Doc Watson: He was a pilgrim

When you’re talking about Doc Watson, the place to start is here: He was a superstar in old-time folk music, which is the rare art form in which the word “tradition” is not a curse.

Watson was a living incarnation of folk-music tradition. He knew the basics and he wasn’t scared to let his grasp of the tradition bleed into the present. It’s almost impossible to overstate his influence in the close-knit worlds of folk, country, acoustic blues and bluegrass music. “Americana” music? That’s Doc.

Only, you have to throw gospel music in there, too, if you are writing about the real Doc Watson. What was a Doc Watson show without hymns and gospel music?

Now, the mainstream press articles about his death are doing a great job of capturing his musical and cultural importance. They are, as a rule, failing to capture the Bible Belt side of his art and his personality. No surprise, right? There was more to this man than music that was loved by college professors and hip folks sipping foreign beers in folk clubs in Greenwich Village.

This section of The Los Angeles Times obituary is a solid attempt at expressing the whole NPR-PBS side of Doc’s impact:

With his natural ease as a storyteller, his heartfelt baritone singing, his repository of material and his facility on guitar, Watson was a rare combination of authenticity and artistry.

His example inspired a generation of musicians to explore obscure musical pockets, as well as to upgrade their instrumental technique toward the remarkably high standards he established. He is one of the prime sources of the hybrid, roots-conscious Americana genre, and a key influence on such noted players as Norman Blake, Tony Rice, Buddy Miller and Dan Crary.

“Doc Watson sort of defined in many ways what Americana has become,” Jed Hilly, executive director of the Americana Music Assn., told The Times. “He played different styles of American roots music. He played traditional country, he played what would be traditional folk, he played what was traditional bluegrass, he played gospel. All those elements sort of interwoven, that’s what Buddy Miller does today.… Nothing is more definitive than Doc Watson’s appreciation for a broad spectrum of music in the Americana world.”

Watson received a National Medal of Arts in 1997 and a lifetime achievement award from the Recording Academy in 2004.

OK, at this point it will help to watch the video at the top of this post.

Unless I am mistaken, what we have here is the last song in Doc’s last set at what has turned out to be his last Merlefest — the annual bluegrass and folk festival in Wilkesboro, N.C., that Watson created in honor of his guitar virtuoso son Merle, who died way too young in a farm accident. (Can you imagine the folks who are going to turn out to perform at Merlefest this summer, as a tribute to Doc?)

This gospel classic is one of those traditional folk standards that Watson carried into the modern world. This is literally the kind of song that helps define him.

Like most traditional folk songs, it’s easy to find variations on the basic lyrics. Folk music is like that. It’s alive. Here’s the top of the song the way Doc sang it the most:

I am a pilgrim and a stranger
Traveling through this wearisome land
And I’ve got a home in that yonder city, good Lord
And it’s not (good Lordy it’s not) not made by hand

I am a pilgrim and a stranger
Travelling through this wearsome land
I’ve got a home in that yonder city, good Lord
And it’s not not made by hand

I’ve got a father, a son, a mother, and a brother
The’ve gone gone home to the other shore
I am determined to go and see them up there
And live with them forever more

When I go down to old chilly Jordan
Just to bathe my weary soul
If I can but touch the hem of his garment, good Lord
Then I know he’ll take me home

When I watched this video for the first time, I wondered if Watson was thinking that this was his last time at this festival that meant so much for him. He’s going one extra song (watch the stage crew moving behind him, setting up for the next act) and it’s a song he often sang as a tribute to Merle.

This time he ends the song with a verse that he added to the traditional hymn. It’s is own farewell.

Now when you’ve laid me down for the last time
With my tired hands resting on my breast
I don’t want none of that ‘ole weeping and crying over me
because you know this old boy is gone to rest

That’s Doc Watson. It’s his own farewell. His hands are getting weak and his memory is not what it used to be, when it comes to remembering all the lyrics. But he knows what he wants to say.

Has anyone seen coverage of his death that includes this side of this American master?

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Lady (Gaga) sings the blues

Time to get out your GetReligion dancing shoes:

Ohohohoh, I’m in love with Judas

Ohohohoh, I’m in love with Judas

Judas! Judaas Judas! Judaas
Judas! Judaas Judas! GAGA

When he comes to me I am ready
I’ll wash his feet with my hair if he needs
Forgive him when his tongue lies through his brain
Even after three times he betrays me

I’ll bring him down, bring him down, down
A king with no crown, king with no crown

[Chorus]
I’m just a Holy Fool, oh baby he’s so cruel
But I’m still in love with Judas, baby
I’m just a Holy Fool, oh baby he’s so cruel
But I’m still in love with Judas, baby

So goes the first stanza of the pop song “Judas” performed by Lady Gaga, the stage name of New York-born singer/song writer Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta. Lady Gaga’s work has won her fans round the world, but news reports from her tour of South East Asia indicates she has garnered a few enemies as well.

