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Country singer George Jones was born 92 years ago today
George Jones at Tramps, New York City, 1992
Photo by Jack Vartoogian
George Jones was born 92 years old today.
A country music singer known for his long list of hit records, his distinctive voice and phrasing and his marriage to Tammy Wynette, Jones was frequently referred to as the greatest living country singer.
"For the two or three minutes consumed by a song, Jones immerses himself so completely in its lyrics, and in the mood it conveys, that the listener can scarcely avoid becoming similarly involved," wrote Bill C. Malone, a country music scholar.
Throughout his long career, Jones made headlines often as much for tales of his drinking, stormy relationships with women and violent rages as for his prolific career of making records and touring. His wild lifestyle led to Jones missing many performances, earning him the nickname "No Show Jones."
With the help of his fourth wife, Nancy, Jones was sober for the last 10 years of his life. He had more than 150 hits during his career, both as a solo artist and in duets with other artists. The shape of his nose and facial features have given Jones the nickname, "The Possum."
Jones received many honors during his long career, from Most Promising New Country Vocalist in 1956, being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1992 and being named a Kennedy Center Honoree in 2008.
In 2012, he was presented with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award. At the ceremony his longtime friend, Merle Haggard, paid tribute to him. Jones was a member of the Grand Old Opry since joining in 1956.
Jones died in April 26, 2013 at age 81 in Nashville from hypoxic respiratory failure.
Here, Jones performs “Choices.”
Kris Kristofferson and George Jones perform at Carnegie Hall in New York City, 2006
Photo by Frank Beacham
Maria Muldaur is 81 years old today.
She is an American folk and blues singer who was part of the American folk music revival in the early 1960s. She recorded the 1973 hit song "Midnight at the Oasis" and continues to record albums in the folk traditions.
She was the wife of musician Geoff Muldaur and is the mother of singer-songwriter Jenni Muldaur.
Muldaur began her career in the early 1960s as Maria D'Amato, performing with John Sebastian, David Grisman and Stefan Grossman as a member of the Even Dozen Jug Band. She then joined Jim Kweskin & the Jug Band as a featured vocalist and occasional violinist.
During this time, she was part of the Greenwich Village scene that included Bob Dylan, and some of her recollections of the period, particularly with respect to Dylan, appear in Martin Scorsese's 2005 documentary film No Direction Home.
She married fellow Jug Band member Geoff Muldaur, and after the Kweskin group broke up, the two of them produced two albums. She began her solo career when their marriage ended in 1972, but retained her married name.
Her first solo album, Maria Muldaur, released in 1973, contained her hit single "Midnight at the Oasis," which reached number 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1974.
Around this time, Muldaur established a relationship with the Grateful Dead. Opening for some Grateful Dead shows in the summer of 1974, with John Kahn, bassist of the Jerry Garcia Band, eventually earned her a seat in that group as a backing vocalist in the late 1970s.
Around the same time Muldaur met and eventually collaborated with bluegrass icon Peter Rowan. The two became close, and she was chosen to be the godmother of his daughter Amanda Rowan.
Muldaur continues to perform, tour and record after her success in the mid-1970s.
Bonnie Rait, Linda Ronstadt and Maria Muldaur, 1974
Photo by Henry Diltz
Jennifer Hudson is 42 years old today.
Hudson is a recording artist, actress and spokesperson.
As an actress, she made her film debut portraying Effie White in Dreamgirls (2006), for which she gained worldwide acclaim and won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, a Golden Globe Award, a BAFTA Award, an NAACP Image Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award. She has also appeared in such films as Sex and the City (2008), The Secret Life of Bees (2008) and Winnie Mandela (2013).
As a singer, Hudson’s debut album, Jennifer Hudson, was released in 2008. The album spawned the hit single, "Spotlight." The album was certified gold. Her second album, I Remember Me, was released 2011 and was certified gold as well, producing the hit, "Where You At."
In October, 2008, after Hudson's mother, brother and nephew were killed in a shooting, Hudson stepped out of the public eye for three months. She resumed her public appearances in 2009.
Hudson has been described as a friend of President Barack Obama, who invited her to appear with him at a fundraiser in Beverly Hills in May, 2009. She also performed at the White House at the "Celebration of Music from the Civil Rights Movement" event.
Here, Hudson performs “Spotlight.”
Barry White was born 79 years ago today.
A composer and singer-songwriter, White was known for his distinctive bass voice and romantic image. His greatest success came in the 1970s as a solo singer and with the Love Unlimited Orchestra, crafting many enduring soul, funk and disco songs such as his two biggest hits, "You're the First, the Last, My Everything" and "Can't Get Enough of Your Love, Babe."
Worldwide, White had many gold and platinum albums and singles, with combined sales of over 100 million. His influences include Rev. James Cleveland, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin plus Motown artists including The Supremes, The Four Tops and Marvin Gaye.
The path White originally chose to follow in the music business was as an A&R man — a behind-the-scenes player in the "Artists and Repertoire" department of various independent labels in 1960s Los Angeles. White's job was to spot talent and to act as a liaison between record labels and the artists he was charged with developing, and it was in this capacity that he discovered a female vocal trio he named, Love Unlimited.
Not only would Barry White marry one of its members, but he would write, produce and arrange a major hit for them, "Walking in the Rain (With The One I Love)" in 1972. When White finally stepped out into the spotlight as a performer himself — at the insistence of his record label — Love Unlimited would become the backup vocalists on his string of 1970s soul classics.
