Stumbling Toward Enlightenment

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By Annemarie Heinrich, Public Domain,

Haydée Mercedes Sosa (9 July 1935 – 4 October 2009), sometimes known as La Negra (literally: The Black One), was an Argentine singer who was popular throughout Latin America and many countries outside the region. With her roots in Argentine folk music, Sosa became one of the preeminent exponents of nueva canción. She gave voice to songs written by many Latin American songwriters. Her music made people hail her as the “voice of the voiceless ones”, and “the voice of America”.

Sosa performed in venues such as the Lincoln Center in New York City, the Théâtre Mogador in Paris and the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City, as well as sell-out shows in New York’s Carnegie Hall and the Roman Colosseum during her final decade of life. Her career spanned four decades and she was the recipient of several Grammy awards and nominations, including a posthumous Latin Grammy award for Best Folk Album. She served as an ambassador for UNICEF.

Sosa was born on 9 July 1935, in San Miguel de Tucumán, in the northwestern Argentine province of Tucumán, of mestizo, Spanish, French, and Diaguita Amerindian ancestry. Her parents were Peronists, although they never registered in the party, and she started her career as a singer for the Peronist Party in Provincia Tucuman under the name Gladys Osorio. In 1950, at age fifteen, she won a singing competition organized by a local radio station and was given a contract to perform for two months. She recorded her first album, La Voz de la Zafra, in 1959. A performance at the 1965 Cosquín National Folklore Festival—where she was introduced and brought to the stage while sitting in the audience by fellow folk singer Jorge Cafrune—brought her to the attention of her native countrypeople.

Sosa and her first husband, Manuel Óscar Matus, with whom she had one son, were key players in the mid-60s nueva canción movement (which was called nuevo cancionero in Argentina). Her second record was Canciones con Fundamento, a collection of Argentine folk songs. In 1967, Sosa toured the United States and Europe with great success. In later years, she performed and recorded extensively, broadening her repertoire to include material from throughout Latin America.

In the early 1970s, Sosa released two concept albums in collaboration with composer Ariel Ramírez and lyricist Félix Luna: Cantata Sudamericana and Mujeres Argentinas (Argentine Women). She also recorded a tribute to Chilean musician Violeta Parra in 1971, including what was to become one of Sosa’s signature songs, Gracias a la Vida. She also increased the popularity of songs written by Milton Nascimento of Brazil and Pablo Milanés and Silvio Rodríguez both from Cuba.

After the military junta of Jorge Videla came to power in 1976, the atmosphere in Argentina grew increasingly oppressive. Sosa faced death threats against both her and her family but refused for many years to leave the country. At a concert in La Plata in 1979, Sosa was searched and arrested on stage, along with all those attending the concert. Their release came about through international intervention. Banned in her own country, she moved to Paris and then to Madrid.

Sosa returned to Argentina from her exile in Europe in 1982, several months before the military regime collapsed as a result of the Falklands War, and gave a series of concerts at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, where she invited many of her younger colleagues to share the stage. A double album of recordings from these performances became an instant best seller. In subsequent years, Sosa continued to tour both in Argentina and abroad, performing in such venues as the Lincoln Center in New York and the Théâtre Mogador in Paris. In a poor condition of health for much of the 1990s, she performed a comeback show in Argentina in 1998. In 1994, she played the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. In 2002, she sold out both Carnegie Hall in New York and the Colosseum in Rome in the same year.

A supporter of Perón, she favored leftist causes throughout her life. She opposed President Carlos Menem, who was in office from 1989 to 1999, and supported the election of Néstor Kirchner, who became president in 2003. Sosa was a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Latin America and the Caribbean.

In a career spanning of four decades, she worked with performers across several genres and generations, folk, opera, pop, rock, including Martha Argerich, Andrea Bocelli, David Broza, Franco Battiato, Jaime Roos, Joan Baez, Francis Cabrel, Gal Costa, Luz Casal, Lila Downs, Lucio Dalla, Maria Farantouri, Lucecita Benitez, Nilda Fernández, Charly Garcia, León Gieco, Gian Marco, Nana Mouskouri, Pablo Milanés, Holly Near, Milton Nascimento, Pata Negra, Fito Páez, Franco De Vita, Lourdes Pérez, Luciano Pavarotti, Silvio Rodríguez, Ismael Serrano, Shakira, Sting, Caetano Veloso, Julieta Venegas and Konstantin Wecker.