MTV News (I think this is a first for GetReligion — linking to an MTV News story) reports:

Lady Gaga has had a rough couple of weeks. What should have been a celebratory kick-off to her “Born This Way Ball” has been marred in controversy, as the pop superstar has encountered protests from religious groups at nearly every turn.

The tour’s first show in Seoul, South Korea, was marred by protests from Christian groups saying Mother Monster was “obscene” and could “taint” young people with her performance. The protestors even managed to get the Korea Media Rating Board to elevate the age rating for the concert from 12 to 18, prohibiting minors from seeing the show.

The second leg of the tour, MTV reports, was equally difficult.

She encountered similar troubles in the Philippines, where her May 21 and 22 concerts in Manila were met with similar derision from Christian groups claiming her lyrics are blasphemous and that the sentiment behind songs like “Born this Way” promotes “promiscuity” and homosexuality. A few days before the first concert, anti-riot police were forced to stop hundreds of protestors from descending on the venue. Gaga responded to the hubbub today on Twitter, saying, “And don’t worry, if I get thrown in jail in Manila, Beyonce will just bail me out. Sold out night 2 in the Philippines. I love it here!”

A June show in Jakarta may be cancelled in the face of threats from militant Muslims.

 “The Jakarta situation is 2-fold: Indonesian authorities demand I censor the show & religious extremist separately, are threatening violence,” Gaga tweeted earlier today.

A 17 May 2012 AP story gives further details of the protest in the Philippines. The version printed by the Washington Post began:

 Scores of Christian youths in the Philippines chanted “Stop the Lady Gaga concerts” at a rally Friday calling for the pop diva’s shows here to be canceled despite assurances from authorities that they won’t allow nudity and lewd acts.

Christian youths — and they are exactly what? Paragraph three tells us more about these three score and 10 youths.

About 70 members of a group called Biblemode Youth Philippines rallied in front of the Pasay City Hall in metropolitan Manila. They said they were offended by Lady Gaga’s music and videos, in particular her song “Judas,” which they say mocks Jesus Christ.

And what is Biblemode Youth Philippines? The article does not say. But it later states:

Former Manila Mayor Jose Atienza said the singer and organizers can be punished for offending race or religion. Under the penal code in the conservative, majority Roman Catholic country, the penalty can range from six months to six years in prison, although no one has been convicted recently.

The narrative arc of the MTV story is sympathetic to Lady Gaga — as one would expect. The AP story adopts a neutral tone, but gives more space in the story to those offended by Lady Gaga’s musical act. Again, this is what one would expect as the story from the AP is focused on the protests.

However, I would have hoped the AP story would have gone a bit deeper in its reporting as this appeared to the be the source for MTV‘s report — and was the principle vehicle for this story in the American press. The AP story identifies the protestors in Manila as Christians and then as members of Biblemode Youth Philippines. But it stops there — save for noting the Philippines are a “conservative, majority Roman Catholic country.”

It would be natural to assume that these Christian youths are Catholic youths. Catholic youth movements are politically active in the Philippines — protesting the government’s recent contraception bill. But Biblemode Youth Philippines is not on the Catholic Church’s Federation of National Youth Organizations’ membership list.

A quick check of the group’s Facebook page shows that it is not a parish organization that would be below the level of groups in the national Catholic youth federation, but shows the members of Biblemode Youth Philippines are Baptists.

Where members of the “majority” Roman Catholic church among the protestors? Or was this a Protestant affair — or even a Baptist protest against Lady Gaga?

When saying “Christians are protesting”, is it responsible journalism to say what sort of Christians are protesting? I believe so.

There is the issue of precision. But there is also the underlying religious question. What is the significance of a minority Christian group leading the Manila protests against Lady Gaga? Is there silence from the Catholic Church on this issue? If so, why?

Which groups were leading the protests against Lady Gaga in Korea? Is there any link between the protestors in Korea and the Philippines? Does Lady Gaga offend against decency or good taste in an equal degree in the Philippines and Korea?

