Category Archives: American Regionalism

Ella Fitzgerald 4.25.13 Thought of the Day

“It isn’t where you came from, it’s where you’re going that counts.” — Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Sings Broadway

Ella Sings Broadway (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ella Jane Fitzgerald was born on this day in Newport News, Va. in  1917.  Today is the  96th anniversary of her birth.

Her parents, William and Tempie Fitzgerald split when she was an infant and Ella and her mother moved to Yonkers, New York. Tempie fell in love with Joe Da Silva and the couple had a baby girl, Ella’s half-sister, Frances in 1923. When Joe couldn’t make ends meet with his part-time chauffeuring gig he dug ditches. Tempie worked at a laundromat. Even little Ella helped out, she was a runner for local gamblers.

Ella enjoyed sports as a child and liked to dance and sing with her friends. “some evenings they would take the train into Harlem and watch various acts at the Apollo Theater.” [The Official Website of Ella Fitzgerald] She was inspired by Louis Armstrong and the Boswell Sisters, a trio from New Orleans who specialized in tight harmonies and intricate rhythms.

She had to grow up fast  in 1932 when her mother died from injuries she received in a car crash. Joe died shortly thereafter, and Frances shortly after him. Ella lived with her Aunt Virginia for a while.

Her grades dropped dramatically, and she frequently skipped school. After getting into trouble with the police, she was taken into custody and sent to a reform school. ….Eventually Ella escaped from the reformatory. The 15-year-old found herself broke and alone during the Great Depression, and strove to endure….. [Ibid]

She was homeless for a while and on the run. But her luck turned around when she was 17. She was at the Apollo Theatre and her name was selected to compete at “Amateur Night.” Although she was planning to dance  she changed her mind when she saw another act  win the crowd over with their spectacular dancing. She would have to do something else. She decided to sing instead. She chose an old Boswell song, “Judy,” that she knew by heart.

Portrait of Ella Fitzgerald

Portrait of Ella Fitzgerald (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ella could be shy off stage, but on stage she lit up like a Christmas Tree. The audience loved her song and demanded an encore (she did the song from the flip side of the Boswell record). She was fearless and she won the talent show and took home the $25 prize. “Once up there, I felt the acceptance and love from my audience,…I knew I wanted to sing before people the rest of my life.” [Ibid]

She began to enter every talent show she could find. And she won them all. She met drummer/bandleader Chick Webb and signed a contract with him to front his band for $12.50 a week. In 1936 she recorded “Love and Kisses” on the Decca label. At 21 She recorded “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” her first #1 hit.

When Webb died his band changed its name to “Ella and her Famous Orchestra.” She recorded 150 songs with the group, but it wasn’t until she left, in 1942 that her career really began to take off.  She signed with Decca records  and did a  series of “songbooks” by famous jazz composers. From Irving Berlin to Duke Ellington to Cole Porter she reinterpreted jazz standards for a new audience.

“I never knew how good our songs were until I heard Ella Fitzgerald sing them,” Ira Gershwin once remarked. [Ibid]

She also began to work with Norman Granz on his Jazz at the Philharmonic and her sound morphed from big band to bebop and she began to master scat singing.

She received the National Medal of Arts from President Ronald Reagan in 1987. She gave her final concert in Carnegie Hall in 1991. She died on June 15, 1996 in Beverly Hills, California

Here she is scatting away and doing a Broadway standard:


Grant Wood 2.13.13 Thought of the Day

“All the good ideas I ever had came to me while I was milking a cow” –Grant Wood

Self Portrait [Image courtesy: Wikipedia]

Self Portrait [Image courtesy: Wikipedia]

Grant DeVolson Wood was born on this day outside Anamosa, Iowa, USA in 1891. today is the 122nd anniversary of his birth.

Growing up on a farm Grant helped with the chores and raised his own goats and poultry. He liked to draw from a young age and used home-made charcoal sticks made of burnt wood from his mother’s stove.

Near Sundown Wood [Image courtesy: Wikipedia]

Near Sundown Wood [Image courtesy: Wikipedia]

His father died when he was 10 and the family moved to Cedar Rapids. He attended Washington High School where he took art, designed scenery for plays and drew for the school paper and yearbook.

After he graduated in 1910, Grant did a lot of different things.  He took art classes, taught art, made jewelry, learned carpentry, decorated people’s houses and cared for his mother and his sister Nan….He loved gadgets and making things, and he worked slowly and carefully at all of his crafts.  He was even able to use his artistic talent when he joined the army during World War 1.  His job was to paint camouflage on tanks and cannons. [Grant Wood Art Gallery]

After the war he traveled to Europe to study the 19th Century French Impressionist. Upon returning to the States he set off on his own style of painting, American Regionalism.

Appraisal [Image courtesy: Wikipedia]

Appraisal [Image courtesy: Wikipedia]

Going back to Iowa, for Grant Wood, was the formative experience in his artistic life. It was the return to his home state that prompted his painting to take a distinctive turn–towards regionalism, towards American subjects, towards the nineteenth century, towards an affectionate and yet ironic vision of his country and its history…[]

He hit the peak of his popularity during the great depression.

His vision of the American heartland seemed to touch a troubled country deeply; his paintings offered a land that responded to cultivation lusciously rather than blowing away in the tornadoes of the dustbowl, as well as farmers and their families who offered a bounty with round and blushing cheeks. [Ibid]

He started the Stone City Art Colony and Art School with Adrian Dornbush and Edward Rowan in 1932. With the help of the Public Works of Art Project and the Civil Works Administration Grant employed many of the artist who lived at the Colony to produce murals in public buildings like court houses and post offices.

English: This is one of the digitized images o...

English: This is one of the digitized images of the original painting American Gothic that Grant DeVolson Wood, a master artist of the twentieth century, created in 1930 and sold to the Art Institute of Chicago in November of the same year. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He taught painting at University of Iowa from 1934 -1941.

Wood died of pancreatic cancer on February 12 in 1942.

Daughters of the Revolution [Image courtesy: Wikipedia]

Daughters of the Revolution [Image courtesy: Wikipedia]


Grant used his sister Nan and their family dentist as subjects for his famous painting, American Gothic. The image has been updated and satired endlessly. Here are a few examples…

from soldiers and airline workers



Air Line employees

Airline employees

to celebrates…

Paris and Nicole

Paris and Nicole

Amy and Sheldon (From the Big Bang Theory)

Amy and Sheldon (From the Big Bang Theory)

to politicians…

Sarah Palin and John McCain

Sarah Palin and John McCain

Michelle and Barack Obama

Michelle and Barack Obama

to just plain weird stuff…

security cameras

security cameras

And you know if there's a lego version out there... I'm gonna put it in.

And you know if there’s a lego version out there… I’m gonna put it in.

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