Jazz vocalist, songwriter and actress Abbey Lincoln was born 93 years ago today
Abbey Lincoln was born 93 years ago today.
A jazz vocalist, songwriter and actress, Lincoln was unusual in that she wrote and performed her own compositions — expanding the expectations of jazz audiences. She was one of many singers influenced by Billie Holiday.
Lincoln’s debut album, Abbey Lincoln’s Affair – A Story of a Girl in Love, was followed by a series of albums for Riverside Records. In 1960, she sang on Max Roach's landmark civil rights-themed recording, We Insist! – Freedom Now Suite. Lincoln’s lyrics were often connected to the civil rights movement in America.
During the 1980s, Lincoln released only a few albums. However, in the 1990s and until her death at age 80 in 2010, she fulfilled a 10-album contract with Verve Records. These albums are highly regarded and represent a crowning achievement in Lincoln’s career.
Devil’s Got Your Tongue (1992) featured Rodney Kendrick, Grady Tate, J. J. Johnson, Stanley Turrentine, Babatunde Olatunji and The Staple Singers.
In 2003, Lincoln received a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Award.
With Ivan Dixon, she co-starred in Nothing But a Man, an independent film written and directed by Michael Roemer. In 1968, she also co-starred with Sidney Poitier and Beau Bridges in For Love of Ivy, and received a 1969 Golden Globe nomination for her appearance in the film.
Lincoln appeared in 1956 in The Girl Can’t Help It, for which she wore a dress which had been worn by Marilyn Monroe in Gentleman Prefer Blondes, and interpreted the theme song, working with Benny Carter. In the 1990 Spike Lee movie Mo’ Better Blues, Lincoln played young Bleek Gilliams’ mother.
Lincoln was married to drummer Max Roach from 1962 to 1970. Roach’s daughter from a previous marriage, Maxine, has appeared on several of Lincoln’s albums.
Here, Lincoln performs “Spread the Word” in the 1956 film, The Girl Can’t Help It. The blond in the clip is Jayne Mansfield.
A few years before she died, I met and interviewed Abbey Lincoln backstage at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem.
She called herself a folk singer, and compared her work to that of Hank Williams and Bob Dylan. She said her songs were “of the folk” and writing them kept her from having to go to a psychiatrist.
On this evening in 1963 — 60 years ago — Bob Dylan recorded the first session produced by Tom Wilson for his album, The Times They Are A-Changin'.
In Studio A of the Columbia Recording Studio in New York City, Dylan began work on his first collection of all original compositions. The title track became one of Dylan's best known songs.
Eight songs were recorded during that first session, but only one recording of "North Country Blues" was ultimately deemed usable and set aside as the master take. A master take of "Seven Curses" was also recorded, but it was left out of the final album sequence.
Another session at Studio A was held the following day, this time yielding master takes for four songs: "Ballad of Hollis Brown,” "With God on Our Side,” "Only a Pawn in Their Game" and "Boots of Spanish Leather.” All were later included on the final album sequence.
The album consists mostly of stark, sparsely-arranged story songs concerning issues such as racism, poverty and social change.
The Times They Are a-Changin' was Dylan’s third studio album. It was released on January 13, 1964 by Columbia Records and was his first record to feature only original compositions. Many feel the album captures the spirit of social and political upheaval that characterized the 1960s.
The Times They Are a-Changin' peaked at No. 20 on the U.S. chart, eventually going gold, and belatedly reaching No. 4 in the UK in 1965.
Lucille Ball, one of America’s most famous redheads and beloved comic actresses, was born 112 years ago today.
Born near Jamestown, New York, Ball went to New York City at age 15 to attend drama school and become an actress. However, she received little encouragement and was rejected multiple times from Broadway chorus lines.
After waitressing and working as a hat model, Ball was hired in 1933 as the Chesterfield Cigarette Girl.
Around this time, she began playing bit parts in Hollywood movies. She went on to leading roles in dozens of B-movies in the late 1930s and 1940s. In 1940, Ball met the Cuban bandleader, Desi Arnaz, while shooting Too Many Girls. The couple soon eloped.
