Musicians Online Share Joy One Note at a Time

Governments both local and national increasingly have been calling on their citizens to stay home as a way to help slow the spread of novel coronavirus.  Musicians have joined the campaign.  VOA’s Arash Arabasadi turns up the volume on just a few performances

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The Show Can’t Go On: Virus Halts Circus in Netherlands

Circus Renz Berlin’s fleet of blue, red and yellow trucks have had a fresh lick of paint over the winter. But now, as coronavirus measures shut down the entertainment industry across Europe, they have no place to go.”It’s catastrophic for everybody,” said Sarina Renz, of the family circus that has been in existence since 1842.For the foreseeable future, the circus is parked up behind an equestrian center in the northern Dutch town of Drachten, waiting and hoping for an end to the crisis.The German circus’ animals, including eight Siberian steppe camels, 15 horses and a llama, are spending their time in sandy fields munching their way through the circus’ supply of food and supplies donated by locals.”We have food, but not for long. We’re already nearly through our reserves. Now other people have helped by bringing things for the coming weeks. We’ve got supplies from people, that’s really fantastic.”There are 18 members of the extended Renz family on hand to look after the animals, other performers have already been sent home, Sarina Renz said.Children from the family pass the time playing around the trucks and animals and get home schooling — that’s new for most children in the Netherlands but not for the Renz family, who usually are moving from one show location to the next too often to attend a regular school.For now, the family must get used to a more stationary way of life, but one without the lifeblood of the circus: the public.”We’re just used to performing our shows. That’s our life,” says Renz. “We live to make other people happy with our shows, our attractions.”  

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Singer-Songwriter Bill Withers Dies at 81

Singer-songwriter Bill Withers has died. He wrote and sang a string of soulful songs in the 1970s that have stood the test of time, including “Lean On Me,” “Lovely Day” and “Ain’t No Sunshine.”  
 
According to a statement released from his family to The Associated Press, the 81-year-old died in Los Angeles from heart complications. “Lean On Me,” was performed at the presidential inaugurations of both Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. Lately, people have posted videos of their versions of the song as inspiration during the coronavirus pandemic.
 
