Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Seventh Day Of Christmas 2015

Happy New Year, Wiener Werstatte Postcard 149            Karl Dellavilla, ca 1908 

We have arrived at New Year's Eve, the seventh day of Christmastide. In much of Christian Europe this day is also known as Silvester or the Feast of Sylvester I, named after the 4th century pope. One of the more interesting iterations of celebrating the arrival of the new year occurs in Scotland. It's known as Hogmanay. It's a nice blend of old and new elements including fireworks, bonfires, torchlight processions, and driving out the trolls. 

As 2015 comes to an end here is Ernest Tomlinson's Fantasia on Auld Lang Syne.  It is a piece referencing over 150 other tunes that are sure to evoke memories of past times and events.  In a matter of hours midnight will bring a myriad of sensations welcoming us into the challenges and opportunities of a new year .  

Happy New Year!


Photos and Illustrations:  


Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Sixth Day Of Christmas 2015

We're only half way through Christmastide, the traditional celebration of the season that lasts over twelve days beginning with Christmas Day. December 30 is a relatively quiet day in the liturgical calendar; therefore, we have an opportunity to enjoy a different kind of celebration, the Boar's Head Feast. The feast we know has its origin in legend almost 700 years ago at Oxford College Cambridge. Today the feasts occur across Great Britain and the United States particularly on university campuses and among Episcopal congregations.

There can be no better music for this event than the Boar's Head CarolHere is a bold treatment of this mid-16th century carol by Steeleye Span and Maddy Prior. I've posted this one more than once but it's always enjoyable:

The boar's head in hand bear I,
Bedeck'd with bay and rosemary.
So I pray you, my masters, be merry
Quot estis in convivio (As many as are in the feast)

Caput apri defero (The boar's head I offer)
Reddens laudes Domino (Giving praises to the Lord)

The boar's head, as I understand,
Is the rarest dish in all the land,
Which thus bedeck'd with a gay garland
Let us servire cantico. (Let us serve with a song)

Caput apri defero (The boar's head I offer)
Reddens laudes Domino (Giving praises to the Lord)

Our steward hath provided this
In honour of the King of Bliss;
Which, on this day to be served is
In Reginensi atrio. (In the Queen's hall)

Caput apri defero (The boar's head I offer)
Reddens laudes Domino (Giving praises to the Lord)

My father loved the Christmas season and instilled in me an appreciation for the festivity of Christmastide. I carried on that appreciation to my children in hope that they will understand the joy to be found that begins with Christmas Day and ends with Epiphany, the celebration of the rebirth of Jesus in baptism. I think it's a far better way to observe the liturgical season rather than the stressful, contemporary - and highly commercial -"one and done" approach. I trust you will agree and if so moved by tradition introduce Christmastide to your friends and family.


Photos and Illustrations:; Boars Head and Yule Log festival, Corpus Christi, Texas


Rudyard Kipling: Still Speaking Wisdom

The British writer, Rudyard Kipling, was a product of England and India. He infused his writing with the essence of Victorian times and the adventure of empire. Eighty years after his death he remains a popular writer, a beacon of reason and rhetoric, among political centrists and conservatives. His works for children, including the Jungle Books and Just So Stories, have never lost their popularity among young readers. It is so unfortunate that cultural relativism over the last forty years has sadly pushed Kipling into literary obscurity in most of academia. Although he may be out of fashion he still reaches across a century into an age of moral relativism and leftist ideological fantasy to remind us that ancient virtues and wisdom will hold us accountable in the end.

Today is Kipling's birthday (1865) and it's become a tradition of sorts on this blog to commemorate the event by posting one of his best pieces of wisdom, "The Gods of the Copybook Headings."

AS I PASS through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshiped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "Stick to the Devil you know."

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "The Wages of Sin is Death."

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "If you don't work you die."

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

"The Gods of the Copybook Headings" is one of Kipling's most quoted poems.  Many OTR readers have inquired about it since its first appearance in this blog some years ago. I am pleased to present it once again for the uninitiated and for those in need of a Kipling booster. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Fifth Day of Christmas 2015

In our exploration of Christmastide this year we have reached the day when followers of Catholic and Anglican traditions celebrate the Feast of Thomas Becket.  During the reign of Henry II, Becket was confirmed as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162. A long-standing dispute over church authority led to his murder by four of the king's knights on December 29, 1170, inside Canterbury Cathedral. 

