Longtime NPR Commentator Vertamae Grosvenor Dies At 79 Vertamae Grosvenor, a longtime commentator for All Things Considered, died Saturday at age 79. We mark her passing by hearing one of her more than 300 essays that aired on this program.

Longtime NPR Commentator Vertamae Grosvenor Dies At 79

Longtime NPR Commentator Vertamae Grosvenor Dies At 79

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Vertamae Grosvenor, a longtime commentator for All Things Considered, died Saturday at age 79. We mark her passing by hearing one of her more than 300 essays that aired on this program.


In the 1980s and '90s, hardly a week would go by without listeners of this program hearing this powerful, warm voice.


VERTAMAE SMART-GROSVENOR, BYLINE: Porches in the South were special places, an extension of what Northerners called the living room, what we call the front room. Sometimes the porch was a chapel. During the first and last moments of life, birthing and dying, you waited on the porch and prayed.

CORNISH: That's Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor and in an ALL THINGS CONSIDERED commentary in 1983. Grosvenor died on Saturday. She was 79. When I was an NPR intern, she was the first storyteller here that I got to watch up close. She let me sit at her side as she worked. It was a piece on a return visit to the small island of Daufuskie off the coast of South Carolina. She'd been there for NPR 17 years earlier and went back to see how descendants of West African slaves on the island were faring after a resort community had been built there.


SMART-GROSVENOR: Nature brought the first change to these waters.

CORNISH: The islanders spoke Gullah Geechee, a form of Creole English. And Vertamae Grosvenor - her face was just so expressive as she recalled the voices she wanted to hear in the story, pausing to point out an intake of breath or a word we might not understand.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Unintelligible) raccoon, some of the things you get rabbit, deer.

CORNISH: She was born in South Carolina and made a mark with a book in 1970 called "Vibration Cooking: Or, The Travel Notes Of A Geechee Girl." And she could talk on and on about food.


SMART-GROSVENOR: Ever since I can remember, the Fourth of July was a celebrated day in our family. We'd have a big party with barbecued goat, big ironstone bowls of potato salad, coconut cakes and sweet potato pies.

CORNISH: Whatever she spoke about, it came back to identity. Vertamae Grosvenor won many awards for her writing, which jumped off the page and grabbed you through the radio speakers - like this commentary after the murder of John Lennon. She talked about observing a moment of silence for him in New York City.


SMART-GROSVENOR: Because my '60s was sit-ins, not love-ins, because it was not Monkees and Beatles, but Panthers and Young Lords for me, because my song was "We Shall Overcome," not "I Want To Hold Your Hand," I felt it would be a bit hypocritical for me to go to Central Park and light a candle for John Lennon. But because I believe that John Lennon was a righteous brother, I wanted to do something.

So I met with several of my friends for brunch about 1:30. Nobody announced 2 o'clock, but when it came we knew. A remarkable thing happened. The cafe became absolutely silent. Former flower children, ex black militants, old long-haired Marxists, deep intellectuals all came together in grief. I swear I heard Aretha singing "Peace, Be Still." I had the feeling that people prayed for John Lennon's soul and their own. I know I did. John is probably alive and well in rock and roll heaven jamming with Otis Redding and Jimi Hendrix. Two p.m. yesterday was truly one of New York's finest hours.

The '60s are over. Let's not lament the loss of innocence and youth. If we can come together in peace and love for 10 minutes, let's try to hold onto the feeling a little longer. My grandma Masula (ph) used to say prayer changes things, and for 10 minutes yesterday, it did.

CORNISH: Vertamae Grosvenor on this program in 1980. She died Saturday at age 79 in the Bronx.


SMART-GROSVENOR: Y'all leave the porch light on for me, you hear? This is Vertamae Grosvenor in Yemassee, S.C., for National Public Radio.

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