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Michael “Hawkeye” Herman Recounts Music Advocacy Efforts in Grafton, WI

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by Michael “Hawkeye” Herman Dec. 5, 2020

As an internationally recognized/touring blues musician/composer/educator/historian I can assure you that blues historians, blues aficionados, and blues music fans around the world are aware of the great importance that Paramount Records and Grafton, WI holds in the history of blues music recording and the influence on US music and world cultures.

Sadly, that information was lost to the people of Wisconsin, and especially in the immediate Grafton area for over 75 years, until Grafton resident musician/educator Angie Reilly started digging into the Paramount history in hopes of elevating the awareness of Grafton and Wisconsin area residents. 

Angie Reilly and I initially connected via an online blues related forum back about 16/17 years ago. She informed me of her very proactive efforts in raising awareness in Grafton and WI, in general, of the importance of Paramount Records. The history, influence and ONGOING impact and legacy of Paramount Records was lost to the people of the Grafton area.

Ms. Reilly is very much responsible for the raising of the awareness of the people of the Grafton area regarding the world renown influence and legacy of Paramount Records, as well as her initiating and influencing the Village of Grafton administration/city council in the creation of the Paramount Walk of Fame that is the now centerpiece of downtown Grafton.

In her efforts to raise awareness of the ‘city fathers’ and the citizens, young and old, regarding Paramount’s worldwide fame amongst blues music fans she arranged to bring me to Grafton to meet with the city council and inform them, as an ‘outsider’, of the important culturally legacy and esteem that Grafton’s Paramount Records is held by the international blues community.

At that time, Ms. Reilly also arranged for me to present blues music and Grafton/Paramount history presentations/programs to in the schools to ALL of the public school students in Grafton. I was happy to oblige her request to come to Grafton and help her with her most worthwhile efforts in honoring Paramount Records, Grafton, and the many iconic blues musicians who recorded in Grafton.

Michael “Hawkeye” Herman doing his famous “Blues in the Schools” program in Grafton, WI

The positive and enduring results of her/our efforts are quite obvious: Grafton honors its Paramount blues music legacy with a permanent Paramount Walk of Fame as the featured aspect of the Grafton City Center, and an annual blues music, The Paramount Blues Festival, festival grew out of the ‘rediscovered’ legacy of Paramount Records in Grafton, WI.

You will find my personal article documenting our efforts to raise the citizens of the Grafton area’s awareness about the important and eternal legacy of Paramount Records in Grafton … as well as a link to my article documenting our mutual work in bringing the Paramount Walk of Fame into reality:

“Embracing The Legacy Of The Blues / From the South To The North – Part 2. Grafton, WI and Paramount Records”By Michael “Hawkeye” Herman
http://www.hawkeyeherman.com/pdf/14_EmbracingTheLegacy_Pt.2.pdf to raise the citizens of the Grafton area’s awareness about the important and eternal legacy of Paramount Records in Grafton.

Ozaukee Press article 

Photo Slide Show Images Provided by Michael “Hawkeye” Herman’s Large Collection of Photos

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Poem: Invisible

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Invisible

by Angie Mack Reilly 2020

I feel invisible
Do you feel invisible
We feel invisible
Divisible
Forgivable
Sensational
Deliverable
Yet invisible
I feel invisible
Do you feel invisible
We feel invisible

Photo also by Angie Mack Reilly

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Interviewing the Interviewer

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The Music of Milwaukee Radio Host Ben Merens

by Angie Mack Reilly 3.9.20

New Release!  Listen to “Babylon” by Ben Merens on Hot Seat Records

A Master of Improv

Have you ever seen the show, “Who’s Line is it Anyway?”

It’s an improvisational comedy television show.  One feature is that the actors are asked to make up comedic lyrics and a melody on the spot while a band plays music that they’ve never heard before.  NOT an easy task!

I have always marveled at the show’s actors’ ability to do this. Decades of teaching music and drama has taught me that improvisation requires a heightened sensitivity and a rapid mind. Improvisation is done without any preparation. It requires having a wealth of knowledge to pull from as well as a bravado of spirit.

This is why I like to listen to jazz.   In my opinion, jazz is one of the most difficult and advanced musical art foms to master.  Why?  Because of the improvisation.  Likewise, stand-up comedy.  It requires a high skill level of improvisation that is extremely difficult.

Like I was saying.  Very few people have this high level of skill that entails composing music, creating lyrics and creating a melody on the spot.

Ben Merens has this skill.

