Newark’s Princess of Soul

Newark’s Princess of Soul

Newark native, singer, and finalist on The Four: Battle for Stardom on FOX, Leah Jenea James has been nicknamed Brick City’s Princess of Soul. After attending a Newark City Hall camp at the age of eight, James realized she wanted to sing. She originally attended the camp for dance but soon realized her love for singing after a solo performance of “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston.

Growing up, James’ favorite singers included Jill Scott, Amy Winehouse, and Chrisette Michele. She was also inspired by the skills of Newark’s very own songwriters, Whitney Houston and Lauryn Hill. In 2017, she released her EP, Life W.T.R., on which she wrote every song.

This year, James made Newark proud when she became a contestant and -finalist on The Four TV show. While in the process of preparing for prom, graduation, and college, a friend made her aware of an opportunity to audition for the show. She was also preparing to do a concert with singer Musiq, a.k.a. Musiq Soulchild. When asked how it felt to be on The Four, the 18-year-old said it hadn’t registered yet. “There’s still a part of me that’s just like, ‘Wow, that really happened!’” she said.

When it comes to her hometown, James loves Newark’s arts and entertainment scene. “I go to a lot of open mics around here, a lot of art exhibits. And, also, just walking around Newark and seeing the murals. That really -always makes my day because it feels like they’re always changing up.” James said.

In November, James was signed to Cinematic Music Group. She expects to release her next album, Leah Meets Nina, in 2019. It will include approximately six songs and be a mixture of her vocals and Nina Simone’s vocals. When asked if she had any advice for aspiring entertainers, the singer said to be true to you. “Just continue being the same you that you were when you first started. You’re going to see a lot of things and go through a lot of things, but if you stay true to yourself and stay honest with yourself, everything will come very easily.”

5 Ways to Celebrate Valentine’s Day in Newark

5 Ways to Celebrate Valentine’s Day in Newark

NJPAC is in a city with hundreds of restaurants, so live entertainment and food are highly compatible. No matter what your plans are for Valentine’s Day, you’d better have tickets in advance, recheck dates and times, and reserve early for this dining destination weekend second only to Mother’s Day.

Visitors to the Arts Center know they don’t have to go farther than the lobby to find creative cuisine, handcrafted cocktails, and pre-performance buzz at NICO Kitchen + Bar. In the following scenarios, however, Destination Newark and NJPAC play matchmaker by connecting NJPAC attractions to something cookin’ in the area:

#1 – Toni Braxton and Marcus B&P

Avoid this year’s February 15-17 crunch by celebrating on February 8, when NJPAC co-produces a concert featuring Toni -Braxton, Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds, and SWV at the Prudential Center (The Rock). Braxton’s As Long As I Live Tour promises plenty of ultra-smooth R&B, which warrants a restaurant with a high degree of cool. Try the Southern -specialties at Marcus B&P, celebrity chef Marcus -Samuelsson’s chic establishment in the Hahne & Co. building.

Valentine"s Day Comedy

#2 – A-List Comedians and BBQ

On Valentine’s Day itself, Michael Blackson, John Witherspoon, Luenell, Smokey Suarez, along with the evening’s host Bill Bellamy will be dishing out the laughs at NJPAC as part of the Valentine’s All-Star Comedy Show. Then, on February 16, Emmy-winning comic Russell Peters brings his Deported World Tour to Prudential Hall.

Get a serious “ribbing” from the grill at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que.

Patti LaBelle and Freddie Jackson

#3 – Patti LaBelle and ‘Blues’

Philadelphia’s Grammy-winning Patti LaBelle, who returns to NJPAC on February 15, knows soul. Her appearance with special guest Freddie Jackson calls for pre-show helpings of feel-good kitchen favorites. Savor the soul rolls stuffed with kale, sweet potato, and black-eyed peas at Eleven Clinton Smothered Blues, or dig into the health-conscious comfort food at Vonda’s Kitchen.

Patrizio Buanne

#4 – Patrizio Buanne and Bella Notte

Also on February 15, Patrizio Buanne, the ambassador of romantic Italian songs, brings The Special Valentine’s Day Show to the Victoria Theater. Celebrating amore over a superb dinner comes naturally to proprietors of time-honored Italian restaurants throughout Greater Newark, like Luigi’s in the North Ward.

Maurice Hines

#5 – Maurice Hines and Fine Wines

Think of seductive songs like “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” Now think of “fizzy” and “bubbly.” Nothing goes together quite like the Great American Songbook and wine, especially sparkling wine. In two shows on February 16, the ever-sophisticated tapper Maurice Hines performs standards like those and tells his story in Tappin’ Thru Life, backed by the all-female DIVA Orchestra.

An oasis on Newark’s bustling Ferry Street, Adega Grill, whose name comes from the Portuguese for “wine cellar,” offers a “wow” selection of wines and Champagnes in its cushy lounges and dining areas. 