Leaf from Carrow Psalter, ca. 1250, depicting Thomas Becket's assassination

Today's music selection pays homage to my Welsh ancestry. 

Huna blentyn yn fy mynwes
Clyd a chynnes ydyw hon;
Breichiau mam sy'n dynn amdanat,
Cariad mam sy dan fy mron;
Ni cha' dim amharu'th gyntun,
Ni wna undyn â thi gam;
Huna'n dawel, annwyl blentyn,
Huna'n fwyn ar fron dy fam.

Huna'n dawel, heno, huna,
Huna'n fwyn, y tlws ei lun;
Pam yr wyt yn awr yn gwenu,
Gwenu'n dirion yn dy hun?
Ai angylion fry sy'n gwenu,
Arnat ti yn gwenu'n llon,
Tithau'n gwenu'n ôl dan huno,
Huno'n dawel ar fy mron?

Paid ag ofni, dim ond deilen
Gura, gura ar y ddôr;
Paid ag ofni, ton fach unig
Sua, sua ar lan y môr;
Huna blentyn, nid oes yma
Ddim i roddi iti fraw;
Gwena'n dawel yn fy mynwes
Ar yr engyl gwynion draw. 

Sleep my baby, at my breast,
'Tis a mother's arms round you.
Make yourself a snug, warm nest.
Feel my love forever new.
Harm will not meet you in sleep,
Hurt will always pass you by.
Child beloved, always you'll keep,
In sleep gentle, mother's breast nigh.

Sleep in peace tonight, sleep,
O sleep gently, what a sight.
A smile I see in slumber deep,
What visions make your face bright?
Are the angels above smiling,
At you in your peaceful rest?
Are you beaming back while in
Peaceful slumber on mother's breast?

Do not fear the sound, it's a breeze
Brushing leaves against the door.
Do not dread the murmuring seas,
Lonely waves washing the shore.
Sleep child mine, there's nothing here,
While in slumber at my breast,
Angels smiling, have no fear,
Holy angels guard your rest.


Photos and Illustrations:, Carrow Psalter leaf, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore. Public domain in the United States.


Monday, December 28, 2015

The Fourth Day Of Christmas 2015

The Slaughter of the Innocents (detail from the Joseph Portal), Antoni Gaudi, early 20th century

Today is the Festival of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs. It commemorates the often misunderstood event that occurred after the Magi visited Mary and Joseph. According to scripture the “Three Kings” did not appear at the birth of Jesus in the stable. Instead, they saw Mary and Joseph and Jesus at a “house” (Matthew 2:11).  Following their visit they innocently told King Herod about the birth and were ignorant of his desire to kill the child. To ensure that Jesus would not survive Herod ordered that all male babies two years old and younger in Bethlehem be killed (Matthew 2:16).

Music for the day is the Coventry Carol from the 16th century mystery play, The Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors

Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child,
Bye bye, lully, lullay.
Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child,
Bye bye, lully, lullay.

O sisters too, how may we do
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling for whom we sing,
"Bye bye, lully, lullay"?

Herod the king, in his raging,
Chargèd he hath this day
His men of might in his own sight
All young children to slay.

That woe is me, poor child, for thee
And ever mourn and may
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
"Bye bye, lully, lullay."

For context here is a full image of the Joseph Portal at Antoni Guadi's Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família in Barcelona. The Slaughter of the Innocents is at the lower right.


Photos and Illustrations:; photography by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.

Text:; Coventry Carol

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Third Day Of Christmas 2015

December 27, the Third Day of Christmas, is the feast day for John the Evangelist and Apostle in the Catholic, Episcopal, and Lutheran traditions. This year it is also the First Sunday after Christmas.

The Gospel for the day: Luke 2:41-52:

41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover.42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. 43 After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it.44 Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”
49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them.
51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.
Jesus in the Temple                                                           Heinrich Hoffman, 1881

Here is some music for the day:

This is the truth sent from above, 
The truth of God, the God of love; 
Therefore don’t turn me from your door, 
But hearken all both rich and poor. 

The first thing which I do relate 
Is that God did man create; 
The next thing which to you I’ll tell: 
Woman was made with man to dwell. 

Then after this ’twas God’s own choice 
To place them both in Paradise, 
There to remain from evil free, 
Except they ate of such a tree. 

And they did eat, which was a sin, 
And thus their ruin did begin; 
Ruined themselves, both you and me, 
And all of their posterity.

Thus we were heirs to endless woes, 
Till God the Lord did interpose, 
And so a promise soon did run 
That he would redeem us by his Son.

Good Christian men rejoice
With heart and soul and voice!
Give ye heed to what we say
Jesus Christ is born today!
Ox and ass before Him bow
And He is in the manger now
Christ is born today!
Christ is born today!

Good Christian men, rejoice
With heart and soul and voice
Now ye hear of endless bliss
Jesus Christ was born for this
He hath opened Heaven's door
And man is blessed evermore
Christ was born for this
Christ was born for this

Good Christian men, rejoice
With heart and soul and voice
Now ye need not fear the grave:
Jesus Christ was born to save
Calls you one and calls you all
To gain His everlasting hall
Christ was born to save
Christ was born to save


Photos and Illustrations:; original painting in the collection at Galerie Neue Meister, Dresden, Germany
Holy Bible, New International Version,

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Second Day Of Christmas 2015

File:Paolo Uccello - Stoning of St Stephen - WGA23196.jpg
Stoning of St. Stephen                                                        Paolo Occello, ca. 1435

It's December 26, the second day of Christmastide. On this day in the western church we celebrate the Feast of St. Stephen, an early church deacon and the first Christian martyr. His death in the name of charity had led this day to be associated with the distribution of food and other essentials to those in need. A thousand years later stories about the life and death of another generous Christian, Wenceslas of Czechoslovakia, would eventually lead to the writing of a mid-19th century Christmas carol that would forever link the two martyrs.


And then there is this bit of humor from the mind of Elvis Costello addressing relief from all the "stress" of the big day with family.


Photos and Illustrations:; the painting is located in the Duomo Prato, Italy.

Friday, December 25, 2015

The First Day Of Christmas 2015




Merry Christmas!

Begin our celebration with the first hymn from John Milton's poem, "On the Morning of Christ's Nativity" and its accompanying illustration by the English artist and engraver, William Blake.

The Descent of Peace (Butts Set)        William Blake, ca 1815


It was the winter wild,
While the heaven-born child
All meanly wrapt in the rude manger lies;
Nature, in awe to him,
Had doffed her gaudy trim,
With her great Master so to sympathize:
It was no season then for her
To wanton with the Sun, her lusty Paramour.


Only with speeches fair
She woos the gentle air
To hide her guilty front with innocent snow,
And on her naked shame,
Pollute with sinful blame,
The saintly veil of maiden white to throw;
Confounded, that her Maker’s eyes
Should look so near upon her foul deformities.


But he, her fears to cease,
Sent down the meek-eyed Peace:
She, crowned with olive green, came softly sliding
Down through the turning sphere,
His ready Harbinger,
With turtle wing the amorous clouds dividing;
And, waving wide her myrtle wand,
She strikes a universal peace through sea and land.


We continue with a hymn that has origins in the 5th century. . . 

Of the Father’s love begotten,
Ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega,
He the source, the ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see,
Evermore and evermore!

O that birth forever blessèd,
When the virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving,
Bare the Saviour of our race;
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face,
evermore and evermore!

This is He Whom seers in old time
Chanted of with one accord;
Whom the voices of the prophets
Promised in their faithful word;
Now He shines, the long expected,
Let creation praise its Lord,
Evermore and evermore!

O ye heights of heaven adore Him;
Angel hosts, His praises sing;
Powers, dominions, bow before Him,
and extol our God and King!
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Every voice in concert sing,
Evermore and evermore!

Christ, to Thee with God the Father,
And, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,
Hymn and chant with high thanksgiving,
And unwearied praises be:
Honour, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory,
Evermore and evermore!

. . . and 1500 years later we have the work of the English composer, Gustav Holst, best known for his suite for orchestra entitled, The Planets:

This series continues throughout the Twelve Days of Christmas.


Photos and Illustrations:


Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Eve 2015

Annuciation to the Shepherds               William Blake, 1809

It is the Eve of Christmas.  On this day we continue to ponder the extraordinary, a virgin carrying the Son of God in her womb.

O great mystery and wondrous sacrament, that animals should see the newborn Lord lying in their manger. Blessed is the Virgin whose womb was worthy to bear the Lord Jesus Christ. Alleluia!

There is a savior coming soon.

Gaudete, gaudete! Christus est natus/Rejoice, rejoice! Christ is born

Ex Maria virgine, gaudete!/Out of the Virgin Mary, rejoice!

