Q: What motivated these recordings? Why did you do them?
A: I had been forced by injuries to retire from the high-octane world of corporate keynote speaking, but I still wanted very much to do something, to contribute somehow. Then I was bequeathed two first editions of Longfellow's collected works, and saw that Longfellow had remained productive despite great tragedy. I also realized that he was not just a fine poet, but a significant teacher with as much to offer to today's world as to his own. Recording his story through his poetry, and giving his thoughts a fresh hearing, was a second chance for both of us.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Q: What is your family relationship to Longfellow? Was that a motivator?
A: When people asked if I were related,
I'd usually say, "Not likely, I'm from Appalachia." But I secretly
hoped I was, however distant it might be. In early 2000, I found
myself in Portland, Maine, for medical reasons, so I visited the Maine Historical
Society and began tracing my ancestry. Eventually, I learned
that Henry and his younger cousin Michael left Maine at about
the same time. Henry came to Cambridge and Harvard; Michael headed
to Appalachia. Michael was my great-great-grandfather.
Tribute to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
at Christmas in Portland, Maine
Q: How did you team up with Michael Hoppé?
A: While in Asheville for treatment, my friend Ian put me up at Peggy Seeger's house. He played an album from her collectionThe Poet, by Michael Hoppé. We read the poems aloud along with the music and were deeply moved by that pairing. I bought a copy of The Poet and played it for anyone who would listen. In Los Angeles I played it for my friend Anna, who not only recognized Michael's music but knew him quite well. She called, he invited us for tea, and Longfellow Reads Longfellow, with music by Michael Hoppé, was born in his living room.
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