For tickets to NJPAC events, visit or call 1-888-GO-NJPAC (466-5722).

To the Stars and Back: Tobias Truvillion & Michele Morgan-­Truvillion

To the Stars and Back: Tobias Truvillion & Michele Morgan-­Truvillion

Husband and wife team Tobias Truvillion and Michele Morgan-Truvillion are accomplished veterans in the film and television industry. This power couple resides in Newark and is very involved in the city’s arts community.

A former rapper signed to Def Jam Records, Michele recently did voiceover work for a new animated series produced by comedian Kevin Hart. Michele started out in the Spike Lee film New Jersey Drive and later became the voice of character Juicy in Eddie Murphy’s animated series The PJs.

Currently, Michele is serving as the senior community relations specialist in Mayor Ras Baraka’s office at Newark City Hall and was instrumental in the coordination of the filming of the Joker movie, which began in October 2018.

Husband Tobias is an actor, photographer, filmmaker, and arts educator. He has starred as Derek Major on the hit Fox network series Empire, Kenny Armstrong on NBC’s Chicago PD, and Bennet Thompson in the BET series In Contempt.

Never losing sight of the community, Tobias worked with the late Rodney Gilbert who founded Newark’s Yendor Arts Organization, to bridge the gap between inner-city youth and the arts. He is an active Yendor board member.

To the Stars and Back: Darnell “J.D.” Williams

To the Stars and Back: Darnell “J.D.” Williams

Newark native Darnell “J.D.” Williams is an actor best known for his roles as Kenny Wangler in the HBO series Oz, Brodie Broadus in the HBO series The Wire, and Froggy in the Paramount Pictures film Pootie Tang. With over 20 years of experience, Williams has worked on various television shows, movies, and commercials. At press time, he was starring on the Bounce TV soap opera Saints & Sinners playing Jabari Morris.

Williams attended Newark Arts High School and, in 2015, returned to Newark to offer free acting coaching workshops to the youth, working in conjunction with Mayor Ras Baraka, the City of Newark Municipal Council, and the Newark Youth One-Stop Career Center.

To the Stars and Back: Michael B. Jordan

To the Stars and Back: Michael B. Jordan

In early 2018 Michael B. Jordan hosted a private screening of his box office smash hit Black Panther at his alma mater, Newark Arts High School.

The 31 year-old actor was raised in Newark. He is noted for his role as the villain Erik Killmonger in the successful Marvel film Black Panther and for his role as Adonis Creed in the Rocky sequels Creed 1 and Creed 2.

Jordan attended Newark Arts High School where he studied drama. Early in his career he worked as a child model, then officially started his acting career in 1999, appearing on television shows such as The Cosby Show and The Sopranos. His first primary role in film was in the 2001 movie Hardball, where he played Jamal.

To the Stars and Back: Griselle Ponce

To the Stars and Back: Griselle Ponce

Griselle Ponce is a professional dancer, dance Instructor, choreographer and actress. This Newark native and resident started her career winning the title of Ms. Teen Puerto Rico 1995. The following year, she booked a gig on Telemundo network’s Sabado47 as a dancer and co-host.

Over the years, Ponce has worked in TV and film as a dancer, including working with Spike Lee and Rosie Perez. Recently, she showcased her talent in the movie Shine where she was brought on as a choreographer. The film was screened at Newark’s CityPlex 12 last October.

Ponce has traveled the world since the age of 20, bringing dance with her to every continent. But she’s excited about the growing film industry in her hometown of Newark. At press time, she was working on a pilot project with Netflix based on her life as a mother, dancer, instructor, and choreographer that will be filmed in Newark.

To the Stars and Back: Queen Latifah

To the Stars and Back: Queen Latifah

Dana Elaine Owens, aka Queen Latifah visited -Newark in 2015 to celebrate Mayor Ras Baraka’s birthday who she grew up with in Newark.

Owens is a Newark-born musician, actress and entrepreneur. Owens released her first studio album in 1989 titled All Hail to the Queen, which sold more than one million copies. In the 1990s she continued to make music while also making a transition into television, starring as Kadijah James on Fox network sitcom Living Single. Owens has appeared in over 60 films and television series’, hosted her own talk show, and founded Flavor Unit Entertainment.

Recently, she starred in the box office smash Girls Trip and is currently portraying Carlotta Brown on the Fox Network drama series Star.

Whitney! GRAMMY Museum Experience at the ­Prudential Center—Don’t Miss It!

Whitney! GRAMMY Museum Experience at the ­Prudential Center—Don’t Miss It!

The Whitney Houston exhibit opened at Prudential ­Center’s GRAMMY Museum Experience on October 19, 2018 and it’s a must-see! Destination Newark was given an exclusive look inside the exhibit and it was as amazing as we thought. Our editors and social media team, including EvanTheShow, took over the museum and had a blast!

