Louisa Murray is the face of one of our favorite local bands, The Bear. She shares the stage with her husband, Nathan Pitts, each of them writing and performing their own respective songs, and the two are backed by a talented band. Their newest album, Overseas Then Underwas produced by local indie label, Single Lock Records, co-founded by Ben Tanner, who plays keyboards for The Bear, as well as for Alabama Shakes.
As our conversation about Real Women continues, we’ve collected another story from the male point for view, this one from our friend Jeff Moerchen, who has contributed to our blog before and whose book Ligonier we sell in our online store.
WOMEN ARE BEAUTIFUL:
The coffee shop that I routinely visit employs a female barista with a uni-brow.
She has dyed red hair, wears lots of denim and a baseball cap with a flipped brim that sits high on her head. She has porcelain skin, round facial features and a shy smile that required coaxing.
Almost a year after we planted our cotton seed in the ground, we would like to share another update about our special crop. We are certain many of you – especially those who helped in the field – will be interested in its progress.
This year, as we celebrate Real Women and what they mean in our lives, we thought it essential to include the perspectives of both men and women. So, beginning today, we will be offering stories, thoughts, and remembrances from men of the great women in their lives.
When I was a kid in the 1970s, one of my favorite things to do was go to dinner at the Sam-Pan Chinese restaurant with my mom and my aunt Carlynn “Snoonie” Calhoun. They would order wine and Egg Foo Young and Chop Suey, and I would tear into the wonton soup and the pepper steak, and on a good night I’d be able to get a Shirley Temple if I played my cards right. They would spend hours there, telling their same old stories, sometimes ragging on the idiots in their lives (who they still seemed to have a deep affection for), but mostly telling stories about the menagerie that made up their circle of friends from 1950s Central Florida: two girlfriends who came out as gay in the 1960s and carried switchblades to handle anybody who didn’t like it, their friend in the iron lung (whom Snoonie liked to take to the Steak & Ale with her, mostly just to see peoples’ reactions), and many other characters who could easily have been created by Elmore Leonard.
After listening to them for awhile, I would spend the rest of my time running up and down the sidewalk outside the restaurant – sometimes over to the pond in a park across the street to catch frogs, sometimes ogling the toys at the Toy King. But, eventually I’d find myself in Snoonie’s car listening to her country music tapes. I’d often fall asleep there and finally get woken up and sleepily ride home with my mom.
It’s those evenings I think of when I think what a friendship should be. Listening to them enjoy each other’s company, never getting tired of the same old stories and arguments, never just saying what the other wanted to hear. That’s my model for how friends should interact and what a real friend should be.
Snoonie’s gone now. She and my mom are just two of the strong women who seemed to have filled up my life growing up – self-sufficient women who didn’t take shit off of anybody, but in the most amusing ways. It’s hard for me to single one woman out. But it’s those nights outside the Sam-Pan that I learned my respect and awe of women. I wish I could drive by there right now and take a run up the sidewalk.
Husband and wife team Lance and April Ledbetter are protecting the sounds of our past with their highly acclaimed label, Dust-to-Digital. Founded by Lance a little over a decade ago, Dust-to-Digital is home to a growing catalogue of important cultural works from the United States and around the globe. I’ve been viewing their line-up for a few years and am constantly impressed by the amount of material and depth each release includes. The types of recordings they release are unlike most on the market. It’s really audio conservation in its finest form. I was lucky enough to meet them both last fall during our trip to Atlanta, when we both attended the Lonnie Holly show at the High Museum. Afterward, they attended our event with the Gee’s Bend Quilters at Grocery on Home.
Within the first few minutes of their arrival at the event, I barraged them with questions: “Can we carry your work? Can we do a blog post? Would you want to trade?”
The answer came back, “Yes.”
All of us at Alabama Chanin are so proud and honored to be able to introduce and begin to explore the work of Dust-to-Digital and to sell these treasured collectors’ items on our website.
Monday, we wrote about artist Tilleke Schwarz’s New Potatoesas inspiration for the week. However, Tilleke’s textiles have been a source for inspiration for me for years. When New Potatoes landed on my desk about a year ago, we started the skirt you see above as homage to Tilleke and her work.
We have produced narrative work over the years in the form of our Story Quilts. With that series, we take vintage quilts, refurbish them, and embroider oral histories onto the fabrics. You will find a Textile Stories Quilt project in Alabama Studio Stylethat describes this series. However, this series is small in comparison to the beautiful narrative work of Tilleke Schwartz.
Once there was nothing but paper and pen. Not so long ago (a little over a decade), before the email, the text, the tweet, or the Facebook post, there was simply paper and pen.
Think about how special it feels when you get an actual hand-written note in the mail. When you were a child and wrote that super-secret note to your pen pal, covering the envelope in stickers – think of the pure excitement when a response finally arrived. When I was young and corresponded with friends, summer camp bunk-mates, or cousins, I remember watching as they grew and their handwriting changed: a visual representation that we were getting older. As we moved through junior high and high school, the passing of the note in class became high art. As we got older, silly little love notes were left under car windshield wipers, tucked into coat pockets, left on pillows. Some were sappy, some embarrassing, some beautiful – all with one intent: to express affection.
Last week, I was on the phone with my dear friend Lisa who talking about Dr. Ruth and organizing a book reading with the famed doctor in the mattress section of a well-known store. Genius.
