Second Acts: Heather Headley Is Back On Broadway — After A '15-Year Intermission'

Singer and actress Heather Headley (center) returns to Broadway after 15 years to wow audiences in her role as Shug Avery in a revival of The Color Purple.

Singer and actress Heather Headley (center) returns to Broadway after 15 years to wow audiences in her role as Shug Avery in a revival of The Color Purple. Matthew Murphy/Matthew Murphy hide caption

toggle caption Matthew Murphy/Matthew Murphy

Perhaps you’ve heard the famous F. Scott Fitzgerald quote that goes, “There are no second acts in American lives.” Some may beg to disagree. After all, for many people, there are indeed second acts. One such example is singer and actress Heather Headley, who epitomizes this in ways few others do. Headley is a native of the twin-island republic Trinidad and Tobago in the South Caribbean, where she started singing and playing the piano in church at a very young age. She moved with her family to the United States in the early ’90s.

In the U.S., Headley continued to hone her skills in the arts and on leaving Northwestern University made a splash on Broadway, first as Nala in the original Lion King in 1997, then as the title character in the Elton John and Tim Rice musical Aida, for which — at just 26 years old — she won a Tony for best actress. And then she disappeared for 15 years. Well, sort of — she took a break to focus on music and family.

But this summer, Headley is back on Broadway and wowing fans and critics anew in her role as nightclub singer Shug Avery in the revival of The Color Purple, where she replaced singer Jennifer Hudson.

During what The New York Times describes as her “15-year intermission,” Headley married fellow Northwestern alum Brian Musso, an investment adviser who played briefly for the New York Jets. They have two sons, John David, 6, and Jordan Chase, who turns 2 in August.

Her focus on music and away from Broadway reaped success on the pop charts with her 2002 debut album on RCA Records, This Is Who I Am, which featured productions by several top-flight producers including the team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, as well as Shep Crawford. Two songs, the single “He Is” and the album track “I Wish I Wasn’t,” both emerged as top five rhythm and blues and dance chart hits.

Singer and actress Heather Headley returns to Broadway after 15 years to play the role of Shug Avery in a revival of The Color Purple.

Singer and actress Heather Headley returns to Broadway after 15 years to play the role of Shug Avery in a revival of The Color Purple. Matthew Murphy/Matthew Murphy hide caption

toggle caption Matthew Murphy/Matthew Murphy

Headley also featured heavily with classical singer Andrea Bocelli on his American and international tours, his Live in Tuscany PBS special and his Under the Desert Sky live concert DVD. And in 2010, she won her first Grammy award for best contemporary R&B gospel album for Audience of One.

Now that she’s returned to theater, Headley recently joined us in our New York City bureau, where she told NPR’s Michel Martin about how it feels to be back on Broadway and more.

Interview highlights contain web-only extended answers.


Interview Highlights

On how if she’s having fun being back on Broadway

HH: I am. At first I was trying not to have too much fun. … My brain said, “Well let’s just try to focus in on it.” And the other day my father-in-law sat me down and he’s talking to me and he’s like, “Are you having fun?” I was like, “Well, you know I’m trying to focus and not have too too much fun so I can do the work.” And he’s like, “I need you to have fun.” And I adore him and I was like, “You know what Daddy-O, you’re right. And so, I’m having fun.”

On what it’s like being back on Broadway after the “15-year intermission”

HH: I’m incredibly overwhelmed. It has been an extraordinary time; an extraordinary process, coming back in to the show and coming back here to New York. But very overwhelming for me. I think the Heather of 15 years ago — when you saw Aida — she talks to me every now and then and says, “Remember this? Remember these streets? Remember walking here? Remember how you felt?” So I come back with a sense of gratitude, incredible gratitude. I come back with a sense of awe for what we do here in New York. … I’m very humbled by it. It’s been a beautiful journey to be back here.

On being selected for Lion King while still at Northwestern and if she had any idea it become a phenomenon

HH: No. And here’s the deal, if I ever tell you that your show is not going to be a hit, it’s going to be a big hit. That’s just how it is. That was the case with The Lion King. When I got that audition to go in, I was actually understudying Audra McDonald. … And they found a little hole in my contract and said, “Hey, we’d like you to come audition and it’s The Lion King.” And I remember seeing it and being like, “I don’t know if this is going to work, I just don’t know if this show is going to work.” And here it is. It’s just been such a great honor to be a part of it.

You know when I got pregnant with my first son, I saw it and decided that I wouldn’t see it again until I could see it through his eyes and at no point, Michel, was I ever concerned that I would not be able to take him, that the show would close, that he would not see it at his height and so a few months ago – he’s 6 and half now — and I took him in to see it and he and I both sat there. We ended up crying. I think he was crying for different reasons.

But I was bawling at the fact that here was thing that I did that it’s still standing and that I could bring my own child to see it and that audiences are still being affected by it. So I’m incredibly honored, grateful to be a part of that show.

On her role as the pocket queen in the Sesame Street DVD, Elmo’s Magic Cookbook

HH: That was the crème of my crème; that was the nail in it. When they called me to do that Sesame Street thing, I think it was the only thing that I was waiting for in my life. ‘Cause I grew up on Sesame Street. When they were like, “You’re going to sing Sesame Street” and with Elmo, and I have a song with Elmo, I was like, “I will do whatever you want me to do. I will dress as a bird; I will be a plane, whatever you need me to do.” …

Do you know my son did not recognize or even believe that was me? It hurt my heart. … I was waiting for this day to show this child that I’m cooler than his father – I sang with Elmo, hello! I literally held this back from him for years, until the right moment and I put it in front of him one day and I said, “Do you know who that is?” And he’s like “It’s the pocket queen.” And I’m like “Yeah, yeah, but do you know who that is?” And he’s like, “Mom, it’s the pocket queen.” And then I was like, “It’s me.” And he’s like, “No, it’s somebody else’s momma, not you.”

