Saturday, May 22, 2010

"Stephen Foster, 1826-1864: America's First Popular Songwriter" from Voice of America.

"My Old Kentucky Home"

I'm Shirley Griffith. And I'm Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program PEOPLE IN AMERICA. Today, we tell about Stephen Foster, America's first popular professional songwriter.


You may have heard the old traditional American songs "Oh! Susanna," "Camptown Races" and "My Old Kentucky Home. " But, do you know who wrote them? Stephen Foster. He wrote those and more than two hundred other songs during the eighteen forties and eighteen fifties.

His best songs have become part of America's cultural history. They have become American folk songs. Many PEOPLE IN AMERICA learned to sing these songs when they were children. Most Americans can sing these songs today.

Stephen Collins Foster was born on July fourth, eighteen twenty-six in what is now part of the city of Pittsburgh, in the northeastern state of Pennsylvania. He was the ninth child of William and Eliza Foster. He did not have much musical training. But he had a great natural ability for music. He taught himself to play several musical instruments. He could play any music just by listening to it.

Stephen Foster began writing songs when he was fourteen. In eighteen forty-seven, he wrote his first successful song, "Oh! Susanna. "

Ken Emerson wrote a book about Stephen Foster. It is called “Doo-dah! Stephen Foster and the Rise of American Popular Culture. ” Mr. Emerson says "Oh! Susanna" was the first internationally popular song written by an American that everyone can still recognize and sing today.


Stephen Foster married Jane McDowell in eighteen fifty. He wrote many new songs. Some of them were about love. One of the best known is "Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair. " He wrote it for his wife when they were separated.


Stephen Foster wrote almost thirty songs for minstrel shows. Minstrel shows became popular in the United States in the eighteen forties. White entertainers blackened their faces and performed as if they were black entertainers. Minstrel shows included music, dance and comedy. The shows were performed in almost every major American city, especially in the Northeast. One of Foster's songs written for minstrel shows is "Camptown Races. " Today, it is a popular song for children.


Minstrel songs described the culture of black American slaves in the southern states. Yet Foster did not really know anything about this subject. He lived in Pittsburgh for most of his life. He visited the South only once.

However, some experts say Foster's minstrel songs showed he did understand how black people in the South lived before the Civil War. The people in Foster's songs love their families and work hard. Now, however, some of his songs are judged insulting to African-Americans. So, music publishers have changed some of the words. And a few of his songs are no longer sung.

In eighteen fifty, Foster made an agreement with the leader of a successful minstrel group, E. P. Christy. The agreement meant that Christy's Minstrels had the right to perform every new song Foster wrote. Foster also permitted Christy to name himself as the writer of the song "Old Folks at Home. " This became one of most successful songs written by Stephen Foster. It became the official song of the state of Florida in nineteen thirty-five. It also is known as "Way Down upon the Swanee River. "


Stephen Foster wrote other songs about home and memories of times past. In his book, Ken Emerson says Foster wrote songs about home in part because he almost never lived in one home for long. His father lost all his money when Stephen was a boy. So Stephen was forced to live with many different family members. Although Foster lived in the North, some of his songs suggest a desire to be back home in the American South.

"My Old Kentucky Home" is an example. Mr. Emerson says Foster wrote the song in honor of Harriet Beecher Stowe's anti-slavery book, "Uncle Tom's Cabin." "My Old Kentucky Home" expresses great sympathy for enslaved African-Americans. The black anti-slavery activist Frederick Douglass praised the song. It later became the official song of the state of Kentucky.


Stephen Foster was America's first full-time professional songwriter. He was a good songwriter. But he was a poor businessman. He sold many of his most famous songs for very little money. He was not able to support his wife and daughter.

In eighteen sixty, he moved to New York City. His songs were not as popular as they had been. His marriage had ended. He had no money. For most of his life, he drank large amounts of alcohol. He died on January thirteenth, eighteen sixty-four. He was only thirty-seven years old.

Stephen Foster was honored in several ways after his death. He was the first musician to be nominated to the Hall of Fame for great Americans. And he was the first American composer whose complete works were published together. Each year, on the anniversary of his death, people in Pittsburgh gather to remember Stephen Foster. They go to the church he attended as a child. They attend a show that honors him. Then they visit his burial place.

The end of Stephen Foster's life was sad. But his songs have brought happiness to many people. One of his last songs was one of the most beautiful. It is called "Beautiful Dreamer. "


This Special English program was written by Shelley Gollust. It was produced by Lawan Davis. I'm Shirley Griffith. And I'm Steve Ember. Join us again next week for another PEOPLE IN AMERICA program on the Voice of America.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

"Nothing Like Coffee" from Voice of America.

I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Barbara Klein with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.

At La Colombe coffee shop in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, you can enjoy a tasty cup of coffee as you read the newspaper or meet with friends. The shop is very busy and lively.

The people who work there can quickly make excellent espresso or drip coffee drinks. La Colombe is a good example of how important coffee culture has become in the United States. Join us as we explore the culture, history and business of one of the world's favorite drinks.


In the United States, the number of specialty coffee shops has increased greatly over the years. In nineteen ninety-five there were an estimated five thousand shops and sellers specializing in coffee. By two thousand six, there were almost twenty-four thousand. It is hard to walk down a street in an American city without coming across a coffee shop. And, chances are, that coffee shop might be a Starbucks.

The Starbucks company started in the West Coast city of Seattle, Washington, in nineteen seventy-one. Today, there are more than twelve thousand Starbucks around the world. Starbucks has helped make coffee culture a popular part of people's daily lives. The stores sell all kinds of coffee. They sell special hot and cold coffee drinks like Frappucinos and White Chocolate Mocha. They also sell food, music and books. Starbucks has helped educate people about the world of coffee.

But there is much more to making and enjoying coffee than Starbucks. In fact, many people criticize the aggressive expansion of Starbucks and its impersonal coffee shops. The company has made business difficult for smaller, independent coffee shops. But these coffee shops have a strong and loyal following. There is a certain pride in the coffee industry among the smaller, more personal coffee sellers.

The Specialty Coffee Association of America holds a yearly competition for the people who prepare coffee drinks, known as baristas. The best baristas from different areas of the country gather to make three coffee drinks. A group of coffee experts judges them. The baristas take their job very seriously. They have fifteen minutes to make three kinds of coffee drinks: an espresso, a cappuccino, and a specialty drink of their own invention.


"A big round of applause for Melanie's espressos!"

The best baristas in the country then compete for the national award. There is even a World Barista Championship. This year it will be held in Tokyo, Japan.

Doug Wolfe recently competed in the Mid-Atlantic area barista competition. But to really see him work his coffee magic, you must visit him where he works, at La Colombe.


"My name is Doug Wolfe, and I am from Philadelphia. I am with La Colombe Torrefaction. I'm going to be making an espresso and cappuccino for you guys."

To make an espresso, Doug packs freshly ground coffee into a filter that attaches to a shiny La San Marco espresso machine from Italy. The machine forces heated water at high pressure through the coffee. The resulting espresso has a strong, smooth and flavorful taste. He makes a cappuccino by adding perfectly heated milk to an espresso. This may sound easy. But making a perfect espresso requires several things: the right amount of fresh coffee and expert control of water temperature, pressure and timing. La Colombe roasts its own special coffee mixtures at a factory nearby. This way it can control the high quality and freshness of its product.


You might enjoy a cup of coffee at your local coffee shop. But coffee is part of an international industry. Research shows that as many as one-third of the people in the world drink coffee. Some people drink coffee for its rich smell and taste. Others like the awakening effect of caffeine, a chemical in coffee. But not everyone may know the story of coffee and how it is produced.

One popular story about the discovery of coffee long ago is about Kaldi, a keeper of goats Kaldi was taking care of his goats in the highlands of Ethiopia where coffee trees have grown for centuries. He noticed that his goats became very excited and active after eating small fruits from a tree.

