The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
Owensboro native Kevin Olusola and his bandmates in Pentatonix stood waiting for the final results of the NBC reality-competition series The Sing Off.
“We heard ‘Pen’ and then a lot of screaming,” Olusola said of the Monday night finale. “Then everyone started hugging us and telling us we won.”
The vocal group won $200,000 and a recording contract with Sony.
For Olusola, it is the culmination of a career path that included a stop at the Governor’s School for the Arts at Transylvania University in 2004 and critical encouragement from classical music superstar Yo-Yo Ma and hip-hop mogul KRS-ONE.
Growing up in Owensboro, Olusola started playing piano very young, picked up the cello at age 6 and started playing the saxophone at 10. Along the way, he started beatboxing and became a Youtube sensation after posting a beatboxing-cello performance — celloboxing, he calls it.
Olusola in part credits the Governor’s School with putting him on the diverse path.
“It showed me how interdisciplinary the arts can be and how they could broaden my horizons,” Olusola said.
He went to Yale with a medical career in mind. But placing second in a competition presented by Ma changed everything. With the encouragement from Ma, KRS-ONE and others, Olusola went into music and developed a busy schedule, including touring with Christian rockers Gungor.
This year, Sing Off producers contacted Olusola saying that the a capella group Pentatonix wanted to work with him on the show. He became a critical part of the act, creating a rhythmic basis for its sound.
Now, plans are to move to Los Angeles and get started on that record.
“Medicine was a reliable and safe career, so it was a big leap of faith for me and my parents when I decided to pursue music,” Olusola said. “So, it’s nice to have a recording contract.”
Karolyn Grimes, the actress who played Zuzu Bailey in Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life and uttered the classic line, “Every time a bell rings and angel gets its wings,” will visit Asbury University Friday for a presentation prior to a screening of the movie. Grimes, 71, is the only living cast member from the 1946 holiday classic that starred Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed.
Wonderful Life was actually her fourth film, and a year later Grimes appeared in The Bishop’s Wife with Cary Grant, David Niven and Loretta Young. But after both her parents died, she moved to Missouri and a relative’s home described as “less than desirable,” on her website. Grimes went on to become a medical technician and raise a family, though she suffered numerous personal and financial setbacks. In the last decade, she began touring the country telling her stories about her iconic role in It’s a Wonderful Life, which she will do Friday at Asbury.
Her 7 p.m. presentation at Hughes Auditorium will include film clips and anecdotes from the movie. There will then be a reception and full screening of the movie beginning at approximately 9:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.
If you are looking for area entertainment offerings this time of year that do not come with Jingle Bells and declarations of “God Bless us, Everyone,” some area college theaters might have what you’re looking for.
The University of Kentucky Theatre and Bluegrass Community and Technical College are opening end-of-semester shows this weekend that will have nary a stitch of red fur or mistletoe in evidence. In fact, UK appears geared to darken an already dark tale.
Romeo and Juliet by UK Theatre, Dec. 1-11 – Director Andrew Kimbrough aims to emphasize the tragedy in William Shakespeare’s tale of star-crossed lovers with an updated look and street fighting with fists and blunt objects instead of swords. ”Four people end up dead, and there is a lot of violence throughout Romeo and Juliet,” Kimbrough says in a news release. “Our production aims to avoid the popular misconceptions by staging the tragedy.”
Broadsword by BCTC Theatre, Dec. 1-3 – No, there aren’t any swords in Marco Rameriz’s play either, except for the title. This supernatural thriller about a heavy metal band that reunites to save one of its members from Hell. Knowing director Tim X Davis’ passion for rock ‘n’ roll, this should be a production with a lot of heart. In the Miami New Times, critic Brandon K. Thorp wrote, “Given a chance, Broadsword is the kind of show that could develop a cult following among young hipsters.”
See Friday’s Weekender section of the Herald-Leader for a rundown of Central Kentucky holiday music and theater offerings.
It’s a little over a week until NPR’s Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me! comes to the Eastern Kentucky University Center for the Arts to record its Dec. 10 show. There are still questions about the EKU performance such as who will play Not My Job, the segment of the show where celebrities answer questions about fields they are completely unfamiliar with, and whether host Peter Sagal plans to key the EKU Center, in light of his promos promising to “ding up” the new facility.
But we do know who the panelists will be for the Richmond stand:
Charles Pierce, a staff writer for the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine and author of Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free.
Peter Grosz, a former writer and occasional on-screen personality for The Colbert Report who has served as a panelist and guest host for Wait Wait.
Kyrie O’Connor, the deputy managing editor for features and pop culture blogger for the Houston Chronicle.
And yes, Wait Wait faithful, WEKU-FM station manager Roger Duvall says Carl Kasell, the one whose voice we all want to grace our answering machines, will be at EKU for the Dec. 8 taping.
The Kentucky Theatre brings back its Christmas classics series this year with three bona fide classics and one title a lot of us will find irresistible.
Dec. 2-4: White Christmas (1954) – The series opens with Kentucky’s own Girl Singer, Rosemary Clooney, in this Christmas classic with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. What’s it about? It’s got Rosemary Clooney, Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye … with that song! You need other reasons to go? 7:15 p.m. Dec. 2, 1 p.m. Dec. 3 and 4.
Dec. 9-11: Miracle on 34th Street (1947) – The Kentucky has a new 35 mm print of the classic in which Santa gets put on trial. 7:15 p.m. Dec. 9, 1:30 p.m. Dec. 10 and 11.
Dec. 16-18: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964) – And here is a digital restoration of the film about Santa being kidnapped by aliens because there is no one on Mars to give Martian kids toys. 7:30 p.m. Dec. 16, 1 p.m. Dec. 17 and 18.
Dec. 23 and 24: It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) – “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.” That’s right. 7:15 p.m. Dec. 23. Noon, 2:20 and 4:45 p.m. Dec. 24.
Admission is $5 – a very nice price this time of year – for all showings.
A few weeks ago, I interviewed Alex Wolaver of the Annie Moses Band to preview the group’s Nov. 11 show in Frankfort. We got onto the subject of the appeal of the band, which combines styles including classical music, pop and traditional sounds, in contemporary Christian music.
That’s when Wolaver dropped a surprisingly blunt statement.
“The truth of it is that 90 percent of the people in the pews on Sunday morning are not listening to Christian contemporary radio or music exclusively,” Wolaver said. “The typical CCM sound is not reaching out to the entirety of what the church would like or might prefer.”
It is something I have known for a long time. I go to a mainline Protestant church with a traditionally classical-leaning worship format. I can recall hearing one bona fide contemporary Christian composition during a primary worship service in the more than a decade that I have been there.
I don’t know exactly where the 90 percent figure came from in Wolaver’s statement, but statistics confirm that contemporary Christian music’s audience is a fraction of the people in the United States who claim to be Christians.
In the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey by Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., an estimated 173.4 million people identified themselves as Christians of some denomination. The Gospel Music Association’s 2009 industry overview reported that “56 million units of Christian/gospel CDs, cassettes, digital albums and digital tracks were sold in 2008.” Consider that fans of the genre probably bought multiple units of that 56 million and that those numbers include gospel and Southern gospel music. When you also take into account that Christian music sales figures often include faith-based albums by popular mainstream artists and seasonal fare such as Christmas albums, the contemporary Christian audience really starts to look like a fraction of that 173 million-plus who say they are Christians.
That said, the genre has grown during the past four decades from a fledgling lineup of artists from or influenced by the Jesus music movement of the late 1960s and early ’70s to a half-billion-dollar industry outpacing sales of jazz and classical music. Christian artists such as Newsboys or artists popular in the Christian market, such as Red, have demonstrated an ability to break into the Top 10 albums sales charts on iTunes and Billboard. In Central Kentucky, the Ichthus Festival and Winter Jam Christian music fests attract five-figure audiences.
And you can’t ignore that the main growth in American churches the past few decades has been in non-denominational, evangelical churches with contemporary worship styles, often using songs written by Christian music stars including Chris Tomlin and Michael W. Smith.
Obviously, people are listening, but not as many as you would think, considering that this country is theoretically 76 percent Christian.
Ruth Hunt Wood looks around Allan Githuka’s studio, zeroing in on an image of a small village under a deep-blue sky.
“I recognized them instantly because I have flown over the Rift Valley many times,” Wood says of the region in western Kenya. “So when I walked in and saw them, I said, ‘Oh, Allan, you’ve painted the Rift Valley.’ It’s so beautiful there and quite recognizable.”
Wood has gotten to know Kenya quite well during the past decade while administering the organization that bears her name. Since 2001, the Ruth Hunt Wood Foundation has brought Kenyan artists to the University of Kentucky for semester-long residencies, during which they have produced work, studied with UK art professors, imparted some of their own knowledge and, at the end of the term, presented an exhibit on campus.
Githuka’s work will be on display Thursday through Dec. 2, starting with a reception at the Tuska Center for Contemporary Art in UK’s Fine Arts Building. There will be an opening reception from 5 to 7:30 p.m. tonight (Nov. 17, 2011).
It will be a bittersweet experience for Wood, who is ending the program with Githuka’s residency.
“It’s been very successful, and the artists have all gone on to do wonderful things,” Wood says with a quaver in her voice as she discusses the end of the project. “I have been very proud of them all.”
The foundation has brought 10 painters to UK and eight sculptors to the Carving Studio and Sculpture Center in West Rutland, Vt. One work from each of the painters is exhibited at Gateway Regional Art Center in Wood’s hometown, Mount Sterling.
