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MarthaandtheVandellas

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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BerryGordy

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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JSBach1

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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MarvinGaye

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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IdaTarbell

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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Pouring the bees

The arrival of the bees

One of the ways that a beekeeper starts new hives is to order “packages” of bees, and I mentioned in last week’s newsletter that I received four packages of bees, and that they had been installed in four hives, thus replacing the bees that I had lost last fall.  A package contains three pounds of bees, […]

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Notes on the pandemic: American Samoa escaped the Spanish flu with no deaths

The last pandemic to sweep the world was that known as the Spanish flu, which killed people everywhere from 1918 through 1920 — everywhere except American Samoa. That’s because of its governor, John Martin Poyer, a Naval officer who had retired because of ill health but was called back to service in 1915 to serve […]

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Podcast recommendations: My Favorite Murder, The Murder Squad, and My Death Row Pen Pal

My Favorite Murder is hosted by a couple of young women, Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, whose language may not be suitable for your grandchildren (or you). That stuff gets old pretty quick, but they may mature into a style that is more in keeping with the seriousness of their subjects. On the other hand, they […]

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William Styron and cultural appropriation

Amid all the other overwhelming news, the controversy over Jeanine Cummins’ novel American Dirt seems to be dying down, but the issue still exists: can an author cross ethnic or cultural lines (and maybe gender and age lines — as well as others) to tell a story. My answer was contained in a post I […]

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IdaTarbell

Ida Tarbell: Madame Roland, Napoleon, and Abraham Lincoln (part 2)

Ida Tarbell might have stayed in France for a very long time if it hadn’t been for Abraham Lincoln. Tarbell had moved to Paris in 1891 when she was 34 years old. She gave up a secure job as an editor of The Chatauguan in New York and went to France with the idea of […]

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IdaTarbell

Ida Tarbell — the sharp, powerful arrow of her words (part 1)

When Ida Tarbell fired an arrow of words at a target, she aimed with the accuracy and power of a book full of facts. John D. Rockefeller, probably the richest man in the world at the time, was “the oldest man in the world — a living mummy,” a “hypocrite” who was “money-mad.” She concluded, […]

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Whither Woody Allen, his family, his publisher, his reputation, etc.

In the case of Woody Allen, what are we to think? Hachette Book Group recently announced that it is canceling a contract with film director Woody Allen to publish his autobiography. In the last few years, Allen’s reputation has gone from amusing to benign to toxic because of allegations that he molested his daughter, Dylan […]

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Good advice for editors from Jane Friedman

One of my favorite people from the world of independent publishing is Jane Friedman, a wide-ranging consultant and author of the weekly newsletter Electric Speed, which is consistently full of good tips and advice. The introduction to her newsletter this week struck me as especially enlightening. It’s a special message to those who would be […]

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Dorothy Thompson’s spectacular climb to the top of European journalism

Dorothy Thompson knew from a fairly early age that she wanted to do something significant. In her early twenties, she realized that journalism was the tool to do just that. Born in 1893 to a Methodist minister and his wife in upstate New York, Thompson’s mother died at a fairly early age, and her father […]

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Dorothy Thompson, America’s leading voice denouncing Nazism in the 1930s

Winston Churchill is rightly remembered as the lonely voice of 1930s Britain who recognized the dangers of Nazism and loudly and regularly denounced Adolph Hitler and his thugs while his nation was sleepwalking through the decade. America had a similar voice, but unfortunately, we hardly have any memory of her. The voice was that of […]

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