Kaldi reported this discovery to a group of religious workers. When they made a drink out of the fruit, the religious workers realized they could stay awake for long hours of prayer. This knowledge about coffee soon spread all over the world.

Coffee trees are native to eastern Africa and areas of the Arabian Peninsula. Coffee was first grown and traded in the fifteenth century. Most coffee came from what is now Yemen. Soon, coffee was in high demand all over the Middle East. By the seventeenth century coffee had been introduced to Europe. European traders started bringing coffee plants to other parts of the world. The Dutch brought coffee to the islands of Indonesia. And by the twentieth century, most of the world's production came from Central and South America. Today, Brazil is the largest producer of coffee in the world.


Most people know what a coffee bean looks like, but what about the plant? Coffee trees can grow up to nine meters high, but they are cut short for production. These trees have shiny dark green leaves that grow on opposite sides of each other on a stem. The plant produces a fruit that is called a coffee cherry.

When the coffee cherries are ripe and ready to pick, they are bright, red and firm. Inside the fruits are the green coffee beans. After these beans are roasted at high temperatures they are ready to be made into a drink.

The two most important kinds of coffee plants are the arabica and the canephora, which is commonly known as robusta. Arabica coffee makes up about seventy percent of the world's production. These trees produce a fine and mild coffee with a rich smell.

Robusta has a more caffeine than arabica. It is usually mixed with other coffee beans or used for instant coffee. Most of the world's robusta is grown in Central and Western Africa. It can also be found in parts of Southeast Asia and Brazil. Robusta is less costly to grow because it is more resistant to diseases than the arabica plant. Also, robusta plants can survive in a warmer climate.

There may only be two main kinds of coffee plants. But geography and climate differences have a big effect on the many different ways coffee can taste. For example, coffee grown in Ethiopia is known for its lively, sharp taste and its flowery smell. Coffee from the island of Sumatra has a full body with an earthy and intense taste. Coffee roasters combine beans from different areas to make coffees with different tastes and qualities.


Coffee is the second most heavily traded product in the world after oil. A coffee bean goes from a series of producers, exporters, importers, roasters and sellers. This long chain of production has major social and political effects. For example, some coffee producers and drinkers are concerned about the Fair Trade movement. The aim of this movement is to make sure that coffee farmers around the world get a fair price for their harvest. Poor farmers are organized into groups called cooperatives. They are guaranteed money under this system. Even if the market price for coffee drops, these farmers can earn enough money to live.

Critics of the movement say coffee farmers still do not receive a fair amount of money for their work. And some economists argue that Fair Trade creates too large a supply of coffee.

There are also environmental concerns within the coffee industry. Industrial coffee production can have a bad effect on nature. The chemicals used on large coffee farms can hurt soil and water sources. These large farms also cut down many trees to make room for coffee plants. This threatens native plants and birds.

Environmental organizations have worked to create rules for producing coffee in environmentally friendly ways. Many coffee drinkers buy this coffee to support their efforts.

So, the next time you enjoy your morning coffee, you can think about its rich history and wide popularity. And you can imagine the long distances it traveled to end up in your cup.

1. The person who prepares specialty coffee drinks is known as a _____________ .
a. coffee preparer
b. bartender
c. barista
d. coffee waiter

2. A cappuccino is made by pouring heated __________ into an espresso.
a. water
b. coffee
c. milk
d. cream

3. One popular story about the origin of coffee says that coffee beans made __________ very excited.
a. sheep
b. cows
c. shepherds
d. goats

4. A large coffee company, ______________ , makes it difficult for smaller coffee shops to succeed.
a. Folgers
b. Maxwell House
c. Starbucks
d. Martha's

5. Originally, coffee was imported from Yemen. Now, most coffee comes from _____________ .
a. Europe
b. Indonesia
c. China
d. Brazil

