“Just What In The Hell Has Gone Wrong Here Anyhow?” Woody Guthrie and the American Dream

We seem to be in the midst of a Woody Guthrie boom. Its crest was the 1976 film Bound for Glory , which attracted considerable critical attention before it went out into shopping center cinemas across the land.Read more »

“a Voice One Hears Once In A Hundred Years”

An Interview with Marian Anderson

Conductor Arturo Toscanini said of her that she had “a voice one hears once in a hundred years.” When she sang for composer Jean Sibelius at his home in Finland, he threw his arms around her, said, “My roof is too low for you,” and called for champagne. Later he dedicated a song to her.Read more »

The Don Quixote Of Opera

No other impresario ever matched the record of the indomitable Max Maretzek in bringing new works and new stars to America

He was called “the indomitable Max,” “the indefatigable Max,” “the hardy pioneer,” “the Napoleon of Opera.” About that Napoleonic designation Max Maretzek himself disagreed. It would be more accurate, he ruefully said, if he were described as the Don Quixote of Opera. And in a way he was right. For some forty years the indomitable, indefatigable Max tilted at the American public and at assorted singers, mostly Italian, making and losing fortunes in the process.Read more »

Maple Leaf Rag

“It is needless,” wrote his publisher, “to say anything of the writer of ‘Maple Leaf,’ ‘Cascades,’ ‘Sunflower’ or ‘Entertainer.’ You know him.” But this black genius died penniless and all but forgotten

Scott Joplin, riding high in the early flush of his success, wrote the jaunty words on the preceding page for a song that he fashioned in 1904 from his sensational piano rag hit of 1899. And “The Maple Leaf Rag” was all that he claimed; it changed his life, and it changed American music. Read more »

Last Footnotes

Catherine Drinker Bowen—historian, musician, and most of all biographer—said in our sister magazine, HORIZON , in an article written shortly before her death, that all of her biographical heroes were possessed by a sense of urgency.Read more »

Oscar And The Opera


The curtain of the Manhattan Opera House rose for the first time at nine o’clock on the night of December 3, 1906. But the crowds of curious New Yorkers who came to have a look at the new theatre and its audience had begun lining the sidewalks of Thirty-fourth Street before seven. By eight o’clock the block was so jammed with carriages that the cross-town streetcar lines were brought to a standstill.Read more »

Utopia By The Lake

One summer evening in the mid1960’s there was a concert on the porch of an old hotel in western New York State. Gingerbread pillars towered three stories into the darkness above the conductor, and figures leaning from the windows were silhouetted against the yellow rooms behind them. Below the porch, where the lawn sloped away to a lakeshore, the audience strolled back and forth or sat on the grass beneath old-fashioned Japanese lanterns that had been strung between the trees.Read more »

The Square Dancing Master

Henry Ford bought a $75,000 Stradivarius, learned to play “Turkey in the Straw,” and tried to teach all those Model T riders how to do-si-do like Grandpa

For four decades Henry Ford was one of America’s most original crusaders. At one time or another he was protecting birds, chartering a peace ship, proclaiming that every criminal was “an inveterate cigarette smoker,” exposing a scheming but fictitious character called the “international Jew,” declaring that he would stop making cars “if booze ever comes back,” or insisting that only a diet of soybeans, carrots, or wheat could insure good health. Read more »

Whistle Talk

Locomotive whistles had a language all their own

The switchmen knew by the whistle’s moans That the man at the throttle was Casey Jones.

As the ballad says, Casey Jones was a famous hand at the whistle. His was homemade, with six cylinders banded together, and he could make it cry like a plaintive whippoorwill, say prayers, or scream like a banshee. Read more »