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Louis Armstrong, American music icon, was born 122 years ago today
Louis Armstrong in his den at Corona, Queens, New York speaking on the telephone
Photo by Jack Bradley
Louis Armstrong was born 122 years ago today.
Nicknamed “Satchmo” or “Pops,” Armstrong was an jazz trumpeter and singer from New Orleans. Coming to prominence in the 1920s as an "inventive" cornet and trumpet player, Armstrong was a foundational influence in jazz, shifting the music's focus from collective improvisation to solo performance.
With his instantly recognizable deep and distinctive gravelly voice, Armstrong was also an influential singer, demonstrating great dexterity as an improviser, bending the lyrics and melody of a song for expressive purposes. He was also greatly skilled at scat singing (vocalizing using sounds and syllables instead of actual lyrics).
Renowned for his charismatic stage presence and voice almost as much as for his trumpet-playing, Armstrong's influence extends well beyond jazz music, and by the end of his career in the 1960s, he was widely regarded as a profound influence on popular music in general.
Armstrong was one of the first truly popular African-American entertainers to "cross over," whose skin-color was secondary to his music in an America that was severely racially divided. He rarely publicly politicized his race, often to the dismay of fellow African-Americans, but took a well-publicized stand for desegregation during the crisis in Little Rock.
His artistry and personality allowed him socially acceptable access to the upper echelons of American society that were highly restricted for a black man.
Armstrong died of a heart attack in his sleep on July 6, 1971, a month before his 70th birthday, and 11 months after playing a famous show at the Waldorf-Astoria's Empire Room. His honorary pallbearers included Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Pearl Bailey, Count Basie, Harry James, Frank Sinatra, Ed Sullivan, Earl Wilson, Alan King, Johnny Carson and David Frost.
The influence of Armstrong on the development of jazz is virtually immeasurable. Yet, his irrepressible personality both as a performer, and as a public figure later in his career, was so strong that to some it sometimes overshadowed his contributions as a musician and singer.
As a virtuoso trumpet player, Armstrong had a unique tone and an extraordinary talent for melodic improvisation. Through his playing, the trumpet emerged as a solo instrument in jazz and is used widely today. He was a masterful accompanist and ensemble player in addition to his extraordinary skills as a soloist. With his innovations, he raised the bar musically for all who came after him.
In 2002, the Louis Armstrong's Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings (1925–1928) were preserved in the United States National Recording Registry, a registry of recordings selected yearly by the National Recording Preservation Board for preservation in the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress.
Today, there are many bands worldwide dedicated to preserving and honoring the music and style of Satchmo, including the Louis Armstrong Society located in New Orleans, LA.
Louis Armstrong performs "When the Saints Go Marching In."
Louis Armstrong eats a plate of spaghetti in Rome, 1949
Photo by Slim Aarons
David Bennett Cohen in Washington Square Park, New York City
Photo by Frank Beacham
David Bennett Cohen is 81 years old today.
Cohen was the original keyboardist for Country Joe and the Fish. Born in Brooklyn, New York, he studied classical piano from the age of seven, and later learned to play guitar.
When he was fourteen, he heard boogie-woogie piano for the first time, and from then on his playing was influenced by boogie-woogie, as well as piano blues. As a young man, he attended live performances of Otis Spann, Professor Longhair, Meade Lux Lewis, Pete Seeger, Joshua Rifkin and Josh White.
In April, 1961, he was one of the musicians involved in the "Beatnik Riot" in Washington Square Park, protesting against the authorities' refusal to allow musicians permits to play in the park.
As a guitarist, who performed regularly in Greenwich Village, he started a folk group, the Lane County Bachelors, with Artie Traum and Eric Nagler. In 1965, soon after discovering the Beatles and turning to rock music, he dropped out of college and moved to Berkeley, California, where he met musicians including Chicken Hirsh and Jerry Garcia.
He and Hirsh backed the duo, Blackburn & Snow, and Cohen also played boogie-woogie piano in a local club, the Jabberwock. There he met guitarist Barry Melton, and was introduced to Country Joe McDonald as a pianist and organist – although, at the time, Cohen had never played organ. He joined McDonald's new band, Country Joe and the Fish, with Hersh, Melton and Bruce Barthol.
A member of Country Joe and the Fish from December, 1965 to January, 1969, Cohen played on their first two albums, Electric Music for the Mind and Body and I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die, as well as several tracks on their third album, Together. Record producer Sam Charters regarded him as "musically more experienced" than the other band members.
