Tagged: Fun Friday
When you’re part of an organization with a long history like the United States Armed Forces, you are part of a proud tradition. You have stories to tell.
Sometimes, these stories are hard to explain. Not the kind of hard to explain that you might see on grocery-store-checkout-lane magazine covers, but the kind of hard to explain that leaves the listener with a funky expression on their face.
Case in point: F.E Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming started out in the 1800s as an Army post on at the edge of the frontier named Fort David A. Russell. Originally charged with guarding the new railway, the post evolved and played key roles in events throughout our nation’s history – from the Great Sioux Indian Wars and the Spanish American War to the Philippines. By 1930, the era of the Calvary had ended. President Hoover changed the name of the fort to Francis E. Warren and F.E. Warren Air Force Base was ‘officially’ born.
But it was born on top of an ancient native burial ground… just kidding. Sort of.
Stories of violent atrocities committed by cavalrymen against native women, men and children linger still today, and you might say they’re still around in part because the spirits won’t let Warren AFB forget.
According to one resource, over the past 50 years, more than 150 reported events have been documented at Warren, many of them sharing spooky similarities.
For example, in one historic home known to soldiers simply as “the ghost house”, people report hearing rhythmic clunking of heavy boot steps and clicking toenails of dog’s feet pacing in the attic. Some people have reported seeing the apparition of a cavalryman and his faithful companion walking the floor together. Residents of the home have even had to adjust their décor to accommodate the dog’s preferences: when a certain picture is removed from the wall, the sound of a dog barking and whining persists until the picture is replaced.
If you drive by one house on base, you may see a little girl with long, curly hair staring out of the guest room window. She’s been reported many times on base, particularly when the house is supposed to be vacant, but the former owners reported her presence too. Because they don’t have a little girl with long, curly hair. And the same one’s been showing up for years.
There’s a sordid tale of marital betrayal that ended with one party accidentally hanging himself on a clothesline after jumping out of a second story window to escape his lover’s husband. Alas, to this day, residents of that home will leave a room and return it minutes later to find furniture turned wrongways, drawers opened, tables overturned – actions, they believe, of a young man who is still searching for his pants.
Warren is an impressive, massive installation, home to the 90th Missile Wing, 153rd Command and Control Squadron (Wyoming Air National Guard), 30th Airlift Squadron, Air Force Office of Special Investigations, Detachment 80, the Wyoming Wing HQ of the Civil Air Patrol and the Area Defense Counsel. These are not the kind of people who are prone to making up stories. But probably, more importantly, they’re not the kind of people who scare easily. With this in mind, revisit the question posed in the headline: Are these hauntings the real deal? Or just campfire stories?
Air Force Times
Hopefully that made you smile. Enjoy your weekend and relax knowing we have three months before we go through this stress again.
In light of the government shutdown, here are some of the best things we’ve found on twitter regarding this glorious example of democracy in action…
DENISE ™ @denisealondra
“After the sequester, they will cut back on airport security. We will have to pat ourselves down.” @LateShow #shutdownjokes
Adam Armus @AdamArmus
Grand Canyon closed. Visit Congress for alternative gaping hole. #ShutdownSuggestions
The Daily Show @TheDailyShow
Museums are closed. Hit up nursing homes to see old stuff instead. #ShutdownSuggestions
The Canada Party @theCanadaParty
Move to Canada. Open 24 hrs. #ShutdownSuggestions
Note to self: Do not get infectious disease today. Or apparently tomorrow. And possibly the day after.
The Milky Way @milkscone
have you tried turning it off and on again? #ShutdownSuggestions
Cory Confesses @CoryConfesses
@TheDailyShow Will my taxes be prorated during the shutdown? #ShutdownSuggestions
Making light of these circumstances is just one way of coping. But on a serious note, we don’t think that 800,000 people without jobs is funny, nor do we think that the loss of veterans programs, benefits, or military paychecks isn’t a very serious situation. Our thoughts are with all those directly impacted by the furloughs. Which, truly, is all of us.
We the people must look after each other. Those that are able, please consider donating to your local food pantries, shelters, churches, or other support organizations.
The government shutdown is still underway and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. Even though military pay is safe, stress levels are still high. Commissaries are closed. Tuition assistance has been delayed.
