By TOM CHESEK
“Any family has its ups and downs, and we all have people in our lives who struggle. This just happens to be about a family of very talented people, whose musical talent brought them everything.”
The family question is that of native Jerseyan Cissy Houston and her internationally famous daughter, the late Whitney Houston. The speaker is Gilda Rogers author, activist, adjunct prof at Brookdale Community College, former faculty member at Red Bank Regional High School and, for several seasons in Red Bank, the proprietor of a delightfully eclectic place called Frank Talk.
The intimately scaled “Art Bistro and Bookstore” on Shrewsbury Avenue hosted an expansive schedule of entertainments and activities that ranged from personal appearances by famous writers, live jazz sets and civic debates to pie-tastings, yoga classes, hair stylings and events in which Rogers invited one and all to share their favorite old record albums and dance. Since closing the storefront space two years ago this month, Rogers has kept the name and spirit alive via Frank Talk Multimedia Network, an umbrella brand for a typically wide-ranging slate of endeavors involving music, video, theater and motivational speaking.
As a Community Affairs liaison at Two River Theater since September 2011, Rogers has worked with the performing arts center’s creative team to bring several special events to the Bridge Avenue venue including a salute to Red Bank’s fondly recalled “Johnny Jazz,” Ralph Gatta. And this Sunday afternoon just two days after what would have been Whitney Houston’s 50th birthday she’ll welcome Cissy Houston to the Rechnitz auditorium stage for an event keyed to the veteran singer’s memoir, Remembering Whitney.
Subtitled My Story of Love, Loss, and the Night the Music Stopped, the volume takes a candid, mom’s-eye look at the mega-platinum music superstar’s public triumphs (seven straight number one hits, blockbuster films, trophy cases of awards, audiences with world leaders) and equally public train wrecks (increasingly erratic performances, constant talk of substance abuse problems, and a volatile marriage to Bobby Brown that bottomed out in an eyeball-popping reality TV series).
While the “TMZ” side of Whitney Houston’s public image dominated the last several years of her life, Rogers is quick to point out that “it’s not going to be our focus. I’d like to set a tone that’s more celebratory than sensational. We’re going to celebrate Cissy’s life and music, and honor her daughter.”
“Her contributions, her mark on the world of music, will supersede all of the less-important things in the end,” says Rogers of the late singer who “was one of the greatest voices who ever lived, and a homegirl from New Jersey… She was R&B, pop, gospel, all in one. She had the whole package.”
Scheduled for 4 pm August 11, “An Intimate Conversation with Cissy Houston” begins with an onstage conversation, plus audience Q&A, between Rogers and the 79-year-old Grammy winning “Duchess of Gospel Music,” who she first met at a previous personal appearance in Elizabeth. A performance by the award winning gospel vocal group The Anointed Sons of Jersey follows. Ticket reservations ($40 and $75) include a signed copy of Remembering Whitney, with the top ticket also including access to a reception at the theater featuring the special guest. Take it here to reserve.
Gilda Rogers continues her customary busy pace here in the dog days of summer, with a new West Side Jazz Nights series of free Friday evening concerts scheduled for August 9, 16 and 23, at the Westside Park pocket on the corner of Shrewsbury Avenue and Drs. James Parker Boulevard. Inquire here for schedule details and weather related updates.