Tuesday, February 01, 2011

"The Battle Hymn of the Republic" by Whitney Houston

Following the end of the First Gulf War in 1991, Whitney Houston sang The Battle Hymn of the Republic at a star-studded gala called Welcome Home Heroes; the song, written by Julia Ward Howe in November 1861 and first published in The Atlantic Monthly on this day in 1862, has never rung truer, neither has Black History Month ever seemed as apt as it has done during the Obama Administration.

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POPnews (US) - February 1st

[The summary execution of Viet Cong officer Nguyen Van Lem by South Vietnamese National Police Chief Nguyen Ngoc Loan in Saigon on this day in 1968 - at the start of the Tet Offensive - was taken by AP photographer Eddie Adams; the image helped build opposition to the Vietnam War and earned Adams the Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography in 1969.]

1856 - Auburn University was chartered as the East Alabama Male College.

1861 - Texas seceded from the United States, but didn't join the Confederate States of America until March 2nd - at which time its governor, Sam Houston, was replaced for refusing to take an oath of allegiance to the Confederacy.

1862 - Julia Ward Howe's Battle Hymn of the Republic was published for the first time in the Atlantic Monthly.

1865 - President Abraham Lincoln signed the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, which outlawed slavery; it also banned involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime. Sadly, this highlight of Lincoln's life occurred on the 15th anniversary of the death of his second son by First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln, Edward Baker Lincoln.

1893 - Inventor Thomas Edison completed work on the world's first motion picture studio in West Orange, New Jersey; films produced at the facility were supervised by William Kennedy Dickson.

1913 - New York City's Grand Central Terminal - the world's largest train station - was opened.

Photobucket1922 - Film director William Desmond Taylor was found murdered in his bungalow at the Alvarado Court Apartments in the Westlake Park area of downtown Los Angeles; so popular in life was he that there were a dozen possible suspects, including his former manservant Edward Sands, his current manservant Henry Peavey, actress (and possible lover) Mabel Normand, Faith Cole MacLean (the wife of actor Douglas MacLean, who were his neighbours), Charles Eyton (General Manager of Paramount Pictures and therefore Taylor's boss), actress Mary Miles Minter (whose career Taylor guided in and out of the bedroom), Minter's mother Charlotte Shelby, and Margaret Gibson - who, on her deathbed in 1964, confessed to having committed the murder. Gore Vidal's 1990 novel Hollywood features a fictionalized account of the Taylor murder, and for those who prefer an even more lurid and yet less accurate perspective, try Kenneth Anger's 1959 book Hollywood Babylon. Despite the impressive line-up of suspects the case remains unsolved.

1960 - Four black students - Ezell A. Blair Jr. (now known as Jibreel Khazan), David Richmond, Joseph McNeil, and Franklin McCain - staged the first of the Greensboro Sit-Ins at a lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina.

1968 - The New York Central Railroad and the Pennsylvania Railroad merged to form the ill-fated Penn Central Transportation.

1978 - Film director Roman Polanski skipped bail and fled to France following his arrest and guilty plea for the statutory rape of 13 year-old Samantha Gailey.

1979 - Patty Hearst was released from prison, having had her sentence commuted by President Jimmy Carter.

1982 - Late Night with David Letterman began airing on NBC; the show would air for 11 years, after which Letterman - and his show - moved to CBS, where it has been ever since.

1988 - Child actress Heather O'Rourke - famous for portraying Carol Anne Freeling in the Poltergeist film trilogy and for her role on Happy Days as Heather Pfister - died; she was 12. Misdiagnosed with Crohn's disease, she died en route to hospital of a heart attack brought on by septic shock which was itself a result of intestinal stenosis, although at the time it was announced in the press that she'd died of influenza.

1992 - A Chief Judicial Magistrate in India declared Warren Anderson, the ex-CEO of Union Carbide, a fugitive under Indian law for failing to appear in the Bhopal Disaster case.

1996 - Congress passed the Communications Decency Act, protecting Americans from the kind of smut that makes life worth living.

1999 - 22-year-old former White House intern Monica Lewinsky gave a deposition that was videotaped for senators weighing impeachment charges against President Bill Clinton.

2003 - The Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas upon re-entering the Earth's atmosphere, killing all seven astronauts onboard, including Rick D. Husband, William C. McCool, David M. Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Michael P. Anderson, Laurel B. Clark, and Ilan Ramon.

2004 - Janet Jackson's breast was exposed during the half-time show of Super Bowl XXXVIII, resulting in US broadcasters adopting a stronger adherence to FCC censorship guidelines; the ensuing shit-storm was just one of the so-called 'scandals' which gave brilliant cover to the ongoing malfeasance of the Bush Administration in its early days.

