Oprah Winfrey turns 70

National Women’s Hall of Fame

When someone answers “Oprah” on JEOPARDY, when the correct response is “Oprah Winfrey,” the answer is generally adjudged to be correct. It’s like “Elvis” for “Elvis Presley.”.

Oprah’s A.M. Chicago show, which was much  more successful with her at the helm,  went national after her “Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for—her performance as Sofia in the film The Color Purple.”

I started watching her program early in its run, around 1986. I did not view it regularly as it was on in the afternoon. But I appreciated seeing her show the empathy that allowed celebrities and regular folks to open up to her.

I know I saw her interviews with the Little Rock Nine, the black kids trying to integrate the Arkansas high school in 1957, requiring the support of troops sent by President Eisenhower. But also participating were a bunch of white kids who jeered the Nine. There was a rapprochement that was truly powerful.

I saw some stars, such as Paul McCartney and Tom Cruise, the latter of whom “jumped around the set, hopped onto a couch, fell rapturously to one knee and repeatedly professed his love for his then-girlfriend, Katie Holmes…

“On February 10, 1993, Winfrey sat down in a prime-time special broadcast with Michael Jackson, who had performed ten days earlier in the Super Bowl XXVII halftime show, for what would become the most-watched interview in television history.” I watched that, too.

Personal

She was an effective interviewer because of her vulnerability and compassion. “On November 10, 1986, during a show about sexual abuse, Winfrey revealed that she was raped by a relative when she was nine years old. Since this episode, Winfrey has used the show as a platform to help catch child predators, raise awareness, and give victims a voice.”

And from 1995, “I was involved with a man in my twenties who introduced me to cocaine. I always felt that the drug itself was not the problem but that I was addicted to the man… I have said many times I did things I was ashamed of in my twenties, and I’ve done things I’ve felt guilty about. And that is my life’s great secret that’s been held over my head. I understand the shame, and I understand the guilt, I understand the secrecy, I understand all that.”

She had segments I enjoyed, such as her Book Club and the fiscal advice from Suze Orman. I was much less enthused by two other folks whom she helped launch,  Dr. Mehmet Oz and Dr. Phil McGraw.

Oprah became a millionaire in 1986 and a billionaire by 2004.  In 1994, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. “Winfrey has won many accolades throughout her career,” including the Kennedy Center Honors in 2010.  She was elected as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2021.

She aids numerous programs, including an impressive school for girls in South Africa.

Taraji P. Henson Praises Oprah at ‘The Color Purple’ Screening: “She Was There Holding Our Hands.” Oprah produced the Warner Bros. musical remake, which stars Henson alongside Fantasia Barrino and Danielle Brooks.

1973: the class trip to DC

New Paltz Democratic Club

I intend to finish my 1973 diary recollections by the end of 2023.  Though I found nothing I wanted to share in the first two months, the class trip to DC was particularly noteworthy.

Wed, Mar 7: I was famished that evening and was going to eat. But the Okie said she was going to bring food. Then my parents and my sisters arrived, surprising me near or on my birthday for the second year in a row.

We were about to leave when a car with a little girl barreled down the street in reverse. Dad tried to stop it, but he couldn’t. It rammed into another vehicle. The girl was okay. She was trying to adjust the radio station and released the brake. My family went to a Chinese restaurant called Great Wall.

Tues, Apr 10: I attended, not for the first time, a New Paltz Democratic Club meeting. Ralph Kulseng nominated me to be the acting recording secretary. Someone whispered, “Who’s Roger Green?” I whispered, “I’m Roger Green!”

[I joined the Club after I was allowed to register to vote in the town. The law in New York State at the time was that no one would gain or lose the right to vote by attending college. The Republican registrar was going to deny me the chance to vote there. But the Democrat, noting that the Okie was already registered in Ulster County and that it would be silly for a married couple to have to be registered in different counties.]

I won the election and was given postcards, the membership list, etc.

Sat, Apr 14: I was back in Binghamton. I met a legislative assistant of my Congressman Howard Robison at the Federal Building about war, Watergate, and other issues.

District of Columbia

Sun, May 13: My classmates (Sid, Andi, Ivy, Gary, Jay, Mitch, Stu, Charles, Jerry, Tom, and Linda ) and I drove down to DC for a trip arranged by our professor, Ron Steinberg.  We ate at the Mayflower Diner. Nixon arrived at the Washington Monument grounds by helicopter, causing chaos. We stayed at a hostel.

Mon, May 14: After breakfast at a greasy spoon, we take a bus to the Supreme Court. They ruled 8-1, Rehnquist dissenting, that a servicewoman could claim her husband for benefits as easily as a serviceman could claim his wife. (As I read the case now, it was a bit more nuanced than that.) We talked with chief clerk Rodak, a real PR man, about court caseloads.

At the Justice Department, we talked with Phil Locavara, deputy solicitor general, who was very candid, even about Watergate.

The last day in DC

Tues, May 15: We had a meeting at the EPA with a guy named Stuart, who was very interesting and informative. I got lost going to the Common Cause meeting, seeing an Ethiopian parade en route. Later, the FCC PR man gave us terse, frustratingly evasive answers.

Wed, May 16: Took a bus to the New Senate Office Building. I hated carrying around my duffel bag, which was searched every time I entered there or the Supreme Court. Ron, Sid, and I ate at the NSOB cafeteria. We got Senate passes from the office of Senator James Buckley (C-NY). I went to the Senate on the subway, but only four Senators were on the floor.

We went to the Old Senate Office Building for a meeting with a subcommittee of the Committee on the Judiciary with two of the staff on Senator Sam Ervin (D-NC).

Then we went to see former Chief Justice Earl Warren. Ron made only an introductory statement and asked the last question over an hour later. )I wrote about this here.)

We all drove back to New Paltz, very tired.

Tony Bennett Day

Anthony Benedetto

It’s Tony Bennett Day!

I’ve often been a sucker for a comeback story. Tony Bennett’s is a great one. Instead of changing with the times – his attempts to do so were disastrous – he returned to being who he’d always been, and the times changed with HIM.

He was born Anthony Dominick Benedetto in 1926 in Queens, New York, but was singing as Joe Bari when Bob Hope made a better suggestion.

Tony was one of those crooners I remember seeing on the variety shows hosted by Perry Como, Judy Garland, Red Skelton, Danny Kaye, Andy Williams, and Dean Martin. Of course, he was on Ed Sullivan, where he appeared 18 times between 1952 and 1971.

While he didn’t entirely fade away, he became less relevant to the cultural conversation for a time.

Rebirth

As Wikipedia noted, his son Danny was pivotal in the change: “His father… had tremendous musical talent, but had trouble sustaining a career from it and had little financial sense. Danny signed on as his father’s manager.

“Danny got his father’s expenses under control, moved him back to New York City, and began booking him in colleges and small theaters to get him away from a ‘Vegas’ image. The singer had also reunited with Ralph Sharon as his pianist and musical director (and would remain with him until Sharon’s retirement in 2002).

“By 1986, Tony Bennett was re-signed to Columbia Records, this time with creative control, and released The Art of Excellence. This became his first album to reach the charts since 1972.

“Danny began regularly to book his father on Late Night with David Letterman This was subsequently followed by appearances on Late Night with Conan O’BrienSesame StreetThe SimpsonsMuppets Tonight, and various MTV programs.” I specifically remember Capital City on the Simpsons; the song is on my Simpsons’ Songs in the Key of Springfield CD.

In the collection

I have several Tony Bennett albums, all but one from 1993 or later when the video of Steppin’ Out With My Baby from the album Steppin’ Out was in heavy rotation on MTV.

Then Tony had an MTV Unplugged special, which I watched. Elvis Costello and k.d. lang showed up for one song each. I own his two Duets albums with various collaborators and Tony and lang, Diana Krall, and  Lady Gaga on whole albums.

