Ladies Sing the Blues: Women in Blues and Jazz in the 20th Century



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

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

We hear some female blues and jazz artists …

Answer a question from a listener about American states …

And report about a huge sale taking place outdoors in the American South.

World's Longest Yardsale

Anyone can hold a yard sale. Just collect some things you no longer want and put them outside your home. You can sell just about anything. Clothing. Cooking equipment. Old toys, tools, books and chairs. Even objects you consider to be extremely ugly or useless. Chances are, someone will buy them. Faith Lapidus tells us about one special yard sale taking place this weekend in the American South.

FAITH LAPIDUS: They call it the world's longest yard sale. It extends for seven hundred twenty kilometers, through four states, from Covington, Kentucky to Gadsden, Alabama.

Thousands of people who want to sell things have placed their objects along the side of the road. People drive along the road in search of things to buy. Some people drive the whole length of the sale. Many are collectors, searching for special old or unusual objects. Reports say more than sixty thousand people from every part of the United States visit the world's longest yard sale.

A local government official started the sale nineteen years ago. He was trying to develop a way to bring visitors to the less traveled roads of Tennessee and Kentucky. It worked! The event has grown every year.

Last year, organizers extended it from four to nine days. But many people thought that was too long. So this year it is taking place from August fourth through the seventh.

Many sellers provide food and cold drinks to travelers on the road. It can get extremely hot in the South during this time of the year. Still, organizers tell people to bring plenty of water with them, and plan to walk a lot. They also advise people to start planning their trip to the area in January, especially if they need a place to stay. Most hotels are reserved well in advance.

Organizers of the world's longest yard sale say people who live far away also enjoy visiting the beautiful areas nearby. For example, they may spend some time at the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. It has more than forty-eight thousand hectares of land for camping, hiking, fishing, hunting and horseback riding. Also nearby is the Sergeant Alvin York Grist Mill and Homeplace. That is the home and museum honoring American World War One hero Alvin York. But we think most people who attend the world's longest yard sale want to take home some unusual objects. And to have fun at the same time.

How Many States?

HOST: Our listener question this week comes from Sri Lanka. Rajah Vanthana asks about the number of American states. She says she learned in college that there are fifty but some of her friends tell her there are fifty-two!

Well, maybe Miss Vanthana should trust her teachers more than her friends! There are fifty states in the United States. They are Alabama… Alaska… Arizona… just kidding! We are not going to name all of them.

Some people might mistakenly believe that the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico is a state. It has been a United States possession since eighteen ninety-eight. It became a commonwealth in nineteen fifty-two. Some Puerto Ricans want the island to become an American state. Others there want full independence. But most want to remain a commonwealth.

The commonwealth of Puerto Rico is called a United States "insular area." People on the island are United States citizens and must obey the laws of that country. But, Puerto Rico governs itself.

The people of Puerto Rico do not pay federal tax. They cannot vote in national elections. Their congressional delegation in Washington does not have voting power either. But, Puerto Ricans can serve in the United States military.

The United States has other insular areas. They include Guam, American Samoa and the American Virgin Islands. The relationship between the United States government and each of its insular areas is different. The United States capital, Washington, D.C., is not a state either. The District of Columbia, or Washington, is a federal area. Lawmakers established it in two congressional acts of the late seventeen hundreds. It was created from land owned by the states of Virginia and Maryland.

People who live in Washington, D.C. pay taxes, serve in the military and serve on juries. They can vote in national elections. Citizens elect a delegate to the House of Representatives. But, the delegate does not have full voting rights in Congress. Citizens also elect local officials. But the officials do not have total control over the city's budget and laws. The Congress makes the final decision concerning such issues.

Many people who live in Washington consider this situation unfair. Some are demanding full voting rights. If you visit Washington, you might see a special message on some of the cars in the city. Some citizens have license plates that read "taxation without representation."

Women in Jazz and Blues

Today we visit a museum in Washington, D.C. with a special show about women and the part they played in twentieth century music. Barbara Klein tells us more.

BARBARA KLEIN: A new exhibition at the National Museum of Women in the Arts tells about the importance of women in blues and jazz music. It explains the development of this music using photographs of the many female musicians. It also includes short movies showing some of the most famous singers such as Bessie Smith and Billie Holliday.

This exhibit also tells the story of less well-known female musicians, both African-American and white. They also had very important roles in the music industry during the first part of the twentieth century.

One of the few female country blues singers was known as Memphis Minnie. She was one of the first performers to use an electric guitar. She wanted to be sure people could hear her. Here she is singing "Bumble Bee Blues."


Mildred Bailey was another important singer. She was one of the first female singers to lead a major national dance band. Here she is in a nineteen thirty-two recording called "Rocking Chair."


Ruth Brown is often thought to be the first Rhythm and Blues singer. She was extremely popular in the nineteen fifties. And she is still singing today! We leave you now with Ruth Brown singing "Lucky Lips."


HOST: I'm Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our program. Our show was written by Dana Demange, Nancy Steinbach and Caty Weaver. It was produced by Dana Demange. Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA's radio magazine in Special English.