Withers, who wrote and sang a string of soulful songs in the 1970s that have stood the test of time, including ” Lean On Me, ” “Lovely Day” and “Ain’t No Sunshine,” has died from heart complications, his family said in a statement to The Associated Press. He was 81.The three-time Grammy Award winner, who withdrew from making music in the mid-1980s, died on Monday in Los Angeles, the statement said. His death comes as the public has drawn inspiration from his music during the coronavirus pandemic, with health care workers, choirs, artists and more posting their own renditions on “Lean on Me” to help get through the difficult times.”We are devastated by the loss of our beloved, devoted husband and father. A solitary man with a heart driven to connect to the world at large, with his poetry and music, he spoke honestly to people and connected them to each other,” the family statement read. “As private a life as he lived close to intimate family and friends, his music forever belongs to the world. In this difficult time, we pray his music offers comfort and entertainment as fans hold tight to loved ones.”Withers’ songs during his brief career have become the soundtracks of countless engagements, weddings and backyard parties. They have powerful melodies and perfect grooves melded with a smooth voice that conveys honesty and complex emotions without vocal acrobatics.”Lean On Me,” a paean to friendship, was performed at the inaugurations of both Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Lean on Me” are among Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”He’s the last African-American Everyman,” musician and band leader Questlove told Rolling Stone in 2015. “Bill Withers is the closest thing black people have to a Bruce Springsteen.”Withers, who overcame a childhood stutter, was born the last of six children in the coal mining town of Slab Fork, West Virginia. After his parents divorced when he was 3, Withers was raised by his mother’s family in nearby Beckley.He joined the Navy at 17 and spent nine years in the service as an aircraft mechanic installing toilets. After his discharge, he moved to Los Angeles, worked at an aircraft parts factory, bought a guitar at a pawn shop and recorded demos of his tunes in hopes of landing a recording contract.In 1971, signed to Sussex Records, he put out his first album, “Just As I Am,” with the legendary Booker T. Jones at the helm. It had the hits “Grandma’s Hands” and “Ain’t No Sunshine,” which was inspired by the Jack Lemmon film “Days of Wine and Roses.” He was photographed on the cover, smiling and holding his lunch pail.”Ain’t No Sunshine” was originally released as the B-side of his debut single, “Harlem.” But radio DJs flipped the disc and the song climbed to No. 3 on the Billboard charts and spent a total of 16 weeks in the top 40.Withers went on to generate more hits a year later with the inspirational “Lean On Me,” the menacing “Who Is He (and What Is He to You)” and the slinky “Use Me” on his second album, “Still Bill.”Later would come the striking ” Lovely Day,” co-written with Skip Scarborough and featuring Withers holding the word “day” for almost 19 seconds, and “Just The Two Of Us,” co-written with Ralph MacDonald and William Salter. His “Live at Carnegie Hall” in 1973 made Rolling Stone’s 50 Greatest Live Albums of All Time.”The hardest thing in songwriting is to be simple and yet profound. And Bill seemed to understand, intrinsically and instinctively, how to do that,” Sting said in “Still Bill,” a 2010 documentary of Withers.But Withers’ career when Sussex Records went bankrupt and he was scooped up by Columbia Records. He no longer had complete control over his music and chaffed when it was suggested he do an Elvis cover. His new executives found Withers difficult.None of his Columbia albums reached the Top 40 except for 1977’s “Menagerie,” which produced “Lovely Day.” (His hit duet with Grover Washington Jr. “Just the Two of Us” was on Washington’s label). Withers’ last album was 1985’s “Watching You Watching Me.”Though his songs often dealt with relationships, Withers also wrote ones with social commentary, including “Better Off Dead” about an alcoholic’s suicide, and “I Can’t Write Left-Handed,” about an injured Vietnam War veteran.He was awarded Grammys as a songwriter for “Ain’t No Sunshine” in 1971 and for “Just The Two Of Us” in 1981. In 1987, Bill received his ninth Grammy nomination and third Grammy as a songwriter for the re-recording of the 1972 hit “Lean On Me” by Club Nouveau.He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015 by Stevie Wonder. Withers thanked his wife as well as the R&B pioneers who helped his career like Ray Jackson, Al Bell and Booker T. Jones. He also got in a few jabs at the record industry, saying A&R stood for “antagonistic and redundant.”His music has been sampled and covered by such artists as BlackStreet’s “No Diggity,” Will Smith’s version of “Just The Two Of Us,” Black Eyed Peas’ “Bridging The Gap” and Twista’s “Sunshine.” The song “Lean on Me” was the title theme of a 1989 movie starring Morgan Freeman.His songs are often used on the big screen, including “The Hangover,” “28 Days,” “American Beauty,” “Jerry Maguire,” “Crooklyn,” “Flight,” “Beauty Shop,” “The Secret Life of Pets” and “Flight.””I’m not a virtuoso, but I was able to write songs that people could identify with. I don’t think I’ve done bad for a guy from Slab Fork, West Virginia,” Withers told Rolling Stone in 2015.He is survived by his wife, Marcia, and children, Todd and Kori.
 

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Infectious Disease Expert Anthony Fauci Immortalized With Bobblehead

The director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Health, Anthony Fauci, considered by many to the be the face of the U.S. battle against the coronavirus, will be immortalized Friday with his own bobblehead figurine.The bobblehead figures are being created and marketed by the the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They will sell for $25 with $5 from each sale going to the American Hospital Association and its “100 Million Mask Challenge,” an effort to raise money for sorely needed surgical masks across the country.Bobblehead Hall of Fame CEO Phil Sklar says the organization had received a lot of requests for a Fauci bobblehead figurine and says they saw it as an opportunity to raise money for a good cause.The figurine features Fauci in a suit standing on a base with, of course, a head mounted on a spring so it “bobbles” when moved.  Sklar said the Fauci figurine is raising its hand in a gesture to suggest the need to “flatten the curve” and lower the spread of the coronavirus.Fauci is a prominent member of U.S. President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force. He has been in his position, as part of the National Institutes of Health, since 1984 and has advised six presidents on national health issues.
 

