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I started to make a list of all the wonderful women I know to wish them a Happy Mother’s Day. Almost immediately, the list became so long that I began to question if I would, by omission, leave out someone very important.

So, not to forget anyone on my long list, you know that if you are reading, that I wish you a sincere and wonderful Mother’s Day.

To honor them and to those in my family, my daughter Amanda and her mom, Mary, my mother-in-law Diane, my wonderful sister and the mothers of my nieces and nephews on both sides of the family and the many nieces, some of whom are celebrating their first Mother’s Day this year, here follows a 2010 essay. 

A Recipe for Mother’s Day

Ed Tracy | May 9, 2010

In Memory of Helen E. Tracy |  1923-1989

In Memory of Helen E. Tracy |  1923-1989

Only someone as resourceful as my mother could unite an old Pyrex casserole dish with a brown cow cookie jar and make them work together. Both had a special place in my mother’s kitchen and were the source of an almost endless stream of delectable edibles in my youth. As I reflect on this Mother’s Day, and all the comfort and support all mothers provide for their family, I dug out that old casserole dish and admired it for a time on our kitchen counter.

While it is easy to list all the guiding values our mothers gave to us like how to act in public, right from wrong, even clarifying and elaborating what your father might have forgotten to tell you about how to treat a lady or what good girls do, try as I may, it will take me more than the 20 years since her passing to sort out all the good advice given simply from her nurturing spirit and love of life. The vivid memories of kindness to everyone she knew, and didn’t know, her emotional strength of will in trying times, and her patience and understanding of teenage rebellion all stand out. Her love of nature, art and music are the most cherished gifts to me. And then there was the love for home cooking. I mean, really good comfort food!

What's in the kitchen? “Plenty of everything,” she would say. Donuts, hot from the old tin pan bubbling with scalding hot Crisco oil almost every other Sunday. Sheets of rolled donut batter popping out a pile of perfect holes, many of which would never make it to the cooker. Every kind of homemade pie bursting with all the fresh fruits you can imagine -- and some I didn’t even know existed -- ready to eat almost every day, sometimes appearing overnight. And everything you can make from chocolate: chocolate chip cookies, chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, even fresh chocolate milk. I remember hovering over the frosting pan before it made its way to the sink hopeful that in addition to the two small spoonful’s of pure chocolate purposely left for me, it would somehow turn into a fresh pan of fudge on my way home from school the next day.

It is still a mystery to me that she did this while raising four kids eleven years apart, working full-time, volunteering for various community and women’s organizations, serving as transportation coordinator for many of our extra-curricular activities, seamstress, accountant and room inspector. I do not recall my mother ever missing a recital, concert or any other important public event we participated in. I am sure she did, I just can’t recall any now. She was one of those people who wanted to support just about everyone and everything that happened in our small Vermont town. She was the original Energizer Bunny.

It is now clear to me that a big part of all that nurturing spirit of my Mom and Dad from early morning to dusk was centered on supplying food for the family. No matter what season it was in Vermont, the next meal today and the one after that were important. Growing up on a farm we had fresh beef, chicken, eggs, milk, corn on the cob, carrots, peas and beets from a bountiful summer garden. Mom and Dad toiled over a large patch of raspberry bushes, an enormous asparagus bed and competed in the neighborhood challenge for the first radish of the season.

My parents would spend midsummer night’s together weeding and then preserving the crop for the winter so that sometime in late January, we’d dine on potatoes, corn and a big roast pork to the delight of my father who would remind us how lucky we were despite the twenty below weather. He always thanked her for the good meal. They’d wash dishes together often.

No holiday went by without more food for everyone to take home. My mother wanted to be sure if you entered our house hungry you left waddling through the door.

On the day before Mother’s Day 2010, I arose thinking about all the comfort food my mother must have served out of that Pyrex casserole dish. Even more was stored in that brown cow cookie jar on the kitchen counter. And then there were the school lunches, bake sales, neighborhood gatherings, meals for the families of friends in need and the vibrant memory of four unruly kids huddled around the small table in the kitchen with salmon pea wiggle or a hearty beef stew. Things just seemed to naturally come together in my mother’s kitchen. It was a place where every smell could keep you eagerly waiting for the call that “Dinner’s Ready!”

Of all the comfort food I long for most, I had not seemed to conjure up on my own my mother’s macaroni and cheese casserole recipe. Macaroni and cheese is a rather simple dish. However, whenever I made it, it was substantially different than my Mom’s. Long ago, my sister and I agreed to disagree on the two most important items in mother’s kitchen. That is when I received the casserole dish; she got the brown cow.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I need to state that although I consider myself a competent cook, my sister has forgotten more about cooking, baking and feeding people than I will ever hope to know. She was the one paying attention all those years ago to our mother and grandmother, and she too is an accomplished professional businesswoman and mother of three. Unlike my sister, I have never successfully recreated my mother’s expert touch in pies, cakes, cookies or the famous macaroni and cheese, despite having all of the right ingredients at my disposal and the alpha Pyrex vessel she made it in. I was too busy eating.

I guess I always felt that there is magic in what mothers do for their children. Rarely do they even know what that magic is…or that it is happening.

Each year in the weeks leading up to Mother’s Day, I realize I could not possibly send cards or notes to all of those who have a special place in my life. I could not call them all personally or write everything I want to say on this very important day. The fact is I try to do that throughout the year. I miss the mark and get wrapped up into my own life some times, but like any good mother would do, they remind me often that they are there, thinking good thoughts and sending a prayer for me and my family. They have made me feel like a favorite son all of my adult life. They each know who they are and how much I love them.

And, on my special mother’s list this year are my daughter, who is the mother of my granddaughter, Allie Kate, the most wonderful miracle in our lives; my sweet and loving mother-in-law, who reminds me every day that I am her favorite – and only – son-in-law; and my sister, who made this Mother’s Day extra special for me.