Between 1963 and 1966, he was nominated for eight Grammys, winning two for I Left My Heart in San Francisco.  From 1991 to 2022, he was nominated 33 times for a Grammy, receiving 17, plus a Lifetime Achievement Award. Many were songs or albums with artists decades younger than he, including Stevie Wonder and the late Amy Winehouse. He became the king of duets.

I had the pleasure of seeing Tony Bennett at Tanglewood, I believe, in the late 1990s. His opening act was Krall, and they performed songs together as well. Ralph Sharon was the pianist/musical director.

I was reading the 60 Minutes interview about Tony preparing for two concerts at Radio City Music Hall with Gaga. He was aided by his wife, Susan, while living with  Alzheimer’s disease. The shows, which he did not remember only days later, were tremendous. It was recently rebroadcast on CBS. 

American Songwriter called these the Top 10 10 Bennett songs. Check out his paintings.

Citations

Bennett was inducted into the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame and received the United Nations “Citizen of the World” award.

The US Senate recently passed a resolution declaring August 3 as Tony Bennett Day. Senate Majority Chuck Schumer “cited Bennett’s service in World War II, as well as his decision to march with Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Alabama in 1965, ‘at a time when the agents of most entertainers discouraged them from marching in these kinds of things because they might lose some fans. But Tony didn’t care; he believed in equality.’” The House passed a similar measure.

Here is a life in pictures from The Guardian. Today would have been Tony Bennett’s 97th birthday. He was the gold standard for singers.

Musicians born in August 1953

J.T.

I’ve divided this month’s notables into two lists: musicians born in August 1953 today and others tomorrow.

Robert Cray (1st) was the bass player of the fictional band Otis Day and the Knights, as seen in the 1978 movie National Lampoon’s Animal House.

He is in my vinyl collection with his breakthrough album, Strong Persuader (1986), which reached #13 on the pop album charts. It won the Grammy in 1987 for Best Contemporary Blues Album. The hit single was Smokin’ Gun, #22 in 1987.

My one Cray CD is Showdown! with Albert Collins and Johnny Copeland, his first to chart at #124. He’s released over 20 albums.

Robert appears on the compilation album A Tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan, on which he sings Love Struck Baby. Here’s the SRV tribute video.

Robert Cray will be touring in the US later this month after performing in Germany, the UK, and Ireland in June.

Scion

Randy Scruggs (3rd). From his 2018 obituary: “Scruggs won four Grammy awards for his instrumental work and was named the “Musician of the Year” at the Country Music Association Awards twice.

“The guitarist contributed his talents to recordings by Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette, Wilco, Randy Travis, and Vince Gill.

“He produced albums for Waylon Jennings, Toby Keith, and Alison Krauss.

“Also a talented songwriter, he wrote numerous hit songs, including We Danced Anyway for Deana Carter [on an album I own] and Shakin’ for Sawyer Brown. He co-wrote multiple songs with artist Earl Thomas Conley when Conley had a string of hits in the eighties. [Your Love Is On The Line] 

“Scruggs produced and played guitar on the critically acclaimed Grammy-winning album “Will the Circle Be Unbroken: Volume Two” for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in 1989.

“As a recording artist, Randy and his brother Gary released two albums in 1969 and 1970, then formed the progressive country rock band the Earl Scruggs Revue with their father. I Could Sure Use The Feeling was a top 30 hit for the group in 1979.”

He died after a “short illness” at the age of 64.

A Titanic talent

I suppose I could write about James Horner (14th). Or I could link to Kelly Sedinger’s post, written after Horner died in the plane he was piloting in 2015.

Kool and the Gang

James “J.T.” Warren Taylor (16th) was the lead singer of Kool & the Gang between 1979 and 1988. Though the group had some earlier hits (Jungle Boogie, Hollywood Swinging), the group’s biggest hits were still to come.

