Monthly Archives: April 2008


Published: April 28, 2008
Among the millions of clips on the video-sharing Web site YouTube are 11 racially offensive Warner Brothers cartoons that have not been shown in an authorized release since 1968.
April 28, 2008    
Despite efforts to suppress them, racist cartoons from the 1940s have been circulating on the Web. Above, Bugs Bunny outwits a rabbit hunter.
Some of the cartoons were removed on April 16. A message saying the cartoons were no longer available because of a copyright claim by Warner appeared in their place. By evening the messages disappeared, and some of the cartoons were back. Representatives for YouTube and Warner would not confirm whether the companies had tried to remove the cartoons.
Ricardo Reyes, a YouTube spokesman, said YouTube relies on copyright holders to identify infringing content and on users to flag offensive content. If people do not complain, videos remain, he said. Mr. Reyes said that copyright violations are removed “very quickly” once identified, but the problem “is that ownership is often tough to determine.” He said many users “unknowingly post because they don’t know the law.”
A representative for Warner wrote in an e-mail message that “Warner Brothers has rights to the titles” in question and that “we vigorously protect all our copyrights. We do not make distinctions based on content.”
The cartoons, known as the “Censored 11,” have been unavailable to the public for 40 years. Postings no longer appear if YouTube is searched for “Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs,” a parody of “Snow White” and the most famous of the cartoons. But a search for “Coal Black” does find the cartoon.
These cartoons were controversial when first released; the N.A.A.C.P. unsuccessfully protested “Coal Black” before it was shown in 1943. Richard McIntire, the director of communications for the N.A.A.C.P., wrote in an e-mail message that “the cartoons are despicable. We encourage the films’ owners to maintain them as they are — that is, locked away in their vaults.”
WMAV01, a YouTube user who posted some of the cartoons and preferred not to give his name, wrote in an e-mail message that “these cartoons were never officially ‘banned’ by any law” and added that the cartoons had “historical value.” WMAV01 said the cartoons were available on Web sites like, which is run by “The Opie and Anthony Show,” a talk radio program.
The cartoons are also available on bootleg DVDs from Web sites like, which sells a collection of 165 such cartoons. At least two of the shorts are available on unlicensed DVDs sold by third parties on Amazon.
Michael Barrier, author of four books on the history of animation and comics, said the cartoons should be “presented in an informed way for an intelligent, adult audience.” Mr. Barrier also said the Censored 11’s appearance on YouTube “shows that there is a demand, so the logical step would be to release them in a way that is profitable for you as a copyright holder.”
(Article courtesy of The New York Times )

POSSESSED; From a Time Before BlackBerries

…cartoonish black stereotypes made it racist, “Coonskin”…

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Massimo Sciacca for The New York Times
Kiwis grown in Italy are examined — and damaged fruit is discarded— before being shipped.
Published: April 26, 2008
Cod caught off Norway is shipped to China to be turned into filets, then shipped back to Norway for sale. Argentine lemons fill supermarket shelves on the Citrus Coast of Spain, as local lemons rot on the ground. Half of Europe’s peas are grown and packaged in Kenya.
April 26, 2008    

Massimo Sciacca for The New York Times

The Sanifrutta company in Italy ships kiwis from its plant in Costigliore Saluzzo, traveling by sea in refrigerated containers.

In the United States, FreshDirect proclaims kiwi season has expanded to “All year!” now that Italy has become the world’s leading supplier of New Zealand’s national fruit, taking over in the Southern Hemisphere’s winter.
Food has moved around the world since Europeans brought tea from China, but never at the speed or in the amounts it has over the last few years. Consumers in not only the richest nations but, increasingly, the developing world expect food whenever they crave it, with no concession to season or geography.
Increasingly efficient global transport networks make it practical to bring food before it spoils from distant places where labor costs are lower. And the penetration of mega-markets in nations from China to Mexico with supply and distribution chains that gird the globe — like Wal-Mart, Carrefour and Tesco — has accelerated the trend.
But the movable feast comes at a cost: pollution — especially carbon dioxide, the main global warming gas — from transporting the food.
Under longstanding trade agreements, fuel for international freight carried by sea and air is not taxed. Now, many economists, environmental advocates and politicians say it is time to make shippers and shoppers pay for the pollution, through taxes or other measures.
“We’re shifting goods around the world in a way that looks really bizarre,” said Paul Watkiss, an Oxford University economist who wrote a recent European Union report on food imports.
He noted that Britain, for example, imports — and exports — 15,000 tons of waffles a year, and similarly exchanges 20 tons of bottled water with Australia. More important, Mr. Watkiss said, “we are not paying the environmental cost of all that travel.”
Europe is poised to change that. This year the European Commission in Brussels announced that all freight-carrying flights into and out of the European Union would be included in the trading bloc’s emissions-trading program by 2012, meaning permits will have to be purchased for the pollution they generate.
The commission is negotiating with the global shipping organization, the International Maritime Organization, over various alternatives to reduce greenhouse gases. If there is no solution by year’s end, sea freight will also be included in Europe’s emissions-trading program, said Barbara Helferrich, a spokeswoman for the European Commission’s Environment Directorate. “We’re really ready to have everyone reduce — or pay in some way,” she said.
The European Union, the world’s leading food importer, has increased imports 20 percent in the last five years. The value of fresh fruit and vegetables imported by the United States, in second place, nearly doubled from 2000 to 2006.
Under a little-known international treaty called the Convention on International Civil Aviation, signed in Chicago in 1944 to help the fledgling airline industry, fuel for international travel and transport of goods, including food, is exempt from taxes, unlike trucks, cars and buses. There is also no tax on fuel used by ocean freighters.
Proponents say ending these breaks could help ensure that producers and consumers pay the environmental cost of increasingly well-traveled food.
The food and transport industries say the issue is more complicated. The debate has put some companies on the defensive, including Tesco, Britain’s largest supermarket chain, known as a vocal promoter of green initiatives.
Some of those companies say that they are working to limit greenhouse gases produced by their businesses but that the question is how to do it. They oppose regulation and new taxes and, partly in an effort to head them off, are advocating consumer education instead.
Tesco, for instance, is introducing a labeling system that will let consumers assess a product’s carbon footprint.
Some foods that travel long distances may actually have an environmental advantage over local products, like flowers grown in the tropics instead of in energy-hungry European greenhouses.
“This may be as radical for environmental consuming as putting a calorie count on the side of packages to help people who want to lose weight,” a spokesman for Tesco, Trevor Datson, said.
Better transportation networks have sharply reduced the time required to ship food abroad.
For instance, improved roads in Africa have helped cut the time it takes for goods to go from farms on that continent to stores in Europe to 4 days, compared with 10 days not too many years ago.
And with far cheaper labor costs in African nations, Morocco and Egypt have displaced Spain in just a few seasons as important suppliers of tomatoes and salad greens to central Europe.
“If there’s an opportunity for cheaper production in terms of logistics or supply it will be taken,” said Ed Moorehouse, a consultant to the food industry in London, adding that some of these shifts also create valuable jobs in the developing world.