On the New York Times describing her break as a “15 year intermission” and what made her decide to step away

HH: I don’t know if it was an intermission. I think it was an intermission – maybe from Broadway, but during that intermission I was doing a lot of stuff. I did the records during that intermission – four of them. I did a lot of touring. I toured with Andrea Bocelli, went to London to do a show for a year in the West End. There was a lot going on during that time. So it was an intermission from eight shows a week, as such but not necessarily from everything else. …

It kind of hit me at one point in my life, you know, “What’s going on with my life?” And it’s beautiful — the man that I married has never ever put just a limit on to what I could do and would do as a woman, as his wife, as a mommy. He actually pushes me out the door a little sometimes more than I wanted him to. When we got the offer to go to London, it was my husband Brian who was saying, “You have to go. We’re going to go.” He flew over there 44 times, Michel, because I had our child. … Even now, we don’t live in New York, we live in another city in Chicago and so he’s the one that flies in. …

I don’t even think that it was a discussion. I think it was like, “Here I am, I’ve fallen in love with this person and I want to give that time.” And I did. And then the children. We got pregnant with my first son about six or seven years later. But I knew that I wanted to have time with him. And I feel as though, I as a person, as a woman, I want to be rounded in that way. I don’t want to wake up in 15 or 20 years and look around and think that my children said, “You were never here.” Or, even Michel, to not have had the experience of meeting my kids, to not have had the experience of mothering them and being there for them.

And now, to some extent, they’ve had to be there for me. Because now they have these days when mommy’s quiet and they’re in New York and they’re helping mommy with her dream. But I do think as women, we can make that decision to have both and hopefully not be chastised for it. And not be reprimanded for it. …

It was necessary for me to maintain my craft and my art so that when I needed to come back at some point, even though it may have been harder to get back in the water, that I was still viable. … I can’t see not doing it. And I understand it’s a very scary thing to be able to say, “I’m going to walk away for a second from this to have that.” But I think I’m getting the best of both worlds.

On how she and the role Shug Avery found each

HH: Shug Avery found me. I was kind of sitting at home, I was very excited. I had a busy year last year, doing the tours, I did some shows. We had a baby; my second child is turning 2 in about three weeks. So it was kind of juggling all the things we just spoke about – mommy, and wife, and all this work … singing and touring and stuff. I was kind of excited about maybe having a quieter kind of summer. So I was going to plant my pots and do this and do that and I was very excited about having tea parties. … And then my agent called. … “I need you to sit down.” I’m like, “Uh oh,” ’cause it means that he has something. And so, Jennifer Hudson was leaving The Color Purple a week after the Tony nominations. And he had called and he said, “Look, they didn’t want to ask, we know that replacing is not maybe something you normally do.” But he says, “I think this might be something that you should be interested in.”

I flew into New York with my husband to see the show and found myself having the experience that our audiences – I see them having every night, just being overwhelmed. And looking around, my husband he’s crying, and just understanding that theater is this really magical place that can take you to places that you just didn’t remember that you could be taken to. So I kind of sat there and was like, “OK, if you need me to move a chair, I guess I’ll be moving that chair, I’ll be here.”

So that’s how it was. I think Shug came and found me.

On what informed the way she approached the character Shug Avery and made it her own

HH: There’s so much. I remember just seeing it and feeling this intense sadness for her. … We all know these people. Sometimes they are us. We put up these facades, of maybe strength of who we are, but inside there’s this incredibly broken person. And Shug is incredibly broken. She has not been loved the way she wants to love. My Shug wants to be loved, she wants to be married, she wants to be in a relationship and it starts off that she wants to be in a relationship with Mister. And he, even though he loves her has not done that. He’s married everybody else but her.

And one of the saddest things, one of the lines in the show is when Mister’s father comes in and Shug is overhearing them talk about her. And he says that even Shug’s father, who happens to be the minister in the community thinks that she’s dirty, thinks that she’s unclean and she’s got a dirty woman’s disease. And every night I allow myself to hear, cause I think that to me is the definition of her brokenness – that even her father has turned on her, for whatever reason, that community has turned on her.

And the sad part about it is that we know people like that. And I pray to God that I have not been one of those people that have talked about somebody in that way, because there’s a brokenness in me. And so I think Shug for me, kind of came from that place, that brokenness. And then how does she, even though she still believes in God and clings to God, how she plants these pieces of love and beauty now into Celie – another broken person. And then they can both fly and kind of rise from the ashes. …

So Shug becomes real, obviously. But Shug becomes real to me because I know that there are many people in the audience, there are some women who will identify with Celie and then I want there to be women who identify with Shug, who’ve kind of reached out to men, reached out to maybe the wrong places to find their love. You know because they have been to some extent neglected by even that first man that should love them. Their dads, or whoever that is and then there’s a way to find love. You have to find love in God, find love in community, find love in your sisters, find love in your friends.

On her Facebook Live video performing an emotional tribute in song to black men who were recently killed by police and the Dallas police officers who were killed by a sniper

HH: It was a tough two weeks. … And it was tough for the cast. Another part of this, Michel, is our show is very women-centered. And part of that is that we have to beat these men up. People have criticized – sometimes – Alice Walker, I mean her book, because the men get, they a bad brunt there. And that week it was tough to beat them up, it really was. It just kept going.

Every time I thought my heart was broken enough, then Dallas happened. And then, Baton Rouge. It was just going and the only thing I know how to do is sing. I’ve been spoken to through songs; that’s how I speak. I mean, if I could talk to you through song right now that would be easier. And that’s how it was. And that song was just continually in my head. I just needed somebody bigger that I am.

