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AMERICAN MOSAIC - 'Sweet Potato Queens' Grow Strong / Question from Nigeria About the White House / Lalah Hathaway Sings the Rhythm-and-Blues - 2004-11-10

Broadcast: November 12, 2004


DOUG JOHNSON: Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC, in VOA Special English. This is Doug Johnson. On our show this week:

Music by Lalah and Donny Hathaway ...

A listener question about the White House ...

And an international organization known as "Sweet Potato Queens."

Sweet Potato Queens


A few years ago, Jill Conner Browne had to work at four jobs to pay her debts. Today, she is a writer whose books have sold almost two million copies. She also leads an international movement. Shep O’Neal tells us more.

SHEP O'NEAL: Jill Conner Browne started an organization called Sweet Potato Queens. Its purpose is friendship and fun. Thousands of people belong to the Sweet Potato Queens. Most are women. Sweet potatoes grow in the American South.

During the past five years, four thousand groups of Sweet Potato Queens have organized in the United States and in foreign countries, including Saudi Arabia. Members share interests in food, love and life after forty years of age.

Mizz Browne started her Sweet Potato Queens movement on Saint Patrick’s Day, nineteen eighty-two. A friend had organized a parade to celebrate the holiday in Jackson, Mississippi, Jill Conner Browne’s hometown.

Browne rode in an open truck wearing extremely unusual clothing. Her appearance surprised other drivers. She called to other women, urging them to join her. On that day, few did.

But later, she made copies of the unusual clothing. She put together shining green costumes with material that makes the chest and lower back look bigger. Over her own hair, she wore a bright red wig.

After that, many other women joined the celebration. Now, the Sweet Potato Queens take part every year in the Saint Patrick’s Day parade in Jackson. Before long, local groups of her organization formed throughout the world.

Mizz Browne’s first book was published in nineteen ninety-nine. It is called “The Sweet Potato Queens’ Book of Love.” In it, she offers observations about what she calls "issues." These include the four main food groups. And how to wear one’s hair. The book also lists words she says are guaranteed to get any man to do what you want. The book was a big success. So she wrote three more books.

Jill Conner Browne’ s latest book is called “The Sweet Potato Queens’ Field Guide to Men: Every Man I Love is Either Married, Gay or Dead.”

The White House

DOUG JOHNSON: Our listener question this week comes from Nigeria. Barrister Ikechukwu Edwin Ike asks why the United States capitol building is called the White House.

The short answer to that question is that the United States capitol building is not called the White House. The capitol building has a dome-shaped roof that rises above all the other buildings in Washington, D.C. The two houses of Congress, the Senate and the House of Representatives, meet in the Capitol building.

The building known as the White House is the home of the President of the United States and his family. The President also has his office there.

America’s first President, George Washington, helped choose the land for the new presidential home in seventeen ninety. A competition was held to find a designer to build it. Architect James Hoban won the contest. He planned a building of grayish white sandstone. The color gave the house its name.

Work started in seventeen ninety-two. But the house was not ready before the end of President Washington’s term. America’s second President, John Adams, and his wife, Abigail, moved into the house on November first, eighteen hundred. By then, the building had six completed rooms.

Many of the rooms were still empty when John Adams left office a few months later. Other Presidents tried to complete the White House. But the British burned it during the War of Eighteen Twelve. The White House was re-built after that war. Since then, it has been enlarged, repaired and almost totally re-built.

Today, the White House has one hundred thirty-two rooms. Visitors can walk through some of the public ones.

Visiting has been restricted since the terrorist attacks three years ago. But anyone with a computer can make an electronic visit to the White House. You can see the public rooms, and the Oval Office, where the President does his work.

The Internet address is White House is all one word.

Lalah and Donny Hathaway

Singer and songwriter Lalah Hathaway says music has always been a major part of her life. Her father was the rhythm-and-blues singer Donny Hathaway. Shirley Griffith has our story.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Lalah Hathaway released her first album in nineteen ninety. The smoky sound of her voice captured music critics and fans. Her singing is similar to the way her father sang.

Here is “We Were Two” from her recent album, “Outrun the Sky.”


Lalah Hathaway says the songs on her new album are about learning to deal with the joys of life, and the unhappiness. Her father suffered from depression. In nineteen seventy-nine, he killed himself.

Donny Hathaway had a brief musical career. But he is remembered as one of the greatest soul singers of all time. His music is still influential and popular.

Lalah Hathaway says it seems unreal that her father has a new album twenty-five years after his death. A collection of songs by Donny Hathaway was released recently. The album “These Songs for You, Live!” includes this famous song, "Someday We’ll All Be Free.”


We leave you with Lalah Hathaway and a song from another album released this year, “Forever, For Always, For Luther.” It is a collection of songs made famous by Luther Van Dross. who survived a stroke last year. Several recording artists came together to honor him with this album.

Here now is Donny Hathaway's daughter Lalah with “Forever, For Always, For Love.”


DOUG JOHNSON: This is Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed AMERICAN MOSAIC.

This program was written by Lawan Davis, Jerilyn Watson and Nancy Steinbach. Paul Thompson was the producer. And our engineer was Efeem Drucker. Join us again next week for American Mosaic, VOA’s radio magazine in Special English.


This is the one-thousandth program of AMERICAN MOSAIC.