IF: electronic

...and through the wire...

Forced by his parents to take piano lessons, Robert Moog preferred tinkering around in his father’s workshop. Robert’s father was an engineer at Consolidated Edison and Robert became fascinated by the wires and tubes and other electronic accessories. Around this time, Robert discovered the theremin, an unusual musical instrument that makes otherworldly sounds created merely by the wave of the hand. At the age of 14, Robert built his first theremin from plans in a magazine.

Robert pursued and achieved several degrees in electrical engineering, including a Ph.D from Cornell University.  Using technology he learned at school, Robert began building and selling theremins from his home. One of his customers, the celebrated experimental musician Raymond Scott, rewired Robert’s theremin to be controled by keyboard and, thus, invented the Clavivox, an early sound synthesizer.

While at Cornell, Robert worked diligently on sound modules for a synthesizer he was developing. Robert experimented, hoping to the reduce the size of current synthesizers, making them more portable and user-friendly. With the help and suggestions from experimental musicians like Wendy Carlos and Herb Deutsch, he premiered the Moog Synthesizer in the early 1960s. Robert explained that  “I don’t design stuff for myself. I’m a toolmaker. I design things that other people want to use.” Never satisfied to rest on his laurels, Robert continued to work on and refine his invention. His instrument soon became a staple of such noted musical acts as Emerson, Lake and Palmer, The Rolling Stones, Yes and The Grateful Dead.

Unfortunately, Robert was a poor businessman. He sold his company, Moog Music, to Norlin Musical Instruments (now part of Gibson Guitars), but remained with the company as a designer. However, had his contract not required him to stay for four years, he said he would have left sooner. Moog faced fierce completion from Roland and Arp, who built cheaper synthesizers.

In 1978, Robert moved to Asheville, North Carolina and opened Big Briar Music, eventually renaming the company Moog Music, after buying back the rights to the name. He became a research professor at the University of North Carolina while working on a synthesizer operated by touchscreen.

Robert passed away in 2005 at the age of 71. Without Robert Moog’s contributions, there would be no “electronic music” genre.



DCS: matthew henson

adventure is out there

Born to sharecroppers in 1866, Matthew Henson fled persecution by the Ku Klux Klan and headed to Georgetown with his family. While attending an event honoring President Abraham Lincoln, young Matthew was inspired by a speech delivered by Frederick Douglass. Douglass called upon blacks to vigorously pursue educational opportunities and battle racial prejudice.

Matthew began working as a cabin boy aboard a merchant ship. The ship’s captain taught Matthew how to read and write. At 21, Matthew was working in a Washington, DC department store when he met Commander Robert E. Peary. When Peary learned of Matthew’s sailing experience, he recruited the young man to join his upcoming expedition to Nicaragua. Matthew accompanied Peary on explorations for the next twenty years – exclusively in the Arctic. Matthew became fluent in the Inuit language. He was an expert craftsman and dog sled driver and his resourcefulness was beneficial to his colleagues in the harsh Arctic conditions.

In 1909, Peary and his crew of over 40 men and women started out to reach the North Pole. As they came closer to the North Pole, Peary selected Matthew as part of a team of six to make the final run. An exhausted Peary could no longer continue on foot. He made the rest of the journey seated in a dog sled while Matthew was sent ahead as a scout. It was Matthew Henson who planted the American flag at the designated spot. However, in the years following, Robert Peary was lauded for the accomplishment, with Matthew largely forgotten. He spent the next thirty years on the staff of the U.S. Customs House in New York. It wasn’t until 1944 that Matthew (and other members of the Peary expedition) received proper acknowledgement with medals from Congress. Presidents Truman and Eisenhower both honored Matthew just prior to his death in 1955.



DCS: wilma rudolph

La Gazzella Nera

Wilma Rudolph was born prematurely with a birth weight of 4-and-a-half pounds. She suffered from several early childhood illnesses, including pneumonia and scarlet fever. At the age of five, she contracted infantile paralysis, caused by the polio virus. Although she recovered from polio, Wilma lost strength in her left leg and foot. Physically disabled for much of her early life, Wilma wore a leg brace until she was twelve years old.

She never let any of those setbacks stop her.

At the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia, Wilma won a bronze medal in the 4 x 100-meter relay. Four years later, at the Olympic games in Rome, She won three gold medals in the 100 and 200-meter individual events and the 4 x 100-meter relay. She became the first American woman to win three gold medals in a single Olympics. She was also touted as “The Fastest Woman in the World.”

When Wilma returned home to Clarksville, Tennessee, her success was celebrated with “Welcome Wilma Day” on October 4, 1960. It was a day filled with festivities, including a huge banquet in her honor. On Wilma’s insistence, the parade and banquet became the first, fully-integrated city-sponsored event in the history of Clarksville.

In later years, using her fame, Wilma campaigned for civil rights and, in 1963, the mayor of Clarksville announced that all of the city’s public facilities, including restaurants, would become fully integrated.

