Category Archives: History

Brian Keane: “Driving While Black”

Driving While Black — a 2-hour documentary — premieres nationally on PBS tonight (Tuesday, October 13, 9 p.m. EDT).

The film explores the history of race-based restrictions on mobility in the US, including slavery, segregation, the very real dangers of traveling in many parts of the country, the construction of highways through politically powerless black neighborhoods, and the current dangers of “driving while black.”

The Ric Burns project was fast-tracked after the deaths of George Floyd and Jacob Blake this summer.

Working at that furious pace was Brian Keane. The 1971 Staples High School graduate scored the music.

Keane — an Emmy-winning composer with 20 nominations — has worked on most of Burns’ films. He’s also adept with music from many cultures, having scored the only Academy Award-winning Chinese documentary ever (“The Blood of Yingzhou District”).

Keane is noted too for his work with Turkish music and Omar Faruk Tekbilek (he sold out Carnegie Hall in 2018, and similar venues worldwide). He also scored Grammy-winning Irish music with the Chieftains, and produced Linda Ronstadt singing Mexican tunes.

Just as important for Driving While Black, Keane scored the music to Henry Hampton’s films.

He was America’s first major Black documentarian. his 1980’s multi-part television show “Eyes on the Prize” is a classic.

In the 1980s and early ’90s, there were few minorities in television production. Hampton used his fame to hire top documentary professionals — mostly white — to mentor inexperienced Black men and women who wanted to learn the craft.

Keane was one of those mentors.

Brian Keane

Though the Driving While Black budget was small — and the turnaround time quick — Keane was eager to participate. The chance to influence millions of viewers, the timing and the subject’s importance all resonated.

Most of the musicians working with him were Black, and old friends. Singer Janice Dempsey told him, “music has no color.” As he worked, and talked, he realized that — without exception — his Black friends and the film’s musical collaborators have been affected by institutional racism.

Because of the rich history of black music in America — gospel, blues, jazz,  R&B, hip hop — and because many of his musician friends had been out of work due to COVID, Keane decided to use PBS’ limited  budget to hire great musicians.

He forwent his usual fee, opting to make “a soundtrack that would raise awareness further, but would also be compelling musically.”

The main theme took a 1947 Alan Lomax recording of Black prisoners singing while working in a chain gang. Keane set it to African and hip hop beats, scoring it with modern urban jazz elements, a viola de gamba to connect to colonial times, sound design, and tension atmospheres.

He says, “It gets across the point the film tries to convey: Racism has been part of America throughout its history, and still very much is today too.”

It includes Blues Hall of Famer Joe Louis Walker, jazz pianist Cyrus Chestnut, Grammy-winning trumpeter Randy Brecker, gospel artist Ada Dyer, and emerging socially conscious artists like Kyla Imani and Jermaine Love Songz.

Marion Meadows performs too. His cousin was shot 27 times and killed by police last year. The video of the incident was lost.

But this would not be an “06880” story without more local connections. Former resident play on the soundtrack too: Dan Barrett (cello) and Murali Coryell (electric guitar).

(Click here to download Brian Keane’s “Driving While Black” soundtrack.)

Friday Flashback #213

It’s been almost 51 years to the day. But no one who was there has forgotten the energy and power of that afternoon.

October 15, 1969 was a national event: a “Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam,” Demonstrations occurred all over the country.

The cover of Staples’ 1970 yearbook included photos from that fall’s Moratorium march, in the form of a peace sign.

Sparked by young people, Westport protested too.

Staples students streamed out of school. Led by Westport police, and joined by teachers and junior high students, more than 1,200 marched down North Avenue, turned right on Long Lots, then onto the Post Road all the way to the YMCA.

Massing in front of the old Bedford building — the only part of the Y at that time — a crowd that swelled to 2,000 heard speakers, including Iowa Senator Harold Hughes and Temple Israel’s Rabbi Byron T. Rubenstein, denounce the war and demand peace.

They wore black armbands and sported doves of peace. They carried American flags, and chanted “Hell no, we won’t go!” Counter-protesters drove alongside, cursing them. A few threw eggs.

(Photo/Patricia McMahon)

A remarkable video of that Westport moratorium captures the day.