Are the protestors Westboro Baptist wannabees? Is there a link to the anti-American movement in the Philippines?

What exactly is going on here?

I ask you, GetReligion readers, am I making a mountain out of a molehill, or should we expect precision on this point?

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In the end, Summer worked hard for her Lord

Back in my college days, a missionary kid-journalist friend of mine (who later spent some time as a presidential speechwriter) turned me on to that fabulous “Sittin’ In” album by Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina. The songs were OK, he said, but his advice was to check out the horn charts and keyboards. We both said: Who in the world is Michael Omartian?

Being a music fanatic, I started following Omartian’s work, especially his incredible piano tracks on the classic Steely Dan album called “Katy Lied.” Eventually, I discovered — via his “White Horse” album for ABC Records — that Omartian was actually an evangelical Christian who was embedded, so to speak, in the elite levels of the LA studio scene.

And then something even more interesting happened. Omartian teamed up with Donna Summer, who was trying to find a way to blend her reborn Christian faith with her music career. She was moving out of the sex-sex-sex disco music club scene, but still wanted to produce pulsating songs. In other words, she wanted hits with content.

How did things turn out? Click here for a classic.

Summer’s great voice is gone, after she lost a fight with cancer, and journalists are trying to figure out the timeline of her complex career. Here’s a tip for readers: If the name Michael Omartian is in the article, you’re in good hands.

However, if you want to know how to get this superstar’s life wrong, check out this piece in The Los Angeles Times. It does include this quote up top:

A statement from her family called Summer “a woman of many gifts, the greatest being her faith.”

The story notes that she was raised in a church-going family and it hits the key notes in her stunning rise to the top of the disco-era hierarchy. Eventually, readers are told:

… (U)nlike some other stars of disco who faded as the music became less popular, she was able to grow beyond it and later segued to a pop-rock sound. She had one of her biggest hits in the 1980s with “She Works Hard for the Money,” which became an anthem for women’s rights.

Soon after, Summer became a born-again Christian and faced controversy when she was accused of making anti-gay comments in relation to the AIDS epidemic. Summer denied making the comments but was the target of a boycott.

Sorry, but that timeline is wrong and it’s also missing one or two key facts. The Washington Post came closer, but still got the timeline wrong:

Amid Ms. Summer’s success in the late 1970s, she suffered from depression and attempted suicide. She wrote in her 2003 memoir that she climbed onto the window sill of her Central Park hotel room. As she leaned out, her foot got caught in the drapes, preventing her fall. She became a born-again Christian by the mid-1980s and many of her later songs had religious themes.

Readers who want to see some justice done to Summer’s life, music and faith should turn to veteran music scribe Jon Pareles at The New York Times.

Early on, he accurately notes that her pulsating sex anthems turned her into a superstar in a perfectly logical venue:

With her doe eyes, cascade of hair and sinuous dance moves, Ms. Summer became the queen of disco — the music’s glamorous public face — as well as an idol with a substantial gay following. Her voice, airy and ethereal or brightly assertive, sailed over dance floors and lept from radios from the mid-’70s well into the ’80s. …

Her combination of a church-rooted voice and up-to-the-minute dance beats was a template for 1970s disco, and, with her producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, she pioneered electronic dance music with the synthesizer pulse of “I Feel Love” in 1977, a sound that pervades 21st-century pop. Her own recordings have been sampled by, among others, Beyoncé, the Pet Shop Boys, Justice and Nas.

This is the easy part of the Summer story, the glittering piece of her complex life that pushed reports about her death into evening newscasts on the major networks. To see a typical example, one that ignores the complexity of her career, check out NBC’s wrap.

Pareles, however, nails down the details and captures the key sequence of events that defined her life.

… (S)he was increasingly uncomfortable being promoted as a sex goddess. “I’m not just sex, sex, sex,” she told Ebony magazine in 1977. “I would never want to be a one-dimensional person like that.”

She became so depressed that in late 1976 she attempted suicide, she wrote in her 2003 autobiography, “Ordinary Girl: The Journey,” written with Marc Eliot. She began taking medication for depression and seeking consolation in religion, becoming a born-again Christian in 1979.

Many news reports — like that Los Angeles Times piece — attempt to link her conversion with her fading musical career.

