Category Archives: Louis Armstrong

Frank Sinatra 12.12.12 Thought of the Day

“May you live to be 100 and may the last voice you hear be mine.”
— Frank Sinatra

Image courtesy last.fm

Image courtesy last.fm

Francis Albert Sinatra was born on this day in Hoboken, New Jersey, USA in 1915. Today is the 97th anniversary of his birth.

Frank was the only child of Marty and Dolly Sinatra. As a kid he stood on top of the bar at a local nightclub and sang for tips. He dropped (or was kicked) out of high school, and help make ends meet at home by delivering the local paper, the Jersey Observer. He also worked as a riveter at a local shipyard. Although he couldn’t read music he began singing professionally by the mid 1930s when he joined the Three Flashes (they changed their name to the Hoboken Four.)

He worked as a singing waiter in Englewood Cliffs for $15 a week for almost 4 years. Then Henry James signed him for a one year contract at $75 a week. On July 13th, 1939, as the US was emerging from a decade of Depression and the world was on the advent of another great War, 23-year-old  Frank Sinatra recorded his first record, From the Bottom of my Heart, with the Harry James Orchestra.

He released 10 songs with James (none of which charted particularly high in their original pressing.) Sinatra switched to the more popular Tommy Dorsey’s band (with James’ blessing) in November. He recorded over 40 songs on Dorsey. One of his biggest hits with Dorsey was I’ll Never Smile Again.

By 1941 he was at the top of  both the Billboard and Down Beat magazine polls. Not only did he sell records, he opened up an entirely new audience — the bobby soxers (aka teenagers.) [It seems odd today — when so much of a company’s advertising budget goes toward capturing the 12-20 year old’s pocketbook — but prior to 1940 most consumers were adults.  Sinatra appealed to both adult women and bobby sox wearing girls.]

Image courtesy last.fm

Image courtesy last.fm

He went solo in 1943 and in the next three years he charted 17 times.  Sinatra was classified 4-F for military service because of a perforated eardrum, so he did not serve in the military.

He started making films as part of the Dorsey Band  with Las Vegas Nights and  Ship Ahoy, he had a walk on / singing part in the wonderfully named Reveille with Beverly but then had his first real role in Higher and Higher. He teamed with Gene Kelly for the hugely successful Anchors Aweigh in 1945.  It was the first of three Sinatra/Kelly films with Take Me Out to the Ball Game and On the Town coming out in 1949.  He won a special academy award for his work on the (dated) short film The House I Live In. (1945)

At the beginning of the 1950’s Sinatra saw his popularity wane somewhat. The bobby soxers who had screamed out deafening choruses of “FRANKIE” for the thin, blue-eyed singer had found new idols to adore.

He came back with a bang with his next movie, 1953’s From Here to Eternity. He won an Oscar as bad boy Angelo Maggio.

Cover of "From Here to Eternity"

Cover of From Here to Eternity

The same year he signed with Capitol Records. In 1954 his album Swing Easy! was named Album of the Year by Billboard and the single Young At Heart was picked for Song of the year. Swing Easy was arranged by Nelson Riddle. Sinatra and Riddle worked together again for Songs for Swingin’ Lovers! which included I’ve Got You Under My Skin.

He poked fun at his mobster image in the movie version of Guys and Dolls. in 1955 as Nathan Detroit.  In 1956 he played Mike Connor to Grace Kelly’s Tracy Lord in High Society.  The next year he was Joey in Pal Joey.

He started his own record label in 1960, Reprise Records. 

In 1962 he starred in his most dramatic movie the classic political thriller, The Manchurian Candidate. [For my money The Manchurian Candidate is the best movie of the bunch.]

He was a founding member of the Rat Pack and worked alongside Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, Sammy Davis Jr., and Joey Bishop in several movies and countless nightclub acts.

Here he is  having a ton of fun singing Lady Is a Tramp with the incomparable Ella Fitzgerald

Sinatra was a sucker for charities.  He raised over a billion dollars in the course of his life for charities all over the world.

His generosity touched the worlds of education, medicine, science, and children’s needs, his favorite cause. … Sometimes it was a late-night phone call that moved him; sometimes he just caught wind of a hard-luck story on the news or in the paper and did what he could to fix it. [Sinatra.com]

In 1962 he led a 12 country World Tour for Children that raised over a million dollars for children’s charities worldwide. He paid for the entire cost of the tour himself, and recruited other musical luminaries to join him.

