Wednesday, September 23, 2009

"Trapped in Death Valley" from Edcon Publishing

Today, we read the story of the Sand Walking Company and their
treacherous journey.

This story is an article from a series of Reading Comprehension Workbooks by Edcon Publishing Group. Edcon Publishing has a very large selection of different types of readings and other
materials for learning. I highly recommend this company. - The Teacher

Here are some links for more information and
visuals about Death Valley.

Death Valley: Photos
Death Valley:Wikipedia
A Drive Through Death Valley: Video
A Cameraman's Journey: Video
Death Valley National Park

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Death Valley: A Beautiful but Dangerous Place, from Voice of America


This is Phoebe Zimmerman.


And this is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program EXPLORATIONS. Today we visit one of America's great national parks. It is a place of strange and silent beauty. As beautiful as this place is, its name provides evidence of very real danger. Come with us as we visit Death Valley.



Death Valley is a land of beautiful yet dangerous extremes. There are mountains that reach more than three thousand meters into the sky. There is a place called Badwater that is the lowest area of land in the Western Hemisphere. If there were water there, it would be eighty-six meters below the level of the ocean.

Death Valley can be dangerously cold during the winter months. Storms in the mountains can produce sudden flooding on the floor of the Valley.

The air temperature during the summer has been as high as fifty-seven degrees Celsius. The sun can heat the ground so that the temperature of the rocks and soil can be as high as seventy-four degrees Celsius.

The extreme heat of Death Valley has killed people in the past. It will continue to kill those who do not honor this extreme climate. Death Valley does not forgive those who are not careful.


Death Valley is a good example of the violence of nature. It contains evidence of several ancient volcanoes that caused huge explosions.

Evidence of one of these explosions is called Ubehebe Crater. The explosion left a huge hole in the ground almost a kilometer and a half wide.

In many areas of Death Valley it is easy to see where the ground has been pushed up violently by movement deep in the Earth. This movement has created unusual and beautiful rock formations. Some are red. Others are dark brown, gray, yellow or black.

Other areas of rock look as if some huge creature violently broke and twisted the Earth to create unusual, sometimes frightening shapes.

In other parts of Death Valley there are lines in the rock that show clearly that this area was deep under an ocean for many thousands of years. Much of the Valley is flat and extremely dry. In fact, scientists believe it is the driest place in the United States. In some areas the ground is nothing but salt. Nothing grows in this salted ground.


However, it would be wrong to think that nothing lives in Death Valley. The Valley is fully of life. Wild flowers grow very quickly after a little rain. Some desert plants can send their roots down more than eighteen meters to reach water deep in the ground.

Many kinds of birds live in Death Valley. So do mammals and reptiles. You might see the small dog-like animal called the coyote or wild sheep called bighorns. Other animals include the desert jackrabbit, the desert tortoise or turtle and a large reptile called a chuckwalla. Many kinds of snakes live in the Valley, including one called the sidewinder rattlesnake. It is an extremely poisonous snake with long sharp teeth called fangs.

Death Valley is a huge place. It extends more than two hundred twenty-five kilometers across the southern part of the state of California, and across the border with the state of Nevada. Death Valley is part of the Great Mojave Desert.


The area was named by a woman in eighteen forty-nine. That was the year after gold was discovered in California. Thousands of people from other parts of the country traveled to the gold mining areas in California. They were in a hurry to get there before other people did.

Many people were not careful. They made bad choices or wrong decisions. One group trying to reach California decided to take a path called the Old Spanish Trail. By December they had reached Death Valley. They did not have to survive the terrible heat of summer, but there was still an extreme lack of water. There were few plants for their work animals to eat.

The people could not find a pass through the tall mountains to the west of the Valley. Slowly, they began to suffer from a lack of food. To survive, they killed their work animals for food and began to walk out of the Valley. As they left, one woman looked back and said, "Good-bye, death valley." The name has never been changed.



Almost everyone who visits Death Valley visits a huge house called Scotty's Castle. The building design is Spanish, with high thick walls to provide protection from the fierce heat. The main building is very large. It was built in nineteen twenty-nine in one of the few areas of the Valley that has water.

The castle is named for Walter Scott, called Scotty by his friends. He was a gold miner. He told everyone that he built the house with money he made from his gold mine. Many people believed him. But it was not really the truth. Scotty was not a very honest man. Some years earlier, he had asked several people to invest in a gold mine he had in Death Valley. One of the men he asked to invest was a businessman from Chicago, Illinois named Albert Johnson.

Mister Johnson invested in Scotty's mine. In nineteen-oh-five, he traveled to Death Valley to see the mine. Scotty put Mister Johnson on a horse and took him far into the mountains. Many people believe that while they were on this trip, Scotty told Mister Johnson the truth: There was no mine. There was no gold.


Albert Johnson suffered from extremely poor health. He had been in a severe accident a few years before. Doctors did not believe he would live much longer. However, something happened on his trip with Scotty. When Albert Johnson returned from the mountains, he felt better than he had in several years. Perhaps he felt better because of the clean mountain air. Perhaps it was the good food Scotty cooked. Or it may have been the funny stories Scotty told that improved Mister Johnson's health.

Whatever it was, Albert Johnson fell in love with Death Valley. He and Scotty became lifelong friends. Soon after, Albert Johnson began building a home on the western edge of Death Valley. He did not live there all the time. But Scotty did. And, he told everyone the huge house was his -- bought and paid for with the money from his gold mine. Scotty told everyone that Albert Johnson, his friend from Chicago, came to visit sometimes. Mister Johnson never told anyone it was just a story made up by Death Valley Scotty.


Albert Johnson lived another thirty years -- many more years than the doctors thought he would. Some years before he died, in nineteen forty-eight, Albert Johnson signed documents that said Walter Scott could live in the house until he died. Scotty died in nineteen fifty-four. He is buried on a small hill near the house.

In nineteen seventy, the National Park Service bought Scotty's Castle. It has since become one of the most popular areas to visit in Death Valley National Park.



More than one million people visit Death Valley each year. Many people come for just a day. Buses bring visitors from the famous city of Las Vegas, Nevada. They ride around the park in their bus, visit several places and are back in their Las Vegas hotel by night. However, many other visitors stay in the park. The most popular area to stay in is Furnace Creek.

Furnace Creek is the largest area of human activity within Death Valley National Park. There is a hotel. There are also camping areas where people put up temporary cloth homes, called tents. Visitors who arrive in huge motor homes can also find a place to park their vehicles.


The famous Furnace Creek Inn is a beautiful hotel that was built of stone more than seventy-five years ago. The inn is built on a low hill. The main public room in the hotel has large windows that look far out over Death Valley. Hotel guests gather near these large windows in the evening to watch the sun make long shadows on the floor of the Valley and on the far mountains.

This beautiful image seems to change each minute. The sun slowly turns the Valley a gold color that deepens to a soft brown, then changes to a dark red. As night comes, the mountains turn a dark purple color, then black.

Usually, visitors are very quiet when this event takes place. A few try to photograph it. But the Valley is too huge to capture in a photograph. Most visitors watch this natural beauty and leave with only the memory of sunset at beautiful Death Valley National Park.

Death Valley From Space



This program was written by Paul Thompson and produced by Caty Weaver. This is Steve Ember.


And this is Phoebe Zimmerman. Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS, a program in Special English on the Voice of America.


1. "Death Valley" got its name from ___________________________
a: a scientist
b: native American
c: an immigrant to California
d: magazine writer

2. Bighorns are _____________________________________
a: a kind of sheep
b: a type of rattlesnake
c: a poisonous reptile
d: not real mammals

3. Ubehebe Crater, a kilometer and a half wide, was caused by a _______________________.
a: volcano
b: meteor
c: earthquake
d: ancient ocean

4. Many visitors to Death Valley like to go camping ____________________ .
a: near Scotty's Castle
b: in Jackrabbit Valley
c: at Furnace Creek
d: on The Old Spanish Trail

5. A group traveling through Death Valley in December of 1849 didn't have trouble with __________________
a: hunger
b: thirst
c: feed for their animals
d: terrible heat

6. In Death Valley, wildflowers grow __________________________ .
a: only in the spring
b: only in the winter
c: after it has rained
d: only at the edges of the park

7. Anybody who visits Death Valley must be very _____________________ .
a: intelligent
b: careful
c: photogenic
d: athletic

8. The chuckwalla is a type of _____________________________ .
a: insect
b: reptile
c: coyote
d: sheep

9. Albert Johnson's health improved when he visited Death Valley. Not included in the possible reasons for his recovery would be _________________ .
a: Scotty's discovery of gold
b: Scotty's funny stories
c: the clean mountain air
d: the good food Scotty cooked

10. Death Valley Scotty's castle was financed by _____________________.
a: Scotty's friend Albert Johnson
b: Scotty's luck as a gold miner
c: the publication of Scotty's biography
d: Scotty's ability to deceive investors

Death Valley National Park Website

Death Valley in Wikipedia

A Virtual Tour Through Death Valley Park

Friday, September 18, 2009

"Design Is Where You Find It", from Edcon Publishing.

"The Robie House" Frank Lloyd Wright

Nature is good, but mankind is not. Natural things are beautiful, but things made by people are ugly and spoil the world. This is what many people think these days.

Niagara Falls
There is some truth to these thoughts. Nothing that humans make can match the majesty and beauty of the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls. We do scar the country with long stretches of concrete linking one mean city with another, and then we litter roads and cities with empty cans and waste paper. We visit national parks and other places of great natural beauty and spread our trash.

But there is another side to the picture. Not all humans insist on destroying beauty. The lives of many people involve one main idea: making the world a more pleasant place in which to live. Some of these people are the ones who work to preserve the natural world - to save the great redwood forests, to protect species of animals and birds that are disappearing from the world, and to clean our water and air.

Others are trying to make the world better by making better things. These people deal with design. They plan man-made things to appeal to our sense of beauty and fitness. We see their work everywhere.

San Francisco Victorian
There is the architect who designs graceful homes and towering office buildings. Many people admire only architecture of the past. They seek out gracious old homes and majestic old churches as if modern architecture were not worth looking at. Even some architects prefer old designs and build new churches and public buildings modeled on the ones in ancient Greece and Rome. But there is also beauty in modern architecture - in shining glass and steel towers and graceful stone and brick shopping centers. There are also planned towns where every home is a designed gem, beautiful and durable enough to stand for generations.

Designers work with small items as well as with tall buildings. If you look around, you will see design everywhere in your classroom - the calendar on the wall, your pens and pencils, even in the books that you use. Doorsteps and paper clips are designed as well as churches. Your attention may be drawn to certain small designed things, such as a fine watch with a genuine gold band, or a handsome portable television set so small that you can easily carry it wherever you go.

