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JUNE 18, 1913: THEY CALL IT SAM’S SONG

Violinist, meat-packer, usher, tinsmith, elevator operator, and lyricist, Sammy Cahn (no relation to Kublai or Genghis) penned his first lyrics at the age of 16 – “Like Niagara Falls, I’m cahnFalling for You,” not one of his most notable successes. But he kept writing them, giving up those other professions, until he got it right, and got it right again, and again.

     Over the course of his career, Cahn was nominated for 23 Academy Awards, five Golden Globe Awards, an Emmy and a Grammy. In 1988, the Sammy Awards, for movie songs and scores, were created in his honor.

With Jimmy Van Heusen, Cahn wrote so many songs for Frank Sinatra that the two were almost considered to be his personal songwriters. Oscar winners “Three Coins in the Fountain,” “All the Way,” and “High Hopes” were all introduced in films by Sinatra.  Add “Love and Marriage,”  “The Tender Trap,” “My Kind of Town,” “Come Fly with Me” and a host of others.

     The pair also won an Oscar for “Call Me Irresponsible” and received nominations for “Pocketful of Miracles,” “The Second Time Around,” and “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” Cahn and Jule Styne added nominations for “I’ll Walk Alone,” “I’ve Heard That Song Before,” and “It’s Magic.”

Cahn was born on June 18, 1913, and died in 1993.

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JUNE 6, 1971: THE SHEW MUST GO ON

Ed Sullivan was to the golden age of television what Google is to searching.  He ruled Sunday night TV for 23 years – from 1948 to his very last broadcast on this day in 1971. Sullivan presented acts from the era’s biggest stars to acrobats, dancing bears, puppets, contortionists, you name it.  Ten thousand in all – if they were entertainers, an appearance on the Sullivan show was their holy grail.

Musical performances from rock to opera were a staple of the program. Even its first broadcast, when it was known as Toast of the Town, made music history as Broadway composers Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II previewed the score of their upcoming musical, South Pacific. And after that, West Side Story, Cabaret, Man of La Mancha – if it was on Broadway, it was on Sullivan. One of those Broadway musicals, Bye Bye Birdie, was all about making it on the Sullivan show.

Sullivan also chronicled the history of rock and roll from Elvis Presley’s appearance in 1956 through the Supremes, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Doors, the Mamas and the Papas, and on June 6, 1971, the last program, Gladys Knight and the Pips.

When CBS canceled the show, the network let it end with a whimper.  But in the 33 years since cancellation, numerous tribute shows and DVDs have kept Sullivan in the public eye.

Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers in arms on other fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world. — General Dwight D. Eisenhower, June 6, 1944

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JUNE 3, 1956: I KNOW SUGGESTIVE STIMULATING AND TANTALIZING MOTIONS WHEN I SEEM THEM

A dance party in the beach town of Santa Cruz, California, a quiet oasis 70 miles south of San Francisco, back in 1956 (years before it became a counterculture capital),  led to a bit of overreaction by the town’s conservative adult authorities. Two hundred teenagers had taken over the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium on a Saturday night to dance to the music of a group called Chuck Higgins and his Orchestra, regional favorites with a few hit rock recordings. Shortly after midnight, Santa Cruz police entered the auditorium to check on the event, and didn’t like what they saw: a crowd “engaged in suggestive, stimulating and tantalizing motions induced by the provocative rhythms of an all-negro band.” Although that sounds like a pretty good endorsement for the affair, the police did not view it as a positive. Without so much as a “save the last dance for me,” they shut the place down and sent everyone home to bed.

And they didn’t stop there. On the following day, June 3, city fathers further endeared themselves to city teenagers and captured national attention when they announced a total ban on the playing of rock and roll and other forms of “frenzied music” at public gatherings (the other forms probably meant to pull Wayne Newton into the loop).  Such music was, they said, “detrimental to both the health and morals of our youth and community.”

