Sixty Years of Capturing the World's Most Famous Faces



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

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

Music from Luther Vandross …

A question from a listener about First Lady Laura Bush …

And a report about a new photography show in Washington, D.C.

Irving Penn

Today we visit a museum in Washington, D.C. to learn about the famous American photographer Irving Penn Faith Lapidus tells us more.

FAITH LAPIDUS: A new exhibition of Irving Penn's work opened recently at the National Gallery of Art. Mister Penn gave more than one hundred of his photos to this museum. The collection represents some of this photographer's most important work in his more than sixty years of taking pictures.

Mister Penn is most famous for his photos of fashion and women's clothing. He worked for years as the photographer for a fashion publication called Vogue magazine. One of his favorite subjects was his beautiful wife, Lisa Fonssagrives, who was both a model and a sculptor.

Irving Penn has also photographed many of the world's most famous people. This exhibit shows that he is a master of portrait photography.

This kind of photography captures he image of a person in a way that shows his or her true personality. For example, the exhibit includes a very special portrait of the famous Spanish artist Pablo Picasso. It was taken in nineteen fifty-seven. In this picture, Picasso is staring at the camera in a very honest way. He looks as if he were about to start talking to you.

Irving Penn traveled around the world to photograph many other subjects. There are several pictures of workers who Mister Penn met on the streets of London and Paris. There are also photographs of native peoples, such as the Asaro Mud Men from New Guinea. They look like statues in their tribal clothing and masks that cover their faces. Irving Penn photographed these people in his studio because he wanted to show them in a neutral place. This way, the subjects in the picture are more important than their environment.

Mister Penn even made photographs of carefully placed objects. This kind of picture is called a still life. One such picture done in nineteen seventy-nine shows a piece of fruit, a bottle, a sewing machine and human bones. These simple objects become very beautiful when they are artfully placed together.

Irving Penn's photographs are important from a technical level as well. He worked very hard to develop a photographic method using platinum and a metallic element called palladium. Using these two metals, he found a way to create photographs that are rich in light and dark details.

Laura Bush

HOST: Our VOA listener question this week comes from China. A college student named Jane wants information about President Bush's wife Laura Bush.

Laura Welch Bush was born in nineteen forty-six in Midland, Texas. After high school, Laura earned a degree in education at Southern Methodist University. She taught in the public schools in Dallas and Houston, Texas. Later, she earned another degree in library science at the University of Texas and worked in public libraries. She met and married George Bush in nineteen seventy-seven. They have twin daughters, Barbara and Jenna, who are twenty-three years old.

Missus Bush has continued her interest in education and libraries as America's First Lady. She has joined with the Library of Congress to create the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. And she works with national organizations that urge people to become teachers.

In two thousand one, she created the Laura Bush Foundation for America's Libraries. The organization provides money to buy reading materials for school libraries across the country. This year, the Foundation is providing more than seven hundred thousand dollars to one hundred sixty school libraries across the United States. The Foundation has so far provided more than two million dollars to American schools.

Missus Bush also travels around the world as an unofficial American ambassador. In March, she visited Afghanistan. She met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and visited the Teacher Training Institute in Kabul. In May, she traveled to the Middle East in an effort to help improve opinions about the United States in the Arab world.

This week, Laura Bush has been on an official visit to Africa to show concern for the continent's problems. She visited Botswana, South Africa, Tanzania and Rwanda. Missus Bush spoke in support of the importance of education, women's rights and the fight against H.I.V. and AIDS.

Luther Vandross


HOST: That beautiful voice belonged to Luther Vandross, one of the most successful rhythm and blues singers. He died July first at the age of fifty-four. Steve Ember plays his music and tells about his life and work.

STEVE EMBER: Luther Vandross did more than just sing. He was also a songwriter and a music producer. At the age of twenty-one, he wrote a song for a Broadway musical called "The Wiz." Two years later, he sang backup for David Bowie on the British singer's album, "Young Americans." Vandross also helped write one of the songs. He later sang backup for other famous performers.

In nineteen eighty-one, Vandross released his first major album, "Never Too Much." It climbed to the top of the Rhythm and Blues chart. Listen to the title song.


Luther Vandross was born in New York City in nineteen fifty-one and grew up in the Bronx area of the city. He started singing in high school. He later became one of America's most popular performers. Vandross sold more than twenty-five million records worldwide. He won eight Grammy awards, including Best Male Rhythm and Blues Vocal Performance four times.

Vandross mostly sang about love. One of his songs, "Here and Now," is often played at wedding celebrations.


Vandross suffered from weight problems, diabetes and high blood pressure. He had a serious stroke in two thousand three. The following year, his album "Dance With My Father" won several Grammy Awards.

He won his last Grammy this year for Best Rhythm and Blues Performance by a Duo. We leave you now with Luther Vandross and Beyonce Knowles singing "The Closer I Get To You."


HOST: I'm Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our program today.

Our show was written by Dana Demange, Nancy Steinbach and Caty Weaver, who was also our producer. The audio engineer was Bob O'Brien.

Send your questions about American life to Please include your full name and mailing address. Or write to American Mosaic, VOA Special English, Washington, D.C., two-zero-two-three-seven, U.S.A.

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