Sosa participated in a 1999 production of Ariel Ramírez’s Misa Criolla. Her song Balderrama is featured in the 2008 movie Che, starring Benicio del Toro as the Argentine Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara.

Sosa was former Co-Chair of Earth Charter International Commission.


  • She won the Latin Grammy Award for Best Folk Album in 2000 (Misa Criolla), 2003 (Acústico), and 2006 (Corazón Libre), as well as many international awards.
  • In 1995, Konex Foundation from Argentina granted her the Diamond Konex Award, one of the most prestigious awards in Argentina, as the most important personality in the Popular Music of her country in the last decade.
  • Her album Cantora 1 won two awards at the Latin Grammy Awards of 2009. She won Best Folk Album and was nominated for Album of the Year. The album was also awarded Best Recording Package.
  • Death
    Suffering from recurrent endocrine and respiratory problems in later years, the 74-year-old Sosa was hospitalized in Buenos Aires on September 18, 2009. She died from multiple organ failure on October 4, 2009, at 5:15 am. She is survived by one son, Fabián Matus, born of her first marriage. He said: “She lived her 74 years to the fullest. She had done practically everything she wanted, she didn’t have any type of barrier or any type of fear that limited her”. The hospital expressed its sympathies with her relations. Her website featured the following: “Her undisputed talent, her honesty and her profound convictions leave a great legacy to future generations”.

    Her body was placed on display at the National Congress building in Buenos Aires for the public to pay their respects, and President Fernández de Kirchner ordered three days of national mourning. Thousands had queued by the end of the day.[16] She was cremated on October 5.

    Sosa’s obituary in The Daily Telegraph said she was “an unrivaled interpreter of works by her compatriot, the Argentine Atahualpa Yupanqui, and Chile’s Violeta Parra”. Helen Popper of Reuters reported her death by saying she “fought South America’s dictators with her voice and became a giant of contemporary Latin American music”. Sosa received three Latin Grammy nominations for her album, in 2009. She went on to win Best Folk Album about a month after her death.

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    Käthe Kollwitz (1867 – 1945) is regarded as one of the most important German artists of the twentieth century, and as a remarkable woman who created timeless artworks against the backdrop of a life of great sorrow, hardship, and heartache.

    Käthe was born in 1867 in Konigsberg, East Prussia (now Kalingrad in Russia). She studied art in Berlin and began producing etchings in 1880 In 1881 she married Dr Karl Kollwitz and they settled in a working class area of north Berlin. In 1896 her second son, Peter, was born. From 1898 to 1903 Kathe taught at the Berlin School of Women Artists, and in 1910 began to create sculpture.

    In 1914 her son Peter was killed in Flanders (WWI). The loss of Peter contributed to her socialist and pacifist political sympathies. In 1919 she worked on a commemorative woodcut dedicated to Karl Liebknecht, the revolutionary socialist murdered in 1919. Kathe believed that art should reflect the social conditions of the time and during the 1920s she produced a series of works reflecting her concern with the themes of war, poverty, working class life and the lives of ordinary women.

    In 1932 the war memorial to her son Peter—The Parents—was dedicated at Vladslo military cemetery in Flanders. Käthe became the first woman to be elected to the Prussian Academy of Arts, but in 1933, when Hitler came to power, she was expelled from the Academy. In 1936 she was barred by the Nazis from exhibiting, her art was classified as ‘degenerate’ and her works were removed from galleries.

    In 1940 Karl Kollwitz died. In 1942 her grandson, Peter, was killed at the Russian front. In 1943 Käthe’s home was destroyed by British bombing and she was evacuated from Berlin to Moritzburg, near Dresden.

    The significance of the Vladslo memorial
    Extracts from The Great War and the Shaping of the Twentieth Century, Jay Winter

    A few miles north of the medieval city of Ypres in Belgium is a German war cemetery. It lies in a field near the small town of Vladslo. In the cemetery are the graves of hundreds of men killed in the early days of World War I. Among the graves is that of Peter Kollwitz, a student from Berlin who volunteered as soon as the war broke out. Two months later, in October 1914, he was killed, aged nineteen, in one of the war’s first major campaigns.

