Sunday, June 13, 2010

"Duke Ellington, Part Two" from Voice of America.

I'm Richard Rael. And I'm Ray Freeman with the VOA Special English program, PEOPLE IN AMERICA. Every week we tell about a person who was important in the history of the United States. Today, we finish our report about the great jazz musician, Duke Ellington.


That song is "Take the 'A' Train. " It is like a musical sign that says, "You are listening to Duke Ellington and his orchestra. " Music fans around the world know the song is linked closely to Duke Ellington. Yet they may not know that he did not write it.

"Take the 'A' Train" was written by a close friend and orchestra member, Billy Strayhorn. Billy and Duke had a very close working relationship for almost thirty years. Sometimes, it was difficult to tell which man had written a new song for the orchestra. Members of the group often argued about who had written it . . . Duke or Billy Strayhorn.

Duke Ellington always wrote music. Music experts say he may have written as many as two thousand different songs. He wrote music wherever he went. He wrote late at night. He wrote on the train or bus or airplane when the orchestra traveled. Friends say he wrote music even in eating places while he waited for his food.

Listen to this Ellington song, played by Russell Procope. Procope played the clarinet in the Ellington orchestra for many years. In this song, Procope was able to play his part a different way each time. Ellington let individual players create their own parts. This means it is almost impossible today to reproduce the sound of Duke Ellington's orchestra.

The song is called, "Four-Thirty Blues."


Duke Ellington tried many new and different ways to play music. For example, he put different instruments together in groups that no one had tried before. He also was the first song writer to use a human voice as an instrument.

Adelaide Hall

He wrote music for a singer but no words. The song is called "Creole Love Call. " The singer here is Adelaide Hall.


Duke Ellington was one of the most popular musicians in the twentieth century. Yet, music experts and critics say he was much more important as a song writer and orchestra leader than as a piano player. Billy Strayhorn once said, "Duke plays piano. But his real instrument is the orchestra. "

The orchestra was Duke Ellington's first love. In later years, when large orchestras were not popular, Duke often paid his musicians with his own money to keep the group together. To him, the orchestra was everything.

Duke Ellington always was looking for ways to make his orchestra sound better. Like many song writers, he often took old songs, changed them, and made them new again.

Last week, we played a song called "Concerto for Cootie. " In later years, a singer named Al Hibbler joined the Ellington orchestra. Duke added words to the song. Then he changed its name to "Do Nothing ‘Till You Hear From Me. " Both songs were major hits for the orchestra. Listen as Al Hibbler sings, "Do Nothing ‘Till You Hear From Me. "


Duke Ellington and his orchestra played around the world before millions of people. More than eight hundred musicians played with the Ellington orchestra at one time or another. After doctors told Duke that he had lung cancer, he continued to perform. One of his last concerts was at Westminster Abbey in London. His orchestra performed religious music.

Duke Ellington was honored by people around the world. Former president Richard Nixon give him the presidential medal of freedom -- America's highest civilian honor. Leaders from around the world wrote him letters to thank him for his music.

Duke Ellington died on May twenty-fourth, nineteen seventy-four.

If you really want to know the real Duke Ellington, you must listen to his music. The music he left the world is truly a great gift.

Al Hibbler
We leave you with Duke Ellington and his orchestra playing like they always did. This recording was made in a room full of people dancing to his music. The place is McElroy's ballroom in the city of Portland, Oregon.

It is near the end of the evening. You can hear the crowd in the big room. The people have been dancing and do not want to stop.

Duke Ellington, sitting at the piano, starts another song. It is his signal to the orchestra. Once again, the Duke Ellington orchestra begins to play "Things Ain't What They Used to Be. "


This Special English program was written, produced and directed by Paul Thompson. I'm Ray Freeman. And I'm Richard Rael. Join us again next week at this time for another PEOPLE IN AMERICA program on the Voice of America.


1. Duke Ellington probably didn't write music when he __________________ .
a: was riding a bus
b: was waiting for food at a restaurant
c: was leading his orchestra
d: was still awake late at night

2. "Take the 'A' Train" was written by ___________________ .
a: Billy Strayhorn
b: Duke Ellington
c: Russell Procope
d: Adelaide Hall

3. "It is impossible to reproduce the sound of Duke's orchestra." "Reproduce" means ____________________ .
a: remember
b: record
c: duplicate
d: understand

4. "Creole Love Call" _______________________________ .
a: has beautiful lyrics
b: doesn't have words
c: is Duke's favorite song
d: was written by Billy Strayhorn

5. Duke Ellington was the first song writer to _____________________ .
a: write jazz melodies
b: write for an orchestra
c: write for a group of singers
d: use a human voice as an instrument

6. _______________ Al Hibbler joined the orchestra, Duke changed some words in the song "Concerto for Cootie."
a: If
b: Until
c: When
d: Which

