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Lost & Found Sound and Voices of the Dust Bowl

Lost & Found Sound and Voices of the Dust Bowl

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Fish mongers recorded on the streets of Harlem in the 1930s. An 8-year-old girl’s impromptu news cast made on a toy recorder in a San Diego store. Lyndon Johnson talking to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover a week after President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. Sounds lost and found.

As The Kitchen Sisters prepare to launch their new series The Keepers, about activist archivists, rogue librarians, curators, collectors, historians and the collections they keep, they re-visit their own “accidental archive” of recordings amassed over the years.

And Voices from the Dust Bowl, produced by Peabody Award winning producer Barrett Golding for the Lost & Found Sound series.

In the 1930s, hundreds of thousands of people from Oklahoma and Arkansas traveled to California, fleeing the dust storms and poverty of the Depression.

In the summer of 1940, Charles Todd was hired by the Library of Congress to visit the federal camps where many of these migrants lived, to create an audio oral history of their stories. Todd carried a 50-pound Presto recorder from camp to camp that summer, interviewing the migrant workers. He made hundreds of hours of recordings on acetate and cardboard discs. Todd was there at the same time that John Steinbeck was interviewing many of the same people in these camps, for research on a new novel called “The Grapes of Wrath.” Producer Barrett Golding went though this massive, rare collection of Todd’s recordings to create this story of the Dust Bowl refugees narrated by Charles Todd.

Ep #97: Pan American Blues: The Birth of The Grand Ole Opry & “Harmonica Wizard” Deford Bailey

Ep #97: Pan American Blues: The Birth of The Grand Ole Opry & “Harmonica Wizard” Deford Bailey

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The story of the birth of the Grand Ole Opry on radio station WSM in Nashville, TN and the story of “Harmonica Wizard” DeFord Bailey, the Opry’s first African American performer.

WSM’s most popular show, the Grand Ole Opry, the longest running radio show in the US, started in 1925 as the WSM Barn Dance featuring a wealth of talent from the hills of Tennessee and all around the rural south—Uncle Dave Macon “The Dixie Dewdrop,” Roy Acuff and His Smokey Mountain Boys, Minnie Pearl and hundreds of others performed on the wildly popular Saturday night show.

Starting in 1928, the legendary “Harmonica Wizard” DeFord Bailey was on the show more often than any other person. In fact, one of DeFord’s most popular pieces, Pan American Blues, inspired the announcer to dub the show The Grand Ole Opry. DeFord suffered from polio as a child and started playing the harmonica when he was 3 years old. Four-and-a-half feet tall, always impeccably dressed in a suit, he had the uncanny ability of imitating and incorporating sounds into his harmonica playing—trains, animals, fox hunts. Because it was radio, the audience was unaware DeFord was the only African American among the all-white cast. But when he toured with the other Opry stars he could not stay in the same hotels or eat in the same restaurants. He had to sleep in the car. Sometimes Uncle Dave Macon would haul the back seat out of his car and tell the hotel DeFord was his valet so he could sleep inside his room.

The Pan American passenger train is a through line in this story. When we were working on Lost & Found Sound, a series about the history of recorded sound, we got a letter from a listener who said that “no collection of sounds from the 20th century” would be complete without the sound of the Pan American passenger train.

Every night at 5:08 pm from August 1933 until June 1945, listeners to the 50,000 watt WSM radio station would hear the live sound of the Pan American, Louisville and Nashville’s passenger train, as it passed the station’s transmitter tower. They actually had a guy out there holding a mic recording the train every night at 5:08—avid listeners all across the south and Midwest would set their clocks by it.

So we followed up on the sound. We went to Nashville to the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Country Music Foundation, where there are some real Keepers and Collectors of Sounds and stories. And as usual, stories beget stories… the sound of the Pan American train whistle and Radio station WSM led us to the story of the birth of the Grand Ole Opry, the oldest continuing running radio program… which led us to the remarkable story of the Grand Ole Opry’s first (and for many years only) African American performer, Harmonica Wizard Deford Bailey.

Episode #96: Cry Me a River — Keepers of the Environment

Episode #96: Cry Me a River — Keepers of the Environment

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The dramatic stories of three pioneering “Keepers” and environmental activists—Ken Sleight, Katie Lee, and Mark Dubois and the damming of wild rivers in the west.