Having been in journalism for over 30 years, Ben is somewhat of a celebrity in the Milwaukee area. Most people know him as the longtime radio host for Wisconsin Public Radio’s At Issue With Ben Merens on the Ideas Network.

As a live radio host, Ben has had to improvise on every program.  He has literally spoken on thousands of shows without a full script.   Again, not many people can do this.

I find it fascinating that Ben has taken this strongly exercised skill of improvisation and has applied it to music.

An Example

Ben came over to record some music recently and met my son Joshua for the first time.  Within minutes of meeting Joshua, Ben created a comedic song complete with lyrics, melody and music.  The song played on the ironic fact that Joshua is a baker who cannot eat gluten.  Check it out.

 

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“Yes.  God must have a sense of humor you see.  When a baker cannot eat gluten.  I think that’s God’s stand-up comedy.” – Ben Merens

Communication Expert

Ben explained to me that all of his experience in radio has taught him amazing focus and mindfulness.   He is a keen listener which can be a rare commodity in today’s self-centered and busy world.  In fact, Ben has written a book called People Are Dying to Be Heard.  He is an experienced keynote speaker on the topic of communication.  He conducts workshops that help people and organizations find their unique story or voice.  His ability to understand people also fuels his ability to create on-the-spot songs.

Adaptability

“And the only constant in life is change. And we all must be willing to rearrange” – Ben Merens lyric from One Hundred Voices

People who have the ability to improvise are highly adaptable.   They quickly adjust.  They are keenly sensitive.   Aware.  Flexible toward change.   Adaptability knows how to feed an audience while feeding off of the audience.  Because no two audiences are the same, you will find that no two versions of Ben’s songs are the same.   He adjusts the song to fit the environment.

Forget buying mood lighting at a party.  Hire Ben to come and entertain your guests in a way that they won’t ever forget!  I’m serious!  Hire him to speak or sing at your place of worship, school, workplace or event.  Ben has a long track record of connecting with audiences of all demographics.

The Background and the Vision

Ben and I recently started connecting after a music event that we both attended in Cedarburg.   The more I have gotten to know him, the more I have appreciated what a gem of a human being he is.   Ben loves people.  Pure and simple.  And he uses his talents to help others in a variety of creative ways.  We have a similiar intuitive, improvisational and heartfelt manner in which we share our talents with others.   We both understand adaptability or, as I like to call it, fluidity.   Ben recently invited me talk with him about creativity on his Riverwest Radio show called Just Talking.  You can listen to the link below.

Because of how creatively compatible we are,  I thought that it would be great to work on a creative project with Ben.  Since we both love networking, I thought that we should invite others who want to join us.  It’s a bit improvisational.  The musicians and singers will have to be adaptable.  But we want to communicate a message as a performance public art piece.  Not perfect.  But heartfelt.  Because a lot of people need a glimmer of light right now.  Please join us.

100 Voices:  Public Performance Art

WHO:  Calling 100 Musicians and Singers for “One Hundred Voices Jiant Jam” (a Flash Mob type performance)  Don’t worry.  Nobody’s making anyone dance. (lol)
WHAT:  We will be performing “One Hundred Voices” written by radio personality Ben Merens (listen to the track above….lyrics are in the comments).  This song was inspired by the book 100 Voices:  Americans Talk About Change by Mary M. Clare.  Mary traveled the nation asking diverse people what change meant to them.  Ben wrote the song upon meeting the author.

Event has been cancelled and will hopefully be rescheduled due to Covid-19 crisis

WHEN:  Sunday March 22nd, arrive no later than noon.  Performance will be videotaped/recorded at 12:30pm.  By participating, you are agreeing to be on film, audio recording, social media, television, etc….Rain date of Sunday March 29, same times.  Try to gather in the cul de sac just south of the giant piano Walk of Fame when you arrive.
WHERE:  Paramount Plaza Walk of Fame in downtown Grafton (outside of Atlas BBQ)
HOW:  We will rehearse the song at noon under the musical direction of Angie Mack Reilly.  Looking for acoustic instruments such as acoustic guitars, hand drums, voices, violins, saxophones, etc….Please have the song memorized and rehearsed before arriving
WHY:  We want to raise awareness about the ripple effect that “one voice” has and how music continues to be a unifying, meaningful and valuable tool to bring people together.  This is an attempt to raise awareness about the musicians who recorded for the Paramount record label.

RSVP:  send your firm email commitment to angie@ozaukeetalent.comMiss6123@gmail.com or ben@benmerens.com No last minute cancellations please.

