Freelance Journalist

CONTACT:  pennydickersonwrites@gmail.com

Penny Dickerson formerly served as a senior staff writer and managing editor of The Miami Times and currently works as an independent journalist. She is passionate about cool people, extraordinary places, and good sushi. 

She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from Temple University (Philadelphia, PA) and a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing from Lesley University (Cambridge, MA). 

Temple UniversityPassionate about words and writing, Penny has augmented her freelance writing life by working as an adjunct English professor at Florida State College at Jacksonville where she taught English composition and humanities courses.

Lesley LogoMedia contributions include Orlando Arts Magazine, Jacksonville Arts & Business Magazine (ARBUS), EBONY.com, New America Media, Equal Voice, Miami Times, Mosaic Literary Magazine, Onyx Magazine, The News-Leader, Florida Times-Union, Florida Courier, Philadelphia Stories, Daytona Times, Tallahassee Women’s Magazine and others. Continue Reading »

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Small business is big for Blacks

miami times

Trending stats show how owners thrive in health, beauty and fitness industries.

Penny Dickerson

Black female entrepreneur
Black females represent 38% of all small business owners.

Guidant Financial provided credible statistics that illustrated the habits, traits and financial framework of minority businesses. Accordingly, its close of 2019 reporting demonstrated that Black small business owners opened more health, beauty and fitness businesses than in year’s prior. Further, that trifecta surpassed business services as the previous year’s most popular industry for Black businesses.

Women rule and youth are formidable leaders in small business growth among Blacks. Comparatively, Blacks aggressively pursued entrepreneurial endeavors at a quicker pace than the average non-minority business. Baby boomers comprised the majority of all business owners at a rate of 57%, while 45% of the demographic is comprised of Black baby boomers.
Black millennials weigh in at 23% of the total 18% of small business owners and the women who birthed them, their sisters, wives or girlfriends bring up the rear with an impressive market share.

According to Guidant, “There are more Black female small business owners than the average by a solid 15 percentage points. Thirty-eight percent of Black small business owners are women – a big distinction from the average small business owner, of whom only 23% are women. This percentage hasn’t changed since last year, suggesting that though the number of Black women in small business is greater than the average, it has hit the same plateau of growth seen in the average small business owner populace.”

Black Entrepreneur Chart

When Black women convened in Miami Beach last year for the annual Who is the Bawse Conference, self-made female entrepreneurs proved why Black Girl Magic in the small business arena is more than simply pulling a proverbial rabbit out of a hat.

From multi-millionaire and business entrepreneurial maven Courtney Adeleye, whose most impressive trick move was taking just five years to turn $500 into over $50 million in sales to Jesseca Dupart, founder and CEO of Kaleidoscope Hair and Alycyone Gunn, The Six Figure Chick, Black women in small business proved their worth.

Community is the cornerstone of Black business owners’ drive to succeed. While their collective efforts feed into national economic growth, they are committed to creating prosperous microcosms on their own turf. Minority business owners are more likely to hire minority workers, some of whom have been negatively affected by unemployment.

Reports show that from 2012 to 2017, minority-owned small businesses grew by 79%. However, from 1997 to 2015, the number of businesses owned by Black women grew 322% (making them the largest growing group of entrepreneurs at that time).

A Black small business owner is a happy example of the American Dream. The leading incentives Blacks shared regarding their desire to be small business owners were to “pursue my own passion,” a sentiment shared by 28% while 27% were “ready to be my own boss.” Additional perspectives were that an “opportunity presented itself” and “dissatisfaction with corporate America.” The latter two were respectively 17% and 11%.


Penny’s Contributions: ONYX Magazine’s 25th Anniversary Issue – JULY/AUG 2022

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South Florida airports receive $340 million for COVID-19 relief


The CARES Act provides emergency relief funding

Penny Dickerson

Miami airport

Miami International Airport officials will use the grant to support the airport’s ongoing facilitation of essential travel and trade, and to prepare the global gateway to resume full operations as one of America’s leading passenger and cargo hubs.

The aviation industry contributes $1.7 trillion into U.S. economic activity and more than 10 million in U.S. jobs. More than 2.4 million passengers engage flights to 800 destinations in 80 countries and more than 58,000 tons of cargo is transported daily. Those collective statistics provided by aviation.org were impressive until the gravity of the COVID-19 pandemic grounded aviation.
In the immediate aftermath, major airlines continue to lose profits, industry unemployment has soared, some planes are flying with mostly empty seats and smaller carriers have halted operations altogether.