Not everyone saw this as an absurdity, it’s concern with “undesirable elements” not so subtly racial, and an effort that was bound to fail. Within two weeks, similar bans were enacted in Asbury Park, New Jersey, and in San Antonio, Texas.  But in spite of such valiant efforts, rock and roll would soon dominate the Billboard Hot 100, and teenagers everywhere would be singing “It’s got to be rock-roll music, if you want to dance with me.”

 

 

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MAY 11, 1888: THE LEADER OF THE BAND

Israel Beilin was born on this day in 1888 in a small village in Belarus.  His father, a cantor in a synagogue, with the intimidating name of Moses, uprooted his family in the face of the anti-Jewish pogroms of the late 19th century, emigrating to the United States, where theyalex settled into a cold-water basement flat with no windows in New York City.  At the age of fourteen, Izzy, as he was called, realized that he contributed less to the family than his siblings and decided to leave home. With few survival skills and little education, he found no real employment. His only ability was acquired from his father’s vocation: singing. He joined with a few other youngsters, singing in Bowery saloons popular ballads for whatever customers would give them. Beilin began to recognize the kind of songs that appealed to audiences. In his free time he taught himself to play the piano, picking out tunes when the bar had closed for the night.

 

His first attempt at songwriting was a song called “Marie From Sunny Italy,” written in collaboration with the bar’s pianist. The sheet music to this song is important primarily because of a printer’s error.  The name printed on the cover was misspelled as: ‘I. Berlin.’

 

His meteoric rise as a songwriter came soon after with a song that would become world-famous. “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” firmly established Irving Berlin as an instant celebrity and one of America’s foremost musical wonders. He went on to write an estimated 1,500 songs, many becoming major hits, during his 60-year career, including the scores for 19 Broadway shows and 18 Hollywood films.  His songs were nominated eight times for Academy Awards. A list of noted songs might begin with “A Couple of Swells” and end with “You’re Just in Love,” with a whole lot in between.  Here’s a more complete list.

 

George Gershwin called him “the greatest songwriter that has ever lived” and composer Jerome Kern concluded that “Irving Berlin has no place in American music—he is American music.”

Meanwhile in Romania

On this same date a few years earlier, in 1884, another musical talent was born in Romania.  Like Irving Berlin she emigrated to America at a young age.  Alma Gluck did not have his lasting fame, but she became a successful performer at  the Metropolitan Opera as well as in concerts throughout the country.  She was an early recording pioneer, and her recording of “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny” sold over a million copies, earning her a gold record, only the seventh to be awarded.

 

 

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MAY 4, 1959: VINYL AND GOLD

The first Grammy Awards (or Gramophone Awards as they were originally called) honoring achievement in the recording industry were held in 1959. And it was a banner year to start passing out those little gold gramophones.

In contention for Record of the Year was Perry Como with one of his three Top 10 singles for the previous year, “Catch a Falling Star,” Peggy Lee with her biggest hit of the rock era, “Fever,” Frank Sinatra crooning “Witchcraft,” and the are-you-kidding entry, “The Chipmunk Song” by David Seville. Taking home the statuette (to Italy) was Domenico Mondugno and the only foreign language recording to ever win the top prize, “Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu.” The recording also won Song of the Year against pretty much the same competition.

For Album of the Year, Sinatra put both his 1958 releases in the running (possibly canceling each other out) – the upbeat Come Fly With Me, his first with arranger Billy May, and Only The Lonely, arranged by Nelson Riddle. Ella Fitzgerald placed one of her several songbook albums in the ring, this one dedicated to Irving Berlin. And Van Cliburn, having won the April 1958 International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, scored with Tchaikovksy: Concerto No. 1 In B-Flat Minor, Op. 23. Stiff competition but Henry Mancini was up to it, nailing the first of his 20 Grammy Awards with The Music from Peter Gunn.

Sinatra, Fitzgerald, Como and Cliburn all won in other categories, as did Louis Prima and Keely Smith, Count Basie, Andre Previn, and the Champs (Tequila). The head-scratcher Grammy of the year was in the category Best Country and Western Performance, won by the Kingston Trio for  “Tom Dooley.” Well, it’s not jazz or classical.