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“Just Talking: A Chat With Angie Mack Reilly 2.29.20” Ben Merens and Riverwest Radio

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We Need the Theater (Short Poem)

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We Need the Theater

by Angie Mack Reilly 2019

Feature Photo by Kevin Mikolajczak.  Lion King Jr. Produced by Angie Mack Reilly of Ozaukee Talent at the Cedarburg Performing Arts Center for the North Shore Academy of the Arts.  January 2018.  

We need to get raw and real
and express our emotions.
We need the theater to make us cry
and laugh and love again.
Humanity is threatened and compromised
by artificial intelligence.
We are at a pivot
and must preserve.

Most photos below were taken by Angie Mack Reilly.  Otherwise used with permission.

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Blues Research event planner music history Paramount Records Public Art

First Chairperson for Paramount Plaza Walk of Fame

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Names in the Paramount Walk of Fame through 2008

Grafton, WI

Chairperson of International Committee:   Angie Mack Reilly

(Patriarch of St. Louis Blues) Henry “The Mule” Townsend
(Father of the Delta Blues) Charlie Patton
(Mother of the Blues) “Ma” Rainey
(First Country Blues Star) Blind Lemon Jefferson
(Mississippi Blues Legend) “Skip” James
(Father of Gospel Music) Thomas A. Dorsey
(America’s Jazz Ambassador) Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong
(Preeminent Mississippi Bluesman) Eddie James “Son” House Jr.
(American Jazz Pioneer) Joe “King” Oliver
(King of Ragtime Guitar) Arthur “Blind” Blake

Follow Angie’s Paramount Records Educational Facebook Page

 

 

 

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Rocking the Chairs in Grafton

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Digital Art by Angie Mack Reilly 9.9.19

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Angie’s Early Pioneering Activism for Obscure Local Blues History (2004-07)

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Contact:  angie@ozaukeetalent.com for speaking engagments and interviews

December 2004
Angela got in touch with Alex van der Tuuk and began corresponding with him on a regular basis and reading his book

January 2005
ParamountsHome goes online, collects data, and begins networking locally and worldwide

April 2005
Kris of the Grafton Jaycees begins to tackle the project of putting on a blues festival in Grafton after Angie proposed the idea to the group.

May 2005
Angela gets in touch with Michael “Hawkeye” Herman and he begins encouraging her and mentoring her toward her goals.

September 2005
Joe Krupski approaches the Grafton Planning Commission to open a Paramount Restaurant

September 2005
Michael “Hawkeye” Herman does Blues in the Schools for all 3 Grafton Elementary Schools (Thanks to principal Scott Oftedahl, area music teachers and Kennedy P.A.C.E.)

Fall 2005
“Embrace the Legacy” concert series designed to educate adults about Paramount at the Timothy Wooden Building/North Shore Academy of the Arts (Thanks to Barbara Krause and Grafton Area Live Arts)

October 2005
Angie pitches the “Paramount Blues Festival” to the Cedarburg Cultural Center.  Angie helped plan the event featuring Ann Rabson, Fruitland Jackson, and a Paramount panel discussion

October 2005
Ad Hoc Committee forms to discuss the possibilities of incorporating the Paramount theme into the downtown redevelopment and Grafton’s identity. Ad Hoc Committee Members Present: Jim Brunnquell, Jim Grant, Angela Mack, Tom Sweet, Melissa Schmitz, Darrell Hofland, and Michael Rambousek. Discussion begins about creating a Paramount music society of sorts

December 2005
Paramount GIG (Grooves in Grafton) begins to form and later brings “the mobile museum” to area banks, businesses, and the library to educate the community. (Thanks to Missy Schmitz)

January 2006
Grafton Blues Association begins to form out of members from the Grafton Jaycees

July 2006
Paramount GIG presents “A Dance With Early Jazz” to raise funds for the etching of artists into the Walk of Fame

July 2006 ParamountsHome wins the annual Wisconsin Historical Society website award

July 2006
PBS History Detectives films in Grafton upon Angie’s written request and story pitch

August 2006
“Lost Musical Treasure” by PBS History Detectives airs nationwide

August 2006
The Grafton Hotel is purchased by Rob Ruvin

September 2006
Angie presents “Passionate about Paramount and the Blues” at the Grafton children’s library

September 2006
First annual Paramount Blues Festival presented by the Grafton Blues Association and attended by first lady Jessica Doyle

September 2006
Representative Mark Gottlieb issues a legislative citation to the Village of Grafton acknowledging the importance of the history and praising the Village, individuals, and groups who have embraced the history

September 2006
The Village of Grafton holds the first annual Walk of Fame ceremony to honor Henry Towsend as the first inductee into the new Walk of Fame.  Angie provides a team of youth singers to accompany the event.

