Tuesday, March 30, 2010

"Blockheads" from Edcon Publishing.

Laurel and Hardy may be gone, but they have left behind a treasury of their classic wit and humor.

An accident that resulted in an injury to Oliver Hardy as he cooked a leg of lamb, was to be a key factor in the formation of the world famous comedy team of Laurel and Hardy that has entertained audiences for years.

Both Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were veterans of show business before that freak incident in 1926. Slender, meek looking Laurel had already made more than fifty silent films before he joined Hardy. Stout, mustached Hardy had appeared in about the same number. Together, the English-born Laurel and the American, Hardy, were to star in ninety silent and sound films. They would win acclaim from both the columnist and the average moviegoer.

Stan Laurel, an experienced comedian, was working for a time behind the scenes as a film writer. Oliver Hardy, who was to play the butler in a silent picture, "Get 'Em Young," was not attentive to details while enjoying his hobby of cooking. He burned himself so badly that he could not perform. Although Laurel preferred not to step in as a substitute, a $100 bonus from the director made him change his mind. It wasn't long before the next film was made and this time it featured both Laurel and Hardy.

In order to understand what made Laurel and Hardy the foremost comedy team of their day, we should examine some of the more famous sketches that are mentioned even today by reviewers and columnists.

"Liberty," one of the last silent films the duo made, has a distinct, sparkling humor. Stan and Ollie are trying desperately to escape from prison in a getaway car with the police in fast pursuit. In addition to this action, they must take off the prison uniforms and get into their ordinary street clothes. Not being very attentive to what they are doing, Ollie struggles to put on Stan's much too small trousers while Stan is obviously having a difficult time with his friend's overly large ones. As they try to adjust their clothing, they are forced to leave the car, requiring them to continue dressing in the street in a series of extremely amusing movements. As they pass a fish market, a crab falls into Ollie's tremendously large pants which Stan is still fussing with. The crab starts to pinch Stan causing him to jump and damage merchandise in a nearby record shop. Finally, Stan and Ollie turn into what appears to be a deserted building site. They each take off the ill fitting pants and as they exchange them, they realize that they are on an elevator used in the construction of a skyscraper. Before long,they are on a beam high above the city with the ground several stories below them. At last they adjust their clothing and then, as they proceed to walk down to ground level, the crab has a grand time biting the fat Ollie.

An early sound film, "The Music Box," won them the acclaim of an Academy Award in 1932 and still gets laughs from almost every viewer. Laurel and Hardy own a moving company. They are delivering a piano at the top of a long flight of stairs at a home located on a hill. The men grunt and groan getting the piano up the steps. As they struggle, a maid, pushing a carriage, blocks their way. When Stan and Ollie try to get the piano off to one side, they lose control and the piano makes its way jerkily down the stairs to the street below, its keys playing by themselves. The maid, meanwhile, laughs, and she angers Stan, who kicks her. Before long, Ollie gets hit with the baby's bottle and the maid leaves to tell a policeman about the woman beaters.

Stan and Ollie get the piano up the steps again, when the officer summons them. As they tum, the piano, almost as if it had intelligence, again descends the steps, one at a time. After numerous other problems, the two movers finally get the piano up to the house only to be informed that a side road exists, making their labor unnecessary. Laurel and Hardy do what is obvious for them. They carry the piano down the steps and push it up the side road.

Although they were among the foremost comedians of the silent film, Laurel and Hardy were equally as successful in films with sound. In the film "Helpmates," Ollie is telephoning Stan, and asks him where he had been the previous night instead of at a party. Stan answers that a dog had bitten him. "Where?" Ollie asks. "Here," replies Stan, and places the telephone receiver next to the wounded area to show where he had been injured.

One of the unusual features of an early film, "Leave 'Em Laughing," is that when Stan does something unbelievably stupid, Ollie responds and looks at the camera to stop the action. The movie goers naturally laugh at Stan's silly behavior and at Ollie's expression. For some strange reason, the action doesn't seem to start again until after the audience has finished laughing.

When this film was made, Stan and some of the writers previewed the picture in different theaters. They timed how long the audience laughed at different scenes. Then, they went back to the studio and lengthened or shortened the time that Ollie looked at the camera to stop the action.

