Diahann Carroll as Julia was a big deal

“Are you just trying to be fashionable?”

Diahann Carroll.TV GuideWhen Diahann Carroll played the title role in the sitcom Julia in 1968-1971 on NBC, it was a very big deal in America. She was the first black woman to star in her own network program not playing a maid. She was the first black star of a scripted show since the controversial Amos and Andy a decade and a half earlier.

With the number of television outlets now, it may be difficult to imagine how rare it was any for any blacks on TV who weren’t maids or other marginalized roles. The trick with the show Julia is that a black person was expected, by various factions, be all things African American, an impossible task. Julia was a middle-class, attractive, professional woman (nurse) and didn’t speak like folks from the “ghetto.”

She was a single mom, which irritated a number of people who felt an emasculation of the black family. (Conversely, read What Diahann Carroll meant to black single moms like me.) Julia was a war widow raising her pretty perfect, cute “little man” (Marc Copage as Corey).

The show actively eschewed social issues at a time in America when there was war, racial divide, and assassinations. When “Julia” talked to her potential employer and told him on the phone about her race, he quipped, “Have you always been a Negro, or are you just trying to be fashionable?”

Magic?

Carroll was acutely aware of this tension. In a 1968 interview, she said, “With black people right now, we are all terribly bigger than life and more wonderful than life and smarter and better—because we are still proving. For a hundred years we have been prevented from seeing ourselves and we’re all overconcerned and overreacting. The needs of the white writer go to the superhuman being.” In other words, what would be later dubbed The Magic Negro.

Still, our household watched it. Every black person I knew watched it, because “WE” were on the screen in a positive light. “Julia” was beautiful, talented, and poised when “WE” had hardly been represented at all. It was just as most African Americans watched the short-lived Nat King Cole Show a decade earlier, my parents told me.

Julia was ranked seventh by Nielsen among the most popular show in its first season. In its second season, it was ranked twenty-eighth. It may have been canceled not because of her race but because it was a tad bland and the creative team wanted new horizons. Still, it was a major step for television.

Before and after

Diahann Carroll had already been making major strides. She was featured in some of the earliest major studio films to feature black casts, such as Carmen Jones in 1954, and Porgy and Bess in 1959. She was the first African-American woman to win a Tony for lead actress in a Broadway production, for the Richard Rogers musical No Strings.

Later, Diahann Carroll starred as Dominique Deveraux – great name, that – in the nighttime soap operas Dynasty and its crossover, The Colbys. I’ll admit I did NOT watch. But I did see her as recurring characters on A Different World (1989-1993), and Grey’s Anatomy (2006-2007).

Diahann Carroll, born Carol Diann Johnson in NYC on July 17, 1935, was a trailblazer in the entertainment industry. When Tyler Perry opened his new movie studio in Atlanta, he named one of the sections after the illustrious actress, even before she died October 4, 2019.

David Bowie Space Oddity: birth, death

Some of it belonged in ’67 and some of it in ’72,

Space Oddity.David BowieHere’s a space oddity: David Bowie was only 69 years and two days old when he left us on January 10, 2016. That is not old at all, especially if you are a sexagenarian.

Hmm: Bing Crosby was but 74 when HE died shortly after they recorded The Little Drummer Boy (Peace On Earth) back in 1977. Apparently, Bowie only agreed to do the show because his mum was a big fan of Bing, who had passed away by the time the program aired. I find myself missing these folks who go too early.

It occurs to me that I don’t know much about Bowie’s 1960s output. His first eponymous album, released the same day as Sgt. Pepper in 1967, was the work of a young man “with mountains of charisma and ambition, and no idea what to do with his obvious gifts.”

His second album, also called David Bowie in the UK, and as Man of Words/Man of Music in the US, was released on 14 November 1969. “It was reissued in 1972 by RCA Records as Space Oddity (the title of the opening track, which had reached No. 5 in the UK Singles Chart)… but it reverted to the original, eponymous title for 2009 and 2015 reissues.”

