Nefertari Williams: Two Steps Smarter

An artist illustration of Taylor Swift by Thomcat23
Taylor Swift. Artwork by Thomcat23, Copyright 2024

Text by Nefertari Williams, Copyright 2024

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Two Steps Smarter

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I think Beyonce and Taylor Swift may have just two stepped all over our minds. 
 
Follow me through my pathway of parallel thinking..  And forgive me but “I was dreaming when I wrote this – forgive me if I go astray”. 
 
Well that’s where I’m going to start. This is a quote from the late great genius, artist and superstar, Prince. He wrote Purple Rain and America went wild. We didn’t care what genre it fell under – it was just amazing music… and we love it still to this day. 
 
Prince initially wrote this as a country song to sing with Fleetwood Mac specifically for Stevie Nicks but she admitted that she got a “fearful end of the world” vibe from the lyrics so she didn’t want to record it. She was right to get that vibe. The sing Purple rain is an actual spiritual reference that speaks about getting through tough times and your faith in a higher power during the end of time. Many pondered on the songs meaning for years. 
 
Prince used the color purple reference often, almost like he knew his end was coming sooner than later. 
 
I open with a Prince reference to show how we have had artistic geniuses  use their lyrics to shape our thinking throughout time. The art of story telling can change the mindset of generations- and it has. I believe it may be happening now. 
 
We lost this great artist in April 21, 2016 and his songs are still referenced and considered some of the most clever pieces of music ever made. 
 
Fast forward to present day. 
 
The world is on fire (as I write this Texas is literally experiencing its largest wild fire ever recorded 2/27/24) . There are three active wars, constant cyber attacks, women have lost their right to not have babies in some states and to get pregnant in other states. To top it all off, we have a man who is saying the quiet part out loud while running to be President. He wants to be a dictator (the very opposite of what the framers wanted America to be) He feels he has total immunity as a former President. 
 
This former President has tried to over turn the 2020 election, has incited an insurrection (but I think we have to call it a riot) and he might actually win his party’s nomination for reelection into the White House. 
 
Some Americans are ok with this because they feel as though they have been over looked and unseen. They are angry. Some may say rightly so. Some can’t even afford to buy groceries and they have been struggling financially for years. 
 
The problem is – the one man that they feel will be their “retribution” is part of the system that is keeping them poor but that’s another topic for another article. 
 
Ok, so here we are in an election year. We have a candidate who is running that most of the country doesn’t want to win. He is running against the current President who some believe is too old to do the job with the vigor that is needed. That is the epitome of being stuck between a rock and a hard place according to many voters. 
 
The former President is known for not having a close relationship with the truth. He feels the last election was stolen from him and now he uses strange conspiracy theories to get his “followers” to believe that if he loses again it is because he was cheated. 
 
This brings us to my reasoning for opening with the lyrics of the late great artist, Prince and his influence on the world. There have been stories surrounding a young beautiful pop star which are implying that she is using her popularity to influence the election. If she is that’s not against the rules and other artists have made songs that seemed to be aimed at influencing the election for the former President.
 
Like the late great artist, Prince – She too used to be a country song writer. To top it all off she starts dating a very popular Football star who happened to make it to Super Bowl 2023. That’s when more conspiracies started stating that they are just dating to gain more popularity which will mean a stronger audience and possibly more votes for the incumbent candidate. 
 
Ok fast forward; we have a popular award ceremony and Taylor Swift, the famous pop star (former country star) wins album of the year. Now this is a big deal because in comes another player. Beyonce, also a mega star has the most awards that this academy has ever given but has yet to win the one big award- album of the year. Taylor Swift  wins this title nearly every year.
 
Ironically (or maybe not) Beyonce’s  husband Jay-Z is honored at the 2023 Grammy award ceremonies and was allotted time to give a speech. He used that time to tell the world that it is wrong that his wife has never won album of the year although her songs have won the most awards ever (again – except for the highest honor that they offer which is album of the year). 
 
Now we are all confused. Why would he do that? 
 
During the big award show the pop star Taylor announces that her new album would release soon which brings the audience to a roar. With this announcement the pop star and Travis Kelce her famous football playing boyfriend are the most talked about couple all the way up to the big football game of the year. The Superbowl. 
 
The pop star has been making appearances at football games to see her famous boyfriend and this has been great for ratings. It has also pulled in a demographic of Americans who don’t normally watch football. 
 
