Arts & Culture | St. Louis Public Radio

Arts & Culture

2020 Cairns Cup winner Humpy Koneru with St. Louis Chess Club co-founders, Rex Sinquefield and Jeanne (Cairns) Sinquefield.
Crystal Fuller | St. Louis Chess Club

For the second year in a row, the St. Louis Chess Club hosted the Cairns Cup, which featured 10 of the best female chess players in the world.

The tournament marks the strongest ever all-female event to be held on American soil. Over the course of nine rounds, the elite field battled in an all-play-all format for a whopping prize fund of $180,000. The games played throughout the event were highly combative and produced many notable storylines.

Brian McKinley, left, and Drummond Crenshaw rehearse a scene from 'Spell #7' at the A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre at Washington University.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

The street-smart black friend of a white protagonist. The menacing black man. The sassy black woman. 

These stereotypical depictions of black people have filled television, movies and theater productions for years. 

Where do they come from? 

The Black Rep’s production of Ntozake Shange’s “Spell #7” at Washington University’s A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre makes the case that the one-dimensional, demeaning character types of 19th- and 20th-century minstrel shows still haunt the entertainment industry. 

'Starry Night Over the Rhone' is on loan from a museum in Paris and is on display at the St. Louis Art Museum.
Photo: Herve Lewandowski; Copyright: RMN-Grand Palais | Art Resource, NY

The St. Louis Art Museum has opened an exhibition that its curators say acknowledges the contributions of a largely forgotten artist who was instrumental in the birth of modern art: 19th-century French painter Jean-François Millet.

The exhibition, “Millet and Modern Art: From Van Gogh to Dalí,” is on display now through May 17. Millet’s work features landscapes, nudes and other work that inspired other artists such as Vincent van Gogh and Claude Monet.

On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Sarah Fenske talked with Simon Kelly, curator of modern and contemporary art at the St. Louis Art Museum. He is the co-curator of the exhibition along with Maite van Dijk, senior curator at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

The Leaning Tower of Niles is a half-size replica of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Located in Niles, Illinois.
Illinois Department of Natural Resources

This interview will be on “St. Louis on the Air” over the noon hour Thursday. This story will be updated after the show. You can listen live.

Last week, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources announced the 12 sites in the state which were added to the National Register of Historic Places during 2019. That’s the official federal list of properties that merit special attention and preservation. Every Illinois county has at least one property or historic district listed in the National Register.

The lengthy process to get a site federally recognized begins with locals recommending a place that has either architectural or historical significance to the community. After they are evaluated, the historic places are added to the National Register by the National Park Service based on recommendations from the State Historic Preservation Office, a division of the IDNR.

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, guest host Emily Woodbury will learn more about the sites in Illinois that made it to the 2019 National Register of Historic Places, like the Leaning Tower of Pisa replica that was completed in the 1930s in Cook County. Joining the discussion will be Amy Hathaway, National Register and Survey Specialist for Illinois State Historic Preservation Office. 

Ernest Emmanuel Peeples as Lu in Ghost
Jennifer A. Lin | Metro Theater Company

This interview will be on “St. Louis on the Air” over the noon hour Tuesday (Feb. 25). This story will be updated after the show. You can listen live.

As an actor, Ernest Emmanuel Peeples has portrayed a real range of characters — from Hamlet to the Ghost of Christmas Present. But in recent months, one particular theatrical role stands out from the rest: the opportunity to portray Lu, one of the adolescents at the center of Jason Reynolds’ wildly popular young adult novels, one of which is now also a play.

Like Peeples, the character Lu has albinism, a genetic condition involving a lack of pigment that affects one’s skin, hair and eyes. Having this in common with a character is a first for Peeples, and a meaningful one.

“Lu is given the opportunity to just be a normal person,” Peeples explains. “Typically when you see characters with albinistic characteristics, they’re presented in an overly antagonistic or monstrous way, devoid of true human emotions to the point that they're bad or angry or evil simply due to the fact that they're different. Or they're overly sympathetic.”

On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, Peeples will talk with host Sarah Fenske about his role in Metro Theater Company’s “Ghost,” which runs now through March 1 at the Grandel Theatre. The production is directed by Jacqueline Thompson, who will also join the on-air conversation.

This interview will be on “St. Louis on the Air” during the noon hour Thursday. This story will be updated after the show. Here are some ways you can listen live.

Often referred to as the most dangerous eight seconds in sports, bull riding is not for the faint of heart. In fact, the medical director for the international organization Professional Bull Riders (PBR) estimates that about one in 15 rides results in injury. Yet, the sport is gaining popularity.