Staples senior Guy Northrop shot 17 minutes of the march, with a Bauer Super 8 camera. Eleven minutes survive, and have been posted on YouTube.

The video shows with remarkable freshness the power of that protest. It also serves as a unique time capsule. Much of Westport has changed since then. But much has not.

Cockenoe Is A Hike

There are many ways to get from Westport to Cockenoe Island.

You can sail. You can paddle. You can JetSki.

Or — if you are particularly adventurous — you can walk.

Alert — and creative — “06880” reader Jeff Manchester reports:

“With a super low tide at 8:09 this morning, some intrepid souls took their soles and walked from Saugatuck Island to Cockenoe Island.

From left: Jeff Manchester, Eric Sugerman, 9th graders Jake Coykendall and Tucker Peters, and 8th grader Max Manchester, with their “support vehicle”: a mega-kayak.

“It was a brisk morning in the high 40’s when we started, and only in the 50’s when we returned. However, the water was warmer than the air, so it made for a much more enjoyable journey.

“This is a bucket list item for sure, when the tides and weather cooperate.

En route. (Photo/Mary Sugerman)

“And of course, we have the Einsels, Greens, Jo Fox Brosious and many more to thank for their herculean efforts, saving Cockenoe for future generations from an attempted nuclear power plant over 50 years ago.”

Indeed. Although if that Chernobyl-style structure had actually been built there, today’s water would be a lot warmer.

Roundup: Woodstock, Teachers, Movies, Music, More


Last week, Peter Gambaccini saw that TCM was running the director’s cut of “Woodstock.”

Peter was there in the Catskills hills, 51 years ago this month. Now in his early 70s, he was not ready to sit through all those hours of music and more (particularly not Ten Years After).

But he tried to time it so that he’d tune in to see some of the Westporters he knew were there (though he never saw them “live”).

In a segment showing people sliding through the mud after a torrential rain, he suddenly spotted Bill Davidson. He was a Staples High School hockey star, and drummer with local bands.

In the movie, Bill had a line about what a “mess” the hillside was. Peter had not seen him in the movie before, so he guesses that was part of the expanded version.

Then — after a brief bit of other business — Pete Krieg and Peter Cannon came into view. Cannon flashed the peace sign at the camera.

They were so close in the footage to Davidson, Gambaccini assumed they’d all gone to Woodstock together.

Nope.

In a Facebook discussion about another musical topic on Facebook, Gambaccini asked Krieg about the weekend. He said:

“I’ve gotten close to Bill in the past 10 years, since he’s the head bartender at Aspetuck Club. It was just last year (50 years later) that we realized we were 20 yards/60 seconds apart on that road, at that moment, at Woodstock.”

Far out!


Phaedra Taft — science coach at Greens Farms and Long Lots Elementary Schools — has received the Connecticut Science Teachers Association award for “Excellence in Elementary Science Teaching 2020.” 

During her 12 years in the Westport schools, Taft has been a leader in the development and implementation of the elementary school science curriculum. She has also played an instrumental role in leading the District’s adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards

In other education news, 2 Westport teachers — Staples High School’s Suzanne Kammerman and Courtney Ruggiero of Bedford Middle School — were featured on a Channel 8 story about teaching 9/11 to today’s students. Click here to see.

Phaedra Taft


The Artists Collective of Westport is helping another arts group: the Remarkable Theater.

They’re collaborating on Thursday’s drive-in movie. “Best in Show” — a biting satire about dog shows — will be shown September 17 at 8 p.m. at the Imperial Avenue parking lot. The gate opens at 7.

Tickets are $50 per car. Click here to reserve.


Westport’s Suzuki Music School is beefing up its presence. New Visiting Artist courses have been added, with Grammy Award-winning instructors like percussionist Joe McCarthy, and subjects including the history of jazz, movie soundtrack composition amd contemporary fiddling.

Suzuki is also streaming more free public events, with jazz pianist Sumi Tonooka and cellist Matt Haimovitz and more. The popular children’s Pillow Concert series continues online, and the Connecticut Guitar Festival returns for a 4th year (virtually this time).

Suzuki’s season kicks off this Sunday (September 20) with a master class by Grammy-winning violinist Augustin Hadelich. Click here for tickets to that class; click here for an overview of events.


