Ruby Dee, actress and civil rights fighter, RIP


This video from the USA is called Ruby Dee on Malcolm X Assassination: ‘My Blood Runs Cold Just to Talk About It’.

From CBS News in the USA:

June 12, 2014, 1:13 PM

Ruby Dee, actress and activist, dead at 91

Ruby Dee, an acclaimed actor and civil rights activist whose versatile career spanned stage, radio television and film, her agent confirmed to CBS News. She was 91.

Her daughter Nora Davis Day told The Associated Press on Thursday that Dee died at home in New Rochelle, N.Y., on Wednesday night.

Dee, who frequently acted alongside her husband of 56 years, Ossie Davis, was surrounded by family and friends, she added.

Like her husband (who died in 2005), Dee was active in civil rights issues and efforts to promote the cause of blacks in the entertainment industry. As young performers, they found themselves caught up the growing debate over social and racial justice in the United States. The couple’s push for social justice was lifelong: In 1999, they was arrested while protesting the shooting death of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed African immigrant, by New York City police.

They were friends with baseball star Jackie Robinson and his wife, Rachel – Dee played her, opposite Robinson himself, in the 1950 movie, “The Jackie Robinson Story” – and with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X. Dee and Davis served as masters of ceremonies for the historic 1963 March on Washington and she spoke at both the funerals for King and Malcom X.

She won a National Medal of the Arts in 1995 and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild in 2000. In 2004, she and Davis received Kennedy Center Honors. Another honor came in 2007, after Davis’ death, when the recording of their memoir won a Grammy for best spoken word album, a category that includes audio books.

Among her best-known films was “A Raisin in the Sun,” in 1961, the classic play that explored racial discrimination and black frustration. On television, she was a leading cast member on the soap operas such in the 1950s and ’60s, a rare sight for a black actress in the 1950s and 60s.

As she aged, her career did not ebb. Dee was the voice of wisdom and reason as Mother Sister in Spike Lee’s 1989 film, “Do the Right Thing,” alongside her husband. She won an Emmy as supporting actress in a miniseries or special for 1990′s “Decoration Day.”

Her long career brought her an Oscar nomination at age 83 for best supporting actress for her role in the 2007 film “American Gangster,” in which she played the mother of Denzel Washington’s character. She also won an Emmy and was nominated for several others.

Born Ruby Ann Wallace in Cleveland to parents who soon split, Dee moved to Harlem as an infant with a brother and two sisters, living with relatives and neighbors. She graduated from highly competitive Hunter High School in 1939 and enrolled at Hunter College. “I wanted to be an actor but the chances for success did not look promising,” she wrote in their joint autobiography.

But in 1940 she got a part in a Harlem production of a new play, “On Strivers Row,” which she later called “one giant step” to becoming a person and a performer.

In 1965, she became the first black woman to play lead roles at the American Shakespeare Festival. She won an Obie Award for the title role in Athol Fugard‘s “Boesman and Lena” and a Drama Desk Award for her role in “Wedding Band.”

Most recently, Dee performed her one-woman stage show, “My One Good Nerve: A Visit With Ruby Dee,” in theaters across the country. The show was a compilation of some of the short stories, humor and poetry in her book of the same title.

She is survived by three children: Nora, Hasna and Guy, and seven grandchildren.

The illustrious African American stage and screen actress, writer and social activist Ruby Dee died Wednesday at her home in New Rochelle, a suburb of New York City, at the age of 91. Dee, married to fellow actor Ossie Davis for more than half a century, is still perhaps best known for stage performances in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun (1959), about a working class family in Chicago, and Davis’ Purlie Victorious (1961), as well as the screen version of the former released in 1961: here.

Louis Armstrong in jazz history


This music video says about itself:

Louis Armstrong – Black And Blue. Live in Berlin 1965.

By Fred Mazelis in the USA:

Satchmo at the Waldorf in New York: The life and times of jazz great Louis Armstrong

12 June 2014

The one-man show currently playing at the Westside Theatre in New York City, Satchmo at the Waldorf, makes effective use of hundreds of audio recordings by jazz great Louis Armstrong, one of the iconic figures in American musical history, to reveal something of the man behind the myth.

