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Hassan Hajjaj Turns Moroccan Clichés Into London Cool



Selling flowers in Camden Market, then clothes, while also promoting underground club nights and working on film shoots and fashion shows, Mr. Hajjaj became a utility player in the emerging London bohemia of immigrants’ children, fed on reggae and pirate radio, that produced bands like Young Disciples and Soul II Soul. His clothing label, R.A.P., sold streetwear before that was a fashion category. His Covent Garden shop was a central-city hangout and haven from the ambient racism and class hierarchies of the time.

“In the ’80s you have to remember that London was just starting to blend,” Mr. Hajjaj said, in the North London accent he acquired on arrival. “We all came from different backgrounds. We had to create something to find our space.”

Simon Baker, the director of the Maison Européenne de la Photographie — and a former Londoner himself, previously curator of photography at Tate Modern — said that Mr. Hajjaj was a quintessential Black British artist, in the expansive usage of that time. The retrospective, Mr. Baker said, “tells the story of someone with London street knowledge, network, and background, but who is also very passionate about where he came from.”

Yet it took many years for Mr. Hajjaj to think of himself as an artist.

“I didn’t think I was worthy,” he said. “I had all these friends who studied art, music, fashion, who prepared themselves, who were technically very good. I just took pictures. It was more to hang out with people, to listen to music and create a mood.”

By the time he started showing his photography, in the mid-1990s, he had reconnected with Morocco, following a trip in 1993 to take his daughter to meet her relatives. Even among the London set, Morocco evoked tedious stereotypes — “caftans, hashish, camels,” Mr. Hajjaj said — that irritated him. What he found was the place he remembered, at once ordinary, with its canned goods and fast fashions, and vibrant according to its own cultural mélange.

“I wanted to show my friends that we have something cool,” he said. “And that I suppose is what started me entering the art world.”

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Johni Cerny Dies at 76; Helped the Famous Find Their Roots



Johni Cerny, the chief genealogist for the PBS series “Finding Your Roots,” who helped some 200 famous people — among them Oprah Winfrey, Quincy Jones, Senator Bernie Sanders and Speaker Nancy Pelosi — trace their ancestry, died on Wednesday in Lehi, Utah, near Salt Lake City. She was 76.

Deborah Christensen, Ms. Cerny’s partner of 23 years, said the cause was coronary artery disease and congestive heart failure.

“Johni Cerny was the proverbial dean of American genealogical research,” Henry Louis Gates Jr., the Harvard professor who is a host and executive producer of “Finding Your Roots,” said in a statement. In an email message on Thursday, he described her work as “transforming raw data into narratives and metaphors about diversity and our common humanity.”

Ms. Cerny’s passion for the field began in childhood, for intensely personal reasons.

Jonnette Elaine Cerny was born on Aug. 27, 1943, in Kansas City, Mo. Her mother was Vivian Elaine (West) Cerny, and the man she was told was her father was John Steve Cerny, a soldier in World War II who later worked in the heating and air-conditioning business. She was the oldest of five children.

The family later moved to Southern California. She enrolled at the University of Missouri but transferred to Brigham Young University in Utah, where she received a bachelor’s degree in social work and genealogical research in 1969.

She was always fascinated by family trees. Her maternal grandmother, Bertha Smith West, had been adopted and always wanted to learn the identity of her biological parents. Johni was 19 when she began that research, but it was not until long after her grandmother’s death in 1972 that she was able to use DNA — essentially a 21st-century genealogical tool — to find their names.

Meanwhile, Ms. Cerny had long suspected that John Cerny was not her biological father. It was not until 2018, however, that with the help of DNA she was able to identify the man who was: Charles Owen Williams.

According to Nick Sheedy, a researcher at Lineages, Ms. Cerny’s family history and genealogical research company, he and Ms. Cerny signed up with “every database out there” and the process took about nine months.

Mr. Williams had died in 1960, but Ms. Cerny soon met a whole new circle of relatives on her father’s side.

Ms. Cerny did not go into genealogical research immediately after college. From 1972 to 1979 she served in the Army, reaching the rank of captain. She returned to Utah because of its research resources, particularly the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Family History Library.

She founded Lineages in 1983, before most computerized databases and long before $99 mail-order DNA reports. As a social media tribute to her observed, she spent a lot of time “looking through microfilm and toting bags of quarters for the copy machines.”

Ms. Cerny was an editor and author of “The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy” (1984) and “The Library: A Guide to the LDS Family History Library” (1986). A favorite research subject of hers was Germanna, the Virginia settlement of Germans who in 1718 were tricked into indentured servitude. She and Gary J. Zimmerman published several “Before Germanna” books, including histories of the Baumgartner, Dieter, Moyer and Willheit families.

She began working on PBS projects with Professor Gates in 2006 as a researcher on “African American Lives,” which Virginia Heffernan, in a review in The New York Times, called “the most exciting and stirring documentary on any subject to appear on television in a long time.” Ms. Cerny also worked on “Faces of America” (2010) and “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross” (2013).

From 2012 through 2019, she was the chief researcher for “Finding Your Roots.” Her subjects on that series also included Stephen Colbert, Larry David, Queen Latifah, Representative John Lewis, Meryl Streep and Tina Turner.

Ms. Cerny was never one to pinpoint a favorite project, associates said, but in a 2019 interview she mentioned an episode with the comedian Sarah Silverman.

“Her comment just took the words right out of my mouth,” Ms. Cerny said. “She was looking at a photograph of family members she had never seen before. And she just said, ‘I wish I could crawl into this picture and know what’s going on in there.’”