Tempus adest gratiae/The time of grace has come -
Hoc quod optubamus/What we have wished for,
Carmina taetitiae/Songs of joy
Devote reddamus/Let us give back faithfully.

Deaus homo factus est/God has become man.
Natura mirante/To the wonderment of Nature.
Mundus renovatus est/The world has been renewed
A Christo regnante/By the reigning Christ.

Ezechielis porte/The closed gate of Ezekiel
Clausa pertranistur/Is passed through.
Unde lux est orta/Whence the light is born.
Salus invenitur/Salvation is found.

Ergo nostra contio/Therefore let our gathering
Psallat iam in lustro/Now sing in brightness
Benedicat Domino/Let it give praise to the Lord:
Salus Regi nostro/Greeting to our King.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

John Marin: Seeing Landscape Through A Very Personal Lens

Pertaining to Fifth Avenue and Forty-Second Street                John Marin, 1933

On this day in 1870 the American modernist painter, John Marin (1870-1953), was born in Rutherford, New Jersey. Marin was trained at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, spent a few years searching for his muse in Europe, then returned to his home country where he exhibited his work at the famous Armory Show of 1913. A decade later he had attracted the attention of major collectors including Duncan Phillips whose world-renowned collection of modern art would form the core of the Phillips Memorial Gallery in Washington, D.C.

I was introduced to Marin's work when David Grimsted - one of the finest teachers ever at the University of Maryland -  took his history class to the Phillips for an exploration of American culture through the artist's eye. Not sure how much history was absorbed that day but I left with an appreciation of John Marin's work and it's still going strong after 45 years.

The Sea, Cape Split, Maine                                                       John Marin, 1931

How to paint the landscape: First you make your bow to the landscape. Then you wait, and if the landscape bows to you, then, and only then, can you paint the landscape.

                                                                                            John Marin

Brooklyn Bridge                                              John Marin, 1913


Photos and Text:

Monday, December 21, 2015

Winter Solstice 2015

The Newgrange Tumulus in County Meade, Ireland, aligns with the winter solstice sunrise.

 Newgrange is a Neolithic structure predating Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids.

For those living in the eastern United States, Winter arrives tonight at 11:48. For all of us in the northern hemisphere it is the shortest day and longest night of the year. Personally I don't look forward to the freezing weather for the next two months but the thought of lengthening days brings a big smile to my face.

The arrival of this season and what civilization has perceived as the rebirth of the Sun hasn't gone unnoticed over time. If you ever wanted to know more about the science behind the solstice or these cultural responses. . .




The Druids

Google's Doodle


The Feast of Juul



Dia de Santo Tomas en Guatemala


Newgrange aerial photo,
Newgrange plan and section, public domain illustration, William Frederick Wakeman, Wakeman's Handbook of Irish Heritage (1903),


Sunday, December 20, 2015

Advent 2015: The Fourth Sunday

On the fourth Sunday of Advent we light the Angel's Candle symbolizing the annunciation of Christ's birth.

The Annuciation of Mary                                                 Salvador Dali, lithograph, 1967

In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a Virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. Fornothing is impossible with God.” “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.

                                                                                 Luke 1:26-38 NIV

Music for the day is the 15th century English song text, Adam Lay Ybounden, performed by the Mediaeval Babes.

Middle English...

Adam lay ibounden 
Bounden in a bond 
Foure thousand winter 
Thought he not too long 

And all was for an apple 
An apple that he tok 
As clerkes finden 
Wreten in here book 

Ne hadde the apple take ben 
The apple taken ben 
Ne hadde never our lady 
A ben hevene queen 

Blissed be the time 
That apple take was 
Therefore we moun singen 
"Deo gracias!"

Modern English ...

Adam lay in bondage
Bound by a contract
For four thousand winters
That he hadn't thought would be too long

And all because of an apple
An apple that he took
As clerics found 
Written in this book

Had the apple never been taken
The apple been taken
Neither would our Lady ever have
Been the Queen of Heaven

So blessed be the moment
That apple was taken
For now we can sing
"Thanks be to God"

Friday, December 18, 2015

Fletcher Henderson: The Quiet Pioneer Of Swing

Long-time readers know I enjoy birthday posts about Georgians who have made memorable contributions to the American experience. Today is no exception as we honor the contribution of Fletcher Henderson (1897-1952) to the sounds of jazz, blues, and swing, three genres still very much alive more than fifty years after the beginning of the rock revolution. 

