Burl Ives, prominent folk singer and actor, was born 114 years ago today
Burl Ives and Paul Newman in Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, 1958
The pair focus on “mendacity” — the fabric of lies that many families and groups weave to protect themselves.
Burl Ives, prominent folk singer and actor, was born 114 years ago today.
To almost anyone born in the 1950s or later, Ives is best known for his voiceover work as the jovial “Sam the Snowman” in the Rankin-Bass-animated Christmas special, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
But Ives's "Holly Jolly Christmas" phase came relatively late in a very long and interesting career during which he helped to both usher in the folk-music revival of the 1940s and 50s and undermine it during the height of the anti-Communist Red Scare.
Asked about the beginning of his interest in music, Ives once said, "There wasn't any beginning."
Born near Hunt City, Illinois, Ives was surrounded from birth by a large, music-loving family and he began singing in public for loose change at the age four. With a massive library of Scots-Irish folk ballads in his head and no further interest in pursuing his formal education, Ives quit college in 1929 to become an itinerant banjo-playing folk singer.
In 1937, having visited and performed in 46 of the 48 United States, Ives went to New York City, where he would become an important part of the budding folk-revival movement.
In New York, Ives fell in with a group of folk and blues musicians that included Pete Seeger, Josh White, Alan Lomax and Lead Belly, often performing in union halls and at benefits for everything from Spanish Civil War refugees to Kentucky coal miners and Alabama sharecroppers.
The leftist politics that went hand-in-hand with the early folk revival, however, would come back to haunt Ives a decade later, when he was named in 1950 as a Communist sympathizer in the infamous Red Channels list along with Seeger, White, Lomax and others from the folk scene.
By this time, Ives was an established recording star, best-known for popularizing songs like "Blue Tail Fly" and "Big Rock Candy Mountain" and for more than a dozen popular albums of traditional folk songs, children's songs and hymns on both the Columbia and Decca record labels.
He would go on to record and release many more successful albums, to publish several canonical books of collected folk songs and to earn acclaim as an actor on Broadway, where he originated the role of Big Daddy in Tennessee Williams' “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof.”
In Hollywood, he reprised the Big Daddy role on film and also won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role opposite Gregory Peck in 1958's The Big Country.
None of his success in the 1950s and beyond would have been possible, however, had Ives not chosen to cooperate with and "name names" to the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1952.
While others named by Red Channels would lose their livelihoods to the anti-Communist blacklist — Pete Seeger, most prominently — Ives would repudiate his early connections to the Communist Party while naming several associates from the 1930s New York folk scene as Communist sympathizers.
He stated that he was not a member of the Communist Party, but that he had attended various union meetings with fellow folk singer Pete Seeger simply to stay in touch with working folk. He stated: "You know who my friends are; you will have to ask them if they are Communists."
Ives's statement to the HUAC ended his blacklisting, allowing him to continue acting in movies. But it also led to a bitter rift between Ives and many folk singers, including Seeger, who accused Ives of betraying them and the cause of cultural and political freedom in order to save his own career. Ives countered by saying he had simply stated what he had always believed.
Ive’s acting career took on memorable proportions when he was cast as Big Daddy in the film of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” He nailed the concept of “mendacity” — the woven fabric of lies that many families weave for themselves — with this line:
“What’s that smell in this room? Didn’t you notice it, Brick? Didn’t you notice the powerful and obnoxious odor of mendacity in this room?”
Ives was a renowned pipe smoker. The cover of his first album depicted a pipe and a fishing hat with the words "Burl Ives" in between. He also smoked cigars.
In the summer of 1994, he was diagnosed with oral cancer after being hospitalized for back surgery. After several operations, he decided against having further surgery. In April, 1995 he fell into a coma.
Ives died from complications of oral cancer on April 14, 1995 at the age of 85 at his home in Anacortes, Washington.
Here, Ives appears with Johnny Cash on his TV show in 1970
Pete Seeger and Burl Ives perform together in 1993 after more than 40 years
Burl Ives was identified in the infamous 1950 pamphlet, Red Channels, as an entertainer with supposed Communist ties.
In 1952, under considerable pressure, Ives cooperated with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and named fellow folk singer Pete Seeger and others as possible Communists. Ives’ cooperation with the HUAC ended his blacklisting, allowing him to continue with his movie acting.
It also led to a bitter rift between Ives and many folk singers, including Seeger, who felt that Ives had betrayed them and the cause of cultural and political freedom in order to save his own career.
Seeger was blacklisted from TV and movie work for 17 years. Ives went on to Broadway roles and Oscar-winning movie performances, not to mention stature as the face of American folk music until the emergence of Bob Dylan around 1961.
Seeger lashed back in a 1957 review of an album of sea shanties by Ives, in which he accused Ives of "fingering, like any common stool pigeon,” some of his associates of the early '40s.