But most design that we see we don't even notice. Did you know that design influences what we buy and how much we buy? People who run supermarkets know this. Their shelves are designed so that the packages seem to jump right into your shopping basket.

All kinds of packages involve design. In fact, some packages seem to be all design and little product! The next time you are in a supermarket or a drugstore, look at the rows and rows of household articles. Pick up a graceful bottle that looks as if it might hold a pint. The label may tell you that it holds only six ounces.

Design is more than the shape and size of the package. The writing and the bold colors on the label are also carefully designed. You can recognize many familiar products before you are close enough to read their labels. You can recognize them by the way the product's name is written or even by the bright patterns of red or blue or green. Picture in your mind the lines of cold drink cans on the shelf. Even though the cans are all the same size and shape, can't you recognize the brands without reading the labels?

You may think that the package designers are trying to help the store owners get your money. That is partly true, of course. No one could afford to run a store unless people bought goods, and no one could afford to be a designer unless people bought designs. Anyway, you are probably wise enough not to be fooled by a fancy package. You look at the price of what you are buying and read the label to see how much the package actually holds. You can admire a pretty box on the shelf without having to take it home.

You don't have to buy things that you don't need, but you can still share the designer's pleasure in the finished product. Take just one kind of package - the glass bottle. Dozens of kinds of bottles are found in stores: small bottles and large ones, squat bottles and tall ones, fat bottles and thin ones. Even when the bottles are empty, people save them. They save them as containers for coins or to build ship models inside them. They spend hours carefully making lamps from old store bottles.

We who love the land may resent the many miles of concrete highways. Still, we should notice that engineers often build with a thought for beauty. Few sights in the world can equal the soaring Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco or the breathtaking views along the Skyline Drive in Virginia. Good designers take nature into account. If they can make natural beauty more available, they will do it.

Almost everything we touch and see has been designed to be beautiful as well as useful. Look at our stamps and coins. Look at the portable dishwashers with genuine wooden tops and the plain but durable tables and chairs as well as at the fancy wallpapers and flowered bed sheets.

Design is everywhere. Enjoy it!

"Design Is Where You Find It" - Comprehension Check

1. Many people think that natural things are _______ .
a. made with concrete.
b. littering roads.
c. artificial and of little value.
d. more beautiful than man-made.

2. Some people who wish to make the world a more pleasant place in which to live _______ .
a. plan man-made things.
b. seek out gracious old homes.
c. prefer old designs.
d. spread trash.

3. Of all the people who deal with design, the first one mentioned in this story is _______ .
a. the highway engineer.
b. the small item designer.
c. the architect.
d. the packaging designer.

4. Good designers _______ .
a. resent the use of land for roads.
b. try to fool people with fancy packaging.
c. charge very high fees.
d. take nature into account.

5. Good package designs _______ .
a. help sell more products.
b. always fool people.
c. are planned for people who cannot read.
d. are planned by architects.

6. A person interested in becoming a designer might find it most helpful to study _______ .
a. music.
b. art.
c. another language.
d. cooking

7. Beauty and grace are found _______ .
a. only in old building designs.
b. in both old and new building designs.
c. only in modern building designs.
d. only in the building designs of Greece and Rome.

8. Almost everything we touch and see has been designed to be beautiful and _______ .
a. natural.
b. graceful.
c. useful.
d. durable.

9. Another name for this story could be _______ .
a. "Graceful Homes and Towering Buildings."
b. "Design Is Everywhere."
c. "Buildings of the Past."
d. "Planned Towns of the Future."

10. This story is mainly about _______ .
a. designers who work with small items.
b. fancy packaging.
c. noticing design.
d. destroying natural beauty.

This story is an article from a series of Reading Comprehension Workbooks by Edcon Publishing Group. Edcon Publishing has a very large selection of different types of readings and other materials for learning. I highly recommend this company. - The Teacher

Packaging design video from Youtube:

Friday, September 11, 2009

"Simon Rodia, Creator of The Watts Towers" from Edcon Publishing

Watts Towers in Wikipedia
Sam Rodia in Wikipedia
The Story of Sam Rodia, Audio File:

This story is an article from a series of Reading Comprehension Workbooks by Edcon Publishing Group. Edcon Publishing has a very large selection of different types of readings and other
materials for learning. I highly recommend this company. - The Teacher

Beautiful Images of Sam Rodia's Work. Click on the photograph to
advance the slide show:
Watts Towers Slide Show
Sam Rodia in 1957, Youtube
Watts Towers and Los Angeles in 1957, Youtube
Watts Towers and Enrico Caruso, Youtube
Watts Towers and The Getty Museum, Youtube

Thursday, September 10, 2009

From Clay to Art: Exploring the World of Ceramics


I'm Steve Ember.


And I'm Barbara Klein with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. At the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. you might see two cowboy boots. They are painted with a design of clouds and stars.

They look like boots that you could wear on your feet. But they are really made out of carefully formed clay material. The artist William Wilhelmi made these ceramic pieces. How did he make these colorful boots? Today, we answer that question as we explore the world of clay art.



Clay is one of the most universal materials known to humans. Throughout history and around the world, people have developed the art of forming clay to make ceramic objects, or pottery. Clay is made of water and earth. It is formed into different shapes. Then high levels of heat harden it to produce many kinds of ceramics.