Everybody Loves Saturday Night, Part 1:  Elton and Claris Go Fishing

Winter-weary tourists who take the considerable amount of trouble to get to Tortoise Bay are not thrillseekers on a hell-bent search for tropical carpe diem. They are bookish sorts, sun Caribbean-Partylovers, people who just want to slow down to the lazy tempo that prevails here. What little action there is at Tortoise Bay takes place on Saturday night at the only nightspot, Naughty Nora’s. Nora’s isn’t all that naughty; the guiltiest pleasures are the flying fish sandwiches and rum punches. On Saturday night, the locals come to listen to the vintage jukebox play its unlikely mix of calypso, country and tunes that were popular when Bermuda shorts were still trendy. They come to socialize and to unwind after a week of work.

Some of the tourists also come to Naughty Nora’s on Saturday night to wind themselves up just a bit after a week of lethargy. Given their low-key vacations, it’s understandable that these folks might be a little overwhelmed at finding themselves smack in the middle of an invasion.

 

“Are you sure this is such a good idea, Claris?”

“This is the smart way to catch fish, Elton,” said Claris with just a touch of superiority. “It’s like that American dude that long time ago invented the assembly line where he could make a lot of cars at once instead of just one at a time. It’s a fishing assembly line, and boy are we gonna get a bunch of them.”

“But it’s dangerous,” moaned Elton. “It’s dynamite. Someone could get themselves hurt. Like us.”

“Not if we know what we’re doing, said Claris, tying the sticks of dynamite into a neat little bundle. “We just float it on out there a ways, it goes bang, and boy it rains fish.”

“Are you sure?” said Elton, skeptical of the raining fish part. “Have you ever done it before?”

“Not exactly,” said Claris. “But I heard about it and got pretty good instructions.”

He put the bundle of dynamite on the little raft and lit the fuse. Elton turned and ran down the beach as fast as he could. Claris, getting a little nervous now himself, pushed the raft out beyond the rocks with a long pole, then turned and ran after Elton.

 

Estelle Webster was working doggedly on her third rum punch, trying her best to feel comfortable in what she considered somewhat seedy surroundings. Her friend Penelope Goodwill had coaxed her into coming to Naughty Nora’s, saying it was a good chance to see island life up close and for real. Estelle didn’t need up close and for real; she rather liked the styrofoam ambience of a cruise ship, where fresh-scrubbed young men and women followed you around like puppy dogs, taking care of your every need. It was also Penelope who had convinced her to come on an island vacation, saying it would be more of an adventure than a stuffy old cruise ship.

Adventure. Here she sat while Penelope was standing around the jukebox with a bunch of locals, laughing and carrying on like they had known each other forever. Here she sat, enduring the unabashed ogling of a middle-aged hippy who looked very much like he aspired to nothing greater than beachcombing. He and his companion spoke French, although from her limited knowledge of French, it seemed as though they spoke it quite thickly – perhaps the result of the prodigious amounts of red wine they had consumed.

The third rum was better than the first. The drinks were a little warm; she had wanted ice but, upon asking, had been advised that the ice was not made from bottled water. She imagined a lot of people were careful not to drink the water in these places, but forgot about the ice. The filthy Frenchman was staring at her cleavage, once again Penelope’s fault for talking her into wearing a dress cut low enough to get her arrested in a lot of small towns back home.

Penelope walked a little unsteadily back to the table and said: “How you doing?”

“Fine, just fine,” said Estelle.

“You gotta relax, Stel,” said Penelope, waving to the French hippy.

“Don’t do that,” said Estelle. “He’s been staring at me, at my . . . just don’t encourage him. He’s French.”

Penelope suddenly shouted to the other table: “Comment allez vous, monsieur. Je suis Penelope. Elle est Estelle.” She pointed to Estelle.

“Allo,” the man shouted back. “I am Francois. Pleased to know your acquaintance, Penelope. And you, Estelle.” He put his fingertips to his lips. “How you say bien montee, bien carrossee. Et un petit cul mignon. Tu es une allumeuse.”