You see, I went online and found a 1958 Pyrex Golden Hearts 2.5 Quart Cinderella casserole dish identical to my mother’s coveted workhorse. The description was “Just like new!” and it was surprisingly affordable. I made sure that it would be sent to my sister directly, perhaps in time for Mother’s Day, but that didn’t really matter, since she’s out of town. Once the sale was complete, I called her to tell her about my find and the rest of the story of how frustrated I was in not getting the recipe right all these years later.

Being the wonderful person that she is, my sister shared with me the secret of my mother’s recipe. With the “just like new” dish on its way to her home, I only wish I could see the look in her eye when the dish and cow are reunited -- a symbolic, yet significant gesture on her younger brother’s part to make a mother’s day complete. (I did not tell her that the brown cow cookie jar is a very available -- and a highly collectible and expensive item online, or that perhaps on a future Father’s Day, a cow cookie jar might find its’ way to me somehow.)

The rest of the story is really very predictable. I set off to buy the ingredients confident that I was on the verge of preparing the best macaroni and cheese in years. It was. And Mom would have been very proud. There’s plenty left for today.

What we call “comfort food” is really all about memory. My mother left this very casserole dish brimming with macaroni and cheese in the freezer a couple of days before she passed. On another Mother’s Day, 20 years ago today, our family enjoyed that meal together one last time. It is now a warm and heartfelt memory of other times when the most important thing we all wanted to hear was “Dinner’s Ready!”

Whether you are a mother, married to one, or have one you are celebrating with today, Happy Mother’s Day! To all the mothers who pass along their pride and love to their sons and daughters and never quite know if it really is making a difference, I can tell you that no matter what you may think, we’re watching, listening, learning and growing every time you say our name, look our way or do the magical things that mother’s do.

There is no greater gift than a mother’s love and no greater memory than the look in her eyes when you say to her: “I love you, Mom” or “I’ll do the dishes!”

Post Script - On or around Father’s Day in May 2013, a package arrived with a pristine brown cow cookie jar that has now been reunited with the alpha Pyrex casserole dish a gift from Denise. My sister, who I love very dearly, had taken one look at the online price for the item and decided instead to ship a month’s supply of cookies. ECT 5/11/2017

Post Script - On or around Father’s Day in May 2013, a package arrived with a pristine brown cow cookie jar that has now been reunited with the alpha Pyrex casserole dish a gift from Denise. My sister, who I love very dearly, had taken one look at the online price for the item and decided instead to ship a month’s supply of cookies. ECT 5/11/2017


You could say that Rachel Rockwell has spent well over a decade on a tropical island where everyone sings ABBA songs and dances up a storm in spandex.

As a performer, Rockwell was a member of the Broadway company of Mamma Mia! in 2004 and Equity Dance Captain for the 2nd National Tour of the show that followed. Today, Rachel Rockwell is a multiple award-winning choreographer and director – well over a dozen and counting – and has recently completed the Off-Broadway run of Ride the Cyclone, a show that had its US premiere at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre in 2015,

We caught up with Rachel Rockwell to discuss the continuing appeal of Mamma Mia! to new generations of performers and audiences.

CWET: Mamma Mia! has toured around the world for nearly two decades. Another international tour is launching in 2018 and an estimated 60 million people have seen the musical. Beyond the iconic ABBA score, which connects generations together, what is it about the story that keeps audiences engaged and coming back?

RR: At its core, it is about relationships: mother/daughter, and the deep and abiding friendships of women. That is its magic. That's what people come for, beyond the fantastic song book. I say this jokingly - husbands and boyfriends may come and go, but your girlfriends are forever!

CWET: How much of a responsibility does a director and creative team have to the audience to stay within the margins of a high-speed juggernaut like Mamma Mia! or are there areas to explore that might challenge us to look at the work in a different way?  

RR: This piece isn't broken. You really don't need to spend a lot of time reinventing it. You just have to make sure the relationships are compelling, and that it has the expected ABBA sound. Critics are always talking about how the book is thin and formulaic, but I've spent years with this material and I can tell you that it is extremely tightly constructed. You can't force something onto it that it isn't intended to be, or you will crush it. The simplest of terms, when you want a Cosmo, you want a Cosmo. You can upgrade the vodka, but you don't need to put extra things in it, or it will ultimately be disappointing. It just wants to be sweet, bright, and ultimately a lot of fun!

CWET: Is there an example you can highlight from the Marriott production?

RR: The songs are used to tell a specific story. There's a little room for interpretation, but if you're veering too far off road, you run the risk of alienating the audience that comes with high expectations. One exception is the number "Under Attack". In the original production it is a nightmare sequence in which Sophie is besieged by these funny sea creatures. It's visually fun, but it doesn't really tell a story, so we made a nightmare about her dads stalking her and abandoning her. The entire ensemble is dressed like the dads and they all have neutral masks on their faces, so she is adrift in a sea of fathers and can't find the real one. That felt more like a nightmare that our ingenue would have.

CWET: The production at the Marriott Theatre is performed in the round. What advantages does this theatre offer over a more traditional proscenium staging?

RR: I love staging in the round because it is more natural. You face the person you're talking to, the way you do in life. You see people's backs-it's interesting and human. Also, the intimacy of the Marriott space really brings these friendships right into your lap. You really want to be sitting on Donna's bed with her girlfriends because their chemistry is so real (in part, because they are wonderful friends in real life), and the cast is so close you can get up and dance with them. And people do, which I love!

CWET: Mamma Mia has been a big part of your life. What new rhythms appear when you revisit it again with the next generation of actors, singers and dancers?

