Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Fond Of Blondes: Kirsty Young


Photographs typically fail spectacularly in their efforts to convey the wonder of nature that is Kirsty Young; in order to gain the full effect of Young's magic, one must hear her and thus be smothered in the butterscotch burr that is chief amongst her many glories...

Formerly affiliated with Five News, Young is currently the host of Crimewatch, and even turns up occasionally to trade innuendo-laden barbs with the clearly smitten cast of Have I Got News For You. Yet while fans of Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio 4 get her golden tones all to themselves for 43 minutes every Sunday even they may feel cheated, as they don't get to see her radiant glow when they do.

Possessed of brains, beauty, humour, and of course that whiskey accent, Kirsty Young is clearly the whole megillah - which makes her the ideal candidate for the Pop Culture Institute's feature, Fond Of Blondes, on this - the occasion of her birthday.
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"Let Me Off Uptown" by the Gene Krupa Orchestra with Anita O'Day

Here legendary band-leading drummer Gene Krupa, vocalist Anita O'Day, and saxophonist Roy Eldridge trade licks and banter in equal measure over the jazz/swing standard Let Me Off Uptown - uptown, in this case, being Harlem.

The song, from 1941, would be the first hit of many for O'Day...

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The Late, Great Anita O'Day

A long time ago, when I still sold CDs for a 'living', I can remember pondering what exactly it was that set a pop vocalist apart from a jazz vocalist; at that time, the distinction seemed to me to be the degree with which the vocalist used his or her voice as an instrument. While Anita O'Day had a voice as clear and lovely as someone like Dinah Shore, the former's breath and phrasing set her entirely apart from the latter...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketOn the strength of her voice alone, then, Anita O'Day was a consummate jazz musician, of the kind that dominated mid-century popular music; it was a distinctive contralto, utterly lacking in vibrato, which was at its best in short phrases rather than held notes, which set her apart from the pack almost as much as the fact that she was white when all of her peers were black.

O'Day began her career as a vocalist in dance marathons, those grueling feats of endurance that were such a part of the Depression-era world that they were eventually banned in many jurisdictions for their brutality, even though the poverty that caused them wasn't (and, indeed, is still with us). Graduating into clubs, first as a chorus girl, then as a 'girl singer' - an interchangeable vocalist a band would hire for as little as a single night - by the early 1940s she began to catch the ears of such bandleaders as Gene Krupa and Stan Kenton. The most productive years of her career were 1952-62, during which she was signed to the legendary Verve label.

As her star ascended into the showbiz firmament, though, her life descended into heroin addiction, culminating in a near overdose in 1968; coming clean, she continued to perform at jazz festivals and in 1981 wrote her memoirs High Times, Hard Times. She lived for her art, and lived pretty hard at that, to the extent that when she died (on this day in 2006, aged 87) it seemed like a kind of miracle that she could have lived half that long. Today, her performances of such jazz standards as Skylark, And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine, and Let Me Off Uptown stand as an enduring testament to the talent and appeal of Anita O'Day.

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Remembering... Roald Dahl

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Around the time I became aware of the fact that the words in books were put there on purpose by someone or other, I became a fan of Roald Dahl; the verve of such classics as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, and James and the Giant Peach not only made reading fun, but made writing seem like it would be pretty fun, too. (Hey, what did I know? I was only seven.)

So here I am, thirty years later, an ink-stained wretch and embittered social outcast, and I owe it all to the man pictured above. (Okay, maybe not all, but most... Some, and that's my final offer!)
Since those days, of course, my appreciation of Dahl's works has expanded to include Matilda, The Witches, and a very different kind of book from the children's fiction for which he was best known, My Uncle Oswald. What a revelation it was to discover that the author of some of my favourite children's books also had a macabre, kinky, thoroughly adult side! How very British...

