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Composer and pianist George Gershwin was born 125 years ago today
George Gershwin was born 125 years ago today.
A composer and pianist, Gershwin's compositions spanned both popular and classical genres. His most popular songs are the orchestral compositions, Rhapsody in Blue and An American in Paris, as well as the opera, Porgy and Bess.
Born in Brooklyn to a Ukrainian father of Jewish descent and a Russian mother, Gershwin studied piano under Charles Hambitzer and composition with Rubin Goldmark and Henry Cowell.
He began his career as a song plugger, but soon after started composing Broadway theatre works with his brother, Ira Gershwin, and Buddy DeSylva. He moved to Paris intending to study with Nadia Boulanger, who refused him. There, he began to compose An American in Paris.
After returning to New York City, he wrote Porgy and Bess with Ira and author, DuBose Heyward. Initially a commercial failure, Porgy and Bess is now considered one of the most important American operas of the 20th century.
Gershwin moved to Hollywood and composed numerous film scores until his death at age 38 in 1937 from a brain tumor.
Gershwin's compositions have been used in numerous films and on television, and several became jazz standards recorded in many variations. Countless singers and musicians have recorded his songs. He was influenced by French composers of his time.
What set Gershwin apart was his ability to manipulate forms of music into his own unique voice. He took the jazz he discovered on Tin Pan Alley into the mainstream by splicing its rhythms and tonality with that of the popular songs of his era.
Although Gershwin would seldom make grand statements about his music, he believed that "true music must reflect the thought and aspirations of the people and time. My people are Americans. My time is today."
In 2007, the Library of Congress named their Prize for Popular Song after George and Ira Gershwin. Recognizing the profound and positive effect of popular music on culture, the prize is given annually to a composer or performer whose lifetime contributions exemplify the standard of excellence associated with the Gershwins.
On March 1, 2007, the first Gershwin Prize was awarded to Paul Simon.
Here is a short clip of Gershwin playing on Nightmusic. Clearly, the date 1943 in the credit is an error, since Gershwin died in 1937.
The Beatle’s Abbey Road album cover features the four band members walking across a zebra crossing outside Abbey Road Studios and has become one of the most famous and imitated images in the history of recorded music.
Photo by Iain Macmillan
Abbey Road, the Beatles’ album, was released on this day in 1969 — 54 years ago.
The eleventh studio album by the Beatles, the recording sessions for the album were the last in which all four Beatles participated. Although, Let It Be, was the final album that the Beatles completed before the band's dissolution in April, 1970, most of the album had been recorded before the Abbey Road sessions began.
A double A-side single from the album, "Something"/"Come Together,” released in October, topped the Billboard chart in the US.
Abbey Road incorporates genres such as blues, pop and progressive rock, and it makes prominent use of the Moog synthesizer and the Leslie speaker. Side two contains a medley of song fragments edited together to form a single piece.
The album was recorded amid a more collegial atmosphere than the Get Back/Let It Be sessions earlier in the year, but there were still frequent confrontations within the band, particularly over Paul McCartney's song, "Maxwell's Silver Hammer,” one of four tracks on which John Lennon did not perform.
Lennon had privately left the group by the time the album was released and McCartney publicly quit the following year.
Many critics view the album as the Beatles' best work and rank it as one of the greatest albums of all time. In particular, George Harrison's contributions, "Something" and "Here Comes the Sun,” are considered to be among the best songs he wrote for the group.
The album's cover features the four band members walking across a zebra crossing outside Abbey Road Studios and has become one of the most famous and imitated images in the history of recorded music.
Today, Abbey Road remains one of the Beatles' best-selling albums.
Legendary blues singer Bessie Smith was killed in a car wreck on Sept. 26, 1937 — 86 years ago today.
Smith was killed when the old Packard she was driving hit a parked truck near Coahoma, Mississippi, between Clarksdale and Memphis.
There is no record of Smith's exact birth date, but she was about 43 years old.
