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Igor Stravinsky, composer extraordinaire, was born 141 years ago today
Photo by Arnold Newman
Igor Stravinsky was born 141 years ago today.
A Russian (and later, a naturalized French and American) composer, pianist and conductor, Stravinsky is widely considered one of the most important and influential composers of the 20th century.
Stravinsky's compositional career was notable for its stylistic diversity. He first achieved international fame with three ballets commissioned by the impresario Sergei Diaghilev and first performed in Paris by Diaghilev's Ballets Russes: The Firebird (1910), Petrushka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913).
The last of these transformed the way in which subsequent composers thought about rhythmic structure and was largely responsible for Stravinsky's enduring reputation as a musical revolutionary who pushed the boundaries of musical design.
His "Russian phase" was followed in the 1920s by a period in which he turned to neoclassical music. The works from this period tended to make use of traditional musical forms (concerto grosso, fugue and symphony). They often paid tribute to the music of earlier masters, such as J.S. Bach and Tchaikovsky.
In the 1950s, Stravinsky adopted serial procedures. His compositions of this period shared traits with examples of his earlier output: rhythmic energy, the construction of extended melodic ideas out of a few two- or three-note cells and clarity of form, of instrumentation and of utterance.
Stravinsky settled in West Hollywood at the age of 57, spending more time living in Los Angeles than any other city. He became a naturalized United States citizen in 1945.
He was drawn to the growing cultural life of Los Angeles, especially during World War II, when so many writers, musicians, composers and conductors settled in the area: these included Otto Klemperer, Thomas Mann, Franz Werfel, George Balanchine and Arthur Rubinstein.
Bernard Holland claimed Stravinsky was especially fond of British writers, who visited him in Beverly Hills. Those writers included W. H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood, Aldous Huxley and Dylan Thomas.
They shared the composer's taste for hard spirits — especially Aldous Huxley, with whom Stravinsky spoke in French. Stravinsky and Huxley had a tradition of Saturday lunches for west coast avant-garde and luminaries. Stravinsky sometimes conducted concerts with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl and he conducted other orchestras throughout the United States.
His plans to write an opera with W. H. Auden coincided with a meeting with the musicologist, Robert Craft, who became Stravinsky's interpreter, chronicler, assistant conductor and factotum for countless musical and social tasks.
Craft and Stravinsky worked together as the Music Directors of the Ojai Music Festival in 1955 and 1956. Craft lived with Stravinsky until his death. Their relationship developed into a full artistic partnership.
Stravinsky was on the lot of Paramount Pictures during the recording of the musical score to the 1956 film, The Court Jester. The red 'recording in progress' light was illuminated to prevent interruptions and Vic Schoen, the composer of the score, had started to conduct a cue. But at that moment he saw that the entire orchestra had turned to look at Stravinsky, who had just walked into the studio.
Schoen said, "The entire room was astonished to see this short little man with a big chest walk in and listen to our session. I later talked with him after we were done recording. We went and got a cup of coffee together. After listening to my music Stravinsky told me, ‘You have broken all the rules.’
“At the time, I didn't understand his comment, because I had been self-taught. It took me years to figure out what he had meant."
In 1969, Stravinsky moved to the Essex House in New York, where he lived until his death in 1971 of heart failure at age 88.
Here is a short film on Stravinsky
Peggy Seeger is 88 years old today.
An American folksinger, Seeger is well known in Britain, where she has lived for more than 30 years. She was married to the singer and songwriter, Ewan MacColl, until his death in 1989.
Seeger's father was Charles Seeger (1886–1979), an important folklorist and musicologist. Her mother was Seeger's second wife, Ruth Porter Crawford (1901–1953), a modernist composer who was one of the first women to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship.
One of her brothers was Mike Seeger, and the well-known Pete Seeger was her half-brother. One of her first recordings was American Folk Songs for Children (1955).
In the 1950s, left-leaning singers such as Paul Robeson and The Weavers began to find that life became difficult because of the influence of McCarthyism. Seeger visited Communist China and as a result had her U.S. passport withdrawn.
The U.S. State Department, which had been opposed to Seeger's 1957 trip to Moscow (where the CIA had monitored the U.S. delegation), was vigorously critical about her having gone to China against official "advice." The authorities had already warned her that her passport would be impounded, effectively barring her from further travel were she to return to the U.S.