So for today’s edition of Fun Friday, we decided to go all out for laughs. Here are a few of our favorite military photobombs from across the internet. We hope they make you smile. And if you have one you’d like to share, post it on our Facebook page for all to see!
First, the original military photobomb from the Civil War. Thanks to militaryfail.net for this classic. (It’s a fun site…spend some time there!)
Next, a lesson in why you shouldn’t leave your date out of your photos from photobombings.com.
Here’s proof from cheezburger.com that not all photos need a caption.
Another of our favorite sites, duffleblog.com, reported the frustration the Army’s Public Affairs Office has with photobombs in combat-related photos because they they render the photos unusable. We understand, but we can find a way to put them to use!
And finally, from funnyjunk.com, here’s a pilot who took photobombing into his own hands.
Happy Friday, everyone!
It’s Fun Friday! Have you been counting down (and singing along) with us to find out who the Top Ten Military Musicians have been? Well, today’s fun is finding out who is #1. Let’s get going…
2. John Philip Sousa
John Phillip Sousa – best known for his immortal compositions that are still standards for military bands to this day – got his start from his father, a trombonist in the U.S. Marine Corps Band. Sousa’s father brought the 13-year-old Sousa into the Marine Band as a ploy to keep him from joining the circus. Sousa served an apprenticeship in the Marine Band, then learned to conduct as head of a pit orchestra, before returning to the Marine Band as its leader in 1880. He served in that position until 1892, mostly at the rank of sergeant major.
“These talking machines are going to ruin the artistic development of music in this country.” — The visionary John Philip Sousa on the infant recording industry.
His list of notable compositions includes:
- Semper Fidelis, the official march of the USMC
- The Liberty Bell
- Stars and Stripes Forever, the national march of the United States
- U.S. Field Artillery, the official song of the United States Army (more commonly known as The Army Goes Rolling Along)
In addition, Sousa wrote a number of operettas – popular in the late 1800s – including Desiree, The Smugglers, El Capitan, Chris and the Wonderful Lamp, and The American Maid, or the Glass Blowers.
During World War One, Sousa was commissioned a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve, and put in charge of the Navy Band at Great Lakes Naval Station. While assigned there, Sousa donated is entire salary except for one dollar to the Sailors and Marines Relief Fund.
He died of heart failure in 1932, at the age of 77, one of the best-loved American composers in history.
1. Glenn Miller
Our selection for the greatest military musician in American history is Glenn Miller. There was never much doubt about where he would fall, under any criteria. Alone among the incredible musicians on this list, Major Glenn Miller was the only musician to have made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of his country – missing and presumed KIA when his small aircraft disappeared over the English Channel.
Miller was born in Clarinda, Iowa in 1904, and learned trombone, cornet and mandolin as a child. He started his first dance and swing ensemble while still in high school, and was already a professional musician when he graduated.
During the 20s and 30s, he made a living as a freelance trombonist, back in the days when trombonists could still make a living as freelance trombonists.
“America means freedom and there’s no expression of freedom quite so sincere as music.” –Glenn Miller, 1944
Miller wrote his first tune, Room 1411, with another legend of big band, Benny Goodman, and also wrote his signature tune, Moonlight Serenade, while still in his early 20s. He played in two orchestra pits for the Broadway productions of Strike Up the Band and Girl Crazy, with two other musicians who would soon become legends in their own right, Gene Krupa and Benny Goodman.
Miller also played as a sideman along with Goodman, Jimmy Dorsey and swing violinist Joe Venuti in the All-Star Orchestra under the direction of Nat Shilkret. Later, Miller became a trombonist, arranger and composer with The Dorsey Brothers.
As a bandleader, Miller was a relentless perfectionist, and rehearsed his band thoroughly.
When the war broke out, Miller was already established. He was 38, too old for the draft, and he didn’t have to serve. Nonetheless, he volunteered to serve in the Navy, but was rejected. He then wrote to the Army, and asked to “be placed in charge of a modernized Army band.” He went in at the rank of captain and was soon promoted to major.
He then started a large marching band, which would become a sort of feeder system into the Army and Army Air Force stage bands. Miller eventually put together a 50-piece band for the Army Air Force and flew them to England, where they gave over 800 performances for American and British troops. General Jimmy Doolittle, the Medal of Honor recipient and leader of the famous Doolittle raid, said of Miller’s band, “Next to a letter from home, that organization was the greatest morale builder in the European Theater of Operations.”