Bessie Smith had been in show business since she was a teenager. In 1912, she joined a traveling vaudeville troupe, the Rabbit Foot Minstrels, and spent the next decade singing in minstrel shows and cabarets all around the South.
In 1923, Smith released her first record, "Down-Hearted Blues." It sold nearly 800,000 copies and made her a superstar. In fact, by the end of the 1920s, Smith had made more money than any black performer ever had.
She performed and recorded with luminaries like Clarence Williams, Louis Armstrong and Fletcher Henderson's band and she starred in the 1929 film, "St. Louis Blues."
Unfortunately, in the 1930s, Smith's career stalled. The Depression changed musical tastes that favored jazz and swing instead of vaudeville blues. Plus Smith’s severe alcoholism made it nearly impossible for her to find work. Toward the end of the decade, though, Smith had begun to record and perform again.
The circumstances surrounding the singer's death are mysterious. It is known that Smith was gravely injured — her arm was nearly severed — in the accident. After that, some people say, the doctor at the scene ignored her while he tended to the bumps and scrapes of a white couple that was in a nearby fender-bender.
Other sources say that Smith bled to death while her ambulance drove around in search of a hospital that would treat black patients. Edward Albee based his 1959 play, "The Death of Bessie Smith," on this version of events.
While neither one of these scenarios would have been much of a surprise in the Jim Crow South, most historians now agree that the stories are apocryphal. Smith did make it to the hospital, but her injuries were so severe that it made no difference.
In the summer of 1970, shortly before her own death from a heroin overdose, the young singer, Janis Joplin, had a headstone made for Smith's unmarked grave. It reads, "The Greatest Blues Singer in the World Will Never Stop Singing."
T.S. Eliot, 1956
Photo by Cecil Beaton
T.S. Eliot was born 135 years ago today.
Eliot was a publisher, playwright, literary and social critic — and one of the most important English-language poets of the 20th century.
Although he was born an American, he moved to the United Kingdom in 1914 (at age 25) and was naturalized as a British subject in 1927 at age 39.
The poem that made his name — The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock — was published in Chicago in 1915. It is considered a masterpiece of the Modernist movement.
It was followed by some of the best-known poems in the English language, including Gerontion (1920), The Waste Land (1922), The Hollow Men (1925), Ash Wednesday (1930) and Four Quartets (1945).
He is also known for his seven plays, particularly Murder in the Cathedral in 1935.
Eliot was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948.
He received an undergraduate degree at Harvard, studied at the Sorbonne, returned to Harvard to study Sanskrit and then studied at Oxford. After meeting poet and lifelong friend Ezra Pound, Eliot relocated to England.
In 1915, he married Vivian Haigh-Wood, but the marriage was unhappy, partly due to her mental instability. She died in an institution in 1947.
Eliot began working at Lloyd's Bank in 1917, writing reviews and essays on the side. In 1925, he accepted a job as an editor at Faber and Faber, which allowed him to quit his job at the bank. He held the position for the rest of his life.
Eliot lectured in the United States frequently in the 1930s and 1940s. In 1957, he married his assistant, Valerie Fletcher. The couple lived happily until his death in 1965 at the age of 76.
Bryan Ferry is 78 years old today.
An English singer, musician and songwriter known for his unique vocal style, Ferry came to prominence in the early 1970s as lead vocalist and principal songwriter with the band, Roxy Music.
He had a successful career with three #1 albums and ten singles entering the Top 10 charts in the United Kingdom during the 1970s and '80s, including "Virginia Plain," "Street Life" and "Jealous Guy."
Ferry began his solo career in 1973, while still a member of Roxy Music, which he continues to the present day. His solo hits include, "Let's Stick Together" and "Slave To Love."
His album, The Jazz Age, was released in 2012. In November, 2014, Ferry released a new album, Avonmore, featuring original material. The same month in 2014, Ferry was diagnosed with acute laryngitis and on medical advice was declared unfit to perform the remaining dates of his current European tour. His concerts were rescheduled for 2015.