And finally … since we’re honoring Woodstock (above), here’s a “trip” down memory lane. In deference to Peter Gambaccini, it’s not Ten Years After. It’s Bert Sommer. He was accompanied at Woodstock by local resident Ira Stone. If you’ve never heard of them — or at least didn’t know they were at Woodstock — well, they never made it off the film’s cutting room floor. NOTE: The Woodstock recording is poor. I’ve also included a studio version (I’m not sure if it includes Ira).

 

 

9/11: A Lost Video, Found In A Pandemic

Alert “06880” reader Robin Gusick writes:

The anniversary of 9/11 always takes me back to when I lived in downtown New York, on 14th Street and Avenue A with my husband Dave and our 6-month old baby Sam.

Early that morning, a friend called and said, “you better put on the TV – now.” We watched in horror and disbelief the footage of the first plane hitting.

Sam Gusick with his young parents, Dave and Robin.

We had plans to take Sam to his first baby music class, and wondered whether to go or not. Since we presumed the plane crash to be a terrible accident, we put Sam in his stroller and walked outside.

On the way we saw people huddling around a Radio Shack with multiple TV sets in the windows, all showing the first plane crashing into the World Trade Center. We considered heading home, but figured we might as well go to the class as a distraction.

Ten minutes in, the teacher stopped playing her guitar and said, “I’m sorry, but it just seems wrong to sing when the world is falling apart. I just heard that a second plane hit. This is not an accident — it’s a terrorist attack.”

As we rushed out and hurried home with Sam back in his stroller, we saw massive smoke rising up from further downtown. People watched TVs in windows all along Union Square. They stood silently in shock, watching both towers fall.

Back in our apartment, we put Sam in his “exersaucer” and watched TV — and watched and watched, in horror. We saw smoke from our apartment windows, and smelled the most toxic smell imaginable.

It was particularly surreal to see this innocent 6-month old baby staring at the TV, and wonder what kind of world he would grow up in. We videotaped that moment on our bulky camcorder, knowing one day we would want to show Sam.

Fast forward 18 years to September 11, 2018. Sam is a senior at Staples High School (we moved to Westport when he was 2). I told him a bit of our story of that somber day, mentioning I had a videotape somewhere. He said, “Wow, I’d really like to see that.”

I was glad he was way too young to remember that awful day. I tried to explain to him that when you go through  something like 9/11, you forever see the world through a different lens.

Sam headed off to the University of Vermont the following fall. My first baby quickly found “his people” and his “happy place” in Burlington. He came home for spring break in March. The pandemic hit, and his time in Vermont came to a screeching halt. Sam said, “My generation really has not lived through anything major like this… well, except September 11th. But I have no memory of that.”

Sam Gusick (Photo/Kerry Long)

Sam’s last 2 months of school were at home with no friends, no campus, no Burlington. He was a good sport. He was happy to have Zoom calls, and movie nights with his college buddies. There were silver linings: family dinners that never fit into his busy Staples Players and Orphenians schedule, and decluttering and simplifying our home.

During one of those long pandemic days in March, sorting through mountains of old papers while watching “Tiger King” with Sam, I felt a small item mixed in with the papers: a videotape labeled “Sam — September 11th.” It was a pandemic miracle!

However, the miracle was trapped in what seemed like caveman technology. Plus every business was shutting down. I left that tape on my night table, though.  It took until today — September 11, 2020 — for me to research how to transfer that camcorder video to a watchable format.

And so, my 9/11 “gift” to Sam (who is back at UVM now) is this video, along with a message: Life can change in an instant.

It did on 9/11/01, and it did this past March. Keep being the resilient, positive man you have grown to be. Keep smiling like you did in that exersaucer on that very, very sad day.

Even if it’s under your mask. Click below for the 9/11 video.

Roundup: 9/11 Babies, Gas, More


From time to time, “06880” has noted Hillary O’Neill. The Staples High School graduate — and daughter of Coleytown Middle School social studies teacher Glenn O’Neill — was born on September 11, 2001.

She and a number of other young people have embraced their now-infamous birthday, dedicating themselves to service on a day that is difficult to celebrate.

Yesterday, Politico ran a story headlined: “The Children of 9/11 Are About to Vote.” The piece explored what “the youngest cohort of American voters thinks about politics, fear and the potential of the country they’ve grown up in.”

