8 Things to Know about Beryl Markham

I just finished one of the most eloquent memoirs I have ever read called West with the Night. I marked so many passages that I almost thought about giving up the task of marking my favorite passages, but I persisted. I was so impressed by this memoir that I turned to the biography at the back of the book, and immediately started thinking of ways that I could share this remarkable woman’s story. By the way, the remarkable woman of which I speak is Beryl Markham – aviatrix, horse trainer/racer, and an adventuress extraordinaire. I hope you find Ms. Markham as fascinating as I did!

Photo courtesy of ladyfanciful.blogspot.com

Photo courtesy of ladyfanciful.blogspot.com

Beryl Markham was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west. Her flight took off from Abingdon England on September 4, 1936, and crash landed into a peat bog in Nova Scotia about 22 hours later. Although her target was New York, she still achieved a record by making it to North America.

Photo courtesy of likesuccess.com

Photo courtesy of likesuccess.com

Markham was the first licensed female racehorse trainer in Kenya. She was successful and well-known throughout the colony. Some of the most memorable passages in West with the Night relate to her work with these thoroughbred horses.

Denys Finch Hatton - Photo courtesy of alchetron.com

Denys Finch Hatton – Photo courtesy of alchetron.com

Karen Blixen - Photo courtesy of atterata.com

Karen Blixen – Photo courtesy of atterata.com

Markham was friends with Karen Blixen and Denys Finch Hatton from the well-loved book and film Out of Africa. The outspoken character  named Felicity in the film version is based on Markham. She also had an intimate relationship with Denys; in fact, she was scheduled to be on the flight that killed Denys. However, Tom Black, her flight instructor and friend, had a premonition that things would not go well and asked her not to fly with Denys that day. It was a good thing she listened.

Prince Henry - Photo courtesy of Pinterest

Prince Henry – Photo courtesy of Pinterest

Markham was rumored to have had an affair with Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, and son of George V. They became acquainted when Prince Henry, and his brother Prince David, came for a royal visit to Nairobi and visited her father’s horse farm for riding lessons. Needless to say, his family cut the romance short once it was discovered.

Ernest Hemingway - Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Ernest Hemingway – Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Ernest Hemingway spoke highly of Markham’s writing. Hemingway met Markham on a safari in 1934, and obtained a copy of her book. In a letter to his editor, Maxwell Perkins, he wrote:

Did you read Beryl Markham’s book, “West with the Night”? I knew her fairly well in Africa and never would have suspected that she could and would put pen to paper except to write in her flyer’s log book. As it is, she has written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer. I felt that I was simply a carpenter with words, picking up whatever was furnished on the job and some times making an okay pig pen. But [she] can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers.

After reading this quote in one of Hemingway’s letters, George Gutekunst (a friend of the family) sought out Markham’s book, loved it, and helped to get it reissued so that more people would be able to read it. It became a bestseller and allowed Markham, who was living in poverty in Africa at the time, to spend the rest of her years in comfort.

Photo courtesy of glanews.com

Photo courtesy of glanews.com

As a child, Markham used to hunt with African warriors who were part of her community in Nairobi. She was one of very few women allowed to go along on expeditions; women from the tribe were expected to stay at home and take care of the domestic sphere. They called her Lakweit,  which means “little girl” in Swahili, but they respected her in the same way they respected the young boys being trained as warriors.

Photo courtesy of wsj.com

Photo courtesy of wsj.com

Markham was attacked by a neighbor’s “pet” lion when she was an adolescent, and lived to tell the story. There is a humorous antidote in her memoir where one of the African men who helped to save her told her father that she was only eaten a little bit by a lion in an attempt to try to minimize his panic.

Photo courtesy of Pinterest

Photo courtesy of Pinterest

Paula McLain wrote a fictional account of Markham’s life in 2015 called Circling the Sun. I read the book as soon as it was released, and I loved the poetic descriptions of her life and the sweeping landscapes of Africa. That was actually the first time I encountered Markham, and I just had to know more after reading all about her singular life. If this post has intrigued you, then I recommend starting with McLain’s website and reading her book to learn more.

I included a few of the most striking quotes from the book West with the Night to give you a preview:

Fitful splashes of crimson light from crude-oil torches set round the field stain the dark cloth of African night and play upon his alert, high-boned face. Pg. 14

There was nothing but the distinguishing formation of high, grey rocks piled against each other, jutting from the earth like the weather-worn ruins of a desert cathedral. Pg. 36

Delamare’s character had as many facets as a cut stone, but each facet shown with individual brightness. Pg. 71

The distant roar of a waking lion rolls against the stillness of the night, and we listen. It is the voice of Africa bringing memories that do not exist in our minds or in our hearts – perhaps not even in our blood. It is out of time, but it is there, and it spans a chasm whose other side we cannot see. Pg. 98

The automobile so sharply sketched against this simple canvas was an intrusion; it was as if a child had pasted the picture of a foolish toy over a painting you had known for years. Pg. 152

I hope I have sufficiently piqued your interest about Ms. Markham. If you know of any details I failed to include or find out anything else fascinating, please let us know.