Miller’s compositions and arrangements became mainstays in the jazz/swing repertoire, and attained iconic status. Among his works:
- In the Mood
- Moonlight Serenade
- Chattanooga Choo-Choo
- Fools Rush In
- Pennsylvania 6-500
- Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else But Me)
Glenn Miller’s musical journey ended on December 15th, 1944, when his single-engine aircraft disappeared over the English Channel while Miller was on his way to a performance in France. No trace of Miller’s body nor the aircraft was ever found.
So what do you think of our list? Hopefully your toes are tapping and you’re humming a few tunes. Enjoy your weekend. We’ll see you here next week!
After a big week with the 9/11 anniversary and ongoing debate about military action against Syria, it’s time to enjoy Fun Friday. Our list of the Top Military Musicians is starting to wind down. Do you agree with the people we’ve listed so far? And do you have any guesses about who could be in the #1 spot? Let’s get to two more artists today and hear more great music.
4. John Coltrane
Talk to any saxophonist about who the greatest sax player who ever lived was and chances are overwhelming that they will mention John Coltrane. More than that, talk to any jazz musician anywhere about who was the greatest jazz player of any instrument there ever was and chances are they’ll still mention Coltrane, right up near the top of the pantheon.
Indeed, Coltrane is the only musician on this list to have played so transcendently that he actually has a religious following: The St. John Coltrane African Orthodox Church regards Coltrane as a prophet, and uses Coltrane’s music and lyrics in its liturgy.
Coltrane was born on September 23rd, 1926, and entered the Navy at the tail end of World War Two, on August 6th, 1945, at the age of eighteen. The war was over by the time Coltrane finished training at the Sampson Naval Training Center in upstate New York. Coltrane was then assigned to active duty in Hawaii. While stationed on Oahu, near Pearl Harbor, Coltrane played with a black Navy band called the Melody Masters, where he made his first recordings in 1946.
As the Navy rapidly demobilized following the war, though, they didn’t need bands much anymore, and so Coltrane was discharged just a year after he joined.
After the war, Coltrane continued to develop his skills in ensembles led by bebop great Dizzy Gillespie, and by Johnny Hodges and Earl Bostic. He lived in Philadelphia – not far from New York City, and studied jazz theory and harmony with a guitarist named Denis Sandole (1913-2000), who also mentored James Moody, Michael Brecker, Jim Hall, Joe Diorio and Pat Martino. Coltrane, however, was undoubtedly his greatest student, picking up where Sandole left off and developing his own revolutionary approach to jazz harmony and progression.
“John never coasted. Every time I heard him, it was if he was playing the last solo of his life and wanted to get all of his life into it.” –Nat Hentoff
Coltrane soon hooked up with jazz trumpet great Miles Davis, and in separate projects, with Thelonious Monk, with whom Coltrane recorded Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall in 1957.
Coltrane was developing a trademark virtuosic approach to jazz improvisation that came to be called “sheets of sound,” a term coined by jazz critic Ira Girtler, referring to Coltrane’s shimmering, rapid scalar runs and the arpeggiation of up to three chords at the same time. “His continuous flow of ideas without stopping really hit me,” Gitler said. “It was almost superhuman. The amount of energy he was using could have powered a spaceship.”
Coltrane had become a sideman par excellence for Davis, Hodges, Gillespie, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk, and made his recording debut as a bandleader in 1960, soon settling on the legendary lineup of McCoy Tyner, bassist Steve Davis, and drummer Elvin Jones. He also recorded the groundbreaking Giant Steps, the title track of which is still considered among the most innovative and challenging tunes for jazz musicians in the repertoire.
Eric Dolphy soon joined the band as a 2nd horn, and is heard to great effect playing bass clarinet, of all things, evoking a trumpeting elephant on the John Coltrane tune India.
Coltrane’s most well known and commercially successful recording, however, was undoubtedly his groundbreaking rendition of the jazz waltz, My Favorite Things.
Toward the end of his life, Coltrane became drawn more and more toward experimental, avant garde sounds, influenced by Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler. His playing took on greater levels of abstraction and angularity. He was playing regularly at this point with his 2nd wife, Alice Coltrane, on piano.
