Monthly Archives: November 2008

ON THIS DAY IN BLACK MUSIC HISTORY: NOVEMBER 30

#1 R&B Song 1974:   “I Feel a Song In My Heart,” Gladys Knight & the Pips

 

Born:   Walter “Brownie” McGhee, 1915; Johnny “Shuggie” Otis, 1953; June Pointer (The Pointer Sisters), 1954

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1956   The Jive Brothers recorded their immortal “Bad Boy” (#36 pop, #7 R&B). For their lead vocalist, thirty-nine-year-old Clarence Palmer, who had been performing since the ’20s, the hit ended a thirty-year drought.

 

1959   The Five Satins’ “Shadows” charted, becoming their third of seven Top 100 singles. Their classic “In the Still Of The Night” charted three of those seven times.

 

1960   Jackie Wilson’s “Talk That Talk” charted, reaching #3 R&B and #34 pop.

 

1963   The Supremes charted with  “When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes,” reaching #23 and becoming their first pop record hit.

 

1968   Sly & The Family Stone’s “Every Day people” hit the Top 100, eventually reaching #1 pop and R&B.

 

 

 

1988   LL Cool J performed at the first rap concert in Cote D’Ivoire, in Africa. The Ivory Coast was apparantly not ready for rap, as fights broke out, the stage was attacked, people fainted, and the police ended the performance halfway through the show.

 

1994   En Vogue performed at Wembley Arena in England. They quit the tour, ostensibly because of member Cindy Herron’s pregnancy, though rumors indicated their departure was due to stress related to working with Luther Vandross.

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IN REMEMBRANCE: NOVEMBER 30

WILLIAM GIBSON, PLAYWRIGHT
 
 
Published: November 27, 2008
 
William Gibson, a playwright who had a gift for creating strong, popular female characters and wrote “The Miracle Worker,” died on Tuesday in Stockbridge, Mass. He was 94.
His agent, Mary Ann Anderson, confirmed his death.
 
First written for television, “The Miracle Worker,” which portrayed the relationship between the young blind and deaf Helen Keller and her teacher, Annie Sullivan, was adapted for Broadway in 1959 and won the 1960 Tony Award for best play. Nearly half a century later, it is still performed at regional theaters around the country.
 
Over the course of a writing career that lasted seven decades, Mr. Gibson wrote many poems, short stories and plays, but none achieved the breakout fame and popular acclaim of “The Miracle Worker,” which won five other Tony awards.
 
The 1962 film version earned Oscar nominations for Mr. Gibson for his adaptation, and for the director, Arthur Penn. Anne Bancroft, who won a Tony for her portrayal of Sullivan, won a best actress Oscar, and Patty Duke, who also replayed her role as Keller from the Broadway production, won another for best supporting actress.
 
Mr. Gibson’s other works include “Two for the Seesaw,” which opened on Broadway in 1958; the book for a musical adaptation of “Golden Boy” by Clifford Odets; and “Golda” and “Golda’s Balcony,” two productions about the life of Prime Minister Golda Meir of Israel, the first starring Ms. Bancroft, the second Tovah Feldshuh. “The Monday After the Miracle,” a sequel to “The Miracle Worker” had a brief run on Broadway in 1982.
 
For many years as a young man in Topeka, Kan., Mr. Gibson labored over various writing projects for meager pay. But after he and his wife, Margaret, moved to Stockbridge in the early 1950s, where Margaret took a job as a psychoanalyst, he wrote a novel, “The Cobweb,” which was sold to MGM and made into a movie in 1955. After that, Mr. Gibson could have had a lucrative career as a screenwriter, but he decided to remain a playwright so he could own his work and not just be a gun for hire.
 
He finished one play in 1958 — “Two for the Seesaw” — and began working on another — “The Miracle Worker.” “The Miracle Worker” was first mounted as a teleplay, with Mr. Penn directing, and then became a Broadway hit. Mr. Penn won a Tony for his direction of the play.
 
“He was working on ‘Two for the Seesaw’ and he told me he needed money,” said Mr. Penn in an interview. “I asked him what he was working on and he said something he called a kind of a dance narrative between Helen Keller and her teacher. I could not even begin to visualize what he was talking about.
 
“It was a huge hit, of course,” added Mr. Penn, who went on to become lifelong friends with Mr. Gibson. “In both of those plays and later, ‘Golda’s Balcony,’ I think that Bill had a particular love for a kind of gallantry in women.”
 
Mr. Gibson, who was in his 50s by the time he experienced success as a writer, told Mr. Penn, “ ‘Good things come to those who wait … far too long.’ ”
 
Mr. Penn added that “Bill was a remarkable man, perfectly brilliant, but he had a very ironic relationship with his success.”
 
His wife, Margaret Brenman Gibson, died in 2004. Mr. Gibson is survived by his sons Daniel, who lives in Cambridge, Mass., and Thomas, who lives in Stockbridge.
 
Even into his 90s, Mr. Gibson continued to write as if his life depended on it, perhaps because it did.
 
“Writers go bad when the angels desert them,” he told The Hartford Courant in 2005, “Dylan Thomas was a marvelous poet and drank himself to death. Somewhere along the way, the angel left him. An angel has left me too, but the writing angel is still with me. And that’s the thing where I feel most alive — at least while I’m doing it. I started out to be a writer and I’m still a writer. Not bad.”
 
SOURCE:  The New York Times:  http://www.nytimes.com
 
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MC BREED, RAPPER WITH MIDWEST ROOTS
 
 
Published: November 25, 2008
 
 
MC Breed, one of the first commercially successful and nationally recognized rappers from the Midwest, died on Saturday in Ypsilanti, Mich. He was 37.
 
 
 
Prince/ATL Pics, 2007

MC Breed

 

 

The cause was kidney failure, said his manager, Darryl Morris. In September, Mr. Breed was hospitalized for the same condition after collapsing at a basketball game and was briefly placed on life support.
 
Born Eric Breed on June 12, 1971, he began his career in economically depressed Flint, Mich., where he was reared: “A city/where pity runs low,” he rapped of his hometown.
 
At the time he released his debut album with Da Flint Crew, “MC Breed & DFC,” in 1991, rappers hailing from the Midwest were still novelties, but Mr. Breed’s lyrical dexterity and songwriting gifts helped him gain wide attention. A single from that album, “Ain’t No Future in Yo Frontin’,” with its crisp drums, drawn from New York hip-hop, and needling synthesizers, which were a Los Angeles rap staple, became his biggest hit.
 
Shortly after the album’s release, Mr. Breed moved to Atlanta, where the label he recorded with, Ichiban, was based. Quickly, his house and studio became a hotbed for local talent, where emerging producers like Jazze Pha and established stars like Too Short would gather to play video games and record music.
 
“If you took Breed out of the equation, there are many careers that would never would have happened,” Too Short said in an interview.
 
On later albums, Mr. Breed moved toward a funk-driven sound similar to Los Angeles gangster rap; on his 1993 album, “The New Breed,” he worked with the West Coast rap pioneer the D.O.C.
 
