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Strong Reception with Eli James
5 minutes | Nov 29, 2021
Mini-Episode with a BIG Announcement: Strong Reception Has Moved Continents!
This time I'm the guest on my own show — or, wait, am I? — in this mini-episode that makes a big announcement. Strong Reception and I have moved to a place far, far away. Check it out - and, gee, isn't this Matt Thompson guy a bit of a w-nker??
45 minutes | Sep 17, 2021
Why Questlove's "Summer of Soul" Is Not Just Another Music Doc
"Summer of Soul" is a groundbreaking documentary that I want everyone on Planet Earth to see. Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson (founding member of The Roots and professional musical encyclopedia) made his directorial debut on a subject close to my heart: the all-but-forgotten Harlem Cultural Festival of 1969. This series of six Sunday concerts in New York's storied neighborhood of Harlem was unlike anything before or since. Performers at the free festival included Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, B.B. King, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Max Roach, the 5th Dimension, Mahalia Jackson, and so many more. Over 300,000 people showed up - almost exclusively from the neighborhood. More than 40 hours of beautifully shot video remained hidden from the public for 52 years, locked away in the videographer's vault — until now. In this episode, I speak to Rolling Stone journalist Jonathan Bernstein, whose tireless research on the long-lost festival first helped me understand its significance. His article for Rolling Stone, published in 2019, was (controversially) titled "This 1969 Music Fest Has Been Called ‘Black Woodstock.’ Why Doesn’t Anyone Remember?" Jonathan and I break down our reactions to "Summer of Soul" and delve into the history of the Harlem Cultural Festival itself, including what's known about the festival's charismatic, passionate founder, Tony Lawrence, who pretty much disappeared without a trace soon after the event was over.Subscribe to “Strong Reception” wherever you get your podcasts, and leave a comment for the show on Twitter at @strongpod. Let me know what you think by leaving the show a review and a rating. Thank you!
41 minutes | Jun 7, 2021
Chris Durosinmi: The Race for the 37th District
This week I am pleased to present my conversation with Chris Durosinmi, who is running to be the next City Council Member for the 37th District in Brooklyn. This episode is part of my series of interviews with the candidates in this all-important primary election, which takes place June 22 in New York City, along with the races for mayor, comptroller, public advocate, borough president and hundreds of City Council seats.Chris Durosinmi is a Brooklyn native and community organizer who has held several staff jobs in city and state government, and currently works for the Wildlife Conservation Society. He and I discussed some of the most urgent issues facing the people of this underserved district, like the decline in trash pickup and sanitation resources, the need for greater support for those coming home from prison, and how New York's voting apparatus would benefit from greater transparency. (We get into New York's cryptic fusion voting system, for instance. Why are we the only state to do it?)To find out more about this City Council race, check out my episodes with candidates Misba Abdin, Sandy Nurse and Rick Echevarria. Subscribe to “Strong Reception” wherever you get your podcasts, and please leave a comment for the show on Twitter at @strongpod.
35 minutes | May 7, 2021
Misba Abdin: Return to the 37th District
This week I am pleased to present my conversation with Misba Abdin, who is running to be the next City Council Member for the 37th District in Brooklyn. This is part of my series of interviews with candidates in this all-important primary election, which takes place June 22 in New York City, along with the races for mayor, comptroller, public advocate, borough president and hundreds of City Council seats. (Check out my episodes with Sandy Nurse and Rick Echevarria to find out more.)Misba and I discussed some of the most urgent issues facing the people of this area, like education, jobs and crime prevention, and how New York's arcane voting system works to keep certain Democratic dynasties in power.Misba Abdin is a long-time resident and community leader in the 37th District, an area that includes the East New York neighborhood he calls home. He is the founder of the nonprofit organization Bangladeshi American Community Development and Youth Services, and CEO of Deshi Senior Center in Ozone Park, Queens. Subscribe to “Strong Reception” wherever you get your podcasts, and please leave a comment for the show on Twitter at @strongpod.
34 minutes | Apr 30, 2021
Sandy Nurse: Return to the 37th District
Subscribe to “Strong Reception” wherever you get your podcasts, and please leave a comment for the show on Twitter at @strongpod. Let me know what you think!This week I am thrilled to present my conversation with Sandy Nurse, who is running for a second time to be the next City Council Member for the 37th District in Brooklyn. This is part of my series of interviews with candidates in this all-important race. Sandy and I talked about what the city can do going forward to prevent what happened to this district last year — when this underserved area was left without a Council Member during one of the worst crises in the city's history: COVID-19.Sandy Nurse has a history of organizing and activism in New York, starting with her encampment at the Occupy Wall Street protests in the fall of 2011, and her co-founding of MayDay Space in 2014. She ran for this City Council seat last year, but was removed from the ballot by the Board of Elections, as were several other candidates hoping to beat the heavily favored party-backed candidate, Darma Diaz. Sandy is back in the mix, running to unseat Diaz for the 2022 term.FOR VOTERS: Voting opens on June 12 and ends on June 22 in the massive NYC primary that also includes the races for mayor, public advocate, comptroller and borough presidents. The deadline to register to vote in this primary is May 28, and the last day to notify the Board of Elections of an address change is June 2. Also, make sure you read up on an exciting new development in our election process, ranked-choice voting, in which voters will be able to pick their top five candidates in every citywide primary.
34 minutes | Apr 19, 2021
Rick Echevarria: Return to the 37th District
Please check out my conversation with Rick Echevarria, who is running for City Council in New York's 37th Council District in Brooklyn. This episode is part of a series in which I will be interviewing candidates running in the June 2021 primary for this City Council seat. Rick and I talked about how New York's outdated voting system impacts the city's most vulnerable residents in a very real way. This system resulted in the 37th District being without a Council Member for nearly all of 2020 — a year of acute suffering brought on by the pandemic.Rick Echevarria grew up in the Bushwick section of this district (the neighborhood I call home), and is running on a platform of housing equity and fighting housing corruption. He ran for this office last year, but was removed from the ballot by the New York City Board of Elections, as were several other candidates hoping to beat the heavily favored party-backed candidate, Darma Diaz. Rick is back in the mix, running to unseat Diaz in the massive 2021 city primary, which opens on June 12 and ends on June 22. FOR VOTERS: The deadline to register to vote in this primary is May 28, and the last day to notify the Board of Elections of an address change is June 2. Also, make sure you read up on an exciting new development in our election process, ranked-choice voting, in which voters will be able to pick their top five candidates in every citywide primary.Subscribe to “Strong Reception” wherever you get your podcasts, and leave a comment for the show on Twitter at @strongpod. Let me know what you think of my convos!
40 minutes | Feb 12, 2021
L. Joy Williams, President of the Brooklyn NAACP, Defines Civic Engagement
L. Joy Williams doesn't rest much. Running on four hours' sleep each night, she dons an array of hats during the day, moving at a breakneck pace to empower more Americans to engage with the political process. I'm grateful she made time to drop by "Strong Reception" to talk with me about increasing voting access in New York, as well as to provide her own inspiring definition of civic engagement.On her podcast, "Sunday Civics," L. Joy Williams hopes to make everyday civics exciting to listeners who think their elected officials aren't interested in them. She does so by offering up simple, powerful action steps busy people can take to make their voices heard in the halls of power, and by hosting eye-opening discussions of Black political history in America.In addition to her leadership as president of the Brooklyn NAACP, L. Joy also heads her own campaign strategy firm, LJW Strategies, and has planned campaigns for political luminaries including Stacey Abrams, Cynthia Nixon and Jumaane Williams. She also serves as chair of the Higher Heights Political Action Committee, an organization working to get more progressive Black women elected to local, state and federal office, and which helped raise the profile of Vice President Kamala Harris during her 2020 presidential run. Subscribe to “Strong Reception” wherever you get your podcasts, and leave a comment for the show on Twitter at @strongpod. Let me know what you think of my convos!
20 minutes | Jan 27, 2021
BONUS EPISODE: Me, Renée & The Clash
Welcome to the first-ever bonus episode of Strong Reception! I couldn't resist putting out this short "extra track." There are just too many smile-inducing moments contained in this unplanned 20-minute convo between myself and Renée Graham, associate editor and opinion columnist at the Boston Globe. After recording our "In Memoriam" episode last month, Renée stayed on the line to keep chatting about music. We bonded mightily over our mutual love for The Clash — a "forever band" that will live in perpetuity in our hearts. As a teen in New York City, Renée was there when word of the Clash first hit the U.S. in the late '70s, and she was hooked from the first notes. I didn't hear the Clash until I started college in the '90s, and it was a "where have you been all my life?" moment I'll never forget. I'm also amazed at how NOT confrontational I became when Renée admitted her indifference (and low-grade hostility) to the Beatles! Whereas a few years ago I would have angrily tossed out any goodwill that might have existed between a Beatle-dismisser and me, in this instance I listened patiently and maintained an open-minded curiosity when Renée said she thinks the Beatles are "fine," and aren't as good as Oasis. (SERIOUSLY, WHAT??!!)For any Clash uninitiated, I've created a playlist you can listen to containing some of the songs we mention. Here's the Apple Music playlist. And here's the playlist on Spotify. It's a great place to start with one of the most revered, daring and influential bands to come out of the initial "punk rock" era.
55 minutes | Dec 29, 2020
In Memoriam: Music Greats We Lost in 2020
As 2020 draws to a close, I am joined by Boston Globe columnist Renée Graham to discuss some of the music legends we lost this year. Renée is an award-winning journalist and among the most fun conversation partners I've had on the subject of music. It's her second time on the show (See Episode 3) and I'm so excited to have her back. She and I each picked three artists to pay tribute to. Some of them are household names, and some are as underground as they come — but all of them had a giant impact on the music we love.BONUS FEATURE: Check out the special playlist I created to go along with this episode, so you can follow along and hear more from the artists we talk about. The "In Memoriam" playlist has tracks by Nas, The Pointer Sisters, Toots and the Maytals and much more. Click the links to listen on Apple Music or Spotify.
