Spiritual music has been a part of the African American experience for 350 years. The tradition began when slaves from Africa began creating and singing folk spirituals by using their oral traditions, musical gifts and customs of singing about life events in songs, some brought from Africa. Spirituals were expressions of sorrow and joy, oppression, strength and healing. These traditions blended with Christian church traditions to become the familiar spirituals such as: Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, This Little Light of Mine, He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands, Go Tell It on the Mountain, and the Black National Anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing.
Friends of Negro Spirituals was founded in 2008 to preserve and extend this heritage. This is accomplished by recording the memories of those who grew up within the tradition of spiritual music. A Bay Area oral history archive has been established at Mills College as well as the Oakland Main Library History Room and the African American Museum and Library, also in Oakland.
Now Friends of Negro Spirituals has partnered with StoryCorps in this effort. We have completed over a dozen recordings so far with more scheduled this summer including a Door-to-Door recording in Oakland.
Sometimes a curious passerby will come to the MobileBooth and ask, “Are you having storytime for kids?” To clarify, the Facilitator will explain StoryCorps’ mission.
Occasionally though, a parent comes in to record a conversation with a child and it does seem like Mobile Booth East is hosting “story time” for a young audience. In Chicago, Cesareo Moreno, chief curator at the National Museum of Mexican Art, came to the booth with his son, Cesareo Diego Moreno, to share a family story about the man they are both named after.
In the past month, people from all over New Mexico have come to StoryCorps’ Mobile Booth in Albuquerque to record a conversation.
Here are your photos! Feel free to download and print your high quality portrait, or email your photo to anyone you’d like. Visit StoryCorps’ Flickr album to find and download your photo directly.
In Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Chimayó, people have talked about family, history, and heritage in all kinds of ways. We’ve heard from teachers, mothers, master adobe builders, curanderas, pueblo leaders, activists, artists, and beyond. People have talked about having children, getting married, building homes, red chile, green chile, migration, genealogy, and living in New Mexico for 12 generations. They’ve talked about losing loved ones, maintaining culture, and finding strength in family and friends when times are hard.
In honor of Gay Pride Month, Atlanta’s Radial Cafe was abuzz with stories from the LGBTQ community on Wednesday evening, June 23, 2010. Radial owner Phil Palmer generously hosted Atlanta StoryCorps and over 100 members of Atlanta’s LGBTQ community, their friends, family and colleagues. Master of ceremonies for the evening was WABE’s own John Lemley, host of City Cafe, which airs on WABE each Tuesday.
Upon entering the event, attendees registered and received a bag of goodies donated by WABE. They then enjoyed light fare graciously provided by Radial.
Once the program was underway, attendees listened to LGBTQ stories selected from both national and local participants. All of the local StoryCorps Atlanta alumni whose stories we played were in attendance.
Fellow Facilitator Matt Herman and I were in Los Angeles’s Miracle Mile on June 23, 2010 to record a day of Door-to-Door interviews hosted by the Alzheimer’s Association – California Southland Chapter, and Leeza’s Place at Olympia Medical Center, a site that supports Alzheimer’s caregivers.
Life partners Earl Adams and Jennifer Duke recorded on this day. Jennifer is 38 and a few years ago was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis; Earl is 50 and last year was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. The two talked about the importance of sports in his life and how they help him focus on the present.
Last week, StoryCorps Door-to-Door Facilitators Carolina Correa and Yazmín Peña went to New York City’s Upper West Side, to visit the Amsterdam Nursing Home, a residence for older adults, to record the stories of six of their residents.
Our first participants of the day were Elizabeth L. Gardner (Libby) and her daughter Eve Remba. Libby was all smiles as she came into the recording room, and Eve began their conversation by congratulating her mother for winning the Congressional Gold Medal earlier this year. You see Libby was a WASP – a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots – a pioneering civilian organization of female pilots that flew Military Aircraft under the orders of the United States Air Force during World War II.
At Braille Institute Library Services, we had a number of great storytellers with compelling stories, one of which was Charlie Grover, who began dabbling in photography over twenty years ago while in the US Air Force. He bought a cheap 35mm film camera, taught himself film developing techniques and created a few techniques of his own.
Not long ago, Charlie developed a type of visual impairment that causes loss of central vision, making it difficult for him to recognize details and peoples’ faces. However, Charlie has turned this disadvantage into an advantage. “For all those decades that I would occasionally carry around a camera and then put it away for months or years, I was just recording things, I wasn’t taking ‘art pictures.’ I didn’t have an eye for such things. What eye I have for taking a picture has really developed since my blindness has developed.”
How does Charlie see differently now? Since losing part of his vision, Charlie can no longer drive, so he walks to many places and during his walks, he notices more of the world around him. As Charlie describes it, “I slowed down, slower pace through life, slower pace through the world and a more intimate contact with it. So you start seeing things. The change in my vision has made me see things differently.”
Please visit With a Different Eye, Charlie’s website, to view his photographs.
Wisconsin Public Radio asked StoryCorps to stop by their Green Bay studios just in time to give local Vietnam veterans a belated “welcome home.” The event brought veterans together at the Green Bay Packer’s storied Lambeau Field – LZ (Landing Zone) Lambeau.
During the weekend, Downtown Green Bay roared its thanks alongside the engines of motorcycles, with drivers sporting jackets that proudly proclaimed their military tiers of service, whether it had been the U.S. Marines, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, or the U.S. Army. Cars had American flag bumper stickers that showed support for prisoners of war. Men and women walked about, medals and ribbons pinned on their jackets, berets, and hats, and lawns held signs welcoming the veterans to LZ Lambeau.
As part of our Historias initiative, StoryCorps’ MobileBooth East is currently recording the stories of Latinos and Latinas in the city of Chicago. As usual, we’ve been treated to a wide range of great narratives, from immigration stories to tales of romance. However, one story has been truly one of its kind. As a participant in both our Historias and September 11th Initiatives, Michael Doyle, a blogger and mass transportation advocate, came to share his 9/11 experience, an experience that eventually brought him to Chicago.
Born and raised in Queens, Michael never envisioned living anywhere but New York. He grew up loving the bustle and can-do attitude of his hometown, never cared to learn to drive, and as an adult felt he could never feel at home elsewhere. The traumatic events of September 11, 2001 changed that.
Ignacio Pulido, Jr. came to tell his story in Austin, TX, with his daughter, Adrienne, as part of StoryCorps Historias. We worked with Las Comadres para las Americas and the Austin History Center to record 12 conversations in Austin. Ignacio grew up in Laredo, TX. In his early 20s, he realized that there were no mental health services for Latinos in South Texas. He saw many children with emotional problems ending up in jail or foster care, and he wanted to help. But Ignacio didn’t have any mental health training.
We didn’t know what bi-polar was, we didn’t know what autistic was. We just knew there was something wrong with their behavior. We said, “Okay, we can observe behaviors.” That was our method. When we started watching the behaviors of people, we understood what was happening and their behavior told us what to do.
Another problem was that all of the materials available from the state were in English and were designed for middle class people. Ignacio translated the materials into Spanish, but it wasn’t just a language issue. Ignacio also had to culturally translate the materials for the Mexican-American population he was working with. One strategy was to get the fathers involved: “If I got the father involved in the program, the mother and children would follow. That’s what the culture indicated.”
Last week, Door-to-Door Facilitators, Gaspar Caro and Naomi Greene, traveled to Los Angeles, CA for three recording days with the Braille Institute Library Services. Due to the library’s outstanding service, Braille Institute is one of ten winners of the 2009 National Medal from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). In addition to a cash prize, each winner received StoryCorps recording days in recognition of their excellent work within their communities.
Braille Institute provides services for blind and visually impaired individuals in the Los Angeles area. Braille’s library consists of more than 90,000 audio titles. Besides audio tapes, Braille provides braille books, audio listening devices and a host of other services. Although the weather in Los Angeles was not at it’s best, inside the library, we were greeted with nothing but sunshine from the library staff and the participants. Below is a slideshow featuring a few of our participants as well as the inner workings of the library’s vast collection.
Thank you to all the participants who shared their stories, proving that although one is blind, one is not necessarily limited. Also, a very special thank you to library staff members Tina, Kokoi and Siran for making our three days run smoothly…and for sharing information about the best restaurants near the library!
On the first Monday in June, the Memory Loss Initiative partnered with the Museum of Modern Art for an afternoon of art and memories. Meet Me at MoMA is a monthly program for individuals with Alzheimer’s and their family members or care partners to enjoy art and make art. With specially trained Museum educators, the visitors joined discussions about the different sculptures in the Metropolitan Garden and were given the opportunity to create a wire sculpture or ornament.
This is our second collaboration with MoMA, and you can read about StoryCorps’ last visit to the museum in the post, “Meet StoryCorps at MoMA.” This year we recorded seven interviews at the Museum using StoryKits, our most portable form of recording equipment, and a very popular service for many of our Memory Loss Initiative participants. All of the interviews were recorded simultaneously throughout the museum while the other activities were under way. Sisters, mothers and sons, husbands and wives – all came together to share their unique stories and to bask in the world of art.
The Latin American Youth Center, (LAYC) Art & Media House is the perfect place for a creative teen. Picture this: the school day is over and you can head to a building that serves as Art Gallery, Recording Studio, Computer Lab, has a basketball hoop out back, a yard big enough for you to garden in, and a room full of musical instruments. All that AND there’s some popcorn while you hang out with your friends in the kitchen? Yep! Perfect.
StoryCorps Door-to-Door made an Historias stop in Washington, DC and the Art & Media House served as one of our local partners, letting us use their amazing recording studio for two recording days, as well as helping us celebrate the Historias Initiative at their Art Gallery. There we had the opportunity to meet some very talented youth. Among them were Jefferson, a filmmaker, Joel, a photographer, and Shannon (also known as Lady Limelight), a poet. These teens shared with us their talent and hopes, with Lady Limelight gracing the attendees of the Historias celebration by reciting one of her poems about the impact of gentrification in D.C. During his StoryCorps interview, Joel talked about all the Dominican delicacies his grandma cooks, and about how the food helped him connect with a country he’s never visited. In his part, Jefferson spoke about his fascination with horror and suspense movies, about how they instilled in him the desire to direct, and how relevant to everyday life they can be. StoryCorps had the chance to record the voices of these youth, right as they are preparing to create goals for themselves and to discover who they are. The Art & Media House encourages them to discover their true self through art, in its many forms.
On Friday, June 4th the MobileBooth West team headed north from Albuquerque for a day of recording at the Chimayó Museum in Chimayó, New Mexico.
As participants from Chimayó and nearby Cundiyo arrived to record, many recognized relatives in the photographs hung on the museum’s walls. The building itself is a traditional adobe structure that opens on to the Plaza del Cerró–a Spanish colonial settlement established in 1740. An irrigation ditch or acequia runs by the front of the museum and is part of the system of waterways still used from colonial times to the present to irrigate the land around Chimayó.
A longtime mayordomo or caretaker for one of these acequia‘s, Samuel Vigil, recorded a conversation with his grandson, Mario. At 85, Samuel continues to be the volunteer organizer for the cleaning and maintenance of the collectively owned acequia. Mario grew up with his grandfather in Cundiyo and asked Samuel to share stories about his own childhood in the small town. Mario currently works as a teacher while living on the family’s land in Cundiyo where he plans to stay and carry on the traditions he was raised with.
In the last three months, StoryCorps recorded interviews in six different towns in the land of 10,000 lakes. While partnering with the Great River Regional Library of Minnesota, we recorded in Annandale, Elk River, St. Cloud, Melrose, Little Falls and Staples. We heard stories from all walks of life — including farmers, mothers, teachers, nurses, doctors, and soldiers of Central Minnesota.
Our partner, the Great River Regional Library, is a group of thirty-two branch libraries that provide books, materials, computers, programming and information services to almost 450,000 residents. The branch libraries are a source of knowledge and information in their communities, and for March, April and May they were our host family.
In our visit to Staples, Carol Weber, 63, came with her husband Rick Weber, 64, and her mother-in- law, Mrs. Marlys Weber, 87. During their interview, Mrs Marlys talked about her heritage, meeting her husband and her family. Halfway into their interview, Rick and Mrs. Marlys talked about how Ernie, Marlys’ husband, started the family business. “Ernie’s Food Market” was different than most grocery stores in Staples, MN. At that time, most grocery stores had a person that would take their order in, the order would be filled for them and the customer paid for it at the counter. Ernie started the first self service grocery store in Staples, and for a while it even provided both services.
