Wednesday, September 10, 2014


Saturday, August 30, 2014

WTA Prepares its Stars for Life After Tennis

By Valerie Jo Bradley

photos by Valerie Jo Bradley

Visionary tennis activist Billie Jean King founded the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) in 1973 which united all of women's professional tennis in one tour. That same year the US Open, for the first time, offered equal prize money to men and women. From that auspicious beginning, focused more on improving the earning power of women tennis players, the WTA has added programs that enhance players’ athletic development and more recently that facilitate players’ ability to earn a college degree.

To celebrate its four decades of growth and ground breaking successes, the WTA launched its highly visible season-long 40 LOVE campaign in 2013 that highlighted the achievements of past and present professional women tennis players. With less public fanfare, the WTA also entered into an exclusive educational agreement with Indiana University East (IU East) in 2013 to provide women tennis players with the opportunity to obtain degrees through the school’s online degree completion programs. 
A year later the WTA and IU East commemorated this unique partnership for athletes during the 2014 Western & Southern Open tournament at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Cincinnati, OH. Venus Williams, who is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, was the first WTA player to enroll in the program for the 2013 spring term. The agreement was signed in August of the same year and today, due in part to Williams’ advocacy, 15 of the world’s top 200 players are enrolled in the program. 

When asked to describe her experience with the program, Williams laughed, “Well, I have no life, but it has made me a better boss and it’s made me more aware of how I can make better business decisions.” The tennis pro, who boasts 20 Grand Slams in singles and doubles, is also a successful entrepreneur having launched her tennis and sportswear apparel business, EleVen by Venus. The IU program requires that participants have some college work under their belt.   Williams has that and more.  She earned a degree in fashion design which helped her translate her sense of style into her own apparel line that she prefers to wear over the major sportswear brands.  In the first round of the 2014 US Open she stepped out on the court dressed in her latest design -- a blue vintage floral closed grip dress that was talked about as much as her winning game performance.

Adjusting to academia in the midst of managing a physically and mentally demanding sports career she noted, “You have to be focused, balanced.  You have to balance your time so you don’t get that F.” Williams admitted, “I have to say accounting almost killed me.  I’m telling you, it messed my vision up.  Now I’m not an accountant but I’m okay.”

IU East is one of eight IU campuses and is located in Richmond, IN.  It offers 10 options for students to complete their bachelor’s degree online in English with an emphasis in Technical and Professional Writing, Mathematics, Natural Science and Mathematics with a Mathematics Concentration, Communication Studies, Business Administration, Criminal Justice, Political Science, Psychology, General Studies, and a Nursing RN to BSN Mobility Option. The credits, transcript, and diploma earned through IU East's online programs are identical to those from any IU campus.

Pleased about the growth of the program, IU East Chancellor Kathryn Cruz-Uribe said she anticipates that more players will be enrolling in the programs because “our current students are some of the best recruiters.”  The players benefit from the IU staff visiting tournament sites to answer questions, trouble shoot on-line issues and to cheer on players studying with them as Cruz-Uribe and staff did for Venus during her first round at the Open.

“It’s a good partnership,” explained Cruz-Uribe who pointed out that the two organizations meet frequently to build on their relationship. Impressed with the WTA track record, the Chancellor added that the WTA is the leader in developing their athletes in not only athletic competition, but in handling finances and providing educational opportunities to “prepare for a life after tennis.”

Williams agrees, “I think it’s important to explore yourself outside of tennis, because there’s so much in life and it (college studies) opens your eyes.”

