writer and director Stephen Stahl sketched out the play on a solitary Christmas Eve in 1979 while listening to Holiday’s music which evoked his own feeling of loneliness and being an outsider as a gay, Jewish man who had started drinking at age 8 and dropped out of school.

“I understand what addiction is and what it is to feel different,” Stahl said. “Billie expressed to me all of that desertion, fear and the need to be loved through her music. I also believe Billie was a survivor and saw her as a very strong human being who was giving out her love continually.”

The play premiered in 1980 at the Walnut Street Theatre Studio 5 in Philadelphia and was staged at regional U.S. theaters but not in New York. Stahl cast Bridgewater for the European production after hearing her perform at a New York club.

As a young singer, Bridgewater considered Ella Fitzgerald to be the epitome of a virtuosic jazz singer, but regarded Holiday more as a song interpreter. She came to appreciate Holiday when her then-husband, trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater, encouraged her to read the singer’s ghostwritten autobiography “Lady Sings the Blues.” Bridgewater found that she shared experiences from Billie’s life: encountering strict discipline from nuns at a Roman Catholic school, being molested at age 11 and raped at 18, and falling into abusive relationships with men.

“My experience wasn’t as bad as Billie’s, but I can take different points in my life and find some kind of similarity to what Billie went through,” she said.

In 1986-87, Bridgewater performed “Lady Day” (in French) in Paris, and then in London where she received an Olivier Award nomination for best actress in a musical. Bridgewater felt “possessed” by Billie’s spirit and months after the show closed she still found herself singing in Holiday’s voice at her own concerts.

Bridgewater had optioned the play, but her plans to bring “Lady Day” to New York in 2009 fell through amid the global recession. She also had to relocate to Nevada to care for her mother who has Alzheimer’s. Instead, she produced a CD “Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959): To Billie With Love From Dee Dee” (using the singer’s original name) on which she sang modern arrangements of Holiday’s songbook, including such classics as “Lover Man” and “Don’t Explain,” which won a Grammy in 2011.

Stahl lined up new financing and waited until Bridgewater was free to take the role. He added multi-media effects with video clips for the flashback scenes. He also revamped the book to enhance the role of the singer’s road manager Robert (David Ayers), who in the first act gently but firmly coaxes a reluctant Holiday through a rehearsal for a comeback concert in Britain in 1954. In the second act, he helps a somewhat inebriated Holiday pull through the concert.

This time around Bridgewater is confident that she can avoid being possessed by Billie’s spirit.

“I don’t have the same fear that I did before of going to those dark places that I needed to go in order to put the right emotional impact into a particular scene,” she said. “I’m very secure with who I am. I’m a totally different woman now… I’m ready to share my body and space with Billie, but I’m not going to allow her to take over.”

In her singing parts, Bridgewater says she’s “trying to stay a little closer to Billie’s styling without imitating her,” performing arrangements by music director and pianist Bill Jolly that reflect the mid-1950s era. In the rehearsal scenes, she displays a bit more of her own vocal style, engaging in some energetic scat singing in “Them There Eyes,” which Holiday rarely did. But in the second act concert, Bridgewater says she goes more into Billie’s voice on such numbers as “God Bless the Child” and the more obscure “Violets for Your Furs.”

Bridgewater says the show’s most emotional moments for her come when she performs the anti-lynching song “Strange Fruit” with a sparse chordal piano accompaniment – after a monologue about Billie’s humiliating experiences touring the segregated South, and “Good Morning, Heartache,” where Billie breaks down after recalling how her mother abandoned her as a child.

Bridgewater hopes audiences will come away from the show with “a whole new take on Billie” and not see her as some tragic figure.

“The show is a celebration of the woman,” said Bridgewater. “I want people to go, `Wow, what an amazing woman, what strength she had to endure all the things that she did before she died.'”

On the Web…


Gay mayoral candidate’s body found by Mississippi levee

Whatever his prospects for winning the coming mayoral election in his hometown of Clarksdale, Miss., Marco McMillian was considered by many to be a man on the rise. So word spread fast when his SUV was involved in a wreck this week, and he was nowhere to be found.

The discovery of the openly gay candidate’s body near a Mississippi River levee Wednesday stunned residents of Clarksdale, a Blues mecca in the flatlands of the Mississippi Delta.

Authorities were investigating McMillian’s death as a homicide, and said a person of interest was in custody, but released few other details.

“There’s a lot of people upset about it,” said Dennis Thomas, 33, who works at Abe’s Barbeque.

“Why would somebody want to do something like that to somebody of that caliber? He was a highly respected person in town,” Thomas said.

The 34-year-old Democrat wasn’t running what many would consider a typical campaign for political office in Mississippi, which is known for its conservative politics.

Campaign spokesman Jarod Keith said McMillian’s campaign was noteworthy because he may have been the first openly gay man to be a viable candidate for public office in the state.

McMillian, who was black, had also forged ties while serving for four years as international executive director of the historically black Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc. Photos on McMillian’s website and Facebook page show him with a younger Barack Obama, former President Bill Clinton and with U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat.

Coahoma County Coroner Scotty Meredith said McMillian’s body was found Wednesday morning near the levee between Sherard and Rena Lara. It was sent to Jackson for an autopsy.

Meredith said the case is being investigated as a homicide, but he declined to speculate on the cause of death.

Authorities had been looking for McMillian since early Feb. 26, when a man crashed the candidate’s SUV into another vehicle on U.S. Highway 49. McMillian was not in the car.

The sheriff’s office said Feb. 28 that a person of interest was in custody, but had not been formally charged.

Will Rooker, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office, declined to release other details.

McMillian was CEO of MWM & Associates, described on its website as a consulting firm for nonprofit organizations. In addition to his role at the fraternity from 2007 to 2011, McMillian had previously worked to raise funds as executive assistant to the president at Alabama A&M University and as assistant to the vice president at Jackson State University, according to his campaign.

A statement from the fraternity said he had secured the first federal contract to raise awareness about the impact of HIV and AIDS on communities of color. It noted that Ebony Magazine had recognized him in 2004 as one of the nation’s “30 up-and-coming African Americans” under age 30.

Supporters say McMillian – a 1997 graduate of Clarksdale High School who graduated magna cum laude from Jackson State and held a master’s degree from St. Mary’s University in Minnesota in philanthropy and development – had big ideas for Clarksdale, a town of about 17,800 people.

The town is well known to Blues fans as the home of the crossroads, where Robert Johnson is said to have sold his soul to the devil for skills with a guitar. Academy Award-winning actor and Mississippi native Morgan Freeman is part owner of the Ground Zero Blues Club in town. Clarksdale is also hounded by the poverty typical of the Mississippi Delta.

McMillian was hoping to win the office being vacated by Mayor Henry Espy Jr., the brother of Mike Espy, a former congressman and U.S. agriculture secretary. Henry Espy decided not to seek re-election after more than two decades in office. Espy’s son, state Rep. Chuck Espy, and Bill Luckett, a partner in Freeman’s club, were among the other well-known candidates in the race. The primary is May 7.

The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund and Institute tweeted: “Our hearts go out to the family and friends of Marco McMillian, one of the 1st viable openly (hash)LGBT candidates in Mississippi.”

McMillian’s campaign said in a statement that words cannot describe “our grief at the loss of our dear friend.”

“We remember Marco as a bold and passionate public servant, whose faith informed every aspect of his life,” the statement said.