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AMERICAN MOSAIC - The Rise of a Folk Hero Who Landed on a River

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HOST:

Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.

(MUSIC)

I'm Doug Johnson. This week on our program:

We have new music from Anya Marina ...

And a question from Russia about VOA's former jazz host Willis Conover ...

But first, a report on that hero pilot Chesley Sullenberger and his crew.

(MUSIC)

Chesley Sullenberger

HOST:

"The Ballad of Casey Jones" is a folk song about a train engineer who saved the lives of his passengers in a wreck. The only one who died – and this is a real story from nineteen hundred -- was Casey Jones. Future generations may sing about the "hero on the Hudson" -- the pilot who saved his passengers when he crash-landed on a river. Except this hero lived to tell about it. Katherine Cole has more.

KATHERINE COLE:

Passengers and crew wait on the wings to be rescued
Passengers and crew wait on the wings to be rescued

Call it a crash-landing, a ditching, a splash-down, or a nicer name. Flight attendants tell what to do "in the event of a water landing." Passengers often pay no attention to those safety directions before a flight. They might see little reason to. But more of them must be listening now, after a water landing that will surely be remembered in the history books of flight.

On January fifteenth, the engines of a US Airways plane lost power shortly after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport in New York City. The pilot reported a double bird strike -- a rare event where birds enter both engines.

It happened so early in the flight, at a level of about nine hundred meters, that the crew had little time to decide what to do. Captain Chesley Sullenberger decided against landing at a small airport nearby or returning to LaGuardia.

Instead, he and co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles and their three flight attendants prepared for a water landing. Captain Sullenberger carefully and smoothly guided the Airbus jet into the Hudson River. People watched from skyscrapers overlooking the near-freezing water.

Chesley Sullenberger attending a celebration in his honor in Danville, California
Chesley Sullenberger attending a celebration in his honor in Danville, California

The passengers and crew got onto the wings as water entered the plane and the aircraft floated downriver. Boats quickly came to the rescue of all one hundred fifty-five people on the flight. Captain Sullenberger walked through the plane twice to make sure everyone was off.

On January twenty-fourth, the pilot known as "Sully" was honored in his hometown of Danville, California. He told a crowd of thousands that he and his fellow crew members were just doing the job they were trained to do.

The former Air Force pilot had his fifty-eighth birthday a week ago. He has been flying for more than half his life and was unusually well prepared for the events that day in New York. For one thing, he is good at handling a powerless aircraft. He is a glider pilot in addition to flying big jets. But Chesley Sullenberger is also an expert on air safety, including accident investigations, and even has his own consulting business.

Willis Conover

HOST:

Our VOA listener question this week comes from Russia. Alexander Kuzin wants to know about Willis Conover's jazz programs that were heard for forty years on VOA. Willis Conover was not a musician. But his expert knowledge of the music and its performers helped make jazz an international language.

Willis Conover
Willis Conover

WILLIS CONOVER: "Time for jazz. Willis Conover in Washington, D.C with the Voice of America Jazz Hour."

Willis Conover considered jazz the music of freedom. He thought it could help people express their lives, and help them stand a little straighter.

During the period of the Cold War, an estimated thirty million people in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union listened to him on the radio.

At that time many communist governments banned jazz. One jazz writer said Willis Conover and his radio programs did more to end the Cold War than all the presidents put together.

Willis Conover was born in Buffalo, New York, in nineteen twenty. He began working for small radio stations in the state of Maryland. He heard many kinds of jazz performed during the nineteen forties in Washington D.C. He became friends with many performers and helped organize concerts. But he wanted to be able to play the jazz he loved on his radio show without any of the restrictions of commercial radio.

Later he learned that the Voice of America wanted to start a jazz program. It was the perfect job. His "Music USA" program went on the air in January of nineteen fifty-five. He continued to broadcast on VOA until not long before his death in nineteen ninety-six, at the age of seventy-five.

Here is a nineteen sixty-eight recording of Willis Conover and the jazz great Louis Armstrong.

With Louis Armstrong
With Louis Armstrong

WILLIS CONOVER: "Louis?"

LOUIS ARMSTRONG: "Yeah, daddy, what you say there?"

WILLIS CONOVER: "Happy when you're here."

LOUIS ARMSTRONG: "Well you know, it's always a good chat when we meet. You know, we dig so much in music. And you know so much about all these cats that plays good music, you know."

WILLIS CONOVER: "I learned it all from you like everybody else."

Willis Conover once said Louis Armstrong was the heart of jazz and Duke Ellington was its soul. Here he is with the Duke in nineteen seventy-three.

WILLIS CONOVER: "Well, Duke, will you trust my taste to select records by you?"

And with Duke Ellington
And with Duke Ellington

DUKE ELLINGTON: "I certainly would because that's what they told me in the Soviet Union. They said, you know, your friend Willis Conover, he really plays your best things. I said, well, I was very happy to hear it."

Today, people who want to listen to tapes of Willis Conover have to go to College Park, Maryland. That is where they are stored as part of the National Archives. Many of the old tapes are in poor condition; workers are making digital copies.

To learn more about Willis Conover, listen at this time Sunday for the program PEOPLE IN AMERICA.

Anya Marina

(MUSIC: "All The Same to Me")

HOST:

Turn on the radio and you can find the music of Anya Marina. Turn on the TV and you can find the music of Anya Marina. Her songs have been used on shows like "Grey's Anatomy" and "Gossip Girl." Shirley Griffith tells us about this singer and songwriter with a voice that is child-like, yet mysterious and forceful.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH:

Anya Marina
Anya Marina

Anya Marina's latest album is called "Slow And Steady Seduction: Phase II." This is her second full-length recording. The story of the record is that she was having trouble writing new songs. She told one of her producers that she wanted to work with different, more driving rhythms.

The producer sent her a CD of some beats he had created. These led to several of the twelve songs on the record, including this one, "Move You."

(MUSIC)

Anya Marina did not write all the songs on the album. Brazilian great Antonio Carlos Jobim wrote this famous tune. Anya Marina sings it in Portuguese and English.

(MUSIC: "Waters of March")

Anya Marina was born in the state of Michigan but raised in Silicon Valley in California. After college, she moved to San Diego and took a job in radio.

Her MySpace page says her doctor once told her she had the larynx of a "very young adolescent." That would explain her unusual voice. We leave you with Anya Marina and a song called "Not a Through Street."

(MUSIC)

HOST:

I'm Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our program today. It was written by Dana Demange and Caty Weaver, who was also our producer. Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA's radio magazine in Special English.

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