Accessibility links

Breaking News

AMERICAN MOSAIC - October 10, 2003: Flash Mobs / Why Isn't America Named for Columbus? / Mary J. Blige's New Album - 2003-10-09



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 – some hip-hop music from the newest album by Mary J. Blige. And a listener wants to know why America is named for someone other than Christopher Columbus.

But first – we look at a new kind of mob activity that is spreading around the world.

Flash Mobs


Have you ever taken part in a flash mob? Do you even know what a flash mob is? Well, here is Shep O’Neal to explain.


A flash mob is where young people suddenly gather in a large group for no apparent reason. Flash mobs can involve hundreds of people. The people do not all know each other. But they all meet at the same time, then leave the area quickly. A flash mob can be held for any reason, but usually just to have some fun.

The people involved in a flash mob do not know the time or place of the meeting until just minutes before it takes place. They get the details from a Web site, or by e-mail or as a text message on their wireless phone.

What do people do at flash mobs? Flash mobbers in a store will all ask for the same product. On a street, they may sing a song at the same time. Or shout meaningless words. Or hug each other. Or make some kind of noise. Then, just as quickly as they came, they leave. It all happens in a flash.

Flash mobbing reportedly started in New York City. But some say the first ones were in Europe. However it got started, flash mobbing has become popular around the world. Flash mobs have been reported in Japan, Britain, Germany, New Zealand, and at many colleges and universities in America.

The founder of the New York mob is known as Bill. He began with a list of fifty people. The list grew over time. Now, international flash mobbers are said to number in the tens of thousands.

Last month, the American cartoonist Gary Trudeau used his “Doonesbury” comic strip to call for a flash mob. He told people to gather at the bottom of the Space Needle in Seattle, in the Pacific Northwest. He told them to link arms, form a circle, jump up and down and yell "the doctor is in!" The purpose of the gathering was to support Howard Dean, one of the Democratic presidential candidates and also a doctor. About one-hundred people went, but said it was not a real flash mob since it was not called electronically. They say flash mobbing shows how computers and the Internet are linking people.

So, are you ready to join a flash mob? No, we are not going to call one -- not unless you could all get to Washington at the same time! But we will tell you how to learn more about flash mobs. There are Web sites, including flashmob dot com and flashmob dot info.

Columbus Day


Our question this week comes by e-mail from China. A listener asks why America is not named after Christopher Columbus, the first European to find the New World.

This is a good time to answer that question. Monday is Columbus Day in the United States. Columbus Day is observed on the second Monday in October. The holiday honors the first visit to America by Columbus in fourteen-ninety-two. Yet the land is named for someone else. Here is the story.

Christopher Columbus visited the New World three times. Yet he never recognized that he was outside Asia. He always believed that he had found the Indies. He called the people “Indians.”

His voyages were important, though. They opened the area to others. One of these was an Italian explorer named Amerigo Vespucci.

In fourteen-ninety-nine, Amerigo Vespucci made his first trip to what is now known as South America. He named many areas. And he made important improvements to navigation during his trip.

Vespucci made another trip a few years later. That was when he recognized that he was not in India, but on a separate continent. He confirmed this by following the coast of South America as far south as he could.

Amerigo Vespucci wrote letters about his explorations. They described the people he found and told how they lived. The letters were published in many languages and widely read in Europe.

In fifteen-oh-seven, a German mapmaker named Martin Waldseemuller printed a map with a land he called “America." He named it after Amerigo Vespucci. Waldseemuller sold copies of that map all over Europe. People started to use the name America. Later, it was also used to describe the area discovered to the north. The last known copy of that map, by the way, was recently bought by the Library of Congress.

Some history experts think these areas of the New World should have been named for Christopher Columbus. But others say it was right to honor Amerigo Vespucci. After all, he first recognized these lands as a separate, new part of the world.

Mary J. Blige


Mary J. Blige is often called the queen of hip-hop music. She became popular by singing about love and loss. But her newest album takes a new turn. It is called "Love and Life." Jim Tedder has more.


The songs of Mary J. Blige have always told of the painful experiences in her life. The thirty-two-year-old singer and her sister were raised alone by their mother. They lived in a poor neighborhood just outside New York City. In this song from her first album, Mary J. Blige sings of searching for “real love.”


By her second album, Mary J. Blige was recognized for her songwriting skills. She sang about bad relationships and drug use.

In two-thousand-one, she released an album called “No More Drama.” In the title song, she sings of living a better life.


Mary J. Blige has recorded six albums in all since nineteen-ninety-two. Her newest one, “Love and Life,” is different from all the others. The words to her songs do not include so much pain. She has happier things to sing about. She says drugs and alcohol are behind her now. And she is going to be married.

We leave you with a song from her new album. Here is “Love at First Sight.”



This is Doug Johnson. Our program was written by Lawan Davis and Nancy Steinbach. Our producer was Paul Thompson. And our engineer was Eva Nenicka.

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