Friday, May 24, 2019

PAST OBITS: DUKE ELLINGTON

It's hard to believe but jazz genius Duke Ellington died on this day 45 years ago. This obituary appeared in The New York Times on May 25th...

Duke Ellington, who expanded the literature of American music with compositions and performances that drew international critical praise and brought listening and dancing pleasure to two generations, died here yesterday at the age of 75.

He entered the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center's Harkness Pavilion at the end of March for treatment of cancer of both lungs, a condition that was complicated last Wednesday when he developed pneumonia.

At his death, the phrase “beyond category,” which Edward Kennedy Ellington had used as his highest form of praise for others, could quite literally be applied to the Duke himself, whose works were played and praised In settings as diverse as the old Cotton Club, Carnegie Hall and Westminster Abbey,

Mr. Ellington was born in Washington on April 29, 1899, the son of James Edward Ellington and the former Daisy Kennedy. His father was blueprint maker for the Navy Department, who also worked occasionally as a butler, sometimes at the White House.


In high school, the Duke, whose nickname was given to him by an admiring neighborhood friend when he was years old, was torn between his interests in painting and in music. He won a poster contest sponsored by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and in 1917 was offered a scholarship by the Pratt Institute of Applied Art. He turned it down, however, to devote himself to music.

He wrote his first composi“Soda Fountain Rag,” “en, while he was working after school as a soda jerk at thePoodle Dog Cafe. Some piano lessons he had received at theto age of 7 comprised the only formal musical education hehad. He learned by listening to the “two‐fisted piano play‐‐‐” of the period, paying particular attention to Sticky Mack, Doc Perry, James P. Johnson and Willie (The Lion) Smith.

By the time he was 20 he was making $150 a week playing with his small band at parties and dances. In this year, 1919, Sonny Greer became Mr. Ellington's drummer and remained with him until 1950, setting a pattern of longevity that was to be followed by Ellington sidemen. many

In 1922 Wilbur Sweatman, then a successful bandleader, asked Mr. Greer to join his band in New York. Mr. Ellingtop and three other members the group went along, too, ‘3’ but jobs in New York were so scarce that soon they were all back in ‘Washington. However, the visit gave Mr. Ellington an opportunity to hear the Harlem pianists who became prime influence on his own playing — Willie (The Lion) Smith, James P. Johnson and Johnson's protege Fats Waller.

At Mr. Waller's urging, Diike Ellington and his men returned to New,York in 1923. This time they got a job playing at Barron's in Harlem with Elmer Snowden, the group's banjoist, as nominal leader. When they moved downtown to the Hollywood Club (later known as the Kentucky Club) at Broadway and 49th Street, Mr. Snowden left the group and Mr. Ellington assumed the leadership.


During the four and a half years that Ellington's Washingtonians remained at the Kentucky Club, the group made its first records and ‘ did its first radio broadcasts. Late in 1927, when the band had’ expanded to 10 men, the Cotton Club, gaudy Harlem showplace, found itself in sudden need of an orchestra when King Oliver, whose band was scheduled to open there, decided he had not been offered enough money.

Mr. Ellington got thebooking, but first he had to be released from a theater engagement in Philadelphia. This was arranged when the operators of the Cotton Club asked some associates in Philadelphia to call on the theater manager with a proposition: “Be big or you'll be dead,” He was big and Duke Ellington began five‐year association with the Cotton Club.

A crucial factor in spreading the fame of the Ellington hand was a nightly radio broadcast from the Cotton Club that was heard across the country, introduced by the Ellington signature theme “East St. Louis Toodle‐Oo,” with Bubber Miley's growling trumpet setting the mood for the stomping and often exotic music that followed. Mr. Ellington's unique use of growling brass (identified as his “jungle” style) and the rich variety of tonal colors that he drew from his band brought musicians of all schools to the Cotton Club.

In 1930 the Ellington band appeared in its first featurelength movie, “Check and Double Check,” and in 1933 it went ‐overseas for the first time, to ‘Britain and Europe. During the thirties, the band appeared in several more films —“Murder at the Vanities,” “Belle of the Nineties” and The Hit Parade” — and made a second European tour ‘ in 1939.


When the furor over swing bands rose in the late thirties, the Ellington band was overshadowed by the glare of publicity that fell on the bands of Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and Glenn Miller. But as the swing era faded, the Ellington band hit one of its peaks in 1941 and 1942, years when all the greatest of Mr. Ellington's star sidemen (except Bubber Miley) were together in the band and when Mr. Ellington himself was in an extraordinarily creative. period as a composer.

By 1943, however, he was leaving the early phases of his career, behind him and turning to the extended compositions and concert presentations that would be an increasingly important part of his work.

In the fifties, when Interest in big bands dropped So low that all but a handful gave up completely or worked on a part‐time basis, Mr. Ellington kept his band together even when the economic basis became very shaky. The fortunes of the Ellington band started to rise again in 1956 when, at the Newport Jazz Festival, a performance of a composition Mr. Ellington had written 20 years before, “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue,” propelled by a 27chorus. solo by the tenor ,saxophonist Paul Gonsalves, Set off dancing in the aisles that reminded observers of the joyous excitement that Benny Goodman had generated at’ New York's Paramount Theater in the thirties.


