The trials of the ‘Scottsboro Boys’

Leadbelly song

Scottsboro BoysAs the story goes, “No crime in American history– let alone a crime that never occurred– produced as many trials, convictions, reversals, and retrials as did an alleged gang rape of two white girls by nine black teenagers on a Southern Railroad freight run on March 25, 1931.

“Over the course of the two decades that followed, the struggle for justice of the ‘Scottsboro Boys,’ as the black teens were called, made celebrities out of anonymities, launched and ended careers, wasted lives, produced heroes, opened southern juries to blacks, exacerbated sectional strife, and divided America’s political left.”

Britannica notes: “Despite testimony by doctors who had examined the women that no rape had occurred, the all-white jury convicted the nine, and all but the youngest, who was 12 years old, were sentenced to death.

“The announcement of the verdict and sentences brought a storm of charges from outside the South that a gross miscarriage of justice had occurred in Scottsboro. The cause of the ‘Scottsboro Boys’ was championed, and in some cases exploited, by Northern liberal and radical groups, notably the Communist Party of the U.S.A.

Here’s a video from Ancient History, though it’s not so ancient.

SCOTUS

History.com notes: The trials and repeated retrials of the Scottsboro Boys sparked an international uproar and produced two landmark U.S. Supreme Court verdicts, even as the defendants were forced to spend years battling the courts and enduring the harsh conditions of the Alabama prison system.

One of the cases was Powell v. Alabama (1932), in which SCOTUS ruled that the Scottsboro defendants had been denied the right to counsel. This violated their right to due process under the 14th Amendment. “The Supreme Court overturned the Alabama verdicts, setting an important legal precedent for enforcing the right of African Americans to adequate counsel, and remanded the cases to the lower courts.”

The second, again overturning the guilty verdicts, was in Norris v. Alabama (1935). The “systematic exclusion of blacks on Jackson Country jury rolls denied a fair trial to the defendants… This second landmark decision in the Scottsboro Boys case would help integrate future juries across the nation.”

You can “meet” the individuals involved through the American Experience piece Who Were the Scottsboro Boys?

In 2013(!), Alabama posthumously pardoned three of them after 80 years, “essentially absolving the last of the Scottsboro Boys of criminal misconduct and closing one of the most notorious chapters of the South’s racial history.”

Music

Here are the lyrics to the song Scottsboro Boys by Hudie Leadbetter, known as Leadbelly. Listen to the song.

There was a Broadway musical of this story in 2010. Music and lyrics were by John Kander and Fred Ebb, who had done Cabaret and other successful shows. It ran for 29 previews and 49 performances. Watch the 2011 Tony Awards performance.

Review: David Byrne’s American Utopia

Directed by Spike Lee

American Utopia

Flicking through the channels in late December, which I seldom do, I came across something amazing. It was David Byrne and a troupe of like-dressed men and women. This must be the film of his American Utopia show on Broadway. They are performing Janelle Monae’s astonishing “Hell You Talmbout”, complete with images of murdered Black men and women.

Then some other songs, including Road to Nowhere, the Talking Heads tune. This involved the cast literally marching around the theater. My, I need to see this in its entirety, which I did on HBO about a week later.

Like the Stop Making Sense tour, where I saw Talking Heads at SPAC in the early 1980s, this show adds layers. First Byrne, then the two folks, a black woman and a white man, I describe as “interpreters.” They sing, but they also enact choreographed movements. The ensemble builds with keyboards, guitar, and percussion – a lot of percussion.

Peppered between the 20 Talking Heads and solo songs are Byrne’s musings, about the nature of things – how the brain develops. The show is political. Not capital P political, except for the Monae song. But he notes that most of the cast are immigrants, including himself, born in Scotland. He asks people to vote, though he does not say for whom.

One of the facets that made this show work so well is the technology. Everyone moves around the stage, in different arrangements. The instruments are all hand-held and wireless. It is a very freeing experience.

The right thing

The movie’s director is Spike Lee. Per NPR, he “works right alongside Byrne, bringing viewers into the show…, putting us right on stage with these talented artists, and transcending a mere recording of a live event.” He must have placed cameras all over. My favorite shot might be from above the stage, the musicians in the configuration of a pinwheel marching band.

I LOVED this movie. As RogerEbert.com  notes, “David Byrne’s American Utopia is a joyous expression of art, empathy, and compassion.” The end credits feature Everybody’s Coming To My House by the Detroit School of Arts. It’s a better version than his version, Byrne opines.

Lydster: Be Kind to Your Parents

Fanny

Florence Henderson 1954
Florence Henderson, 1954

There were several tunes I sang to my daughter when she was younger. One was Be Kind to Your Parents. It was a recording my sister Leslie and I owned on this red vinyl 45 when we were young. We even sang it, including fairly recently. I have no idea who the artist was.

As it turns out, the song is from a 1954 musical called FANNY. It ran on Broadway from Nov 04, 1954, to Dec 16, 1956, with 888 performances. The music and lyrics were by Harold Rome.

In the program, Be Kind to Your Parents sung primarily by Florence Henderson and Lloyd Resse. It was subsequently covered by Pete Seeger, Michael Cooney, and Michael Feinstein.

The lyrics as I remember them:

Here’s a piece of good advice. Think it over once or twice.

Be kind to your parents though they don’t deserve it
Remember the grown-up’s a difficult stage of life
They’re apt to be nervous and overexcited
Confused by the daily storm and strife.

