Doctor E
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Doctor E


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The best kept secret in music


"Scholar's Memoir Offers Lessons"

Scholar's memoir offers lessons
The public is invited to attend a presentation by author and literary theorist Dr. Elaine Richardson on Monday, February 15, at Illinois College.

Richardson will perform excerpts from her educational memoir, “PGD to Ph.D.: Po Girl on Dope to Ph.D.,” at 11 a.m. in Rammelkamp Chapel. Admission is free.

Her presentation is designed to show the ways in which language and oppressive social constructs can be constraining to African-American women. Urban culture, sexual exploitation, addiction, poverty, racism, gender and the importance of language provide major themes for the program.

Richardson is a professor of education at The Ohio State University and the author of numerous books including African American Literacies and Home Girls Make Some Noise: Hip-Hop Feminism Anthology.

Founded in 1829, Illinois College is a residential liberal arts college fostering academic excellence rooted in opportunities for experiential learning while preparing students for lifelong success. - Illinois College

"Professor of English at The Ohio State University Dr. Elaine Richardson shares her experience growing up in Cleveland"

Professor of English at The Ohio State University Dr. Elaine Richardson shares her experience growing up in Cleveland and the adversities she overcame to become a successful author, professor and singer. - WEWS Newschannel 5

"OSU professor's jazz CD celebrates triumph over drug addiction and more"

Sweet Redemption
OSU professor's jazz CD celebrates triumph over drug addiction and more
Saturday, July 24, 2010 02:52 AM
By Kevin Joy
Elaine Richardson at Vonn Jazz, where she will perform Sunday
Elaine Richardson at Vonn Jazz, where she will perform Sunday
Richardson in 1993, upon completing her graduate studies at Cleveland State University
Richardson in 1993, upon completing her graduate studies at Cleveland State University

Elaine Richardson still tears up at the memory of calling the ambulance.

So high on cocaine at nine months' pregnant that she assumed the fetus inside her 27-year-old body had no chance, she had reached the point of wishing to go to jail for the umpteenth time to save herself - and her unborn baby - from destruction.

She remembers the warning issued by the emergency-room doctor in Cleveland: If we find any drugs in your infant, we can press charges and take away the child.

"I was almost dead," said Richardson, now 50. "I was disgusted with myself. I wanted to get out, but I didn't know how."

Amazingly, her baby girl - her second child - was born healthy, providing motivation enough for her to ditch drugs and alcohol for good and to abandon a turbulent past littered with abusive men and scores of jail stints for prostitution.

Richardson did more than get clean.

At 36, she earned a doctorate in English from Michigan State University. She later wrote two books, and co-edited three others, on academic studies of American black-language patterns. She taught for nine years at Penn State University, taking a tenured position in 2007 to teach literacy studies in the College of Education at Ohio State University.

"She had a spark, ... (and was) imaginative, funny - a leader," said Ted Lardner, an English professor at Cleveland State University who served as Richardson's thesis adviser during her graduate studies in the early 1990s. "If Zora Neale Hurston had a goddaughter, she could be Elaine - a deep student of life, studying it up close and unguarded."

In between academics, Richardson escaped into music, singing with various ensembles and composing jazzy original fare, including some that was later featured on All My Children and Dharma & Greg.

On Sunday, she will perform in the Far North Side venue Vonn Jazz to celebrate the release of her first full-length solo effort, a culmination of two years spent crafting motivational tunes inspired by her metamorphosis.

Onstage, she uses the name Dr. E - a nod to hard-earned redemption and the fruits of a better life.

The album's title: Elevated.
Finding trouble

She found her voice at age 5, projecting so loudly that church elders began assigning the youngster solo parts in the children's choir.

As a teenager, Richardson ruled the fiercely competitive talent shows of inner-city Cleveland with her five-piece R&B ensemble - the Five Shades of Love, an inseparable group of girls from East Technical High School.

"It was like American Idol," she said. "And we were Destiny's Child."

