Graceland Embraces Elvis "Tribute Artists”

November 18, 2006

The keepers of the diminishing Elvis flame have announced that next year’s 30th anniversary of the death of the King will be marked by the first officially sanctioned Elvis impersonator contest. According to a story in the Tennessean, Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc., will hold a series of contests all over the country in order to determine the finalists, who will compete in Memphis in August of 2007.

This marks a sea change for the Graceland honchos, who heretofore kept Elvis impersonators at a sequined arms length. But last month’s news that Kurt Cobain has surpassed the King as the top-earning dead celebrity shows that creativity is needed when it comes to keeping the memory of Elvis alive–and the cash registers ringing.

Graceland no longer all shook up by Elvis impersonators – Nashville, Tennessee – Saturday, 11/18/06 –

Ban Smoking, Benefit Tourism

November 17, 2006

A few weeks ago, I ate lunch with a friend in Kingsport at a wonderful, downtown, country cooking restaurant.  The food was great, but the meal was spoiled when three women at an adjoining table lit cigarettes and fouled the air for the entire room. 

The News Sentinel has an article discussing smoking in public places in Tennessee.  Seems that the enlightened legislature passed “an amendment to a series of smoking laws passed in Tennessee in 1994
prohibits local governments from passing a law banning or regulating
the use of tobacco products.”


Communities that want to lure culture and heritage-minded tourists should encourage local restaurants to reduce or eliminate smoking.  It’s the right thing–and the smart thing–to do.

KnoxNews: Local

African-American Family Reunions

November 17, 2006

Today’s Wall Street Journal (alas, the story is only available to subscribers) has an article by Debra J. Dickerson discussing the booming business of family reunions for black families.  Seems that the most upscale gatherings have attracted the attention of the tourism industry:  “Convention centers and the hotel industry know that black reunions are
cash cows; many have designated specific offices to lure the trade. At
least three major hotel chains offer reunion packages and advertise
them in minority publications.”

Many black families have Tennessee roots, and it would be interesting to hear from people who have held reunions in the state, and where they chose to have them.  Ms. Dickerson ends her piece by saying:  “I’ll know that my family has achieved the proper mix of education and
down-home common sense when I’m invited to a reunion that’s held in a
state park, where we camp out and enjoy each other’s company.  And maybe award a scholarship or two. Aint Pee Wee would approve.”

Election of new congressman dooms Smokies "Road to Nowhere”

November 13, 2006

The election of Heath Shuler to Congress from North Carolina’s 11th District appears to doom efforts to build a road along the north shore of Fontana Lake in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This is very good news.

When Fontana Lake was created in 1943, residents of Swain County, North Carolina could no longer drive to family cemeteries now inside the National Park. They were told that a road would be built, but World War II intervened, and nothing was done until 1970, when a seven-mile stretch was paved. The families continued to press for the promise to be kept. In the meantime, they have been transported to the cemeteries by boat.

Wilderness advocates, however argued that the 34-mile road would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, be an ecological disaster for Fontana Lake, and spoil a pristine forest. (See link below to the Environmental Impact Statement for the road.) Swain County was offered $52 million in place of the road, but over the years 11th District Republican Congressman Charles Taylor and then Senator Jesse Helms persisted in seeking funding for the road.

Shuler, a former quarterback at the University of Tennessee, has a far more enlightened view of wilderness, and says he favors the $52 million settlement. The News Sentinel quotes a Swain County official who points out that the settlement, if properly invested, would yield $2.6 million every year in perpetuity for the county.

Let’s hope that Rep. Shuler can make this settlement happen. This is the best outcome for the Park, the lake, and the residents of Swain County.

KnoxNews: News

Why Harold Ford. Jr. lost

November 9, 2006

I try to stay out of politics in this blog, but since I write about Tennessee culture and heritage, it is impossible to ignore the senate race in Tennessee in which Bob Corker defeated Harold Ford., Jr. 

Friends of mine in Colorado and from coast to coast asked me during the campaign what I thought of Ford’s chances, and more than one person intimated that they thought Tennessee was too racist to elect a black senator.  I would explain that, while there are bigots in Tennessee (and Colorado and Massachusetts) Ford’s family was his biggest obstacle to overcome–a point that usually got covered in just one paragraph in accounts written by outsiders. 

Writing in the Nashville Scene, Liz Garrigan and Jackson Baker give a very clear look at why Ford lost. 

Nashville Scene – Corker Crashes Ford

"Soring” Walking Horses–the abuse continues

November 9, 2006

This week’s Metro Pulse has a sickening cover story on the practice of abusing Tennessee Walking Horses in order to achieve the crowd-pleasing “big lick” gait. 

Writer Leslie Wylie gives the best explanation I have seen so far on how and why trainers abuse these horses.  She quotes a marketing consultant as saying that the National Walking Horse Celebration, which takes place every August in Shelbyville, has $38 million annual economic impact on the region.  That sounds high to me, but there is no question that the Celebration pulls in large numbers of people and dollars.

The repeated accounts of soring, reported this year in The New York Times and other publications, make Tennessee look terrible.  What other state hosts such a large event centered on abusing animals?  The Walking Horse industry, controlled by the very people who benefit from soring, will never, so to speak, take the right steps. 

It is time for Tennessee state government, working with the feds, to bring soring to an end.  Increase the fines, put some people in jail–whatever it takes.  This practice has to stop. 

