Over the years, WBHM's Tapestry has made possible conversations with hundreds of musicians, artists, poets, novelists, actors and more. These days we're taking advantage of the (almost unlimited) time and space here on our website to take Tapestry in new directions, and to continue our discussions with some of the most interesting people from the broad spectrum of arts and culture.
Amber Ritchie uncovers hidden gems in the local music scene, Michael Krall covers classical music with an occasional side trip into indy rock, and Greg Bass explores the world of literature. WBHM's news team of Sarah Delia, Andrew Yeager, and Dan Carsen are also regular contributors.
The Lee Family Singers have been singing gospel music in and around Birmingham for more than 40 years. Now six of their offspring have formed a new group, The Second Generation of the Lee Family Singers. Both groups are committed to introducing younger people to music that was created hundreds of years ago, music born out of suffering and hope -- the spirituals. For WBHM, Darlene Robinson Millender went to see the Lee Family Singers in action.
In the front row sit members of the original Lee Family Singers. The second generation calls these women "Mom" and "Aunt."
They've gathered to celebrate the spirituals -- timeless songs historians say slaves in America created and used to express the pain of their existence and the hope of one day experiencing freedom.
Venora Lee, a member of the original group, says they sing spirituals to remember what their ancestors endured. She was one of the singers that suggested the group perform "Ride On King Jesus," now one of their signature songs.
"When you think about the words of that song, you think about the slaves and the ones who sung that, to keep focus and to be encouraged, to hold on," says Venora Lee. "When you think about the words to that song, 'No man can hinder me, in that great getting up morning, fare thee well, fare thee well. No man can hinder me.'"
The original Lee Family Singers were raised by Nathaniel and Edwina Lee. They were loving, yet firm, parents who wanted their children to reap the benefits of Birmingham's civil rights protests and to enjoy things they never experienced, like attending integrated schools.
Lynette Stallworth is the daughter of Nathaniel and Edwina and a member of the original Lee Family Singers. She remembers her dad as a trailblazer.
"My dad played a vital part in the desegregation of Phillips High School. It was on September 9 , 1957. He went to help be enrolled in Phillips High School along with three other students," says Stallworth. "He was in the car with Fred Shuttlesworth and the three other students."
Those familiar with Birmingham's civil rights history know the visit to Phillips High School that day did not go well for Shuttlesworth. He was beat by an angry mob for attempting to enroll his children in the school. Fortunately, the children who accompanied him that day, including Nathaniel Lee, stayed inside Shuttlesworth's car. But Stallworth says he father's actions, and those of Shuttlesworth and others, were not in vain.
"Because of that, all of us were students at Phillips High School and we graduated from Phillips High School, all six of us," says Stallworth. "So we thank God for that role that he played."
Both generations of the Lee Family Singers see it as their duty to remember the struggle and the perseverance of African Americans in this country -- and not just the sacrifices made during the civil rights movement. They say it's important to not forget what their enslaved ancestors endured. To them, the spirituals serve as a reminder.
"When you think about the suffering that our forefathers went through they had to have something to hold on to to make it," says Venora Lee. "We're here because of that today."
At the North Birmingham Library, there are a number of children in attendance. Some show interest in the Lee's performance, while others look like they would rather be playing video games. Both generations of Lee Singers admit that many children (and perhaps some adults) think that spirituals are an anachronism, harmonic relics that belong, and should stay, in another era.
But the Lees say while our current day is indeed different, kids should still learn about and appreciate the challenges of the past. Cornelius Lee agrees. He's a member of The Second Generation of Lee Family Singers.
"What spirituals mean to me, was people sung spirituals, they sung songs about what they were going through and what they hoped that God would bring them through their roughest times of their lives," says Cornelius Lee.
A recent graduate of UAB, Cornelius Lee believes people his age and younger can find a connection between this vintage art form and the often heady and confusing times young people face.
The Second Generation of Lee Family Singers perform at 7 p.m. on Friday, August 1 at All Nations Fellowship Church in southwest Birmingham.
~Darlene Robinson Millender, July 18, 2014, with production assistance from Rebecca Farmer
Guitar, banjo and harmonica player Willie Watson was a founding member of Old Crow Medicine Show, a popular, Nashville-based Americana band. He left in 2011, after almost fifteen years performing with the band. Since then, Watson has been exploring his love of old folk music. His first solo album, "Folk Singer, Vol. 1" comes out next month.
Watson plays Wednesday, April 2, at The Bottletree Cafe. He sat down with WBHM's Rachel Osier Lindley to talk about performing the classic blues and folk tunes he loves, along with the challenges of starting a solo career.
~ Rachel Osier Lindley, April 1, 2014
Twenty-two-year-old Callie Courter can't remember when she wasn't writing poetry and singing around the house. The Birmingham native started writing song lyrics while majoring in music at UAB. As a graduation present, her dad financed the production of her first album, called "Love Is For The Brave." She now lives in Nashville, where she's chasing her dreams of being a professional musician.
Courter sat down with Les Lovoy to tell WBHM about the new album, her first experience in the studio, and her songwriting process.
"Music is so important because it has no purpose. Its only purpose is to remind us as human beings, about the power of our own imagination." -Leon Botstein
UAB has awarded the 2014 Caroline P. and Charles W. Ireland Distinguished Visiting Scholar Prize to Dr. Leon Botstein. The award brings to campus outstanding scholars who are generally recognized as leaders in the arts and sciences. While at UAB, Botstein conducted a special performance of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, at UAB's Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center. Botstein also lectured and met with students and faculty in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences. He spoke with WBHM's Michael Krall and the conversation began with Botstein describing his reaction when he found out he won the prize.
