The Last Day of April Should Be a National Holiday

It’s Willie Nelson’s birthday.

He’s 82.

Annie Dillard is 70 today. Ms. Dillard won the Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction for Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974). The New York Times has a page with links to several reviews and articles about Dillard and her works. (Eudora Welty wrote the review of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.) And Ms. Dillard has a web site.

Basketball hall-of-famer Isiah Thomas turns 54 today.

Radio and television actress Eve Arden was born on April 30th in 1908. To my generation she was Our Miss Brooks, English teacher at Madison High. The show was on radio from 1948-1957 and TV from 1952-1956. Many considered it a breakthrough character for women. That’s Our Miss Brooks in the photo with Richard Crenna as Walter Denton and Gale Gordon as Principal Osgood Conklin.

Casey Jones wrecked his train on April 30th in 1900.

John Luther Jones from Cayce (pronounced Cay-see), Kentucky, famous to us through song as a brave engineer who romantically died trying to make up time. In truth, he crashed his locomotive at high speed into a freight train that was attempting to get out of the way on a siding. According to reports he failed to heed warning signals that were out. The accident took place early in the morning of April 30, 1900. Jones was the only fatality. Jones was known for his affability and his skill in blowing a train whistle. His engine wiper, Wallace Saunders, reportedly idolized the engineer. Saunders wrote the original song. All you might want to know can be found in this 1928 article.

George Washington took office as the first president of the U.S. on this date in 1789. His term began March 4th, but because neither the House nor Senate achieved a quorum until April, Washington’s unanimous election on February 4, wasn’t made official until April 14. Washington immediately departed Mount Vernon for New York to take the oath and was met along the way with parades and dinners in every little town. As James Madison noted, Washington was about the only aspect of the new government that really appealed to people.

Louisiana entered the union as the 18th state on this date in 1812.

April 26

Today is the birthday of Carol Burnett, 82, and Bobby Rydell, 73.

Duane Eddy was born on this date in 1938, which would make him 77 today. Eddy was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.

One of the earliest guitar heroes, Duane Eddy put the twang in rock and roll. “Twang” is a reverberating, bass-heavy guitar sound boasted by primitive studio wizardry. Concocted by Eddy and producer Lee Hazlewood in 1957, twang came to represent the sound of revved-up hot rods and an echo of the Wild West on the frontier of rock and roll. Eddy obtained his trademark sound by picking on the low strings of a Chet Atkins-model Gretsch 6120 hollowbody guitar, turning up the tremolo and running the signal through an echo chamber. Behind the mighty sound of twang, Eddy became the most successful instrumentalist in rock history, charting fifteen Top Forty singles in the late Fifties and early Sixties. He has sold more than 100 million records worldwide. No less an authority than John Fogerty has declared, “Duane Eddy was the front guy, the first rock and roll guitar god.” Eddy’s influence is widespread in rock and roll. A twangy guitar drove Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run,” and twang echoes in the work of the Beatles, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Dave Edmunds, Chris Isaak and many more.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum

Cannonball,” “Rebel Rouser,” “Forty Miles of Bad Road” — they make me want to cruise Speedway Boulevard all over again.

Bernard Malamud was born on this date in 1914. Malamud twice won the National Book Award (The Magic Barrel, The Fixer) and the 1967 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (The Fixer). He’s also the author of The Natural.

Gertrude Pridgett was born on this date in 1886. She began performing in 1900, singing and dancing in minstrel shows. In 1902, she married performer William “Pa” Rainey and became known as Ma Rainey.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum has this to say about inductee Ma Rainey:

If Bessie Smith is the acknowledged “Queen of the Blues,” then Gertrude “Ma” Rainey is the undisputed “Mother of the Blues.” As music historian Chris Albertson has written, “If there was another woman who sang the blues before Rainey, nobody remembered hearing her.” Rainey fostered the blues idiom, and she did so by linking the earthy spirit of country blues with the classic style and delivery of Bessie Smith. She often played with such outstanding jazz accompanists as Louis Armstrong and Fletcher Henderson, but she was more at home fronting a jugband or washboard band.

Jealous Hearted Blues

Frederick Law Olmsted was born on this date in 1822. He was America’s foremost landscape architect of the 19th century and the designer of New York’s Central Park.

John James Audubon was born on this date in 1785.


McKinley Morganfield

… was born 102 years ago today. We know him as Muddy Waters.

And how important was Muddy Waters to early Rock?

You’ve heard of The Rolling Stones, and “Like a Rolling Stone,” and Rolling Stone magazine. All named for Waters’ early hit, “Rollin’ Stone.”

Muddy Waters transformed the soul of the rural South into the sound of the city, electrifying the blues at a pivotal point in the early postwar period. His recorded legacy, particularly the wealth of sides he cut in the Fifties, is one of the great musical treasures of this century. Aside from Robert Johnson, no single figure is more important in the history and development of the blues than Waters. The real question as regards his lasting impact on popular music isn’t “Who did he influence?” but – as Goldmine magazine asked in 2001 – “Who didn’t he influence?”

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

March 21st


Benito Pablo Juárez García was born on this date in 1806. Juárez was five times President of Mexico, the first indigenous national to serve. He was a reformer, resisted the French occupation in 1865 and is considered one of Mexico’s great political leaders.

Johann Sebastian Bach was born in Eisenach, Germany, on this date in 1685. “Music…should have no other end and aim than the glory of God and the recreation of the soul; where this is not kept in mind there is no true music, but only an infernal clamor and ranting.”

February 26th

Today should be a national holiday. February 26 is the birthday of Fats Domino, Johnny Cash, Jackie Gleason, John Harvey Kellogg and Buffalo Bill.

