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Of Crooners and Princes: May Birthdays

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Portrait of Perry Como, New York, N.Y., ca. Oct. 1946. Photograph by William P. Gottlieb.
Portrait of Perry Como, New York, N.Y., ca. Oct. 1946. Photograph by William P. Gottlieb.

Last week we celebrated birthdays of a diverse array of musical luminaries. Pianist Wladziu Valentino was briefly known as  Walter Busterkeys before using the name by which we all know him: Liberace was born May 16, 1919. Read about him in the Nevada section of the Local Legacies project in The American Folklife Center.

Alexander Warrack’s Scots Dictionary lists among the definitions of the word “croon,” “to roar in a menacing tone like an angry bull; to sing softly, hum, murmur; to purr like a cat.” The Oxford English Dictionary notes that “crooner” is “a name for a [Scottish] fish, the Grey Gurnard (Trigla gurnardus), from the noise it makes when landed.” Only one of these definitions applies to crooner Perry Como, born May 18, 1912. See photos of Como in the William P. Gottlieb Collection in American Memory.

Richard Wagner. Prints and Photographs Division.
Richard Wagner. Prints and Photographs Division.

We live in the age of mp3s and iPods, but a combination of nostalgia, audiophile sophistication and perhaps plain contrariness may be responsible for the resurgence of vinyl as a music-delivery system. Inventor Emile Berliner was born May 20, 1851.  He developed the microphone, the gramophone player, and the flat recording disc - and is thus responsible for the thousands of black platters in my basement. Would Berliner be pleased that Record Store Day is now an annual event; or would he purge his collection for a shiny new mp3 player? We will never know. Read about Emile Berliner and the Birth of the Recording Industry in American Memory.

May 22nd was the birthday of one of the towering figures of opera, Richard Wagner (1818-1883), who was recently discussed on In the Muse as the cuplrit behind the scandalous rumor that Johannes Brahms murdered cats. The rumor died, but Wagner’s music lives on – not only in the opera house but in the annals of pop culture, from “What’s Opera, Doc?” to Apocalypse Now, both of which were selected for the National Film Registry. The Music Division holds a variety of Wagner materials, including manuscripts for Parsifal and Symphony in C, as well as the manuscript score for John Philip Sousa’s arrangement of Der fliegende Hollander. Overture.

Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. Detail from Portait of Parker, Tommy Porter, Davis, Duke Jordan, and Max Roach, Three Deuces, New York, N.Y., ca. Aug. 1947. Photograph by William P. Gottlieb.

Finally,  today is the birthday of the jazz legend known as the Prince of Darkness. Miles Davis was born May 26, 1926. See photos of Miles in the Wiliam P. Gottlieb Collection in American Memory. Listen to Gerry Mulligan reminisce about working with Miles in the oral autobiography Jeru, from the Gerry Mulligan Collection in the Performing Arts Encyclopedia.

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