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Junior Parker, Memphis blues singer remembered for his velvet-smooth voice, was born 91 years ago today
Junior Parker was born 91 years ago today.
A Memphis blues singer and musician, Parker is best remembered for his unique voice which has been described as "honeyed" and "velvet-smooth."
"For years, Junior Parker deserted down home harmonica blues for uptown blues-soul music,” a music journalist wrote.
Parker sang in gospel groups as a child and played on the various blues circuits beginning in his teenage years. His biggest influence as a harmonica player was Sonny Boy Williamson, with whom he worked before moving on to work for Howlin' Wolf in 1949.
Around 1950, he was a member of Memphis's ad hoc group, the Beale Streeters, with Bobby 'Blue' Bland and B.B. King. In 1951, he formed his own band, the Blue Flames, with the guitarist, Pat Hare. Parker was discovered in 1952 by Ike Turner, who signed him to Modern Records.
He put out one single on this record label, "You're My Angel." This brought him to the attention of Sam Phillips, and he and his band signed onto Sun Records in 1953. There they produced three successful songs: "Feelin' Good" (which reached #5 on the U.S. R&B chart), "Love My Baby" and "Mystery Train," later covered by Elvis Presley.
For Presley's version of "Mystery Train," Scotty Moore borrowed the guitar riff from Parker's "Love My Baby," played by Pat Hare. "Love My Baby" and "Mystery Train" are considered important contributions to the rockabilly genre.
Later in 1953, Parker toured with Bobby Bland and Johnny Ace, and also joined Duke Records. Parker and Bland headed the highly successful Blues Consolidated Revue, which became a staple part of the southern blues circuit.
He continued to have a string of hits on the R&B chart, including the smooth "Next Time You See Me" (1957); re-makes of Roosevelt Sykes' song "Driving Wheel" (1961), Robert Johnson's "Sweet Home Chicago," Guitar Slim's "The Things That I Used to Do" (1963) and Don Robey's "Mother-in-Law Blues" (1956); plus his own "Stand by Me" (1961).
His success was limited after he left Duke in 1966. He recorded for various labels, including Mercury, Blue Rock, Minit and Capitol.
Parker died on November 18, 1971 at age 39 in Blue Island, Illinois during surgery for a brain tumor.
On his 1974 album, Explores Your Mind, Al Green dedicated his original version of the song "Take Me To The River" to Parker, who he describes as "a cousin of mine who's gone on, and we'd kinda like to carry on in his name."
Here, Parker performs the original “Mystery Train,” 1953
Traffic crosses the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco for the first time on opening day, May 27, 1937
On this day in 1937 — 86 years ago — the Golden Gate Bridge, connecting San Francisco with Marin County, California, officially opened amid citywide celebration.
Named for the narrow strait that marks the entrance to the San Francisco Bay from the Pacific Ocean, the Golden Gate Bridge was constructed from January, 1933 to May, 1937.
When the bridge opened — at 4,200 feet — it was the longest suspension bridge in the world. From the beginning, the bridge's location posed challenges for its construction, not least because of its proximity to the mighty San Andreas Fault, which passes from north to south through the San Francisco Bay area.
In addition, the tumultuous waters of the strait posed grave dangers for the underwater construction work necessary to build the bridge. Still, the engineer, Joseph Strauss, waged a tireless 16-year campaign to convince skeptical city officials and other opponents of the controversial project.
On the bridge's opening day, he triumphantly exclaimed:
"The bridge which could not and should not be built, which the War Department would not permit, which the rocky foundation of the pier base would not support, which would have no traffic to justify it, which would ruin the beauty of the Golden Gate, which could not be completed within my costs estimate of $27,165,000, stands before you in all its majestic splendor, in complete refutation of every attack made upon it."