RR: When I was a dance captain, my job was maintain someone else's vision of the material. Still, I had to analyze it as if the vision were mine, so I could inspire and "sell it" to the performers. Every time I dig deeply into the material, I have more respect for what Phyllida Lloyd and Catherine Johnson created, along with Anthony van Laast's choreography and Martin Koch's exquisite orchestrations and vocal arrangement. No other juke box musical has this kind of international success. They really struck gold. I feel privileged to know the history of the making of this piece first hand. I think it helped me understand what is sacred and where you can afford innovate. I'm really happy to be a part of a piece that is bringing a lot of joy to the audience. Joy is not to be underestimated.

Marriott Theatre
Ten Marriott Drive
Lincolnshire, IL 60069

847-634-0200 (Box Office)

Images and video courtesy
Marriott Theatre & Heron Agency


The Book of Joseph, by Karen Hartman based on the life of Joseph A. Hollander and his family, is directed by Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Artistic Director Barbara Gaines. The world premiere event currently playing in Chicago through March 5th features a superb ensemble cast led by Sean Fortunato as Joseph Hollander, Francis Guinan as Richard Hollander and Adam Wesley Brown as Craig Hollander. The story centers on the discovery of one of the most complete archives of family correspondence during the Nazi occupation of Poland and is a window into how the family existed in the ghetto in Krakow. It is the journey of one man who attempts to change the course of his family history and reveals the importance of telling your story before it is too late.

Richard Hollander, who discovered the archive of his family letters in a suitcase following the death of his father, published the letters  in Every Day Lasts a Year(Cambridge University Press 2007). Mr. Hollander is president of Millbrook Communications, a marketing/advertising firm in Baltimore, Maryland and previously worked as a news reporter for two daily papers and for WBAL-TV in Baltimore.

We asked Mr. Hollander four questions following the opening weekend of the play:

CWET - The discovery of your family letters is a powerful turning point in your life story and must have been an equally powerful moment for you personally to relive in the staged play. It is through these events that we understand the importance of searching for truth and understanding. Tell us how the moment unfolded for you when you realized that a theater audience was now becoming part of, and witness to, your family’s story?

RH - There was a confluence of emotions. The experience was wrenching and exhilarating; humbling and joyous. I felt both vulnerable and proud. Obviously, it is an unimaginable experience to see one’s parent portrayed on stage as a hero. I am rather private and inherently uneasy about exposing myself and the family to the public. That said, there are several powerful themes in The Book of Joseph. Sharing them is a mission rather than a burden. Almost without exception, people who have read Every Day Lasts a Year or seen The Book of Joseph come up to me with their story – metaphorically speaking – their briefcase. That bond with the reader and audience is most gratifying.

CWET – Can you give us an overview of the process and interaction between you, your family and the playwright in putting this piece together?

RH- The creative process is very different given the fact that The Book of Joseph is based on real people, actual events, and the very words of the characters.  For want of a better phrase, the play could be called a docu-drama. Playwright Karen Hartman conducted extensive interviews with me; my wife, Ellen; my son, Craig; and Arnold Spitzman and his family. I am sure she researched Krakow, Poland and the Holocaust. The immigration story came out of court records and transcripts of hearings. While writing a play is challenging under any circumstance, this was far more difficult. Karen had to create art from reality. 

CWET – Your “role” as storyteller is essential to the arc of the play. What areas in its telling were particularly important to you? 

RH - By training (grad school locally at Northwestern) and trade, I am a storyteller. Much of my career was as a print and TV journalist. So, in reality that “role” comes easily to me. I see my character in the play having two distinct roles. One is the personal journey of literally and figuratively opening the briefcase. The second role is leading the audience on its own journey as they relate to what unfolds on stage. I believe it is most important that the storyteller does not make the value judgments for the audience. For example, as a journalist, I am much more comfortable presenting the facts, as in the immigration story, and give each person in the theater his or her freedom to determine whether it relates to contemporary America.

CWET - A key element of The Book of Joseph is understanding the relationship of generations of family members, their stories and how they are told. How you collaborated with your son and found common ground is also a major theme in story. What do you say to people who ask for advice in bringing their family members together to tell their own story?

RH - The obvious answer is don’t wait until one can no longer ask the questions. The Book of Joseph is about family secrets – with a different twist. No one was hiding an ugly family secret. Joseph and Richard were trying to protect each other out of an abundance of love. They created a boundary so that neither would inflict emotional pain on the other. My guess is many, if not most, families erect boundaries. To me, one of the enduring themes is family legacy, which is depicted in the father/son; Richard/Craig relationship. We give our children and grandchildren our memories and our values. Ultimately, Richard and Craig share a legacy. 

Chicago Shakespeare Theater
Navy Pier
Now playing through March 5th



TOM HUDNER received the Medal of Honor for his actions in an attempt to save the life of his African American wingman Jesse Brown who had crash landed his plane on a desolate mountaintop during the Korean War.

I am posting, for the first time, a transcript of a taped interview about Tom Hudner's reflections on the action and Jesse Brown. The interview took place in Denver in 2007. As an introduction, I have included a brief overview of a conversation we had on the phone a few years ago.

A truly remarkable man.


On March 29, 2014, I called and spoke to Tom Hudner. It was not a formal interview as we had had many of those in years past. He was, as always, soft-spoken, upbeat and engaging. Among the topics discussed was the Medal of Honor Society sponsored Leadership Development Program which has been expanding to schools across the country. Tom was particularly proud of the initiative that brings recipients of the Medal of Honor into schools through personal visits and internet programs.

Tom Hudner, a Korean War veteran, was the first recipient, by date, to receive the MOH after World War II. He remembers at an early inauguration, a duty officer only allowed him one ticket because his guest was not his wife. He said that only happened once and, thereafter, all recipients were invited to the Presidential Inauguration, but had to pay their own way.  (The number of living recipients then was perhaps five times greater than the current number of 76 living recipients.)