    Käthe Kollwitz was informed of her son’s death in action on 30 October. ‘Your pretty shawl will no longer be able to warm our boy,’ was the touching way she broke the news to a close friend. To another friend, she admitted, ‘There is in our lives a wound which will never heal. Nor should it.’

    By December 1914 Kollwitz, one of the foremost artists of her day, had formed the idea of creating a memorial to her son, with his body outstretched, ‘the father at the head, the mother at the feet’, to commemorate ‘the sacrifice of all the young volunteers’. As time went on she attempted various other designs but was dissatisfied with them all. Kollwitz put the project aside temporarily in 1919, but her commitment to see it through when it was right was unequivocal. ‘I will come back, I shall do this work for you, for you and the others,’ she noted in her diary in June 1919.

    Twelve years later, she kept her word: in April 1931 she was at last able to complete the sculpture. ‘In the autumn – Peter, – I shall bring it to you,’ she wrote in her diary. Her work was exhibited in the National Gallery in Berlin and then transported to Belgium, where it was placed, as she had promised, adjacent to her son’s grave. There it rests to this day.

    Käthe Kollwitz’s war memorial was an offering to a son who had offered his life for his country. That she was only able to complete it eighteen years after his death should tell us something about how unconvincing is the view that the Great War ended when the textbooks tell us, on 11 November 1918. For millions of people who had to live with the human costs of the conflict, the war lasted much, much longer. It is for this reason that it makes sense to suggest that, in an important way, the contours of the history of the Great War, the history endured by millions of ordinary men and women, are visible at Vladslo.

    The war opened in 1914 as a conflict which almost everyone believed would last for a few months. But the slaughter of Peter Kollwitz and the armies of 1914 did not result in a decisive victory. Instead, by the end of that year stalemate had set in: the Great War was born, a war which was to last fully 1,500 days.

    At the Armistice of 11 November I9I8, the German Army was not far from Vladslo. It was still in occupation of large parts of Belgium. But it had been defeated. The Allies had won the war, at an unimaginable cost. In all combatant armies, over 9 million men had died in uniform; perhaps twice that number had been wounded. And an even larger number of people in every combatant country – wives and brothers, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers like Käthe and Karl Kollwitz – were in mourning. [That is the meaning] of Vladslo: in the midst of a Great War battlefield returned to farmland, holding together the remains of the fallen and the gestures of the survivors.

    The story of the pilgrimage of one mother and father to their son’s grave stands for millions of others. In August 1932 a war memorial was unveiled at the Roggevelde German war cemetery, near Vladslo in Flemish Belgium: a sculpture of two parents mourning their son, killed in October 1914· It is the work of Käthe Kollwitz. There is no more moving monument to the grief of those who lost their sons in the war than this simple stone sculpture of two parents, on their knees, before their son’s grave.

    There is no artist’s signature, no location in time or space – only the universal sadness of two aged people, surrounded by the dead like ‘a flock of lost children’. The phrase is Käthe Kollwitz’s own. The story of her struggle to commemorate her son’s death testifies both to her humanity and to her achievement in creating a timeless memorial, a work of art of extraordinary power and feeling.

    Kollwitz was only able to complete the memorial eighteen years after her son’s death, which alone should tell us something about the process of bereavement described so movingly in her diary and in her work. That process was in no sense unique. Kollwitz was haunted by dreams of her son and felt his presence in the same way that other bereaved parents did throughout the world. She spent hours sitting in his room. In October 1916, she wrote in her diary that ‘I can feel Peter’s being. He consoles me, he helps me in my work.’ She rejected the idea of spirits returning, but was drawn to the ‘possibility of establishing a connection here, in this life of the senses, between the physically alive person and the essence of someone physically dead’. Call it ‘theosophy or spiritism or mysticism’ if you will, she noted, but the presence was there none the less. ‘I have felt you, my boy – oh, many many times.’ Even after the pain of loss began to fade she still spoke to her dead son, especially when working on his memorial.