By 6 a.m. on May 27, 18,000 people were lined up on both the San Francisco and Marin sides. In all, some 200,000 showed up that day. At the appointed hour, a foghorn blew and the toll gates opened, releasing the earliest arrivals, who rushed to be the first to cross. Many schools, offices and stores were closed and the day was designated "Pedestrian Day." The next day, the bridge opened to vehicular traffic.
Across the country in the White House, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proclaimed the bridge open to the world, and by the end of the day, more than 32,000 vehicles had paid tolls and crossed.
Here is a video on the building of the bridge
Bruce Cockburn is 78 years old today.
A Canadian folk/rock guitarist and singer-songwriter, Cockburn has written songs in styles ranging from folk to jazz-influenced rock to rock and roll.
Born in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, he spent some of his early years on a farm outside Pembroke, Ontario. His first guitar was one he found around 1959 in his grandmother's attic. He used to play it along with radio hits.
Cockburn was a student (but did not study music) at Nepean High School, where his 1964 yearbook photo states his desire "to become a musician." He attended Berklee School of Music in Boston for three semesters in the mid-1960s.
In 1966, he joined an Ottawa band called The Children, which lasted for about a year. In the spring of 1967, he joined the final lineup of The Esquires. He moved to Toronto that summer to form The Flying Circus with former Bobby Kris & The Imperials members, Marty Fisher and Gordon MacBain, and ex-Tripp member, Neil Lillie.
Cockburn's first solo appearance was at the Mariposa Folk Festival in 1967, and in 1969 he was the headliner. In 1970, he released his first, self-titled, solo album. Cockburn's guitar work and songwriting skills won him an enthusiastic following.
His early work featured rural and nautical imagery, Biblical metaphors and the conviction that heaven is close despite hardship. Raised as an agnostic, early in his career he became a devout Christian. Many of his albums from the 1970s refer to his Christian belief, which in turn informs the concerns for human rights and environmentalism expressed on his 1980s albums.
His references to Christianity in his music include the Grail imagery of 20th century Christian poet Charles Williams and the ideas of theologian Harvey Cox.
While Cockburn had been popular in Canada for years, he did not have a big impact in the United States until 1979, with the release of the album, Dancing in the Dragon's Jaws.
"Wondering Where the Lions Are," the first single from that album, reached #21 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S. in June, 1980, and earned Cockburn an appearance on NBC's hit TV show, Saturday Night Live.
Through the 1980s Cockburn's songwriting became first more urban, more global and then more political. He became heavily involved with progressive causes. His growing political concerns were first hinted at in three discs: Humans, Inner City Front and The Trouble with Normal.
These concerns became more evident in 1984, with Cockburn's second U.S. radio hit, "If I Had a Rocket Launcher" (#88 in the U.S.) from the Stealing Fire album. He had written the song a year earlier, following a visit to Guatemalan refugee camps in Mexico that were attacked before and after his visit by Guatemalan military helicopters. His political activism continues to the present.
Cockburn has travelled to many countries (such as Mozambique and Iraq), played numerous benefit concerts and written songs on a variety of political subjects ranging from the International Monetary Fund to land mines. His internationalist bent is reflected in the many world music influences in his music, including reggae and Latin music.
Here, Cockburn performs “The Last Night of the World”
Bob Dylan with girlfriend, Suze Rotolo, in 1963
Though birthday celebrations have been going on all week, it was on this day in 1963 — 60 years ago — that Bob Dylan released his second album, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. The record transformed him from a popular local act to a global phenomenon.
"Of all the precipitously emergent singers of folk songs in the continuing renascence of that self-assertive tradition," wrote journalist and critic Nat Hentoff, "none has equaled Bob Dylan in singularity of impact."
Dylan's impact on the folk scene stemmed at first from his mastery and idiosyncratic performances of a vast repertoire of traditional folk songs. His devotion to the music of the great Woody Guthrie is what brought Bob Dylan to New York in the first place, and his "Song To Woody" was one of only two original numbers on his widely ignored debut album, Bob Dylan (1962).
