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Jane Alexander Discusses Her Career in Acting and at the N. E. A.

Actress Jane Alexander talks about her 4 years as Chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Arts. She served from 1993 through 1997 when the GOP controlled Congress targeted the agency for budget cuts. She was the first artist to head the NEA. Alexander has returned to acting and is writing a book on her experiences at the NEA.


Other segments from the episode on June 3, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 3, 1998: Interview with Jane Alexander; Review of Helen Fielding's novel "Bridget Jones's Diary"; Interview with Bill Ivey.


Date: JUNE 03, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 060301np.217
Head: Jane Alexander
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

The Tony Awards will be announced this Sunday, and my guest Jane Alexander is nominated for her role in the new show "Honor." Alexander left the stage and screen for four years to head the National Endowment for the Arts.

She was nominated by President Clinton in 1993 and resigned from her position last October. She was the first artist to head the agency and she ran it during its most turbulent period, when there was a movement in Congress to eliminate the NEA.

Honor is her first role since leaving the agency. She stars as a woman who finds out her husband is leaving her for a much younger woman. While Alexander directed the NEA, instead of practicing the art of acting, she had to spend all of her time justifying the arts and the agency. I asked her if that was difficult.

JANE ALEXANDER, ACTRESS AND FORMER CHAIRMAN, NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE ARTS: Yes, it sure was, because if you're involved in the world of arts, of any sort, you don't have to do any justifying. It -- you are -- you -- it is -- the thing is and exists and it exists for its own reason for being and also for the pleasure of others.

And to try to sell it -- to try to justify its reason for being to congressmen and -- not congresswomen, by the way. Congresswomen got it. But men, over and over again, and to justify the need for the federal government to invest in the arts for the benefit of all society, was odd for me. I couldn't believe that people didn't get it in their gut like I did on a daily basis.

GROSS: You were the first artist to become head of the NEA. Why did you accept the position?

ALEXANDER: I accepted it because the NEA was responsible in great measure for my career. I began performing in nonprofit theaters that the NEA supported -- things like Arena Stage, the Charles Playhouse in Boston, the Alliance Theater in Atlanta and so on.

And the "Great White Hope," which really made my career and James Earl Jones' career when it went to Broadway and then on to film, began at Arena Stage in Washington with an NEA grant. And the way that grant snowballed for so many of us involved in production, and then in the film later, is truly an NEA success story, and it happens over and over again with grants at the NEA.

So I wanted to pay back, if you will, what the NEA had done for me and what it's done for thousands and thousands of artists.

GROSS: You sailed through the confirmation hearings, but confirmation hearings are living hell for people who are controversial in any way or have, you know, what is perceived as a blot on their records. What was the experience of the confirmation hearings like for you?

ALEXANDER: It was exhilarating and exciting to be a part of it. At that time, Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts was the chairman of the committee in the Senate that overlooked the NEA and the NEH in confirmation hearings. And of course, he's a very staunch supporter of the arts and the humanities.

So it was not a difficult sell for him or anybody on that committee, including all the Republicans at that time. But to be unanimously confirmed by the entire Senate, that was a terrific support for not only myself, but I felt for the NEA, and that included people like Jesse Helms, of course.

GROSS: Do you think that many of the people in Congress knew your work?

ALEXANDER: Not at all. Not only did they not know it, I was pretty astonished when a senator who became quite powerful during my time at the NEA; when I first paid a courtesy call on him, he said: "I hear you've done some acting."


And I sort of blanched because I felt embarrassed not only for him, but for his aide, who was sitting there, who had obviously not prepped him very well. And I said: "yes, Senator, I will send you my resume." And when I sent him my five-page resume, he called me up and said: "I'm sorry. Now I understand who you are."

GROSS: Good. Do you think that you got a different reaction as head of the NEA as an actress -- someone who -- who's been an artist all your life -- than someone who's been a lifelong administrator would have gotten?

