Minnesota Original


Gail Be and the Steele Family

Using innumerable vintage beads, artist Gail Be fashions intricate womens clothing, including a wedding gown with an 18.5 foot train. Home improvement projects were the impetus for Patrick Pryors experimental painting techniques in his latest body of work. Siblings J.D., Fred, Jearlyn, Jevetta and Billy Steele have been entertaining audiences around the world for decades.

AIRED: April 18, 2015 | 0:26:46

[percussion, bass, & guitar play in bright, syncopated rhythm]

[The Steeles sing a wordless melody and in harmony]

♪ ♪

[electronic music plays]

(Gail Be) A great artist always knows

that the energy flows through them.

I believe the human part moves aside and allows--

God energy comes through me and starts making my stuff.

And the reason I'm a great artist,

I know how to move over and let the energy come through me.

And that's what people feel when they get close to my dresses.

Where great art, the energy of the person making it

comes out and they get drawn in, and they're not really sure why,

but I believe great art comes spiritually.

[drums & synthesizer play a heavy rock beat]

(Gail) I would call my work my art,

and I do art in fashion

using different mediums.

It started by, one of my friends

gifted me 4 lessons

to learn Indian-beaded earrings.

And even then, when I started to learn that,

I was still adding Swarovski and making them

instead of traditional, more modern and pretty.

And those are my 4 classes I'd ever taken.

Beading is actually learned by practice

and that's what I did.

I beaded, beaded, beaded,

beaded incessantly from the minute I started.

And then I have been gifted

with this ability to do this; that's what I believe.

[synthesizer plays]

I began collecting beads 24 years ago.

I'd been diagnosed in 1989 with keratoconus

and while I was beading, my cornea ruptured.

And then the next one the next year also ruptured.

All of a sudden your sight's just gone,

and I was unable to bead for about 5 years.

I just really wanted to stay connected with beads.

And I collected beads, becoming a connoisseur

of the rarest beads, and then overnight, from 3 surgeries,

I saw 20/20, and then I had this awesome collection

and I started beading with that.

These are all vintage beads from Germany in the 1940s and '50s.

And what I do then is pour them out

and then I divide each of them into a color.

And each bead is touched,

and that's because I'm pulling energy

back and forth for them to know I'm going to start using them

and me to get in my mind what colors I have,

'cause once I start, I don't stop.

All my dresses that I come up with

I actually see them before I start.

It's a vision that comes in very quickly.

And since I don't sketch or draw or do mathematical calculations,

it's that one second of seeing the dress,

then I go through, and I see what beads I can match

and then pull them out of all the different compartments

and put them all together, and then I start working.

There are millions of beaders,

and there are even more people that sew.

And no one is doing fully-beaded dresses like me.

And to be an artist, you have to find a niche

of what nobody else is doing.

This is the Holy Grail of my whole business.

This is like the holy sanctuary, basically our temple or church

that we keep the beads.

I work with many different textures and style of beads.

I like to work with vintage because of the energy of that

and they are pristine-- that means no one's worn them,

they're from the original packages.

This is just a very small amount of my vintage beads.

These are the oldest that you could get ones, made in Austria,

and I feel very honored every time I'm doing these packages

because that's the joy of doing

and being able to get what I've got.

I get to do this all the time, and I do not take it for granted.

But when you open this,

these beads are now

80 to 90 years old.

For me, I feel like I've been keeper of the beads,

and the way I kept 'em is to put 'em into dresses.

This is a "Silver Star Flower"

and this is the first piece that was ever made.

"Silver Star Flower" being my first piece,

I started it and didn't stop.

This is the outfit that Lady Gaga wore with Tony Bennett,

on their new CD, "Anything Goes."

The entertainment industry I decided was really going to be

my beginning goal and the end goal being in museums.

"Garden of Eden" took 4 years

and she's really my favorite.

And now that I know I can make these dresses, I thought,

how am I going to get the world to pay attention to them?

[women sing a capella in the style of Gregorian chant]

(Gail) "Fantasy" is the white wedding dress

with the most amount of beads.

She's 400 pounds,

21-1/2 foot train,

18-1/2 feet long.

She's made by 23 women over 3 years.

So "Fantasy" was specifically made to leave a great,

great, great piece of art for centuries,

and I think she's one of the most

amazing pieces of art in the world.

♪ ♪

Hi, how's it going?

(woman) Well, we're doing the placement of the crystal belt.

When I first started, most of my pieces were taking over a year.

And there's no way I could put together enough

if my goal was to be doing museums.

And my team and I worked together

to try to learn different parts of dresses or making them up.

(woman) You see how that fabric takes away from

the pleating of that center versus...

(Gail) Plus, it makes the cuffs look like cups.

