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Kris Kristofferson, musician and actor, is 87 years old today
Kris Kristofferson, New York City, Nov. 8, 2011
Photo by Frank Beacham
Kris Kristofferson is 87 years old today.
A country music singer, songwriter, musician and film actor, Kristofferson is known for such hits as "Me and Bobby McGee," "For the Good Times," "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down" and "Help Me Make It Through the Night."
Kristofferson is the sole writer of most of his songs, and he has collaborated with various other figures of the Nashville scene such as Shel Silverstein.
In 1985, Kristofferson joined fellow country artists Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash in forming the country music supergroup, "The Highwaymen."
Born in Brownsville, Texas, Kristofferson’s father, an Army officer, pushed his child towards a military career. Like most "military brats," Kristofferson moved around frequently as a youth, finally settling down in San Mateo, California, where he graduated from San Mateo High School.
An aspiring writer, Kristofferson enrolled in Pomona College in 1954. He experienced his first dose of fame when he appeared in Sports Illustrated's "Faces in the Crowd" for his achievements in collegiate rugby union, football and track and field. He and fellow classmates revived the Claremont Colleges Rugby Club in 1958, which has remained a Southern California rugby dynasty.
Kristofferson earned a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University, where his college was Merton. While at Oxford, he was awarded his Blue for boxing and began writing songs. With the help of his manager, Larry Parnes, he recorded for Top Rank Records under the name Kris Carson. Parnes was working to sell Kris as "a Yank at Oxford" to the British public.
Kristofferson was willing to accept that promotional approach if it helped his singing career, which he hoped would enable him to progress towards his goal of becoming a novelist. This early phase of his music career was unsuccessful.
In 1960, Kristofferson graduated with a degree in English literature and married his long-time girlfriend, Fran Beer. Under pressure from his family, Kristofferson ultimately joined the U.S. Army and achieved the rank of Captain. He became a helicopter pilot after receiving flight training at Fort Rucker, Alabama. He also completed Ranger School.
During the early 1960s, he was stationed in West Germany as a member of the 8th Infantry Division. It was during this time that he resumed his music career and formed a band. In 1965, when his tour of duty ended, Kristofferson was given an assignment to teach English Literature at West Point.
Instead, he decided to leave the Army and pursue songwriting. His family disowned him because of this decision and they never reconciled with him. They saw it as a rejection of everything they stood for, in spite of the fact that Kristofferson has said he is proud of his time in the military. He received the AVA (American Veterans Awards) "Veteran of the Year Award" in 2003.
Kristofferson has said that he was greatly influenced by the poet, William Blake, while at Oxford, who had proclaimed that if one has a God-given creative talent then one should use it or else reap sorrow and despair. He sent some of his compositions to a friend's relative, Marijohn Wilkin, a successful Nashville songwriter. But when he arrived in the town to see Sam Phillips of Sun Records, his shoes were, according to Philips, "falling off his feet."
After leaving the Army in 1965, Kristofferson moved to Nashville. He worked at a variety of odd jobs while struggling for success in music, burdened with medical expenses resulting from his son's defective esophagus. He and his wife soon divorced.
He got a job sweeping floors at Columbia Studios in Nashville. There he met Johnny Cash, who initially accepted some of Kristofferson's songs, but chose not to use them. During Kristofferson's janitorial stint for Columbia, Bob Dylan recorded his landmark 1966 album, Blonde on Blonde, at the studio. Although he had the opportunity to watch some of Dylan's recording sessions, Kristofferson never met Dylan out of fear that he would be fired for approaching him.
In 1966, Dave Dudley released a successful Kristofferson single, "Viet Nam Blues." Within the next few years, more Kristofferson originals hit the charts, performed by Roy Drusky ("Jody and the Kid"); Billy Walker & the Tennessee Walkers ("From the Bottle to the Bottom"); Ray Stevens ("Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down"); Jerry Lee Lewis ("Once More with Feeling"); Faron Young ("Your Time's Comin'"); and Roger Miller ("Me and Bobby McGee," "Best of all Possible Worlds" "Darby's Castle").
He achieved some success as a performer himself, following Johnny Cash's introduction of Kristofferson at the Newport Folk Festival. Kristofferson had previously grabbed Cash's attention when he landed his helicopter in Cash's yard without prior arrangement and gave him some tapes.