On what’s next in her “Second Act(s)”

I’ve got a few more acts to go. This is kind of like those 10-act plays. My time with The Color Purple will draw to a close right at the end of the summer. Then I’m going to extend for a few weeks because I’m in love with them so much. It’s been such a great experience. And then I’m going to head back to Chicago and get some other stuff done. But I think now that I’m back, this intermission is going to be the shortest one. … I knew that I missed Broadway, but I didn’t know how much I missed it until May 10 when I stood on that stage. …

It’s kind of like you have your mom’s fried chicken or in my case, I’m from Trinidad, so your mother’s curry, the curry from Trinidad. You get it from other people, you’re just like, “Oh, that’s great, oh yes, I had my curry and I have it from other places and it’s really fine.” And then you go home and you have your mother’s curry or your mother’s fried chicken and you’re like, “There’s no place like this.” So that’s how I feel, like I came home to my mother’s home-cooking when I walked back on that stage. … I’m excited about the next few years.

In addition to a Tony and a Grammy, Headley’s other accolades include the coveted Drama Desk Award for outstanding actress in a musical, voted as People magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People” and Essence magazine’s “30 Women To Watch.”

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For Stopping A Pandemic Of Gun Violence, Let's Look To The Flu

Police tape blocks off a street where a 16-year-old was shot and killed and another 18-year-old was shot and wounded on the on April 25 in Chicago.

Police tape blocks off a street where a 16-year-old was shot and killed and another 18-year-old was shot and wounded on the on April 25 in Chicago. Joshua Lott/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Joshua Lott/Getty Images

It’s still summer and school’s still out for most people, so it’s understandable if you’re not thinking about the flu. But we all will be soon. Your pharmacist, your doctor, your boss, maybe even your colleagues — they’ll all be pushing you to get that annual flu shot, as well they should. Flu is serious business; it causes thousands of hospitalizations each year.

There is no exact number of how many people die from the flu every year. It comes in different strains, and people don’t always recognize that flu is the cause. But there are estimates: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says between 3,000 and 49,000 people die every year from the flu.

You’re probably thinking: Why am I talking about the flu? I am talking about it because it’s something we’ve lived with all of our lives. It’s something that existed before we were a country and something that remains with us to the present day. It’s something that touches everyone, but harms some people — the elderly and the very young — more than others.

I am talking about it because in this way the flu is like gun violence, but with one significant difference: With the flu, we fight back hard. We refuse to accept it as inevitable — the price we must pay for living in a free and mobile society, for going to school or living in a certain kind of place, or having a certain kind of lifestyle. We try things, and if those things don’t work, we try other things. We exhort, we cheerlead, we make it everybody’s responsibility. We remind each other to wash our hands, to avoid certain places if we are sick. We make it easy to get vaccines and to pay for them. And perhaps most importantly, we don’t pit one form of flu against another and say we can only try to address one — we recognize that they all kill, and their victims are just as dead no matter which strain it is.

Remember when the H1N1 strain hit a few years ago? Where I live, there were flu shot clinics set up all over the city. Yes, I heard some grinching about whether people from another jurisdiction were getting “our” vaccine. But most people recognized there was no fence keeping people from the next county over from breathing on their kids — they all needed to be protected.

There were also bigger discussions about why people were sending their sick kids to school. That led to legislation in some cities making it easier for people to stay home when they or their children are ill. The fixes were not and still aren’t perfect. For example, there remain what I consider legitimate disagreements about how these efforts should be paid for and how they should be run. But it’s a start. We didn’t sit there and throw up our hands and say, “Oh well.” Nor did we throw away our civil liberties in the process.

Can I just tell you, in this country that we love, homicide is the leading cause of death for black males aged 20 to 34, and the second leading cause of death for black females aged 15 through 24. That’s what Black Lives Matter activists are talking about: These are people that they love and they want it to stop, no matter who is pulling the trigger.

But this grief is not one they bear alone: Homicide is the third leading cause of death for white males aged 15 through 24, and the fourth leading cause of death for white females the same ages. Not only that, suicide is the second leading cause of death for white males aged 10 through 34. Guns are a factor in all of this.

This weekend alone, at a party in suburban Seattle, three young people were shot to death by someone they knew who invaded the party and started shooting. Two police officers were shot Friday in San Diego during a traffic stop. One of them was killed. The virus is here and it is not contained.

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The Australian Olympic Team Is Having A Rough Week

Australian Olympic team delegation head Kitty Chiller speaks to the media during a press Conference on Thursday in Rio de Janeiro.

Australian Olympic team delegation head Kitty Chiller speaks to the media during a press Conference on Thursday in Rio de Janeiro. Ryan Pierse/Getty Images hide caption

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The Australian Olympic team has had a difficult week.

First, upon arrival at the Olympic Village, delegation head Kitty Chiller said their allotted building was not “safe or ready” to receive the athletes.

Then, after quick efforts to get the building ready, the athletes moved in — only to have a fire break out two days later. It has now emerged that clothing and at least one laptop were stolen from the team during the fire evacuation.

The fire broke out on Friday evening in the building’s underground parking lot, according to a statement from the team. About 100 athletes and officials evacuated the complex for about 30 minutes while firefighters put the blaze out, and nobody was injured.

“The stairwells and corridors on the first few levels filled with smoke,” Chiller said — but the smoke alarms did not go off. Here’s more:

“The fire alarm had actually been silenced in our building while they were doing maintenance work on the building next door — so the alarms and the sprinklers did not activate. It’s concerning that that the fire system had been turned off and that we hadn’t been aware of that.”

It’s not clear what caused the fire, but authorities have launched an investigation. Chiller suggested that the fire could have started from a contractor’s cigarette.

“What we think has happened, is that a cigarette was thrown in a rubbish bin or on rubbish and that’s what started the fire,” she said, and called for a reminder to be sent to staff that the Village is non-smoking.

The team had previously complained of numerous problems with the building, including electrical issues. “Problems include blocked toilets, leaking pipes, exposed wiring, darkened stairwells where no lighting has been installed and dirty floors in need of a massive clean,” Chiller said in a statement last week.

