Tag: Writing

#SaturdayStamps: Dinah Washington

Dinah Washington was at once one of the most beloved and controversial singers of the mid-20th century — beloved to her fans, devotees, and fellow singers; controversial to critics who still accuse her of selling out her art to commerce and bad taste. Her principal sin, apparently, was to cultivate a distinctive vocal style that was at home in all kinds of music, be it R&B, blues, jazz, middle of the road pop — and she probably would have made a fine gospel or country singer had she the time. Hers was a gritty, salty, high-pitched voice, marked by absolute clarity of diction and clipped, bluesy phrasing. Washington‘s personal life was turbulent, with seven marriages behind her, and her interpretations showed it, for she displayed a tough, totally unsentimental, yet still gripping hold on the universal subject of lost love. She has had a huge influence on R&B and jazz singers who have followed in her wake, notably Nancy Wilson, Esther Phillips, and Diane Schuur, and her music is abundantly available nowadays via the huge seven-volume series The Complete Dinah Washington on Mercury.

Born Ruth Lee Jones, she moved to Chicago at age three and was raised in a world of gospel, playing the piano and directing her church choir. At 15, after winning an amateur contest at the Regal Theatre, she began performing in nightclubs as a pianist and singer, opening at the Garrick Bar in 1942. Talent manager Joe Glaser heard her there and recommended her to Lionel Hampton, who asked her to join his band. Hampton says that it was he who gave Ruth Jones the name Dinah Washington, although other sources claim it was Glaser or the manager of the Garrick Bar. In any case, she stayed with Hampton from 1943 to 1946 and made her recording debut for Keynote at the end of 1943 in a blues session organized by Leonard Feather with a sextet drawn from the Hampton band. With Feather‘s “Evil Gal Blues” as her first hit, the records took off, and by the time she left Hampton to go solo, Washington was already an R&B headliner. Signing with the young Mercury label, Washington produced an enviable string of Top Ten hits on the R&B charts from 1948 to 1955, singing blues, standards, novelties, pop covers, even Hank Williams‘ “Cold, Cold Heart.” She also recorded many straight jazz sessions with big bands and small combos, most memorably with Clifford Brown on Dinah Jams but also with Cannonball Adderley, Clark Terry, Ben Webster, Wynton Kelly, and the young Joe Zawinul (who was her regular accompanist for a couple of years).

In 1959, Washington made a sudden breakthrough into the mainstream pop market with “What a Diff’rence a Day Makes,” a revival of a Dorsey Brothers hit set to a Latin American bolero tune. For the rest of her career, she would concentrate on singing ballads backed by lush orchestrations for Mercury and Roulette, a formula similar to that of another R&B-based singer at that time, Ray Charles, and one that drew plenty of fire from critics even though her basic vocal approach had not changed one iota. Although her later records could be as banal as any easy listening dross of the period, there are gems to be found, like Billie Holiday‘s “Don’t Explain,” which has a beautiful, bluesy Ernie Wilkins chart conducted by Quincy Jones. Struggling with a weight problem, Washington died of an accidental overdose of diet pills mixed with alcohol at the tragically early age of 39, still in peak voice, still singing the blues in an L.A. club only two weeks before the end.

 

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Remembering Toni Morrison (1931-2019)

Born on February 18, 1931, in Lorain, Ohio, Toni Morrison is a Nobel Prize- and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, editor and professor. Her novels are known for their epic themes, exquisite language and richly detailed African American characters who are central to their narratives. Among her best-known novels are The Bluest Eye, SulaSong of SolomonBeloved, JazzLove and A Mercy. Morrison has earned a plethora of book-world accolades and honorary degrees, also receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.

Early Life and Education

Born Chloe Anthony Wofford on February 18, 1931, in Lorain, Ohio, Toni Morrison was the second oldest of four children. Her father, George Wofford, worked primarily as a welder, but held several jobs at once to support the family. Her mother, Ramah, was a domestic worker. Morrison later credited her parents with instilling in her a love of reading, music and folklore along with clarity and perspective.

Living in an integrated neighborhood, Morrison did not become fully aware of racial divisions until she was in her teens. “When I was in first grade, nobody thought I was inferior. I was the only black in the class and the only child who could read,” she later told a reporter from The New York Times. Dedicated to her studies, Morrison took Latin in school and read many great works of European literature. She graduated from Lorain High School with honors in 1949.

At Howard University, Morrison continued to pursue her interest in literature. She majored in English and chose the classics for her minor. After graduating from Howard in 1953, Morrison continued her education at Cornell University. She wrote her thesis on the works of Virginia Woolf and William Faulkner, and completed her master’s degree in 1955. She then moved to the Lone Star State to teach at Texas Southern University.

Life as a Mother and Random House Editor

In 1957, Morrison returned to Howard University to teach English. There she met Harold Morrison, an architect originally from Jamaica. The couple married in 1958 and welcomed their first child, Harold, in 1961. After the birth of her son, Morrison joined a writers group that met on campus. She began working on her first novel with the group, which started out as a short story.

Morrison decided to leave Howard in 1963. After spending the summer traveling with her family in Europe, she returned to the United States with her son. Her husband, however, had decided to move back to Jamaica. At the time, Morrison was pregnant with their second child. She moved back home to live with her family in Ohio before the birth of son Slade in 1964. The following year, she moved with her sons to Syracuse, New York, where she worked for a textbook publisher as a senior editor. Morrison later went to work for Random House, where she edited works by Toni Cade Bambara and Gayl Jones, renowned for their literary fiction, as well as luminaries like Angela Davis and Muhammad Ali.