He was born in Cuthbert into a well-educated and musical family and earned degrees in mathematics and chemistry in Atlanta and New York. As a black man he had difficulty finding work in those fields and soon turned to music to make a living. That musical career took him from accompanying Ethel Waters, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith and other blues singers, through the creation of an orchestra that included Don Redman and Louis Armstrong, to work as a composer-accompanist for Benny Goodman at a formative time for the swing era.

Henderson played an important role in bringing improvisational jazz elements into big band/dance band compositions. Both Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman credited his talent as an arranger for much of their success. It is interesting that his role in the development of American popular music was not well understood until academic studies of the history of jazz appeared late in the last century.

What was the Henderson sound? Here are two examples: a 1927 recording of the Henderson orchestra and a brief "arranging workshop" featuring Goodman and Henderson followed by the Goodman orchestra performing Henderson's famous arrangement of Blue Skies:


Compact disc cover, Imports release, ASIN: B01596RGW, October 16, 2015 

Text:, Fletcher Henderson, Fletcher Henderson, Jazz: A Film by Ken Burns, Fletcher Henderson biography

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Wright Brothers At Kitty Hawk: 112 Years Ago Today

The 27-mph wind was harder than they would have liked - their predicted cruising speed was only 30-35 mph. The headwind would slow their ground speed to a crawl but they proceeded anyway. With the wave of a bed sheet they signaled the volunteers from the nearby lifesaving station that they were about to try again.

It was Orville's turn. Remembering Wilbur's experience he positioned himself in the pilot cradle and tested the controls. The stick that moved the horizontal elevator controlled climb and descent. The cradle that he swung with his hips warped the wings and swung the vertical tails which in combination turned the machine. A lever controlled the gas flow and airspeed recorder. The controls were simple and few but Orville knew it would take all his finesse to handle the new and heavier aircraft. At 10:35 AM he released the restraining wire. The flyer moved down the rail as Wilbur steadied the wings. Just as the craft left the ground John Daniels, an amateur photographer and member of the lifesaving station, snapped the shutter on a preset camera  In doing so he captured the historic image of the Wright Brothers flight that we know so well.

The Wright Flyer begins its first successful flight, December 17, 1903 

As usual the flyer was unruly, pitching up and down as Orville overcompensated with the controls. But he kept it aloft until it hit the sand about 120 feet from the rail. Into that 27-mph wind the ground speed had been 6.8 mph. The total airspeed was 34 mph. The 12 second event was the real thing: controlled, sustained flight by a man in a heavier-than-air vehicle.

The brothers took turns flying three more times that day getting a feel for the controls and increasing their distance with each flight. Wilbur's second flight - the fourth and last of the day – was an impressive 852 feet in 59 seconds.

For comprehensive information on this historic event visit the National Park Services Wright Brothers National Memorial web page.


unrestored version, 1903 photograph, John T. Daniels, Library of Congress

National Park Service, Wright Brothers National Memorial

Georgia's Erskine Caldwell: The Preacher's Kid Who Wrote About Life And Labor

The Georgia writer, Erskine Caldwell, who was born on this day in 1903. He is an interesting blend of 20th century authors. He is Sherwood Anderson, William Faulkner, D.H. Lawrence, Christopher Isherwood, Joseph Mitchell, and a reflection of other modernists. Readers who enjoy dark humor and seek more than discourse on the happy veneer of the human condition will enjoy Caldwell's interpretations.

He was an only child and a "preacher's kid" whose family moved frequently throughout the South until he was fifteen when they settled in Wrens, Georgia. Still, his father often preached on large circuits, necessitating plenty of travel. In fact, the elder Caldwell traveled so regularly that his son could determine his destinations by the odor of coal smoke on his suit. In time, father took son on many of these journeys. The peculiarity, poverty, and injustice of the Depression era South was embedded in Erskine Caldwell's memory and he soon began writing about it. His observations had little to do with remnants of "the late unpleasantness" - the polite Southern term for the War of Northern Aggression, aka, the Civil War - that often gripped the region. Instead, Caldwell wrote of the raw realities of the human condition in the South. This, and his crusade for improving conditions, did not sit well with many Southerners. The dislike was enhanced because he was writing "in absentia." having left the South before 1930. Furthermore, his subject matter often placed him in conflict with censors across the country.