“Regarding its mix of folk, balladry and prog rock, NME editors Roy Carr and Charles Shaar Murray have said, “Some of it belonged in ’67 and some of it in ’72, but in 1969 it all seemed vastly incongruous. Basically, [it] can be viewed in retrospect as all that Bowie had been and a little of what he would become, all jumbled up and fighting for control.”

I’m oddly pleased by these “missteps”, because he persevered and became, well, Bowie.

Here’s an interview from 1983 taking MTV to task for failing to play music videos by black artists. It was back when MTV played music videos.

Someone recently posted a photo on Facebook and described it as serious moonlight. This prompted me to find a video of Let’s Dance from the Serious Moonlight Tour, which made me smile.

Listen to:
The Bowie channel
Under Pressure – Bowie and Queen, because I still miss Freddie, too

Read what I wrote about Bowie in:
2017
2016

August rambling #2: Fibonacci sequence music

Robert Mueller’s Indictment Song

A friend wrote: “Suddenly, it all makes perfect sense to me. Tubby all grown up=?”
Boston Globe, 22 August 2018: “It’s hard to come up with a satisfactory explanation that doesn’t end up with ‘because he got his hand caught in the cookie jar.'”

The drift towards autocracy continues

“That’s Obstruction of Justice”

How the National Enquirer helped DJT’s fixer keep scandals off the front page

‘Like a State Dinner’: Huge White House Event Honoring Evangelical Christians and he lied to them that he got rid of a law

The 47-page indictment against California Congressman Duncan Hunter and his wife Margaret details a shocking list of improper uses of campaign funds and financial mismanagement. The Hunters are accused of spending $250,000 of campaign funds on expenses that no reasonable person would believe were legitimate campaign expenditures

Why peace doesn’t last without women

Trade: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver – Jared is to blame

Commission on State Fragility, Growth and Development

Another deadly pandemic is coming — and the United States is not ready

Cancer: It’s Not Always What You Eat, But When You Eat It

Climate change will be deadlier, more destructive and costlier for California than previously believed, state warns

Life After Quitting; Five people on addiction, in their own words

America Soured on My Multiracial Family

Elizabeth Warren stakes out her message

Court Backs Activists Who Feed Homeless

The interwoven systems that shape our destiny even though we rarely pause to think about them

TV debate between William F. Buckley and Groucho Marx

When a Stranger Decides to Destroy Your Life

While We Sleep, Our Mind Goes on an Amazing Journey

Meet The People Who Spend Their Free Time Removing Fake Accounts From Facebook

Ken Levine interviews Peri Gilpin of Frasier, Part 1 and Part 2

A mouse walks into a bar

Jaquandor geeks out

Pulp Empire – “A Tarantino inspired Star Wars mashup and remix”

The insidious lure of nostalgia

Fonts of knowledge

Who needs the Kwik-E-Mart?

Snapping dry spaghetti into just two pieces

Mean Hetty Green

Scrambled eggs in a microwave

Now I Know: Why Bird Poop is White

MUSIC

Music from the Fibonacci sequence

Robert Mueller’s Indictment Song -James Corden

René and Georgette Magritte with Their Dog After the War – Paul Simon (2018)

The Cedar and the Palm,”symphonic picture” Vasily Kalinnikov

Bobaflex – Hey You (Pink Floyd cover)

SEUNGRI – ‘WHERE R U FROM (Feat. MINO)’

A Pentatonix kind of day

Kaze no Torimichi (The Path of Wind) from From My Neighbor Totoro – Joe Hisaishi, adapted for chamber performance

Coverville 1229: The Madonna Cover Story III

The Mamas and the Papas “If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears”

overture to Les Horaces – Antonio Salieri

Inspecta – Jain

The evolution of Dragon’s “Young Years”

Do songs of the summer sound the same?