Yet her life had become chaotic after a string of violent boyfriends and a rape at age 13 that led the confused eighth-grader into occasional prostitution.

Although secondary schoolwork was manageable, her enrollment in the remedial program at Cleveland State - where a lack of self-esteem combined with socioeconomic isolation in the classroom and association with students who smoked marijuana - was short-lived.

"I didn't know where I fit in," Richardson said.

She fell back in with unsavory men, opting to sell her body on the streets of Cleveland - and, later, New York - for quick cash and self-validation. She was raped and frequently beaten, she said.

Even after her first daughter, Evelyn, was born, a 24-year-old Richardson persisted in her degrading habits.

"That's how foggy and messed up my mind was," she said.

College just didn't feel possible. And music seemed miles away.
Making changes

The downward spiral continued until a second child, Ebony - born with a clean bill of health despite Richardson's late-pregnancy drug use - inspired a turnaround.

She enrolled in Alcoholics Anonymous, where group therapy and a strict code of personal conduct helped her kick drugs, too.

In the back of her mind, meanwhile, was a flier for Project Second Chance, a Cleveland State program for sexually-exploited women seeking to return to college. She first spotted the leaflet during a jail stint in the city's justice center.

"I was desperate to stay in school and do something with my life," she said.

Change, though, didn't come easily or quickly.

Richardson received D's on term papers, the prose dubbed awkward and chock-full of black slang, influenced by her time on the streets and the dialect of her Jamaican parents.

"She was very bright but had fallen off the mainstream onto a path that made no sense," said Andrew Edwards, a Cleveland State professor of social work who mentored Richardson during her recovery from substance abuse and academic rebound. "Intellectually, I knew something was there.

"I said: 'We're going to make some changes.'"

She was angry but used the frustration as a stimulus, revising and rewriting - and eventually earning a stream of B's and A's, and deciding on a major: English.

She sought advice from professors and the college tutoring center. She worked late into the night.

In 1991, Richardson graduated.

Before long, though, she realized that her criminal past would do her no favors in the job market. Dressed in a business suit and heels, she fled a career fair before visiting a single booth.

A classmate suggested graduate study, with the potential of fellowships and funding.

"People started referring me," Richardson said. "Everything I tried out for, I got."

With a third child, Kaila, now in the picture, she remained determined to balance babies and books.

She found a catalyst in Talkin and Testifyin : The Language of Black America. Almost a decade before the concept of ebonics became widely known, the 1986 book by Michigan State professor Geneva Smitherman detailed the study and attitudes toward the teaching of "Black English."

"That book just turned me on," Richardson said. "It was affirming to know I wasn't ignorant, I wasn't stupid."

In 1992, she and Smitherman met on campus. The graduate student impressed the visiting scholar with her confident manner and knowledge of the subject.

Smitherman suggested to her admirer: Come to East Lansing.
Gaining momentum

During the first of three years spent at Michigan State, Richardson landed a full-ride minority doctoral fellowship that allowed her time to perform on weekends with a Cleveland band that mostly played Jewish weddings (" Hava Nagila - that's the jam!" Richardson said with a laugh.)

The side pursuit, though, ended during her second year of study after Smitherman insisted she buckle down.

Instead of dashing off to gigs, Richardson kept the melodies in her brain, scribbling down lyrics in between perfecting her research on teaching academic writing to speakers of black-vernacular dialects.

Her choice of study drew from personal experience.

"My elementary-school teachers, even my parents would say: 'Don't come in here with that ghetto language,'" she said. "I knew something was wrong with how we talked, but nobody ever told us it had a history, it had a name, it had patterns."

She took a teaching position at the University of Minnesota in 1996 and, two years later, the job at Penn State.

At a 2007 linguistics conference in Columbus, she met Dave Bloom, a literacy professor at Ohio State who called Richardson's presentation "brilliant." The effort inspired him to ask whether she'd ever considered becoming a Buckeye.