ALEXANDER: I'd like to believe that. In some ways, though, I -- I -- I hesitate to think that it was a plus, because I found many legislators suspicious of artists. They felt that they were arrogant people; that they were out to subvert the best values of society. And I never knew whether they included me in that thinking as well.

I would talk about the creative process. I would talk about the fact that controversy very often was a part of art and that it was not to be feared; that it was something that artists did, but they weren't out to do people in by it, but just to question society and its values and things like that.

So in some ways I -- I thought maybe they thought I was a liability to the legislative process.

GROSS: When you accepted the position as the head of the NEA, a lot of headlines in the newspaper said: "her greatest role so far -- Jane Alexander Heads National Endowment for the Arts." Did you ever feel like -- like you were playing a role -- dressing in character, you know, in the Washington, DC, administrator's outfit. Which -- I don't know -- it's -- I don't know how you dressed when you were the head of the NEA, but people who had agencies tend to dress more conservatively -- not call attention to themselves.

ALEXANDER: Yes, you're absolutely right. In that regard, I did dress the part of an agency head. And I also was aware that if I wore my slightly aged hippie clothes...


... I was going to cause some more consternation by the more conservative members that I was paying visits to on the Hill. So, I dressed carefully and I dressed conservatively in my -- my skirts were not much more above the knee than an inch. Some people took me to task for that. Some artists said: "why are you dressing this way?" And I said: "because I have a job to do and I don't want to scare these people. I don't want to come into their offices and they're scared by how I look."

GROSS: So do you think it was effective, wearing what you wore?

ALEXANDER: Oh, I don't know the answer to that. I -- I don't know. But I do know that some of them are scared of artists. They don't know them and as I say, they -- if they feel that they're out to do them in in one way or another, the politicians, then that wasn't a good thing. I was playing a political game when I was there. I was not there as a, you know, I wasn't doing art when I was doing politics.

GROSS: Is there anything you feel you were unprepared for that you had to face as head of the NEA?

ALEXANDER: I guess I was unprepared for the relentlessness of the attacks on the NEA and the misinformation that was spread and was rampant, and that we tried to countermand, but we were unable to do so with a small public relations department. At one time, we only had six people. I think there's only about eight of them now.

So, it was a very difficult task in educating the American people and the legislatures in particular about what the truth was; about what the NEA did for them in their own communities.

GROSS: Give me an example of something that you thought was misinformation that you had to spend a lot of time trying to undo.

ALEXANDER: Well, one of the things that is consistently brought up about the NEA, and Newt Gingrich just brought it up again recently, was -- he says things like: "the NEA funds pornography." We don't fund pornography and we're not -- we don't fund obscenity as defined by a court of law. We're not allowed to do that.

The other thing is that the NEA gave grants to Robert Mapplethorpe; to Andres Serrano (ph) back in 1989 and 1990 for the two -- the photographs that were so controversial at that time. The -- money from the NEA, the grants, were not individual artist grants to Mr. Mapplethorpe or to Mr. Serrano. In fact, they were to highly prestigious museums in Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and the Corcoran Gallery right across from the museum -- for exhibits -- excuse me -- right across from the White House -- for exhibits that included these artists.

GROSS: Newt Gingrich once said while you were at the head of the NEA that celebrities who lobby for more federal arts spending should provide the money themselves, instead of burdening taxpayers. What was your response to that?

ALEXANDER: Oh, that was an extremely elitist attitude on his part. First of all, celebrities, particularly in my business, which is theater, film, and television, are extremely generous people. They're giving all the time, not only to artists and fellow artists, and some of them have their own foundations. You know very well that Paul Newman and Robert Redford and many others have their own foundations and are giving to the arts or other causes.

But they also give of their time generously. And I -- it also would not help provide for -- what I started out to say -- what the public sector does, which is opportunity and access for all people. That's why the public sector is there -- to help all citizens. And it was an extremely elitist thing, I felt -- and unfair to the celebrities as well.

