Tag Archives: entertainer

George Michael dies at age 53

British singer George Michael, who became one of the pop idols of the 1980s with Wham! and then forged a career as a successful solo artist, died at his home in England on Sunday. He was 53.

In the mid-1980s, Wham! was one of the most successful pop duos ever, with singles like “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” and “Careless Whisper”, “Last Christmas” and “The Edge of Heaven.”

“It is with great sadness that we can confirm our beloved son, brother and friend George passed away peacefully at home over the Christmas period,” his publicist said in a statement.

“The family would ask that their privacy be respected at this difficult and emotional time. There will be no further comment at this stage,” the statement said.

British police said Michael’s death was “unexplained but not suspicious.”

Born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou June 25, 1963 in London to Greek Cypriot immigrant parents in a flat above a north London laundrette, Michael once played music on the London underground train system before finding fame with Wham!.

With a school friend, Andrew Ridgeley, he formed Wham! in 1981, a partnership that would produce some of the most memorable pop songs and dance-floor favorites of the 1980s.

“I am in deep shock,” said Elton John. “I have lost a beloved friend – the kindest, most generous soul and a brilliant artist. My heart goes out to his family and all of his fans. @GeorgeMichael #RIP.”

‘I WANT YOUR SEX’

The duo had their first hit with their second release “147;Young Guns (Go For It)” (1982) before their debut release “Wham Rap” became a hit the following year. The 1984 album “Make It Big” was a huge success in the United States.

“No way could I have done it without Andrew,” Michael once said. “I can’t think of anybody who would have been so perfect in allowing something which started out as a very naive, joint ambition, to become what was still a huge double act but what was really … mine.”

But Michael was keen to reach beyond Wham!’s teenage audience and to experiment with other genres. Wham! announced their split in 1986.

A pilot solo single “I Want Your Sex” was banned by daytime radio stations but was one of his biggest hits.

“I want your sex, I want you, I want your sex,” he sang. “So why don’t you just let me go, I’d really like to try, Oh I’d really love to know, When you tell me you’re gonna regret it, Then I tell you that I love you but you still say no!”

In the space of the next five years, Michael had six U.S. No. One hit singles including “Faith”, “Father Figure,” “One More Try,” “Praying For Time” and a duet with Aretha Franklin “I Knew You Were Waiting For Me.”

Questions about his sexuality were raised when he was arrested in 1998 for “engaging in a lewd act” in a public restroom of the Will Rogers Memorial Park in Beverly Hills, California.

“I feel stupid and reckless and weak for letting my sexuality be exposed that way,” Michael told CNN at the time. “But I do not feel shame )about my sexual orientation”, neither do I think I should.”

“I can try to fathom why I did what I did,” he continued, “but at the end of the day, I have to admit that maybe part of the kick was that I might get found out,” he told CNN.

Though he had relationships with women and once told family members that he was bisexual, Michael, then 34, said he was gay.

“Rest with the glittering stars, George Michael,” said Star Trek actor and LGBT rights activist George Takei. “You’ve found your Freedom, your Faith. It was your Last Christmas, and we shall miss you.”

While Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was in power, Michael voted for Britain’s opposition Labour Party but criticized Tony Blair’s support for George W. Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq.

“Sad to hear that George Michael has died,” said current Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. “He was an exceptional artist and a strong supporter of LGBT and workers’ rights.”

Michael’s death comes at the end of a year that has seen the passing of several music superstars, including David Bowie, Prince and Leonard Cohen. Rick Parfitt, the guitarist of British rock group Status Quo, died on Saturday at 68.

A day with Prince at Paisley Park

In September 2014, Associated Press Global Entertainment Editor Nekesa Mumbi Moody spent a day with Prince at Paisley Park.

The following story was originally published on Sept. 29, 2014:

Nightfall is fast approaching at Paisley Park.

There are few lights on in the cavernous compound, and unseen doves (of course there would be doves) are cooing up a racket before twilight fades to darkness. But even their collective noise takes a back seat once Prince — sitting in the dimmest bit of light — goes to his Mac, cues up a track and hits play.

A melodious instrumental track floods the room, the lush orchestration compliments of the Minnesota Orchestra, whom Prince tapped to perform. Its inspiration has come from a little-heard Dionne Warwick song, “In Between the Heartaches,” which he also played moments earlier.