    What gives Kollwitz’s mourning an added dimension was her sense of guilt, of remorse over the responsibility of the older generation for the slaughter of the young. This feeling arose from her initial apprehensive but positive reaction to Peter’s decision to volunteer. Her vision was internationalist and hostile to the philistine arrogance of official Germany. But, as she said time and again, she believed in a higher duty than mere self-interest, and had felt before 1914 that ‘behind the individual life … stood the Fatherland’. She knew that her son had volunteered with a ‘pure heart’, filled with patriotism, ‘love for an idea, a commandment’, but still she had wept bitterly at his departure.

    To find, as she did later in the war, that his idealism was misplaced, that his sacrifice was for nothing, was difficult for many reasons. First, it created a distance between her and her son. ‘Is it a break of faith with you, Peter,’ she wrote in October 1916,’if I can now see only madness in the war?’ He had died believing; how could his mother not honour that belief? But to feel that the war was an exercise in futility led to an even more damaging admission – that her son and his whole generation had been ‘betrayed’.

    This recognition was painful, but when she reached it in 1918 she did not flinch from giving it artistic form. This is one reason why it took so long for her to complete the monument, and why she and her husband are on their knees before their son’s grave. They are there to beg his forgiveness, to ask him to accept their failure to find a better way, their failure to prevent the madness of war from cutting his life short.

    At Roggevelde, on their knees, Käthe and Karl Kollwitz suggest a family which includes us all. And that may be precisely what she had in mind: the most intimate here is also the most universal. In a powerful sense, this memorial in a German war cemetery is a family reunion, a foretaste of what her broad religious faith suggested would happen at some future date. The sense of completeness, of healing, of transcendence, is transparently present in her moving account of her last visit to the memorial. She was alone with her husband: ‘we went from the figures to Peter’s grave, and everything was alive and wholly felt. I stood before the woman, looked at her – my own face – and I wept and stroked her cheeks. Karl stood dose behind me – I did not even realize it. I heard him whisper, “Yes, yes. How close we were to one another then!’

    This pilgrimage helped to heal one set of wounds just as another cruel period was about to begin … For Käthe Kollwitz, the war they unleashed brought still more suffering to her life. Her work was derided, but she was left alone by the Nazis. Her husband died in 1940. Her grandson Peter, named after his uncle who had died in Belgium in 1914, was killed on the Russian Front in 1942.

    The next year, she had to leave Berlin due to Allied bombing: her house and much of her work was destroyed on 23 November 1943. If World War I had blurred the distinction between civilian and military targets, World War II erased it. ‘Carpet bombing’ of cities became an ordinary event. ‘It is almost incomprehensible to me’, Kathe Kollwitz wrote, ‘what degrees of endurance people can manifest. In days to come people will hardly understand this age. What a difference between now and 1914… People have been transformed so that they have this capacity for endurance… Worst of all is that every war already carries within the war which will answer it. Every war is answered by a new war, until everything, everything is smashed.’

    In the spring of 1945, Kollwitz knew she was dying.’ War‘, she wrote in her last letter, ‘accompanies me to the end.’ She died on 22 April 1945, two weeks before the end of World War II.


  • Käthe Kollwitz Museum Berlin
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    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Friederike Viktoria Gessner 20 January 1910

    Friederike Viktoria Gessner
    20 January 1910

    Joy Adamson (born Friederike Victoria Gessner; 20 January 1910 – 3 January 1980) was a naturalist, artist and author. Her book, Born Free, describes her experiences raising a lion cub named Elsa. Born Free was printed in several languages, and made into an Academy Award-winning movie of the same name. In 1977, she was awarded the Austrian Cross of Honour for Science and Art.

    Elsa and her cubs
    Joy Adamson is best known for her conservation efforts associated with Elsa the Lioness. In 1956, Joy’s 3rd husband, George Adamson, in the course of his job as game warden of the Northern Frontier District in Kenya, shot and killed a lioness as she charged him and another warden. George later realized the lioness was just protecting her cubs, which were found nearby in a rocky crevice. Taking them home, Joy and George found it difficult to care for the all the cubs needs. The two largest cubs, named “Big One” and “Lustica” were passed on to be cared for by a zoo in Rotterdam, and the smallest “Elsa” was raised by the couple and their pet rock hyrax, Pati-Pati.

