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by MediaExpert

Musical Virtuoso Previn Dies at 89 

Tributes poured in Thursday for Andre Previn, the multifaceted artist renowned for his mastery of classical music as well as jazz, who has died at age 89. 


The prolific German-American musician with four Oscars, 10 Grammys and a coveted Kennedy Center honor was known for his broad repertoire, working as a jazz pianist, film composer, principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra and music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. 


“We are deeply saddened to hear of the death this morning of our Conductor Emeritus Andre Previn,” the London Symphony Orchestra said in a statement. “He will be hugely missed by everyone at the LSO and remembered with great affection. 


“May he always play all the right notes in the right order.” 


Studies began at age 6

Born in Berlin on April 6, 1929, Previn’s father enrolled him at the German capital’s Conservatory of Music at age 6 upon realizing his son had perfect pitch. 


The family fled Nazi Germany in 1939, moving to Los Angeles, where Previn’s great-uncle was the music director for Universal Studios. 


An accomplished jazz pianist, he began working at MGM in 1946 while still in high school, launching an illustrious career in film composing that won him four Academy Awards for his work on films, including 1964’s My Fair Lady. 


But he left the studio in the 1960s to focus on classical music; in addition to the L.A. Philharmonic he served as music director of the Houston and Pittsburgh symphonies, and frequently guest-conducted worldwide. 


His mercurial tastes for music also applied to women: Previn married five times, most famously to actress Mia Farrow, with whom he had three biological children.  


He also adopted three more children with Farrow, including a daughter Soon-Yi, who married film director Woody Allen in 1997. The marriage resulted in a public feud with Farrow, who had had a long relationship with Allen. 


“See you in the Morning beloved Friend,” tweeted Farrow, who posted several photos of her and Previn. “May you rest in glorious symphonies.”

by MediaExpert

Lady Gaga: Bradley Cooper Duet Was Acting, Not Love

It was acting, not love, when Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper sang a duet Sunday at the 91st Academy Awards.


Gaga discussed the emotional performance of “Shallow” from their film “A Star Is Born” during an appearance Wednesday on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live .” The duet led online posters to say the stars are in love.


The artist rolled her eyes and called social media “the toilet of the internet,” saying it has hurt pop culture.


Gaga said, “Yes, people saw love and guess what, that’s what we wanted you to see.”


Gaga says it was a love song in a love story and they had “worked all week on that performance.”


She said, “I guess we did a good job. Fooled ya!”


Gaga brought her Oscar for “Shallow” to the show.



by MediaExpert

Ice Castles Turn US Farmland Into Winter Wonderland

On a clear, frigid night in a courtyard made of walls of ice, Bruce McCafferty and his young son stand mesmerized, bathed in the pulsating rainbow light emanating from a series of stout ice formations.

McCafferty and his son Dougie have come out to Ice Castles in North Woodstock, New Hampshire, a collection of ice tunnels, caverns and a 97-foot (30-meter) ice slide that cover an acre (half a hectare) of farmland that some have said are like something out of the movie “Frozen.”

The winter wonderland, one of six in North America, is built from scratch when the cold conditions allow the ice to sprout from the barren ground.

Other parks are located in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin; Excelsior, Minnesota; Dillon, Colorado; Midway, Utah; and Edmonton, Alberta. This year, the attractions will stand until early March in most locations.

At the center of the New Hampshire attraction stand six ice structures that are nearly four feet tall (more than a meter tall) and are lit from within by colored lights.

“It’s quite magical isn’t it?” McCafferty said. “It’s an amazing creation. I’d really like to know how they actually built it.”

The attraction starts small in December, when the site’s lead builder Matt Pasciuto and his team set up icicle farms: metal racks that are sprayed with water to allow icicles to grow on them overnight. The icicles are then harvested by “ice artists,” who place them around more than 70 sprinklers.

“Once we turn the sprinklers on, the water starts freezing to those icicles, making them grow together, bigger and bigger and thicker and thicker,” Pasciuto said. “We grow the castle about two to three feet [a half-meter to one meter] at a time.”

Within a few weeks, the icicles have managed to cover the entire park, and some reach heights of 20 feet (six meters).

On a recent sunny day, the massive ice walls shined with a glacial blue hue. After the sun went down, the castles seemed to burst with colors thanks to LED lights embedded in the ice. The astonishing visuals are complemented by a synchronized fantasy soundtrack playing throughout the venue.

The attraction, which moved to this year from neighboring Lincoln, draws tens of thousands of visitors each season.

“When the movie `Frozen’ came out, that was a huge boost because now everyone says, ‘Oh, we get to see an actual ice castle,'” Pasciuto said.

Three years ago, Adam Schellinger started bringing his girlfriend on annual dates to the Ice Castles in New Hampshire, a three-hour drive from their hometown of Brooklyn, Connecticut. On last year’s visit, Schellinger got down on one knee and popped the question. The crowd immediately began cheering. The couple was married in September.

“When I proposed, it was blue, and then it went to purple,” recalled Schellinger, who returned for a visit with his wife Ashley a couple weeks ago. “It was just awesome — a great backdrop for sure.”

After a mild start to the winter, the weather in New Hampshire this year has mostly cooperated with only a few days with above-freezing temperatures. But that isn’t always the case, according to Melissa Smuzynski, public relations director for Ice Castles. She said some locations occasionally have had to cut their seasons short due to warmer winters but that “we haven’t noticed a long-term pattern over the years of our seasons becoming shorter.”

But Pascuito says he dreads the warmer days.

“The last couple of years we’ve had some really bad warm spells in February where it gets to 60 degrees [Fahrenheit, 15 degrees Celsius]. This is New Hampshire — that shouldn’t happen,” he said. “We love the cold. We want a nice long winter.”

by MediaExpert

Michael Jackson Brothers Say Accusers’ Film Neglects Facts

The family of Michael Jackson had a feeling the years-old child molestation allegations against the pop superstar would resurface at some point. So they say they weren’t entirely surprised to learn that a forthcoming HBO documentary would feature two of his accusers.

“I thought, ‘Oh here we go again,’” Jackson’s oldest brother Jackie Jackson said Tuesday of the moment he learned of “Leaving Neverland” while on tour in Australia. “That’s the first thing we said,” Jackie Jackson said during an interview with The Associated Press seated next to his brothers Tito, Marlon and his nephew, Taj.

The documentary, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival to a standing ovation , will starting Sunday air the abuse allegations of two men , Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who had previously denied Jackson molested them and supported him to authorities and in Robson’s case, very publicly.

“It was going to be the 10-year anniversary,” Taj Jackson said, referring to his uncle’s June 2009 death. “I remember a year ago I was like, ’This is too appetizing for the media. They’re going to do something. This is the time when everyone comes out of the woodwork, the same cast, the same characters that have been discredited throughout the years. They have a platform now to talk about Michael Jackson.”

It was the latest and most public pushback from the family and Jackson estate, which have repeatedly denounced the documentary in recent weeks through written statements, a lawsuit , and letters to HBO and Britain’s Channel 4, which plan to air the film. HBO announced Wednesday that it will air a special on Monday night in which Oprah Winfrey also interviews Robson and Safechuck.

Their central criticism has been the film’s failure to talk to family members or other defenders of Jackson, whom they insist never molested a child.

The brothers said they would have answered the allegations had the filmmakers asked them.

“Oh, we definitely would have come and talked to them about the situation … to protect our brother,” Tito Jackson said. “He’s not here no more. He’s passed, and, we’re his brothers, we’re supposed to do this.”

Marlon Jackson added, “I look at it as yes, you’re protecting your brother, but you’re telling the truth, and we want people to understand the truth. And I do not understand how a filmmaker can make a documentary and not want to speak to myself or some of the other families that were at Neverland.”

The documentary’s director Dan Reed has repeatedly defended his film, which uses only the voices of Robson, Safechuck and their families.