According to Tom, times have changed significantly. The recipients have been treated with extraordinary respect as they move from city to city for their annual conventions. The last major convention in Chicago was held in 2009 and attended by over 50 heroes.

Tom talked about serving on the policy development committees in the early days of the Medal of Honor Society which was formed in 1958. He has high regard for recent recipients like Sal Giunta, who he had a kinship with since, the oldest recipients he knew at the time had fought in World War I.

2007 CONVERSATION with Medal of Honor Recipient Tom Hudner– Denver, Colorado (This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.)


Ed Tracy: Tell me about your first impressions of Jesse Brown… when you met. Describe who he was, what he was and some of the aspects of what he faced… the struggles he faced and the challenges he overcame.

Tom Hudner: I got my wings in August of 1949 and my first orders were to the Naval Air Station on Long Island. Shortly after I got there, the squadron I joined was decommissioned and I went to another squadron at the same station. It was only when I got my orders to this other squadron did I even hear of Jesse Brown. He had gotten his wings a year before I did but I didn’t know that there were any black naval aviators. When I arrived in the squadron, nothing was said even at that time that Jesse was in the squadron. So, it was a day or two after I got there when I was in the locker room getting ready for a flight when Jesse came in. I wasn’t startled, but I was a little bit surprised. He was very quiet. He just introduced himself. “I’m Jess Brown.”  Very low key. We had a few words that I really don’t remember and then I went out to the flight.

Of course, as in squadron life, we’d see each other on a daily basis. It was obvious from the very beginning that he was very well liked by everybody, but there was no deference in any way. He was just one of the guys. No thought whatsoever that he was black.

ET: Would you describe him?

TH: Well, as I remember he was probably about five ten or five eleven. Slender fellow. He was a track man so he looked like a sprinter. With a ready smile. He had a great sense of humor. He was the butt of a lot of jokes, and he joked about a lot of other people, too. I wouldn’t say that he was anybody special in the squadron except that not everybody was proud of the fact that he was there. Frankly, what made it better was he was a helluva good guy.

He was an ensign. He’d been an ensign for… I don’t think he’d been an ensign for a full year, so he was one of the lowest seniority guys in the squadron.  He was given the responsibilities of a young officer in his position… as the Navy emphasized, you did small jobs to increasing responsibility as time and rank goes on. He didn’t get his work done on a number of times, no more than anybody else, so the squadron CO would have to kick his butt to get his paperwork done and things like that. But he didn’t experience anything that the rest of us didn’t experience.


TH: How long he was dating his future wife, Daisy, I don’t know, but apparently they had been dating quite a bit. So, when he got into the flight program, he got in as a non-officer and the Navy would not take married non-officers. As an officer, you could go through the program married. But, as a non-officer, you couldn’t.

He ran into the typical problems that blacks faced at the time. Being down there in the south, especially Pensacola, no matter where he turned, he was given a hard time by people. The fact that he was a Naval aviation cadet didn’t deter a lot of these people from saying anything. He experienced harassment a number of times while in uniform by shore patrol and others. 

The flight program was demanding. He started in 1947, got his wings in 1948. There was a lot of pressure on students at that time.

I don’t think his girlfriend, who came from Hattiesburg, could afford to come and see him at all. Whenever he had leave and did have a chance he drove back from Penscaola to Hattiesburg to see her. I don’t know how long a drive that would be but not too much effort.

He was under so much pressure. He finally married Daisy while he was in the training program, which was very definitely against regulations. But she, of course, gave him much comfort and solace. I’m sure that he attributed being with her as an anchor.

Jesse and I were not very close. He was an Ensign and I was a LTJG. At that time, there was a big difference between an Ensign and everybody else. He had very good friends who were my rank and were true friends. The difference, though considered minor, was a big one at the time.

Also, I was Naval Academy and had several Naval Academy friends before coming in there and these other fellows, they were our friends too, but I gravitated toward those I knew before. So, that is why I didn’t see Jesse more than I did. Plus, the fact that I was a bachelor and a couple of these friends were bachelors, too. We just didn’t mix at all.


ET: Take us through Jesse’s crash and what you saw from above.

TH: In those days, for all takeoffs and landings your canopy was open. The canopy would slide back and forth on rails. When it was open, there was a little latch that would flip over onto the track. So, if you made a sudden stop, it would keep the canopy from going forward.

When he landed and the canopy was open, I presumed he had latched it open… it latches open automatically. But he hit with such force, that the canopy shut. So, we couldn’t see him in the cockpit. As soon as this happened, the flight commander left us to climb to a higher altitude, because this is a mountainous terrain… and to call for assistance presumably from the Marines because they were known to have helicopters in the area. So, several of us… three or four, so some other aircraft from other flights, came over for curiosity or however they could help.

Then someone said, “He’s waving at us.” Jess had managed to open the canopy… and we could see him. He was waving at us to let us know that he was alive. The flight commander came back on our frequency and said that helicopters were on the way. I don’t know when it was said, but it would be as long as a half an hour before they could be there. In the meantime, smoke was coming out of the cowling back along the fuselage. That’s when I thought by the time he gets here the smoke could turn into flames.

Our flight leader was still not on our channel, so I don’t think I even called for permission to go in. I just… when the time came, I just said “I’m going in.”

ET: He wouldn’t have given you permission to go in anyway…

TH: No.

ET: Was there any buzz on the radio after you made the decision to go in?

TH: I don’t remember any comments on the radio. There may have been some, but I don’t remember any. It was not at all negative on the frequency. I don’t know how many were on at the time, but no one said “Don’t do it.”  So, I’ve always said, no one told me not to.


ET: So Jesse is out of his gloves and parachute. He has been trying to get out of the cockpit on his own. His hands are frozen. What are the conditions?