Having written several new songs and recorded his vocals for demo purposes only, White was surprised and reluctant when 20th Century Records pushed him to release the songs under his own name. When he finally did so in 1973, he quickly established himself as a star.
From 1973 to 1977, sometimes under his own name and sometimes under the name Love Unlimited Orchestra, White recorded a string of steamy soul classics that featured his rumbling bass voice speaking and singing over lush orchestral arrangements.
White suffered kidney failure in the fall of 2002, resulting from years of chronic high blood pressure. He suffered a stroke in May, 2003, which forced him to retire from public life.
On July 4, 2003, White died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles after suffering from total renal failure. He was 58.
Here is White performing “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe.”
H. L. Mencken and friends celebrate at the end of prohibition, 1933
H. L. Mencken, writer about American culture, was born 143 years ago.
Mencken was a journalist, essayist, magazine editor, satirist, critic of American life and culture and scholar of American English. Known as the "Sage of Baltimore," he is regarded as one of the most influential American writers and prose stylists of the first half of the 20th century. Many of his books remain in print.
Mencken is known for writing The American Language, a multi-volume study of how the English language is spoken in the United States, and for his satirical reporting on the Scopes trial, which he dubbed the "Monkey Trial."
He commented widely on the social scene, literature, music, prominent politicians, pseudo-experts, the temperance movement and uplifters. A keen cheerleader of scientific progress, he was very skeptical of economic theories and particularly critical of anti-intellectualism, bigotry, populism, fundamentalist Christianity, creationism, organized religion, the existence of God and osteopathic/chiropractic medicine.
In addition to his literary accomplishments, Mencken was known for his controversial ideas. An admirer of German philosopher, Nietzsche, he was not a proponent of representative democracy, which he believed was a system in which inferior men dominated their superiors.
During and after World War I, he was sympathetic to the Germans, and was very distrustful of British propaganda. However, he also referred to Adolf Hitler and his followers as "ignorant thugs." Mencken, through his wide criticism of actions taken by government, has had a strong impact on the American libertarian movement.
Mencken died in 1956. His home at 1524 Hollins Street in Baltimore's Union Square neighborhood was bequeathed to the University of Maryland. Mencken lived for sixty seven years.
Here, Mencken is portrayed by Gene Kelly, in the film, Inherit the Wind, from 1960.
William Boyd as Hopalong Cassidy
After nearly 40 years of riding across millions of American TV and movie screens, the cowboy actor William Boyd, best known for his role as Hopalong Cassidy, died on this day in 1972 — 51 years ago — at the age of 77.
Boyd's greatest achievement was to be the first cowboy actor to make the transition from movies to television. Following World War II, Americans began to buy television sets in large numbers for the first time, and soon I Love Lucy and The Honeymooners were standard evening fare for millions of families.
But despite their proven popularity in movie theaters, westerns were slow to come to the small screen. Many network TV producers scorned westerns as lowbrow "horse operas" unfit for their middle- and upper-class audiences. Riding to the small screen's rescue came the movie cowboy, William Boyd.
During the 1930s, Boyd made more than 50 cheap, but successful, "B-grade" westerns starring as Hopalong Cassidy. Together with his always loyal and outlandishly intelligent horse, Topper, Hopalong righted wrongs, saved school marms in distress and single-handedly fought off hordes of marauding Indians.
After the war, Boyd recognized an opportunity to take Hopalong and Topper into the new world of television, and he began to market his old "B" westerns to TV broadcasters in Los Angeles and New York City. A whole new generation of children thrilled to "Hoppy's" daring adventures and they soon began to clamor for more.
Rethinking their initial disdain for the genre, producers at NBC contracted with Boyd in 1948 to produce a new series of half-hour westerns for television. By 1950, American children had made Hopalong Cassidy the seventh most popular TV show in America and were madly snapping up genuine "Hoppy" cowboy hats, chaps and six-shooters, earning Boyd's venture more than $250 million.
Soon other TV westerns followed Boyd's lead, becoming popular with both children and adults. In 1959, seven of the Top 10 shows on national television were westerns like The Rifleman, Rawhide and Maverick.
The golden era of the TV western would finally come to an end in 1975 when the long-running Gunsmoke left the air — three years after Boyd rode off into his last sunset.
Stanisław Lem was born 102 years ago today.
Lem was a Polish writer of science fiction, philosophy and satire. His books have been translated into 41 languages and have sold over 45 million copies.
From the 1950s to 2000s, he published many books, both science fiction and philosophical/futurological.
He is best known as the author of the 1961 novel, Solaris, which has been made into a feature film three times. Lem was one of the most widely read science-fiction writers in the world.
His works explore philosophical themes through speculation on technology, the nature of intelligence, the impossibility of mutual communication and understanding, despair about human limitations and humanity's place in the universe.
They are sometimes presented as fiction, but others are in the form of essays or philosophical books.
Translations of his works are difficult due to passages with elaborate word formation, alien or robotic poetry and puns.
Lem died in 2006 at age 84.
In 2003 — 20 years ago today — Johnny Cash died of respiratory failure at age of 71.
One of the most influential musicians of the 20th century, he was known as "The Man in Black."
Cash traditionally started his concerts with the words: "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash."
This is the last portrait of Cash, taken on Sept. 8, 2003, by Marty Stuart