 Photos: Valerie Jo Bradley

Venus sports her fashion creation, EleVen by Venus at the US Open
Venus Williams backstage at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center
IU East Chancellor Kathryn Cruz-Uribe (c) at the US Open cheering on Venus Williams with her Office of Admissions staff Lori Current (l) and Molli Vanderpool (r)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


By Valerie Jo Bradley
Photos:  Herbert Delancey (BSTM)
 Taylor Townsend scores a crucial point

Serena Williams delivers and ace

If Taylor Townsend was overwhelmed as she entered a crowded Arthur Ashe stadium, she didn't show it. The 18 year old wild card entry into the draw for round one of the US Open was set to play her idol and two-time US Open champion, Serena Williams, who is attempting to become the first woman to win the title three years in a row since Chris Evert took four straight titles 1975-78. Taylor, a Chicago native, may have taken comfort in the fact that a bus load of teen tennis aspirants from the XS junior tennis clinic in that city's troubled Englewood neighborhood, where she is originally from, were sitting in the stands with their coach Kamar Moore to cheer her on after making a twelve hour bus ride from the Windy City. She might have also known that sports icon Michael Jordan, another former Chicagoan, had been in the stands just moments before cheering on Roger Federer in his win over Marinko Matosevic of Australia. The two are currently involved in a partnership on a new athletic shoe for Nike. 

Townsend took advantage of Serena's opening round jitters to win the first game, but the veteran player quickly gained her composure and went on to win with a 6-3, 6-1 victory. The No. 1-ranked and seeded Serena showed the wide-eyed teen what it takes to be a real champion, with a dazzling display of well-placed serves and searing cross-court volleys that sent Townsend stumbling behind the ball. Serena even executed a James Brown-type split while successfully returning a shot from the far back court that brought gasps from the crowd. It was all over in less than an hour.

Townsend was gracious in defeat, giving her idol a congratulatory hug at the net and throwing her wrist bands and towel to fans and supporters who applauded her noble effort. In the post-game interview with Pam Shriver, Serena acknowledged the promise of her young opponent, reflecting on her own debut at the US Open 15 years ago as an impressionable 17 year old. "We have an amazing future," Serena told Shriver. She was referring to the win earlier in the day by 15 year old fellow American CiCi Bellis, who became the youngest player to win a US Open match since 1996. Commenting on the future of women's tennis in America, and the rise in the number of young African American players entering the game and playing in competitions such as the US Open, Williams opined, "We have so much to look forward to." 

Serena created quite a stir with her leopard patterned suit of her own creation. When Shriver asked her about it, she simply replied, good naturedly, "Grrrrrrrrrrr!"

At the post-game news conference, Serena was quick to give Taylor her props. "I think Taylor is a really great player. I believe she does everything well. She has unbelievable hand speed with her racquet. She's really unbelievable. Yeah, we're really close. Like I said on the court, I really love her. I feel like she has such amazing potential."

Taylor was similarly complimentary to her idol and mentor, while also acknowledging her debut jitters. "It was just a lot at first. I was playing against one of my tennis idols, someone I've been watching for years and years. It was just a lot of things that were coming up in my head that I was trying to deal with. But, at the same time, I think I dealt with it pretty well. I did the best I could." So I walked off the court and I was smiling and just laughing because I was like, 'Okay! It's over now, and I had fun doing it.' " 

In addition to Townsend, there are several other African American players in this year's US Open who were influenced by the example of Venus and Serena Williams. Among the contenders are Donald Young, Sloane Stephens, Sachia Vickery, Victoria Duval, Allie Klick and Madison Keys. In total, African Americans account for a sizable representation on the American team at this year's US Open, a hopeful sign for the future of tennis. 