The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, on the other hand, included only two non-original tunes, and the speed with which Dylan's own songs from that album were added to the repertoires of other musicians is what really turned him into a household name.
In the summer of 1963, Peter, Paul and Mary turned the opening track of The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan into an international pop hit. "Blowin' In The Wind" gave most future Bob Dylan fans their first exposure to his songwriting talents, and soon his work had found its way into nearly every genre of popular music via cover versions by artists like Sam Cooke, Johnny Cash and the Byrds.
But the impact of the best-known songs on The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan — "Blowin' In The Wind," "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right," "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall" — was not nearly as great as the impact of Dylan's fundamental approach to music.
By writing nearly all of his own material, and writing it from a distinctly personal point of view, Dylan created a template that would alter the course of many careers other than his.
As John Lennon once said in discussing The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, which reached the Beatles in their Paris hotel fully a year after its release, “I think it was the first time I ever heard Dylan at all... And for the rest of our three weeks in Paris, we didn't stop playing it."
Hubert Humphrey: A Personal Story
Many of you have probably never heard of Hubert Humphrey. But he was the 38th Vice President of the United States under Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s and, before that, was a longtime U.S. Senator from Minnesota. He ran against and lost the presidency to Richard Nixon in 1968.
Humphrey was born 111 years ago today.
By today’s incredibly low standards, he was not a bad politician. He became known for his advocacy of liberal causes (such as civil rights, arms control, a nuclear test ban, food stamps and humanitarian foreign aid).
But, Humphrey was also known for his love of television cameras, microphones and long-winded, witty speeches. The reason I bring all of this up is because Humphrey was one of those “coming of age” politicians for me. One where I first learned that all we see on TV is not true.
One funny Humphrey story was when Jim Covington, my mentor in shooting 16mm film at WIS-TV in Columbia, S.C., taught me a trick.
Humphrey, as vice president, was coming into a small South Carolina airport and no other press people were there. Even in those days, the Secret Service wouldn’t let a lone cameraman near the vice president.
So Covington rigged several microphones on stands in Humphrey’s view as he got off the plane. Only one of the microphones, the one connected to our camera, was operative. Sure enough, the bait worked. Humphrey saw the row of microphones and was lured over to have a “press conference.”
Covington got his one-man, exclusive interview with the vice president using that little deception.
Humphrey had a consistently cheerful and upbeat demeanor in public, and his forceful advocacy of liberal causes led him to be nicknamed "The Happy Warrior" by many of his Senate colleagues and political journalists. For a while, as a naïve kid, I actually believed that nickname.
That is until the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, a bizarre week by anyone’s standards. I somehow found myself in a small room with the then presidential nominee. Suddenly, the happy warrior wasn’t so happy anymore.
Humphrey started cursing and letting out a string of expletives that was startling to anyone who had previously bought the “Happy Warrior” image. This South Carolina kid was totally stunned. In that very instant, any notion of truth in politics was over for me. Forever!
Later, while working at NBC, I was assigned to Humphrey’s funeral in Minnesota. All I remember was the 20 degree below zero temperature outside. My beard froze, I had trouble breathing and thought for a few minutes that I would die. I have never been so cold before or since that day.
Then, I remembered Humphrey’s steamy language in the little room in Chicago and could only smile at the grand irony of the moment.
Humphrey, in death, had gotten the last laugh.
Dashiell Hammett, author of The Maltese Falcon, was born in Maryland on this day in 1894 — 129 years ago.
Hammett left school at age 13 and took a series of low-paying jobs, eventually landing at Pinkerton's detective agency. He worked as a detective for eight years and turned his experiences into fiction that set the mold for later writers like Raymond Chandler.
Hammett's deadpan description of violent or emotional events came to be known as the "hard-boiled" style of detective fiction.
Hammett published short stories in his characteristic deadpan style, starting in 1929 with Fly Paper. He published two novels in the same style that year, Red Harvest and The Dain Curse.