7. In later years, large orchestras like Duke's ___________________________ .
a: were no longer popular
b: were more popular than before
c: were all changed to smaller orchestras
d: were all broken up, including Duke's

8. "Do Nothing 'Till You Hear From Me" means ______________________ .
a: Don't go out with other guys unless I say you can
b: Don't do anything until I contact you
c: Don't you dare touch the money in my house
d: Please, honey, say you'll marry me

9. The number of musicians that one time or another played with Duke's orchestra ____________________
a: exceeded 800.
b: was less than 500
c: was about 200
d: was greater than 1000

10. It is near the end of the evening. Duke's orchestra is still playing. The people _________________ and don't want to stop.
a: was dancing
b: has been dance
c: have been dancing
d: have been danced

Duke Ellington: Part One

Sunday, June 6, 2010

"Thomas Edison" from Voice of America.

Welcome to the VOA Special English program, PEOPLE IN AMERICA. Today, Sarah Long and Bob Doughty tell about the inventor Thomas Alva Edison. He had a major effect on the lives of people around the world. Thomas Edison is remembered most for the electric light, his phonograph and his work with motion pictures.


Thomas Edison’s major inventions were designed and built in the last years of the eighteen hundreds. However, most of them had their greatest effect in the twentieth century. His inventions made possible the progress of technology.

It is extremely difficult to find anyone living today who has not been affected in some way by Thomas Edison. Most people on Earth have seen some kind of motion picture or heard some kind of sound recording. And almost everyone has at least seen an electric light.

These are only three of the many devices Thomas Edison invented or helped to improve. People living in this century have had easier and more enjoyable lives because of his inventions.

Thomas Alva Edison was born on February eleventh, eighteen forty-seven in the small town of Milan, Ohio. He was the youngest of seven children.

Thomas Edison was self-taught. He went to school for only three months. His teacher thought he could not learn because he had a mental problem. But young Tom Edison could learn. He learned from books and he experimented.

At the age of ten, he built his own chemical laboratory. He experimented with chemicals and electricity. He built a telegraph machine and quickly learned to send and receive telegraph messages. At the time, sending electric signals over wires was the fastest method of sending information long distances. At the age of sixteen, he went to work as a telegraph operator.

He later worked in many different places. He continued to experiment with electricity. When he was twenty-one, he sent the United States government the documents needed to request the legal protection for his first invention. The government gave him his first patent on an electric device he called an Electrographic Vote Recorder. It used electricity to count votes in an election.

In the summer months of eighteen sixty-nine, the Western Union Telegraph Company asked Thomas Edison to improve a device that was used to send financial information. It was called a stock printer. Mr. Edison very quickly made great improvements in the device. The company paid him forty thousand dollars for his effort. That was a lot of money for the time.

This large amount of money permitted Mr. Edison to start his own company. He announced that the company would improve existing telegraph devices and work on new inventions.

Mr. Edison told friends that his new company would invent a minor device every ten days and produce what he called a “big trick” about every six months. He also proposed that his company would make inventions to order. He said that if someone needed a device to do some kind of work, just ask and it would be invented.

Within a few weeks Thomas Edison and his employees were working on more than forty different projects. They were either new inventions or would lead to improvements in other devices. Very quickly he was asking the United States government for patents to protect more than one hundred devices or inventions each year. He was an extremely busy man. But then Thomas Edison was always very busy.

He almost never slept more than four or five hours a night. He usually worked eighteen hours each day because he enjoyed what he was doing. He believed no one really needed much sleep. He once said that anyone could learn to go without sleep.


Thomas Edison did not enjoy taking to reporters. He thought it was a waste of time. However, he did talk to a reporter in nineteen seventeen. He was seventy years old at the time and still working on new devices and inventions.

The reporter asked Mr. Edison which of his many inventions he enjoyed the most. He answered quickly, the phonograph. He said the phonograph was really the most interesting. He also said it took longer to develop a machine to reproduce sound than any other of his inventions.

Thomas Edison told the reporter that he had listened to many thousands of recordings. He especially liked music by Brahms, Verdi and Beethoven. He also liked popular music.

Many of the recordings that Thomas Edison listened to in nineteen seventeen can still be enjoyed today. His invention makes it possible for people around the world to enjoy the same recorded sound.

The reporter also asked Thomas Edison what was the hardest invention to develop. He answered quickly again -- the electric light. He said that it was the most difficult and the most important.

Before the electric light was invented, light was provided in most homes and buildings by oil or natural gas. Both caused many fires each year. Neither one produced much light.

Mr. Edison had seen a huge and powerful electric light. He believed that a smaller electric light would be extremely useful.He and his employees began work on the electric light.