Coltrane passed away from liver cancer in July 1967, still at the very pinnacle of his creativity. He was 40 years old. His son, Ravi Coltrane, is an accomplished saxophone player in his own right.
3. Jascha Heifetz
Jascha Heifetz is widely considered to be the single greatest violinist of the 20th century, and possibly the greatest who ever lived. His status at or near the top of the food chain of the great classical violinists of all time is undisputed. As a young man, he was referred to, without apparent irony or hyperbole, as “God’s fiddler.” In his 1987 New York Times obituary, the editors wrote that his name “was for more than half a century was synonymous with perfection of technique and musicianship.”
Nobody played like him – the strength and the force,” said Itzhak Perlman after Heifetz’s death. “His playing had the quality that sizzled and he had such color, He revolutionized violin playing to where it wishes to go today. None of us mortals are going to be able to reach his standard.”
His status at the very top of the classical music performance world is well-known. What is less well known is that Heifetz, already a legendary musician and the most highly paid violinist the world had ever seen, spent much of World War Two sharing his prodigious musical gifts with an audience he grew to love, and which loved him right back: American soldiers.
During World War Two, Heifetz was granted the honorary rank of captain, and wore the uniform and rank throughout the war. All told, he played scores of USO shows stateside, and participated in three separate extensive USO tours of Europe during the war, some perilously close to enemy lines. He survived a German air strike, and got lost in German territory at one point. Had he been captured, he would most likely have been murdered as a Jew. Despite the hardships and dangers he endured, however, Heifetz refused pay for his services the whole time.
John and Anthony Maltese chronicle Heifetz’s contributions to the military community here.
In a U.S. Army hospital in Italy, a violinist dressed in military uniform entered a ward to play for GI’s wounded in the ongoing battles of World War II. The ward was for young men who had recently lost arms and legs under fire. As the violinist entered, a boy who had lost his right arm tried to applaud in the air with his left hand. The violinist was momentarily shocked. He had played in many hospitals before, but none quite like this. He gazed at the smiling boy clapping the air, and then – his face illuminated with compassion and sensitivity – raised his violin and played. The violinist’s name: Jascha Heifetz.
Seated next to Heifetz at the “GI Steinway” was pianist Milton Kaye. Kaye never forgot that concert. “Here was this man,” he recalled fifty years later, “the great violinist of the ages, and he was killing himself to play even better for these men! And I thought to myself, ‘You see, sonny boy? That’s why he is what he is.”
Kaye had never, ever, heard Heifetz play so beautifully. The following year, the pianist Seymour Lipkin witnessed that same high standard of violin playing when he accompanied Heifetz on another tour for the GI’s. Not even the most adverse conditions affected Heifetz’s playing. “I remember that after awhile I began to understand that he was going to play his best no matter what,” Lipkin told us. “And I kind of perked up, and I thought, ‘Boy, this is something!’ He played at his best no matter what. So, I tell my pupils now: ‘Don’t forget that. That’s a lesson!”
Heifetz had been so moved by his concert for the paraplegics that he asked to play at more hospitals. He wanted to use his days off as the opportunity for the additional concerts. Heifetz asked Kaye if he minded adding more concerts to their already grueling schedule. “Of course not,” he shot back. Kaye, too, had been moved. He had fought back tears as they played in the hospital. Besides, he considered every opportunity to play with Heifetz a unique privilege. “And it was,” Kaye told us as he leaned forward in his chair. “It was the greatest privilege I had in my musical life.”
Heifetz was born in Vilnius, Lithuania, in 1901, and came the U.S. at the age of 16. In 1925, he became a citizen of the United States, and remained deeply patriotic for his entire life. “On national holidays he was among the few in Malibu who always raised the flag in the morning,” recalled a former student of his later in his life, “and he took it down himself at sunset. He rigorously required all guests to be present at the ceremony and to display the proper respect toward the flag while it was lowered.”
“Perhaps it takes a naturalized American, like myself, to fully realize what a very great country this is.” –Jascha Heifetz
While Heifetz was aware that American troops were not necessarily classical music fans, his shows were routinely met with overwhelming and raucous approval. Heifetz would typically begin with Bach. “Think of it as musical spinach,” he would joke to the troops. You may not like it, but it’s good for you.” He would frequently end with Horo Staccato, a musical showpiece and popular encore often requested.