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Dolly Parton Launches Children’s Book Series Amid COVID Chaos

American country music singer Dolly Parton has launched “Good Night with Dolly,” a 10-week read-aloud series for children on YouTube and other internet platforms.“This is something I have been wanting to do for quite a while, but the timing never felt quite right,” Parton said.  “I think it is pretty clear that now is the time to share a story and to share some love.”Parton read the 90-year-old classic The Little Engine That Could in the first episode Thursday evening.The books chosen for the series “will focus on comforting and reassuring children during the shelter-in-place mandates” put in place because of the coronavirus pandemic Parton’s Imagination Library said.The library, inspired by Parton’s father, who could not read, has mailed more than 130 million free books to children since its inception in 1995.  It now mails over 1 million books each month to children in five countries. 

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African Artists Raise Coronavirus Awareness Through Songs

Medical authorities say public education will play a key role in stopping the spread of the coronavirus in Africa. VOA’s Salem Solomon has a look at how prominent figures are using music as a tool to reach people

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Olympic Delay Adds Workload, Costs and Cash Flow Uncertainty

Postponing the Tokyo Olympics to 2021 will make the event more costly for all parties, the International Olympic Committee acknowledged on Thursday, although it offered few details on what the final bill might be.Four directors of the Olympic body held a conference call three days after Tokyo’s new dates were finalized, with the games pushed back to July 23-Aug. 8 next year because of the coronavirus pandemic.While the new dates cleared up any uncertainty about the event’s future, there are still plenty of question marks as the IOC begins to work with Tokyo organizers and governing bodies of 33 sports in a huge task to amend thousands of contracts. They include agreements for 41 venues, an Olympic village of 5,000 apartments, hotels, transport, plus the supply of goods and services.“All of this now has to be re-secured for one year later,” said Christophe Dubi, the IOC’s Olympic Games executive director. “There will be costs for (Tokyo local organizers) and the IOC and Olympic family side.”The estimations for how much it will cost to postpone the games have started at $2 billion and gone much higher. Japanese taxpayers are expected to meet most of it, adding to their share of an official budget of $12.6 billion.The IOC was contributing $1.3 billion to Tokyo’s original operating budget.Asked if the Switzerland-based Olympic body would meet some of the extra costs from its own insurance policy or billion-dollar reserve fund, the official line Thursday was that it’s too early to say.It was also unclear how the payments from broadcasters will be structured.“We’re only just getting into all of this,” said Timo Lumme, the managing director of television and marketing.Broadcasters including NBC contributed 73% of the IOC’s $5.7 billion income from the previous four-year cycle up to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. Of that, $540 went to the governing bodies of the 28 core Summer Games sports.That figure is expected to go up for Tokyo, but it’s still unclear when the governing bodies will get IOC payments from their share of those revenues.The IOC has not committed to paying 25% of that money in advance in 2020 in 2020 to ease the governing bodies’ cash flow. Many face extra costs for Tokyo while also having to cancel revenue-earning world championships and other international events.“They’ll get to 2021, but in what condition?” said Francesco Ricci Bitti, head of the group of Summer Games sports known as ASOIF, this week. He told The Associated Press that “15 to 20 are very dependent on Olympics funding.”One Tokyo Olympics decision could come within two weeks, sports director Kit McConnell suggested. The IOC will have talks with FIFA about raising the age limit in men’s soccer from 23 to 24 to account for the one-year delay.Hundreds of potential Olympic athletes who get IOC funding for their training are getting one-year extensions to their scholarships.The IOC has yet to reschedule its annual meeting that was set for Tokyo in July — or a presidential election that is scheduled for June 2021 in Athens, Greece. That is now just one month before the start of the Tokyo games.