“It’s the story of these two families and not of all the other people who were or weren’t abused by Michael Jackson,” Reed told the AP the day after the film’s premiere. “People who spent time with him can go, ‘he couldn’t possibly be a pedophile.’ How do they know? It’s absurd.”

Robson, 36, and Safechuck, 40, both came forward as adults, first via 2013 lawsuits and later in the documentary, to talk about the alleged abuse, which Robson says started when he was 7, Safechuck when he was 10.

Both had previously told authorities there had been no abuse, with Robson testifying in Jackson’s defense at the 2005 molestation trial that ended with the superstar’s acquittal.

Jackson family members say they were especially stunned to first hear such allegations coming from Robson, a noted choreographer who has worked with Britney Spears and ’N Sync. Many Jacksons, including Taj, had known Robson and his family since he was a child. Robson had dated Jackie Jackson’s daughter for over seven years.

“I was like ’No that can’t be Wade Robson not the same guy that I knew, They must have got the names wrong,” Taj Jackson said. “Wade was the most adamant person when it came to 2005 and the trial. He was their first defense witness. He was the star witness. He was adamant that nothing ever happened.”

Taj Jackson said he remembers thanking Robson the day he testified, and Robson responding that it was the least he could do for Michael.

“To see that 180, it feels like the biggest backstab that you could possibly feel,” he said.

The film acknowledges and discusses the men’s initial denials of abuse. Both say they experienced trauma that emerged as adults when they started to accept what happened to them.

No one in the Jackson family has any memory of meeting Safechuck. They have focused their criticism on Robson, whose allegations, they say, have coincided with financial problems. They say in particular that being denied a job with a Jackson-themed Cirque du Soleil show prompted him to change his story.

Robson has said it had no bearing on the allegations, and that he actually removed himself from the Cirque du Soleil show because he was having nervous breakdowns. Those prompted him to talk to his therapist for the first time about the abuse.

The men’s lawsuits have been thrown out on technical grounds, but are on appeal.

The Jackson estate’s lawsuit , filed last week, alleges “Leaving Neverland” violates a 1992 contract agreeing the channel would not disparage Jackson in the future. HBO called the lawsuit a desperate attempt to undermine the film.

Jackson’s family urged those inclined to watch “Leaving Neverland” to look deeper into the situation.

“That’s all we’re worried about is just facts,” Marlon Jackson said. “The facts, which are public record, tell a totally different story than what this documentary talks about.”

by MediaExpert

First Iranian-American Woman to Win Oscar Turns to Iran-Themed Films

The first Iranian-American woman to win an Oscar, Rayka Zehtabchi, says she wants to build on Sunday’s triumph of her documentary about menstruation by producing several films with Iran-related themes.

“I’m very interested in telling Iranian stories as well as women’s stories,” the 25-year-old Los Angeles-based filmmaker told VOA Persian in a Skype interview on Monday. “I was raised in Southern California pretty much my whole life, but the older I get, the more I feel like I connect with and learn about my Iranian culture.”

WATCH: Rayka Zehtabchi discusses being connected to her culture

Zehtabchi won the award for best documentary short at Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony in Hollywood for “Period. End of Sentence.” The Netflix-produced film is about women in rural India fighting the stigma surrounding menstruation by manufacturing sanitary pads to enable adolescent girls to stay in school while managing their periods.

Los Angeles high school students inspired the film by raising money to buy pad-making machines for the villagers of Hapur district, 90 kilometers east of the Indian capital, New Delhi. “Just seeing that there are these young people who care so deeply about this cause that is affecting women all over the world, and being a young woman myself, I felt compelled to jump on board,” Zehtabchi said.

Zehtabchi directed the film and shared the Oscar with American producer Melissa Berton.

Iranian-born British-American actress Nazanin Boniadi congratulated Zehtabchi on Twitter for being the first Iranian-American woman to achieve such a feat.

Watch: Rayka Zehtabchi, on being first Iranian-American Oscar winner

“It didn’t even cross my mind that I’d be the first Iranian-American woman to win an Oscar, but I feel absolutely incredible,” said Zehtabchi, the daughter of Iranian immigrants to the United States. “My dad passed away three years ago from lung cancer, and I wish he could have been there to see it, because he would have been very proud,” she added as her voice filled with emotion.

