Three Black Sheroes: Rhoda Blount, Sylvia Morrison and Bethel Bates

By Gloria Dulan-Wilson

Hello All:

March is a special month to me - in addition to it being my birth month, it's also Women's History Month.  And there are so many ways in which we women have contributed mightily to this world!  Although the modern world likes to discount it, one of the first ways we have made a considerable difference in this world is by being mothers and nurturers - I know that it's not the PC thing to mention - but face it y'all - without us women, there'd be no you - Literally!  So it boggles the mind why so few of us get the respect and recognition we so richly deserve for making it possible for you to even exist.

Now, add to that major accomplishment all the other wonderful creative, talented things we contribute to this planet on a daily basis, and we women are some pretty amazing creatures - aren't we?  We're nurturing, fun, lovable, affectionate, geniuses, artists, writers, poets, scientists, actresses, builders, and to top it off, God spent a considerable amount of time making us beautiful - you know, the curves, hair, musical voices, sultry eyes, lips - the entire package - so we could dress ourselves in some of the finest couturier and just look drop dead gorgeous.

If that weren't enough - we are also s/heroes - and have made supreme sacrifices for the love and safety of our families and loved ones - Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth are two women who immediately spring to mind - from an historical standpoint.

Now that I've done a little ego tripping, though, I wanted to introduce you to some sistas you might not have been aware of, who are making their mark in this world.  I actually just recently met them, but they were so impressive that I felt the necessity to share them with you:


The Philadelphia and Delaware chapters of The National Association of Black Female Executives in Music and EntertainmentTM (NABFEME) will join forces to present Women Who Jam!, a salute to female music pioneers.  This “power salute” will feature the presentation of the Shero Award to Philadelphia’s own Rhoda A. Blount, vice president of education and community engagement at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts.  


Rhoda ABlount, who was honored with a SHERO AWARD at Warmdaddy's in Philly,  on Sunday, March 26, 2017, by the Philadelphia and Delaware chapters of the National Association of Black Female Executives in Music and Entertainment (NABFEME), was both thrilled and overwhelmed.  "This is the first time I've been recognized by my own Black people," she stated emotionally, "and this is so much an honor that I can't contain myself.  I've received honors from other organizations, but when your own people applaud you, that's something special."  

In case you're not familiar with this brilliant sister's work, let me share it with you now: For nearly 20 years, Rhoda A. Blount has been the Education/Outreach Director at The Mann Center, creating multicultural programs in theater, music, and dance for young people. Under Blount’s leadership,  the annual free “Young People Concert Series” has attracted more than 247,000 enthusiastic youngsters throughout the Delaware Valley region. She created the “Connecting Arts-N-Schools” outreach initiative project, exposing more than 25,000 inner-city children to the performing arts. In April 2007, she created 6-new expanded educational programs at the newly built Field Education & Outreach Center at The Mann introducing more than 3,500 children with Master Class/Workshop Series, Meet the Artists Series, In Touch w/Tiny Tots Series, and the Greenfield Performance Treasures Series. 

Blount’s mission is to give every young person the opportunity to be exposed, inspired, and enlightened by the performing arts. “I want our young people to experience the sights, sounds, and rhythms that celebrate the magic and richness of the performing arts from around the world.”

In 1982 she was the Promotional Coordinator for the Kool Jazz Festival.  She's also worked with  working with such legendary artists as Miles Davis, Oscar Peterson, Ella Fitzgerald, Art Blakely, Lionel Hampton & Orchestra, Sarah Vaughan, Mongo Santamaria, Freddie Hubbard, Carmen McRae, McCoy Tyner, Joe Williams, Wynton Marsalis, Odetta, Diane Schurr, Tito Puente, Patti Austin, Mavis Staples, Celia Cruz, Tania Maria, and many others.  


She served as Jazz Program Director at the Afro-American Historical & Cultural Museum, and produced the  “Jazz Live Series;” and the 12-hour jazz marathon, “Jazz ‘Til Sunrise” - which featured: Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Aminata Moseka, Betty Carter, Abdullah Ibrahaim, Cecil Taylor, Randy Weston, Hugh Masekea, Don Cherry, Archie Shepp, Terrance Blanchard, Chicago Art Ensemble –among others.
She served as Artistic Director for the 10 day, citywide festival, the  PECO Energy Jazz Festival, which featured  Nancy Wilson, Cab Calloway, Eartha Kitt, Count Basie, Duke Ellington Orchestra, George Shearing,  Ramsey Lewis, Pharaoh Sanders, Miriam Makeba, Jon Lucien, Regina Carter, Clark Terry,  Jackie McLean, James Moody, Heath Brothers.  

