Medicare Advantage Is a Superior Program (Part two) – The Health Care Blog


Former Kaiser Permanente CEO George Halvorson has written on THCB on and off over the years, most notably with his proposal for Medicare Advantage for All post-COVID. He wrote a piece in Health Affairs last week arguing with the stance of Medicare Advantage of Don Berwick and Rick Gilfillan (Here’s their piece pt1, pt2). Here’s a longer exposition of his argument. We published part one last week so please read that first. This is part two – Matthew Holt

Medicare Advantage is better for the underserved

The African American and Hispanic communities who were particularly hard hit by those conditions and by the Covid death rates have been enrolling in significant numbers in Medicare Advantage plans.

The sets of people who were most damaged by Covid have chosen in disproportional numbers to be Medicare Advantage members. Currently 51 percent of the African Americans on Medicare are in Medicare Advantage plans and more than 60 percent of the Hispanic Medicare members will be on Medicare Advantage this year.

That disproportionate enrollment in Medicare Advantage surprises some people, but it really should not surprise anyone because the Plans have made special,  direct, and inclusive efforts to be attractive to people with those sets of care needs and have delivered better care and service than many of the new enrollees have ever had in their lives. 

The Medicare Advantage plans have language proficiency support competencies, and language requirements and capabilities that clearly do not exist anywhere for fee-for-service Medicare care sites. A combination of team care,  language proficiency, and significantly lower direct health care costs for each member has encouraged that pattern of enrollment as well.

The $1600 savings per person has been a highly relevant factor as more than twice as many of the lowest income Medicare members — people who make less than $30,000 a year — are now enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans.

Medicare Advantage’s critics tend to explicitly avoid discussing those enrollment patterns, and some of the most basic critics actually shamelessly say, with what must be at least unconscious malicious intent in various publications and settings, that the Medicare Advantage demographics for both ethnicity and income levels are a clone for standard Medicare membership. Those critics have said that  there is nothing for us to learn or see from any enrollment patterns or care practices based on those sets of issues.

Many people who discuss Medicare Advantage in media and policy settings generally do not focus on or even mention the people in our population who most need Medicare Advantage — the 4 million people who are now enrolled in the Special Needs Plans.

Special Needs Plans for Dual Eligibles

The Special Needs Plans take care of low-income people who have problematic levels of care needs and who very much need better care.

 Some negative and badly misinformed critics of Medicare Advantage sometimes say and even write that the primary business model of the plans is to somehow manipulate their risk pool level data to improve and inflate their capitation levels and those critics sometimes also very directly say that it is the business model of the plans to avoid having any impact on care.

That set of beliefs and statements is so extremely wrong that it is actually painfully and almost criminally wrong. The Special Needs Plans for Medicare Advantage prove that to be wrong beyond any shadow of a doubt.

Four million Medicare Advantage Special Needs Plan members have income levels that are low enough and they have care need levels that are high enough for them to qualify for Medicaid coverage as well as for Medicare coverage — and millions of those dual eligible low-income patients who have joined Medicare Advantage plans are now personally each getting better care than a huge proportion of those patients have ever received in their lives.

The special needs plans are almost an extension of social service support in their communities for those patients. The plans have nurses and other caregivers going into people’s homes to assess and determine care needs and to deliver care in the context of those patient specific needs.

That set of focused services for those patients is a very special and very much needed thing for us as a country to do — and many of the people in the special-needs plans are literally getting the best care of their life now from the Medicare Advantage plans.

That can’t even be debated if you look at the care that has been the normal level of care for those patients in too many of those settings. Those Medicare Advantage members are getting best levels of care now because the actual care that a high percentage of those patients received before enrollment happened when the negative social determinants of health factors were defining and creating their actual care settings in their communities.

That was too often not good care and it was very much less effective in doing what those groups of people need done at this point in their lives.

The first line of this piece says that Medicare Advantage is a clearly superior program and it says that we should be steering people into Medicare Advantage plans for the good of Medicare and for the good of each person who goes down that path. That recommendation and proposal is absolutely reinforced, affirmed, and confirmed by what the Special Needs Plans do for the 4 million high need and low-income people they serve.

The whole payment process for Medicare Advantage is anchored on Capitation. Capitation allows the caregivers to use the money more wisely to deliver better care.