:: Metro Pulse Online ::

The quiet–and still dry–side of the Smokies

November 9, 2006

Townsend has always billed itself quite rightly as “the quiet side of the Smokies,” and for many travelers this village is a welcome contrast to the hokum of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.  The 250 residents had a chance to make a tourism-related change in their community in the last election, however, and they turned it down.

By a vote of 96-87, residents rejected a proposal that would have enabled restaurants to serve liquor by the drink.  Was this a good move?  Restaurants make a lot of money from alcohol, and being able to sell it usually means that more upscale places are likely to move in, a welcome relief from the “country cooking” cuisine all so present in these parts.  Higher restaurant tabs would have brought more tax dollars to Townsend as well. 

Being able to sell alcohol might have brought more people to Townsend, however, and the quiet side might become less quiet.  Having seen in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge how bad things can get with no planning and unbridled development, I think it’s important for the good people Townsend to do whatever it takes to control growth. 

And if they think having no liquor by the drink helps, I’m all for it.  Cheers!

KnoxNews: Election

Imaging the brain while talking in tongues

November 7, 2006

I live about 100 miles from Colorado Springs, where tongues have been wagging of late about the antics of the Rev. Ted Haggard, a national evangelical leader who resigned his post as minister of the 14,000-member New Life Church under accusations of frolicking with a gay prostitute and purchasing methamphetamine

My first thought was “Thank God this didn’t happen in Tennessee,”  but Haggard’s choice of recreational drug led me to comment to friends, “well, that explains the talking in tongues.” 

The devil made me say that.  I have no evidence that the good reverend ever took up glossolalia, which is the technical term for what is described in the Biblical book of Acts as “tongues of fire” descending on the Apostles and causing them to speak in languages unknown to them. Talking in tongues is a central part of worship in Pentecostal churches, where parishioners believe that the spirit of God descends upon them and makes itself known by this behavior. 

Whatever causes it, talking in tongues certainly livens up church services.  Today’s New York Times contains an article describing how researchers at Penn took images of the brains of five women while they were talking in tongues. The leader of the study is quoted as saying “the amazing thing was how the images supported people’s interpretations of what was happening.” 

Researchers focused their imaging equipment on blood flows in particular areas of the brains, and were able to “pinpoint blood-flow peaks and valleys unique to speaking in tongues.”

The article doesn’t say what sort of imaging equipment was used, but it must have been an MRI.  Whatever you think of talking in tongues, you have to admire the mental concentration of the women who could reach spiritual ecstasy while inside one of those claustrophobic, tunnel-like chambers amid the loud, knocking sounds that take place when the instrument is running. 

The Lord does indeed work in mysterious ways. 

A Neuroscientific Look at Speaking in Tongues – New York Times

Sputnik Monroe falls from orbit

November 7, 2006

“Sputnik” Monroe, aka Rock Brumbaugh, was Memphis’s most famous wrestler in the 1950s and 60s, and a most unlikely champion of civil rights.  He died at age 78 in Edgewater, Florida.

Robert Gordon’s 1995 book, It Came From Memphis, details the rise of Sputnik, who “arrived in Memphis in 1957, 220 pounds of twisted steel and sex appeal,” and began “rasslin'” at the Ellis Auditorium.  This venue, like virtually every other in Memphis at that time, was segregated. A limited number of black wrestling fans sat in a small balcony called the Crows Nest at the top and to the rear of the Auditorium.

Sputnik, a white man, played to this black audience, looking to them for approval after dominating his opponents, and they responded in growing numbers, turning out in the thousands to attend his matches. The management tried to limit the numbers of black attendees, and Sputnik threatened to quit. The wrestler’s action led to the end of the Crows Nest. 

Jim Dickinson, the legendary Memphis musician and producer, is quoted in the book as saying “that really is how integration in Memphis started.”

National Public Radio’s Morning Edition did a story on Sputnik Monroe in 2001, and you can hear him describing his exploits. 

Morning Edition – Sputnik Monroe

Memphis Commercial Appeal – Memphis’ Source for News and Information: Local

Racial progress and lack thereof

November 5, 2006

The Harold Ford. Jr./Bob Corker race for the open Tennessee senate seat has put the spotlight of race on Tennessee. Two unrelated stories this week illuminate how old folks and young folks deal with racial issues.

Most every Tennessee town of decent size has a Masonic Hall. Often these are historic structures–when Franklin’s was built in 1832, it was the tallest building in the state. Dolly Parton was photographed in the Grand Lodge in Nashville for the latest issue of Vanity Fair. A widely reported story, however, shows that blacks and whites remain segregated in the South when it comes to Masonic organizations.

Grand Lodges are for whites, while Prince Hall Lodges are for blacks. Prince Hall, a black man, was admitted to the Masons in 1775, and Black masonry is named for him. While 37 state Masonic organizations grant mutual recognition to each other, the remaining organizations, all in the South plus West Virginia, do not.

It is sad to see such segregation still in place. From what I have seen of the Masons, whose average age seems to be 80, they need every member they can get, of any race.

A far more encouraging story comes from historically black Tennessee State University in Nashville, which this week named Stephen Morrison, a white student, as “Mr. TSU.” Morrison, the first white student to receive the title in the 16-year history of the competition, will go on to compete for the “Mr. HBCU“–Mr. Historically Black Colleges and University.

He probably will not give much thought to joining the Masons.

Prince Hall Freemasonry – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

American Renaissance News: Race Still Divides Southern Masons

Recount crowns white Mr. TSU – Nashville, Tennessee – Thursday, 11/02/06 –