As a producing consultant with Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz & Performing Arts, she produced such acts as: Dee Dee Bridgewater, Gerri Allen, Clarence Carter, Gloria Lynne, Horace Silver, Marion McPartland, Mahotella Queens, Joe Zawinul, Les McCann, Johnny Griffin, Donald Byrd, Joe Lavano, Branford Marsalis, Stanley Turrentine, Jimmy Heath and others.

 Blount offered her talents as consulting artistic producer to such institutions as  Thomas Jefferson University; Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau; Mellon Jazz Festival; Odunde Festival; WDAS-Unity Day; Volunteers of America; Philadelphia Folklore Project; Black Family Reunion Cultural Festival and the Black Theater Festival. She also served as Special Projects Director at New Freedom Theatre, and Development Director at Temple University’ Public Radio station WRTI-FM. Blount also toured throughout the U.S. and Europe as a singer/dancer with the legendary Sun Ra & his Arkestra.

When you see Sylvia Morrison, you're actually looking at Wendy Williams, Diana Ross, Mo’Nique, Whoopi Goldberg and First Lady Michelle Obama all rolled into one! And at an evening's  performance featuring her unique, hilarious comedic antics and impressions, you'll have a difficult time not rolling all over the floor laughing your behind off.   

No wonder NABFEME gave her their FIRST award!  As the FIRST AFRICAN AMERICAN FEMALE IMPRESSIONIST,  she is comedic genius of the highest order. 


Originally from Washington, DC, Sylvia is the first African American Female Impressionist in the country. She was the  first solo artists to tour and open for Whitney Houston in over 24 shows and in 28 major U.S. cities.   Morrison's career in Hollywood is legendary, even if not well known.   Growing up in DC, not too far from the White House, she stated she always wanted to see what people from the White House looked like, but no one ever seemed to be home. 

She actually got her start when she was called to host a live Roast for Muhammad Ali at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, USA.  The iconic Redd Fox recognized her talent early on and signed her to her first management deal.  As the result of her comedic antics on stage, Garrett Morris was so impressed with her that he took her to Lorne Michaels, where  she was hired asthe first Black female comedy writer for Saturday Night Live. 

When heavyweight boxing champ Muhammad Ali was in his prime, Sylvia was asked to host a Roast of the Champ at the legendary Apollo Theater. The hosting job was so prolific and the imitation of the World Heavyweight Champion was so spot-on that he looked at her in amazement and said, “You'’re doin’ me? A woman doin’ me? That’s awesome!

As a result of that roast, Sylvia was offered a position as an associate-writer for one of America’s longest-running TV shows, Saturday Night Live. She is one of few African American Women offered that position. 



Sylvia has also been recognized for her work in presenting her autobiography Almost There, Almost:The Many Faces of Sylvia Traymore Morrison, which, according to its readers,  reads like a roller coaster ride filled with thrills and chills.  The book was selected by the American University's Public Relations Department as a project for the senior class.  It is rare that a book is selected in that capacity. Almost There, Almost is one of the most riveting autobiographies in the 21st Century. Morrison shares her experiences of a time when being a Black Female Impressionist was unheard of. However, games change when determination, faith, belief and raw talent intercede. Her's is a story that takes you to growing up 12 blocks from the White House, to signing with Red Foxx to entertaining the US troops to 30,000 seat arenas as Whitney Houston's opening act in over 28 cities to roller coaster rides that will have you not being able to put the book down! It is a story of courage, dignity, drive and inspiration.  She's also complete her first fictional novel, Jellybeans From Heaven.  