TH: There is about twenty inches of snow on the ground. Not constant, but it was knee high. The weather was clear. I don’t remember there being much wind at all but it was cold.

I had a blue knit cap that sailors wear. They call them Watch caps. I used to carry one of those in my flight suit in case I got stuck. He had taken his helmet off and that was on the floor of the cockpit. So, I pulled the watch cap over his head and I had a white Navy scarf and wrapped that around his hands but it didn’t do much good since his hands were so frozen.

The fire subsided. Hydraulic fluid or possible oil dripped on the hot pipes and plumbing that went up through into that part of the airplane. It diminished as time went on. There was almost no wind, but what wind there was blowing the smoke back up the fuselage but not into the cockpit. I was waiting for the helicopter. Frankly, for lack of anything better to do, I was throwing snow on the fuselage, under the cowling, which did almost no good.

ET: Do you recall Jesse saying anything about Daisy at this time?

TH: One of the few things he said to me… he just said, “If anything happens to me, just tell Daisy how much I love her.” There was no time for small talk, so we didn’t talk.

ET: How soon did the helicopter come?

TH: It was about a half an hour. The helicopter pilot got the word that there was a plane down. The helicopter was an Sikorsky H03. There are pictures of them. One of the smallest. Not a bubble canopy, but spheroid. A lot of glass or plastic in the front of it. Maximum capacity was 3: pilot, copilot and crewman. The pilot took off with a crewman to help get Jesse out of the cockpit. When he heard afterwards that there were two of us on the ground, he had to turn around and go back and let the crewmen off. He was going in there all by himself. He didn’t know what the circumstances were. The planes went down is about all he knew.

ET: So, that trip back took even more time for him to get there.

TH: Oh yes. That had to add at least fifteen minutes to it. I don’t know if I told you this, but when we left Norfolk, VA on the way over to Korea, the day we got underway, we went up on deck, there are six helicopters there with a Marine detachment , so there were 10 pilots and supportive enlisted personnel. We took them all to Korea from there which was the better part of two weeks.  We left the first of September and didn’t have our first flight until the 10th of October.

These Marines were riders. They couldn’t fly well and ward room. When you go through several time zones no one can sleep. We still had our work to do but these guys didn’t… what I’m leading up to is that after being on the ship for the better part of a month, the rescue pilot came and saw the only black face in naval aviation in the cockpit. I don’t recall if he said anything to Jesse. Jesse was comatose at the time. In and out of consciousness. He was very calm, but we think that he was in shock. I sometimes wonder how he could have been talking at all.

ET: Was he saying anything that made sense?

TH: I don’t remember that he did. There was so little conversation between the two of us. I didn’t spend much time in the cockpit. It was difficult. Very hard to get up there. I went back to my plane to give a status report. My radio was still working. Some said I shouldn’t have turned it off but I conserved the batteries so the radio would work longer.

ET: Were there enemy patrols in the area?

TH: I am told by some who were flying in the area that there were, but they were not close and I saw no evidence except a single set of footprints… tracks in the snow. The snow and getting up a couple of times to check on Jessie is all that I did. I was just trying to encourage him to stay long enough to help Jessie. Jessie said virtually nothing while Charlie and I were trying to figure out what to do… in the back of our minds, I think, knowing there is nothing we can do.

ET: Once the axe comes out… you can’t chop steel with an axe.

TH: Charlie was naïve just asking for an axe.

ET: So, at one point Charlie looks at you and says, “Tom it’s getting dark.”

TH: Charlie turns to me and says, “Tom, it’s getting dark and I can’t fly… I don’t have the instruments to fly at night. I’m going. It’s up to you what you want to do, but I’ve got to get outta here.” It wasn’t a matter of being chicken or anything… it was just the reality. Frankly, Jesse may have been dead at the time he said it. I said we don’t have the equipment to get you out of here. We’re going back to get something. I don’t know… he didn’t say anything but I don’t know if he even heard what I said to him. My only hope is that…looking back on it, that he knew he wasn’t alone at the time he passed. No matter what the circumstances, we don’t want to be alone at that time.

ET: I know how difficult this is to bring back. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate the time you’ve spent today talking about this.

TH: Jess got his wings just about the time that President Truman issued the executive order to desegregate the Armed Services. The Navy had the reputation of being the most segregated due to the particular nature of the Navy. The posts aboard ship. Not being able to get away. He came into the Navy on active duty as an officer into a recently desegregated Navy. Just because of the proclamation, the Executive Order, didn’t mean that anybody felt any differently about it  It isn’t that he ran around the ship and said “…because of this executive order you have to treat me differently.” He wasn’t that way at all.

Jesse was somebody that showed right from the day we met his reticence to force himself… or break anybody’s personal zone. He didn’t even offer to shake hands at first.  He didn’t want anybody to say that they didn’t want to shake hands with him. He was very respectful. He didn’t have any attitude, hauntiness, subservience. He was just one of the guys. Just from his attitude again, everybody did truly like him.

I ran into people years later who were in the squadron before I got there who spoke very admiringly of Jesse. It was pretty obvious that if he had stayed in the Navy, which I do not believe were his intentions, he’d have been a leader. Whether he would have been the first black Admiral, I don’t know.

He was a decent person. He could have been a son-of-a-bitch to the stewards and the others, but he wasn’t. The stewards hovered around him which is a very natural reaction. I don’t think he went out of his way… never got friendly with enlisted personnel. He was an officer.

Although Jesse was only an Ensign, because of his breaking through this big, big barrier to become a Navy aviator, he was really a role model. Everyone respected him and he was certainly headed for better things. He was accepted at Ohio State University. After he served his time, his intentions were to become an engineer or maybe even an architect. Whatever, he’d have done, he would have been fine.  

