Tag Archives: Birthdays

Ry Cooder and Buddy the Cat

In an interview, Ry Cooder recalled the inspiration for his album My name is Buddy.

“Once I was hipped to Buddy the Cat, I knew that’s my guy. He was a mascot of a record store, living up in Vancouver. They found him living in a suitcase in the alley. I said ‘Okay, I’m there. I can go with that and I know what to say.’”

Buddy is the album’s protagonist—a laid-off, disenfranchised cat who is joined by Lefty the Mouse and Reverend Tom Toad as they travel down the Lost Highways, Cardboard Avenues, and Sundown Towns of a bleak, destitute U.S.

“It’s a tip of the hat to the disappearing of the American working man,” Cooder said, “to the neighborhoods, the way of life, the life that people made for themselves, how they worked, what they achieved…No one’s gonna argue with a cat.”

This according to “Three (or four) chords and the truth: The saga of Ry Cooder and a cat named Buddy” by John Kruth (Sing out! LI/3 [autumn 2007] pp. 52–59).

Today is Cooder’s 70th birthday! Above, performing in 2009; below, Three chords and the truth, the album’s centerpiece.

Leave a comment

Filed under Animals, Performers

Villa-Lobos’s choro no. 10

heitor_villa-lobos

Heitor Villa-Lobos’s choro no. 10 (Rasga o coração) is a choral-symphonic tour de force that expresses the composer’s ardent nationalism through some of the most progressive compositional techniques of the mid-1920s.

The work’s opening imparts impressions of Brazil’s sonorous natural riches with indigenous melodies and birdsongs, providing an extended prelude to the choral section. The mixed chorus functions at the same level of value and distinction as that of the orchestral architecture, singing vocables meant to evoke aboriginal languages. With the appearance of the Rasga o coração melody, according to the composer, “the Brazilian heart becomes one with the Brazilian land.”

This according to Heitor Villa-Lobos: The search for Brazil’s musical soul by Gerard Béhague (Austin: University of Texas, 1994, pp. 87–96).

Today is Villa-Lobos’s 130th birthday! Above, the composer ca. 1922; below, a performance by Orquestra Sinfônica Municipal de Campinas.

Leave a comment

Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music

Mildred Bailey’s Native American roots

mildred-bailey1

Despite living in a racially stratified 1930s U.S., Mildred Bailey never sought to hide the fact that she was born into the Coeur d’Alene tribe of Idaho. Rather, it was a source of personal pride that she readily shared with her associates.

Cast within a jazz narrative that left no room for Native Americans, the public image of Bailey as a “white” jazz singer mattered for many reasons—not least, because she exerted considerable influence within the jazz and pop world, pioneering the vocal swing style that countless singers sought to emulate.

Bailey pointed to the Coeur d’Alene songs of her youth as a major factor in shaping her style:

“I don’t know whether this music compares with jazz or the classics, but I do know that it offers a young singer a remarkable background and training. It takes a squeaky soprano and straightens out the clinkers that made it squeak; it removes the boom from the contralto voice, this Indian singing does, because you have to sing a lot of notes to get by, and you’ve got to cover an awful range.”

This according to “American Indian jazz: Mildred Bailey and the origins of America’s most musical art form” by Chad Hamill, an essay included in Indigenous pop: Native American music from jazz to hip hop (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2016, pp. 33–46).

Today is Bailey’s 110th birthday! Below, Thanks for the memory from 1938.

Leave a comment

Filed under Jazz and blues, Performers, Popular music

Ralph Stanley and “O Death”

ralph-stanley

In a 2008 interview, Ralph Stanley recalled his participation in the soundtrack of the film O brother, where art thou?, which brought him a level of international recognition that he had never dreamed ofparticularly for his haunting rendition of the traditional Appalachian spiritual O Death.

T-Bone Burnett had several auditions for that song. He wanted it in the Dock Boggs style. So I got my banjo and learned it the way he did it…I went down with my banjo to Nashville and I said, “T-Bone, let me sing it the way I want to sing it,” and I laid my banjo down and sung it a cappella. After two or three verses, he stopped me and said, “That’s it.”

Quoted in “Old-time man” by Don Harrison (Virginia living June 2008, pp. 54–57).

Today would have been Ralph Stanley’s 90th birthday! Below, a performance from later in his career. (Can anyone tell us the place and date? We wonder if it’s his performance for the 2006 National Medal of Arts ceremony.)

Leave a comment

Filed under North America, Performers

Kurt Cobain’s idealism

MTV Unplugged: Nirvana

While Kurt Cobain openly disdained certain elements of his audience, he liked the idea of bending their minds to his left-leaning convictions.

“I wanted to fool people at first” he said in an interview. “I wanted people to think that we were no different than Guns n’ Roses. Because that way they would listen to the music first, accept us, and then maybe start listening to a few things that we had to say.” When he began letting loose with carefully aimed condemnations of racism, sexism, and homophobia, he was pleased to discover that high schools had become divided between Nirvana kids and Guns n’ Roses kids.

This according to “Generation exit” by Alex Ross (The New Yorker 25 April 1994, pp. 102–06).

Today would have been Cobain’s 50th birthday! Below, performing in 1992.

Leave a comment

Filed under Popular music

Eubie Blake’s second act

Eubie Blake F26

eubieblakeEubie Blake enjoyed a rewarding career in the 1910s and 1920s with his lifelong friend and lyricist Noble Sissle, both as the duo Sissle and Blake, the most successful black act of their time, and as songwriters for landmark musicals—most notably Shuffle along (1921), which included their most enduring number, I’m just wild about Harry.

Blake continued to compose songs for revues through the 1930s and 1940s, although none of his ventures reached the level of success that he experienced in the 1920s. But the ragtime revival of the 1950s kindled new interest in his talents, and he began playing and composing ragtime pieces.

In 1969 Columbia issued a two-LP set, The 86 years of Eubie Blake, featuring both his ragtime and his show music (along with a reunion with Sissle), which helped to renew interest in his work. During the last decades of his life Blake had his own record label, and his songs returned to Broadway in the anthology revue Eubie! (1978), which ran for 439 performances. The show’s namesake attended several times and performed a few songs on opening night.

This according to “Eubie Blake” by David A. Jasen, an article in Tin Pan Alley: An encyclopedia of the golden age of American song (New York: Routledge, 2012, pp. 47–48); this resource is one of many included in RILM music encyclopedias, an ever-expanding full-text compilation of reference works.

Today is Blake’s 130th birthday! Below, performing in 1972.

Leave a comment

Filed under Jazz and blues, Performers, Popular music

Schubert and Das Dreimäderlhaus

dreimaderlhaus

The operetta Das Dreimäderlhaus (1916) was based on Schwammerl (Mushroom, one of Schubert’s nicknames), a novel about Franz Schubert by Rudolf Hans Bartsch; the music incorporated numerous melodies by the composer. U.S. and U.K. adaptations followed: Blossom time (1921) and Lilac time (1922), respectively.

Unsurprisingly, the work was excoriated by critics, scholars, and performers for its defilement of Schubert’s melodies, spurious plot lines, and superficial, misleading, and sentimentalized portrayal of the composer’s character. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau derided it as “Schubert steeped in kitsch”, while Maurice J.E. Brown declared that “the popularity of this pastiche has done Schubert more harm than good.”

Audiences, however, adored it; the operetta passed its 1000th Berlin performance in 1918, and its 1100th Viennese one in 1927.

This according to “Of mushrooms and lilac blossom” by Richard Morris (The Schubertian 27 [December 1999] pp. 6–14; 28 [March 2000] pp. 15–18).

Today is Schubert’s 220th birthday! Above, a poster for the 1958 film version starring Karlheinz Böhm; below, excerpts from a 2016 production by Bühne Baden.

BONUS: Selections from Sigmund Romberg’s score for Blossom time; the show’s publicity breathlessly promised, among other attractions, “32 Schubert themes in eight bars.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Dramatic arts, Romantic era

Artur Rubinstein’s big break

arthur_rubinstein_1906

In 1897, when Artur Rubinstein was ten years old, his mother Felicja traveled with him from their home in Łódź to Berlin, armed with dozens of letters of introduction. After a dreary week of slogging unsuccessfully through the rain, Felicja played her last card when she secured a meeting for Artur with Joseph Joachim, the director of the Hochschule für Musik.

joseph-joachimJoachim (inset) was known to take a dim view of prodigies due to his own difficulties as one, but when Rubinstein played Mozart’s rondo in A minor, K. 511, to his “evident satisfaction” he rewarded the boy with an entire bar of Lindt’s bittersweet chocolate.

He also rewarded him with one of the most successful musical careers of the twentieth century, because on the basis of that brief audition Joachim decided that Rubinstein had the makings of an outstanding pianist, and he told the astonished Felicja that he would personally undertake the supervision of her son’s musical and general education.

This according to Rubinstein: A life by Harvey Sachs (New York: Grove’s Dictionaries of Music, 1995, pp. 22–24).

Today is Rubinstein’s 130th birthday! Above, Rubinstein in 1906; below, performing in Moscow in 1964.

Leave a comment

Filed under Performers

Eartha Kitt and feline metaphors

eartha-kitt

From practically the beginning, critics gushed over Eartha Kitt with every feline term imaginable: her voice “purred” or was “like catnip”, she was a “sex kitten” who “slinked” or was “on the prowl” across the stage, sometimes “flashing her claws”, and her career was often said to have had “nine lives”.

eartha_kitt_catwoman_batman_1967
Appropriately, she was tapped to play Catwoman in the 1960s TV series Batman, bringing feral, compact energy to the role (insert, click to enlarge).

Throughout her six-decade career Kitt remained a fixture on the cabaret circuit, maintaining her voice and figure through a vigorous fitness regimen. Even after learning that she had cancer, she triumphantly opened the newly renovated Café Carlyle in September 2007; The New York times reviewer wrote that Ms. Kitt’s voice was “in full growl”.

This according to “Eartha Kitt, a seducer of audiences, dies at 81” by Rob Hoerburger (The New York times CLVIII/54,536 [26 December 2008] p. 37).

Today would have been Kitt’s 90th birthday! Below, in one of her signature songs, purring in French (one of the seven languages that she sang in).

Leave a comment

Filed under Animals, Performers, Popular music

Zuzana Růžičková, survivor

zuzana-ruzickova

Zuzana Růžičková endured three concentration camps and was persecuted by communists in the following years. Nevertheless, she went on to become one of the world’s leading harpsichordists.

Born in Czechoslovakia to a prosperous Jewish family, Růžičková had a happy childhood but was sickly, suffering from tuberculosis. One day, as a reward for getting better from her illness, she asked her parents for a piano and piano lessons. Though doctors had ordered her to rest, she eventually got her way, and her teacher was so impressed that she encouraged her to go to France to study with the world’s top harpsichordist.

But in 1939 the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia; Růžičková was unable to continue her studies in France, and three years later she and her family were deported to the Terezin labor camp. “My childhood ended there,” she says.

Music helped her to survive. She remembers writing down a small section of Bach’s English Suite No 5 on a scrap of paper when she left Terezin in a cattle truck bound for Auschwitz. “I wanted to have a piece of Bach with me as a sort of talisman because I didn’t know what was awaiting us.”

Růžičková was due to be gassed on 6 June 1944, but she was saved by the D-Day landings, which took place early that day. She then endured forced labor in Germany before being sent to the Bergen-Belsen death camp in 1945, where she contracted bubonic plague.

When she finally returned home to Czechoslovakia her hands were badly damaged from working in the fields and hauling bricks. She was advised to abandon any ambition for a musical career. But, she says, “I couldn’t live without music,” and she practiced the piano for twelve hours a day to make up for lost time.

Despite continued persecution by the communist government, Růžičková went on to forge a distinguished career as a harpsichordist. Her international breakthrough came in 1956 when she won the ARD International Music Competition in Munich, and she was allowed to perform in competitions and concerts around the world because she was a lucrative source of foreign currency for the state. Between 1965 and 1975 she became the first person to record Bach’s complete keyboard works.

She remains grateful to the composer, who, she says, “played a big role in my recovering from my terrible experiences…Bach is very soothing. You always feel in his music that God is present somehow.”

This according to “The miraculous life of Zuzana Ruzickova” by Rebecca Jones (BBC news 19 December 2016).

Today is Růžičková’ 90th birthday! Below, performing Bach’s English suite no. 5, her early talisman.

Leave a comment

Filed under Baroque era, Performers