Sorry, but that gets the timeline wrong. It’s too simplistic. The actual sequence is more complex and looks like this — disco queen, depression, attempted suicide, reborn faith and then more hits in a variety of musical styles, including her work with Omartian. Here’s a crucial paragraph:

“On the Radio” was Ms. Summer’s last album for Casablanca. As disco receded, she moved to Geffen Records, seeking to hold her broader pop audience. She tried new wave rock on “The Wanderer” in 1981, then switched to the R&B produced by Quincy Jones for “Donna Summer” in 1982. But she would reach her 1980s commercial peak with “She Works Hard for the Money” in 1983, collaborating with the producer Michael Omartian. It was her last Top 10 album, and amid its gleaming pop productions it included “He’s a Rebel,” an indirect Christian rock song — “He’s a rebel, written up in the lamb’s book of life” — that won a Grammy for best inspirational performance.

Summer’s faith and values influenced her work in many subtle ways in the 1980s, including in her trailblazing music videos. As a tribute to her amazing talent, I would urge readers to watch the video at the top of this post, which adds an completely different layer of content to this Summer-Omartian take on the classic “There Goes My Baby.” Here’s a challenge: Try to count the number of shots of her wedding ring.

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A Buddhist Beastie dies

Adam Yauch, one of the founders of the Beastie Boys, died on Friday in Manhattan. He was only 47 years old. He’d been sick with cancer for some time, not well enough to appear at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last month when the group was inducted. Still, the news was quite a shock for his many fans.

As anyone who went to one of his Tibetan Freedom Fests would recall, Yauch was a Buddhist. I was curious how obituaries might remember this important aspect of his life. Thankfully, many did a nice job. For background, first of all, you might enjoy this Tricycle interview with him from nearly 20 years ago.

The Huffington Post had a piece headlined “Beastie Boys’ Adam Yauch’s Buddhist Spirituality Permeated His Life And Music.” It collects some great links related to Yauch’s spiritual life, including details about how his religious tradition helped him in his battle against cancer and how it influenced his music.

For more mainstream outlets, the New York Times treated the religious aspect here:

While the Beastie Boys’ music continued to offer a crunching, squealing good time during the 1990s, the rhymes it carried grew more mature. Vandalism was replaced by constructive thoughts, and offhand sexism was replaced by explicit respect for women. After travels in Tibet and Nepal, Mr. Yauch became a practicing Tibetan Buddhist. On the Beastie Boys’ 1994 album, “Ill Communication,” he rapped “Bodhisattva Vow,” a version of a pledge taken by devout Buddhists, over a hip-hop drumbeat mixed with the deep chanting of Buddhist monks. The Beasties also brought Buddhist monks to perform ceremonies at the 1994 Lollapalooza Festival.

In 1994 Mr. Yauch started the nonprofit Milarepa Fund, which presented the Tibetan Freedom Concert series to raise awareness of Chinese control of Tibet. The first one, in 1996, drew more than 100,000 people to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco; concerts followed in New York, Washington, Tokyo, Sydney, Amsterdam, Taipei and elsewhere. After Sept. 11, 2001, Milarepa organized New Yorkers Against Violence, offering relief efforts for victims of violence.

In 1998 he married Dechen Wangdu, who survives him along with their daughter, Tenzin Losel; and his parents, Frances and Noel Yauch.

The Washington Post added to these details at the end of the obituary:

On a trip to Asia in the early 1990s, Mr. Yauch met Tibetan refugees while hiking the Himalayas and was inspired to pursue Buddhism.

During the 1990s and 2000s, he organized the Tibetan Freedom Concert, a series of music festivals, most of them lasting two days, that promoted pacifism and Tibetan independence. One was at RFK Stadium in 1998. Proceeds benefited Mr. Yauch’s charity, the Milarepa Fund, named for a Tibetan saint who sought enlightenment by composing music.

Having found Buddhism, Mr. Yauch said he regretted his earlier destructive ways.

“I didn’t realize how much harm I was doing back then,” Mr. Yauch said in 1998. “I had kids coming up to me and saying, ‘Yo, I listen to your record while I’m smoking dust, man.’ And I’d say, ‘Hey, man, we’re just kidding. I don’t smoke dust.’ People need to be more aware of how they’re affecting people.”

The reader who sent in this Washington Post piece said that it was a “very good obituary that linked the Buddhism to a genuine chance of heart that was reflected in his performances and daily life. We also learn of his secular upbringing by parents of different faiths, and get a good idea of this man’s trajectory in life. (And unlike many entertainers, this seemed like a positive trajectory.).” Sounds about right. The reader noted that the obituary was a bit brief on details related to Yauch’s marriage and any role she might have played in his religious life, but that for a brief piece, it was quite nice.