At 54, Wilma was diagnosed with cancer, which spread rapidly. She passed away in 1994. Thousands of mourners attended her memorial. In 1984, the Women’s Sports Foundation selected Wilma as one of the five greatest women athletes in the United States. Two years after her death, the foundation presented its first Wilma Rudolph Courage Award to another Olympic gold medalist, Jackie Joyner-Kersee.






DCS: adelaide hall

Creole Love Call

20 year-old Adelaide Hall performed with numerous all-African-American cast productions in the early 20th Century, including shows by Eubie Blake and W.C. Handy.

In 1927, Adelaide was appearing in Dance Mania with Duke Ellington. At a stop at the Standard Theater in Philadelphia, Ellington introduced a new composition, an instrumental he called “Creole Love Call.” Adelaide stood in the wings, humming along to the tune as she waited for her time to perform. Ellington stopped playing, got up from the piano and asked, “Can you do that again? That’s just what I was looking for!” Adelaide was startled and she confessed, ” I don’t know. I don’t even know what I was doing.” She gathered her thoughts and again, hummed the counter melody as Ellington played the piano. A few days later, the pair recorded the haunting tune. In 1928, the song entered the Billboard charts at Number 19.

Adelaide was wildly popular throughout the 30s, playing to a world wide audience and headlining prestigious venues like The Cotton Club, The Apollo and the Harlem Opera House. Despite her popularity and acclaim, she faced racism. She and her husband were harassed and antagonized after buying  an estate in the predominant;y-white suburb of Westchester, New York.

In the late 30s, Adelaide moved to England and continued entertaining enthusiastic crowds. She became the first African-American to sign a long-term contract with the BBC. She released over 70 records for the British label Decca. She was a regular on British stage and even showed up in a cameo role in the 1940 Oscar-winning film The Thief of Bagdad.

Adelaide performed well into the 80s and 90s including a one-woman show at Carnegie Hall. She was the subject of a 1990 documentary called Sophisticated Lady. At a 1992 ceremony where she was honored by the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors, Adelaide was told by attendees that she appeared to be fifty — despite having recently celebrated her 90th birthday.

Adelaide passed away in November 1993. At a memorial service,  British journalist broadcaster Michael Parkinson remarked, “Adelaide lived to be 92 and never grew old.”



DCS: patricia “boots” mallory


While working as an usherette at the Lyric Theater in Mobile, Alabama, Patricia “Boots” Mallory was offered a spot in the travelling show by Florenz Ziegfeld. She accepted and soon traveled with the troupe to New York where she was featured in the 1931 Ziegfeld Follies.

Moving to Hollywood, “Boots” joined Fox Films and made her screen debut in “Walking Down Broadway,” the first sound film by director Erich von Stroheim. Fox executives strongly objected to some of the films themes, including sexual escapades and an implied lesbian relationship between “Boots” and a character played by ZaSu Pitts. Another director was brought in to re-cut the film and re-shoot some scenes. It was re-released under another title and the original version is considered lost.

“Boots” was regarded for her striking looks and was photographed by famed Hollywood promotional photographer George Hurrell. She also posed for risque lingerie photographs and was painted nude by noted pin-up artist Rolf Armstrong.

In 1933, “Boots” married producer William Cagney, brother of actor James. She made mostly “B” pictures including a role with Rin-Tin-Tin. She also was cast opposite her brother-in-law in a few “Lux Radio Theater” broadcasts. She made her final screen appearance in 1938 in an uncredited role along side Laurel and Hardy.

“Boots” passed away from a throat ailment in 1958 at the age of 45. She was married to her second husband, actor Herbert Marshall.



IF: botanical

beautiful downtown Burbank

In his fifty-plus year career as a pioneer in agricultural science, Luther Burbank invented and developed more than 800 strains and varieties of plants, including fruits, fruits, flowers, grains, grasses and vegetables. Among his creations are the Shasta daisy, the freestone peach, the fire poppy, the July Elberta peach, the Santa Rosa plum, the Flaming Gold nectarine, the Wickson plum, the white blackberry and a variety of russet potato that bears his name. The “Burbank Russet” was developed as a result of the potato famine that devastated Ireland in the late 1800s.

Although Burbank is recognized for his extensive work and eventual achievements in cross-breeding and botanical experimentation, he has been criticized by contemporaries for his lack of records and documentation of his research.  In 2004, Purdue University professor Jules Janick wrote: “Burbank cannot be considered a scientist in the academic sense.” In a time when there was little legal protection for inventors, Burbank was more interested in doing and getting results than writing down all of his trial-and-error processes.

Just prior to his death in 1926, Burbank instructed his wife to allow Missouri horticulturalists Stark Bros. Nursery to carry on with his inventions. After much success, Burbank’s widow and Stark Bros. came to a mutual agreement to end the partnership. Burbank’s creations were dispersed to various other companies including the Burpee Seed Company and Santa Rosa Junior College, where their gardens were filled with some of Luther Burbank’s uncompleted experiments like a thornless rose, a spineless cactus, rainbow-colored corn and a hybrid mulberry tree that Burbank had hoped would create an American silk industry.