The audio tapes are now stored at an archive in Queens College, not far from Armstrong’s modest former home, which was opened about a decade ago as the Louis Armstrong House Museum. Playwright Terry Teachout—the theater critic for the Wall Street Journal and the author of a biography of Armstrong published five years ago—has used the tapes to fashion a lively and moving memoir of the great jazz genius, largely in his own words.

Using a simple but effective set, the play places Armstrong (played by John Douglas Thompson) in a dressing room at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York a few months before his death in July 1971, about a month short of his 70th birthday. This was to be the last public performance for the man known universally as Satchmo, a shortened version of “satchelmouth,” a nickname referring to his large mouth.

As Armstrong reminisces, the main biographical details emerge: his birth in the notorious Storyville section of New Orleans—the “red-light” district, his mother 15 years old; his father’s abandonment of his family; Armstrong’s early years of abject poverty; and his arrival at the Colored Waifs’ Home for Boys before he reached the age of 12.

Alongside the deprivation and degrading conditions faced by Armstrong, there were also some brighter moments and opportunities. At the age of seven he did odd jobs for an immigrant Jewish family, the Karnofskys, who owned a small junk-hauling business. They would welcome the fatherless boy into their home and offer him meals with the family as well as encouragement, later lending him the money that enabled him to buy his first cornet. Afterward, in the unlikely circumstances of the Waifs’ Home, Armstrong received formal musical instruction and soon became the leader of the Home’s band.

All this and much more is covered in the 90-minute show, with Thompson in an excellent performance, which for the most part does not attempt to impersonate Armstrong so much as bring out the essence of his life, his emotions and his experiences.

Necessary drama and contrast are added with the introduction of two other characters, each also portrayed by Thompson. This theatrical technique, by no means unique in recent years, is extremely effective here, as swift lighting changes mesh with Thompson’s rapid shifts in style and delivery to depict the relationship between Armstrong and his long-time manager, Joe Glaser.

Making a briefer but still important appearance is Miles Davis (1926-1991), the trumpeter and musical genius a generation younger than Armstrong. Davis, one of the pioneers of bebop and later developments in jazz, also became known for his bitter denunciations of Armstrong as an Uncle Tom, “jumping around and grinning for the white man.”

The playwright allows these three main characters to speak for themselves. His enormous respect for Armstrong is unmistakable and understandable, but the man is also portrayed honestly, as he presented himself in his candid and at times angry and bitter reminiscences. The play begins with rueful comments such as “How’d I get so old?” Of course there is plenty of profanity from Armstrong, directed at himself as well as others.

Glaser, the tough-talking Jewish manager from Chicago (and one-time associate of gangster Al Capone) who guided Armstrong’s career for 40 years and died about 18 months before Armstrong, emerges as a ruthless businessman who nevertheless understood and respected Armstrong’s genius.

The New Orleans-born musician had found wide recognition for his work with King Oliver’s band in the early 1920s, and a few years later through the superlative recordings of Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five or Hot Seven on Okeh Records. During the 1920s he worked with Fletcher Henderson, Sidney Bechet, Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey, among other extraordinary talents. It was Glaser who helped make Armstrong a wealthy man, however, after the musician turned in some desperation to him for help when Armstrong was threatened by Chicago gangsters.

Glaser is portrayed as savvy but cynical. He declares with some astonishment that Armstrong does not care about money, and “gives away $1,000 a week.” According to the manager, it is Armstrong’s renowned gravelly voice that made him famous, not the horn. “You’re like Jolson, or Sophie Tucker,” he says, and that is where the big money is.

Armstrong makes no apologies for showcasing his vocal abilities. Speaking of his much later rendition of “Hello Dolly,” he confides to his tape recorder, “Dolly ain’t much of a song, but I made it what it became. Dolly knocked the Beatles off the charts”—an event whose 50th anniversary was marked a month ago, on May 9.

Armstrong “replies,” however, as the lighting changes to shift the scene from Glaser to him, rejecting the idea that his horn was less important. His relationship with his horn has shaped his entire life, he declares. They are one and the same. “The horn done save me.”