September 2006
North Shore Academy of the Arts (Angie) presents a second annual “Embrace the Legacy” concert featuring the Paul Curtis Band

October 2006
ParamountsHome (Angie) lectures at the Wisconsin State Historical Museum

October 2006
Henry Townsend Memorial Benefit Concert presented by the GBA- American Legion, Grafton

November 2006 Grafton Blues Association becomes organization of the year – Grafton Chamber of Commerce

November 2006 Paramount Plaza tree lighting ceremony – Grafton Chamber of Commerce

December 2006 Paramount Restaurant opens and begins to provide a venue for musicians to play (Thanks to Joe Krupski)

December 2006 North Shore Academy of the Arts (Angie) finishes its recording studio and does some makeshift recording projects with Scout Groups, classes and birthday parties

December 2006 Paramount GIG begins to merge into the Village of Grafton Historical Preservation Commission

The News Graphic lists Angie as one of the most influential leaders in Ozaukee County. (2006)

June 2007 Playwrite Kevin Ramsey announces his new musical, “Grafton City Blues” to be performed at the Milwaukee Rep Theatre Jan-March 2008.  Angie’s interview of Kevin is published in the playbills.

June 2007 Paramount Walking Tour is completed

Summer 2007 Many of the components of the Paramount Plaza are completed

September 2007 2nd annual Paramount Blues Festival

September 22, 2007 Walk of Fame ceremony inducting Louis Armstrong and Son House. Dick Waterman came for the ceremony and gave the Grafton Historic Preservation Commission a photo of Son House and Skip James that hasn’t ever been published before.

October 18, 2007 Village of Grafton and Grafton State Bank formally dedicate the sculpture by Norm Christensen

Listen to Podcast Paramount Records:  the Rise, Fall and Resurrection featuring Alex van der Tuuk and Angie Mack Reilly presented by The World Music Foundation

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Ozaukee Press Article About Angie’s Award Winning Poems

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“America Is Coming Home Again” by Angie Mack Reilly (2012)

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America is Coming Home Again* (c) 8/12
by Inspirational Writer Angie Mack Reilly 

NARRATOR
If I were to listen to America,
MY America,
I would visit the masses online
to hear what the individuals would have to say.
I would not turn on the news
or view the perspective of the entertainment industry.
I would not look on Wall Street
or see what the Dow has to portray.
I would go to the Information Superhighway;
yes, to the digital streets to find my answer
as to where America is heading……….

ACT 1
I see Instagram trending with photos of
homemade gardens, homemade meals, pets doing pet things, happy children and seamstress’ weaves.
I see Facebook smothered in quotes of
encouragement, acceptance and prayer.
In fact, I met an entire army of friends
who have cheered me on to beat breast cancer!

NARRATOR
We are coming home.
Many of us, especially the middle class,
have learned that we have had to fend for ourselves, our families and our communities in order to stay alive.
We have learned that capitalism
and its “ists” cannot be trusted.
Therefore should not be embraced.
So we have created an America of our own….
by the people, with the people, FOR the people.

ACT II
We are traveling less because of the oil crisis.
We are making and giving homemade gifts
in order to support local and American-made business
as opposed to commerce oversees.
We are growing our own food and
sharing our recipes with friends.
We are growing our own herbs
and embracing alternative remedies.
A shift from dependent to self sufficient.
Many of us have learned that the health care system
cannot be trusted.
The Healthcare SYSTEM.
The Corporate SYSTEM.
The Education SYSTEM.
The Medical INDUSTRY.
The Oil INDUSTRY.
The Food INDUSTRY.
The Religious INSTITUTION.
The Government INSTITUTION.

THE VISIONARY
I see a rejection of system, of industry, of institution
and I see America coming home
and traveling less toward
the American Dream
as it has been dangled before us.
We are smarter than that.
We are coming home
to morality and truth.
We are making music in our homes together
and laughing once again.
We are entertaining ourselves by telling jokes,
creating fun, sharing stories and wine,
prioritizing art and love.
WHY HOME? Because we’ve realized that
we have nowhere else to go.
We were lured away from homes
for decades to travel afar
for the sake of power, esteem and wealth.
Perhaps the true American Dream
is to stay close……
to love and help family, friends,
coworkers and even enemies,
to dwell in and influence our own
personal communities—
our neighbors, our schools,
OURSELVES.

CHORUS
This is good, America.
This is good.
America is coming home again.

*Please remember that this is a piece of literature or art and should be viewed as such.

Photo by Angie Mack Reilly