E. B. White, master writer, was born 124 years ago
E. B. White in his seaside writing cabin at his farm in Maine
Photo by Jill Krementz
Elwyn Brooks "E. B." White, writer, was born 124 years ago today.
White was a contributor to The New Yorker magazine and a co-author of the English language style guide, The Elements of Style, which is commonly known as "Strunk & White."
He also wrote books for children, including Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little and The Trumpet of the Swan. Charlotte's Web was voted the top children's novel in a 2012 survey of School Library Journal readers, not for the first time.
Born in Mount Vernon, New York, White was the youngest child of Samuel Tilly White, the president of a piano firm, and Jessie Hart White, the daughter of Scottish-American painter William Hart. He served in the army before going to college.
White graduated from Cornell University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1921. He picked up the nickname "Andy" at Cornell University, where tradition confers that moniker on any male student surnamed White, after Cornell co-founder Andrew Dickson White.
While at Cornell, he worked as editor of The Cornell Daily Sun with his classmate, Allison Danzig, who later became a sportswriter for The New York Times. White was also a member of the Aleph Samach and Quill and Dagger societies and Phi Gamma Delta (FIJI).
White worked for the United Press (currently United Press International) and the American Legion News Service in 1921 and 1922, and then became a reporter for the Seattle Times in 1922 and 1923. He then worked for two years with the Frank Seaman advertising agency as a production assistant and copywriter before returning to New York City in 1924.
Not long after The New Yorker was founded in 1925, White would submit manuscripts to it. Katharine Angell, the literary editor, recommended to magazine editor and founder Harold Ross that White be taken on as staff.
However, it took months to convince him to come to a meeting at the office and further weeks to convince him to agree to work on the premises. Eventually, he agreed to work in the office on Thursdays.
A few years later in 1929, White and Angell were married. They had a son, Joel White, a naval architect and boatbuilder, who owned Brooklin Boatyard in Brooklin, Maine. Katharine's son from her first marriage, Roger Angell, has spent decades as a fiction editor for The New Yorker and is well known as the magazine's baseball writer.
James Thurber described White as being a quiet man, disliking publicity, who during his time at The New Yorker would slip out of his office via the fire escape to a nearby branch of Schrafft's to avoid visitors whom he didn't know.
Said Thurber: “Most of us, out of a politeness made up of faint curiosity and profound resignation, go out to meet the smiling stranger with a gesture of surrender and a fixed grin, but White has always taken to the fire escape. He has avoided the Man in the Reception Room as he has avoided the interviewer, the photographer, the microphone, the rostrum, the literary tea and the Stork Club.
“His life is his own. He is the only writer of prominence I know of who could walk through the Algonquin lobby or between the tables at Jack and Charlie's and be recognized only by his friends.”
He published his first article in The New Yorker magazine in 1925, then joined the staff in 1927 and continued to contribute for around six decades. Best recognized for his essays and unsigned "Notes and Comment" pieces, he gradually became the most important contributor to The New Yorker at a time when it was arguably the most important American literary magazine.
From the beginning to the end of his career at the New Yorker, he frequently provided what the magazine calls "Newsbreaks" (short, witty comments on oddly worded printed items from many sources) under various categories such as "Block That Metaphor." He also served as a columnist for Harper's Magazine from 1938 to 1943.
In 1949, White published Here Is New York, a short book based upon a Holiday magazine article that he had been asked to write. The article reflects the writer's appreciation of a city that provides its residents with both "the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy," and concludes with a dark note touching upon the forces that may destroy the city that the writer loves.
This prescient "love letter" to the city was re-published in 1999 on the 100th anniversary of his birth, with an introduction by his stepson, Roger Angell.
In 1959, White edited and updated The Elements of Style. This handbook of grammatical and stylistic guidance for writers of American English had been written and published in 1918 by William Strunk, Jr., one of White's professors at Cornell. White's rework of the book was extremely well received, and further editions of the work followed in 1972, 1979 and 1999. An illustrated edition followed in 2005.
The illustrator, Maira Kalman, is a contributor to the New Yorker. That same year, a New York composer named Nico Muhly premiered a short opera based on the book. The volume is a standard tool for students and writers and remains required reading in many composition classes. The complete history of The Elements of Style is detailed in Mark Garvey's Stylized: A Slightly Obsessive History of Strunk & White's The Elements of Style.
