In These Cold Times

“A lot of people like snow. I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water.”-Carl Reiner

In these cold times, “Think it o-o-ver,” it’s nice to have warm memories. I was 12 when The Supremes recorded Stop! In the Name of Love in Detroit in 1965.  It became a song we sang along with on the radio; we bought the 45; we danced to it with all of the hand motions and movements as if we were Diana Ross and the Supremes. It’s nice to think of this song on such a cold, icy, winter morning on the East Coast.

This cold freezes my mind…haven’t wanted to post anything, but here we are. For those of you affected by the cold, snow and ice, this one’s for you:

“What Does Not Change/Is the Will to Change”-Charles Olson (from his poem, The Kingfishers)


“Knowledge is the Harvest of Attention.”Charles Olson

During the 30s, 40s, 50s, there was a college set up in North Carolina called Black Mountain College, which truly stressed a liberal arts education with plenty of arts.  “Black Mountain College was born out of a desire to create a new type of college based on John Dewey’s principles of progressive education.” American poet, Charles Olson was born today in 1910 and taught at Black Mountain College in the 40s and 50s. “The founders of the College believed that the study and practice of art were indispensable aspects of a student’s general liberal arts education, and they hired Josef Albers to be the first art teacher. Speaking not a word of English, he and his wife Anni left the turmoil in Hitler’s Germany and crossed the Atlantic Ocean by boat to teach art at this small, rebellious college in the mountains of North Carolina.”

As a teenager and young woman, I was very taken with Black Mountain Press and the whole history of Black Mountain College and the Black Mountain collective of writers, dancers, artists and thinkers that held the teaching of the Arts to a very high standard and knew its importance for a well-rounded education and for transmitting humanity and culture. Black Mountain College was a collective that left the running of the school and the curriculum to the experts: the teachers. Some of the luminaries that taught at Black Mountain College include: choreographer Merce Cunningham, artists Jacob Lawrence and Wilem de Kooning, and so many more. The school closed in 1957.

THESE DAYS by Charles Olson

whatever you have to say, leave

the roots on, let them


And the dirt

Just to make clear

where they come from







“Let Us Cultivate Our Garden.”-Voltaire (Candide)


“I look forward to an America which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft. I look forward to an America which will steadily raise the standards of artistic accomplishment and which will steadily enlarge cultural opportunities for all of our citizens.”-JFK

In 1974, I saw a revival of Voltaire’s Candide on Broadway. It was interesting to learn that it was the writer/playwright, Lillian Hellman who first adapted Voltaire’s Candide as a play in 1956. Voltaire was born today in 1694 and was a French Enlightenment writer who brought wit to his writings as he observed and criticized the world around him. “The French Enlightenment philosophers became known as the philosophes.  The philosophes used criticism and rejection of the old authority, along with a desire to explain man’s role in the universe, and in society to reshape the world in which they lived.  They attacked many topics like morality, politics, economics and religion to design their new world.  Along with natural law and human reason the philosophes emphasized toleration, especially religious toleration and progress.  There was a great confidence in modern man and his achievements in technology and understanding the natural world.”

As we commemorate 50 years since President JFK was assassinated, let us remember for a moment, that both JFK and Jackie Kennedy promoted the Arts during his short time in The White House. A series of “Concerts for Young People” at The White House was started by The Kennedys in 1961. French writer, Andre Malraux, who was The French Minister of Culture at the time, was hosted by The Kennedys, whose aim was to promote Washington D.C. as a national hub of The Arts. “President Kennedy affirmed that, “creativity is the hardest work there is” and playfully added that the White House “was becoming a sort of eating place for artists. But, they never ask us out.”

Less than a month before JFK was assassinated, he spoke at Amherst College in Massachusetts at a gathering honoring American Poet, Robert Frost, whom JFK greatly admired. As you well remember, Robert Frost created a poem for JFK’s inauguration in 1961. This was the very first time a poet, a creative individual, was part of the inauguration ceremony. At this Amherst College event to remember Robert Frost who had died at the beginning of 1963, Kennedy said, “If sometimes our great artists have been the most critical of our society, it is because their sensitivity and their concern for justice, which must motivate any true artist, makes him aware that our Nation falls short of its highest potential. I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist.

If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him. We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth. And as Mr. MacLeish once remarked of poets, there is nothing worse for our trade than to be in style. In free society art is not a weapon and it does not belong to the spheres of polemic and ideology. Artists are not engineers of the soul. It may be different elsewhere. But democratic society–in it, the highest duty of the writer, the composer, the artist is to remain true to himself and to let the chips fall where they may. In serving his vision of the truth, the artist best serves his nation. And the nation which disdains the mission of art invites the fate of Robert Frost’s hired man, the fate of having “nothing to look backward to with pride, and nothing to look forward to with hope.”

As a retired teacher and teacher-researcher, I witnessed how important the Arts were to my students as they tried making sense of this world. The Arts gave a voice to my students from other shores and comforted all of my students as they groped with difficult situations in their lives. It was so important to me that they have The Arts in their lives and I always wrote my own plays that taught them (and their audience) tolerance, social justice, history and used folk songs, union songs and songs to which I set new lyrics that addressed the theme of the various plays. All students participated. It didn’t matter if they didn’t know one word in English. The Arts brought us together. My students were my “garden” and my inspiration to always do better.

