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Bill Monroe, father of bluegrass music, was born 112 years ago today
Bill Monroe, Last Winter, 1995, Goodlettsville, Tennessee
Photo by Marty Stuart
Bill Monroe, father of bluegrass music, was born 112 years ago today.
Monroe created bluegrass, which takes its name from his band, the "Blue Grass Boys," named for Monroe's home state of Kentucky. His performing career spanned 60 years as a singer, instrumentalist, composer and bandleader.
Monroe was born on his family's farm near Rosine, Kentucky, the youngest of eight children of James Buchanan "Buck" and Malissa (Vandiver) Monroe. His mother and her brother, Pendleton "Pen" Vandiver, were both musically talented, and Monroe and his family grew up playing and singing at home.
Because his older brothers, Birch and Charlie, already played the fiddle and guitar, Bill was resigned to playing the less desirable mandolin. He recalled that his brothers insisted he should remove four of the mandolin's eight strings so he would not play too loudly.
Monroe's mother died when he was ten, followed by his father six years later. As his brothers and sisters moved away, after bouncing among uncles and aunts, Monroe settled in with his disabled uncle, Pendleton Vandiver, often accompanying him when Vandiver played the fiddle at dances.
This experience inspired one of Monroe's most famous compositions, "Uncle Pen," recorded in 1950, and the 1972 album, "Bill Monroe's Uncle Pen." On that album, Monroe recorded a number of traditional fiddle tunes he had often heard performed by Vandiver.
Uncle Pen has been credited with giving Monroe "a repertoire of tunes that sank into Bill's aurally trained memory and a sense of rhythm that seeped into his bones."
Also significant in Monroe's musical life was Arnold Shultz, an influential fiddler and guitarist who introduced Monroe to the blues.
In 1929, Monroe moved to Indiana to work at an oil refinery with his brothers Birch, Charlie and childhood friend and guitarist, William "Old Hickory" Hardin. Together with a friend, Larry Moore, they formed a musical group, the Monroe Brothers, to play at local dances and house parties.
Birch Monroe and Larry Moore soon left the group, and Bill and Charlie carried on as a duo, eventually winning spots performing live on radio stations — first in Indiana and then, sponsored by Texas Crystals, on several radio broadcasts in Iowa, Nebraska, South Carolina and North Carolina 1934 to 1936.
RCA Victor signed the Monroe Brothers to a recording contract in 1936. They scored an immediate hit single with the gospel song, "What Would You Give In Exchange For Your Soul?," and ultimately recorded 60 tracks for Victor's Bluebird label between 1936 and 1938.
After the Monroe Brothers disbanded in 1938, Bill Monroe formed The Kentuckians in Little Rock, Arkansas, but the group only lasted for three months. Monroe then left Little Rock for Atlanta to form the first edition of the Blue Grass Boys with singer/guitarist Cleo Davis, fiddler Art Wooten and bassist Amos Garren.
Bill had wanted "Old Hickory" to become one of the original members of his "Blue Grass Boys," however William Hardin had to decline.
In October, 1939, Monroe successfully auditioned for a regular spot on the Grand Ole Opry, impressing Opry founder, George D. Hay, with his energetic performance of Jimmie Rodgers's "Mule Skinner Blues.” Monroe recorded that song, along with seven others, at his first solo recording session for RCA Victor in 1940.
By this time, the Blue Grass Boys consisted of singer/guitarist Clyde Moody, fiddler Tommy Magness and bassist Bill Wesbrooks. While the fast tempos and instrumental virtuosity characteristic of bluegrass music are apparent even on these early tracks, Monroe was still experimenting with the sound of his group.
He seldom sang lead vocals on his Victor recordings, often preferring to contribute high tenor harmonies as he had in the Monroe Brothers. A 1945 session for Columbia Records featured an accordion, soon dropped from the band.
Most importantly, while Monroe added banjo player, David "'Stringbean" Akeman, to the Blue Grass Boys in 1942, Akeman played the instrument in a relatively primitive style and was rarely featured in instrumental solos.
A key development occurred in Monroe's music with the addition of North Carolina banjo prodigy, Earl Scruggs, to the Blue Grass Boys in December, 1945. Scruggs played the instrument with a distinctive three-finger picking style that immediately caused a sensation among Opry audiences.
Scruggs joined a highly accomplished group that included singer/guitarist, Lester Flatt, and would soon include fiddler, Chubby Wise, and bassist, Howard Watts, who often performed under the name "Cedric Rainwater."
In retrospect, this lineup of the Blue Grass Boys has been dubbed the "Original Bluegrass Band," as Monroe's music finally included all the elements that characterize the genre, including breakneck tempos, sophisticated vocal harmony arrangements and impressive instrumental proficiency demonstrated in solos or "breaks" on the mandolin, banjo and fiddle.
