CHARITY – The Heroic and Heartbreaking Story of Charity Hospital in Hurricane Katrina. $2.99 eBook or $10 paperback

Charity coverAug. 29, 2015 marked the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Lost in the long aftermath of the storm’s deadly destruction, scandals and even, at one hospital, euthanasia, stands the heroic story of Charity Hospital, the country’s oldest hospital.

     CHARITY is my latest book – a gripping, 25,000-word read, available as an instant download from all major sellers – Amazon, Barnes &Noble, iBooks, Google Play, and Kobo.

     It is also available as a paperback, $10 from Amazon.

    With a new afterward: Where are they now? Updating the life stories of the storm’s heroes: doctors, nurses, staff – and patients. With a sketch of Charity’s replacement hospital open Aug. 1.

    Pieces of the Charity Hospital story were reported during Katrina and its immediate aftermath. What has never been told is the remarkable five-day transformation of an infirm institution, caught in a sea of death and indifference, into an island of care and tenderness.

    Cut off from medical gizmos, cast loose by government, Charity’s manifest found themselves in a boat together. They did not sink into chaos. They found humankind, affection and love. Only that can explain why Charity, with the sickest of the sick, lost the fewest lives – 8 out of 154 reported deaths at flooded health care institutions.

    Katrina, as storms do, washed away illusions and exposed weaknesses: the levees, the morally gutted police, a rickety infrastructure, a fragile society that had been living for generations on the take and on the come, and a city – and a state and a nation — that could not, or would not, care for its own. Charity’s frailties were laid bare, too; it was a sick, white elephant.

    In the wake of Katrina, with the hospital a dark hot tomb, its staff laid off and dispersing, an official ambivalence about rebuilding Charity eerily echoed the larger debate about rebuilding New Orleans – and provided health care for the indigent.

In retrospect, the sense of doom is excruciating. Having lived through it by evacuating my Lakeview home, having watched (from afar) the storm roar past, and the slow tsunami that drowned my dreams, emptied New Orleans and left Charity art deco carrion, drama is an inadequate word. The hour-by-hour recreation of this hospital’s final days is one of the most grievous and heroic stories in American history.

What survived, and soars, is this: In a dying city and dying hospital, lives were changed. Patients rose up and lived. Doctors, deprived of their technical toys, embraced the patients – for hours on end. Numbers became human beings, on both sides of the air bag. As if struck by angels, people walked out of Charity changed.

Cover design by Michael Sanborn. Cover photos by Mooney Bryant-Penland (doctor in canoe) and Penny Weaver (Charity today)


The Civil Rights Trail heats up

This year’s 50th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 has prompted a new wave of visitors to civil rights sites.

Meredith, the publisher of Parenting and Family Fun, published an article about a family that visited the historic sites with their children, guided by my book, A Traveler’s Guide to the Civil Rights Movement.

CR articleHere is the link to the full article:


The death of Darrell Winfield, the most famous of the Marlboro Man cowboys, prompted a piece in Ad Week about my series, “In Search of the Marlboro Man.” Thanks to Richard Horgan for mining the morgue:

When the Rocky Mountain Ranger Met the Marlboro Man

By Richard Horgan


In January of 1991, Jim Carrier authored a sweeping eight-part series for the Denver Post titled “In Search of the Marlboro Man.” He was, at the time, the paper’s Rocky Mountain Ranger, the kind of beat that just doesn’t exist anymore. As Carrier puts it in his current bio, that quixotically titled job of reporting on the American West ran him through “500,000 miles, 7,665 sunsets and 87 pairs of Levis.”

Carrier’s Marlboro quest, carried out before Google search and with Philip Morris going out of its way not help, wound its way to the most iconic Marlboro Man of them all – Darrell Winfield (pictured). The Wyoming rancher, who did his first campaign for Leo Burnett and Marlboro in 1968, passed away this week at age 85.

Although Winfield was more than happy to spend time with Carrier, he told the reporter it could not be in the form of an interview. So Carrier put away the notebook and just soaked everything in. From the end of Part 8:

As we re-entered the [Native American] sweat lodge, I realized my search was over. I’d looked on the billboards, in the hat shops, in rodeo shutes and wide open ranges, in museums, books and minds of the West for this Western man.

But I’d learned that who he was came not from his hat, his set on a saddle or – least of all – the brand he smoked. The cowboy beside me was just one I’d found, and it had nothing to do with his looks.

What I’d been seeking was the soul of the West, embodied in its people. As the water was sprinkled and steam rose again, I knew I’d found the Malboro Man.

Thus culminated a daily newspaper series that reads today as authentically journalism old-school as Winfield was, evidently, authentically Old West. RIP.

Here is the Ad Week blog link.

Dena Epstein 11/30/1916 – 11/14/2013

Dena Epstein, the famous music librarian who opened our eyes to African American musical culture, died Nov. 14 in Chicago. She was 96.

As her mother, Hilda Satt Polacheck wrote, “On the morning of Thanksgiving Day 1916, our second child was born, a dimpled girl whose eyes were as blue as gentians. We had much for which to be thankful.”

Indeed we all did.Dena interview

In the 1970s, after 25 years of research on her own, Dena published a series of papers and her monumental book, Sinful Tunes and Spirituals: Black Folks Music to the Civil War, which shattered myths that African slaves arrived in the Americas “culturally naked.” She documented a musical culture among Africans and African-Americans that was rich with song, dance and instrumentation.

I was fortunate to have interviewed Dena in 2009, and produced a film about her work. THE LIBRARIAN AND THE BANJO premiered in April 2013, and is now available on DVD. Click here to watch a trailer, and read  details.

A memorial for Dena will be held in Chicago at a future date.


The Librarian and The Banjo premieres in New York


For Immediate Release Oct. 3, 2013

THE LIBRARIAN AND THE BANJO, the inspiring story of a music librarian who literally wrote the book on slave music in America, will make its New York film premiere Oct. 11 and Oct. 13 at two screenings in Brooklyn.librarian_banjo_type_bw

The 56-minute film tells the story of Dena Epstein, now 96 years old, whose trailblazing scholarship was the first to take on the old myths about the banjo and prove its African-American origins and West African roots. Her work shattered myths about the roots of American music, and has been described as “monumental.”

Chosen for the CBGB Film Festival, the documentary will be screened Friday Oct. 11, 8:30 p.m. at indieScreen in Williamsburg. The film will be followed by a Q&A with the director, Jim Carrier, and banjo performances by six of the movie’s subjects. The venue, 289 Kent Avenue at S. 2 Street, is described by New York magazine as a “cinephile’s dream.”

On Sunday Oct. 13, the film is the centerpiece of an afternoon workshop and performance at Jalopy, the renowned theater and music school at 315 Columbia Street. Starting at 1 p.m. banjo historians will outline Dena’s pioneering work, show the film and finish with a performance of banjo styles covering the entire spectrum of banjo history, from gourd to bluegrass banjos. Performers include Shlomo Pestcoe, Greg Adams, Pete Ross, Tony Thomas and other guests.

Dena Epstein, front, with the Carolina Chocolate Drops in October 2009

Dena Epstein, front, with the Carolina Chocolate Drops in October 2009

The LIBRARIAN AND THE BANJO features interviews with Dena, academics, banjo historians and musicians including the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Bela Fleck, Tony Trischka and Eric Weissberg. The soundtrack, from dozens of banjo players, includes music on gourd akontings, minstrel instruments and bluegrass banjos. Among featured artists are Stephen Wade, Sule Greg Wilson and Pura Fe.

Among music historians interviewed in the film are: Bill Ferris (former NEH chairman), Bob Winans, Tony Thomas, Greg Adams, Laurent Dubois, Bobby Fulcher and Daniel Jatta.

For more information, a trailer, reviews and DVD sales, visit the film’s Web site: Or visit our Facebook page.