60 minutes | Dec 9, 2020
JUST a Gigolo? A Walk Through History With the 20th Century's Most Pop-Friendly War Ballad
In this music history episode of "Strong Reception," I am joined by two special guests as we dive into the rich history of the song "Just a Gigolo" and its unlikely sibling tune, "I Ain't Got Nobody."Fellow music nerd Philip Emeott and I walk through the surprisingly complex journey "Just a Gigolo" took from the dance halls of 1920s Vienna to the airwaves of 1980s MTV. We get into some of the greatest unsung tracks recorded in the 20th century, as well as some of the most cringeworthy. Later in the show, bestselling author Tom Clavin and I do a deep dive into Louis Prima’s landmark 1956 version of the song. We discuss how the sound and style of that recording represented a true innovation for its time. Tom and I also talk about the underappreciated talents of two of Prima's key musical partners: his wife and fellow vocalist Keely Smith, and his arranger and sax player Sam Butera.
33 minutes | Oct 23, 2020
Understanding Your Judge Ballot this Election, in a Place Where Voting is Far From Just
If you're like me, you have judges on your ballot this November — in addition to that whole "electing a president who might not want more people to die" thing. Also if you're like me, you hate having to vote for judges you know nothing about, who don't run campaigns, who are nominated by party insiders, and are sometimes running on three or four party lines at the same time. (A judge who's running as a Democrat, a Republican, a Conservative... and maybe as a closet Whig? Where am I?)For this voter empowerment episode, I'm joined by Jarrett Murphy, the executive editor of City Limits and an accomplished New York investigative journalist. He helps me understand why our judicial elections are set up this way, and what we can do to get better intel on judicial candidates who serve very long terms and can make very important decisions about some very vulnerable people.
35 minutes | Oct 9, 2020
How to Vote in NYC, and How Lawmakers Can Stop New York's Board of Elections From Being Such a Gaffe Factory
On September 29, 100,000 New Yorkers (myself among them) received misprinted absentee ballots that had someone else's name on the return envelopes. The gaffe was the result of a multimillion-dollar error from a third-party vendor (way to go, Phoenix Graphics), but it's still not a great look for the New York City Board of Elections, which has a history of negligent and sometimes suspicious practices that have left thousands of voters disenfranchised in past elections. (The board is mailing corrected ballots out to voters this week.)In this important voter empowerment episode, I talk with Sarah Goff, deputy director of Common Cause New York, who joins me to discuss what happened with Brooklyn's absentee ballots, how the New York City Board of Elections actually works, and outlines what we New Yorkers can do to make sure our voices are heard in the 2020 election.For more info on how and when to vote in New York, please visit: vote.nyc (for NYC), www.elections.ny.gov (for elsewhere in New York State) and check out my blog at votinginthedark.com.
51 minutes | Oct 3, 2020
Devo, Stevie Wonder and Police Reform: My Conversation with Renowned Columnist Renée Graham
Renee Graham is a renowned music and arts journalist who has been writing for the Boston Globe for thirty years. Her remarkable ability to speak on the cultural and social movements of the last fifty years has made her a highly sought-after documentary guest, and you can hear her expert commentary in Netflix's "The Two Killings of Sam Cooke," and in CNN's "The Seventies," "The Eighties," "The Nineties," "The 2000s," "The Movies" and "1968: The Year That Changed America."Following a hiatus, she returned to the Globe in 2016 on the day before Donald Trump was elected president. She quickly decided she couldn't just keep to her pop culture beat. Her widely read opinion column tackles politics, racial justice, women's rights, LGBTQ+ rights and more. Join us as we discuss how her obsession with music started as a kid in Queens, her career-defining interview with Prince, what kinds of police reform might be needed in our cities, and her answer to my all-important question: What cover songs do you think are just as good, if not better, than the original?Renee's TwitterEli's TwitterCheck Your Voter Registration Here.(Recorded on September 18, 2020)
48 minutes | Sep 24, 2020
Music History Week: The True Story of "Killing Me Softly With His Song"
Fugees. Flack. Lieberman? The wonderfully talented yet woefully unheralded singer-songwriter Lori Lieberman explains how she conceived, co-wrote and was the first to record the '70s (and '90s) classic "Killing Me Softly With His Song" — without ever getting a songwriting credit, and while under the thumb of a domineering management team that tried to suppress her story and her career. In this interview, Lori and I talk about her early years as a recording and touring artist in the '70s, her return to what is now a thriving music career after a long time away, and her extraordinary voice, which, after many years in the shadows, is finally being heard.
37 minutes | Jul 22, 2020
A Brooklyn Bereft: COVID and the Canceled City Council Race
In this episode of Strong Reception, I talk to Brooklyn activist, carpenter and entrepreneur Sandy Nurse, who recently ran to fill the empty seat in New York's 37th City Council District during the height of New York's COVID-19 crisis.Nurse's campaign was just starting to gather momentum — even collecting some high-powered endorsements from folks like AOC — when the race was abruptly jettisoned amid petition challenges and some questionable executive decisions. We discussed what happened during this race, and how the actions of a powerful few left an underserved Brooklyn community without representation during an acute crisis.For a complete blow-by-blow of what happened in this race, please read my article at Voting in the Dark: "How a New York City Council District was Handed an Unelected Leader."
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