By this point, Monroe had acquired the 1923 Gibson F5 model "Lloyd Loar" mandolin which became his trademark instrument for the remainder of his career.
The 28 songs recorded by this version of the Blue Grass Boys for Columbia Records in 1946 and 1947 soon became classics of the genre, including "Toy Heart," "Blue Grass Breakdown," "Molly and Tenbrooks,” "Wicked Path of Sin," "My Rose of Old Kentucky," "Little Cabin Home on the Hill" and Monroe's most famous song, "Blue Moon of Kentucky.”
The last-named was recorded by Elvis Presley in 1954, appearing as the B-side of his first single for Sun Records. Monroe gave his blessing to Presley's rock-and-roll cover of the song, originally a slow ballad in waltz time, and in fact re-recorded it himself with a faster arrangement after Presley's version became a hit.
In 1949, after signing with Decca Records, Monroe quickly regrouped after Flatt and Scruggs left, entering the "golden age" of his career with what many consider the classic "high lonesome" version of the Blue Grass Boys.
The band featured the lead vocals and rhythm guitar of Jimmy Martin, the banjo of Rudy Lyle (replacing Don Reno), and fiddlers such as Merle "Red" Taylor, Charlie Cline, Bobby Hicks and Vassar Clements.
More than 150 musicians played in the Blue Grass Boys over the nearly 60 years of Monroe's performing career. Monroe tended to recruit promising young musicians who served an apprenticeship with him before becoming accomplished artists in their own right.
Some of Monroe's band members who went on to greater prominence include singer/guitarists Clyde Moody, Lester Flatt, Jack Cook, Mac Wiseman, Jimmy Martin, Carter Stanley, Del McCoury, Peter Rowan, Roland White, Roland Dunn and Doug Green.
Banjo players included Earl Scruggs, Don Reno, Sonny Osborne and Bill Keith; and fiddlers Tommy Magness, Chubby Wise, Vassar Clements, Byron Berline, Kenny Baker, Bobby Hicks, Gordon Terry and Glen Duncan. Monroe also regularly performed with flat-picking guitar virtuoso, Doc Watson.
Monroe suffered a stroke in April, 1996, effectively ending his touring and playing career. He died on September 9, 1996, only four days before his 85th birthday.
Here, Monroe performs “Blue Moon of Kentucky” at Farm Aid, 1990
“He was playing this song called ‘The Chicken Reel,’ and all these chickens started hanging around him. I originally wanted to back his limousine from out in front of his cabin, but it wouldn’t start, and there were two bales of hay in the back.”
— Marty Stuart, laughing, on his 1995 shot of Bill Monroe
Fiona Apple with her dog, Janet
Fiona Apple is 46 years old today.
Classically trained on piano as a child, Apple began composing her own songs when she was eight years old. Her debut album, Tidal, written when Apple was 17, was released in 1996 and received a Grammy Award for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance for the single "Criminal."
She followed with When the Pawn... (1999), produced by Jon Brion, which was also critically and commercially successful and was certified platinum.
For her third album, Extraordinary Machine (2005), Apple again collaborated with Brion, and began recording the album in 2002. However, Apple was reportedly unhappy with the production and opted not to release the record, leading fans to erroneously protest Epic Records, believing that the label was withholding its release.
The album was eventually re-produced without Brion and released in October, 2005. The album was certified gold, and nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Album.
In 2012, she released her fourth studio album, The Idler Wheel, which received critical praise and was followed by a tour of the United States.
Here, Apple performs “Criminal.”
Jacqueline Bisset, British actress, is 78 years old today.
In 2010, she received one of France's highest honors, the Légion d'honneur.
Bisset began her film career in 1965 and first came to prominence in 1968, starring opposite Frank Sinatra in The Detective and Steve McQueen in Bullitt, and received a most promising newcomer Golden Globe nomination for The Sweet Ride.
In the 1970s, she appeared in François Truffaut's Day for Night (1973) which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Murder on the Orient Express (1974), opposite Nick Nolte in The Deep (1977) and received a Golden Globe nomination for Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? (1978).
Other film and TV credits include Rich and Famous (1981), Class (1983), Under the Volcano (1984), La Cérémonie (1995), Joan of Arc (1999) and the BBC miniseries, Dancing on the Edge (2013).
Bisset is godmother to actress Angelina Jolie. She has never married, though she has had lengthy romances with actor Michael Sarrazin, Russian-American dancer and actor, Alexander Godunov, real estate magnate Victor Drai, actor Vincent Pérez and the martial arts instructor, Emin Boztepe.
"I feel like I was married to them because I was very dedicated to them," she said in a 2008 interview. "But I also used to feel claustrophobic. Like many people who don't easily commit, I think I had a fear of being known. I was not sure there was anybody inside there."