During this period, Mr. Breed was in high demand as a collaborator. He worked with Too Short on several albums, both as a rapper and a ghostwriter. A chance meeting with Tupac Shakur in a tattoo parlor led to the single “Gotta Get Mine,” which became a hit in 1993. That year Mr. Breed also appeared, alongside Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, on a characteristically wacky George Clinton song, “Paint the White House Black.”
 
Living mostly in Atlanta, he continued to release albums through the 1990s. At his death, he was preparing a new album and a DVD about his career.
 
Mr. Breed is survived by his parents, Roy LeEster and Willie Breed; his children, Kiara Monique, Erica Ariel, Alexis Cymone, Marco Chene and Eric Jalen; two brothers, Pete and Kevin Breed; and a sister, Bridgette Breed.
 
SOURCE:  The New York Times:  http://www.nytimes.com
 
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ENNIO DE CONCINI, OSCAR-WINNING SCREENWRITER OF ‘DIVORCE—-ITALIAN STYLE’
 
 
Published: November 28, 2008
 
 
Ennio De Concini, a prolific Italian screenwriter who won an Academy Award for the internationally popular comedy “Divorce — Italian Style,” died on Nov. 17 in Rome. He was 84.
 
 
 
 
 
November 29, 2008    

Film Forum/Janus Films

Daniela Rocca and Marcello Mastroianni in “Divorce — Italian Style,” written by Ennio De Concini, who won an Oscar for it.

 

 

 

 

His family announced the death to the Italian news agency ANSA.
 
Released in 1961 as “Divorzio all’Italiana,” the film was directed by Pietro Germi and starred Marcello Mastroianni. Mr. De Concini shared an Oscar for best original screenplay with Mr. Germi and Alfredo Giannetti.
 
Reviewing “Divorce — Italian Style” in The New York Times in 1962, Bosley Crowther praised its “lively dialogue,” calling the film a “nifty frolic about a bored Sicilian baron who plots to force his wife to compromise herself with another man so he can honorably shoot her and then marry a 16-year-old girl.”
 
Other directors with whom Mr. De Concini worked include Michelangelo Antonioni (“Il Grido,” 1957, released in the United States as “The Cry”); Alessandro Blasetti (“Europa di Notte,” 1959, released as “European Nights”); and Mario Bava (“La Maschera del Demonio,” 1960, released as “Black Sunday”).
 
In 2001 “La Grande Strada Azzurra” (“The Wide Blue Road”), a 1957 film written by Mr. De Concini, Franco Solinas and Gillo Pontecorvo, received its extremely belated American premiere, to critical acclaim. Directed by Mr. Pontecorvo, it starred Yves Montand as an embattled, impoverished Italian fisherman.
 
Mr. De Concini also directed films, the best known of which was “Hitler: The Last Ten Days” (1973), starring Alec Guinness.
 
Ennio De Concini was born in Rome on Dec. 9, 1923. His early screenwriting credits include “Il Brigante Musolino” (“Outlaw Girl,” 1950); “I Tre Corsari” (“Three Corsairs,” 1952); and “Gli Undici Moschettieri” (“The Eleven Musketeers,” 1952). In later years he wrote extensively for Italian television.
 
Information on his survivors was not available.
 
Rachel Donadio contributed reporting from Rome.
 
SOURCE: The New York Times:  http://www.nytimes.com
 
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ELIZABETH JAMAIL YAMIN, WORKED IN FAMILY GROCERY
 
 
By Lynn Abram
Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle
 
Nov. 25, 2008, 11:04PM
 
 
 
photo
family photo
Elizabeth Jamail Yamin
 
 
Elizabeth Jamail Yamin, who worked as a geological analyst and as a produce expert in her family’s famed grocery in Houston, died Saturday in her son’s home in Missouri City. She was 87.
 
“She was the ultimate lady,” said her daughter, Barbara Yamin Fletcher, of Missouri City. “Very polite, always dressed properly. Two days before she died, she was having company, and she made sure her lipstick, powder and hair were done properly.”
 
Elizabeth Jamail Yamin was born on July 21, 1921, in Houston, the daughter of Najeeb K. “Jim” Jamail and Mary Musey Jamail.
 
She attended St. Anne’s Elementary School and graduated from St. Agnes Academy in 1938.
 
In her youth, Yamin did chores at the family business, Jim Jamail and Sons, which began in 1946 on Montrose Boulevard but opened on Kirby Drive in 1959. It closed in 1990.
 
During World War II, Yamin was a steel analyst at Cameron Iron Works and a geological analyst for Leo Horvitz Laboratory, a geophysical firm.
 
After 25 years of raising her family, Yamin returned to the Jamail grocery, serving clients in the wholesale produce department.
 
“She could be seen working in the cooler, wearing a full-length fur coat to keep her warm,” said her son, Calvin Philip Yamin, of Missouri City.
 
Yamin also devoted much time to the Southern Federation of Syrian, Lebanese and American Club, which sponsors scholarships and fosters cultural awareness for families of Syrian and Lebanese descent.
 
“She had friends of every age who felt she was their best friend,” her daughter said.
In addition to her son and daughter, survivors include two brothers, Joe Jamail and Harry Jamail; and a sister, Marian Averyt, all of Houston.
 
A Mass of Christian Burial is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. today at St. Michael Catholic Church, 1801 Sage. Burial will be in Forest Park Lawndale Cemetery, 6900 Lawndale.
 
 
 
SOURCE:  The Houston Chronicle:  http://www.chron.com
 
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ANDREW J. MCKELVEY, BUILDER OF MONSTER.COM
 
 
Published: November 28, 2008
 
Andrew J. McKelvey, a serial entrepreneur who in his early 60s jumped into Internet commerce as the executive who built Monster.com into the leading job recruitment Web site, died on Thursday at his home in Manhattan. He was 74.
 
 
 
 
Marilynn K. Yee/The New York Times

Andrew J. McKelvey helped build Monster.com and its mascot.

 

 

 

The cause was pancreatic cancer, his daughter Christine McKelvey said.
 
Before his work with Monster.com, Mr. McKelvey created a company called Telephone Marketing Programs, which became the nation’s largest Yellow Pages advertising agency. Begun in 1967 in borrowed office space and with one part-time assistant, TMP Worldwide, as it was later named, grew to employ thousands of workers and handle nearly a third of the American Yellow Pages ad business.
 
Mr. McKelvey combined hard work, persistence and deft timing. He explained his philosophy in an interview with The New York Times four years ago. “What you do in business is, you follow your nose,” Mr. McKelvey said. “The secret of success is being in the right place at the right time.”
 
Mr. McKelvey followed that dictum repeatedly over the years. After graduating from Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pa., where he also found time to run a movie theater, and serving a stint in the Army, Mr. McKelvey headed to Australia.
 
In the mid-1950s, Mr. McKelvey figured that Australia was a decade or so behind the United States in adopting social and consumer trends. “So my father decided to go to Australia, start a business and gain what people would now call a first-mover advantage,” his son, Stuart McKelvey, said in an interview Friday.
 
