Tag Archives: celebrities

Almanac – May 31

1837 – Joseph Grimaldi died.  English actor, comedian and dancer, who became the most popular English entertainer of the Regency era.

In the early 1800s, he expanded the role of Clown in the harlequinade that formed part of British pantomimes, notably at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane and the Sadler’s Wells and Covent Garden theatres, and  became so dominant on the London comic stage that harlequinade Clowns became known as “Joey”, and both the nickname and Grimaldi’s whiteface make-up design were, and still are, used by other types of clowns. He also originated catchphrases such as “Here we are again!”, which continues to feature in modern pantomimes.
In his last years, Grimaldi lived in relative obscurity and became a depressed, impoverished alcoholic, dying at home in Islington in 1837, aged 59.

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1872 – W. Heath Robinson born.  English cartoonist and illustrator, best known for drawings of eccentric machines.

In the UK, the term “Heath Robinson” has entered the language as a description of any unnecessarily complex and implausible contraption, although it  is perhaps more often used in relation to temporary fixes using ingenuity and whatever is to hand, often string and tape, or unlikely cannibalisations.

Its popularity is undoubtedly linked to Second World War Britain’s shortages and the need to “make do and mend“.

 

 

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1996 – Timothy Leary died. American psychologist and writer, known for his advocacy of psychedelic drugs.

During a time when drugs such as LSD and psilocybin were legal, Leary conducted experiments at Harvard University under the Harvard Psilocybin Project, resulting in the Concord Prison Experiment and the Marsh Chapel Experiment.

Both studies produced useful data, but Leary and his associate Richard Alpert were fired from the university nonetheless because of the public controversy surrounding their research.

Leary believed LSD showed therapeutic potential for use in psychiatry. He popularized catchphrases that promoted his philosophy such as “turn on, tune in, drop out” (a phrase given to Leary by Marshall McLuhan); “set and setting“; and “think for yourself and question authority“.

He also wrote and spoke frequently about transhumanist concepts involving space migration, intelligence increase and life extension (SMI²LE), and developed the eight-circuit model of consciousness in his book Exo-Psychology (1977).

During the 1960s and 1970s, he was arrested often enough to see the inside of 29 different prisons worldwide. President Richard Nixon once described Leary as “the most dangerous man in America“.
His death was videotaped for posterity at his request, capturing his final words. During his final moments, he said, “Why not?” to his son Zachary. He uttered the phrase repeatedly, in different intonations, and died soon after. His last word, according to Zach, was “beautiful.”
Seven grams of Leary’s ashes were arranged  to be buried in space aboard a rocket carrying the remains of 24 others including Gene Roddenberry (creator of Star Trek), Gerard O’Neill (space physicist), and Krafft Ehricke (rocket scientist). A Pegasus rocket containing their remains was launched on April 21, 1997, and remained in orbit for six years until it burned up in the atmosphere.

 

 

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Almanac – May 25

1895 – Playwright, poet, and novelist Oscar Wilde was convicted of “committing acts of gross indecency with other male persons” and sentenced to serve two years in prison.

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1956 – Sugar Minott born. Jamaican reggae singer, producer and sound-system operator.

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1965 – Sonny Boy Williamson II died.  American blues harmonica player, singer and songwriter.

He is acknowledged as one of the most charismatic and influential blues musicians, with considerable prowess on the harmonica and highly creative songwriting skills.

He recorded successfully in the 1950s and 1960s, and had a direct influence on later blues and rock performers.

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1967 – Poppy Z. Brite born. American author,  best known for writing gothic and horror novels and short stories.

Brite’s trademarks have included using gay men as main characters, graphic sexual descriptions in the works, and an often wry treatment of gruesome events.

Some of Brite’s better known novels include Lost Souls (1992), Drawing Blood  (1993), and Exquisite Corpse (1996).

Brite is, in real life, Billy Martin, a transgender man – he self-identifies as a gay man; “Ever since I was old enough to know what gay men were, I’ve considered myself a gay man that happens to have been born in a female body, and that’s the perspective I’m coming from” –  and prefers that male pronouns and terms be used when referring to him.

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2006 – Desmond Dekker died. Jamaican ska, rocksteady and reggae singer-songwriter and musician.

In 1968 Dekker’s “Israelites” was released, eventually topping the UK Singles Chart in April 1969 and peaking in the Top Ten of the US Billboard Hot 100 in June 1969 – Dekker was the first Jamaican artist to have a hit record in the US with a form and style that was purely Jamaican.

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Almanac – May 17

1866 – Erik Satie born. French composer and pianist,  a colourful figure in the early 20th century Parisian avant-garde.

His work was a precursor to later artistic movements such as minimalism, repetitive music, and the Theatre of the Absurd.

In addition to his body of music, Satie also left a remarkable set of writings, having contributed work for a range of publications, from the dadaist 391 to the American culture chronicle Vanity Fair.

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Almanac – May 12

1828 – Dante Gabriel Rossetti born. English poet, illustrator, painter and translator.

He founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848 with William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais, and was later to be the main inspiration for a second generation of artists and writers influenced by the movement, most notably William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones.

His work also influenced the European Symbolists and was a major precursor of the Aesthetic movement.

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1942 – Ian Dury born. English singer-songwriter, bandleader, artist and actor.

Dury formed Kilburn & the High Roads in 1971 –  they found favour on London’s pub rock circuit and signed to Dawn Records in 1974, but despite favourable press coverage and a tour opening for The Who, the group failed to rise above cult status and disbanded in 1975.

