Can Johnny Cash amp up Nashville? City gets museum to music icon

Johnny CashHe was rediscovered by alternative rockers in the last years of his life, became the subject of a blockbuster biopic, and now the late country music icon Johnny Cash will have his own museum in downtown Nashville.

The plans for the 18,000-square-foot, private museum were unveiled Tuesday by members of the Cash family and Bill Miller, a longtime friend, fan and champion of the Man in Black, according to a report in the Nashville Tennessean.

"My father and mother [the late singer June Carter Cash] had a way through honesty and truth of spirit," said son John Carter Cash. "It's not about the glamour or about making it for Nashville. This is about spreading their spirit."

That spirit will certainly be welcome among Nashville's civic leaders, who have been working diligently in recent years to revitalize a once-moribund downtown, in great part by focusing on Nashville's historic role as America's country music capital. The Ryman Auditorium, once used for Grand Ole Opry broadcasts, was renovated in 1994. Seven years later saw the opening of the Frist Center for the Visual Arts and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

Like many a downtown revitalization tale, this one involves a group of more or less marginalized artists who blazed a trail and helped the business community recognize its rich trove of homegrown cultural capital. You can find a version of that argument at the website, which credits punk-influenced, non-mainstream country musicians such as Joe Buck -- who typically looked backward to more rough-hewn country styles for inspiration -- for breathing life into the old haunts.

"The turnaround story for downtown Nashville doesn't involve acts of government," one of the blog's writers posted in September 2010. "Lower Broadway was revitalized by music, and specifically, the music that was the precursor to the music we listen to, and talk about on this site. Mainstream fans will sometimes put down this music as 'obscure' or irrelevant. Toby Keith and Tim McGraw didn't revitalize the most historic part of Nashville. It was a bunch of punk kids from all around the country, who moved to lower Broadway to walk the same streets Hank Williams walked."

Of course, if there is one country legend to bridge the gap between the wild-man-country-grungy and the conservative-country-slick, it is Cash, who continues to be revered by, and influential to, both camps.

His museum is set to open this summer, according to the Tennessean. Whether the punk kids will fork over the $13 admission remains to be seen.


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-- Richard Fausset in Atlanta

Credit: Late country music legend Johnny Cash is at his Hendersonville, Tenn., home in 1999. Credit: Mark Humphrey / Associated Press

Slain boys: Radio host gets death threat for deal with Westboro

Washington state-based radio host Bobby D says his job is pretty simple -- entertain listeners each morning with pop music, celebrity interviews, saucy banter and general zaniness. In other words, he's probably the last person you'd expect to find brokering the deal that kept Westboro Baptist Church protesters away from a funeral Saturday morning for two slain children.

But Bobby D did just that when he agreed to turn over a portion of the Bobby D Show on Monday morning to Fred Phelps Sr., founder of Topeka, Kansas-based Westboro Baptist. The church has gained notoriety for its extreme anti-gay views -- views that lead church members to protest outside funerals for U.S. soldiers.

The deejay's efforts earned him a death threat. "Yeah, someone threatened to blow us up," Bobby D told The Times. But many more people hailed him for stepping in and putting a stop to what likely would have become a media circus of protesters, counter-protesters and grief-stricken relatives.

Some of the comments posted on the blog for the Bobby D Show:  "Thank you…It was a gift to be able to celebrate the lives of two beautiful boys without any negativity." "Thank you for proving that good can triumph over evil." "Thank you sir, for displaying what true Christianity looks like."

Here's how events unfolded: 

Josh Powell horrified Washington, and indeed all of America, on Feb. 5 when he took an axe to his children -- Charles, 7, and Braden, 5 -- and then killed all three of them in a gasoline-fueled inferno in Graham, Wash. The deaths were the culmination of a disturbing family drama that dated back to the 2009 disappearance of the boys' mother, Susan Powell, when the family lived in Utah.

While this tragedy was playing out in headlines, Washington state legislators were on their way to approving same-sex marriage legislation that Gov. Christine Gregoire signed into law Monday.

Members of the Westboro Baptist Church connected the dots between these two seemingly unrelated events. They laid the blame for the deaths on Gregoire and announced that they would protest outside the boys' funeral to remind everyone that the boys died because of the country's increasingly permissive attitude toward gays and lesbians.

