May 10, 2006

Sweet Annie Divine

by Corey Mesler

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Poem: "Sweet Annie Divine" by Corey Mesler from Short Story and Other Short Stories. © Parallel Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Sweet Annie Divine

Sweet Annie Divine (1925-1976). Born Rooster, Arkansas, Annie
May Auspeux. Also known as The Duchess. Dropped out of school
at the age of 13 to work her parents' cotton fields. Started singing
professionally at 16 in juke joints in Arkansas, Mississippi and
Tennessee. Toured with Jimmy Reed for a while, sang with Styx
Ygg's BamBam Five on Beale Street in the forties. Fronted her
own band, The Moxie Seven (or Eight depending on the night),
which included Hillbilly Thomas and Sweetie Sykes and they had a
mid-major hit with "Stephen Daedalus's Blues" in 1948. Recorded
"Chicken Finger Blues," "Write Em Right," "Saint Ursula Goes
Down for the Third Time," and her signature tune "Mississippi
Low-down Blues" for the Lightning Label. She is credited with
the composition of only one standard, the rocking "Lemme Get
Up First," later, of course, covered by The Rolling Stones. Her
last record for a major label was a cover of Holmes and Howard's
"Somebody's Been Using that Thing." Comparisons to Big Mama
Thorton and Bessie Smith brought her a brief renaissance of
interest in the restless sixties. She died of the drink in a Memphis
boarding house, just hours after recording her last record, the
plaintive and pain-filled "I'm a Drunk in a Memphis Boarding
House." Alan Lomax has said of her, "She could have been one of
the greats if not for the hooch."

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1940 that Winston Churchill took power as the prime minister of Great Britain, (books by this author). He became a politician in 1900, but he had a bumpy political career. He switched parties not once but twice. He started out conservative, then became liberal, and then went conservative again. At the start of World War I, he was one of the few British politicians to predict how widespread the war would be. But when he advocated an invasion of Turkey, Germany's ally, the result was a disaster. There were hundreds of thousands of British casualties, and nothing to show for it. Churchill had to resign his office in disgrace.

But instead of going into the private sector, he joined the army again and went into battle himself, commanding a battalion in the trenches. He was the only politician of his stature to serve in the trenches during World War I. After the war he got back into politics, but he found himself alienated from both parties. Liberals and conservatives both thought he was an extremist reactionary. In 1932 he made a speech about the growing danger of a second world war with Germany. No one took him seriously.

Churchill kept warning of Hitler's rise to power throughout the 1930s. Most people saw Churchill as an arrogant, paranoid warmonger, and most people supported appeasement of Hitler. Things changed when Hitler took control of Czechoslovakia and Austria, then invaded Poland, Belgium and France. In a less than two years, almost all of Western Europe's mainland was either controlled by or allied with Nazi Germany.

And then, on this day in 1940, Churchill became the prime minister. In his acceptance speech, he famously said, "All I have to offer is blood, toil, tears and sweat."

By that summer, the situation for Great Britain was already so dire that Hitler assumed Churchill would surrender. The British army had already been decimated in a retreat from Dunkirk. Hitler was so confident that he delayed invasion because he thought it would be a waste of resources. Almost everyone thought it was a hopeless situation, but Churchill decided that he would persuade the people not to give up.

In a series of extraordinary speeches, he used his abilities as an orator to rally the British people. He said, "We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. ... We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the landing-grounds; we shall fight in the fields and in the streets. ... We shall never surrender."

By sheer force of will and personality, he persuaded the British people to keep up their spirits even as their country was subject to a U-boat blockade, and food became scarce, and London was bombed by German planes. His leadership gave the British courage hold out long enough for the Royal Air Force to fight off the Nazi planes and for the United States to join the war and help win it.

Today, in Great Britain, Churchill is remembered as an important but imperfect statesman. In America, he's considered an almost flawless hero. American presidents have put portraits of him up on the walls of the White House, and in the last few decades, whenever an American president needs to use military force, he often mentions Churchill and even quotes his words.

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