Different kinds of clay contain different minerals such as silicon or iron dioxide. The kinds of minerals in clay affect how soft or hard it is to work with. The mineral content of clay also affects the temperature level at which it hardens.


Earthenware is one of the earliest kinds of clay used by humans. Earthenware hardens at a lower temperature than another clay called stoneware. Porcelain is yet another kind of clay.

It is very fine and smooth. All these clays need to be fired at high temperatures. Early pottery was heated in the sun or by a fire. Later, potters developed heated devices called kilns to control the necessary firing conditions.


The development of ceramics has had an important effect on human history. Ceramic objects permitted early cultures to make containers that could hold water. This means they could cook foods like vegetables and meats. Improving food production methods meant larger populations could survive. Pottery is an art form that grew out of the daily needs of life.

Ceramics are also important for historians and archeologists. Pieces of ceramics found at archeological areas help tell about ancient cultures. These pieces can last for tens of thousands of years. They help answer questions about cultures we know little about.



There are many different ways to form clay. The earliest methods involved shaping it by hand. People form containers by pressing a ball of clay into a given shape.

Or, they place long thin rolls of clay on top of each other and then make them smooth. Another method is called slab-construction. A ceramist creates several flat pieces of clay that can be joined together to make the sides of the container.

Later, ceramists developed the method of "throwing" clay on a wheel. A ball of clay is placed on a flat wheel device that turns quickly. The potter holds the clay firmly and guides it while the wheel and clay turn. Using different amounts of upward pressure the potter can build up the sides of a container. This method permits a potter to make similar pieces quickly. But it takes a great deal of skill to become an expert at wheel throwing.


Slip casting is another method. A ceramist pours liquid clay into a hard form or mold. As the clay dries, it takes the shape of the form. This method is useful for making very detailed objects. It is also useful because the mold can be used over and over again to make exact copies of the ceramic form.

There are also many ways to add decoration to ceramics. These methods can be as simple as scratching designs and images into the clay. Or, they can be more complex such as using liquid glazes to change the color or shininess of the clay surface.



Pottery provides important examples of cultural exchange. For example, native traditions of pottery in Mexico changed greatly in the fifteenth century. After the arrival of people from Spain, Mexican ceramists stopped making their own religious figures. They started making Christian religious forms instead. Also, the Spanish introduced materials and methods used in Europe, including the potter's wheel.

Trade exchanges spread ceramics all over the world. As early as the tenth century, the Chinese traded their ceramics throughout the Middle East and southeast Asia. Chinese ceramics later had a great influence on Europe. Europeans started to copy the fine traditions of Japanese and Chinese ceramics as early as the eighteenth century.


Ceramics also demonstrate the depth of human creativity. This art shows the local needs and materials of a group of people. Pottery is often very different from country to country. But it can also be very different within areas of the same country. For example, in Mexico, every area has a different clay tradition. In one part of the state of Oaxaca, potters have been making black clay containers in the same way for centuries.

In another area of this state, pottery for cooking is made with a shiny green coating. Nearby, artists make female figures out of orange clay.

In the Mexican state of Michoacán potters make white clay containers painted with line drawings of fish and other animals. In another part of this state, artists make green painted containers in the shape of the pineapple fruit.

In the state of Mexico, artists make clay candle holders covered with clay animals, plants, and people. They are painted in bright colors. These traditions are just a few of the examples of Mexican ceramics.

Imagine how many different kinds of clay traditions exist in other areas of the world. What kinds of ceramics are made where you live?



In the United States, W Studio is on a quiet street in Corpus Christi, Texas. This is where the potter William Wilhelmi makes his art. Let us go back to the ceramic cowboy boots we talked about earlier. Listen as Wilhelmi describes why he made these special boots in porcelain:

WILLIAM WILHELMI: "I'm William Wilhelmi and I made the porcelain cowboy boots at the Smithsonian in Washington DC. That's the only pair of porcelain boots. We use here a low temperature fired clay, which is very easy to work with. The reason the ones at the Smithsonian are porcelain is they were having a show called "American Porcelain". I was asked if I would enter a pair of boots in the show. They said, are they out of porcelain? And I said 'Why, sure!'"


William Wilhelmi made these boots with the slip cast method. He took two real cowboy boots and made a hard form using their shape. Then, he poured liquid clay into the forms. Once the boot forms dried, he added clay details to the shoes to represent leather shoe material. Later, he painted a Texas night sky on the sides of the boots. And he made the points of the shoes a shiny gold.

Wilhelmi is also known for his clay "monster" creatures. He adds these friendly little creatures to many of his ceramics forms. He says they add humor and a sense of activity. Another design Wilhelmi likes to use is the eucalyptus tree. He paints these trees in black on many of his clay dishes, bowls, and cups.


William Wilhelmi says being a potter can be difficult. You do not always know if a clay object will survive being fired at high temperatures. You can spend a great deal of time making an object only for it to break in the kiln. But he says it is also very pleasant working with clay. And it permits him to use his sense of design, color and shape in many ways.

William Wilhelmi's work can be found in museums all over the United States. Many important people collect his work. For example, the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, owns some of these clay boots. So does Vicente Fox, the former president of Mexico. To see a large collection of the artist's work, you can visit the Wilhelmi/Holland Gallery next to W Studio. Here, people can buy Wilhelmi's work as well as the work of other artists.