The track remains a work in progress; Prince has written no lyrics yet. But it’s music like this that keeps him going — to still, after all these years, take music to the next level.

“If you don’t try, how will you get another ‘Insatiable?’” he says, referencing his classic bedroom groove.

Over the next few moments at Prince’s computer, he goes to YouTube to play an array clips that get his musical heart thrumming, dipping from old James Brown clips to the relatively new U.K. singer FKA Twigs.

Prince isn’t always pleased about what he hears from today’s crop of entertainers — “The quality of the music, everyone would agree is not the gold standard,” he muses about today’s mainstream pop universe.

But when it comes to his world, what he’s hearing ranks among the best that he’s heard in ages. On Tuesday, he will release his first album in four years, “ART OFFICAL AGE,” along with music from his latest protege act, 3RDEYEGIRL, “PLECTRUMELECTRUM.”

“I’m completely surrounded by equal talent,” an energized Prince says. “To me it feels like heaven.”

***

It’s not just the music that’s taking his Royal Badness to new heights: For the first time, he is releasing his music with complete freedom. The man that once wrote “slave” on his face in protest of not being in control of his own music and famously battled and then departed his label, Warner Bros., is now back with the label — under his own terms.

“What’s happening now is the position that I’ve always wanted to be in,” says Prince. “I was just trying to get here.”

In the spring, Prince, 56, finally gained what he had sought for more than two decades — control of his musical masters, and, in a larger sense, his musical legacy. In the past, Warner Bros. held the rights to Prince’s music, even long after he left, as part of the contract he signed as a new artist.

But after savvy legal maneuvering, he owns the rights to all of his vast collections of hits, including archival music that Prince fans have been longing to hear for decades. Prince also gained control of the publishing rights to his compositions and has performance rights — which means he completely controls his own musical destiny.

Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, who works closely with Prince on legal, business and financial matters, calls it his “fight for justice” and an enormous game-changer for the industry.

“It’s magnificent, and what’s important for him, he wants all musicians to have (this),” she said. “This is just something that he feels incredibly passionate about.”

Long a trailblazer for artists’ rights, and for coming up with innovative approaches to break away from the label-structure that he’s viewed as unfair to artists, he sees the way the industry has unfolded as the ultimate “I told you so”: disappearing labels, a streaming system that some music acts say nets them even less profit for the music they made, and increasing challenge to make money just off of making music.

He scoffs at the image of him that had long been defined by others; a technology-phobe who resisted what was to come in the industry, like that persistent notion that he once declared the Internet dead.

“We were saying it was dead to us — dead energy,” he explains.

***

For Prince, the old Tribe Called Quest rhyme still rings true: “Industry rule number four thousand and eighty, record company people are shady.” He speaks passionately of his disdain for traditional record contracts and publishing agreements that he believes give most of the power — and profit — to other entities, not the creator of the music.

He considers it not only bad business, but also against God: “The Bible says you’re not supposed to sign your inheritance away.”

The entry of Apple as the major player in music hasn’t helped, in his view. When asked about U2’s much analyzed venture with Apple _ in which the company paid them for their latest album, then released it in its customers’ iTunes libraries for free _ Prince simply says. “That’s a designer deal. … Of course they got paid. But what about the others?”

***

Prince is hoping to show artists that there is an alternative to the standard way of doing business. Paisley Park is not just a place for Prince, but also a creative sandbox for other artists.

Liv Warfield is one: The boisterous soul singer with the big band and dynamic stage act worked under Prince’s tutelage for her latest album, and has opened for Prince on tour; “The Voice” contestant Judith Hill has come through. At one point, he plays a track by a powerful female voice that turns out to be Rita Ora. Jennifer Hudson will be making a Paisley Park pilgrimage soon, he says.

“How we make music is in a collective,” he says, with the motto: “Best idea wins.”

This spring, he launched NPG Publishing; besides administering his own music, it will do so for other acts.

But he’s quick to note that he doesn’t have artists signed to him.

“We don’t do (record) deals,” says Prince. “I don’t want anything from anybody.”