He also worked against segregation , taking a major role in the desegregation of Nevada entertainment and hospitality industry in the 1960s. He boycotted venues and hotels where black performers and guest were banned. And he played benefits for Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Equal Right Movement.

Sinatra received the Presidential medal of Freedom from Ronal Reagan in 1985.

Ole’ Blue Eyes faced his final curtain on May 14, 1998. He was 82 years old.

Frank older

Image courtesy last.fm


Thought of the Day 11.12.12 Grace Kelly

“Hollywood amuses me. Holier-than-thou for the public and unholier-than-the-devil in reality.”
–Grace Kelly

 

 

English: Studio publicity portrait for film Hi...

English: Studio publicity portrait for film High Society (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Grace Patricia Kelly was born on this day in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA in 1924. Today is the 88th anniversary of her birth.

 

Third of four children, Grace was born into a wealthy family of Irish and German background. The Kellys were athletic, her father, Jack, won three gold medals in the Olympics and her mother, Margaret, was the first female head of the University of Pennsylvania’s Physical Education Department. Her brother, John, also competed in the Olympics.

 

But Grace was drawn to acting. She modeled and acted in school plays starting at age 12.

 

At a young age, Grace decided she wanted to become an actress, and studied acting (primarily theater) at New York City’s American Academy of Dramatic Art and worked as a stage actress and model before moving to Hollywood. When in New York, Grace promoted Old Gold cigarettes and appeared on the covers of magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Redbook. [Grace Kelly Online — Biography]

She worked her way through the American Academy of Dramatic Arts by working as a model  on the side. At 19 she starred as Tracy Lord in the school’s performance of The Philadelphia Story (She reprised the role in High Society, her final film in 1956)

 

Television and stage gigs followed. Kelly played 39 roles on high brow television theatre shows such as the Kraft Television Theatre, the Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse, and the Armstrong Circle Theatre. The shows were a hybrid of stage performances and scripted radio drama filmed live in front of a studio audience.

 

English: Screenshot of Grace Kelly and Clark G...

English: Screenshot of Grace Kelly and Clark Gable from the trailer of the film en:Mogambo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After a small role in Fourteen Hours her film career took off when she played the “mousey” Quaker bride” [Ibid] in High Noon in 1952. The following year  she went to Africa to shoot Mogambo with Clark Gable and Ava Gardner. Kelly was nominated for a best supporting actress Academy Award for the film.

1954 brought the first of three movies that Kelly did with director Alfred Hitchcock, Dial M for Murder. Here’s THE clip from the movie. [I think  it proves what a great actress she is… not just any actress can get this much drama out of one word and a pair of scissors.]

<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/5QQjSUNVM7o&#8221; frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen>

Her next movie with Hitch was Rear Window with Jimmy Stewart. There’s plenty of tension and murder here too, but there is also a huge helping of likeability too.  There is a lot of chemistry between Steward and Kelly. It’s dark, but it’s funny and romantic too. And Kelly’s Lisa Carol Fremont is soooo sophisticated and, well, graceful. [Rear Window is my favorite Grace Kelly movie and probably my favorite Hitchcock movie as well.]

 

Cropped screenshot from the trailer for the fi...

Cropped screenshot from the trailer for the film Rear Window (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That same year, 1954, she also co-starred with [the always wonderful] William Holden in a Korean War drama, The Bridges at Toko-Ri; the South American emerald mining adventure, Green Fire; and as Bing Crosby’s wife in The Country Girl. Holden was the third leg of a romantic triangle in The Country Girl. Kelly’s performance as a woman torn between a verbally abusive, alcoholic, washed up husband and a charming, kind man who looks like WILLIAM HOLDEN won her an Academy Award.

 

English: Screenshot of Grace Kelly and Cary Gr...

English: Screenshot of Grace Kelly and Cary Grant from the trailer of the film en:To Catch a Thief (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1955 her last Hitchcock movie came out. In To Catch a Thief she co-starred with Cary Grant.

 

When a reformed jewel thief is suspected of returning to his former occupation, he must ferret out the real thief in order to prove his innocence. [IMDb]

Again Kelly’s onscreen chemistry with her co-star elevates a good movie to a great one. To Catch a Thief won the Academy Award for best picture that year.

