'Black Radio Days' retells classic tales

By , Television critic of The Christian Science Monitor

Before there was television in every home, there was radio. And as filmmaker Woody Allen so amply demonstrated in his paean to the radio's form of pop culture in "Radio Days," it was really quite rich and varied.

Among these were lively dramas and comedies that sparked imagination because they were not all spelled out in pictures. So every renewed revival of the radio play is cause for rejoicing.

"Destination Freedom: Black Radio Days," which has been airing in Denver for two years (several episodes have aired on NPR) - revives the radio plays of Chicago writer Richard Durham, which in turn honor great figures in African-American history. The original show leaned on Chicago's cutting-edge programs from 1948 to 1950 - during "the golden age" of radio.

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And in Denver next week, theater director, actor, and playwright donnie l. betts reassembles the surviving members of the original cast of "Destination Freedom" for a live broadcast.

Included in this historic event are Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Studs Terkel, musician and songwriter Oscar Brown Jr., and radio and television actor Fred Pinkard.

The reunion show will present Durham's "The Poet of Bronzeville" (live on KUVO in Denver, Sept. 21, at 7:30 p.m., Mountain Time) about the life and poetry of Pulitzer Prize-winner Gwendolyn Brooks. This poet laureate of the United States (1985-86) came from the south side of Chicago, holds several honorary degrees, started writing by the age of 7, and was published by the time she was a teenager.

"I think this play is about the importance of perseverance," Mr. betts said in a recent interview. "Ms. Brooks decided to lead her life as a writer though she was female and African-American - three strikes against her because poetry is unappreciated right now. But she wrote about the tradition and the people around her, and people found hope in her writing.

"Brooks and her poems have been a big influence on the African-American community, on musicians, and other writers," betts continues. "A lot of the jazz and blues musicians looked to her for lyrics...."

Many of the songs of the 1960s and '70s sung by artists from Harry Belafonte to Bob Dylan were influenced by the rhythm of her writing and by her subject matter. Protest music particularly owes much to Ms. Brooks, betts says.

Vividly entertaining and informative, "Destination Freedom: Black Radio Days" is aimed at junior and senior high school and college students. Mr. betts says his show is a great learning tool to help encourage children of all ethnic groups to aspire to great heights. Its appeal is universal.

The show is also meant to help listeners see how much African-Americans have contributed to the culture. From Ida B. Wells to Jackie Robinson, the stories poured out of Durham's pen with passion and integrity. Produced by betts's company, No Credits Productions Inc., "The Poet of Bronzeville" will be taped and will air on National Public Radio stations during Black History Month in February.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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