It is not hard to see why audiences all over the world grew to love and laugh at Laurel and Hardy. In a way, these comedians used fantasy to reach their viewers. It was not the fantasy of outer space or superhuman strength, but, rather, of silliness. In the silent films, viewers from all language backgrounds could easily understand the situation and were able to enjoy the zany antics of the duo. Their sound films contained both visual and verbal humor that got laughs from viewers of all ages.

In "The Big House," there is a classroom scene in which the jail's teacher is educating prisoners, including Stan and Ollie.

Teacher: Spell "needle."
Teacher: There is no "i" In needle.
Stan: Then it is a rotten needle.

Their movie, "Blockheads," has a memorable scene. Stan has started his sentry duty in a trench during World War I and has continued to do so for twenty years after the war is over. He has followed the same routine for the entire time patrolling, stopping for meals at the proper time and heating a can of beans for lunch. The pile of empty bean cans is seen towering above the landscape. Stan, the last soldier, finally learns that the war is over and is once again united with Ollie who invites him to meet his wife and have dinner. What does Stan want to eat? Naturally, he asks for beans!

During their lifetimes, Stan and Ollie enjoyed the acclaim of millions of people who saw their movies in all parts of the world. Their films are still among the most popular. Audiences to come will enjoy the antics of these comedians who truly knew how to make people laugh.

1. Laurel and Hardy made up a successful _____
a. cooking team.
b. comedy team.
c. film directing team.
d. police team.

2. An important factor in the team's formation was ____
a. their English birth.
b. their work in the film, "The Music Box."
c. a car accident.
d. a cooking accident.

3. Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy _____
a. entered show business before 1926.
b. entered show business in World War I.
c. started their acting careers together.
d. entered show business after 1926.

4. After Stan and Oliver formed a team, their popularity _____
a. remained the same.
b. decreased.
c. increased greatly.
d. increased very little.

5. These comedians used the fantasy of ______
a. the classroom.
b. outer space.
c. superhuman strength.
d. silliness.

6. One of the funniest films shows the team ______
a. digging a trench during World War I.
b. cooking a leg of lamb.
c. pinching a crab.
d. delivering a piano.

7. Film clips of Laurel and Hardy might be seen on the following television special:
a. "The Laugh Makers."
b. "Cooking Safely."
c. "Favorite Comedians of 1925."
d. "A Forgotten Comedy Team."

8. People will probably ______
a. forget about Laurel and Hardy films.
b. continue to enjoy Laurel and Hardy films in the future.
c. become bored with film comedy.
d. not understand the silly actions of Laurel and Hardy in the future.

9. Another name for this selection could be _______
a. "A Team of Comedy Kings."
b. "Laurel and Hardy, Stars of Sound
c. "The Best of Laurel and Hardy's Silent Films."
d. "Leaders of the Silent Film."

10. This selection is mainly about _______
a. Laurel and Hardy's silent films.
b. Laurel and Hardy's sound films.
c. some of Laurel and Hardy's little
known films.
d. a famous pair of comedy actors.

Laurel and Hardy in Wikipedia
Laurel and Hardy, Official Website

This story is an article from a series of Reading Comprehension Workbooks by Edcon Publishing Group. Edcon Publishing has a very large selection of different types of readings and other
materials for learning. I highly recommend this company. - The Teacher

Laurel and Hardy in "Pick a Star", Youtube
Laural and Hardy in "Hollywood Party"

Monday, March 22, 2010

"Mark Twain, One of America's Best Known and Best Loved Writers", from Voice of America

I’m Barbara Klein.

BOB DOUGHTY: And I’m Bob Doughty with People in America in VOA Special English. Today we tell about one of America’s best-known writers, Mark Twain. We also talk about his famous book, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”


BARBARA KLEIN: Mark Twain wrote “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” in eighteen eighty-four. Since then, the book has been published in at least sixty languages. Some people say it is the best book ever created by an American writer. American students still read “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” And parents, teachers and literary experts still debate the issues discussed in the book.