In Australia, Mr. McKelvey began a music jukebox business that became one of the largest such concerns in the country.
 
But by the early 1960s, Mr. McKelvey decided that advertising was a promising growth industry of the future, and that New York was the place to be. In 1963, he got a job as an account manager at a Madison Avenue ad agency, handling consumer products like Vaseline Hair Tonic.
 
Later, Mr. McKelvey moved to another agency and took over the account of a company that advertised not on television, the hot new medium of its day, but only in the Yellow Pages. He became intrigued, saw an opportunity, and started the Yellow Pages ad agency, TMP, which he built up with a steady stream of corporate acquisitions.
 
It was Mr. McKelvey’s foray beyond Yellow Pages into help-wanted agencies in the 1990s that introduced him to Internet commerce. Mr. McKelvey wanted to buy Adion, a Boston-area recruitment ad agency run by Jeffrey Taylor. When they met, Mr. Taylor was most excited by a little sideline, a fledgling Web site, the Monster Board.
 
Mr. McKelvey was skeptical at first that the Web was going to be the future of job searches, said George R. Eisele, a former board member of Monster Worldwide, the parent company, and a longtime business associate of Mr. McKelvey. But he eventually became convinced, bought Adion in 1995, and pursued the Internet strategy with a vengeance. He quickly bought Online Career Center, Monster’s larger rival at the time.
 
Mr. McKelvey invested heavily over the next few years, including buying Super Bowl ads that helped make Monster.com the popular first choice for online job searching.
 
“Once he perceived its importance, he was relentless,” Mr. Eisele recalled in an interview on Friday. “That’s why Andy McKelvey was so successful on the Internet, even though he wasn’t a technological visionary.”
 
In the last few years, Mr. McKelvey’s business reputation was tarnished by a stock-options investigation at Monster Worldwide. He left the company in 2006 amid questions about his role in backdating employee stock options. In a settlement earlier this year, Mr. McKelvey agreed to pay the company $8 million and give up most of his voting shares. In a settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission, he also paid about $276,000. Mr. McKelvey, the commission noted, did not receive any backdated options himself.
 
Mr. McKelvey, who was married six times, is survived by two sons, Geoffrey McKelvey of Stuart, Fla., and Stuart McKelvey of Mamaroneck, N.Y.; two daughters, Christine and Amanda McKelvey, both of Manhattan; and six grandchildren.
 
Mr. McKelvey’s personal wealth enabled him to become an active philanthropist, setting up the McKelvey Foundation in 2000 to provide college scholarships to young men and women who show an entrepreneurial flair in high school.
 
Mr. McKelvey’s foundation, it seems, is intended to provide financial help to teenagers in his own image. His first entrepreneurial venture was as a 14-year-old, buying eggs from a farmer in Southern New Jersey and selling them to neighbors for a profit of 10 cents a dozen.
 
Mr. McKelvey’s eclectic charitable efforts mirror his personal interests and enthusiasms.
 
For example, Mr. McKelvey, who had a lung-scarring ailment, supported the research of the physician who successfully treated him and donated $25 million to set up the Andrew J. McKelvey Lung Transplant Center at Emory University.
 
After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. McKelvey played a central role in organizing the Families of Freedom fund for college scholarships for the children of the victims. The program, which raised more than $100 million, was headed by former president Bill Clinton and former senator Bob Dole.
 
 
SOURCE:  The New York Times:  http://www.nytimes.com
 
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V. P.SINGH, A LEADER OF INDIA WHO DEFENDED THE POOR
 
 
Published: November 29, 2008
 
V. P. Singh, a former prime minister of India who was considered the father of coalition politics there and who stirred controversy by championing the rights of the country’s poorest citizens, died on Thursday in New Delhi. He was 77.
 
 
 
 
Agence France-Presse

V. P. Singh talking to reporters when he was premier in 1990.

 

 

 

The cause was blood cancer and renal failure, said his close associate, Wasim Ahmad.
Mr. Singh changed Indian politics significantly despite leading the country only briefly, from 1989 to 1990.
 
Having broken with Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in the wake of a scandal, he united the entire spectrum of parties against the Congress Party of Mr. Gandhi under one umbrella and forged the National Front, with additional support from the Bharatiya Janata Party and left-wing parties. The National Front came to power after defeating the Congress Party in the 1989 general elections.
 
On Dec. 2, 1989, Mr. Singh became the 10th prime minister of India. He gained wide notoriety by moving to carry out the long-forgotten Bindheshwari Prasad Mandal Commission recommendations to reserve a fixed number of all the jobs in the public sector for the historically disadvantaged members of the lower and backward classes.
This led to widespread protests by higher-caste youth in urban areas across India, including a series of self-immolations.
 
His government lasted less than a year, falling after the Bharatiya Janata Party withdrew its support and the plan went into abeyance.
 
Vishwanath Pratap Singh was born into a landed family in Allahabad in the northern state Uttar Pradesh on June 25, 1931. When he was 5, his parents gave him up for adoption by the childless Maharaja Bahadur Ram Gopal Singh of Manda, one of the small principalities in Uttar Pradesh. After a sheltered and lonely early childhood under armed guard, he passed into the care of a guardian at the age of 11 when his adoptive father died.
 
He studied law at Udai Pratap College, Varanasi, and later physics at Fergusson College, Pune. He studied physics with an eye toward becoming a nuclear scientist and joining India’s atomic energy research center in Mumbai, but he gave up his studies for politics.
One of his first political acts was giving large tracts of fertile land to the landless poor as part of the land donation movement initiated by Vinoba Bhave, a disciple and spiritual successor of Mohandas Gandhi. He built an college in Koraon and taught there when it opened.
 
He entered politics in Allahabad during the Jawaharlal Nehru era and soon made a name for himself in the state Congress Party. He was elected to the state assembly in 1969 and to the Parliament in 1971. He was appointed deputy minister of commerce by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1974. She named him chief minister of Uttar Pradesh when she returned to power in 1980.
 
As chief minister, he pressed a ruthless campaign against bandits in Uttar Pradesh. However, he quit his position after bandits killed his brother and amid feelings that he had failed to capture or tame the bandits.
 
In 1984 he became finance minister under Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, ordering high-profile raids on those suspected of being tax evaders. At the height of this campaign, he was moved to the post of defense minister. Shortly after that, he resigned. He then quit the Congress Party over a scandal in which he suspected the prime minister was involved.
He was the guiding force behind the formation of United Front, another political coalition, and he was the first choice to become prime minister after the Congress Party’s defeat in May 1996. However, he declined. After the government of H. D. Deve Gowda fell in April 1997, he again played an important role in maintaining the unity of the United Front and making Inder Kumar Gujral the prime minister.
 
In 1955, Mr. Singh married Sita Kumari. He is survived by his wife and two sons, Ajeya and Abhay.
 
Mr. Singh also dabbled in Hindi and English poetry, as well as painting and photography. Exhibitions of his artwork have been held in prominent galleries.
 
