Posted by: Susan Vollmer | 25 November 2007

This House On Fire: The Story Of The Blues


Author Craig Awmiller takes readers on a journey that begins on one continent and evolves onto another.  The blues began in Africa.  In West Africa, there were traveling musicians and storytellers who played an instrument similar to the banjo.  These entertainers were knows as “griots.”


Between 1505 and 1870, ships from Europe began arriving on the west coast of Africa, taking approximately 10 million Africans to the Americas in the largest forced migration.  As a way to cope, the griots invented new songs to describe their capture into slavery and the brutal oppression they faced.  The songs then evolved on the plantation as a way to retain something from the African culture.  The songs provided a creative outlet from the backbreaking work of the cotton fields.


After the end of the U.S. Civil War and of slavery, African American entertainers began performing for black audiences.  One of the earliest stars was ragtime pianist and composer Scott Joplin.  One of his most famous pieces was called “The Entertainer.”  Joplin and many others would become part of the developing musical scene, where it became possible for African Americans to make a living by performing music.  The guitar became an important instrument in the development of the blues – because it was portable and most musicians could afford one.


One of the earliest blues musicians was Charley Patton, born in 1891 in Bolton, Mississippi.  Music allowed him to escape a life of sharecropping, where one could never get ahead.  The author wrote, “When playing the blues, Patton found, you could say all the things you felt no matter what the rich and privileged landowner might think.  Through the blues, he found, he could be free.”


In the United States, the blues began and developed in the Mississippi Delta.  That is the flat land along the Mississippi River from the Bootheel of Missouri down to the Gulf of Mexico.  This is known as the delta or folk blues.  Meanwhile, the city blues developed in urban areas like Chicago.  In Chicago, Muddy Waters played electric guitars and used amplifiers in the 1950s and 1960s.  He performed music that would inspire blues and rock ‘n’ roll musicians, such as The Beatles, Eric Clapton and The Rolling Stones.


Before The Rolling Stones formed, the two main members had known each other as young students growing up, but they were from different backgrounds.  Mick Jagger from a middle-class family in London was a promising student at the London School of Economics.  Keith Richard came from a working class home and lived in a tough neighborhood.  He was expelled from a technical school for truancy.  His one solace in life was playing the guitar.  “This seemed, to all those around him, to be a waste of time since they thought he couldn’t get steady work just playing the guitar.”


However, he did find steady work playing the guitar.  And they would become the driving force of The Rolling Stones, offering a unique blend of blues and rock ‘n’ roll music.


In some cases, the blues have been described as a type of antidote for an upbeat, falsely cheery culture.  “Because of their great capacity for truth telling, the blues have long been a form used by artists to examine and critique the society in which they live.”


In the book, This House On Fire: The Story Of The Blues, the author takes a look at the work of these blues musicians:


  • Charley Patton
  • Blind Lemon Jefferson
  • Robert Johnson
  • Louis Armstrong
  • Gertrude “Ma” Rainey
  • Bessie Smith
  • Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter
  • Billie Holiday
  • McKinley “Muddy Waters” Morganfield
  • The Rolling Stones
  • Eric Clapton
  • Sam “Lightnin” Hopkins and John Lee Hooker
  • Riley “B.B.” King
  • Etta James
  • Buddy Guy
  • Robert Cray


For B.B. King, he was born in 1925 and named his guitar Lucille after a fight broke out in a dance hall.  The other men were fighting over a woman named Lucille and knocked over a kerosene heater.  After leaving the building, he rushed back in to rescue his guitar, which he then named Lucille.


In 1988, B.B. King recorded a song with the rock band U2 on the compact disc titled “Rattle and Hum.”  He also runs a blues club and restaurant on the famous Beale Street in Memphis, long known for its blues music.


In regard to his research, writing and love of the blues, author and musician Craig Awmiller has created a historical legacy where the blues will never fade.  The blues have always been more than a musical style.  It’s a way to communicate, and it’s a way to transcend pain.  It’s a way to find a higher self.


* * *

Reviewed by Susan Vollmer

Author of Legends, Leaders, Legacies

Posted by: Susan Vollmer | 8 October 2007

Review: The Success Principles



Author Jack Canfield has spent his life learning about success, and now he shares his knowledge with all of us in a book titled: “The Success Principles.”  Jack writes, “You only have control over three things in your life – the thoughts you think, the images you visualize, and the actions you take (your behavior).  How you use these three things determines everything you experience.”  At 473 pages, the book is filled with 64 principles to help you achieve the life you envision.  Some of my favorites include: 

  • “Take 100% Responsibility For Your Life” – We each have total accountability for our own lives, and it’s time to give up blaming and complaining.  When things don’t go the way you expect, ask yourself:  “What do I need to do differently next time to get the result I want?”
  • “Unleash The Power Of Goal-Setting” – Everyday, it’s important to re-read your goals.  Write affirmations as if the goal has already been accomplished and visualize it.  Do this first thing in the morning, at lunch and immediately before going to bed, so it will permeate your subconscious mind.
  • “Release The Brakes” – Successful people let go of their limiting beliefs and change their self-image.
  • “Ask!  Ask!  Ask!” – It’s important to believe you can achieve what you want, and ask someone who can give it to you.  Be clear and specific, and ask repeatedly if you need to.  In a study of salespeople, the following results were identified:
    • 44% of salespeople quit after the first call
    • 24% of salespeople quit after the second call
    • 14% of salespeople quit after the third call
    • 12% of salespeople quit after the fourth call

However, more than half or 60 percent of all sales made happen after the fourth attempt.