The following year, he published The Maltese Falcon, which introduced detective Sam Spade. The novel was filmed three times: once in 1931; once in 1936 under the title, Satan Met a Lady, starring Bette Davis; and again in 1941 starring Humphrey Bogart.
Hammett became involved with playwright Lillian Hellman (author of The Children's Hour in 1934 and The Little Foxes in 1939), who served as the model for Nora Charles in his 1934 comic mystery, The Thin Man. The book was made into a movie the same year, starring William Powell and Myrna Loy, and the characters of Nick and Nora Charles inspired several sequel films.
Hammett and Hellman remained romantically involved until Hammett's death in 1961.
The Falcon with star, Humphrey Bogart
The Maltese Falcon is a 1941 film noir based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett.
Directed by John Huston, the film stars Humphrey Bogart as private investigator Sam Spade and Mary Astor as his "femme fatale" client. Gladys George, Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet co-star, with Greenstreet appearing in his film debut.
The Maltese Falcon was Huston's directorial debut and was nominated for three Academy Awards.
Fred Sexton, who died in 1995, was the artist and sculptor of the Maltese Falcon, the statuette prop for the film. Sexton taught art and headed the Art Students League in Los Angeles between 1949 and 1953. Sexton made “preliminary sketches” for the Maltese Falcon prop on a “manila envelope,” and then sculpted the model for the prop in clay. During visits to the film set, the prop was “shiny and black.”
The "Maltese Falcon" itself is said to have been based on the "Kniphausen Hawk," a ceremonial pouring vessel made in 1697 for George William von Kniphausen, Count of the Holy Roman Empire. It is modeled after a hawk perched on a rock and is encrusted with red garnets, amethysts, emeralds and blue sapphires. The vessel is currently owned by the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire and is an integral piece of the Chatsworth House collection.
A 45-pound metal prop known to have appeared in the film was sold at auction on November 25, 2013 for over $4 million, including the buyers fee.
On Sept. 24, 2010, Guernsey's auctioned a four pound, 5.4 ounce resin falcon for $305,000 to a group of buyers that included actor Leonardo DiCaprio and billionaire Stewart Rahr, owner of pharmaceutical and generics wholesaler, Kinray. The prop was discovered at a flea market in New Jersey in 1991 by Emmy-winning producer/director Ara Chekmayan.
The Maltese Falcon is considered a classic example of a MacGuffin, a plot device that motivates the characters of the story but otherwise has little relevance.
In 1998, the Modern Library ranked The Maltese Falcon 56th on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.
Isadora Duncan, dancer, was born 146 years ago today.
Born in California, Duncan lived in Western Europe and the Soviet Union from the age of 22 until her death at age 50. She performed to acclaim throughout Europe after being exiled from the United States for her Soviet sympathies.
Duncan's fondness for flowing scarves was a contributing factor towards her death in an automobile accident in Nice, France, when she was a passenger in an Amilcar. Her silk scarf, draped around her neck, became entangled around the open-spoked wheels and rear axle, breaking her neck.
In her early years in the San Francisco area, Duncan attended school but, finding it to be constricting to her individuality, she dropped out. As her family was very poor, both she and her sister gave dance classes to local children to earn extra money.
In 1896, Duncan became part of Augustin Daly's theater company in New York. She soon became disillusioned with the form. Her father, along with his third wife and their daughter, died in the 1898 sinking of the British passenger steamer, SS Mohegan.
Duncan’s different approach to dance was evident in her early classes, in which she “followed [her] fantasy and improvised, teaching any pretty thing that came into [her] head.”
A desire to travel brought Duncan to Chicago where she auditioned for many theater companies, finally finding a place in Augustin Daly's company. This job took her to New York City where her unique vision of dance clashed with the popular pantomimes of theater companies.
