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Ringo Starr, drummer for the Beatles, is 83 years old today
Ringo Starr is 83 years old today.
An English musician, singer and actor, Starr was the drummer for the Beatles. He sang lead vocals on several Beatles’ songs, including "With a Little Help from My Friends," "Yellow Submarine" and their version of "Act Naturally."
He is also credited as a co-writer of "What Goes On," "Flying" and "Dig It," and as the sole author of "Don't Pass Me By" and "Octopus's Garden."
Starr was twice afflicted by life-threatening illnesses during his childhood, and as a result of prolonged hospitalizations, fell behind scholastically. His classmates nicknamed him "Lazarus" after a twelve-month recovery from peritonitis following a routine appendectomy.
At age eight, he had remained illiterate. After several years of twice weekly tutoring, he had nearly caught up to his peers academically. But in 1953, he contracted tuberculosis and was admitted to a sanatorium, where he remained for two years.
He then entered the workforce and briefly held a position with British Rail before securing an apprenticeship at a Liverpool equipment manufacturer. Soon after, he became interested in the UK skiffle craze — developing a fervent admiration for the genre.
In 1957, he co-founded his first band, the Eddie Clayton Skiffle Group. They got several prestigious local bookings before the fad succumbed to American rock and roll by early 1958. When the Beatles formed in 1960, Starr was a member of another leading Liverpool group, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes.
After achieving moderate success with them in the UK and Hamburg, Germany, he quit the Hurricanes and joined the Beatles in August, 1962, replacing Pete Best.
Starr played key roles in the Beatles' films and appeared in numerous others. After their break-up in 1970, he released several successful singles and albums and recorded with each of the former Beatles.
He has been featured in a number of documentaries, hosted television shows, narrated the first two seasons of the children's television series, Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends, and portrayed "Mr. Conductor" during the first season of the PBS children's television series, Shining Time Station.
Since 1989, Starr has toured with more than a dozen variations of Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band. He is a vegetarian whose diet is limited due to ongoing stomach problems related to his childhood illnesses.
Starr is left-handed, but became ambidextrous as a child when his grandmother forced him to write with his right hand because she thought it was a curse for people to be left-handed.
Here, Starr and The Roundheads perform “Octopus’s Garden” in 2005
Pinetop Perkins was born 110 years ago today.
A blues pianist, Perkins played with some of the most influential blues and rock and roll performers in American history.
Born in Belzoni, Mississippi, Perkins began his career as a guitarist, but then injured the tendons in his left arm in a fight with a choir girl in Helena, Arkansas. Unable to play guitar, Perkins switched to the piano. He also switched from Robert Nighthawk's KFFA radio program to Sonny Boy Williamson's King Biscuit Time.
He continued working with Nighthawk, however, accompanying him on 1950's "Jackson Town Gal."
In the 1950s, Perkins joined Earl Hooker and began touring, stopping to record "Pinetop's Boogie Woogie" (written by Pinetop Smith) at Sam Phillips' studio in Memphis. "They used to call me Pinetop," he recalled, "because I played that song."
Perkins then relocated to Illinois and left the music business until Hooker convinced him to record again in 1968. When Otis Spann left the Muddy Waters band in 1969, Perkins was chosen to replace him. He stayed for more than a decade, then left with several other musicians to form The Legendary Blues Band with Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, recording through the late 70s, 80s and early 90s.
Perkins played a brief musical cameo on the street outside Aretha's Soul Food Cafe in the 1980 movie, The Blues Brothers, having an argument with John Lee Hooker over who wrote "Boom Boom." He also appeared in the 1987 movie, Angel Heart, as a member of guitarist Toots Sweet's band.
Although he appeared as a sideman on countless recordings, Perkins never had an album devoted solely to his artistry, until the album, After Hours, on Blind Pig Records in 1988. The tour in support of the album also featured Jimmy Rogers and Hubert Sumlin.
His robust piano is fairly presented in On Top (1992), an easy-going recital of blues standards with his old Muddy Waters' associate, Jerry Portnoy, on harmonica. In 1998, Perkins released the album, Legends, featuring guitarist Hubert Sumlin.