Fats Domino

It’s the birthday of Antoine “Fats” Domino. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer is 87.

Fats Domino may not have been the most flamboyant rock and roller of the Fifties, but he was certainly the figure most rooted in the worlds of blues, rhythm & blues and the various strains of jazz that gave rise to rock and roll. With his boogie-woogie piano playing and drawling, Creole-inflected vocals, Antoine “Fats” Domino Jr. help put his native New Orleans on the map during the early rock and roll era. He was, in fact, a key figure in the transition from rhythm & blues to rock and roll – a transition so subtle, especially in his case, that the line between these two nominally different forms of music blurred to insignificance.

Born in the Big Easy in 1928, pianist, singer and songwriter Fats Domino ultimately sold more records (65 million) than any Fifties-era rocker except Elvis Presley. Between 1950 and 1963, he made Billboard’s pop chart 63 times and its R&B chart 59 times. Incredible as it may seem, Fats Domino scored more hit records than Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Buddy Holly put together. His best-known songs include “Ain’t That a Shame,” “Blueberry Hill” and “I’m Walkin’.”

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

It’s the birthday of Mitch Ryder. He’s 70 today. No report on the ages of the Detroit Wheels.

It’s the birthday of Michael Bolton. The singer is 62. The former Initech computer programmer’s age isn’t known.

Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash was born on this date in 1932.

To millions of fans, Johnny Cash is “the Man in Black,” a country-music legend who sings in an authoritative baritone about the travails of working men and the downtrodden in this country. Lesser known is the fact that Johnny Cash was present at the birth of rock and roll by virtue of being one of the earliest signees to Sam Phillips’ Sun Records back in 1955. Cash was part of an elite club of rock and roll pioneers at Sun that included Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis. The four were collectively referred to as “the Million Dollar Quartet” after an impromptu gathering and jam session at the Sun recording studio on December 4, 1956. What Cash and his group, the Tennessee Two, brought to the “Sun Sound” was a spartan mix of guitar, standup bass and vocals that served as an early example of rockabilly. Cash recorded a string of rockabilly hits for Sun that included “Cry, Cry, Cry,” “Folsom Prison Blues” and “I Walk the Line.” The latter was first of more than a dozen Number One country hits for Cash and also marked his first appearance on the national pop singles charts.

Straddling the country, folk and rockabilly idioms, Johnny Cash has crafted more than 400 plainspoken story-songs that describe and address the lives of coal miners, sharecroppers, Native Americans, prisoners, cowboys, renegades and family men.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Betty Hutton was born on this date in 1921. She was Annie Oakley in the eponymous 1950 film, and the trapeze artist who saves the circus in The Greatest Show on Earth, still a fun movie to watch.

Jackie Gleason was born in Brooklyn 99 years ago today (1916). One of the greats of early TV, known primarily now for his portrayal of bus driver Ralph Kramden in the Honeymooners. He was in a number of films and received an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor in The Hustler. Gleason also won a Tony Award. “And away we go” was one of Gleason’s stock lines. It is also the inscription at his grave site.

Grover Alexander Plaque

Grover Cleveland Alexander was born on this date in 1887.

Upon Alexander’s death in 1950, famed sportswriter Grantland Rice penned that the winner of 373 big league games was the most cunning, the smartest, and the best control pitcher that baseball had ever seen, adding, “Above everything else, Alex had one terrific feature to his pitching – he knew just what the batter didn’t want – and he put it there to the half-inch.”

National Baseball Hall of Fame

Alexander was portrayed by Ronald Reagan in the 1952 film “The Winning Team.”

John Harvey Kellogg was born on this date in 1852.

When he became a physician Dr. Kellogg determined to devote himself to the problems of health, and after taking over the sanitarium he put into effect his own ideas. Soon he had developed the sanitarium to an unprecedented degree, and he launched the business of manufacturing health foods. He gained recognition as the originator of health foods and coffee and tea substitutes, ideas which led to the establishment of huge cereal companies besides his own, in which his brother, W. K. Kellogg, produced the cornflakes he invented. His name became a household word.

The New York Times

There might have been something to it. Kellogg lived to be 91.

Buffalo Bill

And William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody was born on this date in 1846.

In a life that was part legend and part fabrication, William F. Cody came to embody the spirit of the West for millions, transmuting his own experience into a national myth of frontier life that still endures today.

All the while Cody was earning a reputation for skill and bravery in real life, he was also becoming a national folk hero, thanks to the exploits of his alter ego, “Buffalo Bill,” in the dime novels of Ned Buntline (pen name of the writer E. Z. C. Judson). Beginning in 1869, Buntline created a Buffalo Bill who ranked with Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone and Kit Carson in the popular imagination, and who was, like them, a mixture of incredible fact and romantic fiction.

Cody’s own theatrical genius revealed itself in 1883, when he organized Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, an outdoor extravaganza that dramatized some of the most picturesque elements of frontier life: a buffalo hunt with real buffalos, an Indian attack on the Deadwood stage with real Indians, a Pony Express ride, and at the climax, a tableau presentation of Custer’s Last Stand in which some Lakota who had actually fought in the battle played a part. Half circus and half history lesson, mixing sentimentality with sensationalism, the show proved an enormous success, touring the country for three decades and playing to enthusiastic crowds across Europe.

In later years Buffalo Bill’s Wild West would star the sharpshooter Annie Oakley, the first “King of the Cowboys,” Buck Taylor, and for one season, “the slayer of General Custer,” Chief Sitting Bull. Cody even added an international flavor by assembling a “Congress of Rough Riders of the World” that included cossacks, lancers and other Old World cavalrymen along with the vaqueros, cowboys and Indians of the American West.

Above from PBS – THE WEST.