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A Music Camp Where Grown-Ups Learn the Art of Bluegrass


Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC, in VOA Special English.


I'm Doug Johnson. On our show this week:

We answer a question about Uncle Sam …

Play some bluegrass music …

And report about the Labor Day holiday.

Labor Day

Monday, September fourth is Labor Day in the United States. In many other countries, Labor Day is celebrated in May. Mario Ritter explains.


The first day in May is the day to honor workers in almost every industrial country except the United States and Canada. May first has also been the traditional day to celebrate spring since ancient times.

The first link between honoring workers and the ancient May Day celebration was made in eighteen thirty-three. The British social reformer Robert Owen chose that day for the start of a period of joy and hope for the world.

In eighteen eighty-nine, the first workers convention in Paris, France declared a great international workers demonstration on May first. Since then, the International Labor Day has been observed on the first of May.

The United States, however, chose another day for its labor celebration. New York labor leader Peter McGuire is said to have suggested the first Monday in September as a holiday to honor labor. He proposed public parades to show the strength of labor organizations. And he urged people to end the day with outdoor parties.

The first American Labor Day celebration was held in New York City on September fifth, eighteen eighty-two. About ten thousand workers marched through the streets. Then everyone went to a nearby park to eat a meal, and hear speeches and music. The idea quickly spread throughout the country. Congress approved a bill declaring Labor Day a national holiday in eighteen ninety-four.

For many years, the first Monday in September was a day when American workers demonstrated for better working conditions and pay. Over the years, however, the conditions of American workers improved. Such demonstrations are no longer common.

Now, for most Americans, Labor Day weekend is a day off from work. It is a time to celebrate the last warm days of summer. Many Americans celebrate the holiday by inviting their family and friends to a cookout or barbecue -- a meal cooked and eaten outside. You can hear more about this tradition of barbecues Monday on the Special English program This Is America.

Uncle Sam


Our VOA listener question this week comes from Sao Paulo, Brazil. Gilberto Moretti asks where the words “Uncle Sam,” meaning the United States, came from.

History experts are not really sure where this idea of Uncle Sam as a symbol of the United States came from. The Library of Congress says one idea is that Uncle Sam was named after Samuel Wilson.

During the War of Eighteen Twelve, the United States was fighting British troops. Samuel Wilson was a businessman from Troy, New York. He supplied meat to soldiers in the United States Army. The meat was in large wooden containers called barrels.

The barrels had letters that said “U.S.,” short for United States. When asked what the letters stood for, one of Sam Wilson’s workers said they stood for Uncle Sam Wilson.

The suggestion that the meat shipments came from “Uncle Sam” led to the idea that Uncle Sam represented the federal government. In nineteen sixty-one, Congress passed a resolution that recognized Samuel Wilson as the idea for the symbol of Uncle Sam.

Over the years, pictures of Uncle Sam were used to represent the United States. Political cartoonists created Uncle Sam’s traditional appearance. Thomas Nast was one of these political cartoonists. He produced many of the earliest cartoons of Uncle Sam in the eighteen sixties.

The most famous picture of Uncle Sam was created in nineteen seventeen during World War One. James Montgomery Flagg painted the picture and used a version of his own face for Uncle Sam. He is shown as an old, white-haired man with a white beard. He wears red, white and blue clothing and a high hat with stars on it. He looks very serious and is pointing his finger straight out.

The poster was designed to urge young American men to join the Army. Millions of copies of the poster were printed during World War One. Because of its popularity, the poster was used again during World War Two in the nineteen forties. Below Uncle Sam’s picture are the words: “I Want You for U.S. Army.”

Bluegrass Camp

Many American children attended camps this summer. While they were at camp, their parents enjoyed some peace and quiet. The RockyGrass Bluegrass Academy, however, is a very different kind of camp. Most people who attend it are not children who want to play in nature, but adults who want to play bluegrass music. Faith Lapidus has more.



That was “Black Mountain Rag” by Roy Acuff and his Smoky Mountain Boys. Musicians from the southeastern Appalachia area of America began to play a kind of music they called “bluegrass” in the nineteen forties. Musicians use many instruments with strings to play bluegrass. These include the fiddle, banjo, guitar, mandolin and bass.

Bill Monroe is considered to be the “father of bluegrass music.” Monroe and his band, the Bluegrass Boys, were the first to become popular playing this kind of music. Here is their song “Can You Hear Me Callin.”


The RockyGrass Bluegrass Festival started in nineteen seventy-three in the western state of Colorado. Since then, many of America’s best bluegrass musicians travel to Colorado each year to play for huge crowds.

In nineteen ninety-four, a man named Craig Ferguson decided that having a festival every year was not enough. He did not want people just to listen to bluegrass music. He wanted people to come together to learn how to play bluegrass music. So Mister Ferguson started the RockyGrass Bluegrass Academy.

The academy meets every summer for four days. Adults and families come to Lyons, Colorado to practice their music skills with expert teachers. Some professional bluegrass musicians come to learn how to play different instruments.

People who come to this grown-up summer camp say it is very peaceful. They often play bluegrass music next to the Saint Vrain River. At the end of the camp, everyone stands in the river to sing and play their instruments together. People say that playing music this way makes them feel very happy. We leave you now with another bluegrass song, “Big Country” by Edgar Meyer with Bela Fleck and Mike Marshall.



I'm Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our program today.

Our show was written by Sarah Randle and Nancy Steinbach. Mario Ritter was our producer. To read the text of this program and download audio, go to our Web site,

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