In 1971, Janis Joplin, who dated Kristofferson for some time until her death, had a #1 hit with "Me and Bobby McGee" from her posthumous album, Pearl. When released, it stayed at the top of the charts for weeks. Kristofferson released his second album, The Silver Tongued Devil and I in 1971. The album was a success and established Kristofferson's career as a recording artist in his own right.
Soon after, Kristofferson made his acting debut in The Last Movie (directed by Dennis Hopper) and appeared at the Isle of Wight Festival. In 1971, he acted in Cisco Pike and released his third album, Border Lord. The album was all-new material and sales were sluggish. He also swept the Grammy Awards that year with numerous songs nominated, winning country song of the year for "Help Me Make It Through the Night."
For the next few years, Kristofferson focused on acting. He appeared in Blume in Love (directed by Paul Mazursky) and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (directed by Sam Peckinpah).
He continued acting, in Sam Peckinpah's Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, Convoy, (another Sam Peckinpah film which was released in 1978), Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Vigilante Force, a film based on the Yukio Mishima novel The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea and A Star Is Born (with Barbra Streisand), for which he received a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor (and which he noted had been an experience "worse than boot camp") and Flashpoint in 1984 (directed by William Tannen).
Also during this time, Kristofferson met singer Rita Coolidge. They married in 1973 and released an album, Full Moon, another success buoyed by numerous hit singles and Grammy nominations. More artists took his songs to the top of the charts, including Willie Nelson, whose 1979 LP release of Willie Nelson Sings Kris Kristofferson proved to be a smash success.
Nelson and Kristofferson continued their partnership, and added Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash to form the supergroup, The Highwaymen. Their first album, Highwayman was a huge success, and the supergroup continued working together for a time. The single from the album Highwayman, also titled "Highwayman," was awarded the ACM's single of the year in 1985.
The Songwriters Hall of Fame inducted Kristofferson in 1985, as had the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1977. In 2004, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. In 2006, he received the Johnny Mercer Award from the Songwriters Hall of Fame and released his first album full of new material in 11 years: This Old Road.
On April 21, 2007, Kristofferson won CMT's Johnny Cash Visionary Award. Rosanne Cash, Cash's daughter, presented the honor during the awards show in Nashville. Previous recipients include Cash, Hank Williams, Jr., Loretta Lynn, Reba McEntire and the Dixie Chicks.
"John was my hero before he was my friend, and anything with his name on it is really an honor in my eyes," Kristofferson said during an interview. "I was thinking back to when I first met him, and if I ever thought that I'd be getting an award with his name on it, it would have carried me through a lot of hard times."
Kristofferson has said that he would like the first three lines of Leonard Cohen's "Bird on the Wire" on his tombstone:
Like a bird on a wire
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free
Here, Kristofferson joins former wife, Rita Coolidge, to perform Kristofferson’s “Bobby McGee”
Cyndi Lauper is 70 years old today.
Born in Queens, New York, Lauper is a singer, songwriter and actress. She achieved success with the release of the debut solo album, She's So Unusual, in 1983.
It spawned four Billboard Top 5 songs — "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” "Time After Time,” "She Bop" and "All Through the Night.” She's So Unusual was the first album in history to have four top five singles by a female. Her success continued with the follow-up, True Colors in 1986, which spawned two Billboard Top 10 songs — "True Colors" and "Change of Heart.”
Since 1989, she released A Night to Remember (1989), Hat Full of Stars (1993), Sisters of Avalon (1996), Merry Christmas... Have a Nice Life (1998), Shine (2001), At Last (2003), The Body Acoustic (2005) and Bring Ya to the Brink (2008).
In 2010, her eleventh studio album, Memphis Blues in 2010, topped the Billboard Blues Albums chart for 13 consecutive weeks at #1. It spawned five Billboard Digital Blues Songs Top 5 songs — "Just Your Fool,” "Crossroads,” "How Blue Can You Get?,” "Rollin' and Tumblin'" and "Early in the Mornin’.”
Lauper has also released over 40 singles. As of 2011, she had sold more than 50 million albums worldwide. She also sold one million DVDs and 20 million singles, which makes her one of the best selling artists of all time.
In 2013, Lauper won the Tony Award for Best Original Score for composing the Broadway musical, Kinky Boots, making her the first woman to win the category by herself.