BOB DOUGHTY: The writer who became Mark Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens in eighteen thirty-five. He grew up in Hannibal, Missouri on the Mississippi River. After his father died in eighteen forty-seven, young Samuel went to work as an assistant to a publisher. Ten years later, he became a pilot on a steamboat that sailed on the Mississippi. He heard the riverboat workers call out the words “mark twain!” That was a measure for the depth of water.

In eighteen sixty-one, the American Civil War put an end to steamboat traffic on the Mississippi. So Clemens traveled west and became a reporter for newspapers in Nevada and California.

BARBARA KLEIN: Later, he wrote funny stories and called himself Mark Twain. Twain became famous for his story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” in eighteen sixty-five. It tells about a jumping competition among frogs.

Twain also traveled a lot and began writing books about his travels. His stories about a trip to Europe and the Middle East were published in “The Innocents Abroad.” And his stories about life in the western United States became the book called “Roughing It.”

In eighteen seventy, he married Olivia Langdon and moved to Hartford, Connecticut. During the eighteen eighties, he wrote books for children, such as “The Prince and the Pauper.” It tells about a poor boy who trades identities with a member of England’s ruling family. Twain also wrote “Life on the Mississippi.” This book describes his days as a steamboat pilot and his return to the river twenty years later.

BOB DOUGHTY: Mark Twain was already a successful writer before he became famous as a public speaker. Over the years, he had invested a lot of money in unsuccessful businesses. In eighteen ninety-three, he found himself deeply in debt. So to earn money, he traveled around the world giving humorous talks. His speeches made people laugh and remember events they had experienced.

However, his later life was not a happy one. Two of his daughters died. His wife died in nineteen-oh-four after a long sickness. Some critics think Mark Twain’s later works were more serious because of his sadness. He died of heart failure in nineteen ten.


BARBARA KLEIN: Mark Twain was the first writer to use the speech of common Americans in his books. He showed that simple American English could be as fine an instrument for great writing as more complex language. Through his books, he captured American experiences as no other writer had.

Many of the stories take place in Hannibal, Missouri. The small wooden house where he lived as a boy still stands there. Next to the house is a wooden fence. It is the kind described in Twain's book, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” published in eighteen seventy-six.In that story, Tom has been told to paint the fence. He does not want to do it. But he acts as if the job is great fun. He tricks other boys into believing this. His trick is so successful that they agree to pay him money to let them finish his work. “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” is considered one of the best books about an American boy’s life in the eighteen hundreds.

BOB DOUGHTY: Tom Sawyer's good friend is Huckleberry, or "Huck," Finn. Mark Twain tells this boy's story in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” Huck is a poor child, without a mother or home. His father drinks too much alcohol and beats him.

Huck's situation has freed him from the restrictions of society. He explores in the woods and goes fishing. He stays out all night and does not to go to school. He smokes tobacco.

Huck runs away from home. He meets Jim, a black man who has escaped from slavery. They travel together on a raft made of wood down the Mississippi River. Huck describes the trip:

READER: "It was lovely to live on the raft. Other places seem so cramped up and smothery, but a raft don't. You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft... Sometimes we'd have that whole river to ourselves for the longest time... We had the sky up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them, and discuss about whether they was made or only just happened. Jim, he allowed they was made, but I allowed they happened; I judged it would have took too long to make so many."


BARBARA KLEIN: Mark Twain started writing “Huckleberry Finn” as a children's story. But it soon became serious. The story tells about the social evil of slavery, seen through the eyes of an innocent child. Huck’s ideas about people were formed by the white society in which he lived. So, at first, he does not question slavery. Huck knows that important people believe slavery is natural, the law of God. So, he thinks it is his duty to tell Jim's owners where to find him. Here is part of the story after Huck decides he must do this.

READER: "I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt. And I knowed I could pray now. But I didn't do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking -- thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. And went on thinking...

And I see Jim before me all the time; in the day and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a-floating along, talking and singing and laughing. But somehow I couldn't seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind."

BOB DOUGHTY: Huck comes to understand that Jim is a good man. He finds he cannot carry out his plan to tell Jim’s owners where to find him. Instead, he decides to help Jim escape. He decides to do this, even if God punishes him.