    After some time living together, the Adamsons decided to set Elsa free rather than send her to a zoo, and spent many months training her to hunt and survive on her own. They were in the end successful, and Elsa became the first lioness successfully released back into the wild, the first to have contact after release, and the first known released lion to have a litter of cubs. The Adamsons kept their distance from the cubs, getting close enough only to photograph them.

    In January 1961, Elsa died from disease resulting from a tick bite. Her three young cubs became a nuisance, killing the livestock of local farmers. The Adamsons, who feared the farmers might kill the cubs, were able to eventually capture them and transport them to neighboring Tanganyika Territory, where they were promised a home at Serengeti National Park. In The Story of Elsa, a compilation of the books about Elsa, Joy Adamson wrote: “My heart was with them wherever they were. But it was also with these two lions here in front of us; and as I watched this beautiful pair, I realized how all the characteristics of our cubs were inherent in them. Indeed, in every lion I saw during our searches I recognized the intrinsic nature of Elsa, Jespah, Gopa and Little Elsa, the spirit of all the magnificent lions in Africa”.

    Writer and celebrity
    Using her own notes and George’s journals, Joy wrote Born Free to tell the lions’ tale. She submitted it to a number of publishers before it was bought by Harvill Press, part of HarperCollins. Published in 1960, it became a bestseller, spending 13 weeks at the top of The New York Times Best Seller list and nearly a year on the chart overall. The success of the book was due to both the story of Elsa and the dozens of photographs of her. Readers had pictures of many of the events of Elsa’s life leading up to her release. Subsequent books were also heavily illustrated. Born Free received largely favorable reviews from critics. Adamson worked closely with publishers to promote the book, which contributed to the Adamsons’ new-found international celebrity.

    She spent the rest of her life raising money for wildlife, thanks to the popularity of Born Free. The book was followed by Living Free, which is about Elsa as a mother to her cubs, and Forever Free, which tells of the release of the cubs Jespah, Gopa and Little Elsa. Adamson shared book proceeds with various conservation projects.

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    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    2013 official portrait

    2013 official portrait

    Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama (born January 17, 1964) is an American lawyer and writer. She is married to the 44th and current President of the United States, Barack Obama, and is the first African-American First Lady of the United States. Raised on the South Side of Chicago, she is a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, and spent the early part of her legal career working at the law firm Sidley Austin, where she met Barack. Subsequently, she worked as part of the staff of Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley, and for the University of Chicago Medical Center.

    Throughout 2007 and 2008, Obama helped campaign for her husband’s presidential bid. She delivered a keynote address at the 2008 Democratic National Convention and spoke at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. She and her husband have two daughters together. She has become a fashion icon and role model for women, and an advocate for poverty awareness, nutrition, physical activity, and healthy eating.

    Early life and ancestry
    Obama was born Michelle LaVaughn Robinson on January 17, 1964, in DeYoung, Illinois, to Fraser Robinson III, a city water plant employee and Democratic precinct captain, and Marian (née Shields), a secretary at Spiegel’s catalog store. Her mother was a full-time homemaker until Michelle entered high school.

    The Robinson and Shields families can trace their roots to pre-Civil War African Americans in the American South. On her father’s side she is descended from the Gullah people of South Carolina’s Low Country region. Her paternal great-great grandfather, Jim Robinson, was a slave on Friendfield Plantation in South Carolina, the state where some of her paternal family still reside. Her grandfather Fraser Robinson, Jr. had built his own house in South Carolina, and he and his wife LaVaughn (née Johnson) returned to the Low Country after retirement.

    Among Obama’s maternal ancestors was her great-great-great-grandmother, Melvinia Shields, a slave on Henry Walls Shields’ 200-acre farm in Clayton County, Georgia; he and his children would have worked along with the slaves. Her first son, Dolphus T. Shields, was biracial and born into slavery about 1860. Based on DNA and other evidence, in 2012 researchers said his father was likely 20-year-old Charles Marion Shields, son of her master (Charles later married a white woman and had white children). Melvinia did not talk to relatives about Dolphus’ father. Dolphus Shields moved to Birmingham, Alabama after the Civil War, and some of his children migrated to Cleveland, Ohio and Chicago.