In 1978, White won an honorary Pulitzer Prize for his work as a whole. Other awards he received included a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963 and memberships in a variety of literary societies throughout the United States.
White died on October 1, 1985 at age 86 with Alzheimer's disease at his farm home in North Brooklin, Maine.
Suzanne Vega, New York City, 2010
Photo by Frank Beacham
Suzanne Vega is 64 years old today.
Vega is a songwriter and singer known for her eclectic folk-inspired music. Two of her songs — "Luka" and "Tom's Diner" — both from her 1987 second album, Solitude Standing, reached the Top 10.
“Tom’s Dinner” was originally an a cappella version on Vega's album, which was then remade in 1990 as a dance track produced by the British dance production team, DNA.
Born in Santa Monica, California, Vega’s mother, Pat, is a computer systems analyst of German-Swedish heritage. Her father, Richard Peck, is of Scottish-English-Irish origin. They divorced soon after her birth. Her stepfather, Ed Vega, also known as Edgardo Vega Yunque, was a writer and teacher from Puerto Rico.
When Vega was two and a half, the family moved to New York City. She grew up in Spanish Harlem and the Upper West Side. At nine, she began to write poetry. She wrote her first song at fourteen. Later, she attended New York's prestigious High School of Performing Arts. There she studied modern dance and graduated in 1977.
While majoring in English literature at Barnard College, she performed in small venues in Greenwich Village, where she was a regular contributor to Jack Hardy's Monday night songwriters' group at the Cornelia Street Cafe. Some of her first songs were published on Fast Folk anthology albums.
In 1984, she received a major label recording contract, making her one of the first Fast Folk artists to break out on a major label. Vega's self-titled debut album was released in 1985 and was well received by critics in the U.S. It reached platinum status in the United Kingdom.
Produced by Lenny Kaye and Steve Addabbo, the songs feature Vega's acoustic guitar in straightforward arrangements. A video was released for the album's song, "Marlene on the Wall," which went into MTV and VH1's rotations.
During this period, Vega also wrote lyrics for two songs on composer Philip Glass’s, Songs from Liquid Days. Her next effort, Solitude Standing (1987), garnered critical and commercial success including the hit single, "Luka," an international success.
"Luka" is written about, and from the point of view of, an abused child — at the time an uncommon subject for a pop hit. While continuing a focus on Vega's acoustic guitar, the music is more strongly pop-oriented and features fuller arrangements.
The a cappella "Tom's Diner" from this album was later a hit, remixed by two British dance producers under the name, DNA, in 1990. The track was originally a bootleg, until Vega allowed DNA to release through her record company, and it became her all-time biggest hit.
Vega's song, "Tom's Diner," was used as the reference track in an early trial of the MP3 compression system, thus earning her the distinction of being named "The Mother of the MP3." Because it is an a cappella vocal with relatively little reverberation, it was used as the model for Karlheinz Brandenburg's sound compression algorithm.
Brandenburg heard “Tom's Diner” on a radio playing the song and was excited and at first convinced it would be "nearly impossible to compress this warm a cappella voice."
"Tom's Diner" takes place in Tom's Restaurant at 112th Street and Broadway in New York City. Exterior shots of the same restaurant appear in the television sitcom, Seinfeld, as Monk's, which is the eatery where Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer hang out.
The DNA remix of the track was so popular that it inspired many cover versions — the best of which were eventually collected by Vega on an album titled, Tom's Album.
On February 11, 2006, Vega married Paul Mills, a lawyer and the stand-up artist, Poez. They originally met at Gerde's Folk City on West 4th Street in Greenwich Village when singer-songwriter Lucy Kaplansky, a friend of both, introduced them.
In the words of her website, "The couple met at Folk City on West 4th Street in 1981. Mr. Mills proposed to Miss Vega in May, 1983, and she accepted his proposal on Christmas Day, 2005."
Here, Vega performs her 1985 hit, “Tom’s Diner.”
Richie Sambora is 64 years old today.
A rock guitarist, producer, musician, singer and songwriter who is the longtime lead guitarist of Bon Jovi, Sambora and frontman, Jon Bon Jovi, form the primary songwriting unit of the band.
Sambora has also released three solo albums: Stranger in This Town in 1991, Undiscovered Soul in 1998 and Aftermath of the Lowdown in 2012.
Born in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, Sambora is of Polish descent and was raised Catholic. He grew up in Woodbridge Township, New Jersey and attended Woodbridge High School there, graduating in 1977.
He began playing the guitar at the age of 12 following the death of Jimi Hendrix in 1970. From his early days, Sambora was strongly influenced by blues and 60s rock and roll. His most important influences were Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Johnny Winter, Jimmy Page, Joe Perry, Joe Kmiecik, George Harrison and Janis Joplin.
Sambora was also influenced by Spanish classical music and began a lifelong love of the Spanish guitar. Classical music directly inspired several of his songs, such as The Answer, which was originally written on piano.
Bon Jovi added Sambora to replace original lead guitarist, Dave Sabo. He went to a show and, after being impressed by Bon Jovi, approached him and informed him that he thought they should work together.
They immediately hit it off as friends and Sambora was invited to a rehearsal. By the time Bon Jovi arrived, the band was sounding better than ever and Sambora was hired on the spot.
Here, Sambora performs “Hard Times Come Easy.”
Bonnie Pointer of the Pointer Sisters was born 73 years ago today.
Pointer is an R&B and disco singer, most notable for being the next-to-youngest member of the 1970s and 1980s family music group. She scored several moderate solo hits after leaving the Pointers in 1977, including a disco cover of The Elgins' "Heaven Must Have Sent You," which became a U.S. Top 20 pop hit on September 1, 1979.
Bonnie and youngest sister, June, began singing together as teenagers and in 1969 the duo had co-founded The Pointers. After Anita joined the duo that same year, they changed their name to The Pointer Sisters and recorded several singles for Atlantic Records between 1971 and 1972.
In December, 1972, they recruited oldest sister, Ruth, and released their debut album as The Pointer Sisters in 1973. Their self-titled debut contained the hit, "Yes We Can Can." Between 1973 and 1977, the Pointers' donned 1940s fashions and sang in a style reminiscent of The Andrews Sisters. They also melded the sounds of R&B, funk, rock and roll, gospel, country and soul.
Anita and Bonnie wrote the group's crossover country hit, "Fairytale," in 1974, which also became a Top 20 pop hit.
In 1977, Bonnie left the group to begin a solo career. The remaining sisters continued scoring hits from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s and had a major breakthrough with their 1983 album, Break Out.
In 1978, Bonnie married Motown Records producer Jeffrey Bowen and signed with Motown in the same year. Pointer released "Heaven Must Have Sent You," which reached #11 on Billboard Hot 100 chart. She released then three solo albums, including two self-titled albums for Motown, before retiring from the studio.
Pointer reunited with her sisters when the group received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1994, and during a Las Vegas performance in 1996 singing, "Jump (for My Love)."
Pointer died from cardiac arrest at the age of 69 on June 8, 2020 in Los Angeles. She had been suffering from cirrhosis of the liver for many years.
Here, the Pointer Sisters perform, “Fairytale,” written by Bonnie and Anita Pointer.
Andrew Bird is 50 years old today.
A musician, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Bird trained in the Suzuki method from the age of four. He learned from an internationally known method of teaching music conceived and executed by Japanese violinist and pedagogue Shinichi Suzuki dating from the mid-20th century
Bird graduated from Lake Forest High School in 1991 and Northwestern University with a bachelor's degree in violin performance in 1996. His primary instrument is the violin, but he is also proficient at other instruments including whistling, guitar and the glockenspiel.
That same year he self-released his first solo album, Music of Hair. Vastly different from his later work, this album showcased his violin skills and paid tribute to his fascination with both American and European folk traditions, as well as jazz and blues.
His initial commercial exposure came through collaborative work with the band, Squirrel Nut Zippers, appearing on three of their albums (Hot, Sold Out and Perennial Favorites) between 1996 and 1998. Taking on the role of bandleader, Bird released Thrills on Rykodisc in 1998 with his group, Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire, shortly followed by second album, Oh! The Grandeur, in 1999.
Both albums were heavily influenced by traditional folk, pre-war jazz and swing, with Bird relying on the violin as his primary musical instrument, as well as providing vocals along with his trademark verbose lyrics.
The Bowl of Fire featured musicians from Bird's home town of Chicago, including Kevin O'Donnell, Joshua Hirsch, Nora O'Connor, Andy Hopkins, Jimmy Sutton, Colin Bunn and Ryan Hembrey. During this period, Andrew Bird was a member of the jazz group, Kevin O'Donnells Quality Six, for which he was the lead singer and violinist. He contributed to arrangements and songwriting for the albums, Heretic Blues (Delmark 1999), and Control Freak (Delmark 2000).
