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AMERICAN MOSAIC - 'Souls Alike': Bonnie Raitt's 18th Album Is First She Produced Herself

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(MUSIC)

HOST: Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC, in VOA Special English.

I'm Doug Johnson. On our show this week:

We hear some music from Bonnie Raitt …

Answer a question about Muslims in the United States …

And report about the death of a famous American writer.

August Wilson

August Wilson performs his one-man act ''How I Learned What I Learned,'' at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Colorado, in March 2004
August Wilson performs his one-man act ''How I Learned What I Learned,'' at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Colorado, in March 2004

African-American writer August Wilson died of liver cancer earlier this month. He was sixty years old. August Wilson won many awards for writing stage plays about the African-American experience in this country. Faith Lapidus has more about him and his work.

FAITH LAPIDUS: August Wilson was born in nineteen forty-five in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Almost all of the plays he wrote take place in the area of Pittsburgh where most of its black people lived.

August Wilson showed his skill at writing as a teenager. When he was fifteen years old, a teacher accused him of turning in a paper written by someone else. She told him that no black child could write that well. So he left school and instead went to the local public library every day. There, he read great writers and began writing poetry and plays.

August Wilson later said that he dropped out of school but not out of life. Others have called that moment a historic one in the history of American theater. It started Wilson on a path that led to winning two Pulitzer Prizes, a Tony award and many others.

August Wilson decided to write ten plays about the African-American experience in the United States. Each play takes place in a different part of the twentieth century. The first play produced on Broadway in New York City was "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom". It is about African-American blues music entertainers during the nineteen twenties. In the play, the musicians discuss the problems of being black in America. One character offers his own idea about African-Americans. Shep O'Neal reads the words in the play:

SHEP O'NEAL: "Everybody come from different places in Africa, right? Come from different tribes and things. Soonawhile they began to make one big stew. You had the carrots, the peas, and potatoes and whatnot over here. And over there you had the meat, the nuts, the okra, corn…and then you mix it up and let it cook right through to get the flavors flowing together… then you got one thing. You got a stew."

FAITH LAPIDUS: August Wilson's other plays include "Fences", "Joe Turner's Come and Gone", "The Piano Lesson" and "Two Trains Running". The last play in the series is called "Radio Golf". It will be produced in New York next year.

Last month, theater officials announced that a Broadway theater would be named for August Wilson. At the time of the announcement, Mister Wilson knew he was dying. Sadly, he did not live to attend the theater-naming ceremony last Sunday, October sixteenth. Theater experts say the August Wilson Theater will permanently recognize one of the greatest American playwrights.

Muslim Girls in the United States

HOST: Our VOA listener question this week comes from Iran. Monire Farhangnia asks about Muslim girls in the United States. She wants to know if they are free to wear head coverings.

It is easy to tell which girls in American schools are Muslim. That is because a hijab cloth covers their hair. Some girls say it is easier to follow Muslim rules about boys and girls when they wear the hijab. These rules limit social relationships between girls and boys. The girls say the scarf lets boys know that they do not go on dates.

In some schools, religious rules about dress can sometimes conflict with administrative rules. An eleven-year old Muslim girl faced this kind of rule a few years ago at her school in the state of Oklahoma. She was told not to wear her scarf because schools in her city ban all head coverings for boys and girls.

Her family brought legal action in court. They said the school was treating her unfairly because of her religion. The court agreed. Now school officials must permit students to wear religious head coverings.

One modern Muslim woman says she wears hijab only when she prays at a mosque. Asma Gull Hasan is thirty years old. She works as a lawyer in the state of California. Her parents are from Pakistan, but she grew up in the state of Colorado. She has written two books, "American Muslim" and "Why I Am A Muslim".

Asma Hasan believes Muslim women and girls should wear clothes that do not show too much skin. But she agrees that it can be difficult to resist popular culture. She has a Web site where Muslim girls can ask questions. Some ask about problems they may be having. Others ask about personal relationships or how to deal with their parents.

Older Muslim women answer the questions. They often tell young people to try to understand the differences between growing up in the United States and growing up in their parents' countries. The Web site is asmahasan.com. To ask a question, click on "Ask The Aunties."

Bonnie Raitt's New Album

Bonnie Raitt recently released her eighteenth record album. It is called "Souls Alike." It has some of the same New Orleans rock and blues sounds of her earlier records. But it also has some new sounds and represents a "first" for this famous singer. Pat Bodnar tells us more.

PAT BODNAR: Bonnie Raitt's new album is a celebration of both American songwriting and the abilities of her musicians. Miz Raitt spends a great deal of time listening to current music in order to find new songs. She says she connected very deeply with the songwriters she discovered for this album.

Miz Raitt recorded these songs with the band she has been playing with for many years. They know each other so well that they were able to record many of the songs on the first or second try. Miz Raitt says that using the first recording can help keep the music fresh and alive. The song "Crooked Crown" was recorded on the first attempt.

(MUSIC)

"Souls Alike" is also the first album that Bonnie Raitt produced herself. Being a producer as well as the lead singer allowed Miz Raitt to push herself in new directions. She sings about holding on to love in the song "I Don't Want Anything to Change".

(MUSIC)

Bonnie Raitt faced several family crises at the time she was recording the album. Both of her parents died within a few months of one another. And her brother became very sick. We close with a song from the album that expresses how she faced such difficult and sad situations. It is called "I Will Not Be Broken."

(MUSIC)

HOST: I'm Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our program.

Our show was written by Dana Demange, Karen Leggett and Nancy Steinbach. Caty Weaver was our producer.

Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA's radio magazine in Special English.

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