July 05, 2015 06:00 UTC

Entertainment

Women Kept Guitars Strumming During WWII

American women went to work at Gibson Guitar when American men went to war.

This banner appeared on Gibson guitars during World War II.
This banner appeared on Gibson guitars during World War II.

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Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.
 
I’m June Simms.
 
Today we hear from country singer Gary Allan and play music from his latest album.
 
And, we answer a question about the number thirteen.
 
But, first we learn about women who went to work during World War Two at a famous guitar manufacturer.

The Women of Gibson Guitars' Past

During World War Two, as American men went off to war, women filled the jobs they left behind. Women worked in factories, stores and shipyards. One group of women made musical instruments, building Gibson guitars. Christopher Cruise has more on their story.
 
John Thomas is a writer and a lover of guitars. He was surprised when he saw a wartime photograph of the Gibson guitar factory in Michigan. Nearly all of the 75 people in the picture were women. Irene Stearns, now age 90, spent several of the war years working at the factory.
 
“I got out of high school and everybody is looking for a job, and there weren’t any jobs. Then one day, they called and I started at Gibson. I suppose it was because of the war.”
 
Irene Stearns is one of the former Gibson factory workers who John Thomas found in the Kalamazoo, Michigan area. She made guitar strings for some of the thousands of instruments the factory produced in the 1940s.
 
“All the celebrities and people who were buying the guitars would come and they would be on the other side of the wall where I sat making strings. So, it was really nice in that part. I could hear them playing all these beautiful guitars.”
 
John Thomas calls the women who worked at the Gibson factory, the “Kalamazoo Gals.” That is also the name of his new book about the female guitar makers. He believes the company kept their work secret because it did not think guitar buyers of the day would use instruments built by women.
 
Mr. Thomas collected three of the World War II Gibson guitars and borrowed several others to help tell the story. Then a friend told him about Lauren Sheehan, a professional musician who agreed to help.
 
“When the author said, 'I'm thinking about making this record,' and wouldn't it be cool if a woman played the guitar since it's a whole women's story, I thought, God this gets better and better, that would be a great project. And then he invited me to do it. Certainly I'm a champion for a story about women excelling at work that is traditionally a man's domain.”
 
For the new CD that comes with John Thomas’ book, Lauren Sheehan plays songs that were popular during World War II. Each tune was played on a different Gibson guitar.
 
“Okay, so here’s one.”
 
After she finished recording the songs, Lauren Sheehan bought a restored Gibson guitar for herself. She says she wanted to own a piece of America’s musical heritage.

Unlucky Number 13

Now we answer a question from Bangladesh. Out listener wants to know about the history of the number thirteen and why Americans consider this number to be bad luck.
 
It is not only Americans who consider this number to be unlucky. People around the world have what are called superstitions about the number thirteen. Superstitions are popular beliefs that are not based on reason or science. A person believes something brings good or bad luck. The fear of the number thirteen is called triskaidekaphobia.
 
This fear is so strong around the world that many tall buildings do not have a thirteenth level. And, many airports do not have a gate numbered thirteen.
Some experts say fears about this number come from ancient religious stories. One Norse myth is about twelve gods who were having a party in their heaven, Valhalla. Loki, the god of evil and disorder, arrived at the dinner party uninvited. He became the thirteenth person at the table.  Loki then helped cause the death of Balder, the god of joy.
                                 
In the Christian book, the Bible, Judas is the thirteenth guest at the dinner called the Last Supper. Judas is the man who betrays Jesus, leading to his death. 
                                                             
Many people around the world also consider Fridays that fall on the thirteenth day of a month to be especially bad luck.
      
But don’t worry. We have time to prepare. The next Friday the 13th is not until September.

Gary Allan 'Set You Free'
 
Gary AllanGary Allan
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Gary Allan
Gary Allan
Country singer Gary Allan has been making records since the middle 1990’s. But his latest album, “Set You Free,” is his first to hit number one on Billboard’s top two hundred albums chart.  Faith Lapidus has more on the album and the musician.
That is “Every Storm (Runs Out of Rain).” It is the lead single from Gary Allan’s new album, “Set You Free.” The song has sold one million copies and is number one on Billboard’s country music chart. It has risen faster than any other single in the California native’s career.
                                                             
Gary Allan says “Every Storm” is about hope, the common idea throughout the new album.
 
“You can expect a lot of honesty and a lot of songs about life. It’s going to roll you through a breakup and it’s going to roll you through the anger and the healing and win you up as good as new. So what I think you can expect is something a little bit different musically out of this.”
 
Gary Allan says his favorite song on “Set You Free” is “One More Time.” He says he wrote it after his father died.
 
The country singer is supporting the album with performances around the United States for most of the rest of the year. He says the shows are energetic.
 
“We play hard. We have an absolute blast and I think it’s transparent. I think that’s why people love to come and see us. It’s authentic. We’re giving it everything that we have every night.”
 
We leave you with Gary Allan performing his new single “Pieces” from his album, “Set You Free.”
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