Monday, January 16, 2023

The NRR Project: 'Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground'


“Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground”

Blind Willie Johnson

Recorded Dec. 3, 1927


This music sits at the intersection of blues and gospel, and underlines the impulses lying behind both. With wordless vocals, the singer-songwriter lays open his yearning soul to the powers that be, imploring them for relief. It’s a suffering transformed through the power of music to redemption.

Blinded at the age of seven, Willie Johnson (1897-1945) made his living as a street-corner entertainer and itinerant preacher. His music, 30 sides of which he recorded in all, between 1927 and 1930, leaned heavily into religious songs and themes. He crafted many classic iterations of gospel songs such as “Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed,” “If I Had My Way,” and “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning.” 

These “holy blues” tunes he treated with a growl of a baritone voice, and a choogling slide guitar that was played with a knife instead of a bottleneck. His playing is nimble, plaintive, and articulate. On “Dark is the Night,” he spins a slow, meditative rhythm that is hypnotic. His vocals soar and swoop above the strumming.

Johnson’s work became known again through the efforts of Reverend Gary Davis in the 1960s, eventually finding his musical selections covered by all kinds of artists. 

The song originated in a 17th-century hymn, “Gethsemane,” which portrayed Christ’s agonies the night before he was crucified. By omitting the lyrics, he turns the melody into an expression of pure, universal feeling.

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

The NRR Project: Live coverage of Lindbergh's visit to Washington


Charles A. Lindbergh arrival and reception in Washington D.C.

NBC radio broadcast

June 11, 1927

It was a triumph of the imagination. That’s the only way to explain the world’s reaction to Charles Lindbergh’s successful solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927. Such raucous celebrations and wild hero-worship had not been seen before and would not be matched later, even by the reception for the returning Apollo astronauts. Everyone loved Lucky Lindy.

He was not the first to cross the Atlantic in a plane; two men had accomplished that feat eight years earlier. But he was the first to do so as an embodiment of the American hero – young, solo, cocky, with a head for gadgets. He was a typical fresh-faced America boy, no cynical professional but an idealist with a dream, and the means and will to make it happen. He was the new continent go-get-‘em spirit personified.

Lindbergh in his monoplane The Spirit of St. Louis took off from Roosevelt Field on Long Island on May 20, 1927. He landed at Le Bourget Field outside of Paris 33 hours and 30 minutes later. An excited crowd of 150,000 was present to greet him. Unwieldy crowds flocked to see him in Belgium and Britain. Finally, he sailed back with his plane to Washington, D.C.

There thousands more watched him proceed in a parade from the Navy Yard to the Washington Monument, where President Coolidge made a speech and presented Lindbergh with the Distinguished Flying Cross.

NBC turned the event into one the entire country could witness. The radio network set up microphones at three stages along the route, and excited reporters, chaired by veteran broadcaster Graham McNamee, covered the progress live.

The primary importance of this entry is not in its content, which was not recorded, but in its use of technology. Never before had there been nationwide, real-time coverage of a historical event (manufactured an event as it was). Radio was nimble; it could provide reports from anywhere. It would soon become a dominant medium.

NRR Project: Egmont Overture, Modesto High School Band (1930)

NRR Project: Egmont Overture, Op. 84 Modesto High School Band 1930 This is one I don’t have a lot of information on, and only a small ...