I agree. I find many of these obituaries to be somewhat short on details, but very nice, respectful and sympathetic. Do let us know if you see anything worth special mention.

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Pod people: Bono as a young believer

To tell you the truth, I have always thought that it is very easy for first-person journalism — especially arts and entertainment criticism — to slip into vague, self-centered mush.

Thus, when offered the chance to write a weekly rock music column for The Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette (while working as on the copy desk) back in the late 1970s, I made a vow that I would only write pieces focusing on news and trends in the local music scene (which was a lively one in those days). I didn’t write a single review in four years.

As you would expect, I was also interested in writing music columns that contained religion hooks. My long-term goal, after all, was to become one of the nation’s relatively few religion-beat professionals.

So, what would you think if you were standing in the Record Service store in the campustown area next to the University of Illinois in the winter of 1982 and you heard the following lyrics blasting out of the speakers located all around that famous and funky co-op?

I try to sing this song
I, I try to stand up, but I can’t find my feet
I, I try to speak up, but only in you I’m complete
Gloria, in te domine
Gloria, exultate

My friends behind the front desk (I was a fanatically loyal customer) knew enough about my interests in rock and religion to think that I might have heard something about this mysterious Irish band that was about to hit town for a concert in the old, wonderful auditorium on the UI quad.

What did I think of these lyrics? And why bring it up now?

This leads me to my Scripps Howard column for this week and this week’s Crossroads podcast.

The chorus for the song “Gloria” was, of course, in Latin. I set out to report a news column about it and the rumors surrounding this young, but rising, band.

A Newman Center priest told me that the first phrase, perhaps a Mass fragment or drawn from chant, meant, “Glory in you, Lord.” The next meant, “Exalt Him.” Then again, it was hard to hear the second Latin phrase.

The priest apologized and said he wasn’t used to parsing rock lyrics.

Yes, the band 30 years ago was U2 and its mysterious second album was called “October.” Both were surrounded by clouds of rumors, which I explored in a News-Gazette column on Feb. 19, 1982. What I needed to do was meet the band before its Feb. 23 concert in Champaign-Urbana.

Luckily, the 20-year-old Bono was willing to discuss “Gloria” and “October.” … That column ran on March 5 and it apparently was the first mainstream news piece in which Bono and company discussed their faith. I immediately pitched the story to Rolling Stone, where editors decided that U2 wasn’t all that important or that it was bizarre for a guy like Bono to talk about God — or both.

All of that changed — quickly.

Thirty years down the road, what is striking about that interview is the fact that the issues that drove Bono then still dominate his life today.

Bono and The Edge were willing to talk about their Christian faith, but they stressed over and over that U2 was not a “Christian band” and never would be. Bono said he thought it was horrible to think that a struggling believer such as himself could be associated with a product bearing a “Christian” label.

Listening to my cassette recording of the main Bono interview from my 1982 encounters with the band for the first time in about 15-plus years, I was also surprised to hear that — during the prep work for “October” — Bono said he had been listening to Gregorian chant and “Greek Orthodox music” to broaden his tastes.

Wow, I missed that Orthodoxy reference 30 years ago, back in my “moderate” Southern Baptist deacon days.

It was also interesting to note that the singer — at age 20 — was already intensely interested in issues of world hunger. During another conversation, either before or after the band’s Bible study after the concert, he also talked about poverty in Africa.

I did not know, at the time, that this interview represented a new door into the band’s life and work. This early tour, of course, came shortly after the band’s decision to stay together — despite pressure for Christian friends who claimed that it was impossible to mix mainstream rock and Christian faith.

For years, I thought that my interview might have been the first in the North American mainstream press to include material in which Bono and The Edge openly discussed their faith. However, it now appears that it might have been the first mainstream news interview on the topic — period.

The massive reference book called “U2: A Diary” contains this entry:

University of Illinois Auditorium

After tonight’s show, U2 are interviewed by Terry Mattingly for CCM, a Christian music magazine. Although the band have gone out of their way to avoid talking about their faith up to this point, they speak candidly now. “It’s time to talk about it,” Edge says. One of the revelations in the article, which appears in the magazine’s August issue, is Edge, Larry and Bono use Bible study and prayer to help them “wind down” after concerts. Bono says U2 doesn’t want to be stereotyped as a “religious band,” but is confident that most fans understand the messages in many U2 songs.”

When I first saw this item a few years ago, I was really ticked.