Emergency measures to restore industry viability were expeditiously taken, and the CARES Act was signed on March 27 which allocated $10 billion in emergency aviation relief funding.

The Federal Aviation Administration followed with an announcement that nearly $1 billion of those relief funds will be distributed to airports located within the state of Florida, and Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson has ensured that more than $340M will be distributed to South Florida airports in her 24th congressional district.image-6

“I am pleased that seven local airports will receive financial assistance to help make up for lost revenue and to continue operations that have been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Congresswoman Wilson, who sits on the House transportation and infrastructure committee.

“Miami is a popular tourist destination and the aviation industry is critical to our local economy. Ensuring that our airports have the funding to continue operating and preserve jobs is imperative.”

Miami International Airport was awarded $207 million in funding, making MIA the largest grant recipient among all airports in Florida. MIA officials will use the grant to support the airport’s ongoing facilitation of essential travel and trade and to prepare the global gateway to resume full operations as one of America’s leading passenger and cargo hubs.


“We are extremely pleased with the $207 million in relief funding for MIA,” said Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez. “I appreciate the federal government for recognizing MIA’s critical role as the busiest international gateway in Florida and the third busiest in the nation. This aid will certainly help our County’s largest economic engine, which supports one out of every five jobs locally, make a speedier return to normal operations after the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic subside.”

Gimenez recently came to the defense of MIA when City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez petitioned President Trump in a letter that asked for, “a ban on flights coming into MIA from international and domestic coronavirus hot spots.”

image-7Suarez, who tested positive for COVID-19 in March, was making an effort to mitigate the widespread coronavirus. Suarez has since recovered from the virus and received negative test results. In response, Gimenez issued the following in a report to Local 10 news:

“MIA is Miami-Dade County and our airport director has already written a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and probably to The White House itself saying please disregard the letter. MIA and the flights in and out of MIA are vital to Miami-Dade County. MIA is one of the few pharmacy centers, pharm hubs, in the world, a lot of medicines fly in the bellies of those passenger airliners,” Gimenez said.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the CARES Act funding will support continuing operations and replace lost revenue resulting from the sharp decline in passenger traffic and other airport business due to the COVID-19 public health emergency. The funds are available for airport capital expenditures, airport operating expenses including payroll and utilities, and airport debt payments.

“The CARES Act funding, coupled with the financial relief plan approved by the Board of County Commissioners this month for our airport business partners, provides much-needed support for MIA to continue serving as the leading economic engine for our community,” said Lester Sola, MIA CEO and director.image-8

“As we maintain our passenger and cargo operations and prepare for travel demand to return, these monies will aid us in developing new protocols and facility renovations designed to enhance the travel experience and improve employee safety.”

The complete list of airports in District 24 receiving funding under the CARES Act are:

Miami-Opa Locka Executive Airport $157,000; Hollywood North Perry Airport $69,000; Miami International Airport $206,949,557; Miami Seaplane Base $20,000; Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport $157,000 ; Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport $134,958,902 ; Miami Executive Airport $69,000.

For more information about MIA’s response to COVID-19, visit MIA’s website.

Managing Editor

Penny Dickerson is a journalist joining The Miami Times following an Africa sojourn and 10-year freelance career in newspaper and magazine. She earned her master of fine arts in creative writing from Lesley University and bachelor of arts in Journalism from Temple University.

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Lake Mary, Florida: a place to lay down roots

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A Place to Put Down Roots

Lake MaryCommunity: Lake Mary is a place to put down roots

By Penny Dickerson
December 27, 2015

Sound prestigious? Tanya and Allan Coffin thought so.

Last year, the British couple left London and relocated to Lake Mary to stake claim on the American dream. Eight months ago they opened Royals English Tea Room, known for its exotic dried tea, crumpets and scones shipped from abroad, and Her Majesty’s Favorite, a strawberries-and-cream dessert.

“We used to visit Orlando for holiday and asked about the area,” says Tanya Coffin. “While dining, a server told us about Lake Mary and described it as heaven on earth. After a few visits, we knew this was the place for us.” The couple were impressed by the town’s cleanliness and inviting people. And then, they found the ideal business location on Country Club Road.

