The wonderful Jo Stafford was born 100 years ago today in Coalinga, California, and left us just nine years ago (it seems like only yesterday).
She was blessed with one of the purest, loveliest voices of her era. She began performing at age 12 and continued to perform and record until 1975, after which she devoted herself to family and charitable work.
Happy birthday, Ms. Stafford, wherever you may be!
The legendary Billie Holiday was born Eleanora Fagan 102 years ago today in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Here are 10 BH Did-You-Knows:
Holiday’s childhood was a tough one. Her parents were teenagers and never married. Her mother worked mostly on railroads and so left Holiday with her half-sister, Eva, and Eva’s mother-in-law in Baltimore. By nine, Holiday was sent to a Catholic reform school due to her truancy and other behavioral issues. Eventually, her mother opened a restaurant and Holiday dropped out of school at age 11 to help with its operation. At 12, Holiday was raped by a neighbor and, after a stint in protective custody as a state witness against the perpetrator, she began working as an errand girl for a brothel.
At 14, Holiday was reunited with her mother, who had relocated to Harlem. Their landlady was the madam of a brothel and soon, both mother and daughter were working as prostitutes. Thankfully, Holiday, who had by then been exposed to the music of Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong, also began singing in Harlem nightspots. Her professional name came from actress Billie Dove and jazz musician Clarence Holiday, believed by many to be her long-absent father.
Holiday’s close friend and musical collaborator, saxophonist Lester Young, was the person who gave her the nickname with which she would come to be so closely associated, Lady Day. She gave him his nickname, Prez, because of her deep respect for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Though Holiday’s singing style was distinctive and memorable, her vocal range was limited, just over one octave.
Holiday’s 1941 recording of Gloomy Sunday, though by some to inspire suicides, was banned from airplay on the BBC until 2002.
Holiday was a comic book fan as an adult; Captain Marvel was a particular favorite.
Holiday, by then a heroin addict, was sent to prison in 1947 on a narcotics conviction. Eleven days after her release in March 1948, she performed before a sold-out house at Carnegie Hall.
Holiday once named fellow vocalist Jo Stafford as her favorite musical artist; she admired Stafford, she said, because she was so ladylike.
Nightclub performers in New York were required to have cabaret cards, a kind of municipal license to perform. Holiday’s narcotics-related legal troubles prevented her for acquiring a card, so she was unable to perform in NYC clubs for the final 12 years of her life.
Holiday’s hardscrabble childhood left her with a lifelong fear of poverty. When she passed away, she had less than a dollar in the bank and had $750 strapped to her leg.
Happy birthday, Billie Holiday, wherever you may be!
William Powell was born William Horatio Powell 124 years ago today in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Of all the actors of the Cladrite Era, it is Powell we would choose to model ourselves after. He came off as suave, sophisticated, elegant, witty, warm and decent. Here are 10 WP Did-You-Knows:
Though their marriage lasted just over two years, ending in divorce in 1933, Powell and Carole Lombard remained close friends until her death in 1942.
Powell and legendary baseball manager Casey Stengel attended Central High School in Kansas City, Missouri, together.
Harlean Carpenter, who would be known years later as Jean Harlow, lived just a few blocks away from Powell in Kansas City, but the two would not meet until they were both working actors in Hollywood.
Powell had been romantically involved with Harlow for two years at the time of her death and he paid for her funeral, spending $30,000.
Powell had cancer of the rectum in 1938. An unconventional treatment that involved inserting platinum needles containing radium pellets into his body caused the cancer to go into remission and he lived for another 46 years.
Powell’s career was not threatened by the advent of talkies; on the contrary, they caused his star to rise.
Though Powell was nominated three times for the Best Actor in a Leading Role Oscar, he never won.
Happy birthday, William Powell, wherever you may be!