She therefore decided to tour Europe — and later found out that she was on a blacklist sent to European governments. Staying in London in 1956, she performed accompanying herself on banjo. There she and Ewan MacColl fell in love. Previously married to director and actress Joan Littlewood, MacColl left his second wife, Jean Newlove, to become Seeger's lover.
In 1958, her UK work permit expired and she was about to be deported. This was narrowly averted by a plan, concocted by MacColl and Seeger, in which she married the folk singer Alex Campbell, in Paris, on January 24, 1959. Seeger described it as a "hilarious ceremony."
This marriage of convenience allowed Seeger to gain British citizenship and continue her relationship with MacColl. MacColl and Seeger were later married (in 1977), following his divorce from Newlove. They remained together until his death in 1989. They had three children: Neill, Calum and Kitty.
They recorded and released several albums together on Folkways Records, along with Seeger's solo albums and other collaborations with the Seeger Family and the Seeger Sisters.
Seeger was a leader in the introduction of the concertina to the English folk music revival. While not the only concertina player, her "musical skill and proselytizing zeal ... was a major force in spreading the gospel of concertina playing in the revival."
The documentary film, A Kind of Exile, was a profile of Seeger and also featured Ewan MacColl. The film was directed and produced by John Goldschmidt for ATV and shown on ITV in the UK.
Together with MacColl, Seeger founded The Critics Group, a "master class" for young singers performing traditional songs or to compose new songs using traditional song structures (or, as MacColl called them, "the techniques of folk creation").
The Critics Group evolved into a performance ensemble seeking to perform satirical songs in a mixture of theatre, comedy and song, which eventually created a series of annual productions called "The Festival of Fools" (named for a traditional British Isles event in which greater freedom of expression was allowed for the subjects of the king than was permitted during most of the year). After the fall of the Soviet Union, the U.S. authorities began to soften their attitude towards Seeger. She returned to the United States in 1994 to live in Asheville, North Carolina.
Seeger has continued to sing about women's issues. One of her most popular recent albums is Love Will Linger On (1995). She has published a collection of 150 of her songs from before 1998.
In 2006, Peggy Seeger relocated to Boston, Massachusetts, to accept a part-time teaching position at Northeastern University. In 2008, she began producing music videos pertaining to the Presidential campaigns, making them available through a YouTube page.
After 16 years of living back in the United States, Seeger moved back to the United Kingdom in 2010 in order to be nearer to her children and now lives in Iffley, Oxford.
Seeger identifies as bisexual and contributed an essay to Getting Bi: Voices of Bisexuals Around the World. In it she details a relationship she began with Irene Pyper-Scott after Ewan MacColl died.
Seeger performed "Tell My Sister" on a live tribute album to the late Canadian folk artist, Kate McGarrigle, entitled Sing Me the Songs: Celebrating the Works of Kate McGarrigle. The album was released in June, 2013.
Here, Peggy Seeger and guests performs at the Folk Awards, 2014
Red Foley was born 113 years ago today.
Foley was a singer, musician, radio and TV personality who made a major contribution to the growth of country music after World War II. For more than two decades, he was one of the biggest stars of the genre, selling over 25 million records. His 1951 hit, "Peace in the Valley," was among the first million-selling gospel records.
A Grand Ole Opry veteran until his death, Foley also hosted the first popular country music series on network television — Ozark Jubilee — from 1955 to 1960. He is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, which called him "one of the most versatile and moving performers of all time" and "a giant influence during the formative years of contemporary country music."
Foley was born on a 24-acre farm in Blue Lick, Kentucky. He grew up in nearby Berea and gained the nickname Red for his hair color. He was born into a musical family. By the time he was nine, Foley was giving impromptu concerts at his father's general store. He played French harp, piano, banjo, trombone, harmonica and guitar.
At 17, Foley won first prize in a statewide talent show. He graduated from Berea High School, and later worked as a $2-a-show usher and singer at a theater in Covington, Kentucky.
In 1930, as a freshman at Georgetown College, Foley was chosen by a talent scout from Chicago's WLS-AM to sing with producer John Lair's Cumberland Ridge Runners, the house band on National Barn Dance. His first single, "Life is Good Enough for Me/Lonesome Cowboy," was released in June, 1933 on the Melotone label.
In 1937, he returned to Kentucky with Lair to help establish the Renfro Valley Barn Dance stage and radio show near Mt. Vernon in 1939. He performed everything from ballads to boogie-woogie to blues.
In late 1939, Foley became the first country artist to host a network radio program, NBC's Avalon Time, co-hosted by Red Skelton. He performed extensively at theaters, clubs and fairs and then returned for another seven-year stint with National Barn Dance.