The Medicare Advantage plans do make a profit — and that profit is under 5%. The plans have an average profit of 4.5%. That’s the lowest profit level of any major industry and it is less than half of the profit made by the average business in America. The Affordable Care act has very strict rules and limits on profits — so that profit number isn’t ever going to get to any of the fake news profit levels that some of the less honest of the political opponents of the Medicare Advantage plans sometimes pretend exist as profits for the plans now.

The profits are low and the cash flow is entirely controlled by the payment model. As a buyer, Medicare pays Medicare Advantage plans a capitation for each member for each month.

Managing the Future of Capitation in Medicare Advantage

The beauty of capitation is that you can set it using the best data and using the best actuarial judgment that you can use to get to the right number and then that capitation number is the total cost of care for those people. Nothing can be done to change the cost of care for Medicare for those people once the capitation is set.

If the number is wrong, fix the number.

Every other aspect of the health care economy and health care cash flow has a million moving parts that are all hard to steer, direct and control — and the cost of Medicare Advantage is set with just one annual number when the capitation level for the year is determined.

The number needs to be built each year by good data and solid actuarial skills at the number that works best to keep care improving, to keep people covered and insured, and to give the care sites both enough money to deliver the program and to both control costs and continuously improve care.

There have been some concerns in some settings on some years on the capitation setting process. We should fix that concern.

We need a number that people trust. We need a number with fully credible linkages to the patient medical records so that the data in the process reflects the actual status of the patients.

We need a continuously improving process — and we need a process that is stable enough to allow the care infrastructure of this country to invest in itself and build better pieces at every level to continuously improve care with the knowledge that future zigs and zags in the cash flow will not undermine solid investments made in future care.

We could make care far better in this country if we use the full tool kit for need discernment, optimal biological science, direct patient electronic support tools and information, and continuously improving care. To achieve those goals, we need to use capitation to buy care everywhere by the package and not by the piece.

Capitation buys care by the package, and it is absolutely the total amount that the buyer spends on care.

The actual reality is that a dollar spent on Medicare Advantage today moves us in that direction, because it is a capitation program, and we get to set the capitation every year.

The Medicare Advantage approach already gives people with high care needs better care and that dollar spent on Medicare Advantage also keeps the total cost of care down for both members and for the government by where we set the capitation.

That annual pricing process also gives us an extremely useful framework that we should now make a top priority of doing well every year to tee up our expectations for the future and to steer the future in the directions we want it to go– using the Medicare Advantage cash flow to steer us as an infrastructure of care in some very good directions in very intentional ways.

Those negotiations and the Five Star Plan quality requirements are actually the best tools that we have to steer the direction of care in this country at this point in time.  We should all understand what those opportunities for steerage actually are today with Medicare Advantage as a program.

We can actually manage future care expectations though the Medicare Advantage Five-Star Quality plan annual negotiations and enhancement process.

The five-star plan should probably be enhanced this year or next to reflect what we have learned about Covid and pandemics and about electronically connected care and algorithms for care, and we should decide at some point this year if we want to make some changes in that space and in those expectations.

It we ever wanted to improve something in standard fee-for-service Medicare, that could be incredibly hard to do. With Medicare Advantage, however, we can simply set the specifications up each year in key areas and then we can steer in that direction because that opportunity exists, and it is a purchase and not a payment.

We should have major public awareness both of the five-star plan results and of any modifications we want to make for the future, because our expectations written into that process actually guides care in very effective ways and we can use it to steer care for everyone if we use that process well.

We need the capitation data each year to be based on data fed by the medical records — and we should figure out what levels of care we want to enhance based on the best science available for care. We should set up an expectation of care sites doing continuous improvement and we should steer that process to optimal care. We spend too much money not to get great care.

And we need to support the programs we have in place now — with the Special Needs Plans getting the special treatment they deserve.

And we should make joining plans even easier to have more people benefiting from the best practices that exist in so many places.

Medicare Advantage will Save the Trust Fund

Medicare Advantage truly is a superior program at so many levels, and we should understand the fact that we could actually build on that superiority to help Medicare survive and thrive as the best government health care program for people in the world and we could, if we want, actually set the future capitation levels at the level where the Medicare Trust fund is saved.

One estimate from a credible source said that a 3 percent lowering of the currently expected capitation level increase from the current overall cost trend for Medicare would save Medicare financially. We should confirm those numbers, but if that is true, it could easily be done.

It could easily be done because there is so much low hanging fruit in the delivery of health care that we could harvest relatively easily if we decided to go down that path.