Houston’s exhibit portrays the singer’s musical career up until her unfortunate passing on February 11, 2012. The Houston family and the Marion P. Foundation collaborated with the GRAMMY Museum to make the exhibit possible.

Fans and museum-goers can look forward to seeing magazine  ­covers and advertisements in which Houston modeled. Precious items like the singer’s diploma and childhood bible were provided by her family for the exhibit. In addition, some of Houston’s most memorable dresses and other outfits are on display. In 1997, the Newark native starred as the fairy godmother in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella movie alongside Brandy Norwood. The movie’s scriptbook is included in the exhibit.

In addition to Whitney Houston memorabilia, exhibit visitors can sing along with Houston in a booth with lyrics to her hit “I Want to Dance With Somebody.” The singer’s most iconic speeches and moments, including her 1991 Super Bowl Performance of “The Star Spangled ­Banner,” are part of the exhibit.

Members of the Destination Newark staff

Members of the Destination Newark staff in the Grammy Museum Experience Roland Live.

The GRAMMY Museum Experience also includes the history of the GRAMMYs, as well as other artists like Wyclef, Nick Jonas, and Ray Charles & The Raelettes. During our Destination Newark takeover, we had the opportunity to perform as our own band (see image above).

The Whitney! exhibit will run until June 30, 2019. General ­admission tickets to the GRAMMY Museum Experience can be purchased online through Ticketmaster for $7-$10. Visit for more information.

To the Stars and Back: Whitney Houston

To the Stars and Back: Whitney Houston

Because of Whitney Houston’s generous donations to UMDNJ’s University Hospital (now the Rutgers University Medical School) in Newark, the school named its Pediatric Special Care Unit after her. And the singer’s elementary school in East Orange, New Jersey, was renamed the Whitney Houston Academy of Creative and Performing Arts.

Whitney Elizabeth Houston was born on August 9, 1963 in Newark, New Jersey, and raised in East Orange, New Jersey. She is most famous for Billboard hits like “Saving All My Love for You,” “I’m Your Baby Tonight,” and “I Will Always LoveYou.” Her most famous movie roles include Rachel Marron in The Bodyguard and Savannah Jackson in Waiting to Exhale.

During Houston’s early life, she was immersed in music. Her background in gospel helped lead her down the path to stardom. She sang in the choir of the New Hope Baptist Church, which was led by her mother, Cissy Houston, a renowned soul and gospel singer herself.

Newark—The New Hollywood

Newark—The New Hollywood

By Christmas 2019, millions of anticipated filmgoers will be viewing Broad and Market Streets in Newark, New Jersey, as the 1970s set of the fictional Gotham City, home of DC Comics characters Batman and The Joker.

Newark was also the host city of the movie set of the 2010 Batman movie The Dark Knight Rises. In the fall of 2018, movie producers returned to Newark with a budget of about $55 million for the taping of the highly anticipated Joker movie, which follows the journey of the infamous DC Comics villain—played this time by Joaquin Phoenix—from a failed comedian to a life of crime.

For the movie, downtown Newark was made to look like it was the late 1970s with signs reading “Live Nude Girls,” “Strip Search Featuring the Finest Adult Stars,” and “Kenny’s Music Shop.” The set was designed to portray a grim, seedy part of Gotham City with piles of mock garbage; wet streets; smoke; and dark, muted colored wardrobe selections for the actors.

“When a set comes to the city, it brings dollars to businesses, jobs for residents, and notoriety to the city. It just gives the city a whole different color. It’s important to have a thriving film industry because there are a lot of benefits. Some of it can be measured materially, but some is immeasurable,” says Mayor Ras Baraka.

Another testament to the growing interest filmmakers are taking in Newark is the Newark International Film Festival, which recently celebrated three consecutive years of bringing over 100 independent films from over 50 countries. This year’s three-day festival was packed with film premieres, celebrity master classes, and celebrity Q&A panels. Lance Gross served as the event’s celebrity ambassador.

In 2018 New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy restored the New Jersey Film and TV Tax Credit, approving a program that credits production companies $75 million per fiscal year for film and television projects. In order to be eligible for the 30% tax credit, production companies must spend a minimum of one million dollars or 60% of the total production budget in New Jersey. This credit had previously been suspended by former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

Since the reinstatement of the Film and TV Tax Credit, shows like NBC’s The Enemy Within and the return of MTV’s Jersey Shore have filmed in Newark. “There are a lot more productions coming in but we just can’t talk about them yet,” shared David Schoner Jr., associate director of the New Jersey Motion Picture and TV Commission.

Over the past five years, Newark’s film industry has been on a steady rise, attracting other TV productions, including Spike TV’s Ink Master and BET’s Black Girls Rock awards show.

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