ET: When you returned, what was the mood back on the ship knowing that Jess was gone?

TH: There was a big void. He wasn’t just one of the guys who happened to fit in. He’s the type of guy, not to dramatize it, but lights would shine when Jesse came in. He was not a back slapper either. He’d come in unobtrusively. He’d play acey deucey with a lot of the guys. He was well liked.

Before we deployed, he had a hard time as a new Naval aviator with a new wife. He couldn’t find any housing. I’m guessing that he looked up to fifteen miles away for a house or room to rent and everyone said just missed it or too late. There was a black enlisted man pay officer who somewhat befriended him. He found a place for him near Providence. So, it was not just a few miles off the base. He had to go that far up. In the non- segregated New England. Think about what it would have been anywhere in the South.

But he was philosophical about it. A lot of the new squadron mates were helpful to him, but there was a limit to what they could do, too.

I was always a little disappointed that the Navy didn’t make more of Jesse Brown. There was such an emphasis on bringing blacks in. If Jesse had been just an ordinary guy who got caught in something, but he was a guy at a very low level rank wise who was an inspiration, not only to the other blacks but everyone who knew about him. But, they didn’t do more about it.

Throughout my career, I always heard about the Tuskegee Airmen, but I learned that there were more than one Tuskegee Airmen and Jesse was just one guy.  As I met some of them, they had never heard of Jesse Brown.

I think the word is getting around. Part of the heritage of the naval aviators is the story of Jesse Brown.






women in song.jpg

This week we feature CONVERSATIONS with four women who are bringing people together on stage and in the studio - Jeannie Tanner, Cynthia Clarey, Colleen Raye and Sophie Grimm. Lots of great entertainment to look forward to in the weeks ahead in Chicago.




Award-winning vocalist, composer and trumpeter Jeannie Tanner performs and records original music with her band the Jeannie Tanner Quartet, plays at Chicago’s top jazz clubs and has been deemed a “triple-threat” who “probably couldn’t play or write an unmusical phrase if she wanted to,” by Chicago Tribune’s longtime columnist and jazz critic Howard Reich.

Jeannie debuts her latest album next month; a songbook collection of American style music featuring 12 of Chicago’s finest vocalists. “Words and Music,” showcases Jeannie’s breadth of talents as a songwriter and musician and the unique styles of each of the collaborating vocalists. Jeannie joined the CONVERSATION to talk about her latest project and what to expect from the release party.

This is your ninth album. What makes this one stand out from all the others?

This new album stands out from my other records because it focuses on my songwriting, not my singing. Each song is one of my original compositions and the two-disc album features 12 of Chicago’s finest vocalists singing my words and music: Alyssa Allgood, Rose Colella, Elaine Dame, Kimberly Gordon, Paul Marinaro, Tammy McCann, Jeff Meegan, Typhanie Monique, Andy Pratt, Abigail Riccards, Michele Thomas, Amy Yassinger. “Words and Music” is the first album I’ve recorded that I’m not singing on any of the tracks, and there are nineteen songs on two discs. As a composer, it is a dream come true.

How would you classify the style of music on the album?

This new album is a collection of my original songs and the music is an eclectic mix. It ranges from the Great American Songbook to New Orleans-style jazz; bossa nova and retro 1960s Rat Pack Swing to percussive Afro Cuban rhythms, gospel and soulful ballads, to shades of adult contemporary pop.

 Was it difficult to coordinate all of the various artists?

Actually, no. Everyone was super excited to be a part of this project, and really made themselves available for phone calls, prep meetings, recording sessions and now, performing live, in concert, at the upcoming album release. The whole process has been, and continues to be, totally collaborative and really reflective of the supportive nature of Chicago musicians.

 Do you have an “Ah Ha” moment you can share?

I have several “Ah Ha moments”… The first was when Abigail Riccards recorded a rubato version of the song I wrote for her, “Endless Joy” (the tune is about the happiness of having children). It was unrehearsed, and she and Dan Murphy, who played piano on the album, just nailed it in one take. We were all holding our breath as they were recording… and at the end, I was speechless… we all were… because it was so beautiful. So when they were finished, Abby looks at us and says, “Was that okay?” (Like, do we need to do it again?) And we all said, “Uh, no - that was perfect!”

The second was with Typhanie Monique’s tune, “Be Strong.” I wrote it for her, specifically for this album. She mentioned that she had been listening to a lot of early Etta James, and Little Jimmy Scott. So I wrote the tune keeping those artists in mind, and in passing said to Dan Murphy (Music Director, arranger and co-producer on the album - as well as playing piano), “Can you write a string arrangement sort of reminiscent of ‘At Last?’” Just this past week, I listened to the two songs for the first time, back to back and was astounded that we had captured the whole vibe of “At Last.” And, with Typhanie’s amazing vocal performance on “Be Strong,” it really was an “Ah ha” moment of, “Wow, we did it!”

How did the collaboration with these established artists influence the final performances?

By allowing every artist to have the freedom to interpret my music in their own unique style, the heart and soul of every performer can be felt on this album. The songs reflect the true spirit of this project - creative, collaborative energy with a lot of love.

What can the audience expect on February 27th?

The audience can expect to have a great time! February 27th is going to be an exciting evening of entertainment, featuring 12 of Chicago’s finest vocalists, on stage - for one night only. They will be singing my original music, accompanied by a full band with a horn section and a string quartet. It will be a multi-media concert experience, to be enjoyed at one of Chicago’s finest music venues, the City Winery.

