National / International News
The mythology of the early music industry in this country is filled with enterprising A&R men -- that stands for "artists & repertoire"-- men who scoped out new talent all over the country, sign contracts and make a little money. Some made piles of it.
Ralph Peer, whose career started with wax recording cylinders and ended with vinyl LPs, was one of them. Peer was a major force behind popularizing what was then known as roots music: country, gospel, blues, and later, jazz. Those staples of American music weren't really a part of the popular music scene in the early 20th century.
The literature on Peer is thin, though, according to Barry Mazor, limited mostly to brief mentions in the biographies of country greats he helped discover. When Peer's family approached Mazor, he got access for the first time to royalty statements, Peer's papers and letters. His ensuing book is Ralph Peer and the Making of Popular Roots Music.
When he got into the music industry, the focus was on sheet music and songs fresh off Broadway. Genres like blues and gospel got little-to-no attention outside of churches and local dives. Then in 1920, Peer recorded Mamie Smith singing "Crazy Blues."
"It was the first recording of blues sung by an African-American ever," Mazor said. "It hadn't been done."
And the record went on to sell 1 million copies. It bears repeating: this is 1920.
"He saw something early on," Mazor said. "The reason he would bring Jimmie Rodgers or the Carter family... they were strong personalities with songs. The personality would sell the song, and then the song would sell again."
In other words, every new recording of the song, by new artists, benefitted everyone who worked on the originals. They made money off the royalties. Peer set the standard for that game. The blurbs for Mazor's book include everyone from Chuck D to Bob Dylan, Ry Cooder and Donovan.
"Their business wouldn't be there if he hadn't been there first," Mazor said.
Virunga, a new documentary on the Congolese park, premieres Friday on Netflix. We spoke to the chief warden about endangered mountain gorillas, oil speculators and the power of tourism.
The unemployment rate tells only a partial story about the labor market and the state of American workers. Five other measures provide a fuller understanding of the economy and the nation's workforce.
The Associated Press reports that after years of refusing to review the kingdom's ban on female drivers, a key council now says that with restrictions, women could be allowed to drive.
Getting prenatal care can be a struggle, transgender men report in what may be the first study of its kind. And their feelings on once again appearing more female varied greatly.
President Barack Obama announced Friday that he will send up to 1,500 troops to advise and train forces in Iraq.
Marketplace's David Gura asked former Defense Secretary Robert Gates about the possibility of further deployments. Plus, how another across-the-board spending cut would, in his view, blunt military effectiveness. Listen to the full interview (or read the transcript below):
David Gura: President Obama said today he’s going to deploy up to 1,500 more personnel to Iraq to fight against ISIS. Do you think that move was inevitable? We see these numbers climbing up. Will they keep climbing?
Robert Gates: I understand the President’s desire not to re-fight the Iraq War. I don’t think there are very many Americans who want to do that either. The challenge that I think he faces is to draw a distinction between having a substantial advisory presence there and sending in battalions and brigades who are going to be the primary combat forces. So I think as long as the mission and role of these troops is constrained, I think you can keep the numbers to very small numbers.
I personally believe that you cannot achieve the President’s objective of destroying ISIS without having embedded trainers and advisers with the Iraqis and with peshmerga and some of the Sunni tribal leaders and so on. I think you need forward air controllers, spotters, and we need some special forces. But I think -- I think we’re talking in terms of hundreds of troops, not thousands or tens of thousands. So, I think to be able to achieve his objective we are going to have to be more engaged on the ground, below the brigade level.
But I think that you can constrain this so that it isn’t just an inexorable march back to having significant numbers of combat troops. The key will be, that if we have these embedded advisers, and even that is not working, to be able to say, okay, now what’s the alternative? And the alternative is not going back into Iraq with a large ground force of American troops.
So there’s more here than just a semantic distinction when we’re talking about trainers and advisers. They really are doing something different.
Oh yeah, there’s a difference between being a trainer and adviser at the brigade level, or at the division level – which puts you way back from the front, if you will, from the fighting – and having somebody who’s embedded with an Iraqi company or an Iraqi battalion that is out there on the front lines. There is risk associated with that. There’s no two ways about it. And that’s why you have to limit the forces that are doing that.
But it’s hard for me to see how they retake ground from ISIS – for example, to retake the city of Mosul – without some pretty close-in, Western, including American, assistance, advice and training.
While there’s this ramp up, how hard is it to execute these missions when there’s the threat of these automatic spending cuts due to take effect in 2016?
I’ve said publicly, there may be a more stupid way to cut the federal budget than through sequestration, but I can’t imagine what it might be. This is absolute madness because it requires us to cut the most important things that we are doing at the same level, or at the same percentage you’re cutting the stupidest things we do.
At the same time as we’re cutting perhaps some bureaucracy and overhead, we’re cutting the money that has been set aside to take care of wounded warriors and their families, family counseling programs, as well as modernization programs, maintenance and operations, so I think that this Congress and the President have a “must have,” as a very high priority, getting rid of sequestration.
If they want to cut the budget, then do it through the regular budget process, and set aside this crazy plan that even they didn’t want to enact.
This week, we're exploring how you've tried to make money our of your passion.
Whether the arts, music, theatre, basket-weaving, how'd it go? How much support did you get?
We want to know.