From 1947 to 1951, Ball starred as a ditzy wife on the radio program, My Favorite Husband. When CBS decided to launch the popular series on the relatively new medium of television, Lucy insisted that Arnaz be cast as her husband. Network executives initially argued against the idea, contending that no one would believe the couple was married.
However, Ball and Arnaz were eventually cast as Lucy and Ricky Ricardo in I Love Lucy, which aired from 1951 to 1957 and became one of the most popular TV sitcoms in history.
According to Ball’s obituary in The New York Times: “It was a major national event when, on Jan. 19, 1953, Lucy Ricardo gave birth to Little Ricky on the air the same night Lucille Ball gave birth to her second child, Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y de Acha 4th.
The audience for the episode was estimated at 44 million, a record at the time, and CBS said one million viewers responded with congratulatory telephone calls, telegrams, letters or gifts. The success of I Love Lucy turned the couple’s production company, Desilu, into a multimillion-dollar business.
Ball and Arnaz divorced in 1960, and their professional collaboration ended. Arnaz died in 1986.
Ball also starred in several other “Lucy” programs, including The Lucy Show, which debuted in 1962 and ran for six seasons, and Here’s Lucy, in which she starred with her two children. The show was cancelled in 1974.
A later show, Life with Lucy, featuring Lucy as a grandmother, was cancelled after only eight episodes in 1986.
Ball died at age 77 on April 26, 1989.
In 2001, the U.S. Postal Service honored Ball with a commemorative stamp.
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Los Angeles, 1953
Photo by Los Angeles Times
Diane Di Prima with Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) at the Cedar Tavern in New York City
Photo by Fred W. McDarrah
Diane Di Prima, female Beat Generation poet, was born 89 years ago today.
Born in Brooklyn, Di Prima attended Hunter College High School and Swarthmore College before dropping out to be a poet in Manhattan. Her official online biography notes that she is "a second generation American of Italian descent" and that “her maternal grandfather, Domenico Mallozzi, was an active anarchist and associate of Carlo Tresca and Emma Goldman."
Di Prima began writing as a child and by the age of 19 was corresponding with Ezra Pound and Kenneth Patchen. Her first book of poetry, This Kind of Bird Flies Backward, was published in 1958 by Hettie and LeRoi Jones' Totem Press.
Di Prima spent the late 1950s and early 1960s in Manhattan, where she participated in the emerging Beat movement. She spent some time in California at Stinson Beach and Topanga Canyon, returned to New York City and eventually moved to San Francisco permanently.
Di Prima was a bridge figure between the Beat movement and the later hippies, as well as between East Coast and West Coast artists. She edited The Floating Bear with Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) and was co-founder of the New York Poets Theatre and founder of the Poets Press.
In 1966, she spent some time at Millbrook with Timothy Leary's psychedelic community and printed the first two editions of "Psychodelic Prayers" by Leary in 1966. In 1969, she wrote a fictionalized, erotic account detailing her experience in the Beat movement titled, Memoirs of a Beatnik.
From 1974 to 1997, Di Prima taught Poetry at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, of the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado, sharing the program with fellow Beats Allen Ginsberg (co-founder of the program), William Burroughs and Gregory Corso.
In 2001, she published Recollections of My Life as a Woman: The New York Years. In the late 1960s, she moved to California, where she became involved with the Diggers and studied Buddhism, Sanskrit, Gnosticism and alchemy. In 1966, she signed a vow of tax resistance to protest the war in Vietnam.
She also published her major work, Loba, in 1978, with an enlarged edition in 1998. Her selected poems, Pieces of a Song, was published in 1990 and a memoir, Recollections of My Life as a Woman, in 2001. She is also a prose writer, memoirist, playwright and social justice activist.
Di Prima authored nearly four dozen books, with her work translated into more than 20 languages. In 2009, Di Prima was named the Poet Laureate of San Francisco.
Di Prima died on October 25, 2020, at San Francisco General Hospital. She was battling several health issues such as Parkinson's Disease and Sjogren's Syndrome. However, she did not suffer any cognitive impediment and was working on several books until two weeks prior to her death.
Andy Warhol, pioneer in the pop art movement, was born 95 years ago today.
Born Andrew Warhola in Pittsburgh, Warhol was a frail and diminutive man with a shock of silver-blond hair. In the 1960s, he outgrew that image to become a cultural icon.