Perkins was driving his automobile in 2004 in La Porte, Indiana when he was hit by a train. The car was wrecked, but the 91-year-old driver was not seriously hurt. Until his death, Perkins lived in Austin, Texas. He usually performed a couple of nights a week at Nuno's on Sixth Street.
At the age of 97, he won a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album for Joined at the Hip, an album he recorded with Willie "Big Eyes" Smith. Perkins thus became the oldest-ever Grammy winner, edging out comedian George Burns who had won in the spoken word category 21 years earlier. Perkins had tied with Burns, at the age of 90, in 2004.
A little more than a month later, Perkins died on March 21, 2011 at his home in Austin. At the time of his death, the musician had more than 20 performances booked for 2011.
Shortly before that, while discussing his late career resurgence with an interviewer, he conceded, "I can't play piano like I used to either. I used to have bass rolling like thunder. I can't do that no more. But I ask the Lord, please forgive me for the stuff I done trying to make a nickel."
Along with David "Honeyboy" Edwards, he was one of the last two original Mississippi Delta blues musicians, and also to have a personal knowledge of, and friendship with, Robert Johnson.
Here, Pinetop Perkins joins Muddy Waters to perform “Reefer and Champagne” at the Montreal Jazz Festival in 1980
Otto Frederick Rohwedder and the bread slicing machine that changed the world
We’ve all used the expression, “It’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.”
In celebration of all good things, we note today is the birthday of Otto Frederick Rohwedder, the inventor of the bread slicing machine.
Born in 1880, Rohwedder’s bread slicer produced the first package of machine-cut and wrapped bread. It was revealed on his 48th birthday in 1928 — 95 years ago today.
Bakers didn’t love the first version of Rohwedder’s invention, which he started working on in 1912. They feared the individual slices would quickly go stale.
Rohwedder tried to ward that off by holding the loaves together with sterilized hairpins, but the pins kept falling out.
Finally, he added a step that automatically wrapped the bread, too. Eventually Wonder Bread bought a version of Rohwedder’s machine.
Sliced bread was banned very briefly in 1943, to wide chagrin. The move was intended to control bread prices and save on wax paper during World War II.
Headlines heralded the lifting of the two-month ban: “Housewives’ Thumbs Safe Again,” read one. It wasn’t just housewives, though. In 1963, reporters noticed a Band-Aid on President John F. Kennedy’s finger and asked him what had happened. The President laughed and replied: “I cut my finger when I was cutting bread, unbelievable as it may sound.”
Thanks New York Times
Joe Zawinul, Austrian jazz keyboardist and composer who was a creator jazz fusion, was born 91 years ago today.
First coming to prominence with saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, Zawinul went on to play with trumpeter Miles Davis, and to become one of the creators of jazz fusion, an innovative musical genre that combined jazz with elements of rock and world music.
Later, Zawinul co-founded the groups, Weather Report, and world fusion music-oriented, The Zawinul Syndicate.
Zawinul made pioneering use of electric piano and synthesizers, and was named "Best Electric Keyboardist" 28 times by the readers of Down Beat magazine.
In the late 1960s, Zawinul recorded with Miles Davis's studio band and helped create the sound of jazz fusion. He played on the album, In a Silent Way, the title track of which he composed, and the landmark album, Bitches Brew, for which he contributed the twenty-minute track, "Pharaoh's Dance,” which occupied the whole of side one.
Zawinul is known to have played live with Davis only once in public, on July 10, 1991, in Paris, along with Wayne Shorter. It was shortly before Davis' death.
Zawinul became ill and was hospitalized in his native Vienna on August 7, 2007, after concluding a five-week European tour. He died a little over a month later from a rare form of skin cancer (Merkel cell carcinoma) on September 11, 2007.
Marc Chagall, modernist artist, was born 136 years ago today.