Huck's moral search is part of Twain's humor. Huck's heart leads him to do the right thing, even when everything he has been taught tells him it is wrong. Huck's nature is good, but he has no idea of it. Twain tells us more through Huck's voice than Huck himself knows.

BARBARA KLEIN: It took Mark Twain longer to write “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” than any of his other books. He started writing in eighteen seventy-six, but put the story away after about two years of work. He returned to it in eighteen eighty-three. It was published the next year.

From the beginning, the book was hotly debated. Some early critics praised its realism and honesty. But the leading critics of Twain's time hated it. They objected to the personality of Huck -- a rough, dirty and disobedient boy.

They were insulted by Twain’s attacks on the commonly accepted morals and traditions of white society. And they disliked the way Twain used the language of a common, uneducated person to tell the story. No writer had ever done that before.

BOB DOUGHTY: The debate over “Huckleberry Finn” re-opened in recent years, but for different reasons. The book uses the racist expressions of its time. So some people say reading it is too painful and insulting for black children.

They know that Twain was really attacking racism. But he attacked indirectly, and with humor. So they feel young people will not understand what he was attempting to do. A few American schools have banned the book for young children. A few have banned it for all students. Some schools used a version in which all racist words have been removed.

Other people say young people can understand “Huckleberry Finn” if they study it with a good teacher. They say the book remains one of the best denunciations of racism ever written.

BARBARA KLEIN: There is no longer any debate about the importance of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” in American literature. In nineteen thirty-five, Ernest Hemingway wrote: “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called ‘Huckleberry Finn.’ There was nothing before. And there has been nothing as good since.”


BOB DOUGHTY: This program was written by Shelley Gollust. Caty Weaver was our producer. Doug Johnson read the part of Huckleberry Finn. I’m Bob Doughty.

BARBARA KLEIN: And I’m Barbara Klein. Join us again next week for People in America in VOA Special English.

The following is a complete online book of

"The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn"

The following is a video about the book from Youtube:

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Rachel Carson and "The Silent Spring" from VOA.

FAITH LAPIDUS: People America, a program in Special English on the Voice of America. Today, Steve Ember and Rich Kleinfeldt tell about scientist Rachel Carson. Her work started the environmental protection movement in the United States.


STEVE EMBER: Rachel Carson was born on May twenty-seventh, nineteen-oh-seven in Springdale, Pennsylvania. Rachel’s father, Robert Carson, was a salesman who invested in local land. He purchased twenty-six hectares of land to make a home for his family. The area was surrounded by fields, trees, and streams. The Carson family enjoyed living in the beautiful, country environment.

Rachel’s mother, Maria Carson, had been a schoolteacher. She loved books. She also loved nature. Rachel was the youngest of three children. Her sister and brother were already in school when she was born. So Missus Carson was able to spend a lot of time with Rachel. She showed Rachel the beauty of nature. She also taught Rachel a deep love for books. Missus Carson became the most important influence on Rachel’s life.

RICH KLEINFELDT: Rachel was a quiet child. She liked to read and to write poems and stories. She was very intelligent. At a very early age she decided she wanted to be a writer someday. Her first published story appeared in a children’s magazine when she was ten years old.

Rachel went to the Pennsylvania College for Women. She studied English because she wanted to become a professional writer. Yet, she felt she did not have the imagination to write creative stories. She changed her area of study from English to science after she took a biology course that she liked. Her professors advised her not to study science. They said there was no future for a woman in science.

STEVE EMBER: In nineteen twenty-nine, Rachel graduated from college with high honors. She won a financial award to study at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. In nineteen thirty-two, she earned a master’s degree in zoology, the scientific study of animals. She taught zoology at the University of Maryland for a few years. During the summers, she studied the ocean and its life forms at the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory in Massachusetts. That is when she became interested in the mysteries of the sea.


RICH KLEINFELDT: Rachel’s life changed greatly in the middle nineteen thirties. Her father died suddenly in nineteen thirty-five. He left very little financial support for Rachel’s mother. It was during the economic decline in the United States called the Great Depression. Rachel now had to support her mother and herself. She needed more money than her teaching job could provide. She began part-time work for a federal government agency, the Bureau of Fisheries in Washington, D.C.

