Stumbling Toward Enlightenment

Gatherings from the Internet

11/12/2020
by barenose
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Remember the Ladies: Big Mama Thornton

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Big Mama Thornton circa 1955-1960

Big Mama Thornton circa 1955-1960

Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton (December 11, 1926 – July 25, 1984) was an American rhythm and blues singer and songwriter. She was the first to record Leiber and Stoller’s “Hound Dog” in 1952, which became her biggest hit. It spent seven weeks at number one on the Billboard R&B charts in 1953 and sold almost two million copies. However, her success was overshadowed three years later, when Elvis Presley recorded his more popular rendition of “Hound Dog”. Similarly, Thornton’s “Ball ‘n’ Chain” (written in 1961 but not released until 1968) had a bigger impact when performed and recorded by Janis Joplin in the late 1960s.

Style
Thornton’s performances were characterized by her deep, powerful voice and strong sense of self. She was given her nickname, “Big Mama,” by Frank Schiffman, manager of Harlem’s Apollo Theater, due to her big voice, size, and personality. Thornton specialized in playing drums and harmonica as well as singing, and she taught herself how to play these instruments simply by watching other musicians perform. Her style was heavily influenced by the gospel music that she witnessed growing up in the home of a preacher, though her genre could be described as blues.

Thornton was famous for her transgressive gender expression. She often dressed as a man in her performances, wearing items such as work shirts and slacks. This led to many rumors about her sexuality, though none confirmed. Her improvisation was a notable part of her performance. She often enters call-and-response exchanges with her band, inserting confident and notably subversive remarks. Her play with gender and sexuality set the stage for later rock ‘n’ roll artists’ own plays with sexuality.

Feminist scholars such as Maureen Mahon often praise Thornton for subverting traditional roles of African American women. She added a female voice to a field that was dominated by white males, and her strong personality transgressed patriarchal and white supremacist stereotypes of what an African American woman should be. This transgression was an integral part of her performance and stage persona.

Recognition
During her career, Thornton was nominated for the Blues Music Awards six times. In 1984, she was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. In addition to “Ball ‘n’ Chain” and “They Call Me Big Mama,” Thornton wrote twenty other blues songs. Her “Ball ‘n’ Chain” is included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame list of the “500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll”.

In 2004, the non-profit Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls—named for Thornton—was founded to offer a musical education to girls from ages eight to eighteen. The first full-length biography of Thornton “Big Mama Thornton: The Life and Music” written by Michael Spörke has been published in 2014.

11/12/2020
by barenose
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Remember the Ladies: Annie Jump Cannon

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Annie Jump Cannon in 1922

Annie Jump Cannon in 1922

Annie Jump Cannon (December 11, 1863 – April 13, 1941) was an American astronomer whose cataloging work was instrumental in the development of contemporary stellar classification. With Edward C. Pickering, she is credited with the creation of the Harvard Classification Scheme, which was the first serious attempt to organize and classify stars based on their temperatures. She was nearly deaf throughout her career.

Professional history
In 1896, Cannon became a member of “Pickering’s Women”, the women hired by Harvard Observatory director Edward C. Pickering to complete the Henry Draper Catalogue, mapping and defining every star in the sky to photographic magnitude of about 9.

Anna Draper, the widow of wealthy physician and amateur astronomer Henry Draper, set up a fund to support the work. Men at the laboratory did the labor of operating the telescopes and taking photographs while the women examined the data, carried out astronomical calculations, and cataloged those photographs during the day.[9] Pickering made the Catalogue a long-term project to obtain the optical spectra of as many stars as possible and to index and classify stars by spectra. If making measurements was hard, the development of a reasonable classification was at least as difficult.

Not long after work began on the Draper Catalogue, a disagreement developed as to how to classify the stars. The analysis was first started by Nettie Farrar, who left a few months later to be married. This left the problem to the ideas of Henry Draper’s niece Antonia Maury (who insisted on a complex classification system) and Williamina Fleming (who was overseeing the project for Pickering, and wanted a much more simple, straightforward approach). Cannon negotiated a compromise: she started by examining the bright southern hemisphere stars. To these stars she applied a third system, a division of stars into the spectral classes O, B, A, F, G, K, M. Her scheme was based on the strength of the Balmer absorption lines. After absorption lines were understood in terms of stellar temperatures, her initial classification system was rearranged to avoid having to update star catalogues. Cannon came up with the mnemonic of “Oh Be a Fine Girl, Kiss Me” as a way to remember stellar classification. Cannon published her first catalog of stellar spectra in 1901.