Their more successful successors, Ian Dury & The Blockheads,  sound drew from its members’ diverse musical influences, which included jazz, rock and roll, funk, and reggae, and Dury’s love of music hall.

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Almanac – May11

1811 – Chang and Eng Bunker born.  Conjoined twin brothers whose condition and birthplace became the basis for the term “Siamese twins”.

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1812 – British Prime Minister Spencer Perceval  assassinated by John Bellingham in the lobby of the House of Commons, London.

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1894 – Martha Graham born. American modern dancer and choreographer whose influence on dance has been compared with the influence Picasso had on the modern visual arts,  Stravinsky had on music, or Frank Lloyd Wright had on architecture.

She danced and choreographed for over seventy years –  “I have spent all my life with dance and being a dancer. It’s permitting life to use you in a very intense way. Sometimes it is not pleasant. Sometimes it is fearful. But nevertheless it is inevitable.”

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1904 – Salvador Dalí born. Spanish surrealist painter,  best known for the striking and bizarre images. Dalí’s expansive artistic repertoire included film, sculpture, and photography, in collaboration with a range of artists in a variety of media.

Dalí attributed his “love of everything that is gilded and excessive, my passion for luxury and my love of oriental clothes” to a self-styled “Arab lineage“, claiming that his ancestors were descended from the Moors.

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1981 – Bob Marley died.  Jamaican singer-songwriter and musician.

He was the rhythm guitarist and lead singer for  The Wailers (1963-1974) and Bob Marley & The Wailers (1974–1981).

 Marley remains the most widely known and the best-selling performer of reggae music, having sold more than 75 million albums worldwide. He is also credited with helping spread both Jamaican music and the Rastafari movement to a worldwide audience.

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Almanac – May 10

1768 – John Wilkes,  English radical, journalist, and politician, was imprisoned for writing an article for The North Briton severely criticizing King George III. This action provoked rioting in London.

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1916 – Milton Babbitt born. American composer, music theorist, and teacher, particularly noted for his serial and electronic music.

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1920 – Bert Weedon born. English guitarist whose style of guitar playing was popular and influential during the 1950s and 1960s.

He was the first British guitarist to have a hit record in the UK Singles Chart, in 1959, and his best-selling tutorial guides, Play in a Day, were a major influence on many leading British musicians, such as Eric Clapton, Brian May, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, John Lennon, Dave Davies, Keith Richards, Pete Townshend, Tony Iommi and Jimmy Page.

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1952 – Lee Brilleaux born.  English rhythm-and-blues singer and musician with  Dr Feelgood.

He co-founded Dr Feelgood with Wilko Johnson in 1971 and was the band’s lead singer, harmonica player and occasional guitarist.

According to one obituary: “Brilleaux and Johnson developed a frantic act, often charismatically dressed in dark suits and loose ties, shabby rather than smart. The rough, and almost ruthless, edge which ran through his vocal and harmonica style reflected the character and philosophy of the band.”

In 1976, Brilleaux helped found Stiff Records, one of the driving forces of Punk, with a loan.

In 2011, contemporary artist and Dr. Feelgood fan Scott King announced his intention to commemorate  Brilleaux by erecting a 300 ft gold-plated statue of the musician on the foreshore in Southend-on-Sea close to the legendary Kursaal where the band played some of their most important gigs. An e-petition was launched to collect signatures in support of the project.

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1952 – Sly Dunbar born. Jamaican  drummer, best known as one-half of the prolific  rhythm section and reggae production duo Sly and Robbie.

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1954 – Bill Haley & His Comets released “Rock Around the Clock”, the first rock and roll record to reach number one on the Billboard charts.

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Almanac – May 08

1891 – Helena Blavatsky died.  Russian-German occultist who, along with  Henry Steel Olcott, established a research and publishing institute called the Theosophical Society.

Blavatsky defined Theosophy as “the archaic Wisdom-Religion, the esoteric doctrine once known in every ancient country having claims to civilization.” 

One of the main purposes of the Theosophical Society was “to form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or color”. Blavatsky saw herself as a missionary of this ancient knowledge.

Blavatsky’s extensive research into the many different spiritual traditions of the world led to the publication of what is now considered her magnum opus, The Secret Doctrine, which collates and organizes the essence of these teachings into a comprehensive synthesis. Her other works include Isis Unveiled, The Key to Theosophy and The Voice of the Silence.

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1911 – Robert Johnson born. American blues singer and musician.  His landmark recordings from 1936–37 display a combination of singing, guitar skills, and songwriting talent that has influenced later generations of musicians.

His shadowy, poorly documented life and death at age 27 have given rise to much legend, including the Faustian myth that he sold his soul at a crossroads to achieve success.

As an itinerant performer who played mostly on street corners, in juke joints, and at Saturday night dances, he had little commercial success or public recognition in his lifetime.

Johnson’s records sold poorly during his lifetime, it  was only after the reissue of his recordings in 1961 on the LP King of the Delta Blues Singers that his work reached a wider audience.

Johnson is now recognized as a master of the blues, particularly of the Mississippi Delta blues style, and  is credited by many rock musicians as an important influence; Eric Clapton has called Johnson “the most important blues singer that ever lived.”

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1920 – Tom of Finland born.  Finnish artist notable for his stylized androerotic and fetish art and his influence on late twentieth century gay culture.

 He has been called the “most influential creator of gay pornographic images” by cultural historian Joseph W. Slade.

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