Ken Sleight is a long time river and pack guide and activist in southern Utah who fought the damming of Glen Canyon and filling of Lake Powell from 1956-1966. An inspiration for Edward Abbey’s, Monkey Wrench Gang, Sleight is currently working on the campaign to remove Glen Canyon Dam.

Katie Lee, born in 1917, a former Hollywood starlet, ran the Colorado River through Glen Canyon long before it was dammed, and in 1955 was the 175th person to run the Grand Canyon. An outspoken conservationist, singer and writer, she spent her life fighting for rivers.

Mark Dubois, co-founder of Friends of the River, Earth Day and International Rivers Network, began as a river guide who opened up rafting trips to disabled people in the 1970s. Dubois protested the damming and flooding of the Stanislaus River by hiding himself in the river canyon and chaining himself to a rock as the water rose in 1979.

Ep #95: Give Space A Chance: Gastrodiplomacy in Orbit

Ep #95: Give Space A Chance: Gastrodiplomacy in Orbit

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Russians preparing dinner for Americans in space? Sounds good to us.

There’s been a lot of jabber these days about creating a “Space Force,” a sixth branch of the US military to dominate outer space. Over the years we’ve talked with astronauts about what it’s like up there – about the food they eat and the teams they work with daily while orbiting the earth. It turns out they have other ideas about what can happen in space, like educating our youth and “gastrodipolmacy”— the use of food as a diplomatic tool to help resolve conflicts and foster connections between nations.

NASA astronaut Bill McArthur talks about the power of sharing meals with Russian Cosmonaut Valery Korzu during their six months together on the Space Station.

South Korea’s first astronaut, Astronaut Soyeon Yi, describes Kimchi Diplomacy in space, the Korean government’s efforts to invent kimchi for space travel, and the special Korean meal she prepared for her Russian comrades in orbit. Soyeon Yi, one of 36,000 applicants, became South Korea’s first astronaut in 2008. She talks about how she was selected and about the power of food: “Having kimchi in space, you are far from your home planet,” she says. “When you eat your own traditional food it makes you feel emotionally supported. I can feel my home.”

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Episode #94 – Tequila Chamber of Commerce & The Birth of the Frozen Margarita

Episode #94 – Tequila Chamber of Commerce & The Birth of the Frozen Margarita

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The Agave Goddess with 200 breasts; jimadors stripping lethal thorny leaves off agaves; farmers battling cambio climatico (climate change); distillers contemplating mono-culture production and the environmental impact of tequila; generations-old tequila makers versus globalization. Stories of tequila from the Tequila Region in Mexico and beyond.

Tequila does not only mean alcohol—it means Mexico’s culture, history and future. The biggest tequila companies are not Mexican anymore. They are internationally owned. The Tequila Chamber of Commerce is helping producers promote the drink. They are expected to sell millions and millions of liters to China in the future.

Guillermo Erikson Sauza, the fifth generation to make tequila in his family talks about how his grandfather unexpectedly sold the company in 1978 and how he has worked to build up a small a distillery making his Fortaleza brand in the traditional way. And Carmen Villareal, a tequilera, one of the few women in Mexico to run a Tequila company—Tequila San Matais, now 127 years old.

And Mariano Martinez, from a fourth generation family restaurant business in Dallas,Texas. How he developed the first frozen margarita machine in 1971, based on the 7-Eleven Slurpee machine, using a soft serve ice cream maker “suped up like a car.” The machine is now at the Smithsonian.

Mariano pulling from the Original Frozen Margarita Machine in Bandido Outfit

Ep#93: Prince and the Technician

Ep#93: Prince and the Technician

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In 1983 Prince hired LA sound technician, Susan Rogers, one of the few women in the industry, to move to Minneapolis and help upgrade his home recording studio as he began work on the album and the movie Purple Rain. Susan, a trained technician with no sound engineering experience became the engineer of Purple Rain, Parade, Sign o’ the Times, and all that Prince recorded for the next four years. For those four years, and almost every year after, Prince recorded at least a song a day and they worked together for 24 hours, 36 hours, 96 hours at a stretch, layering and perfecting his music and his hot funky sound. We interviewed Susan, who is now a Professor at the Berklee School of Music in Boston, for our upcoming NPR series, The Keepers — about activist archivists, rogue librarians, collectors, curators and historians. It was Susan who started Prince’s massive archive during her time with the legendary artist.