February 18, 2020 Ed Wheatley
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Jackie Robinson famously integrated Major League Baseball, taking the field for the National League’s Brooklyn Dodgers in April 1947. And the American League followed a few months later, when the Cleveland Indians put Larry Doby into the lineup.

But right behind Cleveland were the St. Louis Browns. Just 12 days later, the team played its first black player. And two days after that, the Browns became the first club to put two black players into a game when Willard Brown and Hank Thompson took the field. That milestone was all the more remarkable in light of this fact: It would take the St. Louis Cardinals another seven years to integrate. 

On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, author Ed Wheatley explained what led the Browns to break the city’s Major League Baseball color barrier. 

David Murphy at his home parish Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church in O'Fallon, Missouri.
Colleen Murphy

David Murphy prides himself on being a “goal-setting” type of guy. Every year, he sets out different goals for himself — whether they’re physical, spiritual or work-related. And hitting those targets isn’t necessarily the intention. For Murphy, it’s more about the journey. 

So for his 50th birthday last year, Murphy decided to make his goal “epic.” He wanted to go on a quest: one that turns a seemingly doable thing (say, going to Mass) into something grand — like attending Mass at every active Catholic church in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. 

Inspired by his love for his Catholic faith and its deep history in the region, Murphy set out to visit each of the 190 active churches in the archdiocese, which covers 10 counties and the city of St. Louis. His quest earned coverage in the local St. Louis Review. And on Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, Murphy joined host Sarah Fenske to share what he learned — and which local churches made his “epic list.”

Taste offers a variety of cocktails and snacks in the Central West End.
Izaiah Johnson | Sauce Magazine

When you’re out on the town, it can be fun to try a couple of different spots. What isn’t fun, though, is driving from one spot to another, or having to seek out parking in one packed neighborhood after another. 

Fortunately, our friends at Sauce Magazine have addressed this problem in their most recent issue. They’ve outlined a three-stop nightlife tour in eight St. Louis-area neighborhoods in their “Night Moves” feature. 

Meera Nagarajan, art director of Sauce, and Heather Hughes Huff, Sauce’s managing editor, joined host Sarah Fenske on Monday’s St. Louis on the Air to explore the highlights the region has to offer for date nights. 

The 200-foot-tall St. Louis Wheel, which opened in September, continues to draw a crowd to Union Station.
File photo | David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

Following months of crowds and fanfare, most of the infrastructure associated with the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair was demolished soon after the festivities ended. That included George Ferris Jr.’s giant wheel, which had debuted in Chicago in 1893 and boasted 36 observation cars — “each the size of a Bi-State bus,” as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch later described them.

But Ferris’ legacy survived the dynamite and has seen something of a resurgence locally since the opening of the 200-foot St. Louis Wheel at Union Station last fall. And last Friday, wheel-goers found a special celebration underway: a Valentine’s Day-themed observance of National Ferris Wheel Day.

St. Louis on the Air producers stopped by to take in the scene and speak with riders. Then, on Monday, host Sarah Fenske led a discussion about St. Louis observation wheels past and present.

The Lone Wolf Club, shown here, was a speakeasy during Prohibition. The club, which stood at the edge of what is now Castlewood State Park, later became a private tavern.
Castlewood State Park

The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution established the prohibition of alcohol in the U.S. Enforcement of the new law started on Jan. 17, 1920.

In this episode of St. Louis on the Air, we recognize the 100th anniversary of Prohibition by diving into St. Louis’ rich Prohibition-era history.

Angelique Kidjo recently won her fourth Grammy Award, for 'Celia,' an Afrocentric reimagining of the music of legendary salsa queen Celia Cruz. [2/14]
Lauren Serroussi

Musician Angélique Kidjo fled to Paris from her homeland of Benin in 1983, several years after a Soviet-aligned dictatorship seized power in the West African nation.

She has since built a career as one of the biggest stars of African music. She’d already won three Grammy Awards before earning this year’s award for best world music album. “Celia” is Kidjo’s tribute to and rethinking of the music of Celia Cruz, the Afro-Cuban singer and queen of salsa. Kidjo’s interpretations emphasize the African roots of Cruz’s music. 

She launches an international tour at the Sheldon Concert Hall tonight.

February 13, 2020 Tobias Picker Aryeh Lev Stollman
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Composer Tobias Picker has five operas to his credit, with commissions from the LA Opera and the Metropolitan Opera, among others, and serious acclaim. But his sixth opera, which makes its world premiere at the Opera Theatre of St. Louis this June, will have particular personal resonance. The librettist writing the words to go with Picker’s music is his husband, Dr. Aryeh Lev Stollman.

And while Stollman has written three novels, this is his first time writing an opera libretto. Still, he brings a particular expertise to the show, which is an adaptation of Dr. Oliver Sacks’ nonfiction medical drama “Awakenings.” Like Sacks, Stollman is a physician who studies the nervous system (Stollman is a neuroradiologist, Sacks a neurologist).   

On Chess: Brilliancy In Chess

Feb 13, 2020
The first brilliancy prize in a tournament was awarded to the Englishman Henry Bird for his victory over James Mason of Ireland in 1876.
World Chess Hall of Fame | Carmody Creative

Compared to other arts or sports, chess is an easy game to learn but a difficult one to master. Just how difficult?

Malcolm Gladwell, in his best-selling book "Outliers: the Story of Success," postulates that “the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours.” 

Katarra Parson released 'Cocoa Voyage' last November.
Tyler Small

If St. Louis singer and songwriter Katarra Parson had to pick one of her songs to describe her life, it would be “Phoenix Rising.”

She appreciates the song because it's about flight, freedom and rebirth — the story of how she learned to take care of herself.

“'Phoenix Rising' is literally my journey of finding myself, of finding my power, stepping into that power, being comfortable with that power,” Parson said. “Now I'm at a point where I realized I got responsibility with that power.”

Darwin Aquino grew up in the Dominican Republic playing the violin before becoming a conductor and composer.
August Jennewein | University of Missouri-St. Louis

For about a year, Darwin Aquino has been serving as conductor of the orchestras at both the University of Missouri-St. Louis and Washington University. And on Tuesday evening, the two groups under his direction rehearsed together for the first time ever. Final preparations are underway for their distinctive concert this Sunday, where they’ll combine musical forces to present music from several popular video games, films and more.

“It’s the music that we hear every day, and especially our young people,” he said during Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air. “They are hearing that music while they play the video games or they see a movie. So that’s why we decided for this very special event [to] put two university orchestras together … playing the music of today.”

February 12, 2020 Candacy Taylor
Courtesy of the Author

Author Candacy Taylor’s stepfather grew up in the Jim Crow South. But it wasn’t until she began researching her new book, “Overground Railroad: The Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America,” that she started to understand what he’d endured. 

Black travelers in 20th-century U.S. might be stopped by police on any pretext — and face serious harassment. They might be turned away by hostile hoteliers or gas station attendants. And that’s not even mentioning “Sundown Towns,” all-white towns that sometimes even featured signs warning black people to stay out in the harshest of terms. Missouri and Illinois were among the five states having the most Sundown Towns, Taylor writes.    

Drummer Montez Coleman, bassist Bob DeBoo, guitarist Travis Lewis and pianist Adaron 'Pops' Jackson dig into a groove from 'Bitches Brew,' the classic Miles Davis album.
Jeremy D. Goodwin | St. Louis Public Radio

When Miles Davis gathered an expanded group for recording sessions in August 1969, the trumpeter and bandleader had already revolutionized jazz several times — from key bebop recordings in the 1940s through the gravity-defying post-bop of his mid-to-late '60s quintet. 

Across three days in a New York City studio, he did it again. 

Tonight, Jazz St. Louis celebrates the 50th anniversary of the release of “Bitches Brew,” an album that pushed jazz further into the realm of rock 'n' roll, pleasing and angering fans on either side of that divide. 

Sarah Bryan Miller is the classical music critic for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Local choral organizations commissioned an anthem in her honor. | 2/7/20
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

“I was stunned. I was gobsmacked. I had never expected anything like this.”

That’s how Sarah Bryan Miller, classical music critic for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, recalls feeling when she heard that British composer Judith Bingham would compose a new work in her honor.

Miller’s high praise for the piece never made it to print — and it won’t. The critic attended a private performance last September. This Sunday will be the first public performance of the choral anthem. And Miller won’t be writing the review.

It's February, the month that we shine a light and salute our African American friends in their history and contributions to society, and boy does St. Louis have a lot of people to salute in the arts.

First of all, thank you, thank you to Ronald and Monique Ollie for their incredibly generous gift of 81 works of art that form the Thelma and Bert Ollie Memorial Collection at the St. Louis Art Museum. These works are currently being featured in, "The Shape of Abstraction: Selections from the Ollie Collection."

A selection of posters of productions with nominations for the 2020 St. Louis Theater Circle Awards.
St. Louis Theater Circle

Every year, the St. Louis Theater Circle honors the best of local professional theater, voted on by local critics. The St. Louis Theater Circle released its 2020 award nominees on Friday's St. Louis on the Air for locally produced professional theater in 2019. 

Calvin Wilson, theater critic for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and Tina Farmer, theater reviewer for KDHX, joined host Sarah Fenske to discuss the highlights and the upcoming awards ceremony.

St. Louis Theater Circle asserts that this year's nominations represent the most competitive field in the eight years of the awards.

The Rev. Deanna Hollas became the first ordained minister of gun violence prevention last year. 2/6/20
The Rev. Deanna Hollas

The first ordained Presbyterian minister of gun violence prevention is headed to St. Louis to teach elected officials and parishioners about ending gun violence. 

Washington University and Webster Groves Presbyterian Church will host a weekend-long event that will include a lecture, sermon and workshop with the Rev. Deanna Hollas. Hollas was ordained a minister of gun violence prevention through the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship last year. 

American Artist is an interdisciplinary artist whose work considers black labor and visibility within networked life. Film still from 2015.
Courtesy of American Artist and the Queens Museum

Artists are no strangers to political activism. Through captivating installations, they’re able to visualize complex themes that resonate with movements and social causes. 

This weekend, a new exhibit at the Luminary Center for the Arts, “America’s Mythic Time,” will take it to the next level with an unusual partner — ArchCity Defenders. But the collaboration isn’t really that far out. 

The two organizations have worked together closely for years, co-sharing spaces and political expertise, such as when the Cherokee Street-based gallery hosted ArchCity’s Pro Se STL event. Their pro se guides are used to help people learn how to interact with police to represent themselves in court. 

Capt. Garon Mosby (at left), the St. Louis Fire Department's spokesman, and Chief Dennis Jenkerson joined Thursday's show.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

News crews haven’t had a monopoly on live footage of breaking news and emergency situations in quite some time. Among other innovations, the proliferation of cellphone video — especially video taken by bystanders during first-responder interactions with citizens — has been a game-changer in recent years for the public’s understanding of such events.

Production companies including Big Fish Entertainment have also turned their cameras toward the real-life drama. And in “Live Rescue,” a Big Fish show currently airing on the A&E Network, St. Louisans are finding themselves in the spotlight.

Bruce Franks Jr.'s son, King, makes several appearances in "St. Louis Superman."
Sami Khan

The directors and subject of “St. Louis Superman,” the documentary film showcasing the story of former Missouri state Rep. Bruce Franks Jr., are headed to Los Angeles for this Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony. The film has been nominated for a Best Documentary Short Subject Oscar.

The documentary follows Franks’ journey as a lawmaker and his push for a proposal to recognize youth violence as a public health epidemic.

Figaro, right, keeps the schemes moving crisply along. 5.23.15
Ken Howard | Opera Theatre of St. Louis

Opera Theatre of St. Louis announced the largest donation in its history today.

A $45 million bequest by philanthropist and board member Phyllis Brissenden will boost the opera’s endowment to $80 million. Opera officials describe the gift as one of the largest ever made to an American opera company. Its largest single donation previously was a gift of $2 million.

On Chess: Innovation Or Tradition?

Feb 6, 2020
Charlie Solorzano | via

Most chess players and fans of the game can be divided into two categories: purists and innovators. Purists are traditionalists who believe that serious chess should be played at long time controls and have little to no variance in format.

Innovators, on the other hand, are always looking for ways to push the envelope. They are quick to embrace rapid and blitz time controls — chess variants such as Fischer Random — and are always looking to spice up the game with different tournament formats.

People carrying a Trinity Episcopal Church banner at the St. Louis Pride Parade in 1991.
Trinity Episcopal Church

Trinity Episcopal Church is receiving national recognition for its contributions to LGBTQ history in St. Louis. 

The Central West End church became the first and only site in Missouri and the Episcopal Church to be named on the National Register of Historic Places for its role in the LGBTQ community.

The church became an early supporter of gay rights and LGBTQ parishoners in the 1960s and people living with AIDS in the 1980s. Trinity was ahead of the game, said the Rev. Jon Stratton, the rector at the church.

James Biko is a St. Louis-based artist and CAM's new DJ-in-residence.
Contemporary Art Museum

Last week, the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis announced the latest multidisciplinary artist patrons can expect to see at the space during its First Fridays and other CAM events. James Biko is an East St. Louis-born and St. Louis-based artist prominent in the local hip-hop and soul scene. 

He’s been on the radar of music aficionados in the city and is a 10-time Riverfront Times Music Award winner. He also co-hosts the Rawthentic radio program, with Cleo Jones on KDHX, which plays hip-hop, R&B and soul on Thursday evenings. 

Ken Haller is a pediatrician and an accomplished cabaret performing. He performs his latest work, "The Medicine Show," at Blue Strawberry in March.  [2/5/19]
Jeremy D. Goodwin | St. Louis Public Radio

As a pediatrician who is also an accomplished cabaret artist, Dr. Ken Haller says he may play several roles over the course of a day: teacher, doctor, friend, singer. He says those roles are all different aspects of his chief pursuit: being a healer.