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Setting Times stories to music: From KT Tunstall to Lauryn Hill

September 14, 2013|By Kari Howard
  • A carillon of faux bells stands with the Richard Neutra-designed Tower Of Hope on the Grounds of the former Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove.
A carillon of faux bells stands with the Richard Neutra-designed Tower… (Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)

This has always plagued me when daydreaming about my desert island discs: Should “Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim” be on the list?

Pros: It’s one of the most wonderful pairings in pop history. Each song is like a little jewel. Sinatra’s aging voice has reached its ne plus ultra of regret, especially on “How Insensitive.”

Cons: Well, there’s only one. Its 10 brief songs clock in at under 30 minutes. If stuck on a desert island for the rest of my life, would I get sick of something so short? (Yes, fully recognize that perhaps too much thought has gone into such things.)

Then this week I came across “Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim -- The Complete Reprise Recordings.” With twice the number of songs! Solves the problem, right?

Then I listened to it. Except for the novelty of hearing Sinatra sing in Portuguese, there’s a reason the original album had just 10 songs. The second 10 aren’t as good, not by a long shot.

Let’s hear it for editors, may they be creating a near-perfect album or making stories more beautiful. At The Times, I’m surrounded by brilliant ones who should get a public round of applause more often.

Anyway, in these roundups of the week gone by, I’d like to offer the first paragraphs of each Great Read (or, as they’re known in print, Column One) -- maybe they’ll buy your eye and you can settle in for a good weekend read. And you’ll also get the songs that inspired me while editing the stories, or reading them later if my fellow editor Millie Quan ushered them through. A story-song combo!

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Monday’s Great Read:

For black infants, a precarious start in life

The cramping came on quickly. Then the bleeding.

Samantha Bradley was only six months pregnant. She had already miscarried once. She knew she needed to get to an emergency room.

“I was in tears,” she said. “The only thing I could think was 'Get me to a hospital.'“

On vacation in Palm Springs, Bradley and her sister rushed to a nearby hospital. About 30 minutes later, Bradley gave birth to her son.

The baby weighed just 1 pound, 8 ounces — a little more than a bag of coffee.

She got only a quick glance before doctors whisked him away. She saw his rib cage protruding from his tiny frame. He didn't make a sound.

Black women like Bradley are 1 1/2 times as likely as white women to give birth prematurely, and their babies are more than twice as likely to die before their first birthday.

#storysongs combo: “To Zion,” by Lauryn Hill. A beautiful song from a mother to her child.

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Tuesday’s Great Read:

Rousing workers to seek higher wages

The union organizer found Naquasia LeGrand on her lunch break, sipping coffee and wearing a hat emblazoned with the logo of her employer, KFC.

She was about to return to boxing coleslaw and chicken tenders when he introduced himself and asked how she was doing, how she was surviving on $7.25 an hour, the minimum wage. The organizer, Ben Zucker, wanted to know whether she might want to join a group of workers trying to get higher pay.

It wasn't something she'd thought much about. The job was a detour between high school and that computer degree she was hoping to get someday. A way to help support her aunt, grandmother and cousin, who lived with her in a cramped apartment in one of the most expensive cities in the country.

She didn't think of herself as someone who needed to join a union or someone who would be a fast-food worker for long.

Still, the two exchanged numbers in front of the restaurant, across the street from tire shops, a bodega and a Latino church. Without knowing it, LeGrand had begun a process that would change her from an apolitical fast-food worker to one of the most vocal members of a growing labor movement.

LeGrand, 22, is the kind of convert unions desperately need as they try to reverse a decades-long decline in membership. The new front in that effort is fast-food restaurants, and union leaders, although they are optimistic, know that unionizing these workers won't happen overnight.

It took years for a janitors' campaign that began in Los Angeles in the 1980s to achieve results, for instance, and that effort occurred when unions were stronger.

The fast-food workers movement, however, has been successful in rallying disconnected workers around the minimum wage.

#storysongs combo: “To Have and to Have Not,” by Billy Bragg. Gotta have everyone's favorite leftie folkie for this story. “Just because you’re going forwards/Doesn’t mean I’m going backwards.”

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Wednesday’s Great Read:

Chinese names blend traditions, drama

I have never liked my English name.

My parents didn't know that Cindy was short for Cynthia. Or that Cindy Brady was the Cindy of the moment. They were only a few years removed from Taiwan.

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