She addressed the thefts at a press conference Sunday in Rio and described them as ” ‘concerning,’ but added ‘unfortunately theft is going to be inevitable,’ in a compound with 31 buildings and up to 18,000 athletes and staff,” according to The Associated Press.

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As The Candidates Drop By Sunday Talk Shows, 2 Big Themes Emerge

Hillary Clinton looks on during a campaign rally with democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine in Johnstown, Pa., on Saturday.

Hillary Clinton looks on during a campaign rally with democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine in Johnstown, Pa., on Saturday. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images hide caption

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Two big subjects popped out from the screen on this week’s Sunday political talk shows: the candidates’ responses to criticism leveled by grieving families, and questions about Russia’s involvement in the U.S. presidential race.

The Families

Khizr Khan, whose son was killed fighting for the U.S. in Iraq, spoke forcefully at the Democratic National Convention on Thursday, accusing Donald Trump of fomenting divisiveness and asking if Trump had read the Constitution. As his wife Ghazala stood silently beside him, Khan implored Trump to “look for the words ‘liberty’ and ‘equal protection of law.’ “

On Friday, Trump taped an interview with George Stephanopoulos which aired Sunday morning on This Week. In it, he responded to the Khans’ appearance at the DNC:

I saw him. He was, you know, very emotional. And probably looked like — a nice guy to me. His wife, if you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say. She probably — maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say. You tell me, but plenty of people have written that.

She was extremely quiet and looked like she had nothing to say. A lot of people have said that.

And personally, I watched him. I wish him the best of luck, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What would you say to the father?

TRUMP: Well, I would say, we have had a lot of problems with radical Islamic terrorism, that’s what I’d say. We have had a lot of problems where you look at San Bernardino, you look at Orlando, you look at the World Trade Center, you look at so many different things. You look at what happened to the priest over the weekend in Paris, where his throat was cut, 85-year-old, beloved Catholic priest. You look at what happened in Nice, France, a couple of weeks ago.

I would say, you gotta take a look that, because something is going on, and it’s not good.

(Khizr Khan has also been outspoken about extremism.)

The night he taped the ABC interview, Trump also echoed his question about Ghazala Khan to Maureen Dowd of The New York Times.

Khizr Khan, accompanied by his wife, Ghazala Khan, speaks about their son Capt. Humayun Khan on the final night of the Democratic National Convention.

Khizr Khan, accompanied by his wife, Ghazala Khan, speaks about their son Capt. Humayun Khan on the final night of the Democratic National Convention. Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Ghazala Khan, who spoke to MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell on Friday and contributed an op-ed to The Washington Post on Sunday, did not appear on the Sunday shows this morning, but her husband did. On CNN, he answered a question about a Saturday night statement from the Trump campaign, which did not address Trump’s questions about Ghazala Khan but did call the Khans’ son, Capt. Humayun Khan, “a hero to our country.”

“I appreciate his response, his press release that was issued last night, confirming that he accepts my son as a hero of this country.

“But to answer your question, his policies, his practices do not reflect that he has any understanding of the basic fundamental constitutional principles of this country, what makes this country exceptional, what makes this country exceptional in the history of the mankind.

“There are principles of equal dignity, principle of liberty. He talks about excluding people, disrespecting judges, the entire judicial system, immigrants, Muslim immigrants. These are — divisive rhetoric that is totally against the basic constitutional principle.”

Khan went on to say that Trump is “incapable of empathy.”

“I want his family to counsel him, teach him some empathy. He will be a better person if he could become — but he is a black soul. And this is totally unfit for the leadership of this beautiful country.”

Donald Trump isn’t the only candidate who’s come under criticism from the family of a fallen American. On a Fox News Sunday interview taped Saturday, Chris Wallace asked Hillary Clinton about Patricia Smith, whose son was killed in the 2012 attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya. Here’s that exchange:

WALLACE: One of the most dramatic moments in the Republican convention was when Pat Smith, the mother of Sean Smith, one of the people who died in Benghazi, stood up before the convention and blamed you for her son’s death.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAT SMITH, MOTHER OF SEAN SMITH: I blame Hillary Clinton — I blame Hillary Clinton personally for the death of my son. That’s personally.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: She and the father of Tyrone Woods both say that on the day that their sons’ bodies were returned to the United States, that you came up to them and you said it was all because of a video, not terrorism. Now, I know some of the other families disagree with this, and I know you deny it.

The question is, why would they make that up?

CLINTON: Chris, my heart goes out to both of them. Losing a child under any circumstances, especially in this case, two State Department employees, extraordinary men, both of them, two CIA contractors gave their lives protecting our countries, our values. I understand the grief and the incredible sense of loss that can motivate that.

As other members of families who lost loved ones have said, that’s not what they heard — I don’t hold any ill feeling for someone who in that moment may not fully recall everything that was or wasn’t said.

NPR’s Don Gonyea points out that Clinton’s posture toward Patricia Smith is similar to George W. Bush’s posture toward Cindy Sheehan, who protested U.S. involvement in Iraq by camping outside Bush’s Texas ranch. Sheehan’s son, like Humayun Khan, died in Iraq in 2004. This is from Reuters in August 2005:

” ‘I grieve for every death,’ Bush said as Cindy Sheehan remained camped out about 5 miles away. For six days she has been demanding Bush meet with her about her son, Casey Austin Sheehan, an Army specialist killed in combat in Baghdad in April 2004.

” ‘It breaks my heart to think about a family weeping over the loss of a loved one. I understand the anguish that some feel about the death that takes place,’ Bush said.

But he added, ‘Pulling the troops out would send a terrible signal to the enemy.’ “

Russia And The American Election

The other big issue from the Sunday talkers was the candidates’ take on Russia and allegations it is meddling in the U.S. electoral process.