6. ______________ is the only product world wide that is more heavily traded than coffee.
a. steel
b. oil
c. wheat
d. cotton

7. _________________ coffee beans are better quality, but less resistant to disease than robusta beans.
a. Arabica
b. Brazilian
c. Nicaraguan
d. Sumatran

8. Environmentalists are concerned about the ____________ used in large coffee farms.
a. machinery
b. equipment
c. chemicals
d. farmers

9. Another name for this article could be _______________ .
a. "The Distances Coffee Has to Travel"
b. "La Columbe Torrefaction"
c. "The Rich History of Coffee"
d. "How Kaldi Discovered Coffee"

10. This article is mainly about ________________ .
a. the success of Starbucks
b. how to make a cappuccino
c. the best international baristas
d. coffee: past to present

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

"Crime and Punishment" from Voice of America

STEVE EMBER: I’m Steve Ember.

BARBARA KLEIN: And I’m Barbara Klein with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. This year marks the sixtieth anniversary of the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation’s “Ten Most Wanted Fugitives” list. This list includes a picture and description of people suspected of crimes so that the public can help provide information leading to their arrest.

The idea was that if the public knew what a criminal looked like, it would be harder for that person to hide. Since its beginnings sixty years ago, four hundred ninety-four criminals have been placed on the “Top Ten List.” Four hundred and sixty-three of these criminals have been found. Today we tell about this special list. And we visit a museum in Washington that helps people learn more about crimes and investigations.


STEVE EMBER: The beginning of the “Ten Most Wanted” list dates to nineteen forty-nine. A reporter for United Press International called the FBI and asked them for the names of the “toughest guys” that the agency wanted to capture. The FBI provided the reporter with a list of ten criminals it believed to be the most dangerous.

This list was then published on the front page of the Washington Daily News. The list received wide public attention. And the help of the American public soon led to several arrests. The director of the FBI at the time, J. Edgar Hoover, made the “Ten Most Wanted Fugitives” list a permanent program in nineteen fifty.

BARBARA KLEIN: Over the years, the kinds of criminals on the list have changed. During the nineteen fifties, the “Top Ten” list mostly included escaped prisoners, suspected murderers or people who stole money from banks. During the nineteen sixties, the list included kidnappers, criminals suspected of sabotage and those who stole government property. Today, the list includes people suspected of crimes including terrorism, drug dealing, financial wrongdoing and murder. The most widely known person currently on the list is al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

STEVE EMBER: A suspect must meet two requirements to be on the “Ten Most Wanted Fugitives” list. He or she must be considered a threat to society. And, the FBI must believe that wide publicity about the criminal might help lead to an arrest.

A suspect is removed from the list if he or she is captured, found dead or surrenders. Suspects can also be removed from the list if the federal case against them is dismissed or if they are no longer believed to meet the “Top Ten” requirements. Once a suspect is removed, a new suspect is placed on the list.

BARBARA KLEIN: The first woman to be on the “Top Ten” list was Ruth Eisemann-Schier. In nineteen sixty-eight she and her boyfriend kidnapped a wealthy young woman in the state of Georgia. After committing the crime, Eisemann-Schier fled the area. She changed her name and moved to the state of Oklahoma.

But she applied for a job that required the prints of her fingertips be taken. An official noted that her fingerprints matched those of a wanted criminal. Eisemann-Schier was arrested. She admitted she was guilty of the crime and was sentenced to seven years in prison. She served four years, then was sent back to her native country of Honduras. So far, eight “Top Ten” suspects have been women.

STEVE EMBER: The FBI has studied how “Top Ten” criminals have been caught over the past twenty years. It says citizen cooperation after publicity about the crime has resulted in the capture of about forty percent of the suspected criminals. The agency says the “Ten Most Wanted Fugitives” program uses many kinds of media to gain public attention. These include newspapers, wanted signs, and television news and crime shows. Of these, the popular television show “America’s Most Wanted” is responsible for the largest number of criminals captured.


