In Hear My Sad Story: The True Tales That Inspired Stagolee, John Henry, and Other Traditinal American Folk Songs (Cornell University Press, 2015), Richard Polenberg describes the historical events that led to the writing of many famous American folk songs that served as touchstones for generations of American musicians, lyricists, and folklorists.
Those events, which took place from the early nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries, often involved tragic occurrences: murders, sometimes resulting from love affairs gone wrong; desperate acts borne out of poverty and unbearable working conditions; and calamities such as railroad crashes, shipwrecks, and natural disasters. All of Polenberg’s accounts of the songs in the book are grounded in historical fact and illuminate the social history of the times. Continue reading
The Port/Cities Project will present the World Premiere of Port Cities NYC, written, directed and choreographed by Talya Chalef. This theatrical journey begins at Pier 11 in the Financial District, where audiences ferry across the harbor accompanied by an original soundscape. After docking in Red Hook’s working port, the performance continues on board The Waterfront Museum Barge. This limited engagement runs May 5 – 19. Continue reading
Buffalo based musician and teaching artist Dave Ruch is seeking information on Franco American musicians and singers, past and present, from the Northern New York area.
Ruch is researching French American musical traditions for an upcoming project with Traditional Arts in Upstate New York (TAUNY). Past collaborations between Ruch and TAUNY have included the “W is for the Woods” website on traditional Adirondack music, and the Emmy-winning “Songs to Keep” project. Continue reading
Ella Madison was born in 1854 in Saratoga Springs, New York. Her parents were John and Caroline Robinson. Her sister, Caroline Victoria (usually called Victoria) was married to Solomon Northup‘s son, Alonzo. (Alonzo and his family later moved to Weedsport in Cayuga County). It was reported that Ella, while a teenager, had relocated to New York City, and marched in a parade in 1869 that commemorated the passage of the 14th Amendment, which guaranteed citizenship rights to former slaves. Her mother died that year, while visiting her daughter, Caroline, in Washington County, New York. Continue reading
The Columbia Inn in Pine Tree, Vermont did not bear much of a resemblance to a Catskills’ hotel of that era, and Dean Jagger’s General Tom Waverly was definitely not much like a Sullivan County hotel owner, but the movie “White Christmas” has a strong local flavor nonetheless.
The titular tune of the top grossing film of 1954, of course, was conceived and written right here in Lew Beach, and the movie’s thin plot line was really little more than a vehicle for county resident Irving Berlin’s music. And then there is Danny Kaye, sharing the lead with the inimitable Bing Crosby – who sings Berlin’s most memorable song for the third time on screen– as well as Rosemary Clooney, and Vera Ellen.
But except for two separate twists of fate, Kaye may not have been part of “White Christmas” at all. Continue reading
Last Monday I attended the Broadway opening of Hamilton, the musical. I was really looking forward to the event. The Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society was out in force.
The opening was particularly auspicious coming one day after the anniversary of Hamilton’s death in 1804. Continue reading
The emergency passport request of Robert and Margaret Perkins was granted, and a long, difficult journey began on the heels of what had been a very trying time. Besides the recent separation, their last year in Darmstadt had been spent in poverty-like conditions. Germany’s inflation rate had skyrocketed, driving up the price of everyday items. Robert and Margaret were forced to live on meager supplies and with little heat during the cold winter. They witnessed a food riot. All about them, men, even partially disabled, were conscripted into the military. Women were forced to fill the manual labor jobs normally held by men. And everywhere, soldiers marched off to war, spouting hatred for England and America, and confident of victory. Continue reading
After a month visiting with his mother in Lake George, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Perkins moved to New York City. In 1911, he was among the soloists in the first production of Quo Vadis? at the Metropolitan Opera. While working in the grand opera scene, he also studied with Sergei Klibansky, one of the world’s leading voice coaches. Perkins was among his many students who performed at the Carnegie Chamber Music Hall. Continue reading
Imagine the drama of the moment: in a courtroom, Edward Perkins battling against the city of Beacon, New York, desperate to win on behalf of his poor family. The charge? They had been cold-heartedly evicted from their apartment by city officials, and for several chilly, rainy June days, he had searched for new housing.
Meanwhile, Edward’s wife and son suffered and his daughter fell ill, presumably from the terrible living conditions. The damages sought (in 1915) were $15,000 from the city, along with $30,000 from the police chief who had deposited all the family’s belongings on the sidewalk. The $45,000 total was equal to $1.1 million in 2015. Continue reading
Magic rites in the jungle seal the fate of a love triangle in the long-forgotten opera of H. Lawrence Freeman restaged on Friday and Saturday at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre. Voodoo was composed in 1914 and had its last performance in 1928. The music and libretto come from a composer who was a friend of Scott Joplin. author of more than 20 operas, and founder of the Harlem Renaissance’s Negro Grand Opera Company. The revival features Gregory Hopkins of Harlem Opera Theatre conducting in a production that drew on collaboration with the Harlem Chamber Players and the Morningside Opera. Continue reading