GROSS: My guest is actress Jane Alexander, the former head of the NEA. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

Jane Alexander is my guest and she's nominated for a Tony Award for her role in the Broadway show Honor. She's also, as you know, the former head of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Why did you resign last fall?

ALEXANDER: I'd come to the end of a four-year term and I didn't want to sign on for another four years. I felt that what I had been able to accomplish in the four years was sufficient unto the day, which was to save the agency. And it came down to the wire.

I mean, I did not know until the very end of September, the beginning of October, when the bill was voted on, whether the agency was going to survive, and I had made plans to leave, although I hadn't announced it publicly. And the president did know I was leaving, but I hadn't announced it publicly until after the bill was passed.

GROSS: Is there legislation back in Congress now to eliminate funding for the NEA?

ALEXANDER: Yes there is; yes there is. The House and the GOP of the House, the leadership, wants to eliminate the NEA again. They -- they won't be able to do it. The bill was passed last year with strong support from moderate Republicans; wonderful people that I worked with quite closely, who felt that the leadership was wrong in their assessment of the agency and that the elimination of it was not well-founded.

GROSS: I'm wondering if your tenure as head of the NEA is affecting the kind of roles you're being offered now. For example, when somebody is on a TV series for a long time and people get used to seeing them in a role, that sometimes affects the other that they're offered.

You know, because people see -- think that they're identified so much with one character. And in some ways, you became identified with the character of the head of the NEA -- an administrator who has to dress conservatively and speak with politicians. Do you think that that's going to affect your ability to be seen in the eyes of casting directors of somebody who's -- as somebody who's more flamboyant or devil-may-care or politically incorrect or whatever?


ALEXANDER: Well the truth is, Terry, that I've never been offered those roles.

GROSS: I guess that's true, actually. Yeah.

ALEXANDER: I remember -- yeah, I mean even though I may have wanted them when I was younger. For example, I was never an ingenue, you know. Even when I...

GROSS: And never the dominatrix.

ALEXANDER: ... even when I was...


ALEXANDER: That's right, although I could probably play those roles. I'd like to believe that I have the technical skills to do it all. I get -- I very rarely get offered them. And as I say, as a young actress, I wasn't even offered the roles I wanted to experiment with. So, I don't know. I don't think it's going to change and I don't think the NEA particularly influenced that.

GROSS: You're nominated for a Tony for your role in Honor, and I guess that's a nice welcome back for you into the theater world.

ALEXANDER: Mm, it's wonderful.

GROSS: Do you like...

ALEXANDER: It's wonderful.

GROSS: Do you like awards ceremonies? You're looking forward to it?

ALEXANDER: I like to be with my peers.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

ALEXANDER: I love the company of players and they make me happy. And I'm happy that I'm part of that family. So that's why I like awards ceremonies, for my particular area -- the theater.

GROSS: Did you feel like you were still part of that family even when you were with the NEA and not actually working in the theater?

ALEXANDER: I did. I -- I didn't allow myself to feel homesick or very emotional during the four years that I was there. In fact, the job was so tough that I didn't have much time to think about anything else. But an interesting thing happened one day.

The thing I liked most to do when I was at the agency, and I had a spare half hour, which was a rare, was run down and sit in on one of the panels. And we would convene -- in the beginning, we'd convene as many as 100, 120 panels a year, so there were always a panel going.

And I went down -- it was maybe my second year -- and I went and stopped in at a theater panel. And theater people are ebullient. They're lively. They're funny. They're affectionate. And I sat in and I listened for a while while they were talking about the different applications. And then I -- I got up and I left the room and I burst into tears. And I had no idea that I missed them so much.

GROSS: Right. Right. Well, I want to say congratulations on your Tony nomination and...

ALEXANDER: Well, thank you.

GROSS: ... and I wish you good luck, and thank you very much for talking with us.

ALEXANDER: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be on your wonderful show.

GROSS: Jane Alexander directed the National Endowment for the Arts from 1993 to '97. She's nominated for a Tony Award for her role in the new Broadway show Honor.

