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'Wizard of Oz' Fans Follow the Yellow Brick Road -- to Indiana

Also: A question from Brazil about George Gershwin's ''Rhapsody in Blue.'' And the music of Mexican-American singer Lila Downs. Transcript of radio broadcast:


Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.


I'm Doug Johnson. This week on our show:

Music from Mexican American singer Lila Downs ...

A question about "Rhapsody in Blue" by composer George Gershwin …

But first we're off to see the Indiana Wizard of Oz Festival.

Indiana Wizard of Oz Festival



For twenty-seven years, visitors to the Indiana Wizard of Oz Festival in Valparaiso have gathered to celebrate ruby slippers, rainbows, and yellow brick roads. This yearly event honors all things linked to the movie "The Wizard of Oz," which came out in nineteen thirty-nine. Faith Lapidus tells us more.


Last weekend, thousands of visitors gathered at the Porter County Expo Center for the Indiana Wizard of Oz Festival. Even heavy rains did not stop visitors from enjoying the festival's many events. The great-great-grandson of L. Frank Baum who wrote the book "The Wizard of Oz" opened the festival activities. Robert Baum attended the festival to meet people and sign visitors' books and objects.

Visitors could shop at the Munchkin Market to buy objects related to all things Oz. Or, they could meet actors who played Munchkins in the movie. There were even contests to see who could look the most like characters in "The Wizard of Oz." There were people dressed like Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion and the Wicked Witch of the West. Visitors could also see a private collection of clothing and jewelry once owned by Judy Garland, the actress who played Dorothy.


Jean Nelson started the Indiana Wizard of Oz Festival in nineteen eighty-one. At the time, she owned the Yellow Brick Road Gift Shop and also opened the Oz Fantasy Museum. She decided to organize a Wizard of Oz day as a way to have a fun community activity. The event slowly grew over the years and is now the largest Oz festival in the world.

Miz Nelson says that the story of "The Wizard of Oz" remains popular for several reasons. She says it is an American story, unlike many fairy tales that came from Europe. She says the movie also celebrates values that families can enjoy together.

One of the main events of the festival this year was a performance by Danny Windsor. The eighty-three year old actor had a small role as a frightening winged monkey in "The Wizard of Oz." Later in his career, he met Judy Garland when they were performing in the same theater in New York City. Mister Windsor says that people will be watching "The Wizard of Oz" one hundred years from now. He says the movie celebrates art and life and is full of heart from beginning to end.


"Rhapsody in Blue"


Our listener question this week comes from Brazil. Sergio Augusto Ramos dos Santos wants to know about the famous musical piece called "Rhapsody in Blue" by George Gershwin.

Gershwin wrote the piece for jazz band leader Paul Whiteman. "Rhapsody in Blue" was first performed in nineteen twenty-four at a concert hall in New York City. The name of the series of songs played that night was "Experiment in Modern Music." Gershwin's song was twenty-third in the list of songs in that performance.

The twenty-five year old composer had already enjoyed success in his career writing popular music. But this concert brought him recognition as a classical composer as well.


George Gershwin said that the influence for the music came when he was on a train and began listening to its many noises and rhythms. He said that he suddenly heard the complete structure from beginning to end of what would become "Rhapsody in Blue." He explained that the song was about the "melting pot" of different immigrants in America, its national energy and the madness of its cities.

The song was first written for a piano player and jazz band, including reed, bass, rhythm and string instruments. A nineteen forty-two version of the song has a different combination of musical instruments.

George Gershwin continued to write exciting compositions that would help define modern American music. These include "An American in Paris" and the opera "Porgy and Bess." He worked with his brother Ira Gershwin on many musical projects. George Gershwin died of a brain tumor at the age of thirty-eight.


"Rhapsody in Blue" has become one the most famous American songs in modern history. Since the nineteen eighties, it has been used in advertisements for United Airlines. The music has also been used in many movies, including Woody Allen's "Manhattan" and Disney's "Fantasia Two Thousand." In these movies, "Rhapsody in Blue" expresses the energy and beauty of New York City.


Lila Downs


The Mexican-American singer Lila Downs recently released her latest album "Shake Away." She is probably best known for her song "Burn it Blue." She made it for the movie "Frida" about the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo in two thousand two. On her new record Lila Downs sings in many different styles, both in English as well as Spanish. Critics say this is her most creative album yet. Barbara Klein tells us more.



That was the song "Minimum Wage." It expresses the difficult situation of many Mexican immigrants who cross the border into the United States to try to find work. Lila Downs has her own personal link to this border. She was born in Oaxaca, Mexico to a Mexican mother and an American father. She first began performing as a child in Mexico. Later, she studied music in college in the United States.

Lila Downs used to perform wearing clothing and hairstyles influenced by Frida Kahlo. For this album she decided to change her look with new versions of traditional Mexican clothing. She says she enjoys reinventing herself with her art.

Here is the song "Perro Negro."


Downs wrote many of the songs on "Shake Away." But others were written by other musicians. We leave you with Lila Downs' inventive version of Carlos Santana's song "Black Magic Woman." She performs the song with Raul Midon.



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

It was written and produced by Dana Demange. To read and listen to our programs online, go to

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