 
SOURCE:  The New York Times:  http://www.nytimes.com
 
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JORN UTZON, CREATED SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE
 
 
Published: November 29, 2008
 
 
Jorn Utzon, an architect who designed one of the world’s most recognizable buildings — the Sydney Opera House — but never saw it finished, died in Copenhagen on Saturday. He was 90.
 
 
 
Agence France-Presse

Jorn Utzon was the designer of the Sydney Opera House.

Greg Wood/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The Sydney Opera House, which has come to symbolize Australia.

 

 

 

He died of heart failure in his sleep, according to his son Kim.
 
Mr. Utzon left Australia amid controversy seven years before the Opera House was completed. He lived out most of his final decades on the Spanish island of Majorca while his gull-roofed building came to symbolize Australia, 10,000 miles away.
 
As a young architect Mr. Utzon worked for Gunnar Asplund in Sweden and Alvar Aalto in Finland before establishing his own practice in Copenhagen in 1950. In 1956 he read about the Sydney Opera House competition in a Swedish architecture magazine. He spent six months designing a building with sail-like roofs, their geometry, he said, derived from the sections of an orange. Mr. Utzon’s plan was championed by Eero Saarinen, the Finnish architect who was one of the judges in the competition.
 
In 1957, Mr. Utzon — who until then was hardly known outside his native country — was declared the winner, and for the next five years he worked on the project from his office in Denmark. In 1962, he moved with his wife, Lis, sons Jan and Kim, and daughter, Lin, to Sydney.
 
When only the shell of the opera house was complete, the architect found himself at odds with Davis Hughes, the New South Wales minister for public works, over cost overruns and delays. When Mr. Hughes stopped payments to Mr. Utzon in 1966, the architect packed up his family and left the country.
 
Supporters of Mr. Utzon said that an unreasonably low construction estimate made it seem as though costs had escalated far more than they had, and that Mr. Utzon had been treated unfairly.
 
Writing in Harvard Design Magazine in 2005, Bent Flyvbjerg, a professor of planning at Aalborg University in Denmark, argued that “the real loss in the Sydney Opera House project is not the huge cost overrun in itself. It is that the overrun and the controversy it created kept Utzon from building more masterpieces.”
 
In recent years, Australian organizations tried to heal the breach. In 2002, Mr. Utzon was commissioned to design interior renovations that would bring the building closer to his original vision; his son Jan, who is also an architect, traveled to Australia to carry out the work. And in 2003, Mr. Utzon received an honorary doctorate from the University of Sydney. (Jan took his place at the ceremony.)
 
The same year, Mr. Utzon won the Pritzker Prize, considered architecture’s highest honor. Frank Gehry, who was a Pritzker juror at the time, said that Mr. Utzon “made a building well ahead of its time, far ahead of available technology, and he persevered through extraordinary malicious publicity and negative criticism to build a building that changed the image of an entire country.”
 
Jorn Utzon, the son of a naval architect, was born in Aalborg, Denmark, on April 9, 1918. He studied architecture at the Royal Academy in Copenhagen. After leaving Australia, he worked in Hawaii, Switzerland and Spain before settling in Majorca in the mid-1970s. In addition to the Sydney Opera House, he designed the National Assembly of Kuwait, a church at Bagsvaerd, Denmark, and many private homes, including two in Majorca for himself and his wife. He chose the spot for the first house, he said, because it reminded him of the Australian beachfront he had hurriedly departed.
 
Though he suffered from failing eyesight in his final years, he continued to discuss architecture and could visualize plans the way a chess player can visualize a board, Jan Utzon said.
 
He is survived by his wife, three children — Jan, of Hellebaek, Denmark; Kim, of Copenhagen; and Lin, of Majorca — five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
 
When he was accepting the honorary doctorate in 2003, Jan Utzon said the fact that his father had never visited the opera house did not mean he had not experienced the building. “As its creator, he just has to close his eyes to see it,” he said.
 
 
SOURCE:  The New York Times:  http://www.nytimes.com
 
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EDWIN SALPETER, CORNELL ASTROPHYSICIST
 
 
Published: November 28, 2008
 
ITHACA, N.Y. (AP) — Edwin E. Salpeter, an astrophysicist widely known for his studies of chain reactions in stars and as a developer of the “Salpeter-Bethe equation” describing how helium changes to carbon, died Tuesday at his home here. He was 83.
 
 

Edwin E. Salpeter in a photograph distributed in 1970.

 

 

His death was announced by Cornell University, where he was an emeritus professor of physical sciences.
 
Along with Hans Bethe, a theoretical physicist at Cornell who won a Nobel Prize in physics in 1967, Dr. Salpeter introduced an equation in 1951 showing how helium nuclei fuse to form carbon in the interiors of ancient stars. Until then, the origin of elements beyond helium in the periodic table was unexplained.
 
From that work, Dr. Salpeter determined the formation rates of stars of different masses. The process remains the basis of today’s studies into the rates of stellar births and deaths.
 
In 1964, while working independently, Dr. Salpeter and a Soviet physicist, Yakov Zeldovich, were the first to propose that a stream of gas falling toward a black hole could in principle be heated to very high temperatures, where it would produce detectable X-rays. Thirty years later, data from the Hubble telescope confirmed his idea.
 
“It’s good to finally win the bet,” Dr. Salpeter said at the time.
 
In 1997, Dr. Salpeter and Sir Fred Hoyle, the British scientist who coined the term “Big Bang,” shared the $500,000 Crafoord Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for “their pioneering contributions involving the study of nuclear reactions in stars and stars’ development.”
 
The prize is given annually to honor accomplishments in scientific fields not covered by the Nobel Prizes in science, whose winners are also chosen by the academy.
 
Born in Austria, Dr. Salpeter moved to Cornell in 1949 as a postdoctoral student and spent his career there. Although he retired in 1997, he kept publishing papers and moved into new arenas of research, including explorations of neuromuscular disorders and the epidemiology of tuberculosis.
 
A self-deprecating man, Dr. Salpeter described his mind as “quick but sloppy,” saying he preferred the challenge of tackling a contentious new problem to undertaking mathematical calculations.
 
Late in his career, research by Dr. Salpeter and his wife, Miriam Salpeter, an expert in cell biology and a neurobiologist at Cornell, contributed to the understanding and treatment of neuromuscular disorders like myasthenia gravis. She died in 2000 at the age of 71.
 
Dr. Salpeter remarried and is survived by his wife, Lhamo; two daughters, Judy and Shelley; and four grandchildren.
 
 
SOURCE:  The New York Times:  http://www.nytimes.com

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BLACK WOMEN, GAY MARRIAGE, AND PROPOSITION 8

 

Published: November 29, 2008
 
 
We now know that blacks probably didn’t tip the balance for Proposition 8. Myth busted. However, the fact remains that a strikingly high percentage of blacks said they voted to ban same-sex marriage in California. Why?
 