Dr. Ruth was suddenly on my radar and, in the process, I discovered her Twitter account (follow Dr. Ruth; you will thank me). So, as one thing leads to another on the internet, I follow one of the links to the video below, which brings me back to literature, specifically erotica:
So, I admit that when the Fifty Shades Series arrived on my radar, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Many women today are reading this series openly. I see school moms posting about the characters on Facebook and little old ladies sitting in coffee shops with the book proudly lying open beside their tea. So while I am thankful that erotica has found its way out-of-the-closet, I found the series (ahem) not as engaging as some of the classic tomes from my earlier days; however, I ADORE Dr. Ruth’s take:
All of this in a round-about-way to say Happy Valentine’s Month ahead of us. Here’s to a bit of literature (erotic or otherwise)–perhaps read aloud to a loved one.
These days, I mostly enjoy Ivy and Bean, recited aloud by my budding reader (if I can stay awake long enough).
These days, you don’t think twice about hearing a woman’s voice on the radio. There are surely female deejays or journalists on your local station. NPR broadcasts the voices and stories of women like The Kitchen Sisters or Terry Gross among others. Alabama Chanin favorite, Elizabeth Cook has her own show, “Apron Strings,” on Sirius XM’s Outlaw Country. But, once upon a time, it wasn’t so common to hear a female voice over the airwaves. For those in the Shoals area, Becky Burns Phillips was one of those first voices to be broadcast.
In 1942, Rebecca “Becky” Burns Phillips met her future husband, Sam Phillips, while they were both working at WLAY radio station in Sheffield, Alabama. They were both in high school. She, 17, had a radio segment with her sister where they played music and sang; he was a 19-year old radio announcer who was on his way to making rock and roll history. The Kitchen Sisters, in an article honoring Becky, quoted Sam as saying, “I fell in love with Becky’s voice even before I met her.” Becky described her first encounter with Sam to journalist Peter Guralnick: “He had just come in out of the rain. His hair was windblown and full of raindrops. He wore sandals and a smile unlike any I had ever seen. He sat down on the piano bench and began to talk to me. I told my family that night that I had met the man I wanted to marry.”
The two were married in 1943. Sam worked feverishly to establish Memphis Recording Service and, later, Sun Records. It is said that, during that time, he suffered two nervous breakdowns – which Becky gracefully helped him through. Becky and Sam had two sons, Jerry and Knox, but motherhood never took away her desire to work in radio.
Sam proudly spoke about how Becky’s talent inspired him to co-found WHER: 1000 Beautiful Watts, referred to as “The First All-Girl Radio Show in the Nation.” He would say that he wanted women, wanted his wife to have a chance that no one had ever given them before – and he co-founded WHER with the money he made from selling Elvis Presley’s contract. He would say, “Becky was the best I ever heard.”
Her son Knox remembered that, at the time of WHER’s conception, women weren’t even allowed to attend the Columbia School of Broadcasting. “But, because of my mother,” he said, “when Sam started the station (WHER) he made it all female: all female air talent, all female executives and sales staff,” he told The Commercial Appeal.
At WHER, Becky was able to shine – writing scripts, organizing segments, managing the station, and presenting in her own beautiful way. She was in charge of approving each record that was played. Though her husband was a rock and roll legend, there were no rocking records at WHER. And there were NEVER to be any curse words allowed over the airwaves. Over the years, she hosted a number of radio shows and carefully curated every day’s segments. Becky told the Kitchen Sisters, “I played music to work by – all the beautiful music like Jackie Gleason and Doris Day, and I gave household hints.”
Phillips broadcast on the radio for over 40 years, until the mid-1980’s, always with her distinctive sign-off: “A smile on your face puts a smile in your voice.”
Mrs. Phillips died in September of 2012 at the age of 87.
Becky Burns Phillips carefully preserved WHER’s record library for well over 40 years. Many of those recordings can be heard on the Peabody Award winning segment by the Kitchen Sisters, “Lost and Found Sound: 1000 Beautiful Watts.”
Listen to Becky Phillips talk about her husband, Sam, and WHER Radio for the TV Segment, “The Lives They Lived” here:
There were few like her, a true pioneer in her field. Her fearlessness and her devotion to her family and her profession are inspirational. We are proud to be part of a community that fostered a woman like Becky Phillips, a pioneer in spirit and part of the heart and soul of Alabama Chanin.
P.S.: I never met Becky Phillips. After moving back home in 2000, I was “busy.” Building a business and sorting through my own life, closed me off to some of the great treasures (and families) of my own community. My loss. Resolution: take time to work less and belong more. xoNatalie
This post – part of our new “Real Women” series for 2013 – is dedicated to two of the most “real” women I know: Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva of The Kitchen Sisters. Without their dedication to telling the “real” story, I would not be the designer, or the person, I am today. Lost and Found Sound changed my perception of storytelling in the Autumn of 1994. I remember the first moment I heard their tracks: in the third story of a rented house on a green square in Savannah, Georgia. Boom. Life changed.
Ira Glass said of their work, “The Kitchen Sisters have done some of the best radio stories ever broadcast. I know people who got into radio because they heard Nikki and Davia’s work, and had no idea anybody could do anything like that on the air.”
These women are my heroes. (Along with a slew of others you will meet this year.) They continue their storytelling on real women with their series: The Hidden World of Girls, and a new series entitled: The Making of…
Through a Peabody Award winning Lost and Found Sound broadcast, The Kitchen Sisters spurred my interest in this relatively unknown, yet groundbreaking group of women.
“1000 Beautiful Watts.” This was the slogan for WHER Radio – 1430 on your AM dial in Memphis, Tennessee. In October 1955, Shoals native and founder of Sun Records, Sam Phillips and his wife, Becky, took an original concept and made it reality: an all-female radio station. Though the station wasn’t technically the first female station to exist, it proudly referred to itself as the “First All-Girl Radio Station in the World.” As such, WHER broadcast for 17 years in the Memphis, Tennessee market.