Chagall was a Russian-French artist, described as "the quintessential Jewish artist of the twentieth century." An early modernist, he was associated with several major artistic styles and created works in virtually every artistic medium, including painting, book illustrations, stained glass, stage sets, ceramic, tapestries and fine art prints.
Chagall was considered to be "the last survivor of the first generation of European modernists," wrote Michael J. Lewis, the art historian. Using the medium of stained glass, he produced windows for the cathedrals of Reims and Metz, windows for the UN and the Jerusalem Windows in Israel.
Chagall also did large-scale paintings, including part of the ceiling of the Paris Opéra.
Before World War I, he traveled between St. Petersburg, Paris and Berlin. During this period he created his own mixture and style of modern art based on his idea of Eastern European Jewish folk culture.
He spent the wartime years in Soviet Belarus, becoming one of the country's most distinguished artists and a member of the modernist avant-garde, founding the Vitebsk Arts College before leaving again for Paris in 1922.
Chagall had two basic reputations, wrote Lewis: He was a pioneer of modernism and as a major Jewish artist. He experienced modernism's "golden age" in Paris, where "he synthesized the art forms of Cubism, Symbolism and Fauvism, and the influence of Fauvism gave rise to Surrealism." Yet throughout these phases of his style, he remained a Jewish artist.
"When Matisse dies," Pablo Picasso remarked in the 1950s, "Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what color really is."
Chagall died in March, 1985 at age 97.
The Blue Violinist, 1947
Painting by Marc Chagall
Mary Ford and Les Paul
Mary Ford was born 99 years ago today.
Born Iris Colleen Summers, Ford was a vocalist and guitarist. She comprised half of the husband-and-wife musical team, Les Paul and Mary Ford.
Between 1950 and 1954, the couple had 16 Top 10 hits, including "How High the Moon" and “Vaya con Dios," which were #1 on the Billboard charts. In 1951 alone, they sold six million records. With Paul, Ford became one of the early practitioners of multitrack recording.
Summers was born into a musical family in El Monte, California. Her parents travelled cross-country while singing gospel music and preaching at revival meetings across the United States.
They were heard over KPPC-AM, Pasadena's first Christian radio station. Her sisters and brothers were all musicians; Esther, Carol, Fletcher, Bruce, a jazz organist, and Bob, a film composer.
While still a junior high school student, Summers and Mildred L. "Milly" Watson (later Millie Pace) performed together in churches in Pasadena and later made religious recordings with Milly's older brother, Marvin, for which she wrote some songs.
In 1939, Summers and Milly won a Pasadena talent contest judged by "several Hollywood notables, including a very young Judy Garland." Hoping to have a musical career, Summers and Milly Watson lost interest in school and eventually quit. Summers eventually found employment as a cinema attendant.
By 1943, Colleen Summers, with Vivian Earles and June Widener, the sister of western swing guitarist-vocalist, Jimmie Widener, formed the Sunshine Girls, a western trio who sang backup to Jimmy Wakely and his trio.
They were regulars on The Hollywood Barn Dance, a successful weekly CBS radio program broadcast on Saturday nights. It was hosted by Foy Willing and emceed by Cliffie Stone.
In 1944, the Sunshine Girls trio appeared with Wakely in the PRC film, I'm from Arkansas, where they sang "You Are My Sunshine" and "Whistlin' (Walkin') Down the Lane With You" with Wakely.
In 1945, when Eddie Dean introduced her to guitarist Les Paul, she was a popular western vocalist on KXLA's Dinner Bell Round-Up Time. The two began performing together in 1946. After Summers left the Sunshine Girls to work with Paul and his trio, she was replaced initially by Marilyn Myers Tuttle. After Tuttle left, Summer's older sister, Eva, sang with the Three Rays on the Jimmy Wakely Show on CBS.
From 1946 to 1948, Summers was a regular actor in the drama portion of The All-Star Western Theatre, a radio program hosted by Foy Willing and his Riders of the Purple Sage.
By 1947, Summers became romantically involved with Paul, whose first marriage to Virginia M. Webb was failing, as it could no longer endure the stresses and strains of his show business career.
In January, 1948, while traveling on Route 66 through Oklahoma, the couple’s car driven by Summers skidded off the road and plummeted 20 feet into a frozen creek bed. After the accident, Summers identified herself to authorities as Iris Watson. Among Paul’s many injuries, his right elbow was shattered, and it would be eighteen months before he could play guitar again.
After Paul's wife, Virginia, took their two sons to Chicago, Summers moved in with Paul in his house on Carson Avenue, where she took care of him as he recuperated from the effects of the car accident.
To avoid confusing her established western music audience, initially Paul named his musical partner "Mary Lou," but later selected the stage name "Mary Ford" from a telephone directory so her name would be almost as short as his. From July, 1949, Summers performed as Mary Ford.
In 1949, Paul and Webb divorced, and he married Ford on December 29, 1949 in a "small private ceremony without much fanfare" in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Ford and Paul had three children: a baby born on November 26, 1954, who died four days later; Mary Colleen Paul, who they fostered since 1958 and Robert Ralph "Bobby" Paul (born in 1959).
Soon after their wedding, Paul and Ford began making radio programs together for NBC, including Les Paul and Mary Ford At Home, a fifteen-minute program that was pre-recorded and broadcast every Friday night.
Ford and Paul put out 28 hits for Capitol Records between 1950 and 1957, including "Tiger Rag," "Vaya con Dios" (11 weeks at #1), "How High the Moon" (nine weeks at #1), "Bye Bye Blues" and "The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise."
These songs featured Ford harmonizing with herself, giving the vocals a novel sound. Paul and Ford did all their recording at home or on the road and submitted the masters to Capitol, with Paul dictating to the record company what songs were destined to become hits.
Paul and Ford also used the now-ubiquitous recording technique known as close miking, where the microphone is less than six inches from the singer's mouth. This produces a more intimate, less reverberant sound than when the singer is a foot or more from the microphone. It also emphasizes low-frequency sounds in the voice. The result was a singing style that diverged strongly from earlier styles, such as vocals in musical comedies of the 1930s and 1940s.
After extensive touring and recording, the couple decided to leave Hollywood and move to New York City to make the crossover from radio to television. They took a cramped apartment in Paul’s former New York neighborhood, where they conceived and recorded their arrangement of "How High The Moon," a hard-swinging multi-layered arrangement containing twelve overdubs using the guitar and Ford’s voice.
Within a month, "How High The Moon" and "Mockin’ Bird Hill" captured The Hit Parade’s #1 and #2 spots, respectively.
During 1951, Ford and Paul earned $500,000, and had recorded more Top 10 hits for the year than Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and The Andrews Sisters combined. They also tied Patti Page for top selling recording artist, having sold more than six million disks since January, 1951.
Paul bought a Cadillac to use on their expanding road tours with plenty of space for all their electronic gear. They also purchased a woodland retreat in Mahwah, New Jersey, in the Ramapo Mountains and their mansion included a recording studio and an echo chamber carved out of a neighboring mountain.
In September, 1952, after cutting "I'm Sitting on Top of the World," Ford and Paul sailed for London to appear at the Palladium Theatre, where they debuted before Queen Elizabeth II and the royal family.
In 1952, their innovative sound was satirized by Stan Freberg in his recording of "The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise" (Capitol, F 2279). In 1953, the couple recorded "Vaya con Dios" (Capitol 2486), the biggest selling song of their career, which was released in June, 1953. It entered the Billboard charts on June 13, 1953, and reached #1 on August 8. The song remained there for a total of nine weeks.
Following this success of "Vaya con Dios," in 1953 the couple started to host The Les Paul and Mary Ford Show, their own daily television program broadcast from their Mahwah home. The show, which was sponsored by Listerine, ran for three years.
In early 1955, rock and roll came along and eventually threatened the popularity of many performers including Les Paul and Mary Ford. In 1955, they gave a concert at Carnegie Hall, and in 1956, the couple performed at the Eisenhower White House.
With the advent of rock and roll, Ford and Paul faded from the charts in the late 1950s. In 1956, Ford separated briefly from Paul when she ran away to Amarillo, Texas. In July, 1958, Paul and Ford left Capitol and signed with the Columbia label, but the move failed to restore their declining career.
In May, 1963, Billboard magazine announced that Ford and Paul had separated, with Ford moving to California. In July, Ford filed for divorce from Paul in California charging him with cruelty, alleging that Paul forced her to record and perform even when she was ill. At the end of July, 1963, Ford was awarded $5,000 a month temporary alimony.
In October, 1963, Paul initiated divorce proceedings in New Jersey against Ford, on the grounds of adultery and cruelty, claiming she had committed adultery with cowboy singer, Foy Willing, during a three-year affair and also with building contractor, Donald E. Hatfield, and "other various men."
He said she had neglected the care of their children and had humiliated him in public by boasting of her affection for other men and claiming that he had abused her. After dropping his charges of adultery and desertion on December 17, 1964, Paul was granted an uncontested divorce on the grounds of extreme cruelty and granted custody of their son.
In November, 1963, Ford released her first solo single, an English language version of "Dominique" for Calendar Records. In 1965, Ford married Donald Hatfield, whom she had known since high school and they settled in Monrovia, California.
After eight weeks in a diabetic coma, Ford died of complications from diabetes in Arcadia, California at the age of 53.
Along with interviews, performance footage of the couple is featured in the musical documentary, Chasing Sound: Les Paul at 90, directed by John Paulson.
Here, Les Paul and Mary Ford perform “How High The Moon” in 1951
Charlie Louvin was born 96 years ago today.
A country music singer and songwriter, Louvin was one of the Louvin Brothers, and a member of the Grand Ole Opry beginning in 1955.
Born in Henagar, Alabama, Louvin was one of seven children. He started singing when he was eight years old. He began singing professionally with his brother, Ira, as a teenager on local radio programs in Chattanooga.
The boys sang traditional and gospel music in the harmony style they had learned while performing in their church's choir. After Charlie left the act briefly in 1945 to serve in World War II, the brothers moved first to Knoxville and later to Memphis, working as postal clerks by day while making appearances in the evening.
Another brief disbandment due to Charlie's service in the Korean War led to the brothers' relocation to Birmingham. Primarily known as gospel artists, the Louvins were convinced by a sponsor that "you can't sell tobacco with gospel music" and began adding secular music to their repertoire.
They began making appearances on the famed Grand Ole Opry during the 1950s, becoming official members in 1955. The Louvin Brothers released numerous singles, such as "When I Stop Dreaming," with over 20 recordings reaching the country music charts. Their rich harmonies served as an influence to later artists such as Emmylou Harris, Gram Parsons and The Byrds.
By the 1960s, Charlie and Ira's popularity had waned and the brothers split up in 1963.
In 1965, Ira was killed in a car accident. Charlie continued to perform solo, making numerous appearances on the Grand Ole Opry and in later years acting as an elder statesman for country music.
In the 2000s, Louvin began rebuilding his career. Although he readily admitted he was never much of a writer, he released a disc of classics containing one new song, a tribute to Ira, and a gospel album on Tompkins Square Records.
The songs mainly pair Louvin with other singers, such as George Jones, Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, Alex McManus of Bright Eyes, Elvis Costello and Derwin Hinson. He also wrote two songs with Colonial Robert Morris, the Rockabilly Hall of Famer. One is on Morris' trucking CD, "Highway Hero."
As of 2003, Louvin lived in Manchester, Tennessee. He closed his Louvin Brothers museum in Nashville and was looking to open another one in Monteagle, Tennessee, near Chattanooga.
Louvin underwent surgery for pancreatic cancer on July 22, 2010. Doctors expected a full recovery, but "the surgery did not go as planned," according to Louvin's son, Sonny. From that point, he began using alternative methods of treatment.
Louvin died in the early morning on January 26, 2011, in Manchester, Tennessee at age 83.
Here, the Louvin Brothers perform “I Don’t Believe You’ve Met My Baby”
Photo by Mary Elizabeth King