Watch: Rayka Zehtabchi, on her family’s journey to U.S.

The filmmaker said one of her next productions will be a narrative feature about her family’s journey to the United States in the early 1990s. “I’m very interested in exploring the immigrant experience and how it could be devastating but also hilarious at times, being a foreigner in a new country and having to learn how to assimilate.”

Zehtabchi said she also is working on feature version of a 2016 short film that marked her directorial debut, “Madaran.” Based on a true story about an Iranian mother who must decide whether to end or spare the life of her only son’s killer at his execution, the original film qualified for Oscar contention in the Live Action Short category that year.

Watch: Rayka Zehtabchi’s message to other young Iranian women

Asked for her message to other young women of Iranian origin who have cheered her success, she said: “You are strong and you are beautiful and you can do anything if you put your mind to it.”

This article originated in VOA’s Persian Service.

by MediaExpert

Underprivileged Children Find a Spot in Prestigious Literary Magazine

A library run by a volunteer group in New Delhi’s largest slum resettlement colony is helping underprivileged teenagers become writers. Some have had their stories published in India’s best-known Hindi language literary magazine as well as in other publications. For VOA, Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi.

by MediaExpert

Most Popular Last Name in Each US State

Smith is the most common last name in the United States, followed by Johnson, Miller, Jones, Williams, and Anderson, according to genealogy company Ancestry.com.

What the most common surnames in the United States have in common is that they all have English, Scottish, Irish or Welsh roots because people from those countries were among the first Europeans to settle in North America.

Last names were not commonly used in England until 1066, when population growth made it necessary. Inspirations for a second name, or surname, were generally inspired by the father’s name, where a person lived, their occupation, or even a nickname.

The name Smith was likely derived from blacksmiths. For example, over time, “Richard the smith” became simply “Richard Smith.” A person named Robertson may well be the descendant of a person once known as “Robert’s son,” and Mr. Appleby could have lived near an apple orchard or tended to one.

It would not be hard to guess what someone named Tom Carpenter did for a living. Other last names derived from the kind of work people did include Archer, Baker, Brewer, Butcher, Cook, Dyer, Farmer, Judge, Mason, Page, Potter, Taylor and Weaver.

Today, where you live in the United States can determine which name you hear the most. Northwesterners are more likely to meet an Anderson, while on the East Coast people named Brown are more common.

There’s much more variety in the American Southwest. Texas, California, New Mexico, and Arizona have large Latino populations and a variety of names such as Garcia, Hernandez, Martinez, and Chavez.

Overall, the 50 most common last names in the United States grew in numbers between 2000 and 2010, except for the name of “Hall” which dropped. The surnames that saw the largest jump in volume during that time period are Spanish in origin and include the names Hernandez, Ramirez, and Rodriguez.

The name Nguyen, which can be traced back to a Vietnamese royal dynasty, also saw a large increase, according to 24/7 Wall Street.


by MediaExpert

Creating Venice Carnival Masks — a Labor of Love

The famed annual Venice Carnival is in full swing with revelers donning beautiful costumes and extraordinary masks. The masks range from historical classics, to modern, original creations. VOAs Deborah Block takes us to a shop in the city of canals that makes intricate masks by hand.

by MediaExpert

Iraqi Antique Collector Turns His House into a Museum

There is more than a century of Iraqi history in Sheikh Yousif Akar’s house, a modest home in the holy city of Najaf which the retired teacher has crammed full of local antiques collected over 50 years.

Rifles dating back to when the city was run by the Ottomans or the British sit alongside drinking vessels, coins and historic photographs.

The small museum has attracted a few curious antique lovers, but he rarely advertises for visitors as his house is too small to receive guests.

The 80-year-old hopes the state will take over the collection when he is gone.