The Food Chain

A Movable Feast

Articles in this series are examining growing demands on, and changes in, the world’s production of food.

Previous Articles in the Series »


Making Ships Green, in Port and at Sea (April 26, 2008)

The economics are compelling. For example, Norwegian cod costs a manufacturer $1.36 a pound to process in Europe, but only 23 cents a pound in Asia.
The ability to transport food cheaply has given rise to new and booming businesses.
“In the past few years there have been new plantations all over the center of Italy,” said Antonio Baglioni, export manager of Apofruit, one of Italy’s largest kiwi exporters.
Kiwis from Sanifrutta, another Italian exporter, travel by sea in refrigerated containers: 18 days to the United States, 28 to South Africa and more than a month to reach New Zealand.
Some studies have calculated that as little as 3 percent of emissions from the food sector are caused by transportation. But Mr. Watkiss, the Oxford economist, said the percentage was growing rapidly. Moreover, imported foods generate more emissions than generally acknowledged because they require layers of packaging and, in the case of perishable food, refrigeration.
Britain, with its short growing season and powerful supermarket chains, imports 95 percent of its fruit and more than half of its vegetables. Food accounts for 25 percent of truck shipments in Britain, according to the British environmental agency, DEFRA.
Mr. Datson of Tesco acknowledged that there were environmental consequences to the increased distances food travels, but he said his company was merely responding to consumer appetites. “The offer and range has been growing because our customers want things like snap peas year round,” Mr. Datson said. “We don’t see our job as consumer choice editing.”
Global supermarket chains like Tesco and Carrefour, spreading throughout Eastern Europe and Asia, cater to a market for convenience foods, like washed lettuce and cut vegetables.
They also help expand the reach of global brands.
Pringles potato chips, for example, are now sold in more than 180 countries, though they are manufactured in only a handful of places, said Kay Puryear, a spokeswoman for Procter & Gamble, which makes Pringles.
Proponents of taxing transportation fuel say it would end such distortions by changing the economic calculus.
“Food is traveling because transport has become so cheap in a world of globalization,” said Frederic Hague, head of Norway’s environmental group Bellona. “If it was just a matter of processing fish cheaper in China, I’d be happy with it traveling there. The problem is pollution.”
The European Union has led the world in proposals to incorporate environmental costs into the price consumers pay for food.
Switzerland, which does not belong to the E.U., already taxes trucks that cross its borders.
In addition to bringing airlines under its emission-trading program, Brussels is also considering a freight charge specifically tied to the environmental toll from food shipping to shift the current calculus that “transporting freight is cheaper than producing goods locally,” the commission said.
The problem is measuring the emissions. The fact that food travels farther does not necessarily mean more energy is used. Some studies have shown that shipping fresh apples, onions and lamb from New Zealand might produce lower emissions than producing the goods in Europe, where — for example — storing apples for months would require refrigeration.
But those studies were done in New Zealand, and the food travel debate is inevitably intertwined with economic interests.
Last month, Tony Burke, the Australian minister for agriculture, fisheries and forestry, said that carbon footprinting and labeling food miles — the distance food has traveled — was “nothing more than protectionism.”
Shippers have vigorously fought the idea of levying a transportation fuel tax, noting that if some countries repealed those provisions of the Chicago Convention, it would wreak havoc with global trade, creating an uneven patchwork of fuel taxes.
It would also give countries that kept the exemption a huge trade advantage.
Some European retailers hope voluntary green measures like Tesco’s labeling — set to begin later this year — will slow the momentum for new taxes and regulations.
The company will begin testing the labeling system, starting with products like orange juice and laundry detergent.
Customers may be surprised by what they discover.
Box Fresh Organics, a popular British brand, advertises that 85 percent of its vegetables come from the British Midlands. But in winter, in its standard basket, only the potatoes and carrots are from Britain. The grapes are South African, the fennel is from Spain and the squash is Italian.
Today’s retailers could not survive if they failed to offer such variety, Mr. Moorehouse, the British food consultant, said.
“Unfortunately,” he said, “we’ve educated our customers to expect cheap food, that they can go to the market to get whatever they want, whenever they want it. All year. 24/7.”
Daniele Pinto contributed reporting.

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Eric Thayer for The New York Times
Leon Mitchell helping Diana Joseph fill out a voter registration form at the Government Center in Miami this month.
Published: April 28, 2008
MIAMI — The League of Women Voters in Florida and its 27 local groups have helped thousands of residents register to vote over the years.
April 28, 2008    

Eric Thayer for The New York Times

Clipboards to be used by workers canvassing for voter registration at the Acorn headquarters in Miami in mid-April.

But just over a week ago, the organization’s leaders said they would have to stop their current drive because the state’s top election official planned to enforce strict deadlines and fines of up to $1,000 for groups that lose voter registration forms or turn them in late.
“We’re an all-volunteer organization,” said Dianne Wheatley-Giliotti, president of the League of Women Voters in Florida, which plans to sue. “It’s a matter of being able to protect the leagues from liability.”
Eight years after the debacle of “hanging chads,” Florida once again seems to be courting electoral trouble. A handful of laws have been passed since the 2000 presidential recount, with state officials saying they bring order to a chaotic system.
“Some say we err on the side of caution,” said Joe Pickens, a Republican from Palatka who served on the Florida House’s Ethics and Elections Committee in 2005 and 2006. “I would say that’s the place we should be.”
But Election Day may end up looking oddly familiar. According to independent elections experts at Pew’s and other organizations, it is now harder to vote here than in nearly every other state in the nation. Some critics predict that tens of thousands of potential voters will be kept off the rolls — many of them poor, black or Hispanic.
In many ways, the battle over the laws reflects the larger national debate over how to overhaul the election system after the 2000 recount. Congress tried to institute a uniform guide for voter registration, but the compromise legislation left many details to the states, and partisanship arose in the void. Republicans typically demanded high standards of accuracy to eliminate voter fraud, while Democrats focused on making voting as easy as possible.
Many states decided that disputes would be worked out case by case, without written rules. But more ambitious states, including Florida, responded with new policies or laws. By 2006, for example, at least 11 states had “no match, no vote” provisions, rejecting potential voters whose Social Security numbers or driver’s license numbers did not match state databases.
Civil rights groups challenged much of the new legislation in court, and they often won. But in Florida, many of the cases remain unresolved.
Three laws in particular are at issue, including a “no match, no vote” measure; the provision managing voter registration drives conducted by third parties, like the League of Women Voters; and a law that would keep a voter from correcting mistakes or omissions on a registration form in the final month before an election and would bar that person from having his or her vote counted.
Two recent federal rulings have gone in the state’s favor.
On March 25, a Federal District Court in Miami rejected a challenge to the provision on corrections and omissions.
An oversight can be as simple as failing to check what many Florida residents call the “crazy box.” It asks people to affirm: “I have not been adjudicated mentally incapacitated with respect to voting or, if I have, my competency has been restored.”
So far, about 3 percent of voter registrations collected by the Florida chapter of Acorn, a national organizing group, have lacked the required checkmarks.
In the second decision, on April 3, the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, in Atlanta, sent a case challenging the “no match, no vote” law back to a Federal District Court, reversing an earlier injunction without ruling whether the law was unconstitutional.
Other states, meanwhile, have been moving in the opposite direction. Now, 33 states allow voters to amend forms after their registration deadlines. In 2006, a judge in Washington State struck down a “no match, no vote” law, and at least six other states have abandoned similar provisions.
Election lawyers say Florida’s Republican-controlled government has introduced more restrictions on the voting process than other states since 2000 and has fought harder to keep them.
Critics say state officials are subtly trying to block new voters, many of whom tend to vote for Democrats, from participating.
“It’s really about politicians trying to game the system,” said Michael Slater, deputy director of Project Vote, a voting rights organization based in Arkansas. “They’ve done that by adding all these bureaucratic obstacles to voting, and then when people can’t jump over them, they blame the voter.”

Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida, a Republican, sidestepped specific questions about the state’s approach.
“We want to have as many people vote as want to vote that are legally registered to vote,” Mr. Crist said. He also offered to “do some campaigning to encourage people to register to vote.”
Some volunteers actually registering voters are not pleased. The Florida statute governing such groups is somewhat unusual. Besides Florida, only New Mexico assesses fines on them. The law is also a second try.
The first effort, in 2006, called for fines of up to $5,000 per form, but it was struck down in federal court after the League of Women Voters filed suit.
The state appealed but in the meantime passed an amended law, cutting the fines but keeping some original elements in place. A “standstill agreement” between the state and the plaintiffs kept the new law from being enforced, until Secretary of State Kurt S. Browning gave notice of his plans in court documents in late March. In a statement, his office said it was obligated to enforce the new law.
His office said it had not started assessing penalties. It has also acknowledged that the law is vague on whether the cap of $1,000 would apply to an entire organization, a chapter or individual volunteers.
Ms. Wheatley-Giliotti of the League of Women Voters said her group’s roughly 3,000 members could not risk paying the fines. The organization stopped helping voters register for the first time in 2006, before a federal judge struck down the original law that August.
Now, she said, the group must stop again because some local leagues have a budget of only $1,000.
Ms. Wheatley-Giliotti said: “I just believe it’s making it much more difficult for many sectors of the population to register. It’s groups like the League of Women Voters that take extra steps so that seniors, the poor, the underrepresented have an opportunity to register to vote conveniently.”
Christine Jordan Sexton contributed reporting from Tallahassee, Fla.
SOURCE:  The New York Times )

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Published: April 27, 2008
Nicole Paultre Bell, the woman who was to marry Sean Bell the day he was killed in a hail of 50 police bullets, vowed on Saturday to continue demanding accountability for his death, delivering her remarks in a tone that was a departure from her more familiar gentle demeanor.
April 27, 2008    
Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times
Nicole Paultre Bell, Sean Bell’s fiancée, listening to the Rev. Al Sharpton on Saturday.
April 27, 2008    
Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times
The Rev. Al Sharpton spoke in Harlem on Saturday. Behind him were, from left, Sean Bell’s parents, William and Valerie Bell; his fiancée, Nicole Paultre Bell; and her mother, Laura Harper.

Joseph Guzman, who was shot more than a dozen times while sitting next to Mr. Bell, followed her to the microphone and spoke in somber tones of the emotional whiplash of the previous 24 hours.
Ms. Paultre Bell and Mr. Guzman spoke publicly on Saturday for the first time since a judge on Friday acquitted three detectives charged in the shooting of Mr. Bell in November 2006 outside a strip club in Jamaica, Queens, where he had celebrated his bachelor party.
They were among more than 100 people — including Mr. Bell’s parents, William and Valerie Bell — who packed into the Harlem headquarters of the National Action Network, the organization founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton, to denounce the verdict and the judge who handed it down.
“April 25, 2008, they killed Sean all over again,” Ms. Paultre Bell told the audience. “I’m still praying for justice, because this is far from over. Every march, every protest, every rally, I’m going to be right up front.”
Mr. Guzman wore a long chain with a diamond-studded “S” hanging from it, a tribute to Mr. Bell. “Yesterday, I felt defeated,” he said.
Trent Benefield, who was in the back seat of Mr. Bell’s car and was also shot by the police, was not at the meeting because he remained distraught about the verdict, said Michael Hardy, Mr. Benefield’s lawyer.
On Friday, Mr. Sharpton pledged to lead boycotts, protests and acts of civil disobedience.
But except for a small march in Harlem on Saturday morning — which Mr. Sharpton did not participate in — there was no visible reaction in the city to the verdict. Extra security was seen outside the Police Department headquarters. Police vehicles were parked outside the Queens home of the judge who presided over the Bell trial, Justice Arthur J. Cooperman, and a police helicopter flew overhead.
Mr. Sharpton said he planned to meet on Monday with Representative John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which has oversight over the Justice Department. Federal prosecutors say they are investigating the case.
Mr. Sharpton also said he would meet on Tuesday night with community leaders in Manhattan to plan demonstrations that he said would begin within a week. As he did on Friday, Mr. Sharpton attacked several parts of Justice Cooperman’s statement explaining his verdict. The judge said that prosecutors failed to prove their case and that the wounded friends of Mr. Bell gave testimony that he did not believe.
In Harlem, the relatively small protest started around 11:30 a.m., when a group of more than 100 people marched south on Lenox Avenue from 145th Street. They carried signs with the numerals 1 through 50 written on them.
Inside Mr. Sharpton’s headquarters, those closest to Mr. Bell spoke of their own readiness to march. “We still here, we still in it,” said Mr. Guzman, who spoke so softly at one point that the audience had to ask him to speak into the microphone.
Mr. Guzman showed little of what the lawyers for the detectives — and even Justice Cooperman — suggested was a bellicose demeanor on the witness stand. There were moments when his face turned red, seemingly overcome with emotion. He said he sometimes heard Mr. Bell’s voice when he was in his car.
William Bell showed the most frustration. At one point, while everyone stood and chanted, he sat stiff-jawed in his seat, his elbows on his knees and his fingers interlocking. Later, he stepped to the microphone and said, “Is this 1955 Alabama?”
Valerie Bell spoke of her faith in God and her lingering anguish.
“On May 18, 1983, I didn’t go through labor pains with my son because he was born C-section,” she said. “But on Nov. 25, 2006, that’s when my labor pains started.” That was the day Mr. Bell was killed.
Ms. Paultre Bell, who took Mr. Bell’s name after his death, chose not to make any denunciations after the shooting, deferring to the legal system, said Mr. Hardy, who is representing her, Mr. Benefield and Mr. Guzman in a $50 million lawsuit against the city. That respect had evaporated, he said.
“I think Cooperman’s rejection, his unequivocal rejection, was liberating to Nicole,” Mr. Hardy said. “She now feels unrestrained in her love for Sean and her quest for justice.”
Indeed, on Saturday, Ms. Paultre Bell said, “The justice system let me down.”
At one point during his 30-minute speech, Mr. Sharpton’s voice rumbled to a scratchy crescendo as he spoke of his childhood in Brownsville, Brooklyn, and how his mother fought to keep him out of trouble and make sure he got an education.
Then, with tears streaming down his face, he pointed to Valerie Bell and Ms. Paultre Bell and said: “I’m going to help these two women fight for that little boy. That little boy didn’t deserve to die, and this city is going to deal with the blood of Sean Bell.”
Mathew R. Warren contributed reporting.
(Article courtesy of The New York Times )

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On Dec. 3, 1990, then-Gov. Ann Richards, right, announced Lena Guerrero’s appointment to the Texas Railroad Commission.


