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AMERICAN MOSAIC - BCS Controversy / A Question about Slavery / Music by Lenny Kravitz - 2004-01-16

Broadcast: January 16, 2004



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


This is Doug Johnson.

This week, we answer a question about an American hero from the time of slavery. And we have music by Lenny Kravitz -- the singer is nominated this year for another Grammy Award.

But first, we kick off our show with a dispute that a lot of American sports fans are talking about.

BCS Controversy


The Super Bowl in the National Football League is February first. The two teams that do the best this season will meet in Houston to decide the champion of the N-F-L. College football has tried to develop a championship system like the professionals have. This effort, however, has run into problems. Shep O’Neal explains.


College football teams in the United States end their season in November, then play championship games. One of the most famous is played in the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, California, on New Year's Day. Another is the Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida. Still another is the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, Louisiana.

For years, the teams that played in "bowl" games were the champions of groups of universities. These groups are called conferences. For example, the two teams in the Rose Bowl are the best from the Big Ten and the "Pac Ten" schools. The Big Ten conference is in the middle of the country. The Pacific Ten conference is in the far west. But bowl games have grown over the years. There is a lot of money to be made from broadcasting football games on television. This time there were twenty-eight bowl games.

In the nineteen-nineties, football fans demanded that the final bowl games be played to decide a national champion of college football. So bowl officials ended up with the Bowl Championship Series. In this system, experts and computers decide which top teams play in which games. The idea is to have the two teams considered to be the strongest in the nation play for the national championship.

This year, the Sugar Bowl was the national championship game. Louisiana State University won. But, in the media, and in public opinion, L-S-U split the championship with the University of Southern California. That highly rated team won the Rose Bowl.

A lot of people say another game should be played to decide the national champion. Others say it will hurt the student athletes to extend the football season. The Gateway computer company even offered thirty-million dollars in scholarship money for a game between L-S-U and Southern California. But national college athletic officials rejected the idea.

Bowl Championship Series officials say they hope to avoid disagreements in the future. They plan to change the computer system so that it weighs the opinions of the humans more than it does now.

Harriet Tubman


Our VOA listener question this week comes from Akwa Ibom State, in Nigeria. Samuel Bassey asks who was Harriet Tubman.

Harriet Tubman was an African-American woman who fought slavery and oppression. Stories about her say she was born in eighteen-twenty. No one really knows.

We do know that Harriet Tubman helped many people escape from slavery through the Underground Railroad. This was a transportation system, but not in the traditional sense. It was an organized effort by people to help slaves from the Southern states get to areas that banned slavery.

Her parents belonged to a farmer in Maryland. Slaves lived with the fear that they could be sold at any time. Families often were separated.

Harriet married a free black man named John Tubman in eighteen-forty-four. Yet she remained a slave. She decided to escape. In eighteen-forty-nine, the farmer who owned her and her family died. Harriet Tubman heard that she was to be sold immediately. She ran to the home of a white woman who had offered to help.

This woman told her how to reach another home where she could hide. Harriet Tubman went from place to place this way. Each place was a little closer to the northern states where slavery was illegal. This is how the Underground Railroad operated. Finally, she crossed the border into the northern state of Pennsylvania.

But Harriet Tubman did not forget the slaves in Maryland. During the next ten years, she led a much expanded Underground Railroad. She freed her parents and other family members. She traveled back and forth eighteen times. She helped three-hundred slaves escape.

Harriet Tubman found another way to fight slavery after the Civil War began in eighteen-sixty-one. She went into the Southern states to spy for the North. She also helped people as a nurse.

After the North won the Civil War, Harriet Tubman settled in New York state. She traveled and gave speeches to raise money for better education for black Americans. She also worked for women's rights and improved housing. And, she sought help for older adults who had been slaves.

Harriet Tubman died in nineteen-thirteen. By that time, she was recognized as an American hero.

Lenny Kravitz


The American music industry will present its Grammy Awards on February eighth in Los Angeles. Shirley Griffith tells about one of the nominees this year for best male rock vocal performance.


Lenny Kravitz was born in New York City in nineteen-sixty-four. He comes from a show business family: His father was a television producer; his mother, an actress. He taught himself to play the piano, bass and drums as a child. Lenny Kravitz also writes a lot of his own songs. You might remember this one from nineteen-ninety-eight, which earned him a Grammy.


The song is "Fly Away." It was on the fifth album Lenny Kravitz recorded; the album is called "Five." A song included on "Five" as a bonus track also won a Grammy. It was used in an "Austin Powers" movie: his version of "American Woman."


The newest album from Lenny Kravitz is called "Lenny." It contains the song that earned him a Grammy nomination this year. We leave you with "If I Could Fall in Love."



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

And remember to send your questions about American life to Be sure to include your name and mailing address. If we use your question, we'll send you a gift. Our postal address is American Mosaic, VOA Special English, Washington, D.C., two-zero-two-three-seven, USA.

This program was written by Nancy Steinbach and Jerilyn Watson. Paul Thompson was the producer. And our engineer was Andreus Regis.