Glaser, himself answerable to the mob and threatened by them with the exposure of a 1928 statutory rape charge that involved a 14-year-old girl, signed over 50 percent of the business to mob lawyer Sidney Korshak and left nothing to Armstrong. One of the strongest moments in the show comes when Armstrong, who left all the business dealings to Glaser and trusted him his whole life, bitterly notes that “I was the business, but he left nothing for me. I felt like he used me up and threw me out.”

Nor was Glaser free of racist prejudices, as evidenced in the play’s portrayal. Armstrong points out that in all their decades of the closest possible professional collaboration, he was never invited to Glaser’s home.

Another theme emerges in Armstrong’s resentment over the clashes between the rival generations of jazz musicians. “That Dizzy Gillespie, he didn’t treat me right,” he angrily declares. When Time magazine put Armstrong on its cover and Gillespie was asked for his reaction, he said, “us cats, we study,” and disparaged Armstrong for supposedly possessing only “soul.”

Armstrong, reminiscing, brags of his musical credentials and experience. He read music and his playing reflected real training. “I played country music with Johnny Cash,” he declares. “And the St. Louis Blues with Bernstein….I played classical too. Like Caruso. Caruso or the blues–soul is soul. I love that grand opera–love that Pagliaccio.”

There were undoubted tensions between the early jazz pioneers and big bands of the 1930s, on the one hand, and the young generation of musical innovators that introduced bebop. As Armstrong claims, “You want to please the people. You can’t get too far out in front like the goddamn beboppers did.”

As time passed, however, passions cooled and collaborations took place between Gillespie and Armstrong, although that is not referenced in the play.

Miles Davis introduces another controversial subject: the relationship between jazz musicians and the bitter struggle for racial equality that gathered steam in the post-World War II period.

Satchmo at the Waldorf gives Davis some eloquent words, while also highlighting Armstrong’s self-defense. Armstrong complains bitterly over being called an Uncle Tom, and is resentful over the fact that he lost much of his African-American audience in the last years of his career.

“I told off President Eisenhower over Little Rock,” says Armstrong. “I said Eisenhower ain’t got no guts. And that John Foster Dulles, he’s another mother–….I played down South with a mixed band. I said if you can’t stay [at a hotel] you don’t play.”

While Armstrong’s comments are heartfelt, he was also a man of his time, born barely 35 years after the end of the Civil War, and the product of a period when open resistance to Jim Crow segregation and the brutalization of African-Americans, particularly in the South, was rare.

A younger generation, influenced by wartime experiences and also decisively by the mass movement of industrial workers that built the CIO, was far more militant and inevitably criticized many of its elders. …

These issues cannot be looked at in isolation from their whole social and political context in the postwar period. This was a period of rising militancy among black workers and youth, and of combativity and confidence among trade unionists as a whole, then at the peak of their numbers as a percentage of the labor force. It was also the period, however, of the Cold War, the grip of the reactionary union bureaucracy and the witch-hunt against those who sought to fight Jim Crow on the basis of a class struggle socialist program. These conditions created circumstances in which nationalistic views at times were looked on as the alternative to “accomodationism.”

A significant feature of Satchmo at the Waldorf, and no doubt a conscious one, is the almost complete absence of Armstrong’s music. There is a solo from the classic “West End Blues” and a few other snippets, but nothing more substantial. Undoubtedly, the playwright felt anything more would detract from the story told by the tapes.

This may well be true, but this play is nevertheless a wonderful introduction to the life and times of Louis Armstrong, and those who want to experience the music of this genius do not have very far to look.

The author also recommends:

King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band (Gennett, April 5-6, 1923 Session)

West End Blues – Louis Armstrong & His Hot Five, 1928

Bessie Smith – St. Louis Blues, 1925

Louis Armstrong, His Hot Five – Muskrat ramble

Dutch actress gets death threats for disagreeing with xenophobic politician Wilders


This video shows Dutch stage actress, movie actress and novelist Elle van Rijn at the première of a new film.

Translated from Dutch daily De Volkskrant, of yesterday, 18 May 2014:

Actress Elle van Rijn threatened after criticizing Geert Wilders

Edited by: editors – 05/18/14, 18:44 – By: Editors / ANP news agency

Writer and actress Elle van Rijn was threatened today after she had spoken critically about Geert Wilders. Van Rijn and Wilders were together as guests in the TV show WNL on Sunday. Van Rijn left the PVV leader in no doubt that she is not fond of his politics.

