Rock pioneer Bill Haley was born 98 years ago today
Bill Haley was born 98 years ago today.
One of America’s first rock and roll musicians, Haley is credited by many with first popularizing rock in the early 1950s with his group, Bill Haley & His Comets.
The group, inspired by Halley's Comet, had million-selling hits such as “Rock Around the Clock,” “See You Later, Alligator,” “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” “Skinny Minnie” and “Razzle Dazzle.” He has sold over 25 million records worldwide.
Born in Highland Park, Michigan as William John Clifton Haley, Haley’s father moved the family to Boothwyn, Pennsylvania, near Chester, when Bill was seven years old. This was due to the effects of the Great Depression on the Detroit area.
Haley's father, William Albert Haley, was from Kentucky and played the banjo and mandolin. His mother, Maude Green, originally from Ulverston in England, was a technically accomplished keyboardist with classical training. Haley said when he made a simulated guitar out of cardboard, his parents bought him a real one.
The anonymous sleeve notes accompanying the 1956 Decca album, "Rock Around The Clock," describe Haley's early life and career: "Bill got his first professional job at the age of 13, playing and entertaining at an auction for the fee of one dollar a night. Very soon after this he formed a group of equally enthusiastic youngsters and managed to get quite a few local bookings for his band."
Haley left home at 15 in 1940 with his guitar and little else. The next few years were hard and poverty stricken, but full of useful experiences. Apart from learning how to exist on one meal a day and other artistic exercises, he worked at an open-air park show, sang and yodeled with any band that would have him and worked with a traveling medicine show.
For six years, Haley was a musical director of WPWA, a radio station in Chester, Pennsylvania. He led his own band all through this period. It was then known as Bill Haley's Saddlemen, indicating their definite leaning toward the tough Western style. They continued playing in clubs as well as over the radio around Philadelphia, and in 1951 made their first recordings.
During the Labor Day weekend in 1952, The Saddlemen were renamed Bill Haley with Haley's Comets (inspired by a popular mispronunciation of Halley's Comet).
In 1953, Haley's recording of "Crazy Man, Crazy" (co-written by Haley and his bass player, Marshall Lytle, although Lytle would not receive credit until 2001) became the first rock and roll song to hit the American charts, peaking at #15 on Billboard and #11 on Cash Box. Soon after, the band's name was revised to Bill Haley & His Comets.
In 1953, a song called "Rock Around the Clock" was written for Haley. He was unable to record it until April 12, 1954. Initially, it was relatively unsuccessful, staying at the charts for only one week, but Haley soon scored a major worldwide hit with a cover version of Big Joe Turner's "Shake, Rattle and Roll," which went on to sell a million copies and became the first ever rock 'n' roll song to enter British singles charts in December, 1954.
Haley retained elements of the original, but threw some country music aspects into the song (specifically, Western Swing) and cleaned up the lyrics. Haley and his band were important in launching the music known as "rock and roll" to a wider, mostly white audience after a period of it being considered an underground genre.
When "Rock Around the Clock" appeared behind the opening credits of the 1955 film, Blackboard Jungle, starring Glenn Ford, it soared to the top of the American Billboard chart for eight weeks. The single is commonly used as a convenient line of demarcation between the "rock era" and the music industry that preceded it.
The song for the film was chosen from the collection of young Peter Ford, the son of Glenn Ford and dancer Eleanor Powell. The producers were looking for a song to represent the type of music the youth of 1955 was listening to, and the elder Ford borrowed several records from his son's collection, one of which was Haley's "Rock Around the Clock." This was the song chosen.
Billboard separated its statistical tabulations into 1890-1954 and 1955–present. After the record rose to #1, Haley was quickly given the title "Father of Rock and Roll," by the media and by teenagers that had come to embrace the new style of music.
With the song's success, the age of rock music began overnight and instantly ended the dominance of the jazz and pop standards performed by Frank Sinatra, Jo Stafford, Perry Como and Bing Crosby.
Success came at somewhat of a price as the new music confused and horrified most people over the age of 30, leading to Cold War-fueled suspicion that rock-and-roll was part of a communist plot to corrupt the minds of American teenagers.
FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover attempted to dig up incriminating material on Haley, who took to carrying a gun with him on tours for his own safety. A self-admitted alcoholic, Haley fought a battle with alcohol into the 1970s. Nonetheless, he and his band continued to be a popular touring act, benefiting from a 50s nostalgia movement that began in the late 60s and the signing of a lucrative record deal with the European Sonet Records label.
After performing for Queen Elizabeth II at a command performance in 1979, Haley made his final performances in South Africa in May and June, 1980. Prior to the South African tour, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. A planned tour of Germany in the fall of 1980 was canceled. He died at age 55 early in the morning of February 9, 1981.
There is a dispute over whether he had a brain tumor or not. Haley's death certificate listed "Natural causes: Most likely heart attack" as the immediate cause of death. The next lines, “Due to, or as a consequence of" were blank.
Here, Haley and the Comets perform “Rock Around the Clock” in 1956
Nanci Griffith was born 70 years ago today.
A singer, guitarist and songwriter, Griffith’s career spanned a variety of musical genres, predominantly country, folk and what she called "folkabilly."
One of her better-known songs — "From a Distance" — was written and composed by Julie Gold, although Bette Midler's version achieved greater commercial success. Similarly, other artists occasionally achieved greater success with Griffith's songs than Griffith herself.
For example, Kathy Mattea had a country music top five hit with a 1986 cover of Griffith's "Love at the Five and Dime" and Suzy Bogguss had one of her largest hits with Griffith's and Tom Russell's, "Outbound Plane."
In 1994, Griffith teamed up with Jimmy Webb to contribute the song "If These Old Walls Could Speak" to the AIDS benefit album, Red Hot + Country, produced by the Red Hot Organization. Griffith was a survivor of breast cancer, which was diagnosed in 1996, and thyroid cancer in 1998.
In recent years, Griffith toured with various other artists, including Buddy Holly's band, The Crickets; John Prine, Iris DeMent, Suzy Bogguss and Judy Collins.
Griffith recorded duets with many artists, among them Emmylou Harris, Mary Black, John Prine, Don McLean, Jimmy Buffett, Dolores Keane, Willie Nelson, Adam Duritz (singer of Counting Crows), The Chieftains and Darius Rucker.
Griffith suffered from severe “writers block” for a number of years after 2004, lasting until the 2009 release of her The Loving Kind album, which contained nine selections that she had written and composed either entirely by herself or as collaborations.
After several months of limited touring in 2011, Griffith's bandmates, The Kennedys (Pete & Maura Kennedy), packed up their professional Manhattan recording studio and relocated it to Nashville, where they installed it in
There, Griffith and her backing team, including Pete and Maura Kennedy and Pat McInerney, co-produced her album, Intersections, over the course of the summer. The album includes several new original songs and was released in April, 2012.
Griffith died in Nashville on August 13, 2021, at the age of 68. The cause of death was not reported
Here, Griffith performs “Love at the Five and Dime”
Frida Kahlo with her husband, Diego Rivera
Frida Kahlo, Mexican painter, was born 115 years ago today.
Best known for her self-portraits, Kahlo's life began and ended in Mexico City, in her home known as the Blue House. Her work has been celebrated in Mexico as emblematic of national and indigenous tradition, and by feminists for its uncompromising depiction of the female experience and form.
Mexican culture and Amerindian cultural tradition are important in her work, which has been sometimes characterized as Naïve art or folk art. Her work has also been described as "surrealist," and in 1938 André Breton, principal initiator of the surrealist movement, described Kahlo's art as a "ribbon around a bomb.”
Kahlo had a volatile marriage with the famous Mexican artist, Diego Rivera. She suffered lifelong health problems, many the result of a traffic accident she survived as a teenager. Recovering from her injuries isolated her from other people. This isolation influenced her works, many of which are self-portraits of one sort or another.
Kahlo suggested, "I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best." She also stated, "I was born a bitch. I was born a painter."
The 100th anniversary of the birth of Frida Kahlo in 2007 was commemorated with the largest exhibit ever held of her paintings at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, Kahlo's first comprehensive exhibit in Mexico. Works were on loan from Detroit, Minneapolis, Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Nagoya, Japan. The exhibit included one-third of her artistic production and surpassed all previous attendance records at the museum.
Ned Beatty as “Big Daddy” in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Photo by Joan Marcus
Ned Beatty was born 86 years ago today.