Or, visitors can watch Wilhelmi at work in his studio. This large room is filled with interesting objects like photographs, art and books. There are many worktables covered with tools, color glazes and clay forms. In one area of the room there are three kilns as well as a potter's wheel.


William Wilhelmi finds new artistic ideas by traveling and reading books. He tells about how clay art is both universal and personal.

WILLIAM WILHELMI: "The thing about clay is every culture knows clay, because they use it. That is one of the advantages of working in clay. Everyone can relate to clay. It's been part of our human evolution. And it goes from very basic to extremely baroque things. And also as one lives one's life, you take in all your experiences. Then when I sit down to work, these things come out. It is the experiences of life you reflect in your work."



This program was written and produced by Dana Demange. I'm Barbara Klein.


And I'm Steve Ember. You can read this program and download audio on our Web site, Join us again next week for Explorations in VOA Special English.

Friday, September 4, 2009

"Looking Back at the Life of Edward Kennedy"

August 29, 2009

This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

This week, Americans said goodbye to the last son of one of the nation's most politically influential families. Senator Edward Kennedy died Tuesday of brain cancer. He was seventy-seven.

Senator Kennedy -- often known as Ted or Teddy -- was the youngest of four sons born to Rose and Joseph Kennedy. Their son Joe was killed in World War Two. Senator Kennedy followed his brothers John and Robert into politics. John became president. Robert became his attorney general, and later a senator. Both were assassinated in the nineteen sixties.

Edward first won his Senate seat from Massachusetts in nineteen sixty-two. Six years later, he showed his gifts as a speaker after a gunman shot Robert.

EDWARD KENNEDY: "My brother need not be idealized or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man who saw wrong and tried to right it."

Robert wanted to become president. So did Edward. But his political career nearly ended in nineteen sixty-nine.

He drove a car off a low bridge on Chappaquiddick Island in Massachusetts. His passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, died. The senator left and waited hours to go to the police. He pleaded guilty to leaving the scene and received a suspended sentence.

Still, he went on to become the third longest serving senator ever. He ran for president in nineteen eighty. The Democrats nominated Jimmy Carter for a second term.

Other Kennedys today are active in politics and public service. Edward's son Patrick is in Congress. But for now no one holds national attention the way the senator did. It was not always good attention.

As the New York Times put it, he "struggled for much of his life with his weight, with alcohol and with persistent tales of womanizing." But President Obama remembered him as "not only one of the greatest senators of our time, but one of the most accomplished Americans ever to serve our democracy."

Edward Kennedy was known as "the liberal lion of the Senate." He said his "best vote" was his vote against the Iraq war. But he was also willing to compromise with Republicans.

He fought for civil rights for the disabled and for workers' rights. He helped negotiate the Northern Ireland peace agreement in nineteen ninety-eight.

And ten years later, in two thousand eight, he was one of the first top Democrats to support a young senator seeking the party's nomination for president.

EDWARD KENNEDY: "My friends, I ask you to join in this historic journey to have the courage to choose change. It is time again for a new generation of leadership. It is time now for Barack Obama!"

Social issues were at the heart of Edward Kennedy's work. But he never got to reach one of his goals: health coverage for all Americans. His weakening health kept him away from the Senate in his final months. But he continued to work from home to help support President Obama's top legislative aim, a health reform plan.

Edward Moore Kennedy will be buried Saturday near his brothers John and Robert at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. They also had five sisters. Eunice died on August eleventh. The last survivor now is Jean Kennedy Smith.

And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English, written by Brianna Blake. I'm Steve Ember.

Barack Obama and Ted Kennedy

At first it might seem unusual that a young, black, freshman Senator from inner-city Chicago would become close friends with a white, elderly and distinctly privileged son of the most famous political family in America.

But Barack Obama and Edward Kennedy, in a short time, built a strong personal bond.

They became comrades in the U.S. Senate over their opposition to the war in Iraq and nurtured a friendship from there.

For Mr. Obama, it was an affection that would turn into what many analysts say was the most important endorsement of his presidential campaign in January 2008, well before it was clear he would be the Democrats' nominee for the White House.

At an election rally at American University in Washington, Kennedy endorsed Mr. Obama over then-Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. "I am proud to stand with him here today and offer my help, offer my voice, offer my energy, my commitment to make Barack Obama the next President of the United States," Kennedy said.

During his endorsement, Kennedy painted Mr. Obama as heir to the legacy of his slain brothers, John and Robert Kennedy.

That connection, to the political dynasty of the Kennedy family, gave the young presidential contender immeasurable credibility with establishment Democrats and cemented a personal friendship. "I love this country. I believe in the bright light of hope and possibility. I always have, even in the darkest hours. I know what America can achieve. I've seen it. I've lived it and with Barack Obama, we can do it again," the senator said.

When Kennedy's brain cancer kept him from delivering a commencement address at his stepdaughter's college, Obama left the campaign trail and stood in for his Senate colleague.

He told the graduating students at Wesleyan University a joke he borrowed from Senator Kennedy. "And I'd like to start by passing along a message from Ted: To all those praying for my return to good health, I offer my heartfelt thanks. And to any who'd rather have a different result, I say, don't get your hopes up just yet!," Mr. Obama said.