Hillary Clinton, on Fox, was clear when asked about recent hacks of the Democratic National Committee:

WALLACE: Do you believe that Russia is behind the hacking and release of the DNC emails? And do you think that Vladimir Putin wants to defeat you or see you defeated and Donald Trump elected president?

CLINTON: Well, Chris, here’s what I think we know. We know that Russian intelligence services, which is part of the Russian government which is under the firm control of Vladimir Putin, hacked into the DNC. And we know that he arranged for a lot of those emails to be released.

And we know that Donald Trump has shown a very troubling willingness to back up Putin, to support Putin, whether it’s saying that NATO wouldn’t come to the rescue of allies if they were invaded, talking about removing sanctions from Russian officials after they were imposed by the United States and Europe together, because of Russia’s aggressiveness in Crimea and Ukraine, his praise for Putin which is I think quite remarkable.

On ABC, George Stephanopoulos asked Donald Trump about his relationship with Vladimir Putin. Trump answered:

If our country got along with Russia, that would be a great thing. When Putin goes out and tells everybody — and you talk about a relationship, but he says Donald Trump is going to win and Donald Trump is a genius, and then I have people saying you should disavow. I said, I’m going to disavow that?

But when Putin says good things and when we have a possibility of having a good relationship with Russia …

STEPHANOPOULOS: But if we have a good relationship …

TRUMP: — I think …

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: — his annexation of Crimea.

TRUMP: I’m not going to be mean to anybody. George, you know me pretty well. I don’t bow, OK. I don’t bow.

Trump returned to Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, later in the conversation:

Well, look, you know, I have my own ideas. He’s not going into Ukraine, OK?

Just so you understand. He’s not going to go into Ukraine, all right?

You can mark it down and you can put it down, you can take it anywhere you want.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, he’s already there, isn’t he?

TRUMP: OK, well, he’s there in a certain way, but I’m not there yet. You have Obama there. And frankly, that whole part of the world is a mess under Obama, with all the strength that you’re talking about and all of the power of NATO and all of this, in the meantime, he’s going where — he takes — takes Crimea, he’s sort of — I mean …

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you said you might recognize that.

TRUMP: I’m going to take a look at it. But, you know, the people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were. And you have to look at that, also.

On Meet the Press, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange would not say whether the DNC emails his organization released came from Russian hacking, but he did say Wikileaks would accept information from a foreign government if they could verify its accuracy.

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Thousands Of Firefighters Battle Massive Big Sur Blaze

A car destroyed by the Soberanes fire in Big Sur, Calif. Lodge managers and cafe owners there are facing cancelled bookings after fire officials warned that crews will likely be battling the fire for another month.

A car destroyed by the Soberanes fire in Big Sur, Calif. Lodge managers and cafe owners there are facing cancelled bookings after fire officials warned that crews will likely be battling the fire for another month. Terry Chea/AP hide caption

toggle caption Terry Chea/AP

A wildfire on the central California coast has burned more than 38,000 acres and could continue throughout August. Already, the Soberanes fire has destroyed at least 60 homes, and one man died when a bulldozer he was driving near the fire line rolled over on steep terrain.

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and seven other state parks and outdoor attractions nearby are closed until further notice because of smoke, fire danger and closed roads. The summer months are usually the high season for tourists visiting the region’s rugged coastline.

The California Parks Service has also instituted emergency rules for water use in the area. The state is entering its fifth year of drought.

Since the Soberanes fire began nine days ago, it has grown rapidly. Last week, as temperatures soared into the 90s and dry, windy weather fanned the flames, the fire tore through thousands of acres of chaparral in the Los Padres National Forest.

1 week time lapse of the #SoberanesFire – now larger than the city of San Francisco at 31,386 acres. pic.twitter.com/P9p7bLMel9

— CAL FIRE (@CAL_FIRE) July 29, 2016

On Saturday, slightly cooler weather and overnight fog slowed the fire somewhat, according to CalFire, the state agency in charge of fighting wildfires. CalFire says 350 people have been evacuated to the nearby town of Carmel from areas east and south of the fire. On Sunday, additional evacuation warnings were announced for residents in the nearby communities of Cachagua and Tassajara, Calif.

A spokesman for the agency, Daniel Berlant, wrote on Twitter more than 5,000 people are now helping to fight the blaze. Fire crews traveled from across California as well as Colorado, Utah, Arizona and Oregon, reports The Monterey Herald.

Images taken by satellites show smoke from the Soberanes fire and another blaze near Los Angeles, the Sand fire, are visible from space.

California’s #SandFire and #SoberanesFire as seen from space. More info via @NASAGoddard https://t.co/2W4RZysOGg pic.twitter.com/veLlr9oXOo

— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) July 25, 2016

As the Two-Way reported, the Sand fire caused hundreds of evacuations, destroyed 18 homes and killed on person before crews got it under control on Friday.

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Muslims In France Attend Mass In Gesture of Solidarity After Church Attack

A Muslim faithful woman sits as she attends a Mass in tribute to priest Jacques Hamel at the Saint-Leu Saint-Gilles Bagnolet's Church, near Paris on Sunday.

A Muslim faithful woman sits as she attends a Mass in tribute to priest Jacques Hamel at the Saint-Leu Saint-Gilles Bagnolet’s Church, near Paris on Sunday. Thomas Samson /AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Thomas Samson /AFP/Getty Images

In a show of solidarity, Muslims across France are attending Catholic Mass on Sunday after the brutal murder of a priest.

Two men attacked a church in the small town of Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray near Rouen on Tuesday, and slit 85-year-old Jacques Hamel’s throat, as we reported. The attack was later claimed by the Islamic State through its Aamaq news agency.

As AFP reported, the French Muslim council CFCM called for the gesture “to show their ‘solidarity and compassion’ over the priest’s murder.”