Hillary — now an EMT and student — was one of the “9/11 babies” interviewed. Among her thoughts:

From what I understand, there’s a certain aspect of fear now that didn’t necessarily exist before. It’s weird when I talk to my parents and they say, “This is not what it was always like.

The country has done a very poor job of handling the pandemic. It’s exposed a lot of the disorganization and divisions in our country and in our government. The fact that we are so divided has prevented us from actually being able to move forward with anything. It’s just frustrating when you hear experts on the topic who have been preparing their whole lives for an event like this, and they’re not being listened to.

When I was younger, I always thought that in America there was equality—that everyone had rights and everyone had freedoms. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized although that’s the ideal, that’s not the truth.

As a young woman, the way that (President Trump) talks about women is very disheartening to me and a lot of my friends. To know that that’s the person who is supposed to represent your country is a very frustrating feeling. You would think that everyone looked down upon that. The fact that not everyone does is a very frustrating feeling.

I hope that my generation can bring back a sense of community to the country. That is really something that will allow us to accomplish more things and move forward as a country. Rather than just accepting something the way that it is—because that’s the way it’s always been or accepting certain institutions—people my age have grown up learning to challenge those. If you don’t agree with something, challenge it.

Click here for the full Politico story, with more comments by Hillary and others. (Hat tip: Kerry Foley)

 

 

 

 

The cost of many things goes up. The price of gas keeps dropping.

As Chip Stephens put out his state representative campaign signs yesterday, he noticed at least 3 gas stations charging less than $2 a gallon.

Now, if we only had someplace to go, other than around in circles …

(Photo/Chip Stephens)


And finally … Ronald Khalis Bell — a founder of Kool & the Gang — died Wednesday. He was 68. Let’s celebrate the group’s monster hit, which he wrote:

Pics Of The Day #1243

On September 11, 2001 — in the immediate aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks — Sherwood Island State Park was designated as the staging area for Connecticut’s rescue assistance.

Tragically, our state’s efforts were never needed. There was no one to rescue.

But the park — nestled between Compo and Burying Hill Beaches, and a spot that cloudless day where smoke from the burning towers was clearly visible — now plays another important role.

It is the site of Connecticut’s official “living 9/11 memorial.” A simple, somber yet elegant stone — and the names of 153 state residents killed that morning — remind visitors of so many lives well lived, ended senselessly far too soon.

Whether or not you knew any of those men and women — some of whom grew up in, or lived in 2001, in Westport — does not matter. Every Westporter owes it to the memory of every American to visit the Sherwood Island 9/11 Living Memorial. (Click here to learn more about it.)

(Photos/Amy Schneider)

Remembering 9/11, And A Bicycle

No matter what else goes on this Friday, the shadow of a Tuesday weekday 19 years ago — September 11, 2001 — hangs over us all. 

That horrible day changed our lives forever. We know it now — and we sensed it then.

Here’s what I wrote 3 days later — September 14, 2001 — in my Westport News “Woog’s World” column.

It was a bit past noon on Tuesday, the Tuesday that will change all of our lives forever.

Fifty miles from Westport smoke billowed from what, just hours before, was the World Trade Center.

A number of Westporters once worked there. The twin towers were never particularly beautiful, but in their own way they were majestic. Whether driving past them on the New Jersey Turnpike, flying near them coming in to the airport, or taking out-of-town friends or relatives to the top, we took a certain amount of pride in them.

We’re Westporters, but in a way we’re also New Yorkers. The World Trade Center symbolized that, though we live in suburban Connecticut, we all feel in some way connected to the most exciting, glamorous, powerful city in the world.

And now that same city was under attack. From the largest McMansion to the most modest Westport home, men and women frantically tried to make contact with spouses, relatives and friends who work in downtown Manhattan.

The iconic 9/11 photo was taken by Westport’s Spencer Platt. He lived near the Twin Towers on that awful morning.

At Staples High School, teenagers who grew up thinking the worst thing that can happen is wearing the wrong shirt or shoes, were engaged in a similar quest.

Many of their fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers work in New York. Many others knew loved ones who were flying that morning, or in Washington, or somewhere else that might possibly become the next city under siege.