  • “Reject Rejection” – It does not hurt to ask.  Even if someone does not accept your offer, what is the worst thing that can happen?  Things just stay the same.
  • “Acknowledge Your Positive Past” – One of the exercises is to list 100 of your previous accomplishments – no matter what age – even learning to ride a bike and passing each grade in school.  This is critical because it helps to develop self-esteem.  You become more confident about accepting new challenges.  The more often you risk, the more chances to win. 
  • “Keep Your Eye On The Prize” – The last 45 minutes of the day is the most important for programming your brain because it replays during the night the last input.  Instead of falling asleep watching the news or a horror movie, read a motivational biography or message of inspiration.
  • “Inquire Within” – “…Most of the super successful people I have met over the years are people who have developed their intuition and learned to trust their gut feelings and follow their inner guidance.  Many practice some form of daily meditation to access this voice within.”
  • “Start Now!  . . .  Just Do It!” – Don’t wait until you feel that you can do something perfectly before you try.  “If you don’t do anything for fear of doing it wrong, poorly, or badly, you never get any feedback, and therefore you never get to improve.”

As one of the authors of the “Chicken Soup For The Soul” series, Jack Canfield has already created a tremendous legacy.  He continues it with “The Success Principles.”  He remains an avid reader – reading a book every two days.  And he encourages others to read at least one hour a day.

In “The Success Principles,” he begins every chapter with a quote.  The one I appreciated the most came from entertainer Dolly Parton:

“If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, then you are an excellent leader.”

Jack Canfield’s leadership and legacy will stand the test of time.  He has a site for this book at:


— Reviewed by:

    Susan Vollmer

    Author of Legends, Leaders, Legacies



Posted by: Susan Vollmer | 17 September 2007

Book Review: “Beyond Dancing”

In this memoir, Anita Bloom tells about the early years of her adult life.  In 1943, she eagerly volunteered to be part of the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps and hoped to fight the Nazis.  During her training, she developed an infection, which led to paralysis from the waist down.  When she learned about her prognosis, she thought, “No more legs for the tango, the rumba, the conga.  Dead weights.  I strangled my sobs.  I was beyond dancing.”

She is forthright in dealing with her own issues when paralyzed such as:

  • How to navigate the bathroom
  • How to drive and become independent again
  • How to have an intimate relationship
  • How to fight the U.S. Government for veteran benefits

As a Jewish woman, she faced prejudice on many sides — from potential employers when looking for a job and in reverse from her own family.  Her father sent her mom to tell Nita that if she continued dating the gentile boy that they would no longer see her.

Amid the seriousness of the topic, there are still light-hearted and happy occasions.  My favorite is when she and several friends left the VA hospital to go for a joy ride.  One person had to operate the gas and brake with his hands while she drove.

This book shows that life doesn’t always go as we plan.  But what is amazing is how many people will help you … if you ask.  And it shows the willpower of someone who has chosen to live her own life.

Anita Bloom Ornoff gives public presentations about overcoming adversity and about her memoir “Beyond Dancing.”

Her Web site can be seen at:

** Updated 17 February 2008 **

The daughter of Anita Bloom Ornoff, Naomi Willey, advised of the following:

“My Dad has asked me to inform you of my mom’s passing.  Anita died at home in peace on Wednesday, February 13, 2008 at 4:00 p.m. after suffering two heart attacks the week before. The funeral will be in Maryland at Judian Memorial Gardens on Monday, February 18, 2008.  She leaves behind my dad — Hal; two daughters — Ellen Treem and Naomi Willey; five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.  We all will miss her a great deal.”

Naomi Willey  

Posted by: Susan Vollmer | 23 August 2007

A Toast To Magnum

Robert Capa, Copyright Cornell Capa / Magnum Photos      Used with permission —

Photo of Robert Capa, Copyright Cornell Capa / Magnum Photos

Several years after World War II ended, Robert Capa and a group of photographers including Henri Cartier-Bresson founded a photo agency in 1947.  It was an idea that Robert had considered since 1938.  Now, it was time to make it happen.

At a brainstorming meeting on establishing the agency, a magnum of champagne was popped open.  Someone yelled “Magnum,” and the name of the photo agency was chosen.  The name implies glamour but also a connotation for toughness due to a gun by the same name.  Plus, the Latin definition means greatness.


