Today is the birthday
… of Milton S. Hershey, born on this date in 1857. Hershey, who only completed the fourth grade, developed a formula for milk chocolate that made what had been a luxury product into the first nationally marketed candy.
… of Sherwood Anderson, born on this date in 1876 in Camden, Ohio.
[Anderson] is best known for his short stories, “brooding Midwest tales” which reveal “their author’s sympathetic insight into the thwarted lives of ordinary people.” Between World War I and World War II, Anderson helped to break down formulaic approaches to writing, influencing a subsequent generation of writers, most notably Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner. Anderson, who lived in New Orleans for a brief time, befriended Faulkner there in 1924 and encouraged him to write about his home county in Mississippi.
… of Bill Monroe, born on this date in 1911. The Father of Bluegrass Music was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1970. In 1993, Monroe was a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, an honor that placed him in the company of Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles and Paul McCartney. Monroe died in 1996.
That’s a photo of Monroe’s Gibson Lloyd Loar F5 1923 Mandolin, bought used from a barbershop in the early 1940s for $150. Most of Monroe’s work thereafter, including his composing, was performed on the instrument — until it was smashed with a fireplace poker by a jilted lover in 1985. Gibson repaired the mandolin, gluing together some 500 pieces. Remarkably, its sound was not diminished and Monroe used it until the end of his career — with a rattlesnake tail inside to absorb moisture and discourage mice.
Monroe is also an inductee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame:
Musical pioneer Bill Monroe is known as “the father of bluegrass music.” While Monroe would humbly say, “I’m a farmer with a mandolin and a high tenor voice,” he and His Blue Grass Boys essentially created a new musical genre out of the regional stirrings that also led to the birth of such related genres as Western Swing and honky-tonk. From his founding of the original bluegrass band in the Thirties, he refined his craft during six decades of performing. In so doing, he brought a new level of musical sophistication to what had previously been dismissed as “rural music.” Both as ensemble players and as soloists, Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys upped the ante in their chosen genre much the way Duke Ellington’s and Miles Davis’s bands did in jazz. Moreover, the tight, rhythmic drive of Monroe’s string bands helped clear a path for rock and roll in the Fifties. That connection became clear when a reworked song of Monroe’s, “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” became part of rock and roll history as the B side of Elvis Presley’s first single for Sun Records in 1954. Carl Perkins claimed that the first words Presley spoke to him were, “Do you like Bill Monroe?”
… of Mel Tormé, born on this date in 1925. The “Velvet Fog” was a wonderful jazz singer, but his greatest legacy is writing “The Christmas Song” — “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…”. Tormé died in 1999.
And it’s the anniversary of the inspiration for our most famous song:
As the evening of September 13, 1814, approached, Francis Scott Key, a young lawyer who had come to negotiate the release of an American friend, was detained in Baltimore harbor on board a British vessel. Throughout the night and into the early hours of the next morning, Key watched as the British bombed nearby Fort McHenry with military rockets. As dawn broke, he was amazed to find the Stars and Stripes, tattered but intact, still flying above Fort McHenry.
Key’s experience during the bombardment of Fort McHenry inspired him to pen the words to “The Star-Spangled Banner.” He adapted his lyrics to the tune of a popular drinking song, “To Anacreon in Heaven,” and the song soon became the de facto national anthem of the United States of America, though Congress did not officially recognize it as such until 1931.
The Smithsonian Institution, which has the original “star-spangled banner,” has details about the flag.