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AMERICAN MOSAIC — August 15, 2003: A Question about Hip-Hop Music / Teenagers Honor Veterans / New American Plays - 2003-08-14



Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC, a VOA Special English program about music and American life. Plus we answer your questions!


This is Doug Johnson. This week:

A question about hip-hop music ...

And a report about a theater festival in the East.

But first, come along to a town in the American West. A special history project has brought together people young and ... not-so-young.

Veterans History Project


In Bigfork, Montana, high school students have done some special things to honor local people who served in America’s wars. One year they even held a ceremony at a theater in town on Veterans Day, a national holiday in November. It all started when one teacher told her students to each find a war veteran and talk with that person. Phoebe Zimmermann has more.


Nineteen-million war veterans live in the United States. Officials say about one-thousand-five-hundred die each day -- from old age, sickness or other causes. The Library of Congress in Washington wants to record as many of their stories as possible. The library especially wants young people and classes to talk to the veterans and write down their stories.

Mary Sullivan is an English teacher in the western town of Bigfork, Montana. Around three-thousand people live there. Her students became excited when she told them to find veterans and talk to them. The students invited people in town to a special program honoring the veterans. The students read some of the stories they had been told.

Students also paraded in the clothes that soldiers wore when they were in the military. And the high school band played the songs from the different armed services. Veterans who were watching the program suddenly stood up. Many had tears in their eyes.

Students learned that veterans from different wars had very different feelings. Those in World War Two often felt much more strongly about what they had done than some of the veterans of the Vietnam War. Maureen Sullivan, the teacher's daughter, noticed that many World War Two veterans wore their old military clothes to the program. Vietnam veterans did not.

One reason could be that during the war there were many protests in the United States. Many soldiers did not feel that the American people supported them or welcomed them home. Today studies show that the public has a much higher opinion of the military.

The students in Bigfork wrote down every word of every talk with the veterans. Four students traveled to Washington, D.C., to give the reports directly to the Library of Congress.

Teacher Mary Sullivan says the veterans project built a bridge between older and younger people in her town. One student said he heard stories his grandfather had never talked about before. When the boy asked his grandfather why he had never told them, the grandfather said no one had ever asked.

Contemporary American Theater Festival


Shepherdstown is the oldest town in the state of West Virginia. Every summer, it presents the newest American plays during the Contemporary American Theater Festival. Faith Lapidus tells us more.


Historic Shepherdstown, West Virginia, is on a hill near the Potomac River. The first Europeans arrived in the early seventeen-hundreds. Many of the first settlers were German. The main street in Shepherdstown is still called German Street.

Shepherd College was established in eighteen-seventy-one to teach languages and science. The Contemporary American Theater Festival has taken place at the college every summer since nineteen-ninety-one.

The festival presents new American plays during four weeks each summer. Many of the plays have never been performed before.

One of the four plays presented this summer was called “Whores.” It was written by award-winning playwright Lee Blessing. It is about a general from a Central American country. The general’s troops murdered four female American religious workers. The play takes place in the general’s imagination.

The Contemporary American Theater Festival also presented the musical play “Wilder” by Erin Cressida Wilson. She is also an award-winning playwright, and a movie screenwriter. “Wilder” is a sad story about a teenage boy growing up in Denver, Colorado, during the economic depression in the nineteen-thirties. His parents are unable to take care of him, so they send him to live with other people.

Another new play is called “The Last Schwartz” by Deborah Zoe Laufer. It is both funny and sad. Members of a family gather for the one-year anniversary of their father’s death. During the gathering, the brothers and sister tell many family secrets.

The fourth play is called “Bright Ideas” by Eric Coble. It is a very funny play about a husband and wife who will do anything to make sure their three-year-old son attends the best pre-school. They will even carry out a murder! Many people from the Washington, D-C, area travel to Shepherdstown each summer for the theater festival. Ed Herendeen started the festival and continues as its producing director. He said the theater festival was a huge success this year. Two of the plays will be produced in New York City this autumn.

Hip-Hop Music


Our VOA listener question this week comes from Imo State, Nigeria. Eke Abraham wants to know about American hip-hop music. We went to VOA's own expert, Rod Murray, host of "Hip-Hop Connection." That's heard Saturdays at nineteen hours Universal Time on the English-to-Africa service. Rod says hip-hop is not just music but a whole culture that also includes dance and how people dress.

Rap is the best known hip-hop music. It began about thirty years ago in the streets of New York City. One of the earliest songs was "Rapper’s Delight" by the Sugarhill Gang.


Rap has spread internationally, far beyond its roots in the culture of young black males in New York. It is used not just for entertainment but also for social activism. In America, though, a lot of people have criticized rap songs about violence, drugs and mistreatment of women. There are some women in rap, especially since the late nineteen-eighties.

Rod considers Missy Elliot the greatest. Here's her song "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)."


Right now, VOA's Rod Murray says the most popular rapper is the man who calls himself Fifty Cent. His album "Get Rich or Die Tryin'" has sold more than two-million copies since it came out in February. And now, we leave you with Fifty Cent and "In Da Club."



This is Doug Johnson. E-mail your questions about American life to mosaic at v-o-a news dot com. Make sure to include your name and postal address. Or write to American Mosaic, VOA Special English, Washington, D.C., two-zero-two-three-seven, USA. We'll send you a gift if we use your question.

Our program was written by Shelley Gollust, Karen Leggett and Caty Weaver, who was also our producer. I hope you enjoyed our program! Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC -- VOA’s radio magazine in Special English.