The son of immigrants from Czechoslovakia, Warhol’s father was a coal miner. For years, there was confusion as to his exact date and place of birth because Warhol gave conflicting accounts of these details, probably out of embarrassment of his provincial origins.
"I'd prefer to remain a mystery," he once said. "I never give my background and, anyway, I make it all up different every time I'm asked."
He enrolled in the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) and graduated with a degree in pictorial design in 1949. That year, he moved to New York City, where he found work as a commercial illustrator. After being incorrectly credited as "Warhol" under an early published drawing, he decided to permanently remove the "a" from his last name.
He began painting in the late 1950s and took literally the advice of an art teacher who said he should paint the things he liked. He liked ordinary things, such as comic strips, canned soup and soft drinks. So he painted them.
In 1962, he received notoriety in the art world when his paintings of Campbell's soup cans, Coca-Cola bottles and wooden replicas of Brillo soap-pad boxes were exhibited in Los Angeles and New York.
In 1963, he dispensed with the paintbrush and began mass-producing images of consumer goods and celebrities like Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy. These prints, accomplished through his use of a silk-screen technique, displayed multiple versions of the same image in garish colors and became his trademark.
He was hailed as the leader of the pop art movement, in which Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and others depicted "popular" images such as a soup can or comic strip as a means of fusing high and low culture and commenting on both.
Although shy and soft-spoken, Warhol attracted dozens of followers who were anything but. This mob of underground artists, social curiosities and hangers-on operated out of the "Factory," Warhol's silver-painted studio in Manhattan.
In the mid-1960s, Warhol began making experimental films, employing his friends as actors and billing them as "superstars." Some of his films were monumental essays on boredom, such as the eight-hour continuous shot of the Empire State Building in Empire (1964), and others were gritty representations of underground life, like The Chelsea Girls in 1966.
He also organized multimedia events such as "The Exploding Plastic Inevitable" and sponsored the influential rock group, the Velvet Underground.
In 1968, Warhol was shot and nearly killed by Valerie Solanis, a follower who claimed he was "exercising too much influence" over her life. After more than a year of recuperation from his wounds, Warhol returned to his career and founded Interview magazine, a publication centered on his fascination with the cult of celebrity.
He became a fixture on the fashion and jet-set social scenes and was famous for pithy cultural observations like, "in the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes." Meanwhile, he continued to produce commercially successful silk-screen prints of entertainment and political figures.
In the 1980s, after a period of relative quiet in his career, he returned to the contemporary art scene as a mentor and friend to a new generation of artists, including Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. With the rise of postmodern art, he came to be regarded as an archetypal role model by many young artists.
On February 22, 1987, he died in the hospital of a heart attack shortly after a gall bladder operation.
In 1994, the Andy Warhol Museum, the largest single-artist museum in the United States, opened in Pittsburgh.
Photo by Timothy White
Robert Mitchum, film actor, was born 106 years ago today.
Mitchum was also a director, author, composer and singer. He rose to prominence for his starring roles in several classic films noir, and is generally considered a forerunner of the antiheroes prevalent in film during the 1950s and '60s.
Mitchum’s best-known films include The Story of G.I. Joe (1945), Out of the Past (1947), The Night of the Hunter (1955), The Enemy Below (1957), Thunder Road (1958), Cape Fear (1962) and El Dorado (1966).
Born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, his mother, Ann Harriet Gunderson, was a Norwegian immigrant and sea captain's daughter. His father, James Thomas Mitchum, of Scottish-Ulster and Blackfoot Indian descent, was a shipyard and railroad worker. A sister, Annette (known as Julie Mitchum during her acting career), was born in 1914.
James Mitchum was crushed to death in a rail-yard accident in Charleston, South Carolina in February 1919, when his son was less than two years old. After his father's death, his mother was awarded a government pension, and soon realized she was pregnant with her second son John, who was born in September.
She remarried to a former Royal Naval Reserve officer, Major Hugh Cunningham Morris, who helped her care for the children. Ann and the major had a daughter, Carol Morris, who was born July, 1927 on the family farm in Delaware. When all of the children were old enough to attend school, Ann found employment as a linotype operator for the Bridgeport Post.