Van Rijn went on the offensive after the PVV leader had responded to the unexpected increased flow of asylum seekers into the Netherlands. “There is only one solution and that is to be master of our own borders,” said Wilders, and then the author started to participate in the conversation. She reminded him that he was the son of a woman from the Dutch East Indies [today: Indonesia] and that he himself is married to a Hungarian woman.

Van Rijn: “Migration flows have always been with us ( … ) You yourself are a product of them. How can it be that you want to close the borders?” When Wilders was asked how he could support that position the PVV leader was brief: “Maybe because I have common sense.” Like Prime Minister Rutte Wilders says that the Netherlands cannot handle the [supposed] explosive increase in asylum seekers. The PVV leader thinks it absurd that State Secretary Teeven (Justice Department) admits refugees from Syria to the Netherlands, but that elderly people are evicted from homes [because of cuts].

Van Rijn also did not approve of that statement. She pointed out that there is no relationship between the refugees and the situation of the elderly in the Netherlands. “It is clear what kind of new voters you hope to attract,” replied Van Rijn. And that supposedly 43 percent of Dutch people would agree with Wilders‘ slogan ‘Less Moroccans‘: Van Rijn did not believe that at all. “You throw around numbers all the time, and frankly, I do not believe them at all.”

Threatened

To the Radio 1 program The Press Tribune a shocked Van Rijn told later in the day that she had received all kinds of emails. “Very positive ones but also very negative ones.”

“I am quite shocked by the violent reactions,” she told [TV show] RTL Boulevard. “The point which I wanted to make to Wilders and which I would like to make in response to the hate-spam: Why has all nuance disappeared? In this way, a society is created full of hatred based on pure fear. Let’s try to work together to solve the problems, instead of seeing each other as enemies. Work together instead of working against each other.”

Van Rijn is said to intend to press charges against the death threats. Wilders has not responded to the threats [by his supporters].

Dutch daily De Telegraaf quotes (translated here) one of the emails to Ms Van Rijn by Wilders supporters:

‘Dirty Lefty shit whore, we are gonna get you. I see you walking around often in Amsterdam with that fucking face of yours. Soon, there will be a knife between your tits, you dirty fucking machine.’

Wilders' supporters' nazi salutes

This photo, from a Dutch anti-racist blog, is from 21 September in The Hague, the Netherlands.

Dutch xenophobic party PVV had a meeting there then. Its leader, Geert Wilders, spoke. Some of the audience, as the photo shows, made nazi salutes.

More anti-Moroccan hate tweets after Wilders’ anti-Moroccan speech: here.

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Shakespeare’s Henry IV on stage in Stratford


This videio from England is called Trailer | Henry IV Parts I & II | Royal Shakespeare Company.

By Gordon Parsons in Britain:

Theatre: Living Histories — Henry IV

Thursday 24th April 2014

The RSC productions of Henry IV parts 1 and 2 give a sense of the compromises politics impose on human nature which transcends the centuries, says GORDON PARSONS

Henry IV part 1
5/5

Henry IV part 2
4/5

Royal Shakespeare Theatre
Stratford-Upon-Avon

The RSC’s recent dramatisation of Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies is testament to the company’s courage in competing with their house dramatist’s own theatrical handling of history.

Now Gregory Doran’s productions of Shakespeare’s treatment of the interplay of personalities and politics demonstrate dramatic genius at its height.

These plays tell the story of a king dogged by the guilt of his usurpation of the crown. He is beset by successive internal rebellions and seemingly cursed by a son and heir who prefers the company of a dissolute bunch of merry rogues and who is dismissive of the demands of state.

Rich in characters and language, both plays work like two movements of a dramatic symphony.

The first focuses on Prince Hal — mentored by the “abominable” misleader of youth Falstaff — and his rivalry with Hotspur, who is high on the drugs of honour and war and the son the king would have preferred.