One year later, Rachel’s sister died. Her sister was the mother of two young girls. Rachel and her mother cared for the girls. Rachel now had to support her mother, two nieces and herself. Again, she needed a job with better pay.

STEVE EMBER: A full time job for a biologist opened at the United States Bureau of Fisheries. Rachel Carson was the only woman to try for the position. She had the highest score of all people competing for the job.

Miss Carson got the position in August, nineteen thirty-six. She was chosen to work in the office of the chief of the biology division.

Her first job was to write a series of programs called “Romance Under the Waters.” The series was broadcast on radio for a year. She continued to write and edit publications for the Bureau of Fisheries for many years. The bureau was happy to have a scientist who was also an excellent writer. Rachel Carson provided information to the public in interesting and understandable ways.

RICH KLEINFELDT: In nineteen-forty, the United States Bureau of Fisheries and the Biological Survey joined to become the Fish and Wildlife Service. Miss Carson continued as one of the few women employed there as a scientist. The other women worked as office assistants.

While she was working for the government, Miss Carson wrote at night and on weekends. In nineteen thirty-seven she wrote a report about sea life. It was called Undersea. It appeared in the magazine, Atlantic Monthly. An editor at a publishing house encouraged her to write a book about the sea for the general public. So she did. Her first book, "Under the Sea Wind," was published in nineteen forty-one.

STEVE EMBER: In nineteen forty-eight, Miss Carson began working on another book, "The Sea Around Us." It became her first best-selling book.
Rachel Carson always researched carefully when she wrote. She gathered information from more than one thousand places to write "The Sea Around Us." She also wrote letters to experts all over the world.

STEVE EMBER: "The Sea Around Us" was published in nineteen fifty-one. It was number one on the best-seller list for more than a year. It won the National Book Award. "The Sea Around Us" made Rachel Carson famous. The money the book earned eased her financial responsibilities for the first time in years.

In nineteen fifty-two, Miss Carson was able to leave her job at the Fish and Wildlife Service and spend her time writing. Miss Carson moved to a home on the coast of Maine. There she studied the ecology of the sea. Her next book, "The Edge of the Sea," was published in nineteen fifty-five. It told of the connection of all living creatures in areas where land and ocean meet.


RICH KLEINFELDT: Rachel Carson’s most famous book, "Silent Spring" was published in nineteen sixty-two. The idea for the book developed from a suggestion from a friend. Rachel’s friend owned a protected area for birds. An airplane had flown over the area where the birds were kept and spread a powerful chemical called DDT. It was part of a project to control mosquitoes. Many songbirds and harmless insects were killed by the DDT.

Miss Carson and other scientists were very concerned about the harmful effects of DDT and other insect-killing chemicals called pesticides. After World War Two, these poisonous chemicals were widely used to control insects. Pesticides were sprayed almost everywhere including agricultural fields and communities. DDT and other pesticides had become popular with the public and the government because they were so effective. Manufacturing these chemicals had become a huge industry.

STEVE EMBER: Rachel Carson tried to get many magazines interested in publishing a report about the subject. However, none would agree to publish anything about such a disputed subject. They said no one wanted to hear that industrial companies could cause great ecological damage.

Miss Carson believed the public needed to know about this important issue. She decided to write a book about it. She collected facts from experts from all over the world. She gathered studies that showed the harmful effects of DDT, including declining bird populations and increased human cancers.

In her book "Silent Spring," Miss Carson questioned the right of industrial companies to pollute without considering the effects on the environment. Miss Carson argued that this kind of pollution would result in ever-decreasing populations of birds and other wildlife. She said this would lead to the loss of the wonderful sounds of nature. The chemical poisoning of the environment, she said, would cause a silent spring.

RICH KLEINFELDT: The chemical industry felt threatened. Industry spokesmen and other critics said the book was non-scientific and emotional. They misunderstood the message of the book. Miss Carson did not suggest that all pesticides be banned. She urged that control of these substances be given to biologists who could make informed decisions about the risks involved.