Just keep in mind though it’s so hard I know
Most parents were once children long ago. Incredible!

So treat them with patience. And sweet understanding
In spite of the foolish things they do
Someday you may wake up and find out you’re a parent too.

This version from a kid’s show changes the line “though they don’t deserve it” to “you know, they deserve it.” Meh.

Now it’s time

When she was still a baby and toddler, I’d sing her Good Night, the song from the Beatles white album.

There was also a song I made up.

I love Lydia (X2)
‘Cause she is my daughter, oh yeah
She is my daughter

I knew I had copped the tune from somewhere. But it wasn’t until years later, I realized it was from I Eat Cannibals by Total Coelo. Of course, it was.

In the very first month of this blog, I noted how my daughter was named. I had a LOT of rules. And in spite of all of them, the first reference I hear to her name came from a Marx Brothers flick. One just cannot plan for every contingency.

The Waitress phenomenon

Larry Dallas

christine dwyer
Christine Dwyer
When I was still working, there was a woman in one of the other departments in my building who was obsessed with the musical Waitress. She had seen it more than once on Broadway and had selfies with members of the cast. When it hit Proctors Theatre in Schenectady, she saw the touring show.

But she also had a Waitress cookbook and even promised to bake me a pie before I retired. (She tried to, but the pie failed, so she bought me one.)

When my wife, daughter and I saw it back in June, I thought it was… fine. Pleasant. It reminded me structurally to the TV show Alice. Alice never fell for her gynecologist, as Jenna (Christine Dwyer) did, though. Becky, the black waitress (Melody A. Betts), reminded me of the white, wisecracking Flo on the TV show. The timid Dawn (Ephie Aardema) is not dissimilar to the flaky Vera.

Even the diner managers, Mel, and Cal (Ryan G. Dunkin) were guys with rough exteriors but with hearts of gold. Odd that I didn’t get that deja vu feeling with the movie.

All she found was Earl

In the musical, Jenna’s abusive and controlling husband Earl (Jeremy Woodard) made my daughter extremely uncomfortable. In both stage and screen, Earl reminded me of the villain in the Dixie Chicks’ video for Goodbye Earl with Jane Krakowski, Dennis Franz, and Lauren Holly.

Another difference is that in Waitress, the actual diner owner was an older man named Joe, played in the show I saw by Richard Kline. You may remember Kline best from the sitcom Three’s Company as Larry Dallas.

The most interesting/bizarre character in Waitress is Ogie (Jeremy Morse), who is wooing Dawn. A local reviewer suggested that he seemed to belong in another play entirely, he was so off the wall. He was the most entertaining part of the production.

Waitress opened on Broadway on April 24, 2016, and has over 1450 performances. But it will close on January 5, 2020. Several people I’ve actually heard of have played Jenna, including Sara Bareilles, who wrote the serviceable music, and former American Idol contestants Katharine McPhee and Jordin Sparks. Meanwhile, the touring show continues through at least mid-2020.

Actor Victor Garber turns 70

Victor Garber was a member of The Sugar Shoppe, a Canadian sunshine pop vocal group who recorded in the late 1960s.

Victor Garber
NEW YORK, NY: Actor Victor Garber attends the 40th International Emmy Awards on November 19, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Robin Marchant/Getty Images)
Back in my early days of blogging, when I was very susceptible to memes, I adopted actor Victor Garber. He fit the mold as as “a character actor, as they are the unsung heroes of the entertainment world.”

In fact, it was almost exactly a decade ago I wrote that post, not realizing at the time how close it was to his 60th birthday. I’ll admit I haven’t been particularly good at “promoting the actor from time to time” since then. So what has he been up to in the past ten years?

Among other things, Victor Garber has been heavily involved in the DC universe on TV and in movies. I haven’t actually watched most of these, though I did see him in a 2017 episode of Supergirl.

Episodes of Glee, 30 Rock, Modern Family, and The Good Wife I’ve seen him in. He’s been Admiral Halsey – love that name – on The Orville, which I’ve caught a handful of times.

I know him mostly as Ken Taylor, the Canadian ambassador who helped six Americans escape during the Iranian hostage crisis in 1980, in the movie Argo (2012)

Supporters of Taylor, who saw the movie at the the Toronto International Film Festival, “were angered by what they saw as Affleck’s American-centric take on the crisis that minimized Taylor and Canada’s role. Affleck called Taylor and the two drafted a postscript that emphasized the Canadian Embassy’s crucial involvement.

“One year later, Taylor did press interviews and traveled the festival circuit to promote Our Man In Tehran, a Canadian documentary that sets the record straight about our embassy’s role.”

Still, I thought Garber’s portrayal, however inaccurate, was rather cool. It was rather like the role for which I best know him, agent Jacks Bristol, spy and estranged father to Sydney (Jennifer Garner).

And not much at all like his first movie role, as Jesus in the movie Godspell.
Godspell trailer
Save the People
Alas for You

Victor Garber’s Internet Broadway Database page, including Sweeney Todd (1979-1980), Damn Yankees (1994-1995), and Hello, Dolly as Horace Vandergelder (Jan 20 – Jul 15, 2018)

The Sugar Shoppe was a Canadian sunshine pop vocal group who recorded in the late 1960s. The Sugar Shoppe – Full album on Capitol Records (1968)

InnerVIEWS with Ernie Manouse: Victor Garber (2014)