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Who killed the truth? Find out in Jill Lapore’s podcast The Last Archive

Truth, these days, seems to lie dead as a doornail, half-hidden in the weeds like those bodies you see at the beginning of television murder mysteries. It’s obviously been assaulted, and since its demise, wild animals have been feeding on it. Not a pretty sight. For nearly two centuries now, truth was healthy and robust, […]

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The Supremes: the best girl group ever

They were the best girl group ever, and they’ve got the numbers to prove it: 12 top-ranked pop hits, Grammy nominations, membership in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, packed concert halls, numerous television appearances, and always and everywhere the stars of the show. The numbers and the facts don’t lie. The Supremes in […]

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A novel writer’s obligation to the facts?

In March we shared a post about the writer William Styron and the controversy he stirred in the 1960s with his novel The Confessions of Nat Turner. The post referred to an article by Styron’s daughter Alexandra and discussed her father’s intentions in writing the book and the difficulties he had in defending himself against […]

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Attorney-author Michael Kahn argues for his favorite legal thrillers

Trial attorney and author Michael Kahn used to respond to his wife Margi the same way every time she asked about the book he was reading. I could write a better one, he would say. Finally, she had had enough. “Then write one,” she finally said, “or please shut up.” So he shut up-no easy task for […]

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StevieWonder 2

Stevie Wonder: the most talented Motowner of them all

Of all of the super-talented, hardworking musicians who walked through the doors of Motown’s headquarters in the 1960s, an argument could be made that the most talented — and the one who took his music far beyond most others — was Stevie Wonder. His real name is Stevland Hardaway Morris (né Judkins), and he was born in 1950 in […]

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Marguerite Higgins and “no place for a woman”

When Communist forces crossed the border into South Korea in 1950, Marguerite Higgins got on a plane in Tokyo, where she was head of the New York Herald Tribune bureau, along with three other reporters, all of them male. One of them told her not to go. At the last moment, G– tried to dissuade me from going along, […]

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Damon Runyon: from baseball to Broadway

The Guardian has an interesting series in which their writers fill in the blank to  “I wish more people would read . . . ” Sam Leith’s blank-filler is Damon Runyan, and he could not have made a better choice. Runyan was a New York City newspaperman in the first decades of the 20th century […]

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Smokey Robinson, Motown’s founding brother

Berry Gordy is undoubtedly Motown’s founding father, but Gordy would not have achieved his spectacular success without Motown’s founding brother, Smokey Robinson. To those of us who were fans of Motown, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles was simply part of the astonishing lineup of artists that Motown produced during the 1960s and 1970s. Behind the […]

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A stay-at-home presidential campaign is nothing new to American politics

Joe Biden is stuck in his basement. Donald Trump is stuck in the White House or in Mar-A-Largo. Neither of the presidential nominees-to-be is out “on the hustings” or “pressing the flesh,” as would be happening in normal quadrennial years. No big rallies, no $1,000-a-plate fundraising dinners, not even conference rooms with staffers to plan […]

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Temptations: soulful voices, close harmonies, and choreography that made you want to dance

No group that Motown produced exemplified the Motown sound better than the Temptations. Throughout the decade of the 1960s, the Temptations dominated the charts with their deep, soulful rhythms, the near-perfect blend of their harmonies, and most of all their mesmerizing choreography. Those guys could dance, and if you saw them either live or on television, […]

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Martha and the Vandellas: Heat Waves, Quicksand, and but always Dancing in the Street

At the very beginnings, there was no heat wave or dancing in the streets. There was no Martha, and they called themselves something other than the Vandellas. In 1957 Rosalind Ashford, Gloria Williams, and Annette Beard — plus a couple of others — were simply teenagers in Detroit, singing in different clubs in the area. They called […]

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Berry Gordy began Motown with an $800 loan from his family

Not quite 30 years old in 1959, Berry Gordy needed money. Gordy was from a solid, hard-working African-American family in Detroit —  a family that emphasized discipline and education — but Berry, the seventh of eight children, had not accomplished much in his first three decades. He had been in the Army, which he didn’t […]

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The Marvelettes

Please, Mr. Postman

The Marvels needed an original song. It was 1961, and the group of five girls — Georgia Dobbins, Gladys Horton, Georgeanna Tillman, Wyanetta (“Juanita”) Cowart, and Katherine Anderson – from Inkster High School near Detroit had gotten an audition with the fledgling Motown Records. Dobbins knew a blues songwriter named William Garrett who had a half-finished tune […]

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Johann Sebastian Bach: a spectacular failure and an ultimate success

It was the greatest letter of application for a job in the history of letters. It was also a spectacular failure. The applicant didn’t get the job. The year was 1721 and the 36-year-old Johann Sebastian Bach, whose wife had died the year before leaving him with small children to raise, was looking for a […]

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Merriam-Webster catches up with the virus

Words are added to the language every day. Sometimes they stick to the language. More often they don’t. That’s why dictionary makers are slow to add words to their corral. They like to make sure they’ve stuck and are in use. With the current pandemic, the folks at Merrian-Webster decided that they couldn’t play the […]

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Woody Allen’s book ‘Apropos of Nothing’ gets less than sterling reviews

Woody Allen’s autobiography — subject of acceptance and then rejection by Hatchette publishing house — did indeed find a publisher. (See the previous post: Whither Woody Allen, his family, his publisher, his reputation, etc.) Maybe having your book rejected by a publisher is not such a bad thing after all. Allen’s autobiography, Apropo of Nothing, has […]

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Fifty years ago, Marvin Gaye asked What’s Going On?

Despite a volatile temper and an extremely troubled personal life, Marvin Gaye was one of many Motown talents whose smooth tones and distinctive rhythms filled the rock ‘n roll airwaves during the 1960s. Not only could he croon with hits such as “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” and “Too […]

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Talking ourselves – and others – into the ‘inevitable’ infirmities of old age

In early December, I tripped and wound up with a small fracture in my kneecap. The result was that I limped around for a couple of months but managed to maintain some of my normal walking schedule. One morning, a person I regularly see on our walks asked me what  happened, and I told her. […]

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Ida Tarbell: Life after Standard Oil (part 3)

Part 1: Ida Tarbell — the sharp, powerful arrow of her words (part 1) Part 2: Ida Tarbell: Madame Roland, Napoleon, and Abraham Lincoln (part 2) Ida Tarbell developed her life as an independent thinker and writer. She asserted her right to be and think in whatever way she saw fit, and she did not conform to […]

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Arnold Mesches covered dramatic courtroom scenes as an artist and was subject to decades-long surveillance by the FBI

Can redacted FBI files, with their various typefaces and thick heavy black lines, be considered works of art? Artist Arnold Mesches believed so, and when he finally received the files the FBI had collected on him through many years of surveillance, he was struck by their visual qualities. Documentary writer and producer Alix Lambert writes […]

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