The Livin' On Laughter Gospel Comedy Association presented Sylvia with the 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award for her contribution to entertainment industry. The proud mother of two daughters, Jasmin and Michelle, she is presently performing throughout the country, where she is being honored for her many contributions to the industry, while also advocating domestic violence, HIV/AIDS and Cancer awareness. 
On July 23, 2016 Sylvia was conferred with her first Honorary Doctorate Degree from the Breakthrough Bible College and Theological Seminary.  She's a lot of fun to watch! Make sure to catch her live soon.  In the meantime, here's a link to a clip of her on a local TV news show in DC:  https://youtu.be/PGF36MapWAc


Novelist, Playwright, and Songwriter, born in Philadelphia, profiles her work mostly through the eyes of the urban experiences. Her life growing up on the Northside of Philadelphia gave way to a strong literary voice for which she expresses herself and her everyday living experiences in a journal of short stories, songs, and poems.film.


Born Bethel Sheppard, she was born and raised in the northside community of Philadelphia where she wrote her first poem at the age of ten.  She's been writing ever since, and Philadelphia's urban experience is the inspiration for her stories, novels, poetry, songs and plays.

She founded a multicultural community production theatre company called THE GARDEN OF EDEN PRODUCTIONS (GOEP) a little over ten years ago, whose goal is to recruit youth from the streets and teach them to transform their negative activities into positive constructive acting and theatre arts.

The program uses the theatrical stage as a vehicle of therapy and a place of creative expression to help youth redirect misplaced energy towards the stage. The forum is used to encourage all participants to write, direct, and produce stage plays and short films that resemble the stories of their own lives and the lives of their family and friends.

In December 2009 Bethel published her first book, “Hot Buttered Biscuits And Jam: The Memoirs Of Seven.” While the story had a mouth-watering title, it was actually about

....lineage.  And breaking the curses that stem from her mother, all the way back to her great grandmother - the one thing they all had in life was that they all had really bad men.  And then she finds herself in that same situation. But now she wants to break that cycle because she has three girls of her own that's ready.  And what she has to do to make sure it doesn't happen to them,” according to Bethel. The woman analyzes, love, friendship, faith, forgiveness, and the 17-year miserable relationship with her husband, and how the relationships of the women who have proceeded her in her family lineage had been handed down to her. 

Her other book, of which she is equally proud and enthsiastc, is entitled.  “Insignificantly Unique - I've finished the screen play on it.  This is a wonderful story about a 14 year old; her name is Unique, and this appeals to everybody.  What this book does I like because it teaches people not to judge, without knowing what a person is going through.  So, Unique loses her father when she was 7; and then she loses her mom to the streets.  And loses her mother because her mother can't handle the death of the father. So at 14 years old - she begins to leave and not come back; then leave and come back, until one day she leaves and doesn't come back.  So she's 14 and her brother is 10.  So she doesn't want social services to find out they're living in this apartment alone, so she becomes overprotective.  So in a way she becomes his mother.  So it's about her journey with raising her ten year old brother, and all the things she has to do to make sure that he doesn't end up in the streets.  And that includes prostitution, drugs, and all these other things.  So when she gave up on her own life to sacrifice her life just so her brother could live. And they talk about her tragedy.”

Amont her growing lists of credits are: "The Aftermath Trilogy” (2016); "The Judgment” (2016); "A Man Ain't Supposed To Cry” (2015); "Darkest B4 Dawn" (2015); "BLOCKERS" (2014); "SCORNED" (2014); "Cross Roads" (2013); "The Color Of Aids" (2010); "My Tormentor" 2009.

After watching the second of the AFTERMATH: THE SAGA, I had an opportunity to interview Bethel briefly on what her next moves were. The play, by the way was riveting, and left you wanting to see Part Three immediately. That, however, according to Bethel, would not be for some time: “Well the trilogy is coming, actually - it's written; it's on its way, it's about booking a venue. We happen to like the Performance Garage. It's home to us anyway now until we outgrow it.  And they're booked all the time now, so the next time we'll probably be able to be in the Performance Garage might be in September or October. Isn't that awful - unless they have an opening. So we're just hoping like -  this is a very popular place.  Once upon a time they didn't even allow theatre in here - it's for dancing; and so I'm one of the first ones  to have plays here.”


For those who have not yet had the privilege of seeing Aftermath, it's a story based on real life occurrences, depicting the horrors and traumas experienced by VietNam Vets who return to the US after the war and not only have to deal with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but hatred and lack of sympathy and understanding on the part of their own nation. Her brilliant mind and deep understanding of what they face is now depicted by the actors.