Returning the favor, Kennedy traveled to the Democratic National Convention a year ago, and at great risk to his health, again endorsed Mr. Obama's candidacy in a speech that brought the delegates to their feet and many to tears.

U.S. Senate Historian Donald Ritchie says the senator's endorsement of Mr. Obama was the perfect capstone of Kennedy's political career. "To have his career capped by endorsing an African-American candidate who wins the presidency is quite remarkable. As an historian, of course, you like to have a closing chapter that resolves the issues of a person's life and I can't believe that any future biographer of Senator Kennedy won't make a large issue out of his endorsement of Barack Obama," he said.

Despite his illness, Senator Kennedy returned to Capitol Hill in January to see President Obama's inauguration. Kennedy suffered a seizure at a celebratory luncheon that afternoon.

Ritchie says Kennedy, a strong supporter of the civil rights movement, wanted to witness the swearing in of his friend, the first black American to be elected president. "His attendance at that inauguration, even though he was in poor health and, in fact, became ill that day, but he went there. He participated, he wanted to be there and you have to think it meant an awful lot to him," he said.

Since becoming president, Mr. Obama has frequently paid tribute to Senator Kennedy.

He praised him in a speech to a joint session of Congress, led a Happy Birthday sing-along during a tribute at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and hand-delivered a letter from the Senator to Pope Benedict XVI.

Most recently, President Obama awarded Kennedy the nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Senator Kennedy and President Obama were also connected on a lighter note.

When the president faced the much-watched choice of a dog for his two daughters, it was Kennedy who gave the Obama family Bo, a Portuguese water dog like the pair of dogs that have been a fixture in the senator's Washington office.

In remarks made shortly after the Senator's death, Mr. Obama called Kennedy a singular figure in American history who touched many lives. "His ideas and ideals are stamped on scores of laws and reflected in millions of lives -- in seniors who know new dignity, in families that know new opportunity, in children who know education's promise, and in all who can pursue their dream in an America that is more equal and more just -- including myself," the president said.

President Obama says Senator Kennedy was a guardian for his family and for America he was the defender of a dream.

The History of Labor Day

Peter J. McGuire in Wikipedia

The History of Labor Day from Youtube

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

"James Brown, The Godfather of Soul" from Voice of America


I'm Steve Ember.


And I'm Barbara Klein with People in America in VOA Special English. Today we tell about James Brown, the musician called "The Godfather of Soul."

"I Feel Good"


That was James Brown singing his famous hit song from nineteen sixty-five, "I Got You (I Feel Good.)" With this song, Brown went from a rhythm and blues singer to a pop music star. It helped him gain a huge number of white fans as well as black ones. He became a famous and wealthy singer, songwriter and performer. But this huge success was very different from the poverty of his early life.


James Brown was born in nineteen thirty-three in a one-room house near Barnwell, South Carolina. His father, Joe Brown, had a job removing fluids from pine trees in the surrounding woods. He sold the sap for making turpentine. The boy's mother left the family when he was seven years old. James and his father moved to Augusta, Georgia.

Young James had musical abilities. He learned to play the guitar, piano and drums. He did this while picking crops in the fields and shining people's shoes to earn money to survive.


James loved the African-American church music called gospel. He loved it when the church's religious leader would sing this music and drop to his knees with emotional shouts and screams. Brown later used this kind of emotional singing in his own performances.

He also liked the sound of the jazz and rhythm and blues performer Louis Jordan. Jordan had recorded a song called "Caldonia" and other popular songs in the late nineteen forties and nineteen fifties.


By the time he was thirteen, James Brown had formed his own music group. He later joined a group called the Flames. The band played at drinking places, restaurants, colleges and other places in the South.

These young performers copied the sounds of successful rhythm and blues groups. They also included in their shows a song co-written by James Brown. It was called "Please, Please, Please."



This was the song that launched James Brown's career. He was able to stop doing low-paying jobs. He said the success of the song gave him the chance to have some of the things he could not have dreamed of. "Please, Please, Please" was recorded in nineteen fifty-six. It sold more than one million copies. It made James Brown famous in the United States. And it became part of his electrifying stage performances.

Brown would be on stage with an eighteen-piece band and a group of dancers. His emotional singing included unusual sounds and screams. He danced around the stage performing movements that had not been seen before. He created his own musical and performing style.



That was another James Brown hit song, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" from nineteen sixty-five. Brown said that song was one of the most important things he ever did in the way of changing music rhythms. With that song, Brown created the music he called "funk." This later came to be called "soul" music. And James Brown became known as "The Godfather of Soul." He followed this hit a few months later with "I Got You (I Feel Good)", an even bigger hit.


James Brown also became known as "the hardest working man in show business." During the nineteen sixties, he performed his exciting show almost non-stop in city after city in the United States and in other countries.

At the same time, Brown worked for civil rights for African-Americans. He supported black business ownership as the most important way to what he called "real black power." He urged black people to be proud of themselves. And he urged young people to continue their education and not drop out of school. His message was positive instead of angry. He recorded this song in nineteen sixty-eight, "Say it Loud ( I'm Black and I'm Proud.)"



Over the years, James Brown had problems in business, with taxes and in his personal life. During the nineteen seventies, his popularity decreased as disco music became popular. But he made a comeback in the early nineteen eighties, with "Living in America," his first hit in years.