That led counter-protesters to promise to be a buffer between Westboro members and grieving relatives. The boys' maternal grandparents, meanwhile, pleaded with everyone to stay away so the family could grieve in peace.

Bobby D said he was watching the events unfold much like any other Washington state resident -- it had nothing to do with him. Then, he came across an article that noted that Westboro congregants have increasingly been employing a new strategy: They agree to call off protests in exchange for radio time, which they believe gives them a broader audience.

"I thought, 'Hey, maybe I could do something here,' " Bobby D said. He knew the deal probably wouldn't gain him new listeners and would no doubt offend many. But he said he remembered an especially dark time during high school when he lost his mother, and then his best friend. He said he couldn't imagine how painful it would be to have Westboro congregants -- or anyone else -- causing a ruckus outside those funerals.

"On one hand, I didn't want to give these guys a venue to spew their hate," he said. "On the other, I thought, 'Man, I can stop these people from doing this.' "

Bobby D contacted Westboro, and church members agreed to halt the protest in exchange for air time. Bobby D interviewed Phelps on Friday and promised to air the conversation Monday morning, but only if Westboro steered clear of the funeral. Both sides kept the bargain, and the interview was broadcast as planned.

(Bobby D. also told Phelps that, during the interview,  he could not use the F-word -- referring not to the four-letter F-word, but the three letter F-word used as a pejorative for gays.)

You can listen to the interview here, as well as read more about Bobby D's decision.

The interview was difficult, Bobby D said. He had genuine questions for Phelps but also had to rein in his outrage at some of Phelps' answers. Bobby D said he didn't want to antagonize Phelps and trigger congregants to relaunch their protest plans.

Not everyone agreed with Bobby D's move, as evidenced by other comments left on his blog: "You’ve turned extortion into a business deal." "Bobby, you've been played." And "Trading air time for protests saves Westboro money in travel expenses and gives them a much wider outreach."

But Bobby D said he has no regrets. "I’d rather people be mad at me and hate my show than have these people ruin a day that was already going to be so horrible," he said.


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-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo: Bobby D at work. Photo credit: The Bobby D Show

Whitney Houston memorials spring up at N.J. school, church

Whitney houston church
Outside the Whitney E. Houston Academy of Creative and Performing Arts, the flag flew at half-staff in the icy wind as Principal Henry W. Hamilton remembered the gangly 15-year-old who lived up the road, and who excitedly showed off her modeling portfolio one afternoon in 1978.

Back then, before the red brick school had been renamed for the future pop queen, Hamilton didn’t expect Whitney Houston to become a star.

 Houston died Saturday in Beverly Hills of undetermined causes. 

“She was in the choir and the chorus. She used to sing at church. But I didn’t expect she’d become a great singer –- the greatest singer in the world,” said Hamilton, who acknowledges he missed the explosive talent that developed in the young girl as she made her way through the halls of this school in suburban New Jersey, where her first classroom, No. 6, is just to the right of the main entrance.

Hamilton isn’t usually at school on Sunday. But after his phone began ringing on Saturday evening with news of Houston’s death, he knew this would not be a normal day for anyone who knew Houston as a child, or who had seen her sing at the New Hope Baptist Church in neighboring Newark.

“Her start was a beautiful, innocent thing,” said Hassan Munford, who attended the school now named for Houston and who grew up in the same neighborhood.

“I remember when she first made it, she brought a red drop-top and drove it down Dodd Street,” Munford said with a smile as he left flowers outside the school.

“You always have your controversies,” he said of Houston’s well-publicized struggle with drugs and her turbulent relationship with ex-husband Bobby Brown. “But at the end of the day, the influence she had on the community –- on the kids and aspiring musicians and singers –- far outweighs the controversy.”

Throughout the day, fans came bearing flowers, candles and heart-shaped balloons to the school and the church, which shares a nondescript street with an auto shop and a tavern and which, on this frigid February morning, was the only building with any hint of life or color.

Parishioners and fans, bundled up in fur coats, down jackets or flimsy sweaters too thin to block the cold, began arriving at the church before dawn for a morning memorial and kept coming throughout the day for additional services.