He did this “not because he wanted to, but because he felt it was the only way to preserve his lucrative contracts," Seeger wrote. The review called Ives "gross, gargantuan, talented and clever" and "not quite intelligent enough to be honorable."
Twenty seven years ago, the bitterness ended. The then ailing Ives, 84, and Pete Seeger, 74, were reunited in a benefit concert in New York City. They sang "Blue Tail Fly" together. Following Ives' death in 1995, Seeger praised his tenor voice and the role it played in keeping so many important American songs alive. Pressed to reopen the HUAC controversy, Seeger would only tell an NPR interviewer that on some matters "it's time to move on with your lives."
The benefit concert, called Folk Songs USA, was at New York’s 92nd Street Y. Others on the bill included Oscar Brand, Theodore Bikel, Art Garfunkel, the Chad Mitchell Trio, Odetta, Tom Paxton, Paul Robeson Jr., Eric Weissberg and Josh White, Jr.
Mike Kobluk of the Chad Mitchell Trio remembered that day:
“We were aware of 'tension' in the hall as the rehearsal time approached. Burl Ives, confined to a wheel chair, was wheeled out onto the stage for his sound check. Pete, sitting in the audience with the rest of us, rose, took his banjo and made his way onto the stage. After a quiet word with Burl, gave him a hug and suggested they rehearse the couple of songs they'd sing together at the end. There wasn't a dry eye in the place. It was a very emotional, absolutely beautiful moment.”
No more than four months later, Burl Ives passed away.
Country Joe and the Fish…Barry Melton is on the far right
Barry "The Fish" Melton is 76 years old today.
Co-founder (1965) and original lead guitarist of Country Joe and The Fish, Melton appears on all the Country Joe and The Fish recordings and also wrote some of the songs that the band recorded. He appeared in the films made at Monterey Pop and Woodstock, and also appeared as an outlaw in the neo-Western film, Zachariah, and other films in which Country Joe and the Fish appear. Melton is also a founding member of The Dinosaurs.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Melton is the son of Taube "Tillie" and James Melton. His mother was from an East Coast Jewish family (her parents were from Odessa) and his father was from a Texas pioneer family and shares ancestry in colonial Virginia with George Washington, as well as deep roots in Ireland.
Instead of attending law school, Melton completed the correspondence program of La Salle Extension University. Following a brief tenure as a California deputy state public defender from 1998-1999, he took a position with Yolo County, California, eventually retiring in 2009 as the county's chief public defender.
Since then, he has resumed private practice and worked as a subcontractor for Lake Defense, the contract provider of indigent defense services in Lake County, California. He is certified as a specialist in criminal law by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization.
Melton also continues to be active in music. Since 2001, he has performed in Italy, England, France, Thailand and Russia (including a performance with the Russian band Crossroadz in Moscow). He often appears with his own band, mainly around northern California, and generally tours Europe briefly in the summer. Peter Albin of Big Brother and The Holding Company has continued to play with Melton for over 40 years.
Here is Country Joe and the Fish at Woodstock, 1969
Spooner Oldam, 2015
Photo by Frank Beacham
Spooner Oldham is 80 years old today.
A songwriter, session musician and organist, Oldham recorded in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, at FAME Studios as part of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section on such hit R&B songs as "When a Man Loves a Woman” by Percy Sledge; "Mustang Sally" by Wilson Pickett; and "I Never Loved a Man" by Aretha Franklin.
As a songwriter, Oldham teamed with Dan Penn to write such hits as "Cry Like a Baby" (the Box Tops), "I'm Your Puppet" (James and Bobby Purify) and "A Woman Left Lonely" and "It Tears Me Up" (Percy Sledge).
A native of Center Star, Alabama, Oldham started out playing piano in bands during high school. He then attended classes at the University of North Alabama, but turned instead to playing at FAME Studios. He relocated to Memphis in 1967 and teamed up with Penn at Chips Moman's American Studios.
Oldham later moved to Los Angeles and has continued to be a sought-after backing musician, recording and performing with such artists as Bob Dylan, Delaney Bramlett, Willy DeVille, Joe Cocker, the Hacienda Brothers, Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne, the Everly Brothers, Bob Seger, Dickey Betts, Cat Power, J. J. Cale and Frank Black.
Frequently a backing musician for Neil Young, he played on Young's critically acclaimed 1992 album, Harvest Moon. Oldham also appeared in the concert film, Neil Young: Heart of Gold, and backed Crosby Stills Nash & Young on their 2006 "Freedom of Speech" tour.
In 2007, Oldham toured with the Drive-By Truckers on their "The Dirt Underneath" tour. In 2008, Oldham played on Last Days at the Lodge, the third album released by folk/soul singer Amos Lee. In May, 2011, Oldham backed Pegi Young on a six-show tour of California.
