My father, raised as one of 17 kids on a Canadian farm — a true country boy — was a big fan of America’s country music and one of its brightest stars, Johnny Cash. I thought of my childhood days growing up in Detroit but also immersed in country culture, as I watched the movie “Walk the Line” again recently, which is based in part on the legendary singer’s two autobiographies.* The film details how Cash first forged a bold path in country music in the mid-1950s by focusing on train and prison song folk styles, only to descend into drug addiction, climaxed by a miraculous recovery with the help of June Carter.
The film impressed me because of its honesty about the personal struggles of both Cash and his future wife as they built their careers. June was divorced shortly after she met Cash and a strong attraction developed between them that she resisted, although they continued to tour together. Cash was trapped in an unhappy marriage, which contributed to his addictive behavior.
The film was most remarkable for its honesty in probing the family scars that led to disastrous marriages for both country stars – scars they had to heal before they could eventually marry and become a force for recovery for others through their music. Cash had idolized his older brother Jack, whose tragic death was blamed on him by an alcoholic father – there had to be a confrontation before Cash could forgive himself. In addition, while the father eventually was a recovered alcoholic, he continued his dismissal of the importance of a musical career until Cash stood up to him.
June, on the other hand, had felt overshadowed by the talent of an older sister and then caught in the shame of being a single mom in an unforgiving southern culture. Once they overcame their own challenges and were happily married, the Cashes embraced the idea of redemption for everyone through their music by reaching out to the convicts in Folsom Prison, who were among Cash’s biggest fans. A live version of Cash’s early hit “Folsom Prison Blues” was recorded among inmates at Folsom State Prison in 1968 and instantly became a #1 hit on the country music charts. As I can affirm, this redemptive music reached far beyond the South.
*Man in Black (1975) and Cash: The Autobiography (1997)
Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me…
I’ve always been inspired by the song “Let There be Peace on Earth,” but I knew I had to share my passion when I discovered after some research that it was written in 1955 for an International Children’s Choir that had been created in Long Beach, CA. The song still is performed by children’s choirs around the world, especially during the year-end holiday season.*
I’ve long concluded that maybe we can’t stop the wars and violence everywhere, but I am glad that, through this song, children remain the conscience of the world and remind us that striving for solutions to bring about a more peaceful world each year and each decade is our collective responsibility. Continue reading
Superstar David Bowie’s tragic death this month took me back to the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing, the year I graduated from college and was launching my journalism and marketing career in Michigan. “Space Oddity” was released as a single in July, the same month that the American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made history in space. As tributes poured in, it seemed appropriate that Bowie’s early worldwide hit reflected his amazing creative ability to chart new boundaries in music and performance art, just as the astronauts fearlessly took on space.
As I listened to and read eulogies to the Starman all week, it triggered the excitement again of standing in a newsroom in 1969 and watching the moon landing with my colleagues. Anything seemed possible. And what I didn’t know was that apparently Bowie became a lasting hero to many in the space program — and in 2013 Chris Hadfield, a Canadian astronaut asked Bowie to change the final lyrics to his famous song so that he could record a video in space. Bowie agreed. The video can be viewed on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KaOC9danxNo
Finally, Bowie’s life is a reminder that we all can soar and change the world when we look into our hearts and act fearlessly. Above all, Bowie saw himself as a storyteller. For more insight, read the eulogy at Rolling Stone at http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/david-bowie-dead-at-69-20160111#ixzz3xMRkBRdZ
I’ve always believed in the power of music to transform and heal the spirit. In an entrepreneurial, electronic age when stress seems relentless, the right music is an essential tranquilizer or energizer – depending on what is needed. My late husband Tim and I loved to entertain for any reason and while the southern food was always piled high, the celebration wasn’t complete until he sat down at his beloved 1927 Story & Clark upright piano and encouraged friends and family to sing-along! He loved to perform a mix of Broadway, folk, gospel and blues.