Mrs. Marlys also described how she helped her husband stocking the store and how Ernie’s Food Market keeps growing and growing. Ernie retired and currently Ernie’s Food Market has a different owner, but it is still the town’s main grocery store and still has the neon sign to let you know who used to own it.
To learn more about The Great River Regional Library, please visit http://www.griver.org/
The National September 11 Memorial & Museum (NS11MM) occupies a preview space across from the World Trade Center pit, nestled among the organized discord of bustling pedestrians, congested traffic, and a monolithic construction project. StoryCorps and the NS11MM nurture a partnership a few years old, and the museum invited us to record at its preview site on May 25, 2010.
The memorial reserved a soundproof room for a full StoryCorps recording day. It was originally installed to record museum visitors’ impressions. Although stress, loss, and chaos surrounded the site, the room was a sanctuary where we recorded participants’ stories.
One participant, Brian Dorsey, emerged from the pack of tourists. Joined by Amy Weinstein, NS11MM Oral Historian, Brian remembered his late wife, Jennifer Dorsey-Howley, a small woman with brown hair, sharp-blue eyes and “a smile that lit up a room.”
Erica set the scene in the present tense: “You can smell the popcorn and hear the people yelling” she told Melissa, and they laughed. “Soccer moms have nothing on soapbox parents,” they explained to me.
Erica remembers feeling nervous, even though she had won the previous race. If she lost this one, she could still beat her opponent by the time. The winner was to be decided by the differential. She zoomed down her lane. In the blink of an eye, it was all over. No one yelled or cheered.
Spend a day at the colorful VOX office and you will walk away impressed by the seriousness, imagination, creativity, and audacious energy of the teens in the program. They dream, and they dream big.
VOX Teen Communications is a non-profit youth development organization located in downtown Atlanta, GA, dedicated to “giving us teens the skills and resources to raise our voices about issues that most matter to us.” They publish a teen newspaper and maintain a web site. Some VOX teens are active in the Just Georgia project, an initiative to revise Georgia’s Juvenile Code related to youth living in foster care.
So, what issues did these teens voice when StoryCorps spent a day at VOX? They articulated dreams and hopes for their future, concerns about their peers, and what they think college life will be like. Of course there were pop culture references to music, television, and movies as well. The teens also chose to talk about more serious topics.
For example, Cassandra Maddox (15) and Teyonna Ridgeway (18) discussed body image and its effects on the age at which girls become sexually active. They came to their StoryCorps interview with pages of notes and questions for each other. After discussing how they work to maintain a positive image of themselves in spite of messages they might receive from media, Cassandra noted, “When a guy says you’re sexy, he’s looking at your body. If he tells you you’re pretty, he’s looking at your face. If he tells you you’re beautiful, he’s looking at your inside.”
Oscar Alvarez has always been interested in death. He was five or six years old when his neighbor was shot. When the police left, Oscar peeked into the room and saw the remains of the body. After that, he remembers asking his mom about death:
“What happens after this?”
She said, “Well, you have a soul. It’s like a little butterfly in your stomach and once you die, it’s gonna go.”
I said, “Where’s it gonna go?”
And she said, “It will go up in the air into the sky to heaven, and we’ll be happy for ever.”
“So that was the end of that. But it was always a question in my mind ever since I could remember, and is even now. I thought it would get easier, but it hasn’t really. We just don’t know until we hit that part of life. But we will find out. Eventually.”
In early March StoryCorps Atlanta partnered with the Washington, D.C. based organization Our Family Skate Association to record the stories of roller skaters in the Atlanta area. Over the course of two recording days, eleven skaters rolled their way into the Booth and forced us all to recall our own skate stories. Our Family Skate Association Board Chair, Tasha Klusman, orchestrated the interview process and brought to the Atlanta Booth some of the most famous African American skaters in the country. Tasha has helped arrange interviews with skaters in several StoryCorps venues, and you can read another skate story in the blog post “Charlie “Whip” Davis.”
Detroit native and Atlanta Sk8-a-Thon founder Joi Stafford (aka Queen of the South), talked about her first skating experience in Detroit, Michigan and skating “Detroit Style.” She talked about founding Sk8-a-Thon and how every Labor Day Weekend, the event brings skaters from around the world to Atlanta. (more…)