S. Epatha Merkerson is 70

Isaac Hawkins Hall

Epatha MerkersonThe actor S. Epatha Merkerson played Lieutenant Anita Van Buren in 390 episodes of the long-running procedural Law and Order, from 1993 to 2010. I thought she was very credible in playing someone who had to deal with some added burdens in the workplace. She talked about the wigs she wore for the show.

I got the sense that Alex Trebek was a big fan of hers when she appeared on Celebrity JEOPARDY in 1999.

But she’s done a lot more. Epatha was nominated for two Tony Awards. She was up for Best Actress In A Play in 2008 for Come Back, Little Sheba, and Best Featured Actress In A Play in 1990 for The Piano Lesson.

I did not know that she was Reba in 16 episodes of Pee-wee’s Playhouse, primarily because I never watched the show. Currently, she plays Sharon Goodwin on Chicago Med, a program I’ve watched exactly once.


What I did see her in was the Freedom Tales episode of Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., which first aired on February 5, 2019. It reran early in 2022.

One of the most significant findings was that an ancestor of Epatha, Patrick Hawkins, was one of 272 people enslaved by the Jesuit priests of what is now Georgetown University who were sold to two planters in Louisiana in 1838. Money was tight for the educational institution. There’s a pretty good Wikipedia page on the subject.

WETA, the PBS station in DC hosted a screening and discussion of the episode. here’s a five-minute clip. Also, read Sister Melannie Svoboda’s blog.

“Despite her success, Merkerson recounted how she had ‘always wanted to know’ where her family came from. When she asked her grandmother to tell her about their ancestors, her grandmother responded, ‘It’s painful. You don’t need to hear any of this.'” This is not an unusual response.

“The ‘inventory’ compiled by the Jesuits for the sale listed the name of every slave. On the list were five of Patrick Hawkins’ relatives, his wife Letty, his son Peter, and his father Isaac. Georgetown recently renamed the Former Jesuit Residence after Isaac Hawkins following student protests over its original name that honored one of the Jesuits involved in the sale.

“Brought to tears, Merkerson responded, ‘They have names…they have names. They’re not just faceless people.'”


At the end of the episode, S. Epatha Merkerson attended a reunion of the GU272 Descendants Association. “GU272 is dedicated to preserving the memory, commemorating the lives, and restoring the honor of the GU272 enslaved people sold by the Maryland Province Jesuits in 1838 and those who were enslaved before, during, and after the sale by the Society of Jesus. As Descendants, we commit to reconciling our ancestors’ enslavement, reconnecting families, and renewing ties lost.”

Epatha said on the Finding Your Roots episode that maybe she’ll be able to take courses at Georgetown. Implicit was that she should be able to take them for free.

Angela Lansbury: stage, screen, TV icon

The Manchurian Candidate

When I was crashing at my parents’ house in Charlotte, NC, in the spring of 1977, I went to the downtown library to watch the 1944 version of the movie Gaslight. It starred Charles Boyer, Ingrid Bergman, and Joseph Cotten. In her film debut, 19-year-old Angela Lansbury, as the young maid Nancy, received a best-supporting actress Oscar nomination. (Some folks did not know the meaning of gaslighting in 2013.)

In 2018, my family went to the cinema to see Mary Poppins Returns. In her antepenultimate film, she had a cameo at the end as the Balloon Lady. Her final film appearance was Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, in which she played Angela Lansbury.

Her greatest film role was as the mother of a would-be assassin in The Manchurian Candidate (1962). Casey Seiler of the Albany Times Union newspaper says she was “absolutely perfect” in “one of the few paranoid political thrillers that haven’t been outstripped by reality.” Here are just three minutes.

One of my favorite parts, though, is her voicing Mrs. Potts in Beauty and the Beast (1991). Here’s Tale As Old As Time.

She received an honorary Oscar in 2013 for her career as “an entertainment icon who has created some of cinema’s most memorable characters, inspiring generations of actors.”

Cabot Cove, Maine

Of course, the performer was best known as Jessica Fletcher, novelist and an amateur sleuth in Murder, She Wrote. She appeared for a dozen seasons (1984-1996) plus four TV movies between 1997 and 2003. She received an Emmy nomination for best actress in a drama series for every season, yet never won.

As The Hollywood Reporter noted, the program was “a huge ratings hit on Sunday nights following 60 Minutes. Both CBS shows appealed to intelligent, older viewers, and Lansbury was the rare woman in the history of television to carry her own series… ‘Nobody in this town watches Murder, She Wrote,’ Lansbury, referring to the TV industry, said in 1991. ‘Only the public watches.’

“The show was ranked in the top 13 in the Nielsen ratings (and as high as No. 4) on Sundays in its first 11 seasons but plummeted to No. 58 when CBS moved it to Thursdays in 1995-96 against NBC’s then-powerful lineup. The series finale, quite appropriately, was titled ‘Death by Demographics.'”

