Tracy K. Smith Named New U.S. Poet Laureate by Library of Congress

Tracy K. Smith (Photograph © Rachel Eliza Griffiths)

by Sophia Nguyen via harvardmagazine.com

Tracy K. Smith has been named the new U.S. Poet Laureate by the Library of Congress, succeeding Juan Felipe Herrera. While the role doesn’t carry many specific official duties, it has traditionally involved raising awareness of, and increasing access to, poetry. “I am excited about the kinds of social divides that poetry may be able not just to cross but to mend,” Smith said in an interview with the library.

“One of my favorite things in the world is to sit and talk quietly about the things poems cause me to notice and remember, the feelings they teach me to recognize, the deep curiosity about other people’s lives that they foster. I am excited about carrying this conversation beyond literary festivals and university classrooms, and finding ways that poems might genuinely bring together people who imagine they have nothing to say to one another.” Smith has authored four books of poetry, the most recent of which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2012. Her memoir Ordinary Light was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2015.

In later chapters, she describes going to Harvard (where she joined the Dark Room Collective) as her mother’s health began to fail. In poetry workshops, she writes, “I had discovered that sitting down with an idea and letting it unfold in words and sounds offered me not just pleasure but an indescribable comfort.” Her new collection, Wade in the Water, comes out next April.

To read full article, go to: Library of Congress names Harvard alumna Tracy K. Smith as new Poet Laureate | Harvard Magazine

How Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” Helped Bring Julie Dash’s Groundbreaking Film “Daughters of the Dust” Back to Theaters

"Daughters of the Dust" directed by Julie Dash (poster via Cohen Media Group)

Poster for re-release of “Daughters of the Dust” directed by Julie Dash (via Cohen Media Group)

article by Yohana Desta via vanityfair.com

In 1991, Julie Dash’s sumptuous film Daughters of the Dust” broke ground as the first movie directed by a black woman to get a wide theatrical release.  Since then, the gorgeous tone poem about a Gullah family in 1902 has continued to gather accolades. It was added to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2004, and recently served as a heavy inspiration for Beyoncé’s visual album Lemonade.

Now, the film is being re-introduced to the mainstream in a splashy new way—the Cohen Media Group has created a rich 2K restoration that will be screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, then released in theaters again this November. (Watch the exclusive new trailer above to see the film restored in all its fresh, new glory, and scroll down to see the glossy new poster.)

Dash calls the new release “exciting.”“I never imagined it would be released again,” she says.  For the record, Dash is also a huge fan of Lemonade—and says that the visual album actually helped Daughters on the road to restoration. Read on to see her thoughts about Beyoncé, Hollywood, and whether she’d ever make a sequel to her classic film.

Vanity Fair: Were you paying attention at all to Lemonade, to the Beyoncé film?

Julie Dash: Yes. My phone blew up the night Lemonade came on and my Web site shut down . . . someone called me and said Daughters of the Dust is trending on Twitter. And I said, “No, it must be something else,” and they said, “No, it’s trending!” And I looked and it was, and it was so funny. It just tickled me to death. So I finally got a chance to see Lemonade and I was just very pleased. Lemonade is just—it breaks new ground. It’s a masterpiece.It’s a tone poem, a visual tone poem with various stories going on—vignettes. It’s just all visual, and it’s like yes.

To read full interview and see the “Daughters of the Dust” trailer, go to: How Beyoncé’s Lemonade Helped Bring a Groundbreaking Film Back to Thea | Vanity Fair

John Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’ and The Supremes’ ‘Where Did Our Love Go?’ Join National Recording Registry

The Supremes (l) and John Coltrane (r)

The Supremes (l) and John Coltrane (r)

article by Andrew R. Chow via nytimes.com

John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” and The Supremes’ “Where Did Our Love Go,” are part of the incoming class added to the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress this year. The diverse crop of new inductees also includes the Vienna Philharmonic’s 1938 recording of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” and live coverage from Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game.

The registry adds 25 recordings — deemed significant to American history and culture — each year. The field this year includes pop, (Billy Joel’s “Piano Man”), classic R&B (“Where Did Our Love Go,” The Impressions’ “People Get Ready”), field recordings (W.H. Stepp’s “Bonaparte’s Retreat,” captured by Alan and Elizabeth Lomax in 1937) and comedy (George Carlin’s “Class Clown”). Joining these performers is Secretary of State George C. Marshall proposing what became known as the Marshall Plan to aid Europe after World War II.