Versini’s Italian Ice was opened in 2010 by a Portuguese family who also found the neighborhood and real estate ideal. “Lake Mary has great people and my business has thrived,” says owner F. Versini, whose sons attended Lake Mary High School, chosen by Versini because it boasts one of Florida’s highest graduation rates. A place like Versini’s, serving gelati and ice cream topped with Ghirardelli chocolate sauce, was a great addition to the neighborhood.

Early Years

Over the years, Lake Mary has emerged as the destination of choice for a global mosaic of ethnicities, working-class residents, entrepreneurs and native townsfolk. Together, they harmoniously mesh as a laid-back, family-oriented community that is the hallmark of Lake Mary. Impressive commentary for a legacy that began as secluded swampland infinitely surrounded by sabal palms and mammoth oaks swathed in Spanish moss.

According to archived legend, Lake Mary is the town that Frank Evans built, shaping it from an old-fashioned cliché into a prosperous civilization. Dusty dirt trails were paved into roads for transportation on Schwinn bicycles long before bikes with banana seats were cool. The paths were shared with the exhaust and raucous horn honks of Ford Model-T automobiles.

Homes were humble and the lone general store likely sold crisp pickles in barrels. A pharmacy, railroad station, one-room schoolhouse and civic government emerged along with cultural offerings that included an orchestra.

Gas was one gallon for a quarter, and a nickel bought a bumpy train ride. A single dime admitted Charlie Chaplin fans into cinemas for nine cents, and the spare penny was enough for a sack of salty popcorn.

Sound nostalgic? Sure, but that was so yesterday. Take a quantum leap into the 21st century.

Moving Forward

An urban infrastructure created the heavily traveled Interstate-4 exchange that exits directly onto Lake Mary Boulevard. The thriving, wide four-lane thoroughfare winds through miles of breathtaking, green scenery with blades of grass that vertically salute the sun. And save for the steady hum of engines in the luxury cars that steadily zoom by, it can be surprisingly quiet.

One stretch of the boulevard is happily saturated with retail and marquee signs that beckon middle-class and affluent residents to shop and solicit services such as cosmetic dentistry and exclusive real estate.

Alcoves at outdoor plazas are complemented by eateries that boast free Wi-Fi and tempt insatiable appetites. Among the offerings are Keller’s smoked barbe-cue ribs and menus featuring grilled burgers topped with crumbled bleu cheese and loaded with sautéed onions and mushrooms.

Sound enticing? Indeed, and most locals would concur.

Lake Mary is both a neighborhood and an experience that invites you to start your day with an all-American breakfast at Appleton’s Café — a 30-year tradition where native New Yorker Tricia Rodriguez delivers quick service to some 500 patrons on Saturdays. Omelets are fluffed from cracked eggs and ingredients are chopped daily. African-American “Chef T” will slay your palate with her homemade buttermilk biscuits, and breakfast is served all day, but you’ll want to come for lunch before the chicken salad sells out.

“We love the friendly people, and the portions are worth the price,” says the regular customer Sam Bellamy, a first vice president for USB Financial Services who visits frequently with his wife Krista and their two daughters.

“The girls love the themed holiday decorations and, of course, the pancakes,” he says with a smile that concurs.

Travel the boulevard south and visit the Saturday Farmers Market surrounded by eclectic shops, children playing and groomed pets on leashes. Free Zumba is taught to a Latin beat, and shoppers pick up local honey and gourmet popcorn sold in rainbow flavors including tutti-frutti.

“I started selling family pasta and pickle recipes at the market a year ago following my husband’s stroke,” shares Shelly Mottram, a Sicilian whose Backyard Blends products include jars of various green salsas, including a candied jalapeño version. “We’ve met so many friendly people here and love this market atmosphere.”

From the Lake Mary Heathrow Festival of the Arts to Dexter’s Sunday jazz brunch, the overarching Lake Mary theme is that everyone is welcome, accepted and encouraged to stay.


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Two sides of homeless plight in the wake of COVID-19

A two-sided fight may cost the vulnerable a win

Penny Dickerson, managing editor


Miami-Dade homelessness
The Miami-Dade County community learned that a public citizen known to be homeless passed away from coronavirus on April 17. He was a 26-year-old resident of the Chapman South Homeless Assistance Center in Homestead, Florida. At his family’s request, his name was withheld. His life not only mattered, he represents a vulnerable population in dire need of COVID-19 testing and shelter. While homeless advocates are aligned in their intent, an unkind divide exists between two influential men. Their reconciliation could leverage all efforts to provide for the homeless.