LA Times quotes her: “What appealed to me about Jessica Fletcher is that I could do what I do best and [play someone I have had] little chance to play — a sincere, down-to-earth woman. Mostly, I’ve played very spectacular bitches. Jessica has extreme sincerity, compassion, extraordinary intuition. I’m not like her. My imagination runs riot. I’m not a pragmatist. Jessica is.”

I freely admit to watching the program regularly. Maybe, as one critic noted, it was an opportunity to try to solve the crime with, or maybe before, the author.


As the Los Angeles Times noted, “It was her deep roots in the theater, and the many Tony Awards that followed that won the hearts of theatergoers and critics, who were often rhapsodic in their praise…

“Critic Rex Reed declared that she brought ‘the Broadway stage about as close to an MGM musical as the Broadway stage is likely to get,’ according to the 1996 biography ‘Angela Lansbury.’

“Her charismatic performance as the eccentric title character in a 1966 production of Mame vaulted her to Broadway superstardom and resulted in the first of her four Tonys for best actress in a musical.

“At 83, she tied the record for most Tony Awards won for acting when she received a fifth for portraying a medium in the 2009 revival of ‘Blithe Spirit. (Audra McDonald set a new record in 2014 when she won her sixth.)”

I saw the TV movie Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street in 1982, which was quite compelling. Her Broadway performances were undoubtedly even greater.

Here are Hollywood notables paying tribute to Angela Lansbury, plus A Critic’s Appreciation by David Rooney.

July rambling: Do you remember America?


From https://xkcd.com/2633/

Do you remember America?

Science shows US Supreme Court abortion, guns, and environmental rulings will have devastating consequences

Dark Money Fuels the Anti-Abortion Movement’s Push to Control State Legislatures

 How Much Do Health Disparities Actually Cost?

One Big Reason Hollywood Hasn’t Begun Boycotting States Over Abortion Access

An immature notion of Freedom

The Highland Park Shooting Is a Stark Symbol of a Uniquely American Crisis

White Replacement Theory is Nothing New

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Water and Rent

As of July 16, 2022, dialing 988 will connect all landline and cell phone users with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call 988 if you or someone you know is in danger of suicide or experiencing a mental health crisis.

STILL: History is not a feel-good story.

Giuliani: ‘She was NEVER present when I asked for a pardon

What Happened to Michael Flynn?

Ted Cruz feuds with Elmo’s dad

674 times 3

The State of Local News: The 2022 Report

14-year-old’s “I Voted” sticker submission goes viral

James Webb Space Telescope has returned its first imagery,

Walking the World: Hanoi (part 1); more Walking The World if you subscribe

Gettysburg National Military Park: 2022 Road Trip

Safety Town

Bill Finger Awards 2022

Harrison Ford is 80; he was pretty good in Call Of The Wild

Larry Storch, Corporal Randolph Agarn on ‘F Troop,’ Dies at 99

James Caan Dies at 82. I only saw him in The Godfather, Brian’s Song, and Misery

Joel Whitman, Legendary Chart Historian, and Reference Book Author, Died at 82. I’ve owned several iterations of his Billboard charts books.

Larry Wilmore interview

Chuck Miller:  Empire State Plaza Fireworks Photos, 2022 Edition

Confessions of a Delaware Park, Buffalo, First-timer

Now I Know: The Center of the Universe, Oklahoma Edition and  How My Search for Strawberry Jam Led to Pigs in Las Vegas and The Swine of Sin City and Frosted Flakes? Or a Bright Idea? and The Banned Fashion Accessory You Wore on Your Head and The Silver Miners That Left Behind Blue GoldBlue Gold

John Oliver: Beach dolls

Jazz Vocalist Rebecca Jade has earned San Diego Music Awards in 2022 (two), 2021, and “Artist of the Year” for 2020. Join her for her CD release party in Live and Up Close Theater on Friday, July 22 at 8 PM where she’ll be showcasing songs from her new record, A Shade of Jade.
Tickets are only $15! Sycuan Casino Resort, 5469 Casino Way, El Cajon, CA 92019. Sycuan.com | 619.445.6002

Sunrise Mass by Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo

V-Discs: World War II at 78 RPM

Don Juan by Richard Strauss

  Ain’t Misbehavin’ – Fats Waller from Stormy Weather (1943)

The Godfather orchestral suite by composer Nino Rota

Coverville 1405: The 50th Anniversary of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

Dances of Galanta by Zoltan Kodaly

Wing Ding from The Lucy Show (1965)

Street Symphony plays in harmony with Skid Row’s ‘sacred spaces’


Sweeney Todd if Lin-Manuel Miranda had written it and
the company of Hamilton played the parts

1968 Tony Awards, is the one, the only…Groucho!

Fourteen-minute deconstruction of the five-minute number Ariana DeBose and friends performed to kick off the 2022 Tony Awards ceremony.