After leaving Country Joe and the Fish, Cohen joined the Blues Project in New York in 1971, touring with the band until mid 1972. He has played with many musicians including Luther Tucker, Mick Taylor, Tim Hardin, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Winter, Huey Lewis, Michael Bloomfield and Bob Weir.
He also worked as a solo musician, sharing bills with Bonnie Raitt, Richard Thompson, Jerry Garcia, Leo Kottke and Rufus Thomas.
In 1975, Happy Traum invited Cohen to record instructional lessons on piano for his Homespun Tapes series. Subsequently, he recorded three videotapes on blues piano, audio tapes on blues, rock and ragtime piano and a separate instructional package on blues piano, David Bennett Cohen Teaches Blues Piano, Volumes I and II. He also recorded two guitar instruction albums for Kicking Mule Records.
During the 1990s, Cohen toured with the musical, Rent, playing guitar and keyboards. He also recorded with the Bill Perry Blues Band, and toured as part of blues musician Bobby Kyle's band. He released three albums in the 2000s, David Bennett Cohen at the Piano, In the Pocket and Cookin' With Cohen.
He continues to perform in the New York City area, both solo and with the Former Members, a band whose members include Bruce Barthol (also formerly of Country Joe and the Fish), Roy Blumenfeld (of the Blues Project) and Greg Douglass (of the Steve Miller Band).
In the summer of 2014, Cohen toured the UK with San Francisco Nights, including the other Former Members, Sam Andrew (of Big Brother and the Holding Company) and Bex Marshall (as the voice of Janis Joplin). Cohen is also a music instructor and runs workshops.
Here, Country Joe and the Fish perform at the Monterey Pop Festival, 1967.
Jimmie Rodgers, the father of country music, was recorded for the very first time on August 4, 1927 — 96 years ago today — during the legendary Bristol Sessions.
The term "country music" did not exist in the summer of 1927, when Ralph Peer, an engineer and talent scout for the Victor Talking Machine Company of Camden, New Jersey, set up a makeshift recording studio in the upper floors of an empty warehouse in Bristol, Tennessee. He was preparing for what Johnny Cash would later call "The single most important event in the history of country music."
The historic 12-day marathon, now known as "the Bristol Sessions," began on July 25 with a recording session with Ernest Stoneman — one of the few established names in what was then known as "hillbilly music."
It continued with a string of mostly unknown musicians drawn to the railroad town of Bristol, on the Virginia-Tennessee border, by newspaper stories and advertisements promising $50 for any song Ralph Peer chose to record.
Peer's efforts would have been judged a resounding success even if he'd stopped after August 1, when he recorded an unknown act called the Carter Family — a group that would come to be known as the first family of country music.
But on August 4, 1927, the Bristol Sessions took on truly historic dimensions when an itinerant, tubercular blues yodeler from rural Mississippi, named Jimmie Rodgers walked into Peer's studio. The recording session that followed would lay the foundation for Rodgers's undisputed status as the "father of country music."
Born in 1897 and raised back and forth between southeast Mississippi and southwest Alabama, Jimmie Rodgers followed his father into the railroad business, where he would earn one of his several famous nicknames, "the singing brakeman."
When tuberculosis forced Rodgers off the railroad in the mid-1920s, he began to pursue his longstanding passion for music professionally, first making a name for himself in western North Carolina through weekly appearances on WWNC out of Asheville.
It was his decision to travel roughly 100 miles north through the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Bristol Sessions, however, that would make his career. In his first-ever recording session on this day in 1927, Rodgers cut two test recordings, "The Soldier's Sweetheart" and "Sleep, Baby, Sleep," which were released two months later on the Victor label to moderate success.
His follow-up session in October, 1927 in Camden, however, yielded "Blue Yodel," his first smash hit and the song that launched him on a short but brilliant career as a recording, radio and movie star.
Rodgers died at the age of 35 of a lung hemorrhage on May 26, 1933.
Here is Jimmie Rodgers performing “T for Texas, Blue Yodel Number 1.”
The Blue Yodel songs are a series of thirteen songs written and recorded by Rodgers during the period from 1927 to his death in May 1933. The songs were based on the 12-bar blues format and featured Rodgers’ trademark yodel refrains.
Posthumous painting by Joseph Severn, 1845
Percy Bysshe Shelley, the English romantic poet, was born into a wealthy, aristocratic family in Sussex, England on this day in 1792 — 231 years ago.
