Pope John XXIII
Well look, there's even a movie about the man called The Good Pope. So what does that tell you? No wonder the two living popes (Benedict and Francis) have agreed to canonize him on April 27th of next year. He is already officially revered under the title Blessed. And even though only one miracle has been attributed to his intercession, he has been green-lighted for sainthood by the Vatican.
Born this day in 1881, Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli became Pope John XXIII in 1958. By all accounts, he embodied sainthood during his lifetime. Known for his humility and wit, he convened the Second Vatican Council, which brought ideas of ecumenism and in an increased focus on relatedness to the once insular Roman Catholic Church.
In his quiet way, he revolutionized the church and was arguably its most important figure during the 20th century. A powerful man, he never took himself seriously. People loved him. With the exception of John Paul II, who will also be canonized next April, that is not something that can be said of too many pontiffs. We respect the others and maybe love the "idea" of pope, but to actually love the man, to be moved toward loving kindness because of their personal example - well, that's really something. When I think of John XXIII, I can't help but remember the protagonist of Graham Greene's novel, The Power and the Glory, who though very different from Pope John, comes to the conclusion Angelo Roncali must have reached in the days before papal responsibility was thrust upon him: "He knew now that at the end there was only one thing that counted - to be a saint.”
Interestingly, Pope John XXIII left the planet in 1963, a few months before JFK was also taken from us. It happens like this sometimes. A beloved secular figure moves on during the same year as a much-loved spiritual one. Consider 1997, for instance. We lost Princess Diana in August and Mother Theresa in September. I have no idea what that means. Maybe it means nothing. But I do find the parallelism intriguing, though I have no plans to research similar "coincidences" any time soon.
Nuance, transcendence, beauty. These are all words that come to mind when I think of Paul Desmond, but of course I try never to think of him while listening to him play. One of the foremost proponents of "cool jazz" back in the 1960's, his music still gets a lot of play on my iPod. Born in San Francisco on this day in 1924, Paul Desmond is best known for his collaborations with the great Dave Brubeck. And of course, his opening solo on the group's chart-topping hit, "Take Five," which he also composed, is legendary. Take five, why don't you, and give it a listen.
Born this day in 1836, he was the librettist, the storytelling half of the famous Victorian-era theatrical duo known as Gilbert & Sullivan. Gilbert came up with the stories, Sullivan put them to music, and audiences still flock to the theater in droves. Even folks who haven't seen them know many of the plays by name - The Pirates of Penzance, HMS Pinafore, Patience, and of course, The Mikado. Here are two versions of "Three Little Maids from School Are We" - the original and the "hot" one.
Born in Budapest, Hungary on this day in 1899, this violin prodigy is best known for conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra and his many recordings featuring its signature sound. Here's a clip of Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra in a stunning visual presentation put together by Berka243.
Diana Krall (Crazy); W.C. Handy (St. Louis Blues/Nat Cole) & George Kaufman (Night at the Opera) - Happy Birthday!
You know who she is. You don't need me to tell you. Born in Canada on this day in 1964, here she is performing "Crazy" with composer, Willie Nelson, and her husband, Elvis Costello.
Known as "Father of the Blues," William Christopher Handy was born in Florence, Alabama, in 1873 on this day. You don't think of blues musicians as being "educated" in the book-learning sense, but Handy was. He had the good sense to travel around the south, listening to the folk melodies that were part of indentured African-American experience and to incorporate that down-on-the-plantation, up-from-the-field music into his own compositions. You can easily find scratchy old recordings of one of his most famous compositions, "The St. Louis Blues," these days, as well as covers by lots of other folks.
George S. Kaufman
Born this day in 1889, this American playwright is known for his collaborations with Moss Hart, Ira Gershwin, and Edna Ferber. He won the Pulitzer twice and a Tony for directing Guys and Dolls. You Can't Take It with You, Dinner at Eight, and Of Thee I Sing, are among his hit plays. His Marx Brothers collaborations are still funny after all these years. Take a look at the clip below from Night at the Opera.
Albert Camus (Nobel Prize & The Stranger) Born; Also Joni Mitchell, Free Man/Paris; Joan Sutherland, Casta Diva
As today's NPR story by Eleanor Beardsley makes clear, Camus is still controversial 100 years after his birth. You can listen to her report here to understand why. Then, if you have time, you might want to take a few minutes to check out this clip from Visconti's 1967 film version of The Stranger and the short BBC clip that provides more insight into why Camus was ostracized after winning the Nobel Prize.
TAGS: Writers & Writing, Famous Birthdays
She may have been born in Canada, but this singer, songwriter, painter, and overall extraordinary human being, was also a "Free Man in Paris." Here she is singing that song during a live concert at London's Wembley Arena in 1983. She turns 70 today, but as her fans have long understood, she was always far older than years.
This Aussie Diva, born today in 1926, was one of the great coloratura sopranos of opera's bel canto repertoire. Here she is in a breathtaking performance of "Casta Diva" from Bellini's Norma.
TAGS: Famous Birthdays, Muses & Music
Mike Nichols Turns 82 Today; Kennedy Center Tribute; Birthdays for Emma Stone & Arturo Sandoval, Too
When it comes to Mike Nichols, one has only to remember the famous comment about Chartres: "The only response is gratitude." And to paraphrase the Beatles, there's nothing you can say about him that can't be said, or has not already been said. But Playwright Tom Stoppard handles the task beautifully, with a wit and intelligence worthy of his subject, in this tribute and brief film bio during the 2003 Kennedy Center Honors. Happy Birthday, Mike. And thanks...
Ten years ago, when she was 15, Emma Stone reportedly gave a PowerPoint presentation to her parents, set to Madonna's "Hollywood," to convince them to let her move to California for an acting career. A year later, she moved to LA with her mother, where she was home-schooled so she could audition for acting roles. She's all over the place now, and you can find her readily - a bonafide A-List star. Here's the "I'm in trouble" scene from The Amazing Spiderman.
John F. Kennedy, whose assassination the whole world will be remembering in a couple of weeks, once famously pointed out that "the torch has passed to a new generation." In the world of jazz, there is no better example of how best to do this than the mentor-protege relationship between Dizzy Gillespie and Arturo Sandoval, who was born in Artemesia, just outside Havana, Cuba, on this day 64 years ago. Recently awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, he has racked up half-a-dozen Grammy Awards and lights up audiences wherever he goes. Here is the young (and still thin) Arturo with Dizzy in a performance of Gillespie's "Night in Tunisia," during a 1985 concert in Havana itself. Feliz Cumpleanos, Arturo!
G.B. Shaw's Banned Play - Mrs. Warren's Profession & Julia Roberts, Jonas Salk, Cleo Lane, Jane Alexander Born
The Banning of Shaw's Mrs. Warren's Profession
One day after the death of Lou Reed, who often expressed "dark" themes in his music, we come upon this anniversary of a time when it was considered immoral even to discuss prostitution in a play. After being banned in Great Britain, Mrs. Warren's Profession had its New York premiere on this day in 1905. Anyone who missed that performance would have to wait until 1926 for another chance to see it. The play was shut down after only one performance. The producer and actors were arrested for obscenity, and even Shaw (not yet a Nobel laureate) was named in the court case that eventually found them all not guilty. Here are scenes from Cherry Jones' (TV's 24) outstanding performance in the title role of the 2010 Broadway revival of this "scandalous" play.
Born this day in 1927, she now holds the honored title of "Dame." Nominated for Grammy awards in classical, jazz, and popular music, she is the daughter of a black Jamaican father and a white English mother. Aside from thoughts of what it must have been like to bring a biracial child into the world two years before the Great Depression, it is thrilling to witness in her performances the confluence of two rich cultural backgrounds. Her delightful interpretation of Porgy and Bess with Ray Charles is legendary, and the clip below is not bad either She's a Capella for the first minute and ten seconds, and that voice! Although it's a live performance (1977), you can hear a pin drop. Go Cleo.
As long as we've broached the subject of interracial relationships, we must acknowledge - no, celebrate - this actor's contribution to our understanding of this complicated subject. Winner of a Tony and two Emmy Awards, Jane Alexander (born today in 1939) has been nominated for an Oscar four times. She starred in the film version of The Great White Hope with James Earl Jones. and earned a Tony for her performance in the Broadway stage production.
Think of the millions - maybe billions - Jonas Salk (1914-2005) could have made from the polio vaccine, which he declined to patent. Then think of a world filled with this kind of hero. Here's the famous interview with TV's Edward R. Murrow and a summary of Salk's achievement.
This pretty woman was born today 46 years ago. No need to go on about her Oscar or the $464 million grossed by that amazing first film with Richard Gere. Let's just visit this tender scene from Notting Hill in which she's so vulnerable, it's hard to believe she's acting.
The year was 1976. Jimmy Carter was running for president. The supersonic Concorde aircraft was making commercial flights; newspaper heiress Patty Hearst was found guilty of bank robbery, and two guys named Steve (Wozniak and Jobs) formed Apple Computers. Meanwhile, the United States Naval Academy inducted its first class with women - and this song, written by Pete Cetera, became the first of many number one hits for a rock group that went on to sell 150 million albums world wide.
Happy Birthday, Ang, born this day in 1954, director of Sense and Sensibility, Brokeback Mountain, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. ere is a clip from his achingly beautiful, Oscar-winning film, Life of Pi.
In his 66 years (1942-2008), he gave us so much: Television's ER, a string of novels, and many wonderful films. Here's the opening scene from the first Jurassic Park
Back when late-night talk shows still had class, Johnny Carson, born this day in 1925, was the undisputed king. He hosted the Tonight Show for 31 years. Here he is with Betty White in their 1979 Adam and Eve skit.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Born this day in 1722, Coleridge is best known these days for The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Kublai Khan, and his addiction to opium. His great friendship with the poet, William Wordsworth, ended in a rift that lasted 20 years before they reconciled. Although Kublai Khan came to him in an opium dream, he was unable to remember the complete vision when came out of it. In fact, his creative output fell significantly during his addiction, which he did eventually manage to control somewhat if not defeat entirely before the end of his life.
The youngest of nine children, John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie was born this day in 1917 in Cheraw, North Carolina. Though this prodigy who began playing the piano at the age of four started out imitating the style of Roy Eldridge, he eventually created a style of his own. Along with Charlie "Bird" Parker, he helped originate the be-bop style of jazz. Also noted for his swollen cheeks and Afro-Cuban musical style, he is one of the greats without whom no history of jazz would be complete. Here he is at the 1977 Montreux Jazz Festival with bassist Ray Brown, vibraphonist Milt Jackson, drummer Jimmy Smith, and pianist Monty Alexander.
It's rather fitting that today is also the birthday of another Afro-Cuban musical great. Born in 1925, she was given the birth name of Ursula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso, but we know her as the Queen of Salsa. Here she is with "La Negra Tiene Tumbao."
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