Support for the book increased. By the end of nineteen sixty-two, there were more than forty bills in state legislatures proposing to control pesticides. Finally, in November, nineteen sixty-nine, the United States government ruled that the use of DDT must stop in two years.

Rachel Carson did not live to see how her book influenced the government’s decision to ban DDT. She died of breast cancer in nineteen sixty-four. She was fifty-six years old.

STEVE EMBER: Two memorials honor Rachel Carson. One is the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in Maine. The other is the Rachel Carson Homestead in Springdale, Pennsylvania, the home she lived in when she was a child. Education programs are offered there that teach children and adults about her environmental values.

Rachel Carson’s voice is alive in her writings that express the wonder and beauty of the natural world. And her worldwide influence continues through the activities of the environmental protection movement she started.


FAITH LAPIDUS: This Special English program was written by Lawan Davis. It was produced by Paul Thompson. Your announcers were Steve Ember and Rich Kleinfeldt. I’m Faith Lapidus. Join us again next week for another People in America program on the Voice of America.


1. Rachel Carson wrote "Silent Spring" __________________ .
a. ten years ago.
b. during The Depression.
c. during World War 2.
d. in the 1960s.

2. Rachel Carson's father was a ____________________ .
a. salesman
b. real estate speculator
c. politician
d. environmentalist

3. Rachel Carson's early influence regarding the importance and beauty of nature came from ____________________ .
a. John Hopkins University
b. her father
c. her mother
d. DDT

4. Rachel Carson's first best selling book was ___________________ .
a. a novel
b. about the environment
c. about the ocean
d. about the distruction of animals

5. Rachel Carson is credited with beginning the _____________________ .
a. Green Party
b. Environmental Movement
c. Tea Party
d. Science of Oceanography

6. The effects of ______________ convinced Rachel Carson to write about man's threat to nature.
a. atomic energy
b. pesticides
c. pollution from cars
d. pollution from factories

7. The corporations most threatened by the writings of Rachel Carson were the _______________ industries.
a. mining
b. oil
c. chemical
d lumber

8. Rachel Carson will probably be remembered most for ___________________ .
a. her writings about the ocean
b. her criticisms of the military
c. raising environmental consciousness
d. her illumination of corporate greed

9. Another name for this story could be ____________________ .
a. "The Effect of Pesticides"
b. "The Oceans Around Us"
c. "Environmental Problems"
d. "A Great Writer and Scientist"

10. This story is mainly about __________________________ .
a. the life and impact of environmental writer, Rachel Carson
b. the history of the abuse of the environment by corporations
c. the role of pesticides in poisoning of agricultural lands
d. the spread of mosquitoes during the current period of global warming

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Billie Holiday, America's Greatest Blues Singer, from Voice of America.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: I'm Shirley Griffith.

STEVE EMBER: And I'm Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program PEOPLE IN AMERICA. Every week we tell about a person important in the history of the United States. This week, we tell about Billie Holiday. She was one of the greatest jazz singers in America.

(MUSIC: "God Bless the Child")

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: That was Billie Holiday singing one of her famous songs. She and Arthur Herzog wrote it. Billie Holiday's life was a mixture of success and tragedy. Her singing expressed her experiences and her feelings.

STEVE EMBER: Billie Holiday was born Eleanora Fagan in nineteen fifteen in Baltimore, Maryland. Her parents were Sadie Fagan and Clarence Holiday. They were young when their daughter was born. Their marriage failed because Clarence Holiday was not at home much. He traveled as a musician with some of the earliest jazz bands.

Sadie Fagan cleaned people's houses. But she could not support her family on the money she earned. So she moved to New York City where the pay was higher. She left her daughter in Baltimore with members of her family.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: The young girl Eleanora Fagan changed her name to Billie, because she liked a movie star, Billie Dove. Billie Holiday loved to sing. She sang and listened to music whenever she could. One place near her home had a machine that played records. The building was a brothel where women who were prostitutes had sex with men for money.

Billie cleaned floors and did other jobs for the prostitutes so she could listen to the records. It was there that young Billie first heard the records of famous black American blues artists of the nineteen twenties. She heard Bessie Smith sing the blues. And she heard Louis Armstrong play the horn. Both musicians had a great influence on her.