Act of Congress is an acoustic quartet with influences from jazz, rock and pop. While they have quite a following here in Birmingham, in the last two years, they've partnered with the U.S. State Department and performed at embassies throughout Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Now settling back in Birmingham, they just released an album of Christmas songs. WBHM's Michael Krall spoke with band members Adam Wright and Chris Griffin and produced this audio postcard...
She's been described as "one of America's very best singer-songwriters" drawing comparisons to Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez but with a bit of an acidic twist. But for Dar Williams , who performs in Birmingham tomorrow night, appearing onstage didn't always come naturally. She spoke with WBHM's Michael Krall about her early years as well as her new album In The Time Of Gods.
The commemoration of the historic civil rights events of 1963 has drawn major attention to Alabama this year. One musical project related to 1963 is by noted Birmingham guitarist and educator Eric Essix. He spoke with WBHM’s Scott Hanley about his new CD, “evolution.”
Guitarist Eric Essix will perform selections from the new recording in a special concert in Birmingham at the Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center, joined by Atlanta’s “5 Men on a Stool” and vocalist Tracy Hamlin – Thursday, September 19, 2013.
Folk singer-songwriter Susan Werner knows food. She grew up on a family farm in Iowa. She has strong opinions about what we should eat and where that food should come from. So she says it was a no brainer when she was commissioned to write a concept album about farming. Werner brings that music to Birmingham Saturday night as part of her "Hayseed Project" tour.
The performance at UAB’s Alys Stephens Center is part of the concert hall’s first ever Nite Market – a farmers market with talks by local growers, demonstrations, games and garden inspired art. Werner tells WBHM’s Sarah Delia she’s looking forward to the conversation on local food and she’s been studying up on Alabama agriculture.Click here to listen to the interview.
~ Sarah Delia, July 19, 2013
Putting into words what Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert meant to me is impossible. They are the reason I love film. They are the reason I love writing.
I grew up in Pisgah, Alabama. A pretty small town by any standards. The closest movie theatre was thirty minutes away, and the closest art house theatre was a couple of hours away, minimum. I had an advanced movie watching mind from a young age. I was the seven-year-old kid watching Ordinary People and Withnail and I and loving every second of them. I lived at my local video store and took home stacks of movies, every genre imaginable.
I watched Siskel & Ebert every single week, without fail. They were television friends who introduced me to new films, engaged in lively discussions about films I wanted to see and always stood out because of their immense love and appreciation and respect for the cinematic medium. They took film personally because, in so many ways, it is a very personal thing. Critics today seem to lack that.
When Gene Siskel died, a part of me died. I was wrecked. I loved them both so close to equally, but I think I most identified with Siskel. I don’t know what to even say now that Roger Ebert has joined his friend in the balcony in the sky. Film criticism has died along with him. There are no giants left in that industry. Ebert was the last…the original. I honestly don’t know that I care to read another review again. What’s the point? They won’t be nearly as eloquent, honest or insightful.
I am sad that Roger Ebert spent the last years of his life unable to speak, but so thankful that this disability allowed him to do some of his most insightful and prolific writing. I think it made him a better writer, if that was even possible. I am sad that his attempt to re-kindle an honest and intelligent televised criticism program was met not with enthusiasm but with bewilderment – there’s just no room for intelligent and honest criticism anymore. I am sad that he had so much in the works and will not get to see it into fruition. I'm hopeful that his amazing wife will see it through. But most of all I am sad that I won’t have a reason to visit RogerEbert.com on Wednesday evenings at 11 p.m. to check his newest reviews for the week. I have done this, without fail, since his reviews started publishing online all those years ago.
Director Steve James (Hoop Dreams) has been working on a documentary about Roger Ebert with Martin Scorsese. I was so excited to hear Ebert’s review on the documentary about his life. Unfortunately for Mr. James and Mr. Scorsese, their footnote on the film will now be a sad one. Rest in peace, Roger – for me, forever, the balcony is most definitely closed.
~ Billy Ray Brewton, April 5, 2013.
Billy Ray Brewton is founder and former artistic director of Birmingham's Theatre Downtown, a non-profit performing arts company dedicated to exposing Birmingham audiences to cutting-edge contemporary works, established classics with a twist and original works from aspiring playwrights. In 2013 he also launched Glass Half Pictures, a company specializing in works for stage and screen.
The Democratic Republic of Congo has been wracked by war for decades, but most Americans know very little about the struggle. Two Birmingham-area theatre companies hope to change that. They're staging an award-winning play that calls attention to the dark times in the Congo. A warning. The following story deals with mature subject matter that some may find disturbing. WBHM's Greg Bass has the story.
February 28, 2013
This weekend, the Alabama Symphony Orchestra’s Masterworks series features two works by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. And while he’s certainly known in today’s orchestral world, in his home country of Finland, Sibelius remains beloved.Music Director Laureate Justin Brown talked with WBHM’s Michael Krall about the concert, as well as his new role with the ASO. Brown says that right from the start, Sibelius made a mark on the Finnish nation….
February 22, 2013
Meet the Instant Adoring Boyfriend, Blue Berry the Creepy Clown, and crowd favorite, the Sleazy Hypnotist. They didn't start out to be funny, but they are. These characters and others star in the Found Footage Festival that stops in Birmingham this weekend. WBHM's Greg Bass has the details.
January 18, 2013
A small Black Belt town is the scene of a civil rights era killing and years later the defendant is brought to trial in a Birmingham federal court. Sounds like Alabama history, but it’s actually the plot Eden Rise, the first novel from award-winning historian Jeff Norrell. WBHM's Greg Bass has the story.
January 11, 2013