Cannon and the other women at the Observatory were criticized at first for being “out of their place” and not being housewives. In fact, women could only get as high as assistants in this line of work and were only paid 25 cents an hour for seven hours a day, six days a week. Cannon dominated this field because of her “tidiness” and patience for the tedious work, and even helped the men in the observatory gain popularity. Cannon helped broker partnerships and exchanges of equipment between men in the international community and assumed an ambassador-like role outside of it. She wrote books and articles to increase astronomy’s status, and in 1933, she represented professional women at the World’s Fair in Chicago.

Cannon’s determination and hard work paid off. She classified more stars in a lifetime than anyone else, with a total of around 500,000 stars. She also discovered 300 variable stars, five novas, and one spectroscopic binary, creating a bibliography that included about 200,000 references. Cannon could classify three stars a minute just by looking at their spectral patterns and, if using a magnifying glass, could classify stars down to the ninth magnitude, around 16 times fainter than the human eye can see.

On May 9, 1922, the International Astronomical Union passed the resolution to formally adopt Cannon’s stellar classification system, and with only minor changes, it is still being used for classification today. The astronomer Cecilia Payne collaborated with Cannon and used Cannon’s data to show that the stars were composed mainly of hydrogen and helium.

Later life and death
Annie Jump Cannon’s career in astronomy lasted for more than 40 years, until her retirement in 1940. During this time, Cannon helped women gain acceptance and respect within the scientific community. Her calm and hardworking attitude and demeanor helped her gain respect throughout her lifetime and paved the path for future women astronomers.

Cannon died on April 13, 1941, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at the age of 77. The American Astronomical Society presents the Annie Jump Cannon Award annually to female astronomers for distinguished work in astronomy.

Further Reading
On Annie Jump Cannon as a woman scientist, see the classic work by Margaret W. Rossiter, Women Scientists in America Struggles and Strategies to 1940 (1982). A biography of Cannon was written by Owen Gingerich: “Cannon, Annie Jump,” in: Dictionary of Scientific Biography (1971). At the death of Cannon, two important obituaries were published, one by the first laureate of the Annie Jump Cannon Prize in 1934, Cecilia Payne Gaposchkin, in Science (May 9, 1941), and the other by R. L. Waterfield, in Nature (June 14, 1941). Apart from recalling the scientific career of Cannon, they paid homage to her personality. (Encyclopedia.com)

10/12/2020
by barenose
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Remember the Ladies: Emily Dickinson

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson (December 10, 1830 – May 15, 1886) was an American poet. Born in Amherst, Massachusetts, to a successful family with strong community ties, she lived a mostly introverted and reclusive life. After she studied at the Amherst Academy for seven years in her youth, she spent a short time at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary before returning to her family’s house in Amherst. Thought of as an eccentric by the locals, she became known for her penchant for white clothing and her reluctance to greet guests or, later in life, even leave her room. Most of her friendships were therefore carried out by correspondence.

Although Dickinson was a prolific private poet, fewer than a dozen of her nearly eighteen hundred poems were published during her lifetime. The work that was published during her lifetime was usually altered significantly by the publishers to fit the conventional poetic rules of the time. Dickinson’s poems are unique for the era in which she wrote; they contain short lines, typically lack titles, and often use slant rhyme as well as unconventional capitalization and punctuation. Many of her poems deal with themes of death and immortality, two recurring topics in letters to her friends.

Although most of her acquaintances were probably aware of Dickinson’s writing, it was not until after her death in 1886—when Lavinia, Emily’s younger sister, discovered her cache of poems [more than 1,700]—that the breadth of Dickinson’s work became apparent. Her first collection of poetry was published in 1890 by personal acquaintances Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Mabel Loomis Todd, both of whom heavily edited the content. A complete and mostly unaltered collection of her poetry became available for the first time in 1955 when The Poems of Emily Dickinson was published by scholar Thomas H. Johnson. Despite unfavorable reviews and skepticism of her literary prowess during the late 19th and early 20th century, critics now consider Dickinson to be a major American poet. [Wikipedia]

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I remember attending a reading of Emily’s poetry many years ago, at the University of Minnesota, where the reader and scholar, teased out lines about women in love and women hiding their passion from the world. Is that why Emily is a favorite amongst the lesbian and gay folks in our community? Or are her poems about nature’s beauty the reason for her longevity? Why was she so angry? Why so bitter? I find myself reading and re-reading her work often and wondering at her brilliant turn of phrase and why she was so reclusive.

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