    All four of Obama’s grandparents were multiracial, reflecting the complex history of the U.S., but her extended family said that people did not talk about the era of slavery when they were growing up. Her distant ancestry includes Irish and other European roots. In addition, a paternal first cousin once-removed is the African-American Jewish Rabbi Capers Funnye, son of her grandfather’s sister.

    Obama grew up in a two-story bungalow on Euclid Avenue in Chicago’s South Shore community area. Her parents rented a small apartment on the house’s second floor from her great-aunt, who lived downstairs. She was raised in what she describes as a “conventional” home, with “the mother at home, the father works, you have dinner around the table.” Her elementary school was down the street. The family enjoyed playing games such as Monopoly and reading, and frequently saw extended family on both sides. They attended services at nearby South Shore Methodist Church. The Robinsons used to vacation in a rustic cabin in White Cloud, Michigan. She and her 21-month older brother, Craig, skipped the second grade. Her brother is a former basketball coach at Oregon State University and Brown University. By sixth grade, Michelle joined a gifted class at Bryn Mawr Elementary School (later renamed Bouchet Academy).

    Obama recalled experiencing gender discrimination in her early years, mentioning that she was opinionated, but people commonly were more inclined to ask what her older brother thought of a given topic.

    Education and early career
    Obama attended Whitney Young High School, Chicago’s first magnet high school, established as a selective enrollment school, where she was a classmate of Jesse Jackson’s daughter Santita. The round-trip commute from the Robinsons’ South Side home to the Near West Side, where the school was located, took three hours. She was on the honor roll for four years, took advanced placement classes, was a member of the National Honor Society, and served as student council treasurer. She graduated in 1981 as the salutatorian of her class.

    Obama was inspired to follow her brother to Princeton University, where he graduated in 1983. At Princeton, she challenged the teaching methodology for French because she felt that it should be more conversational. As part of her requirements for graduation, she wrote a thesis titled Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community. “I remember being shocked,” she says, “by college students who drove BMWs. I didn’t even know parents who drove BMWs.” While at Princeton, she got involved with the Third World Center (now known as the Carl A. Fields Center), an academic and cultural group that supported minority students, running their day care center, which also included after school tutoring. Obama (then known as Robinson) majored in sociology and minored in African American studies; she graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in 1985. She earned her Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from Harvard Law School in 1988. At Harvard she participated in demonstrations advocating the hiring of professors who were members of minorities and worked for the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, assisting low-income tenants with housing cases. She is the third First Lady with a postgraduate degree, after her two immediate predecessors, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Laura Bush. Obama would later say her education gave her opportunities beyond what she had ever imagined. In July 2008, Obama accepted the invitation to become an honorary member of the 100-year-old black sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, which had no active undergraduate chapter at Princeton when she attended.

    Official portrait by Pete Souza of the Obama family in the Oval Office, 11 December 2011

    Official portrait by Pete Souza of the Obama family in the Oval Office, 11 December 2011

    Family life
    Michelle met Barack Obama when they were among the few African Americans at their law firm, Sidley Austin (she has sometimes said only two, although others have pointed out there were others in different departments), and she was assigned to mentor him while he was a summer associate. Their relationship started with a business lunch and then a community organization meeting where he first impressed her. The couple’s first date was to the Spike Lee movie Do the Right Thing. They married in October 1992, and have two daughters, Malia Ann (born 1998) and Natasha (known as Sasha, born 2001). After his election to the U.S. Senate, the Obama family continued to live on Chicago’s South Side, choosing to remain there rather than moving to Washington, D.C. Throughout her husband’s 2008 campaign for US President, she made a “commitment to be away overnight only once a week – to campaign only two days a week and be home by the end of the second day” for their two daughters.

    (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

    (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

    Obama once requested that her then-fiancé meet her prospective boss, Valerie Jarrett, when considering her first career move. Jarrett is now one of her husband’s closest advisors. The marital relationship has had its ebbs and flows; the combination of an evolving family life and beginning political career led to many arguments about balancing work and family. Barack Obama wrote in his second book, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, that “Tired and stressed, we had little time for conversation, much less romance.” However, despite their family obligations and careers, they continued to attempt to schedule date nights while they lived in Chicago.