Joshua Welton, a young producer who is married to drummer Hanna Ford Welton of 3RDEYEGIRL (Donna Grantis and Ida Nielsen round out the trio), is one of the fresh new talents that Prince marvels at; he refers to him as a “Steve Jobs” and marvels not only at his musical might, but also his spiritual strength.

His faith in Welton is so strong that he shares productions with him on the album, and says for the first time, there are tracks where Prince doesn’t even play an instrument, leaving it to Welton.

“Who would have predicted that I would let a 22-, 23-year-old produce me?” says Prince (though he’s actually 24). “He’s supertalented.”

***

For Prince, success today is about audience impact and, as always, taking success to the next level.

He’s not looking for a repeat of 1984: “I don’t need another gold record,” he says matter of factly (though for the record, that was the year of many platinum records).

Nor does he care about charting No. 1 songs or hits. When he explains why he isn’t, he takes it back to Africa and says that’s not the community’s way of thinking: “You don’t quantify success by numbers.”

He’s working on a rerelease of the epic “Purple Rain” album for its 30th anniversary, but when asked if he’s excited about it, he flatly says no.

“Same album, just state-of-the-art sound,” he says. “It’s nice that it sounds better for the fans but I live in the now. I don’t have to go backwards to celebrate.”

He had no hesitation about working with Warner Bros again (after entering what Lamkins-Ellis called an “amazing deal”): “I don’t deal in history nor should they,” he says. “It’s not the entity that’s the problem.”

Prince isn’t stopping with the two new albums and the “Purple Rain” rerelease: His song “Funknroll” is being used by NFL network, and he’s excited about new avenues for his music.

You’ll find his new music on iTunes, and Spotify, but he doesn’t see anything contradictory in that. “It’s about the deal. Anything I’m doing now it’s equitable. I’m happy.”

He adds: “I just thank God that I’m here now.”

Prince dies at age 57

Prince, the innovative music superstar whose hits included “Purple Rain” and “When Doves Cry” and whose songwriting and eccentric stage presence electrified fans around the world, died on April 21 in Minnesota, his publicist said. He was 57.

“It is with profound sadness that I am confirming that the legendary, iconic performer, Prince Rogers Nelson, has died,” said publicist Anna Meacham.

Prince was found dead at his home at Paisley Park Studios in Chanhassen, a Minneapolis suburb, the Carver County Sheriff’s Office said on Twitter. The office said it was “investigating the circumstances of his death.”

The local medical examiner declined to comment on the cause of Prince’s death, which was first reported by celebrity website TMZ.

Shocked fans gathered with media crews outside Paisley Park Studios’ gates to mourn the award-winning singer and musician, whose genre-defying music combined jazz, funk and disco, and influenced other musicians. His hit songs also included “Raspberry Beret,” “Little Red Corvette” and “Kiss.”

Prince, who was on a U.S. tour last week, was briefly hospitalized with the flu after his plane made an emergency landing in Moline, Illinois, last week, TMZ reported. A representative told TMZ that Prince had performed in Atlanta even though he was not feeling well and felt worse after boarding the plane for a flight back to Minnesota.

Prince first found fame in the late 1970s, and over the next three decades became known as one of the most inventive and eccentric forces in American pop music.

Often making a statement with bold fashion choices, the diminutive star sometimes appeared on stage sporting ruffled shirts and tight pants or elaborate costumes, including chain mail covering his face, a shimmery orange tunic or bikini briefs.

Prince was regarded as a perfectionist who from 1993 to 2000 changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol in what was seen as a protest against his record label at the time.

For a while, he was dubbed “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.”

‘PRIVATE PERSON’

An intensely private person, Prince sold more than 100 million records during his career, won seven Grammy awards and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004.

His most recent album, “HITnRUN: Phase Two” was released in December 2015.

Prince became a Jehovah’s Witness about 15 years ago, and was a strict vegan. In 2009, he spoke in a PBS television interview about being born an epileptic and suffering seizures as a child.

He said he was also teased in school, and that “early in my career I tried to compensate by being as flashy as I could and as noisy as I could.”

Prince won an Oscar for best original song score for “Purple Rain,” the 1984 movie whose music was based on his album of the same name. He also starred in the movie.

