Remember Charlie Simokaitis? Charlie is a commercial photographer, and a while back I published a blog post about a project he took on honoring his teenage daughter. Faye has a deteriorating eye condition that will soon leave her completely blind, and she was the inspiration for Fade to White, a compilation of portraits Charlie took of people who have visual impairments or are blind.
I learned about a new project Charlie is working on when he left a comment to the post I wrote last month about my friend Jamie Ceaser’s new public television show. His guest post explains:
Finding One’s Voice on Local, USA
by Charlie Simokaitis
Last year I teamed up with fellow photographer Jason Creps to start a filmmaking company called Groundfire Pictures. Up until then, we both were primarily shooting still photography for our own advertising, design and music industry clients. We got the idea for Groundfire Pictures after I spent time photographing a food pantry/community kitchen at Ravenswood Community Services for a piece my friend Anne Ford was writing. During the photo shoot she told me about The Chicagoans, a column she writes for an alternative newspaper in Chicago called The Reader. The column tells stories of everyday people who live in and around the Windy City, and she wanted to sta
rt incorporating video with the interviews. My filmmaking career was born: Groundfire Pictures has produced 12 episodes for TheChicagoans.tv already, with more to come.
Word about our work got around, and we were approached by producer Jamie Ceaser to participate in a new public TV series called Local, USA. I follow Beth’s blog, and when I read a post here last month saying that Jamie was in Beth’s book club, I was like, “small world!”
Jamie produces Local, USA for public TV, and our short film airs this week as part of the Finding Ones Voice episode. Our film tells the story of singer/protégé Mae Ya Carter Ryan, a young woman Wise beyond her eleven years. Mae Ya is a fascinating subject, and her mother and manager, Ina, is pure warmth. The day we shot in their Bronzeville home, Ina invited the entire crew for an enormous breakfast. And whoa, her little girl sure can sing. An excerpt from The Chicagoans column my friend Anne Ford wrote about Mae Ya mentions her musical mentor, Bruce Thompson. Thompson is a Baptist minister who played with Isaac Hayes, and his review gives you an idea of what makes young Mae Ya so special:
Thompson, who met the famous gospel singer many times, says it’s no coincidence that some people who’ve heard Mae Ya sing have called her “little Mahalia. I am not supposed to believe in reincarnation,” he says. “But I believe that that’s Mahalia Jackson in that little body. It’s the richness of her voice. She has such good control over it.”
Then there’s the familiar transformation Thompson says he’s witnessed in Mae Ya: “If you say, ‘Sing,’ right before she does it, she stops being a little girl and becomes that song. You can see it happening. That’s another thing she does like Mahalia.”
Chicago-based Ebony Magazine invited Mae Ya to sing at New York’s Lincoln Center for tomorrow night’s salute to Berry Gordy, Jr. Her mom says the invite came, in part, due to people at the magazine seeing the Groundfire Pictures video. What an honor. For all of us.
Beth here. If you don’t have tickets to Lincoln Center, don’t fret: You can see – and,more importantly, hear — Mae Ya on public TV tomorrow night from the comfort of your own home. Charlie’s Finding Ones Voice episode on Local, USA airs tomorrow night, November 4, on World Channel, and Chicagoans can tune in for a re-broadcast on WTTW, Channel 11, this Thursday, November 7 at 11 p.m., too. Charlie and Jamie are two very talented artists who sincerely care about people — I know this TV show will not disappoint.