Later on our show, we'll meet the new head of the NEA Bill Ivey.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Jane Alexander
High: Actress Jane Alexander talks about her four years as Chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Arts. She served from 1993 through 197 when the GOP-controlled Congress targeted the NEA. Alexander has returned to acting and is writing a book on her experiences at the NEA.
Spec: Theater; Politics; Government; NEA
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Jane Alexander
Date: JUNE 03, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 060302np.217
Head: Bridget Jones's Diary
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:30

TERRY GROSS, HOST: "Bridget Jones's Diary" is a novel by Helen Fielding that began as a newspaper column. It's been a bestseller in Britain for six months and has just won the British Book Award for Book of the Year.

The main character is a 30-something Londoner who moans and groans amusingly about the lack of single men and the over-abundance of cellulite in her life. Book critic Maureen Corrigan says it's a hoot.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN, FRESH AIR BOOK COMMENTATOR: Damn the Brits. They may have rotten teeth and the looming embarrassment of a Diana-land theme park to contend with, but when it comes to wit, Brittannia still rules the airwaves, as well as the printed page.

"Seinfeld" notwithstanding, "Fawlty Towers" remains the funniest sitcom of all time. And when Martin Amis is in the groove, he's the wickedest comic novelist alive.

And now the Brits have out-Allie McBealed our own dithery, sweetly silly Allie McBeal. Bridget Jones's Diary, a literary phenom in England, has just hit our shores, and the character of Bridget, a neurotic, 30-something self-proclaimed singleton, who obsessively records her daily alcohol, cigarette, and fat intake, is poised to colonize a chunk of American popular culture.

Early reviewers of Helen Fielding's novel have equated the characters of Bridget and Allie, but Bridget is much edgier. After she puts in a dutiful appearance at her 2-year-old godson's birthday party, she snarls in her diary about the roomful of "power mothers" bragging about their little "defecational prodigies." And unlike the impossibly lissome Allie, Bridget's weight, as she says, "keeps bobbing up and down like a drowning corpse."

In one of the novel's many writhingly funny scenes, a sex romp with a much younger man ends abruptly when he slides his hand over Bridget's belly and murmurs: "hmm, you're all squashy." Later that night, Bridget laments in her diary: "oh God, it's no good. I'm too old and will have to give up, teach religious knowledge in a girls school, and move in with the hockey teacher."

Now, pallid Allie McBeal has neither the self-dramatizing flair nor the informed knowledge of lesbian fictional tropes to make a droll quip like that. No, for Bridget's closest antecedents think of the "AbFab" ladies, 20 years younger, and at least intermittently sober.

As anyone who's had to suffer through reading that 18th century classic of quotidian tedium "The Diary of Samuel Pepys" knows, the diary form can be a particularly plodding literary sub-genre. But Fielding has activated its comic potential.

Because Bridget's entries are short and off-the-cuff, they don't belabor the humor in the scenes she's recalling. And sometimes, the diary form adds to the merriment, as on the day Bridget spends working at home, where she records practically minute-by-minute her work-delaying tactics -- a scratchy nail that needs to be filed; underwear that needs to be changed and color coordinated; and so on into the inevitable afternoon nap.

Bridget's Diary chronicles an entire rocky year in the life of our heroine. She starts off on January 1st, grumbling about having to attend the annual "turkey curry buffet party" thrown by friends of her parents, where a single man has been lined up for her. "Oh God," Bridget moans. "Not another strangely dressed opera freak with bushy hair burgeoning from a side-part."

As the year progresses, she becomes romantically involved with her roguish boss and spends many an evening drinking with her singleton friends or squirming through dinner parties at the homes of smug marrieds, or resigning herself to an evening at home spent eating doughnuts in a cardigan with egg on it.

Just as the year is drawing to a close and Bridget is steeling herself to spend yet another humiliating Christmas Eve alone in her parents' house in a single bed, an arrogant young man with the last name of Darcy (ph) reappears in her life. Fans of "Pride and Prejudice" can take the story from there.