In 2007, he played the Super Bowl in one of the most celebrated such performances.

While he was more accustomed to performing to arena audiences, two years ago Prince played perhaps his most intimate gig in the living room of British singer-songwriter Lianne La Havas’ London home with his band, 3rdeyegirl, Billboard said.

“We’ll work our way up, if people like us, to bigger venues,” Prince quipped at the time.

‘EXPLOSIVE PERFORMANCES’

Born in Minneapolis as Prince Rogers Nelson on June 7, 1958, he is said to have written his first song at the age of 7. As well as singing and writing, he played multiple instruments, including guitar, keyboards and drums.

His music was marked by sexually charged lyrics and explosive live performances, while his private life was marked by a string of romances linking him with the likes of Madonna and actress Kim Basinger and Carmen Electra.

Prince was married twice: to his backup singer, Mayte Garcia, in 1996 and then to Manuela Testolini in 2001. Both marriages ended in divorce, and a son he had with Garcia died a week after birth in October 1996.

Music TV channel MTV said it was changing its logo to purple for the day in honor of Prince. Twitter lit up with reaction from dismayed friends and fans.

“And just like that … the world lost a lot of magic ✨ Rest in peace Prince! Thanks for giving us so much,” tweeted pop star Katy Perry.

Film director Spike Lee said on Twitter: “I Miss My Brother. Prince Was A Funny Cat. Great Sense Of Humor.”

“This is what it sounds like when doves cry.. Prince R.I.P.,” tweeted actress and TV personality Whoopi Goldberg.

Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, and Frank McGurty, Amy Tennery and Gina Cherelus in New York; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Franklin Paul and Jonathan Oatis.

Musician Prince gestures on stage during the Apollo Theatre's 75th anniversary gala in New York, June 8, 2009. — PHOTO: REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/Files
Musician Prince gestures on stage during the Apollo Theatre’s 75th anniversary gala in New York, June 8, 2009. — PHOTO: REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/Files
U.S. singer Prince watches the French Open tennis tournament in Paris June 2, 2014. — PHOTO: REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier/Files
U.S. singer Prince watches the French Open tennis tournament in Paris June 2, 2014. — PHOTO: REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier/Files
U.S. singer Prince leaves the French Open tennis tournament in Paris June 2, 2014. — PHOTO: REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier/Files
U.S. singer Prince leaves the French Open tennis tournament in Paris June 2, 2014. — PHOTO: REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier/Files
U.S. musician Prince performs on stage at Yas Arena in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi November 14, 2010. REUTERS/Jumana El-Heloueh
U.S. musician Prince performs on stage at Yas Arena in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi November 14, 2010. REUTERS/Jumana El-Heloueh
U.S. musician Prince performs for the first time in Britain since 2007 at the Hop Farm Festival near Paddock Wood, southern England July 3, 2011. REUTERS/Olivia Harris
U.S. musician Prince performs for the first time in Britain since 2007 at the Hop Farm Festival near Paddock Wood, southern England July 3, 2011. REUTERS/Olivia Harris
Prince performs during the halftime show of the NFL's Super Bowl XLI football game between the Chicago Bears and the Indianapolis Colts in Miami, Florida, February 4, 2007. REUTERS/Kyle Carter/Files
Prince performs during the halftime show of the NFL’s Super Bowl XLI football game between the Chicago Bears and the Indianapolis Colts in Miami, Florida, February 4, 2007. REUTERS/Kyle Carter/Files
Prince performs during the halftime show of the NFL's Super Bowl XLI football game between the Chicago Bears and the Indianapolis Colts in Miami, Florida, February 4, 2007. — PHOTO: REUTERS/Mike Blake/Files
Prince performs during the halftime show of the NFL’s Super Bowl XLI football game between the Chicago Bears and the Indianapolis Colts in Miami, Florida, February 4, 2007. — PHOTO: REUTERS/Mike Blake/Files
Prince performs during the Billboard Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada May 19, 2013. — PHOTO: REUTERS/Steve Marcus
Prince performs during the Billboard Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada May 19, 2013. — PHOTO: REUTERS/Steve Marcus
Prince performs on the main stage during Budapest's Sziget music festival on an island in the Danube River August 9, 2011. — PHOTO: REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh
Prince performs on the main stage during Budapest’s Sziget music festival on an island in the Danube River August 9, 2011. — PHOTO: REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh
Prince attends the NBA basketball game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics at Staples Center in Los Angeles December 25, 2008. — PHOTO: REUTERS/Danny Moloshok
Prince attends the NBA basketball game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics at Staples Center in Los Angeles December 25, 2008. — PHOTO: REUTERS/Danny Moloshok
Jorge Drexler greets Prince after winning best original song for "Al Otro Lado Del Rio" at the 77th annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, February 27, 2005. — PHOTO: REUTERS/Gary Hershorn
Jorge Drexler greets Prince after winning best original song for “Al Otro Lado Del Rio” at the 77th annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, February 27, 2005. — PHOTO: REUTERS/Gary Hershorn
Prince and wife Manuela Testolini arrive at the 77th annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, February 27, 2005. — PHOTO: REUTERS/Mike Blake MM
Prince and wife Manuela Testolini arrive at the 77th annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, February 27, 2005. — PHOTO: REUTERS/Mike Blake MM
"The Artist" formerly known as Prince gives his acceptance speech after being named Male Artist of the Decade at the 14th annual Soul Train Music Awards March 4, 2000. — PHOTO: REUTERS/Gary Hershorn
“The Artist” formerly known as Prince gives his acceptance speech after being named Male Artist of the Decade at the 14th annual Soul Train Music Awards March 4, 2000. — PHOTO: REUTERS/Gary Hershorn
Prince performs during the Billboard Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada May 19, 2013. — PHOTO: REUTERS/Steve Marcus
Prince performs during the Billboard Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada May 19, 2013. — PHOTO: REUTERS/Steve Marcus
Prince performs during the Billboard Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada May 19, 2013. — PHOTO: REUTERS/Steve Marcus
Prince performs during the Billboard Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada May 19, 2013. — PHOTO: REUTERS/Steve Marcus