There are plans to create a similar program with a different country, but Hunt and the university are not ready to announce it.
“I just feel it’s time for it to come to an end,” says Wood, a granddaughter of Ruth Hunt Candies founder Ruth Tharpe Hunt. “It’s been very successful, and I have a committee in Kenya that works very hard, and I think they feel 10 years was a great run.
“And Allan was the icing on the cake. He really was.”
In addition to images of his homeland, the gallery will show some of his impressions of Kentucky, such as Packed Commonwealth Stadium, an image of faces in a sea of blue, inspired by Githuka’s first football game.
“The stadium was really packed with people, and the color that was dominating there was blue,” Githuka says. “So I thought I should depict that in the converse and give the blue the utmost view in the stadium, and it came out something like that.”
Oil paintings line the walls in Githuka’s small studio in the Reynolds Building, where the UK art department is housed. None of the works existed before August. One of the stipulations of the program is that the artists don’t bring any work with them; everything in the exhibit was created in Kentucky. Being in the art department also gives the artists a chance to try new things. Githuka’s exhibit will include masks he created during an iron pour at UK.
Githuka, 46, dabbled in art as a child in primary school. He did pencil illustrations and work of that kind until he graduated from high school and joined an artist community in his village, Ngecha, outside of Nairobi. From there, he started painting with an eye toward a national or international career.
“At first I started with landscapes,” Githuka says. “Then I started doing more with figures and faces.”
A book chronicling the the work of portrait artists in 19th and early-20th century Kentucky received one of five general awards from the Kentucky Historical Society last weekend.
Estill Curtis Pennington’s Lessons in Likeness: Portrait Painters in Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley, 1802-1920, published by the University Press of Kentucky, was honored in the category of projects with budgets of $50,001 to $100,000.
“The book is likely to become an important reference work on Kentucky’s cultural history, thanks to his three decades of shoe-leather research,” Herald-Leader columnist Tom Eblen wrote late last year.
Pennington, who lives in Bourbon County, has served as a curator for the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution and the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C., the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art in Laurel, Miss., the New Orleans Museum of Art, and the Morris Museum of Art in Augusta, Ga. His previous books include William Edward West, 1788–1857, Kentucky Painter and Kentucky: The Master Painters from the Frontier Era to the Great Depression.
Want to get creeped out about the Bluegrass State? SyFy’s Ghost Hunters is here to help.
Following last week’s episode that went to Louisville’s Waverly Hills Sanitarium for the third time, tonight’s (Nov. 16, 2011) episode visits Frankfort’s Buffalo Trace Distillery looking for things that go bump among the bourbon barrels. The trailer for the episode includes one of those classic Ghost Hunters lines, “I heard movement … let’s go towards it.” Distillery of Spirits is on at 9 p.m. ET.
This apparently won’t be Buffalo Trace’s last shot on reality TV. When we talked to Turtle Man Ernie Brown Jr. a few weeks ago, he was at Buffalo Trace with Animal Planet’s Call of the Wildman crew in tow.
Like Miranda Lambert needs me heaping more praise on her …
Last week her latest album, Four the Record, debuted at No. 1 on Billboard magazine’s country chart, making her the first artist in the history of that chart to have each of her first four albums debut at No. 1. Then, Sunday night, she walked off with her second female vocalist of the year trophy at the CMA Awards, joined by her hubby Blake Shelton winning his second straight male vocalist prize.
Those are just a few of the good things happening for Lambert this month, and they are well earned.
Four the Record appropriately emphasizes that this is Lambert’s fourth album, often a breakthrough for artists with substantial careers – think Led Zeppelin IV, Billy Joel’s The Stranger or U2′s The Joshua Tree. Fours are often the albums in which artists with burgeoning careers find the room to make a substantial artistic statement in the midst of all the other busyness that comes with stardom.
And it sure has been a busy year for Lambert, who will start next year with a Jan. 20 Rupp Arena concert. In addition to tying the knot with Shelton last Spring, she also debuted the Pistol Annies, a side project with Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley that dropped a great piece of summer heat called Hell on Heels.
Four accesses that project’s energy on Mama’s Broken Heart, a defiant defense of Lambert’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend persona (also emphasized by the cover image of her walking away from a flaming car) that we also hear on the first single, Baggage Claim. In fact, for a woman who’s supposed to be a happy newlywed, we get a lot of breakup here in a lot of different moods, including the forlorn Dear Diamond, one of Lambert’s own compositions.
Lambert dialed back her own songwriting on this album but picked up great tunes including David Rawlings and Gillian Welch’s playful Look at Miss Ohio and a lovely rendition of Allison Moorer’s Oklahoma Sky, which closes the album with a serene turn.
Motoring along the past few years, Lambert’s commercial career has been doing just fine. But Four signals her taking listeners on increasingly interesting artistic journeys. That’s worthy of praise.
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich