Saturday, April 18, 2015

Live Long, a nonagenarian's story

SO, I am once again trying to do some genealogy blogs and I came across a new challenge for the year - a different challenge each week, maybe this time I will actually stay with it! The challenge this week is to write about an ancestor who was long lived, like a centenarian. I don't have any on my mother's side, I don't think anyone made it to 90, but I do on my biological father's, along with several who made it to their 90's. I was going to write about 4 of them, but that started looking really dumb and convoluted, so I will mention that my great uncle Paul, who was a tailor for along time in the garment district in New York, lived until he was 106, and he was still playing with a full deck when he died in 1981!  If I have to live that long, I sure hope I emulate his healthy mind!

Antonino (Anthony) Rotante was born 15 Jan 1909 in New York City to my great grandparents Pasquale Rotante and his wife Grazia Brocca.  This is according to his birth certificate, but there is a story that goes with this that is a bit different. Apparently he was really born 28 Dec 1908, the same day as  the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Messina, Sicily which is where his parents were from.
In Sicily, you were conscripted into military service at the age of 18 and she figured if she changed the date of his birth into the next year, he would have a year longer before he had to enlist in the US Army! The midwife had no problem with this and Uncle Anthony did not learn of his real birth date for a very long time.

He had a normal upbringing, but as he became an adult, he was fascinated with Jazz and Blues music. It became an obsession of his which he put to good use writing for a magazine called Record Research and he was considered a "Blues" authority. He is mentioned in several books: Lightening Hopkins: His Life and Blues by Alan Govenor states "...Prior to the publication of Charter's book The County Blues, accompanied by the release of his Folkway recordings of Lightening Hopkins in 1959, little had been written about the subject...the first attempt at a Lightening Hopkins discography was compiled by New Yorker Anthony Rotante and published in the British magazine Discophile in 1955.
The Blues Encyclopedia by Ed Komara and Peter Lee says "in a companion magazine to Jazz Information, Blues Research was managed by Anthony Rotante and Paul Sheatsley."

Some of the articles he wrote for Record Research included "Edith Piaf, the early years, Polydor Records 1936-1944" (June 1983), "Maurice Chevalier on Pathe-Salabert Labels" (Nov-Dec 1975) and "The King of the R&B Labels"(Apr-May 1969. I found some of his articles here:

Along with all this, he worked for the city of New York in the Budget Bureau and worked specifically for the Mayor's Office under several administrations. I know one of the was John Lindsay, but am not sure of the others.

He was very interested in genealogy and in the 1950's took a trip to Messina to see if he could find any family records. Because of that terrible tsunami the day he was born, there were no records to be found. Even on our last visit he was pondering if there was any other place else he could look. Just recently I found some digitized records from Messina on as many towns had to send records on to the church or state record's agencies.  I found his father's birth info and am hoping over time to be able to delve deeper into this part of my family.

I did not meet him until he was in his early 90's as I did not grow up knowing my father or his family. I was amazed at how clear he was at that age and that he was computer literate! He loved that my son was a musician and wanted to introduce him to good jazz, so he mailed him several cassette tapes and articles about the different types of jazz they showed. We corresponded back and forth for several years and when he would come up to NY from his retirement home in Florida to visit his daughter, we always met for lunch. He finally passed away at the age of ninety-eight. Just before he died, he donated  his rare collection of Duke Ellington records, tapes, books and other memorabilia to the African American Research Library and Cultural Center and his other collections to The Archives of Blues and Jazz, both in Fort Lauderdale,  surely a wonderful legacy to leave behind.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Eat, Drink, Thunder

So, many of you are aware of my love for the show Celtic Thunder. Why? I think because the show lifts my spirits and gives me a measure of happiness. Who would think a group of young Irish men could cause so many people to hold them dear, but they do. If you think I am maybe a bit strange for posting pix of them on my cover of Facebook, trust me, there are people way way more "obsessed" than I am, but you know, all things considered, if these guys make their days happier, I say what's the harm? I think there is a preponderance of older widowed ladies who are made to feel young again by these guys. That they are gracious enough to sign autographs and pose for selfies with them, is just another reason why they are loved. Think about this though - they are my Yankees, my Jets, my Nicks, my golf obsession, get the picture? We think nothing of people who follow these sports, can name all the team members and their stats and miss family time because they are planted in front of the TV getting a "fix". Am I right? You know I am!

At any rate, this weekend I motored up to Rutland, Vermont to see the Very Best of Show. I have never reviewed the show and experience here, and I do tend to look at it from a performer's eye having been on that side of the boards in days past, so if my review is not how you saw the show, just know its okay for people to have differing ways of looking at things and responding to them! Several people who won't get to see this show asked for this, so here it is.

