Tag: slavery

Songs of America by Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw

November 29th, 2019 — 1:02pm

Songs of America by Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw

Jon Meacham is a Pulitzer Prize winning presidential historian who has written about Thomas Jefferson, Winston Churchill, Andrew Jackson, FDR, George Bush, and many more. Tim McGraw is Grammy Award winning musician who has sold more than 50 million records and he is the most played country artist as well as being an author. While this is obviously a joint project, Meacham wrote the narrative text whereas McGraw offered his take on selected songs in a framed presentation which probably just as well could have been blended into the book.

Nevertheless, the final product is an amazing presentation of the songs and music that have been part of the American fabric since its birth. The context of various musical pieces often including the actual circumstances in which the words and music were created, are frequently very familiar to the reader.

There will be some pieces that most of us never heard of such as the “Liberty Song” which was created in 1768. There is also “Yankee Doodle Dandy”, an American Revolutionary War song that which will probably be familiar to most children. The book winds its way through American history with a background of American music. Many of the readers will know the story of Francis Scott Key who eagerly looked to see if the American flag was still flying as the British and Americans battled in the war of 1812. The book also includes the words and songs that came from the oppressed slaves in America and not only accompanied them on the road to freedom but also became part of the fabric of American music especially jazz and beyond.

This book is much more than a recital of songs and music. It is an in-depth look at American history while at the same time using music and song to reflect the history that is being made. The journey includes the assassinations of Lincoln, Martin Luther King and JFK and much more. We are presented with a combination of a music and history journey through the great world wars, Korean, Vietnam wars as well as the cold war and American political wars. Intertwined in this wonderful historical piece are many of the words of songs, which have left their indelible mark on all of us who have experienced some small part of history and read about so much more.

As I read this excellent book, I could almost hear much of the familiar music and words in my head. I also could not help but think what a tremendous accomplishment it would be if the author could have created an audio book with much of the music described. I checked and found out that while there is an audio version read by the two authors, much of it only has the authors reading the words of the songs while the music and singing was largely excluded. Should the authors be able to obtain the rights to all or most of the songs described in the book and blend them with the narrative, it would surely be a classic that people might very well pay the extra cost for the royalty payments which would be necessary. I would hope that such a project would come to fruition.

As always your comments are welcome below

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Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

August 19th, 2019 — 11:45am

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

We meet “Wash”, the main character as an 11-year-old slave on a sugarcane plantation in Barbados. We come to realize that his chance of living to a ripe old age or even having any kind of meaningful life is quite slim. Then by chance, he is “given” to the owner’s brother who needs a manservant to help with various projects. It is ironic that through this one slave’s subsequent life which is quite unusual, we are allowed to come to appreciate the almost no chance that his brothers and sisters and numerable other Black people held in captivity have for any self-realization and an opportunity to find their potential as human beings.

Wash is the “assistant” to Titch, his new owner who was a scientist of sorts with a clear plan to develop a “cloud-cutter” (a hot air balloon). Titch soon realizes that Wash has talent as an artist in not only making scientific drawings but depicting all sorts of scenes from nature. Wash leaves the plantation with Titch to lead a new life which takes place during a time period when slavery in the United States is “abolished.” However, we are reminded that “Jim Crow” is alive and well as our main character is searched for by a bounty hunter as Wash’s previous owner had decided to put a thousand-dollar reward for his return, dead or alive.

Through the storyline and the author’s insight into the main character as he attempts to reconcile his past with the new opportunities he has, we come to understand how important “Big Kit”, his mother figure in his earlier life was to him. We also appreciate how meaningful to him is “Titch”, the man who took him from slavery on the plantation to a new life and because of his own issues ended up complicating Wash’s life with further dilemmas.

There is adventure, mystery, romance all mixed into the novel as the reader has another opportunity to understand the great scourge of slavery. It is not surprising that this book is on the short list for the prestigious Booker Prize.

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The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

August 19th, 2014 — 11:52am

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk KiddScreen Shot 2014-08-19 at 12.20.01 AM

It is less than 200 years ago that slavery was a fixture in this country. As part of the curriculum in American schools we learn about this horrific treatment of human beings in the South and how the North tolerated this institution until the Emancipation Proclamation and ultimately the Civil War. However, I wonder if each succeeding generation of Americans really understands and appreciates what it was like to be enslaved in America and how this was accepted as part of everyday life by so many of the white people? When the award winning movie Twelve Years a Slave was released, there were some people who were disturbed by it because they felt it was too “painful to watch.” We are fortunate that there are filmmakers and in this case an author who can find a creative approach, to not only tell the story of slavery in the United States, but to do it a way that we not only understand what went on but that we can also have some idea of how the victims of slavery felt. I will say that this empathic experience for the most part extends to the oppressed rather than to understand the mindset of so many people who accepted this institution without question.

In this book we mostly follow two women for most of their lives. One is Sarah Grimke, born into a wealthy Charleston family at the beginning of the 19th century. Her father was a prominent judge, her mother was a socialite, her brothers were destined to be prominent lawyers and she and her sisters were expected to follow in her mother’s footsteps. Slavery was a way of life and there were 15- or so “Negroes” living in their house, each of whom had various duties. When there were children of the slaves, they would be brought up to follow in their parent’s footsteps. In fact, one such young girl was Hetty Handful who was presented to Sarah as a present for her 11th birthday to be her personal “slave.” Sarah rejects this plan, as much as a girl her age can reject the rules and the plan of the family. She secretly begins to teach Hetty to read which is forbidden. We meet Sarah’s father, the patriarch of the family and we see his acceptance of slavery with barely a reservation as well as his clear ideas about the limited role of women. We meet Charlotte, Hetty’s mom and a most skillful seamstress but a woman who knows where she came from and what she will never accept.

The reader becomes a fly on the wall in this household for the next several years as these girls grow up. We come to know the other members of this household, both slave and non-slave. We learn about the courting tradition, as Sarah and her sisters are formally allowed meet men at the proper time. The reader is introduced to how the slaves are punished when they make mistakes which can be a whipping or even worse (and the latter is described in vivid detail). Sarah develops a very close relationship with one of her younger sisters Nina, as at her own requests she is granted the role of godmother to her. Not surprising, their social values are quite similar and we are able to follow their fascinating paths, as both become prominent abolitionists. As in any good novel there are various sub stories. While the chapters alternate between “ Sarah “ and “ Hetty,” the fate of Charlotte, Hetty’s mother and Nina, Sarah’s special sister, inform the latter part of the book. As the story progresses, it also becomes clear that this not only a story about slavery in the United States but it is also about the beginning of the fight of woman to achieve equality in this country.

In fact, I don’t believe that it will spoil your enjoyment of this compelling novel, if I reveal what the author has put in a note at the conclusion of the book. That is that Sarah Grimke and her sister Nina Grimke were real people. They both became prominent abolitionists as well as advocates for women’s rights despite some concerns by supporters who believed that such rallying might dilute the difficult fight against slavery. While the dialogue, many subplots and storylines were the author’s imagination, other events and even some quotes were taken from some writings, biographies and historical reports which therefore confirms the feel of this story, which is one of authenticity. It is a book that captivates and holds you until the last line!

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