March 21st

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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.

February 24th

Abe Vigoda is 94 today.

Steven Hill, District Attorney Adam Schiff of Law and Order, is 93 today.

Dominic Chianese, Corrado “Uncle Junior” Soprano, is 84.

Edward James Olmos is 68.

Honus Wagner Plaque

Honus Wagner was born on this date in 1874. He was one of the original five inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame – with Cobb, Johnson, Mathewson and Ruth. He was the first to have his name etched on a Louisville Slugger.

Hall of Fame skipper John McGraw called Honus Wagner “The nearest thing to a perfect player no matter where his manager chose to play him”. Honus Wagner played 21 seasons, primarily with his hometown team the Pittsburgh Pirates, and was the total package. He could hit for average and power and could change the dynamics of a game on the base paths and in the field– he played every position on the diamond in his major league career except for catcher.

Baseball Hall of Fame

Winslow Homer was born on this date in 1836. That’s his Breezing Up (A Fair Wind), 1873-1876, below.

From the late 1850s until his death in 1910, Winslow Homer produced a body of work distinguished by its thoughtful expression and its independence from artistic conventions. A man of multiple talents, Homer excelled equally in the arts of illustration, oil painting, and watercolor. Many of his works—depictions of children at play and in school, of farm girls attending to their work, hunters and their prey—have become classic images of nineteenth-century American life. Others speak to more universal themes such as the primal relationship of man to nature.

The National Gallery of Art

Breezing Up (A Fair Wind) Winslow Homer The National Gallery of Art
Breezing Up (A Fair Wind)
Winslow Homer
The National Gallery of Art

The Father of Our Country

… was born 283 years ago today on February 11, 1731*.

Gilbert Stuart, The Athenaeum, 1796 Click for larger version.
Gilbert Stuart, The Athenaeum, 1796
Click for larger version.

To describe George Washington as enigmatic may strike some as strange, for every young student knows about him (or did when students could be counted on to know anything). He was born into a minor family in Virginia’s plantation gentry, worked as a surveyor in the West as a young man, was a hero of sorts during the French and Indian War, became an extremely wealthy planter (after marrying a rich widow), served as commander in chief of the Continental Army throughout the Revolutionary War (including the terrible winter at Valley Forge), defeated the British at the Battle of Yorktown, suppressed a threatened mutiny by his officers at Newburgh, N.Y., then astonished the world and won its applause by laying down his sword in 1783. Called out of retirement, he presided over the Constitutional Convention of 1787, reluctantly accepted the presidency in 1789 and served for two terms, thus assuring the success of the American experiment in self-government.

Washington was, after all, a magnificent physical specimen. He towered several inches over six feet, had broad shoulders and slender hips (in a nation consisting mainly of short, fat people), was powerful and a superb athlete. He carried himself with a dignity that astonished; when she first laid eyes on him Abigail Adams, a veteran of receptions at royal courts and a difficult woman to impress, gushed like a schoolgirl. On horseback he rode with a presence that declared him the commander in chief even if he had not been in uniform.

Other characteristics smack of the supernatural. He was impervious to gunfire. Repeatedly, he was caught in cross-fires and yet no bullet ever touched him. In a 1754 letter to his brother he wrote that “I heard Bullets whistle and believe me there was something charming in the Sound.” During the Revolutionary War he had horses shot from under him but it seemed that no bullet dared strike him personally. Moreover, when the Continental Army was ravaged by a smallpox epidemic, Washington, having had the disease as a youngster, proved to be as immune to it as he was to bullets.

Forrest McDonald in his review of Joseph J. Ellis’ His Excellency: George Washington.

Ron Chernow was awarded the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Biography for Washington: A Life.

__________

* By the Julian calendar, George Washington was born on February 11, 1731. Twenty years later Britain and her colonies adopted the Gregorian calendar, the calendar we use today. The change added 11 days and designated January rather than March as the beginning of the year. As a result, Washington’s birthday became February 22, 1732.

February 21

Today is the birthday

… of Tyne Daly, 69.

… of Anthony Daniels. 3CPO is 69.

… of Alan Rickman. Professor Snape is also 69.

… of Patricia Nixon Cox. The former first daughter is 69, too.

… of Frasier Crane. Kelsey Grammer is 60 today.

… of Mary Chapin Carpenter. Celebrating, and one hopes, feeling lucky, she’s 57 today.

… of Ellen Page. The one-time Oscar nominee is 28.

Erma Bombeck was born on this date in 1927. NewMexiKen thought Bombeck funniest when she really was a a full-time mom. When she became rich and famous the humor often seemed more contrived and strained. But then I’d rather be rich and famous than funny, too.

Anaïs Nin was born on this date in 1903 and named Angela Anaïs Juana Antolina Rosa Edelmira Nin y Culmell. I almost passed over the French author, but figured if she was good enough for a Jewel song she was good enough for NewMexiKen’s list of birthdays. Anaïs Nin was French born of Cuban parents.

The great classical guitarist Andrés Segovia was born on this date in 1893. This from his obituary in The New York Times in 1987.

The guitarist himself summed up his life’s goals in an interview with The New York Times when he was 75 years old: ”First, to redeem my guitar from the flamenco and all those other things. Second, to create a repertory – you know that almost all the good composers of our time have written works for the guitar through me and even for my pupils. Third, I wanted to create a public for the guitar. Now, I fill the biggest halls in all the countries, and at least a third of the audience is young – I am very glad to steal them from the Beatles. Fourth, I was determined to win the guitar a respected place in the great music schools along with the piano, the violin and other concert instruments.”

The Washington Monument was dedicated 130 years ago today. Malcolm X was shot and killed 50 years ago today.

February 20th Should Be a National Holiday

Sidney Poitier is 88 today.

A good day to watch Lilies of the Field, Poitier’s wonderful, enjoyable Academy Award-winning performance.

Sidney Poitier and  Lilia Skalia, Lilies of the Field, 1962.
Sidney Poitier and Lilia Skalia, Lilies of the Field, 1962.

Ansel Adams was born on this date in 1902.

In a career that spanned more than 50 years, Mr. Adams combined a passion for natural landscape, meticulous craftsmanship as a printmaker and a missionary’s zeal for his medium to become the most widely exhibited and recognized photographer of his generation.

His photographs have been published in more than 35 books and portfolios, and they have been seen in hundreds of exhibitions, including a one-man show, ”Ansel Adams and the West,” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1979. That same year he was the subject of a cover story in Time magazine, and in 1980 he received the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

In addition to being acclaimed for his dramatic landscapes of the American West, he was held in esteem for his contributions to photographic technology and to the recognition of photography as an art form.

The New York Times Obituary

The Ansel Adams Gallery