 
 
Earl Wilson/The New York Times

Charles M. Blow

 

Multimedia

Graphic
 
 
 
There was one very telling (and virtually ignored) statistic in CNN’s exit poll data that may shed some light: There were far more black women than black men, and a higher percentage of them said that they voted for the measure than the men. How wide was the gap? According to the exit poll, 70 percent of all blacks said that they voted for the proposition. But 75 percent of black women did. There weren’t enough black men in the survey to provide a reliable percentage for them. However, one can mathematically deduce that of the raw number of survey respondents, nearly twice as many black women said that they voted for it than black men.
 
 
Why? Here are my theories:
 
(1) Blacks are much more likely than whites to attend church, according to a Gallup report, and black women are much more likely to attend church than black men. Anyone who has ever been to a black church can attest to the disparity in the pews. And black women’s church attendance may be increasing.
 
According to a report issued this spring by Child Trends, a nonprofit research center, weekly church attendance among black 12th graders rose 26 percent from 1993 to 2006, while weekly church attendance for white 12th graders remained virtually flat. In 2006, those black teenagers were nearly 50 percent more likely to attend church once a week than their white counterparts. And it is probably safe to assume that many of them were going to church with their mothers since Child Trends reported that around the time that they were born, nearly 70 percent of all black children were born to single mothers.
 
 
(2) This high rate of church attendance by blacks informs a very conservative moral view. While blacks vote overwhelmingly Democratic, an analysis of three years of national data from Gallup polls reveals that their views on moral issues are virtually indistinguishable from those of Republicans. Let’s just call them Afropublicrats.
 
 
(3) Marriage can be a sore subject for black women in general. According to 2007 Census Bureau data, black women are the least likely of all women to be married and the most likely to be divorced. Women who can’t find a man to marry might not be thrilled about the idea of men marrying each other.
 
 
Proponents of gay marriage would do well to focus on these women if they want to win black votes. A major reason is that black women vote at a higher rate than black men. In the CNN national exit poll, there were 40 percent more black women than black men, and in California there were 50 percent more. But gay marriage advocates need to hone their strategy to reach them.
 
 
First, comparing the struggles of legalizing interracial marriage with those to legalize gay marriage is a bad idea. Many black women do not seem to be big fans of interracial marriage either. They’re the least likely of all groups to intermarry, and many don’t look kindly on the black men who intermarry at nearly three times the rate that they do, according to a 2005 study of black intermarriage rates in the Wisconsin Law Review. Wrong reference. Don’t even go there.
 
 
Second, don’t debate the Bible. You can’t win. Religious faith is not defined by logic, it defies it. Instead, decouple the legal right from the religious rite, and emphasize the idea of acceptance without endorsement.
 
 
Then, make it part of a broader discussion about the perils of rigidly applying yesterday’s sexual morality to today’s sexual mores. Show black women that it backfires. The stigma doesn’t erase the behavior, it pushes it into the shadows where, devoid of information and acceptance, it become more risky.
 
 
For instance, most blacks find premarital sex unacceptable, according to the Gallup data. But, according to data from a study by the Guttmacher Institute, blacks are 26 percent more likely than any other race to have had premarital sex by age 18, and the pregnancy rate for black teens is twice that of white teens. They still have premarital sex, but they do so uninformed and unprotected.
 
 
That leads to a bigger problem. According to a 2004 report by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, black women have an abortion rate that is three times that of white women.
 
 
More specifically, blacks overwhelmingly say that homosexuality isn’t morally acceptable. So many black men hide their sexual orientations and engage in risky behavior. This has resulted in large part in black women’s becoming the fastest-growing group of people with H.I.V. In a 2003 study of H.I.V.-infected people, 34 percent of infected black men said they had sex with both men and women, while only 6 percent of infected black women thought their partners were bisexual. Tragic. (In contrast, only 13 percent of the white men in the study said they had sex with both men and women, while 14 percent of the white women said that they knew their partners were bisexual.)
 
 
So pitch it as a health issue. The more open blacks are to the idea of homosexuality, the more likely black men would be to discuss their sexual orientations and sexual histories. The more open they are, the less likely black women would be to put themselves at risk unwittingly. And, the more open blacks are to homosexuality over all, the more open they are likely to be to gay marriage. This way, everyone wins.
 
 
 
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Wow.
 
Talk about a blow-job of an article.
 
You insult and demean Black women as if the fact that Black women have minds of their own is some form of deviancy or dreaded aberration. Where do I start…….
 
 
 
 
“(1) Blacks are much more likely than whites to attend church, according to a Gallup report, and black women are much more likely to attend church than black men. Anyone who has ever been to a black church can attest to the disparity in the pews. And black women’s church attendance may be increasing.”
 
 
So, because more Black women attend church that is what…an anomaly? Is it Black women’s faults that Black men think that they do not need to hear the word of God (provided it is not some woman-hating/gay-bashing sermon of the day?) Pray tell, what is stopping Black men from attending church?
 
 
“(2) This high rate of church attendance by blacks informs a very conservative moral view. While blacks vote overwhelmingly Democratic, an analysis of three years of national data from Gallup polls reveals that their views on moral issues are virtually indistinguishable from those of Republicans. Let’s just call them Afropublicrats.”
 
And I call bullshit. You do not have to attend church to have a conservative view. On the other hand, any person who is all conservative, or all liberal, scares me. No normal human being is conservative all the time nor liberal all the time. (Notice that I said “normal”.) There are times when a person is conservative on some things, and liberal on others. People who cannot bend do more than snap like the proverbial tree branch. For you to cast all Black church members as conservative is condescending and vile.
 
Oh, as for them being “Afropublicrats”, some Blacks are neither Demobats nor ReThuglicans.
 
Some Black people are just plain independent-minded and non-monolithic that way.
 
Some gasp! are able to think and reason for themselves—–which is why many Blacks voted against this Prop. Where is the hated law that Black people MUST vote for every damn body’s prop, referendum, or recall that comes down the pipe, when everybody cannot wait to leech and parasite off of Black people, then kick Black people to the curbs?
 
How are homosexuals, especially White ones, any different from some of their racist, Black-race-hating kinfolk? Riddle me that, ‘kay.
 
Shocking isn’t it—–Black people who refused to bow down and kiss the rectums of those who demand that Blacks “vote my way, or the highway”.
 
 
“3) Marriage can be a sore subject for black women in general. According to 2007 Census Bureau data, black women are the least likely of all women to be married and the most likely to be divorced. Women who can’t find a man to marry might not be thrilled about the idea of men marrying each other.”
 
A damned lie.
 
Marriage is a sore spot for Black women, when the many Black women I talk to do desire marriage? No, women who are looking for a man (not an imitation one, and by imitation, I do not mean homosexuals; I mean the ones who look like men but refused to stand up and be men), want a man who will be a man who loves, honors and respects them. Black women are no different from any other woman; they seek a man who will  respect the womanhood and humanity of all women. Is that so wrong?
 
 
 
“Proponents of gay marriage would do well to focus on these women if they want to win black votes. A major reason is that black women vote at a higher rate than black men.”
 
