Sunday, January 22, 2017

Untimely Departures

Requiescat in Pace

June 3, 1991 - January 22, 2017
Not long after I got home from Mass this morning I turned on my computer and almost immediately got hit with the terrible news that Yordano Ventura, the promising young pitcher for my beloved Kansas City Royals, had died in an automobile accident earlier today
in his native Dominican Republic.

Me too, old too...

Classic Debut

Original 1938 debut poster

On January 22, 1938 the Thornton Wilder play Our Town opened with just a single performance at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey before moving on
to Boston and eventually New York.

The play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1938, and ever since its debut it has been one of the most popular shows for amateur and professional companies to produce.

It is really a remarkable work, not least because of its use of a virtually bare stage and almost no physical props (the actors mime most of their actions throughout
the show).

Given my fondness for the play-within-a-play format (I have directed several such scripts) I'm sure I would have eventually mounted a production of Our Town myself had my directing career lasted a bit longer.

"Hard to believe you've never played Stage Manager even once in your life."

Not really...I've never wanted be be an actor...

Not the Way Language Works, Kid

From the wry comic strip FoxTrot, by Bill Amend, which you should read every Sunday.

Until Next Time...

On January 22, 1931 Samuel Cook was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi. His family moved to Chicago when he was two, and by the time he was six he was already singing in public with several of his siblings in an organized group. At just age 14 his ability had earned him the lead singer's slot with popular local gospel group The Highway QCs.

At age 19 Sam had become the lead singer for an even more prominent gospel group, The Soul Stirrers, and recorded several hits with that ensemble, including some he wrote himself. By 1957 he was performing and recording under the name Sam Cooke, and the first secular single he released under that name became his signature song.

In those days recording artists were far more focused on having hit singles than hit albums, so it was a huge boost to Cooke's career when "You Send Me," a song he wrote himself, hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, knocking Elvis Presley's "Jailhouse Rock"
out of the top spot.

Although Cooke charted more than two dozen singles in his brief recording career,
"You Send Me" would be his lone No. 1. In addition to being his signature it became
a pop standard, and has since been covered by a wide variety of other artists including Nat King Cole, The Everly Brothers, Whitney Houston, and The Dixie Chicks.

In February 1958 Cooke's label released Songs by Sam Cooke,
a collection designed to capitalize
on the success of "You Send Me," which it included. There were no other Cooke originals on the album, just covers of material that ran the gamut from popular jazz hits like Fats Waller's "Ain't Misbehavin'"
to show tunes like "Ol' Man River" and "Summertime."

The album peaked at No. 16 on the Billboard 200, his best showing ever. Despite all the hit singles, it was four years before Cooke had another album make the charts at all, and aside from his debut none of them made the Top 30. That isn't surprising given that his audience was dominated by young fans who preferred singles to LPs.

Cooke died of a gunshot wound on December 11, 1964 at just age 33 in what can only be described as suspicious and murky circumstances. It was a tragic loss for popular music, as Cooke's inimitable voice had already earned him the title The King of Soul. On Songs by Sam Cooke he even covered the classic Irish ballad "Danny Boy," giving it a heartfelt, soulful interpretation that is among my all-time favorite versions.

Today's send-off is the original 1958 recording of that popular Irish standard. Enjoy...

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