According to Bethel, “Well, I'm trying - what I want my audience to get from this I that I want them to actually see and feel what actually our soldiers went through.  We don't talk about the women as much and I tried to address some issues surrounding what they went through and experienced during the war and after they came home.  A lot of it is mental and though they have families that love them, they just simply can't deal with the issues.”


She continued, by saying that she is a family business – her daughters help her with the production, her son does the musical themes, and where there is no appropriate music, he composes his own, so it is in a very real sense a family affair.
I have a lot of elderly people who like to come out - and we don't use a lot of profanity - or any profanity at all, so we are really a family theatre;  and we put out issues that are associated with family. (Again in reference to the Performance Garage as her venue of choice) So in the family you have the elderly, and we have a big group of people that make up the over fifty crowd, we have teenagers all the way through our seniors. We have plays in other places, but they seem to like this place the best. A lot of they don't want to climb stairs; so I just try to accommodate everyone. But we are open to other venues - I don't want us to forget what the story line is  and wait so long.  But you can see what kind of story line it is, we did a small recap at the beginning of the second series; and we'll be doing the same thing in the final episode. We find a new way to bring to mind what happened previously.”


When asked if she had had any communications with the Mayor's Commission on Veteran's Affairs, replies, “We have, but haven't had much response from them thus far.”

She enthusiastically mentioned that the script for Aftermath: The Trilogy, “Actually won an award from Powerhouse Inc. for the Local Arts Award. So, it's a winner - it went up against other scripts.  We were happy about that.   What happened in Aftermath I you are introduced to all the characters and their issues; in Aftermath II you actually saw some of the things that were actually affecting them, and how it was affecting their families.  So number three, which is going to be Revelation, two was SAGA, three will be REVELATION - meaning it's going to reveal some things.  Some things will be resolved, and some things won't.  Such as life - in life you don't just don't get all happy endings.  The veteran's life is not a happy one.”

With that sad note, I asked what was next on her plate – thinking that she would take a breather, but, NO! She is in the process of writing a TV Series called THE CHAIN, which is going into rehearsals. It will be filmed and produced entirely in Philadelpia, using mostly local talent, and centers around the lead character, Bryce, who is a Black forensics expert, who uses his skills, knowledge, talents abilities to not only prove that innocent victims are being sentenced by corrupt judges, but to also find out who his real parents are.

Per Bethel, “THE CHAIN - where we're going to be bringing the technical tricks of forensics and law enforcement  - this show is going to be different from any other show because it's going to be awesome!”

When I asked her how it would be different from the other forensic series that have gained popularity, she responded: "How will it be different?  First of all I work in forensics.”

Which just took me  totally by surpise, I'm sitting there interviewing a real live forensics expert – a brain, one who can look into the microscope and see all the stuff the human eye has a tendency to completely overlook – so I said, “You mean you're a real live forensics expert? Not a made-for-tv forensic???” -

“I'm a forensics science technician,” with that matter of fact smile of confidence that is part and parcel of her persona of confidence. Where in the world does this sista find the time to do all this and hold down a full time job as a forensics expert, highly placed in her union (who knew forensics experts had unions??), and write plays, head a non profit, be a mom and a grandmom, choreograph dances, and now produce a movie. Wow – Talk about a woman deserving of accolades and recognition.

Now I know you want to know more about this marvelous sister, and the upcoming projects that she is working on – for the full interview, check it out in my next Blog installation

If you are interested in the activities of NABFEME or are interested in becoming a part of this wonderful organization, you can visit their website: www.NABFEME.org
The Philadelphia Affiliates can be reached via nabfeme.phillygmai.com
New York Affiliates can be reached via nynabfemeevents@yahoo.com 
Check out their WOMEN WHO JAM - and other events 
The organization is currently in 12 major cities and growing.  

I started writing this on Thursday, March 30 - however, when writing about dynamic BLACK Divas, who are accomplished each in their own right, you don't want to relegate it to just sound bytes.   These are our Sheroes and they deserve our admiration respect, support and emulation.  There are so many more out there who are likewise making their indelible marks on the world - please do take some time to find out who they are, how you can help them, show them your appreciation.  They may, or may not, have their names in light, or have conquered the world. They may be a mom making sure their son or daughter have the best, be the best, and do the best they can possibly be.  Whoever they are, make sure you show them some LOVE.



Stay Blessed & 


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