A job in the College of Education had opened, a near-perfect fit for her expertise. Richardson landed it.

"I think that Dr. E is a role model," Bloom said, "not just for young people who may be in situations like she was in, but for all of us in terms of how to bring one's life history in a positive manner to what one is currently doing."

Cynthia Dillard, an OSU multicultural-education professor who founded a preschool in Mpeasem, Ghana, that Richardson visited in March, notes her colleague's resolve.

"A real life, however it's been lived, really influences the work of teaching and learning," Dillard said. "That's what she brings to bear."
Marking time

A cursory listen to Richardson's Elevated yields appealing, glitzy strains of soul and jazz with distinctive vocals akin to those of Erykah Badu or Macy Gray.

A closer review, however, suggests deeper pain: song titles such as Kicked to the Curb, Good Girl Down and the album's title track, marked by a bridge that sums up her evolution:

Moving on to let go of my past / This is my future, now is my chance / I'm breaking out of this funk at last / And I've got to keep my faith

"I don't want it to be preachy," Richardson said. "But it's really a metaphor: Let's do something to make a difference."

Proceeds from the Sunday concert will benefit Dillard's preschool.

Richardson sees a bit of herself in the Ghanaian children who have so little, her graduate students who challenge new ways of thinking and her middle daughter who graduated from OSU in June and works as her mom's music publicist.

"She has compassion," said Ebony Richardson, 23. "And she gives you this sense: Even when you're from the bottom, you can still come out on top."

Elaine Richardson, who is unmarried and maintains relationships with all three daughters, is also shopping a 319-page memoir - PGD to PhD: Po Girl on Dope to PhD.

She doesn't want to glamorize her past - but she doesn't want to bury it, either.

"I really do believe the only reason why God let me live is so I could tell my story," Richardson said. "I did things I'm not proud of, but I want somebody to feel like they can make it, too.

"Education saved my life."
- Columbus Dispatch

"Ohio State University Professor and Recording Artist Elaine Richardson Performing at Fundraiser"

Elaine Richardson, an English professor at Ohio State University, is also a jazz songwriter and vocalist, whose compositions have been heard on such TV programs as "All My Children" and "Dharma & Greg."

She's so high on education that when she presents a concert of her new CD on Sunday at Gibb's Restaurant in Severance Town Center, the event's profits will go to the scholarship fund of her alma mater, East Tech High School.

Her stage name is Dr. E, but years ago when she was a Cleveland State University dropout, high on drugs and working the streets of downtown Cleveland as a prostitute, she was nameless to her johns -- and futureless -- or so it appeared.

"I am so glad I don't look like where I came from," said Richardson. "So many of my friends are dead."

Prostitution was a big detour from her days singing in the children's Sunshine Band at Holy Grove Missionary Baptist Church. Every time she sang a solo, "The old folks would say, 'Shine, baby,' " said Richardson, 50. Her childhood came to a halt when she was 13, raped by a new acquaintance -- a friend of a friend. "I was just square -- naive -- when he asked me to go into a bedroom with him.

"From that time on I became a problem teenager."

In junior high, Richardson watched for the police while another friend -- "a tennis shoe pimp," she calls him, broke into cars. But soon, he went to jail, and she went on to East Tech.

"My mother did everything she could to turn me around," said Richardson. One bright light: She sang twice a year in a downtown Cleveland talent show run by a perfectionist producer. It was the show all the kids wanted to be in, but it was demanding.

"It was like you were training for the Olympics to be in that show," she said. But she loved the applause of the big auditorium's audience.

Richardson graduated from high school and went on to Cleveland State, though "I was never one of the kids people thought would go to college." There, she felt unprepared for higher education. "I was in developmental courses -- just wandering around CSU. I didn't fit in," she said.

She fell in with friends who smoked marijuana and drank, though she had never done drugs in high school. Soon she skipped classes, didn't do her work and flunked out. Then the streets beckoned.

