Arts & Culture

Arts and culture

Laith Al-Saadi performing on The Voice.
screen grab / YouTube

Last night's episode of The Voice, a reality show singing competition on ABC, featured a hard-working singer-songwriter from Ann Arbor.

Laith Al-Saadi has been playing around this region for a long-time.

"For the last 20 years, I've played over 300 dates a year," Al-Saadi told the judges last night.

Now he's working to up his national exposure -- and it worked.

Watch Al-Saadi's performance on The Voice below:

You may not have much truck with trucks, but that doesn’t mean you’ll never truck some truck.

That sentence might be a little confusing, but it shows something that’s easy to forget: the word truck is pretty versatile. It’s almost like the Swiss Army Knife of the English language! But how does a word like truck come to mean so many things? What’s the story there?

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Recipe for the Michigander:

 1 ounce apple brandy or applejack

1 ounce Cynar

3/4 ounce lemon juice

3/4 ounce honey syrup (2:1 mix)

1 twist of grapefruit peel for garnish

Shake with ice, strain, pour over rocks, garnish.

NPR Tiny Desk Contest

It’s time to throw away the objective journalist hat for a moment and put on my completely biased music-loving shoes because the submissions are in for NPR’S Tiny Desk contest.

The judges at NPR are pouring through all the entries right now to pick their national winner (their announcement is expected in the first week of March).

In the meantime, I watched all 129 of the videos submitted to the contest from our lovely mitten state.

Here are my top 10 picks.

Shane Ford


Detroit-based duo Gosh Pith released their second EP Gold Chain.

Josh Freed and Josh Smith are the artists behind the band. 

Their music is difficult to categorize – think heavy beats and drum loops juxtaposed with soft melodies, easygoing vocals and traces of electric guitar.

These self-proclaimed "children of the Internet" say their musical influences are wide-ranging, from folk and rock to hip-hop, techno, and R&B. But it's ragga – often called dancehall or dub – that has won them over in recent years. 

Rosa Parks archive is now online

Feb 25, 2016
Courtesy Photograph / Library of Congress

The Rosa Parks Collection has been digitized by the Library of Congress and is now available online. It is made up of 10,000 letters, writings, and photographs that belonged to the civil rights icon – as well as her tax returns, Presidential Medal of Freedom, and a handwritten pancake recipe. 

"The collection is truly inspirational," said Margaret McAleer, senior archive specialist at the Library of Congress. "And we wanted to make it as publicly available as possible."

flickr user Hung Thai /

Poet and writer Keith Taylor joins us today to offer a quick list of recommendations for some good reading.

Mark Brush

The Flint water crisis has elicited strong reactions from people all over the world. Whether that’s anger, disbelief, compassion, heartbreak or some combination of all those things, many people want to help.

Carrie Metz-Caporusso is a tattoo artist in Ann Arbor and she came up with an unusual idea for a Flint fundraiser.

"Songs for the Union"
University of Michigan Library Edison Sheet Music Collection

Music that hasn’t been played, or even heard, in centuries could be coming to a concert hall near you in the coming years. This is thanks to a rare sheet music collection donated to the University of Michigan that includes tens of thousands of pieces that date as far back as 1790.

Kristen Castellana, a music librarian at the University of Michigan Library, is helping lead the charge on a massive project to catalog and digitize about 115,000 sheets of music. The sheet music collection belonged to Thomas Edison and was donated by the Edison Phonograph Company.

What's the story behind Detroit's Masonic Temple?

Feb 16, 2016
Detroit's Masonic Temple is an imposing building.
Paula Friedrich / Michigan Radio

Ypsilanti's Sue Webster visited the Detroit Masonic Temple twice (once for the Theatre Bizarre masquerade, and once for a lecture). Her visits piqued her curiosity, so she posed her question to our MI Curious project.

“There must have been a huge presence at the Masonic Temple in Detroit at one time. What was it all about?”

Detroit's Masonic Temple is a gray stone building that towers over Cass Park.