Meanwhile, on Whitney Street, a pretty young woman dressed in her best late-summer clothes rode a bicycle down the road.

It was, after all, a beautiful day. Along the East Coast there was not a cloud n the sky — not, that is, unless you count the clouds filled with flames, dust and debris erupting from the collapse of the World Trade Center.

It was a perfect day to ride a bicycle, unless of course you were terrified you had lost a loved one, were glued to a television set wherever you could find one, or were so overwhelmed by grief and rage and fright and confusion because you had no idea what was next for America that riding a bicycle was absolutely the furthest thing from your mind.

On the other hand, perhaps riding a bicycle was exactly the right reaction. Perhaps doing something so innocent, so routine, so life-affirming, was just was some of us should have been doing.

If tragedy teaches us anything, it is that human beings react to stress in a variety of ways. Who is to say that riding a bicycle is not the perfect way to tell Osama bin Laden, or whoever turns out to be responsible for these dastardly deeds, that America’s spirit will not be broken?

But I could not have ridden a bicycle down the road on Tuesday. I sat, transfixed, devouring the television coverage of events that, in their own way, may turn out to be as transforming for this world as Pearl Harbor was nearly 60 years earlier.

I could not bear to watch what I was seeing, but neither could I tear myself away. Each time I saw the gaping holes in those two towers, every time I saw those enormous symbols of strength and power and (even in these economically shaky times) American prosperity crumble in upon themselves like a silly disaster movie, the scene was more surreal than the previous time.

Life will be equally surreal for all of us for a long time to come.

I wondered, as I watched the video shots of the jet planes slam into the World Trade Center over and over and over again, what must have been going through each passenger’s mind.

Like many Westporters, I fly often. Like most I grumble about the delays and crowded planes, but like them too I feel a secret, unspoken thrill every time the sky is clear, the air is blue and the scenery terrific. Tuesday was that kind of day.

For the rest of my life, I suspect, flying will never be the same. And the increased security we will face at every airport, on each plane, is only part of what I fear.

So much remains to be sorted out. We will hear, in the days to come, of Westporters who have lost family members and friends in the World Trade Center. We will hear too of those who have lost their jobs when their companies collapsed, either directly or indirectly, as a result of the terrorism.

Sherwood Island State Park is the site of Connecticut’s official 9/11 Memorial.(Photo/David Squires)

We will drive along the New Jersey Turnpike, or stand on a particular street in Manhattan, perhaps even take out-of-town guests to gaze at the landmark we will come to call “the place the twin towers used to be.”

Our casual grocery store and soccer sideline conversations will be filled with stories: who was where when the terror first hit, and what happened in the hours after.

Our newspapers and airwaves will be clogged with experts trying to explain — though that will never be possible — what it all means for us, in the short term and long term, as individuals and a society.

Our world has already changed, in ways that will take years, if not decades, to understand. We are nowhere close to comprehending the meaning of all this.

The world will go on, of course. Our planet will continue to spin; men and women will continue to commute to New York, and pretty women in Westport will continue to ride bicycles down Whitney Street.

At the same time, sadly, none of that will ever be the same.

Roundup: Jazz, Food, Black History, More


Outdoor entertainment returned to MoCA Westport last night. A socially distanced crowd enjoyed Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Alexa Tarantino Quartet.

More concerts will be announced soon.

Outdoors at MoCA.

With food insecurity still a serious issue, the Westport Woman’s Club Food Closet is grateful for a nice donation from Westport National Bank.

Any organizations or family can donate food to neighbors in need. Bring non-perishable donations to the WWC 44 Imperial Avenue) from 9 a.m. to onoon on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. If the clubhouse is locked, call 203-227-4240.

Monetary donations are also welcome. Click here, or send a check made out to Westport Woman’s Club to WWC, 44 Imperial Avenue, Westport, CT  06880.

At the Westport Woman’s Club food pantry (from left); Wendy McKeon, WWC food closet co-chair; Robin Clark, WWC member and Westport National Bank vice president; Selma Blue, WNB head teller.


The “hidden history of Black Westport” will be visible to Westporters next Saturday (September 12, 9:30 to 10:30 a.m.)

As a follow-up to the Westport Museum of History & Culture’s “Remembered: The History of African Americans in Westport” exhibit, guides will lead tour groups (maximum of 10 people) throughout downtown.

They’ll describe local history, from enslaved people to soldiers, sailors, activists, artists, and respected residents, through existing buildings and long destroyed sites.

Tickets are $10. Reservations are required; click here to register. Foe moew information, email programs@westporthistory.org.


Aarti Khosla needs help in providing chocolate hearts to every Westport and Weston educator, as a show of thanks for all they do. 10% of all proceeds benefit another educational institution: Mercy Learning Center.

Click here to purchase hearts ($8 each). You can also stop by Aarti’s store, Le Rouge Chocolates (190 Main Street).

 


The final (and 15th) #FridayFlowers are on display at the Compo Beach lifeguard station. The Westport Garden Club — sponsor of the summer-long floral project — is grateful to the guards, and everyone at Westport Parks & Rec — for keeping our beaches safe and fun.

Pictured below (from left): David Levy, Noah Ross, Mia Parkes, Ella Thompson and Avery Tucker.

(Photo/Topsy Siderowf)

RTM representative and Westport Writers Workshop founder Jessica Bram undergoes brain surgery at Yale University Hospital this morning.

Doctors will drain excess hydration to reverse motor, cognitive and memory impairment resulting from a recent fall.

Jessica sends affection and high regard to the Westport community, past and current writing students, RTM colleagues, and Webb Road neighbors.


And finally … today is National Be Late for Something Day. I’ll have a song for you later. Maybe.

Roundup: COVID Testing, College Help, Gatsby in Connecticut, More


A reader writes:

“I just got myself and my kids tested at St Vincent’s Medical Center drive-thru at 47 Long Lots Road.

“I called 860-972-8100 this morning, got an appointment (no symptoms, no suspected contact, just routine — I wanted a baseline before school starts).

“We drove straight over (they are open 8 a.m. to noon). There was no line, no cost, just a gentle nose swab. They said results would be available in 3-5 days. We got ours in 1 day!

“Boom! Easy! In my opinion, we should/could all be doing this before school starts.”


Since 1952, STAR Lighting the Way has helped people of all ages impacted by intellectual and developmental disabilities live full, independent  lives.

They’re now launching a broader multi-lingual program for children experiencing, or at risk of, developmental delays. It expands services from birth through age 5, with additional options for children up to 8.

It includes direct coaching intervention by licensed occupational, physical, speech and behavioral therapists, and special education teachers; developmental evaluations and consultations; transition to school support; group activities (birth to age 5) like feeding, movement, play and music groups, plus additional services (6 to 8) including behavioral supports, assistive technology, translation and family supports.

For more information, email Barbara Fitzpatrick (starrubino@starct.org), or call 203-855-0634.


There’s a new college counseling service in town. And the counselors are not even out of college.

Nishika Navrange and Genevieve Demenico are 2019 Staples High School graduates. Both are products of the entire Westport school system. They were presidents of Staples’ Science Olympiad team and members of numerous honor societies. They attend NYU and Georgetown Universities (right now, online). So they know high school — and college.

Through Zoom and outdoor, socially distanced meetings, they offer essay help (“it’s a narrow way of writing, and we help keep the student’s personal voice,” they say), Common App advice, and counsel on where to apply.

Because they know students at “nearly every popular school,” Neshika and Genevieve can connect high schoolers with current collegians, for a personal connection and even (when they resume) a college tour.

For more information, email ctcollegeconsultants@gmail.com.

Genevieve Demenico and Nishika Navrange.


“Gatsby in Connecticut” — the video by Robert Steven Williams chronicling F. Scott Fitzgerald’s time in Westport, and its impact on his classic novel (with Sam Waterston as the writer, and voiceover by Keir Dullea) — is now available to rent, download or buy.

It’s available on Amazon Instant, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu, Fandango Now, Vimeo, Microsoft Xbox and YouTube, and via most cable providers. Click here for the trailer.

And click here to read an insightful review from The New Yorker. (Hat tip: Fred Cantor)


And finally … what was the most popular song of 1920, the year F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald lived in Westport (as noted above)? It was “Swanee” by Al Jolson — shown here in what to our eyes, 100 years later, is jarringly inappropriate blackface.