In nineteen eighty-six, James Brown was one of the first performers invited into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He became one of the most successful recording artists in history. With the exception of Elvis Presley, no pop artist had more hit records. He had ninety-four songs in the Top One Hundred songs. And he had more Top Twenty single records than any other recording artist up to that time.

But, in nineteen eighty-eight, he committed some crimes. He spent two and one-half years in prison. He was pardoned of his crimes in two thousand three.


James Brown received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in nineteen ninety-two. He later talked about what he had tried to do to help young people. He said he tried to teach through his music. He thought it was very important to make young people proud of themselves and willing to work for what they wanted. He said life is sometimes really hard, but you can make it a lot better if you try to prepare for it.


James Brown saw himself as an example of "the American dream." That means that a person can rise from poverty to wealth and success if he or she works hard. Brown influenced the music of his time and many performers who came after him. He showed his personality and energy in his famous shout:

"If you are an American or you're just a human being and got any blood going through your veins -- AHHOOWW! I feel good!"


James Brown performed until the very end of his life and continued to help his community. Three days before his death, he joined volunteers at his yearly event to give toys to needy children in Augusta, Georgia. He had planned to perform on New Year's Eve at B.B. King's Blues Club in New York City.

James Brown, "The Godfather of Soul," died December twenty-fifth, two thousand six in Atlanta, Georgia. He was seventy-three. During his fifty-year career, he made many music fans feel good.

(MUSIC: "I Got You (I Feel Good)")


This program was written by Shelley Gollust. It was produced by Lawan Davis. I'm Steve Ember.


And I'm Barbara Klein. You can read scripts and download audio at our Web site, Join us again next week for People in America in VOA Special English.


1. James Brown's father sold _____________ for a living.
a: records
b: musical instruments
c: tree sap
d: clothes

2. When James Brown was young, he didn't _______________________ .
a: learn to play musical instruments
b: pick crops in fields
c: shine shoes
d: have tax problems

3. James Brown's emotional style of singing was inspired by ________________ .
a: rock and roll music
b: African American gospel music
c: Elvis Presley
d: The Flames

4. James Brown's first successful song was "________________________" .
a: Please, Please, Please
b: I Feel Good
c: Papa's Got a Brand New Bag
d: Say It Loud: I'm Black and I'm Proud

5. This great singer never ______________________ .
a: worked for civil rights
b: danced around the stage
c: went to prison
d: gave up the American dream

6. The only pop singer who had more hit records than James Brown was _______________ .
a: Frank Sinatra
b: Ella Fitzgerald
c: Elvis Presley
d: Hank Williams

7. With the song "________________", James Brown gained many white fans as well as black ones.
a: Papa's Got a Brand New Bag
b: I Feel Good
c: "Say it Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud"
d: "Living in America"

8. James Brown changed music rhythms and created music he called "__________".
a: jazz
b: soul
c: funk
d: rock

9. "Real black power" to James Brown was most importantly _______________________ .
a: the black vote
b: black non violent street protest
c: black boycott of businesses that discriminated against African-Americans
d: black business ownership

10. James Brown performed for audiences until ________________________ .
a: the very end of his life
b: he was famous
c: he earned the Gammy Lifetime Achievement Award
d: he became "The Godfather of Soul."


Whoa-oa-oa! I feel good, I knew that I would, now
I feel good, I knew that I would, now
So good, so good, I got you

Whoa! I feel nice, like sugar and spice
I feel nice, like sugar and spice
So nice, so nice, I got you

{ sax, two licks to bridge }

When I hold you in my arms
I know that I can't do no wrong
and when I hold you in my arms
My love won't do you no harm

and I feel nice, like sugar and spice
I feel nice, like sugar and spice
So nice, so nice, I got you

{ sax, two licks to bridge }

When I hold you in my arms
I know that I can't do no wrong
and when I hold you in my arms
My love can't do me no harm

and I feel nice, like sugar and spice
I feel nice, like sugar and spice
So nice, so nice, I got you

Whoa! I feel good, I knew that I would, now
I feel good, I knew that I would
So good, so good, I got you
So good, so good, I got you
So good, so good, I got you

Soul Goes On: Otis Rush, "I Can't Quit You, Baby"

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Leonard Bernstein, Composer - From Voice of America


Welcome to PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English. Today, Rich Kleinfeldt and Sarah Long tell about the life and work of one of the most influential musicians of the twentieth century -- Leonard Bernstein.


This music was written by Leonard Bernstein. He composed it for the opening of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., in nineteen seventy-one.


Leonard Bernstein lived from nineteen eighteen until nineteen ninety. During his seventy-two years he was one of America's most hard-working musicians. He was a composer, conductor, pianist and teacher.

He wrote both serious classical music and light popular music. He was musical director of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra for more than ten years. He often played the piano while leading an orchestra at the same time. He taught many other musicians. And, he appeared on television programs and wrote books to help people -- especially children -- learn about music.


Leonard Bernstein was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, on August twenty-fifth, nineteen eighteen. His parents were Jews from Russia. They met and married in the United States. Leonard demonstrated early in life that he had special abilities in music. His father, however, did not believe his son could support himself as a musician. The older Bernstein continually advised against it.

Luckily, his son rejected this advice. Leonard studied music at Harvard University and the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He spent summers at a famous music center in
Massachusetts called Tanglewood. There he studied conducting with two major musicians of our time -- Serge Koussevitsky and Fritz Reiner. Later Leonard Bernstein would return to Tanglewood to teach almost every summer of his life.


