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A Rare Disease Can't Stop Will Downing From Making His Romantic Music

Also: A question from Ghana about the meaning of the American dream. And a report on Leap Day. Transcript of radio broadcast:


Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC, in VOA Special English.


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

We play music by Will Downing …

Answer a question about the meaning of the American dream …

And explain Leap Day, February twenty-ninth.


Leap Day


Today, February twenty-ninth, is Leap Day. This date only appears on the calendar once every four years. But why? Faith Lapidus explains.


Everyone knows the Earth takes three hundred sixty-five days to travel around the sun. Well, that is not exactly correct. The Earth really takes three hundred sixty-five days, five hours, forty-eight minutes and forty-six seconds to complete its orbit around the sun.

The problem for people developing calendars was what to do with the extra five hours, forty-eight minutes and forty-six seconds.

People needed calendars to help them know when to plant crops and when to celebrate religious holidays. The ancient Greeks and Chinese had a solution. They produced calendars that included extra months every nineteen years.

The ancient Romans had a different solution. In the year forty-six, the Roman ruler Julius Caesar made a new calendar. The Julian calendar included an extra day every four years. But there was a problem. The Julian year was just over eleven minutes longer than the cycle of the seasons. In fifteen eighty-two, Pope Gregory the Thirteenth established a new calendar to keep a better record of the days. Pope Gregory was the religious leader of most of Europe. He decided that years that could be divided by four would add a day. However, years that ended in two zeros that could not be evenly divided by four hundred would not be leap years.

For example, the years seventeen hundred, eighteen hundred and nineteen hundred were not leap years. But the years sixteen hundred and two thousand were leap years.

So leap years are years with three hundred sixty-six days, instead of the usual three hundred sixty-five. This extra day is added to the calendar on February twenty-ninth, sometimes known as Leap Day. People born on Leap Day may be called "leaplings." They usually celebrate their birthdays on February twenty-eighth or March first.


The American Dream


This week’s listener question comes from Ghana. Kwaku Kwakye wants to know the meaning of the expression "the American dream."

Each individual may define the American dream differently. But the general idea is that a person in the United States has the freedom to carry out his or her goals. It usually means a person has the chance to work hard, earn money and create a secure life. For many people, this means being able to get a good education, have a good job and own a house. The expression is often linked to immigrants who have come to this country seeking more freedom or a better life than they could have in their own countries.

The definition appeared in nineteen thirty-one in a history book by James Truslow Adams, “The Epic of America.” He wrote that the American dream is “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.”

Some people would say that the United States Declaration of Independence first defined the American dream. Thomas Jefferson wrote this document in seventeen seventy-six. It expressed why the American colonies decided to fight British colonial rule in order to become an independent nation. The Declaration of Independence states that "all men are created equal." And that they have the rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

In the nineteen sixties, the African-American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Junior had his own dream for America. He said that America’s declaration that "all men are created equal" is a great expression of the idea of democracy. But he noted that this dream was not a reality. He said that it was the moral duty of Americans to work so that racial minorities and people of different social levels could be treated equally.

An organization called the Center for a New American Dream deals with another kind of dream. Its goal is to help Americans live in ways that protect the environment, improve the quality of life and support social justice.

Do you have any ideas about the American dream? You can send them to

Will Downing



Music critics and fans of Will Downing know him as a skillful singer and songwriter. He is recognized as one of the leading singers of romantic, rhythm and blues music. He has had many loyal fans since his first album in nineteen eighty-eight. He recently released another successful album while dealing with a serious, life-changing sickness. Katherine Cole has more.



That was “Will’s Groove” from Will Downing's latest record called "After Tonight." It is his thirteenth album in twenty years. It includes songs that combine rhythm and blues and his easy, jazz style of singing.

After recording a few songs for “After Tonight,” Will Downing became sick with a rare, incurable disease called polymyositis. The condition causes severe muscle weakness that makes it difficult to move. Yet, Downing worked very hard to complete his new record. Instead of a studio, he sometimes recorded songs from a hospital bed or a wheelchair in his home.

Although he is facing difficult times, Will Downing says, he remains thankful. He wrote the song “God Is So Amazing” to express his feelings.


The other songs on “After Tonight” are the kind of emotional love songs that make Will Downing so popular, especially among women. The words in his songs and his smooth, rich voice tell a story of how wonderful love should be. Here he sings "Satisfy You."


We leave you with another love song by Will Downing from his album "After Tonight." Here he sings “No One Can Love You More."



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

It was written by Lawan Davis, Dana Demange and Caty Weaver, who was also our producer.Send your questions about American life to Please include your full name and mailing address. Or write to American Mosaic, VOA Special English, Washington, D.C., two-zero-two-three-seven, U.S.A.

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