You see the problem, of course. I did not interview the band for CCM. I interviewed Bono and The Edge for the local daily newspaper. I was able to get a short clip from my second piece into the arts pages at Esquire, of all places, and I tried to get Rolling Stone to take the story. CCM was the only outlet that was interested in a relatively full version of the piece.

Does anyone know how one goes about getting a correction in A BOOK?

Oh well, there is so much more I could say about those two days back in 1982. For starters, I need to find my photo slides from the concert and get them into digital format somehow.

Enjoy the podcast. Meanwhile, here is the final chunk of the new Scripps Howard column for U2 fans to ponder:

… (Bono) expressed disappointment that so many people — artists in particular — attempt to avoid the ultimate questions that haunt life. The doubts, fears, joys and grace of religious faith are a part of life that “we like to sweep under the carpet,” he concluded.

“Deep down, everyone is aware. You know, when somebody dies, when somebody in their family dies. … Things that happen around us, they shock people into a realization of what is going down,” he told me.

“I mean, when you look at the starvation, when you think that a third of the population of this earth is starving, is crying out in hunger, I don’t think that you can sort of smile and say, ‘Well, I know. We’re the jolly human race, you know. We’re all very nice, REALLY. I mean, we’re not, are we?”

Amen to that.

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Faith is front and center at Whitney’s funeral

Who knew that Kevin Costner is, or was, a Baptist?

Funerals are the kinds of events when it’s hard not to get religion, to feature at least some of those quotes that talk about eternal issues and ultimate choices.

The nearly 4-hour funeral of superstar Whitney Houston was no exception. I watched much of the live-streamed coverage on CBS.com and, truth is, the network’s online wrap-up story about this event — part home-church Going Home celebration at Newark’s New Hope Baptist Church, part celebrity cable-TV special — captured some, repeat “some,” of its religious content.

There was plenty of preaching, of course. The overarching theme on this day was that Houston stumbled and fell at many points in her Christian walk, but that she knew Jesus as her Lord when she was young and that she kept coming back to that spiritual home base throughout her life. As producer-actor Tyler Perry said:

“There are two constants that I know about Whitney Houston,” Perry said. “There was a grace that carried her from heaven down through Miss Cissy Houston, a grace that brought her up through singing. The other thing I know for sure: Whitney Houston loved the Lord.”

The preachers said that, too, but no one expects the mainstream press to focus on what preachers’ say — in part because it’s so hard to yank just one strong quote out of a full-tilt sermon without letting the readers know the context and the larger themes that shaped that quote. That’s hard work for journalists with only a few lines of type to spare. Can I get an “amen”?

That’s why it is so significant that Costner — who spoke for nearly 20 minutes — opened up and talked so bluntly about his relationship with the gospel singer turned Hollywood superstar. Costner knew he was in church.

Costner remembered his co-star in “The Bodygiard” as a movie star who was uncertain of her own fame, who “still wondered, ‘am I good enough? Am I pretty enough? Will they like me?’ ”

“It was the burden that made her great and the part that caused her to stumble in the end,” Costner said.

And later, there was this additional content from that Costner eulogy:

When Costner gave his remarks he made the crowd laugh at various points while remembering their friendship and working relationship. He talked about what the pair had in common: Both had been raised in the Baptist church and both liked to sing. He said Houston, of course, was a much better singer.

“I thought she was the perfect choice,” Costner said about casting Houston in “The Bodyguard,” her first movie role.

“Whitney if you can hear me now, you weren’t just good enough,” he said about Houston despite her insecurities. “You were great.” Costner, his voice cracking, ended by saying, “When you sing before Him, don’t worry, you’ll be good enough.”

Of course, it’s much easier to hear the capital “H” in “Him” when Costner’s full final quote is left intact. The ABC News coverage of his talk featured some very blunt material about the actor’s blunt words — including advice to the singer’s own daughter — content so blunt that it will be interesting to see if it surfaces in other reports.

(Costner) offered advice on behalf of Houston to her daughter and millions of other aspiring singers.

“To you, Bobbi Kristina, and to all those young girls who are dreaming that dream, thinking that maybe they aren’t good enough, I think Whitney would tell you, guard your bodies,” he said. “And guard the precious miracle of your own life. Then sing your hearts out. ”

He choked up towards the end. “Off you go Whitney, off you go,” he said. “Escorted by an army of angels to your heavenly father. When you sing before him, don’t you worry. You’ll be good enough.”