Feeling unhappy and limited with her work in Daly’s company and with American audiences, Duncan decided to move to London in 1898. There she found work performing in the drawing rooms of the wealthy and inspiration from the Greek vases and bas-reliefs in the British Museum. The money she earned from these engagements allowed her to rent a dance studio to develop her work and create larger performances for the stage.
From London, Duncan traveled to Paris, where she drew inspiration from the Louvre and the Exhibition of 1900. One day in 1902, Loie Fuller visited Duncan’s studio and invited Duncan to tour with her. This took Duncan all over Europe creating new works using her innovative dance technique.
Duncan’s style consisted of a focus on natural movement instead of the rigid technique of ballet. She spent most of the rest of her life in this manner, touring in Europe as well as North and South America, where she performed to mixed critical reviews.
Duncan became quite popular for her distinct style and inspired many visual artists, such as Antoine Bourdelle, Auguste Rodin and Abraham Walkowitz to create works based on her.
Duncan disliked the commercial aspects of public performance, like touring and contracts, because she felt they distracted her from her real mission — the creation of beauty and the education of the young. To achieve her mission, she opened schools to teach young women her dance philosophy. The first was established in 1904 in Grunewald, Germany.
This institution was the birthplace of the "Isadorables" – Anna, Maria-Theresa, Irma, Lisel, Gretel, Erika, Isabelle and Temple (Isadora's niece) – Duncan’s protégées, who would go on to continue her legacy. In 1914, Duncan moved to the United States and transferred the school there.
A townhouse on Gramercy Park was provided for its use, and its studio was nearby, on the northeast corner of 23rd Street and Fourth Avenue, which is now Park Avenue South.
Otto Kahn, the head of Kuhn, Loeb & Co. gave Duncan use of the very modern Century Theatre at West 60th Street and Central Park West for her performances and productions, which included a staging of Oedipus Rex, which involved almost all of Duncan's extended entourage and friends.
Duncan wrote of American dancing: “let them come forth with great strides, leaps and bounds, with lifted forehead and far-spread arms, to dance.” Her focus on natural movement emphasized steps, such as skipping, outside of codified ballet technique. Duncan also cites the sea as an early inspiration for her movement.
By the end of her life, Duncan's performing career had dwindled and she became as notorious for her financial woes, scandalous love life and all-too-frequent public drunkenness as for her contributions to the arts. She spent her final years moving between Paris and the Mediterranean, running up debts at hotels.
Duncan spent short periods in apartments rented on her behalf by a decreasing number of friends and supporters, many of whom attempted to assist her in writing an autobiography. They hoped it might be successful enough to support her.
Duncan's fondness for flowing scarves was a contributing factor towards her death in an automobile accident in Nice, France, at the age of 50. On the night of September 14, 1927, Duncan was a passenger in the Amilcar automobile of a French-Italian mechanic Benoît Falchetto, whom she had nicknamed "Buggatti.” Her silk scarf draped around her neck, became entangled around the open-spoked wheels and rear axle, breaking her neck.
As The New York Times noted in its obituary: "Isadora Duncan, the American dancer, tonight met a tragic death at Nice on the Riviera. According to dispatches from Nice, Miss Duncan was hurled in an extraordinary manner from an open automobile in which she was riding and instantly killed by the force of her fall to the stone pavement."
The accident gave rise to Gertrude Stein's mordant remark that "affectations can be dangerous.”
Here is a short video of Isadora Duncan dancers
Woman Smoking At The Window
Self portrait by Diana Sosnowska
UK photographer Diana Sosnowska carefully staged this self-portrait taken in the artist’s former apartment in Edinburgh, Scotland, on the eve of the pandemic’s spread throughout the UK in 2020.
Inspired by midcentury fashion and aesthetics, the photographer references the paintings of Edward Hopper and pays tribute to his 1961 work, "A Woman in the Sun."
Like Hopper’s piece, the central figure gazes outside the frame while illuminated by the muted light of the bleak grey horizons, both literal and metaphoric.