April 24, 2008, 11:27PM

First woman, minority to serve faced résumé scandal
AUSTIN — Lena Guerrero, who became the first woman and the first minority to serve on the Texas Railroad Commission but saw her political career unravel over a misstated résumé, died overnight following a long struggle with cancer, friends said Thursday.
She was 50.
A native of Mission in the Rio Grande Valley, Guerrero began working in political campaigns while a student at the University of Texas at Austin. She was still in her 20s when she was elected from Austin to a seat in the Texas House and 33 when then-Gov. Ann Richards named her to fill a mid-term vacancy on the Railroad Commission.
Her appointment to the previously all-male, all-Anglo oil and natural gas regulatory body was one of the first acts of Richards’ new Democratic administration and symbolized a “New Texas” that Richards said she was trying to promote.
But Guerrero’s political career crashed in 1992 after it was revealed that she had lied about having graduated from UT-Austin. After resigning from the commission, she tried to regain her seat in the election that year but lost to Republican Barry Williamson.
Guerrero later completed her degree requirements and began a lobby practice in Austin.

Diagnosed in 2000

In a 1998 interview with the Houston Chronicle, Guerrero acknowledged she had made serious mistakes during her resignation ordeal.
“I don’t mean to say it wasn’t real and it didn’t hurt,” she said. “But I have learned. And if you can’t learn and go on and you dwell too much in the past, then you’re really wasting your present.”
Guerrero was diagnosed with two malignant brain tumors in 2000 and began “proton beam therapy” at Loma Linda University Medical Center in California. A friend, lobbyist Mignon McGarry, said Guerrero went to California for treatment after being advised by physicians at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston that she would be dead within two years.
“She just decided to fight it,” McGarry said, noting she lived long enough to see her son, Leo G. Aguirre, graduate from high school and begin a baseball career at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces.
Gov. Rick Perry, who served with Guerrero in the House and who won her re-election endorsement in 2006, directed that flags at the state Capitol and other state buildings be flown at half-staff in her memory. He said she was a “bright, passionate woman who worked hard to represent the interests of her constituents.”
Former Speaker Pete Laney agreed.
“I don’t think there was anyone who was more passionate about their service in the Legislature or (about) their constituents and beliefs,” Laney said.
Guerrero served in the Texas House for six years. She made Texas Monthly’s 10 Best Legislators list in 1989. She also received favorable publicity in national publications such as Newsweek and USA Today and was awarded a speaking slot at the 1992 Democratic National Convention.
Then the résumé problem erupted.

With tenacity and humor

In a statement issued by former Guerrero aide J. Thomas Stewart, her family called Guerrero a “champion.”
“She dealt with the struggles in her personal life in the same way she dealt with those in her public life — with tenacity, vigor and a sense of humor that we will miss more than words can say,” the statement said.
A visitation will be held today at 6:30 p.m. at Mission Funeral Home, 6204 S. First in Austin, followed by a rosary at 7:30 p.m. A funeral Mass is scheduled for 9 a.m. Saturday at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, 1206 E. Ninth. Burial will be in the Texas State Cemetery.
Guerrero is survived by her son and her husband, Lionel “Leo” Aguirre.
(Article courtesy of the Houston Chronicle: )
Granville Sawyer, former president of Texas Southeren University.
Family photo
Granville M. Sawyer, a former president of Texas Southern University who took the school’s helm in the wake of a 1967 campus riot, has died. He was 88.
The riot, in which a Houston police officer was killed, figured in the resignation of Sawyer’s predecessor, Joseph A. Pierce.
Because Sawyer had a “student-centered philosophy,” it was fortunate that he came to TSU when he did, said James Race, a retired dean and biology professor at the university.
Sawyer had an open-door approach and included students in staff-planning conferences, Race said.
“Dr. Sawyer had a close relationship with the students, and they thought highly of him,” said Glenn Lewis, a Fort Worth lawyer and chairman of the TSU board of regents.”I look back at my contemporaries who attended TSU in Sawyer’s time, and most of them have done very well. I can’t help but think that to some extent, they owe that to him, because he was running the school at the time.”
With minority enrollment rising at what had been white universities, Sawyer confronted questions during his tenure about the future of TSU, which had been founded as a school for African-Americans. Rumors that TSU might merge with the University of Houston persisted.
In 1973, Sawyer’s concept of “an urban university” led the Texas Legislature to designate TSU “a special purpose institution for urban programming.”
“He did an excellent job in presenting our case to legislators,” said Llayron Clarkson, a former professor of mathematics and administrator at TSU.
Sawyer “liked the fine arts and did what he could to expose the students to classical music,”Clarkson said. Sawyer also was responsible for improving the university marching band, he said.
In 1969 Sawyer recruited Benjamin Butler as director of the TSU band. At the time, the band had about 40 members compared with 150 to 200 at other colleges in the Southwest, Butler said.
Because the repertory of the band was mainly military, Sawyer wanted to broaden its range. He suggested a name for the band that it still bears: the Ocean of Soul, Butler said.
Sawyer’s presidency ended in 1979 amid complaints that he had lost control of routine operations.
In 2003, an auditorium on the TSU campus was named in Sawyer’s honor.
Granville Monroe Sawyer was born in Mobile, Ala., on May 7, 1919. He attended public schools in his hometown and spent four years in the Air Force during World War II. He was in pilot training when he was honorably discharged in 1946.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in English and speech with distinction from what is now Tennessee State University in Nashville. At the University of Southern California, Sawyer received a master’s degree in 1952 and a doctorate in 1955, both in speech science.
Sawyer died April 12 in a Houston convalescent center. His wife, Maxine Young Sawyer, died in 2007.
Survivors include a son, Granville M. Sawyer Jr. of Bethesda, Md.; a daughter, Patrecia West of West Orange, N.J.; a brother, Harold Sawyer of New York City; and four sisters, Dorothy Powell, Anna Willis, Tina Carson, and Elloween Henderson, all of Detroit, Mich.
A memorial service is scheduled for June 7 on the TSU campus.
(Article courtesy of the Houston Chronicle: )
FONTANA, Calif. — Al Wilson, the soul singer and songwriter who had a number of 1970s hits including “Show and Tell,” has died. He was 68.
Wilson died Monday of kidney failure at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Fontana, according to his son, Tony Wilson of Yucaipa.
“He was always singing,” his son said. “He would call me in the middle of the night with a new song that he had written.”
Wilson was born on June 19, 1939, in Meridian, Miss. He sang in the church choir as a boy and had his own spiritual singing quartet. His family moved to San Bernardino in 1958 and he found work as a mail carrier, office clerk and janitor.
He toured for four years with the group Johnny “Legs” Harris and the Statesmen before joining the Navy. Following a two-year stint, he moved to Los Angeles and played with the Jewels and their successor group, the Rollers. A drummer, he also worked with the instrumental group the Souls.
In 1966, he was spo tted by manager Marc Gordon, who introduced him to singer Johnny Rivers, who signed him to his Soul City label. Wilson’s first single, “The Snake” in 1968, was a hit and was followed by “Do What You Gotta Do.”
“Show and Tell” was released in 1973 and the next year was No. 1 on the Billboard Top 100 chart.
Wilson charted with several other 1970s singles, including “La La Peace Song,” “I’ve Got a Feeling (We’ll Be Seeing Each Other Again)” and “Count the Days.”
In later years he continued to tour clubs in Los Angeles and elsewhere.
In addition to his son, Wilson is survived by his wife, Patricia; daughters Alene Harris and Sharon Burley; a brother, Eddie Wilson; sisters Lottie Ross, Ruby Conyers and Maebell Cole, and 13 grandchildren.
Copyright 2008 Associated Press.
(To listen to a version of “The Snake” by Al Wilson, click here: )
Published: April 25, 2008
Germaine Tillion, a major figure in contemporary French thought who used experiences studying peasants on the edge of the Sahara, fighting Nazis and surviving a concentration camp as compelling intellectual fodder, died on Saturday at her home in St.-Mande, France. She was 100.
Stephane de Sakutin/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Germaine Tillion in 2004, after Germany named her Commander of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic.

