Category: music

My country ’tis of thee

At Barak Obama’s second inauguration yesterday, American Idol star Kelly Clarkson added a poignant chapter to the storied annals of America’s least offensive patriotic anthem, My Country ‘Tis of Thee.

Seventy-four years ago, the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to let Marian Anderson perform at the association’s Constitution Hall in Washington because the celebrated contralto was African-American. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt resigned her DAR membership in protest, and weeks of controversy ensued. On April 9, 1939, 75,000 people turned out to hear Anderson sing at an outdoor Easter Sunday recital on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Interior Secretary Harold Ickes introduced Anderson’s stirring rendition of My Country ‘Tis of Thee:

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Martin Luthor King didn’t sing My Country ‘Tis of Thee at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963, but the famous speech he delivered from the place Anderson had sung 23 years earlier included a powerful allusion to the anthem’s lyrics:

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A few days after the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York’s World Trade Centre, Joe M. Allbaugh, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, called Dave Berg, a producer with NBC Television. President Bush wanted Jay Leno to help the country get back to normal by putting “The Tonight Show” on the air. The program resumed on September 18, a week after the attacks, with no monologue, and a guest appearance by Republican Sen. John McCain. Crosby, Stills, and Nash ended the show with an unusual version of My Country ‘Tis of Thee, accompanied by the haunting guitar work of Michael Hedges.

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The great Aretha Franklin sang My Country ‘Tis of Thee at Obama’s first inauguration in 2009 (but her hat may be the element that sticks in people’s memories).

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Clarkson had some daunting history to live up to when the stepped to the microphone yesterday. I think she performed beautifully. (Apologies for the Wall Street Journal’s triumphalist intro, but the camera work on this clip is better than the alternatives so far posted on YouTube.)

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(Note: I have included video links her because embedded YouTube videos don’t show up in certain email programs. Email subscribers can usually see them in their browsers by clicking on the title of the post.)


The following death notice appeared in Cape Breton yesterday.

Joseph Peter MacLean

342980-joseph-peter-macleanHello, if you are reading this I am gone from the earth. I am here with my parents Charlie and Katie (Campbell) MacLean, also my baby sister Mary Margaret is here too. I never had a chance to know her on earth as she died when she was one and a half years old.

I lived for 67 years, it was a good life. I enjoyed playing music and speaking my beloved Gaelic — my native tongue. I played with the Boisdale Trio, the Cape Breton Fiddlers Association, made a CD, “Back to Boisdale” and had several trips to Scotland. It is great here, lots of Gaelic music too.

I leave behind my cousins and many wonderful friends. To those who are working on keeping the Gaelic alive, I say keep at it. I loved helping people learn the Gaelic and helping people with playing music, especially the children. I had no children, but really loved children, they are so open and free.

I want to thank everyone who helped or tried to help me, the nurses and doctors, those who got me out of the apartment. I especially want to thank my dear friends Paul and Jane and my cousin Dougie. Dougie , thank you so much for all the hospital visits. Thank you to Flora, even though she could be difficult, she loved me and came through when the chips were down. Janet, thank you for putting up with me, also Sandra and Stephanie for being nice to me.

To everyone, enjoy life, don’t sweat the small stuff and be good to each other — Joe P.


Joe Peter died last Friday. In a remarkable coincidence, his friend and fellow tradition bearer, the Gaelic singer Peter Jack MacLean, died the same day. Both were raised along the Christmas Island-Boisdale shore of the Bras d’Or Lake. CBC Cape Breton’s Wendy Bergfeldt interviewed Rodney Chiasson, manager of the Highland Village in Iona, about them.

Unspeakable longing

Cartoonist Kate Beaton has momentarily lapsed into prose, with a story about the Canso Causeway in a new Alberta-based literary magazine called, fittingly, Eighteen Bridges.