Here, Oldham and Dan Penn perform “I’m Your Puppet”
Photos by Frank Beacham
Due to a simple ploy by George Lineberry — a talented young white dancer — black music found its way onto the jukeboxes in the white dance halls and pavilions along the Carolina beaches after World War II.
“Big George,” as he was nicknamed, was hired to install records on the coin-operated jukeboxes, then called “piccolos,” for a local amusements company in Myrtle Beach.
Lineberry was told which records to place on specific jukeboxes. Playlists were strict in this time of segregation. Black music in the day was forbidden from the jukeboxes in white establishments and was designated for black clubs only.
Lineberry ignored his bosses and took it upon himself to switch records, placing the most popular black records from the jukeboxes in the black clubs, including the infamous Charlie’s Place, to the jukeboxes in the white dance halls.
It was at Charlie’s Place that a handful of adventurous young black & white dancers — with the help of a fearless black nightclub owner named Charlie Fitzgerald — risked their lives due to a threat from the Ku Klux Klan not to mix races. Defying the segregationists, they created a new dance and an enduring Southern musical legacy.
It was this quiet switcharoo of records at the area’s jukeboxes by Lineberry — and Lineberry alone — that changed music along the Atlantic coast beaches for generations to come.
Big George, who died in 1999 at the age of 76, was an immensely popular fixture at the beach at the time. He was often slipped a few bucks by concerned parents to dance with a daughter who needed a boost in self-esteem. With great ceremony, he made it a point to “test” each new record installation with a personal spin on the dance floor.
He often single handedly introduced new black records to white audiences living in the Jim Crow era of segregation.
Soon after Lineberry serviced the jukeboxes along the Carolina coast, the “forbidden” race music — soon to be called rhythm and blues — could be heard only at the beach joints. It quickly became known as “beach music.”
As a dancer, Lineberry was also a major contributor to what today is known as the “shag,” the state dance of the Carolinas. “I first heard the term shag at Charlie’s Place,” Lineberry, who left the beach in 1948, told me in an interview. “They called it the shag on the Hill (Charlie’s Place). I think the shag and dirty shag came out of Charlie’s nightclub.”
Lineberry, who was a first generation member of the Shaggers Hall of Fame, had warm memories of his nights at Charlie’s Place — many ending at daylight. “Charlie once told me, ‘George, you got a little black in you.’ I knew the black music had a better beat. It would turn me on a little more. I was the best at the belly roll and the dirty shag. I could lay it on them.”
In fact, Lineberry is credited with inventing the belly roll as used in the modern shag.
For young Dino Thompson, the belly roll — or “vertical sex” as it was also called — was the ultimate shag step, a move that was perfected by Lineberry at Charlie’s Place. In his personal memoir, Greek Boy, Thompson offers a description of the belly roll: “Boy pulls girl close enough to touch belly buttons. Then, in rhythm, they throw one leg out together, then the other. Slick and sexy.”
The belly roll and a 10-cent song on the jukebox, recalled Thompson, was “your license for romance. Pick out the girl of your dreams, lead her out to the dance floor, ease her out of a fast sweaty pivot into a tight belly roll and bruise your excited private parts all up against hers. Then, right as the lyrics get down and dirty, burn her down with your Tyrone Power eyes.”
Lineberry later turned his love of music and dance into a career. He owned and operated Southern Amusement Corp. in Virginia Beach, Virginia. An avid shagger until he died, Lineberry later gave his fellow dancers their own jukeboxes loaded with their favorite music as a gift.
Lineberry’s story is in Charlie’s Place, one of the stories in my book, Whitewash: A Southern Journey Through Music, Mayhem and Murder
Ernesto "Che" Guevara was born 95 years ago today.
An Argentine Marxist revolutionary, physician, author, guerrilla leader, diplomat and military theorist, Guevara was a major figure of the Cuban Revolution. His stylized visage has become a ubiquitous countercultural symbol of rebellion and global insignia in popular culture.
As a young medical student, Guevara traveled throughout South America and was radicalized by the poverty, hunger and disease he witnessed. His burgeoning desire to help overturn what he saw as the capitalist exploitation of Latin America by the United States prompted his involvement in Guatemala's social reforms under President Jacobo Árbenz, whose eventual CIA-assisted overthrow at the behest of the United Fruit Company solidified Guevara's political ideology.
Later, in Mexico City, he met Raúl and Fidel Castro, joined their 26th of July Movement and sailed to Cuba aboard the yacht, Granma, with the intention of overthrowing U.S.-backed Cuban dictator, Fulgencio Batista.