2009 - The Pittsburgh Steelers won their record sixth Super Bowl with a 27-23 victory over the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII.

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Pop History Moment: Khomeini Returns To Iran

When, in 1964, the Shah of Iran had the chance to kill his most outspoken opponent - Ruhollah Khomeini - he chose the more merciful path, and instead sent him into exile in Turkey; hindsight has shown that while the Shah's decision may have been morally right, it was political suicide.

PhotobucketAfter a year in Bursa, the exiled Ayatollah made his way to the holy city of Najaf, in Iraq, and from there began to develop his ideas on Islamic government. Both cruel and paranoid, his teachings were recorded on audio cassettes and distributed amongst fundamentalists; in most of them he denounced the Shah as 'a Jewish agent' and 'a snake'. Having already ordered the execution of Iranian Prime Minister Hasan Ali Mansur, by 1979 it was clear that Khomeini would stop at nothing to achieve his delusions.

Although he'd been invited back to Iran, Khomeini refused to return while the Shah was there. When the Shah left at the end of January the stage was set; more than 6 million people attended the homecoming of the Ayatollah just two weeks later, on this day in 1979.

The Iranian Revolution was complete, or so it seemed...

Yet upon his return Khomeini moved swiftly to consolidate his power, first by appointing his own Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan over Dr. Shapour Bakhtiar (who had been responsible for inviting Khomeini back), and then by ordering scores of executions among the old regime, including former Prime Minister Amir Abbas Hoveida and Bakhtiar himself (who had escaped to Paris) - a number which eventually amounted to more than 60.

In October 1979 the Shah was admitted to the United States for the treatment of his cancer; this act of mercy so outraged certain followers of Mohammed that within a week students belonging to the militant group Muslim Student Followers of the Imam's Line stormed the US Embassy in Tehran and took 52 hostages. The ensuing crisis, which lasted 444 days (and remains a contentious issue between the two countries today) was merely the beginning of Khomeini's Cultural Revolution which has left moderate Muslims and Westerners alike fearful of confronting Islamic fundamentalism to this day.
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"The Weary Blues" by Langston Hughes

I needed a video to fill in this spot, and a cursory search of the name Langston Hughes yielded this exemplary rendition of his 1923 poem The Weary Blues, recited by Harvard professor Allen Dwight Callahan to the accompaniment of Cab Calloway.
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"Harlem" by Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore -
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over -
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

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In Memoriam: Langston Hughes

As one of the many talented writers to emerge from the Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes was as influenced by his contemporaries as he influenced them, illustrating the kind of cultural foment that was present during that unprecedented era; in many ways, though, Hughes was always slightly out of place. Early in his career he was too proud to be black when most black writers were trying to be white, and during the Black Power movement which emerged towards the end of his life he was too reasonable when those emerging were angry or vindictive.

PhotobucketBorn on this day in 1902 in Joplin, Missouri, Hughes was raised far from the lights of Manhattan; after an unsettled childhood spent throughout the Midwest, and a few years of restless travel, he eventually settled for a time in Washington, DC, where he worked as assistant to Carter G. Woodson at the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. While there he met the poet Vachel Lindsay who 'discovered' him, on the eve of the publication of his first book of poetry, The Weary Blues, in 1926.

Although Hughes briefly attended Columbia, he soon left owing to the bigotry he encountered there; his education continued at Lincoln University. Yet there are those who would say his real education came from the extensive travels he had undertaken before, during, and after his university career. Following on from his restless youth, he was later to see Mexico, Europe (living for awhile in Paris), North Africa, the Soviet Union, central Asia, China, and Japan. Yet despite the terrible racism that'd been visited upon him there, he kept returning to the United States.

Although initially drawn to the promise of change offered by Communism, the closer he got the more illusory those promises seemed; when he was called upon to testify before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations by the notorious Senator Joseph McCarthy in 1953 like many others whose Depession-era hopes for the Party were soured by the subsequent outrages of Stalinism, Hughes had already soured on his more radical inclinations.

He was one of the grand old men of African-American letters by the time he died in May 1967, having written steadily and in every form for more than fifty years. Since then much of his reputation has rested on his presumed heterosexuality; yet it was and is a false presumption, as his work contains many coded as well as many blatant references to the contrary. Such is the power of the closet, however, that we may never have the full picture of the life of Langston Hughes.
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"Jazz Crimes (Live)" by Joshua Redman

Birthday wishes go out today to Joshua Redman, the internationally acclaimed saxophonist and composer. The son of fellow jazzman Dewey Redman and Renee Shedroff, from an early age he was exposed to a broad gamut of music; these influences are readily evident in his work.

