Monday, June 27, 2022

Ina Ray Hutton: Soulful Siren of Swing

Before Madonna and before Beyonce, there was Ina Ray Hutton! Never heard of her? Neither had I until I stumbled across her on the Internet.

Ina Ray Hutton (March 13, 1916 – February 19, 1984) was an American female band leader during the Big Band era of the 1930s and '40's.  She was also the sister of band singer June Hutton.  

Beautiful and talented, Ina Ray carried a secret to her grave.  But before we discuss that, a little biographical info from Wikipedia follows below.

Ina Ray Hutton began dancing and singing in stage revues at the age of eight and attended Hyde Park High School on the South Side of Chicago. In the 1930s she appeared on Broadway in George White's Scandals and The Ziegfeld Follies.

In 1934 she was asked by a vaudeville agent to lead an all-girl orchestra, the Melodears.  Hutton and her Melodears were one of the first all-girl bands to be filmed for Paramount shorts including Accent on Girls and Swing Hutton Swing and Hollywood feature films. 

Although the group disbanded in 1939, in 1940 Hutton led an all-male orchestra that was featured in the film Even Since Venus (1944); it was disbanded in 1946. During the 1950s, she returned to the all-girl format for variety television programs including the Ina Ray Hutton Show for a local station on the West Coast. 

Here's the secret to her story:  Her parents were identified as "negro" or "mulatto" by census takers. According to Blackpast.org.:

Hutton was born Odessa Cowan at her parents' home in Chicago on March 13, 1916.  Her mother, Marvel (Williams) Cowan, was a newlywed housewife, married to Odie Cowan, a salesman.  By the time Odessa was three years old, she and her mother were living with her maternal grandmother, and her step-grandfather, a dining car waiter for a railroad.  That year, Odessa’s sister, June, was born at home.  When the census taker arrived a few months later, their father was not recorded as a resident of the family home.

Odessa and June grew up among black neighbors on Chicago’s South Side.  Their mother played piano in dance halls and hotel ballrooms.  Odessa studied dance with a prominent black teacher and choreographer, Hazel Thompson Davis.  The Cowans' hometown black newspaper, The Chicago Defender, first wrote glowingly of Odessa’s performances when she was seven.  But the next year, despite the fact that she had the same South Side address into her teens, mentions of Odessa Cowan in the Defender disappeared.  By some accounts, that was the year she was “discovered” by a white vaudeville producer.

When watching Hutton perform to the segregated audiences of the day, she's quite soulful and jazzy, almost with an attitude of I'm pulling one over on you--I'm getting away with it--and I'm laughing all the way to the bank! Good for her!  Here she is performing Truckin' and Suzy Q.  Enjoy the show! 

Monday, June 20, 2022

Insight From Frederick Douglass

For Juneteenth, I'm sharing this article about Frederick Douglass from PBS.org:

"Between the Christianity of this land and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference," wrote Frederick Douglass, a leading American abolitionist and former slave. Douglass rejected all biblical justifications of slavery after living under the cruel institution himself. Born in Maryland in 1818, his master's wife taught Douglass to read at a young age, and Douglass shared this knowledge with other slaves, encouraging them to read the New Testament and interpret Jesus Christ's message of equality. But Douglass rejected all Biblical justifications of slavery.

After escaping slavery, Douglass settled in New Bedford, Mass., and joined an integrated Methodist church where he attended anti-slavery meetings and befriended fellow abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison. Garrison encouraged the young Douglass to become an anti-slavery lecturer, and in 1845, Douglass published his first autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. The book quickly became a best seller, reprinted nine times and translated into French and Dutch.

Douglass started a weekly journal, The North Star, where he challenged his readers to question the contradiction between America's Christianity and the institution of slavery. Speaking before packed houses in Great Britain and America, Douglass attacked Christianity for not only permitting the continuation of slavery but also encouraging its expansion: "The church and the slave prison stand next to each other. ... [T]he church-going bell and the auctioneer's bell chime in with each other; the pulpit and the auctioneer's block stand in the same neighborhood."

Though Douglass was initially disappointed that Abraham Lincoln did not advocate for an end to slavery at the beginning of the Civil War, he was overjoyed when the president issued the Emancipation Proclamation. After Lincoln's Second Inaugural the president welcomed Douglass into the White House and was pleased to learn that Douglass approved of his speech.