“My job is to guard the money and stretch it as far as any rubber band. I am cheap and frugal, but I refused an offer of 2,000 rapid antibody tests because it is not FDA approved. Everything Dr. Henderson is saying about me is a lie.”

-Ron L. Book, Esq.,

Chair of the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust 

Book oversees a $68.5M budget to implement the homeless plan

Ron L. Book, Esq. is arguably misunderstood. Raised in North Miami, the former track star studied law at Tulane University and is now over 60 years old and a voluminous presence. He has triumphed cancer and says he is “the poster child for the immunocompromised.” He has not been tested for coronavirus, but is ensuring that his approximate, 165 sheltered-seniors and 476 staff are able to access COVID-19 testing.

Book has reigned as a community leader representing the underserved for 25 years and is current chair of the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust. The position holds him accountable for overseeing a reported $68.5M budget to implement the county’s homeless plan. He is an avid storyteller who wields words with speed, but Book admits his entire world stopped when he learned one of the Trust’s “own” had died.

“I publicly cried most of the day Saturday,” Book told The Miami Times in an exclusive interview on Sunday, April 19. “We thought we were past the peak one week ago and had made it without losing any of our homeless people. I received a call from my staff at about 8:30 or 9:00 a.m. and was just devastated.”

Pandemic planning

According to Book, the deceased male had underlying health issues including “serious diabetes,” and when it was discovered a male in the public-private partner, Chapman Partnership male dorm tested positive, every known Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention protocol along with mandates provided by the Florida Dept. of Health and division of emergency management.

“We started negotiating four or five weeks ago with hotels to make sure we had shelter reserved if we needed it,” said Book. “We know you can’t just snap your fingers and make things happen if the need arises and you need to evacuate hundreds of people, so we’ve been planning ahead since the pandemic’s onset.”

That planning began mid-March with the dissemination of information on social distancing and the threat of coronavirus in English, Spanish and Creole to as many of the 1,024 homeless individuals who dwell outdoors in the county that could be reached. Families and individuals at the Salvation Army, Lotus House, Camilus House, Chatman Partnership and beyond were, too, included and given masks, gloves and hand sanitizer.

Hands-on, street testing

Who launched an initiative to test the homeless and the preferred methodology remains a debate, but Book said he was on the street with his Project Lazarus and Camilus House team last week.

“I wasn’t satisfied with the pace. Why in a five hour period, could we only complete seven or eight tests?” Book wondered. “In one day, we still only did 20 tests, and the main reason is that it takes a great deal of time to convince a homeless person to take the test, complete paperwork and acquire signatures. I have begged, and they shake their heads and say, ‘I don’t wanna. I don’t wanna.’”

According to Book, testing is ongoing with more than 3,500 more swab kits on order. The  culmination of much of Book’s efforts are marked in the Trust negotiating a contract with Dunns-Josephine Hotel to house clients who have been tested and need to remain quarantined pending results.

“The last guy I touched was a 77-year-old man who lives in the underpass of Jose Marti Park,” said Book. “He tested, but then refused to accept a hotel room.

That’s not uncommon and people don’t factor those situations into the equation when seeking to understand the Trust’s dilemma.”

People’s perception of the homeless is jaded, discriminatory and unfair. We are grateful, humble and appreciative to be here.”

-Metris Batts-Coley, sales and marketing director, Dunns-Josephine Hotel.

Black-owned business bridges the gap

Historic Overtown welcomed Dunns-Josephine Hotel to the neighborhood  in December of 2019. The Harlem Renaissance-themed bread and breakfast is adjacent to cruise ports and the airport with 50% of the clientele being international travelers.

It is also situated blocks from  tent city occupied by the homeless community, their new clientele. Owner Kristen Kitchen and the Miami Dade County Homeless Trust have engaged a contract to assist the greater good.

COVID-19 contract with Homeless Trust

The Miami Times reported April 1 that the business first experienced pandemic-related occupancy following the cancellation of the Miami Gardens Jazz in the Gardens music festival scheduled March 13-15.

