Ben Fong Torres
February 22, 2020
Last year, just about this time, I lost my Radio Waves column, soon after the San Francisco Chronicle brought in a new arts and entertainment editor. I’d been writing it every other Sunday for 15 years (plus another three-year stretch earlier on, before I took a break to publish a couple of books).
He gave me a reason that made no sense. Radio Waves wasn’t getting enough clicks on the digital side. But the Chronicle never featured the column on its sites. Readers had to search my name, or drill through the TV and movies windows to, with luck, find Radio Waves.
My readers found me the old-fashioned way, but like so many major papers, the Chronicle is going new-fashioned, trying to drive readers online, where the advertisers are.
The new editor was open to my doing pieces on media in general; on music; on my life and times in music and broadcasting. I thought that would make for a decent column. But he asked me to pitch him for every article.
I had no interest in becoming a freelancer, especially given the paltry fees doled out to non-staffers. Fifteen years of being underpaid was quite enough.
I moved on, accepting a consulting gig with the Music City Hit Factory, a hub for musicians and fans, encompassing, in one building, a hostel, a music school, a suite of rehearsal spaces and recording studios, performance spaces and cafes, and, throughout, exhibits celebrating the history of San Francisco Bay Area artists and events. I’m director of content. And it’s paying me twice as much as the Chronicle, without the unending deadlines.
Music City is a perfect partner with my other part-time gig, programming and DJing for Moonalice Radio, an online station with crazily eclectic music hosted by members of that jam band, led by Roger McNamee, who many people now know as the prescient and persistent critic of...
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...
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...
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...