I believe, under Associated Press style, that passage near the end should be, “Escorted by an army of angels to your Heavenly Father. When you sing before Him, don’t you worry.” Don’t you think?

There are many other things to point out in the service. I thought, in many ways, that one of the most poignant pieces of content came near the very end, when some of The Winans performed “Tomorrow,” one of their gospel classics that Whitney Houston had performed, as well. The lyrics were powerful, at the funeral of a believer who died too soon after making tragically bad choices.

Here’s a slice or two of that:

Jesus said Here I stand
Won’t you please let me in
And you said I will — tomorrow

Jesus said I am he
Who supplies all your needs
And you said I know — but tomorrow …

Tomorrow
Tomorrow is not promised
Don’t let this moment slip away
Your tomorrow could very well begin today

That’s challenging stuff to put into mainstream news copy. I know that.

I mean, it’s so much easier to simply focus on the celebrity details in this kind of event. That religion stuff just goes on and on and takes up so much room.

What does this look like in practice? This final segment of the ABC News live-blogging feed, which includes the “Tomorrow” performance, says it all:

2:59 p.m. ET: Pastor Marvin Winans, a Houston family friend, is delivering Whitney’s official eulogy. He thanks Cissy Houston for her willingness to “forget about everything else” and have the service at their family church.

3:08 p.m. ET: Now the whole Winans family is performing “Tomorrow.”

3:12 p.m. ET: Marvin Winans reveals that N.J. governor Chris Christie is at the church. He thanks Christie for standing by his decision to lower the state’s flags to half mast today.

3:34 p.m. ET: Winans appears to be wrapping up his eulogy. He asks everyone to bow their heads for a prayer.

3:36 p.m. ET: Whitney’s golden casket is covered with flowers — the arrangement is almost as big as the casket itself.

3:38 p.m. ET: Prayer turns to song — the choir is singing “Amen.”

3:41 p.m. ET: The service appears to be over. They’re figuring out logistics of getting the casket out of the church and clearing out the packed house. ”As you can see, we have more stars here than the Grammys,” the man at the podium says. “That says something.”

Help your GetReligionistas watch for the final stories in the newspapers tomorrow. Also, if anyone sees solid video roundups after the evening news shows, please leave URLs in the comments pages. I won’t be watching now, since it’s Saturday night — which means it’s time for Vespers. And Great Lent is coming.

VIDEO: A classic gospel moment with “I Believe,” featuring Whitney and her mother, the great Cissy Houston.

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Why are some reverends not reverends?

Warning: The following post is picky beyond belief and focuses on an issue in Associated Press style.

It is the kind of post that GetReligion readers are not almost certainly not going to comment on, other than a few who might drop by the comment pages to write, with a snark, “This is so, so picky, I can’t believe you care about this kind of stuff!”

That aside, I do hope that some religion-beat specialists chime in. Why? Because I sincerely want to know why they think this particular style error is becoming more and more common.

OK, have I turned enough readers off?

Right, let’s begin.

The newspaper that lands in my front yard is pretty pumped up, as you would imagine, about the Baltimore Ravens and the National Football League playoffs at the moment (Sorry ’bout that, Pittsburgh). Thus, editors at the Baltimore Sun are running just about anything that will feature the color purple in the graphics, while containing the word “Ravens” in the headline.

Thus, we have this standard-issue news feature about an interesting man who will, briefly, be front and center at this weekend’s playoff game (Sorry ’bout that Pittsburgh). Here is how it opens:

Just before the Ravens face the Houston Texans Sunday, they will hear a familiar voice — other than John Harbaugh’s, that is.

It will be the smooth, vibrant baritone of Mishael Miller, who has sung the national anthem for Ravens home games since the first one in 1996.

“It has definitely been a blessing,” Miller, 41, said. “I meet people weekly who recognize me. I never thought it would have been the anthem that people would know me for, or that I would become a staple in this area as a result of singing it.”

With an octave-and-a-half range, “The Star-Spangled Banner” has defeated many an amateur and professional singer. The Philadelphia-born Miller, who earned a degree in music at Morgan State University, brings solid vocal training to the assignment.

Like I said, pretty standard stuff — other than the word “blessing.”

Then a few paragraphs later, Sun readers are given this additional background information about Miller. You see, it seems that the man does more than sing this one particular song on demand.

“… I want people to know that I do sing more than the National Anthem,” Miller said.

For one thing, he sings gospel music, a longtime passion that he gets to demonstrate weekly as assistant pastor at the Pennsylvania Avenue A.M.E. Zion Church.