There are such huge opportunities that exist in making care better using all of the new tools for care that the 3 percent lower-cost trend number could be a walk in the park if we steer the process well and decide to do it as a nation. For now, let’s optimize what we have and celebrate all of the things that deserve celebration, and let’s have the politicized Medicare Advantage critics take their hands off the quality program and completely off the special needs programs.

George Halvorson is Chair and CEO of the Institute for InterGroup Understanding and was CEO of Kaiser Permanente from 2002-14

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King, local black leaders honored at annual MLK Day luncheon

… barriers still exist, including racism. “Nobody does it … said that while African-Americans are breaking barriers … in representation of African-Americans in Congress and … African-American elected to Rockingham City Council and the second African-American … RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News

COVID treatment pill approved, inflation on the rise : In The News for Jan. 18

In The News is a roundup of stories from The Canadian Press designed to kickstart your day. Here is what’s on the radar of our editors for the morning of Jan. 18 …

What we are watching in Canada …

There’s hope that Health Canada’s approval of Pfizer’s antiviral COVID-19 treatment will help ease the strain on the country’s health-care system, as hospitalizations continue their steady climb.

The pill uses a combination of two antiviral drugs to prevent the virus that causes COVID-19 from replicating once it has infected a patient, but health officials stress it is not a replacement for vaccinations.

Clinical trials showed treatment with Paxlovid reduced the risk of hospitalization and death caused by COVID-19 by 89 per cent when the medications were started within three days of the beginning of symptoms, and by 85 per cent when started within five days.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief medical officer, noted supply of Paxlovid will be an early issue, meaning the treatment is unlikely to have much of an impact on the current Omicron wave.

Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said Canada has already received its first shipment of 30,000 treatment courses of the Pfizer drug, with another 120,000 expected through March. 

Distribution to provinces and territories will begin immediately, with priority given to patients who are moderately to severely immunocompromised and don’t mount enough protection against COVID-19 with vaccines.

That includes people over the age of 80 whose vaccines are not up to date, and those 60 years and older living in rural or underserved communities including First Nation, Inuit and Metis people whose vaccinations are not up to date.

Also this …

Newly released documents show the Finance Department last year flagged that the pace of price increases could gain speed.

In a briefing note to Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland from the spring, officials outlined “the case for runaway inflation” as part of a larger review of consumer prices.

While the majority of pressures at the time resulted from comparing prices to lows seen one year earlier during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the briefing note said inflation readings could go up over the medium-term.

Other documents obtained by The Canadian Press show Finance officials expected higher inflation readings for 2021, and warned of the need to monitor inflation expectations lest temporary pressure be perceived as permanent drivers of price growth.

The annual inflation rate hit 4.7 per cent in November and Statistics Canada is scheduled to release December’s reading on Wednesday morning.

RBC senior economist Nathan Janzen says December’s reading may be a touch higher than November’s figure, with economists looking to see if the annual rate of growth will hit five per cent.

And this …

A snowstorm that closed schools in parts of southern Ontario and Quebec on Monday will keep many of them dark for another day, while some parts of the Prairies that were already hit with freezing rain are now contending with plunging temperatures and snow.

Several boards in the Toronto area, like the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board, the Toronto Catholic District School Board and the York Region District School Board, said classes will go ahead remotely through online learning today. 

But the Toronto District School Board said there would be no live remote or virtual learning, either, noting in an online post that 36 of its schools still need to have snow removed from their roofs — a task it said couldn’t be completed Monday due to poor weather and road conditions.

The regional GO Transit network warned service would be reduced on Tuesday and to expect delays or cancellations, while several subway lines in Toronto were not running late last night due to what the TTC said were weather-related mechanical issues.

Winter storm and wind warnings were also in place for much of Alberta, parts of southern Manitoba were expected to see heavy snowfall Monday evening, and winter storm, and snowfall and freezing rain warnings were issued in parts of Saskatchewan as well.

Edmonton was already grappling with icy streets and sidewalks Monday, and the city’s police said they responded to 190 collisions between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.

RCMP in northern Alberta recommended late Monday that people to stay off the highways after they said they’d responded to multiple collisions.

What we are watching in the U.S. …

COLLEYVILLE, Texas _ The rabbi of a Texas synagogue where a gunman took hostages during livestreamed services said Monday that he threw a chair at his captor before escaping with two others after an hours-long standoff, crediting past security training for getting himself and his congregants out safely.