In nineteen forty-three, Leonard Bernstein became assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. In November of that year, New York Philharmonic conductor Bruno Walter became sick and could not conduct an important concert.

Mister Bernstein was called to lead the orchestra very soon before the event. He had little time to prepare. Still, he did so well that the New York Times newspaper published a story praising his effort. The story appeared on the front page the day after the concert. After that, Leonard Bernstein was invited to conduct concerts of almost every major American orchestra.

In nineteen fifty-eight, he became musical director of the New York Philharmonic. He was the first American to hold that position. Critics said the well known orchestra became even better under his leadership. He was the main conductor of the Philharmonic until he resigned in nineteen sixty-seven.


Leonard Bernstein became involved in many more projects after leaving the New York Philharmonic. People said he was like a powerful ocean storm. He seemed to live his whole life in a hurry. Mister Bernstein traveled around the world to act as guest conductor of many orchestras. He wrote music and taught music. At home, he and his wife, Chilean actress Felicia Montealegre, were raising their three children. Their home was a gathering place for some of the most influential artists, musicians, and writers in the United States.


As the years passed, Leonard Bernstein's many musical skills made him known around the world. He won high praise as a pianist. Listen now as he plays "Piano Sonata" by his friend Aaron Copland.



Critics say Bernstein wrote some of his best work in his early years. He wrote "Symphony Number Two, the Age of Anxiety" in nineteen forty-nine when he was about thirty. Musical experts say the piece captures the sounds of America.



That piece was among several large works Leonard Bernstein wrote for symphony orchestras over the years. He composed several symphonies that demonstrate his deep interest in his Jewish religion. Mister Bernstein wrote other major classical works through the years for a large group of singers and an orchestra. He also composed operas and ballet music.

Bernstein's "Candide"
Many people think these classical works are not as great as some of his musical plays for Broadway such as "On the Town," "Wonderful Town" and "Candide." Some music critics say "Candide" is the best music Leonard Bernstein ever wrote.


The musical "West Side Story" is considered Leonard Bernstein's most famous work. It opened on Broadway in New York City in nineteen fifty-seven. It still is being performed all over the world. The show tells a story similar to "Romeo and Juliet," the famous play by William Shakespeare. Stephen Sondheim wrote the words to the Bernstein music. "West Side Story" guaranteed Leonard Bernstein a special place in American musical theater. Here tenor Larry Kert sings "Maria," one of the most beautiful songs from "West Side Story."



Leonard Bernstein worked for three years on "Mass, A Theater Piece for Singers Players and Dancers" to be performed at the Kennedy Center opening. Two hundred people are in this huge work. Its name comes from the religious service of the Roman Catholic Church. The story tells of a young man who loses his belief in God. "Mass" is the closest Mister Bernstein ever came to joining the styles of Broadway and classical music. It contains rock music, blues music, and religious music.


Throughout his life, Leonard Bernstein was involved with social issues as well as music. He supported the civil rights movement and opposed the Vietnam War. He conducted concerts to raise money for AIDS research. In his later years, he wanted to write something that he knew would be remembered always. But he was in poor health.

Still, he kept composing, directing and speaking. He gave his last performance in August nineteen ninety at Tanglewood. Less than two months later, he died in his New York home. He will be remembered always for his many musical gifts to the world.



This Special English program was written by Jeri Watson. It was produced by Paul Thompson. The announcers were Rich Kleinfeldt and Sarah Long. I'm Barbara Klein. Listen again next week for PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English.


1. Leonard Bernstein’s father didn’t want him to be
a: a doctor 
b: a lawyer
c: a musician
d: the president of the United States

2. Both Bernstein’s parents were ______________________ .
a: immigrants from Russia
b: came from old American families
c: owned lots of property in New York City
d: musicians

3. Bernstein studied music _____________________________ .
a: on the streets of New York City
b: in clubs, bars, and brothels
c: at his Aunt Clarissa’s house
d: at Harvard University.

4. Leonard Bernstein’s most famous musical work is ________________________ .
a: La Macarena 
b: West Side Story
c: Don’t Be Cruel
d: La Belle Dame Sans Merci.

5. In 1958, Bernstein became the conductor of the _______________________ .
a:  Count Basie Orchestra
b: New York Philharmonic Orchestra
c: Nirvana
d: The Berlin Medieval Musical Connection.

6. Leonard Bernstein supported ____________________________ .
a: the Vietnam War 
b: protests against the Vietnam War
c: three ex-wives and eighteen children.
d: his aching back on a large pillow while playing the piano.

7. Tanglewood is a very important place for Bernstein where he ___________________ .
a: painted and rested for years 
b: taught music during the summer for years
c: learned about camping and backpacking
d: died after being attacked by a mountain lion.

8. Aaron Copeland was also a famous music composer _______________________ .
a: and a good friend of Bernstein 
b: and a hated rival of Bernstein
c: who also played baseball in Venezuela as a young man
d: from Shanghai.

9.Bernstein died _________________________ .
a: a horrible death at the bottom of the ocean
b: in 1990 in New York City
c: after eating poisonous mushrooms at Tanglewood
d: as the richest man in the world.

10.Leonard Bernstein composed music for ___________________________ .
a: symphony orchestras
b: ballet companies
c: opera companies
d: symphony orchestras, ballet companies, and opera companies.

Click on the following link:

"Maria" from the film of West Side Story