Iowa's African-American Festival

2017  Headliners 


Film & Television Actor

Derek Luke was an all-but-unknown actor who was still working a day job when Denzel Washington plucked him from obscurity in 2002 for the leading role in his first directorial effort, Antwone Fisher. Born in Jersey City, NJ, in 1974, Luke displayed a precocious interest in drama at the age of four, telling his mother he wanted to be an actor, and, in 1995, he moved to California in hopes of making a career for himself in film and television. The 1,000-dollar nest egg Luke brought with him didn’t last long, but, determined to get his foot in the door of the business, he took jobs that would allow him to meet people in the entertainment industry — first serving as an usher for television tapings at the Universal Pictures studios and later as a sales clerk at a shop selling candy, gifts, and sundries on the Sony Pictures Studios lot. While there, Luke became acquainted with Antwone Fisher, a screenwriter who had a development deal with the studio, and learned that Fisher‘s memoir about his turbulent early life was being made into a film. Luke became even more intrigued when he learned Denzel Washington was interested in directing the film, but, despite landing an audition for the project, the picture was put on hold before casting could be completed. In the meantime, Luke continued to work at the store and landed bit parts on the sitcoms The King of Queens and Moesha before auditioning for Antwone Fisher a second time in 2001. While Luke wasn’t happy with his reading, Washington was convinced the actor had the right emotional pitch for the character, and, several weeks later, the Hollywood veteran stopped by the Sony Studios store to tell Luke he’d won the part. Though opinions on the film were mixed, Luke was singled out for his raw, authentic, and emotional performance. After completing Antwone Fisher, Derek Luke was soon cast in two 2003 features: Pieces of April and Biker Boyz.

Though Luke was still every bit the dramatic powerhouse that he was in Antwone Fisher, his abilities were put on the back burner somewhat in the ensemble casts of Spartan, Friday Night Lights, and Glory Road. As a wronged family man who becomes a freedom fighter in apartheid-era South Africa, however, Luke proved in Phillip Noyce‘s 2006 biopic Catch a Fire that he was more than capable of carrying a major film. Luke would remain a familiar face on screen for years to come, appearing most notably in movies like Madea Goes to Jail and on TV shows like Trauma and Hawthorne.
— Mark Deming, Rovi


Grammy nominated Singer- Song wrtier

Grammy nominated vocalist and writer Syleena Johnson is one of the greatest singers and performers of her generation. She has scored major R&B hits and been invited to collaborate with the likes of Kanye West, R. Kelly and Musiq Soulchild. Having fought the major label system to allow her true identity to shine forth, Syleena now steps forward with her most anticipated album to date Chapter 6: Couples Therapy, which was released on the Blackbyrd label. With production from Ric Atari, Kajun and Pierre #TheMaven Medor, Couples Therapy is the sixth chapter in her collection of blues and soul-inspired concept albums. (The album hit #15 on the Billboard R&B Chart.) Her  powerful recent recording takes us back to the Chicago natives roots and caters to a more traditional R&B style.

Couples Therapy deals with love and relationships. As with all of her projects Syleena gives us a heartfelt glimpse into where she is within her own journey and her private life. This project embodies Syleena’s relentless passion for songwriting. Johnson, wrote / co-wrote all of the tracks. The album opens with the upbeat and lyrically honest song “All This Way For Love.” Leela James accompanies Syleena on the soulful 60’s throwback “Fool’s Gold”; and the incomparable Dave Hollister joins her on the moving and triumphant “Harmony.” The albums production remains diverse and yet doesn’t venture too far off track. Vocally critics agree that this is one of Syleena’s strongest overall projects in years. It has been dubbed, “The best R&B album of her career.”

The first single and video is for the song “Perfectly Worthless” a masterpiece about the anguish that one endures at the end of a tumultuous affair. Syleena croons, “Since you said we’re through. I’ll play the fool. Broke all the rules while loving you.” a sentiment that all of us can relate to at one point or another in our love lives. Chapter 6: Couples Therapy is unique in that it is an extremely personal piece but it somehow feels as if Syleena read a page from our own private journal and wrote these songs for all of us. Chapter 6: Couples Therapy is a beautiful and poignant work of art takes you through the ups and downs experienced during all of our relationships.

Syleena Johnson is also a popular television personality. She’s one of the original cast members the TV One hit reality series R&B Divas Atlanta and recently wrapped up season 3 with co-stars Keke Wyatt, Angie Stone, Monifah Carter, LaTavia Roberson and former 702 lead singer Kameelah Williams. Syleena also appeared with her sisters on OWN’s Iyanla: Fix My Life. In 2015 Syleena and her husband, Kiwane Garris (former professional basketball player), will appear on the new season of WE TV’s, Marriage Boot Camp Reality Stars. Chapter 6: Couples Therapy has been made into a film that stars Johnson, directed by Tangie Black Moore of Tier2Films and the other collaborators from the album. Syleena’s passion for health, fitness, and nutrition has also led her to develop a fitness DVD called Mommy’s Got Soul. She will also be releasing her new book The Weight Is Over. Syleena is also a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, INC and plans to work on many charitable projects in 2015.