“What did he say to me?” whispered Estelle.

“Good evening or something,” said Penelope. “Just smile and say merci.”

“God, what if he comes over here,” said Estelle, but upon saying the words she realized that maybe she wouldn’t mind that so much. It was kind of . . . kind of exciting. Maybe this was beginning to become an adventure after all. She raised her glass of rum punch, but before it reached her lips, the windows rattled, the glasses and bottles behind the bar tinkled and Naughty Nora’s itself – floors, tables, chairs, patrons – all trembled as if an earthquake were about to savage the earth beneath their feet. But earthquakes didn’t usually come with a deafening bang, with the sound of something exploding in the night. Estelle’s rum flew out of her hand and sailed through the air all the way to the French hippy’s table, where it landed like a little aftershock. Estelle crawled under her table.

continued

Everybody Loves Saturday Night is one of the 15 stories from Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean, available as an ebook or in a print edition with real pages and everything.

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APRIL 29, 1946: GOD’LL GET YOU FOR THAT

God was married on this day in 1946. For the second time. He was 70 at the time; she was 21 and, he claimed, a reincarnation of his first wife.

Unlike many other religious leaders who claimed to have God’s ear, Reverend Major Jealous Divine, (1876 – 1965) claimed to be God. Some contemporaries – jealous’ themselves perhaps – claimed he was more charlatan than god. Earlier in his life, before he became God, he was simply the Messenger. He founded what some have called a cult and oversaw its growth into a multiracial and international church.

Father Divine preached extensively in the south where, in 1913, he ran afoul of local ministers and was sentenced to 60 days jail time. While he was serving his sentence, several prison inspectors were injured in an auto accident, which, Father Divine pointed out, was the direct result of their disbelief.

Upon his release, he attracted a following of mostly women in Georgia. In 1914, several of his followers’ husbands and local preachers had Divine arrested for lunacy. This did not have the desired effect; it actually expanded his ministry. Father Divine was found mentally sound in spite of “maniacal” beliefs. When arrested, he had refused to give his name and was tried as John Doe (aka God).

After moving north and attracting a New York following — just as you were saying with a smirk, it could only happen in Georgia — Father Divine was arrested again, this time for disturbing the peace. At his 1932 trial, the jury found him guilty but asked for leniency. Ignoring this request, the judge called him a menace to society and sentenced him to one year in prison and a $500 fine. The 55-year-old judge died of a heart attack a few days later. Father Divine told-you-soed thusly: “I hated to do it. I did not desire Judge Smith to die . . . I did desire that my spirit would touch his heart and change his mind that he might repent and believe and be saved from the grave.”

In 1944, singer/songwriter Johnny Mercer attended one of his sermons – the subject, “You got to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative.” Mercer was impressed. He returned to Hollywood and, with songwriter Harold Arlen, wrote “Ac-cent-tchu-ate The Positive”, which was recorded by Mercer himself and the Pied Pipers in 1945. It was also recorded by Bing Crosby with the Andrews Sisters.  And probably sung a year later at God’s wedding.

 

 

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APRIL 25, 1926: HERE THE MAESTRO DIED

The world premier of Giacomo Puccini’s last opera “Turandot” was held at Milan’s La Scala on April 25, 1926, two years after his death. Arturo Toscanini conducted. Toward the end of the third act, Toscanini laid down his baton, turned to the audience and announced: “Here the Maestro died.”  Puccini had died before finishing the opera. Subsequent performances at La Scala and elsewhere included the last few minutes of music composed by Franco Alfano using Puccini’s notes.  A highlight of the opera is “Nessun Dorma,” probably the most famous aria in all of opera.

Down at the End of Lonely Street

Elvis Presley scored his first number one hit on the Billboard Pop 100 on this date in 1956.  Recorded and released as a single in January, “Heartbreak Hotel” marked Presley’s debut on the RCA Victor record label . It spent seven weeks at number one, became his first million-seller, and was the best-selling single of 1956. The song was based on a newspaper article about a lonely man who committed suicide by jumping from a hotel window.