STEVE EMBER: Billie Holiday once said: "I do not think I'm singing. I feel like I am playing a horn. What comes out is what I feel. I hate straight singing. I have to change a tune to my own way of doing it. That is all I know."

Here is Billie Holiday singing a popular song of the Nineteen thirties, "More Than You Know."


SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Billie Holiday had a tragic childhood. When she was ten, a man sexually attacked her. She was accused of causing the man to attack her and sent to a prison for children.

In nineteen twenty-seven, Billie joined her mother in Harlem, the area of New York City where African-Americans lived. Billie's mother mistakenly sent her to live in a brothel. Billie became a prostitute at the age of thirteen. One day, she refused the sexual demands of a man. She was arrested and spent four months in prison.

STEVE EMBER: Two years later, Billie's mother became sick and could not work. Fifteen-year-old Billie tried to find a job. Finally, she was given a job singing at a place in Harlem where people went at night to drink alcohol and listen to music.

For the next seventeen years, Holiday was one of the most popular nightclub singers in New York. She always wore a long white evening dress. And she wore large white flowers in her black hair. She called herself "Lady Day."

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: In the early nineteen thirties, a music producer, John Hammond, heard Billie Holiday sing in a nightclub. He called her the best jazz singer he had ever heard. He brought famous people to hear her sing.

Hammond produced Holiday's first records. He got the best jazz musicians to play. They included Benny Goodman on clarinet, Teddy Wilson on piano, Roy Eldridge on trumpet and Ben Webster on saxophone. They recorded many famous songs with Billie Holiday. "I Wished on the Moon" is one of them.


STEVE EMBER: In the late nineteen thirties, Billy Holiday sang with Artie Shaw's band as it traveled around the United States. She was one of the first black singers to perform with a white band. But racial separation laws in America made travel difficult for her.

During this time, a new nightclub opened in the area of New York called Greenwich Village. It was the first club that had both black and white performers. And it welcomed both black and white people to hear the performers. The nightclub was called Cafe Society.

It was here that Billy Holiday first sang a song called "Strange Fruit." A school teacher named Lewis Allan had written it for her. The song was about injustice and oppression of black people in the southern part of the United States. It told about how mobs of white men had killed black men by hanging them from trees.

Many people objected to the song. It was unlike any other popular song. But it was a huge hit. Here is Billie Holiday singing "Strange Fruit."


SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: In the nineteen forties, Holiday started using the illegal drug heroin. Soon her body needed more and more of the drug. It began to affect her health.

In nineteen forty-seven, Billie Holiday was arrested for possessing illegal drugs. She was found guilty and sentenced to nine months in prison. When she was released, New York City officials refused to give her a document that permitted her to work in any place that served alcoholic drinks. This meant Holiday no longer could sing in nightclubs and jazz clubs. She could sing only in theaters and concert halls.

Ten days after her release from jail, she performed at New York's famous Carnegie Hall. People filled the place to hear her sing. This is one of the songs she sang at that concert. It is called "I Cover the Waterfront."


STEVE EMBER: In nineteen fifty-six, Billie Holiday wrote a book about her life. The book was called “Lady Sings the Blues.” A friend at the New York Post newspaper, William Dufty, helped her write the book. A few months later, she was arrested again for possessing illegal drugs. But instead of going to prison, she was permitted to seek treatment to end her dependence on drugs. The treatment was successful.

That same year, she performed her second concert at Carnegie Hall. Here is one of the songs Holiday sang that night. It is called "Lady Sings the Blues." She and Herbie Nichols wrote it.


SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Billy Holiday's health was ruined by using illegal drugs and by drinking too much alcohol. Her last performance was in nineteen fifty-nine. She had to be led off the stage after singing two songs. She died that year. She was only forty-four. But Lady Day lives on through her recordings that continue to influence the best jazz singers.


STEVE EMBER: This Special English program was written by Shelley Gollust. It was produced by Lawan Davis. I'm Steve Ember.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: And I'm Shirley Griffith. Listen again next week at this time for another PEOPLE IN AMERICA program on VOA.