During the next 15 years, Mr. Ellington's orchestra was heard in all areas of the world, touring the Middle East, the Far East and the Soviet Union under the auspices of the State Department, playing in Africa, South America and Europe. Mr. Ellington wrote !scores for five ‘films — “Paris !Blues,” “Anatomy of a Murder,” “Assault on a Queen,” “Change of Mind” and a German picture, “Janus.”

He composed a ballet, “The River,” in 1970 for Alvin Ailey and the American Ballet Theater. In 1963 he wrote a pageant of black history, “My People,” which was presented in Chicago. He had also written for the theater earlier in his career —a musical, “Jump for Joy,” produced in Los Angeles in 1941, and a score with lyrics by, John Latouche for “Beggar's Holiday,” an adaptation of John Gay's “Beggar's Opera” on Broadway in 1947.

Honors were heaped on him. In 1969, at a celebration of his 70th birthday at the ‐White House, President Nixon awarded him. the Presidential Medal of Freedom. President Georges Pompidon of ‘France in 1973 gave ‘him the Legion of ??


Through all ‐this, Mr. Ellington kept up the steady pace of composing and performing and traveling that he had maintained since the late nineteentwenties. Everywhere he went, his electric piano went with him, for there was scarcely a day in his life when he did not compose something.

“You know how it is,” he said. “You go home expecting to go right to bed. But then, on the way, you go past the piano and there's a flirtation. It flirts with you. So, you sit down and try out a couple of chords and when you look up, it's 7 A.M.”

Quite logically Mr. Ellihgton called his autobiography, published in 1973, “Music Is My Mistress.”

“Music is my mistress,” he wrote, “and she plays second fiddle to no one.”

Mr. Ellington married Edna Thompson in 1918. Their son, Mercer, was born the following year. The couple were divorced in 1930 and Mr. Ellington's second m'arriage, to Mildred Dixon, a dancer at the Cotton Club, also ended in divorce.

Surviving besides his son, Mercer, is his widow, Bea (Evie) Ellis; a sister, Ruth, and three grandchildren.

Funeral services will be held on Monday at 1 P.M. at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, Amsterdam Aveye and 112th Street.

Mr. Ellington's body went on view last night at the Walter B. Cooke funeral chapel at Third Avenue and 85th Street. Viewing hours will continue between 8 A.M. and 10 P.M. today and tomorrow...



Tuesday, May 21, 2019

NEW BOOK: SEEN FROM THE WINGS: LUISE RAINER: MY MOTHER, THE JOURNEY

I will be reviewing this book soon, but secure your copy now. It is an excellent look at the life of a child of Hollywood royality...


Seen from the Wings:
Luise Rainer. My Mother, The Journey
(Publication Date: June 3, 2019 by BookBaby)

There have been several autobiographies written by the children of illustrious film actresses―Christina and Joan Crawford, Maria Riva and Marlene Dietrich, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds.

Each book lays bare the stark reality of being raised in Hollywood, where the glamour and drama of being raised by world-renowned parents is tempered by the pressure to succeed in life and love in the shadow of Hollywood perfection.

Now, add to that list the story of Francesca Knittel Bowyer, daughter of Luise Rainer ― the first woman to win back-to-back Oscars® (The Great Ziegfeld (1936) and The Good Earth (1937) - before the age of 30. Rainer died at the age of 104 in December of 2014, just two weeks short of her 105th birthday.

In Seen From The Wings: Luise Rainer. My Mother, My Journey, Knittel Bowyer describes her desperate need to become independent from a mother who was almost never pleased, especially when she felt upstaged, and chronicles her journey to find her life's purpose and to define herself as an individual.

Knittel Bowyer's is a life woven with adventure. She went from theater actress to editor at Harper’s Bazaar Magazine; recognizably as the first Devil Wears Prada girl, then from art dealer to executive at a highly prestigious advertising agency.


Meanwhile, she worked tirelessly as a devoted and sometimes single mother raising two daughters and while escaping abusive relationships and marriages.

In this poignant, true story of a daughter, wife and mother who escapes from the trappings of her golden upbringing in the villas of Europe and the mansions of Beverly Hills, Knittel Bowyer reveals how her imperious mother and gentle-hearted father affected her relationships, choices and happiness.

Seen From The Wings is not simply about her mother, who has always been the key factor in her life, but rather about her mother's influence on her life. Luise Rainer weaves her way through the story with threads of possessive love, jealousies and passionate opinions about her daughter's every move.

This is a story of the fine line between love and hate and of the importance of loyalty. It is a story about people whose lives and minds are so different, yet whose worlds and persuasions follow a parallel path. There are no mistakes, only learning experiences and a host of stories to tell.

All these life experiences resulted in Francesca Knittel Bowyer catapulting herself into a new and positive life path of faith, peace and self-acceptance...

You can purchase the book from Amazon HERE


Monday, May 20, 2019

JANE WYMAN: DIGNITY IN DIVORCE

Jane Wyman could have had a bestseller.

But the Oscar-winning actress wouldn’t dish about her ex-husband. Not when Ronald Reagan was governor of California and not when he made history as the nation’s first divorced president.

Before Reagan, men with failed marriages were considered too tainted for the White House. Nelson Rockefeller’s divorce may have cost him the Republican primary nomination for president in 1964.

But by the time Reagan took the oath in 1981, with Nancy Reagan by his side in her royal blue suit and hat, the country was ready for the first lady to be a second wife.