A decade after ‘Wicked,’ Kristin Chenoweth remains ‘popular’ — and at the top of her craft

Whoever said good things come in small packages must have been thinking of Kristin Chenoweth. At 4 feet 11 inches, the singer/actress best known for her role as Glinda the Good Witch in the original production of Wicked has a height inversely proportional to her towering talent on the stage.

On Oct. 4, the Tony Award-winner will blend personal stories along with those powerhouse vocals during her first-ever Madison appearance at Overture Center.

Chenoweth, 47, an adopted daughter and native of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, received a bachelor’s degree in musical theater and master’s in opera performance at Oklahoma City University, studying with famed vocal coach and mentor Florence Birdwell.

Chenoweth rarely slows down these days between stage, screen and television roles. Her Overture Hall appearance marks an infrequent departure that allows her to get up close and personal with fans while singing some of her favorite songs to audiences old and new. She stopped long enough to fill in WiG on her personal impressions and favorite projects.

I know you started singing at an early age. How and when did you know that you would sing professionally? I began singing in church at a young age and felt I would never leave the stage. I fell in love with ballet and theater and spent most of my extra time doing that. I also did all the normal childhood things, like the school plays and choir. I was a cheerleader and in the French club. I wanted to grow up in a normal high school environment, but I think I felt somewhere down deep I was going to work the rest of my life in show business, so I just wanted to learn and grow and have fun.  

You have a wide-ranging career onstage, in film, in the recording studio and on television. Which medium do you most enjoy working in and why? I love the feeling I get from being with an audience. There is nothing better. It’s my drug of choice. (My other one is Coca-Cola.) 

I can’t imagine not being an artist. Sometimes I think how lucky I am to get to do what I love, because so many people don’t do that and are miserable. I have a true passion for what I do and it’s never waned. If anything, that passion has grown and become more intense over the years.   

What factors do you consider when choosing new material or a new role to perform? Any role I agree to play must be multi-layered. Playing a one-note character isn’t interesting to me. I am really a “character woman.” I love playing interesting women who seem OK, but are slightly off. But the aspect I like best in a role like that is making the audience understand why someone is the way she is. It’s more complicated, but more fun.  

