The business of entertainment has changed over the years with fewer artistic men at the reigns. Hollywood and the music world find the decision makers making decisions based on finance rather than art. This leaves many of the artists between a rock and a hard place. If they do not have a gimmick or something that can guarantee to make money, artists are generally left out in the cold. Most artists now find themselves having to wear many hats within the industry.
Tony nominated actress, composer, director and singer, Detroit native Lonette McKee, is in New York appearing at the Oak Room in the Algonquin Hotel, located on West 44th Street in Manhattan.
Acclaimed for her performances in “The Cotton Club,” “Jungle Fever,” Round Midnight,” “Sparkle,” “Cuba,” “Brewster’s Millions,” “Gardens of Stone,” Malcolm X” and “Which Way Is Up?” McKee gives her audience an outstanding show filled with songs from her films and Broadway appearances as well as from her CD “Acoustic Tracks.” For television, McKee has appeared on Women of Brewster Place, ‘Having Our Say: The Delany Sister First 100 Years,” “Queen,” and “As the World Turns.”
Ms. McKee won critical acclaim for “The First,” her Broadway debut performance. She also appeared in Show Boat, becoming the first African American to perform as “Julie,” a role which won her a Tony nomination. Her one-woman show about the legendary Billie Holliday brought her a Drama Desk Award nomination as well as won Lonette national acclaim. McKee taught an acting workshop at Centenary College in New Jersey serving as adjunct professor in the Theater Arts department.
Fighting a cold, McKee manages to keep the witty banter ongoing during her Oak Room engagement. Her voice is as strong and lyrical as ever making her performance amusing during her 8:30 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. sets.
“I was writing music lyrics and composing songs at 7 years of age. I began playing keyboards and recorded my first record at 14. It became a local hit. I was called a child prodigy but I do not personally see it as that. I actually thought I would have a career in music but have become better known for my roles in film. However, I have learned to do many things: write, direct, sing, compose, act and even do infomercials, so I can always find work in the entertainment business” remarked McKee who wrote the title song for the film “Quadroon” when she was 15.
During her career, McKee has worked with such luminaries as Hal Prince, Spike Lee, Francis Ford Coppola, Richard Pryor, Louis Gossett, Jr., Robert DeNiro and Halle Berry. Having established her name in the business, and having worked with directors like Coppola, Mckee began to refuse roles when the powers-to-be began offering her maid roles. “Don’t get me wrong. I think any profession is great. However, I felt it was ridiculous that as an African American actress, Hollywood execs felt the only roles available to black actresses as they age, are maid roles. That made me mad. So, I didn’t work for a while. I realized that if I was going to play better roles, I would have to write the story myself,” said McKee.
The CEO of her own production company, Lonette Productions, Ltd, Lonette works in partnership with Nicole Franklin to write, develop and produce documentaries, feature films, and music and television concepts and productions.
Lonette was commissioned to score music for a cable documentary featuring the African Burial Ground.
Lonette McKee will appear at the Algonquin Hotel’s Oak Room until April 30, 2011. Go see her.