Here, Lauper performs in the video “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” 1983
Peter Asher, New York City, 2013
Photo by Frank Beacham
Peter Asher is 79 years old today.
An English guitarist, singer, manager and record producer, Asher first came to prominence in the 1960s as a member of the vocal duo, Peter and Gordon, before going on to a successful career as a record producer.
When he was eight years old, Asher began working as a child actor and appeared in the film, The Planter's Wife, and the stage play, Isn't Life Wonderful. He also appeared in the ITV series, The Adventures of Robin Hood.
While attending the independent Westminster School as a day boy, he first met fellow pupil, Gordon Waller (1945–2009). They began playing and singing together as a duo in coffee bars. In 1962, they began working formally as Peter and Gordon. Their biggest hit was the 1964 Paul McCartney song, A World Without Love.
Asher is the son of Dr Richard and Margaret Asher, and the older brother of actress and businesswoman, Jane Asher, and radio actress, Clare Asher. Jane Asher was, in the mid 1960s, the girlfriend of Paul McCartney. Through this connection, Asher and Waller were often given unrecorded Lennon-McCartney songs to perform.
In 1965, he was best man when singer Marianne Faithfull married John Dunbar in Cambridge.
After Peter & Gordon disbanded in 1968, Asher took charge of the A&R department at the Beatles' Apple Records label, where he signed a then-unknown James Taylor and agreed to produce the singer-songwriter's debut solo album. The album was not a success, but Asher was so convinced that Taylor held great potential that he resigned his post at Apple to move to the United States and work as Taylor's manager.
He also produced a number of Taylor's recordings from 1970–1985, including Sweet Baby James, Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon, JT and Flag.
Asher also played a role in shaping the Californian rock sound prominent during the 1970s, producing records for Linda Ronstadt, J.D. Souther, Andrew Gold and Bonnie Raitt.
In 1976, Asher and Waller reformed for the annual New York “Beatlefest” and played a few other dates. In the 1980s, Asher also worked on hit albums for artists as diverse as Cher and 10,000 Maniacs.
In February, 1995, Asher was named senior vice president of Sony Music Entertainment. At the beginning of 2002, Asher left Sony and returned full time to the management of artists’ careers as co-president of Sanctuary Artist Management. In January, 2005, he was named president, the position he held until September, 2006, when he resigned.
In 2007, Asher joined forces with his friend, Simon Renshaw, (who managed the Dixie Chicks) at the company Simon founded, Strategic Artist Management.
During 2005 and 2006, Peter & Gordon reformed for occasional concerts. Waller died in 2009.
Here, Peter and Gordon sing “I Go to Pieces” in 1964
The Red Scare of the 1940s and 1950s famously ended the careers of numerous film-industry professionals and forced others to avoid blacklisting by repudiating their political beliefs and "naming names" of suspected Communist sympathizers to the House Committee on Un-Activities (HUAC).
But Hollywood actors, directors and screenwriters were not the only victims of the Cold War anti-Communist purges in the entertainment industry.
Prominent figures in the music industry were also targeted, including Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, Lena Horne, Pete Seeger and Artie Shaw, all of whom were named publicly as suspected Communist sympathizers on this day in 1950 —73 years ago — in the infamous publication Red Channels: The Report of Communist Influence in Radio and Television.
Red Channels was a tract issued by the right-wing journal, Counterattack, the self-described "Newsletter of Facts to Combat Communism."
By 1950, Joseph McCarthy and the HUAC had already been at work for several years, and figures like singer Paul Robeson and the so-called Hollywood Ten had already been blacklisted. But Red Channels sought to go further, exposing what it called a widespread Communist effort to achieve "domination of American broadcasting and telecasting, preparatory to the day when…[the] Party will assume control of this nation as the result of a final upheaval and civil war."
Some even believe that the men responsible for Red Channels — including several former members of the FBI — were given illegal access to the confidential files of HUAC in preparing their report, which exposed 151 names in the entertainment industry to public scrutiny and the threat of blacklisting.
Joining famous names like Orson Welles, Lillian Hellman, Arthur Miller and Dorothy Parker on the Red Channels list were the aforementioned Bernstein, Copland, Horne, Seeger and Shaw and numerous other musical figures, including the legendary harmonica player, Larry Adler, the folksinger Burl Ives, former Library of Congress folklorist Alan Lomax and The New York Times music critic Olin Downes.
