Photos: Chaka Khan and Gerald Freeny at Rose Parade Grand Marshal Announcement

Chaka Khan, 2019 Rose Parade Grand Marshal, was surprised by the colorful confetti raining down when she came through the purple curtains.

by Laura Berthold Monteros

The announcement of the Grand Marshal for the 130th Tournament of Roses Parade had the usual elements. Oct. 17 was a beautiful, warm day, the front porch of Tournament House was gorgeously draped, the band was great, the press stand packed. There was the usual excitement in the audience, waiting to find out who would ride in the Grand Marshal’s car on Jan. 1, 2019. When Chaka Khan was announced, the crowd roared and the confetti cannon went off.

Known as the “Queen of Funk,” Chaka also sings R&B, pop, rock, gospel, and country. We asked what other music she likes; she responded, “I love Indian music.” She just finished a project in the Gujarati language with Indian performer Sonu Nigam, which celebrates the life of Gandhi.

Check out the gallery below for photos, and this link for a video on the TOR Rose Parade Facebook page.

But there was a lot that was unusual in the announcement.

There were fewer hints in the food served, music played, decorations (except for the purple drapes), yet from the murmurs in the crowd, it seemed like more people than normal had an idea of who it would be. That may have been because more details were released ahead of time—10 Grammy awards, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a place in the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame. In his introduction, Pres. Gerald Freeny gave more details that confirmed those hunches, and affirmed that she was indeed a performer who would sing and dance in the opening act of the parade.

Chaka and her retinue were late, reportedly due to LA traffic. The Tournament, which makes sure the Rose Parade starts at 8 a.m. on the dot and the Rose Bowl Game coin toss is never late, announced that the star player would be 15 minutes behind the 9 a.m. start time. It was a quarter after when family members took their seats in the front row, and past 9:30 when Freeny stepped up to the lectern.

Now, a heads-up: Much of this article reflects the opinions of the writer, which is also unusual. If there is one constant in the feelings of folks who love the Rose Parade, it is that they very rarely and almost never publicly criticize the choice of a theme or Grand Marshal. People tend to be pretty polite when it comes to this grand old Pasadena tradition, and the criticism The Rose Examiner heard was couched in the politest terms.

There was disappointment about Chaka’s speech, which seemed thoroughly unprepared. She opened with “Well, I just don’t know where to go with this,” but added, “I’m so honored.” She thrice referred to “the Rose Bowl Parade,” which any GM would have been coached not to do. The theme, “The Melody of Life,” was garbled into “The Rhythm of Life.” References to the parade indicated that she had just not done her homework. (To her credit, she did name the Old Pasadena business district correctly.)

Other than noting that the floats are pretty, she seemed to have no interest in the Rose Parade. She said, “I remember looking at it. But not really looking…. Y’know, it was after the big game.” The game actually comes after the parade. It did seem she was a tad self-conscious—she said, “I hope you like me” and acknowledged that she was “a little bit scared.”

She said little about the Chaka Khan Foundation or what it does. This contrasted with previous Grand Marshals, such as Gary Sinise, whose tireless work for veterans is well known and very personal to him. Jane Goodall had not known about our American tradition when approached, but took the time to find out and agreed to be GM because it is consistent with the values of her charitable work. Actor J.R. Martinez was not a star but has an amazing, compelling story and his courage is indisputable.

There was also some speculation that Stevie Wonder, whom Freeny mentioned three times, was his first choice for Grand Marshal, not Chaka. Indicators were her lack of preparation and not having any idea what she would do for the opening show. Be that as it may, it is not unusual for a president to go with a second or third choice and it doesn’t reflect on how good a GM might be.

A friend of your Rose Examiner was refused by his first choice, who was not available on New Year’s Day, and his second choice backed out at the last minute. His third choice, Gregory Peck, proved to be one of the happiest GMs ever. When he was a child, his family drove up from San Diego to watch the parade every year. One year, they took a stray dog back with them. He was the first, and perhaps only, GM to get the Tournament time on The Tonight Show, due to his friendship with Johnny Carson.

Another late choice was Chesley Sullenberger III for 2010—late, because the TOR president had passed away before choosing a Grand Marshal. Yet what better choice could there have been that year for the theme “A Cut Above the Rest” than the “Hero of the Hudson.”

The Chaka Khan Foundation

Perhaps these comments come out of a suspicion about non-profits, due to years of working for both good ones and bad ones. It is difficult to tell from the foundation website whether the organization is actually out in the community working on programs, or simply partnering with other organizations that do the work. It is fine if a foundation does not actually create or run programs, but supports successful programs financially and with star power. That should be clear in the material, though, whether spoken, written, or posted online. It would have been good to hear more about it from the Tournament media release or Chaka herself.