Kitchens was quoted to have said, “We had 42 cancellations in 24 hours that weekend…it was a train wreck you couldn’t stop.” The Dunns-Josephine is one of few, local Black-owned businesses who have experienced an economic reprieve during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We signed an initial, one-month contract on March 25 for $32,000,” Metris Batts-Coley told The Miami Times April 18. “The room rate is $76 and our maximum occupancy is 15 rooms in a two-story dwelling. The Southside of the second story, houses eight rooms and  opens up to a breeze way that allows clients to smoke.”

Book said he entered negotiations for the short haul, but expects he may have to extend to meet needs.

“We need to ensure that people have access to housing during the testing period and beyond,” Book said. “I am guessing the contract will last 60-90 days or longer.”

Public health expertise

Batts-Coley earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in marketing from Johnson & Wales University and met Kitchen through economic development circles. But her background in public health proved to be the link need to successfully collaborate and meet a critical need during an unexpected pandemic.

“I was the HIV/AIDS minority coordinator for Palm Beach County,” Batts-Coley said. “I have worked for Catalyst Miami, and I am rooted in continuum care. To pull this off, I didn’t solicit the help of residential workers, but rather those in behavior health who had been furloughed or laid off.”

An expertise in protocol development helped Batts-Coley transition the hotel to emergency accommodations where social distancing and all CDC guidelines were followed. A television, Netflix and Wifi are also provided in each room along with a coffee pot, microwave and refrigerator.

“We are not offering a hotel experience, this is isolation. The clients who come here are quarantined until their test status is known,” Batts-Coley explained. “There is no room service or turn-down. Rooms formerly named Josephine Baker, Marcus Garvey and Zora Neale Hurston now have numbers and clients who check in are from Chapman, Lotus or various shelters and arrive with masks and gloves, but we also have N95 masks and bleach cleaning.”

“Ron Book is a prison lobbyist. I am a doctor not funded by the Trust nor am I afraid of Book’s power. During this pandemic, I felt compelled to do more.” -Dr. Armen Henderson

Henderson was handcuffed last week– now, his work continues

Armen Henderson became an unwitting media darling the week of April 13 when he made national headlines for being racially profiled. He was handcuffed in front of his own home while his wife and two young children sat nearby. A city of Miami police officer suspected Henderson of dumping trash. He was actually loading tents to distribute to the homeless as part of his ongoing street advocacy.

Henderson also offered The Miami Times an exclusive interview on Sunday, April 19 and made clear he was more than a Black man in handcuffs and a headline. And don’t let the baby face fool you. The 34-year-old Philadelphia native is a graduate of the city’s renowned Central high school and excelled at hoops as a Mansfield University undergraduate. Meharry medical college followed along with a residency at Jackson South where he currently practices as a licensed physician of internal medicine through the University of Miami Health System.

Verbal handshake to backtracking

“On March 20th, my friend Mario Bailey, who is a Tallahassee lobbyist and familiar with my community work, encouraged me to reach out to Ron Book,” Henderson said. “I was then referred to Vickie Mallette, executive director of the Homeless Trust. I told her I was going to start testing the homeless  and she said, ‘Great! Let me know if any test positive and we’ll house them in hotels.’”

“Vickie seemed amenable, but two days later when I identified symptomatic homeless people needing quarantine according to CDC guidelines, the conversation ended. She said they didn’t have any hotel rooms,” Henderson explained.

Henderson is an experienced street soldier in disaster management whose training includes three stints in Haiti and working stateside following hurricane Irma. His alliance of cohorts includes the Dream Defenders, New Florida Majority, Smile Trust and Dade County Street Response Disaster Relief team.

An evolution of distrust ensued that included Mallette allegedly reporting Henderson to the Florida Dept. of Health. Brought into question was both his medical credentials and who approved him to pursue county testing? That was March 22 and while Henderson provided text messages, The Miami Times reached out directly to Mallette.

In a statement provided to The Miami Times April 21, The M Network provided the following on behalf of the Homeless Trust: “Thank you for reaching out to the Trust for a comment. We really do appreciate it, however, at this critical point in time, opening up this conversation does nothing to advance efforts to serve homeless individuals in Miami-Dade. No one benefits.”

Public demand for change

On Friday, April 17, Henderson was front and center at lot 15 of the Miami Parking Authority where he held a press conference in conjunction with community organizers, clergy and medical providers.