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Ep #92 – The Working Tapes of Studs Terkel

Ep #92 – The Working Tapes of Studs Terkel

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In the early 1970s, radio producer and author Studs Terkel wrote a book called Working. He went around the country with a reel-to-reel tape recorder interviewing people about their jobs. The book became a bestseller and even inspired a Broadway musical. Working struck a nerve, because it elevated the stories of ordinary people and their daily lives. Studs celebrated the un-celebrated.

Radio Diaries and their partner Project& were given exclusive access to these recordings, which were boxed up and stored away after the book was published. Stories of a private investigator, a union worker, a telephone operator, a hotel piano player, and more.

As The Kitchen Sisters warm up for our new series “The Keepers,” stories of activist archivists, rogue librarians, historians, collectors, curators—keepers of the culture—we share these stories gathered by the ultimate Keeper: Studs Terkel.

Ep #91 – Mimi Chakarova: Love, Art and Anger

Ep #91 – Mimi Chakarova: Love, Art and Anger

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Mimi Chakarova is a Bulgarian-American filmmaker, photographer, journalism professor, activist, immigrant and single mother. Her documentary “Men a Love Story” premiered at the Telluride Film Festival in 2017 where Davia Nelson of The Kitchen Sisters interviewed her on stage.

How can you not be mesmerized by a woman who makes a film called “The Price of Sex,” about women throughout Eastern Europe who are pushed into prostitution and who goes underground into that world herself to document the story. “I didn’t intend to spend more than a year covering human trafficking,” says Mimi. It ended up taking a decade. “I didn’t intend on reporting in more than two countries,” she says. “So, how did I end up in nine?”

Mimi said, “Before my trips my mom used to ask, ‘It took us so many years to get out of poverty, why do you keep returning there?’ I would sit in her kitchen and the only answer that would come to mind was, it was so damn familiar.”

Now Mimi has a new series of documentaries, “Still I Rise,” premiering online Friday, April 27th at stillirisefilms.org. “Still I Rise” is a short film series whose title pays homage to Maya Angelou’s famous poem. It features individuals who’ve journeyed from the depths of hardship and struggle and have come out the other side. As an immigrant herself Mimi creates a platform where other immigrants can tell their own stories and show how even in the face of adversity they fight to rise.

Ep #90 – Jorge Amado: The Ballad of Bahia

Ep #90 – Jorge Amado: The Ballad of Bahia

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jorge-amado

Jorge Amado, the beloved Brazilian author of Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon, Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, Tent of Miracles – wrote over 30 books in his lifetime. His works have been translated into 49 languages and adapted for film, television, and theater.

In 1984, The Kitchen Sisters interviewed Jorge Amado, his wife Zelia Gattai, Brazilian composer and singer Dorival Caymmi, and singer and activist Harry Belafonte as part of the NPR series “Faces Mirrors Masks – 20th Century Latin American Fiction.” The Ballad of Bahia explores the life and writings of the author through interviews, music and readings and dramatizations of his work.

Ep #89: Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti — Celebrating 99 Years

Ep #89: Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti — Celebrating 99 Years

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In honor of poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s 99th birthday we celebrate with Rivers of Memory, produced by Jim McKee of Earwax Productions. Over the last 20 years, Jim McKee has been chronicling Lawrence and Lawrence’s good friend radio dramatist Erik Bauersfeld (voice of Star Wars’ Admiral Ackbar). Set to a rich soundscape that travels throughout San Francisco, the piece features poetry, interviews, and overheard conversations about Ferlinghetti’s life, work, the San Francisco beat culture, Ferlinghetti’s fight for First Amendment rights and more.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, opened City Lights bookstore in 1953, one of the first paperback bookstores. He also began publishing the Pocket Poet Series featuring poems by Beat Poets of the 1950s and 60s. In 1956 he published “Howl and Other Poems,” by Allen Ginsberg and was brought to trial on obscenity charges. The landmark first amendment case paved the way for the publication of other “banned books.”

San Francisco luminary and famed poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti in the middle, sound designer Jim McKee on left, dramatist Erik Bauersfeld on right

San Francisco luminary and famed poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti in the middle, sound designer Jim McKee on left, dramatist Erik Bauersfeld on right