In the same vein, how do you define “good music?” Is it based on clinical or technical criteria, or is there a distinct emotional characteristic that must been present? I love so many types of music, so many genres.  I love opera, as it was my training and I train that way still. It’s like an Olympic athlete staying in shape. Singing everyday in some capacity is so important to me.   

I adore country music because those are my roots. Obviously, Broadway and American standards are big with me. My parents love all kinds of music and I think that influenced me. All of this and more are part of my concerts, because it represents who I am. Well maybe not rap, although I do love Eminem. There is a new rap Broadway musical called Hamilton that I’m obsessed with.  

Who had the greatest influence over you and who do you most appreciate for the life lessons you received? This is a loaded question. (Ha ha.) I hope the life lessons that I continue to learn are passed through to all my kids who I am close with. They know who they are. I hope to always be a good influence by giving positive feedback, but also telling the truth! I want all the kids I work with to follow their passion, whatever it is! A kid with self-esteem who has passion for their art is unstoppable.

My teacher Florence Birdwell showed me that. I learned a lot of my core singing technique while I was under her teaching. I learned how to prepare a song, and what songs were right for me. I also learned about some songs that weren’t right for me, just so we could work on them.

What do you consider your breakthrough performance? The role I look back on and feel happiest about was Cunégonde in Candide, the operetta by Leonard Bernstein. I worked on it throughout my whole college life, and I finally performed it with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra at age 33. I was doing Wicked at the time and took a week off to do this role, which the producers had filmed for the PBS series Great Performances. I feel like all my training came into play at the exact right time with the right role. The role itself is vocal gymnastics and very hard. I also had to be a comedienne, so I loved performing it.  

An entirely new audience was introduced to Broadway and its stars through Glee. What was it like performing as guest star April Rhodes on the show? I’m just glad (Glee co-creator) Ryan Murphy made the glee club cool. It never was cool in my school. I loved getting to sing a (John) Kander and (Fred) Ebb piece, a Carrie Underwood song and song from the band Heart, all on one show. So many people of all ages learned what the musical Cabaret was and introduced that era to a new era. And now kids want to learn. This is amazing.

If you could only sing only a few songs for the rest of your life, which songs would those be? There are a few songs I will always sing, for reasons well-known to me. 

“Till There Was You” (from The Music Man) is finally back in my repertoire. I had to stop singing it for a few years and heal a broken heart.

“Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables to me is a prayer. It applies to me in a different way, a desire to bring people that were once close to me back into my life again.

Paul Simon’s “Father and Daughter” is self-explanatory, and so is Dolly Parton’s “Little Sparrow.” And “All The Things You Are.” Jerome Kern is one of my favorite composers, if not the favorite.  

Finally, what can Madison fans expect from your Overture Center performance? I have never played Madison so I’m truly excited! I want to give it all to them. I want to sing everything, but I can’t! I may sing something written by someone from there.

ON STAGE

Kristin Chenoweth will perform at Overture Hall in Madison’s Overture Center for the Arts, 201 State St., on Oct. 4. Tickets are $40 to $150 and can be ordered at 608-258-4141 or overturecenter.org.

Simple, complicated Pete Seeger changed American music

Pete Seeger was a complicated man with a simple message: Make the world better, and be kind while doing it.

To accomplish these goals, he harnessed hundreds of years of musical tradition into a single banjo and a single, unyielding human voice.

It is tempting, from the short-memory vantage point of today, to see only the white-haired grandfather, mellowed with age, already accustomed to (if slightly uncomfortable with) being treated as an American icon. But that would be unwise. The belly fire inside Seeger — the one that drove the musical movement that propelled him, and that he propelled — was that of a young rebel unsatisfied with anything but energetically chasing his dreams of a more just America.

Make no mistake: He was a pacifist through and through, but music was his weapon.

“My own biggest thing in life,” he said once, “was simply being a link in a chain.”

Seeger, who died on Jan. 27, was many things. Sometimes he lived in the country, sometimes he lived in town. He was equally at home on the range and in the union hall, on top of Old Smoky and in the apartments of Greenwich Village as a skinny teenager making music on World War II’s eve with men who would become legends and end up on postage stamps.