Later when I moved back to Brooklyn, I delighted in the musical career of my friend Arlene, a luminous, classically trained soprano who sang regularly at Don’t Tell Mama’s, a cabaret club near the Broadway district and at other jazz venues. I also joined friends for concerts – my favorite was the New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace at St. John’s Cathedral in Morningside Heights, near Columbia University where folk singer Judy Collins was the artist in residence. And yes, I occasionally sang a cappella spontaneously at food coop gatherings in Brooklyn.
Now that I’m back in Michigan, it took awhile to find the right outlets for music here. I started by eagerly going to middle school and high school musicals featuring my gifted great nephew and niece, Ian and Julia. How exciting to see them shine! Their uncle, my nephew Michael, started in symphony orchestras and then joined the Air Force Band – his wife Anna is also a band member and they perform around the world and in the Bay Area.
Then last winter my neighbor Mary introduced me to friends who loved drumming and held gatherings at their home in suburban Detroit. I was hooked – it was my first experience and Mary gladly let me use her drums when I wasn’t trying out the musical spoons I got as a holiday present. But it wasn’t until this fall, as I was still locked in grief over the death of my older brother Gil from leukemia, that I was invited to join a regional choral, over my objections that it was too intimidating. After all, they had recently sung in Carnegie Hall and were celebrated locally. Luckily Mary’s friend Paula was insistent that I would love it – and in fact, I was immediately hooked by the exuberance and artistic excellence you can see outlined in the Metropolitan Detroit Chorale website at www.metropolitandetroitchorale.com
We immediately started practicing for two holiday concerts – Handel’s Messiah, with soloists and a chamber orchestra at Lake Shore Presbyterian Church in St. Clair Shores, and the Joyful Sound Celebration at Fraser Performing Arts Center, where we were joined by the Richards Middle School Choir in performing holiday favorites. Practicing between weekly rehearsals meant getting reacquainted with my late husband’s antique piano. What fun to find I could still remember how to play basic chords and melodies so I could accompany myself. The weeks flew, my spirits soared and by the time of the early December concerts, I felt transformed back into the little schoolgirl who sang in the northeast Detroit Choir, was a music and art major at Cass Tech High School and later in college learned to play my brother Bill’s guitar so I could sing with my journalism friends in local folk venues or just spontaneously burst into song on campus. I dedicated the Messiah concert to my brother Gil’s memory – he played an awesome trumpet — and hoped he was proud of me.
There are two more concerts ahead in 2014 and if you are in Michigan, I hope you’ll take a moment to go on the website and learn more about this amazing choir, its charismatic director Pasquale Pascaretti, talented accompanist Jacklyn Cole and dedicated president Jeff Coates. Come hear the chorale perform – and even better yet, think about whether you should be a part of it!
A few years back when I was living in Brooklyn, a writer and friend in my coop building named Tim Sheard suggested we start a local writer’s group. Although working full-time in the medical industry, (he calls himself “a veteran nurse”), Tim was already prolifically turning out an amazing series of mystery novels set in a fictional Philadelphia hospital and featuring Lenny Moss, a janitor, shop steward and working man hero extraordinaire. Today, Tim’s Hard Ball Press is also publishing other new authors at www.hardballpress.com. Tim introduced me to the National Writers Union www.nwu.org (NWU) and I soon was inspired by so many talented writers in many genres. When I recently moved back to Michigan, I joined the local NWU Chapter, (NWU-SEM) but focused my life around my late brother’s struggle against AML leukemia. It was only this fall, a few months after his heroic battle ended, that I was able to really focus on the metropolitan Detroit area’s writing scene. And what an amazing scene is unfolding.
I first noticed that the Warren Civic Center Library was starting an invitation only writer’s group this fall. I sent in a writing sample and was accepted into the group led by Michigan author, editor and writing consultant Gloria Nixon-John, PhD, whose latest work is the fictionalized story of an incredible murder trial in the south http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/14759761-the-killing-jar—based-on-a-true-story
This workshop gave me a chance to start writing about the last miraculous year with my brother and channel the grief into a tribute to his courage. When first given the diagnosis, Gil refused to consider the strenuous program of chemo and white cell transplants. He had gone through so many tests already and was so weak, he just wanted to be left alone. However when Doctors warned him he had only six weeks to live without some form of medication – and that there was a clinical trial that had a good chance of extending his life without the side effects of the traditional program — he agreed to try it. The result was an unforgettable year where, until the final weeks, my brother regained his independence and his hope for the future. As a family, we rejoiced over the suspended final verdict and made every day count. It’s a story I now want to share with others, because it is ultimately about embracing your illness and turning it into a shared challenge and celebration with family and friends.
