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The original members of Andrae Crouch & The Disciples got together one afternoon in April of 2011 for the first time in more than 35 years. By original, I mean the version of the group that finally broke through to great success in Gospel music. It was Andrae, his twin sister Sandra, Bili Thedford, and Perry Morgan. The idea of the reunion began when I told Andrae I wanted to get some video of him sitting at the piano and playing some of his old songs. Of course scheduling anything in advance with Andrae is always short on specifics, so his former drummer and co-producer Bill Maxwell was essential in making sure this came together the week I was in L.A.
After I arrived Bill & I decided to call Perry and invite him just to come up and hangout and visit. That’s when Bill said, “Thedford and Sandra are in the area, why don’t we see if they’ll also show up tomorrow and maybe sing together one more time.” This would never have happened if we had tried to plan it. Schedules would have needed to be coordinated, and then people would have said they needed rehearsals before they could sing again as a group. But since it was all so spur of the moment, everyone just showed up, mainly because we all wanted to see each other after so many years.
As for the music, I wanted to capture a moment like the old days when they would just stand around Andrae at the piano and sing. Of course Andrae immediately, like the old days, started writing a new song on the spot and assigning parts. Eventually we got him do a couple of the old Disciples numbers and this video is of the group singing, “The Blood.” Bili took the first solo because Andrae had a sore throat, but it was an afternoon of fond memories of a time in the 70’s when Andrae Crouch & The Disciples changed the sound of Gospel music.
It’s not everyday you get invited to a pygmy pool party. In fact, best as I can remember this is the only day in my life I’ve been privileged to attend such a special event. I was in the Central African Republic in the Congo Basin to film forest elephants and western lowland gorillas. On my first morning in the jungle on the way to look for the elephants, we passed a river where a group of Ba’ Aka or pygmy women were bathing and doing laundry. I stopped to take a couple of quick pictures. They immediately lined up and started slapping the water in a way that made it sound as if they were playing drums.
They were laughing and yelling and clearly having a grand time. Next they gathered in a very shallow area of the river and ran towards a partially submerged log, using the log like a diving platform to launch themselves into a series of jumps, and dives, and half flips. The ladies were almost done when I arrived and I also had to hurry on to look for the elephants so I asked if I could come back in a couple of days to take more pictures and that’s when I was invited to the pool party. The real fun began on this second visit as the Ba’ Aka ladies began to show off their fanciest aerial maneuvers, all to the sound of much cheering and commentary from the group.
I also shot some video at the swimming hole which I will will edit into a short piece and post later so you can enjoy the sounds as well as the sights of the Pygmy Pool Party. If you ever get invited to one, don’t miss it.
Gospel music legend Andrae Crouch is such a gifted songwriter that music seems to effortlessly flow from his fingers whenever he sits down at a keyboard. Last month I spend a couple of days with Andrae, my friend of more than forty years, and in the short time we were together I think he wrote the better part of five new songs. And I mean good tunes, memorable, infectious melodies. After one song that he recognized as having potential to be developed into something special, he quickly started playing another new tune with the words, “Don’t lose it or I can’t use it.” It was a musical reminder for me to hold on to the tapes or his new composition would just drift off into the ether to be lost forever, since the next day his mind would already be filled with other notes and other music.
But after he played me some of the new material he’s working on, I asked Andrae if he remembered the first song he ever wrote. He did and no wonder, it was a good one. He was 14 years old at the time. This video is of him singing that first song and telling me the story of how he came to write it.
Have you ever driven in a rural area where farmers have set up roadside stands to sell some of their produce directly to the consumers? It seems that whenever you purchase fruits or vegetables from one of these places it always tastes better and fresher. You also assume that it’s also cheaper at the source than at the store where the middleman has added his profit to the price. That was the theory my driver in the Central African Republic was operating on when he stopped to buy this monkey hanging on a post by the highway. I knew bush meat was very popular with many people in Africa, even those now living in big cities, like my driver, I just didn’t realize he was going to buy this monkey until it was hanging on the side mirror of our vehicle. I thought he was only stopping so I could get a picture.
We were only an hour into our 11 hour drive back to Bangui when the monkey was added to our traveling party, which also included 40 lbs. of avacados, 10 lbs. of mangos, and a strange woman who needed a lift to get to the funeral of her mother who had just died. Services for the monkey would apparently be limited to saying “grace” before the evening meal. It was a warm humid day, so to my relief the monkey began the ride hanging outside our vehicle. However a heavy rain started to fall and the driver not wanting his monkey to get soaked put him inside the Landcruiser with the rest of us for the next couple of hours.
Before you start telling me about the horrors of the bush meat trade and how I should have not allowed the driver to buy the monkey, let me say I know the issues and about declining monkey populations in some areas, but I also understand that centuries of cultural traditions can’t be reversed by me screaming and yelling at my driver, especially since he speaks no English and I don’t speak French. So Jocko, yes the driver gave the monkey a name, joined our strange cast of characters making our way through the jungle.
The next morning, through an interpreter I asked the driver how Jocko was. He gave a one word answer, “Delicious”. I replied, “So was my mango.”
I went to the Mall last week, no not that mall, the National Mall and Memorial Parks in Washington D.C, You may not know it but the National Mall is our most visited national park with some twenty-five million visitors a year. My walk took me about five hours and two hundred thirty-five years. The years part was my refresher course in American history. I started at the memorial honoring the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.