Barbara Bain, the sultry Cinnamon Carter on Mission: Impossible in the 1960s, is 92 years old today.
Bain was born Millicent Fogel in Chicago, the daughter of Russian-Jewish immigrants. She graduated from the University of Illinois with a bachelor's degree in sociology.
Developing an interest in dance, she moved to New York City, where she studied alongside Martha Graham. Dissatisfied with her career as a dancer, she went into modeling. Jobs with Vogue, Harper's and other publications followed.
Still uninspired, however, Bain entered the Theater Studio to study acting — first under Curt Conway and then Lonny Chapman. Progressing to the Actors Studio, she was instructed by Lee Strasberg. Bain's first acting role was in Paddy Chayevsky's play, Middle of the Night, which embarked on a national tour in October, 1957.
Accompanying Bain was fellow actor and newly-acquired husband, Martin Landau. The final leg of the tour brought the couple to Los Angeles, where they settled permanently. After relocating, Bain established herself at the Actors Studio West, where she continues to teach classes and perform scene work.
Bain's earliest television appearances included CBS's Tightrope, with Mike Connors, and three ABC series: The Law and Mr. Jones with James Whitmore, Adventures in Paradise with Gardner McKay and Straightaway with Brian Kelly and John Ashley.
She guest-starred as Madelyn Terry in a 1960 episode of Perry Mason, "The Case of the Wary Wildcatter," and in 1964 played the role of Elayna Scott in "The Case of the Nautical Knot".
Between 1966 and 1969, Bain appeared — alongside her then husband, Martin Landau — in the major role of Cinnamon Carter in Mission: Impossible. She won three consecutive Emmy Awards for Best Dramatic Actress for her performance in 1967, 1968 and 1969, in addition to a Golden Globe Award nomination in 1968.
Bain married Landau in 1957 and they divorced in 1993. The couple had two daughters, actress, Juliet Landau, and film producer, Susan Bain Landau Finch (born Susan Meredith Landau).
Bain is of the Jewish faith. She has contributed to many charitable causes, including literacy.
On April 28, 2016, Bain was honored with the 2,579th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, located at 6767 Hollywood Blvd. Lifelong friends Edward Asner and Dick Van Dyke were on hand to speak and assist in the unveiling of the star.
Arnold Schoenberg, composer and painter, was born 149 years ago today.
Schoenberg was an Austrian composer and painter, associated with the expressionist movement in German poetry and art, and leader of the Second Viennese School. With the rise of the Nazi Party, Schoenberg's works — by 1938 — were labelled as degenerate music because he was Jewish. He moved to the United States in 1934.
Schoenberg's approach, both in terms of harmony and development, has been one of the most influential of 20th century musical thought. Many European and American composers from at least three generations have consciously extended his thinking, whereas others have passionately reacted against it.
Schoenberg was known early in his career for simultaneously extending the traditionally opposed German Romantic styles of Brahms and Wagner. Later, his name would come to personify innovations in atonality (although Schoenberg himself detested that term) that would become the most polemical feature of the period’s art music.
In the 1920s, Schoenberg developed the twelve-tone technique, an influential compositional method of manipulating an ordered series of all twelve notes in the chromatic scale. He also coined the term “developing variation” and was the first modern composer to embrace ways of developing motifs without resorting to the dominance of a centralized melodic idea.
Schoenberg was also a painter, an important music theorist and an influential teacher of composition. His students included Alban Berg, Anton Webern, Hanns Eisler, Egon Wellesz, and later John Cage, Lou Harrison, Earl Kim and Leon Kirchner.
Many of Schoenberg's practices, including the formalization of compositional method and his habit of openly inviting audiences to think analytically, are echoed in avant-garde musical thought.
His views of music history and aesthetics were crucial to many significant musicologists and critics, including Theodor W. Adorno, Charles Rosen and Carl Dahlhaus, as well as the pianists Artur Schnabel, Rudolf Serkin, Eduard Steuermann and Glenn Gould.
Schoenberg's archival legacy is collected at the Arnold Schönberg Center in Vienna. He died in July, 1951.
Don Was is 71 years old today.
Was is a musician and record producer. Primarily a bass player, he led the 1980s funk rock band, Was (Not Was). In later years, he produced songs and albums for a large number of popular recording artists. In 2012, he became president of jazz music label, Blue Note Records.
Born in Detroit, Was graduated from Oak Park High School in the Detroit suburb of Oak Park, then attended the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor but dropped out after the first year. A journeyman musician, he grew up listening to the Detroit blues sound and the jazz music of John Coltrane and Miles Davis.