And Wyman didn’t get in the way, though she surely knew plenty from her nine years of marriage to Reagan during Hollywood’s heyday.

Their time together — which included the birth of one child, the adoption of another and the death of a third — received little attention. Reagan never mentioned her in public. And Wyman got no more than a paragraph in his autobiography:

“The same year I made the Knute Rockne movie, I married Jane Wyman, another contract player at Warners. Our marriage produced two wonderful children, Maureen and Michael, but it didn’t work out, and in 1948, we divorced.”

That’s it.


And she honored him with similar silence.

Asked in 1968, right after Reagan became California’s 33rd governor, why she never spoke of her ex-husband’s political transformation and new starring role, Wyman was wry and succinct.

“It’s not because I’m bitter or because I don’t agree with him politically,” she said in 1968. “I’ve always been a registered Republican. But it’s bad taste to talk about ex-husbands and ex-wives, that’s all. Also, I don’t know a damned thing about politics.”

Bad taste. Remember when there was such a thing?

But today, rather than a former film actor, we have an ex-reality-TV star in the White House. And his leading ladies are going at it, reality-show style.

It’s a good time to remember that as recently as the 1980s, when the first Trump union made Donald and Ivana the toast of Manhattan’s gilded crowd, Wyman was exercising Victorian decorum. Even if decorum didn’t describe the Hollywood of the 1930s and ’40s.


Reagan played off his good looks and broad-shouldered Everyman charm well into his old age. But his early days in Hollywood? A parade of biographies and tell-alls describe him as a player.

From Elizabeth Taylor to Lana Turner to Marilyn Monroe, the Gipper was a guy who allegedly got around.

Wyman and Reagan fell in love on the set. Their marriage in 1940 was his first and her third. They divorced in 1949, after Wyman reportedly fell in love with another co-star, Lew Ayres.

She didn’t marry Ayres, but her part in “Johnny Belinda” helped her win an Academy Award for Best Actress in 1948. She went on to marry two more times — both times to the same man — before finally giving up on nuptials. She remained a star on the small screen, starring in the television series “Falcon Crest,” as her third ex-husband won the Cold War and championed conservative family values.


She finally broke her silence about Reagan when he died in 2004.

“America has lost a great president,” Wyman said. “And a great, kind and gentle man.”

Wyman died three years later in Rancho Mirage, Calif., at the age of 90. Or maybe it was 93. She wasn’t that forthcoming about her birthday either...

Friday, May 17, 2019

CELEBRITY ADS: CLARA BOW

Here is a great vintage advertisement that featured Clara Bow. She was selling eye make-up that would give you eyes that looked just like the "It" girl! This advertisement was from 1927. At the time, Clara Bow was appearing in the Paramount silent move Children Of Divorce...


Tuesday, May 14, 2019

RIP: TIM CONWAY

Actor and comedian Tim Conway, best known for his work on "The Carol Burnett Show," died on Tuesday morning in Los Angeles, according to his publicist.
Conway was 85.

He had been battling a longtime illness prior to his death, Howard Bragman, Conway's representative, told us. He was not suffering from dementia or Alzheimer's disease, Bragman said.

Conway won three Emmys for co-starring in "The Carol Burnett Show," which ran from 1967 to 1978, and a fourth as a member of its writing team. He also briefly headlined his own variety series and co-starred in several Disney live-action comedies during the '70s, such as "The Apple Dumpling Gang" and "The Shaggy D.A."

In his later years, Conway did numerous guest appearances -- winning additional Emmys for roles in the sitcoms "Coach" and "30 Rock" -- and voiceover work in animation, including "SpongeBob Squarepants."

Conway's improvisational antics frequently cracked up his co-stars, foremost among them Harvey Korman.


"I'm heartbroken. He was one in a million, not only as a brilliant comedian but as a loving human being," Burnett said about Conway in a statement  on Tuesday. "I cherish the times we had together both on the screen and off. He'll be in my heart forever."

Burnett will dedicate a previously scheduled performance of her one-woman show, "An Evening of Laughter and Reflection Where the Audience Asks Questions," to Conway's memory on Tuesday night in North Carolina.


Conway's longtime colleague, Vicki Lawrence, also paid tribute.

"Hysterical, crazy, bold, fearless, humble, kind, adorable... all synonyms for Tim Conway," Lawrence said in a statement. "I am so lucky to ever have shared a stage with him. Harvey and Tim are together again...the angels are laughing out loud tonight."

Conway was married twice, first to Mary Anne Dalton from 1961 to 1978 and together they had six children. He is survived by his wife of more than 30 years, Charlene Fusco.

The family has asked that instead of gifts, donations be made to The Lou Ruvo Brain Center at the Cleveland Clinic in Las Vegas, Nevada...


MUSIC BREAK: FRANK SINATRA - SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY

Monday, May 13, 2019

RIP: DORIS DAY

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Doris Day, the honey-voiced singer and actress whose film dramas, musicals and innocent sex comedies made her a top star in the 1950s and ’60s and among the most popular screen actresses in history, has died. She was 97.

The Doris Day Animal Foundation confirmed Day died early Monday at her Carmel Valley, California, home. The foundation said she was surrounded by close friends.

“Day had been in excellent physical health for her age, until recently contracting a serious case of pneumonia, resulting in her death,” the foundation said in an emailed statement.

The foundation also said she requested “no funeral or memorial service and no grave marker.”