In 1941, the same year he made his first of only two film appearances (portraying himself) with Tex Ritter in the western, The Pioneers. He also released "Old Shep" in 1941, a song he wrote with Arthur Willis in 1933 about a dog he owned as a boy (in reality, his German shepherd, poisoned by a neighbor, was named “Hoover”).
The song, later recorded by many artists including Hank Snow and Elvis Presley, became a country classic.
His controversial patriotic 1944 single, "Smoke on the Water," topped the folk records chart for 13 consecutive weeks.
On January 17, 1945, Foley became the first country performer to record in Nashville. During the session at WSM-AM's Studio B, he recorded "Tennessee Saturday Night," "Blues in the Heart" and "Tennessee Border." He soon became known for such songs as "The Death of Floyd Collins" and "The Sinking of the Titanic." He moved to Nashville in 1946 and was briefly a member of the Brown's Ferry Four, recording "Jesus Hold My Hand" and "I'll Meet You in the Morning."
In April, 1946, Foley signed on to emcee and perform on The Prince Albert Show, the segment of the Grand Ole Opry carried on NBC Radio.
During the next eight years, he established himself as one of the most respected and versatile performers in country music. He acted as master of ceremonies, the straight man for Opry comedians Rod Brasfield and Minnie Pearl, and proved himself a vocalist who could handle all types of material.
Foley began recording with his backing group, the Cumberland Valley Boys, in 1947.
He recorded seven Top 5 hits with the group between 1947 and 1949, including a #1 single, "New Jolie Blonde (New Pretty Blonde)" (a cover of a 1946 Moon Mullican hit) and the country boogie anthem "Tennessee Saturday Night," a chart-topper in 1948.
In 1950, he had three million-sellers: "Just a Closer Walk with Thee," "Steal Away" (recorded by Hank Williams as "The Funeral") and a solo version of the song that became his trademark, "Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy."
Featuring guitarist Grady Martin, it stayed at #1 on the country chart for 13 weeks and hit the pop chart as well.
In April, 1951, Foley was pleased when the popular Andrews Sisters (Patty, Maxene and LaVerne) flew from Hollywood to Nashville to join him for a two-day recording session.
Both acts were hoping to repeat the previous successes that the sisters enjoyed when they teamed with Burl Ives in 1947 and Ernest Tubb in 1949, producing both folk and country hits.
While the results proved to be less popular, the ten tunes recorded were vocally well-executed and received a good deal of play on the country radio stations.
The songs included the rhythmic "Satins and Lace," the rockabilly-flavored novelty "Where Is Your Wandering Mother Tonight?," a very slow rendering of the forlorn hillbilly classic, "Bury Me Beneath the Willow," two duets by Foley and Patty Andrews, and two country gospel favorites, "It Is No Secret (What God Can Do)" and "He Bought My Soul at Calvary."
Starting in 1951, he hosted The Red Foley Show on Saturday afternoons on NBC Radio from Nashville (moving to ABC Radio and Springfield, Missouri from 1956 to 1961) sponsored by Dow Chemical.
Foley never lost his love for country music and, unlike Eddy Arnold, never sought success as a pop artist, even though many of his recordings made the pop charts.
After several years in virtual retirement, Foley moved to Springfield, Missouri in July, 1954 after music executive Si Siman convinced him to host Ozark Jubilee on ABC-TV and radio. The deal was made over a bottle of Jack Daniel's whiskey at the Andrew Jackson Hotel in Nashville. Foley struggled with alcohol, which according to Maxine Brown, "was a well-kept secret among all the entertainers because we loved him so much."
In 1955, Foley was credited with discovering 11-year-old Brenda Lee, who became a Jubilee regular. On the October 4, 1956 program, Decca executives presented him with a gold record for "Peace in the Valley."
The Jubilee ran for nearly six years and further cemented Foley's fame, but was canceled partly because of federal income tax evasion charges pending against him in 1960. His first trial that fall ended with a hung jury, but on April 23, 1961, he was quickly acquitted.
On September 19, 1968, Foley appeared in two Opry performances in Fort Wayne, Indiana sponsored by the local Sheriff's Posse that included Billy Walker and 20-year-old Hank Williams, Jr., son of his long-time friend Hank Williams.