Beatty appeared in more than 100 films, including Network (1976), Friendly Fire (1979), Last Train Home (1990), Hear My Song (1991), the adaptation film Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (2004) and Toy Story 3 (2010).
Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Beatty was the son of Margaret and Charles William Beatty. He had a sister, Mary Margaret.
In 1947, young Ned began singing in gospel and barbershop quartets in St. Matthews, Kentucky, and at his local church. He received a scholarship to sing in the a cappella choir at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky; he attended but did not graduate.
In 1956, he made his stage debut at age 19, appearing in Wilderness Road, an outdoor-historical pageant located in Berea, Kentucky. During his first ten years of theater, he worked at the Barter Theater in Abingdon, Virginia, the State Theatre of Virginia.
Returning to Kentucky, he worked in the Louisville area through the mid-1960s, at the Clarksville Little Theater (Indiana) and the newly founded Actors Theater of Louisville. His time at the latter included a run as Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman in 1966.
He has had great commercial success in memorable roles such as the executive Bobby Trippe in Deliverance (1972), Tennessee lawyer Delbert Reese in Nashville (1975), general attorney Dardis in All the President's Men (1976), Bob Sweet in Silver Streak (1976), the priest Edwards in Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), Lex Luthor's henchman, Otis, in Superman (1978) and Superman II (1980) and Bates' right-hand man, Sydney Morehouse, in The Toy (1982).
He also played Borisov and Pavel Petrovic in The Fourth Protocol (1987), TV presenter Ernest Weller in Repossessed (1990), Rudy Ruettiger's father in Rudy (1993), attorney McNair in Just Cause (1995), Dexter Wilkins in Life (1999), the simple sheriff in Where the Red Fern Grows (2003), the corrupt Senator Charles F. Meachum in Shooter (2007), United States Congressman Doc Long in Charlie Wilson's War (2007), the voice of antagonist Lots-O'-Huggin' Bear in Toy Story 3 (2010) and Tortoise John in Rango (2011).
Beatty died at his home in Los Angeles of natural causes on June 13, 2021, at the age of 83.
Here is Beatty’s classic “The World is a Business” scene in Network in 1976
Jeannie Seely is 83 years old today.
A country music singer and Grand Ole Opry star, Seely is best known for her hit, "Don't Touch Me." She has produced numerous country hits, from the 60s into the mid-70s, including duets with Jack Greene such as 1969's "I Wish I Didn't Have to Miss You."
Seely has befriended many country singers, including Jan Howard and Dottie West.
Born in Titusville, Pennsylvania, Seely was the youngest of four children. Growing up with her siblings and parents, the family lived in a two-story farmhouse, which still exists today in her hometown.
Seely’s musical influences partially came from her parents, Leo and Irene. Leo played the banjo on the weekends and also called local square dances. Irene sang with her daughter every Saturday morning while they baked bread together.
Seely started listening to the weekly broadcast of the Grand Ole Opry at age 11. By the time she was 16, Seely appeared on a television station, WICU, in Erie, Pennsylvania.
While in high school, she was an honors student and was also a cheerleader. After she graduated high school in 1958, Seely worked in her hometown's bank. She also took night courses at America's Institute of Banking.
At age 21, Seely packed up everything she owned and moved to California. She first started working at a Beverly Hills bank, but left after a year and worked for half the money as a secretary at Liberty and Imperial Records in Hollywood.
Seely also worked for Four Star Records, a record company Patsy Cline once recorded for, where she began her career as a songwriter. The R&B artist, Irma Thomas, recorded one of her songs — "Anyone Who Knows What Love Is." It became a big hit.
Seely also appeared as a regular act on the program, Hollywood Jamboree with Glen Campbell, who was a rising country music star at the time. Finally, Seely got a recording contract of her own from Challenge Records.
Songwriter Hank Cochran was impressed with Seely's talents and thought she should move to Nashville to pursue a career in country music, but Seely didn't think she was ready yet.
Upon the encouragement of country singer, Dottie West, who also recorded one of her songs, she finally took Cochran's advice in 1965 and moved to Nashville. Upon arriving, she was hired to fill in for Norma Jean on Porter Wagoner's road show and television series.
Seely was also looking for a record label. She was initially turned down by every record label in town. However, Monument Records offered Seely a recording contract in early 1966. One of the first songs recorded was her husband's self-penned, "Don't Touch Me." The song was then released and in turn brought Seely her first major success on the country singles chart.
The song peaked at the #2 position on the Billboard Country charts and stayed there for three weeks, however on all the other major country charts (Cashbox, Record World), the song hit #1. It remained on the charts for over five months. The song even climbed into the lower regions of the pop singles charts, peaking at #85.
Because of the success of "Don't Touch Me," Seely was invited to perform on the Grand Ole Opry that June. She also won Billboard's, Cashbox's and Record World's "Most Promising Female Artist Award."
In September, 1967 Seely joined the Grand Ole Opry, a lifelong dream of hers, where today she still remains a member.
Here, Seely performs “Don’t Touch Me.”
William Schallert — actor who played more than 600 “father” characters on television including The Patty Duke Show, Nancy Drew Mysteries and Little Women — was born 100 years ago today.
A former president of the Screen Actors Guild, Schallert was a character actor who appeared in many films and in such television series as Perry Mason, The Smurfs, Jefferson Drum, The Rat Patrol, Gunsmoke, Star Trek, 87th Precinct, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, The Waltons, Bonanza, Leave It to Beaver, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Love, American Style, Get Smart, Lawman, Combat, The Wild Wild West and in later years, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
As with many character actors with long careers, Schallert's face was more recognizable than his name. I practically grew up watching him on television.
I had a chance to work with Schallert in 1989 on an impromptu radio dramatization of Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses” on KPFK Radio in Los Angeles. I produced the radio drama on the fly in reaction to the fatwā issued against Rushdie by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then the leader of Iran.
I approached Schallert and he volunteered to act in the drama, which was largely live and unrehearsed. Just as in old time radio, we used a single RCA 44BX bi-directional ribbon microphone and stage directed the actors to move in and out of the mic’s vocal range to do their various parts. This avoided making mixing mistakes in an unrehearsed live broadcast.
Like the pro has always was, Schallert performed flawlessly. He was fun to work with as well. It was a day we all celebrated when the broadcast ended.
Schallert died on May 8, 2016 at age 93.
Gene Chandler is 86 years old today.
Known as "The Duke of Earl" or simply "The Duke," Chandler is a R&B and soul singer-songwriter, producer and record executive, and one of the leading exponents of the 1960s Chicago soul scene.
Best known for his million-selling hits "Duke Of Earl" and "Groovy Situation," and his associations with the Dukays, the Impressions and Curtis Mayfield, Chandler is one of the few artists to chart hit records during the doo-wop, rhythm and blues, soul and disco eras. He had forty pop and R&B chart hits between 1961 and 1986.
Chandler attended Englewood High School on Chicago's south side. He began performing in the early 1950s with the Gaytones. In 1957, he joined a doo-wop group, The Dukays, with James Lowe, Shirley Jones, Earl Edwards and Ben Broyles, soon becoming their lead singer.
After his draft into the U.S. Army, he returned to Chicago in 1960 and rejoined the Dukays. The Dukays were offered a recording contract by Nat Records and recorded “The Girl Is a Devil in 1961 with producers Carl Davis and Bill "Bunky" Sheppard. This recording was followed with a session in August, 1961 with four sides — most notably "Nite Owl" and "Duke of Earl."
Nat Records chose to release "Nite Owl" and it became a sizable R&B hit at the end of 1961. Meanwhile, Davis and Sheppard shopped the "Duke of Earl" recording to Vee-Jay Records, which picked it. However, it was released by a solo artist, Eugene Dixon, who was renamed "Gene Chandler." "Duke of Earl" sold a million copies in just over one month.
After spending three weeks at #1 on the Billboard charts, Chandler purchased a cape, a monocle, a top hat and a cane and became "The Duke of Earl." He can be seen in the full “Duke” outfit singing "The Duke of Earl" in the movie, Don't Knock the Twist 1962, starring Chubby Checker.
His concerts became popular and he performed encores, usually "Rainbow '65," one of his collaborations with Curtis Mayfield.
Chandler still performs in Chicago, Las Vegas and elsewhere in the United States.
Here, Gene Chandler performs “Duke of Earl”
The Smoking Dog, Paris, 1957
Photo by Frank Horvat