Chaka established the Chaka Khan Foundation in 1999. The mission statement is “The Chaka Khan Foundation educates, inspires and empowers children in our community to achieve their full potential.” The foundation website says “The Chaka Khan Foundation is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization.”

However, it does not show up by EIN search on either Charity Navigator or GuideStar, and only on GuideStar by name, with the note “This organization’s exempt status was automatically revoked by the IRS for failure to file a Form 990, 990-EZ, 990-N, or 990-PF for 3 consecutive years. Further investigation and due diligence are warranted.” The “foundation team” has photos but no names attached, and does not state there is a board of directors as required by law. The only information on  the team page is a long promotional piece for the album “ClassiKhan.”

If Chaka did not do her homework on the Tournament of Roses, it appears that the Tournament of Roses did not do its homework on her foundation, either.

 

Phoenix Decorating Company chosen to design gateway arch to Arroyo Seco Weekend: New Photos

An enchanted passage into the Arroyo, designed by Phoenix Decorating Company and covered in all natural botanicals. Photo c.2017 Carlos Monteros

 

by Laura Berthold Monteros

The excitement was apparent in publicist Chuck Hayes’ voice when we talked on the phone this evening about Phoenix Decorating Company’s latest build. The most prolific float builder for the Tournament of Roses Parade, the company was tapped by Goldenvoice to build an entry archway for the Arroyo Seco Weekend coming up this Saturday and Sunday, June 24 and 25. It’s a classic Rose Parade rendition of a Pasadena icon, the Spanish Colonial Revival City Hall. The Spanish tile dome and copper-clad cupola perches on a 20-foot-wide sculpture patterned after the rotunda arches.

In classic float style, the Tournament of Roses Archway is covered in botanical materials chosen by COO and Floral Director Lyn Lofthouse. She used light lettuce seed, poppy seed, ground onion seed, coconut, powdered rice, lima beans, navy beans, black beans, and strawflower. Hayes also gave credit to Production Manager Sean McMinimy and the skilled crew at Phoenix in completing the project.

Phoenix Decorating Company President and CEO Chris Lofthouse stated, “Phoenix Decorating Company was honored to be asked to create the Arroyo Seco Weekend Archway in the style of a Rose Parade Float by Goldenvoice, it is our hope that the people who visit the festival will return on January 1, 2018 to see our floats in the Rose Parade.”

Entry archway for Arroyo Seco Weekend being towed into the Rose Bowl area. Courtesy Phoenix Decorating Company.
Entry archway for Arroyo Seco Weekend being towed into the Rose Bowl area. Courtesy Phoenix Decorating Company.

While only a few people can ride on a Rose Parade float, thousands of people will get a taste of the experience as they enter the festival through the decorated arch over the two days. The freestanding piece stands 20 feet high with arches 13 feet high and 13 feet wide. It weighs more than 2,000 pounds. It was towed from the float barn in Irwindale on a flatbed, with the dome lying beside the arch.

Hayes chuckled, “You know we don’t like tows!” The company usually drives the floats from parade route to the float barn—and no builder likes an emergency tow during the Rose Parade—but in this case, the logistics of getting the piece down into the low-lying Rose Bowl area required a bit of help.

An artist’s concept of the arch is on the Arroyo Seco Weekend site. The family-friendly event includes activities at Kidspace, several stages for bands, and several art installations. Readers can follow Phoenix on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/PhoenixDecoratingCo

 

 

 

Playhouse District light installation at Pasadena Presbyterian Church


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by Laura Berthold Monteros 

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Located at the heart of the city, Pasadena Presbyterian Church is a perfect site for an art installation. As part of the Pasadena Playhouse District public art initiative, sculptors Megan Mueller and Samuel Scharf unveiled “Between Violet and Green” on Friday, Aug. 26. The temporary installation is a display of 360 lights on the front lawn of the church at 585 E. Colorado St. at Madison Avenue. It will remain in place through October.

The idea, Scharf told me, is to reflect the California sunlight by caching the power during the day with solar cells and playing it back at night when the lights come on. The rectangular 5LBMboxes with the lights atop were hand painted in shades of blue, and the color perspective changes as one walks past. The design uses the natural contours of the lawn to draw the eye from the massive bell tower through the rows of lights to the door of the church.

“People were coming up during the work and were very excited,” Scharf said. When the display is dismantled, he said, “The lights will be donated or used for another installation.” The photos show the installation just before and after dusk.

The Playhouse District, centered around the famous Pasadena Playhouse that gave many Hollywood stars their start, is filled with public art displays. Photos and locations can be found on their website, http://www.playhousedistrict.org/initiatives/public-art.

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