The heir to his wealthy grandfather’s estate, Shelley was educated at Eton and Oxford. But after six months at the university, he was expelled for refusing to admit he wrote a controversial essay. Not long afterward, the 18-year-old youth eloped with the 16-year-old, Harriet Westbrook, daughter of a tavern owner.
The couple lived on a small income from their families and had two children. Shelley became a disciple of radical reformer, William Godwin, and fell in love with Godwin’s daughter, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin.
Shelley and Godwin fled to Europe in 1814 and married after Harriet committed suicide two years later. Shelley was denied custody of his and Harriet’s two children.
Most of Shelley’s poetry at this time was politically oriented — lobbying for social justice.
Shelley’s inheritance did not pay all the bills, and the couple spent much of their married life abroad, fleeing Shelley’s creditors. While living in Geneva, the Shelleys and their close friend, Lord Byron, challenged each other to write a compelling ghost story. Only Mary Shelley finished hers, later publishing the story as Frankenstein.
Meanwhile, Shelley wrote poetry. Some of his best work, including his masterpiece, Prometheus Unbound (published 1820), “Ode to the West Wind” and “To a Skylark,” was written while the couple lived in Italy in about 1810.
The Shelleys had five children, but only one lived to adulthood. After Percy Shelley drowned in a sailing accident when Mary Shelley was only 24, she edited two volumes of his works.
She lived on a small stipend from her father-in-law, Lord Shelley, until her surviving son inherited his fortune and title in 1844. She died at the age of 53. Although she was a respected writer for many years, only Frankenstein and her journals are still widely read today.
On this day in 1857 — 166 years ago — New Yorkers tried a new product that most people consider essential today.
It was toilet paper.
“Gayetty’s medicated paper for the water closet” was first commercially produced in 1857 by Joseph C. Gayetty.
According to The New York Times, Gayetty sold 1,000 sheets for a dollar out of his shop in Lower Manhattan. The city’s residents were skeptical. They had to be talked into buying something they already had — in the coarser form of used catalog and newspaper pages.
“It is conducive to comfort,” an 1858 ad read. ”It is elegant and pure.”
It wasn’t until toilet paper came in roll form 20 years later, produced by a family in Philadelphia, that the idea finally caught on.
By the way, that family was the Scotts.
Thanks New York Times!
On this day in 1980 — 43 years ago — John Lennon began recording at the Hit Factory in New York City his album, “Double Fantasy.”
The recording would become Lennon’s final album.
Lizzie Borden, 1890
On this morning in 1892 — 131 years ago — Lizzie Borden took an axe…
Andrew and Abby Borden, elderly residents of Fall River, Massachusetts, were found bludgeoned to death in their home. Lying in a pool of blood on the living room couch, Andrew’s face had been nearly split in two. Abby, Lizzie’s stepmother, was found upstairs with her head smashed to pieces.
The Bordens, who were considerably wealthy, lived with their two unmarried daughters, Emma and Lizzie.
Since Lizzie was the only other person besides the housekeeper who was present when the bodies were found, suspicion soon fell upon her. Because of the sensational nature of the murders, her trial attracted attention from around the nation.
Despite the fact that fingerprint testing was already becoming commonplace in Europe at the time, the police were wary of its reliability, and refused to test for prints on the murder weapon — a hatchet — found in the Borden’s basement.
The prosecution tried to prove that Lizzie had burned a dress similar to the one she was wearing on the day of the murders and had purchased a small axe the day before.
But Lizzie was a sweet-looking Christian woman and the jury took only 90 minutes to decide that she could never commit such a heinous crime.
Although she was now an orphaned heiress rather than a convicted murderess, the media continued to portray Lizzie as the perpetrator. Her story is still remembered today mostly because of the infamous rhyme:
Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty-one
Ignoring the taunts, Lizzie lived the high life until her death in 1927. She was buried in the family plot next to her parents.
Here is the Chad Mitchell Trio performing their hit about Lizzie Borden.
Tony Joe White’s hands, Joe’s Pub, New York City, 2015
Photo by Frank Beacham
Since 1968, many artists have interpreted Tony Joe White’s songs, including Brook Benton with “Rainy Night in Georgia,” Elvis Presley with “Polk Salad Annie” and Tina Turner with “Steamy Windows.” White died on Oct. 24, 2018. His songs were also covered by Ray Charles, Roy Orbison and Etta James.