Jazzy Finds Winter 2016

Hello Jazz Lovers,

It has been awhile since I posted a Jazzy Finds post, and I certainly have some exciting finds to share with you!

Photo courtesy of the BBC

Photo courtesy of the BBC

There is an updated version of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None which came out in the United Kingdom in 2015. The U.S. version of the DVD will be released this month and I will be one of the first in line to purchase it. For the uninitiated, this is once of Christie’s best stories – ten strangers are lured to an island for different reasons but they soon learn that they have been brought there to pay the price for their misdeeds. The shocking message as to why they are there is delivered by a chilling recording on a Victrola, and then the mayhem begins. I will not tell you anymore than this, but I hope I have peaked your curiosity. Click here for an article by The Guardian and Click here to purchase the U.S. DVD

TORONTO, CANADA - OCTOBER 23:  Ethan Hawke photographed as the jazz muscian Chet Baker for his role in the movie BORN TO BE BLUE which is currently in production.  (Photo by Charlie Gray/Contour by Getty Images)

TORONTO, CANADA – OCTOBER 23: Ethan Hawke photographed as the jazz muscian Chet Baker for his role in the movie BORN TO BE BLUE which is currently in production. (Photo by Charlie Gray/Contour by Getty Images)

Ethan Hawke will play the legendary jazz musician, Chet Baker, in an upcoming film called Born to Be Blue. It is already out in limited release, but it will take a while to make it to local theaters. I have liked all of Ethan Hawke’s films to date, so I have high hopes for this one as well. In a recent interview, Hawke said that he was supposed to play Baker in another film several years ago, but that project didn’t pan out. Click for More Info and Trailer

Photo courtesy of naxos.com

Photo courtesy of naxos.com

I had the pleasure of seeing and hearing The Harlem Quartet during a live performance at Rockport Music. Their music combines jazz and classical elements in a unique way – the one track that I have listened to more times than I can count is Take the A Train. If you have never heard this group, I would recommend starting with the CD of the same name. Their music is soulful and lively, and they are committed to bringing classical music to all types of communities all over the world. Click to visit website

Photo courtesy of jazzinmotion.ru

Photo courtesy of jazzinmotion.ru

Rizzoli Books has published a new book about Duke Ellington that I can’t wait to get my hands on. I am excited about this one because it includes anecdotes and pictures provided by his granddaughter, Mercedes Ellington. It is always a pleasure to hear from family members who really knew the people behind the music.  I mentioned Take the A Train in my previous entry; I believe the Duke Ellington and his orchestra were the first ones to perform this song.  Check out the book here

I have shared some of my favorite options for your listening pleasure. I am curious, what great jazz musicians or songs have you heard lately? I am always eager to expand my playlist.


The Harmon Foundation: Champions of the Harlem Renaissance

I have been conducting research on artists who were active during the Harlem Renaissance, and I stumbled upon a documentary called Against the Odds: African-American Artists and the Harmon Foundation. I learned so much about how this one foundation was responsible for launching the careers of so many prominent African-American artists.  Although the foundation recognized African-Americans in  different fields, I have chosen to focus on the fine arts category for this post to highlight some of the artists who do not always receive the recognition they deserve.

The Harmon Foundation was founded by a wealthy real estate developer, William Elmer Harmon, in 1922 to offer recognition (including cash awards) to African-Americans for distinguished achievement in business, education, fine arts, literature, music, race relations, religious service, and science. Harmon was encouraged to start the foundation by Alain Locke, a professor at Howard University and editor of the New Negro publication. The stated mission of the foundation was to “assist in the development of greater economic security for the race”. The first awards were presented in 1925, and thereafter, the foundation held annual programs.

The program got off to a slow start when only a few people in each category applied the first year, but as it gained recognition, the program received a large quantity of high-quality works of art. In order to foster the careers of the artists who submitted work, the Harmon Foundation began organizing large-scale exhibitions to provide an opportunity for the candidates to show and sell their work to a broader audience. These award exhibitions gained even more national attention when they traveled to art museums, colleges, public libraries, and community organizations across the country Hale Woodruff and Palmer Hayden were the very first recipients of the William E. Harmon Foundation award for Distinguished Achievement among Negroes for fine arts. I have included a gallery of the artists selected by the Harmon Foundation during the years it was in operation. Below, I have uploaded one painting to showcase the talents of these fine artists. For more information on The Harmon Foundation, please refer to Anne Evenhaugen’s excellent article written for the Smithsonian Libraries in 2013 called African-American Art and the Harmon Foundation here