Dr. E -- "Elevated"

CD release concert and party

When: 5-8 p.m., Sunday.

Where: Gibb's Restaurant, 3560 Mayfield Road (in Severance Town Center), Cleveland Heights.

Tickets: $10 in advance, $15 day of show. Call 614-292-4382.

Profits from the party benefit East Technical High School's scholarship fund.

About Elaine Richardson:

"Then girls on the street looked like models -- they looked like movie stars," said Richardson. "I said, wow -- I want to look like them!"

She worked Euclid and Prospect avenues. Her drug use escalated. Richardson "graduated" to higher-paying New York streets. She had a baby girl, Evelyn, in 1984. Just before another daughter was born in 1987, she went on a binge and ended up in a hospital thinking she was carrying a dead baby.

But Ebony was born healthy, and Richardson started going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings while in the hospital. "I was just ready to do whatever I had to do to keep my children," she said.

She returned to Cleveland when Ebony was 6 months old, moved back with her parents, went on welfare and went back to school. "I had plenty of support from family and friends," she said -- including a neighbor who took care of her girls while she was in class. "Once people see you trying to do something with your life, they help," she said.

In 1993, Richardson got her master's degree in English from Cleveland State, and went on for a tuition-free doctorate at Michigan State. After that, there were professorships at the University of Minnesota and Penn State, a Fulbright appointment at the University of the West Indies in Mona, Jamaica -- and the addition of another daughter, Kaila. In 2007, she was given Cleveland State's distinguished alumni award.

"I cherish that," she said.

The professor of literacy studies starts her fourth year at Ohio State this fall, and keeps on with the music composition she began while studying at Michigan State.

She wrote almost all the songs of "Elevated," the new CD -- a musical autobiography -- she will perform on Sunday. She collaborated with Larry D. Marcus, Cleveland native and Billboard Award-winning songwriter, who produced the album. It was recorded by Jon Guggenheim of C-Town Sound Inc. of Cleveland.

Richardson, who has written or co-authored five academic books, is eager to tell her story. "I hope I can help people to have hope." Even if they are sitting in a jail cell, as she did a few times, "singing and entertaining the girls."

She's shopping around her autobiography, "PGD to Ph.D," to publishers. (PGD means Po' Girl on Dope.) The book is in everyday language, said Richardson, who is a specialist in "discourse practices of Afro diasporic cultures," or black language patterns, according to her Ohio State faculty webpage. "People from where I come from will read this book," she said.

Maybe her message will get through to someone before it's too late, she said. "Life is a struggle, and you're going to fumble. But you still have a chance to better yourself.

"Everybody's life has a purpose." - Cleveland Plain Dealer


Elevated (July 2010)



Dr. E is a multidimensional personality. She is a singer-songwriter whose music has been featured in television shows such as All of My Children, The Young and the Restless, and Dharma and Greg. Her (July 2010) debut rhythm and blues CD Elevated has received critical acclaim. She is a dynamic performer and actress who has wowed audiences in venues from Walt Disney World to the Cleveland Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Her outreach efforts include youth and women's empowerment projects. In addition to awards such as Distinguished Alumni of Cleveland State University, Fulbright Lecturer, and others for her academic scholarship, Dr. E was recently recognized as an outstanding woman of the community by the City of Columbus.

She has shared her story across the country with various audiences acting out the highest and lowest scenes from her life.

Dr. E's story reaches across diverse audiences inciting laughter, tears, song, and reflection; but most of all, her story inspires.

Dr. Elaine Richardson is a graduate of the Cleveland Public Schools. She received her BA and MA in English from Cleveland State University (1991 & 1993). She holds a doctorate in English Composition and Applied Linguistics from Michigan State University (1996). She taught at the University of Minnesota’s General College for two years before joining the English Department faculty at Penn State University, where she taught for nine years before taking her current post as Professor of Literacy Studies in the College of Education at The Ohio State