I know. I know. The "romance as salvation" plot and Bridget's constant self-flagellations are reactionary. And she's hardly an empowering role model, especially for younger women readers to identify with. But hey, it's summer -- the season of giddy silliness. Come autumn, we can all retreat back into our studies, put on our egg-stained cardigans, and re-read "Middlemarch."

GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She reviewed Bridget Jones's Diary, a novel by Helen Fielding.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Maureen Corrigan; Terry Gross, Philadelphia
High: Book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews "Bridget Jones's Diary," a novel by Helen Fielding that began as a newspaper column. It has been the best selling novel in Great Britain for six months and has just won the British Book Award of the Year.
Spec: Women; Sexuality; Europe; Britain; Bridget Jones's Diary
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Bridget Jones's Diary
Date: JUNE 03, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 060303np.217
Head: Bill Ivey
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:35

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Last week, the Senate unanimously confirmed my guest Bill Ivey as the new head of the National Endowment for the Arts. He's a folklorist and ethnomusicologist who had directed the Country Music Foundation since 1971. In that capacity, he co-produced a new three-CD box set exploring the black experience in country music, called "From Where I Stand."

Shortly before Ivey was confirmed, we invited him to talk with us about the new box set. It covers the years 1927 to 1995 and includes famous and obscure artists. Some of them are known for the country recordings, but others are better known for their records outside the genre.

The performers include Deford Bailey, The Mississippi Sheiks, Ray Charles, Ivory Joe Hunter, Etta James, Al Green, Fats Domino, Professor Longhair, and of course the most famous African-American in country music today, Charlie Pride.


Sometimes I want to throw my arms around you
Then I tremble at the thought of giving in
Because I know how much it cost to love you
And I'm so afraid of losing you again

Being close to you revives the sorrow
That wakes me up and tells me I can't win
I'd love to wake up in your arms tomorrow
But I'm so afraid of losing you again

GROSS: Bill Ivey, welcome to FRESH AIR.


GROSS: What did you want this CD box set to demonstrate?

IVEY: Well, it -- it has seemed for a time to the staff of the Country Music Foundation that country music really needed to be seen as a -- as a form of regional expression; that it was really one of the dialects in the great language of Southern music.

And that country music, like blues and early jazz and roots rock and roll, was kind of part of a language of Southern artistic expression, Southern musical expression. And that we probably should begin to look at the music a little less as exclusively tied to the Anglo-American tradition; a little less on railroad tracks running back to the English and Scottish ballad tradition and fiddling tradition, and a little bit more a form that was available to any Southern musician, black or white.

And in making that shift in how we looked at the music, I think it began to make some statements about, you know, how Southern culture has worked over the years and certainly how the art form has worked. And we decided to try to demonstrate some of the connections that we had hypothesized by actually looking at what kind of performances were there by African-American performers from the very beginnings of country music; from the 1920s up to the present.

That's what we did with the set.

GROSS: Now, I want to get to another recording from this box set. I think this is a great record. This is The Memphis Sheiks -- a black string band. And this is a 1930 recording they made called "In the Jailhouse Now." Now, tell us -- tell us why you included this track on your box set on the black presence in country music.

IVEY: Well of course, this is an African-American band and they use many of the instruments associated with the string band era. They also have something of a jug band sound to them. It's the kind of sound that fits somewhere between string band music and early jazz. So they -- they are examples of two or three different things simultaneously.

This particular tune is interesting because it is a Jimmie Rodgers (ph) song. It's one of those early examples of a string band that is kind of, you might say, rhythm and blues in its orientation, using a piece of material written by a very well-recognized country singer.

And of course, "He's in the Jailhouse Now" is a song that was, you know, not only a hit for Rodgers, but became something of a country standard and has been recorded again and again over the decades. So The Memphis Sheiks don't really play in that -- in that classic old-time string band style. They're very much a jug band. But it's interesting to see the exchange of material between Jimmie Rodgers, the country singer-songwriter, and a jug band like the Memphis Sheiks back in this early era of country music.