My walk took me close enough to the Capitol to almost hear the partisan insults echoing off the walls inside Congress. I walked past all the memorials to various wars in our history. And I walked past the momunents to some of our greatest presidents including two who led the nation in time of war, Lincoln and Roosevelt. Of course Washington was elected president after leading the country in battle before we were even a country. But equally important as his leadership in the Revolutionary War, was his contribution to the establishment of democracy when he voluntarily handed over the reigns of power after two terms as president.
The Jefferson Memorial is beautiful with its neo-classic design, but the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial I think may be my favorite design. It looks the most like America, with wide open spaces, big granite blocks, and large waterfalls. It almost has a feel of a WPA project, appropriately for a president who led the nation through a great depression. But the surprise of my tour was the Lincoln Memorial where for the past ninty years Mother Nature has been adding her own decorating touches to the marble structure. Underneath the memorial is a cavernous space with concrete walls and dirt floors. Tourists haven’t been allowed in here since 9-11, but I got a special tour from park officials and saw hanging from the ceiling or the floor beneath Lincoln hundreds of stalactites. The long thin white geometric formations were created by water dripping through the memorial for almost a century. They make the place look like a starter cave.
Also on some of the support columns are cartoons drawn by the workmen who built the Lincoln Memorial. Of course above this seldom seen part of the monument to out 16th president are his own words from the Gettysburgh address chiseled into the stone work for all to see and remember.
My column for the July-August edition of National Geographic Traveler Magazine will have the full story of my trip to the Mall. And on my radio show, “National Geographic Weekend” on May 14-15 I will be talking about the mall and interviewing Susan Spain, the project executive for the National Mall Plan. She will explain why the park that is the face of America needs a face lift. But equally important is the story that the National Mall is a national park, one that tells the world who we are as a country and how we got here, as well as honoring those who served, fought, and died to protect our liberty. Next time you are in D.C. take a little time to visit the Mall.
Posted in: on Sunday, May 1st, 2011
Usually we have to travel to some remote or exotic locaton to capture good wildlife footage at National Geographic. But for the month of April we simply had to walk out the door of the building and into the courtyard to get all the cute animal pictures we wanted. A mother mallard duck and her ten ducklings set up housekeeping at National Geographic after Ms. Mallard apparently decided she wanted a place with a pool. We have one. So the kids got their first swimming lessons in our decorative pond. Ever attuned to the needs of the animal kingdom, our engineers built a ramp to help the youngsters get in and out of the water.
Well after three weeks of being the center of attention the ducks have opted for more privacy and mom moved the family down the street to a nearby park. I’m on a plane tomorrow to go look for more typically National Geographic animal subjects. I’m headed to the Central African Republic hoping to get video of forest elephants and lowland gorillas.
I’m hopped up on drugs again this week thanks to Nurse Stickum at National Geographic. Before leaving on any trip overseas for National Geographic all of us who work here first stop by the medical office at Geographic. It’s staffed with a full time nurse and a doctor who is on call for special needs. They keep detailed records of all our visits and the various shots and treatments, and medications we have been give over the years. That way we know if it’s time to get another yellow fever vaccination, or polio booster, or whatever shot might be required for the country we are visiting.
Next week I leave for the Central African Republic in the Congo Basin to hopefully see lowland gorillas, and forest elephants. This week I picked up my anti-maliarial pills and got a typhoid booster all of which I discuss on this weeks edition of National Geographic Weekend. This video is from that episode and in it I reveal one of my self-medication secrets.
Mr. and Ms. Easter Bunny were busy little rabbits today putting out baskets of treats for the kids and hiding eggs. Well scratch the eggs. The kids now over twenty-one are no longer interested in coloring eggs and they’re even less interested in searching the yard to find hidden candy treasures and colored hard boiled eggs. So this year Mr. and Ms. Bunny tried a new approach to spark Easter excitement.
We hid a case of beer in the yard, twenty-four bottles placed in bushes, behind rocks, in trees, next to lawn ornaments. Erica is in NYC so Taylor was left to find the bottles on his own. He proved up to the task and gone was his recent reluctance to participate in our Easter festivites.
Ms. Easter Bunny was thrilled to have the family eagerly participating in the holiday fun once again. She understands it’s all about knowing your audience. Find out what they like, what motivates them and then deliver the goods.
HOPE YOU ALSO HAD A FUN EASTER CELEBRATION!
Posted in: on Friday, April 22nd, 2011
The genius engineering geeks toiling in the basement at National Geographic have done it again, creating a new and improved way of taking aerial pictures. The guys who are always making design improvement on the critter cam, our camera system that’s been attacked to all kinds of critters from lions to sharks, have now designed and built a remote operated flying platform to carry small video cameras and still cameras. During our radio show, National Geographic Weekend” we took the “photo chopper ” out for a test flight on our courtyard. The video from the event which I’ve embedded here gives you an idea of what a great new tool it will be for bringing a different perspective to stories at National Geographic.
The ducks are still drawing a lot of attention at National Geographic. But people had better get their pictures soon, because the ducks may not be here much longer. There’s a worry that when the chicks get a little older mom won’t be able to control them and and some might waddle out into the street and get hit by a passing car. Plans are being made to transfer the ducks to a safer home in Rock Creek Park.
I talk about out new feathered friends on this weeks National Geographic Weekend radio show. The above video is from that segment and includes pictures of the ducks. Enjoy their cuteness.