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Country’s ‘Gentle Giant’ Don Williams Dies at 78

Country music singer Don Williams, one of the biggest stars of the 1970s and 1980s, died on Friday at the age of 78, his publicist said.

Williams, known as “the Gentle Giant” because of his 6-foot, 1-inch frame, mellow voice and low-key profile, had hits with Tulsa Time, I Believe in You and It Must Be Love over the course of a 50-year career.

He died on the same day as Troy Gentry, one half of the country music duo Montgomery Gentry, who was killed in a helicopter crash in New Jersey.

“2 legends lost at once. Troy Gentry and Don Williams will be missed so much. Praying for their families and may they rest in peace,” country-pop band Big & Rich wrote on Twitter.

The statement announcing his passing said Williams died of an undisclosed illness but gave no further details.

Williams was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2010 and released his last studio album, “Reflections,” in 2014.

Two years later, he announced his retirement from touring, saying it was “time to hang up my hat and enjoy some quiet time at home.”

Williams was a big influence on other musicians, spanning country to rock. Eric Clapton and Pete Townshend were among those who have recorded his music.

In 2016, a tribute album, “Gentle Giants: The Songs of Don Williams,” was released featuring performances by Alison Krauss, Trisha Yearwood, Garth Brooks and many others.

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Troy Gentry of Country Duo Montgomery Gentry Dies in Crash

Troy Gentry, one half of the award-winning country music duo Montgomery Gentry, died Friday in a helicopter crash just hours before a concert, according to a statement from the band’s website. He was 50.

The Federal Aviation Administration said the helicopter crashed into a wooded area near the Flying W Airport in Medford hours before Montgomery Gentry was due to perform at a resort that is also housed at the airport.

The band’s website called Gentry’s death “tragic” and said details of the crash are unknown.

“Troy Gentry’s family wishes to acknowledge all of the kind thoughts and prayers, and asks for privacy at this time,” the website said.

Medford Township Police Chief Richard Meder told NJ.com that police got a call at around 1 p.m. about a helicopter that was “distressed.”

He said crews were able to remove the passenger from the wreckage, but he died on the way to a hospital. The pilot died at the scene and crews were working to remove his body, Meder said.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether Gentry was the pilot or the passenger.

Gentry was born on April 5, 1967, in Lexington, Kentucky, where he met bandmate Eddie Montgomery and formed a group based off their last names.

Montgomery Gentry had success on the country charts and country radio in the 2000s, scoring No. 1 hits with Roll With Me, Back When I Knew It All, Lucky Man, Something to Be Proud Of and If You Ever Stop Loving Me. Some of the songs even cracked the Top 40 on the pop charts.

The band mixed country music with Southern rock. It was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 2009. The group released their debut album, “Tattoos & Scars,” in 1999.

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Hugh Jackman, Lupita Nyong’o to Co-host New York’s Global Citizen Fest

Hugh Jackman, Lupita Nyong’o, Aaron Paul and Demi Lovato will co-host this year’s Global Citizen Festival, an annual free event held in New York’s Central Park.

Performers at the Sept. 23 event include Stevie Wonder, Green Day, The Killers, The Lumineers, The Chainsmokers, Pharrell Williams, Big Sean, Andra Day and Alessia Cara.

The organization announced Friday that Frieda Pinto, Connie Britton, Deborra-lee Furness, Joan Smalls, Kal Penn, Malin Akerman, Mark Cuban and others will also co-host the multi-hour event. It will air live on MSNBC and Comcast NBCUniversal.

Fans can earn their free tickets for admission by joining the movement at globalcitizenfestival.com.

Last year, Jackman co-hosted the event with Neil Patrick Harris, Chelsea Handler and others. Performers at the 2016 concert included Rihanna, Eddie Vedder, Kendrick Lamar and Metallica.

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Apple Embarks on Emmy Quest With Big Bet on Video Streaming

Television is one of the few screens that has Apple hasn’t conquered, but that may soon change. The world’s richest company appears ready to aim for its own Emmy-worthy programming along the lines of HBO’s Game of Thrones and Netflix’s Stranger Things.

Apple lured longtime TV executives Jaime Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg away from Sony Corp. in June and has given them $1 billion to spend on original shows during the next year, according to a Wall Street Journal report quoting unnamed people.

The programming would be available only on a subscription channel, most likely bundled with the company’s existing Apple Music streaming service. Apple declined to comment.