The evidence of Communist leanings offered in Red Channels included Lena Horne’s appearance on the letterhead of a South African famine relief program; Aaron Copland’s appearance on a panel at a 1949 Scientific and Cultural Conference for World Peace; and Leonard Bernstein’s affiliation with the Committee to Re-Elect Benjamin J. Davis, a black, socialist New York City councilman.
In the end, Red Channels caused some of those named to be blacklisted — Pete Seeger, most famously — to fight publicly to prove their "loyalty" to the United States and still others to repudiate their political pasts and provide the HUAC with names of other suspected prominent figures.
Meryl Streep as Julia Child in Julie and Julia
Meryl Streep is 74.years old today.
A performer in theater, film and television, Streep is widely regarded as one of the greatest actresses of all time. She made her professional stage debut in The Playboy of Seville (1971), before her screen debut in the television movie, The Deadliest Season (1977). In that same year, she made her film debut in Julia (1977).
Both critical and commercial success came quickly with roles in The Deer Hunter (1978) and Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), the first of which brought her an Academy Award nomination, and the second, her first win, for Best Supporting Actress. She later won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her roles in Sophie's Choice (1982) and The Iron Lady (2011).
Streep holds the record as being the most nominated actor (male or female) in Academy Awards history.
Streep was awarded the AFI Life Achievement Award in 2004 and the Kennedy Center Honor in 2011 for her contribution to American culture through performing arts, the youngest actor in each award's history.
President Barack Obama awarded her the 2010 National Medal of Arts. In 2003, the government of France made her a Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters.
Billy Wilder was born 117 years ago today.
Wilder was an Austrian-born American filmmaker, screenwriter, producer, artist and journalist — whose career spanned more than 50 years through 60 films. He is regarded as one of the most brilliant and versatile filmmakers of Hollywood's golden age.
Wilder is one of only five people to have won Academy Awards as producer, director and screenwriter for the same film (The Apartment), and was the first person to accomplish this. He became a screenwriter in the late 1920s while living in Berlin.
After the rise of the Nazi Party, Wilder, who was Jewish, left for Paris, where he made his directorial debut. He moved to Hollywood in 1933. In 1939, he had a hit when he co-wrote the screenplay for the screwball comedy, Ninotchka.
Wilder established his directorial reputation with Double Indemnity (1944), a film noir he co-wrote with Raymond Chandler, the mystery novelist. He earned the Best Director and Best Screenplay Academy Awards for the adaptation of a Charles R. Jackson story, The Lost Weekend (1945), about alcoholism.
In 1950, Wilder co-wrote and directed the critically acclaimed Sunset Blvd. From the mid-1950s on, Wilder made mostly comedies. Among the classics Wilder created in this period are the farces The Seven Year Itch (1955) and Some Like It Hot (1959), satires such as The Apartment (1960) and the comedy, Sabrina (1954).
He directed fourteen different actors in Oscar-nominated performances. Wilder was recognized with the American Film Institute (AFI) Life Achievement Award in 1986. In 1988, Wilder was awarded the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award. In 1993, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts.
Wilder died in 2002 at the age of 95.
Todd Rundgren is 75 years old today.
A multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and record producer, Rundgren was hailed in the early stage of his career as a new pop-wunderkind, supported by the certified gold solo double LP Something/Anything? in 1972. His career has produced a diverse range of recordings as solo artist, and during the seventies and eighties with the band, Utopia. He has also been prolific as a producer and engineer on the recorded work of other musicians.
During the 1970s and 1980s, Rundgren engineered and/or produced many notable albums for other acts, including Straight Up by Badfinger, Stage Fright by The Band, We're an American Band by Grand Funk Railroad, Bat Out of Hell by Meat Loaf and Skylarking by XTC.
In the 1980s and 1990s, his interest in video and computers led to his "Time Heals" being the eighth video played on MTV, and "Change Myself" was animated by Rundgren on commercially available Amiga Computers.
His best-known songs include "Hello It's Me" and "I Saw the Light," which have heavy rotation on classic rock radio stations, and "Bang the Drum All Day," which is featured in many sports arenas, commercials and movie trailers.
Bentonia, Mississippi Blues
A black cat crosses paths with guitarist, Jack Owens, and harpist, Bud Spires, in Bentonia, Mississippi
Photo by Bill Steber