“We are all Catholics of France,” said CFCM head Anouar Kbibech, according to the BBC.

There was a particularly strong turnout at the cathedral in Rouen, near the site of the attack.

“We are very moved by the presence of our Muslim friends and I believe it is a courageous act that they did by coming to us,” Rouen’s archbishop Dominique Lebrun said following the service, as the Associated Press reported.

The wire service described the scene:

“Some of the Muslims sat in the front row, across from the altar. Among the parishioners was one of the nuns who was briefly taken hostage at Hamel’s church when he was killed. …

“Outside the church, a group of Muslims were applauded when they unfurled a banner: ‘Love for all. Hate for none.’ “

As AFP reported, a particularly moving moment occurred during the sign of the peace — the portion of the mass where the congregation members greet each other. “Archbishop Lebrun used the moment to step into the congregation and greet Muslim leaders attending, as well as three nuns who were at the church in Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray when Hamel was murdered,” as the wire service reported.

“For me, it is very important to be here today,” Mohammed Karabila, president of the mosque in the town where Hamel was killed, told the BBC. “Today we wanted to show physically, by kissing the family of Jacques Hamel, by kissing His Grace Lebrun in front of everybody, so they know that the two communities are united.”

Members of the Muslim community attend a mass in the Catholic church of Santa Maria of Caravaggio on Sunday in Milan, Italy.

Members of the Muslim community attend a mass in the Catholic church of Santa Maria of Caravaggio on Sunday in Milan, Italy. Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images

A Muslim delegation also attended Mass in Nice, the city where an attacker plowed his truck into a crowd celebrating Bastille Day earlier this month, killing 84 people.

“Being united is a response to this act of horror and barbarism,” said Otaman Aissaoui, Nice’s top imam, according to AFP.

The wire service reports that Paris and Bordeaux also saw Muslims attending mass. The BBC reports that Muslim leaders attended mass in Italy, where “three imams sat in the front row at Santa Maria Trastevere church in Rome.”

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Tokyo Elects Its First Female Governor

Former defense minister Yuriko Koike waves at passersby during her campaign rally for the Tokyo gubernatorial election in Tokyo on Friday.

Former defense minister Yuriko Koike waves at passersby during her campaign rally for the Tokyo gubernatorial election in Tokyo on Friday. Eugene Hoshiko/AP hide caption

toggle caption Eugene Hoshiko/AP

Japanese voters have elected Yuriko Koike, 64, as the capital’s first female governor. She’s taking the helm after her predecessor resigned following a funding scandal, amid high-pressure preparations for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

She triumphed over two main rival candidates. And while vote counting is still ongoing, Japanese state broadcaster NHK reports that she is “certain to win” based on exit polls.

Koike’s “biography is unusual for a Japanese politician, even apart from her gender,” as The New York Times reported. “A divorced former newscaster, she attended a university in Egypt and speaks fluent Arabic.”

She previously made history as Japan’s first female defense minster, as John Matthews told our Newscast unit. He looked at some of the challenges ahead:

“It’s the second time in a handful of years that Tokyo’s voters have elected a new governor after a scandal — Koike’s two most immediate predecessors both resigned in disgrace over misuse of public funds. Koike is expected to repair a tarnished image leading up to the 2020 Olympics; Tokyo’s hosting bid has been plagued by stadium construction delays, plagiarism in its logo design, and accusations of bribery.”

The top three candidates for the Tokyo gubernatorial election (from left) journalist Shuntaro Torigoe, former defense minister Yuriko Koike and former rural governor Hiroya Masuda.

The top three candidates for the Tokyo gubernatorial election (from left) journalist Shuntaro Torigoe, former defense minister Yuriko Koike and former rural governor Hiroya Masuda. Shizuo Kambayashi/Eugene Hoshiko/Koji Sasahara/AP hide caption

toggle caption Shizuo Kambayashi/Eugene Hoshiko/Koji Sasahara/AP

And while Koike is a member of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, she announced her candidacy before securing the party’s approval. As Reuters reports, this angered the ruling party and it “drafted [rival candidate Hiroya] Matsuda, 64, who once served as governor of a rural prefecture” to run against her.

Opposition candidate Shuntaro Torigoe, a journalist, also contested the election. As the Times reported, “Koike was widely seen as the most right-leaning of the three leading candidates.”

The role of Tokyo’s governor “roughly combines duties of an American mayor and a state governor,” according to the Times. The city has “a population of more than 13 million and an annual budget bigger than Sweden’s,” as The Associated Press reported.

During her campaign, Koike pledged to “promote urban development while giving consideration to the environment,” as NHK reported. According to the Wall Street Journal, while she served as environment minister in 2005, Koike was behind a successful environmental program called “cool biz.”

That’s when “government officials were told to shed their ties and often their jackets during the summer months so that thermostats could be set at a higher level,” as the newspaper reported. “The concept was widely adopted by private employers, and now most men go without tie and jacket in the summer.”

One of her first task as governor will be to travel to Rio de Janiero for the Olympics, “as the representative of the city that’s hosting the next games,” as the AP reported.

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Life In The Park: Finding Meaning In Park Service Work

Brad Metler (left) and Mason Phillippi position a rock that will serve as an abutment for a small footbridge across the Oconaluftee River to an old cemetery in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Both men work for the park's trail crew, which maintains more than 800-miles of trail in the park.

Brad Metler (left) and Mason Phillippi position a rock that will serve as an abutment for a small footbridge across the Oconaluftee River to an old cemetery in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Both men work for the park’s trail crew, which maintains more than 800-miles of trail in the park. Nathan Rott/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Nathan Rott/NPR

There’s a popular refrain among National Park Service employees, one that doubles as a reminder, of sorts, after a long, wearisome day: “We get paid in sunrises and sunsets.”