“He is a great help,” said the senior pastor, the Rev. Lester Agyei McCorn. “And we love his [Ravens work]. It’s a blessing. It’s great that the rest of the nation gets to experience what we experience every Sunday. It works out fine, especially now that we have a 10 a.m. service. He has plenty of time to get to the stadium.”

OK, copy-desk pros, did you see the problem?

The A.M.E. Zion is a thoroughly mainstream, even mainline denomination. Later on in the story we find — no surprise here — that Miller completed a master’s degree from the Howard University School of Divinity. If he is an assistant pastor, then the odds are very, very strong that he has been ordained. In fact, a few clicks of a mouse will bring a would-be journalist to the church’s home page, where Miller is identified as as an ordained clergyman.

So, why did the Sun choose to strip him of his title? Why, on first reference, doesn’t this story refer to him as the Rev. Mishael Miller? It’s in the AP stylebook, after all. Also, we know that the editors know the rule, because the senior pastor is properly identified as the Rev. Lester Agyei McCorn.

So, again, what happened to Miller?

Actually, I am seeing this error more and more often in recent years. What is going on? It seems to me that the minute an ordained clergyperson does anything that is really important — you know, something other than work in ministry — this means that they somehow graduate to a status that is more important than “the Rev.” or something like that. This is, I have noticed, particularly common in stories about women and African-Americans.

Has anyone else noticed this? Does anyone else on the Godbeat have any additional theories about this phenomenon?

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Truth about Justin Bieber’s tattoo exposed!

Mock me for dipping into the celebrity gossip pages twice in one week if you want, but, hey, few GetReligion readers seemed very interested in yesterday’s post about the mainstream news coverage of the threatening ultimatum issued to the Christians of Nigeria.

So, let’s try Justin Bieber.

We have news. He got another tattoo. Here’s how the New York Daily News wrote it up:

Justin Bieber showed some skin – and some new body art – during a trip to Venice Beach in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

Wearing a pair of black swim trunks, the teen heartthrob sported a big tattoo of Jesus on the back of his left calf. …

But this isn’t the 17-year-old’s first time getting inked.

The “Baby” singer also has Jesus’ name tattooed in Hebrew on his rib cage, as well as an image of a bird on his left hip.

Bieber has spoken out about his religious beliefs in the past.

“I’m a Christian, I believe in God, I believe that Jesus died on a cross for my sins,” he told The Associated Press last year. “I believe that I have a relationship and I’m able to talk to him and really, he’s the reason I’m here, so I definitely have to remember that. As soon as I start forgetting, I’ve got to click back and be like, you know, this is why I’m here.”

Godbeat pro Cathleen Falsani is my go-to expert on all things Bieber and God. She literally wrote the book on it. So I actually knew about those other tattoos already. (Follow her on Twitter here.)

But I write about it here at GetReligion because of how another media outlet handled this news.

No, not the Huffington Post, where you can vote on whether you find the tattoo “heavenly” or “sinful.” The Daily Mail wrote up the big news about the Jesus tattoo but included the following pair of images (second illustration with post, on the left).

Now, do you think it’s true, as the caption reads, that “Bieber’s latest inking is based on the image of Jesus called Ecce Homo dating back to 1610 by artist Rubens”?

I don’t. I think the inspiration is the one I pictured above (which I guess is a computer generated image of much more recent vintage, also done in the Ecce Homo style).

This isn’t a science, but if you look here at this pretty good picture of the tattoo, I think it looks closer to the Ecce Homo I embedded at the top of the post. It even looks closer to Guido Rene‘s Ecce Homo than Rubens‘, doesn’t it?

I really worked hard to find the artist behind the image at the top, incidentally, but couldn’t.

Of course, at least the Mail tried to add some context to the religious tattoo. Which is more than we can say about most of the media outlets discussing this huge news.

Perhaps some will get around to it in their follow-up stories on what the tattoo means and we’ll see reports in Us and People about how Ecce Homo is the depiction of a particular scene from the Passion of Christ and that “Ecce Homo” (Behold the Man) were the words used by Pontius Pilate in the Vulgate translation of John 19:5 at the presentation of the scourged Jesus to a hostile crowd before his crucifixion.

Who knows? Maybe we’ll get a little discussion of how this scene and the scenes surrounding it have been painted over the years.

Or maybe not.

But if you’re going to cite the artistic inspiration for the tattoo, you should get your facts right. I hear those Beliebers are sticklers for the facts.

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