After starting the Warren Library workshop, I learned that NWU-SEM was supporting the Motown Writers Network and was staffing a table at the group’s November 8-9th event, “The Essence of Motown Conference & Literary Jam!” I volunteered for the morning sessions on the 9th, and got there at 7am, which meant I had a chance to work with founder Sylvia Hubbard and her remarkable team. Sylvia has an astounding story that you can read about on Amazon, where she has her own page at http://amzn.to/19onAHY The single mother of three not only works full time, but writes romance novels prolifically and created the Motown Writers Network in 2000 to fill the lack of education and networking for Michigan authors online and offline. When she became frustrated in 2004 that all the literary conferences had moved too far away from the city, she co-created The Essence of Motown Literary Jam Conference held only in the City of Detroit annually http://motownwriters.wordpress.com/.
Besides witnessing the tireless energy and enthusiasm that makes Sylvia such a success, I also met the inspiring facilitators for three workshops, and I also got to talk with Alecia Goodlow Young, an officer of NWU-SEM, as well as other local members. That day I came away with an appreciation for the vibrancy of the writing scene in the Motor City and was particularly excited to find out more about the theatrical scene. If you are a writer, I encourage you to reach out to groups like the National Writer’s Union or Motown Writers Network — or your local library — and get inspired!
At a time of unrelenting bad news in politics and on the news, there’s still positive hope and pain relief for the future in the entertainment world. And let’s admit it, if you are an entrepreneur or just shooting for high productivity each day, you need lots of positive energy! My favorite shows lately for a quick dose of hope have been awards shows, including the Emmy Awards, the Alma Awards for Latinos and in repeats of the BET Awards for black entertainers, first aired earlier this summer. They may seem very different, especially when the last two focus on ethnic groups that have faced many barriers in American television, film and theatre, yet the tone for all of the shows was one of immense gratitude, joy and laughter.
One of the biggest winners at the Alma Awards this year was actress Rosario Dawson, honored, along with rock icon Carlos Santana, with the outstanding commitment to cause and community. Her long acceptance speech started this way: “I accept this award knowing that despite continuous challenges, new and old ones, challenges which could easily dampen the most optimistic of hearts, we have strived, we have pleaded and we have given it our all to push through those obstacles because the grand and attainable visions we have for ourselves and our communities far outweigh any challenge that come before us.” What a optimistic sentiment for these times!
This attitude was echoed in speeches by such diverse artists as Eva Longoria, co-host of the Almas and Jamie Foxx, winner for best actor on the BET Awards. In addition, this year’s special tribute on the BET Awards show to soul singer Charlie Wilson included high-powered performances and touching personal homages from Justin Timberlake and Pharrelll and a moving speech of gratitude for his long career in show business from Wilson that had me almost in tears – not of sorrow but awe. The message was never give up! In the Emmys ceremony, Stephen Colbert of the Colbert Report finally beat his friend and awards rival Jon Stewart. Colbert managed to be both gleeful and amazingly gracious in his acceptance.
These are just snippets of ceremonies full of high-energy and laughter, even for those denied a trophy. Bryan Cranston was expected to win best actor for Breaking Bad at the Emmys but was upset by the Newsroom’s Jeff Daniels – yet Cranston later announced he felt fortunate to share the best show Emmy with the show’s cast and crew. “This is the answer to a wish and a prayer for me,” said Cranston backstage. “I’ve been blessed in the past and this show has been nominated in the past, but what I really wanted was what we got, to celebrate the win for the writing crew and cast. This is one helluva party, and what a way to go out.”
So as we struggle through the economic tensions of the coming days, and just in general when life is overwhelming, maybe we should all remember to sing a little and count our blessings and be grateful to be part of this great drama called America. For more information on these awards shows, visit http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/29/alma-awards-activism_n_4013712.html,