 

Her next movie was The Swan with Alec Guinness and Louis Jourdan. She plays Princess Alexandra who needs to win the heart of Crown Prince Albert (Guinness) so her family can re enter the inner circle of court life. In real life Kelly was being courted by Prince Rainier III of Monaco whom she had met while attending the Cannes Festival. The engagement ring she wears in the movie is her real ring from Rainier. The studio timed the release of the film to corresponded with the date of the royal wedding.

 

Kelly’s last feature film was High Society, a musical reboot of The Philadelphia Story. In it Kelly and Crosby sing True Love, a song that went platinum — selling over a million records and and earning a best song Academy Award nod.

 

 Later that year, she married Prince Rainier Grimaldi III of Monaco to become Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco. As a princess, she gave up her successful acting career, in which she had made eleven films. She had three children: Princess Caroline, Prince Albert, and Princess Stéphanie. [Grace Kelly Online — Biography]

Wedding dress of Grace Kelly

Wedding dress of Grace Kelly (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Kelly had a stroke while driving with her daughter Stephanie along the windy mountainside roads of Monaco. The car went off the road and Kelly suffered fatal injuries. She died on September 14th, 1982.

 


Thought of the Day 8.4.12 Louis Armstrong

“I got a simple rule about everybody. If you don’t treat me right / shame on you!”

–Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong (Photo credit: late night movie)

Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong was born this day in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1901. Today would be his 111th birthday.

The grandson of slaves, his family was very poor. His father, William Armstrong, abandoned the family when Louis was a baby. His mother, Mayann often turned to prostitution to make ends meet and she left Louis and his little sister Beatrice with their grandmother Josephine Armstrong. The little boy did what he could to earn money. He worked as a  paper boy. He hauled coal to the red-light district — and lingered around the clubs to listen to the music. In 1907 he sang in a street quartet for change.  He did odd jobs for the Karnofsky family, a Lithuanian-Jewish family who took him in and treated him well. The Karnofskys lent Armstrong the money buy his first cornet.

b/w line drawing of cornet

b/w line drawing of cornet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When he was 11 years old he was sent to the New Orleans Home for Colored Waifs, a reform school, for firing his a pistol into the air on New Year’s Eve. While at the home Armstrong really learned to play the cornet (he had been self taught and could play by ear prior to the lessons he had at the home).

He was released from the home at 14. He worked hauling coal and unloading barges during the day and brought out his horn at night. He went to honky tonk clubs like “the Funky Butt Hall” to listen to established musicians and learn from them. Joe “King” Oliver mentored the young man. By 17 he was playing professionally.

By the 1920’s he was playing on riverboats and traveled up to St. Louis. His jazz trumpet solos and vocals became his signature style. In 1922 “King” Oliver invited him to join his Creole Jazz Band in Chicago. The money was good enough that Armstrong no longer had to work the menial labor day jobs to make ends meet. By 1925 he was headlining his own band and playing with artist like Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey. He was billed as “The World’s Greatest Jazz Cornetist” for a gig at the Dreamland Cafe, and cut his debut record with his own group Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five. By the 1930s his act had gone international.

[Portrait of Louis Armstrong, Carnegie Hall, N...

[Portrait of Louis Armstrong, Carnegie Hall, New York, N.Y., ca. Apr. 1947] (LOC) (Photo credit: The Library of Congress)

According to the Louis Armstrong House Museum Site he:

  • developed a way of playing jazz, as an instrumentalist and a vocalist, which has had an impact on all musicians to follow;
  • recorded hit songs for five decades, and his music is still heard today on television and radio and in films;
  • wrote two autobiographies, more than ten magazine articles, hundreds of pages of memoirs, and thousands of letters;
  • appeared in more than thirty films (over twenty were full-length features) as a gifted actor with superb comic timing and an unabashed joy of life;
  • composed dozens of songs that have become jazz standards;
  • performed an average of 300 concerts each year, with his frequent tours to all parts of the world earning him the nickname “Ambassador Satch,” and became one of the first great celebrities of the twentieth century.

Here’s Louis Armstrong (Trumpet), Trummy Young (Trombone), Peanuts Hucko (Clarinet), Billy Kyle (Piano), Mort Herbert (Bass), and Danny Barcelona (Drums) in Stutttgart Germany in 1959.

[note to self: MUST sing more jazz so I can play in a band with some one named Trummy and Peanuts.]


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