little red 1little red 2A remarkable relic from China’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, Songs of the Little Red Guards is a 10″ album from the late 60s with a similar package to the Ella Jenkins and Pete Seeger records American children were putting on their Fisher Price players at the time.

Although sung by a children’s choir, the songs reflect the turmoil of the times, in particular the re-establishment of Mao-ist orthodoxy. Titles such as “Let’s Help Pick Up the Rice Left in the Fields” and “Growing Vegetables for the Armymen’s Families” hint at the legacy of the famine which followed Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Foward while others enforce the Communist Party’s doctrine.

One of the most interesting songs is a tribute to Lei Feng, a relatively unknown soldier whose memoirs were published after his death in 1962 as Lei Feng’s Diary. The book expresses his admiration for Chairman Mao Zedong and the sacrifices he has made for the revolution in the form of selfless acts. The soldier was the subject of a propaganda campaign, and his story became part of the compulsory curriculum in schools.


An iconic poster of Lei Feng

The Red Guard was a student movement which began in 1966 in the middle school attached to Beijing’s Tsinghua University. After receiving recognition from the CCP the group quickly established itself in nearly every school in China. With the Chairman’s personal endorsement at a rally that summer, the group became an essential part of his Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.

Party leadership in Beijing struggled to control the Red Guard, which became increasingly divided into factions as it grew, potentially out of control. The campaign against Capitalist or bourgeoisie remnants became violent in places, where assaults on Chinese cultural relics quickly became assaults on individuals. The People’s Liberation Army began suppressing the Red Guard’s most radical elements in 1967, and it was entirely eliminated, often with brutal force, by the summer of 1968. The Chairman, whose enormous personality cult was greatly enhanced by the Red Guard, was alleged to have a tear in his eye when he last spoke to Red Guard leaders.


A Red Guard poster featuring the watchful Chairman

If you’d like to learn more about the Red Guard or start such an organization in your own school, you will likely enjoy Carma Hinton’s 2003 documentary about the Cultural Revolution, Morning Sun. If you still think it’s a good idea, we have a little red book for you.

Marian Anderson, born in 1897 in Philadelphia, is often misrepresented as an opera singer. While she did often include arias in concert, she was largely a concert performer. In commemoration of her birthday this year, her hometown of Danbury, Connecticut has planned a celebration, according to a short Associated Press blurb in our paper this morning.

Anderson was the first African-American to perform at the Metropolitan Opera, sang at two Presidential inaugurations, and christened a nuclear submarine.

In 1939 the Daughters of the American Revolution refused Anderson permission to perform to an integrated audience in their Constitution Hall (in Washington DC), bringing Anderson into an unexpected international spotlight. President Roosevelt and Walter White, the secretary of the NAACP, orchestrated a performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday, 1939. The performance attended by 75,000 people and heard by millions over the airwaves. Anderson began the program with “My Country tis of Thee.” Also performed was this recording of Schubert’s moving “Ave Maria,” one of the seven songs the twenty-eight year old Schubert based on Walter Scott’s epic poem, The Lady in the Lake in 1825.

We posted this song back in December, when Minneapolis Public Schools were closed for a snow day. Too bad it will probably be cleared up in time for school tomorrow but in the meantime it’s a beautiful snowy day!

Whenever a performing artist passes away, there is a rush of interest in their music. Fans flood stores looking for a favorite album or their most recent album, suddenly making a mediocre record a best-seller (let’s call this “the Double Fantasy effect”). Its a phenomenon that may be as old as record stardom — Enrico Caruso continued to enjoy commercial success long after his passing with new recordings still making news into the late 30s.

Presently the treatment of unissued recordings is a central issue in the settlement of Prince’s estate. We have mixed feelings on the subject. As fans we’re eager to hear more recordings, but also as fans we respect that he may have chosen to set the recordings aside for a reason.

This past weekend we were listening to Marvin Gaye albums, including the first two which were released after he was murdered in April 1984. Some good songs came out on the albums. One of the best of these was “The World Is Rated X,” which appeared on the Motown Remembers Marvin Gaye LP but was first recorded for his ‘lost’ 1972 album You’re the Man.

Columbia Records, with whom Gaye had signed after his tumultuous split from Motown, and to whom he’d delivered the enormously successful Midnight Love in 1982, was first to capitalize on his passing with an album of unissued recordings. The album Dream of a Lifetime collected unissued material and contained the hit “Sanctified Lady,” partly covering Gaye’s debts at the time of his death. Motown’s album followed the next year and included material from as early as 1963. Many of the early recordings on Motown Remembers Marvin Gaye were overdubbed to feature a more contemporary drum sound (the so-called “fat snare’ sound of the era) and new backing vocals.

The back cover of the Motown album always resembled, to us, one of those posterboard displays at a funeral. He is seen leaning on a car, in a kimono and — for some reason — eating breakfast in bed.

lincoln portraitAaron Copland’s Lincoln Portrait was inspired by conductor Andre Kostelanetz, who suggested he compose a portrait of a eminent American. Kostelanetz debuted the work with the Cincinnati Symphony in the summer of 1942, and it has since become a widely popular concert favorite.

The text in Lincoln Portrait is primarily derived from the speeches and writings of our sixteenth President. An impressive list of actors, politicians, astronauts and other celebrities have narrated the piece over the years. President Obama read the text with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 2005.

Your friendly neighborhood record store will be open from 11am to 7pm today on this Presidents Day. We thought it would provide some solace to hear the words of a President who appealed to “the better angels of our nature.”

This 1968 recording from Columbia’s “Copland Conducts Copland” series is narrated by Henry Fonda.

fats waller

One of our favorite Fats Waller melodies, recorded in 1942. Along with Count Basie, Waller was one of the first keyboardists to use the Hammond organ on a jazz recording, a full decade before Jimmy Smith’s Blue Note recordings popularized the form.

The Hammond was originally intended as a low-cost alternative for cash-strapped churches, but players found its sound very different from that of a pipe organ — tones an octave apart are in synch with each other, rather than the subtle variation natural to traditional organs. Ethel Smith, of no relation to Jimmy Smith, popularized the instrument with easy-listening audiences, and was called the “first lady of the organ” on albums.

Jimmy Smith played the bass lines with the organ’s pedals, and his trio established a subgenre of jazz which eventually crossed over into rhythm & blues and rock recordings.

Fats Waller was an accomplished organist, beginning his career at fourteen with a gig playing in a theater. He made jazz recordings for Victor on pipe organs in the 1920s, and was known to play Bach’s preludes and fantasies for friends.

Yesterday’s post featured one form of “mismatch” we often find around here and enjoy sharing, that of performers with the same or similar names.

For today’s post we have a song with the same title as a more famous recording. This record by Paul Cunningham and the Country Stringmasters was released in 1970, long before the Barenaked Ladies song of the same name became a fan favorite, but it has a similar sentiment.

As a side note, we read on Wikipedia that fans of the Canadian pop group would bring Kraft macaroni and cheese and throw it on stage during performances of the song. The cheese packets would sometimes be opened and, under the stage lights, would become stinky. Some fans would prepare the food before throwing it, causing the band to request the practice be put to rest (“Those in the know don’t throw”) and donate the boxes of Kraft dinner to a food shelf instead. The whole story proves you can have too much of a good thing.

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