So, that is the fault of Black women that Black men do not get up off their asses and go out and vote? Who is stopping these Black “men”?  Racist sheriffs? Vicious gun-toting White women? Asian gangbangers?  Navajo warlords? No one is stopping Black men from exercising their civic duty but Black men. Too many Black people died for Black men to piss their votes away, so if Black men do not vote, it is their own damned fault, and no one elses’.
 
 
“Many black women do not seem to be big fans of interracial marriage either.”
 
Ya’ know, who needs a White man to disparage and insult Black women when you can get a Black man to do it for the White man?
 
Many Black women are not against IRs. They get so tired of being left out of the dating/marriage market because of over 450 years of filthy, nasty lies against Black women that started with White men during slavery, through Reconstruction, and into Jane Crow segregation. The legacy of such denigrating sexist/racist stereotypes that are still dogging Black women even into the 21ST century. So, for you to lie that Black women are against IRs is hateful and misleading to many people who do not even take the time to speak to Black women on IRs.
 
In addition to the invisibility that Black women face in the dating/marriage market (that no Black man faces), who are you to have the balls to beat Black women down with the lie that all/many Black women are against IR marriage? There are many Black women who are interested in loving relationships between non-Black men——if the men had the backbone to see them as women, and not as less than human, the way so many non-Black men are content to view Black women.
 
It also does not help that some so-called Black men berate, beat down, and castigate Black women to anyone willing to listen to them. If more non-Black men would take the time to speak to Black women, instead of listening to so many lies that some self-hating Black men tell on Black women, as well as believe in White men’s centuries-old lies against Black women, that would be half the battle won for Black women in having their image not continuously being drug through the mud by Black-women haters, such as yourself.
 
Any race of men (and I will say SOME Black men) who hate and vilify their OWN women publicly, are not men in my eyes. Black men want respect from the rest of the world, they will never get it as long as they tear down the women of their own race to gain favor with Whites and non-Blacks.
Many Black women are against IR relationships/marriage. Really?  Tell a lie long enough, and loud enough, and eventually it will become the truth to every Tom, Dick, and Harlot out there.
 
 
 
“Second, don’t debate the Bible. You can’t win. Religious faith is not defined by logic, it defies it. Instead, decouple the legal right from the religious rite, and emphasize the idea of acceptance without endorsement..”
 
Oh, and the lies you are spouting about many Black women do not defy logic?
 
 
 
“So pitch it as a health issue. The more open blacks are to the idea of homosexuality, the more likely black men would be to discuss their sexual orientations and sexual histories. The more open they are, the less likely black women would be to put themselves at risk unwittingly.”
 
The ONLY intelligent thing you have stated so far.
 
I am not for homosexuals/lesbians having to hide their sexual orientation. Come out, and be allowed to be what you are, is how I feel on the subject. And I noticed you never mentioned lesbians; let me guess, in your world lesbians have no existence? I mean, how could that be, since I, a mere heterosexual Black woman has no validity in your eyes, how in Hades can a Black lesbian woman have any humanity in your eyes? Oh, silly me, only Black homosexual men rate worth and value, not Black lesbians. Sheesh.
 
As for pitching anything as a health issue—-another insult. Black people’s votes are not up for grabs, ‘kay?
So, gay is the new black, according to some misguided and disrespectful advocates? Why cannot gays stand on their own without usurping and highjacking the struggles of Black Americans? Why does every non-Black American group in America use the Civil Rights Movement and Black American’s sojourn in this country as something to be commodified and appropriated for their self-interests? Black American’s history that so many are so quick to use, but, as soon as any Black American speaks of their people’s history in this country, under slavery and segregation, those who would use our travails in this country to their own benefit, often are the first to tell us to Shut up! Get over it! Suck it up! be quiet, we do not want to hear of your people’s hells in this country!
Yet, they are often so glad to use Black people’s history to further their own gains, then turn around in many instances, and tell Black people to be silent on their own history!
 
You can NEVER compare Black people’s sufferings and Civil Rights issues with those of White homosexuals, unless you refuse to accept some very salient and terrifying facts:  not all the men in lynch mobs against Black people were heterosexual, and not only were Black women and girls raped by White master, slave overseer, White male visitor to the plantation, during Reconstruction, through segregation, and all the way into the 1970s. Lots of little Black boys and Black men were also raped by White homosexuals, or does anyone actually think that White homosexuals took a vow on restraining from raping and degrading Black males during slavery and segregation?
 
 
And not all the homosexual White men in America give a damn about Black people. Some do; many do not. Many only think of their own interests, and how they can use Black people the way so many non-Black people have used Black people through the decades, centuries and generations, for their own gain.
 
If many more white homosexuals cared for what happened to their fellow Black citizens, they would be in an uproar over racist disparities in the criminal (in)justice system; the continuing nasty hateful stereotypes against Black women, the continuing residential segregation of Black/White neighborhoods, the wide inequality of the wealth gap, the savage inequalities of sub-standard “education’, etc.
 
When more White homosexual/lesbians get up off their rectal orifices and champion the cause and humanity of their fellow Black citizens, then I will have more faith in them. When more White homosexuals/lesbians stand before Congress and demand an end to the racial profiling and unequal prison sentences meted out to Black women in comparison to those meted out to White women for the same crimes, when I see more White homosexuals and lesbians stream out into the streets protesting another Megan Williams, another Sean Bell, another Eleanor Bumpers, then, I will have more faith in White homosexuals/lesbians as fellow citizens who can care more for someone else, instead of always having a “What’s in it for me?” attitude.
 
Until then, a White man is still a White man in this country—-whether he be heterosexual or homosexual.
 
 
 
“And, the more open blacks are to homosexuality over all, the more open they are likely to be to gay marriage.”
 
And I call bullshit, again.
 
One does not necessarily follow the other. Needing Black people to vote against a prop like Prop 8 should not be some panacea to end the high rates of AIDS among Black women, nor should it be a bludgeoning blackjack/billyclub beat upon the heads of Black people. Black homosexuals should be able to come out of the closet, because their hiding harms them just as much as it harms Black women unknowingly involved with them. As for gay marriage. . . .
 
 
. . . .Black people’s vote are not some mess of pottage, ‘kay?
 
You may devalue and belittle Black women, but, hey, that’s you.
 
No one win-wins when Black people continue to be everyones scapegoat to leech and parasite off of, and whose tumultuous history in this country continues to be trivialized and made the butt of jokes.
 
You want Black women (and men) to vote for homosexuals rights, fine, but, I want to see more of them grow some balls and stand up with, and stand up for Black people. Or is that to much too ask?
 
Otherwise, why the hell should Black people always be the ones left holding the bag after everyone has sucked us dry and got what they wanted with no damn reciprocity towards Black people?
 
Riddle me that, ‘kay?

 

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ON THIS DAY IN BLACK MUSIC HISTORY: NOVEMBER 29

#1 R&B Song 1980:   “Master Blaster (Jammin’), Stevie Wonder

 

Born:   Billy Strayhorn, 1915; John Wilson (Sly, Slick & Wicked), 1949

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1915   Big band composer/arranger supreme Billy Strayhorn was born. Strayhorn was behind-the-scenes glue to many a Duke Ellington hit, collaboarating on such classics as “Take The A Train,” “Johnny Come Lately,” and “Rain Check.” He was with Ellington for twenty-eight years.