We've got to use it-- we'll do a diamond imitate.

(woman) So it looks like, yeah. (Gail) Diamond, diamond, diamond, diamond.

(Gail) I work with design people that really don't know how to bead,

but they have a desire to be creative.

Most of them have a background in either making jewelry

or making dresses, and usually both, and hand-sewing.

So what I would do right now for me is,

get a piece of paper in there and draw me that

(woman) The shape? Okay. (Gail) Uh-huh, uh-huh.

(Gail) When I go to the studio, I'm helping my team

on each part of their project that they're doing.

I teach them how to put things together,

but they're creative on their own.

Okay, here she comes.

The fabric looks fantastic!

I'm so glad it's on there finally.

Yea! Look at how pretty she is.

This'll be all solid beads, so when this

gets up on the red carpet, it will just explode.

"Temptress" because she has fabric is the first dress

that we are trying to get on the red carpet with.

This looks like a million cameras going off, and this is in semi dark.

This comes on with the spotlight in full dark-- it's insane.

I started doing fabric a year ago because a company in LA

had called me and wanted "Eden" for The Grammy's.

And I said you can't sit in it, you can't walk down the runway,

it's heavy and if you want to be in this business,

they've got to sit down for award shows

and they have to be able to walk the red carpet.

(woman) This is more the blue.

(Gail) No... it's getting too blue.

This is how we work-- we design all night,

into the wee hours of the night, then I go bead,

because I bead at night, I get up,

we have dinner, and then we start in all over again.

But we work about 15-hour days.

When you're going to do something great, you need

to jump off a cliff and believe you're going to be shown.

♪ ♪

♪ ♪

The reason I bead by myself at night

is that there are no interruptions.

The real beading for me is in private.

The reason I keep making my dresses and doing this is

to leave them for the world.

I think it's a complete waste when you have been given

gifted abilities to not use them,

and so I feel a responsibility to do that and out of all that,

fortunately, I really love to bead.

So every day that I'm beading, or every night,

I give thanks for allowing me to do something I love.

[guitars and percussion play in moderate, steady rhythm]

[very loud tapping]

(Patrick K. Pryor) In every house I've lived in I've always made repairs

and fixed it up in some way, and so I've been

working on little projects every couple of months.

So it looks like there's several layers of wallpaper.

This is probably the original, closest to the plaster, then

there's some paint and then some other wallpaper on top of that.

This is kind of the analogous part to my painting

is that I'm actually laying down layers that I later uncover,

but exactly how they get uncovered is the unknown part.

It's interesting that becoming an artist was synonymous

with starting to learn how to work on an old house.

♪ ♪

I was about 3 years old at my father's house.

He was a great drawer, my grandfather was a great artist,

and he would teach me how to draw.

When I first started painting, I was trying to make paintings

that were like my drawings.

I was trying to make them larger and in color.

And then I found when I used many, many layers I could

add depth to the paintings and using transparent layers

and scraping and sanding, I can add even more layers

and combinations than I can with just using the brush.

I tried so many different things in painting.

I feel like my work changes almost every couple of years.

I have certain stylistic patterns that people recognize,

but I've been experimenting a lot.

♪ ♪

I always work in layers.

Using layers allows transformation to happen

and allows me to work with something that's already there.

Oftentimes when I start a painting,

I have to create a painting that I'll then react to.

[soft ripping sound of removing tape]

After I have that base layer on the painting,

then I'll start laying down these lines using tape.

The lines in the painter's tape was an important way

for me to have some stability in the composition,

some sort of a foundation, because frankly,

the idea of working on a blank canvas is daunting.

I try to start some paintings that way and I just can't do it,

so I have to have some sort of structure in place first,

and those lines satisfy that.

This is always such a bittersweet process, it's like

kind of wrecking something I've been spending so much time on.

But it's also really satisfying.

Then I start covering everything up with the white paint,

and I've tried lots of different colors, other tonal qualities.

There's something about the white,

the purity of the white paint

that's important for me to use as the next layer

over the architectural lines.

And then that white layer allows me to scrape through

to then reveal the color and the lines beneath it.

[soft scraping]


I tend to work in series and this most recent body of work

was inspired by experimenting in the studio.

I come up with all the ideas

and ways of doing things by experimenting.

[Dobro and mandolin play in bright rhythm]

The calligraphic mark making that I use

is the hardest thing to explain.

It's been the thing that I've done the longest.

It's been the, you know, it's been my drawings that I do

since I was a young child,

and they are very much a meditative process.

It's the reference in this new series of works that connects

to every other painting that I've done in the past.