Understandably, Alex Hassell’s Hal finds his Eastcheap companions more fun than the tensions of a court ruled by his father, an impassioned, intolerant and conscience-stricken king in Jasper Britton’s portrayal.

However skilfully Shakespeare weaves together comedy and crisis, play-acting and warfare, the character of Falstaff dominates.

Antony Sher, with the matted grey hair and spherical build of an impish troll, revels in his scabrous wit and sheer joy in his shady lifestyle. Even when reluctantly forced away from the comforts of his bar-room boozing and whoring onto the battlefield, his determination to survive by any means wins through.

The second play provides a change from major to minor key. Time has taken its toll. Rumour has undermined comforting certainties and the King is mortally ill. Where open battles had decided issues in the first part, now deceit and betrayal thread through the political dealings.

The self-proclaimed youthful Falstaff has become a man aware of his own frailties. Now clinging to forlorn hopes that Hal, his “sweet boy,” will reward his long-held expectations, he is destroyed by his erstwhile companion’s royal rejection: “I know thee not, old man,” the prince tells him.

We are left with a sad awareness of the compromises politics impose on human nature.

Major scenes in both plays capture the central themes. In the first, Falstaff’s roleplaying as Hal’s father remonstrating with his wayward son signals the prince’s true nature while in part two the Gloucestershire garden scene, in which impotent old men rehearse memories of youthful exploits, underlines the dying fall of life colouring the action.

Among the magnificent large cast, vignette cameos from Paola Dionisotti as the put-upon tavern landlady Mistress Quickly and Antony Byrne’s frenziedly drunken Pistol make their mark.

Highly recommended.

Runs until September 6. Box office: (0844) 800-1114.

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Play about World War I on English stage


This video from Britain says about itself:

An August Bank Holiday Lark Trailer

24 February 2014

Northern Broadsides and the New Vic Theatre mark the centenary of the start of the First World War with the world premiere of Deborah McAndrew’s moving new play An August Bank Holiday Lark.

Set in the idyllic summer of 1914 rural Lancashire, everyone in the community is excited about Wakes week; a rest from field and mill and a celebration of the Rushbearing Festival with singing, courting, drinking and dancing. The looming war barely registers … but it will.

By Susan Darlington in England:

Theatre: An August Bank Holiday Lark

Thursday 17th April 2014

A new play movingly evokes the loss of community and tradition in WWI, says SUSAN DARLINGTON

An August Bank Holiday Lark

West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds

4 Stars

It’s unlikely that Michael Gove will approve of An August Bank Holiday Lark.

Commissioned to commemorate the centenary of WWI, Northern Broadside’s latest play certainly doesn’t celebrate it as a “just war.”

Rather, Deborah McAndrew’s gentle tale depicts the kind of village life creaking under the weight of holidays to Blackpool and votes for women even before the arrival of Kitchener‘s recruitment drive.

In the Pennine mill village where the play is set in 1914, the greatest worry is finding eight Morris men for the annual rush-cart festival and securing trim for the squire’s hat after an incident involving the neighbour’s chickens.

The war seems a distant threat yet it is an opportunity for top clog dancer Frank (Darren Kuppan) to prove his worthiness to wed the squire’s daughter Mary (Emily Butterfield) and a chance for young men to make a stand for “ideas.”

The poignancy of this vanishing community is beautifully captured during one of the key scenes when a rush-cart – a towering wagon piled with cut reeds and flowers – is constructed before the audience.

Accompanied by Conrad Nelson’s joyous music and exhilarating clog-dancing choreography, the festive spirit is such that when the cart is paraded around the stage with hapless jockey Herbert (Mark Thomas) waving from the top, the audience waves back.

Fast-forward a year and the community has been torn apart, with the lives of young millworkers lost in the Dardanelles and the women left behind contemplating a life without a sweetheart.

This shift in mood is powerfully signalled by Barrie Rutter as the squire. Having spent the first act being a parody of his larger than life persona, now he is a broken man symbolising the loss of life, community and tradition.

This sombre note contrasts sharply with the bantering humour earlier and, while the plot may occasionally be spread thinner than dripping, the play is superbly evocative and poignantly acted throughout.

Highly recommended.

Tours until June 14, details: www.northern-broadsides.co.uk.

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