With her lilting contralto, wholesome blonde beauty and glowing smile, Day = was a top box office draw and recording artist known for such films as “Pillow Talk” and “That Touch of Mink” and for such songs as “Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)” from the Alfred Hitchcock film “The Man Who Knew Too Much.”


But over time, she became more than a name above the title: Right down to her cheerful, alliterative stage name, she stood for a time of innocence and G-rated love, a parallel world to her contemporary Marilyn Monroe. The running joke, attributed to both Groucho Marx and actor-composer Oscar Levant, was that they had known Day “before she was a virgin.”

Day herself was no Doris Day, by choice and by hard luck.

In “Pillow Talk,” released in 1959 and her first of three films with Rock Hudson, she proudly caught up with what she called “the contemporary in me.” Her 1976 tell-all book, “Doris Day: Her Own Story,” chronicled her money troubles and three failed marriages, contrasting with the happy publicity of her Hollywood career.

“I have the unfortunate reputation of being Miss Goody Two-Shoes, America’s Virgin, and all that, so I’m afraid it’s going to shock some people for me to say this, but I staunchly believe no two people should get married until they have lived together,” she wrote.

She never won an Academy Award, but Day was given a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004, as George W. Bush declared it “a good day for America when Doris Marianne von Kappelhoff of Evanston, Ohio decided to become an entertainer.”

In recent years, she spent much of her time advocating for animal rights. Although mostly retired from show business since the 1980s, she still had enough of a following that a 2011 collection of previously unreleased songs, “My Heart,” hit the top 10 in the United Kingdom. The same year, she received a lifetime achievement honor from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Friends and supporters lobbied for years to get her an honorary Oscar.

Born to a music teacher and a housewife, she had dreamed of a dance career, but at age 12, she suffered a crippling accident: a car she was in was hit by a train and her leg was badly broken. Listening to the radio while recuperating, she began singing along with Ella Fitzgerald, “trying to catch the subtle ways she shaded her voice, the casual yet clean way she sang the words.”


Day began singing in a Cincinnati radio station, then a local nightclub, then in New York. A bandleader changed her name to Day, after the song “Day after Day,” to fit it on a marquee.

A marriage at 17 to trombonist Al Jorden ended when, she said, he beat her when she was eight months pregnant. She gave birth to her son, Terry, in early 1942. Her second marriage also was short-lived. She returned to Les Brown’s band after the first marriage broke up.

Her Hollywood career began after she sang at a Hollywood party in 1947. After early stardom as a band singer and a stint at Warner Bros., Day won the best notices of her career with “Love Me or Leave Me,” the story of songstress Ruth Etting and her gangster husband-manager. She initially balked at it, but the 1955 film became a box-office and critical success.

She followed with another impressive film, Hitchcock’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” starring her and James Stewart as an innocent couple ensnared in an international assassination plot. She sings “Que Sera, Sera” just as the story reaches its climax and viewers are beside themselves with suspense. The 1958 comedy “Teacher’s Pet” paired her with an aging Clark Gable as an idealistic college journalism teacher and her student, an old-school newspaper editor.

But she found her greatest success in slick, stylish sex comedies, beginning with her Oscar-nominated role in “Pillow Talk.” She and Hudson were two New Yorkers who shared a telephone party line and initially hated each other.


She followed with “The Thrill of It All,” playing a housewife who gains fame as a TV pitchwoman to the chagrin of obstetrician husband James Garner. The nation’s theater owners voted her the top moneymaking star in 1960, 1962, 1963 and 1964.

Her first musical hit was the 1945 smash, “Sentimental Journey,” when she was barely in her 20s. Among the other songs she made famous were “Everybody Loves a Lover,” ″Secret Love,” and “It’s Magic,” a song from “Romance on the High Seas,” her first film.

Critic Gary Giddins called her “the coolest and sexiest female singer of slow-ballads in movie history.”

“Romance on the High Seas” had been designed for Judy Garland, then Betty Hutton. Both bowed out, and Day, recommended by songwriters Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne, won the role. Warner Bros. cashed in on its new star with a series of musicals, including “My Dream Is Yours,” ″Tea for Two” and “Lullaby of Broadway.” Her dramas included “Young Man with a Horn,” with Kirk Douglas and Lauren Bacall, and “Storm Warning,” with Ronald Reagan and Ginger Rogers.


Her last film was “With Six You Get Eggroll,” a 1968 comedy about a widow and a widower and the problems they have when blending their families.

With movies trending for more explicit sex, she turned to television to recoup her finances. “The Doris Day Show” was a moderate success in its 1966-1973 run on CBS.

Disillusionment grew in the 1960s when she discovered that failed investments by her third husband, Martin Melcher, left her deeply in debt. She eventually won a multimillion-dollar judgment against their lawyer.

She had married Melcher, who worked in her agent’s office, in 1951. He became her manager, and her son took his name. In most of the films following “Pillow Talk,” Melcher was listed as co-producer. Melcher died in 1969.

In her autobiography, Day recalled her son, Terry Melcher, telling her the $20 million she had earned had vanished and she owed around $450,000, mostly for taxes.

In 1974, Day won a $22.8 million judgment against Jerome B. Rosenthal, her lawyer and business manager, for mishandling of her and Melcher’s assets.

Terry Melcher, who died in 2004, became a songwriter and record producer, working with such stars as the Beach Boys. But he was also famous for an aspiring musician he turned down, Charles Manson. When Manson and his followers embarked on their murderous rampage in 1969, they headed for the house once owned by Melcher and instead came upon actress Sharon Tate and some visitors, all of whom were killed.

Day married a fourth time at age 52, to businessman Barry Comden in 1976. She lived in Monterey, California, devoting much of her time to the Doris Day Animal Foundation...


Saturday, May 11, 2019

ON THIS DAY: MAY 11

On this day in entertainment history...


1912: Phil Silvers, American comedian (Sgt Bilko-Phil Silvers Show), born in Brooklyn, New York.


1918: 44th Kentucky Derby: William Knapp on Exterminator wins in 2:10.8.


1929: 1st regularly scheduled TV broadcasts (3 nights per week)


1931: "M" Fritz Lang's first sound film starring Peter Lorre premieres in Berlin.


1956: Pinky Lee Show last airs on NBC-TV.


1968: Richard Harris releases "MacArthur Park" album.


1969: British comedy troupe Monty Python forms, made up of Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin debuts in London.


2001: Actress Suzanne Pleshette (64) weds actor Tom Poston (79) at Manhattan's City Hall.


Wednesday, May 8, 2019

MY FIVE FAVORITE FEMALE SINGERS

Since I just updated my favorite male singer list recently, I figured I better give the favorite female singers an update. There are so many great songbirds out there that have left their mark, but these are currently my five favorite...


5. ELLA FITZGERALD (1917-1996)
Ella Fitzgerald had a way with a song that no other vocalist, man or woman, had. She started out with Chick Webb and his band in the 1930s, but went out on her own after Webb died. She was with Decca Records in the 1940s, but I think my personal favorite era of her records in when she was with Verve and recorded those Great Songbook series in the 1950s and 1960s. 2013 ranking: 7

4. PEGGY LEE (1920-2002)
The smoky quality of Peggy Lee's voice always appealed to me. Peggy started out with Benny Goodman and his band in the early 1940s, and she became one of the truly great vocalists. She not only was a singer but an actress and songwriter as well. My person favorite recording of hers is "Where Can I Go Without You" on the Decca label. 2013 ranking: 11


3. CONNEE BOSWELL (1907-1976)
Even though she suffered from polio and was handicapped, Connee was one of the great voices of our times. She started out with her sisters, the Boswell Sisters, but went on her own in 1936 when her sisters got married and retired. She could sing jazz like no other woman. Her duets with Bing Crosby were legendary, and she continued to make great records through the 1950s. She did an album with Sy Oliver in 1956 that is one of the best things put on vinyl. 2013 ranking: 2

2. DINAH SHORE (1917-1994)
For the few people that remember Dinah Shore, they might think of her just from her television show of the 1970s. She was so much more, and a wonderful singer. She was discovered by Eddie Cantor, and she had countless hit records like: "Lavender Blue", "Jim", and one of my favorites
Shoo Fly Pie And Apple Pan Dowdy". She started out with RCA Victor, but would also record with Columbia and Capitol. Her voice is audio gold. 2013 ranking: 3

1. JO STAFFORD (1917-2008)
Jo Stafford has been my favorite female singer nearly as long as Bing Crosby has been my favorite male singer. I am also honored to have gotten an autographed picture of Jo Stafford in the late 1990s. Jo started out as a member of the Pied Pipers in the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, but she became a solo artist in 1943, and she was one of the first acts signed to Capitol Records. There is not enough room to list all her hits but a few include: "You Belong To Me", "Shrimp Boats", and "Make Love To Me". Jo retired from performing in 1970 while she was on top, but she had nearly perfect pitch. I have a lot of favorites by Jo, but check out her recordings of "Always True To You In My Fashion", "A Ghost Of A Chance", and "Best Things In Life Are Free" to just name a few. 2013 ranking: 1


Again, this is just my opinion as of 2019 and not a complete list. I have dozens of singers that I love and listen to. Here are five more runners up that I love as well: Billie Holiday (1915-1959), Kate Smith (1907-1986), Lee Wiley (1908-1975), Mildred Bailey (1903-1951) and Judy Garland (1922-1969)...

Friday, May 3, 2019

COOKING WITH THE STARS: BING CROSBY

I was surprised to find this recipe of Bing Crosby's for lamb kabobs. I never knew Bing was that handy in the kitchen. My wife does not like lamb but I may want to try these...


DER BINGLE'S LAMB KABOBS


READY IN: 3hrs 20mins  SERVES: 4

INGREDIENTS:
1lb lean lamb fillets, cut into 1 inch cubes
1⁄2lb beef suet, cut into ½ inch cubes

MARINADE:
1⁄4lb onion, finely chopped
2tablespoons freshly chopped parsley
4fluid ounces olive oil
salt
black pepper
1clove garlic, crushed
1teaspoon ground coriander
1⁄2teaspoon cumin seed


DIRECTIONS:
Place the marinade ingredients in a shallow dish, mix well and then add the meat and suet, mixing to coat.Cover and allow to marinate for 2-6 hours.Thread the beef and suet alternately onto soaked skewers. Cook over hot coals for 15-20 minutes, turning from time to time and basting occasionally with the marinade. Serve hot.


Monday, April 29, 2019

KATE SMITH: A PC TARGET?

America has become expert at picking at scabs and scraping old wounds.

