“I hate to see de ev'-nin' sun go down.”
When Bessie Smith sang those opening lines of "St. Louis Blues" the world took notice. Here was a voice to be reckoned with -- deep, resonant, and profoundly emotional.
Smith proclaimed herself "The Empress of the Blues" as a taunt to Ma Rainey’s "Queen of the Blues" title. No one would ever dispute Smith’s right to the crown. But popular music’s first great diva lived out those blues in a life that was both a celebration of free living and a reckless disregard for the dangers of that freedom.
The Devil’s Music: The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith is part cabaret show of Smith’s music and the alternately comic, melancholy, angry, and defiant story of Smith’s life from a shack in Tennessee to become one of the first major recording stars of the 1920s, as told by the irrepressible Smith herself.
Did you know that Greek sun god Apollo was a cat guy?
Yvonne Rainer, called a “true interdisciplinary artist” by Ann Arbor Film Festival Associate Director of Programs Katie McGowan, gave her Penny Stamps lecture/performance at the Michigan Theater on March 22. Speaking as the oracular god, Rainer delivered a multi-part letter titled "A Truncated History of the Universe for Dummies" chronicling Apollo’s quest to help the mere mortals of Earth.
Dressed in a shirt matching the ruby red curtain behind her, Rainer hypnotized a mixed audience of students, professionals, and appreciators of art for more than 40 minutes with vivid and violent imagery.
The first time that I really thought about the African diaspora was in college. During a Caribbean literature class, the concept of diaspora was ever present. Despite having taken several American history classes, considering the Caribbean diaspora is what led me to attempt to understand myself as a part of the African diaspora.
Ephraim Asili’s Diaspora Suite -- shown March 22 at the Michigan Theater as part of the Ann Arbor Film Festival -- presented an excellent opportunity to examine someone else’s take on the topic. This collection of five films explores the interaction of past, present, and place it relates to the African diaspora. The films were shot in a variety of locations, among them Ethiopia, Harlem, Ghana, Philadelphia, Brazil, and Detroit.
The U-M Institute for Research on Women and Gender and the Department of Women’s Studies exhibition Labors of Love and Loss is a collection of mixed-media pieces exploring gender and race and "considers the intertwined lives of caregivers, their dependents and charges.” The exhibition presents the works of Marianetta Porter and Lisa Olson, featuring processes such as letterpress combined with found objects. Though Porter and Olson’s works differ in some respects, they create a cohesive, important dialogue about the history of women’s work and the intersections between race, gender, and class, expertly portrayed through text and object.
What exactly is the exhibit, and what are the Labors of Love and Loss that the title refers?
When Michael Gustafson, co-owner of Literati Bookstore with his wife, Hilary, put a typewriter out for public use in the basement of the store, he wasn’t sure what would come of it.
"There was no concrete plan,” he says. “It was more of an experiment.”
Literati’s logo features a typewriter based on a Smith Corona that Gustafson inherited from his grandfather, and he decided it would be fun to give customers the chance to use a typewriter when they visited the store.
He had no idea it would be as popular as it is.
Catch-"13": A2 author Michael A. Ferro's new book is a satire & character study of Midwest Americans
Some authors would give their right arm for a book deal. Others would give a kidney or two.
Author Michael A. Ferro gave an eye.
“It started when I noticed that I couldn’t see out of my left eye,” Ferro says. After a visit to the emergency room (following a quick stop to Google the symptoms), the Ann Arbor-based Ferro learned he had Central Serous Chorioretinopathy. This disease largely strikes men between the ages of 30-50, and while its exact cause is unknown, it's believed that stress plays a major part -- for instance, the enormous stress and hard work associated with publishing a book.
On the positive side, that stress and hard work produced a spectacular debut novel called Title 13.
Comic-based journalism, where an artist tells reported stories with his or her drawings, has the benefit of addressing sensitive issues with a bit of emotional distance that doesn't always exist in the more immediate video- and audio-based storytelling. It can also give reluctant participants the freedom to tell their difficult and dangerous tales without a direct visual representation, which could put their lives at risk.
Joe Sacco is a pioneer of graphic journalism as shown in his many books, including Palestine (2001), Safe Area Gorazde (2002), and Journalism (2013). In Sacco's wake a mini-movement of graphic journalism has emerged, such as Sarah Glidden’s How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less (2016), Wendy MacNaughton's Meanwhile in San Francisco: The City in Its Own Words (2014), and Germán Andino's El Hábito de la Mordaza / The Habit of Silence (2016).
Hail to the University of Michigan Museum of Art -- its Victor campaign just found a new leader in donations and it's the best.
Philip and Kathy Power donated $4.5 million worth of Inuit art, making UMMA one of the most important museums for creative works from the indigenous peoples of Alaska, Canada, and Greenland.
The best thing a film about languages can do is let the speakers speak for themselves.
Those Who Come, Will Hear, a Canadian documentary that shines a spotlight on several indigenous languages of Quebec, not only gives voice to languages that are endangered (such as Innu-aimun and Inuttitut) but also deftly illustrates how language is so tightly woven to culture and tradition. (The film is one of the 10 features in competition at this year's Ann Arbor Film Festival.)
Theo Katzman's show at The Blind Pig sold out weeks before the show date. When I say that people were excited to see Katzman's return to Ann Arbor, I mean it: The line at The Blind Pig was already snaking its way down the block 20 minutes before doors opened.
Theo Katzman studied jazz at the University of Michigan in the early 2000s. Since then Katzman has toured with the band Ella Riot, created the trio Love Massive, and released his first album, Romance Without Finance, in 2011. Katzman is also a prominent member of the funk band Vulfpeck, which has toured with Darren Criss and played on The Late Show with Steven Colbert. In 2017, Katzman debuted his latest album, Heartbreak Hits.
Katzman's no stranger to playing The Blind Pig and fans were happy to have him back. I spoke to one woman who said that she hasn't missed one of Katzman's shows since she got her license in 2012. Once, she saw Katzman play at The Blind Pig and then drove to Chicago the next day to see him again.