When his sales as a solo artist and as a member of Roxy Music are combined, Ferry has sold more than 30 million albums worldwide.
Here, Ferry performs “Don’t Stop the Dance” in Berlin, 2011.
Olivia Newton-John was born 75 years ago today.
An English born Australian singer and actress, Newton-John has amassed five #1 and ten other Top Ten Billboard Hot 100 singles and two #1 Billboard 200 solo albums. Eleven of her singles (including two platinum) and 14 of her albums (including two platinum and four double platinum) have been certified gold.
Newton-John’s music has been successful in pop, country and adult contemporary genres and has sold an estimated over 100 million albums worldwide.
She co-starred with John Travolta in the film adaptation of the Broadway musical, Grease, which featured one of the most successful film soundtracks in Hollywood history.
Newton-John has been a long-time activist for environmental and animal rights issues.
Since surviving breast cancer in 1992, she has been an advocate for health awareness becoming involved with various charities, health products and fundraising efforts.
Newton-John has been married twice. She currently lives with her second husband, John Easterling, in Jupiter Inlet, Florida.
Newton-John still tours. In 2014, she began residency at the Flamingo Las Vegas and released a new EP in April, 2014, Hotel Sessions, which consisted of seven tracks of unreleased demos that were recorded between 2002 and 2011 with her nephew, Brett.
In May, 2017, it was announced that Newton-John's breast cancer had returned and metastasized to her lower back. It was also reported that the cancer had progressed to Stage IV and spread to her bones.
Newton-John has openly talked about using cannabis oil to ease her cancer pain and has become an advocate for medical cannabis. Her daughter Chloe also owns a cannabis farm in Oregon.
Newton-John died on August 8, 2022 from cancer at her home in the Santa Ynez Valley of California at the age of 73
Here, John performs “Have You Never Been Mellow” in 1975.
Marty Robbins was born 98 years ago today.
A singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Robbins was one of the most popular and successful country and Western singers of his era. For most of his nearly four-decade career, Robbins was rarely far from the country music charts and several of his songs also became pop hits.
Carlene Carter is 68 years old today.
Born Rebecca Carlene Smith, she is a country singer and songwriter and the daughter of June Carter and her first husband, Carl Smith.
Between 1978 and the present, Carter has recorded twelve albums, primarily on major labels. In the same timespan, she has released more than twenty singles, including three #3 peaking hits on the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts.
In 1987, Carlene Carter joined with the singing trio, The Carter Sisters, consisting of her mother June Carter Cash and June's sisters Helen and Anita Carter in a revived version of The Carter Family. They were featured on a 1987 television episode of Austin City Limits along with Carter's stepfather, Johnny Cash.
Donna Douglas, best known for her role as Jed Clampett's (played by Buddy Ebsen) only daughter, Elly May Clampett, in the CBS television series, The Beverly Hillbillies (1962-1971), was born 90 years ago today.
She starred on the program for all nine seasons, along with Buddy Ebsen, Irene Ryan, Nancy Kulp, Raymond Bailey and Max Baer, Jr.
The Beverly Hillbillies became the #1 show in the United States in its first two years. During the 1966 summer hiatus for the show, Douglas made her only starring motion picture appearance, cast as Frankie in Frederick de Cordova's Frankie and Johnny (1966), opposite Elvis Presley.
The film proved popular, and is among Presley’s most frequently televised movies, but it did little to advance Douglas's big-screen career.
In 1981, she returned for a made-for-TV reunion movie, The Return of the Beverly Hillbillies.
Douglas died at age 82 on January 1, 2015 from pancreatic cancer.
Harmonica Man, Washington Square Park, 2012
Photo by Frank Beacham
(In 2012, during a short September shower, many people huddled under the Washington Square arch to stay dry. One man on a bicycle did not, staring at us from just outside the arch. I took his photo. I don’t know his real name. I call him “Harmonica Man.”)