An electric light passes electricity through material called a filament or wire. The electricity makes the filament burn and produce light. Thomas Edison and his employees worked for many months to find the right material to act as the filament.

Time after time a new filament would produce light for a few moments and then burn up. At last Mr. Edison found that a carbon fiber produced light and lasted a long time without burning up. The electric light worked.

At first, people thought the electric light was extremely interesting but had no value. Homes and businesses did not have electricity. There was no need for it.

Mr. Edison started a company that provided electricity for electric lights for a small price each month. The small company grew slowly at first. Then it expanded rapidly. His company was the beginning of the electric power industry.

Thomas Edison also was responsible for the very beginnings of the movie industry. While he did not invent the idea of the motion picture, he greatly improved the process. He also invented the modern motion picture film.

When motion pictures first were shown in the late eighteen hundreds, people came to see movies of almost anything -- a ship, people walking on the street, new automobiles. But in time, these moving pictures were no longer interesting.

In nineteen-oh-three, an employee of Thomas Edison’s motion picture company produced a movie with a story. It was called “The Great Train Robbery.” It told a simple story of a group of western criminals who steal money from a train. Later they are killed by a group of police in a gun fight. The movie was extremely popular. “The Great Train Robbery” started the huge motion picture industry.


Thomas Alva Edison is remembered most for the electric light, his phonograph and his work with motion pictures. However, he also invented several devices that greatly improved the telephone. He improved several kinds of machines called generators that produced electricity. He improved batteries that hold electricity. He worked on many different kinds of electric motors including those for electric trains.

Mr. Edison also is remembered for making changes in the invention process. He moved from the Nineteenth Century method of an individual doing the inventing to the Twentieth Century method using a team of researchers.

In nineteen thirteen, a popular magazine at the time called Thomas Edison the most useful man in America. In nineteen twenty-eight, he received a special medal of honor from the Congress of the United States.

Thomas Edison died on January sixth, nineteen thirty-one. In the months before his death he was still working very hard. He had asked the government for legal protection for his last invention. It was patent number one thousand ninety-three.


This Special English program was written and produced by Paul Thompson. The announcers were Sarah Long and Bob Doughty.

I’m Mary Tillotson. Join us again next week for another PEOPLE IN AMERICA program.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

"Winslow Homer" from Voice of America.

"Snap the Whip" Winslow Homer, 1872

I’m Steve Ember. And I’m Barbara Klein with PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English. Today we tell about Winslow Homer, considered to be the greatest American artist of the nineteenth century. Homer created pictures that showed the relationship between humans and nature. The strong, clear images he drew and painted matched the wild, developing and proud United States of the late eighteen hundreds.


Winslow Homer was the second of three sons of Henrietta Benson and Charles Savage Homer. He was born in Boston, Massachusetts in eighteen thirty-six and grew up in Cambridge. His father was an importer of tools and other goods. His mother was a painter. Winslow got his interest in drawing and painting from his mother. But his father also supported his son’s interest. Once, on a business trip to London, Charles Homer bought a set of drawing examples for his son to copy. Young Winslow used these to develop his early skill.

Winslow’s older brother Charles went to Harvard University in Cambridge. The family expected Winslow would go, too. But, at the time, Harvard did not teach art. So Winslow’s father found him a job as an assistant in the trade of making and preparing pictures for printed media. At age nineteen, Winslow learned the process of lithography. This work was the only formal training that Winslow ever received in art.

Winslow did this work for about two years. Then the young man decided to become an independent illustrator, someone who makes drawings and pictures for a living.

He worked in Boston for a few years, drawing illustrations for stories in several newspapers. He also did work for a magazine that was different from any other of the time. Harper’s Weekly, in New York City, needed good illustrations and had lots of space for them. The young Winslow began to establish himself as an artist in demand.

In eighteen fifty-nine, Winslow Homer moved to New York City to work for Harper’s Weekly. Homer also started to paint seriously. He hoped to go to Europe to study painting. But, something would intervene that would change the direction of Winslow Homer’s artistic work. Harper’s magazine would send him to draw pictures of the biggest event in American history since independence. It was the Civil War between the Union and the rebel southern states.


Winslow Homer went to Washington, D.C., in eighteen sixty-one. He drew pictures of the campaign of Union Army General George McClellan the next year. His pictures of the war showed the many ways that conflicts affect people.

In one illustration, he showed Union soldiers on horses advancing heroically. The Southern Confederate soldiers are shown forced under the feet of the horses, while the horsemen hold their swords high. The illustration is called "The War for the Union, Eighteen Sixty-Two — A Cavalry Charge."

In another famous illustration, "The Army of the Potomac — A Sharp-Shooter on Picket Duty," Homer showed a different side of war. A soldier sitting in a tree is holding a rifle. He is aiming at a target far in the distance. Many critics say the picture shows the cold, mechanical nature of warfare, bringing death to the unsuspecting.