After Lincoln's assassination, Douglass said of the late president: "Can any colored man, or any white man friendly to the freedom of all men, ever forget the night which followed the first day of January 1863, when the world was to see if Abraham Lincoln would prove to be as good as his word?"

Both of my kids have read the Narrative of the Life of  Frederick Douglass for their English classes, but I'm ashamed to admit I haven't, but it is on my to read list! Have you read it?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week! 

Monday, June 13, 2022

Gaslight and Gaslighting

Back in May of 1944, the psychological thriller Gaslight was released, starring Charles Boyer, Ingrid Bergman, and 18-year-old Angela Lansbury making her Oscar nominated screen debut.

The dictionary definition of gaslighting is to manipulate (someone) by psychological means into questioning their own sanity. If you're familiar with the term, but not exactly sure of how it originated, it all began with this story.

The 1944 film was adapted from the 1938 stage play of the same name. The drama centers around a  husband trying to drive his wife insane in order to distract her from his criminal activities. Here's a brief synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes:

After the death of her famous opera-singing aunt, Paula (Ingrid Bergman) is sent to study in Italy to become a great opera singer as well. While there, she falls in love with the charming Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer). The two return to London, and Paula begins to notice strange goings-on: missing pictures, strange footsteps in the night and gaslights that dim without being touched. As she fights to retain her sanity, her new husband's intentions come into question.
Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman
With help from the outside, Paula eventually understands what's going on and realizes she's not mad. When Gregory faces the consequences and appeals to Paula for help, she uses what he's tried to convince her of against him, "If I were not mad, I could have helped you. Whatever you had done, I could have pitied and protected you. But because I am mad, I hate you. Because I am mad, I have betrayed you. And because I'm mad, I'm rejoicing in my heart, without a shred of pity, without a shred of regret, watching you go with glory in my heart!"
Charles Boyer and Angela Lansbury

I love old movies, but this was one I had never seen until a few years ago. If you enjoy psychological thrillers, you'll love this one! Have you ever seen Gaslight? Thanks for visiting and have a great week! 

Monday, June 6, 2022

It's All in What You Say: Writing Dialogue


"A dialogue is more than two monologues." Max Kampelman

My favorite part of fiction writing is dialogue. It serves many purposes. And so much can be revealed about a character through his thoughts, actions and especially words he says or doesn't say. Each word clues the reader in to that particular character's identity.

I love old movies and Casablanca is one of my all time favorites! William Bayer, in his book The Great Movies, classifies it as one of the 60 greatest motion pictures of all time. Bayer says it is one of the few adventure films where the adventure takes place indoors. There are no fights or outdoor adventures. "There are, instead, adventures of verbal jousting, of dialogue and innuendo, and they are dominated, in fact ruled, by a supreme adventurer, Rick."

What makes us know Rick is an adventurer is his dialogue. Bayer outlines several snatches of it that reveal glimpses into Rick's character:

His Irony
When asked to explain why he came to Casablanca, Rick says,"I came to Casablanca for the waters."
"What waters? We're in the desert."
"I was misinformed."

His Sex Life in Casablanca:
As seen with a girl in a brief exchange. She asks," Where were you last night?"
"That's so long ago I don't remember."
"Will I see you tonight?"
"I never make plans so far in advance."

His Bitterness:
When he accuses Ingrid Bergman of having had other lovers: "Were there others in between? Or aren't you the kind that kisses and tells?"

His Urbanity:
"What is your nationality?" Major Strasser asks.
"I'm a drunkard," says Rick.

His Mystique (my favorite quote):
Claude Raines explains to Ingrid Bergman: "Rick is the kind of man that if I were a woman, I would be in love with Rick."

Besides revealing insight into your characters, dialogue moves your story along by providing important information. That's why the lines are there in the first place, and that's what keeps the reader reading!

Keep your dialogue natural sounding. Reading it out loud is a good test to hear if it sounds like a real conversation. As far as dialect, a little goes a long way. It makes your reader work too hard by having to intepret what you've written. Just throw in a few words, then leave the rest to the reader's imagination. They'll get the message regarding the character's speech pattern.

Hope this insight into dialogue has been helpful! If you haven't seen Casablanca, rent it over the weekend! It's worth it!

What's some of the best dialogue you've seen or read lately?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, May 30, 2022

Happy Memorial Day!

 


I'm taking a day off from blogging today. Enjoy the holiday and remember to honor those who have served our country!