Producer Norman Lear turns 100

People For The American Way

Norman Lear Plugging his 2017 documentary film, “If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast,” Carl Reiner had his old friends Norman Lear and Dick Van Dyke come over to be interviewed by CBS Sunday Morning’s Tracy Smith. “They constitute a team of GOLDEN BOYS — older, yes, but no less amusing.”

“The culture has age all wrong,” Lear said. “The culture sells age as utterly going down. Well, it’s the expression, ‘Going downhill.’ And he woke up this morning to come here feeling great. I woke up this morning, I couldn’t wait to get here to see these guys! It’s not ‘downhill!'”

Reiner died in June 2020, but Lear and Van Dyke are still going strong.

TV legend

I watched much of the output of producer Norman Lear. Here’s a paragraph from his IMDB page. “Born in 1922 in New Haven, Connecticut, Lear flew 52 combat missions over Europe in World War II before beginning his television career. His classic shows of the 1970s and ’80s – All in the Family, Maude, Good Times, The Jeffersons, Sanford and Son, and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, among others – collectively reached as many as 120 million viewers per week and are said to have transformed the American cultural landscape, bringing the social and political issues of the day into American living rooms for the first time.”

Yes, I saw all of those, both iterations of One Day At A Time, and more obscure shows such as Hot L Baltimore (1975). Possibly my favorite of his lesser-known programs is The Powers That Be: “The exploits of a clueless American senator and the eccentric, morally corrupt people who are closest to him.” It was the launching pad for several well-known performers.

Even before All In The Family, I saw the movie The Night They Raided Minsky’s (1968), produced by Lear.

He has a trove of awards, including five Emmys. But also the National Medal of Arts (1999), the GLAAD Media Award (2014), a Peabody Lifetime Achievement Award (2017), and the Kennedy Center Honors (2017).

PAW

“With the rise of the radical religious right, Lear put his career on hold in 1980 to found People For the American Way, the nonprofit organization that remains a relevant and effective force defending all aspects of the First Amendment.”

Indeed, it’s from his organization that I get messages from Norman on a regular basis.

From December 2021: “Progress can feel painfully slow on issues we care about. And sometimes we even see hard-won progress being rolled back. On my 99th birthday, the Washington Post ran an op-ed that I wrote expressing my bewilderment that some politicians are still trying to make it harder for people to vote.

“I’m hoping that by my 100th birthday we will have renewed a strong federal commitment to voting rights. “

From Memorial Day weekend 2022: “When I joined with Rep. Barbara Jordan and others to create People For the American Way, we felt it was important to give people a way to join with others in asserting that this country belongs to all of us. No one is more American on account of their religion or skin color – or where they were born or who they love.

“Some days the bad news feels overwhelming. The violence and contempt and dishonesty can be so dispiriting. Those are the days we need each other the most. Those are the days I remind myself to be grateful that there are so many of us who have made a commitment to making a difference.”

Then a pitch to donate to People For The American Way. Happy birthday, Norman Lear.

Kennedy Center Honors 2021

Justino, Berry, Lorne, Bette, Joni Dec 22

Kennedy Center Honors 2021The Kennedy Center Honors 2021 are back in December! “The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is proud to celebrate the 44th Honorees for lifetime artistic achievements: operatic bass-baritone Justino Díaz, Motown founder, songwriter, producer, and director Berry Gordy, Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels, legendary stage and screen icon Bette Midler, and singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell.”

The program was recorded on Sunday, December 5. It will air on CBS-TV on Wednesday, December 22 at 9 pm ET.

There is occasionally one person on the list with whom I am not familiar. Can you guess which one? Justino Diaz originated the role of Francesco in the September 10, 1971 world premiere of Ginastera’s Beatrix Cenci, performed for the… now Washington National Opera), which inaugurated the Kennedy Center Opera House.

Don’t forget the Motor City

Whereas Berry Gordy I’m VERY familiar with. Not only did he establish Motown, but he is a songwriter and producer. His Songwriters Hall of Fame resume identifies just some of the songs he created or co-wrote. These include All I Could Do Was Cry -Etta James; and Lonely Teardrops plus others for Jackie Wilson even before he started the label.