Inductee insights: Moody Blues

Dirty Prank Calls, Done For $250,000

Newly Released FBI Files Expose Red-Baiting of Woody Guthrie

C is for color, or the lack thereof

I got interested in the issue of skin color – well, always.

I’m finding this a little weird. Because of my skin color, some of the Daughter’s friends don’t believe I am black, or African-American if you prefer (I don’t), so they don’t think she’s part black.

Her first set of friends are first- or second-generation sub-Saharan Africans, so I sort of get that. But I’ve been getting the same message from her American black and even American white buddies.

In fact, we were all at a play at her school this spring, the fourth iteration of Lion King I’ve ever seen. My wife and I were sitting a dozen rows behind the Daughter and her friends. At the intermission, she and one of her friends came back to where I was seated. She specifically pointed to my hand, pointing out the variated skin tone. “See, he’s darker there. He just has this skin condition.”

As I’ve noted before, the condition is called vitiligo. Incidentally, Chuck linked to Why you don’t say what you shouldn’t say to people who look “different”, including those with vitiligo far more severe than mine. Also see vitiligo queen and Artist Creates Dolls With Vitiligo.

When I was diagnosed with it, I was extremely cautious about going outside, so paranoid about developing skin cancer. I was much paler than I am now. In fact, there were black and white pictures of me from 2010-2015 and I do not recognize myself.

My forehead is somewhat darker, but, as you may be able to see, the top of my head is still lighter, and thus much more vulnerable to sunburn or worse.

I got interested in the issue of skin color – well, always. My mom was very fair, my father much darker, and her family was not pleased when they were courting, I’ve been told. Colorism does exist in many cultures.

And when Roseanne Barr made an offensive tweet about former Obama aide Valerie Jarrett, Barr’s defense was that she didn’t know Jarrett was black. Her racial identification was well-reported, but also obvious to my eye.

Of course, race in America has been complicated in what is now the United States only for about four centuries. This is interesting to me: They considered themselves white, but DNA tests told a more complex story.

For ABC Wednesday

Should we classify Americans based on race?

Since a 1997 OMB mandate, the ability to choose more than one race on Census and other forms has been available.

A recent Institute of History, Archaeology, and Education (IHARE) article has the provocative title What Race is Meghan Markle? What about Sally Hemmings?

The author, Peter Feinman, notes that “developments in naming black people have been… convoluted.” And not just in the United States – Cuba, Brazil, Venezuela all have similar issues.

“Sally Hemmings was 75% white and 25% black. She had a white father and a biracial mother. She had three white grandparents and six white great-grandparents. These numbers are important because Virginia in the 18th century did not adhere to the one-drop rule. Instead it had the 7/8 or 87.5% rule. That means if seven of your eight great-grandparents were white then you were white legally. Sally Hemmings at six great-grandparents fell short of this standard. However, if she and Thomas Jefferson or any Jefferson had a child, then that child legally would be white… at least under the 18th tury standards. Times would change.”

Of course, white Americans have their own racial confusion, especially after the onslaught of DNA testing. See They Considered Themselves White, But DNA Tests Told a More Complex Story (Washington Post, 2/6/18).

In the US, the term “Asian” is historically inaccurate. About the only people from the continent of Asia who AREN’T considered Asian are the folks from Afghanistan and westward, the very lands conquered by Alexander the Great and dubbed Asia.

Peter Feinman suggests the answer to the title question is Yes. “We know we are going to do it so why pretend otherwise. With DNA testing the answers will become even more precise… Given that we are going to classify people based on race other than human, what races should we use?… We need to do a better job classifying people and we need to do it before the 2020 census confuses the issue even more.”

Well, that conversation, I believe, is already evolving. Since a 1997 OMB mandate, the ability to choose more than one race on Census and other forms has been available. On the 2000 census, 2.4% of people selected two or more races. By 2010, it was up to 2.9%. I will be very interested to see what the 2020 data will show, but given the increase in “mixed” marriages, I suspect the number will be well above 4%. What that will mean societally, I don’t know.