Two particular entertainers who have give me great pleasure have birthdays today.
First the Empress of the Blues, Miss Bessie Smith. Born to a part time Baptist minister, by the age of nine she had lost both parents and a brother - she was raised by an older sister. As a child, she helped support her family by singing in front of the White Elephant Saloon in Chattanooga. She married, but she and her husband never divorced - he never got used to her affairs with women, and she left him over one of his affairs. She later shared her life with Lionel Hampton's uncle. Columbia records signed her in 1923; her first recordings were considered "A" list, and she was the initial star attraction of their new "race records" division. She quickly became the most popular (and highest paid) black performer in the world. In 1929, she was the star of an early sound film short, "St. Louis Blues". Recording promoter John Hammond claimed to have found her working in obscurity in 1933 (not true, she was still a headliner just performing less in the Depression) and recorded her last four songs. Hammond also invented a story about her death; she died in an auto accident at the age of 43. Hammond claimed that she was refused entry to a white hospital, a story which has been discredited. Her husband regularly pocketed money raised for her tombstone. Her resting place was finally marked by a memorial paid for by Janis Joplin.
Today is also the birthday of Hans Conried. An occasional Broadway and radio performer, he was a well known character actor in movies, and a regular voice performer for Disney. He achieved early television fame as Uncle Tanoose on the Danny Thomas show. The excerpt below is from his performance in an odd cult favorite move from 1953, The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. the only movie whose story, script, and song lyrics were written by Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Suess. Conried played an insane music teacher who chained children to their pianos as they learned his method of playing:
Thank You both, and Happy Birthday!
P.S. Today is also the birthday of an old (and I stress the word "old") friend, Miss Magnolia Thunderpussy.
Happy Birthday, Mags! The following is her favorite song, and may have been based on her life: