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.

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.

dday-620x488Soldiers, 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

June 3, 1956: I Know Suggestive, Stimulating and Tantalizing Motions When I See 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.”

 

May 17, 1637: And Keep Your Elbows Off the Table

As first minister to France’s Louis XIII, Cardinal Richileu was a major player in the politics of the early 17th century, transforming France into a powerful centralized state. On a lesser scale, he was a noted patron of the arts. On an even lesser scale (arguably), he made a singular contribution to the etiquette of French dining, which was at the time anything but refined.

Diners used their hands to move food directly to their mouths or speared pieces of meat with the sharp point of their knives. They even used those same knives to pick their teeth. Having grown weary of these displays of gastronomical unpleasantness, Richileu had an inspiration. On May 17, 1637, he ordered the blades of all the palace dinner knives to be rounded off, thus creating what has become the modern dinner knife.

Talk about a trendsetter. The Richileu dinner knife became le dernier cri, the last word in dining. The craze spread throughout continental Europe, even to England of all places. And the American colonies!

May 17, 1846:  Don’t Use Your Saxophone as a Spoon

Adolphe Sax was born in Belgium in 1846. His father was a designer of musical instruments who dabbled in the design of horns. Little Adolphe began to make his own instruments at an early age, entering two of his flutes and a clarinet into a competition at the age of fifteen. He subsequently studied those two instruments at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels.

Upon leaving school, Sax began to experiment with new instrument designs. Adolphe’s first saximportant invention was an improvement of the bass clarinet design, which he patented at the age of twenty-four.

In 1841, Sax moved to Paris, and began working on a new set of instruments, valved bugles, improving their design enough that they became known as saxhorns (fortunately for Sax, the name French horn was already taken by Cardinal Richileu who had whittled a harpsichord into the shape of a horn). These instruments led to the creation of the flugelhorn (sometimes mistakenly credited to Max Flugel). The saxhorn also laid the groundwork for the modern euphonium (a forerunner of the smart phonium).

Sax also developed the saxotromba family, valved brass instruments with narrower bores than the saxhorns. (Notice the names he gave to all these instruments, the mark of a very humble man.  We can only be relieved he didn’t call them Adolphes.) In 1846, he developed and patented the instrument for which he is now best known, the you-know-who-ophone, intended for use in both orchestras and concert bands. By this time, Sax had designed, on paper, a full range of saxophones (from sopranino to subcontrabass). Saxophones made his reputation, and secured him a job teaching at the Paris Conservatoire in 1867.

Sax continued to make instruments until his death in 1894. And his saxophones have found their special place in the world of music, often as comic relief.

What is the difference between a saxophone and a trampoline? You take off your shoes to jump on a trampoline.

Why did Adolphe Sax invent the saxophone? He hated mankind but couldn’t build an atom bomb.

What’s the difference between a saxophone and a vacuum cleaner? You have to plug in the vacuum cleaner before it sucks.

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.”

The Internet is the most important single development in the history of human communication since the invention of call waiting. ~ Dave Barry

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, the Chairman put both his1958 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.

May 2, 1932: Benny and Bing

benny3Although he was first heard on radio as a guest of Ed Sullivan, Jack Benny debuted his own radio show for NBC on May 2, 1932. After six months he moved to CBS and then in 1933 back to NBC. Although he continued to jump back and forth on networks, his radio program lasted until 1955, some five years after his television program appeared.

Benny was a fixture on radio and TV for three decades, and is still considered one of the best. He was a master of comic timing, creating laughter with pregnant pauses or a single expression, such as his signature “Well!

Appearing with him over the years were Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, Don Wilson, Dennis benny2Day, Mary Livingston, Phil Harris, Mel Blanc and Sheldon Leonard. Leonard helped Benny produce what was said to be the longest laugh in radio history. Leonard as a holdup man approached Benny and demanded “your money or your life.” Benny remained silent. Finally, Leonard said “Well!?” and Benny answered “I’m thinking it over!”

Bing Crosby was born May 2, 1904. A jackdaw with a cleft palate could have sung it successfully,” he said.

If lawyers are disbarred and clergymen defrocked, doesn’t it follow that electricians can be delighted, musicians denoted?  – George Carlin

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.

 

 

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.

Here’s a version of the song that didn’t make number one.  http://youtu.be/PD7IELAvleY

April 20, 1935: Splish Splash, Snooky Was Taking a Bath

A music staple of the 40s and 50s, Your Hit Parade, made its radio debut on April 20, 1935. It lasted for nearly 25 years before being done in by rock and roll music – and perhaps Snooky Lanson. It began as a 60-minute program with 15 songs played in a random format, and eventually moved to television where the seven top-rated songs of the week were presented each week in elaborate production numbers requiring constant set and costume changes.  The list of top songs was compiled through a closely guarded top secret algorithm that involved record sales, quarters plunked into jukeboxes, shoplifted sheet music and the divination of an unidentified mystic in Memphis, Tennessee.

Dorothy Collins , Russell Arms, Snooky Lanson and Gisèle MacKenzie were top-billed during the show’s peak years. And Lucky Strike cigarettes starred throughout its run.

As the rock and roll era took over, the program’s chief fascination became seeing a singer like Snooky Lanson struggle with songs like Splish Splash and Hound Dog.

 

Every good idea sooner or later degenerates into hard work. ~ Calvin Trillin