GROSS: Jimmie Rodgers is an interesting figure in your theme of the black presence in country music, 'cause I think a lot of African-Americans loved his music. And I guess you could argue that he was also influenced by black music. So, the influence was really working both ways there.

IVEY: I think with Rodgers there -- he -- just as Hoody Ledbetter (ph) -- Leadbelly (ph) -- is a great example of an African-American singer who -- who performed and wrote in very much of a country style. Jimmie Rodgers wrote and performed in a very blues, African-American-influenced style. And I think both artists are symbolic -- representative of the fluidity of musician and music in the south in those early years.

GROSS: So let's hear a Jimmie Rodgers song, He's in the Jailhouse Now, as recorded in 1930 by the Memphis Sheiks.


I remember last election
Jim Jones got in action
Said he's voting for the man
That paid the biggest bribes

Next day at the poll
He voted with heart and soul
But instead of voting once
He voted twice

He's in the jailhouse now
He's in the jailhouse now
Instead of him staying at home
Letting those white folks' business alone
He's in the jailhouse now

You remember Henry Crew (ph)...

GROSS: That's the Memphis Sheiks recorded in 1930 from the new CD box set "From Where I Stand: The Black Experience in Country Music." My guest is Bill Ivey, co-producer of the CD box set.

You were talking about the fluidity between country music and African-American musics in the early days of pop music; you know, in the '20s and '30s. What are some of the cross-influences that you hear? What are some of the elements you think that black performers took from white music and that white performers took from black music?

IVEY: Well, years ago when I was a student of folklore, there was a great folklorist -- teacher of folklore named Kenny Goldstein (ph) who had a -- an interesting way of looking at performance style. And one of the elements that he associated with African-American performance style, and one that can actually be traced to Africa, is the style that conveys a lot of emotion in its lyrical content and tends not to be very literally storytelling; where the Anglo-American tradition tends to be rather flat emotionally, but tells rather elaborate stories in ballads and folksongs.

And I think if you listen to the performances on From Where I Stand, you hear in these early years African-American performances that are somewhat affected by that storytelling tradition. And that's certainly one of the elements that crosses over from the Anglo tradition to African-American singers in that era.

Also instrumentation -- the use of the fiddle in particular, which is a primary instrument in country music; became a popular instrument for both country performers and blues performers in the 1920s and 1930s. And to a certain extent, some of the subject matter of the songs -- I mean, you get into songs about railroads and songs about work, and fiddle tunes related to events in Southern history like the eighth of January, which is the date of the Battle of New Orleans.

All of these things I think are connections between country music and these performances.

GROSS: My guest is Bill Ivey, former head of the Country Music Foundation and the new head of the National Endowment for the Arts. He co-produced the CD box set From Where I Stand: The Black Experience in Country Music. More after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

Back with Bill Ivey. We're talking about the new three CD box set he co-produced on the black experience in country music.

You know, if you just hear how music was described by the music industry in the '20s and '30s -- there were "hillbilly records" and there were "race records." And race records were the records for African-American consumers and hillbilly records was, you know, country music for white consumers -- or so you would think. What do you think of those words? How were they coined? How were they used?

IVEY: I think that in considering the record industry in the 1920s and 1930s, it's important to realize that -- that they -- the executives who worked with this material were really discovering a great well-spring of American traditional music. And initially, they did now know what to do with it. They were collecting this folk stuff, sometimes in recording sessions that were actually held in the South; recording blues; recording country music.

And their initial instinct was that this music would sell, perhaps, in small quantities back to the communities in which these people lived; back to the rural Southern communities. And they felt that it was important to label the music in a way that would be absolutely clear to its potential audience.

I think they made a distinction, probably one in retrospect that was unnecessary or perhaps incorrect, that African-Americans would buy blues recordings by black singers and white Southerners would buy the country or hillbilly recordings. And the terms "race" and "hillbilly" were applied to -- as marketing distinctions and were then used to create a series of recordings and were used to promote, advertise material to a potential audience.