In addition to Dr. Christensen, a psychologist, Ms. Cerny is survived by a brother, Jack Cerny, and three sisters, Antoinette Greenstone, Nanette Muirhead and Stevette Shinkle. She helped raise Dr. Christensen’s sons, Tim, Matthew and Jake, and her daughters, Anna Ward and Rachel Stowe. There are 11 grandchildren.

There was little doubt that Ms. Cerny loved her career. In a 2019 video, she admitted to a workday that began around 7:30 a.m. and ended at about 6:30 p.m. — and to a habit of waking up in the middle of the night with an idea and going straight to her computer. Her work, she said, was “very addictive.”

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Review: At the Philharmonic, New Music for a Changing World



Sometimes, depending on current events, a new piece can take on unexpected resonance. Before the New York Philharmonic gave the premiere of Ellen Reid’s “When the World as You’ve Known It Doesn’t Exist” on Thursday, she asked the audience whether anyone, like her, “has felt that way recently.”

Her question drew some laughter. She explained that the long title of this 11-minute orchestra work is meant to convey the experience of a questioning journey through a realm where once-familiar surroundings suddenly seem different, both scary and wondrous.

Conducted by Jaap van Zweden at David Geffen Hall, “When the World” was the latest offering in the Philharmonic’s Project 19 initiative to commission 19 female composers to celebrate the centennial of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote. Ms. Reid, whose opera “Prism” won the Pulitzer Prize for Music last year, also describes herself as a sound artist. The opening of her new piece came across as a wash of alluring sounds, effects and colors, with high-pitched strings, fluttering winds and softly wailing brass bustling along — yet with a jolt of inner tension. The whole sound mass then glides downward and becomes more agitated.

Suddenly, thematic bits protrude ominously from various instruments, and the violins try to lead the journey into dark terrain with a slinky, elusive melody. The music goes through fitful episodes, with percolating riffs, pummeling percussion and gratingly dissonant clusters. Throughout, three sopranos (Eliza Bagg, Martha Cluver and Estelí Gomez) sing wordless lyrical fragments and soft sonorities, lending an eerily angelic touch. Mr. van Zweden drew a lush, suspenseful performance from the Philharmonic.

The orchestra’s two previous Project 19 premieres felt shoehorned into standard-repertory programs. This time, at least in the first half, Mr. van Zweden choose recent works that complemented Ms. Reid’s score.

Following the premiere, the star soprano Renée Fleming joined the orchestra as the soloist in two songs from the Swedish composer Anders Hillborg’s “The Strand Settings,” written for her, and two songs by Björk, orchestrated by Hans Ek. (Ms. Fleming recorded both works on her 2017 album “Distant Light.”)

Mr. Hillborg’s songs use sections of Mark Strand’s 45-part poem “Dark Harbor” as texts. One describes the “sickness of angels” during their “brief term on earth,” with final images of “kisses blown out of heaven.” The vocal lines shift from clipped, nearly declaimed passages to sensually lyrical phrases, elegantly rendered by Ms. Fleming and cushioned by the orchestra’s hazy, spiraling and pungent sounds. The other basks in nostalgia for a moment when two lovers felt safe from the elements. The text brought out Coplandesque musical warmth, with achingly lyrical lines written with Ms. Fleming’s sumptuous voice in mind.

The Björk song “Virus” likens a deep love to a virus that “needs a body.” Before singing it, Ms. Fleming spoke to the audience to say that, with a deadly virus breaking out in China, the song may now have disturbing overtones. The arrangement brought percolating animation to Björk’s music. Ms. Fleming, holding a hand microphone like a pop singer, performed it tenderly. She also sounded splendid in the wistfully romantic “All Is Full of Love.”

After intermission, Mr. van Zweden led the Philharmonic in Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony. The performance, though sometimes marred by shaky brass playing and Mr. van Zweden’s tendency to push the music forcefully, had impressive breadth, structural clarity and Wagnerian heft. But it felt like an entirely different concert.

New York Philharmonic

The program repeats through Saturday at David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center;

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A Billion-Dollar Scandal Turns the ‘King of Manuscripts’ Into the ‘Madoff of France’



Mr. Lhéritier seems an unlikely figure to spark this mania. He was raised in a small village in the east of France, the son of a plumber, and he wrote “self-taught” in the diplomas section of his Who’s Who entry. Other than some handsome volumes he published to hype his collection, there aren’t a lot of books in his home.

Which is a villa, valued at $6 million, with a swimming pool, a panoramic view of the coast and, rather incongruously, a number of chickens roaming the backyard. In an expansive living room crammed with photographs and art, a huge TV played a loop of burning logs, right next to a log-less, ornate hearth.

“It’s a good time to save money,” Mr. Lhéritier said with a shrug.

None of it belongs to him anymore. All of his assets have been confiscated by the authorities. A judge has allowed him to continue living here as his case is adjudicated.

But he seemed every bit the lord of the manor, wearing an electric-blue sport jacket over a Hitchcockian frame. With surprising serenity and flashes of wit, he argued that he was the victim of petty French officials, who he believes were embarrassed by and resented his success. The logic of his narrative could be hard to follow, and the facts maddeningly difficult to pin down. He lectured, backtracked, dissembled and fibbed. (In a postinterview email, he claimed to be 82 years old, for some reason.)

As Mr. Lhéritier thumbed endlessly through receipts, catalogs and lists, his show-and-tell lacked neither vigor nor conviction.

“One day, if you want to be a crook, ask me about it,” he said at one point, smiling. “Because it’s a lot of work.”

Seventeen years ago, Mr. Lhéritier crashed through the doors of the genteel market for manuscripts with all the subtlety of a famished wild boar. That Einstein collection was the first he divvied into virtual shares. Soon, representatives of Aristophil were rampaging through auctions around Europe and the United States, outbidding everyone for anything of quality.

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