Marsha Ambrosius with Love Jones The Band

Grammy winning R&B star Marsha Ambrosius instantly gelled with Love Jones The Band for her impromptu performance at BB’s Jazz, Blues and Soups on November 16.

A look back at 2018. As I sat down to sum up 2018, I had convinced myself the year was a lowkey bust as far as the nightlife and entertainment scene goes. But as I got to digging through the crates of my archives, I realized that I was dead wrong. We had plenty of wins; they just came from some unlikely places. I will continue my 2018 rewind into next week because of space and my wonky deadline schedule because of the midweek holiday, so please check back next week before you get to hollering about who and what was left out. Now, feel free to drop me a line about something you feel is worthy of the 2018 recap at dshante@stlamerican.com.

The freshman class of funny. While the usual suspects of urban comedy came through and left me with an “I guess…” instead of a chuckle, the folks who aren’t on most folks’ radar came to town and tore it up. Tiffany Haddish’s unfortunate set of sold-out shows are the exception to this. She earned some serious star power for her “Girls Trip” role, but the only way I can describe the experience for those of us who got the golden tickets to check her out onstage is to ask that you imagine that out of nowhere, your boss decides to let everyone go home just before lunch, but when we get outside, parking enforcement put boots on every employee’s vehicle on the company lot. I heard that her standup act has grown by leaps and bounds since her visit to the Lou. I’m happy about that, because I want to see her win. It’s possible. Hey, Kountry Wayne proved with his set at the Laugh Lounge this year that it is possible to go from “meh” to “My eyes are watering, this is so funny I’m about to cry...” relatively quickly. The normally hilarious DL Hughley decided that he would take us back to the late 2000’s with an extremely recycled routine. And the funniest thing about Kevin Hart’s visit was how folks cutup while getting carried out for being oppositional defiant about his super-strict, no cell phone policy. But then the “Real Comedians of Social Media” (featuring Tony Baker, Kev On Stage and E. St. Louis’ own Tahir Moore) came to a church and tore it up with their clean comedy show. I went to Helium to check out Rickey Smiley, but Prescott and Marvin Hunter were the highlights of my visit. And King Keraun couldn’t get any of his social media folks to follow him to the Laugh Lounge, but his opening act D’Lai had me hollering so hard that I was hoarse. And another one of my favorite nights of funny from 2018 was courtesy of the Laugh Lounge when comedienne Cocoa Brown came through. She had me straight up weak. And speaking of Kevin Hart, his “Hart of the City” comedy TV show made a stop at the Laugh Lounge for a live taping that showcased some of the funniest cats in town who on the cusp of a big break. Tahir Moore was on this bill, along with Princeton Dew, Vincent Bryant and host Maurice G. Show producer Joey Wells was so happy, he could have cried after admitting Cleveland was such a bust that they almost stopped production on the show.

Intimate venue concerts carried it. Drake and Lauryn Hill were the exceptions, but most of my favorite concerts from 2018 were in small spaces with familiar faces. The first was my girl Lalah Hathaway’s breathtaking show at the Pageant – where she paid tribute to her dad, St Louis’ own Donny Hathaway. Husband and wife duo The Baylor Project, which includes our own Marcus Baylor and his wife Jean (formerly of Zhane) had my undivided attention when they played the Ferring Jazz Bistro. And Anthony Hamilton’s backup trio The Hamiltones came to BB’s and brought the house all the way down. Marsha Ambrosius did the same thing will vibing with Love Jones The Band. And let’s not forget the ultimate revenge performance that Ashanti served up at The Pageant that caused all sorts of family drama for St. Louis’ most famous rapper. I feel like her giving the show of her life, looking the best that she’s ever looked, and looping in folks to root for her to the point that we saw a side of a particular St. Lunatic that nobody expected was intentional. It caused some drama, but at the end of the day, it was better than any performance I expected her to deliver. The Pageant was clearly had the secret sauce for 2018, because Janelle Monae was pure magic when she played there too.

Enchanted by Anita. Anita Baker was living her best life and wearing her best bite-sized heels when she put a spell on the city with a weekend of shows this spring at The Fox. Y’all had Anita fever – and she clearly didn’t let y’all down as she stop through for an alleged retirement tour. I guess her upcoming Vegas residency settles whether or not she’s really walking away from the stage.

St. Louis on the national entertainment stage. Our city was making major moves on the national entertainment scene in 2018. Things kind of got started with Kinloch’s own Jenifer Lewis. Her “Mother of Black Hollywood” memoir was technically released in late 2017, but real traction for it began in 2018 and the momentum continued with viral videos that included a visit to “The Breakfast Club” and an interview with “The Root” where she gets candid about dismantling the stigma behind mental illness. She also made a pair of sold-out visits back home that lived up to every bit of hype. St. Louis’ own Sterling K. Brown didn’t let 2018 get a week old before he put on for his city in a major way by becoming the first black man to win a “Best Actor in a TV Drama” Golden Globe for his role as Randall on “This Is Us.” He then appeared on the big screen in the record-smashing illustration of black excellence cultural phenomenon that is “Black Panther” and starred in “Hotel Artemis” alongside Jodie Foster. And while household names with hometown roots were in the spotlight, some talented STL natives received major exposure by way of television talent shows. Gabbii Jones and Christina Jones (no relation) represented our city on the reboot of “American Idol” at the same time that Tish Haynes Keys sang her way to the Top 24 on season 14 of  NBC’s “The Voice.” It was a sign of what was to come. For season 15, Kennedy Holmes, a 13-year-old (she’s now 14) straight outta Florissantblew America away with “The Voice” blind audition season opener, and St. Louis area  resident Audri Bartholomew held her own until the third round. But Kennedy Holmes made it to the final four. And while she was clearly robbed of first place, she made it the furthest on a television talent show since Amber Bullock was named “Sunday Best.”

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