For press interviews and artwork, contact Jim Carrier at 608-467-2662, cell 703-408-5924 or by email:

Once upon a time, the America’s Cup was homegrown dream


By Jim Carrier – Cruising World contributing editor

The other day, on a sidewalk outside a thrift store in Madison, Wis., a framed poster propped against the window stopped me in my tracks. It showed a sailboat barreling toward me on a port tack – through a wheat field!
The price was $7.
“I hope you bought it,” laughed Buddy Melges, the venerable sailor, when I called him at his home in Lake Geneva. Melges, it turns out, was at the helm of the boat.

America's Cup 2
The artwork captured beautifully a remarkable and unique sailing adventure in U.S. history – a home-grown Midwestern attempt to win the America’s Cup.
In a year when billionaires battle for the cup with Star-War-ish flying machines on San Francisco Bay, the story of the 1987 “Heart of America Challenge” is a charming if melancholy tale of what sailing competitions used to be.
In 1983, after Australia wrested the cup from the U.S., indignant sailors all over the U.S. mounted campaigns to get it back. Gene Kinney of the Chicago Yacht Club asked Melges to lead an effort, one of seven from the U.S.
Harry Melges, famous for producing inland boats at his family plant in Zenda, Wis., relished challenging not only Australia but also the sailing establishment on both American coasts, who, he once said labeled him, “this hack from the Midwest.”
While lawyers somehow convinced a New York court that Lake Michigan was an “arm of the sea” and could serve as a defender’s turf should they win the cup, Melges pulled together shoestrings to gather a team and raise $6 million to build a new 12-meter boat and get to Australia.
“It was a little bit here, little bit there” Melges remembered. At one point the team was clearing $15,000 a week from T-shirts alone. The largest single gift, $1 million, came from the telephone company MCI Communications.
Leo Burnett, the Chicago advertising firm that created “Marlboro country,” and Pillsbury’s “nothing says lovin’ like something from the oven,” campaigns, came aboard. Art directors John Eding and Ted Bell soon came up with the idea of a sailboat in a wheat field, and hired Chicago illustrator David Beck to create it.
Beck spent a day in a chase boat on Lake Michigan taking pictures of the crew training on a borrowed yacht, and found the drama of tacking through blowing wheat. An original idea of a cove stripe pitchfork was changed to a wheat shaft.
At the yacht club unveiling, “it was like rock star applause – I’d never experienced anything like that,” Beck recalled.  Everyone loved it, with the exception of Gov. Jim Thompson who wanted the boat sailing in corn stalks, Illinois’ leading farm crop. Beck talked him out of it.
The poster was sold for $100, or $500 signed by Melges, skipper Gary Jobson and Beck. They went like hotcakes. Beck was never paid by Burnett, but sold two additional originals to corporate sponsor Ciba-Geigy, and for years received agriculture commissions.
“I did guys standing in wheat fields and corn fields and a plethora of crops,” he said by phone from Cincinnati where he is now a well-known illustrator.
Jobson, who left the campaign to broadcast the 1987 cup for ESPN, calls it the best America’s Cup poster ever done. The campaign was also one of a kind.
“Eight-seven was mostly an amateur contest,” he said. The boats were crewed by nationals, it was the last of the 12-meter yachts in the cup, there were still a couple of wood boats competing against aluminum and glass, and the money was chump change compared to today’s races. Melges went to Australia in 1986 with $3 million in cash and a contingent of 40 people.
“We did a lot of work with the crew, the old Midwestern way, from the ground up,” Melges said. “They were a bunch of kids. We went after guys that had structure, who could get on the handles.”
One who had that “structure” was Larry Mialik of Madison, a tight end for the University of Wisconsin who went on to play pro football. Melges had remembered a radio broadcast in which Mialik had caught a touchdown pass against Ohio State. He called him up.
“I grew up not knowing how to spell yacht,” said Mialik. “Buddy said, ‘meet me in Chicago tomorrow in front of the Chicago Tribune.’ And there was the Heart of America and the governor’s wife with the champagne and a bunch of guys in blue blazers. It was life changing.” Mialik, who earned $70 a week to grind for Melges, became a racing pro.
The 26th America’s Cup, broadcast live to the U.S. for the first time, left Heart of America 8th out of 13 challengers to take on Australia’s Kookaburra III. Jobson said the Midwesterners got better with every race. In the end they lacked $200,000 for a new main and jib for the final round-robin Luis Vuitton series.
“In the end we were one of the four fastest. We just didn’t have enough points,” said Melges, who is now 83. Dennis Connor, whose syndicate Sail America took three boats to Australia, came home with the cup.
Four years later, the world had changed. Melges won the cup for Bill Koch, with a  $62 million budget and staff of 240 people, including eight of his Heart of America crew.
Knowing Buddy’s penchant for colorful quotes, I asked his view of this year’s America’s Cup.
“Before, it was a slow moving program, what sailing was all about: tactics, defending your position, boat handling. It’s a drag race now. Pedal down and go like a raped ape.”