While $1 billion is a lot of money, it’s a drop in the bucket for Apple and its $262 billion cash hoard. But it’s still enough to vault Apple into the top tier of tech-industry outsiders producing their own slates of television shows.

iTunes came first

Hollywood has long shuddered at the thought of Apple training its sights on TV the way it once did on the music business.

Almost 15 years ago, Apple’s then-CEO Steve Jobs convinced record labels to let the company sell digital music on its iTunes store for 99 cents a single, a deal the music industry was happy to take in the face of growing music piracy enabled by Napster. Over time, though, Apple’s dominance in digital music chafed music executives, who saw the company siphoning off a chunk of their profits.

Movies and television have proven much harder for Apple to crack. The company’s interest in transforming television has been an open secret for years, but Hollywood has so far spurned Apple’s efforts to make itself an indispensable digital middleman for video.

In a way, Netflix beat Apple to the punch with its groundbreaking video streaming service. Launched in 2007, that service pioneered “binge watching” of entire TV seasons on any device with an internet connection. That gave new life to existing shows such as Breaking Bad, whose creator credits Netflix with its survival , and spawned the creation of other series tailor-made for bingeing.

Netflix also helped unleash a crescendo of creativity in Hollywood. Follow-on rivals Amazon and Hulu also boast popular video streaming services, and mainstream broadcasters such as CBS and Walt Disney Co. — the owner of ABC and ESPN, among other networks — are also jumping in.

Pressure to act

All of that has increased the pressure on Apple to step up its game in TV — not least because the increasing popularity of streaming is hurting its business of renting and selling video from iTunes.

Apple “doesn’t want to be left behind,” said Debby Ruth, senior vice president of consumer research firm Magid. “This is a way for them to put a stake in the ground.”

This year, the company released its first two original series, Planet of the Apps and Carpool Karaoke, on its Apple Music service, which has 27 million subscribers. But neither show has generated much buzz or critical acclaim.

The recent hiring of Erlicht and Van Amburg signaled Apple’s intent to make bigger splash. The executives have helped orchestrate several TV hits, including AMC’s Breaking Bad, and more recently branched out into video streaming with The Crown, which landed on Netflix last year and is up for 13 Emmy nominations in this Sunday’s ceremony.

Apple also has a not-so-secret weapon: hundreds of millions of iPhones and iPads already in the hands of faithful fans. It could easily transform those into a marketing platform to lure users to its TV service.

But the company has a steep hill to climb.

Bigger players

 

Netflix has more than 100 million worldwide subscribers and a video library that will add 1,000 hours of original programming this year alone. And HBO has become the Emmys’ pacesetter since branching into original programming 20 years ago.

Both companies vastly outspend Apple’s reported $1 billion production budget. HBO spends about $2 billion annually on its programming, which garnered 111 nominations in this year’s Emmy Awards, more than any other network. Netflix, which boasts the second most Emmy nominations with 91, expects to spend $6 billion on programming this year.

Apple is still experimenting in TV, said Gene Munster, a longtime Apple watcher and managing partner with the research and venture capital firm Loup Ventures.

“In five years, I bet Apple will either be investing $10 billion a year in content or zero,” said Munster. “It’s going to be one or the other.”

Jobs’ legacy

Jobs discussed his ambitions to shake up TV with his biographer, Walter Issacson, shortly before his death in 2011.

“He very much wanted to do for television sets what he had done for computers, music players and phones: Make them simple and elegant,” Isaacson wrote.

But no Apple television ever materialized. Instead, Apple has periodically upgraded its Apple TV, which isn’t a television, just a video streaming player that connects to TVs. That device has been losing market share to other streaming players made by Roku, Amazon and Google, according to the research firm Park Associates.

Building a successful programming lineup could give Apple more leverage to license shows from other Hollywood production houses. It might even embolden the company to finally release its own streaming TV set.

Apple will presumably also want to emulate Netflix’s ability to exploit usage data to determine what it thinks audiences want to watch. Netflix’s data analysis has helped it attract 25.5 million more subscribers in the U.S. alone since the February 2013 debut of its first original series, House of Cards.

But if Apple decides it needs a little more help in video streaming, Munster thinks there’s in 1-in-3 chance that it will buy Netflix to instantly gain the cachet and expertise in TV programming that it craves.

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Top 5 Songs for Week Ending Sept. 9

This is the Top Five Countdown! We’re taking aim at the five most popular songs in the Billboard Hot 100 Pop Singles chart for the week ending September 9, 2017.

You’ll be glad you joined us this week because countdown history is made – this is one for the record books.

Number 5: Charlie Puth “Attention”

Charlie Puth rebounds a slot to fifth place with “Attention,” which tops this week’s Billboard Pop Songs chart.

How did Charlie know this song was a hit? His artist & repertoire partner Mike Beard tells Billboard that they usually have other people critique their songs…but this time they didn’t need to. They knew “Attention” was a winner.

Number 4: Imagine Dragons “Believer”

Also on the upswing is Imagine Dragons in fourth place with “Believer.” 

Lead singer Dan Reynolds says therapy has made him a better person. Dan says he went through a crisis of faith, which has now led him to fight on behalf of others. Last month, Imagine Dragons headlined their own festival, LoveLoud, which works to benefit LGBTQ youths…particularly within the Mormon community.

Number 3: Cardi B “Bodak Yellow (Money Moves)”

Holding in third place is Cardi B with “Bodak Yellow (Money Moves).”

Earlier this year the New York rapper signed with the Atlantic label, and now says her debut album will drop in October. She broke the news to her fans last weekend at the Made In America festival in Philadelphia.

Number 2: DJ Khaled Featuring Rihanna & Bryson Tiller ” Wild Thoughts”

DJ Khaled, Rihanna, and Bryson Tiller occupy the runner-up slot for another week with “Wild Thoughts.”

DJ Khaled tells E! News that he used to fear flying so much that he hadn’t stepped on a plane in 10 years. He says taking his infant son Asahd on tour has helped him overcome that fear. Khaled couldn’t bear to be apart from him, so he’s back in the air and feeling fine.

Number 1: Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee Featuring Justin Bieber “Despacito”

“Despacito” remains airborne for an incredible 16th week at number one, and yes…that ties the all-time Hot 100 record, set in late 1995 and early 1996 by Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men. The name of their song? “One Sweet Day.”

Next week looms large: what will happen on the Hot 100? We’ll be here to tell you so don’t miss a moment!

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Rwanda’s Largest Solar Field Also Empowers Orphans

In Rwanda, less than 15 percent of the population has access to electricity. In rural areas, it can be as low as one percent.

In order to increase Rwanda’s energy capacity, a 17-hectare solar field with 28,000 panels was constructed in six months in 2014 by private power companies.

It is East Africa’s first large-scale commercial solar field, bringing in 8.5 megawatts of power at its peak — four percent of the country’s total power capacity. The project has brought power to more than 15,000 homes.

“We are living in the world and we have to contribute or to eradicate or eliminate polluting the atmosphere,” said Twaha Twagirimana, plant supervisor for Scatec Solar, which operates the project. “We need energy, and we need clean energy.”

Twagirimana said this investment in solar power is a step toward reducing global warming. Rwanda’s power grid relies heavily on diesel fuel, which is expensive and bad for the environment.

According to Scatec Solar, the solar field reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 8,000 tons per year.

Orphanage land

Private homes aren’t the only ones to benefit from the project. The solar panels are on land owned by the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village.

The choice of the site, about 60 kilometers from the capital, Kigali, was no accident. The rent paid for the land helps vulnerable children and young adults who were orphaned during or after Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.

About 500 young Rwandans live, study and play on the 144-acre residential community.

Mediatilice Kaytitesi, the community’s art center and theater coordinator, says she uses art to help youth cope with their losses.

“It’s something that can help open the mind of the kids,” she said. “Some draw tears, which means they have the tears in their hearts, their wounds. You can see their expressions.”

Pascal Atismani Claudien lost his father in 2006 and his mother in 2010. He said he doesn’t exactly know why they died — just that they were sick.

“When I have a problem, I take a paper and a pencil and draw and that problem goes away. When I have stress, I draw or paint,” said Claudien, who is starting his final year of high school at the village. “And when I am painting or drawing, I feel very happy.”

The Agahozo Shalom Youth Village was modeled after similar ones built for orphans in Israel after the Holocaust. In the Rwandan language of Kinyarwanda, Agahozo means “tears are dried.” In Hebrew, Shalom means peace. 

“The mission was really to help bring back all the children who have lost parents and siblings and everything in their lives, to try to recreate the next best family that these children should have had, had their parents been alive,” explained Jean-Claude Nkulikiyimfura, the youth village’s executive director.

Claudien said he considers it more of a family than a school. “That’s why we call each other brothers and sisters,” he said.

Learning engineering

During his time at the school, Claudien visited the nearby solar panels and learned from the staff about how Rwanda’s largest solar field is positively impacting the country. He, himself, is from a small village with limited access to electricity.

About 50 students also received technical training at the solar field on engineering and solar technology to encourage them to work in green jobs in the future. 

The construction of the nearly $24 million solar field employed more than 350 Rwandan workers.

Gigawatt Global developed the project with early-stage funding from the U.S. government’s Power Africa initiative.

“Rwanda had the right leadership and the right conditions to be really the test case and the positive fruits of concept for the entire sub-Saharan Africa for commercial scale solar,” said Yosef Abramowitz, the CEO and founder of Gigawatt Global.

About 600 million Africans don’t have access to electricity, according to the International Energy Agency.

Rwanda’s government aspires to nearly triple its power capacity by the end of 2018, through renewable power sources like methane, hydro, mini-hydro, peat, thermal and more solar fields. 

In 2016, Rwanda partnered with developer Ignite Power to provide rooftop solar to 250,000 houses by the end of next year. Users will pay about $5 per month for the solar power system in a rent-to-own model.

Efforts like this will go toward the Rwandan government’s goal of bringing power to 70 percent of households.

Abramowitz said he’s convinced “solar is the future of Africa.” His firm wants to replicate this model throughout sub-Saharan Africa, increasing energy capacity while also benefiting the social good.

“There’s every reason in the world — economic, social and political — that solar should be the main generation source of energy on the continent,” he said.

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New Genetic Discovery May Eventually End Premature Birth

Researchers have found genetic mutations that affect whether a woman is likely to have her baby early or carry it to full term. 

Even late preterm babies, those born between 34 and 36 weeks of gestation, are more likely to die or experience problems, even if they are the size and weight of some full-term infants born after 37 to 41 weeks in the womb. 

Preterm birth is the leading cause of death among children younger than 5 worldwide. These babies have higher death rates even into adolescence and beyond.

Several studies show health problems related to preterm birth persist through adult life, problems such as chronic lung disease, developmental handicaps, vision and hearing losses. The World Health Organization reports that every year, an estimated 15 million babies are born early, and this number is rising. Until now, little was known about the causes, but these findings could help solve the mystery.

Beginning of a journey

Dr. Louis Muglia coordinated the study of the DNA of more than 50,000 pregnant women. The study identified six gene regions, which influence the length of pregnancy and the timing of birth. While the study doesn’t provide information about how to prevent prematurity, Muglia says it could eventually do that. 

“It’s just the beginning of the journey, but at least we know now, what the foundation is,” he says.

Muglia is co-director of the Perinatal Institute, which focuses on preterm babies, at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. He’s also the principal investigator of one of the March of Dimes’ five prematurity research centers. The March of Dimes helped pay for the study along with the National Institutes of Health, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other medical research institutes.

Muglia said scientists have known for a long time that preterm birth is a combination of genetic and environmental factors. This study showed the genes involved were from the mother. 

“For the first time, we have an idea of what tissue in the mom is the one that is likely driving the one for preterm birth,” Muglia says.

Selenium

One of the genes identified is involved in how the body uses selenium, a common mineral provided in food or supplements, but not currently included in vitamins women commonly take while pregnant. Selenium supplements are low-cost, and if the results are confirmed, this supplement could save millions of lives. Supplements including folic acid have been shown to greatly reduce birth defects, so much so that food in many countries is fortified with this particular B vitamin.

Another gene indicated that cells that line the uterus play a larger-than-expected role in the length of pregnancy.

The researchers were from the U.S. and from Norway, Denmark, Finland and Sweden. They only tested women of European descent, so more work needs to be done involving women of other races and ethnic origins. 

But their study does open up areas for researching potential diagnostic tests, new medications, improved dietary supplements or other changes that could help more women have full-term pregnancies, all areas which will require several more years of study.

The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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New Genetic Discovery May Someday End Premature Birth

An international team of researchers has identified — for the first time — six genes that determine the length of pregnancy and whether a baby is born preterm. Preterm birth is a major cause of infant death and disability. Now, as VOA’s Carol Pearson reports, scientists may have clues about preventing prematurity.

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