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker told “CBS Mornings” that he let the gunman inside the suburban Fort Worth synagogue Saturday because he appeared to need shelter. He said the man was not threatening or suspicious at first. But later, he heard a gun click as he was praying.

Authorities identified the hostage-taker as 44-year-old British national Malik Faisal Akram, who was killed Saturday night after the last three hostages ran out of the synagogue in Colleyville around 9 p.m. The first hostage was released shortly after 5 p.m.

The FBI on Sunday night issued a statement calling the ordeal “a terrorism-related matter, in which the Jewish community was targeted” and said the Joint Terrorism Task Force is investigating.

The agency noted that Akram spoke repeatedly during negotiations about a prisoner who is serving an 86-year sentence in the U.S. The statement followed comments Saturday from the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Dallas field office that the hostage-taker was focused on an issue “not specifically related to the Jewish community.”

Akram could be heard ranting on a Facebook livestream of the services and demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist suspected of having ties to al-Qaida who was convicted of trying to kill U.S. Army officers in Afghanistan.

At a service held Monday evening at a nearby Methodist church, Cytron-Walker said the amount of “well-wishes and kindness and compassion” has been overwhelming from Colleyville _ a city of about 26,000 people, 23 kilometres northeast of Fort Worth _ and surrounding communities.

“Thank you for all of the compassion, from the bottom of my heart,” Cytron-Walker said. “While very few of us are doing OK right now, we’ll get through this.” 

What we are watching in the rest of the world …

BEIJING _ Chinese state media report parcels mailed from overseas may have spread the Omicron variant of the coronavirus in Beijing and elsewhere.

Globally, health experts have stressed the virus mainly spreads through respiratory droplets when infected people breathe, speak, cough and sneeze. However, China has repeatedly emphasized the danger of infection from packaging, despite only trace amounts of the virus being found on such items, and it has boosted testing of frozen food and regular items shipped from overseas.

The Communist Party newspaper Global Times cited the Beijing Center for Disease Control and virologists as making the link between the latest infections and packages from abroad. The report Tuesday said investigators found people newly infected had picked up packages mailed from Canada and the U.S.

China has locked down parts of Beijing’s Haidian district following the detection of three cases, just weeks before the Chinese capital is due to host the Winter Olympic Games. Another person in the southern technology hub of Shenzhen who tested positive for Omicron had handled packages sent from North America.

China remains on high alert for new outbreaks ahead of the Olympics. Around 20 million people are under lockdown and mass testing has been ordered in neighbourhoods and entire cities where cases have been discovered.

The Beijing Games organizers announced Monday that only “selected” spectators will be permitted at the events that officially open Feb. 4. Beijing had already announced that no fans from outside the country would be permitted and had not offered tickets to the general public.

China has largely avoided major virus outbreaks with a regimen of lockdowns, mass testing for COVID-19 and travel restrictions, although it continues to fight surges in several cities, including the port of Tianjin, about an hour from Beijing.

Despite China’s “zero-COVID” policy, one city that has endured weeks of lockdown appeared to find some relief. Falling numbers of cases in Xi’an, a city of 13 million famed as the home of the Terracotta Warrior statue army, have prompted authorities to allow people to gradually leave their homes and return to work.

On this day in 1985 …

Ontario premier William Davis announced that a sports stadium with a retractable roof would be built in downtown Toronto at a cost of $150 million. The SkyDome, which opened in 1989, ended up costing $500 million. The stadium was renamed the Rogers Centre in 2005 after Rogers Communications Inc. acquired it for $25 million.

In entertainment …

Canadian jazz legend Eleanor Collins is being recognized with a commemorative stamp.

Canada Post says the 102-year-old musician will be celebrated at a virtual event Friday that will reveal the stamp and pay tribute to Collins’s life and career “as an artist, musician and mentor.” 

Collins is set to take part along with special guests who were influenced by and worked with her, including Nalda Callender of the National Congress of Black Women Foundation, filmmaker Sylvia Hamilton, and musicians Sharman King, Marcus Mosely, and Wendy Solloway.

The Edmonton-born Collins began performing in the 1930s on television and radio shows across the country. She has worked with everyone from Dizzy Gillespie to Oscar Peterson.

In 1954, she joined CBC’s “Bamboula: A Day in the West Indies” and became part of the first interracial cast on Canadian television. A year later, she starred in “The Eleanor Show,” which made her the first woman and first Black artist to headline their own national television series.

On her 95th birthday in 2014, Collins was invested into the Order of Canada for being “a civic leader and pioneer in the development of British Columbia’s music industry.”

An in-person event had originally been scheduled but was moved online due to recent COVID-19 protocols and restrictions. 


Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says he has relieved Justice Minister Kaycee Madu of his duties after Madu called Edmonton’s police chief about a traffic ticket.

Kenney says all parties agree Madu did not ask Chief Dale McFee to cancel his ticket, but it’s important the integrity of the justice system be maintained.

Kenney, in a late night announcement on Twitter, says he has asked Madu to step aside while an independent investigator examines the relevant facts of the case to determine whether Madu interfered in the administration of justice.

In the meantime, Energy Minister Sonya Savage will assume Madu’s responsibilities.

The decision stems from a distracted driving ticket Madu received from an Edmonton police officer on the morning of March 10, 2021.

Madu, who is Black, says he phoned McFee after he received the ticket but only to seek assurances that he was not being racially profiled or singled out for surveillance given his political position.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 18, 2022.

The Canadian Press

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‘Manifesto’ is a story of dreams made real by never giving up

Manifesto: On Never Giving Up, by Bernardine Evaristo
Grove Press
Manifesto: On Never Giving Up, by Bernardine Evaristo

Grove Press

In a 1973 review of Nobel Prize-winning writer Toni Morrison’s Sula, New York Times critic Sara Blackburn wrote: “Toni Morrison is far too talented to remain only a marvelous recorder of the black side of provincial American life. If she is to maintain the large and serious audience she deserves, she is going to have to address a riskier contemporary reality.”

More than a decade later, in 1988, journalist Jana Wendt asked Morrison if she would ever change and incorporate white lives in her work in substantial way. “You can’t understand how powerfully racist that question is, can you?” Morrison responded. “You could never ask a white author, ‘When are you going to write about Black people?’ Whether he did or not, or she did or not. Even the inquiry comes from a position of being in the center.”

The same questions were raised in an interview Morrison did with Charlie Rose in 1998, and onwards in her career.

The attitudes that Morrison was faced with — the same lack of value towards non-white narratives — continues today, on both sides of the Atlantic. Writes Booker Prize-winning British author Bernardine Evaristo in her new memoir Manifesto: On Never Giving Up: “I have been asked, in all seriousness, when I’m going to progress beyond writing about black people, as if it’s a stage one goes through en route to the next level of human enlightenment.”

Yet, as Morrison noted so long ago, this question of racial representation of characters is not something asked of white writers who do not include people of color in their writing, even when writing about contemporary multiracial societies. Instead, the ignorance that writers of color are met with includes assumptions that writing narratives about black lives must mean the work is solely about racism or identity; the assumption that “only white narratives are seen as capable of exploring universality in fiction.”

This, perhaps, is what has fueled the literary activism detailed in Manifesto that Evaristo has engaged in throughout her life. Evaristo’s work in supporting inclusivity in the literary arts is legend. It includes the commission of a Free Verse report, which found that less than 1% of poetry books in the United Kingdom were published by poets of color, and then creating a mentorship program, The Complete Works, to do something about it; this program mentored 30 poets over two years. Evaristo’s advocacy work also created the Brunel Poetry Prize for African writers, the first and largest award of its kind, and led her to work alongside Kwame Dawes in situating the African Poetry Book Fund as a force that has changed the shape of contemporary publishing. Most recently, as the curator of Black Britain: Writing Black, Evaristo is republishing overlooked books by Black authors such as Minty Alley, by C.L.R James originally published in 1936.

Manifesto, which could otherwise be called Portrait of the Artist as a Young Black Woman, is a much needed accounting of a Black woman’s coming of age through the journey of creating a profoundly authentic creative life. “As someone who was female, working class and a person of colour, limitations had been determined for me before I had even opened my mouth to cry at the shock of being thrust out of my mother’s cozy amniotic womb,” Evaristo writes. From her youth as a struggling unpublished poet working odd jobs to survive, to her status today as an award-winning author and professor, Evaristo’s life as detailed in Manifesto is the story of dreams made real through an unshakeable belief in the self despite the naysaying noise of the world.

