History Book – From the Mayflower to Milli Vanilli

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Monday, November 16th. Good morning! You’re listening to The World and Everything in It. Thanks for joining us! I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Next up: The WORLD History Book. And what a stretch of history this one covers, from the 1600s to the 1990s.

EICHER: Bringing us a survey of events spanning from the Mayflower to Milli Vanilli, here’s WORLD senior correspondent Katie Gaultney.


KATIE GAULTNEY, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: While America is as divided as ever over politics today, at least we mostly agree on what model of government works best for the United States. It wasn’t so straightforward for the Pilgrims, who signed the Mayflower Compact 400 years ago this Saturday as a way to outline what sort of government they should adopt. 

An excerpt of William Bradford’s journal, Of Plymouth Plantation, read here for PBS, explains the purpose of the document: 

PBS CLIP: It was thought good there should be an association and agreement that we should combine together in one body and submit to such government and governors—as we should by common consent agree to make and choose…

The Mayflower had been bound for Plymouth Colony in Virginia, but harsh conditions made it necessary to dock in Massachusetts. As tensions between the Puritans and the non-Puritan passengers arose aboard the Mayflower, 41 passengers signed a social contract to ensure law, order, and their very survival. WORLD’s Myrna Brown recently spoke with Alan Smith, governor of the Georgia Mayflower Society, about how foundational the document was.  

SMITH: It really is the grandfather in so many ways of the guiding principles behind that declaration of independence, the Constitution, even the Articles of Confederation… They had the awareness that we are going to be a different kind of people that are not going to be defined strictly by your birth status. 

Next, we fast forward 360 years…

MUSIC: [VIVA LAS VEGAS by Elvis Presley]

The Sunset Strip in Las Vegas brings to mind glitzy casinos ablaze in neon. But on November 21, 1980, it wasn’t the marquis that lit up the sky. It was a catastrophic fire at the MGM Grand—now Bally’s Las Vegas—40 years ago this Saturday.


The hotel was crowded when a small fire began in a snack shop called The Deli. The show “Disaster Chronicles” explained how the fire quickly got out of control. 

DOCUMENTARY CLIP: Officials later estimated the fire traveled across the casino—the length of a football field—in less than 20 seconds.

Eighty-five people died in the blaze—most from smoke inhalation. Six hundred and fifty more sustained injuries. The fire inspector said the blaze spread so quickly because resort managers hadn’t installed enough sprinklers. 

DOCUMENTARY CLIP: If there’d have been sprinklers in there, we would have had some water damage pour down in that Deli area, and that would have been it. 

It remains the third-deadliest hotel fire in U.S. history, and the deadliest disaster in Nevada. The tragedy highlighted the need for more attention on high rise safety. Within a year of the MGM fire, the state of Nevada began requiring public buildings to have smoke detectors in rooms and elevators, and fire sprinklers and exit maps in hotel rooms. Today, Nevada is a leader in fire safety regulation.

MUSIC: [Girl You Know It’s True by Milli Vanilli]

Nowadays, with autotune and stylized pop stars, it’s not shocking to hear over-engineered vocal tracks or watch lip-synced performances. But three decades ago, scandal rocked the music world when a botched live performance revealed German-French pop duo Milli Vanilli was lip-synching. Shortly after, the truth came to light: frontmen Rob Pilatus and Fabrice Morvan hadn’t sung at all on their hit album. Session musicians provided all the vocals. 

Their debut hit, “Girl You Know It’s True,” catapulted the former back-up dancers to fame. Under the direction of music producer Frank Farian, Rob and Fab provided the look of a pop sensation and pretended to provide the sound. 

NEWS STORY: You may not recognize the names, but more than likely, you’ve heard their music. Milli Vanilli, the striking European duo that calls their style “melody rap,” has made it big in America.

Their single charted on the Billboard Hot 100 for 26 weeks, peaking at No. 2 in April 1989. 

GRAMMY AUDIO ARCHIVE: And the “Best New Artist” is… Milli Vanilli. 

It took a live performance in front of 80,000 in Connecticut for the scheme to unravel. The vocal track began skipping… 


And in what feels now like poetic justice, the word “true” never came. 

The fallout from the incident came swiftly and decisively, with media backlash and lawsuits demanding record refunds. 

NEWSCAST: One of the biggest con jobs in rock and roll history…

In fact, it was 30 years ago today that the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences stripped Milli Vanilli of its “Best New Artist” Grammy Award. 

That’s this week’s History Book. I’m Katie Gaultney.

(AP Photo/Nick Ut) Fab Morvan, left, and Rob Pilatus of Milli Vanilli hold up their Grammys for Best New Artists of 1989 during a Nov. 20, 1990 news conference in Hollywood. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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