Gregory Hines in “White Nights”

White Nights In The New Yorker, Joan Acocella recently wrote an article “Up From the Hold” reviewing a new book on the history of tap dancing, What the Eye Hears: A History of Tap Dancing, by Brian Seibert. The article gives a fascinating overview of what sounds like an interesting tale about the style of dance and the people who kept tap dancing alive as an art form.

One of the stars portrayed in the book is Gregory Hines, who was born on February 14, 1946 in New York City. The article quotes Siebert’s description of an extended Hines dance sequence in the film White Nights (1985). The dance was choreographed by Twyla Tharp and features Hines and ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov.

Watching the two men, Siebert concludes that it is “difficult to choose which one to watch, which shade of cool to savor.” Check out this dance scene from White Nights, where Hines and Baryshnikov define cool.

Fans expected Hines to take tap even further. He appeared on TV and Broadway in addition to films. And he worked in various ways to promote tap dancing as an art form. Even though he passed away at the relatively young age of 57 in 2003, his work lives on, not only through his recorded work but through those he taught and influenced. Among others, Hines influenced tap dance artists like the outstanding Savion Glover.

What is your favorite tap dancing scene in a film? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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OK Go in Zero Gravity in “Upside Down & Inside Out”

OK Go Upside Down
The Chicago-formed Los Angeles band OK Go is well-known for making some of the most creative videos around, using things like optical illusions, umbrellas with odd motorized scooters, a Rube Goldberg machine, and, of course, treadmills. Well, now they have done it again, with a new video for “Upside Down & Inside Out” featuring the band in zero gravity.

The band explains that the video was made using an “airplane that flies parabolic maneuvers to provide brief periods of weightlessness.” The video was shot in one take, although segments were edited out because the longest period of weightlessness on the airplane is around 27 seconds. Check it out.

For more information on how the video was made, check out the band’s FAQ. “Upside Down & Inside Out” is from the band’s album Hungry Ghosts (2014). The band members of OK Go are Damian Kulash, Tim Nordwind, Dan Konopka, and Andy Ross.

What is your favorite OK Go video? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Abraham Lincoln The Singer

    Lincoln 1846 In Michael Burlingame’s excellent two-volume biography Abraham Lincoln: A Life, the author recounts songs that Abraham Lincoln loved and used to sing as a young man. Lincoln loved poetry, so it is not surprising that some of the songs came from poetry. Burlingame also recounts Lincoln’s fondness for poems and songs that focused on mortality and death, perhaps because Lincoln’s mother had died when he was young and because one of his first loves, Ann Rutledge, died at the young age of 22 on August 25, 1835.

    The biographies list several songs Lincoln used to sing. In some cases, the titles may be all that are remembered while in other cases some of the lyrics are recalled. As a young attorney, he often sang songs called “Mary’s Dream,” “The Soldier’s Dream,” and “Lord Ullin’s Daughter.”

    Burlingame recounts that Lincoln’s favorite song was the ballad, “Twenty Years Ago,” which was written by by William Willing. Lincoln sang the song often in Illinois and continued to sing it while in the White House.

    In the song “Twenty Years Ago,” the singer looks back on those who have passed away. Some of the lines from the song that Lincoln especially loved included: “I visited the old churchyard, and took some flowers to strew / Upon the graves of those we loved, some twenty years ago.” The recording below features Matthew Sabatella and the Rambling String Band performing the song.

    One song Lincoln sang as a young attorney is “Lord Ullin’s Daughter,” which is based on a poem by Thomas Campbell. In the poem and song, Lord Ullin pursues his eloping daughter and her lover to punish the young man who stole his daughter. But Lord Ullin ultimately regrets his pursuit when it leads to the young couple drowning: “The waters wild went o’er his child,/ And he was left lamenting.”

    In this video for “Lord Ullin’s Daughter,” the music that accompanies the song was written in more modern times. Still, this version gives one an idea of what Lincoln sang.

    As a boy, Lincoln used to sing another song about death, the hanging ballad called “John Anderson’s Lamentation.” He even made up additional verses for the song, including:

    Much intoxication my ruin has been,
    And my dear companion hath barbarously slain:
    In yonder cold graveyard the body doth lie;
    Whilst I am condemned, and shortly must die.

    Another source claims that the young Lincoln also enjoyed and sang the song “William Riley.” Apparently, it is the same song that also went by the name “Riley’s Courtship,” about a man named William or Willie Riley.

    “Riley’s Courtship” tells a story that is similar to “Lord Ullin’s Daughter,” but it has a happier ending. In the song, Riley courts a squire’s daughter but is banished to Ireland. The young woman, Colleen Bawn misses her love and becomes insane. Unlike some of Lincoln’s other favorite songs, though, this one ends on a lighter note. Riley returned and rescued Bawn, who regained her sanity upon seeing her love. And her father repented and gave the couple lots of money.

    When we think of Abraham Lincoln, we usually think of him as the Great Emancipator and our greatest president, as if he came out of nowhere. But it is interesting to imagine him also as a boy and young man, joyfully singing songs that might one day prepare him for dealing with sad and serious issues as an adult.

    Photo of Lincoln in 1846 (around age 37) via public domain. For discussion of a popular Lincoln campaign song, check out our post on “Lincoln & Liberty Too!” Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Elton John Joins James Corden for “Carpool Karaoke”

    Elton John Carpool

    On The Late Late Show with James Corden, the host often brings us “Carpool Karaoke,” where Corden drives around with a famous singer (or singers) in the car while Corden and his guest sing together. In the most recent segment of “Carpool Karaoke,” the great Elton John jumped in the passenger seat.

    During the segment, Corden and John belt out classics like “Your Song,” “I’m Still Standing,” “Crocodile Rock,” “Tiny Dancer,” “The Circle of Life,” and ending with a rainy day “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.” John also answers some questions about topics such as his outfits and why he has four copies of every record he purchases. Check it out.

    What song would you like to sing with Elton John? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    New Documentary Celebrates the Life and Music of Mavis Staples

    Mavis Staples film

    A new documentary — Mavis! — explores the life and music of Mavis Staples of The Staples Singers. Jessica Edwards directed the film about the gospel and soul singer, who is also known for her civil rights work and her musical family.

    HBO picked up U.S. rights to the documentary after the movie’s world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival. Mavis! includes performance footage as well as interviews of people like Bob Dylan and Bonnie Raitt. Check out the trailer for Mavis!

    Mavis! debuts on HBO on February 29, 2016.

    Leave your two cents in the comments.

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