If a stranger is blocking your view in a movie theater, how do you respond?

For many folks, the polite response might be, “Would you please move out of the way?” That’s because we use the word please to make requests sound polite, but there are times when a simple please just doesn’t sound gracious enough.  For some people, that sentence might even sound a little aggressive. What’s going with our language?

Fortunately for us, University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan is here to help us better understand the delicate ways of polite speech.

Fermenta is a nonprofit group that helps women learn about and break into the brewing industry
Pauline Knighton

It’s a bit of an understatement to say that the brewing and distilling industries have seen some growth in Michigan. You really don’t have to go far to find a microbrewer or distiller that’s producing some really fine ales or spirits.

Brewing has for some time been a craft mostly dominated by males, but a new group in Michigan is starting to change that.

The Michigan Ice Fest is expecting 700 attendees this year, 40% more than the festival saw last year
Aaron Peterson/Clear & Cold Cinema

Last week it was 50 degrees in many parts of the state. This week it’s freezing. But in the Upper Peninsula, freezing is a good thing for certain adventurous souls.

The sandstone cliffs in Munising, Michigan rise 200 feet above Lake Superior, and during the winter the area attracts ice climbers.

Greg Oberle

A few established Michigan musicians and public radio nerds have joined forces to start a new band called Public Access.

They’re releasing an album today and every track is named after a public broadcaster.

There’s Jack Speer, Dave Mattingly, Ira Glass and Michigan Radio’s own, Jennifer Guerra!

The instrumental songs kind of represent the broadcaster’s persona or the sound of their name.

Here's my review (listen below). 

Jonathan Craven

It has been quite a journey for Northport native Nathan Scherrer.

Four years ago, he moved from Michigan to Los Angeles with a few hundred dollars and was working as an intern, hoping to find a way to get into the business of making music videos. He was living off of macaroni and cheese, barely making ends meet, and now, this Monday (Feb. 15), he will be at the Staples Center hoping to hear his name called at the 58th Annual Grammy Awards.

Nike Air Jordan I, 1985
Nike Archives / Courtesy American Federation of Arts

Would you pay $1,000 for a pair of sneakers? How about $1,000 for a pair of sneakers that you would rarely put on your feet? If this sounds outrageous to you, then you might have trouble fitting in the world of “sneaker culture.”

How did the hobby of collecting shoes evolve into a high-demand art form where people are willing to pay as much as four figures – sometimes more – for a pair?

Doug Coombe

Carey Gustafson spent hours in her bedroom as a kid, sketching images of rock stars and actors and her favorite pop culture characters. She especially loved drawing Pac-Man and The Monkees and E.T. and Rick Springfield.

Gustafson says back then, she did not have a well-developed sense of identity. But she did have a good sense of humor. Plus she loved rock-n-roll and pop culture, and found plenty of inspiration in music and books and art.

It's getting hammy in here

Feb 7, 2016

At the behest of a colleague, University of Michigan Professor Anne Curzan started poking into the history of ham. The word, that is.

“When you think about it, ham-handed is a really weird way to say something is clumsy or awkward,” says Curzan.

So how does a beloved lunch meat also become an idiom for the ineffectual?

Jennifer Harely

Michigan’s Chris Bathgate has gotten national acclaim in recent years, touring the country playing music and even being featured in one of NPR’s Tiny Desk concerts.

For the past four years, he’s taken a little hiatus.

He stepped away from performing for a while and tucked away an EP he had, until now.

Chris Bathgate is touring again and is releasing that EP. It’s called Old Factory

Emily Fox / Michigan Radio


Rapper Jon Connor says he’s "Flint to the bone."

He was born and raised in the city, but moved to California around two years ago after he was signed to Dr. Dre’s music label: Aftermath.

But Connor says his heart still remains in his hometown.

Flint’s water crisis drew Connor back home these past two weeks. He came home to check on his friends and family.