Her death was announced by the Web site of her association.
Ms. Tillion, an anthropologist, lived through moments of high drama, including being arrested by the Gestapo on Aug. 13, 1942, for her role in the formation of the French Resistance. The charges against her included five that could have led to the death penalty.
At Ravensbrück, a concentration camp for women in eastern Germany where she spent three years, she learned that she had been designated to disappear without a trace, with the label NN, under Hitler’s Nacht und Nebel (night and fog) decree on the fate of Resistance workers. She survived, but her mother, who was picked up for hiding a British airman, died in a gas chamber at Ravensbrück in 1945. She was selected for death for having white hair.
After the war, Ms. Tillion was drawn into the biggest controversy in France in the 1950s, the Algerian demand for independence from France and the French opposition. In the summer of 1957, Saadi Yacef, a leader of the Algerian forces, asked to meet with her. After two and a half hours of conversation, Mr. Yacef said, “You see that we are neither criminals nor murderers.”
As described in her book “France and Algeria: Complementary Enemies,” printed in English in 1961, Ms. Tillion “sadly, but firmly” answered, “You are murderers.”
Ms. Tillion emerged as an important public intellectual in the 1950s and ’60s, when thinkers like Raymond Aron and Jean-Paul Sartre passionately debated the issue of Algeria. She argued that the French had a responsibility not to allow Algerians to sink into poverty, and that they therefore should retain some kind of ties with what was then their colony.
But she delved into her past to recall “specters of the Gestapo” in becoming one of the first and loudest voices to protest French torture of Algerian prisoners.
As quoted in The New York Times in 1958, Albert Camus, a native Algerian, wrote of Ms. Tillion: “No one, either in Algeria or throughout the world, can henceforth discuss the Algerian problem without having read what an understanding and cultivated woman has written about my misunderstood, desperate native land, now stirred by a heart-rending hope.”
Ms. Tillion mined her experiences to write two books on Algeria, three versions of her book on Ravensbrück and an influential study of the condition of women in the Mediterranean world, among many other works. At her death, she was honorary director of the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences in Paris.
In recent years, as France still wrestles with ghosts from past wars, she has been the subject of biographies, exhibitions, conferences and films. Her moral authority and clarity of intellect eventually gave her “the status of a sage,” wrote Tzvetan Todorov, a philosopher and student of 20th-century totalitarianism.
In an interview with French Politics, Culture and Society in 2004, Mr. Todorov said that whenever he faced a thorny question, he asked himself, “What would Germaine do?”
Ms. Tillion was one of France’s most decorated people. Her awards included the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor, which only four other women have received. On her 100th birthday, President Nicolas Sarkozy wrote her a letter expressing “the affection of the entire nation.”
Germaine Marie Rosine Tillion was born in Allègre, France, on May 30, 1907. Her father was a judge and her mother was a writer. She studied anthropology at the University of Paris and other schools, and in the 1930s conducted four research missions to study Berbers and other groups in northeastern Algeria.
She returned to Paris after Germany invaded France in 1940. She quickly fell in with intellectuals at the Museum of Man who were forming one of the first underground groups to resist the Nazis. Of the four leaders, she was the only one who was not killed.
Denounced by a priest, she was deported to Ravensbrück. During short breaks from building a road, she taught other prisoners a course on the history of man. She also painstakingly figured out the precise economics of how the SS profited from slave labor. “Paltry shopkeepers of death,” she called the SS.
At night, she scratched into the wall her plan to reform primary education in France after liberation, David Schoenbrun wrote in “Soldiers of the Night: The Story of the French Resistance” (1980).
Among Ms. Tillion’s great sorrows was the Nazis’ confiscation of a suitcase with years of anthropological research notes when they arrested her, according to published reports.
A greater sorrow was seeing mothers being made to watch the drowning of their babies in buckets, she wrote. When liberated by Russian soldiers in April 1945, she carried undeveloped photos made with a smuggled camera, which she had hidden for years, showing women’s legs scarred by Nazi medical experiments.
After the war, Ms. Tillion became a strong spokeswoman for the heroism of Resistance fighters in the face of evidence that many French had collaborated with the occupiers. Two groups of former Ravensbrück prisoners chose her to be their representative at trials of camp administrators.
In an interview with the journal History and Memory in 2003, she said criminal trials could not address the acts of those living in a society in which crimes were not an aberration. She said she saw “the deepening of the abyss being dug between what really happened and the uncertain re-presentation we call history.”
Ms. Tillion’s biographer, Jean Lacouture, called her a “major witness of our century,” but she was more than a witness. She appealed to François Mitterrand when he was minister of the interior to send her back to Algeria to be an advocate for the people she had studied in remote areas.
Her political role grew after unnamed people asked to speak with her about a brochure she had written. Their leader turned out to be Mr. Yacef of Algeria’s National Liberation Front. After they met a second time, the violence stopped, as he had promised, and did not resume until he was arrested.
Ms. Tillion, who did not marry or have children, wrote an operetta, “A Camp Worker Goes to Hell,” while in the concentration camp. It was first performed in Paris last year by a professional troupe. She had kept it in a drawer for 60 years because she worried that “people would get the wrong idea and think we were enjoying ourselves.”
The sheer darkness of the humor makes that unlikely. A character joked that the camp offers “all the creature comforts — water, gas, electricity — especially gas.”
(Article courtesy of The New York Times: )
Published: April 26, 2008
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Joy Page, the stepdaughter of Jack L. Warner, a president of the Warner Brothers studio, who made her film debut as a Bulgarian newlywed in “Casablanca,” died on April 18 in Los Angeles. She was 83.
Los Angeles Times/Associated Press
The actress Joy Page in 1943.

The cause was complications of a stroke and pneumonia, said her son, Gregory Orr.
Born on Nov. 9, 1924, in Los Angeles, Ms. Page was the daughter of the silent-film star Don Alvarado (also known as Don Page) and Ann Boyar, who married Mr. Warner after she and Mr. Alvarado divorced.
A dark-haired beauty, Ms. Page was 17 and a high school senior when she got the role of Annina Brandel in the 1942 Warner Brothers classic “Casablanca,” starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.
Mr. Warner had taken home a draft of the film script. Ms. Page’s acting coach suggested she read for the part of the bride, who faces having to sleep with the corrupt police captain played by Claude Rains to obtain exit visas to escape from Casablanca to America. Bogart, as the owner of Rick’s Café Américain, lets her husband win at roulette so he can buy the visas.
Mr. Orr said that while Mr. Warner liked Ms. Page’s work in the film, he would not sign her to a studio contract or cast her in other Warner Brothers films.
Her other films include “Kismet” (1944) and “Man-Eater of Kumaon” (1948).
In 1945, she married the actor William T. Orr, who later headed the Warner Brothers television department. She retired from acting in 1962. The couple divorced in 1970.
Besides her son, Gregory, she is survived by her daughter, Diane Orr, and her half sister, Barbara Warner Howard.
(Article courtesy of The New York Times: )
Published: April 26, 2008
Enrico Donati, an Italian-born American painter and sculptor considered by many in the art world to be the last of the Surrealists, died on Friday at his home in Manhattan. He was 99.
Bill Cunningham/The New York Times
Enrico Donati in 2005 with his sculpture “Fist” (1946).

The cause was complications of injuries sustained in a taxi accident in July, said David Oxman, a spokesman for the family.
Mr. Donati survived Surrealism and moved through other art movements, including Constructivism and Abstract Expressionism, and became a successful owner of a perfume company.
After receiving a doctorate in what would now be called sociology at the University of Pavia in 1929, he first turned to music. Unhappy with the state of musical education in Milan under the Fascists, he moved to Paris and for a time composed avant-garde music in a Montmartre garret. He developed an interest in anthropology and in 1934 traveled to the American Southwest and Canada to study and collect American Indian artifacts.
After dabbling in commercial art and printing in New York, he resolved to commit himself to painting and returned to Paris, where he was drawn to the flourishing Surrealist movement.
When war broke out in 1939, Mr. Donati returned to New York for good, along with his first wife, Claire Javel, and their two daughters, Marina Donati and Sylvaine Mahis of Paris, who survive him. He was divorced from Ms. Javel in 1965 and married Adele Schmidt, who also survives him, as well as a daughter from his second marriage, Alexandra Donati of New York; five grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.
Mr. Donati attended the New School for Social Research and in 1942 had his first one-man show at the New School’s gallery. His work impressed the art historian Lionello Venturi, who introduced him to the writer André Breton, often considered the father of Surrealism. Breton brought him into the circle of prominent European artists, many of them Surrealists, who had gathered in New York at the outset of the war.
“You are one of us,” he recalled Breton saying to him. The group included Max Ernst, Salvador Dali, Yves Tanguy, Arshile Gorky, Marcel Duchamp, Giorgio de Chirico, Fernand Léger and the American sculptor Alexander Calder.
“We met for lunch every day at Larré’s French restaurant on West 56th Street,” Mr. Donati later told an interviewer.
At his death, he was the only survivor of the group.
Duchamp became a particular friend. They collaborated on various projects, including the Exposition Internationale du Surrealisme at the Maeght Gallery in Paris in 1947. They devised the exposition’s program, decorating the cover of each copy with a foam rubber breast.
As Surrealism faded, Mr. Donati moved on. “He reinvented himself four or five times,” said his biographer, the artist and critic Theodore F. Wolff.
There was his Constructivist phase and, for a time, a focus on Abstract Expressionism. In later years, Mr. Donati became fascinated with surface and texture, mixing his paint with sand, dust, coffee grounds and, at times, the contents of his vacuum cleaner, which he mixed with pigment and glue and slathered on his canvas.
“It opened up a new world for me,” he recalled in a 1968 oral history interview for the Smithsonian Institution. “I kept on using the vacuum cleaner dirt for years.”
Mr. Donati’s work is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Museum of Fine Art in Houston and the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium in Brussels.
Mr. Donati was for many years as engaged in the business world as he was in the world of art. In the early 1960s, he joined the board of Houbigant Inc., one of the oldest purveyors of French perfumes and eau de cologne. In 1965 he bought the company, which was privately held.
In 1978 Fortune Magazine reported that as chairman and chief executive, he had “revived the sagging fortunes” of the company, then worth $50 million. His first wife was a member of the Houbigant family, Fortune said.
(Article courtesy of The New York Times: )
Published: April 27, 2008
Kate Phillips, who played mostly supporting roles on Broadway and in more than 50 films in the 1930s and ’40s and who later was a co-writer of the 1958 horror film “The Blob,” died on April 18 in Keene, N.H. She was 94.
Kate Phillips about 1940.

The death was confirmed by Lawrence Benaquist, chairman of film studies at Keene State College. Mrs. Phillips, known during her acting career as Kay Linaker, taught at the college from 1980 until two years ago.
In 1956, while working with Theodore Simonson on the script for a movie that was supposed to be called “The Molten Meteor,” Mrs. Phillips referred to the giant jellylike creature from another planet that had plopped into a field outside of a small town as “the blob.”
Overhearing her, the producers changed the name of what became something of a cult classic.
“The Blob” gave a fresh-faced Steve McQueen his first starring role, as one of two teenagers whose warnings about the voracious appetite of the enlarging monster are ignored until many people are engulfed.
“Both Steve McQueen and I were to receive $150 plus 10 percent of the gross,” Mrs. Phillips said in an interview for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture (she was a native of Pine Bluff, Ark.). “Neither one of us got the percentage — and the film and its remake have earned millions — but I got an important writing credit and Steve became a star.”
Although Mrs. Phillips usually played small parts during her stage and film career, in 1936 she was cast in a leading role opposite Conrad Nagel in “The Girl From Mandalay,” about a man who marries a resort entertainer after his sweetheart back in England tires of waiting for him.
Another of her more notable roles was that of a society matron who marries the former husband of Ginger Rogers in the 1940 film “Kitty Foyle.” In the movie she visits an upscale department store and is waited on by her working-class counterpart, unaware of what the two have in common. She had smaller parts in “Drums Along the Mohawk” (1939); “Blood and Sand” (1941); and five “Charlie Chan” movies.
Mary Katherine Linaker was born on July 19, 1913. She studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York during the day while taking classes at New York University at night. After graduating from N.Y.U., she got a film contract with Warner Bros., having attracted the attention of scouts with her work on Broadway.
During World War II, Mrs. Phillips joined the Red Cross, serving as a hostess at U.S.O. clubs. She also began writing for the Voice of America. About that time she met, and soon married, Howard Phillips, a singer and writer who later became an NBC television executive.
Her husband died before her. She is survived by a son, Bill, of El Cerrito, Calif.; a daughter, Regina Paquette of Keene; and four grandchildren.
In July 2003, Mrs. Phillips traveled to Phoenixville, Pa., to celebrate the town’s annual Blob Fest. As always, hundreds of B-movie fans raced out of the Colonial Theater, re-enacting the panic caused by a gelatinous creature in a scene filmed there almost five decades ago.
(Article courtesy of The New York Times: )
John Maynard Keynes, Influential Economist, Dies at 63