Monday, February 27th
City Winery Chicago
1200 W Randolph St.
Chicago, IL 60607

Doors Open: 6:30 pm
Show: 7:30 pm

More Information: HERE
Tickets: HERE 
Jeannie Tanner's Website: HERE 



Seasoned entertainers, vocalists and mother daughter duo Colleen Raye and Sophie Grimm take to the stage at Skokie Theatre to salute the First Ladies of Song in the upcoming show, The Best is Yet to Come. Raye and Grimm will be exploring the trail blazing female songwriters from Tin Pan Alley and The Great American Songbook including classics from Ann Ronell (Willow Weep For Me), Billie Holiday (God Bless The Child) and Betty Comden/Green (Just In Time, The Party’s Over, Never Never Land). We caught up with Sophie to hear more about the show and her musical influences.

Sophie joined the CONVERSATION to give us a preview of their upcoming show. 

Music has obviously played a big role in both of your lives. What influence has your mom had on your career?

My mother inspires me every day with her love of life and incredible work ethic. She has a producer's mind with the creative ability to write entire shows that really connect with an audience through laughter and musical magic. You know that magic that happens when you as an audience member feels completely in the present and satisfied with it just by smiling and tapping a toe to someone singing or playing a song FOR YOU? She helps me every day with her presence in my life, whether physical or in her vibrant spirit. As for my career, I love to say that my family is in business with one another (show business) because I find it special and fulfilling, knowing my sister and brothers are living the dream in every day reality (a creative and striving one) - makes me feel they are achieving creativity (and professionally, on top of that!) and that makes me feel they are happy, making me happy.

Has your musical focus always been on Tin Pan Alley and the Great American Songbook?

I have loved the American Songbook my entire life because the art of jazz music meeting story and sung lyrics is something I love to listen to and create myself. Growing up in a musical family, however, has led me to love all music and live entertainment for that matter. The more we can get more people in a room to have a great time with music or live entertainment, the better in my eye.

Who’s the comedian?

I get so much of my humor from my family, but although I believe my mother would definitely say her strength is in the torch song, she can swap jokes with the best of them. If you're talking about who's the clown, now, I can definitely take that title.


Friday, January 27th
Skokie Theatre
7924 Lincoln Ave
Skokie, IL 60077
8 pm

More information: HERE
Tickets: HERE
Sophie Grimm's Website: HERE
Colleen Raye's Website: HERE




Acclaimed opera singer Cynthia Clarey makes her Chicago theater debut at Porchlight Music Theatre in The Scottsboro Boys. Although not singing in this production, her character plays a pivotal role in the true-life story of nine African American teenagers accused and put on trial in Memphis for a crime they did not commit. Cynthia has traveled the world as an opera singer working with such notables as Peter Brook, Trevor Nunn and Sir Simon Rattle while also performing as a Chicago Cabaret Professional at many notable venues including Davenport’s Piano Bar and Monday Night Live at Petterino’s with Denise McGowan Tracy and Beckie Menzie

Tell us about your character and how she fits into the story?

I play The Lady in The Scottsboro Boys. There is no real description of who she is, but she plays a significant role in the civil rights message of the piece.

How does preparing for The Scottsboro Boys differ from your other professional pursuits?

Over the years, I have seen several Porchlight shows and have been very impressed by the professionalism of the company. Since joining the cast for Scottsboro Boys, I realize how much goes into their productions and how wonderfully they schedule and handle the cast, which is a very talented group of actors and singers. The rehearsal period is very compressed for a challenging show like this, so, we are putting a lot into a short amount of time.

How is it all coming together?

I am very excited to be part of this production, particularly right now with what is going on. I grew up in the South, and this piece is a revelation for me. I am really looking forward to the run.

February 3rd – March 12th, 2017
Stage 773
1225 W. Belmont
Chicago, IL 60657

More Information: HERE  
Tickets: HERE 

Check out The Scottsboro Boys First Rehearsal Video: HERE


author of
Bigger, Brighter, Louder: 150 Years of Chicago Theater as seen by "Chicago Tribune" Critics
University of Chicago Press (October 4, 2013)

Chris Jones, chief theater critic and a Sunday culture columnist for the Chicago Tribune, joined the conversation at the Hubbard Inn on November 19, 2013 to discuss his new book. 


Also featured in this episode of CONVERSATIONS FTA (From The Archives) is a performance by World War II veteran JUDY BRUBAKER, who played the role of Ms. Leach in the original Chicago cast of Grease in 1971.

CHRIS JONES on Claudia Cassidy and Richard Christiansen ... “The Tribune had two critics who held the job for most of the 20th century … one of them was Claudia Cassidy and one was Richard Christiansen. … They were very different critics. One was largely despised by the people she covered and one was largely beloved by the people he covered. One was known for vitriolic prose – horribly nasty prose in some cases, by today’s standards anyway – and one was known for a certain courtly gentlemanly understanding. And yet, both of them at their different periods of time, seemed to give this city what it really needed.




During a light-hearted conversation this week, a friend told me that their first 2017 resolution was to complete all of their unmet 2016 resolutions. On some level, that is how we may all feel about making these kinds of commitments to ourselves.

I decided to take a different course in 2017 and it doesn’t involve reexamining whatever I didn’t get done last year. I’m scraping the “New Year’s Resolution” timetable in favor of a new improved path. In truth, I have been following something like this for several years, but as these few weeks are a time for reflection, I realized that I was being hard on myself and ultimately on others around me.

Over the years of trying to achieve my resolutions, if I was confused or sad, I would eat, so the diet resolution was compromised. Although I walk daily, the fact is that I may never again exercise as much as I should. So then the guilt starts to seep in. And then there’s the addiction to sugar, something my late friend John Callaway told me about several years ago. I dismissed it at the time, but it is very real.

Particularly to people of a certain age ... of which I am, as it turns out, one.

I never thought that I would become a person of a certain age, but now that I am one, I’m quite happy about it. I wish that I could do all the things to excess that I used to do, but I can’t. My system won’t allow it and, frankly, all of those excesses were, well, excessive.