From the beginning, everything about Seeger’s background seemed to point him toward his destiny. He was descended from dissent, from Americans who challenged authority. That stayed with him until the end, whether the authority was the mass media, large corporations or the House Un-American Activities Committee and the blacklists of the 1950s. He waited, kept singing, and outlasted it.

He was the son of a folklorist who adored music and who surrounded him with song from his earliest years (and who was just as political, publicly opposing the U.S. entry into World War I). He started young on the ukelele, his gateway instrument to the banjo. Before he was 20, he was making music with Woody Guthrie, Josh White, Lead Belly and Burl Ives and absorbing each one’s traditions. They all came out later in his work with the Almanac Singers, the Weavers and, for six decades after that, on his own.

The country’s foremost master of “folk music” didn’t much like the term. Seeger thought it relatively useless and generic. “There are as many kinds of folk music in the world,” he’d say, “as there are folk.”

Like his friend Woody Guthrie, he was an interpreter of culture during eras where such skills are desperately needed but, for the most part, unrecognized. But while Guthrie grew up amid much of what he sang about, Seeger was pure East Coast — born in Manhattan, educated at Harvard until he decided it wasn’t a good idea.

His combination of background and motivations became the template for many of the performers who drove the “folk revival” of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s that brought traditional American music into the center stage of the rock and pop revolution. It helped produce, in its wake, everyone from Doc Watson to Dylan, from the Animals to Eric Clapton.

Urban northeasterners like Seeger, John Cohen and Ralph Rinzler — and, eventually, others such as Minnesotan Robert Zimmerman — embarked on spelunking missions into the musical past, drawing on the field work of nomadic researchers John and Alan Lomax, Carl Sandburg and Cecil Sharp to inhale the vapors of the American songbook and exhale them in entirely new forms. Some, like Seeger, hewed closer to the original traditions. Others, like Zimmerman, who had renamed himself Bob Dylan, went farther afield and created entirely new musical forms.

They shared one key trait. What emerged in the 1960s, through both American and British musicians, was a tapestry of reinterpreted traditions that reached back into America of the 1800s and 1700s, and Britain, Scotland, Ireland and West Africa before that. Even today, the reverberations of what Seeger and a handful of others began still echo in our perpetual hit factory that forever produces new takes on the oldest of riffs.

“Lawyers rearrange old laws to fit new circumstances, chefs rearrange old recipes to fit new stomachs. It is the same way with music,” Seeger said.

Ours is a personality-driven nation, and we sometimes attribute too much influence to one person. In Seeger’s case, though, there is truth in that instinct. So much coalesced around him, perhaps because he, in many ways, contained so many American contradictions. He was a patrician-born populist, a troublemaker who understood the establishment, a rural urbanite, at times both a communist and a patriot in an age when many thought those to be mutually exclusive.

Robert Cantwell, in “When We Were Good,” a history of the folk revival, described Seeger as “a system of paradoxes” _ “hermetically private and gregariously public, a solitary wanderer and at the same time an entire movement, a richly heterogeneous cultural symbol. And this was his power: the power to arouse the need to speak.”

Speak he did. Most every major thread of American history in the past century passed through the human lightning rod that was Pete Seeger. He was a prominent voice on race, on poverty, on war and peace. He weighed in on the environment on behalf of his beloved Hudson River. In the 1950s, he stood firm against the anti-communist witch hunts that scuttled the career of many a performer, and suffered for it.

What happened after the folk revival is just as interesting. Songs dreamed up or adapted by Seeger, who channeled them in very political ways, over time became American standards — everything from “If I Had a Hammer” and “Turn! Turn! Turn!” to “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” to “We Shall Overcome.” If the measure of activism’s success is that its message gets incorporated into the larger narrative, then Seeger accomplished what he set out to do, even if the post-Occupy Wall Street world he left behind was not precisely the one he envisioned.

In 2006, Seeger got as good as he gave when his reinterpretations of the American songbook were reinterpreted by Bruce Springsteen in a raucous, joyful CD called “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions.” The album was the latest development in Seeger’s life of being a link in a chain, connecting songs that were sung on the Erie Canal in the 1800s with satellite radio, iTunes and Spotify. Yet somehow, the sheer Seegerness of it all _ the unplugged sensibility of a man who lived long enough to see his entire world plugged in _ poked through.

