The Madeleine Brand Show for April 4, 2012

Celebrating L.A.'s birthday with a new anthem

Birdseye View Pub. Co.'s birdseye map of Los Angeles, California in 1909.

Birdseye View Pub. Co.

Birdseye View Pub. Co.'s birdseye map of Los Angeles, California in 1909.

This week marks mark the 152nd anniversary of the City of L.A., so what do you get for the town that already has everything? One Claremont woman finally delivers on a promise she made to the city of Angels decades ago.

Before Grace Moremen agreed to marry her husband Bill, she made another vow back at University High School in Los Angeles.

“One of the pledges of the Ephebian Society is to leave the city better than you found it, so I thought, well, I’ll leave it a song," said Moreman.

Nearly 65 years after she graduated, Grace Moremen has finally composed and recorded that song: “City of the Angels. It’s the first song she’s ever written.
 
“Los Angeles doesn’t have many songs. I think there is one people always mention by Randy Newman. Not many others," she said. “It starts out with a few other cities that get a lot more attention - San Francisco, New York in the first verse - and mention the things that they’re known for. But what about L.A.?"

The Pilgrim Pickers, the band hired to bring “City of the Angels” to life, is made up of musicians who are all residents of Pilgrim Place, a community in Claremont for retired religious leaders affiliated with the Claremont Colleges. Bill Moremen, Grace’s husband and major player for The Pilgrim Pickers, is a retired reverend with the United Church of Christ.

“I grew up in Los Angeles also," he said. “We had a church in the inner city of LA, a multi-cultural church. So, one of the lines I like in the song, a lot is, ‘LA has the folks of every hue.”

On a recent Sunday afternoon, the Pilgrim Pickers packed themselves into the Moremen’s living room for an impromptu jam session. Penelope Mann is one of the backup singers. She didn’t grow up in LA, but she daydreamed about it.

“I had one of those ViewMasters, you know, where you have these pictures of what California might be like," she said. "And, yes, I actually always had a desire to move out to California, and when I got married I did, and I’ve lived here ever since.”

The song may offer an unrealistically optimistic view of a city scarred by riots, fires, floods and earthquakes. But Grace Moremen says maybe more optimism is what LA needs.

“I wanted people to appreciate the city, a city that I think is under-appreciated," she said. "It’s a hard city to understand. It’s very spread out. So in the song, I try to talk about the things that I remembered growing up and also the things, some of the newer things, and appreciate that, appreciate all of it.”

Grace Moremen has sent a copy of “City of the Angels” to Mayor Villaraigosa’s cultural affairs office. It was her gift to mark last year’s 230th anniversary of the actual founding of “La Reyna de Los Angeles.” But no one from the mayor’s office called her back. That’s OK. The Pilgrim Pickers could always crash the birthday celebration - and serenade the LA’s “angels” from the steps of City Hall.


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