I got there early just to orient myself and had a chance to have a quick chat with Keith
 and then a short while later, Damian came out and signed my "Thunderhead" shirt - it was the last signature I needed - actually a replacement signature as for some reason the first one he did back in June washed out even though it was a sharpie. Lastly I managed to say hi to Colm before he went out for a run

I decided to do more than I usually do and got the meet and greet and VIP passes. I have already been to a sound check, so I didn't feel that was necessary. The meet and greet was set for 6pm. It was in a rather small room which not everyone could fit into, so the overflow was in a room next to it. PBS did apologize for such a small place, but I felt bad for those in the other room who basically had to stand and try to see over each other. They did supply water, coffee and tea...and a cash bar! I don't think anyone bothered with that. At about 6:30 Ryan and Emmett were ushered into the room by David Munro, the musical director, and we were allowed 10-15 minutes to ask questions. Then we stood in a line to get an autograph (which I didn't bother with) and a photo with them. Gone are the days of appetizer types of food, a  good half hour or more with the guys and a chance to personally interact. For me, I wouldn't do it again unless I was a first timer. It was a lot of money for a very little bit of time. The one interesting tidbit that we learned was how Emmett, the first American born in  the group, managed to find his way into Celtic Thunder. Apparently, David Munro was looking at you tube videos and found one of a master class by acclaimed mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato with Julliard student Emmett O'Hanlon. He called producer Sharon Browne and told her "we need to get this boy" - and they did! So for all you who think you tube uploads don't bring attention, I guess you would be wrong!

The theater was small by most standards, only sat a little over 800, but that meant my third row seat was really close as there was no orchestra pit. Gently the strains of  Heartland started and in they came with the now famous black slickers. I have to admit the pounding of the drums certainly stirred my heart as the guys entered the stage one by one.  I am not going to go every song they sang, but there were some I wanted to comment on. It was lovely to hear Damian singing with them again and those two years on Glee really made a difference in him vocally. He now has so much control of his instrument and sang with passion. His rendition of Buachaill on Eirne was beautiful. No longer was he the young lad just standing in place singing the song exactly as written, but a man giving his own interpretation of the song and doing it masterfully. Of course, we did get a "blast from the past" as he sang Breaking Up is Hard to Do, complete with leather jacket, skinny jeans and old fashioned mic. We all had a good time, and Damian, I love you, but dancing has never been your forte!

 Colm had everyone singing Black Velvet Band pub style and made us tear up with Katie, sung simply, as he sat on a stool. Ryan sang Ride On which I have to say for me, has been done to death!
The poor guy sang it for at least 4 tours and I was so glad when he got to sing something new in Mythology. But, since the fans picked the songs for this tour, I guess not everyone feels as I do - I would rather have heard Brothers in Arms or Desperado. Neil sang Noreen and had everyone enjoying his "duel with Declan O'Donaghue on drums and John O'Brian on the bodhran. 

I was really happy to hear Keith do Mountains of Mourne as it is one the songs that drew me to Celtic Thunder when I first saw them on PBS. Back then, his voice was lilting and almost pretty, now it has matured and it allows him to sing songs like Now We Are Free, which was something I almost wish I stood up and shouted Bravo! to - it was that good.

 Emmett belongs onstage at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City, plain and simple.His voice is way too big and doesn't seem to mesh well with the others. It may have been the acoustics in such a small venue, and it wasn't too bad when all six were singing, but during That's a Woman, he effectively drowned Ryan out each time they were counter singing. I didn't like his Danny Boy. That just belongs to Emmet Cahill. It's funny how two people can have essentially the same range and be classically trained but have such a different sound depending on the timbre of their voice. Emmet Cahill sang it with almost a reverence and beauty and Emmett O'Hanlon had vocals that were just too "bright" for this song. I noticed on the cruise he had to hold his mike about 12" away when he sang with the others, maybe some sound board adjustments will help next tour.

  He is amiable like the others, has great stage presence and fits well with their overall "messing about" during some songs, but when he sang Recuerde Me, he was in his wheelhouse! Here, he could sing with abandon and fill all the spaces and it was amazing. 

Of course George Donaldson was greatly missed and the guys did a lovely tribute of his song Life with You along with a funny anecdote by Neil about his less than stellar dancing abilities. White roses were raised by many at the end of the song.