The idea was to bring photographers together, where they would be stronger as a group, rather than as individuals.  They advocated that photographers should own the copyright of the photos they take, much like book authors do with printed material. 





The agency opened offices in Paris and in New York.  In addition to the members, Robert created the idea of associates who were freelancers.  These photographers would not own shares but they could use the Magnum name in their photo credits. . . .


After Robert’s death in 1954, his brother Cornell Capa joined Magnum to help ensure its survival and the preservation of his brother’s legacy.  Like Robert, Cornell had also shot photographs for Life Magazine.


From 1947 to 2007, the Magnum photo agency ( remains a vibrant force.  The photographers still go to dangerous locations, placing their lives at risk to provide a service they feel passionately about.  They document moments of truth.  And they live in the moment because they do not know what tomorrow will bring.


Also in memory of Robert Capa and other photographers who suffered untimely deaths, Cornell established in 1974 the International Center of Photography in New York City – a school and museum dedicated to keeping humanitarian documentary photos alive and visible to the public.


Here’s a toast to Magnum, and all of the great photographers and staff over the years who have kept alive the legacy of Robert Capa.


   * * * * * * * * * * * *


(Note from the blogger Susan V. – Robert Capa is one of the leaders featured in my book “Legends, Leaders, Legacies.”) 

Posted by: Susan Vollmer | 6 August 2007

Top 10 — Favorite Books

Here are my top 10 favorite books for now — listed in alphabetical order. 

  1. “Count Of Monte Cristo”
  2. “Crystal Cave, The”
  3. “Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire”
  4. “Legends, Leaders, Legacies”
  5. “Letters To A Dying Friend”
  6. “Life After Death”
  7. “Lost Hero: The Mystery of Raoul Wallenberg”
  8. “Marjorie Morningstar”
  9. “Power Of Positive Thinking”
  10. “To Kill A Mockingbird”

What are your favorites?  If you have a hard time narrowing it down to 10, just list the first 10 books that you think of which you really liked.  It’s always fun to compare lists.

Susan V.

Posted by: Susan Vollmer | 1 August 2007

Harry Potter — No Spoiler Here

If you haven’t read “Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows” by J.K. Rowling, this review will “not” spoil it for you.  Those who are already fans of the series will appreciate this last book, which ties everything together.  The book references characters and events, which took place in the preceding books.  For the maximum enjoyment and understanding, I recommend reading the books in sequence. 


In talking with one of the librarians at the St. Louis County Library System, this was the first time we could recall a series of books where the characters aged with the books, unlike the Nancy Drew mystery series.  The first books that came out in the Harry Potter series were for young children — but near the end, the books were much longer and categorized as teen fiction.


The St. Louis County Library System ordered more about 300 copies and at one point had a waiting list of more than 1,100 hold requests.  One of the first things that I noticed about the hardcover is that there was no description of the book on the back cover.  It is a book that does not have to be “sold.”


Any book or series of books that bring children and adults to libraries and bookstores is a great thing.  Many of the characters from the series make a reappearance in this book suck as Viktor Krum.  Krum served as a competitor in the “Goblet Of Fire” book and reappears to attend a wedding.  Harry and his closest friends, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, have many challenges to solve or just struggle through as always.


When I read about the fictional magic that the teens perform, it’s easy to see how convenient it would be in real life if you could be “invisible” when needed or place an unlimited supply of things in a tiny beaded bag — such as a camping tent, books, weapons and medical supplies.


In the chapter titled “The Tale Of The Three Brothers,” you will find out what the deathly hallows are.  This is what the book is named after.  This chapter, like many others, has a good example of Ron’s wit.  While the trio is visiting the editor of The Quibbler (Xenophilius Lovegood), they are invited to stay for dinner.  The editor comments that everyone always asks for the recipe.  “Probably to show the Poisoning Department at St. Mungo’s,” Ron remarks, referring to the hospital for wizards.


The book will also have Harry taking another trip in the Pensieve, where he can view another person’s memories.  You will find out whose memories those are and what they mean near the end of the book. 


The book is a fitting end to a phenomenal story.


Reviewed by Susan Vollmer

Author of “Legends, Leaders, Legacies”

Posted by: Susan Vollmer | 23 July 2007

To blog or not to blog?

In the past, I have been resistant to blogging, viewing it as an online diary that few people would be interested in.  However, I changed my mind after attending BookExpo America in Manhattan this year.  Several panels spoke of the importance of a blog in keeping a dialog with others interested in the same topic.  Plus, it’s a growing role for social networking.

The most convincing panelist in terms of “to blog” was Michael Hyatt, CEO, Thomas Nelson Publishers.  His advice included that the success behind a blog is to be authentic and to be trusted.  Sometimes, you have to show your “warts” to be believable.  He also suggested  leaving the blog open to all comments.

This blog has just started and hope you will feel comfortable leaving a comment, even if you have never done so before.

As a thank you to Michael Hyatt, here is the link for his blog on the world of publishing titled “From Where I Sit:

Thanks for reading.

Susan V.

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