We know now that from the beginning, there was not necessarily a racial component to who bought or listened to which kind of music. But the distinctions probably set scholarship and set investigation on a track in which -- in which the differences, the distinct qualities of the blues and of the country tradition were emphasized more than their similarities and their points of contact.

GROSS: Let's move on to disc two of your CD box set -- "The Soul-Country Years." Give us an overview of what you want to say with this CD.

IVEY: Well the -- one theme in the entire set that we've already alluded to is the -- this theme of fluidity; musicians moving from genre to genre; black and white artists playing in blues ensembles or country ensembles with a fair amount of freedom.

I think the soul-country years, that second CD in the set, really demonstrates the fluidity of material. And most of the recordings in this set are country songs recorded or performed in a -- in a kind of rhythm and blues-oriented style by artists who selected R&B or country songs at will to come up with the very best material.

This is the set in which -- the CD in which, oh, some of the famous recordings by, you know, someone like Ray Charles, who was so influential in bringing country songs to -- and songwriters to a wider audience. And artists like, oh, Bobby Head (ph) and Ivory Joe Hunter demonstrate the way in which country songs move easily from one genre to another.

GROSS: You know, I -- I've spoken to and read about a lot of blues performers, for instance, who grew up in the South and there weren't black music stations for them to listen to in those days, and they listened to country music and they grew up loving country music. You know, it was just a part of the musical vocabulary that they inherited. So, I know that it affected the musicians that they became.

Do you think that's a pretty typical story?

IVEY: Yes. Country music was on the airwaves earlier and to a greater extent than blues. And -- and just as pop radio today is part of every American's musical vocabulary, I think country music -- particularly those -- some of those great early live shows like the "Grand Ole Opry" and the "WLS (ph) Barn Dance" and "Louisiana Hayride" -- shows that were on Friday or Saturday night and that were on powerful stations that spread out all across the Southeast, those shows were -- and those performers -- were very important to audiences black and white.

GROSS: Would you choose one of the records you particularly like from the Soul-Country Years CD in your box set?

IVEY: Well, one that is a favorite of mine, partly because of its context, is Ivory Joe Hunter's performance of "He'll Never Love You," because that's a recording that comes from a live performance on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. And I think it is a good example of an artist who is a very credible R&B singer, in this case singing live before the Grand Old Opry audience and performing a country song in a very convincing country style. So I'd like to hear -- hear Ivory Joe do He'll Never Love You.

GROSS: And maybe before we play that, I'll just remind our listeners that it was Ivory Joe Hunter who had the hit of "Since I Met You, Baby" in 1960.

IVEY: Right.

GROSS: I'm sorry -- 1956. So let's hear his recording featured in the Soul Country Years of the new box set on The Black Experience in Country Music.


Well, we're a team


Like I know
You wanted me too

Words I didn't
Know how to say
The way I love you
In every way

He'll never love you
The way I do
Oh, he may sour
On you

Pretty words
So untrue
He'll never love you
The way I do

GROSS: That's Ivory Joe Hunter. My guest is Bill Ivey. He co-produced the CD box set From Where I Stand: The Black Experience in Country Music. More after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

My guest is Bill Ivey, the new chair of the NEA and former head of the Country Music Foundation. We're talking about a new three CD box set he co-produced called From Where I Stand: The Black Experience in Country Music.

The third CD is called "Forward With Pride" -- a reference to Charlie Pride, the most famous African-American in country music today.

Bill Ivey, give us the overview of this third and final CD in your box set on the black experience in country music. What -- what are the themes that you think emerge from these recordings?

IVEY: Well, the Forward With Pride set really tries to document those African-American artists who have worked in country music in what I could call the modern era; from the mid-1960s up to the present. But it also brings into one compact disc those newer artists who have really had careers as country singers -- people like Charlie Pride and Stoney Edwards (ph) and Obie McClinton (ph) and, to an extent, Big Al Downing (ph), as well as some of the artists who've just made occasional excursions into the music.

