Seeing the Broadway musical Hamilton in New York was without a doubt the highlight of our January trip to New York City. However, it is not for everybody. First of all, you had better practice your listening comprehension before you invest in a ticket. Most of the music is rap. That’s not always easy to understand, even for a native speaker and especially for a senior citizen like me. And second of all, you should be sympathetic to racial equality and the rise of mixed race citizens and immigrants in the U.S. Almost all the Hamilton cast is African American or mixed-race.
The playwright, Lin-Manuel Miranda, is a native New Yorker and, besides being a playwright, he is songwriter, rapper, and theater actor. He was born in 1980, and grew up in a musical-oriented family in Manhattan. For those of us who live outside the U.S., we may have seen his name mentioned as the co-writer of the Disney movie Moana, or for winning a Pulitzer Prize, three Grammy Awards, an Emmy Award, a MacArthur Fellowship or three Tony Awards. Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the book, the music and the lyrics for the Broadway hit, Hamilton. And he also starred in the title-role.
His is not a rags-to-riches story; it seems he had a normal childhood and attended a good university. However, Miranda spent summers in Puerto Rico with his grandparents. His unusual name was inspired by a poem about the Viet Nam War written by a Puerto Rican poet. Lin-Manuel Miranda is of mixed ethnicity, in case you are curious. In keeping with the times, he once posted his DNA test results on his Twitter page, and it reported that he is 62.9% European, 19.4% East Asian & Native American, 9.7% Sub-Saharan African, 2.7% Middle Eastern & North African, and 5.4% unassigned. This mix created one of the most talented persons in America.
When Miranda got married in 2010, he surprised his bride, Vanessa, during their reception when he sang a Broadway song from a 1960s musical, Fiddler on the Roof, together with his new father-in-law and just abo ut the whole bridal party. You can see and hear Jewish references in the song and dance, because the musical Fiddler was about a Jewish family that lived in a little village in Russia. Lin-Manuel Miranda was the youngest person to ever be awarded an honorary degree from Yeshiva University. Vanessa, BTW, has a degree in chemical engineering from MIT and a law degree from Fordham University. You can easily find a YouTube of his wedding reception surprise on Internet.
The Broadway hit, Hamilton, was first conceived when Lin-Manuel Miranda read the book, Alexander Hamilton, by Pulitzer winning biographer and historian Ron Chernow. Actually, Miranda said he never expected to even finish the book, much less fall in love with it. But he did. Alexander Hamilton is a biography about a man who is considered one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. The Founding Fathers were the seven immigrants or descendants of immigrants who led the American Revolution against the Kingdom of Great Britain. They were John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and George Washington.
The historical figure Alexander Hamilton was born sometime between 1773 and 1775, and was an immigrant from the British island of Nevis in the West Indies. Hamilton’s childhood had not been easy, as his mother Rachel, who was of French descent, was not married to Alexander Hamilton’s father at the time of his birth. He was the second bastard son that his parents produced. Rachel, Hamilton’s mother, had been married off as a teenager to an older man, but there was no love between them. She accused him of abuse, and he accused her of adultery and actually managed to put her in prison because of this accusation. He thought it might make her more appreciative of the home and protection he offered her. But instead of weakening her, prison time strengthened her and she left him as soon as she was released. She also left her baby behind and she and her mother fled to a neighboring island, Saint Kitts. It was there that she met James Hamilton, another European who had gone to the West Indies to make his fortune in sugar, and from there they went to Nevis, where Alexander and his brother James were born. Rachel’s new husband was never successful and the family moved to the Danish island of St. Croix in 1765, where James often worked odd jobs to make ends meet. When Alexander was 10 years old, his father simply left the family, and Alexander Hamilton never saw him again.
Rachel, who carried a certain stigma since her first husband had divorced her and had her officially declared a whore, supported them by running a small shop and hiring out her five female slaves. Alexander Hamilton and his brother James were not allowed to attend the local school because of their illegitimacy. But a Jewish teacher privately tutored them. Rachel owned 34 books, and using the books, Alexander began to self-educate himself. He got a job clerking in an import-export business and so highly impressed the owner with his intelligence and ambition that he was soon put in charge. The company dealt in everything that the sugar plantations needed, and Hamilton absorbed the principles of international trade, credit and foreign exchange. He may have dealt in slave trade also, as that was one of the company’s businesses. At that time, St. Croix had a population of 24,000 inhabitants, but only 2,000 of them were white. Most historians agree that Hamilton’s distaste for slavery came from his observation of the practices on the island at that time in his life. Tragedy struck and in 1768 the boys’ mother died of yellow fever, 3 years after their father had left them. A cousin took in the two boys, but he committed suicide 18 months later and there were no other relatives to help the orphans.
After Rachel died, her first husband showed up and took the few valuables that she had owned, included the precious books. Many of the things that Rachel’s first husband took were auctioned off right there in the town, and a friend bought the 34 books and returned them to the boys. Alexander’s employer took him in, and the boys did have some contact with their birth father through correspondence. As a matter of fact, it was a letter that Alexander Hamilton wrote to his father that gained him attention in St. Croix. The letter was a detailed account of a hurricane that had devastated the island in 1772, and it ended up being published in the local newspaper. The letter not only recounted the hurricane, it was also written as if it were a sermon; the teenage Hamilton wrote that he saw the hurricane as a “divine rebuke to human vanity and pomposity.” The letter impressed the town so much that a group of wealthy men in St. Croix got together and sent the phenomenal Alexander to a New Jersey school to further his education.
Most of you readers have seen a U.S. 10-dollar bill, and some of you may know that it’s Alexander Hamilton’s face on it. It would probably be useful for your general education to learn more about the man on the 10-dollar bill, although if you have read this far, you already have quite a bit of background to enjoy the Broadway musical, Hamilton. But there will be more on Hamilton the man and Hamilton the musical . . .
A melhor novidade para 2017 será, sem duvida, o BLOG da Betsy. Excelente professora da Língua Inglesa, Betsy tem com seus alunos uma relação de amizade espontânea, acolhendo sugestões de temas atuais, abrindo caminho para que suas aulas sejam proficientemente dinâmicas e divertidas. Para mim, sua aluna e amiga, para todos os seus alunos, tenho certeza, serão de grande valia as consultas que faremos em busca de novos esclarecimentos.
É com prazer que escrevo sobre minha grande amiga e professora Betsy. Além de possuir um excelente conteúdo, fruto de pesquisas em livros, revistas, internet etc., Betsy se preocupa em nos deixar a par dos mais recentes acontecimentos. Possui uma criatividade encontrada em poucos, fazendo com que suas aulas sejam bastante dinâmicas e divertidas. Tenho certeza que os ensinamentos em seu blog, trarão muitos proveitos para os alunos, permitindo que estes aprimorem seus conhecimentos na língua Inglesa.
Aprender inglês com Betsy é um privilégio! Com aulas dinâmicas, inteligentes, divertidas, sempre tratando de assuntos atuais, consegue ensinar e cativar! Tenho aulas com ela há muitos anos! Não pretendo parar, pois além de aprender a língua, Betsy coloca assuntos muito interessantes em pauta. Nestes muitos anos, nunca repetiu uma só aula! Grande professora!
É um prazer falar das aulas da Betsy. São empolgantes, temas variados e atuais, envolventes, bem preparados e com muito amor, com certeza. Acredito que seu blog será “helpful ” para todos aqueles que têm interesse em aprender a língua inglesa ou simplesmente intensificar seu conhecimento. Um abraço carinhoso e sucesso!