There is not a cadaver in the nation’s 242-year history that is off-limits to being exhumed and examined for moral failings or evidence of contemporary bias. We resurrect people to slay them anew and to rewrite their eulogies.

Earlier this month, we exhumed Kate Smith, a famous American singer who died in 1986. Cultural morticians are now busy reconstructing her legacy and the meaning of her life. She is now being shunned by some as a de facto racist because of at least two songs she recorded early in her career.

Years before Smith recorded her famous version of “God Bless America,” a national treasure, she recorded a song called “That’s Why Darkies Are Born.”

The latter song is an abomination by modern cultural standards. In 1931 it proved to be a hit. The song is nothing more than lyrical blackface, a casual ode to slavery that has been described by some as satire. Those who advance the notion of the song as satire are quick to point out that Paul Robeson, the famous black tenor and orator, also recorded the song:

“Someone had to pick the cotton,

Someone had to pick the corn,

Someone had to slave and be able to sing,

That’s why darkies were born.”


One can only wonder what Smith would say of this awful song were she alive today. Would she apologize? Would she defend the song as a relic of Depression-era America? Or, would she merely shrug it off?

That’s the problem with de facto exhumation. You can’t examine the heart of the person or put their work in context.

That didn’t stop the New York Yankees and the Philadelphia Flyers from immediate action against Smith. When news of the song’s existence was revealed, both the Yankees and the Flyers quickly separated themselves from the artist and her work. The Yankees issued a statement saying that they would no longer play her recording of God Bless America during the 7th inning stretch, and the Flyers have removed the statue of Smith that had stood outside its arena since 1987.

The Yankees, who had been playing Smith’s version of the song since shortly after the September 11th, terrorist attacks, learned of Smith’s offensive song from a fan’s email.

That’s how easily the evisceration of an American icon can occur. One day, Smith rested comfortably in her grave, renowned as a musical genius and winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The next day, her favorite hockey team had covered her head with a sheet.


In February 1976, Smith performed a week long series of concerts at Cleveland’s Front Row in Highland Heights. Her health was already declining, and she would soon stop her national tours. But the sold-out audiences connected with the aging musician. She closed all of her sets with “God Bless America.”

Jane Scott, the venerable Plain Dealer Rock Critic, attended the Wednesday concert and wrote a glowing review. She noted Smith’s “majestic voice” and “booming, hearty manner.” She described her as “old fine wine.”

Scott, America’s first major female rock critic and a beloved figure in popular culture, also penned these words in her review words, which by today’s standards, seem insensitive:

“The big lady with the bigger voice made the night bright and cheery for us all at the Front Row … The years have been kind to Kathryn Elizabeth Smith, now 67. She is still a large woman, but her skin is surprisingly smooth, and her voice is as vibrant as ever.”

Without intention, Scott body-shamed Smith, who had spent a lifetime battling obesity. It just goes to say, we’re all creatures of our time and should be judged by the body of our work and ability to evolve.

Kate Smith had a catalog of hundreds of songs. Two of those songs have come back to haunt her from the grave. Nonetheless, the body of her work stands. God blessed America with Kate Smith...

GUEST REVIEW: RAGTIME

Bruce Kogan is back with his guest review to end our month of Ragtime stories. This review is a look at the 1981 movie version of Ragtime. It's a great movie with a great review from Bruce...

Back in the day when Hollywood was grinding out B westerns it wasn't unusual at all to see famous folks of the west in stories that had absolutely nothing to do with their own lives or to see many famous people interacting when they never even met in real life.

Ragtime revives some of that dubious tradition in filming E.L. Doctorow's novel about the Teddy Roosevelt years of the first decade of the last century. Teddy figures into this briefly as does his Vice President Charles Fairbanks. Booker T. Washington is here too, as are the principals of the Stanford White murder, and New York City Police Commissioner Rhinelander Waldo.

It's quite a blend because Roosevelt and Fairbanks ran for re-election in 1904 as Fairbanks is shown delivering a campaign speech. He wasn't even Vice President then, just a Senator from Indiana. Fairbanks was running for Vice President because Roosevelt had no Vice President in his first term. He succeeded to the presidency when Willima McKinley was assassinated.

The Stanford White murder took place in 1906 and was then called the crime of the century. Many such murders right up to O.J. Simpson were given that dubious distinction. And Rhinelander Waldo was not NYPD Police Commissioner until 1910 and he was much younger than James Cagney. 


Still and all E.L. Doctorow's book is made into a fine film which got a whole bunch of Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Best Director for Milos Forman and Supporting player nominations for Howard Rollins, Jr. and Elizabeth McGovern.

The main story is about Coalhouse Walker, Jr. a black ragtime pianist and his Sarah. She has his baby and they'd like to get married. But a whole lot of things, some of them peripherally connected to the true events and people previously mentioned that lead him and a gang to take possession of the Morgan Library and threaten to blow it up.


Howard Rollins was a real tragedy. This was a great start to a short, but brilliant career that included his long running role as Virgil Tibbs in the TV series In the Heat of the Night and the film A Soldier's Story. He died way too young from AIDS contracted from a lot of intravenous drug use.

Elizabeth McGovern is the famous Evelyn Nisbet, the girl on the red velvet swing which was the title of another film that dealt with the Stanford White murder. McGovern's performance is probably closer to the real Evelyn than Joan Collins was in that earlier film. She's basically a goldigger who juggled two men, her husband Harry K. Thaw and her upscale lover, society architect Stanford White. Her circus act led to White's death, Thaw's commitment to an insane asylum and a vaudeville career for her.