His call for action was the very charge Book claims he has championed all along. According to the press release, Henderson is calling for Book and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez to take immediate action and announce an expansion of the group’s efforts to provide resources to Miami’s homeless community.

“We wouldn’t be out here if the Homeless Trust, which receives millions of dollars in tax revenue every year, we’re doing what needs to be done to protect the homeless,” said Henderson who dually serves as director of health program for the Dream Defenders.

“Chairman Ron Book has left our most vulnerable communities out on the streets, without testing them, without giving them a place to shelter, wash and eat. This negligence is putting our entire city at risk in the face of the pandemic. The way I was racially profiled and arrested on Saturday is business as usual in Miami Dade County. Their response to a pandemic in our communities is to criminalize, rather than protect, the most vulnerable, especially poor, Black people.”

Henderson is equally advocating for what he deems unwarranted and exorbitant arrests of homeless people in the county, an activity he believes is directly related to Book’s lobbyist activity on behalf of the for-profit prison company, the GEO group.

“In my public data search of Miami-Dade jail bookings between March 12, which was the start of the emergency pandemic period, and April 18, there were 264 arrests where the address is listed as homeless, that’s out of 2,708 entries,” Henderson told The Miami Times. “That’s 9.75% of all arrests and 21 of those entries were second and third arrests for the same person. So, in reality, 243 homeless individuals have faced arrest since this pandemic began.”

Henderson is passionate in his quest to seek resolve and it is his belief that the Trust just started testing the homeless “three days ago,” indicating they launched April 16.

“We should all be working together, but the Trust could be doing more,” Henderson said. “I want to get everybody who wants to be off  the streets, off the streets, and now that we have Ron Book’s attention, he can do more too.”

Managing Editor

Penny Dickerson is a journalist joining The Miami Times following an Africa sojourn and 10-year freelance career in newspaper and magazine. She earned her Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Lesley University, and Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Temple University.

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Frankie Beverly’s Amazing Career


March 25, 2014

Frankie Beverly Talks 38 Years of Maze [INTERVIEW]

The voice behind every Black picnic, BBQ and wedding of the past four decades discusses the longevity of Maze

By Penny Dickerson
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is soul-crooner-frankie-beverly-proved-hes-still-got-it.jpg

The one, the only Mr. Frankie Beverly

Every funk band has a front man. It’s an old-school law obeyed by Maurice White, whose vocals reigned supreme as Earth, Wind and Fire’s fourth element, and Sugarfoot, who kept the Ohio Players roller-coastin’. Frankie Beverly is every bit as iconic—a raw soul master.

He’s the sing-and-sweat powerhouse who personified all-white sexy before Diddy anointed the Hamptons. He’s the stylin’ lady magnet who catapulted the baseball cap as much as the hip-hop movement. And he’s amazing—world-renowned and still selling out world venues with the Maze sextet right behind him.


An inside glimpse reveals a man whose conversation feels familiar without flirtation, save for an occasional “honey” or “sweetie” to segue thoughts. But Frankie Beverly is California cool, a tempered spirit; just an ordinary guy from Philadelphia who turned a “doo-wop” dream into a mind-blowing career.

Beverly’s Beginnings

Born Howard Beverly, the future Frankie Beverly harbored so much love for heartthrob Frankie Lymon that he jacked his name. “I was Frankie Lymon crazy when he came on the scene,” he admits. “People would call me ‘Little Frankie.’ I used to sing Frankie Lymon songs on street corners and people use to throw me money.”

The labyrinth to stardom is a story told over and over, and shared by many in Beverly’s era. In Frankie’s case, church singing transitioned to a teen group called The Butlers, which musically morphed into Frankie Beverly’s Raw Soul. The big break came when the one and only Marvin Gaye made the band his opening act with a single stipulation:  change the name. That nudge originated the moniker that stuck: Maze.

Now Beverly is 67, and the Maze’s “raw soul” identity is more frequently marketed as urban contemporary soul. Their loyal fan base is trained to expect timeless music, as Frankie leads “Joy and Pain” and “The Morning After” jam sessions. Both tunes are legendary for making grown women (and some men) straight scream.

Gratitude, God, but no Grammy

Gratitude and humility seem to precede any and all Frankie Beverly motives, and no one is more surprised by his career than the man who made “Happy Feelings” an anthem long before Bobby McFerrin or Pharrell Williams whistled hits.

