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AMERICAN MOSAIC - September 12, 2003: A question about baby boomers in America / Music from singer Lizz Wright's first album / Get ready for a ride -- Harley-Davidson turns 100 - 2003-09-11



Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC -- a VOA Special English program about music and American life. And we answer your questions.


This is Doug Johnson. This week -- a question about baby boomers in America, and some music by Lizz Wright.

But first -- get ready for a ride!

Harley Davidson Anniversary


The Harley-Davidson Motor Company recently celebrated an important birthday. Shep O’Neal has the details.


As many as three-hundred-thousand people rode their Harley-Davidson motorcycles into Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the last days of August. They came to the home of the famous motorcycle company to celebrate its one-hundredth year of production.

There were speeches, music performances, dances -- even weddings. At least fourteen weddings took place among the Harley-Davidson riders who attended the celebration.

The huge birthday party in Milwaukee was the end of a year-long anniversary celebration. Riders came from all over the United States and many other countries. Three-hundred Harley-Davidson owners flew in on a special flight from Japan.

The Harley-Davidson Motor Company got its start in nineteen-oh-three. It was the idea of twenty-one-year-old William Harley and twenty-year-old Arthur Davidson. They began the company by building a machine that looked like a bicycle with a small engine. They only made three motorcycles that first year.

Three years later, in nineteen-oh-six, they opened a factory with six workers. By nineteen-twenty, Harley-Davidson was the largest motorcycle company in the world. More than two-thousand businesses sold Harleys in the United States and almost seventy other countries.

Harley-Davidson has faced financial problems several times in its history. But it has always survived. This was often the result of the loyalty of people who would never ride any other motorcycle.

Today, the Harley-Davidson Motor Company is one of the most successful companies in the United States. It produces more than two-hundred-forty-thousand motorcycles each year. And it sells all of them.

The Baby Boom


Our VOA listener question this week comes from Ondo State, Nigeria. Akingbulugbe Ayo wants to know about the "baby boom."

The baby boom is what Americans call the period between nineteen-forty-six and nineteen-sixty-four. The number of births in the United States increased sharply when the soldiers came home from World War Two.

In nineteen-fifty-seven, about four-point-three-million babies arrived -- the most ever. Four-million births is around average for a year. Baby boomers are a big part of the population, seventy-seven million out of two-hundred-ninety million people.

But the phrase baby boom describes more than just population growth. It also describes a period of change in American culture.

Population experts say a law helped create the baby boom. The law gave soldiers who served in World War Two and the Korean War the financial support they needed to start families. It also provided education, training, loan guarantees, unemployment payments and other assistance for former soldiers. Millions received education and bought homes through the plan.

During this time, television helped spread baby boom culture. This was the first generation to grow up with TV. It brought comedians like Milton Berle and Lucille Ball into people's homes. Cowboys in westerns like "Gunsmoke." Music by Elvis Presley and The Beatles. TV also let Americans watch the rise and fall of Joseph McCarthy, an anti-communist politician in the nineteen-fifties.

Many baby boomers were less conservative than their parents. During the sixties and seventies, these young people had their own ideas about sex, drugs and rock-and-roll music.

Baby boomers also became politically active. Some fought in Vietnam. But others protested the war, or found ways not to serve. America continues to feel the political and social effects of the baby boom. Bill Clinton was the first of his generation to become president.

And the baby boom is big business. Companies make all sorts of products that promise to make people look and feel younger.

Right now, many baby boomers are either planning their retirements or worrying about their teenage children. The youngest boomers are about to reach forty. The oldest are close to sixty. Some children of baby boomers already have grown children of their own. In the coming years, another baby boom is expected in America. Some population experts already call it the millenni-boom.

Lizz Wright


Lizz Wright was an unknown singer last year when she appeared at the Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl in California. The audience and music critics loved her performance. This year she was back to perform songs from her first album. Steve Ember tells us more about Lizz Wright.


Lizz Wright is twenty-three years old. She began singing in church when she was six. She sang with several choirs in high school, then studied music at Georgia State University in Atlanta. The university did not have a vocal jazz program. So she worked with small independent jazz bands to learn what she really wanted to do – sing jazz.

Her first album is called “Salt.” Here she sings the Flora Purim classic “Open Your Eyes, You Can Fly.”


Lizz Wright wrote some of the songs on her album, including the title song. It honors the rhythm-and-blues singer Donny Hathaway who died in nineteen-seventy-nine. He killed himself at the age of thirty-three.


We leave you with another song from Lizz Wright’s album “Salt.” This is “Fire.”



This is Doug Johnson. Our program was written by Lawan Davis, Mario Ritter and Paul Thompson, who was also our producer. And our engineer was Vasco Volarich.

I hope you enjoyed our program. Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC -- VOA’s radio magazine in Special English.