Guevara soon rose to prominence among the insurgents, was promoted to second-in-command and played a pivotal role in the victorious two-year guerrilla campaign that deposed the Batista regime. He was a prolific writer and diarist, composing a seminal manual on guerrilla warfare, along with a best-selling memoir about his youthful continental motorcycle journey.
Guevara left Cuba in 1965 to foment revolution abroad, first unsuccessfully in Congo-Kinshasa and later in Bolivia, where he was captured by CIA-assisted Bolivian forces and summarily executed.
Guevara remains both a revered and reviled historical figure, polarized in the collective imagination in a multitude of biographies, memoirs, essays, documentaries, songs and films. As a result of his perceived martyrdom, poetic invocations for class struggle, and desire to create the consciousness of a "new man" driven by moral rather than material incentives, he has evolved into a quintessential icon of various leftist-inspired movements.
An Alberto Korda photograph of Guevara, titled Guerrillero Heroico (shown), was cited by the Maryland Institute College of Art as "the most famous photograph in the world." It was taken on March 5, 1960 at the La Coubre memorial service.
Pierre Salinger: A Personal Remembrance
Pierre Salinger was born 98 years ago today. He was White House Press Secretary to Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. Also, Salinger served as a U.S. Senator in 1964 and was campaign manager for the Robert F. Kennedy presidential campaign.
He later became known for his work as an ABC News correspondent, and in particular for his coverage of the American hostage crisis in Iran and the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
It was at ABC News that I got to know and work with Salinger. In 1978, he was hired by the network as its Paris bureau chief. He became the network's chief European correspondent based in London in 1983. Under Salinger, I worked in Paris for about six weeks — doing a variety of stories.
Because Salinger was as much a French cultural ambassador as newsman, he was a lot of fun to be with. He was far more casual about news stories than his choice of food and drink, which he took very seriously. We ate at some amazing restaurants, where Salinger was always treated more like an important food critic than a VIP guest.
For a while in Paris, ABC booked me into the exclusive Hotel Saint Georges. After a period of working several days in a row with no time off, Salinger ordered a limo and put it at my disposal for an entire day to go anywhere I wanted. I was amazed by his generosity.
Such luxury is long gone from television news today, but in the era of Pierre Salinger it was still very much alive. He lived life to the fullest and made sure those around him enjoyed the fruits as well. Later, after leaving ABC, Salinger hosted a program in the early 1990s on the A&E cable network called Dining in France. No one was better qualified!
Salinger later made a permanent move to France, making good on his promise that, "If (George W.) Bush wins, I'm going to leave the country and spend the rest of my life in France."
Salinger died in October, 2004 of heart failure near his home, La Bastide Rose, in Le Thor, France at the age of 79.
President Warren G. Harding at his first radio address
On this day in 1922 — 101 years ago — President Warren G. Harding, while addressing a crowd at the dedication of a memorial site for the composer of the “Star Spangled Banner,” Francis Scott Key, became the first president to have his voice transmitted by radio.
The broadcast heralded a revolutionary shift in how presidents addressed the American public. It was not until three years later, however, that a president would deliver a radio-specific address. That broadcast featured President Calvin Coolidge.
In 1920, radio station KDKA in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, announced that Harding was the official winner of that year’s presidential election. It was the first time election returns were broadcast live. Harding was an advocate for advanced technology. In 1923, he recorded a speech on an early “phonograph” that recorded and played back sound on wax discs.
Harding was also the first president to own a radio and was the first to have one installed in the White House. The way presidents have communicated with the public has changed with each advance in technology over the years. In early America, presidents such as George Washington and James Monroe traveled by horseback or carriage to address crowds in person and published statements in “broadsheets” and early newspapers.
Lincoln had the relative advantage of traveling by locomotive or using the telegraph. Telephones appeared in the White House in 1877 while Rutherford B. Hayes was president. Like Harding, President William Taft used the phonograph to distribute recordings of his speeches.
However, the most rapid advancement in communication for presidents occurred in the 20th century. With the invention of radio and television and then the internet, politicians could transmit information instantaneously. Franklin Roosevelt proved a master at utilizing the radio during the 1930s and 1940s with his “Fireside Chats.”
Many credit John F. Kennedy’s “telegenic” good looks and calm demeanor in televised presidential debates for his victory in the 1960 presidential election. Bill Clinton was the first president to set up a White House website. Improvements in communication technology have also allowed presidents to reach substantially greater numbers of their constituents.
In 1829, President Andrew Jackson spoke to approximately 10,000 people at his inauguration. Harding’s Francis Scott Key memorial dedication was heard by 125,000. President Coolidge’s inaugural radio address reached 23 million via the radio.
White House historians estimate that if George Washington had addressed a crowd of 1,000 people every day during his three month pre-inaugural tour of the country in 1789, he would have been heard by only 100,000 Americans.
Felix, Gladys and Rover, New York, 1974
Photo by Elliott Erwitt