Before the second show, according to Walker, Foley came to his dressing room and Walker shared his faith in Christ: "[Foley] asked, 'Do you think God could ever forgive a sinner like me?' He began to tell me all the rotten things he had done in his life and I looked him in the face and said, 'Red, if God can forgive me, he can forgive you.' I prayed with Red, he went out and the last song he sang was "Peace in the Valley." He came over to side of the stage and said, 'Billy, I've never sung that song and feel the way I do tonight.'"
Foley suffered respiratory failure later that night and died in his sleep, prompting Hank Williams, Jr. to write and record (as Luke the Drifter, Jr.) "I Was With Red Foley (The Night He Passed Away)."
According to the song, which charted that November, his last words were, "I’m awful tired now, Hank, I’ve got to go to bed." Foley had sung "Peace In The Valley" at Hank Sr.'s funeral.
Foley was an inspiration to rock 'n' roll, in particular Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley, who both covered many of his songs. His country boogie material was a clear precursor of the style.
Foley has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: one for his recording career at, 6225 Hollywood Blvd. and one for his television career, at 6300 Hollywood Blvd. On June 10, 2003, a Kentucky State historical marker was placed at Foley's boyhood home in Berea.
Here, Foley performs “Freight Train Boogie.” Grady Martin plays the double neck guitar.
David Akeman — better known as “Stringbean” — was born 108 years ago today.
Akeman was a country music banjo player and comedy musician best known for his role on the hit television show, Hee Haw, and as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. He and his wife were murdered by burglars at their rural Tennessee home in 1973.
Born in Annville in Jackson County, Kentucky, Akeman came from a musical family. He was taught to play the banjo by his father. He got his first real banjo when he was 12 years old in exchange for a pair of prize bantam chickens.
Akeman began playing at local dances and gained a reputation as a musician, but the income was not enough to live on. He joined the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps, building roads and planting trees. Eventually, he entered a talent contest judged by singer-guitarist-musical saw player, Asa Martin. He won and was invited to join Martin's band.
During an early appearance, Martin forgot Akeman's name and introduced him as "Stringbean" because of his tall, thin build. Akeman used the nickname the rest of his life. Akeman originally was only a musician, but when another performer failed to show up one night, he was used as a singer and comic.
From then on, Akeman did both comedy and music. He appeared on WLAP-AM in Lexington, Kentucky, and played with a several groups in the late 1930s.
Akeman also played semi-professional baseball. It was as a ballplayer that he met bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe, who fielded with another semi-pro team. From 1943 to 1945, Akeman played banjo for Monroe's band, performing on recordings such as "Goodbye Old Pal."
He also teamed with Willie Egbert Westbrook as Stringbeans and Cousin Wilbur, a comedy duo who appeared on the same bill as Monroe's band. When he left Monroe, he was replaced by Earl Scruggs, a banjoist with a very different style.
In 1945, Akeman married Estelle Stanfill. The same year, he formed a comedy duet with Willie Egbert Westbrook. They were invited to perform on the Grand Ole Opry. The following year, Akeman began working with Grandpa Jones, another old-time banjo player and comedian.
Jones and Akeman worked together at the Opry and years later on the Hee Haw television series. They also became neighbors near Ridgetop, Tennessee. Akeman became a protégé of Uncle Dave Macon, one of the biggest Opry stars. Near the end of his life, Macon gave Akeman one of his prized banjos.
Akeman, by now known only as Stringbean, was one of the Opry's major stars in the 1950s. He adopted a stage costume that accentuated his height — a shirt with an exceptionally long waist and tail, tucked into a pair of short blue jeans (from Little Jimmy Dickens) belted around his knees.
This made him look like a very tall man with very short legs. The costume had many antecedents, including Slim Miller, a onetime stage comedian said to be Akeman's inspiration. Akeman did not record as a solo artist until the early 1960s, when he was signed by the Starday label.
By then Earl Scruggs, Akeman's replacement in Bill Monroe's band, had become the leading figure in banjo playing, especially among younger listeners. Scruggs-style three-finger picking became the predominant style copied by country and bluegrass banjo players.
However, Akeman and Grandpa Jones remained the most celebrated performers of the old-fashioned banjo playing, both "clawhammer" and "frailing." Akeman's skill is still admired by fans of the original banjo styles. He is listed with Uncle Dave Macon, Grandpa Jones and Ralph Stanley as the greatest old-time style banjo pickers.
Akeman kept his audience with his traditional playing and his mixture of comedy and song. He scored country-chart hits with "Chewing Gum" and "I Wonder Where Wanda Went."