Jazz Crimes originally appeared on Joshua Redman's 2002 album Elastic; it is shown here being performed live, with Redman on tenor sax and with accompaniment by Brian Blade on drums and Sam Yahel on organ - the same personnel, it should be said, who played it on the album.

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What's The Occasion?: Black History Month

Black History Month - that month-long celebration of the culture and achievements of people of African descent - is celebrated in both Canada and the United States in February*. To my mind it always seemed passive-aggressive of white North America to give the descendants of those brought here by force an entire month to celebrate their considerable contributions to the dominant culture, only to give them the shortest month in which to do it...

PhotobucketIt turns out that way of thinking is little more than received pissiness, which is so often the case with me. Carter G. Woodson (shown, at left) originally chose the second week in February - which embraced the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln - for Black History Week in 1926; any sinister motives one might ascribe to denying Black History that extra two or three days it might have during any other month says far more about the paranoia of the accuser than it does about the event itself or the motives of its progenitor.

Black History Month was first celebrated in 1976, after fifty years in which Black History Week grew steadily in popularity, among both blacks and whites; whereas in its first year most whites would probably not have known who to celebrate, apart from George Washington Carver, by the Seventies enough consciousness had been raised during the Civil Rights Movement alone to add a few more names to the roster - chief among them Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Dr. King, and Malcolm X. Thirty subsequent years have not seen any abatement of scholarship into Black History but indeed an exponential increase, both by black and white scholars.

Woodson's hope was always that one day his own event would become obsolete; once blacks had been given their rightful place in the history from which they had been excluded, he reasoned, the event would no longer be of need. The Pop Culture Institute whole-heartedly supports this ideal, and strives today as ever to write the people's history by believing in one race - the human race - and in the unity which is possible if we can only learn to embrace our shared humanity.

*The UK celebrates its own Black History Month in October.

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POPnews - February 1st

[Fronted by Lisbon's Tagus River, the Terreiro do Paço was completely rebuilt as part of the Pombaline Downtown after an earthquake in November 1755 ruined the Portugese capital during the reign of José I, whose statue now dominates the square; it was here, on the way home from the Vila Viçosa, that Carlos I was murdered by Alfredo Costa and Manuel Buiça. Of the four royals in the carriage, only Queen Maria Amélia escaped death or injury.]

1327 - England's Edward III was crowned, although it would be nearly four years before the teenaged king would be rid of his regents (his mother Queen Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer) who had already successfully conspired to depose her imprisoned husband Edward II, and were likely plotting his death on that day as well.

1662 - The Chinese general Koxinga seized the island of Taiwan after a nine-month siege.

1691 - Pope Alexander VIII died; he would be succeeded by Innocent XII on July 12th.

1713 - The Kalabalik, or Tumult in Bendery, resulted from the Ottoman sultan's order that his unwelcome guest, Sweden's King Charles XII, be seized.

1814 - The Mayon Volcano in the Philippines erupted, killing around 1,200 people; it was the most devastating eruption in the volcano's history.

1880 - The first edition of London's theatrical newspaper The Stage was published.

1896 - Giacomo Puccini's opera La bohème premiered at the Teatro Regio Torino conducted by the young maestro Arturo Toscanini.

1908 - Portugal's King Carlos I and his son, Prince Luis Filipe, were assassinated by Republican terrorists in Lisbon's Terreiro do Paço; he was succeeded by his injured son, who became Manuel II, Portugal's ill-fated last king.

1920 - Canada's Northwest Mounted Police and Dominion Police merged to form the Royal Canadian Mounted Police - better known as the RCMP, or the Mounties.

1942 - Vidkun Quisling was appointed Premier of Norway by the country's Nazi occupiers.

1953 - An unprecedented storm lashed northern Europe, devastating dikes up and down the coast of Holland and wreaking havoc on the coastline of Britain; in addition to sinking the car ferry MV Princess Victoria (under the captaincy of James Ferguson, while en route from Stranraer in Scotland to Larne in Northern Ireland, with the loss of 130 lives in one event alone) the North Sea Flood of 1953 would end up claiming 1,835 lives.

1965 - The Hamilton River in Labrador was renamed the Churchill River by Newfoundland premier Joey Smallwood.

1968 - Canada's three military services - the Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Army and the Royal Canadian Air Force - were unified into the Canadian Forces.

1974 - A fire in the 25-story Joelma Building in São Paulo killed 189 and injured 293.

1979 - The Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Tehran after nearly 15 years of exile.

1982 - Senegal and The Gambia formed a loose confederation known as Senegambia.

1984 - Britain's half penny coin was removed from circulation.

2004 - 251 were trampled to death and 244 injured in a stampede at the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.

2005 - Nepal's King Gyanendra dismissed Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba in an attempt to curb a Maoist insurgency in the remote Himalayan kingdom. It didn't work...

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