Who knew as early as January 16th that 1938 would see Hitler invade Austria, Japan declare war on China, or General Franco declare victory in the Spanish Civil War? There was nothing in the stars to indicate the arrival later that year of Superman, Bugs Bunny, and the first use of a seeing-eye dog. Nor perhaps did anyone realize the Fair Labor Standards Act would get rid of child labor that year and make the 40-hour work week the national standard throughout the United States.
Those were all history-making events. But so was Benny Goodman's appearance at Carnegie Hall on January 16th of that year. Already famous as the "King of Swing," even he had not conquered the legendary hall, which was then home to the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under the leadership of the renowned Arturo Toscanini. When the idea was first brought to him several months earlier, Goodman laughed out loud. It was unthinkable that the august venue of classical music might also find an audience for jazz. Although often referred to as "America's classical music," jazz was nevertheless seen as low brow and undignified.
When he succeeded in bringing jazz to Carnegie Hall that year, Goodman broke down the barrier between the classes - and also between the races - for a while at least.
The concert was a raging, history-making success. Goodman's orchestra included Gene Krupa, Count Basie, Lester Young, Harry James, Johnny Hodges, and Lionel Hampton. Many of them are easily identifiable in the video clip below, which serves up the exceptional Goodman hit, "Sing, Sing, Sing," inter-cut with still images that reveal the life of the time. It all seems archaic now, but the music in this clip steps outside of time to become something memorable. It may be jazz, but it's undeniably classic. Which is why it's worth revisiting 80 years later.
For more on this check out this story from NPR's "All Things Considered: How Benny Goodman Orchestrated the Most Important Concert in Jazz History. Be sure to follow the links within the story to learn more.
The first time I heard Lucinda Williams sing “Blue,” emotion kept me from getting the lyrics right. Instead of hearing, “We don’t talk about heaven, we don’t talk about hell,” I heard: “We don’t talk about heaven, we talk about hell.” Even now, whenever I listen to "Blue" that’s how I hear it. I remembered the wrong words and made them fit my meaning.
The year was 1895. Oscar Wilde was already famous. Married with two children, he was also four years into an affair with 25-year-old Lord Alfred Douglas. When Douglas' father denounced Wilde as a homosexual, the poet, novelist, and playwright sued for libel - and lost. He was sentenced to two years at hard labor at Reading Gaol. At the time of his arrest, The Importance of Being Ernest, was still in production on the London stage. We know him also for The Picture of Dorian Gray, Lady Windemere's Fan, An Ideal Husband, and a highly quotable wit.
In our own time, this thing called "sodomy" is no longer the sin it was in 1895. In fact, the US Supreme Court no longer considers it a crime (Lawrence v. Texas 2003). From the perspective of hindsight, one feels the weight of Wilde's tragedy, the injustice of his incarceration, and a sense of sorrowful compassion for what happened to him. He was to die five years later. His wife, Constance Lloyd Wilde, died two years before him. Only Lord Alfred Douglas survived into relative old age, passing away in 1945 at the age of 74.
We all know about his work on the co-discovery of DNA, which earned a Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1962, which was was shared with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins (but not female Molecular Biologist, Rosalind Franklin, who contributed critical research to that discovery but had died of ovarian cancer four years before the prize was awarded.)
To celebrate his 86th birthday, here's Watson's Ted Talk from 2005. Somewhere in the background, you can hear the grateful prayers of the 300-plus wrongfully convicted men whose sentences have been overturned because of DNA testing. Maury Povich, your ratings owe a debt of gratitude to Watson, et al, too. But let's not go there.
Born on April 6, in 1929, this music prodigy turns 85 today. He's won a staggering number of awards, is a world-class conductor of classical music, a jazz and classical pianist, and a composer whose work includes an opera based on Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire.
Here is former wife, Mia Farrow, introducing the bio for his 1998 Kennedy Center Award.
One of the all-time "greats" of 20th century jazz, this saxophonist, clarinetist, composer, and arranger was born this day in 1927. If you don't know him, look here for the details. If you do know his music, sit back and enjoy this 10-minute clip from the 1971 Newport Jazz Festival, featuring Mulligan, Dave Brubeck, and Paul Desmond.
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