The National Recording Registry now totals 450 recordings, the library said. A full list can be found at www.loc.gov.

To read original article, go to: http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/03/23/john-coltranes-a-love-supreme-and-billy-joels-piano-man-join-national-recording-registry/?partner=rss&emc=rss&_r=0

America’s 1st Slavery Museum Shifts the Focus from Masters to Slaves

Dr. Ibrahima Seck points toward a marble Wall of Honor, where the names of 350 enslaved people at Whitney Plantation have been engraved. (All photos by Michael Patrick Welch via Vice.com)

When you arrive at Whitney Plantation in Wallace, Louisiana, you’re given an enslaved person’s image and story to wear for the day. Mine was Ann Hawthorne, who was 85 years old when the Library of Congress’s Federal Writer’s Project recorded her personal story of growing up enslaved on the Whitney Plantation, one of many plantations along the Mississippi’s winding River Road. Each story is printed on a laminated card that you wear around your neck—a physical manifestation of the history of slavery; a reminder that real people lived here, died here.

Billed as America’s first-ever museum dedicated exclusively to American slavery, Whitney Plantation sits amid acres of sugar cane that, on the late afternoon of my visit, swayed in a wild wind from a passing tropical depression. The plantation’s swampy land lay heavy with ankle-deep water and hummed with voracious mosquitos. A long row of black and white umbrellas leaned against the visitors’ center and gift shop so that those who had paid $22 a head to tour the grounds were not made uncomfortable by the day’s fine, cool mist of rain.

As I waited for my tour guide, a black woman with long braids led a tour group past a white church, where statues of a young Ann Hawthorne and a dozen other enslaved children seemed to stare directly at—or, really, into—the visitors, who watched a video featuring their testimony.

The entire museum is similar: You walk the same pathways that victims of chattel slavery walked, you listen to their stories in their own words, you see and hear the pieces of history that aren’t printed in textbooks or told on other plantation tours. You won’t find much information on the wealthy slaveowners on this plantation. Instead, Whitney presents slavery through the stories of those who experienced it.

The museum’s creation is owed in part to Dr. Ibrahima Seck, a tall, dark man with a florid African accent, who built the museum along with Whitney’s owner, white New Orleans attorney John Cummings. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the Antebellum South, and it’s clear that everyone working at Whitney regards him as a living exhibit.

“According to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Database, 60 percent of the people in Louisiana came from Senegambia, my area of Africa,” Dr. Seck told me. “So there are very strong ties here from my home.”

Seck had agreed to give me a private tour, so we climbed into his golf cart and drove past a small, rusty jail. Through its cage bars, we could see the slave masters’ 220-year-old “Big House” in the distance.

“This jail wasn’t on this plantation,” said Dr. Seck, driving faster now so the mosquitos wouldn’t catch up. “It was found in Gonzales, Louisiana, buried in the mud. At the slave markets in New Orleans, this is where the slaves were locked up before being sold.”

There is no fiction here. There is nothing you can deny here. — Dr. Ibrahima Seck

Past seven small cypress wood cabins, which at one time slept dozens of slaves apiece, Seck stopped the cart at the marble Wall of Honor, which displays the names of over 350 people who were once enslaved at Whitney, plus how much each sold for and why. Seck, who originally gleaned all this information from documents found on the property, pointed out enslaved people who were deemed less valuable: a one-armed driver, a mentally-disabled woman, an old man with a hernia. Their prices were lower, but their fate was the same.

“Mentally-disabled or old slaves might be assigned to watch the master’s toddlers or something,” Dr. Seck said. “They sold for less, but were never retired. You worked till you died.”

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R.I.P. Singer/Songwriter and R&B Legend Ben E. King

Ben E King

Ben E King received an award from the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2012 (Photo via bbc.com)

R&B and soul singer Ben E. King, best known for the classic song “Stand By Me,” has died at the age of 76.  The singer died on Thursday, his publicist Phil Brown told BBC News.

King started his career in the late 1950s with The Drifters, singing hits including “There Goes My Baby” and “Save The Last Dance For Me.”  After going solo, he hit the U.S. top five with “Stand By Me” in 1961.  It returned to the charts in the 1980s, including a three-week spell at number one in the U.K. following its use in the film of the same name directed by Rob Reiner.

King’s other hits included “Spanish Harlem,” “Amor,” “Don’t Play That Song (You Lied)” and “Supernatural Thing – Part I.”