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Son: Jazz Great Ellis Marsalis Jr. Dead at 85; Fought Virus

Ellis Marsalis Jr., jazz pianist, teacher and patriarch of a New Orleans musical clan that includes famed performer sons Wynton and Branford, has died after battling pneumonia brought on by the new coronavirus, one of his sons said late Wednesday.He was 85.Ellis Marsalis III confirmed in an Associated Press phone interview that his father’s death was sparked by the virus causing the  global pandemic. “Pneumonia was the actual thing that caused his demise. But it was pneumonia brought on by COVID-19,” he said.He said he drove Sunday from Baltimore to be with his father as he was hospitalized in Louisiana, which has been hit hard by the outbreak.  Others in the family spent time with him, too.Four of the jazz patriarch’s six sons are musicians: Wynton, trumpeter, is America’s most prominent jazz spokesman as artistic director of jazz at New York’s Lincoln Center. Branford, saxophonist, led The Tonight Show band and toured with Sting. Delfeayo, a trombonist, is a prominent recording producer and performer. And Jason, a percussionist, has made a name for himself with his own band and as an accompanist. Ellis III, who decided music wasn’t his gig, is a photographer-poet in Baltimore.In a statement, Mayor LaToya Cantrell said of the man who’d continued to perform regularly in New Orleans until December: “Ellis Marsalis was a legend. He was the prototype of what we mean when we talk about New Orleans jazz. He was a teacher, a father, and an icon – and words aren’t sufficient to describe the art, the joy and the wonder he showed the world.”Branford Marsalis, Wynton Marsalis and Delfeayo Marsalis perform in the Ellis Marsalis Family Tribute in the Jazz Tent during the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in New Orleans, Louisiana on April 28, 2019.Because Marsalis opted to stay in New Orleans for most of his career, his reputation was limited until his sons became famous and brought him the spotlight, along with new recording contracts and headliner performances on television and tour.”He was like the coach of jazz. He put on the sweatshirt, blew the whistle and made these guys work,” said Nick Spitzer, host of public radio’s American Routes and a Tulane University anthropology professor.The Marsalis “family band” seldom played together when the boys were younger but in 2003 toured East in a spinoff of a family celebration that became a PBS special when the elder Marsalis retired from teaching at the University of New Orleans.Harry Connick Jr., one of Marsalis’ students at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts, was a guest. He’s one of many now-famous jazz musicians who passed through Marsalis’ classrooms. Others include trumpeters Nicholas Payton and Terence Blanchard, saxophonists Donald Harrison and Victor Goines, and bassist Reginald Veal.Marsalis was born in New Orleans, son of the operator of a hotel where Marsalis met touring black musicians who couldn’t stay at the segregated downtown hotels where they performed. He played saxophone in high school; he also played piano by the time he went to Dillard University.Although New Orleans was steeped in traditional jazz, and rock ‘n’ roll was the new sound in the 1950s, Marsalis preferred bebop and modern jazz.Spitzer described Marsalis as a “modernist in a town of traditionalists.””His great love was jazz a la bebop – he was a lover of Thelonious Monk and the idea that bebop was a music of freedom. But when he had to feed his family, he played R&B and soul and rock ‘n’ roll on Bourbon Street,” Spitzer said.The musician’s college quartet included drummer Ed Blackwell, clarinetist Alvin Batiste and saxophonist Harold Battiste playing modern.U.S. saxophonist Branford Marsalis performs with his father, Ellis Marsalis, at the 51st Jazzaldia Jazz Festival in San Sebastian, northern Spain, July 22, 2016.Ornette Coleman was in town at the time. In 1956, when Coleman headed to California, Marsalis and the others went along, but after a few months Marsalis returned home. He told the New Orleans Times-Picayune years later, when he and Coleman were old men, that he never figured out what a pianist could do behind the free form of Coleman’s jazz.Back in New Orleans, Marsalis joined the Marine Corps and was assigned to accompany soloists on the service’s weekly TV programs on CBS in New York. There, he said, he learned to handle all kinds of music styles.Returning home, he worked at the Playboy Club and ventured into running his own club, which went bust. In 1967 trumpeter Al Hirt hired him. When not on Bourbon Street, Hirt’s band appeared on national TV – headline shows on The Tonight Show and The Ed Sullivan Show, among others.Marsalis got into education about the same time, teaching improvisation at Xavier University in New Orleans. In the mid-1970s, he joined the faculty at the New Orleans magnet high school and influenced a new generation of jazz musicians.When asked how he could teach something as free-wheeling as jazz improvisation, Marsalis once said, “We don’t teach jazz, we teach students.”Jazz musician Ellis Marsalis (second from left) makes a curtain call with former student Harry Connick Jr. (left) and sons, Wynton, Delfeayo and Branford at Lakefront Arena in New Orleans on August 4, 2001.In 1986 he moved to Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. In 1989, the University of New Orleans lured him back to set up a jazz-studies program.Marsalis retired from UNO in 2001 but continued performing, particularly at Snug Harbor, a small club that anchored the city’s contemporary jazz scene – frequently backing young promising musicians.His melodic style, with running improvisations in the right hand, has been described variously as romantic, contemporary, or simply “Louisiana jazz.” He’s always on acoustic piano, never electric, and even in interpreting old standards there’s a clear link to the driving bebop chords and rhythms of his early years.He founded a record company, ELM, but his recording was limited until his sons became famous. After that he joined them and others on mainstream labels and headlined his own releases, many full of his own compositions.He often played at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. For more than three decades he played two 75-minute sets every Friday night at Snug Harbor until he decided it was exhausting. Even then, he still performed on occasion as a special guest.On Wednesday night, Ellis III recalled how his father taught him the meaning of integrity before he even knew the word.He and Delfeayo, neither of them yet 10, had gone to hear their father play at a club. Only one man – sleeping and drunk – was in the audience for the second set. The boys asked why they couldn’t leave.”He looked at us and said, “I can’t leave. I have a gig.’ While he’s playing, he said, ‘A gig is a deal. I’m paid to play this set. I’m going to play this set. It doesn’t matter that nobody’s here.”Marsalis’ wife, Dolores, died in 2017. He is survived by his sons Branford, Wynton, Ellis III, Delfeayo, Mboya and Jason.

