December 25, 2014 17:52 UTC

Elvis Presley Rocks the Newseum in Washington

Why there are so many stars on the US flag and a visit to South by Southwest in Austin, Texas.

Elvis Presley in the news
Elvis Presley in the news


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DOUG JOHNSON: Welcome to American Mosaic, in VOA Special English.


I’m Doug Johnson.  Today we tell about South by Southwest, the major music conference in Austin, Texas.
And we answer a listener question about the meaning of the stars on America’s flag.
But first, we rediscover Elvis Presley at an exhibit in Washington, D.C.


Elvis at the Newseum

DOUG JOHNSON:  As you can probably guess from its name, the Newseum in Washington, D.C. is a museum about news. It recently opened an exhibit about a famous performer. His special sound and bold moves changed the history of music and popular culture. The exhibit is called “Elvis! His Groundbreaking, Hip-Shaking, Newsmaking Story.”   It tells about Elvis Presley’s influence on American culture.  It shows newspaper articles, television recordings and personal objects belonging to the King himself.  Barbara Klein tells us more.

BARBARA KLEIN:  Most people know that Elvis Presley was a popular singer and actor. But many young people today might not realize that Elvis represented a rebellious new form of popular culture. He first became famous in the mid nineteen fifties.

Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley

At this time, music in America was mostly divided racially. Country music was for white people, while black people performed rhythm and blues music. Elvis changed this. He combined both influences to create a whole new kind of music -- rock and roll. And, the man could dance. He moved his hips in a way that drove crowds wild. Elvis came to represent energy, youth and freedom.

The “Elvis!” exhibit at the Newseum explores the way the media represented Elvis and his career. And it tells about his lasting influence. The exhibit shows newspaper headlines about efforts to ban Elvis’s rebellious music, even his hairstyle. Other newspapers tell about his daily activities, fan reactions and crowded performances. The exhibit also tells about the important role television played in making Elvis a star.

REPORTER: “A phenomenon recalling Marilyn Monroe’s sensational debut in show business, Mister Teenager is on his way to attaining a popularity unparalleled in theater history.”

The exhibit includes a movie about Elvis’ life and the evolution of his representation by the media. There are also several objects from Elvis’ personal life. You can see a large nineteen fifty-seven Harley Davidson motorcycle he once owned. There is a bottle of Champagne from Elvis’ wedding to Priscilla Beaulieu, and clothing worn by his daughter Lisa Marie. And it is hard to miss the jeweled white jumpsuit that Elvis wore for his famous “Aloha from Hawaii” performance.  An estimated one billion people in forty countries watched this program when it was broadcast on television in nineteen seventy-three. He died four years later at the age of forty-two.

“Elvis! His Groundbreaking, Hip-Shaking, Newsmaking Story” marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of Elvis Presley’s birth year.  And, it shows that the popularity of the King of Rock and Roll lives on.
You can learn more about the life and music of Elvis Presley Sunday on the Special English program People in America.


Stars on the Flag

DOUG JOHNSON: Our question this week comes from Saudi Arabia. Ali Awod asks about the meaning of the number of stars on the American flag.

The United States flag has fifty stars that represent the fifty states.  The flag also has thirteen red and white horizontal stripes.  They represent the thirteen original colonies that rebelled against British rule.  They became the first states in the Union.

The white stars are in rows in a blue rectangle on the American flag. The stars have five points. Until the late seventeen hundreds, many stars had six, seven or even eight points.  For many years there were different ways that the stars were shown, including in circles and rows.  In nineteen twelve, Congress declared how the stars must be shown.

Throughout American history, the number of stars increased as more states were added.  For example, the flag had forty-eight stars for forty-seven years, from nineteen twelve until nineteen fifty-nine. Then Alaska and Hawaii became states.  They remain the only states not physically connected to the mainland United States.  The fifty star flag became the official flag of the United States on July fourth, nineteen sixty.

Fifty years have now passed without any changes to the American flag.  That is the longest period in United States history that the flag has remained unchanged. 
Some American citizens live in places that do not have a star on the flag.

Washington, D.C. is the country’s capital but it is a city, not a state, so it does not have its own star. Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, the U.S. Minor Outlying Islands and the United States Virgin Islands are territories.  So they do not have stars, either. 
Some of the territories, like Puerto Rico and Guam, may vote to become states in the future.  The United States government has created possible flags that have up to fifty-six stars.


South By Southwest

Austin, Texas calls itself the “Live Music Capital of the World.”  That is surely true each year in the middle of March.  Tens of thousands of people come to the city to attend the ten-day South by Southwest Music, Film and Interactive festivals.  Katherine Cole went this year and has our report.


KATHERINE COLE: That was Bob Schneider singing his song “Forty Dogs (Like Romeo and Juliet).”  It was named Song of the Year at the Austin Music Awards, the closing event of the South by Southwest Music conference.   Maybe organizers should change the name of the awards to the “Bobs” as Schneider and his band had ten wins this year.  They include Musician of the Year and Album of the Year.


South by Southwest was started in nineteen eighty-seven to bring attention to Texas musicians like Bob Schneider. Now it includes performers from around the world.  This year, six hundred forty-two acts from fifty-nine countries were invited to perform. Nneka from Nigeria was one of them.  Here she sings “Walking.”


Musicians and fans at South by Southwest were looking forward to a reunion concert by the nineteen seventies band Big Star.  Sadly, its leader Alex Chilton died of a heart attack on the first day of the music festival.  The remaining members of the band played a set with some other musicians as a benefit for Chilton’s family.
Here is the original Big Star with “September Gurls.”


DOUG JOHNSON: I'm Doug Johnson. Our program was written by and Dana Demange, Chris Cruise and Katherine Cole.  Caty Weaver was the producer. For transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs, go to You can also post comments.

Do you have a question about America? Click Contact Us at the bottom of our Web site.  Or write to
Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA’s radio magazine in Special English.

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