What I liked most about his books as a kid is that they seemed to understand better than most the complex relationships between adults and children in all varieties - from benevolent to malevolent - a perspective on them I never had until I began to reread his works in my 30s. Roald Dahl died on this day in 1990, but thanks to his heroes and heroines like Charlie Bucket and Matilda Wormwood his sensitivity to the many challenges in a child's world endures, hopefully to bring the same solace to future generations of children that they once brought to me.
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POPnews - November 23rd

[This pivotal moment in the life of Lyndon B. Johnson - the administration of the oath of office by Judge Sarah T. Hughes, which occurred at 2:23 PM on November 22nd, 1963, following the assassination of John F. Kennedy earlier that day, in the presence of grieving former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, new First Lady Claudia 'Lady Bird' Johnson, and Jack Valenti (among many others) - was recorded for posterity by Cecil W. Stoughton of the White House Press Office. It remains one of the most famous images ever made; by this day in 1963 (LBJ's first full day in office) hundreds of millions of people had seen it.]

1499 - Perkin Warbeck, pretender to the English throne, was hanged at Tyburn following several abortive attempts to escape from the Tower of London.

1644 - Areopagitica - a pamphlet decrying censorship written by John Milton - was published.

1808 - French and Polish forces commanded by Jean Lannes defeated a Spanish army under Francisco Castaños at the Battle of Tudela during the Peninsular War.

1867 - England's Manchester Martyrs - William Philip Allen, Michael Larkin, and Michael O'Brien - were hanged for rescuing Thomas J. Kelly and Timothy Deasy (their brethren in an organization called the Irish Republican Brotherhood) from jail by killing Charles Brett, a police officer. Brett was the first member of the Manchester City Police to be killed in the line of duty.

1876 - William M 'Boss' Tweed, disgraced grand sachem of Tammany Hall, was handed over to the authorities in New York City, having been captured after fleeing the country the previous year on corruption charges.

1890 - William III of the Netherlands died without a male heir, the laws having already been changed to allow his daughter Wilhelmina to assume the throne - an act which saved the Dutch monarchy from extinction; Holland has not had a King since, but will again some day if the current Crown Prince Willem-Alexander succeeds his mother Queen Beatrix as expected.

1903 - Tenor Enrico Caruso had his American debut in Rigoletto at New York City's Metropolitan Opera.

1910 - Johan Alfred Ander was the last person to be executed in Sweden.

1934 - An Anglo-Ethiopian boundary commission working in the Ogaden region (bordering Kenya, Somalia, and Djibouti) discovered an Italian garrison stationed at Walwal, which lay well within Ethiopian territory; their presence led to an international diplomatic situation known as the Abyssinia Crisis and, later still, to Italy's ill-fated conquest of Ethiopia.

1936 - Life magazine was reborn under the publisher of Time magazine, Henry Luce.

1943 - The Deutsche Opernhaus on Bismarckstraße in Berlin's Charlottenburg neighbourhood was destroyed; it would eventually be rebuilt in 1961 and be called the Deutsche Oper Berlin.

1946 - The Workers Party of South Korea was founded.

1955 - The United Kingdom transferred authority over the Cocos Islands to Australia.

1963 - The first episode of Doctor Who - entitled An Unearthly Child - aired on the BBC.

1979 - Thomas McMahon was sentenced to life in prison for the murders of Lord Mountbatten, the Dowager Baroness Brabourne, the Hon. Nicholas Knatchbull, and crewman Paul Maxwell onboard Mountbatten's boat, Shadow V, in August 1979; he was released in 1998.

1984 - A fire broke out in the London Underground's Oxford Circus station shortly after 10 PM, trapping thousands and injuring 14 but resulting in no fatalities.

2003 - Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze resigned amid protests against his rule.

2005 - Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf became the first woman elected to lead an African nation, in this case Liberia.

2007 - MS Explorer - a cruise liner carrying 154 people on a sight-seeing tour of Antarctica in the Southern Ocean south of Argentina - sank after striking an unidentified object in Bransfield Strait off King George Island near the South Shetland Islands; all those on board were put into lifeboats and eventually rescued by the Norwegian vessel MS Nordnorge with no fatalities.

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