He also took time to volunteer at the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan and the Boys and Girls Club in Flint. He also wrote a song while he was in town. It’s called Fresh Water for Flint.

flickr user Lee Carson /

The Next Idea

A new theater group in Michigan is bringing a fresh approach to funding and producing plays.

It’s called Kickshaw Theatre and its first production, “The Electric Baby,” is at the Interfaith Center for Spiritual Growth in Ann Arbor.

Iggy Pop at the Grande Ballroom, 1968
Leni Sinclair

Leni Sinclair’s camera captured the music scene of Detroit in the ‘60s and ‘70s even as she played a seminal role in the growing countercultural movement in Southeast Michigan.

Sinclair was born in Königsberg,  East Germany, and escaped to West Germany three years before the Berlin Wall was erected. She was 18 when she emigrated to America in 1959, settling with relatives in Detroit. 

Sinclair photographed musicians from John Coltrane and the MC5 to Iggy Pop, Janis Joplin, Bob Marley and many, many more.

She and her then-husband, John Sinclair, helped to found the White Panther Party, later the Rainbow People’s Party. They fought against the Vietnam War and racism, and worked to legalize marijuana and reform the prison system.

Now Sinclair has been named the 2016 Kresge Eminent Artist. She becomes the eighth artist to receive the $50,000 award in recognition of her contributions to the art, culture, and people of Detroit.

Few words carry the cultural weight of a decade like the 1960s mantra, groovy. It can seem hard to separate the word from the period, but, according to University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan, the ‘60s were not the birthplace of the groove. Nor has the word always meant what we use it to mean today.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Now that Stateside is on Fridays, we thought we’d offer a toast to the weekend. Every once in a while Tammy Coxen with Tammy’s Tastings will tell us about a Michigan related drink.

The first is a classic cocktail called The Last Word. It was created at the Detroit Athletic Club during Prohibition.

Vishavjit Singh as Sikh Captain America in New York City
Fiona Aboud

Since 1941, Captain America has been a symbol of American identity, and it continues to be for Vishavjit Singh.

Singh has traveled the country dressed as Captain America, but he's put a Sikh spin on the iconic character: his Captain sports a turban and a long beard.

Featured in Salon and various media around the country, Singh’s Captain has taken the online world by storm.

S.S. Badger
Madmaxmarchhare / Creative Commons

Correction: An earlier version of this story said the historic designation was already official.

It looks like the SS Badger will have to wait a little longer before it's named a National Historic Landmark. 

Last week, it was reported the Badger had already earned the designation.

According to a post on the National Historic Landmark Program's social media page, the vintage car ferry's application is still under review:

Ira Glass hosts the 73rd annual Peabody Awards Ceremony
flickr user Peabody Awards /

Ira Glass is living proof that an internship can be a portal to an astonishing career.

Glass began his career in 1978 as a 19-year-old intern for NPR. Since then, he’s filled just about every chair imaginable at NPR Washington, from writer to editor, reporter to producer.

Seventeen years after starting at NPR, he created and began hosting a little show called This American Life.

Ovi Gherman/flickr /

Wayne State University has received a $7.5 million gift from Detroit philanthropist Gretchen Valade to transform the university’s programming, teaching and scholarship in jazz performance and education.

Chris Collins, director of Jazz Studies at Wayne State, says Valade’s support is so much more than just financial.

John Keogh/flickr /

We commonly use the pronouns “he” and “she” to refer to someone, but what if that person doesn’t identify as male or female?

The Washington Post recently gave a green light to using “they” as a singular pronoun.

The gender-neutral title “Mx,” pronounced “mix,” is making its way into dictionaries.

The issue of generic pronouns may be fresh in our minds, but according Anne Curzan, University of Michigan English professor, it’s one that’s been on the table for a while.

“You’re going to feel a little pinch.” We’ve all heard some variation of this phrase before, either at a doctor’s office or a clinic, and we all know what follows: some type of medically necessitated pain.

But is it just the shot that’s hurting us?

For University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan, the answer might be more than just the bloodwork. “Can the words we use actually affect the experience a patient has in terms of pain?” she asks.