“At the end of my life, I wish they would allocate to a place for me to keep these antiquities … for Najaf, for Iraq” he said.

by MediaExpert

Mexican Leader Knocks Racism at Home After ‘Roma’ Oscar Wins

Mexico’s president on Monday denounced racism in his country a day after the Mexican film Roma emerged as a big winner at the Academy Awards with a plot that highlighted prejudice and inequality.

Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron won the best director Oscar on Sunday for his semi-autobiographical film Roma, which told the story of an indigenous domestic worker who cares for a middle-class family in 1970s Mexico City.

The movie also won awards for best foreign language film and cinematography, and President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador fielded several questions about Roma at his regular morning press conference.

Asked if he agreed with Cuaron that Mexican society remains rife with racist prejudice, the veteran leftist did not mince his words.

“I completely agree. Unfortunately, there is a lot of racism in Mexico,” he said.

Lopez Obrador, who in the 1970s worked for the indigenous affairs bureau in his home state of Tabasco in southern Mexico, has pledged to give priority to the poor as president.

Cuaron noted that the film emphasized the divided nature of Mexico’s social structure, opening up a much-needed discussion on racism and domestic worker rights.

“It’s a moment in which the country has recognized itself as a racist country,” he said at an event in Los Angeles last week.

In his acceptance speech, he thanked the Academy for recognizing a movie centered around an indigenous woman, saying her character represents the “70 million domestic workers in the world without work rights.”

Lopez Obrador admitted that he has yet to see the movie, but said he will do so soon. He added that the success of Roma has become a source of pride for many Mexicans.

Named for the neighborhood in the Mexican capital where it is set, Roma stars Yalitza Aparicio as a maid named Cleo who becomes pregnant as she looks after a family with four children just as the parents are splitting up.

While cheers echoed through Roma when the film began collecting Oscars on Sunday, revelers were disappointed when Aparicio did not win the Best Actress award, the first indigenous woman to be nominated for the honor.

Reactions to her performance sparked a debate in Mexico over discrimination faced by darker-skinned indigenous or mixed-race Mexicans, a topic often relegated to the sidelines of political discussions in the country.

by MediaExpert

R. Kelly’s Attorney Enters Not Guilty Plea on Singer’s Behalf

R&B singer R. Kelly’s attorney entered a not guilty plea on behalf of his client Monday as the singer faces multiple charges of sexual abuse in Chicago.

Kelly, one of the best-selling music artists of all time, entered the courtroom wearing an orange jail jumpsuit after spending the weekend in Chicago’s 7,000-inmate jail. He was arrested Friday on 10 counts of aggravated sexual abuse involving four females, three of whom were minors.

Kelly remains jailed after a judge on Saturday set bond at $1 million. The Grammy Award-winning singer is required to pay 10 percent, and his attorney said Kelly’s confidants are trying to pay $100,000 to get him released as he awaits trial.

Among the conditions of release is that Kelly have no contact with females younger than 18.

Kelly appeared at the arraignment hearing Monday with defense attorney Steve Greenberg, and the case was assigned to Cook County Associate Judge Lawrence Flood. Kelly’s next court date is March 22.

Greenberg told The Associated Press on Sunday that coordination of the bail payment is complicated. But he said Kelly could be released as early as Monday or Tuesday.

“He has to rely on others acting on his behalf,” Greenberg said. “And it’s just not that easy — because Kelly’s in jail.”

Attorney Michael Avenatti, who said he represents two Kelly victims, said his legal team will give prosecutors a second video on Monday that he alleges shows Kelly sexually assaulting a minor. Avenatti has said he recently gave prosecutors video evidence of the singer having sex with an underage girl.

In arguing for bail within the singer’s ability to pay, Greenberg told a judge over the weekend that Kelly wasn’t wealthy despite decades of success creating hit songs. The lawyer blamed mismanagement, bad contracts and other issues for his client’s financial woes.

There are multiple logistical issues that could have thwarted Kelly’s efforts to pay over the weekend, said Joseph Lopez, a criminal defense attorney in Chicago not connected to the Kelly case. He said court officials must be able to talk to bank officials directly to confirm that an amount written on a check is covered, and that’s not possible when banks are closed.