So, the conversation continues. Over the past year, we have explored life through the eyes of actors, artists and entrepreneurs. We heard how art, music, dance and theatre is created … what the important steps are in developing new work … learned about musical comedy, character development, long-running success and explored all the various forms of social media that allow us to communicate with each other, even if we don’t want to communicate with each other.

While the old notion to move the ball down the field is still present, I am eager to get others on the team to help improve the game. In this new year, I have a new outlook -- more positive, assertive, with sights fixed on building a bigger base and having more fun, all the time.

That’s what I want to talk about this year and I hope we can have many more conversations along the way.  




MR & MRS PENNYWORTH now playing at Lookingglass Theatre through February 19th WEBSITE  TICKETS

THE TALL GIRLS - SHATTERED GLOBE The world-premiere of Meg Miroshnik's new play at Theater Wit in previews beginning January 12 WEBSITE TICKETS




BEN HOLLIS - How The Beatles Nearly Ruined My Life and David Bowie Saved It Skokie Theatre
Sat, Jan 21 - 8 pm; Sun, Jan 22 - 2 pm. TICKETS    

SKOKIE IDOL begins January 28, 2017 WEBSITE







THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS - Porchlight Music Theatre Opens February 3rd at Stage 773. WEBSITE  TICKETS


Winter’s Jazz Club is Chicago's newest jazz room in Streeterville. Abigail Riccards, Paul Marinaro WEBSITE Howard Reich READ





Chicago's Theater Week is coming in February. WEBSITE

Theatre week.jpg

Frank Sesno's Ask MoreWEBSITEBUY




Winston Groom's El Paso – From the best-selling author of Forrest Gump






Building Chicago by John Zukowsky should be in everyone's collection. Listen to our live program from the Chicago History Museum HERE


New Podcasts Now Online. But first ...

Friday, July 15, 2016 - News of the terrorist attack in Nice, France yesterday delayed our posting of these programs out of respect for the victims of this horrific, senseless attack. These attacks, and the lawless nature of unrest across our country, are grim reminders of the evil that exists in our world and the disregard for human life that stems from bigotry and hatred. 

Now more than ever we need to continue the conversation, remain passionate and respectfully committed to preserving life across our social spectrum and insure the safety and well-being of all of our children. 

The study of history provides insight into our lives. It is in this spirit and in recognition of the importance of an on-going dialogue, that we are making our discussion about race relations in the 20th century available through this podcast today.

Our Conversations FTA podcast features a spirited and engaging 2013 conversation with Chicago Tribune theater critic Chris Jones.  ET



author of

How the Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (January 2016)
Ethan Michaeli is an award-winning author, publisher and journalist based in Chicago. He was a copy editor and investigative reporter at The Defender from 1991 to 1996. Ethan joined us for the debut of Conversations with Ed Tracy at the Skokie Theatre on March 23rd to discuss his new book, The Defender.

ETHAN MICHAELI on the role of The Defender during the Great Migration:
“With the migration from the south, The Defender becomes an even more important way for people to keep in touch with the communities that they’d left behind. So you’d have people essentially writing to each other, kind of communicating the way we would today on social media through Facebook … as a way to tell people 'Hey I'm in the city … I have a job … I’m doing well …you should come too.' The Defender was directly responsible for doubling the African American community in Chicago during World War I from about 50,000 people to around 100,000.”
ETHAN MICHAELi on The Defender’s coverage of Emmett Till’s death and the graphic images that ran on the front page:
“Those images, those stark images, went around the country and landed like a bomb, everywhere. People frankly were somewhat inure to the news of lynching in the south, these kind of things happened fairly often and the reports were coming out on a regular basis. Earlier in the 20th century, white newspapers in the south had advertised lynching in the sense that they had said 'there will be a lynching on Tuesday night … this is where you should come' …  so it wasn’t that lynching was a covert operation. It had just changed into something that suddenly to the vast majority of Americans became unacceptable with the photos of Emmett Till … that really was a dramatic moment that started to see a real change in public opinion about that issue, about extrajudicial violence against African Americans.”

ETHAN MICHAELI on current race relations:
“I started the book with an assumption of progress. Yes, maybe things were moving along slowly but they’re moving along. By the time I finished the book, I wasn’t seeing progress. I was seeing change. I was seeing that things are possible today in the sense of an African American president that weren’t possible decades ago, but, at the same time, it was hard to escape that things had gotten so much worse for an entire class of people … Emmett Till maybe could not have become president, but the infrastructure was there so he could have become a successful business person, a scholar ….  Whereas LaQuan McDonald … we gave up on LaQuan a long time before he got to that corner where he was killed by the police. He never had a chance to really make much of himself, and we as a society didn’t provide him with that chance. That’s tragic.”




author of
Bigger, Better, Louder: 150 Years of Chicago Theater as seen by "Chicago Tribune" Critics
University of Chicago Press (October 4, 2013)

Chris Jones, chief theater critic and a Sunday culture columnist for the Chicago Tribune, joined the conversation at the Hubbard Inn on November 19, 2013 to discuss his new book. 

Also featured in this episode: a performance by World War II veteran Judy Brubaker, who played the role of Ms. Leach in the original Chicago cast of Grease in 1971.

CHRIS JONES on Claudia Cassidy and Richard Christiansen:
“The Tribune had two critics who held the job for most of the 20th century … one of them was Claudia Cassidy and one was Richard Christiansen. … They were very different critics. One was largely despised by the people she covered and one was largely beloved by the people he covered. One was known for vitriolic prose – horribly nasty prose in some cases, by today’s standards anyway – and one was known for a certain courtly gentlemanly understanding. And yet, both of them at their different periods of time, seemed to give this city what it really needed.”
Read more about Grease HERE
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