Entertainment Spotlight

  • Catching Up: Santana, Taj Mahal and a déjà vu ‘Blue Christmas’

    Posted by Ben Fong-Torres

    By Ben Fong-Torres It’s short shrift time. I have a life that’s ripe (and slightly wrinkled) for blogs and tweeting; for facebooking and updating. I’m just no good at it. My last column here on AsianConnections was about the memorial in late July for my sister Shirley. My last posting on the authors’ site, Redroom, was about a radio promo tour I did (20 stops, all on the phone...

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  • Farewell to Sarah Fong-Torres Watkins by Ben Fong-Torres

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    Farewell to Sarah Fong-Torres Watkins

    We said goodbye to Sarah, my sister, on Sunday, the third of November, at Rancho Nicasio in Northern Marin County. The restaurant and club, owned by close friends, was one of her favorite hangouts.

    Sarah, the oldest of the Fong-Torres children, died in mid-October. It was cancer; she was 72. She was the third sibling I’ve lost in three years. As the last two of the kids, and with a 92 year-old mother in nursing care, we had a responsibility to take care of family matters. We had a special bond.

    But there were other reasons for our connectedness, and I noted some of them in my remarks at the memorial. Sarah was remembered for her humor, her spunk, her candor, and her heart, by best friends Annie Sampson and Ellen Blonder, husband Dave Watkins and son Jason, attorney and friend Ken Coren, and by others who stepped up to the microphone and told stories.

    Here, edited for space, are my remarks.

    On behalf of the Watkins-Fong-Torres family, welcome to this Celebration of Sarah Watkins.

    This is not a memorial service. Sarah would have none of that. She would not want us grieving, although we do. She would want this to be not about her, although it must be.

    I can see her off in the distance, smoking a cigarette, tapping her feet. Let’s go, already. And so we will.

    It seems like forever that it was the five of us. The five Fong-Torreses. Even after Barry died, too young, in 1972, I thought of us as five kids. Even after Sarah and Shirley married and had different names. We were the Fong-Torres family, five kids bound by one weird name.

    Sarah was the first born; the first who’d have to explain that name—the product of an immigration scheme. She’s the one with whom I had the longest time, and whether by circumstance, by genes, or by personalities, we had an especially strong bond.

    We were raised in Oakland’s Chinatown and spent a lot of time at the New Eastern Café, in the early to mid-‘50s. We were kept in a...

  • Update - Judith has signed with Sony! A ‘Voice’ in the Shadows: Judith Hill by Ben Fong-Torres

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    Photo: Judith Hill, Suzanne Joe Kai, Ben Fong-Torres at the 21st AAJA convention in Los Angeles                                          

    Update Oct. 8, 2013  Judith's touring schedule with Josh Groban and official news of her new deal with Sony Music!

     

    From Judith's official enewsletter and website JudithHill.com.

     

    Judith Hill has been tapped by multi-platinum-selling singer, songwriter and actor Josh Groban as support for his fall "In The Round" tour, which kicks off tonight at Taco Bell Arena in Boise, ID. In addition to opening the show, Hill will join Groban during his set for two songs: "The Prayer" and "Remember When It Rains." Judith, who contributed backing vocals to three tracks on Groban's latest album, All That Echoes, will also be playing a series of headline dates this fall. See below for itinerary.

     

    Praised by Rolling Stone for her "stellar powerhouse vocals," Hill has signed with Sony Music. In addition to penning and performing her own material, Judith - who wrote her first song at the age of four - has backed such artists as the late Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Elton John. Hers is one of the stories told in director Morgan Neville's acclaimed 20 Feet From Stardom, a film that shines the spotlight on the untold true story of the backup singers behind some of the greatest musical legends of the 21st century. Hill, who was also featured on the film's soundtrack, was a contestant on season four of "The Voice." 

     

    Hill is also finishing up her debut record, which will be released in early 2014.   

     

    Judith Hill - Fall 2013 Tour Dates

     

    All dates are supporting Josh Groban unless otherwise noted.

     

    Additional headline dates to be announced.  Click HERE to Purchase Tickets. 

     

    October

     

    2 - Boise, ID @ Taco Bell Arena   

     

    3 - Portland, OR @ McMenamins Crystal Ballroom (headline show)

     

    4 - Seattle, WA @ KeyArena 6 - Sacramento, CA @ Sleep Train Arena 7 - San Jose, CA @HP Pavilion at San Jose 9 - Phoenix, AZ @ US...

  • Memories of Sweet Caroline, and of Oakland's Chinatown by Ben Fong-Torres

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    Berkeley, California 

    Memories of Sweet Caroline,

    and of Oakland’s Chinatown 

    by Ben Fong-Torres

     

    Caroline Chin was a neighbor and classmate of mine when we grew up in Chinatown, Oakland, in the ‘50s. We went to Lincoln Elementary, Westlake Jr High, and Chinese school together.