Everyone is excited because there are rumors that the boyfriend is going to ask the pop star to marry him if he wins the big game (Travis  did win but didn’t propose).
 
So everyone is watching the big game. Then there is another twist. The mega star (Beyonce)does commercials during the superbowl  and announces that she’s dropping a country album ( she never won album of the year as a pop star and now she’s switching to singing country music). She then releases two country songs. Everyone is shocked. Everyone also thinks that this may be a competition between the pop Star who was a former country singer and the mega Star. 
 
That would be an interesting theory except when you turn on social media all you see are people doing the two step to the Mega stars new country song and the people who are dancing to it are the same demographic of the Ex President who is trying to get re elected. 
 
Coincidence – I think not. In fact I think the plot thickens. I don’t think the pop star and the mega star are competing at all – I feel that it’s all a brilliant plan to unify the country which has been deeply divided due to the two Presidents running on opposing issues. 
 
I also think, like the late great Prince has done so brilliantly ( for example when his record label would not give him a fair contract, to gain back control he referred to himself as a symbol that could not be spoken out loud ) one of the two singers is the master mind behind this effort to use music to unite Americans. 
 
In the mean time I’ll be two stepping right along with the rest of America as the Beyonce, mega star becomes the first black woman to have a song reach number one on the country charts, the catchy country ditty seems to be leaving us a little less divided. 
 
I think Taylor Swift, our blonde pop star, with her oh so mischievous grin, is sitting back, cowdboy hat cocked, thinking….the plan is working.
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About The Author:  Nefertari Williams is a jewelry maker, activist for women with heart disease and the mother of five beautiful children.  She lives in Willingboro, New Jersey.  To access additional articles by Nefertari Williams link herehttps://tonyward.com/nefertari-williams-the-vicious-cycle-of-war/

Bob Shell: The Passing of a True Genius

Young man playing a Tuba in his underwear
Photo: Tony Ward, Copyright 2022

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2022

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The Passing of a True Genius

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I’ve just learned of the death at age 79 of Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou, known as Vangelis. As Vangelis, he was my favorite modern composer. 

Most of us first heard Vangelis when Carl.Sagan used some of his powerful music in ‘Cosmos,’ that wonderful tour of the universe (the Tyson remake is but a pale shadow of the brilliant original) or in an Ernest and Julio Gallo Christmas wine commercial. .

Before going solo, Vangelis was the driving force behind the progressive rock band Aphrodite’s Child, which he cofounded after leaving his native Greece to live in Paris after Greece’s 1967 military coup overthrew the elected government. Prior to that his Greek rock group Formynx had several hit records in Greece. 

He tired of the stresses of performing and moved to London to pursue his solo recording career. There, after a series of solo records, he was hired to score films, eventually scoring for more than a dozen. 

I became a fan after buying the soundtrack album for ‘Cosmos.’ His wonderful, unique music on there sent me scurrying to record stores (yes, we had them back then!) to buy all of his solo albums. 

But it was in 1982 that he secured a place in my heart and mind with his edgy and powerfully influential score for Ridley Scott’s masterpiece, ‘Blade Runner,’ my all time favorite movie. I have that score on my tablet today and listen to it often, along with the score for ‘Chariots of Fire,’ probably his best-known work. 

Vangelis, though I only knew you through your music, I will miss you.

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About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author, former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine and veteran contributor to this blog. He is currently serving a 35 year sentence for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models.  He is serving the 13th year of his sentence at Pocahontas State Correctional Facility, Virginia. To read additional articles by Bob Shell related to UFO’s, click here: https://tonyward.com/photographers-fight-for-their-rights/

Behind The Scenes With Shanell Verandez


Text by Tony Ward, Copyright 2022

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Behind The Scenes With Shanell Verandez

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On Sunday, July 31, 2022, two very talented creatives: KVaughn and Shanell Verandez booked an Uber from their homes in West Philly and took the 40 minute drive to my studio in Elkins Park for a much anticipated photo shoot.  Ms Verandez first appeared on my radar for a new subject to photograph for the new Vixen’s series. I was first introduced to her by KVaughn himself, the brilliant fashion designer and creative director for his exclusive collection of scarves that made him a star with a loyal customer base that he established over the past 25 years.  So when KV (as I like to call him), said look at this person, I took a hard look. He was right on serving as my creative director and talent scout.  Ms. Verandez was perfectly cast as the newest Vixen! She imbues a combination of raw beauty and musical talent bundled into a complex sophisticated human being.