Now, with Seeger gone, the simple message that the complicated man carried remains just as important in a connected, wired, globalized world as it was in the patchwork of villages and farms and hollows about which he so often sang. “The human race,” he said, “is going to realize it’s going to have to start treating each other decently.” If they haven’t chosen an epitaph for Pete Seeger yet, that one might be worth considering.

Editor’s note Ted Anthony, who interviewed Pete Seeger extensively for his 2007 book “Chasing the Rising Sun: The Journey of an American Song,” writes about American culture for The Associated Press.




Ellen DeGeneres’ show now available in China

Ellen DeGeneres’s talk show is getting a new audience — viewers in China.

The lighthearted, celebrity-focused show is now available in China on video site Sohu within 48 hours of its original U.S. broadcast.

It is the first U.S. daily talk show to be carried in China, according to a statement Tuesday by distributor Warner Brothers and Sohu.com Inc.

Sohu Video, like other Chinese online video sites, licenses many hit American TV shows. Earlier this month it unveiled the late-night U.S. comedy sketch show “Saturday Night Live” as an addition to its lineup.

R&B singer Frank Ocean cited for pot possession

Grammy-nominated R&B singer Frank Ocean, who made headlines last year when he came out, is back in the news. He has temporarily lost his driver’s license and faces a marijuana possession charge after police say he was pulled over twice on the final days of the year in California’s Eastern Sierra Nevada for driving more than 90 mph in 65 mph zones.

The Mono County Sheriff’s Department said officers first stopped Ocean’s black BMW on Dec. 30, 2012, as he was heading northbound on U.S. 395 near Keoughs, and cited him for speeding.

Ocean was pulled over again on New Year’s Eve at about 4:30 p.m. as he was heading southbound on U.S. 395 at about the same speed.

The second time, sheriff’s spokeswoman Jennifer Hansen said a strong odor of marijuana wafted out as a deputy approached the vehicle.

Hansen said the deputy found a small bag of marijuana on the 25-year-old Ocean, whose legal name is Christopher Edwin Breaux, and cited him for marijuana possession.

California Highway Patrol Sgt. Andrew Thompson said a CHP officer also gave the Beverly Hills resident a verbal warning about his speed and cited Ocean for driving with a suspended driver’s license and having tinted front windows. Ocean’s license was confiscated and a passenger who was traveling with the popular crooner was allowed to drive the vehicle away, Thompson said.

Ocean’s representative Heathcliff Berru declined comment.

Kimmel, Tomlin, Chenoweth joining celebration honoring Ellen DeGeneres

Kristin Chenoweth, Steve Harvey, Sean Hayes, Jimmy Kimmel, John Krasinski, Jason Mraz, Lily Tomlin and others will salute Ellen DeGeneres at the 15th annual Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor show on Oct. 22.

PBS will broadcast the salute on Oct. 30.

“The Kennedy Center is happy to recognize Ellen DeGeneres’ unique contributions to the world of comedy,” stated Kennedy Center chairman David M. Rubenstein. “Through her television programs, stand-up appearances, movies, and even commercials, her special brand of humor has allowed us to find hilarity in the mundane and has kept us laughing for years.”

DeGeneres, after learning of the prize, stated, “It’s such an honor to receive the Mark Twain Prize. To get the same award that has been given to people like Bill Cosby, Tina Fey and Will Ferrell, it really makes me wonder… why didn’t I get this sooner?”

DeGeneres will receive a replica of an 1884 bronze portrait bust of Mark Twain sculpted by Karl Gerhardt.

Proceeds from gala – tickets start at $1,000 but usually sell for much more – support the Kennedy Center’s programs, performances and outreach activities.

Recipients of the Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize include Richard Pryor in 1998, Jonathan Winters in 1999, Carl Reiner in 2000, Whoopi Goldberg in 2001, Bob Newhart in 2002, Lily Tomlin in 2003, Lorne Michaels in 2004, Steve Martin in 2005, Neil Simon in 2006, Billy Crystal in 2007, George Carlin in 2008, Bill Cosby in 2009, Tina Fey in 2010 and Will Ferrell 2011.