So this is the first painting where I discovered the process

that I've been exploring, and I like it so much because

I did things in the painting that I wouldn't do again,

so there's a certain amount of like naiveté about the painting,

not knowing what I had in mind, which is what makes the painting

so good in my line and why I like it so much

is because I didn't have any expectations and therefore,

I was free to explore and free to discover.

The process that I'm doing,

it allows me to sort of discover meaning.

I feel like there's something to discover,

it's like a code, a secret code

that will reveal something if you look at it long enough.

I think this series of work is

the most exciting work that I've ever done.

[piano plays "Someone to Watch Over Me"]

(J.D.) Hey sweetheart. (Jevetta) Hi darling, how are you?

♪ ♪

Hey Steele.

♪ ♪

I don't know if I'm hungry or not.

You just lookin' J.? Yup.

[J.D. laughs]

(all sing) ♪ Yes the sun is shining everywhere ♪

♪ Hoo hoo hoo-hoo ♪

♪ Everywhere the sun was shining the sun was shining ♪

♪ Yeah everywhere ♪

♪ Hoo hoo hoo-hoo ♪

♪ Everywhere the sun was shining ♪

♪ The sun was shining everywhere ♪

♪ Ah wow wow ♪

My name is J.D. Steele.

I am Jevetta Steele.

I'm Jearlyn Steele.

I'm Fred Steele. I am Billy Steele.

And we are The Steeles.

(Jevetta) Fred's the ears of the group,

Billy's the comedian, Jearlyn is the business head.

J.D. is also another business head and the driver.

And I'm sort of the person that supports; I play the supporting role.

(Jearlyn) That is so not true. (Jevetta) Yes it is!

(Jearlyn) Ooh, she lies. (Jevetta) It's the truth!

Oh my! [all laugh]

(Billy) There's actually 6 of us.

My sister, Janice, she's an ordained minister in California

and she actually sings very well as well.

She just decided singing was not the thing.

(J.D.) We grew up in Gary, Indiana.

My father was the early encouragement for us

because he was the guitar player and he would take us

to sing at places all over.

And our dad was, he was everything.

He was the total catalyst or us, that got us out there

and kept us out there.

I was the first sibling to come to Minnesota in 1976.

I was working in corporate America at the time,

and started moonlighting at the Children's Theatre

and at Mixed Blood Theatre, and then when Fred came in town,

he and I became a duet

and started working with choirs together.

And then when Jearlyn came along,

the three of us started singing and doing a variety of things.

We won the Minnesota State Fair Amateur Contest

and we took our little $500 winnings, I think it was,

and we were recording a demo,

and things just snowballed from there.

(J.D.) And then Jevetta came along and stole the show

and Billy's just hangin' on for dear life!


We'll take that target off your shirt.

And think about when he first, as the first sibling

in 1876 to be here, you know, raising the flag

of The Steeles coming-- it was awesome! [all laugh]

(The Steeles) ♪ Summertime ooo summertime ♪

♪ Living is easy ♪

♪ The living is easy ♪

♪ Fish are jumping ♪

♪ Fish are jumping oh fish are jumping ♪

♪ The cotton is high and the cotton is high ooo ♪

♪ Your daddy's rich ♪

Yeah, now after that the next section is...

♪ Your daddy... ♪ So we're doing it...

[in low voice] ♪ Your daddy's rich ♪ [in high voice] ♪ Your daddy's rich ♪

Is that unison?

[in high voice] ♪ Your daddy's so rich ♪

(Jevetta) "The Colors of Gershwin" was something that

I have always wanted to do with the family.

But getting them to buy into it I think was a bit obscure.

But Jearlyn and I were pretty married to it

the moment we heard that. This was a great idea.

So we basically, as the brothers, we were going to vote.

We were gonna take a stand

and Jevetta was like, no you're not.

We said okay, well we'll work on "The Colors of Gershwin."

[Jevetta laughs] (Billy) And that's how it came to be.

(all) ♪ Summertime ♪

♪ And the living is easy ♪

♪ Fish are jumpin' ♪

♪ And the cotton is high ♪

(J.D.) My career highlights are, without question,

working with my family

and doing "Gospel at Colonus" on Broadway,

it's a huge highlight that took up about 27 years of our lives.

(Jevetta) Career highlights for me I guess would be

having an Academy Award nomination,

as well as 4 gold records.

I'm assistant director of "Sounds of Blackness."

Some of those highlights,

we've gotten 3 Grammy's for different projects.

Another one had to have been the trip to London with Prince

and the opportunity to do Carnegie Hall twice.

And this is our movie star. Yeah. Yeah.

I don't know about that but yeah,

Jevetta do "A Prairie Home Companion."

You guys both, you did "Prairie Home Companion."

I was able to be in the movie and work with Meryl Streep

and that was a blast and we were all in "Graffiti Bridge."

Working with Prince was a highlight.