“I am most amazed by the success of our longevity,” says Beverly. “I never, ever, ever thought it would be like this. I’m laid back, and I know music is a gift given to me to initiate, and I take that serious. I thank God I have people around me I can trust, they’ve been with me for 30 to 40 years. It’s a real blessing.”

Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, ‘Joy and Pain’

Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, ‘Joy and Pain’

Despite an amassed catalogue of classics, the Maze featuring Frankie Beverly Grammy Award remains elusive, but it’s an industry snub Beverly takes in stride. “The love the people give us is most amazing,” he offers. “I don’t care about no Grammys. It’s about the reward, not the award. I walk around on my knees I’m so thankful.”

Sam Cooke—Still His Main Man

Does Frankie Beverly meditate? Yes. Does he work out to stay in shape? Negative. He claims no special fitness regime and cites the stage as his ultimate workout. Beverly also hasn’t eaten red meat in 35 years—occasionally chicken, and fish “for protein.”

A high-octane schedule defines Beverly’s existence, so what (if anything) does he listen to for slowing down his internal metronome?

“I don’t really play a lot of music, believe it or not. And when I do, I prefer jazz,” said Beverly, who reiterated a preference for the standards. “I like smooth jazz too, but Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, those guys really still do it for me. At this time in my life, jazz does it. I tell you who I really like is Chris Botti. His music is very nice. But I still like listening to Sam Cooke.”

The late Cooke remains Beverly’s lifelong inspiration. “We were at Philly’s Uptown Theatre trying to get his autograph. [I] said, ‘Mr. Cooke, Mr. Cooke, can you sign mine?’ He said, ‘Have you guys ever been backstage? Well, come on!’ ” The story is credited for Beverly’s own generosity. “I don’t turn people down. I always think of Sam Cooke and how kind and patient he was. He didn’t have to do that for us.”

Beverly on Beyoncé

Frankie Beverly has a simple message for today’s musicians: get back to basics.

“You have to still go back. It’s hard for today’s industry. Studios can’t get business; people are using machines. No matter how much money is at stake, people still want the ‘real deal.’ I want today’s music acts to return to the real deal. No mixing, no machines.”

Black women nationwide owe Beverly a bevy of thanks for time-honored respect. But for the music industry’s hardest working and wealthiest woman, he offers a profitable prediction: “I think Beyoncé is ready to take her next step, and I tell you what I mean by that. She can really sing, but I would like to see her show her skills. I mean, she’s a mom and a wife now. So I’d love to hear her record Christmas carols or perform live with an orchestra… just sing.”

New Music from Maze

A wisdom grin and goatee with gray sprouts are a welcome presence for Beverly, who resides in California’s Bay Area and is “grandpa swaggadocious” to three precocious grand fans he insists “use and abuse him.” Mention retirement and he balks.

“I hope not,” he says. “Something would have to be wrong [with me]. I just want to keep on doing this until I can’t do it anymore.” And he doesn’t plan to stop. But will the eternal performer’s career be complemented by new music?

“I’ve been thinking about it, but ya know, we are a working act,” he says. “It’s not like I can tour and come home. I can’t make great music that way. Back when it was the Kool Jazz and Budweiser Festivals, we could work three months and then take time off to go into the studio. But we aren’t going to piecemeal making music.”

Beverly vows the new music will still be love music—life music— and that he and Maze aren’t going to stray from what they’ve been doing.

“I’m tickled about a new piece on the album titled ‘The Jam of My Life’,” Beverly shared with a sinister snicker. “You meet someone, but you’re already with someone. I know about that all too well, and athletes and these young musicians—or the average person who just has a lot to do—they know these situations all well too.”

We Are One

Maze featuring Frankie Beverly has unified the masses with a legion of hits, but the single closest to Beverly’s heart is 1983’s “We Are One.” No explanation is needed. Still, he offers this: “It’s true. If you are lucky enough to travel around the world, you’ll find we’re all the same and want the same thing: love! People for the most part are good. If not, we would have torn the world apart by now. I’ve learned to not be racist in my life. Our White brothers are our brothers too, and I’m not trying to be some kind of love guru or anything. We are the same.”

Penny Dickerson is a Florida-based journalist whose work can be viewed at pennydickersonwrites.com

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