“Our hearts are very heavy today,” said the Rev. Jesse Jackson as he headed into the church to address the third and last service of the day. “The suddenness of it all … we’re just traumatized.”

Every seat was filled inside the 112-year-old church, where Houston sang as a teenager and where her mother, Cissy Houston, and cousin Dionne Warwick also were regulars in the choir.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called Houston “a true New Jersey treasure.” 

Hamilton has been principal of the Whitney E. Houston school for 40 years, since the days when it was called the Franklin School. It was renamed for Houston in 1997.

His office is decorated with pictures that include photographs of him and Houston over the decades.

When his phone rang Saturday night and a nephew told him Houston had died, Hamilton initially did not believe it. But it’s never easy to accept when one of your pupils dies, he said.

“It’s hurtful. Sometimes we say, ‘Is there something we could have done to save that youngster?’ ” said Hamilton, admitting that there is only so much the school can do once pupils move on.

"Once she left here, we felt she was on the right path,” he said. “The things that happened later ... that’s show biz. Unfortunately, some survive and some don’t.”


Love and empathy for Whitney Houston in Newark


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--Tina Susman in East Orange, N.J. 

Photo:  At New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, N.J., where Whitney Houston began her career as a child, a memorial to the singer grew. She died Saturday in Beverly Hills. Credit:  John W. Ferguson / Getty Images 



Love and empathy for Whitney Houston in Newark

New Hope Baptist Church

As an icy wind sliced the air outside the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, N.J., Donna Thorn stuffed another bouquet of flowers between the iron bars of the church gate.

On the surface, Thorn, a short woman in sweatpants and a wool cap, didn't appear to have much in common with Whitney Houston, who as a child sang gospel in the red brick church. On Saturday, Houston was found dead in a Beverly Hills hotel room. Thorn's eyes filled with tears and her voice shook as she described her own struggle with drugs and the empathy she had for the dead pop star, who went through the same thing.

The cause of Houston's death has not been determined and an autopsy is planned.

PHOTOS: Stars react

"If you was never an addict you don't know what it's like to struggle and stay clean ... to hit rock-bottom," said Thorn, recalling her own battle to get off drugs as she grew up on the gritty streets of Newark, where Houston was born 48 years ago.

It was "that fast-track life in L.A." that surely did not help Houston, said Thorn, who echoed other parishioners and fans Sunday as they lamented the premature loss of a Newark native who achieved stardom but whose roots remained deeply planted in the area.

"It's a big loss for us here," said Thorn, noting that the city has been "cleaned up" but still battles high crime and depressed neighborhoods. "She came from my hometown, she made it out of Newark, and she was on top of the world."

PHOTOS: Whitney Houston, 1963-2012

The Rev. Jesse Jackson was among those who attended the Sunday service at the church. "Our hearts are heavy today," he said before going in. "The suddenness of it all. ... We're just traumatized."

Continue reading »

Super Bowl fallout: Will M.I.A.'s middle finger draw FCC fine?

 Madonna kept her promise -- there was no wardrobe malfunction during her Super Bowl XLVI halftime show. But America was shown the bird: British rapper M.I.A. gave the nation the middle finger during her solo performance.

Why? Her Twitter feed has been silent on the matter. But there's a bigger question afoot: Will NBC face a fine like CBS did after Janet Jackson's infamous slip during the 2004 Super Bowl hosted in Houston, Texas?

The nation howled, as parents tried to explain to children why Justin Timberlake ripped off Jackson's top...exposing a nipple encased in a sun-themed shield.

It became known as Nipplegate, and the flood of viewer complaints led the Federal Communications Commission to levy a record $550,000 fine against CBS, which aired the Super Bowl that year.

A phone call to the FCC was not returned by the time this story was posted online.

The NFL and NBC quickly apologized for the gesture and insisted that it was not a planned part of the show. Producers tried to blur the screen to cover it up, but it was too little too late.

In front of millions of viewers, M.I.A.  flipped the bird and appeared to sing, “I don’t give a..." although it was hard to hear what she said. (Judge for yourself: It happens at about 7:50 minutes into the above video.)