Here is a reel from the shoot: Shanell Verandez sitting for the Vixens series

During the sitting, Shanell proved that she had previous experience in front of the camera, having modeled professionally for various designers and modeling agencies  in her past.  She made all of the crew on set comfortable and created an atmosphere of joviality.  After a series of garment changes crafted by the wizardry of KV we wrapped the shoot and invited some of the studios friends over for a luncheon to celebrate the success of our collaboration. Before the luncheon began, Ms. Verandez sang and aria written by Mozart, her favorite composer.  This was the first time she performed operatically since the pandemic began.  You can enjoy her beautiful voice here: Shanell Verandez performing an aria by Mozart

After the luncheon where guests dined on chicken cacciatore, braised salmon, peas with pasta in tomato sauce and nicoise salad, we sat out in the backyard and enjoyed a lively conversation to round out a very stimulating afternoon with new and old friends: Conversation in the yard

To access a gallery of photographs from the new Vixens series, including several of Shanell Verandez, click here: https://tonyward.com/new-work-the-vixens-series/

Shanell Verandez: A Simple Lady With a Complex Soul


Text by Shanell Verandez, Copyright 2022

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Photography by Tony Ward. Copyright 2022

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Assistant to Photographer: Anthony Colagreco

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Creative Director: KVaughn

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A Simple Lady With a Complex Soul

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“I am an Afro Cuban-Brazilian Opera Singer/Violist/Model straight outta of Philly, Pa. Born and raised a Musician with a degree in Music Performance from Temple University. I am a Lyric Soprano who has performed in various Opera companies and projects in the US and Europe, and am now seeking to form a band as well as  further indulge.

As a Violist, I have performed with a String Jazz Quartet lead  by Owen Brown. As a Model, I  have been a part of the fashion scene for 20+ years represented by Freeze Frame, Askins and Reinhard Agency in Philly. I have had the pleasure to grace the runway for various designers and fashion productions like Fashion Montage (Ron and Julie Wilch), Elements of Styles (Joe Lee), Bronner Bros Hair Show, James Nelson and also worked as a Fit Model for Versace in NYC  during Fashion Week. Art is Life and Life is Art in every Aspect of my Bohemian Being…Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Love is Within My Core… I am a Simple Lady with a Complex Soul.”

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Editor’s Note: This is Shanell Verandez first sitting with Tony Ward for the Vixen’s series. To see all of the work to date from the new series, click herehttps://tonyward.com/new-work-the-vixens-series/

Keith Murray: In Honor of Black History Month

Rap star Keith Murray photographed for Vibe Magazine in 1994 by Tony Ward
Keith Murray. Photo: Tony Ward, Copyright 2022

Photography and Text by Tony Ward, Copyright 2022

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Keith Murray: In Honor of Black History Month

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When I received the call from George Pitts, picture editor for Vibe magazine in the Fall of 1994, I didn’t know who Keith Murray was.  Most of the public didn’t know either until he released his first album, The Most Beautifullest Thing in This World. Pitts hired me to photograph the 20 year old rapper because I was known for making dramatic portraits of people from various walks of life.  The editor told me this young man was about to “blow up” because the rumors swirling at Jive Records the rappers label leaked that they had a mega hit on their hands.  That turned out to be true and the Vibe editor responded well when he received the pictures.

I arrived at Murray’s modest home in Central Islip, located on the South Shore of Long Island on a cold damp day. At first we took a few shots around the outside of his house but he was all bundled up wearing a black down coat with jeans and a skullcap. I couldn’t get the type of shot George Pitts was expecting of me by the way he was styled for shooting outdoors.  The expectation at the time was that I was creating provocative portraits.  There was nothing provocative in my mind about taking a picture of Keith Murray wearing a down coat, so he suggested we take a ride over to his recording studio instead.

Once we arrived there his enthusiasm for the shoot grew and he was comfortable enough with me that I suggested he remove the coat and his lumberjack shirt for more of a provocative effect.  Keith was quite eager to oblige revealing a fit physique.  After I took a few frames I knew I had the shot so I made sure to cover it in color and black and white.  This is the first time that the color version has ever been published. 

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To access additional articles by Tony Ward, click here:https://tonyward.com/1980-my-first-trip-to-london/