“The People Need to Feel the Music.”-Ronnie Spector

Happy 70th Birthday to Ronnie Spector of The Ronettes, a group of my generation, the Baby Boomer Generation.  I listened to Ronnie and The Ronettes (originally the Ronettes) on that 6-transistor portable radio my parents gifted me for my Grade 6 graduation. Just a side note: In April, 2013, I mentioned my transistor radio and that I listened to a gread DJ, Jerry White, on WJRZ who played every folkie: Dylan, Baez, Patrick Sky and so many more. Well yesterday, I received an email from Jerry White’s daughter who said he died last May, 2012 and he loved those days as a DJ on WJRZ out of Newark, NJ. Wow, I couldn’t get over hearing from her!

 I was 10 years old when the Ronettes released “Be My Baby” written by the great songwriting husband/wife duo, Jeff Barry (a Brooklyn Boy!) and Ellie Greenwich (a Brooklyn Girl!) and, of course, produced by Phil Spector.

“Ronnie Spector was born and raised in upper Manhattan. She formed the Ronettes while in her teens and released her first records in 1961 on the Colpix label. One of those early songs was “You Bet I Would,” co-written by Carole King. Another was the rocking “He Did It,” written by Jackie DeShannon and Sharon Sheeley – which Ronnie still performs today.  The Ronettes were also professional singers and dancers at New York’s Peppermint Lounge. There they were discovered by legendary disc jockey “Murray the K” (Murray Kaufman), who promptly hired them as dancers for his Brooklyn Fox Theater rock and roll revues. Beginning in 1963, Ronnie Spector – as lead singer of the ultimate girl group, The Ronettes – recorded a long string of classic pop hits: powerful, poignant teen anthems like the Grammy Award-winning “Walking in the Rain,” “Do I Love You,” “Baby I Love You,” “The Best Part of Breaking Up,” “I Can Hear Music,” and the international Number One smash “Be My Baby.” These records are among the best-loved and most-emulated recordings in the history of rock and roll. “There were girl group hits before the Ronettes,” wrote Canadian critic Carl Wilson in a 2003 feature for the Toronto Globe & Mail. “But Ronnie Spector was the first woman in rock to provoke anything like the hysteria that Elvis had caused, which was soon to engulf the Beatles.” –

Ronnie Spector is still rockin’ on!



“A Song Has to Become As Much a Part of You As a Tailored Suit.”-Martha Reeves (Martha Reeves & the Vandellas)

Two contemporaries were born today, July 18th, Dion  in 1939 and Martha Reeves  in 1941!  What a great day for music!  We can dance in the street, internalize lyrics, feel good, feel thoughtful, just feel!

“It was 1962 that Motown’s Artist and Repertoire Director William “Mickey” Stevenson first heard the voice that would become synonymous with “the sound of young America.” A young jazz/blues singer with the unlikely name of “Martha Lavaille” was bringing audiences to their feet at Detroit’s famed 20 Grand Nightclub singing songs made popular by singers the likes of Gloria Lynne and Della Reese. He invited her to audition at the new Motown Records headquarters, “Hitsville, USA.”

“Singer Dion DiMucci, better known simply as Dion, epitomized the indigenous music of the Bronx streets where he was raised. Dion was born on July 18, 1939, and was raised in the Little Italy section of the Bronx. He started singing at a young age, and he had a variety of musical influences. As he wrote in his autobiography: “I was picking up influences from all over the place, mixing in early R&B with doo-wop. Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bo Diddley and, of course, Elvis. In other words, like every other teenager in America, I was discovering rock & roll.”Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Site

I listened to both of these artists growing up and their music still resonates…makes me snap my fingers…stays in my head and my heart. Good music is good music.

“I’ve Photographed Everybody from Matisse to Isamu Noguchi.”-Carl Van Vechten

Bessie Smith Langston Hughes Lady Day

When I began my interest in the Shakers and Movers of the Harlem Renaissance (Post WWI-Early 30s) as a teenager, I was always fascinated by the amount of photographs that were taken by one Carl Van Vechten, born in Iowa on June 17th, 1880. I marveled how close he got to the many writers, musicians, artists, philosophers, dancers that created an era and body of work that stands strong today. Carl Van Vechten was a writer, a patron of the arts and literature and a photographer who loved and knew his music and whenever you read a book on the Harlem Renaissance or someone from that period, you are sure to see Van Vechten’s photos. If there was an event or a party including a “rent” party, Van Vechten was there, here in the U.S.A. and around the world.

Van Vechten was born in 1880 and grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a child of progressively thinking parents — his father operated a lumber mill; his mother was ‘a suffragette who kept company with abolitionists.”Lynell George

In the early 1930s, Miguel Covarrubias introduced Van Vechten to the 35mm Leica camera. He began photographing his large circle of friends and acquaintances. His earlier career as a writer and his wife’s experience as an actress(Fania Marinoff to whom he was married over 50 years) provided him with access to both fledgling artists and the established cultural figures of the time. Some of his subjects from this period include F. Scott Fitzgerald, Langston Hughes, Alfred A. Knopf, Bessie Smith, and Gertrude Stein.”Library of Congress



“So many people dwell on negativity and I’ve survived by ignoring it: it dims your light and it’s harder each time to turn the power up again.”-Judith Jamison, Artistic Director Emerita, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Happy 70th Ms Judith Jamison! I saw Ms Jamison in choreographer, Alvin Ailey’s  “Revelations” when she was the principal dancer for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, probably in the very early 70s. Lucky Me!!!!