Ladies Night, #8 pop, #1 for three weeks RB in 1980

Celebration from the Celebrate! album, which I will admit to owning on vinyl. But I won’t acknowledge the lime green polyester suit I wore in my brief disco dancing days. #1 for two weeks pop, #1 for six weeks RB in 1981, platinum single.

Get Down On It, #10 pop, #4 RB in 1982, gold single.

Joanna, #2 pop, #1 RB for two weeks in 1984, gold single.

Misled, #10 pop, #3 RB for two weeks in 1985

Cherish, #2 pop for three weeks, #1 RB in 1985, gold single

Victory, #10 pop, #2 RB for two weeks  in 1987

Stone Love, #10 pop, #4 RB  in 1987

J.T. has some solo recording and songwriter success.

Jazz Pianist

David Benoit (17th) is described on his website as Jazz Pianist, Composer, Arranger, Conductor, Educator, Radio Personality. He has charted over two dozen albums in a 45-year career and has been nominated for three Grammys.

The title track to Waiting For Spring, 1988

Dad’s Room, 1999

GRP All-Star Band, 1992

Filmmaker Ken Burns turns 70

devastating — and distressingly topical

I’ve been watching films directed or co-directed by Ken Burns, for decades.

In an interview, possibly on 60 Minutes, he noted that his academic family moved frequently, including southeastern France, Delaware, and Ann Arbor, MI.

His mother, Lyla Smith (née Tupper) Burns, a biotechnician, was diagnosed with breast cancer when Ken was three and died when he was 11. He said that circumstances shaped his career. His father-in-law, psychologist Gerald Stechler, shared a significant insight: “He told me that my whole work was an attempt to make people long gone come back alive.”

From the Wikipedia: “In 1977, having completed some documentary short films, he began work on adapting David McCullough’s book The Great Bridge, about the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge.

“Developing a signature style of documentary filmmaking in which he ‘adopted the technique of cutting rapidly from one still picture to another in a fluid, linear fashion [and] then pepped up the visuals with ‘first hand’ narration gleaned from contemporary writings and recited by top stage and screen actors,’ Burns made the feature documentary Brooklyn Bridge (1981), which was narrated by McCullough, and earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary and ran on PBS in the United States.”

The films

I saw Brooklyn Bridge well after the fact, and The Civil War (1990) ss it came out. But it was with Baseball (1994) that I fell in love with his style. Someone gave me the accompanying book, which is at arm’s length in my office.

I had to watch Thomas Jefferson (1997), Jazz (2001), The Central Park Five (2012), The Roosevelts (2012) – I even have the soundtrack),  Jackie Robinson (2016) and The Vietnam War (2017) because of my great personal interest.

Here’s the blog post I wrote about Country Music (2019).

Then Hemingway (2021), because I didn’t know much about him, and Muhammad Ali (2021), because I thought I knew almost everything about him, but I did not. Benjamin Franklin (2022) was not that engaging to me.

The U.S. and the Holocaust (2023), which I’ve begun watching, is an exciting choice. Had he not covered this territory in The Roosevelts and Defying the Nazis? But it is powerful stuff.

THR’s review called it “devastating — and distressingly topical. Burns, Lynn Novick and Sarah Botstein’s six-hour PBS documentary explores what the United States did and could have done in response to the Nazi atrocities of the Holocaust.” Here is A Conversation With Co-Directors Ken Burns and Lynn Novick On Authoritarian Parallels. A CBS Sunday Morning piece is interspersed with info re: wildflowers, but it’s easy to skip to the interview.

Ken Burns considers himself a patriot. When he appeared on Finding Your Roots in 2014,  he was pained to discover that he had a Tory sympathizer as an ancestor who fought for the British during the American Revolution.
In 2015, around the time of the rebroadcast of The Civil War, he noted on Morning Joe that the Confederate flag issue was not really about heritage.

In the fall of 2022, I received a mass email from Ken Burns.

It was a pitch to vote for incumbent Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) for reelection. She won in November 2022.

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