Tax Day, Cherry Trees and an Unusual Guitar: What Do They All Have in Common?



HOST: Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC, in VOA Special English.

I'm Doug Johnson. On our show this week:

Music by Robert Randolph …

A question about American taxes ...

And a report about the cherry trees in Washington, D.C.

Cherry Trees

The United States Congress recently named the oak as the official national tree. Oaks are found in every American state. But another kind of tree is also very popular with Americans, especially in the spring. It is the cherry tree in the nation's capital. More than seven hundred thousand people visit Washington each year in March or April. They enjoy the beauty of the cherry trees' pink and white flowers. Shep O'Neal tells us more about the famous Washington cherry blossoms.

SHEP O'NEAL: Japan gave the United States three thousand Yoshino cherry trees in nineteen twelve. The gift was meant as an act of friendship between the two countries. In return, the United States gave the people of Japan a gift of flowering dogwood trees. The first cherry blossom festival was organized in nineteen thirty-five by local citizens groups in Washington, D.C.

The two nations continued to share trees and help each other care for them. In nineteen sixty-five, Japan gave the United States almost four thousand more cherry trees. In nineteen eighty-one, Japanese plant experts came to the United States to take cuttings from the trees. The cuttings were needed in Japan to replace some cherry trees that had been destroyed in a flood. And in nineteen ninety-nine, new cuttings from Japan were planted in Washington. They came from a famous Japanese cherry tree in Gifu province thought to be more than one thousand five hundred years old.

The United States National Park Service is responsible for the cherry trees. Park Service officials now say the trees are in danger again. They say the large numbers of people visiting the area each year are slowly killing the trees by walking under their branches.

Only about one hundred twenty-five of the original three thousand cherry trees are left. Officials say the older trees are in places not affected by the visitors. But people who walk under the younger trees push the soil down. This harms the tree by robbing the roots of air and food.

Some officials recently said the problem could be solved if they could build barriers between the trees and the visitors. But they do not want to do this. They want the visitors to be able to enjoy the beauty and smell of the cherry blossoms. So officials say they will continue to replace the trees that die.

United States Tax System

HOST: Our VOA listener question this week comes from China. Edward asks about the United States tax system.

Today is the right time to answer this question because April fifteenth is tax day in the United States. It is the last day Americans can send the federal government their personal tax report from the year before.

This tax report goes to the Internal Revenue Service, also known as the I-R-S. Most Americans who earned money last year are expected to pay the I-R-S part of what they earned. Only those who earned very little are not required to make such a payment. They still must send a tax report to the government.

Most American workers already have paid all or most of their federal income taxes. This is because part of the tax goes to the I.R.S. each time a worker is paid. The government returns some of the money if too much was withheld. People who work for themselves usually must send a tax payment to the I.R.S. every three months.

The federal tax rate is not the same for everyone. People who earn a lot of money pay taxes at a higher rate than those who earn less. But even people who earn the same amount do not always pay the same amount of tax. That is because of the many tax laws written by Congress. These laws were created for social or economic purposes.

For example, people who borrow money to buy a house may pay less in taxes than people who rent a home. Homeowners can subtract the interest on the loan from their taxable income. Americans also can help reduce their taxable income by subtracting the value of money given to organizations that help the needy.

Personal income tax is not the only tax that the federal government collects. It taxes property or money left when someone dies. And it taxes earnings from the sale of some investments, such as a house. Americans also pay a federal social security tax that is used to pay retired workers.

Americans pay many other taxes, too. Most pay taxes to the state in which they live. Most states also collect sales tax. That is an amount added to the cost of goods bought in stores. And local city and county governments collect tax on property its citizens own. Many Americans say they pay too many taxes and their taxes are too high. Others say they are willing to pay taxes to receive services from their local, state and federal governments.

Robert Randolph

Robert Randolph is a songwriter and performer who plays a special kind of guitar. It has foot pedals like a piano. His music is influenced by gospel church music, rock and roll and bluegrass. Phoebe Zimmeremann tells us more.

PHOEBE ZIMMERMANN: Robert Randolph is twenty-seven. He was born in Irvington, New Jersey. Both his parents worked at a Christian religious center. He started playing the drums for the church band as a child, then changed to the pedal guitar as a teenager. The pedal steel guitar has a sound that is all its own. Listen to this recording of "I Need More Love." It is from the album "Unclassified" by Robert Randolph and the Family Band.


The pedal guitar is usually only played in country music or Hawaiian music. During the nineteen thirties, some African American churches started using foot pedal guitars instead of organs because they were less costly. Randolph learned to play in the church, but his music is not only gospel.

Listen to this song called "Nobody."


Unlike many singers today, Robert Randolph plays family music with positive messages. We leave you now with Robert Randolph and the Family band playing "Going in the Right Direction."


HOST: I'm Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our program this week. Our show was written by Ed Stautberg and Nancy Steinbach. Caty Weaver was our producer.

Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA's radio magazine in Special English.