Also, Shop Around – Miracles; A Do You Love Me – the Contours; Try It Baby – Marvin Gaye; You’ve Made Me So Very Happy – Brenda Holloway; I’m Livin’ in Shame – Diana Ross and the Supremes. As part of The Corporation, he co-wrote a string of hits for the Jackson 5, such as I Want You Back, ABC, The Love You Save, and I’ll Be There. Listen to a few.

In 1998, I made a pilgrimage to Detroit. 2648 W Grand Blvd was the home of Hitsville, USA, and is now the home of the Motown Museum, where the Motown Sound was recorded from the late 1950s until 1972 when the label moved to Los Angeles. The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, Martha and the Vandellas, the Four Tops, and most of the aforementioned artists recorded there.

In the 1970s, Gordy was involved with movies, such as Mahogany and Lady Sings the Blues, starring Diana Ross, who was nominated for an Oscar.

Live From New York

I watched Saturday Night Live, almost every episode from its beginning until 1999. Show creator Lorne Michaels was at the helm from 1975-1980, and from 1985 onward. These days I tend to catch clips from the show on YouTube rather than watch the whole thing. But it is amazing that over 45 years after it was created, it still mines relevant material.

Some of his other credits sometimes involve SNL alums. TV executive producer: The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Late Night with Seth Meyers, 30 Rock, Portlandia. Movies: Wayne’s World, Tommy Boy, Mean Girls, and MacGruber. Broadway: he produced and directed Gilda Radner – Live From New York. He also produced several TV specials.

“Michaels’ 93 Emmy® nominations are the most ever for an individual. He received the 2004 Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.”

EGT

Bette Midler is an Oscar away from an EGOT. She has three Emmy Awards®, including for her performance on the penultimate episode of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, which I watched, plus six other nominations. Her four Grammy Grammy Awards® include Best New Artist (1973). She was considered 11 other times, including for ALBUM OF THE YEAR: The Divine Miss M, which I just played this month, and the BEST POP VOCAL PERFORMANCE, FEMALE: the single from that album, Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.

One of her two Tony awards was for Hello, Dolly! (2017). But the other was a Special Award in 1974, “for adding lustre to the Broadway season” with her dozen and a half performances of a one-woman show. Twice she was nominated for an Academy Award®: For the Boys (1991) and The Rose (1979), neither of which I saw. But I did catch Ruthless People and The First Wives; Club. And yes, I saw Beaches.

Joni

In 2021, I purchased a box set of the first four Joni Mitchell albums. I had never owned the first album, Song To A Seagull; so THAT’S where Judy Collins found Michael From Mountains. Nor the second, Clouds. The third, Ladies of the Canyon I have on vinyl; I wrote about getting castmates to listen to it. The fourth is Blue, the Top Five on many people’s lists, which I own. Even Joni admitted, “There’s hardly a dishonest note in the vocals.”

I have, in some form, For The Roses, Court and Spark (rebound album), Miles of Aisles (the pictured venue reminds me of the first time I saw her perform), The Hissing Of Summer Lawns (which I had coveted)… Actually, I own every non-compilation that is listed here through Turbulent Indigo.

Check out Joni discussing her health issues. “I’m hobbling along but I’m doing all right.” Also, Rick Beato’s What Makes This Song Great? Episode 91: Joni Mitchell’s Amelia and My Dinner With Joni Mitchell: 3 hours with an Icon.

Kennedy Center Honors on TV June 6!

Dick, Minori, Joan, Garth, Debbie

Kennedy Center Honors 2020Usually, the Kennedy Center Honors take place in early December. They are then edited and broadcast between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. It’s one of our family traditions.

But because of COVID, the ceremonies were postponed, and I lost track of the event. My wife said she recorded CBS This Morning this past week because Dick Van Dyke was on. Even though I knew Dick was one of the honorees, since I didn’t watch the news segment, I didn’t make the connection.

It wasn’t until I saw this interview of DVD by Al Roker that I decided to see, “When is the KCH airing anyway?”