For many park employees, the pay is seasonal and not great. The hours are long. The question is usually the same (“Where’s the bathroom?”). And no matter how many pamphlets you pass out, instructions you give or “Attention!” signs you put up, people still wander off trails, carve their names in trees and get too close to the bears.

I saw and heard all of this earlier this summer, during a reporting trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most-visited park in the U.S. For 10 days, I tagged along with the park’s employees and volunteers — releasing rescued bear cubs, welcoming delegations of foreign diplomats, hunting for invasive feral hogs and cleaning bathrooms — to try to get an idea of just how much work goes on behind-the-scenes in our national parks. (Spoiler alert: It’s a lot.)

But what struck me the most were the reasons why — outside of the stunning sunrises and sunsets — people decide to work and dedicate their lives to a place like Great Smoky Mountains National Park.


Bill Gober

Bill Gober started volunteering as a trail rover at Great Smoky Mountains National Park 4 years ago after he lost his job. He helps monitor visitors and pick up garbage from the trails.

Bill Gober started volunteering as a trail rover at Great Smoky Mountains National Park 4 years ago after he lost his job. He helps monitor visitors and pick up garbage from the trails. Nathan Rott/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Nathan Rott/NPR

Trail rover volunteer, 4 years with NPS

“It must have been the chicken salad,” Bill Gober thought, hiking down from Laurel Falls on one of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s most popular trails. His stomach was all knotted up. He was sweating bullets and short of breath.

He made it down the trail to a creek, where he dipped his handkerchief in the water and sat on a rock. “That’s when I called into dispatch and asked for a carry out,” he says.

Gober had started volunteering on the Laurel Falls Trail a couple of years after losing his job in the medical supply field. He was spending a lot of his time hiking in the park anyway. “It was therapeutic, an escape from reality,” he says. So he figured he’d help out the park’s staff by working as a trail rover one day a week, monitoring visitors and warning them about stuff like rattlesnakes and bears. “Mostly, I pick up a lot of garbage,” he says.

It was during one of those shifts, not long after a chicken salad lunch, that he had his heart attack. After calling for help, he was carried out by park employees and airlifted to Knoxville, Tenn., for bypass surgery. The doctors agreed that if it wasn’t for the quick response and professionalism of park staff, Gober would have died on that rock.

That’s why he came back to volunteer on the trail as soon as he was physically able. You’ll find him there on Wednesdays. “I definitely have some payback to give back to the park,” Gober says. “I’m alive today because of it.”


Will Jaynes patrols the Appalachian Trail as a law enforcement officer. He has worked with the National Park Service for 15 years.

Will Jaynes patrols the Appalachian Trail as a law enforcement officer. He has worked with the National Park Service for 15 years. Mike Belleme for NPR hide caption

toggle caption Mike Belleme for NPR

Will Jaynes

Park ranger, 15 years with NPS

Years before patrolling the Appalachian Trail as a law enforcement officer, Will Jaynes walked it under the trail name Hayduke, an homage to the law-defying radical environmentalist portrayed in Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang.

“I had long nasty hair and dirty clothes,” says a short-haired, clean-clothed Jaynes. “I tell my boss now that if he wants someone to go undercover with thru-hikers I could look the part again pretty quick.”

As a park ranger, Jaynes is part of a small police force tasked with policing the roughly 11 million visitors a year who visit the trail, which runs from Georgia to Maine. That includes thru-hikers and drive-thru motorists, RV campers and minimalists, outdoors people and city folk. It’s no small task. And Jaynes says he draws on his experiences in previous jobs and in previous lifestyles to be a more relatable and effective police officer, a skill that he thinks has been made all the more important by recent events and public distrust with law enforcement.

“If I can relate to someone and provide someone with education as opposed to a citation, that’s what I want to do,” Jaynes says. “The person that gets the ticket is going to angry and not as on board with the mission of the park service five years down the road, whereas the guy who gets the education is going to feel relieved and grateful and be way more likely to buy-in to what we’re trying to do.”


Michael Smith

Michael Smith has worked with the National Park Service for the past 5 years. He's the mountain farm museum coordinator at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Michael Smith has worked with the National Park Service for the past 5 years. He’s the mountain farm museum coordinator at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Nathan Rott/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Nathan Rott/NPR

Mountain farm museum coordinator, 5 years with NPS

“What are you doing in the Appalachian Mountains?”

Michael Smith says he got that question a lot when he started working in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and living in the southern Appalachia. People didn’t ask it in a derogatory or demeaning way, he says, but more out of a genuine interest. The Appalachian Mountains aren’t known for their diversity. But that can be misleading.

“If you dive into [the history] of an area like this, there were many different cultures that were in this area — Cherokee Indians, European settlers, even slavery was in this area,” Smith says. “Those stories have to be told for people to know how they relate to these mountains.”

The National Park Service is facing larger relevancy issues nationwide. Most of its workforce and visitors are older and white, so engaging with younger and more diverse groups is key to its future. Relatability, Smith says, is crucial to that. And as a Florida-born African-American who interacts with student groups from all across the South, Smith sees himself as being able to help fill that role in the Great Smokies.

“People want something out of a visit. They don’t want to come and visit just for the sake of visiting. They want a view or scenery or they want to be able to connect to the area and its history,” Smith says. “To get those individuals you have to have something or someone for them to relate to.”


Paul “Doc” Hadala

Paul "Doc" Hadala, a volunteer at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, works to eliminate invasive plant species from a section of forest.

Paul “Doc” Hadala, a volunteer at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, works to eliminate invasive plant species from a section of forest. Mike Belleme for NPR hide caption

toggle caption Mike Belleme for NPR

Vegetation crew volunteer with more than 15,000 volunteer hours

Paul Hadala started volunteering at Great Smoky Mountains National Park for a simple reason: “I was single at the time and needed something to do,” he says.

He’d spent 32 years with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a military engineer, working on missile systems and dams; then another seven years teaching at Louisiana Tech University. He was semi-retired and had time on his hands, so he decided to spend it killing invasive species.

