Posts in North America
Aretha Franklin

Nina Simone is remembered as the “High Priestess of Soul” because, the consummate musical storyteller, she could weave a spell so hypnotic your heart would pound and you would lose track of time listening to her. But she never liked that moniker.

“…I was playing popular songs in a classical style with a…technique influenced by cocktail jazz…I included spirituals and children’s song in my performances, and those sorts of songs…identified with the folk movement.”

Simone could not be easily classified, nor did she want to be. She was a musical revolutionary with more than 40 albums of original songs in her discography.

Still, you may not have heard of her until now. And that is because her lyrics were so honest and so uncompromising, she was feared by the very monster she stood up to: Jim Crow America. With her songs, Nina Simone became a spokeswoman for a culture in upheaval.

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Nina Simone

Nina Simone is remembered as the “High Priestess of Soul” because, the consummate musical storyteller, she could weave a spell so hypnotic your heart would pound and you would lose track of time listening to her. But she never liked that moniker.

“…I was playing popular songs in a classical style with a…technique influenced by cocktail jazz…I included spirituals and children’s song in my performances, and those sorts of songs…identified with the folk movement.”

Simone could not be easily classified, nor did she want to be. She was a musical revolutionary with more than 40 albums of original songs in her discography.

Still, you may not have heard of her until now. And that is because her lyrics were so honest and so uncompromising, she was feared by the very monster she stood up to: Jim Crow America. With her songs, Nina Simone became a spokeswoman for a culture in upheaval.

Continue reading…

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Fred Rogers

Even in an increasingly noisy world, Fred Rogers proved you don't have to shout to make your voice heard. He demonstrated that you don’t have to be a president or a general or a Steve Jobs to improve the lives of others — for 30 years and 886 episodes! He made a difference to millions over the course of generations through his message that you are important just by being you.

Fred Rogers was a cultural pioneer. He recognized in the earliest days of television that it was going to have a major impact on the world. He wanted that impact to be positive. But he found that the first attempts at children's programming simply were not right: It was not age-appropriate. It was not respectful. It did not respond to children’s deepest fears nor answer their most pressing questions. He believed that young people were thoughtful people, too, who deserved the best programming possible.

Now, you may not recognize the name "Fred" Rogers, but most will have heard of "Mister" Rogers. And some of you reading this post may have had an intimate relationship with him and his neighborhood, as well as the neighborhood of Make-Believe.

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Harvey Milk

This is Gay Pride Week in London, where I currently reside. This coming Saturday, 7 June 2018, the city's ancient streets and notoriously gray skies will be awash in the light of thousands of rainbow flags. If you look at the Gay Pride Calendar -- as I just did -- you will see that celebrations of the LGBTQ community are happening all year round, all over the world, in cities both large and small. It's not possible to pin down a single day, week, or month when this community, and it's supporters, are not cheering their hard-earned rights to live their truth, openly and with acceptance from the general population. But it was not that long ago when discrimination and fear of homosexuality and bisexuality caused far too many people to retreat from their true identities to live unfulfilled, dishonest, but "acceptable" lives.

As I type this, I'm reminded of the line in the musical Hairspray when the main character, Tracy Turnblad, says, "Every day should be Negro day." Well, today's History Hero spent his life advocating that gay individuals be openly, publicly proud of their birthright. Sadly, he lost his life in the battle he waged for Gay Rights. But thanks to him everyday is Gay Pride day today.

Meet Harvey Milk...

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Survivors of the US Indian Boarding School System

From the vantage point of the 21st century, when we think or talk about “holocaust” – meaning slaughter on a mass scale – we think of Hitler’s extermination of 6 million Jews during World War II. But this was not history’s first genocide – and, sadly, it wasn't the last. In his book, Mein Kampf, Hitler states that he modeled his efforts on American’s treatment of slaves and native people. The approach hinged on breaking spirits by forcibly separating parents from children, rounding them up and making them live together in a concentrated way, and stripping them of the traditional signifiers of their culture and society.

Founding Father and US President, Thomas Jefferson, spoke of the need to “eliminate” or “extirpate” Native Americans. President Andrew Jackson promulgated the 1830 Indian Removal Act, resulting in the genocidal Trail of Tears. Civil War General, Philip Sheridan, was known for his slogan, “the only good Indian is a dead Indian.” 

This is the story of the unknown, unsung, nameless thousands who confronted the savage approach of their self-styled "civilizers." They are heroes simply because they endured.

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