 

1969   Jackie Wilson, Gary “U.S.” Bonds, and a slew of other rock ‘n’ roll stars from the ’50s and ’60s performed at Richard Nader’s second Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival concert at madison Square Garden in new York.

 

1969   B.B. King performed at the Boston garden in Boston, MA, as the opening act for the Rolling Stones on their current U.S. tour.

 

1969   The Sylvers charted with “Boogie Fever,” reaching #1 pop and R&B. It would become their biggest of thirteen R&B Top 100 singles in their thirteen-year career.

 

 

 

1996   James Ingram, Roberta Flack, Aaron Neville, and Peabo Bryson began their Colors of Christmas tour at the Ruth Eckerd Hall in Cleawater, FL.

 

1997   When Whitney Houston was belatedly informed that the Washington, D.C., concert she was to appear at was actually a mass wedding for 25,000 couples of “Moonies,” she apparantly came down with flu-like syptoms that prevented her from performing. The show would have netted her a cool million.

 

From the book, “On This Day In Black Music History, by Jay Warner.

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A BOOK REVIEW OF TONI MORRISON’S NEW NOVEL, ‘A MERCY’

In this new novel of the 17th century, Nobel Prize laureate Toni Morrison performs her deepest excavation yet into America’s history and exhumes this country’s twin original sins: the enslavement of Africans and the near extermination of Native Americans.
 
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ORIGINAL SINS
 
Published: November 28, 2008
 
 
The Greeks might have invented the pastoral, the genre in which the rustic life is idealized by writers who don’t have to live it, but it’s found its truest home in America. To Europeans of the so-called Age of Discovery, the whole North American continent seemed a sort of Edenic rod and gun club, and their descendants here still haven’t gotten over their obsession with the pure primal landscapes they despoil with their own presence. A straight line — if only spiritually — runs from Fenimore Cooper’s wild Adirondacks and Hawthorne’s sinister Massachusetts forests to Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River” to Cheever’s domesticated locus amoenus of Shady Hill to the theme park in George Saunders’s pointedly titled “Pastoralia” — where slaughtered goats are delivered to employees in Neolithic costume through a slot in the wall of their cave, much as Big Macs appear at a drive-through window. The line even leads to “Naked Lunch,” which pronounces America “old and dirty and evil before the settlers, before the Indians” — simply a calculated blasphemy. Apply enough ironic backspin, and almost any American novel this side of “Bright Lights, Big City” could be called “American Pastoral.” Or for that matter, “Paradise Lost.”
 
 
 
November 30, 2008    

Damon Winter/The New York Times

Toni Morrison

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
November 28, 2008    

Illustration by Mk Mabry

 

 

 

 

 

Toni Morrison has already used the title “Paradise” for the 1998 novel that I think is her weakest. But it would have been a good fit for her new book, “A Mercy,” which reveals her, once more, as a conscious inheritor of America’s pastoral tradition, even as she implicitly criticizes it. Her two greatest novels, “Song of Solomon” and “Beloved,” render the rural countryside so evocatively that you can smell the earth; even in the urban novel “Jazz,” the most memorable images are of the South its characters have left behind. But Morrison, of course, is African-American, and hers is a distinctly postcolonial pastoral: a career-long refutation of Robert Frost’s embarrassing line “The land was ours before we were the land’s.” The plantation called Sweet Home, in “Beloved,” is neither sweet to its slaves nor home to anyone, except the native Miamis, of whom nothing is left but their burial mounds.
 
 
 In “A Mercy,” a 17th-­century American farmer — who lives near a town wink-and-nudgingly called Milton — enriches himself by dabbling in the rum trade and builds an ostentatious, oversize new house, for which he orders up a fancy wrought-iron gate, ornamented with twin copper serpents: when the gate is closed, their heads meet to form a blossom. The farmer, Jacob Vaark, thinks he’s creating an earthly paradise, but Lina, his Native American slave, whose forced exposure to Presbyterianism has conveniently provided her with a Judeo-­Christian metaphor, feels as if she’s “entering the world of the damned.”
 
In this American Eden, you get two original sins for the price of one — the near extermination of the native population and the importation of slaves from Africa — and it’s not hard to spot the real serpents: those creatures Lina calls “Europes,” men whose “whitened” skins make them appear on first sight to be “ill or dead,” and whose great gifts to the heathens seem to be smallpox and a harsh version of Christianity with “a dull, unimaginative god.” Jacob is as close as we get to a benevolent European. Although three bondswomen (one Native American, one African and one “a bit mongrelized”) help run his farm, he refuses to traffic in slaves; the mother of the African girl, in fact, has forced her daughter on him because the girl is in danger of falling into worse hands and he seems “human.” Yet Jacob’s money is no less tainted than if he’d wielded a whip himself: it simply comes from slaves he doesn’t have to see in person, working sugar plantations in the Caribbean. And the preposterous house he builds with this money comes to no good. It costs the lives of 50 trees (cut down, as Lina notes, “without asking their permission”), his own daughter dies in an accident during the construction, and he never lives to finish it.
 
 
True, some of the white settlers are escapees from hell: Jacob’s wife, Rebekka, whom he imported sight unseen from London, retains too-vivid memories of public hangings and drawings-and-quarterings. “The pile of frisky, still living entrails held before the felon’s eyes then thrown into a bucket and tossed into the Thames; fingers trembling for a lost torso; the hair of a woman guilty of mayhem bright with flame.” America, she figures, can hardly be worse. But even the relatively kindly Rebekka (kindly, that is, until she nearly dies of smallpox herself and gets religion) and the relatively human Jacob have that European brimstone clinging to them, and it’s stinking up the place. One native sachem diagnoses their unique pathology: “Cut loose from the earth’s soul, they insisted on purchase of its soil, and like all orphans they were insatiable. It was their destiny to chew up the world and spit out a horribleness that would destroy all primary peoples.” This sounds like P.C. cant, and even Lina doubts that all Europes are Eurotrash. But the sachem’s got a point. Does anybody own the earth we all inhabit as brothers and sisters? From that perspective, property really is theft, and if you don’t think Europeans did the thieving, I’ve got $24 worth of beads I’d like to sell you.
 