Records on the Cook County sheriff’s website show Kelly is in Division 8 of the county jail, where the medical unit is located but also where inmates considered at risk from the general inmate population are held, Lopez said.

Disturbing details of the allegations against Kelly emerged Saturday when the prosecution released four detailed documents — one for each accuser — outlining the basis for the charges. The allegations date back as far as 1998 and span more than a decade.

A girl who attended Kelly’s child pornography trial in 2008 got his autograph after a court session. He later invited her to his home in the Chicago suburb of Olympia Fields, where they had sex multiple times starting the following May, when she was 16, according to the documents, which said he also slapped, choked and spit on the girl.

In 1998, another girl reported meeting Kelly at a restaurant where she was having a 16th birthday party. Kelly’s manager gave her the singer’s business card and suggested she call Kelly. The girl’s mother heard the exchange, took the card and told the manager her daughter was 16.

But her daughter later retrieved the card from her purse. She contacted Kelly, who told her to take a cab to his studio, where they had sex periodically for a year, the documents said. After the first encounter, she was given an envelope of cash.

In early 2003, a Chicago hairdresser told prosecutors that she thought she was going to braid Kelly’s hair, but he pulled down his pants and instead tried to force her to give him oral sex. The woman, who was 24, was able to pull away, but Kelly ejaculated on her and spit in her face, the documents said.

Prosecutors also described a witness who had access to videotapes showing Kelly having sex with a 14-year-old girl. The witness turned a tape over to authorities and identified the girl, who repeatedly stated her age on the footage, according to the documents.

Kelly’s DNA was found in semen on one of the accuser’s shirts, and semen found on a shirt worn by another was submitted for DNA testing, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said. It was not clear when the accusers turned the shirts over to authorities — whether it was shortly after the abuse or more recently.

At the bond hearing, Greenberg said his client is not a flight risk. He told the judge, “Contrary to the song, Mr. Kelly doesn’t like to fly.” One of Kelly’s best-known hits is “I Believe I Can Fly.”

After the hearing, Greenberg told reporters that Kelly did not force anyone to have sex.

“He’s a rock star. He doesn’t have to have nonconsensual sex,” Greenberg said.

The judge ordered Kelly to surrender his passport, ending his hopes of doing a tour of Europe in April. Kelly defiantly scheduled concerts in Germany and the Netherlands despite the cloud of legal issues looming over him. Greenberg denied that any tour was planned.

The recording artist, whose legal name is Robert Kelly, has been trailed for decades by allegations that he violated underage girls and women and held some as virtual slaves. Kelly has consistently denied any sexual misconduct.

Kelly broke into the R&B scene in 1993 with his first solo album, “12 Play,” which produced such popular sex-themed songs as “Your Body’s Callin”‘ and “Bump N’ Grind.” He rose from poverty on Chicago’s South Side and has retained a sizable following. Kelly has written numerous hits for himself and other artists, including Celine Dion, Michael Jackson and Lady Gaga.

In 2008, a jury acquitted Kelly of child pornography charges that centered on a graphic video that prosecutors said showed him having sex with a girl as young as 13. He and the young woman allegedly seen with him denied they were in the 27-minute video, even though the picture quality was good and witnesses testified it was them, and she did not take the stand. Kelly could have been sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Charging Kelly now for actions that occurred in the same time frame as the allegations from the 2008 trial suggests the accusers are cooperating this time and willing to testify.

Because the alleged victim 10 years ago denied that she was on the video and did not testify, the state’s attorney’s office had little recourse except to charge the lesser offense under Illinois law, child pornography, which required a lower standard of evidence.

Each count of the new charges carries up to seven years in prison, and the sentences could be served consecutively, making it possible for him to receive up to 70 years. Probation is also an option.

The walls began closing in on Kelly after the release of a BBC documentary about him last year and the multipart Lifetime documentary “Surviving R. Kelly,” which aired last month. Together they detailed allegations that he held women against their will and ran a “sex cult.”