It’s June 6, 8 pm EDT on CBS! Per the New York Times: “The ceremony, usually held and televised in December, was moved to May, and split over several days. Then the organizers and producers began stitching together a mixture of recorded at-home tributes and in-person performances across the center…

“If the Kennedy Center Honors had to be stripped of much of its glamour this month to accommodate rapidly changing coronavirus health guidelines, the subdued ceremony offered a chance for the honorees to help usher in the reopening of the nation’s cultural institutions after a grueling year for the arts.”

The honorees

Debbie Allen: I first knew her from the TV musical-drama Fame (1982-1987). She played dance teacher Lydia Grant – great first name, that – and choreographed much of the program.

She produced more than half of the episodes for The Cosby Show spinoff A Different World (1988-1993).

Since 2011, I’ve watched her in her recurring role as Dr. Catherine Avery on Grey’s Anatomy, for which she is also an executive producer/director.

Joan Baez: Someone who was a HUGE part of my growing up, as I noted here when she turned 70. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017. The website notes: “Joan Baez breathed new life into folk music in the 1960s, powering rock music’s turn toward social and political consciousness.

“Baez’s unwavering dedication to activism shows that volume isn’t the only way to be loud—and totally rock and roll.” As Joan said in December 2016: “As part of the folk music boom, which contributed to and influenced the rock revolution of the sixties, I am proud that some of the songs I sang made their way into the rock lexicon.”

Garth Brooks: He is a MASSIVELY successful artist, ostensibly country but with crossover appeal. He has nine albums that have sold over 10 million copies each. “According to the RIAA, he is the best-selling solo albums artist in the United States with 156 million domestic units sold, ahead of Elvis Presley, and is second only to the Beatles in total album sales overall.”

He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2011, and the Country Music Hall of Fame the following year. Out of curiosity, I bought a box set of a half dozen of his studios; it was under $25. While I didn’t love them all, there were some solid songs I enjoyed.

Not a fiddle

Midori: Sometimes, there’s a KCH awardee I know much less well than the others. In this case, it’s this concert violinist. From her website: “Midori is a visionary artist, activist, and educator who explores and builds connections between music and the human experience and breaks with traditional boundaries which makes her one of the most outstanding violinists of our time.

“As a leading concert violinist for over 35 years, Midori regularly transfixes audiences around the world, bringing together graceful precision and intimate expression.”

Dick Van Dyke: Him I know about. I’ve written about his seminal TV show, which I own on DVD, so I know more than bupkis about the series.

I never saw Mary Poppins until late 2011.

He appeared in the late Carl Reiner’s documentary If You’re Not In the Obit, Eat Breakfast in 2019.

I had forgotten this about the early career of Walter Cronkite: he had a “tenure as a morning show newsreader having dialogues with a lion puppet and Dick Van Dyke.”

Kennedy Center: EWF; Sally; Linda; Sesame St; MTT

Field, Ronstadt, Tilson Thomas

The 42nd Annual Kennedy Center Honors will air Sunday, December 15 – earlier than usual – at 8 p.m. EST. CBS has broadcast the special each year since its debut. The event will take place on December 8. Earth, Wind & Fire; Sally Field; Linda Ronstadt; Sesame Street; and Michael Tilson Thomas will be celebrated.

Michael Tilson Thomas

Michael Tilson ThomasAmerican conductor, pianist and composer Michael Tilson Thomas is a familiar name. He is currently music director of the San Francisco Symphony, though he announced in 2017 that he would step down in 2020. He’s also “artistic director of the New World Symphony, an American orchestral academy based in Miami Beach, Florida.”

He has his own YouTube channel. NPR mentions him frequently. A 2019 article in Vulture describes him a “disrupter who’s become the comfortable center.”

Michael Tilson Thomas is the only one in this group that had not appeared in this blog before now.

Sally Field

I wrote an extensive post about Sally Field in November 2016 when she turned 70. I’d seen her in everything from Gidget to Sybil to Brothers and Sisters. And she’s still working.

Earth, Wind & Fire

Their introduction on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame page says it well. Earth, Wind & Fire “took jazz, soul, gospel, pop and more and wrapped them in one psychedelic, mystical package.” The band was founded in Chicago by the late Maurice White in 1969.

Rolling Stone offered up 12 essential songs. My personal favorite is Fantasy, as I explained. I own the box set of their music.