    The Obamas’ daughters attended the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, a private school. As a member of the school’s board, Michelle fought to maintain diversity in the school when other board members connected with the University of Chicago tried to reserve more slots for children of the university faculty. This resulted in a plan to expand the school. Malia and Sasha now attend Sidwell Friends School in Washington, after also considering Georgetown Day School. Michelle stated in an interview on The Ellen DeGeneres Show that they do not intend to have any more children. The Obamas have received advice from past first ladies Laura Bush, Rosalynn Carter and Hillary Rodham Clinton about raising children in the White House. Marian Robinson, Michelle’s mother, has moved into the White House to assist with child care.

    Public image and style
    With the ascent of her husband as a prominent national politician, Obama has become a part of popular culture. In May 2006, Essence listed her among “25 of the World’s Most Inspiring Women.” In July 2007, Vanity Fair listed her among “10 of the World’s Best Dressed People.” She was an honorary guest at Oprah Winfrey’s Legends Ball as a “young’un” paying tribute to the ‘Legends,’ who helped pave the way for African American women. In September 2007, 02138 magazine listed her 58th of ‘The Harvard 100’; a list of the prior year’s most influential Harvard alumni. Her husband was ranked fourth. In July 2008, she made a repeat appearance on the Vanity Fair international best dressed list. She also appeared on the 2008 People list of best-dressed women and was praised by the magazine for her “classic and confident” look.

    At the time of her husband’s election, some sources anticipated that as a high-profile African-American woman in a stable marriage Obama would be a positive role model who would influence the view the world has of African-Americans. Her fashion choices were part of the 2009 Fashion week, but Obama’s influence in the field did not have the impact on the paucity of African-American models who participate, that some thought it might.

    Obama's first term official portrait

    Obama’s first term official portrait

    Obama’s public support grew in her early months as First Lady, as she was accepted as a role model. On her first trip abroad in April 2009, she toured a cancer ward with Sarah Brown, wife of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Newsweek described her first trip abroad as an exhibition of her so-called “star power” and MSN described it as a display of sartorial elegance. Questions were raised by some in the American and British media regarding protocol when the Obamas met Queen Elizabeth II and Michelle reciprocated a touch on her back by the Queen during a reception, purportedly against traditional royal etiquette. Palace sources denied that any breach in etiquette had occurred.

    Obama has been compared to Jacqueline Kennedy due to her sense of style, and also to Barbara Bush for her discipline and decorum. Obama’s style has been described as “fashion populist.” In 2010, she wore clothes, many high end, from more than 50 design companies with less expensive pieces from J.Crew and Target, and the same year a study found that her patronage was worth an average of $14 million to a company. She became a fashion trendsetter, in particular favoring sleeveless dresses, including her first-term official portrait in a dress by Michael Kors, and her ball gowns designed by Jason Wu for both inaugurals.

    Obama appeared on the cover and in a photo spread in the March 2009 issue of Vogue. Every First Lady since Lou Hoover (except Bess Truman) has been in Vogue, but only Hillary Clinton had previously appeared on the cover. In August 2011, she appeared on the cover of Better Homes and Gardens magazine, the first person to do so in 48 years, and the first woman. During the 2013 Academy Awards, she became the first First Lady to announce the winner of an Oscar (Best Picture which went to Argo).

    The media have been criticized for focusing more on the First Lady’s fashion sense than her serious contributions. She has stated that she would like to focus attention as First Lady on issues of concern to military and working families. In 2008 U.S. News & World Report blogger, PBS host and Scripps Howard columnist Bonnie Erbé argued that Obama’s own publicists seemed to be feeding the emphasis on style over substance. Erbé has stated on several occasions that Obama is miscasting herself by overemphasizing style.

    Further reading

    • Colbert, David (2008). Michelle Obama, An American Story. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 0-547-24770-2.
    • Lightfoot, Elizabeth (2008). Michelle Obama: First Lady of Hope. The Lyons Press. ISBN 1-59921-521-7.
    • Mundy, Liza (2008). Michelle Obama, A Life. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 1-4165-9943-6.
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