"Children at Ice Cream Stand" by William H. Johnson

“Children at Ice Cream Stand” by William H. Johnson

"Mother and Child" by William Eduoard Scott

“Mother and Child” by William Eduoard Scott

"The Building of Savery Library" by Hale Woodruff

“The Building of Savery Library” by Hale Woodruff

"Little Brown Girl" by J.W. Hardrick

“Little Brown Girl” by J.W. Hardrick

"Girl in Green Cap" by Laura Wheeler Waring

“Girl in Green Cap” by Laura Wheeler Waring

"Baltimore" by Palmer C. Hayden

“Baltimore” by Palmer C. Hayden

"The Octoroon Girl" by Archibald Motley

“The Octoroon Girl” by Archibald Motley

"Cabaret" by Albert Alexander Smith

“Cabaret” by Albert Alexander Smith

Jazz Age Lawn Party 2014

Photo courtesy of boredom.md.com

Photo courtesy of boredom.md.com

I just spent some time pouring over pictures of this year’s Jazz Age Lawn Party at Governor’s Island in New York, and I have to say, I really hate that I missed this one!  Besides the lovely suits and dresses donned by participants, there were vintage vendors, picnicking on the lawns, and entertainment in the form of dancers and big bands.  Basically, it seemed like Gatsby nirvana!  There are some other opportunities to get in on these type of fun events if you missed this party – there are two twenties themed events coming to the North Shore of Massachusetts on July 27th:

Roaring Twenties Lawn Party (Ipswich, MA)


Concours d’Elegance (Beverly, MA)


In the meantime, I am posting lots of pictures to keep you occupied until the real events happen.  Enjoy! Continue reading

The Fabulous Phryne Fisher

I have been watching “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries”, an Australian program, for the past week, and love does not even begin to describe how I feel about this show.  You know how there are just shows that “get you” as a person (even though I am aware that shows are not people and cannot get anyway… just go with it), well this is that show for me.  It is set in the 1920s and chronicles the adventures of a lady detective known as Phryne Fisher.  As I tell you about Phryne, I will sprinkle pictures throughout this post (I think you will get some clues about why I am obsessed with this show):

Meet Miss Fisher.  I knew she was my kind of woman in the first five minutes of the first episode when she came strutting off the ocean liner as if the world was her personal runway.

Susan Wronka2

Continue reading

Women Jazz Musicians

Photo courtesy of doobeedoobeedoo.info

Photo courtesy of doobeedoobeedoo.info

I just finished watching a wonderful documentary called “The Girls in the Band”. It featured solo musicians, all women bands, and even women band leaders with incredible flair and smooth dance moves. Since I was a female drummer from the ages 8 to 18, I have an understanding of what it means to be one of the few women playing an instrument in musical fields mainly dominated by men. Even though I was playing the drums in the 80s and 90s, I was still one of a small number of female drummers. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been back in the 20s to play an instrument and garner any measure of respect for your craft. While there were many brilliant women musicians featured in this documentary, I have chosen to focus on two that actually played during the years which are the focus of this blog – the 1920s.

Valaida Snow was best known as a trumpet player, although she could also play the cello, bass, banjo, violin, mandolin, accordion, clarinet, and saxophone. Talk about multitalented! Beyond playing a slew of instruments, she could also sing and dance. She became so good at playing the trumpet during her concerts in the USA, Europe, and China, that she became known as “Little Louis” after Louis Armstrong. He actually paid her the compliment of saying she was the second best trumpet player besides him. She also toured in Shanghai, Singapore, Calcutta, and Jakarta with a major band from 1926 to 1929. She played successfully throughout the 30s and a few years in the 40s until she was arrested in Denmark by the Nazis and held in a prison. She was eventually released in 1942, but she was never the same again and stopped playing professionally.


Mary Lou Williams was an American jazz pianist, composer, and arranger. She taught herself how to play the piano when she was six and appeared in public throughout her youth. In 1925, she played with Duke Ellington and his band, the Washingtonians. She was also noticed by Louis Armstrong at Harlem’s Rhythm Club where he reportedly kissed her because he loved her playing so much. In 1927, she married a saxophonist by the name of John Williams and they continued to play together. Over her long career (she died in 1981) she wrote hundreds of compositions and arrangements and recorded more than one hundred records. She played with such illustrious musicians as Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Thelonius Monk, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillispie among others.

Obviously, there is a lot more to know about these talented ladies, but I hope that I have at least stoked your mental fire so that you want to learn more. I would also recommend purchasing the “The Girls in the Band” to see the evolution of music through the lens of women versus men. http://www.thegirlsintheband.com/