    She went on to become a teacher, an administrator and, finally, principal at (full circle) Lincoln School, in the early 2000’s, just before retiring. Under her leadership, it became a California Distinguished School, and would go on to become a National Blue Ribbon School. At her various stops, she encouraged kids and teachers alike to "work hard; learn a lot."

    A large, overflow crowd--maybe 750 or 800--learned a lot about Caroline Chin Yee, who passed away last month, at her services at the First Presbyterian Church in Berkeley.

    Caroline had what appeared to have been a full and perfectly balanced life. She and her husband since 1968, Gary Yee, were devoted to their church – and to traveling the world. She even combined globetrotting with teaching, once in Zhongshan; another time, in Edinburgh, Scotland.  She had wonderful siblings, two children, grandkids and in-laws. One niece, Terri Lee, introduced herself as “the oldest of her nieces. So I’m guessing I was her favorite.” 

    She and others, family and friends, told of Caroline’s dedication to them, and to children in general, and to the wider community.

    Caroline passed away on February 21; her memorial was on March 16. The family took time to plan a service, and a reception, that would chronicle her marvelous life, her achievements and the people she touched. Even with the passage of time, there was a palpable sense of shock from this loss.

    I had seen Caroline here and there in recent years. Just last October, she attended an informal  Westlake Jr. High reunion in Oakland’s Chinatown and consented to say a few words to a filmmaker (AsianConnections founder Suzanne Joe Kai) for her documentary about me,...

  • A Few Words about Burton Fong-Torres 1949-2012 by Ben Fong-Torres

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    Photo: Burton Fong-Torres with mother Connie Fong-Torres

    San Francisco

    Burton, My Brother

    by Ben Fong-Torres

    The hardest part about losing a sibling – or anyone close to you, come to think of it – is having to go out and see friends and hear those most innocent of questions: “What’s new with you?” or “How’re you doing?”

    Depending on who’s asking, I’ve been saying, “All right, thanks, and you?” or “Not so great. My younger brother died.” And then you gird yourself for the questions and sympathy, and you let out a couple of details, and try to figure out a transition to another subject; any other subject.

    That’s how it’s been since November 11th, the Sunday of Thanksgiving week. Burton, who was 63 and the youngest of us five children, died after several years of living with a weak heart, helped not at all by kidney dialysis.  Since childhood, Burton was slow, and did not advance far, in school or in life. Later in life, he had no friends. And so, when he passed away, we, his family, chose not to have a service. Our mother, 91, is in nursing care and in no shape, physical or mental, to be attending a funeral for the third child she has lost.

    So, no obituary, no service, no facebook page, as we had for my sister Shirley, who died in June of last year. She was a public person, constantly in the media. Burt was the flip side.

    But he was vitally important in our family. As a close friend wrote, “Looking back, Burton was a blessing for your family. He was the one who kept your parents company.” At the Bamboo Hut, our restaurant in Hayward, after the older kids had finally escaped to college and beyond, Burt stayed and helped out until our parents closed it in the mid-‘70s.  After our father died in 1994, Burton, who by then had ended an arranged marriage with a woman from Hong Kong, moved into my parents’ condo in Oakland’s Chinatown. It was an unorthodox arrangement, a 45 year old son moving in with his 73 year-old mother. But, in many ways, they needed each other.

    Even when...

  • A Giant celebration for a gigantic victory by Ben Fong-Torres

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    With a nation grieving over the loss of loved ones and the destruction from Hurricane Sandy on the East coast, a relief concert "Coming Together" with artists including Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi, Billy Joel and Sting raised funds for Hurricane Sandy victims at NYC's Rockefeller Center which aired on NBC, HBO, and other outlets. With more recovery and fundraising efforts underway, our spirits are uplifted by the countless stories of courage and heroism by people helping people in the face of Hurricane Sandy. On the West coast, Ben Fong-Torres describes the dancing in the streets of San Francisco, and a thumbs up by Mayor Ed Lee over a World Series win with people from all walks of life and ethnicities coming together. The capacity of the human spirit is boundless. There is hope after all. - Suzanne Joe Kai, editor, AsianConnections.com

    By Ben Fong-Torres

    Yes, there was the joyful craziness, the dancing in the streets of San Francisco when Giants closer Sergio Romo struck out triple crown winner Miguel Cabrera in Detroit to win the World Series. (click here to full story with images)

    And yes, there was the victory parade and Civic Center celebration, drawing more than a million fans into San Francisco, from all over Northern California.

    But I also think of the line of 15 or 20 people in front of a tiny Taco Bell/KFC place on a recent late Tuesday afternoon. Taco Bell had promised free tacos if any player in the Series stole a base.

    The Giants center fielder, Angel Pagan, came through. He not only scored tacos – Doritos tacos, mind you – for hundreds of thousands of people, he showed up at one restaurant and helped assemble tacos behind a drive-through counter. “I feel happy that I brought everybody together in the United States,” he said.

    The next day was the big parade, and Romo struck a similar theme of togetherness. Sporting a T-shirt reading “I Just Look Illegal,” Romo, who is Mexican-American, looked into the mass of...