Manifesto resonates with tenderly drawn stories of Evaristo’s family history — beginning with mourning the grandmother whom she never met and trying to find a connection to her Nigerian family, a familiar story of Africans caught in the rapacious capitalistic project of European colonization. Evaristo’s father, of Nigerian and African Brazilian descent, had been raised in Lagos; her mother was an Englishwoman whose “roots in Britain stretch back over three hundred years to 1704.”As a bi-racial brown skinned woman, Evaristo, along with her seven siblings, experienced racism throughout childhood. “My family endured the name-calling of children who parroted their parents’ racism, along with violent assaults on our family home by thugs who threw bricks at our windows,” she writes. There was also the pain of how Evaristo’s mother was cut out of her family, which was white, after she married Evaristo’s father because he was Black — despite a family member who had escaped violence from Nazi persecution. “It was an early lesson for me as a child, witnessing how people who are victims of oppression can turn into oppressors themselves.”

This personal reflection allows Evaristo to delve into an incisive analysis of class and race in the United Kingdom — whether it be an interrogation of her own privilege as a light-skinned woman and the role of colorism, or of how her mother, only daughter of working class parents, had been poised to move to the middle class through her profession as a teacher only to be “rapidly demoted to the bottom by her marriage to an African.” Yet both Evaristo’s parents would not let racism dampen their voices, and engaged in lifelong political activism, which Evaristo cites as informing her own.

In Manifesto, there is also an exploration of the terrifying and eponymous nature or sexual assault and violence that haunts young women — from Evaristo’s account of being choked by an early ex-boyfriend to hearing the stories of assault from other female friends. Not much has changed in the half century since she was a teenage girl, Evaristo reflects. “Bad things happened to women and girls, who were expected to put up with it in silence.”

What sustains Evaristo throughout is this: a dedication to the craft of writing and an astute awareness of the importance of community. Evaristo understood that for Black artists, whose art was shut of the mainstream conversation, the creation of art also necessitated the creation of community. To this end, a young Evaristo and two friends founded the Theatre of Black Women. Here was the birth of Evaristo the playwright. It was this theatre — both the artistic expression and community with other Black women artists that set the foundation for Evaristo’s literary genius. The plays she wrote were embedded with the musicality of language, showcasing how poetry has long been at the center of her work, whether it be her first poetry collection Island of Abraham, published in 1993, or her most recent Booker Prize-winning work: the stunningly lyrical Girl, Woman, Other.

Evaristo’s preoccupation with history is central to her work; a turning point in her writing came when she began to learn about the history of Africans in England, which had been absent from her earlier education— citing Peter Fryer’s Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain as particularly revelatory. In writing about a legion of Moors stationed near Scotland at Hadrian’s Wall as part of the Roman army in A.D. 211, Fryer stated: “There were Africans in Britain before the British came here.” Evaristo began to draw from that history to fuel her writing; the result was her 2004 book The Emperor’s Babe, the story of an African girl growing up in Roman-era London.

“As a writer, my project has been to explore the African diaspora — past, present, real, imagined — from multiple perspectives,” writes Evaristo. Manifesto revels in the stories behind Evaristo’s writing — the formation of each book as well as the formation of the artist engaged in the act of creation. Here, one of the foremost writers of the age unwinds her career and life. In doing so, she has given us a nonfiction bildungsroman that is a towering monument to the creative life of Black women.

Hope Wabuke is a poet, writer and assistant professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

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Maestro Everett Lee, Conductor, first African American to lead the New York City Opera passes away at 105

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA-January 15, 2022):  EVERETT ASTOR LEE, internationally acclaimed symphonic conductor, opera music director, violinist and music scholar, passed away on January 12, 2022 in Malmö, Sweden at the age of 105 years old.

Maestro Lee was a brilliant conductor and musician who contributed enormously to classical music. He was the first African American to lead the New York City Opera in their production of Verdi’s “La Traviata” in 1955. He was founder of the Cosmopolitan Symphony, the first African American to conduct a major Broadway production, Leonard Bernstein’s “On The Town” in 1945, the first African American to conduct a major symphony orchestra in the south with the Louisville Orchestra and the first African American to conduct a major opera company in the United States.

Among his over one thousand performances Maestro Lee was conductor of a traveling Munich Opera House in Germany, the Symphony of the New World in New York, the Bogota Philharmonic and Bogota Symphony in Columbia, the Musical Director of Norrköping Symphony Orchestra in Sweden, and guest conductor at symphony orchestras such as the St. Petersburg, Stockholm, Paris, Madrid, Buenos Aires, Berlin, Cordoba, New York Philharmonic, the Albany, Atlanta, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dallas, Detroit, Hamburg, Bergen, Barcelona Symphonies, and the Boston Pops.