(April 21, 1946)

Richard Milhous Nixon, 37th President, Dies at 81

(April 22, 1994)

Cesar Chavez, Union Organizer, Dies at 66

(April 23, 1993)

Willa Cather, Novelist, Dies at 70

(April 24, 1947)

Ginger Rogers, Who Danced With Astaire, Dies at 83

(April 25, 1995)

Edward R. Murrow, CBS Broadcaster, Dies at 57

(April 27, 1965)

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When many people hear the words “bluegrass”, they picture a band of white musicians playing. The image of black musicians never comes to mind. Time for people to learn of the true origins of bluegrass. Time for a history lesson. Time for people to learn of the profound effect, and tremendous contributions, black musicians have made to the genre of music known as bluegrass:
The Carolina Chocolate Drops specialize in string-band music, a genre of music that doesn’t include many black musicians.
Jimmy Williams
April 16, 2008, 2:11PM








Dom Flemons, a black man who plays old-time string music on guitar and banjo, is always looking ahead, even when he’s rooting around songs and styles nearly 100 years old.
Flemons, 25, is one-third of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, an exciting and imaginative North Carolina-based trio that performs string-band music. He’ll gladly talk about long-dead performers like a veteran folklorist, but making music that is compelling today is his job.
The band has been drawing a lot of attention, partially because it seems strange in 2008 to see a black man playing a banjo.
Like musician Otis Taylor, the Carolina Chocolate Drops are correcting some cultural perceptions about the instrument. A staple of mountain music and bluegrass, the banjo’s roots are in Africa.
As white audiences began to embrace it last century, its true history faded.
Flemons points out that folk musician Pete Seeger has always been up front about the instrument’s origins. “But you can only go so far with Pete Seeger.”
His fellow Chocolate Drop Rhiannon Giddens, 30 and also a banjo player, fiddler and singer, has been an enthusiast for getting the band into classrooms to educate. (Fiddler/singer Justin Robinson, 24, is the third Drop.)
“It’s nice to plant the seed so that they know they have choices,” Flemons says. “If they see a black person as a banjo player, that’s all we need, just to present that choice. If they pick it up later, that’s great. If they don’t, they can reference it sometime later.”
All of that would be noble and a little dry, but Flemons — who also plays guitar, harmonica, snare and jug — points out the Chocolate Drops are about making music and not pontificating about it. Reclaiming context for songs and instruments is merely a byproduct of what they do, which is performing songs that interest them.
“Our first thing is to play good music — that’s about it,” Flemons says. “After that, everybody else can put what they need on it. In many ways, we’re just regular band. We play tunes … . At the same time, all these epic things seem to follow us around as we’re playing songs.”
He suggests “we could play the Who’s You Better You Bet and make it sound like a string-band song.”
Many will sound familiar to those who listen to old folk, string band and mountain music. The band’s lively album Dona Got a Ramblin’ Mind is packed with 16 familiarish tunes like Tom Dula (some may be more familiar with Doc Watson’s Tom Dooley), Dixie and Sally Ann.
Giddens and Robinson both hail from North Carolina; Flemons moved there from Arizona.
The trio met three years ago at the Black Banjo Gathering in Boone, N.C.
Shared interest in this music turned them into a band, the name a tip to an old string band, the Tennessee Chocolate Drops, from the 1920s.
A venerable fiddler named Joe Thompson has been something of a mentor to the Chocolate Drops. He knows the songs, and more helpful, his technique has been a guide.
Flemons suggests that being open-minded and inquisitive helps the band better understand the music. He references an NPR interview with Johnny Cash, in which Cash talked about running into the blues/jug-band legend Gus Cannon.
The conversation didn’t go any deeper about Cannon, which Flemons thought was a missed opportunity.
“Sometimes these older performers say something absolutely relevant, but the interviewer or whoever isn’t looking for it,” he says. When Thompson once complained about the cost of rosin for his fiddle, Flemons asked what he used growing up. He got a lecture on the process for turning tree sap into rosin.
Similarly he digs a little deeper with regard to the sensitive race issues in popular music.
“A lot of times white and black players in those old string bands sound the same,” he says. “You find more regional and geographical differences than you do racial lines.”
He admits to a strong appreciation for musician Emmett Miller, who had inestimable influence on popular country music, but whose time spent performing in blackface has made his a dubious legacy.
He marvels at a Miller film, Yes Sir, Mr. Bones, he’d recently seen. “He’s amazing in it,” Flemons says. “If there was a minstrel show of that sort of caliber, you can see why it was popular. It was the most popular form of entertainment for 100 years. It has to be something more than making fun of people if it’s going to last 100 years.”
He gets into a long contextual discussion about food and stereotypes and jokes within stereotypes.
“People want to make it cut-and-dried, but it’s a hard issue,” he says. “People say minstrelsy makes fun of black people and that’s it; it’s not that easy.”
But Flemons hopes the Carolina Chocolate Drops can help break some associations of string band music as played by blacks. “We don’t represent ourselves as anything but ourselves,” he says. “We can only hope to split up some of that stereotype of the happy, darky minstrel up. There’s a perception it’s one thing. If we can break that up and have a black string band accepted as one thing and the stereotypes as another, that would be doing something.
“We’re normal people playing string band music. A lot of the time, black people don’t know it’s part of them. No one’s made that reference for them in 70, 80 years.”
He says black listeners say, “I don’t like this type of music, but I like what you do.” He gets mountain music and bluegrass fans giving their approval.
Flemons doesn’t expect the Chocolate Drops to be stealing album sales from Jay-Z. But he does think “we’re at a certain point in black culture where it looks like black culture might finally want to go a little retro.”
He compares today’s hip-hop to 1960’s country music, pointing out its institutionalized homogenous sound.
“Maybe the next thing will be a hip-hop star who we couldn’t have imagined,” he says. “One who does to hip-hop what the Beatles or Bob Dylan did to rock. Who knows? Brass bands seem to be growing in numbers. I detect more interest in string bands. Maybe a new generation will want to reach back, way back.”
The Carolina Chocolate Drops music can be heard on the film “The Great Debaters” soundtrack.
Lyrics of “The Great Debaters’ soundtrack:

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April 19, 2008

IFest sizzles with LaVette, Carolina Chocolate Drops

Joey Guerra: Chronicle

Bettye LaVette, on fire Saturday at IFest.