Broadway in Yiddish? with Joel Grey

December rambling: slowest rate

Nell Stokes, Rebecca Jade, Literary Legends, public domain

Photo taken by Wayne
Photo was taken by Wayne

U.S. Population Grew 0.1% in 2021, Slowest Rate Since Founding of the Nation and  Net International Migration at Lowest Levels in Decades

What State of Matter is Fire?

Frequency Illusion? What’s the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon?

Black mothers turning to doulas in light of the nation’s horrifying maternal death rates

Two Texas teens dressed as Klansmen tased their Black classmate

Solomon Northup’s “A Slave’s Christmas” 

Wreck of last US slave ship mostly intact on the coast

NEA Guide for Racial Justice in Education

Missouri Cop Pulls Over School Bus Driver For Wearing A Mask

147 New York dams are ‘unsound’ and potentially dangerous Thousands of dams have not been inspected in more than 20 years

The departed

Hidden Pentagon records reveal patterns of failure in deadly airstrikes 

Desmond Tutu, a cleric who campaigned against apartheid in South Africa,  dies at 90. “A moral beacon in a deeply troubled land, Tutu managed to irritate the African National Congress government that took power after South Africa’s first all-race elections, as much as he had riled the apartheid regime that had previously oppressed the country’s Black majority.”

Joan Didion, Literary Titan, Dies at 87;  Jon Avnet on Making ‘Up Close and Personal’ With Her

 TCM Remembrance of performers past

This Year, Hollywood’s China Relationship Finally Unraveled

After his performance in The Music Man, Hugh Jackman touts Broadway understudies, standbys, and swings. The role of Marion Paroo, the female lead, was supposed to be played by Sutton Foster, who tested positive for COVID. The role was covered by a swing named Kathy Voytko, who also covered seven other smaller roles in the production.

Flying from Honolulu to Buffalo just before Christmas

I Stopped Caring About My Kids’ School Grades. You Should, Too.

“She could never love me!” Comic books and disability cliches 

Chuck’s best blog moments of 2021, which includes me!

The Awakening – Albany’s first movie (1914)

See the movie short:  Seasoned Greetings (1933 Vitaphone). Lita Grey Chaplin w/ 7 Yr Old Sammy Davis Jr

Now I Know: A Brick That Broke The Glass Ceiling and The Amazing Spider-Man Coincidence and When It Feels Good to Pay More

Inspiring Quotes: If you can’t see anything beautiful about yourself, get a better mirror. – Shane Koyczan

Nominate the next Literary Legend!

Each year, the Friends and Foundation of Albany Public Library select a new outstanding person of letters to be honored as our Literary Legend. The FFAPL invites the public to nominate writers for the selection committee to consider.

Nominations must be received by January 9, 2022, for consideration by this year’s Selection Committee. The Literary Legends Selection Committee includes members of the FFAPL board, past Gala Chairpersons, and APL librarians.

Sound Treasures Enter the Public Domain

On January 1, 2022, 400,000 pre-1923 sound recordings will enter the public domain, thanks to a new U.S. law, the Music Modernization Act. To celebrate, you may attend a virtual event on January 20, “A Celebration of Sound.”

And it’s not just music! On January 1st, children’s classic Winnie the Pooh, Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, Rudolph Valentino in The Son of the Sheik, in addition to musical recordings such as Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag, and thousands more will all be free for creative reuse and sharing.

Hendrix.Nesmith.Tork found on Facebook

Am I Enough. Words: Nell Stokes. Vocals: CJay Philip, Nell’s daughter. Musical arrangement: Gail Sparlin. Piano: Larry Finke.

You Should Be Dancing – Dee Gees, who look a little like the Foo Fighters

Coverville 1382: Cover Stories for Patti Smith, Dido, and Britney Spears

New York State of Mind – NYCNext

Losing My Mind -Imelda Staunton, in a 2017 production of Follies by the National Theater

Tainted Love – Broken Peach 

Songbird -MonaLisa Twins

Dream On – Ann Wilson, live 

Stand By Me – Playing For Change

Mary, Mary, written by Michael Nesmith (30 Dec 1942-10 Dec 2021): Butterfield Blues Band Band, The Monkees 

It’s still Christmastide

Dave Koz and Friends // The Greatest Hits of Christmas – LIVESTREAM VIRTUAL CONCERT Recorded 12/12/20. With Jonathan Butler, Peter White, Kenny Lattimore, Michael Lington, Brian Simpson, and REBECCA JADE!

Have a sultry, soulful Christmas!

River – Joni Mitchell, Her first official video

J. Eric Smith –  Ten Songs You Need to Hear: Crimbo Version

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.


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.”


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.

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