Between 1962 and 1971, he recorded seven albums. The first, Old Time Pickin' & Grinnin' with Stringbean (1961), included folk songs (especially humorous animal songs), tall tales and country jokes.
Akeman was modest and unassuming, and he enjoyed hunting and fishing. Accustomed to the hard times of the Great Depression, Akeman and his wife Estelle lived frugally in a tiny cabin near Ridgetop, Tennessee. Their only indulgence was a Cadillac.
Depression-era bank failures caused Akeman not to trust banks with his money. Gossip around Nashville was that Akeman kept large amounts of cash on hand, even though he was by no means wealthy by entertainment industry standards.
On Saturday night, November 10, 1973, Akeman and his wife returned home after he performed at the Grand Ole Opry. Both were shot dead shortly after their arrival. The killers had waited for hours. The bodies were discovered the following morning by their neighbor, Grandpa Jones.
A police investigation resulted in the convictions of cousins, John A. Brown and Marvin Douglas Brown, both 23 years old. They had ransacked the cabin and killed Stringbean when he arrived. His wife shrieked when she saw her husband murdered. She begged for her life, but was shot as well.
At their trial (where Akeman's cast-member and friend Grandpa Jones testified, as he recognized one of the stolen firearms in the defendants' possession as a gift he had given Akeman), each defendant blamed the other for the homicides.
The killers took only a chain saw and some firearms. In 1996, 23 years after the murders, $20,000 in paper money was discovered behind a chimney brick in Stringbean's home. The money had deteriorated to such an extent that it was not usable and had to be turned in to a bank.
Marvin Douglas Brown fought his convictions in the appellate courts. On September 28, 1982, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the trial judge's order denying him a new trial.
Marvin Brown ultimately granted an exclusive interview to Larry Brinton of the Nashville Banner. He admitted his part in the burglary and murders, but insisted John Brown fired the fatal shots. As Brown, by his own admission, had committed burglary (a felony) that resulted in death, Brown was legally guilty of murder, regardless of who fired the shots, under the felony murder rule.
Marvin Brown died of natural causes in 2003, at the Brushy Mountain Prison, in Petros, Tennessee, and is buried in the prison cemetery. John Brown was incarcerated in a Tennessee Special Needs Facility.
In July, 2008, the Tennessee Parole Board deferred any parole for 36 months. He was again denied parole in July, 2011. In 2014, Brown was granted parole and released after serving 41 years of a 198-year sentence.
In 2009, Bluegrass artist Sam Bush recorded "The Ballad of Stringbean and Estelle," which tells the story of their murders.
In the 1971 recording of "The Grand Ole Opry Song," the first track on the LP "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" by The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band," there's a line, "Stringbean's with Hank Snow and ol' Fiddlin' Chubby Wise."
Here, Stringbean performs “Hillbilly Music Goin Round”
Sam Bush performs “Ballad of Stringbean & Estelle”
For the first 200 years or so of European settlement, Bedloe’s Island in New York Harbor was a smallpox quarantine station, a vacation haven and a fort.
On June 17, 1885 — 138 years ago today — the island found a new purpose.
The Isère, a French steamship, sailed into the harbor bearing the copper segments that would come together to form the Statue of Liberty. An account in The New York Times a few days later described the extreme pomp that greeted the vessel and its cargo as the harbor jammed with boats filled with crowds jostling for a glimpse.
“Every lady was waving a parasol or a handkerchief,” the newspaper reported, “gentlemen were flourishing hats and canes, and the whole was a sight that New-York Bay has never witnessed before and will probably never witness again.”
Bedloe’s Island was eventually renamed Liberty Island, but the star-shaped fort stayed. Its walls became the statue’s base.
Thanks New York Times
Jimmy at Slavin & Sons
Photo by Frank Beacham
Memory: New York’s Fulton Fish Market
A Photo Essay by Frank Beacham
It was about 2 a.m. on July 15, 2005 when the alarm clock went off.
The Fulton Fish Market at the South Street Seaport was about to close forever and I had long wanted to see it at work in the wee hours of the morning. I had avoided the trip, but it was now or never.
I had tried to round up some friends to go along, but only a couple joined me. The rest vow to this day that they regret it.
We arrived at the crowded Seaport about 3 a.m. Restaurant owners were there, bidding for the catch of the day. Coffee carts were selling java to keep everyone awake. Traders were actively peddling their wars.
It was a magical part of New York City I had never seen before. Here are some of the images I captured of that now mostly forgotten place.