Caldwell had a long career as a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, but he is best known for Tobacco Road (1932), God's Little Acre (1933) and other works from the 1930s. An adaptation of Tobacco Road played on Broadway for eight years - a record at the time - beginning in 1933. A very loose film adaptation directed by John Ford in 1941 contributed to the stereotyping and ridicule of poor white Southerners. God's Little Acre remains one of the most popular novels in the U.S. with over ten million copies in print. A 1958 film version is considered the best presentation of Caldwell themes on film.

Here are clips from both films.

Readers interested in learning more about the life of Erskine Caldwell will enjoy this article from the New Georgia Encyclopedia.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

A Century Of Frank Sinatra

Today is the centennial of the birth of Frank Sinatra (1915-1998) the American singer and actor whose phenomenal career spanned sixty years ending in 1995.  During his career he produced a discography spanning the eras of jazz, swing, big band, and pop music. I had the good fortune to attend two Sinatra concerts during the '60's. Both were unforgettable opportunities to see this American icon at work as a storm of rock music swept the nation and displaced the popular song as the dominant music genre in our culture. 

Frank Sinatra from the trailer of the film, Pal Joey, 1957           

It's been twenty years since Sinatra walked on stage but his persona is still with us. Writing at, Deroy Murdock begins his exploration of the life, times, and legacy of "Ol' Blue Eyes" with this:

Saturday completes a century since Francis Albert Sinatra belted out his first note as a newborn, 13-and-a-half-pound baby in Hoboken, N.J. He grew up to become the finest male vocalist of the 20th Century, alongside his female counterpart and occasional partner in rhyme, Ella Fitzgerald.

But Frank was much more than just a crooner. He excelled as an actor, dancer, TV host, entrepreneur, record-company executive, and even music conductor. His timeless fashion sense defined style and elegance for gentlemen from the 1940s until today. He left enormous footprints on popular culture and was as original an American as this nation has produced.

After 100 years, a hundred superlatives barely could do Sinatra justice. Rather than wade through the many adjectives that define the man, the best way to appreciate Sinatra and his gigantic contribution is to savor his artistry and epic life story.

What follows is a rich overview of the man in sight and sound. It's not to be missed. 

If you read Murdock's article you may want to scroll down to an earlier post by him on a Sinatra exhibit in New York as well as a another tribute, this one by George Will. 

For those who simply want to enjoy Sinatra at his best I offer two personal favorites:

Summer Wind (1965), music by Heinz Meyer, words by Johnny Mercer

One For My Baby (And One More For The Road) (1943), music by Harold Arlen, words by Johnny Mercer, 

The man had a way with a song quite unlike that of any other singer in the 20th century. 


Columbia Pictures Corporation, public domain photograph in the United States

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Joel Chandler Harris: A Southern Treasure

Today is the birthday of the beloved Georgia journalist and writer, Joel Chandler Harris. He was born in Eatonton in 1845 and raised by his single mother and other benefactors to love reading, writing, and humor. At sixteen he was employed at the nearby Turnwold Plantation as a print setter for what was likely the nation's only plantation newspaper, The Countryman. Under the guidance of owner Joseph Addison Turner, Harris read from the plantation's large library over the a period of four years. He also observed life on the plantation including its rich culture of oral traditions among the slaves.

After a decade of employment with several papers in central Georgia and Savannah, Harris joined the staff of the Atlanta Constitution in 1876. It was here that he linked a Lippincott's article on black folklore to his Turnwold Plantation experience and the Uncle Remus character he had created for his feature writing. The rest was history, described here in R. Bruce Bickley's Georgia Encyclopedia article on Harris:

For the next quarter-century, Harris lived a double life professionally. He was one of two associate editors of the premier newspaper in the Southeast, helping readers interpret the complex New South movement. He was also the creative writer, the "other fellow," as he termed himself: a prolific, committed, and ambitious re-creator of folk stories, a literary comedian, fiction writer, and author of children's books. Harris published thirty-five books in his lifetime, in addition to writing thousands of articles for the Constitution over a twenty-four-year period. Along with his first book, Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings, the most ambitious of the Uncle Remus volumes is Nights with Uncle Remus: Myths and Legends of the Old Plantation (1883). This book comprises seventy-one tales that feature stories told by four different black narrators, including Uncle Remus.
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Harris also left his impact on major literary figures to come. Rudyard Kipling, Zora Neale Hurston, William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, Ralph Ellison, and Toni Morrison all responded to the legacy of Brer Rabbit and the tar baby that Harris had helped popularize. Fellow Eatonton writer Alice Walker protested, however, that Harris had stolen her African American folklore heritage and had made it a white man's publishing commodity.
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Harris died on July 3, 1908, of acute nephritis and was buried in Westview Cemetery, West End, Atlanta. Obituary writers were not exaggerating when they eulogized this celebrated middle Georgia writer as "the most beloved man in America." Only Harris's friend and admirer, Mark Twain, who died two years later, surpassed Harris in popular reputation at the beginning of the twentieth century. Harris's retelling of the story of Brer Rabbit and the tar baby remains one of the world's best-known folktales, and his complex legacy as a literary comedian, New South journalist, folklorist, fiction writer, and children's author continues to influence modern culture in a surprising number of ways.