Click here to see more photos.Africa may be the anchor of this year’s edition of the Houston International Festival — but a pair of stateside artists proved powerful highlights during Saturday’s edition of the two-weekend event.

To these ears, the day belonged to Michigan-born Bettye Lavette, the alternately prickly and polished soul dynamo who spent more than 40 years in obscurity before being truly discovered; and the Carolina Chocolate Drops, an exciting, invigorating, black folk and string-band.

LaVette, who took the penultimate slot on the World Music Stage, isn’t just an engaging performer. She’s a musical force of nature, a hurricane in heels that whips up a fiery mix of soul, jazz, country and blues.

“They have finally decided to let me keep coming out of the crypt,” she told the crowd, one of many references to her struggles to get noticed in the music industry. But her words never seemed bitter. They seemed the weary, triumphant testimonies of a survivor.

She flitted and strutted across the stage with ease, looking young, elegant and trim at 62 years old. Her four-member band crackled with energy and put a rock edge on every tune, most from I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise (2005) and The Scene of the Crime (2007), the covers-heavy discs that have helped cement LaVette’s iconic status. (She also ran through a few older recordings during a zippy medley/musical history lesson.)

But it was the diva herself that made every moment quake and simmer. LaVette delivers every lyric, every note with astonishing conviction. But she also feels the music with every inch of her body, often throwing her head back or flailing an arm alongside the groove.

Choices, a country hit for George Jones, became a searing paean to mortality; and she transformed Lucinda Williams’ rambling Joy into a thundering rally cry. Make no mistake: If LaVette had been given the proper treatment, she would likely be lauded alongside Aretha, Gladys and Patti.

She addressed the audience between songs with the fervor of a preacher, stressing every word to make it mean something, even during band introductions.

LaVette took a “senior citizen moment” before launching into Somebody Pick Up My Pieces, a Willie Nelson-penned tune. She sat cross-legged, center stage, on a small black towel, wringing every ounce of emotion from the mournful lyrics. The same magic swirled during Before the Money Came, a raucous, autobiographical tune that recounts LaVette’s hard-knock journey to present-day success.

She closed with a pair of female-written sparklers: Fiona Apple’s Sleep to Dream and a hymn-like, a cappella rendition of Sinead O’Connor’s I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got that inspired moments of awestruck silence and piercing cries of “Sing it, Bettye!”

With that, she tossed her microphone to the floor, walked backstage and disappeared. LaVette’s soul-glow, however, will likely last much longer.

Joey Guerra: Chronicle

Drops Flemons and Giddens string along.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops were an equally vibrant — wholly different — bunch. The purveyors of black string-band music were making their southwest debut with two IFest performances and earned the event’s new artist award.

“Don’t be afraid to move if you feel like it,” Rhiannon Giddens urged. It was all some folks needed to engage in some serious grass-dancing.

Dom Flemons and Justin Robinson completed the trio, and each member moved effortlessly between vocals and instruments. Fiddle, banjo, guitar, snare, harmonica, jug and even bones were in the musical mix, and the sound was authentic, youthful and exciting.

The instrumental Little Rabbit built to a breakneck speed, and there was more fire during I’m Gonna Run to the City of Refuge and the festive Cornbread and Butterbeans.

Joey Guerra: Chronicle

The Drops’ Robinson put his jug into it.

The bravura blues of Two Time Loser, a Giddens original, was another highlight. She wailed it with a swelling, soaring intensity that drew roars of approval. Her Charleston during joyous love ode Salty Dog was also a kick.

The Drops draw inspiration from endless sources — obscure black folk players, mentor and fiddler Joe Thompson, Hee Haw‘s Grandpa Jones — all of which they love to chatter about between tunes.

Even a one-hit wonder proved a formidable Drops muse. The trio turned Hit ’em Up Style (Oops!), a slinky 2001 single from Blu Cantrell, into a blaze of beatboxing, fiddle and soulful, sassy vocals. It was the biggest surprise in a set full of them.

Earlier in the day, it wasn’t the sound of Africa that first caught my attention. It was the movement.

Joey Guerra: Chronicle

Ethiopian dancers made a joyful noise.

The furious patter of feet echoed on the Wamu Center Stage, where the National Dance Theater of Ethiopia was in full swing. It was early — around 1 p.m. — but the crowd was healthy and engaged.

The onstage male and female players moved as if in a trance, furiously shaking their heads to the percussion instrumentation and vocals. The steps were fluid, the mood joyous. Bright, vibrant costumes completed the scene.

It was a perfect start to a day filled with music from all over the globe.

Joey Guerra: Chronicle

Rubboardist Mike Vowella peppers the Zydeco flavor.

Over at the Houston Stage — sponsored by our own fair blog — the Zydeco Dots were having a good time. It was a no-frills setup — five older guys who knew what they were doing and just seemed to be having a good time.

It was a rackety, scrappy sound, anchored by Ray-Ray Chavis’ lively accordion work and rubboardist Mike Vowella, who ably handled the metal washboard of sorts strapped to his chest.

Slightly less engaging was the Louisiana Purchase Bluegrass Band, a five-piece outfit whose name said it all. In other words, serviceable stringwork that wasn’t as dynamic as some of the day’s offerings.

It wasn’t a terribly exciting display, but fine enough for an early day pass-by. The male outfit’s solid harmonies were a highlight.

Joey Guerra: Chronicle

Mariachi Los Coyote, festive and a fine-arts credit, too.

The nearby Latin Stage boasted the more spirited sounds of Mariachi Los Coyotes, who boasted clear vocals and polished instrumentation as crisp as their red outfits. The 14-piece co-ed group was from La Joya High School in the Rio Grande Valley.

Participation in the mariachi group is good for a fine arts credit. Talk about teenage memories.

The oddest encounter of the day had to be Kijana the Griot, who reigned supreme over the small Gullah Stage. She was equal parts storyteller, rapper and disco diva.

Joey Guerra: Chronicle

Kijana weaves tales of African history, with some audience participation.

Kijana told tales of African history with the help of two reluctant kids she plucked from the audience. She had an Oprah-like enthusiasm and a chirpy singing voice.

Then, in a flash, she changed outfits and ran through renditions of Natural Woman and I Will Survive with all the conviction of a wedding singer. Strange.

Longtime local favorites D.R.U.M. drew a big, rowdy crowd to the anchor Bud Light World Music Stage. The group’s full-bodied, reggae-rock sound seemed to officially get the party started (on a Saturday, uh, afternoon) and set the stage for the CCD’s and LaVette’s blazing finishes.

Posted by Joey Guerra at April 19, 2008 09:22 PM

(A big thanks and a hattip to Mr. Guerra for his great photos on the “Out of Africa” Houston International Festival. More later.)


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