Maestro Everett Lee was a graduate of Cleveland Institute of Music, studying violin at the Institute and was a conducting student at The Juilliard School. He was awarded a Koussevitzky Music Foundation Award to conduct the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood in 1946. The following year he founded his own orchestra the Cosmopolitan Little Symphony. The same year he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship he was appointed director of the opera department at Columbia University Music School. He has also conducted for opera companies in England, France, Sweden, Germany and Columbia, as well as in the United States.


Maestro Lee’s honors included an Honorary Doctor of Music degree from West Virginia University in 2018 and a Wheeling Hall of Fame inductee in Music and Fine Arts in 2019. Maestro Lee will be remembered by his wife, Christin Lee, his daughter, Dr. Eve Lee, from his first marriage to the late Sylvia Olden Lee, the renowned opera vocal coach, and Maestro Lee and Christin’s son, Erik Lee.

Racism Still Colours Modern America

… toward racial equality and inspire Black Americans to embrace it. Monday is … regard, the civil rights of Black Americans have advanced from the metaphorical … sure: America cannot advance with racism. Racism is like cancer. It will … RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News

Tenor Saxophonist Javon Jackson Joins Forces With Nikki Giovanni On New Album

New York, NY (Top40 Charts) Why would one of poetry’s most revered voices want to curate a jazz saxophonist’s album of gospel hymns and spirituals? “These songs are so important,” says Nikki Giovanni, one of Oprah Winfrey’s 25 “Living Legends” and a Maya Angelou Lifetime Achievement Award winner for 2017. “They comforted people through times of slavery, and during recent years we needed them to comfort us again. But a lot of the students today do not know about the history of these songs, and they should. So I’m out here putting water on the flowers, because they need a drink.”

Giovanni’s historic collaboration with saxophonist-composer and former Jazz Messenger Javon Jackson has yielded The Gospel According to Nikki Giovanni, available February 18, 2022 on his Solid Jackson label. “The spirituals have been around so long,” says the renowned poet, activist and educator, who came to prominence in the 1960s and ’70s as a foundational member of the Black Arts movement following the publication of such early works as 1968’s book of poetry Black Feeling, Black Talk/Black Judgment and 1970’s Re:Creation. “Some spirituals have been updated and stayed around and some have been lost over time,” Giovanni notes “So for me, it’s just helping to keep something going. And I do it because there’s a need.”

Jackson brings his bold-toned, Trane-inspired tenor lines to bear on a series of hymns, spirituals and gospel numbers hand-picked by Giovanni, who was also the first person to receive the Rosa L. Parks Women of Courage Award. And the 78-year-old poet makes a rare vocal appearance on the tender ballad “Night Song,” singing a song identified with her close friend, the late civil rights activist and High Priestess of Soul, Nina Simone. “Nina was a friend of mine, and I knew that one of her favorite songs was ‘Night Song’,” she explains. “And even though I’m not a singer, I told Javon I wanted to sing it because I just wanted Nina to be remembered.” Jackson, who flew to Nikki’s home in Roanoke, Virginia, to record her vocal track on the existing instrumental tracks, says, “I sat beside her when she sang it and by the time she finished that chorus, I was deeply moved. I just love the fragile nature of the way she treated it. It was very emotional.”

Joined by an outstanding crew comprised of pianist Jeremy Manasia, bassist David Williams and drummer McClenty Hunter – the same lineup that appeared on Jackson’s 2018 album For You and his 2020 follow-up, Deja Vu – Jackson interprets gospel staples like “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Wade in the Water,” “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel” and “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” with authoritative tenor tones, deep walking bass lines and an organic sense of group swing. “It’s the first time I worked in a collaborative manner,” Jackson says. “The project is personal for me. I come from a lineage of devout Christians, and that has afforded me the chance to connect with that ancestral stream.”

The Gospel According to Nikki Giovanni came about through a serendipitous meeting between the two principals when Jackson, a faculty member of The Hartt School at the University of Hartford and director of its Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz, invited Giovanni to speak to his students there. As he recalls, “Ever since I’ve been at the University of Hartford, I felt that the school would be well-served to bring great scholars of color and scholars who were freedom fighters and activists, if you will. So I brought in Dr. Cornel West, Sonia Sanchez, Angela Davis and Michael Eric Dyson. Then in February of 2020, I brought Nikki Giovanni.”