You might recognize the name Philip Bailey, the falsetto vocalist, who sang a duet with Phil Collins on Easy Lover.

Linda Ronstadt

My admiration for Linda is huge. For her sixtieth birthday, I explained why I bought her box set when I already owned so much of her music. I advocated that she be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She was rightly inducted in 2014.

When she turned 70, I listed about three dozen of my favorite songs by her. I touted the documentary about her, which played at a local theater for months.

Sesame Street

I’ll admit it; I watched Sesame Street when I was in college, as I noted in 2011. The beloved children’s television show was shaped by the African-American communities in Harlem and beyond. Of course, I bought the 10th anniversary music album.

Farmers Insurance has been running a series of ads featuring the Muppets. Take a look at the website and the music of Sesame Street. The USPS to release stamps in honor of show’s 50th anniversary.

Since he won’t be at the event, I suppose I can share, from Business Insider back in 2017: “‘Sesame Street’ has been mocking Trump since 1988 — here are some of the best moments.”

Kennedy Center: Cher, Glass, McEntire, Shorter

Wayne Shorter has a 2018 magnum opus, Emanon

Kennedy Center Honors 2018

“On December 2, 2018, the Kennedy Center held its 41st annual national celebration of the arts — The Kennedy Center Honors.” For the second year in a row, the guy in the White House won’t be there.

“The 2018 Honorees include singer and actress Cher, composer and pianist Philip Glass, Country music entertainer Reba McEntire, and jazz saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter.”

I wrote at length about Cher on her 70th birthday a couple years ago. SINCE then, she continues to do concerts, received the Billboard Icon Award, co-starred in the romantic musical comedy film Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again and put out a hit album of ABBA covers called Dancing Queen.

She’s now the subject of “The Cher Show, a jukebox musical based on Cher’s life and music, [which] officially premiered at the Oriental Theatre, Chicago, on June 28, 2018, and had its Broadway debut on December 3, 2018.”

Philip Glass (b. 1937) is a minimalist composer. Some soundtrack of his used to drive an old girlfriend of mine crazy when I played it. I have two of his CDs; one is The “Low” Symphony, based on the music of David Bowie.

The other is Songs from Liquid Days, “a collection of songs composed by… Glass with lyrics by Paul Simon, Suzanne Vega, David Byrne, and Laurie Anderson… The recording features performances by Bernard Fowler, the Kronos Quartet, Janice Pendarvis, Douglas Perry, The Roches, Linda Ronstadt…” Listen to Forgetting.

Reba McEntire (b. 1955) is one of the most successful country artists ever; if I have any of her songs, it’s on a random compilation. But she shows up in films, on TV and even on Broadway. She’s ubiquitous.

Wayne Shorter (b. 1933) is a major jazz saxophonist. He played with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and Miles Davis’ jazz quintet in the 1960s. I know him best from the jazz-fusion group Weather Report.

He has a 2018 magnum opus, Emanon. “Encompassing three discs of music (just over two hours) and an original sci-fi graphic novel, the project is a grand statement that seeks to blur distinctions between the premeditated idea and the spontaneous gesture, or between ‘classical’ and ‘jazz’ as they’re usually framed.”

“This year, the co-creators of Hamilton — writer and actor Lin-Manuel Miranda, director Thomas Kail, choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, and music director Alex Lacamoire — received a unique Kennedy Center Honors as trailblazing creators of a transformative work that defies category.”

Though I’ve not yet seen Hamilton, about first Treasury Secretary, I’m in that group that has heard so often that I know the songs as well as I’m familiar with On the Street Where You Live, even though I’ve never seen My Fair Lady.

The writers of JEOPARDY! use Hamilton references a lot, to mixed results: “This musical includes the song ‘The Room Where It Happens'” was a missed Daily Double. No one knew “In the entrance hall of Monticello Jefferson placed a bust of himself opposite one of this Cabinet secretary & rival.”

“The Honors Gala will be broadcast on the CBS Network for the 41st consecutive year as a two-hour primetime special on Wednesday, December 26 at 8 p.m. ET.” 2017 Honoree Gloria Estefan hosts.

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