But unlike the Soul Country Years, these performances are black singers really trying to be country singers; not using country material in an R&B performance. So, the -- I think the sound and the character of this CD is -- is quite different than the other two.

GROSS: I want to choose a CD on here. You know, I always love finding -- I always love finding new singers, and a discovery for me from this CD is Lamelle Prince (ph). I've never heard of her before. You have featured her doing a song called "The Man That Made A Woman Out Of Me," recorded in 1969.

Tell us a little bit about why you chose to include it and who the singer is.

IVEY: Well, she -- Lamelle was born in the late 1920s, and really not that much is known -- is known about her. She had a very limited career and had health problems beginning in the mid-1970s that prevented her from continuing to perform. She -- there were just a few sides that she recorded for Decca back -- back in the 19 -- late 1960s.

And they may not have ever been released. This is, I think, a good example of the way in which the staff of the Country Music Foundation researched the subject thoroughly to come up with some performances that -- that perhaps the average listener would not have been aware of at all.

And she's really a very good singer with an interesting style, and recorded these country sides and had a little stint of work as a -- as a jazz singer. I think she was with Lionel Hampton for a time. And worked with one of the most famous, you know, record producers in Nashville -- Owen Bradley, who also was the producer of Patsy Cline and many other great country singers.

So it's a good performance and one that's really quite obscure by a singer who we wish today would have had a bigger career and a better chance.

GROSS: Well, let's hear her. This is Lamelle Prince.


From him I learned that love was made to give
He took just half a woman and me taught how to live
And from now on my life and love will be
The man that made a woman out of me

A gentle word
A tender touch
Each promise he makes he keeps
Through his magic I become
A woman so complete

His love is always...

GROSS: That's Lamelle Prince as featured on the CD set From Where I Stand: The Black Experience in Country Music. My guest is co-producer Bill Ivey.

Bill Ivey, what impact do you hope that this re-thinking of the black presence in country music will have?

IVEY: Well, I think all of us at the Country Music Foundation see this as a starting point, rather than the completion of anything. We really -- we think maybe we're at a time in which we should look at Southern music a little differently than we have in the past; begin to enter an era in which we look for connections rather than differences and begin to see these various musics as part of the common, shared vocabulary of Southern musicians.

The region has been so productive in terms of giving America much of its musical heritage, and we think it's time to just begin to look at things in a slightly different way.

GROSS: Do you think that the black presence in country music in the late '90s is any greater or stronger than it was in previous decades? I mean, do you think the direction is heading one way or another?

IVEY: Right at the moment, there are two or three new acts in Nashville -- African-American acts signed to country labels. But I have to be honest in saying that there's no more activity now, and perhaps a bit less than there was when, you know, when Charlie Pride was signed to RCA and was a huge star for RCA; and Stoney Edwards was on Capitol and was doing quite well; and Obie McClinton was having some success with country recordings. That was all happening back in the 1970s. So in some ways, there is less activity in the '90s than there was in the 1970s.

But, it's something that takes time and audiences, I think, precede stars. And I think as the -- as the black audience for country music is acknowledged and gets served by country radio and country record distribution, I think the African-American stars will emerge.

GROSS: Well Bill Ivey, thank you very much for talking with us.

IVEY: It's good to talk with you. Thank you.

GROSS: Bill Ivey co-produced the new three CD box set From Where I Stand: The Black Experience in Country Music. He's the former head of the Country Music Foundation and the new chair of the National Endowment for the Arts.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Bill Ivey
High: Bill Ivey is the new Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. He won Senate confirmation last month. He last served as the director of the Country Music Foundation. There, he co-produced a new 3 CD set called "From Where I Stand: The Black Experience in Country Music." The collection traces the contributions African-Americans have had in country music.
Spec: Music Industry; Culture; The South; African-Americans; Bill Ivey
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Bill Ivey
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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