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Music Keeps Flowing Amid Coronavirus Restrictions

A growing number of Americans are being ordered to stay home to help contain the spread of Covid-19. So musicians who can’t stop playing are finding creative ways to share their music, both online and in places close to home. VOA’s Julie Taboh found several Washington area musicians who are keeping the music flowing for audiences everywhere.

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Pickleball Coach Proves Age Doesn’t Matter in Sports

66-year-old Helen White doesn’t believe in stereotypes. She is sure anyone can do anything – regardless of age. That’s why she is a pickleball coach, and promotes this unusual sport based loosely on tennis as way for the elderly to have fun and exercise.  Maxim Moskalkov caught up with this very active woman and filed this report

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Pandemic Forces Cancellation of Wimbledon

The Wimbledon tennis championships in London — widely considered to be the world’s premier tennis event — will be canceled this year due the coronavirus pandemic. In statement Wednesday, the All England Tennis Club (AELTC) and the committee of management of the championships said the 2020 Grand Slam tournament — scheduled to be held June 29 through July 11 — will be canceled due to public health concerns. It will be rescheduled for 2021. It will be the first time since World War II the event has been canceled. “This is a decision that we have not taken lightly, and we have done so with the highest regard for public health and the wellbeing of all those who come together to make Wimbledon happen,” said AELTC chairman Ian Hewitt. The cancellation is the latest in a collection of major sporting events canceled or postponed by the pandemic, including the Summer Olympics scheduled for later this year in Tokyo, and professional soccer, baseball and basketball seasons. 
 

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On Coronavirus Hold, NBA Players to Host Video Game Tournament

With professional sports leagues all over the world on hold because of the coronavirus outbreak, stars from the National Basketball Association are turning to video games for some competition. Kevin Durant leads a roster of 16 active players set to compete in an NBA2K20 tournament starting Friday. Games will be shown on sports television network ESPN, and the winner will get to choose a charity to receive a $100,000 donation. Other players include Trae Young, Hassan Whiteside and Donovan Mitchell. Durant and Mitchell are among a small group of players who have tested positive for the virus. 

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