Or if Europeans aren’t the only serpents in the garden — after all, “A Mercy” also implicates Africans in the slave trade — this theory, advanced by an African woman captured by rival tribesmen and shipped to Barbados, gets to the heart of the problem: “I think men thrive on insults over cattle, women, water, crops. Everything heats up and finally the men of their families burn we houses and collect those they cannot kill or find for trade.” Men! You can’t live with ’em and (since women “did not fell 60-foot trees, build pens, repair saddles, slaughter or butcher beef, shoe a horse or hunt”) you can’t live without ’em. Not to mention that old-as-Eden matter of sexual attraction. Florens, the black girl whose mother entrusted her to Jacob, and whose feeling of abandonment rules the rest of her life, falls uncontrollably in lust with a free black man, the smith who builds Jacob’s gate. “The shine of water runs down your spine and I have shock at myself for wanting to lick there. I run away into the cowshed to stop this thing from happening inside me. Nothing stops it.” In their last scene together, the blacksmith rejects her for being a slave — not to Jacob, but to her own desire. “You alone own me,” she tells him. “Own yourself, woman,” he answers. “You are nothing but wilderness. No constraint. No mind.” If you’ve ever read a Toni Morrison novel, you can already predict that Florens does end up owning herself and that it’s a bitter blessing. Her only compensation for the loss of her mother and her lover is that she comes to write her own story, carving the letters with a nail into the walls of her dead master’s unfinished and abandoned house.

 

By Toni Morrison

 

A MERCY

167 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $23.95

“A Mercy” has neither the terrible passion of “Beloved” — how many times can we ask a writer to go to such a place? — nor the spirited ingenuity of “Love,” the most satisfying of Morrison’s subsequent novels. But it’s her deepest excavation into America’s history, to a time when the South had just passed laws that “separated and protected all whites from all others forever,” and the North had begun persecuting people accused of witchcraft. (The book’s most anxious moment comes when a little white girl goes hysterical at the sight of Florens and hides behind her witch-hunting elders.) Post­colonialists and feminists, perhaps even Greens and Marxists, may latch onto “A Mercy,” but they should latch with care, lest Morrison prove too many-minded for them. This novel isn’t a polemic — does anybody really need to be persuaded that exploitation is evil? — but a tragedy in which “to be given dominion over another is a hard thing; to wrest dominion over another is a wrong thing; to give dominion of yourself to another is a wicked thing.”
 
 
Except for a slimy Portuguese slave trader, no character in the novel is wholly evil, and even he’s more weak and contemptible than mustache-twirlingly villainous. Nor are the characters we root for particularly saintly. While Lina laments the nonconsensual deaths of trees, she deftly drowns a newborn baby, not, as in “Beloved,” to save it from a life of slavery, but simply because she thinks the child’s mother (the “mongrelized” girl who goes by the Morrisonian name of Sorrow) has already brought enough bum luck to Jacob’s farmstead. Everyone in “A Mercy” is damaged; a few, once in a while, find strength to act out of love, or at least out of mercy — that is, when those who have the power to do harm decide not to exercise it. A negative virtue, but perhaps more lasting than love.
 
 
This oddly assorted household — slaves, indentured servants and a wife shipped to her husband in exchange for payment to her family — exhibits varying degrees of freedom and dominion, and it holds together, for a while, thanks to a range of conflicting motivations. “They once thought they were a kind of family because to­gether they had carved companionship out of isolation. But the family they imagined they had become was false.
 
Whatever each one loved, sought or escaped, their futures were separate and anyone’s guess. One thing was certain, courage alone would not be enough.” The landscape of “A Mercy” is full of both beauties and terrors: snow “sugars” eyelashes, yet icicles hang like “knives”; a stag is a benign and auspicious apparition, yet at night “the glittering eyes of an elk could easily be a demon.” But whatever the glories and the rigors of nature may signify to the civilized, for these characters, living in the midst of it, nature doesn’t signify.
 
 
 It’s simply to be embraced or dreaded — like the people with whom they have to live. In Morrison’s latest version of pastoral, it’s only mercy or the lack of it that makes the American landscape heaven or hell, and the gates of Eden open both ways at once.
 
 
 
David Gates’s most recent book is “The Wonders of the Invisible World,” a collection of stories.
 

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ON THIS DAY IN BLACK MUSIC HISTORY: NOVEMBER 28

#1 R&B Song 1953:   “Money Honey” the Drifters

 

Born:   Berry Gordy, Jr., 1929; R. B. Greaves, 1944; Dawn Robinson (En Vogue), 1968

 

 

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1929   Berry Gordy, Jr., founder of Motown Records, was born. Though he is best known as a pioneering executive who built a record, publishing and touring empire, Gordy’s start was as a songwriter. He wrote several songs for a young Jackie Wilson, who just left the Dominoes and was signed to Brunswick Records, including “Reet Petite,” “I’d Be Satisfied,” “That’s Why (I Love You So),” and “To Be Loved.” He also wrote and produced Marv Johnson & the Miracles. These achievements gave Gordy the confidence to build a successful company, and with an $800 loan from his family he did just that. . . .and more.

 

1953   Billy Ward & the Dominoes charted R&B with “Rags To Riches,” peaking at #2. Their lead singer at the time was Jackie Wilson, as Billy Ward never sang lead. In fact, he rarely sang at all:  he was the group’s founder and musical director, and the original members were mostly students from his music class in New York City.

 

1960   Hank Ballard & The Midnighters’ “Hoochie Coochie Coo” was released, reaching #23 pop and #3 R&B.

 

1964   Dionne Warwick and the Isley Brothers performed on Britain’s Thank Your Lucky Stars TV show.

 

1992   Thirty-six years after the Five Satins origial legendary hit, Boyz II Men’s remake of “In The Still Of The Night” charted, soaring to #3 pop, #4 R&B. The feat was all the more impressive in the rap era as the Boyz sang the recording a cappella.

 

1992   Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” reached #1 R&B for eleven weeks and #1 pop for fourteen weeks. The original version of the song was by Dolly Parton in 1982. Kevin Costner, Houston’s costar in The Bodyguard, suggested she record it. It would become her biggest hit.

 

 From the book, “On This Day In Black Music History”, by Jay Warner.

 

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ON THIS DAY IN BLACK MUSIC HISTORY: NOVEMBER 27

#1 R&B Song 1948:   “It’s Too Soon To Know,” the Orioles

 

Born:   Jimi Hendrix, 1942

 

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1954   Sarah Vaughn made the hit list with “Make Yourself Comfortable” (#6) her biggest single of thrity-three hits.

 

1961   Ray Charles had his eighteenth of a career of seventy-six chart singles when “Unchain My Heart” reached the Top 100.

 

1965   The Royalettes, a Baltimore vocal group in the image of the Chantels and the Shirelles, charted with “I Want To Meet Him,” peaking at #26 R&B. The group is better known for its scintillating recording of “It’s Gonna Taske a Miracle” from earlier in the year.

 

1969   Tina Turner and Janis Joplin sang together at the Rolling Stones concert in Madison Square garden.

 

1982   The Pointer Sisters’ contagious dance track “I’m So Excited” reached #30 pop. A slightly different version of the song, with a more pulsating mix, would be released two years later and would reach #9.

 

 

 

1982   Marvin Gaye’s album Midnight Love reached #10 in England and eventually #7 in America. The album was recorded in belgium with old Moonglows mate Harvey Fuqua co-producing with Marvin. Despite its success, Gaye was so heavily in debt to the IRS that he soon had to sell his million-dollar home to pay the taxes.

 

From the book, “On This Day In Black Music History,” by Jay Warner.

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