I once watched a travel show where Billy Connolly, the Scottish entertainer, journeyed across Canada. In Halifax, he expressed a distaste for the whooshing tartans, skirling pipes, and other superficial expressions of Scottishness, which he deemed tawdry and inauthentic. It was disheartening, because if he really wanted authenticity, he could have just called me up. I would have recited one of those tragic old Gaelic songs that have been a Cape Breton staple ever since Authentic Scottish People everywhere decided our national emotion would be “unspeakable longing.”

Would you like one where someone dies at war, I would have asked Billy, or one where someone dies at sea?

Please read the whole story, and the story within the story, here. Follow Kate’s doings on her Tumblr feed. And take a moment to read Kate’s only previous Contrarian appearance, one of the best works of art ever created about Cape Breton.

We Are [a multicultural] Island

“Will it hurt your Celtic Colours,” asks Sydney-born slide-guitarist John Campbelljohn, with more than a hint of sourness, “If I paint them blue sometimes?”

Rev. Greg MacLeod has long argued that the genre we think of as Cape Breton music is not simply warmed over Celtic, but an amalgam of styles rooted in Scotland but also reflecting the Central European, Caribbean, Middle Eastern, and Jewish immigrants who flocked here in the early 20th Century, when the opening of the steel plant triggered a coal mining boom.

Here’s the latest entry in the Not-Just-Celtic roster, courtesy of a three young Capers, Kyle Mischiek, Trax Cordero, and Taylor Burton (who haven’t a Mc or a Mac to their names):

H/T: Andy Weissman

Home sweet stable

Joan MacDonald (in red pajamas at left) starred as an increasingly cranky Bethlehem innkeeper deprived of sleep by the continuous nocturnal arrival of pregnant guests, angels, shepherds, kings, and ultimately a baby in l’Arche Cape Breton’s annual Christmas pageant, this year titled, “One Night at the Inn.” The musical troop played to an appreciative crowd at the Strait Area Education and Recreation Centre in Port Hawkesbury Sunday afternoon. Coralee MacDougall (seated, centre) played Mary.

The world sends us garbage; We send back music

Meet Juan Manuel “Bebi” Chavez, 19-year-old cellist with the Lanfillharmonic Orchestra, Cateura, Paraguay:

This cello was made from an oil can, and wood that was thrown away in the garbage. The pegs are made out of an old tool used to tenderize beef. This was used to make gnocchi.

Like the Facebook group here. A longer version is here. H/T: Jenn Power.

I lost it at the polling booth, & You still don’t own me

On the off chance you may have missed these…

Seventy-seven beautiful women update Leslie Gore’s signature anthem to women’s freedom for the 2012 presidential campaign:

And “Girls” star Lena Dunham is driving sanctimonious Republican hypocrites snaky with this primer on how to lose your electoral cherry:

If you are in Halifax tonight…

This show is not to be missed.

It’s rare for a single event in Atlantic Canada to bring together so many outstanding blues musicians from here and away. Organizers Katey Day and Bearly’s mainstay Richard Stephenson hope to make it an annual event, and I hope they succeed.

About Carmen’s guitars

They’re back.

(In case you spent the last 48 hours in a cave somewhere, here’s the backstory.)

A repugnant act of thievery

The much admired Cape Breton musician Carmen Townsend holds the cherry red, 1965 Guild Starfire guitar that was stolen, along with three others, from the trunk of her car in a break-in last night on Willow Street in Halifax.

Townsend, who performs as a soloist and also with such bands  the Tom Fun Orchestra and Motorleage, has owned the Guild since she was 19.

“It is my baby,” she writes in a Kijiji ad seeking its return. “I am crushed.”

Everyone who experiences a break-in or a burglary feels violated, but the theft of a struggling musician’s tools of the trade is a particularly hateful bit of business.

Also stolen were a  brown Takamine Acoustic cutaway with “lots of cosmetic damage,” a light brown Fender Squire Thinline Telecaster with a white pick guard and a chip in the top corner, and a brown Fender Stratocaster rented from Long and Mcquade.

The back window of Townsend’s car was smashed, but the car alarm failed to go off. Anyone with information about the crime or the guitars can call Carmen Townsend at 902-240-3757. If you know a music dealer or pawn shop that might be offered these instruments, please alert them.

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