Monday, August 25, 2014


Thursday, August 7, 2014


By Dr. Myra Handy

The weekend of August 15th marks the 2014 Chicago Air and Water Show and there's no better vantage point to watch the Blue Angels and the U.S. Army Parachute Team Golden Knights than out on the lake. As an active boat captain myself, I can say that I was pleasantly surprised by the yachting experience on board the newly renovated Odyssey docked at Navy Pier. The Odyssey offers a gourmet dining experience along with upscale DJ entertainment and unparalleled views of the Chicago skyline.  The Blue Angels are back for this year's edition and the Odyssey is conducting Air and Water Show cruises throughout the weekend, starting with the Early Air and Water Preview Brunch and the Afternoon Air and Water Preview Buffet Lunch. During the show, Saturday and SundayAugust 17th and 18th, the Odyssey will also sail for the Early Air and Water Show Brunch and Afternoon Buffet Lunch. Saturday night will feature the Fireworks Dinner Cruise, with fireworks off Navy Pier through August 30. Odyssey fireworks cruises take place every Wednesday and Saturday evening. The evening starts off with a glass of champagne as the ship gets underway, followed by a delicious dinner featuring gourmet favorites such as Roasted Salmon and a huge serving of fall-off-the-bone Braised Short Ribs. A wide selection of signature cocktails, wine by the glass and special selections from the wine list make this a dining tour de force. Save room for dessert and prepare to boogie it all off on the dance floor before taking in the spectacular fireworks display. Make your reservations now if you're planning to take in one of the Air and Water Show cruises, because they always sell out quickly. The Odyssey will also set off on a dinner cruise Venetian Night, Saturday, September 6th. Boarding is at 6pm, cruising from 7-10pm.  Call 866-305-2469 or book your cruise online
 The Chicago skyline as seen from the Odyssey

Navy Pier fireworks display
 Just one of the delectable dessert offerings

The author, Dr. Myra Handy, on board the Odyssey Fireworks Cruise

 the grand finale of the fireworks display

A New York Summer Delight: Dinner Cruise on the Bateaux at Sunset

Story and photo gallery by Dwight Casimere

NEW YORK--Top off the summer with a sunset cruise on  the Bateaux New York. Docked at Chelsea Pier, Bateaux New York is a beautiful glass-enclosed cruising vessel that offers 180 degree views of the New York skyline and a sumptous three-course dinner served in white tablecloth and fine china fashion. Besides elegant offerings such as Blue Crab Cakes, Surf and Turf, Braised Short Ribs and Sea Bass and Salmon, there are Vegetarian and Gluten-Free menu items as well. The Bateaux (french for boat) is inspired by the elegant European river cruises, such as the romantic cruises on the Seine in Paris. The Bateaux cruises year-round for Champagne brunch, lunch, dinner and full moon cruises and special cruises for the holidays. The extensive wine list runs the gamut from Napa Valley Mumm Cuvee Brut sparkling wine for an aperitif, to sophisticated cellar collections from California, Italy and France. A lively jazz trio and excellent cabaret singer keep the mood going in swinging fashion with the latest in pop, R and B and soul with a healthy mix of jazz standards and romantic favorites. Views from the two climate controlled dinings rooms are inspiring. The completely glass enclosed cabins offer unobstructed panoramas. Two outdoor decks fore and aft offer even more wide-open views of the Manhattan skyline. The dance floor is open throughout the three hour cruise if you decide to work off that Gelato. Dramatic views of the skyline and the bridges at sunset are only the visual appetizer. The cruise ends dramatically with an up-close-and-personal look at the iconic Statue of Liberty. Nothing short of awe-inspiring, being brought within mere feet of this shining symbol of Freedom makes for a heart pounding experience that will live long in memory. For more information on Bateaux New York, visit

Friday, July 11, 2014

Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill: Broadway's "Golden Girl" Resurrects the Spirit of a Tortured Soul

Reviewed by Dwight Casimere
Photos by Evgenia Eliseeva-(c)

NEW YORK--Before Paris Hilton made the dog purse a fashion must on reality TV,  Hollywood bad girl Lindsay Lohan was sent to Beverly Hills prison for bad behavior and drug abuse and Rihanna suffered a beat-down by Chris Brown, there was Billie Holiday, the reigning musical diva of the swing and jazz era. Her tortured spirit is brilliantly resurrected by Audra McDonald, Broadway's most celebrated actress, who made history as a six-time Tony Award winner for winning Best Performance by a Leading Actress for her portrayal of the singer in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill at the Circle In The Square Theatre. It is a landmark performance.

Many tourists will visit New York City in these waning weeks of summer. Along with tours of the Statue of Liberty and views from the Empire State Building, they should add a stop at the Circle In The Square Theatre to see a Broadway legend in one of the Great White Way's most historic shows.

But, if you are expecting to see Audra McDonald in all her sylvan voiced glory, you will be sorely disappointed. There is no award-winning Broadway star on display here, only the exhumation of a tormented voice that still speaks today. 

Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill is a rare and raw look at a divinely gifted talent, who is equally cursed by her beauty, fame and vocal ability. One of Billie Holiday's most famous songs was one recorded by her in 1939 and inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1978 , entitled Strange Fruit. A line in the song refers to the "Scent of Magnolias, sweet and fresh, Then the sudden smell of burning flesh." The song is a paen to the horrifying lynchings of black men in the South and the sight of the bodies swaying in the trees in an otherwise idyllic setting. The same jarring contrast is symbolic of Holiday's own life with its flashes of beauty, fame and glory and her intermittent descents into drug abuse, sexual and marital abuse, imprisonment and public humiliation. 

One of the most enduring images of Billie Holiday shows her wearing her trademark Gardenia flower in her hair. The portrait is a metaphor for her fragile state and fleeting life.  

Written by Lanie Robertson and Directed by Lonny Price, the show opens with the audience seated in a near theatre-in-the-round, with lower level audience members seated at small, round tables, having drinks, as if at an actual cabaret. The trio, led by pianist Shelton Becton, who plays  Lady Day's long-suffering accompanist Jimmy Powers, is playing warmup numbers on the tiny raised stage, in anticipation of the shaky diva's now long-delayed arrival onstage. 

McDonald's ability to channel both the persona and the voice of Billie Holiday is nothing short of extraordinary. Everything we know about Billie is there, the halting, sometimes stumbling gait, the blurred, drug and alcohol infused slurring of words and occasional vocal missteps, and the intermittent flashes of temper and emotional fatigue. The performance is, at times, uncomfortable to watch because of her gradual and obvious unraveling onstage, but it is impossible to take your  eyes off of her, her performance is that riveting.

In the program notes, the playwright, Lanie Robertson, explains why she wrote the play: "In 1959, a boyfriend of mine saw the great Billie Holiday in a little dive in North Philadelphia (Bille's birthplace) about three months before she died. He said she stumbled in obviously "quite high" carrying her little Chihuahua, Pepi, whom she introduced to the audience. A water glass was kept filled with booze atop the piano for her. She and the piano player performed ten or 12 of her songs for an audience of seven patrons. Then, he said, she staggered out. That image of the world's greatest jazz singer being so undervalued at the end of her life and career was an image that has always haunted me. Writing Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill was an attempt to rid myself of that ghost."

Holiday was said to be distant and aloof with audiences, but here she is portrayed as sharing anecdotes of her life between songs, revealing in vivid detail the triumphs and travails of her life as depicted in her autobiography, "Lady Sings The Blues," written with friend and ghostwriter William Duffy and published in 1956. McDonald/Holiday delivers them in her gravely, withering voice, alternately with a tinge of delight, and then with a touch of irony and hilarity, often bordering on gallows humor. One of the great stories is one she relates about her travels as the vocalist with Artie Shaw's all-white band through the Deep South. She confronts the white female restaurant manager of a hotel and restaurant where they were performing, over the establishment's refusal to let her use the whites only bathroom. Billie gets the last word in by squatting down and "letting it go" right on the floor in front of her! That prompted the band to joke onstage, "Don't mess with Billie. She's got a secret weapon!"

I won't give you any more details of the show.  You really should make the effort to go to New York to see it for yourself. It's that good.  It is truly a ground-breaking performance that shows the power of theatre to transfix and transform. 

If Billie Holiday were alive today, she would have certainly been the subject of a reality tv seres. Ironically, she was actually the subject of one of the first reality television shows, ABC's reality series, "The Comeback Story,"in which she discussed her attempts at overcoming her many misfortunes. Alas, her ambitions were never to be realized. Holiday died broke and under arrest for drug possession in a room in a New York hospital in 1959 at just 44 years old.

Fortunately, she is immortalized in her many recordings, film and tv appearances and now, in this superb production.  Long after the sound of the applause at the Circle Theatre has died, the spectre of Billie Holiday will loom large behind the cult of celebrity, the tabloids and reality TV that dominates our daily lives.