The renowned poet’s appearance at the University coincided with her receiving an honorary doctorate there. And as Jackson recalls, “After Nikki spoke to the students, she noticed that the Hank Jones and Charlie Haden CD of hymns and spirituals (1994’s Steal Away) was playing in the auditorium. She said she loved it and wanted to hear more, and just then I was hit with the idea. Two days later, after she returned to her home in Roanoke, I contacted her and said, ‘Would you be willing to pick 10 hymns? And that’ll be my next recording.’ She got back to me in a few days and gave me the 10 selections.”

The collection opens with the driving shuffle “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel,” a spiritual recorded by Paul Robeson in 1937. Jackson delivers the melody in straightforward fashion with golden tenor tones before Manasia “goes to church” on his piano solo. The minor-key “Wade in the Water” is lifted by a mid-tempo swing feel, paced by Williams’ deep walking basslines and Hunter’s steady, syncopated ride-cymbal pulse. After Jackson delivers a robust tenor solo and Manasia follows suit with an earthy piano solo, Christina Greer enters, dropping some wisdom from Giovanni’s poem “A Very Simple Wish.” As Jackson explains, “For this, I reached out to Markeysha Davis, an assistant professor of Africana studies and literature at the University of Hartford. She is really a fan and knows Nikki’s work far better than I do. Nikki’s got 50 years’ worth of poetry, so I didn’t know where to begin. But I sent Markeysha John Coltrane’s ‘Spiritual’ to give her an idea of what we were trying to do, and she came back with that poem.”

The quartet’s rendition of the dirge-like “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” carries the somber feeling of Coltrane’s “Equinox,” while their interpretation of “Mary Had a Baby, Yes Lord” recalls Trane’s powerful civil-rights era requiem, “Alabama.” “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” one of Giovanni’s favorites from her own Baptist church upbringing, is rendered at a loping beat, conveying a distinctive Southern gospel feel. “A lot of times when I’ve heard this song in church, it’s a little faster, a little more upbeat,” Jackson says. “I wanted to make it slower, where I could really expose the melody a lot more and lay on some of those phrases-so I could be as emotive as possible with the melody, as if I was playing in church with people in the audience.”

“I’ve Been ‘Buked,” a spiritual sung by Mahalia Jackson in front of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington onAugust 28, 1963, where Dr. Martin Luther King also delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech,” opens with some dramatic unaccompanied arco bass work by Williams before the full band enters with Jackson conveying the melody simply and deliberately. “In a perfect world, I would love to have had David bowing with Paul Robeson singing that melody,” says the leader. “The bow is so beautiful because, to me, it’s close to the human voice in a way.”

Jackson and company render the normally somber “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” as a buoyant calypso. In fact, you can hear the saxophonist directly quoting from Sonny Rollins’ most famous calypso, “St. Thomas,” midway through the song. Bassist Williams, being from Trinidad, is uniquely qualified to provide the requisite bounce on this ebullient calypso rendition of this well-known African American spiritual. “Doing that song this way is a reminder that the departure or the transition doesn’t have to be one of sadness,” says Jackson. “We don’t want it to be where the person or persons listening to the CD become downtrodden. We want it to be celebratory. It’s like what Art Blakey always used to tell us: ‘You cry when they come in, and you rejoice when they go out.’ I never forgot that.”

The most intimate piece of the collection is the gentle hymn “Lord, I Want to Be a Christian,” performed as a rubato duet between Jackson’s tenor sax and Manasia’s piano. The quartet closes on a rousing note with a swinging “I Opened My Mouth to the Lord,” which again features Williams’ deeply resonant bass carrying the melody and Jackson in strong ‘speechifying’ mode on tenor sax. Manasia also turns in an exhilarating piano solo here, and even drummer Hunter gets a solo taste near the end of this triumphant closer.

Captured live at Telefunken Studios in South Windsor, Connecticut, the 10 tunes on The Gospel According to Nikki Giovanniwere all done without the use of headphones, another first for Jackson. “I’ve never done a recording before in a studio where I didn’t use headphones, so it felt like performing a gig,” he says. “We never counted off a piece and there were no endings, where I might dictate or give a direction towards an ending. I really wanted to do it just like if you’re in church, where there’s a preacher talking and all of a sudden the choir begins. So each time, whether the bass would start the tune or the piano or myself, there were no count-offs because I wanted to make it as natural as possible.”

“This music is something that people will probably be a little surprised to see coming from me,” Jackson says. But given the state of the world, it could be just in time. Both poet and saxophonist stand on the shoulders of their ancestors on The Gospel According to Nikki Giovanni.

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