One cannot go to a Celtic Thunder show without appreciating the fun songs they do, and the other night was no exception. I have to say Neil has the most impeccable sense of comedic timing. His drunken man in Seven Drunken Nights had everyone roaring with laughter! It was nice to see a little change-up with Emmett starting the song and Keith ending. About mid song things got a little crazy - every year they seem to ramp up the clowning  on this song and at one point Ryan was pretty much writhing on the ground in front of Neil's shoes while Damian was trying to close his body over them - he fell and Emmett starting kicking his kneecap and maybe just hit it a touch to strong and Damian let out a facial yowl! He moved his leg to try to keep it from getting hit again but was having a heck of a time holding his pose as they all had frozen when the audience started laughing. Emmet bent down and pretended to wipe the sweat off Damian's brow and then they all lost it - Celtic Thunder  at its best! They also got into it during Place in the Choir. Damian was singing the bass part and they all went and sat down on the edge of the riser. He went back to join them and  they wouldn't let him in - lots of shoving ensued until finally Emmet fell off the riser. Ryan fell backwards and came up laughing so hard he could barely sing. These are the moments many of us wait for. 
 Finally the show was over and we waited by the stage to be picked up for the VIP experience.
 There weren't a lot of us waiting, so it was pretty intimate. I am sitting in the front row for this one. Instead of us asking them questions, they turned  the tables and asked us trivia questions about themselves. If you knew the answer  you got a drink cozy with Celtic Thunder on it. There were some I didn't have a clue about and one in particular where I thought, oh my gosh Linda, you spend entirely too much time on the internet! I won twice, so I gave my second one to the gal next to me - then things just started getting funny when a lady started mugging in the doorway just as Keith was reading his question -I started laughing out loud and others joined me and for just a split second Keith looked a little annoyed  that we were laughing at him - then he turned around and realized why. As with the meet and greet, it was only 10-15 minutes long and then there was a photo op. You also received a rubber band bracelet and a signed program, so that was nice. David Munro had us sign a large banner - I have  no idea what they plan to do with it though. Would I do it again? No, an awful lot of money for a very short experience. That being said, I do see other celebs charge 3-4 times what Celtic Thunder charges, so in that respect, you could call it a deal. I think maybe because I have been fortunate to meet them so many times, its just not important enough to me. I don't need more autographs, and I won't die if I don't get a photo with them. They still are pretty good to the die hard fans who wait by their bus till late at night to stop for an autograph or photo. If I were to pick a place to spend my money, I think it would be for the sound check. Although you don't get to speak with them or have a photo op, its usually 30-45 minutes long and you can take as many pictures as you like - just my humble opinion. Here is a little video of the VIP experience:

It's funny, as good a time as I had, I think my thunderhead days may be drawing to a close. Will I see thee next show? I don't  know..probably, but nothing extra. I think the reason I got so deeply invested was that I was pretty much house bound due to my knee problems and now that I am up and running, I find I have less and less time to spend on Facebook, the Celtic Thunder groups and the internet in general. I am so grateful they were there during that time - it surely gave my life a lift and brought a smile to my face. I truly hope they can "keep on rolling" a few more years. The average life span of a group is ten years and they are already at around eight with several changes in the lineup. I think Sharon Browne, the producer has an incredible eye for not only talent but eye candy too, which has served her well! I hope all the "lads" will be able to continue their respective careers afterwards and for a long time to come.

When I got home, I found Keith had finally announced his engagement to Kelsey Nichols. It was nice to hear he had found his special someone and I wish them all the blessings life has to offer! 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

#TBT The Class of '68

As part of the baby boomer generation, our lives were much easier than those of our parents. We entered a safe world with Ike as president and TV up and running. We watched Miss Francis on Ding Dong School, Romper Room (remember romper, bomper, stomper do and doo-bees?) Howdy Doody and Pinky Lee. We girls played with Tiny Tears and Ginny dolls while the boys were busy with erector sets and Lincoln logs. Many of us had a ping pong table set up in the basement with Lionel trains and villages on it. Davy Crockett reigned supreme with both boys and girls caught up in the craze of coon skin caps and fringed jackets!
But, in 1955 small changes happened  that would change our world. Rosa Parks, a colored woman (and I use that phrase as that was what was used then) refused to move to the back of a bus in the Jim Crow south and it caused a stir that had a ripple effect. Things were changing around the world as well with a "Cold War" between us and the Russia. Soon we were in school and learning how to "duck and cover" in case we were hit with a bomb. I never did understand how crouching under your desk was going to protect me! I imagine it was done to make us feel safe.
  Did we even understand what a "cold war" was at that age? I thought it      was because it was cold in Russia and they started it! Do you remember
  learning to read with Dick and Jane?
   In the midst of this, we were still enjoying TV and now were graduating
   to Make Room for Daddy, Father Knows Best, tons of cowboy shows,
    Lassie (remember ee-ok-ee) and My Three Sons.
In New York, well probably this was only shown in the city and on Long Island now that I think of it as it was on a local station, we had some talents of our own such as Sandy Becker who hosted Wonderama and the wacky Soupy Sales - some children's shows! When I look at them now, they were disguised as kid's shows, but there was a lot of adult content - especially with Soupy. Sandy was just flat our weird - watch his Hambone and tell me what you think! We also had Officer Joe Bolton, Captain Jack McCarthy, Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney, Andy's Gang, our host of all things scary, Zacherly and the one and only Chuck McCann.
We had some shows that would never be shown today like  Amos and Andy and a few others that were seriously questionable by today's standards!
No one from our era could forget the Three Stooges - I watched an episode recently and was kind of shocked at how violent it seemed - every one was getting kicked, hit and stuck in the eyes, but it came off as funny.

We had some unforgettable comercials like Good and Plenty (plenty good), Bonomos (o-o-o- its bonomos!) and Ipana (brusha, brusha, brusha)/ We enjoyed bit-o-honey, Sugar Babies, Sugar Daddy's and our parents made us drink Ovaltine.  Ray Kroc opened the first McDonalds in Des Plaines, IL.

In 1957 in Little Rock, Arkansas, another rumbling was felt as nine black students, were integrated into an all white school. The Governor, stopped them from entering, but President Eisenhower intervened and they became part of the first integrated school in  America.

In 1958, the hula hoop was invented and the first Barbie rolled off the assembly line. We now were enjoying comic books like Superman, Archie, Richie Rich, Little Lotta and Classics Illustrated while Lik-M-Aid became the candy of choice. And a young man named Elvis of all things was taking America by storm!

In 1960 Khrushchev came to America, took off his shoe and pounded on the table in the UN to
 make a very strong point and we were shocked!
That summer, the first aluminum cans were introduced and Psycho hit the theaters scaring the bejeebers out of everyone! At Christmas all the kids wanted an Etch-A-Sketch.
In 1960, JFK was inaugurated and Camelot began. Alan Shepard became the first man in space and in May of 61 Kennedy sent 400 Green Beret's to a place called Viet Nam. That summer, more rumblings were heard in the south asthe Freedom Riders met with horrific violence in Birmingham, Alabama. In Germany, construction was started on the Berlin Wall and Communism was a real threat to the world.
On the lighter side, girls were now in love with Dr. Kildare and Dr. Ben Casey and were listening to Bobby Rydell and Bobby Vee. Bob Dylan deuted at the Cafe Wha? in Greenwich Village and the times they were a-changing.

In 1962 the oral polio vaccine was introduced and Walmart and K-Mart opened. In February, John Glenn orbited the earth three times and the Space Age began in earnest. JFK sent 8,000 more troops to Viet Nam and the first death there was recorded. By6 the time we graduated 6th grade, prayer was banned from school. In the fall of '62, I entered Hauppauge Junior-Senior High School. The school was in the last stages of renovation and we struggled with lockers and having one class in the A wing and the next class in the C wing causing us to run across the lot from door to door as we made a shortcut over. We were introduced to gym uniforms,lunch lines and being low man on the totem pole. Girls spent hours saving gum wrappers to weave into a chain the height of the boys they were crushing on. The Jetsons premiered, we watched Twilight Zone and many of us hurried home after school to watch American Bandstand.

In 1962, the Stingray was introduced, folk music became popular and we all knew Puff the Magic Dragon. In the spring, our English teacher took us to our first Broadway show. For $5.95 we got seats in the balcony and completely enjoyed the show Oliver!. 
During the summer, on August 28, 250,000 people,both black and white, marched to the Lincoln Memorial and heard Martin Luther King give his "I Had a Dream" speech. 16,000 soldiers were now in Viet Nam as "advisors"  teaching warfare to the South Vietnamese. Patti Duke had a popular TV show and the Beach Boys had us all singing along.

On November 22, our lives took yet another turn as we sat in shock on the school bus having heard Kennedy was shot. The next day the nation mourned and LBJ was sworn in.

The Beatles came roaring in on a plane in February of '64 and stole our hearts when they appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. The British Invasion had begun. Before long they were quickly followed by Herman's Hermits, Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Dave Clark Five and the Rolling Stones. On February 25, a cocky young man named Cassius Clay beat Sonny Liston and shook up the world of boxing.

