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Saturday, Mar 2, 2024

Hail the American Song Book

OK, let’s admit it; it’s pretty bad out there. The Democrats and Republicans in Sacramento and Washington are more interested in making the other party look bad than in solving our problems. Unemployment is rising and stocks are falling. Real estate is unreal. There are floods in North Dakota and drought in Southern California. Car sales are in the tank. Any account called a 401(k) should be renamed a 401(bk). We’ve all been singing the blues lately. Not much left to do but turn to the panacea that’s been helping Americans get through tough times for two and one-half centuries: music. From Afro-Cuban to zydeco, with stops along the way at ragtime, rock, and rap, we have celebrated our national highs and acknowledged our national lows with music. From Louis Armstrong to Frank Zappa, what other country has ever produced the range of musical styles and performers to rival Scott Joplin, Benny Goodman, George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Fats Domino, Duke Ellington, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, Charles, Ives, Woody Guthrie, The Supremes, Mahalia Jackson, Ella Fitzgerald, Barbra Streisand, Stevie Wonder, Leonard Bernstein, Beverly Sills, Aretha Franklin, Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson, Prince, Dolly Parton, Dr. Dre, and thousands more? And let us not forget Our Valley’s own Ritchie Valens, a Pacoima product and forefather of the Chicano rock movement, who is being honored at VICA’s Business Hall of Fame dinner next month. American music travels well: From the raw blues of Mississippi’s Muddy Waters to the California surfing safaris of the Beach Boys and from Don Ho’s Hawaiian melodies to Liza Minnelli’s musical paean to the Big Apple, “New York, New York.” Songs of protest against war, segregation, injustice, and cruelty have galvanized Americans to address our shortcomings as well as to trumpet our triumphs. On January 18, 2009, 90-years-old-this-month Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen sang the Woody Guthrie classic, “This Land Is Your Land,” as the finale at Barack Obama’s Inaugural concert in Washington, D.C. How fitting and how American! Famous contralto Marian Anderson was 42 years old when she sang before 75,000 people and a nationwide radio audience at the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday, 1939. The concert was arranged after the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to let Anderson perform at Constitution Hall because she was Black. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the DAR in protest and helped arrange the Lincoln Memorial concert. The filmed record of her stirring rendition of “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” also known as “America,” has been replayed countless times. The concert became the defining moment of her long career. In 1961, Anderson returned to Washington to sing the national anthem at President Kennedy’s inauguration, and two years later, he bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom on her. This honor appropriately came one year before her farewell concert tour, which she opened, ironically, at Constitution Hall, and ended on Easter Sunday, 1965, at Carnegie Hall. Yes, we’re in the midst of a great economic shake-out here in Our Valley and across the country. But don’t sell a nation short that can produce Kate Smith belting out “God Bless America”; the Mormon Tabernacle Choir chanting “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”; and “the Boss,” Bruce Springsteen, proudly pumping the air with his fist as he proudly declaims that he was “Born in the U.S.A.” And no one summed it up more simply than rock ‘n’ roll legend Chuck Berry, who wrote, and sang, “Back in the U.S.A.”: Well, I’m so glad I’m livin’ in the U.S.A. Yes. I’m so glad I’m livin’ in the U.S.A. Anything you want, we got right here in the U.S.A. Teary-eyed patriotism won’t get us through the challenges we have to overcome; but remembering where we’ve come from, who we are, and where we can yet go, will make the task easier. Perhaps Neil Diamond reminds us best where we stand in the world: “Everywhere around the world, They’re coming to America. Every time that flag’s unfurled They’re coming to America. Got a dream to take them there, They’re coming to America. Got a dream they’ve come to share They’re coming to America. They’re coming to America They’re coming to America They’re coming to America They’re coming to America Today, today, today, today, today.” No one endures searing desert heat, hunger, or overcrowded boats close to capsizing, to get out of this country. Those who think they hear a clock ticking down the final minutes of America’s greatness may actually be listening to the steady and reliable sound of America’s metronome. “True music must repeat the thought and inspirations of the people and the time. My people are Americans and my time is today.” George Gershwin Martin Cooper is President of Cooper Communications, Inc. He is President of the Los Angeles Quality and Productivity Commission, Founding President of The Executives, Vice Chairman-Marketing of the Boys & Girls Club of the West Valley, and a member of the Boards of the Valley Economic Alliance and of the LAPD’s West Valley Jeopardy Program. He is a Past Chairman of VICA and Chairman of its Board of Governors, Past President of the Public Relations Society of America-Los Angeles Chapter, and Past President of the Encino Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at mcooper@coopercomm.net.

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