Fellow musician Gary U.S. Bonds wrote on Facebook that King was “one of the sweetest, gentlest and gifted souls that I have had the privilege of knowing and calling my friend for more than 50 years”.

He wrote: “I can tell you that Ben E. will be missed more than words can say. Our sincere condolences go out to Betty and the entire family.

“Thank you Ben E. for your friendship and the wonderful legacy you leave behind.”

Actor Jerry O’Connell, who played Vern in the film “Stand By Me” alongside River Phoenix and Corey Feldmantweeted: “You know you are good when John Lennon covers your song. Ben E. King was a wonderful and immensely talented man.”

Born Benjamin Earl Nelson, he initially joined a doo-wop group called The Five Crowns, who became The Drifters after that group’s manager fired the band’s previous members.  He co-wrote and sang on the band’s single “There Goes My Baby,” which reached number two in the U.S. in 1959.

But the group members were paid just $100 per week by their manager and, after a request for a pay rise was turned down, the singer decided to go it alone. In the process, he adopted the surname King.

His first solo hit was “Spanish Harlem” in 1961, which was followed by “Stand By Me.”

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Lauryn Hill’s Grammy-Winning Album “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” to Be Entered Into the Library of Congress

Lauryn Hill

Lauryn Hill poses with the five Grammy Awards she won for The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill at the 41st annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles Feb. 24, 1999. (VINCE BUCCI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

Each year, the Library of Congress selects 25 recordings to add to its archive. This year, Lauryn Hill’s record-breaking album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, will be included in the 25.

According to the Library of Congress press release, among requirements for inclusion in the archive are that the recordings be “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” and be at least 10 years old. The Library of Congress gave a lengthy explanation as to why it chose Hill’s debut album:

“Lauryn Hill’s debut solo record, following the breakup of the Fugees, is a work of honesty in which Hill explores her feelings on topics that included the deep wonder of pregnancy, the pitfalls of modern relationships and the experience of the sacred. The album effortlessly fuses soul, rhythm and blues, rap and reggae. Hill’s vocal range, smooth clear highs and vibrato are stunning. The rapping is rhythmically compelling while always retaining, and frequently exploiting, the natural cadences of conversational speech. Standout guest performances include Carlos Santana’s soulful acoustic guitar solo on ‘Zion,’ and duets with Mary J. Blige and D’Angelo on ‘I Used to Love Him’ and ‘Nothing Even Matters,’ respectively.”

Hill’s album joins an eclectic list, which includes Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me,” Sly and the Family Stone’s Stand album, and even a Sesame Street platinum-hits album.

Check out the full list of inductees below:

1. Vernacular Wax Cylinder Recordings at University of California, Santa Barbara Library (c.1890-1910)

2. The Benjamin Ives Gilman Collection, recorded at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition at Chicago (1893)

3. “The Boys of the Lough”/ “The Humours of Ennistymon” (single)—Michael Coleman (1922)
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Library of Congress Acquires Papers of Legendary Jazz Drummer Max Roach

From Max Roach’s archive: a contract for a 1956 club date; an undated photo of Roach, at right, with Art Blakey, center; a 1964 letter from Maya Angelou. Lexey Swall for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Max Roach, the great drummer and bandleader and paradigm-shifter of jazz, though he disliked that word, never finished an autobiography.  That’s a shame. He died in 2007 at 83, and his career spans the beginning of bebop, the intersection of jazz with the civil rights movement, free improvisation, and jazz’s current state of cross-disciplinary experiments and multimedia performances. Inasmuch as jazz is about change and resistance, he embodied those qualities: He fought anything that would contain or reduce him as an artist and a human being. He would have been well served by his own narrative, set in one voice.

Max RoachBut Roach was archivally minded, and, when he died, he left 400 linear feet of his life and actions to be read: scores and lead sheets, photographs, contracts, itineraries, correspondence, reel tapes and cassettes and drafts of an unfinished autobiography, written with the help of Amiri Baraka. On Monday, the Library of Congress will announce that it has acquired the archive from Mr. Roach’s family and that it will be made available to researchers.

“What I think he would hope people would see,” said the violist Maxine Roach, his daughter from his first marriage, “is that there was a lot about his life that was difficult, you know? The struggles. A lot about economics, and jazz as a word that we didn’t define ourselves.” (Roach felt that it was a pejorative term; he preferred to call it African-American music.)  “But aside from all of that,” she continued, “I hope that people see his excellence and his mastery of his skill, which helped him rise in this country that’s been so hard on black men especially, and how he went through it and what price he paid.”

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