Intro from Jay Allison: The dot-com bust was good for public radio. It threw talent out in the streets, including some zealous public radio listeners, a few of them zealous enough to consider trying this work instead of heading back to the hunt for riches. Phyllis Fletcher was one, a former computer programmer, and now–with the help of KUOW, Jack Straw and NPR’s Next Generation project–a radio producer. "Sweet Phil" is her debut in long form. Full of clever production, it is the story of a large, difficult and remarkable personality, Phyllis’s father, and it’s told with great care and no blame.
About the Story
“It hurts me to have left so many kids out there in this world. But believe me, at the rate that I was going, if somebody were to have to go, it was always best for the kid and the mother that I was the one to go.” My father wrote me these words, and many more, from prison. Before we were reunited, he died, leaving behind 14 children with 13 different mothers. In Sweet Phil from Sugar Hill, I seek out my siblings and their mothers, and draw from their voices a portrait of the father we never knew. My dad speaks for himself in excerpts from his letters, read throughout the piece by his first-born son.
I produced Sweet Phil from Sugar Hill as an Artist-in-Residence with Jack Straw Productions, a non-profit audio production studio in Seattle. The people at Jack Straw grant each of their supported artists studio time with one of their engineers. I was fortunate to work with the experienced and talented Scott Bartlett.
Before receiving the grant, I flew to Phoenix to record my brother Eric reading our dad’s letters in character. Eric isn’t a formally trained actor, but his talent truly shines in his performance as our dad. Eric and I scheduled our sessions to coincide with the time he’d taken off work for Ramadan. We recorded at night, when he’d broken fast and could drink water. We didn’t have time to record all of the letters, so I guessed at which passages I would want to use. We ended up capturing everything I could have wanted and more. After receiving the grant, I travelled to DC, New Jersey, Spokane, Chicago, Sacramento, and Denver to interview the family members you hear in Sweet Phil. In Seattle I interviewed my mother and cousin, and recorded a friend to portray the coroner who performed my dad’s autopsy.
When I had finished interviewing, I logged my tape and reviewed my notes to develop a narrative arc of my dad’s life story. I chose my cuts, loaded them, wrote a script, and brought it all in to Jack Straw to put it together. Scott and I would edit in the studio during the day. At night I went home to choose the scoring music and make changes to the script. When we got everything we wanted into half an hour, I took it home, listened carefully, and made notes for our final edit a few weeks later.
Some people who’ve heard the piece have commended my bravery for exploring who my father was in such a public way. I humbly deflect that praise to my family, who graciously shared their time and memories with me.
We commend her for the telling.
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I recorded my brother Eric’s interview and performance with his Sharp MD-MT15 MiniDisc recorder and Sony ECM-MS907 condenser mic. I recorded all other interviews and performance with my Sharp MD-MT770-S MiniDisc and AudioTechnica AT835b condenser mic. I loaded my cuts into SAW on a PC, and voiced my narration into a Neumann U-87. Scott engineered the final product on a Power Mac G4 in ProTools version 5.1.1.
Actors – If you live in Phoenix, you may have been treated to the conga virtuosity of Eric Green (Sweet Phil) in concert halls and dance clubs. Eric holds two degrees in aviation; he makes his living as a commercial airline captain. Tom Bostelmann (coroner) plays bassoon and basketball in Seattle. His accent occasionally betrays his Minnesota roots. Tom earns his keep as a software engineer.