As noted in the quotation, Harris's place in the history of folklore is not without its controversy. Historically there has always been a struggle in the sphere of anthropological studies with cultural preservation and destruction as well as ownership. In Harris we have a written legacy from black oral tradition as viewed though the author's personal lens. It isn't perfect but it does preserve universal themes and lessons in their cultural context. Furthermore his work in part inspired a resurgence of interest in storytelling and performance in a number of cultural niches. If anything that interest is far stronger today than it was a century ago and much of it under black ownership. I can certainly encourage and appreciate that as well as Harris's contribution.


R. Bruce Bickley, Joel Chandler Harris, Georgia Encyclopedia, georgiaencyclopedia,org

Monday, December 7, 2015

National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day 2015

This is the 74th anniversary of the Imperial Japanese Navy's attack on the U.S. Navy's base at Pearl Harbor. The war effort mounted after the attack included 16,000,000 American men and women in uniform. Today the U.S. Office of Veterans Affairs estimates that just over 820,000 of these veterans are still alive. They are passing away at the rate of more than 400 per day. Soon, the relics, memorials and ceremonies will be all that is left to testify to America's greatest generation at war. If we are to survive, we need to remember them now and in the future for what they did to crush evil in the world.

USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, 2004

The National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day Commemoration will be streamed from Hawaii beginning at 12:00 PM, EST. The programming includes three events to be live-streamed over three hours and ten hours of additional historical and educational programming. Access the page here. Readers may want to scroll down the page for a complete list of the day's events before viewing the live stream. 

Flag raising on Arizona Memorial

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Other Gershwin

Mention the name "Gershwin" today and just about everyone will think you have "George" on your mind. Granted he wrote some spectacular music between 1917 and 1937, much of it as fresh today as the day it was written. But George and his melodies were only half of the story. His brother, Ira, born on December 6, 1896, added the poetry. Together they formed one of the most successful collaborations in American music history. While George's music has lived on, Ira's words survive primarily in the world of jazz and in the Great American Songbook niche among popular singers. 

George and Ira Gershwin
George (l) and Ira (r) Gershwin, Newark Airport, 1936

This excerpt from the Ira Gershwin bio at the Song Writers Hall of Fame website will give readers an idea of the scope of their collaboration and bring to mind some of Ira's lyrics:

Their first collaborations were for Broadway: Lady, Be Good! (1924, including "Fascinating Rhythm" and, although it was cut from the show, "The Man I Love"), Tip Toes (1925, including "Sweet and Low Down"), Oh Kay! (1926, including "Clap Yo' Hands", "Do-Do-Do", "Maybe", and "Someone To Watch Over Me"), Funny Face (1927, including '"S Wonderful"), Rosalie (1928, including "How Long Has This Been Going On"), Show Girl (1929, including "Liza"), Strike Up the Band (1930, including "I've Got A Crush On You" and "Soon"), Girl Crazy (1930, including "But Not For Me", "Embraceable You", "Bidin' My Time", and "I Got Rhythm"), Delicious (1931, including "Blah Blah Blah. "), Of Thee I Sing (1931, the first musical to win the Pulitzer Prize and which included "Of Thee I Sing", "Love Is Sweeping The Country", and "Who Cares").

The complete picture includes their work in Hollywood, the Broadway opera Porgy and Bess, and Ira's collaboration with a host of songwriters following his brother's death in 1937. Forty years before his own passing in 1983 Ira Gershwin began a long collaboration with the Library of Congress to collect and preserve their legacy. Today the George and Ira Gershwin Collection  is the leading archive for the study of the Gershwin brothers and their impact on cultural history around the world. Read more about the collection here



Songwriters Hall of Fame,
Library of Congress,


Library of Congress,