Tag Archives: Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson: a trip to the moon on gossamer wings

photo: Buda Fabio MoriBy MARTHA ULLMAN WEST

Michael Jackson was a great dancer. And a very American one, heavily influenced by John Travolta and touted as such by Fred Astaire, an even greater American dancer.

It was this part of his talent that made me mourn this sad man’s passing: The strength of my response to the news of his death surprised me, I must admit.

And so I’ve been reading the coverage in The Oregonian and looking for mention of the man’s incredible ability to move. Marty Hughley’s eloquent analysis told me much I did not know, as did that emerging dancer Peter Ames Carlin‘s. But no nod to the way the man moved.

Then, to my delight, there was an account in this morning’s Oregonian of the French, frequently a class act, celebrating Jackson by moonwalking around the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris: I hope someone filmed it.

Just now, I turned online to the New York Times and read Alastair Macauley’s tribute to Jackson’s dancing talent — who knew that the British-born critic with his eagle eye for the subtleties of classical dance from Petipa to Cunningham would go to the trouble to watch a whole slew of YouTube snippets of Jackson dancing and write so perceptively about him?

For my part, I will always associate Jackson with dancing, and not just his: when my daughter was in the second grade at Glencoe Elementary School, her teacher drilled the kids in aerobic dance for exercise and they put on a fabulous performance to Beat It for the parents.

Outstanding was a boy who was quite horizontally challenged, but, man, could he move to Jackson’s beat. Nearly as well as Jackson.

— Martha Ullman West


The river of gospel, running through America

Like the post above, this story — which ran originally in The Oregonian on Dec. 22, 1991 — is a tribute to the great gospel singer Willa Dorsey, who died in Portland on Jan. 5 at age 75. Above is my profile of Dorsey from 17 years ago. Here is its companion piece, about the role of gospel music in American art and culture, with more contributions from Dorsey. May she sing with the angels.


“O sing unto the Lord a new song, for He hath done marvelous things. With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise before the Lord, thy King.” — Psalm 98

“Why should the devil have all the good tunes?” — John Wesley (1703-1791), founder of Methodism

Like a great river rolling underground, American gospel music is a fount of life bubbling just below public consciousness. Maybe you don’t know it’s there. But it’s been nourishing you all your life.

Born in the churches and nurtured as a celebration and protection against emotional harm, black gospel music has watered an astonishing amount of the country’s popular music — blues, jazz, rhythm and blues, street corner do-wop, rock ‘n’ roll, soul, even contemporary pop by the likes of Prince and Michael Jackson.

As Christmas approaches, Americans are caught up in other countries’ musical traditions: carols from England; high-church music from Germany and Italy; “Nutcracker” fantasies courtesy of a melodic, grandfatherly 19th-century Russian.

But there is also a sound of celebration much closer to the native grain: as close as the doors to such North and Northeast Portland churches as Maranatha and Mt. Olivet Baptist. In those vibrant congregations and others like them, the flame of a peculiarly American tradition is kept enthusiastically alive.

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