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AMERICAN MOSAIC — Lily Tomlin receives a Prize / Celia Cruz Remembered / And the Story of Hot Dogs - 2003-08-22

Broadcast: August 22, 2003



Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC, a VOA Special English program about music and American life. Plus we answer your questions.


I'm Phoebe Zimmermann. This week: What's the real story behind the hot dog. A listener wants to know! And a musical honor in memory of Cuban-American singer Celia Cruz. But first -- we tell about an honor of a different kind that's good for some laughs.

Lily Tomlin


There are awards for lots of things. In America, there is even an award for being funny. But it is a serious award. It's presented by the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington. Faith Lapidus tells us about the Mark Twain Award for American Humor.


Mark Twain was a writer in the nineteenth century. He became famous for his critical humor about society. The Kennedy Center established the award in his name in nineteen-ninety-eight. It goes to a person whose lifetime of work is funny, but also examines political and social issues. This year Lily Tomlin won the award.

Lily Tomlin has spent more than thirty years in comedy. In the nineteen-seventies, she appeared on the television show “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In.” During that time she created two of her best known characters. One is a five-year-old girl named Edith Ann who sits in a huge chair. The other is Ernestine the telephone operator.

Listen now as she "calls" J. Edgar Hoover, the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.


This performance was from Lily Tomlin’s nineteen-seventy-one comedy album “This is a Recording.” That record won a Grammy Award for best comedy performance.

In nineteen-seventy-five, Lily Tomlin was nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actress. She was recognized for her part in the film “Nashville.” It was her first movie. Since then, she has appeared in many other films.

Lily Tomlin also has been honored for her theatre work. She received a Tony Award in nineteen-seventy-seven for her one-person show, “Appearing Nitely.” She won her second Tony in nineteen-eighty-six in the Jane Wagner play “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe.”

And, if you watch the TV show "The West Wing" each week, you see her play an assistant to the president of the United States!

History of the Hot Dog


Our VOA listener question this week comes by e-mail from Russia. Nadya and her father ask about the history of the hot dog.

A hot dog is a long, thin sausage usually made of beef, pork or chicken. It is served on a roll of soft bread. Hot dogs are popular especially when people get together, like at sporting events.

German immigrants brought this kind of sausage to America in the late eighteen-hundreds.

One story widely told is that the name "hot dog" began with a cartoonist in New York in the early nineteen-hundreds. He drew dachshunds in rolls and wrote "get your hot dogs." A dachshund is a small German dog that looks like a sausage with legs.

Supposedly he wrote this because he did not know how to spell "frankfurter." That is another name for long, thin sausage. Frankfurt is a German city.

Well, as the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council now admits, this is not how the name hot dog was invented.

Language experts in the United States worked hard in recent years to settle the question. One expert, Barry Popik [PAH-pik], found a popular song from eighteen-sixty. It showed that some people at that time had suspicions that sausage was made of dog meat.

He found other evidence from the eighteen-nineties. Students at Yale University began to call the wagons that sold hot sausages in buns "dog wagons." Later, a story in the Yale Record talked about students eating "hot dogs."

But the Web site worldwidewords-dot-o-r-g says the new research shows that the history is more complex than that. The term "hot dog" had already been invented not long before. It described a well-dressed young man.

Over the years, this meaning has changed. Today a person who shows off is called a "hot dog." An American football player, for example, might dance around for the crowd after he catches a ball.

But most hot dogs are for eating. The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council says Americans ate more than twenty-thousand million of them last year.

Celia Cruz


We do not usually play fast, happy music when we report about the death of someone. But how can we report about Celia Cruz and not play some of the beautiful music she gave the world? Celia Cruz died last month of brain cancer. She was seventy-eight years old. Steve Ember tells us more about her.


You do not have to speak Spanish to enjoy the music of Celia Cruz. All you have to do is listen and smile.

Celia Cruz sang songs that make you feel the warm sun of her native Cuba. Her music makes your feet want to dance. Listen for a moment to a song called "Contestacion al Marinero."


Celia Cruz was born in a poor area of Havana. She became well known in Cuba in the nineteen-fifties, after she won a radio contest for singers. Soon she was singing with the most famous big band in Cuba, La Sonora Matancera.

Celia Cruz never stopped singing. She came to the United States when Cuba was no longer free. She never talked about political problems. She always let her music speak for her. Here she sings "Juancito Trucupey."


Celia Cruz always had a huge smile as she walked onto a stage. She would take the microphone and shout "Azuuuuuuuucar!" The people who came to hear her would scream the word back to her. "Azucar" means sugar in Spanish. Then the sweet music would begin.

We must end our story now. But, first, imagine it is the nineteen-fifties. We are sitting at a table at the famous Tropicana Hotel in Havana. The lights on the stage become very bright. Celia Cruz walks to the microphone. The band members from La Sonora Matancera start to play. And Celia Cruz begins. We leave you with a song called "Yerbero Moderno."



This is Phoebe Zimmermann, sitting in for Doug Johnson. If you have a question about American life, send it to mosaic at We'll send you a gift if we use your question. So please include your name and postal address. You can also write to American Mosaic, VOA Special English, Washington, D.C., 20237, USA.

Our program was written by Jill Moss, Nancy Steinbach and Paul Thompson. Our producer was Caty Weaver.

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