Winslow Homer also made a famous painting called "Home, Sweet Home." It shows two soldiers listening to music played by military musicians. This was common during the Civil War. At the end of the day, musicians on both sides would play to raise the spirits of soldiers. Often they would play the song "Home, Sweet Home."

Homer painted two Union soldiers preparing a meal. The musicians are in the distance. The two soldiers appear to be stopped in the middle of their preparations by thoughts of home and family.


Critics widely praised Homer’s work during the Civil War. His work gained him membership in what is now called the National Academy. One painting, "Prisoners from the Front," was chosen to represent the United States at the Exposition Universelle. This event was held in Paris, France in eighteen sixty-six. Homer went to Europe for the first time. However, little is known about his stay in Europe.

The next major change in Winslow Homer’s life was a decision to work in a new medium. Until now, Homer had used oil-based paints. Colorful substances are mixed with oil. These thick paints can be spread in layers, one over another, to produce interesting effects of light and color.

Oil paints are usually put on canvas cloth. Most people consider oil painting "serious painting." But in the summer of eighteen seventy-three, Homer began using watercolor paint.

Watercolor paint is color, or pigment, dissolved in water. The paint is thin. Sometimes you can see through the paint to the paper underneath. Watercolor paint can be used to color drawings or by itself. It is a much faster medium than oil painting. But it is a different and difficult skill to learn.

Homer’s decision to use watercolor may have been connected with another major decision. Two years after he started using watercolor, he stopped illustrating for magazines like Harper’s. In doing so, he ended a good way to earn a living. Instead, he decided to make a living only from selling his paintings. He was completely independent. Just as he said he always wanted to be.

One of Homer’s best paintings from this period is called "Breezing Up." It was shown for the first time in eighteen seventy-six. It shows three boys and a man in a small sailboat. A strong wind fills the sails. The man pulls in the sail, causing the boat to gain speed. One of the boys holds the rudder, which controls the direction of the boat. The two other younger boys hold on for the ride.

"Breezing Up" is considered one of Homer’s finest paintings. Today, it is part of the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.


In the late eighteen seventies, experts say Homer experienced some kind of crisis. Before, he had been a very social person. But after this period, he withdrew from social activities. Some critics say he had an unhappy relationship with a woman.

Whatever changed him, Homer must have felt a need to escape. He traveled to Britain in eighteen eighty-one. He spent most of his time in the fishing village of Cullercoats, near New Castle. There he painted many pictures of life and events on and near the sea.

Homer returned to the United States the following year. He settled in Prouts Neck, Maine. He would call it home for the rest of his life. His brothers, Arthur and Charles, both owned houses there. It appeared that Homer withdrew from social life. He avoided visits from people wanting to meet America’s greatest living painter.

But Homer’s later life was also filled with travel, which provided subjects for his paintings. He visited warm places – Bermuda, the Bahamas, Cuba and the American state of Florida. He made several trips to fish and to paint. In these places, he used bright watercolor paints.

Homer also spent time in the Adirondack Mountains in New York State. There he found rich subject matter in the people, hunters and wildlife of the area. But now, a new subject became more important in his work. As he grew older, Homer increasingly painted subjects facing death.

One of Homer’s last paintings is called "Right and Left." It shows two ducks that have just been shot by a hunter as they fly above the surface of a wide expanse of water. The painting is named for a hunter’s trick. It describes how a hunter can use both barrels of a shotgun to bring down two birds very quickly.

In the painting, the water and sky are grey. It is very early in the morning. If you look carefully at the painting, you can see two small points of the color orange. Looking closer still, you can see that one is a small part of a rising sun. The other is more surprising. It is the firing of the shotgun.

Almost hidden behind one of the falling ducks is the boat carrying the hunter. Here, Homer did something very unusual. The observer of the painting is directly in the line of gunfire.

Winslow Homer died at Prouts Neck, Maine, in nineteen ten. He was firmly established as America’s greatest painter of the time. You can see many painting by Winslow Homer online at the National Gallery’s Web site, www.nga.gov. Click on Search and enter the name Winslow Homer.


This program was written and produced by Mario Ritter. I’m Steve Ember. And I’m Barbara Klein. Join us again next week for PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English.

Winslow Homer: Selected Paintings:

Hound and Hunter. 1892

Incoming Tide, Scarboro, Maine, 1893
Key West, Hauling Anchor, 1903

Girl Carrying a Basket, 1872

Fresh Eggs, 1874

Dinner Horn, 1870

Dad's Coming, 1873

Casting, 1894

Eight Bells, 1887

For these paintings and more click here: Click on the thumbnail image to get a larger version of the painting and read about it.

Homer Winslow Gallery

The following is a Youtube slideshow with music of some of the paintings: