April 25th

Ella Fitzgerald, Edward R. Murrow, Albert King, Jerry Leiber, Al Pacino, Talia Shire, Hank Azaria, Renee Zellweger, Tim Duncan — is this not enough for a national holiday on April 25th?

Ella Jane Fitzgerald was born in Newport News, Virginia, on this date in 1917 (she died in 1996). Scott Yanow’s essay for the All Music Guide is first rate. It begins:

“The First Lady of Song,” Ella Fitzgerald was arguably the finest female jazz singer of all time (although some may vote for Sarah Vaughan or Billie Holiday). Blessed with a beautiful voice and a wide range, Fitzgerald could outswing anyone, was a brilliant scat singer, and had near-perfect elocution; one could always understand the words she sang. The one fault was that, since she always sounded so happy to be singing, Fitzgerald did not always dig below the surface of the lyrics she interpreted and she even made a downbeat song such as “Love for Sale” sound joyous. However, when one evaluates her career on a whole, there is simply no one else in her class.

There are many great Fitzgerald albums but an excellent, inexpensive place to start is The Best of the Song Books.

Egbert Roscoe Murrow was born on this date in 1908. He died in 1965.

A Murrow radio report from a bombing raid over Berlin (he made 25 bombing runs):

The clouds were gone and the sticks of incendiaries from the preceding waves made the place look like a badly laid out city with the streetlights on. The small incendiaries were going down like a fistful of white rice thrown on a piece of black velvet. As Jock hauled the Dog up again, I was thrown to the other side of the cockpit, and there below were more incendiaries, glowing white and then turning red. The cookies—the four-thousand-pound high explosives—were bursting below like great sunflowers gone mad. And then, as we started down again, still held in the lights, I remembered the Dog still had one of those cookies and a whole basket of incendiaries in its belly, and the lights still held us. And I was very frightened.

The above from a fine 2006 article by Nicholas Lehmann in The New Yorker.

Albert Nelson was born on this date in 1923 (he died in 1992). We know him as Albert King.

As an electric guitar player who focused more on tone and intensity than flash, Albert King had a tremendous impact on countless rock and roll guitarists, including Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Michael Bloomfield and Stevie Ray Vaughan. King was also one of the first bluesmen who crossed over into the world of soul music, signing with Stax Records and recording such classic songs as “Born Under a Bad Sign” and “Crosscut Saw.”

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Jerry Leiber was born 80 years ago today (he died in 2011). Leiber and partner Mike Stoller are in the Rock and Roll and Songwriters halls of fame.

By the time they were 20, in just three years of working together, their early songs had been recorded by a collection of true all-stars in the rhythm and blues genre including Jimmy Witherspoon, Little Esther, Amos Milburn, Charles Brown, Little Willie Littlefield, Bull Moose Jackson, Linda Hopkins, Ray Charles and Willie Mae (Big Mama) Thornton who actually first recorded “Hound Dog” in 1952. Atlantic Records executives, Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler among them, were impressed, and in 1955 signed Leiber and Stoller to the first independent production deal, forever changing the course of production in the record industry.

For the next decade, well into the late ’60s the hits of Leiber and Stoller were constantly at the top of the charts, including the memorable “Stand By Me,” “Spanish Harlem” and “I (Who Have Nothing),” by Ben E. King; “On Broadway,” “Dance With Me” and “Drip Drop” by The Drifters; LaVern Baker’s “Saved” and Ruth Brown’s “Lucky Lips.”

During this same productive period, there were other Leiber and Stoller smashes, including “Love Potion #9,” by The Clovers, “Only In America” by Jay and The Americans, “I Keep Forgettin,” by Chuck Jackson, Wilbert Harrison’s “Kansas City,” The Drifters’ “There Goes My Baby” and “Fools Fall In Love,” “Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots” by The Cheers and “Ruby Baby” by Dion DiMucci. [And virtually everything by The Coasters.]

Following the triumph of “Hound Dog,” Elvis Presley actually went on to record more than 20 Leiber and Stoller songs, including such highlights as “Loving You,” “Bossa Nova Baby,” “She’s Not You” and “Santa Claus Is Back In Town.” [And “Jailhouse Rock.”]

Songwriters Hall of Fame

Ted Kooser, former poet laureate of the United States (2004–2006), author of many poetry collections, and winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry is 75 today.

Eight-time Oscar nominee Al Pacino is 74. He won for Scent of a Woman, but not for The Godfather or Godfather II. Pacino was nominated for a supporting actor Oscar for the first Godfather, which seems odd until one remembers that Caan and Duvall were also nominated for supporting and Brando won for lead.

Another Godfather cast member, Talia Shire is 68 today. Connie Corleone-Rizzi in the Godfather movies, Miss Shire was Adrian in the Rocky films. She was nominated for the best supporting actress Oscar for Godfather II (1974) and for the best actress Oscar for Rocky (1976). Talia Shire’s actual name is Talia Rose Coppola. She is the sister of director Francis Ford Coppola, which makes her the aunt of Sofia Coppola (daughter of Francis Coppola) and the aunt of Nicolas Cage (son of another Coppola brother).

Agador Spartacus is 50 today. So are Moe Szyslak, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, Chief Wiggum, Professor Frink, Comic Book Guy and Dr. Nick Riviera. All are played by the multi-talented Hank Azaria, who was born on this date in 1964. Agador Spartacus is the Guatemalan houseboy in The Birdcage. Azaria appeared on Friends six times and 13 times on Mad About You.

Renée Zellweger is 45. Twice nominated for best actress, Miss Zellweger won the Oscar for a supporting role in Cold Mountain (without her that film would have died of its own weight). She was born in Katy, Texas, but her parents were born in Switzerland and Norway.

Joe Buck is 45 today.

Jason Lee is 44 today. Tim Duncan is 38.