Throughout Mitchum's childhood, he was known as a prankster, often involved in fistfights and mischief. When he was 12, his mother sent Mitchum to live with his grandparents in Felton, Delaware, where he was promptly expelled from his middle school for scuffling with the principal.
A year later, in 1930, he moved in with his older sister to New York's Hell's Kitchen. After being expelled from Haaren High School, he left his sister and traveled throughout the country on railroad cars, taking a number of jobs including ditch-digging for the Civilian Conservation Corps and professional boxing. He experienced numerous adventures during his years as one of the Depression era's "wild boys of the road."
At age 14 in Savannah, Georgia, he was arrested for vagrancy and put on a local chain gang. By Mitchum's own account, he escaped and returned to his family in Delaware. During this time, while recovering from injuries that nearly cost him a leg, he met the woman he would marry, a teenaged Dorothy Spence. He soon went back on the road, eventually riding the rails to California.
Mitchum arrived in Long Beach, California in 1936, staying again with his sister, Julie. Soon, the rest of the Mitchum family joined them in Long Beach. During this time, he worked as a ghostwriter for astrologer Carroll Righter. His sister Julie convinced him to join the local theater guild with her.
In his years with the Players Guild of Long Beach, he made a living as a stagehand and occasional bit-player in company productions. He also wrote several short pieces which were performed by the guild.
According to Lee Server's biography (Robert Mitchum: Baby, I Don't Care), Mitchum put his talent for poetry to work writing song lyrics and monologues for Julie's nightclub performances.
In 1940, he returned East to marry Dorothy Spence, taking her back to California. He remained a footloose character until the birth of their first child James, nicknamed Josh, and two more children followed: Chris and Petrine. Mitchum got a steady job as a machine operator with the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation.
A nervous breakdown (which resulted in temporary blindness), apparently from job-related stress, led Mitchum to look for work as an actor or extra in films. An agent he had met got him an interview with the producer of the Hopalong Cassidy series of B-Westerns.
He was hired to play the villain in several films in the series during 1942 and 1943. He continued to find further work as an extra and supporting actor in numerous productions for various studios. After impressing director Mervyn LeRoy during the making of Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, Mitchum signed a seven-year contract with RKO Radio Pictures.
Mitchum is in the Top 25 of the American Film Institute's list of the greatest male stars of Classic American Cinema.
A lifelong heavy smoker, Mitchum died on July 1, 1997, in Santa Barbara, California, due to complications of lung cancer and emphysema. He was about five weeks short of his 80th birthday. His body was cremated and his ashes scattered at sea.
Here is Mitchum on love and hate in “Night of the Hunter.”
The Beatles’ Revolver, the group’s seventh studio album, was released 57 years ago this week.
The album debuted on August 5, 1966 in the United Kingdom and three days later in the United States. It spent 34 weeks on the UK Albums Chart. For seven of those weeks, it held the #1 spot.
Reduced to eleven songs for the North American market, Revolver was the last Beatles album to be subjected to Capitol Records' policy of altering the band's intended running order and content. In America, the album topped the Billboard Top LPs listings for six weeks.
Revolver, produced by George Martin, marked a progression from the group's 1965 release, Rubber Soul, in terms of style and experimentation. It heralded the band's arrival as studio innovators. Revolver's classic cover artwork was designed by Klaus Voormann.
The album's sounds include the incorporation of tape loops and backwards recordings on the psychedelic "Tomorrow Never Knows,” the use of a classical string octet on "Eleanor Rigby” and the Indian-music backing of "Love You To.”
Aside from methods such as varispeeding, reversed tapes and close audio miking, the sessions for the album resulted in the invention of automatic double tracking (ADT), a technique that was invented by engineers at Abbey Road studios. ADT was soon adopted throughout the recording industry.
The Revolver sessions also produced a non-album single, "Paperback Writer,” backed with "Rain,” for which the Beatles filmed their first on-location promotional films.
Together with the children's novelty song "Yellow Submarine,” "Eleanor Rigby" became an international hit when issued as a double A-side single. The album's U.S. release coincided with the Beatles' final concert tour, during which they refrained from performing any of the songs live.
Ianna and her Doom, 1983
Photo by Sally Mann