Using the stage name, "Don Was," he formed the group Was (Not Was) with school friend, David Weiss (David Was). The group found commercial success in the 1980s — releasing four albums and having several hit records. A jazz/R&B album of Hank Williams covers, "Forever's A Long, Long Time" was released in 1997, under the name Orquestra Was.
Was served as music director and/or consultant for several motion pictures such as Thelma and Louise, The Rainmaker, Hope Floats, Phenomenon, Tin Cup, Honeymoon in Vegas, 8 Seconds, Switch, The Freshman, Days of Thunder, Michael, Prêt-à-Porter, Boys on the Side, Toy Story and The Paper.
Was produced several albums for Bonnie Raitt, the, Under the Red Sky, album for Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones albums, Voodoo Lounge, Stripped, Bridges to Babylon, Forty Licks, Live Licks and A Bigger Bang. He also worked on the Rolling Stones's reissues, Exile on Main Street, released in May, 2010 and Some Girls released in October, 2011.
Was scoured old master recordings of the albums for lost gems, remastering some songs while producing entirely new vocals and tracks on others.
In January, 2012, Was was appointed president of the jazz record label, Blue Note Records, in succession to Bruce Lundvall.
On November 18, 2015, at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington DC, he led the house band that performed at a concert celebrating Willie Nelson, recipient of the 2015 Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.
David Clayton-Thomas is 82 years old today.
Clayton-Thomas is a Canadian musician, singer and songwriter, best known as the lead vocalist for Blood, Sweat & Tears. His major hit was his 1968 jazz/rock composition, "Spinning Wheel."
Clayton-Thomas began his music career in the early '60s, working the clubs on Toronto's Yonge Street, where he discovered his love of singing and playing the blues. Before moving to New York City in 1967, Clayton-Thomas fronted a couple of local bands, first The Shays and then The Bossmen, one of the earliest rock bands with significant jazz influences.
But his real success came only a few difficult years later when he joined Blood, Sweat & Tears.
Clayton-Thomas's first album with the band, Blood, Sweat & Tears (which was released in December, 1968) – despite the self-titled name, actually the band's second album – sold ten million copies worldwide. The record topped the Billboard album chart for seven weeks, and charted for 109 weeks.
It featured three hit singles, "You Made Me So Very Happy," "Spinning Wheel" and "And When I Die." Each peaked at #2 and lasted 13 weeks on the charts as did a rendition of Billie Holiday's, "God Bless The Child".
With Clayton-Thomas fronting the band, BS&T continued with a string of hit albums, including Blood, Sweat & Tears 3 which featured Carole King's "Hi-De-Ho" and Clayton-Thomas's "Lucretia MacEvil," and Blood, Sweat & Tears 4, which yielded another Clayton-Thomas penned hit single, "Go Down Gamblin.'"
In 2004, Clayton-Thomas left New York for Toronto and launched an All-Star 10-piece band.
Since then, he has toured and recorded almost a dozen albums under his own name.
Here, Clayton-Thomas performs “Spinning Wheel” in 1969.
On this day in 1980 — 43 years ago — country music artist Willie Nelson and his band performed at the White House with President Jimmy Carter in attendance.
Later that night, unbeknownst to the president, Nelson retired to the White House roof to smoke a joint. A fan of Nelson's music, Carter frequently attended the singer's concerts and invited Nelson to stay at the White House during his presidency. The two formed a friendship that continued after Carter left the White House in 1980.
In 2004, Carter told reporter Beverly Keel from Rolling Stone magazine that while under immense pressure as president he would relax in his study, tying flies for fishing while listening to Nelson's music. "All the good things I did as president, all the mistakes I made — you can blame half of that on Willie," said the former president.
Carter and Nelson shared a common background. Both grew up in the South and worked as blacksmiths and at picking cotton. Nelson felt equal admiration for Carter and told Keel that Carter was his "favorite president...he did a great job."
In 1980, Carter invited Nelson to perform on the South Lawn of the White House. A week later, The New York Times reported on an unusual event that raised a few eyebrows among Washington's conservative set — first lady Rosalynn Carter had joined Nelson for a duet.
Her "soft soprano" complemented Nelson's "nasal baritone." The president and many in the audience joined in heartily as Nelson and Rosalynn sang "Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother."
Nelson, whom The New York Times dubbed the "king of outlaw country," had never made a secret of his use of marijuana and supported the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
In his biography, Nelson admitted to lighting up a "big fat Austin torpedo" (slang for a marijuana cigarette) whenever he stayed overnight at the White House.
Carter claimed not to have known of Nelson's after-hours tokes on the White House roof, saying he and Willie never discussed the singer's drug use. (During the 1976 campaign, Carter had called for the decriminalization of marijuana.)
However, as Nelson himself admitted in later interviews, Secret Service agents kept a close eye on Nelson whenever he indulged in his nightly habit at the White House.