From the NFL:

"The obscene gesture in the performance was completely inappropriate, very disappointing and we apologize to our fans," said Brian McCarthy, spokesman for the NFL, told the Associated Press.

From NBC:

"The NFL hired the talent and produced the halftime show," NBC spokesman Christopher McCloskey told the news service. "Our system was late to obscure the inappropriate gesture and we apologize to our viewers."


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--Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Super Bowl 2012: Tour the stadium this way -- it's cheaper

For those who don't have several thousand dollars to drop on a pair of Super Bowl XLVI tickets, there's this: Google Earth has posted a nifty video on the path -- literally -- to Game Day.

The New England Patriots will soon take on the New York Giants at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. So the folks at 3D Google Earth have created a video that visually flies you up, over and around each team's home base, then takes you through to the Game Day stadium. It might be a little weird seeing all those empty seats, but it's still pretty darn cool.

And way cheaper.

Of course, Super Bowl XLVI is more than just a Super Bowl. In the football world, this is a Clash of the Titans. Must read: This story by our colleague Lance Pugmire about the bitter rivalry being stoked anew by this New York vs. Boston showdown.

Die-hard football fans probably have this info etched into their DNA, but for everyone else, here's some info to keep handy: The Super Bowl is this Sunday, and there's at 6:30 p.m. Eastern start.

And by "start," we mean that's when all the official pre-game hoopla begins. Highlights: "American Idol" Kelly Clarkson will sing the National Anthem. (Note to Steven Tyler: You might want to tune in to see how it's done.)

The half-time show will belong to a relative newcomer, as well as an old-timer with biceps chiseled in stone: Nicki Minaj and Madonna will have those honors. 

And in case you were wondering, just how much are Super Bowl XLVI tickets? At last check, was offering them for about $2,400.


Makes you want to go back and watch that Google Earth 3D video all over again, huh?


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-- Rene Lynch

Don Cornelius' legacy: 'Soul Train' said 'black is beautiful'

Don Cornelius was a pioneer. The "Soul Train" creator, who was found dead at his home Wednesday, caused a sensation the moment his groundbreaking musical variety show launched nationwide in 1971.

Each Saturday morning, "Soul Train" gave African Americans an opportunity to see themselves reflected on their TV screens. Proud black teens and young adults moving and grooving down the now-classic "Soul Train Line" instantly dictated hairstyles, dance moves and wardrobe choices in the weeks to come. 

The show also gave many white Americans their first glimpse of black culture.

PHOTOS: Don Cornelius | 1936 - 2012

For those too young to remember the music and dance show, or missed it the first time around, producer and "Roots" drummer Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson explains on just why it was so groundbreaking:

"to say with a straight, dignified face that BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL was the RISKIEST radical life-changing move that america has seen. and amazingly enough for one hour for one saturday out the week, if you were watching soul train….it became contagious. next thing you know you are actually believing you have some sort of worth."

The outpouring of love, support and admiration was immediately evident online following the news that Cornelius had died in his Mulholland Drive home in Encino. The early evidence suggests he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, although authorities stress that the death remains under investigation.

Regardless of the circumstances of Cornelius' death, several fans noted that the timing was especially poignant:

"1st day of black history month. R.I.P Don Cornelius," tweeted rapper Young Jeezy.

Other celebrity tweets on Wednesday spoke to how much Cornelius meant to black culture:

--I never could get my Afro to work right, but I am among the legion who wanted a turn on that Soul Train line. #DonCornelius RIP," tweeted Gwen Ifill, senior correspondent for PBS' "NewsHour."

--"It meant more to me to perform on #SoulTrain than to win a Grammy...Loved U So Much Don.Thank U RIP," tweeted MC Hammer.

--My 89-year-old mom just nailed the critical importance of #DonCornelius. She called Soul Train a "rebuttal" to American Bandstand," tweeted sports writer and ESPN analyst Kevin Blackistone.

"If you were a new artist or an emerging artist, being on "Soul Train"…was a big thing," said TV historian Robert Thompson, founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University in New York. "But the other important element was the people who were on the dance floor. You have to remember, this was long before MTV. This was cutting edge, it was hipper than anything else that was on TV."


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-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch


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Your Hosts

Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal

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