Bird is noted for improvising and reworking his songs during live performance, as can be seen in his series of self-released live compilations entitled Fingerlings, Fingerlings 2, Fingerlings 3 and Fingerlings 4, the first of which was released in 2002.
Each Fingerlings EP was released prior to a studio album, and presented a mixture of live performances from different shows, including old tracks, covers and previously unreleased songs, some of which have since appeared on studio albums.
Here, Bird performs a mini concert on KEXP Radio, 2012.
Elvis Presley with Scotty Moore and Bill Black, 1955
Though “Mystery Train” was first recorded by Junior Parker in 1953 for Sun Records, Elvis Presley’s version record on this day in 1955 — 68 years ago — became a major hit for Sun’s Sam Phillips.
The song uses lyrics similar to those found in the Carter Family's "Worried Man Blues," itself based on an old Celtic ballad. It was the Carter Family’s biggest selling record of 1930.
Presley’s version featured Scotty Moore on lead guitar and Bill Black on bass. Moore used a country lead break, and toward the end of the record is an echo of the 1946 "Sixteen Tons" by Merle Travis. Moore also borrowed the guitar riff from Junior Parker's "Love My Baby" (1953), played by Pat Hare. Billboard wrote that Presley's version had "cut a swath in the country field."
Paired with "I Forgot to Remember to Forget," the record was in the Top 10 in Billboard's country and western listings.
RCA Victor re-released this recording in December, 1955 after acquiring it as part of a contract with Presley. The song peaked at #11 on the national Billboard Country Chart.
Although "Mystery Train" is now considered to be an "enduring classic," the flip side of this record, "I Forgot to Remember to Forget," reached the Billboard National Country music chart #1 position by February, 1956, remained there for five weeks and stayed on the charts for 39 weeks.
It was the first recording to make Elvis Presley a nationally known country music star.
On this day in 1922 — 101 years ago — the Hollywood Bowl, one of the world’s largest natural amphitheaters, opened with a performance by the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Since that time, a long, diverse list of performers, including The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Luciano Pavarotti and Judy Garland, have appeared on stage at the Hollywood Bowl. The venue has become a famous Los Angeles landmark and has been featured in numerous movies.
As the official summer home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Hollywood Bowl has hosted such famous conductors as Arthur Rubinstein, Itzhak Perlman and Vladimir Horowitz, along with opera singers Jessye Norman, Beverly Sills and Placido Domingo.
Dancers from Fred Astaire to Mikhail Baryshnikov have graced the stage, as have entertainers including Abbott and Costello, Al Jolson, Billie Holiday, Garth Brooks and Elton John.
When the Hollywood Bowl opened, its stage was a wooden platform with a canvas top and audiences sat on moveable benches set on the hillsides of the surrounding canyon. In 1926, a group of Los Angeles architects built the Hollywood Bowl’s first shell.
Since that time, various architects, including Frank Lloyd Wright’s son, Lloyd Wright, and Frank Gehry, have made improvements to the venue’s structure and acoustics.
Today, the Hollywood Bowl seats nearly 18,000. Its paid attendance record of 26,410 was set in August, 1936 for a performance by French opera star, Lily Pons.
As a Los Angeles icon, the Hollywood Bowl has been featured in a number of films, including A Star is Born (1937) and Beaches (1988).
In one particularly memorable appearance, in the film, Olly Olly Oxen Free (1978), Katharine Hepburn, having refused a stunt double, landed a hot-air balloon herself in front of the Hollywood Bowl stage during a performance of the 1812 Overture.
In August, 2014 — two years and seven months after the cruise ship, Costa Concordia, sank off the coast of the Tuscan island, Giglio, claiming 32 lives — photographer Jonathan Danko Kielkowski swam aboard to document what was left.
At that point, the ship had only recently been raised from the bottom of the ocean, having spend two and a half years partially submerged.
Having been denied a permit to shoot, he swam to the ship in the dark, carrying his clothes and camera gear in small rubber dinghy. His photos were published in a photo book, Concordia, from White Press.
Above is the ship’s show room.
Photo by Jonathan Danko Kielkowski