Toni Morrison’s Books

‘The Bluest Eye’

Morrison’s first novel, The Bluest Eye, was published in 1970. She used as her literary first name “Toni,” based on a nickname derived from St. Anthony after she’d joined the Catholic Church. The book follows a young African American girl, Pecola Breedlove, who believes her incredibly difficult life would be better if only she had blue eyes. The controversial book didn’t sell well, with Morrison stating in a 1994 afterword that the reception to the work was parallel to how her main character was treated by the world: “dismissed, trivialized, misread.”

‘Sula’

Morrison nonetheless continued to explore the African American experience in its many forms and eras in her work. Her next novel, Sula (1973), explores good and evil through the friendship of two women who grew up together in Ohio. Sula was nominated for the American Book Award.

#SaturdayStamps: Matthew Henson

Orphaned as a youth, Henson went to sea at the age of 12 as a cabin boy on the sailing ship Katie Hines. Later, while working in a store in Washington, D.C., he met Peary, who hired him in 1887 as a valet for his next expedition to Nicaragua (1888). Peary, impressed with Henson’s ability and resourcefulness, employed him as an attendant on his seven subsequent expeditions to the Arctic (1891–92; 1893–95; 1896; 1897; 1898–1902; 1905–06; 1908–09). In 1909 Peary and Henson, accompanied by four Inuit, became the first men to reach the North Pole, the rest of the crew having turned back earlier. Henson’s account of the journey, A Negro Explorer at the North Pole, appeared in 1912. The following year, by order of Pres. William Howard Taft, Henson was appointed a clerk in the U.S. Customs House in New York City, a post he held until his retirement in 1936. Henson received the Congressional medal awarded all members of the Peary expedition (1944).

 

Objective-in-Jesus: Courtesy

“Each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us stop passing judgment on each other. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block in another’s way.”  Romans 14:12–13 (NIV)

Our objective-in-Jesus is to maintain courtesy and respect, even when we disagree with one another. When another is rude to you, you aren’t required to respond with rudeness. Consider if a response of rudeness comes from Jesus-in-you or from your own “desires that battle within you?” (James 4:1 NIV).

Jesus teaches us to respond to rudeness, or even heart-deep evil, with the more-powerful-every-time response of kindness. Paul, the blind man of the Damascus Road, says we’re to use the spiritual weapon of courtesy motivated by good: “Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good” (Romans 12:21 MSG).

Paul also says, in essence, that God does not see reactions, but only actions. Regardless, we’re responsible for our own behavior, our own choice of response: “Each of us will give an account of himself to God, therefore let us stop passing judgment on each other” (Romans 14:12–13 NIV).

This echoes Jesus, when he talks about out tendency to be blind ophthalmologists: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3 NIV). Courtesy carries the same strength as a gentle answer, which turns away anger and rudeness (Proverbs 15:1).

You Are in Control of Your Happiness

TODAY’S SCRIPTURE

“…No one can take away your joy.” (John 16:22, NIV)

Life may not have turned out the way you planned, but you still have the power to be happy right where you are. God is the source of all joy, and when God gives you something, nothing in the world can take it away. That means other people cannot make you unhappy, no circumstance can force you to get upset. Nothing can take your joy; you have to give it away. You’re in complete control of your happiness.

Think of it this way – If somebody is rude to you, what they’re really saying is, “Give me your joy.” Somebody cuts you off in traffic, “Let me have your joy.” Somebody ignores you or leaves you out of a meeting; they’re just asking for your joy. You have a choice. You can give it to them by going around upset, frustrated and offended. Or, you can make a much better decision and say, “No thanks, I need my joy. I’m not going to get upset because you were rude and didn’t speak to me. I’m not going to be frustrated because you cut me off in traffic. I’ve already made up my mind that I’m going to live this day happy!” Instead of giving them your joy, give them mercy, grace and understanding. Give them the benefit of the doubt and keep your joy because only you are in control of your happiness!

A PRAYER FOR TODAY

Father, today I hold on to joy. I refuse to give it up, and I refuse to let go of my peace. Give me Your strength today as I keep my heart and mind focused on Your love in Jesus’ name. Amen.

— Joel & Victoria Osteen

Finished With Fear

TODAY’S SCRIPTURE

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7, NLT)

TODAY’S WORD

So many people today are missing out on God’s abundant joy, peace and victory because they keep giving in to a spirit of fear. They are afraid to make a decision, they are afraid to confront issues, they’re afraid to step out in faith, they’re afraid of the past, and they’re afraid of the future! But as believers, we don’t have to live that way.

Always remember, fear is not from God. God has given you power, and His power is greater than any other power in the universe! You have to make a decision to deal aggressively with fear. You can’t be passive and expect to live in victory. The only way to conquer fear is to confront it head-on with the Word of God. His Word is truth which sets you free!

The next time you feel fear, declare today’s verse in 2 Timothy 1:7. Tell fear it has to go and walk in freedom. Sing a song of praise and declare God is empowering you. Focus on Him, find freedom and move boldly into the blessing He has prepared for you!

A PRAYER FOR TODAY

Father, thank You for giving me power to overcome fear. I choose to face fear head-on and drive it out of my life. Show me any areas of my life where fear is holding me back so that I can press forward into the life of victory You have for me in Jesus’ name. Amen.

— Joel & Victoria Osteen