Ragtime was eagerly awaited because of the anticipated return of James Cagney to the screen after being off for 19 years. Cagney is clearly aged, but he gets through the role because unlike that television film Terrible Joe Moran, he's not the center of the film, though he's first billed. Note that he's sitting down during most of his performance and when he has to stand the camera is a discreet distance. It's nothing like the bouncing Cagney of old, but light years better than Terrible Joe Moran.


This was also the final joint appearance as it turned for the team that invented the buddy film, James Cagney and Pat O'Brien even though they have no scenes together. O'Brien is Harry K. Thaw's attorney and Mrs. O'Brien plays Thaw's mother under her maiden name of Eloise Taylor. She was an actress before she married Pat, but gave up her career to raise their four children.

Author Norman Mailer plays Stanford White, fulltime architect and hedonist and Robert Joy plays the demented millionaire Harry K. Thaw and both fit the parts perfectly. Maybe one day we will have a definitive film version just concentrating on the murder and it's aftermath for the three principals.

Milos Forman gave us a remarkable evocation of an exciting time in American history. It seemed that America had limitless possibilities then. I doubt they'll be saying that about the first decade of this century...

BRUCE RATING: 9 OUT OF 10
MY REVIEW: 10 OUT OF 10


Friday, April 26, 2019

ANNOUCEMENT: A TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE ON FACEBOOK


I just wanted to let everyone know that I started a Facebook group called - what else A Trip Down Memory Lane. It will feature music and nostalgia from the 1910s to 20102. Stop by and join the group.

In order to make this group fun, we need participation! Come by and share some good music, nostalgia, and memories!

You can find the Facebook group here:     A Trip Down Memory Lane Group

Monday, April 22, 2019

SCOTT JOPLIN'S RAGTIME

Here is a great article I found online on the music of Scott Joplin. He is often considered the "father of Ragtime"...

Scott Joplin's ragtime gets its dues finally. 1973's The Sting took it global, but there's more to ragtime music than that film's Keystone Kops crazy-chase soundtrack One album was all it took to herald a revival. In 1970, the year of Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water and The Beatles' Let It Be, a record of arcane late 19th-century American piano music, released on a label that was otherwise building its reputation as a chronicler of the hardcore American avant-garde, began to sell in implausible quantities. Audiences ordinarily enamoured of piano miniatures by Chopin, Brahms and Liszt were suddenly taking pleasure in the compositions of Scott Joplin, the Texas-born "King of Ragtime" whose über-catchy 1899 Maple Leaf Rag brought him immediate popularity, but who died in 1917 with two typically embarrassing composerly problems hanging over him: syphilis and a terminally unproduced opera, Treemonisha, which would only be recognised as a masterwork long after his death.

Joshua Rifkin, an up-and-coming pianist in 1970, had ragtime brought to his attention by the composer William Bolcom and the evangelising jazz writer Rudi Blesh. Rifkin persuaded the New York-based Nonesuch label to act on his hunch that the trickster melodies and brain-worm syncopations characteristic of ragtime pieces – decked out with such whimsical titles as The Entertainer, Heliotrope Bouquet and Swipesy – would appeal directly to the hearts and minds of classical piano buffs. But neither pianist nor record label could have foreseen the itchy enthusiasm for this once popular but long-since forgotten music that would mushroom across the United States and beyond.


In terms of time and historical distance, if not exactly musical content, an equivalent discovery today would see the mainstream media suddenly fixate on bebop; The One Show's Gyles Brandreth recalled from catching up with authentic jam-making in Dorset to discuss the intricacies of period Charlie Parker records. That's the force with which ragtime percolated deep inside American culture. Woody Allen gave his 1973 film Sleeper a ragtime soundtrack. EL Doctorow called his latest novel Ragtime. Film director George Roy Hall underscored his wisecracking card-hustler movie The Sting with Joplin rags.

Pre-Spotify – and pre-Simon Cowell – wildcard albums had leeway to punch above their market weight; Scott Joplin could and did chart alongside The Beatles. But if Rifkin brought ragtime to hundreds of thousands of people, the Oscar-wining The Sting catapulted the music into the mainstream. With visionary prescience in 1915, Joplin proclaimed "50 years after I'm dead my music will be appreciated." He was only out by a few years, but ragtime's complete identification in the popular imagination with The Sting became difficult. Here was ragtime dressed in fancy instrumentations, dolled up to the orchestral nines by film composer Marvin Hamlisch; rags no longer smiling innocently, but lent an insincere Hollywood grin.

Joplin's mantra would never waver: appreciation of his sleights-of-hand – notes never quite falling into the patterns you expect – relied on savouring each moment. By rushing his tempos, he said in his School of Ragtime primer, "very often good players lose the effect entirely." But the high-energy hokum of The Sting recast ragtime as Keystone Kops crazy-chase music by default, an unhappy paradox given that George Roy Hall was introduced to rags via Rifkin's recordings – interpretations rooted in his insistence on treating Joplin with the same faithful respect afforded to a Chopin Mazurka or a Brahms Waltz.