He wrote a song on our first album.

And then, you know, the Gershwin show

is definitely a career highlight

because it came together in such a wonderful way.

♪ I got rhythm I got music ♪

♪ I got my girl who could ask for anything more ♪

♪ I got daisies in green pastures ♪

♪ I've got my man who could ask for anything more ♪

(Jevetta) We're not the first generation of Steele singers.

This was a legacy passed down to us.

Our grandfather was a singer with his siblings, our dad

who was also a musician, he played guitar.

He and his siblings sang, and they recorded gospel music.

So passing it on to us was very, very natural.

To see all of us get together

at a family gathering-- everybody sang.

♪ The way you changed my life ♪

♪ Changed my life ♪

♪ Oh no they can't take that away from me ♪

♪ No they can't take that away ♪

♪ From me ♪

(Billy) The reason why we called it "The Colors of Gershwin,"

we wanted to put our colors to it.

We tried to stay with all traditional melodies

and whatever spin we put on,

we tried to stick with that as close as we could.

Once the arrangements were done, it came together really well.

J.D. does an incredible job of putting a set list together

and having a flow that makes a lot of sense,

and that's part of his responsibility.

And I disagreed with his flow, however, he was correct.

And that's the thing that we realized is that

in all of our positions within the family, is that

we really do understand who is supposed to do what.

'Cause every one of the writers in the family

or arrangers in the family have a different style of doing it.

So J.D.'s way of doing it is not to make any notes.

If you were to look at the lyrics on his sheet of paper,

there's not one scratch, not one check, not a word written.

Jevetta on the other hand, knows exactly, everything

is written down, she's typed up all the background

so she hears in her head and she goes this is what I'm hearing

and this is what I want you to do.

Fred comes in with his keyboard,

and he sits down and he looks over at us and says,

this is what I want Jearlyn, you sing this.

Billy comes in with tracks; he's the one

that constantly works on the nuances with us.

Every one of them, their arrangements or their writing

is, it has a purpose, it is just not happenstance.

And we can do the clarinet, just break it down

a little bit on that. (Jearlyn) That'd be great.

(Billy) Then when we come back, come back to all the big stuff.

[playing the piano intro to "Summertime"]

♪ Summertime ♪

♪ Summertime ooo summertime ♪

♪ And the living is easy the living is easy ♪

♪ The fish are jumping ♪

The song's gotta be-- all of a sudden it was dragging.

So the drums have to set that tempo.

(Fred) It's been such a delightful process, you know,

the time that we've spent together

actually coming up with the arrangements

and Billy just blew it open. (Jearlyn) He did.

(Fred) He literally blew this thing open.

And then, Jevetta has an incredible eye

for production part of this.

To watch Jearlyn's growth into handling all this booking

and the communication with all the people that--

it's just been absolutely fantastic.

To see J.D. lose all of these responsibilities has been...

[all laugh]

(The Steeles) ♪ Summertime ♪

♪ Summertime ooo summertime ♪

♪ The living is easy ♪

♪ The living is easy ♪

♪ Well fish are jumpin' fish are jumpin' ♪

♪ And the cotton is high and the cotton is high ♪

♪ Oh your daddy's rich your daddy's so rich ♪

♪ And your mama's good lookin' ♪

♪ Your mama's good lookin' ♪

(Jevetta) October, 2014, we premiered "The Colors of Gershwin,"

and we think it was a great success.

The future holds a ton of possibilities.

We're hoping to go into the studio, get it recorded,

move it around into some festivals

during the summer of 2015, and see what else happens out here.

I think it has real legs, and we're planning to move it.

♪ I got rhythm I got music ♪

♪ I got my girl who could ask for anything more ♪

♪ I got daisies in green pastures ♪

♪ I got my man who could ask for anything more ♪

♪ Old man trouble I don't mind him ♪

♪ You won't find him 'round my door ♪

♪ I got starlight I got sweet dreams ♪

♪ I got my girl who could ask for anything more ♪

♪ Who could ask for anything more ♪

(J.D.) The most gratifying thing is singing with the family.

Not only that, it's easier than singing with anybody else

or doing it alone.

When we sing together, we can lean on each other,

we can exchange parts-- this is the absolute best.

♪ Hey hey hey-hey ♪

♪ We got that kind of love ♪

♪ That will last forever ♪

♪ Forever and a day forever and a day ♪

♪ We got that kind of love ♪

♪ That will last forever ♪

♪ Forever and ever hey ♪

♪ We got that kind of love ♪

♪ That will last forever ♪

[cheers & applause] (J.D.) Thank you!

CC--Armour Captioning & TPT

(woman) This program is made possible by

The State's Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund

and the citizens of Minnesota.

[orchestral fanfare]


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