Ghouls invaded our TV sets with The Addams Family and The Munsters grabbing our attention. A cute young witch named Samantha also flew in!  During the long lazy summer we listened to our favorite DJ's; Murray the Kand his swinging soiree - who kept talking about submarine race watchers -I was clueless, and our own Cousin Brucie on WABC.

In 1965 LBJ was once again sworn in and in February Martin Luther King and 2,600 black people were arrested in Selma, Alabama. A few days later, Malcom X was shot and killed in Harlem. In March there was more terror as 600 Civil Rights marchers were clubbed and beaten on Bloody Sunday in Montgomery, Alabama. We had a short respite as we all marveled at Ed White's walk in space on June 3rd, but by August 11, huge riots broke out in the Watts district of L.A.. After 6 days of rioting and looting, 34 were dead, 1,000 injured and there was 175 million in damages.

In late August, I went with some friend to see the World's Fair - what a marvel! We spent a wonderful day trying new foods, learning about technological advances and doing fun things like getting an analysis of our hair color. Later that day we hopped on the subway for a short ride to Shea Stadium and saw the Beatles. I think we hardly heard them due to the screaming, but we screamed along and had a ball! There were a lot of dance crazes in the early 60's - the twist, stomp, hitchhiker, jerk,swim, frug, chicken, mashed potatoes, and the locomotion, but none were as silly but fun as the Freddy!

 On November 9th we had a huge blackout and those of us lucky enough to have a fireplace snuggled nearby to sleep.

In 1966 things started to change faster and faster and the world seemed to sour. There was a sniper in a Texas town, the Boston Strangler escaped and Richard Speck killed a group of nurses as they slept in their dorm. In Viet Nam things escalated. This was becoming a TV war and we were shocked by the image of Nguyen Ngan Loan killing a  Vietnamese soldier.
Music however was soft and fun and we daydreamed with The Lovin Spoonful and the Mamas and the Papas. Our clothing preferences were changing with girls wearing gogo boots, hip hugging mini skirts and sporting haircuts designed by Vidal Sassoon. Timothy Leary, a professor at Harvard urged us to turn on, tune in and drop out and drug use skyrocketed.

1967 was another turning point as young people started flocking to the  Haight  Ashbury section of San Francisco living communally and taking drugs as the Summer of Love commenced. On the opposite side of this Stokely Carmichael was stirring people up with his speeches and we grieved together when three astronauts, Ed White, Virgil Grissom and Roger Chaffee died in the Apollo capsule during a flight simulation. On TV we watched The Monkees and a new star emerged in the film world named Dustin Hoffman as he met Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate.

It was 1968, and our last year of high school, and Oh! the changes. In January the crew of the US Pueblo were seized by the North Koreans. In true American style, while pressed into making propaganda photos, the crew slyly held up their middle fingers. They were treated worse after the Koreans realized what they were doing and weren't released until the winter after we graduated.
The news in the southeast didn't get any better. On January 31, we were a part of the Tet Offensive, a turning point in the Viet Nam War. On March 16, our soldiers sadly massacred the village of My Lai killing more than 350 civilians including women and children. We were horrified by the news and the photographs.
In early April Martin Luther King gave one of his greatest speeches "I've Been to the Mountain". A few days later, he was dead, the victim of an assassin's bullet.
In New York, a week later, sanitation workers went on strike and for 9 days New York City stunk to high heaven!  Luckily things were back to normal as we took our senior class trip to see The Apple Tree starring a young Alan Alda who would go on to fame in the series M.A.S.H. 
Across the street from that show Hair was opening - again, another shift in life as we knew it.As we were taking our finals, there was yet another blow as Robert Kennedy was assassinated just after winning the California primary. It seems like 1968 had only bad news, but there were things to offset the bad - Laugh In was on TV and we were introduced to a whole gallery of kooky people and no one was more kooky than Tiny Tim!

As we took our steps up to the platform to get our diplomas, some of us had flat tops and bee hives. Some had Sassoons,  some were longhairs, some had pixies and some had long straight hair to their waist, but we were united by our years together at Hauppauge High. LBJ was president with Hubert Humphrey as VP, the population of the US was 200,706,052, life expentancy was 70.2 years, the median income was $7,743 and a first class stamp was 6 cents. Unemployment was 3.81%, Green Bay creamed Oakland in the Superbowl, the Detroit Tigers beat the Cardinals in the World Series, Boston beat the LA Lakers in a close 4-2 game and the Stanley Cup was won by Montreal over St. Louis.