(This piece was published July 16, 2013 in Cruising World’s Web site.)

“An inspiring account…infectious.”

The Librarian and the Banjo2013_missing
USA | 2013 | 57 min | digital projection
documentary | section: Wisconsin’s Own
World Premiere

Sunday April 14, 4:30 p.m.

UW Elvehjem Building

directed by: Jim Carrier
cinematography: Jim Carrier
producer: Jim Carrier
editor: Jim Carrier and Kelley Baker

An inspiring account of both a lost history and its dogged excavator, The Librarian and the Banjo recounts the work of Dena Epstein, a music librarian whose inquiry into a forgotten abolitionist’s diary (at the Wisconsin History Society) sparked an interest in the history of black folk music. Her research over the next twenty-five years ultimately proved that the banjo-long associated with rural white culture in the South-originated in Africa. Epstein’s work not only exploded previously-held views about black folk music and its legitimacy as a subject of academic study, but helped to spark a new generation of African-American string band music. Madison-based director Jim Carrier explores both Epstein’s career and the impact that her work has had amongst music scholars, practitioners, and fans with a clarity and attention to detail worthy of his subject. Folk luminaries like Bela Fleck, Eric Weissberg, and the Carolina Chocolate Drops provide eloquent testimonials, but the film’s true star is Epstein herself. Now ninety-six years old, she continues to exhibit the intelligence, tenacity, and love of her subject that The Librarian and the Banjo chronicles with such infectious enthusiasm.
Director Jim Carrier scheduled to attend.

Matthew Connolly

The Librarian and The Banjo at the Wisconsin Film Festival

I am proud to announce that my documentary, THE LIBRARIAN AND THE BANJO, has been accepted for the Wisconsin Film Festival in April.

The 55-minute film tells the story of Dena Epstein, a music librarian, now 96 years old, who documented that the banjo came from Africa with slaves. Her work shattered myths about the roots of American music, and has been described as “monumental.”

Dena Epstein, front, with the Carolina Chocolate Drops in October 2009

Dena Epstein, front, with the Carolina Chocolate Drops in October 2009

The film features interviews with Dena (as everyone calls her), academics, banjo historians and musicians including the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Bela Fleck, Tony Trischka and Eric Weissberg. The soundtrack, from dozens of banjo players, includes music on gourd akontings, minstrel instruments and bluegrass banjos.


The Librarian at the Banjo Institute

Below is a huge (4-foot long) photo of the famous Tennessee Banjo Institute, held in 1992, at which Dena Epstein lectured. She recalls being one of the few people without a banjo in their hands.

Here is a photo closeup of her behind John Hartford.

Dena Epstein behind John Hartford at TBI 1992.

Dena’s work inspired the TBI, which brought together the whole world of banjoists, including, for the first time, African pluked lute players, minstrel historians and the hottest bluegrass pickers from Nashville. Dena is the subject of my film THE LIBRARIAN AND THE BANJO.

Here is a link to the panoramic photo. When it opens, click to zoom in.