Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock &  Roll entry on The Supremes

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia which provides the following caption: “The Supremes: Diana Ross (right), Mary Wilson (center), Florence Ballard (left) performing ‘My World Is Empty Without You’ on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1966.”
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia which provides the following caption: “The Supremes: Diana Ross (right), Mary Wilson (center), Florence Ballard (left) performing ‘My World Is Empty Without You’ on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1966.”

As anyone who has anything to do with me knows, I have become obsessed with the future of Detroit since early October. I think about Detroit all the time. I worry about its future. I reminisce about its past.

I love Detroit.


Shortly after I left the U.S. Department of Labor as a political appointee to President Jimmy Carter, I spent a week in Detroit.

When I write about being a political appointee to the President of the United States, I am being accurate. Nevertheless, my importance in the political food chain was minimal. My title was Special Assistant to Deputy Secretary of Labor Robert J. Brown.

Secretary Brown was the best boss I ever had. Writing speeches for him was a joy. But I was at no point important in the larger scheme of things. The measure of my power: My title earned me the right to replace my government issued sofa, in my palatial office, with a custom made sofa.

I spent days looking at cloth samples asking advice on sofas. That was the extent of my political power.

Nevertheless, as a political appointee, my job required approval by the Senate of the United States. These days when senate confirmation issues are raised, the rancor in politically hostile D.C. had gotten to the point where confirming a speech writer of no special importance could be a problem today. In 1978, the human resources person at the Labor Department had me fill out the necessary paperwork. The following week I read in the Congressional Record my name, amidst a lot of other names, as having been confirmed by the senate. O tempora. O mores.



Details of my Detroit trip must come at another time. I was working for a week in Detroit as a contractor for an educational publisher. I stayed at Henry Ford II’s Renaissance Center, the controversial hotel plus which epitomized white corporate Detroit. These were executives, including African-Americans, who worked in the city and slept in the suburbs.

I spent days at the Downtown Detroit Chrysler automobile assembly plant which has since closed. The experience left me with a love for the Motor City, or Motown which is Detroit’s frequently used nickname. My experience with the African-American community of Detroit, a community that sleeps and votes within the city limits, is a fond memory.

My access to the United Automobile Workers Union (UAW) International Headquarters thrilled me. Each visit seemed an act of homage to the great labor leader Walter Reuther whom I greatly admired. Reuther’s power, generated by his ability to turn out the vote, led him to dominate Michigan politics. In the process, Walter Reuther created a university system, characterized by Anne Arbor, the envy of the academic world. Reuther also created a superb vocational training network emanating, as it were, from Detroit’s Wayne State University.

There is far too much to say here about the problems of today’s Detroit and the promise of tomorrow’s.

During this ongoing Detroit obsession which began in October and has not stopped, I have been listening to the music of the Supremes.

The Supremes remind me of the glory days of Detroit. May those days return even at only a fraction of the joy Detroit felt when it had an automobile industry. When I think about Detroit, the first thing that comes to mind is the Supremes singing their 1966 hit song: I hear a symphony.

Song accessible on You Tube at:


Whenever you’re near, I hear a symphony

A tender melody

Pulling me closer, closer to your arms

Then suddenly (I hear a symphony)

Ooh, your lips are touching mine

A feeling so divine

Till I leave the past behind

I’m lost in a world

Made for you and me

Song stanza courtesy:


“With 12#1 pop singles, numerous sold out concerts and regular television appearances, the Supremes were not only the most commercially successful female group of the Sixties but among the top five top/rock/soul acts of that decade. Diana Ross, Mary Williams, and Florence Ballard composed Motown’s flagship group. Barry Gordy Jr.’s black pop music crossover dream come true that paved the way from rock radio hits and packaged bus tours to Los Vegas showrooms and Royal Command Performances. At the height of the civil rights movement, they were also embraced by the world as symbols of black achievement. Fronted by Diana Ross during their peak years, they epitomized Holland-Dozier-Holland’s classic Motown sound and the label’s sophisticated style. Unlike other girl groups, the Supremes had a mature, glamorous demeanor that appealed equally to teens and adults. Versatile, and unique, the original Supremes were America sweet-hearts setting standards and records that no one has yet equaled.”

–from The New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, published by Fireside Press, 1995. This is a superb book which will bring joy to anyone who purchases it.


How a 10 cent increase in the minimum wage put me on page one of the Centre Daily Times

Note: Sunday, September 9, 2012, State College, PA 5:57 PM, EDT.  My friend Philip Moery is fond of quoting William Faulkner’s observation, “The past is never dead.  It’s not even the past.” This observation became trenchant yesterday when I received a post from Scott W., who, like me, is a member of a lively discussion group on politics. Scott W. sent group members an article for comment entitled, “Why the Minimum Wage Doesn’t Explain Stagnant Wages.”

As it turns out, I have a part-time job at Penn State‘s virtual reality laboratory for the construction industry where I am paid a minimum wage out of funds provided by Experience Works,  a U.S. Department of Labor program for disabled and elderly individuals.

As my sister Sarah Schmerler points out, brevity is not my strong suit. I will delay additional comments on  the subject until you have the opportunity to read the story which appeared on page one–indeed the event taking place on a slow July news day, it was not only an above-the-fold front page story, it was the lead story in the Centre Daily Times published in State College PA. The occasion was the increase in July 2009 to $7.25 cents an hour. Reporter Nick Malawskey asked me how I felt about earning an additional 10 cents an hour. Below is the story as published.

While interviewing me, I told Nick about that marvelous song, “7 1/2 cents” from the musical comedy The Pajama Game. The Pajama Game, which first appeared on Broadway in 1954 and became a Doris-Day-starring movie in 1957–a movie I vividly remember but understandably before Nick’s time. After the article appeared, I emailed Nick the MP3 of “7 1/2 cents” which I had purchased on iTunes, but sadly the Centre Daily Times’ email system limited the bandwidth of emails to reporters. What with one thing and another, Nick never had the opportunity to hear the song.

For your  pleasure, here is Doris Day on YouTube:

The following is the lead story that appeared on Friday, July 24, 2009 of the Centre Daily Times (known locally as “The CDT“). Readers are encouraged to subscribe to the hard-copy version of the CDT not only to learn when, if ever, I receive another 10-cent an hour increase in pay. Also, the CDT has been covering in detail the aftermath of the child molestation scandal at Penn State, the largest employer in the county. This scandal has thus far hit Centre County with greater force than a 9.o earthquake on the  Richter Magnitude Scale.

After the article, see Afternote.


Friday, Jul. 24, 2009


Workers praise 10 cent increase

Nick Malawskey

STATE COLLEGE — While most companies are scaling back on annual raises this year, about 15 million Americans will receive at least a small bump in pay today when the federal minimum wage increases to $7.25 an hour.

In Pennsylvania, the wage increase will amount to only 10 cents an hour for the roughly 200,000 people who earn the standard. That’s because Pennsylvania raised its minimum wage above the federal standard to $7.15 per hour two years ago.

But those living on the margin say every little bit helps.

In Centre County, the region’s largest employer — Penn State — said the increase will affect about 240 of its part-time workers.

They include Joel Solkoff, who works part-time at the university through Experience Works, an employment training program for older or disabled Pennsylvanians.

“I guess there are two sides to it,” said Solkoff, a 61-year-old technical writer. “One is that any increase in income, especially if you make as little as I do, is appreciated.”

Solkoff, who is disabled, uses his monthly earning to supplement his Social Security income while building skills he hopes will land him a permanent job.

“The other aspect of it is that one hopes that the work that you’re doing will be appreciated,” he said. “And the encouragement that comes from getting a little more money in your paycheck is very much appreciated. It serves as an inducement for me to continue doing this, so I can get out in the marketplace and find a job that gets me off Social Security.”

Penn State said the wage hike will increase the university system’s payroll costs by only about $15,000 a year.

Relatively few county workers are affected, with most convenience and retail stores reporting they already pay workers more than the minimum wage. The county’s second largest employer, the State College Area School District, said none of its 1,100-plus workers will be affected.

Still, not everyone welcomes the increase.

“Wage hikes always cause a spike in the unemployment rate, and with the country in the middle of a recession, businesses are already struggling to make ends meet,” said Kristen Lopez Eastlick, a senior research analyst at the Employment Policies Institute in Washington, D.C. “The economy will continue to hemorrhage entry-level jobs unless legislators stop this summer’s minimum wage hike from happening.”

Despite the increases, the federal minimum wage has not kept pace with inflation.

David Passmore, with Penn State’s Workforce Education and Development program, said the gap between average and minimum wage pay of nonsupervisory workers has grown remarkably since the 1970s.

“When you take in the erosion of purchasing power through inflation, the so-called ‘real’ minimum wage has declined by one-third since 1968,” he said in an e-mail.

Passmore said the effects of an increase in the minimum wage are often complex.

“In Pennsylvania, it is estimated that 8.9 percent of the workforce were affected by a minimum wage increase in 2009 amounting to 7.8 percent of wages,” he wrote. “At the same time, the minimum wage increase is estimated to have brought about an 0.37 percent increase in production costs (fuel, capital, labor) and a 0.25 percent decrease in Pennsylvania employment.”

Solkoff has a different perspective.

“Minimum wage is supposed to guarantee that those people on the lowest part of the ladder will be given a wage that is minimally fair — high enough to support life and so on,” he said, adding that in his case, it will help pay the rent, buy a few extra cups of coffee at Webster’s — and, he said, help support the economy.

“That’s going to be economic stimulus money that I will be helping the economy out with,” he said with a laugh. “I’m not saving that 10 cents.”

Nick Malawskey can be reached at 235-3928.


Afternote: During the Carter Administration (where I earned considerably more than minimum wage), I served as Special Assistant to Deputy Secretary of Labor Robert J. Brown for whom I wrote several speeches on the minimum wage. Jimmy Carter would never have been elected President without the support of George Meany, President of the AFL-CIO. For those who remember the power of organized labor to affect national policy, George Meany remains sui generis. In writing about the minimum wage, I was loyal to Meany’s insistence on the significance of the minimum wage in preserving a floor for a national standard of living and for defending other legislation such as the Davis-Bacon Act providing a more-livable “prevailing wage” which helped  women and men working on federally funded projects become members of the middle-class as a result of their hard work. [Permission to use Time Magazine’s marvelous cover is requested.]

Even with the best of intentions, Walter Shapiro, whom last I heard was a columnist for USA Today, originally brought me in to the Labor Department to write a minimum wage speech for Secretary Ray Marshall. With the assistance of Tom Connoly, my drumming instructor, who also is helping me organize my files, I plan to locate the speech Walter and I wrote on the minimum wage which resulted in unanticipated consequences. Don’t leave this site; a copy of the speech with a story to go with it will be coming soon.