“I hate exercising. It’s like pulling teeth,” he says, chopping away at a vine of honeysuckle. “This is a good way to stay in shape.”

But Hadala’s is a love story. Volunteering with the vegetation crew, he spends a lot of time with the crew’s permanent and seasonal workers. After two summers of working with one of the seasonal employees, he mentioned to her that he was a bit lonesome and that “it would be nice to have someone to go to dinner with,” he says.

She introduced Hadala to her mom, and they’ve been happily married for 11 years since.

Hadala still volunteers at the park 30 hours a week. Spending that much time at the park is good for their relationship, he says. “The wife said she’d marry me for better or for worse, but not for lunch.”


Jessica Tezak

Jessica Tezak is a contractor at LeConte Lodge in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Jessica Tezak is a contractor at LeConte Lodge in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Nathan Rott/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Nathan Rott/NPR

Contractor at LeConte Lodge since 2016

There are two corners of the porch of the main building at LeConte Lodge in Great Smoky Mountains National Park where, if the weather’s just right, you might get enough cell phone service to make a call. Don’t bother trying to load Facebook or stream a video. Sorry, millennials, it just won’t happen at the highest-elevation guest lodge in the eastern U.S.

“That might be my favorite part of living here,” says Jessica Tezak, a millennial herself. “I feel a lot less anxious.”

Before working at the lodge, Tezak was connected all of the time. She studied journalism in college and then did photojournalism internships. Neither allowed her to ignore her phone or the stress of always being on-call. “I couldn’t escape it,” she says. “And that’s so not the person that I want to be.”

During an internship at the Knoxville News Sentinel, Tezak was assigned to take photos for a feature called Hike of the Month. Leading the hike that month was a couple, who had met at LeConte Lodge. “They had this beautiful love story,” she says.

When her internship ended, she thought back to the lodge and the way the couple described it as an “escape.” She was feeling unsure about daily journalism and wanted a change, so she applied for a job.

Months later, she’s living at the lodge with a handful of other workers, cooking meals, washing dishes and helping out a rotating list of guests. It’s not a dream job, she says. Someday she’d like to go back to full-time photography. But in the interim, she says, it’s a good way to save money, meet nice people and enjoy the simpler things in life.


Heidi Brill works with the Trails crew as an animal caretaker. She has been working for the National Park Service for 8 years.

Heidi Brill works with the Trails crew as an animal caretaker. She has been working for the National Park Service for 8 years. Nathan Rott/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Nathan Rott/NPR

Heidi Brill

Trails crew, animal caretaker, 8 years with NPS

Heidi Brill prefers to start her mornings early. On days she’s going to be on the trails, she’s at the barn by 4:30 a.m. and out on the trail with the horses at daybreak.

“Everything’s so quiet,” she says. “As the sun comes down and hits the forest floor, the animals start getting sweated up and steam’s rising off of them.”

It’s those moments that carry her through long days on horseback at the park, leading in teams of pack mules to haul equipment and supplies for maintenance workers in the park. It’s backbreaking work, loading the mules up with crossbuck saddles and keeping gear evenly balanced.

Brill’s used to it though. She’s been working on trail maintenance crews for the better part of a decade, mostly back West along the Pacific Crest Trail. In her early jobs, her crew would go out on long self-supported jobs, packing in eight days’ worth of food, tools and personal gear. They’d cut new trails and clear old trails, sawing away fallen trees and sweeping away brush.

There’s an instant gratification that comes with that type of intense team labor, she says, a feeling of “Yay, we did this!” that comes from seeing a clean trail or new walkway.

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After Failed Coup, Turkey Brings Military Further Under Government Control

Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gives a speech Friday commemorating those killed and wounded during a failed July 15 military coup, in Ankara, Turkey.

Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gives a speech Friday commemorating those killed and wounded during a failed July 15 military coup, in Ankara, Turkey. AP hide caption

toggle caption AP

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has launched a shakeup of the country’s armed forces and dismissed nearly 1,400 more military personnel in the wake of a failed coup attempt earlier this month. The decree also closes Turkey’s military schools.

As part of the recent changes, “Turkey’s land, naval and air forces are now directly answerable to the Defense Ministry,” the state-run Anadolu News Agency reports. This expands the government’s control of the military, as NPR’s Peter Kenyon explains. Previously, the army was not answerable to the Defense Ministry, he says.

The emergency decree published Sunday “closes all of Turkey’s war academies, military high schools, and high schools that train non-commissioned officers,” according to Anadolu. They will be replaced by a new university called the “National Defense University,” under the control of the Defense Ministry.

Among the officers who were dismissed are one of Erdogan’s key aides, and advisers to the Army Chief of Staff and Defense Minister, as Peter tells our Newscast unit.

“The expulsions from the military now exceed 3,000. Thousands more are facing charges related to the attempted coup,” as Peter reports. “The rapid and sweeping shakeup has some worried about the military’s readiness.”

The Turkish military is the second-largest in NATO, as Reuters reported, and “the dishonorable discharges included about 40 percent of Turkey’s admirals and generals.”

According to Anadolu, the government says those expelled from the military had ties to Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based cleric that it blames for the failed coup attempt. Gulen denies any involvement.

In a televised interview later Saturday, Erdogan also “suggested making the General Staff and the National Intelligence Agency directly answerable to the presidency,” and added that “this would be discussed with opposition leaders,” according to Anadolu.

Speaking on Morning Edition last week, Peter discussed the rapidly expanding crackdown, happening under a state of emergency:

“The state of emergency’s supposed to last three months. Government’s giving very mixed signals. Some officials say maybe it will be over in a few weeks. Others say, well, it could be extended if necessary. There’s kind of a feeling here the government wants to strike quickly and strongly while it’s got these extra powers. The question is what kind of government or military will be left when it’s over?”

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