"Rag" as in "tease", so ragtime is literally "tease time". Hearing Joplin's signature composition "The Entertainer" today is like the warm glow of a comedian's dependable catchphrase; it's always nice to hear it nice. Other Joplin compositions, though, reveal their tease only gradually. My own fascination with Heliotrope Bouquet has at times bordered on obsession. My musician's brain that can fully rationalise Joplin's harmonic moving parts, but that nuts-and-bolts analysis actually tells you little about its true emotional sting. Balanced flawlessly in an emotional fault line between forlorn melancholy and aching wistfulness, this piece wears smiles you only see once they have already begun to fade. This is Peggy Lee's tart Is That All There Is? decades before the event. Or music that mirrors Schubert's trademark harmonic polysemousness – and all neatly contained within a four-minute structure.

The letter of a Joplin score must be obeyed. Rifkin's intuition has long since been vindicated, although questions remain about where ragtime stands historically in relation to jazz. The scholar Terry Waldoargued, in his superb 1976 book This Is Ragtime, that the music presented a sonic metaphor for the day-to-day experience of early 20th-century Black America, the melodic liberation of the right-hand endeavouring to undermine the left-hand's slavish regularity. And although jazz musicians of a certain mindset would eagerly adapt ragtime to their own improvisational ends – Sidney Bechet's 1932 Maple Leaf Rag is a true jazz masterpiece – my own hunch is that Joplin's music was anyway inherently improvisational.

Rags had the same identikit structure. Looped 16-bar phrases always gravitated back towards the home key, but merry-legged melodic lines took sharp, unforeseen corners, drunk on their own invention; Joplin was improvising on the page. But modern jazzmen were surely too darn cool to acknowledge these frivolous compositional follies? Well, actually no. Thelonious Monk shamelessly mined ragtime and stride piano, reshaping its raw energies. And John Coltrane's compressed, sped-up saxophone lines – his so-called "sheets of sound" – built on Monk's palette of gestures. And Coltrane's example would galvanise Steve Reich and Jimi Hendrix – and The Doors and Evan Parker – and about every emerging jazz and rock musician of the 1960s and 70s – into action, fuelling revolutions to come...

Thursday, April 18, 2019

THE MUSIC AND DANCE OF THE RAGTIME ERA

During the 19th century, most of America's music, dances and fashions were imported from Europe, as composers and dance masters emulated the latest styles from Paris and London. At the same time, African Americans were combining their native music with European forms, resulting in their spirituals and "Ethiopian Melodies" that were adopted by minstrel shows and American composers like Foster, Christy and Gottschalk. During the 1890s and early 1900s this unique African American music developed into a new sound – syncopated Ragtime music.

At the end of the 19th century, many Americans were becoming bored with the old music and dances, which were essentially those of their grandparents. The Twentieth Century was seen as a time to make great changes, so most people were ready for innovations, probably with the expectation that the changes would come from society's cultural leaders. But instead, many Americans began to find it "modern" to dance their Two-Step to the new Ragtime music from the rural South and Midwest. Some high society ballrooms embraced the African American Cake Walk as "the popular fad of popular society." In the early 1900s, Ragtime music gained a wider acceptance and was soon accompanying the new Four-Step (soon to be re-named the One-Step) and a spontaneous menagerie of "animal dances" such as the Grizzly Bear, Turkey Trot, Bunny Hug and Camel Walk, especially among the lower classes. By 1910, the popular phrase was, "Everybody's Doin' It Now," but in fact most of middle and upper class society was only talking about it. Many could not yet accept the new ragtime dances because of lower-class associations.


In 1911 the newlyweds Irene and Vernon Castle found themselves in the right place at the right time, exhibiting their versions of the new American dances in a Parisian dinner club. They became immensely popular in Paris, and their fame spread through Europe. When the Castles returned to Irene's New York home in 1912, their dancing set a new prototype for Americans to follow. The Castles were a young, elegant, attractive, wholesome, married couple who had become the rage of Parisian high society. In a word, they had class. If they could dance the new ragtime dances with propriety, then all levels of society could, and did. The Castles were joined by other exemplars, such as Joan Sawyer, Maurice Mouvet and Florence Walton, all becoming catalysts in an explosive new dance mania. And after two centuries of Americans dancing in the European manner, Europe was now importing the latest music and dances from America. 


During the ragtime dance craze, the ballrooms were dominated by the One-Step, a dance where a couple merely walked one step to each beat of the music. Its immense popularity was due primarily to its simplicity, so that even novices could be modern. Those who were especially fond of the new dancing had a wide variety of other steps and styles to choose from. The Argentine Tango, which had been received with great acclaim in Paris, was renowned for its flirtations with sensuality, previously forbidden in public dancing. In contrast, the Hesitation Waltz was characterized by an elegant, almost balletic grace. The Maxixe was a swaying Brazilian two-step (polka) that was thought of as a Brazilian Tango. Vernon and Irene danced the One-Step in a unique style that became known as the Castle Walk. The Half-and Half was an unusual hesitation waltz in 5/4 time, accompanied by even more obscure experiments in 7/4 time. Lastly, the Fox-Trot, which combined slow and quick steps in a wide variety of patterns, was introduced in the last months before "The Great War."

World War I brought an end to the ragtime era dance craze in 1914-15. Dance floors thinned as men in Europe and then America left for war. Vernon Castle joined the Royal Flying Corps. But for a brief four years, the "modern dancing" craze redefined social dancing for the new 20th century, while also changing prototypes for personal relationships, both on and off the dance floor...