BARBARA KLEIN: To learn more about crime investigation, we visited the National Museum of Crime and Punishment in Washington. A lawyer and businessman from Florida, John Morgan, owns and operates the museum. He was influenced to open the museum after a visit to Alcatraz prison in San Francisco, California.

Mister Morgan opened the museum in partnership with John Walsh. He is the host of the television show “America’s Most Wanted.”

Parts of this program are recorded in a studio in the Museum of Crime and Punishment. “America’s Most Wanted” tells about people who are suspected of crimes. People watching the show are asked to telephone if they have information that could help capture the criminals.

STEVE EMBER: The Museum of Crime and Punishment has exhibits that explain how experts gather evidence at the place where a crime is committed. Some of the professionals who examine evidence gathered during criminal investigations are called forensic scientists. These experts use chemistry, physics, anthropology, biology and other sciences to study the clues surrounding a crime. This evidence can be used by investigators who are working to solve the crime and as proof in a court of law.

BARBARA KLEIN: When crime scene investigators arrive at the place of a crime, they first try to make sure the area is secure. They must make sure that nothing in the area gets moved or touched. This could weaken or change any evidence. The investigators also document all evidence by taking photographs and drawing pictures of what they see. Then they collect the evidence and carefully document and transport it so that it can be further examined in a laboratory.

STEVE EMBER: What are some of the clues investigators might look for? Fingerprints are one important clue in a crime scene. No two people have the same fingerprints, so they are useful in identifying suspects. Fingerprints are sometimes very easy to see. For example, a murderer might have blood or dirt on his or her hands which leaves prints on the wall. Investigators sometimes use chemicals and special lighting to uncover fingerprints that cannot be seen with the eye alone.

BARBARA KLEIN: The criminal might also leave his or her shoe prints. Experts can discover the manufacturer of the shoe. They can also tell about a person’s height and the way he or she walks. A suspect might also leave behind hairs or some kind of body fluid such as blood. DNA testing can then reveal the suspect’s identity.

If the crime involves a murder, the body itself holds many clues. Medical examiners can give important information about how the victim died. They study wounds and chemical tests to find out if the victim died accidentally or not. They can tell if a wound was created by the victim or by another person. And, they can discover the time of death to see if it matches information given by suspects and witnesses.


STEVE EMBER: Visitors to the Museum of Crime and Punishment can learn more about blood and its importance in an investigation. They can attend a Crime Scene Investigation workshop. During these events, a trained expert talks to museum visitors and leads an experiment. We attended one that was taught by a graduate student from George Washington University’s Forensic Science Department.

For example, she discussed how investigators can learn a great deal from the shape of the blood drops found at a crime scene. A circular blood drop could mean the blood fell directly downward. But blood drops with long tails can tell a great deal about the direction, speed and angle of the blood’s starting point.

LARISSA: “That tail tells you the direction the blood was travelling. So if your tail is pointing that way, which direction was your blood going?”

BARBARA KLEIN: This information can show what kind of weapon was used in a murder. And it can show from what position the murderer killed a victim.

LARISSA: “Now if you look at that bottom picture on your pages, you’ll see that you can measure the length and the width of that spatter droplet, right? You can actually calculate the angle at which that blood hit your surface.”

For this workshop, Larissa used red paint to show how different murder weapons can leave different patterns of blood. But she says in a real lab, experts would use pig blood to conduct their tests. Pig blood is very close in thickness to human blood. But it is safer for the scientists to use. She also shows how the chemical Luminol can reveal hidden blood stains that the eye alone cannot see.

This workshop shows that it takes a deep understanding of science to lead a crime scene investigation. And, the job requires careful attention to detail, because even the smallest observation can lead to solving a crime.


STEVE EMBER: This program was written and produced by Dana Demange. I’m Steve Ember.

BARBARA KLEIN: And I’m Barbara Klein. Transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs are at You can also post comments on our website and on our Facebook page at VOA Learning English. Join us again next week for "Explorations" in VOA Special English.