After the war, Heifetz went back to his grueling routine of performance and touring, logging millions of miles. Heifetz toured Israel for the third time in 1953, and planned to include a violin sonata by Richard Strauss. Strauss’s music, however, along with Richard Wagner’s, was closely associated with Nazism. There was an unwritten ban in Israel on the music of both composers, but despite pleas from the Minister of Education and other Israeli musical benefactors, Heifetz refused to budge. “There are only two kinds of music: Good music and bad music,” Heifetz said. The music is above these factors. I will not change my program.”
Heifetz continued to play the Strauss Violin Sonata throughout his Israeli tour. Each time, there was not a hint of applause.
After playing a concert in Jerusalem, Heifetz was attacked by a man wielding a crowbar, injuring Heifetz’s right hand that he was using to protect his violin. The attack was later associated with a terrorist group called Kingdom of Israel.
Throughout the 50s and well into the 80s, Heifetz continued to teach and play extensively, commissioning pieces from composers and developing young talent. His repertoire was astonishing – a read through his impressive discography reveals a repertoire many, many times more extensive than other leading classical violinists.
Heifetz’s talents were not restricted to violin performance: Heifetz also enjoyed playing and improvising jazz piano, and even wrote a hit pop song When You Make Love to Me Don’t Pretend.
In the 1960s, Heifetz also played in a trio with concert pianist Leonard Pennario, a World War Two veteran of the Army Air Corps who served in Burma, along with cellist Gregor Piatigorsky.
Heifetz was also an excellent arranger and transcriptionist, and his violin arrangements of other composers’ works are still frequently played today.
Heifetz died in 1987 – still the undisputed champion of classical violin in the world at that time, and likely is, still.
6. Corporal Anthony Benedetto.
Anthony Dominick Benedetto was born in 1926 in Astoria, Queens, New York City. He was drafted in 1944 and assigned to the European Theater of World War Two, where he saw savage fighting as an infantryman with the 1/255th Infantry Regiment in the 63rd Infantry Division in the final two months of the war in Germany. In addition to having several close brushes with death, Benedetto was present for the liberation of a Nazi concentration camp at Landsberg. His combat experiences were so traumatic – Benedetto described his infantry service as a “front row seat in Hell,” and “A nightmare that’s permanent.”
After Germany surrendered, however, Benedetto stayed on in a special services unit as a singer and entertainer. He was caught eating chow with a black friend of his. At the time, the Army was still regularly separated. His commander busted him a stripe and sent him to work in Graves Registration.
That didn’t last long, however, and he soon found an assignment with the 314th Army Special Services Band. This was the band formed after Glenn Miller’s Orchestra had completed its tour. While Miller’s orchestra was mostly made up of professional musicians, the Army wanted to recruit the players in the 314th from its own ranks. The New York Times tells their story here.
Benedetto was originally assigned as a librarian, but he sang one song a week with the band. “It was usually St. James Infirmary, Benedetto recalls.
While there were many successful musicians who came out of the 314th Army Band, Benedetto achieved the most fame by far. But he didn’t do it using his birth name. Shortly after World War Two, Benedetto began performing under a stage name that was to become legendary: Tony Bennett.
Bennett achieved his first great commercial success in 1951, with the single Because of You. Shortly thereafter, Bennett scored hits with Blue Velvet, and Hank Williams’ Cold, Cold Heart, hit pay dirt again in 1962 with I Left My Heart in San Francisco – long considered Bennett’s signature tune.
His sound fell out of favor in the late 60s through the 80s, and Bennett went through some difficult times, but found his audience again in the 1990s, and has recorded duets with a veritable Who’s Who of pop, jazz and rock.
In 2011, Bennett got into hot water after an appearance on the Howard Stern Show, in which he said that he believed that the U.S. brought the 9/11 attacks on itself because of prior U.S. military actions in the Middle East. He also said that former President George W. Bush confessed to Bennett that invading Iraq was a mistake – an account which Bush’s spokespeople dismissed as ‘flat wrong.’
Bennett later walked back his remarks somewhat, saying, “There is simply no excuse for terrorism and the murder of the nearly 3,000 innocent victims of the 9/11 attacks on our country. My life experiences, ranging from the Battle of the Bulge to marching with Martin Luther King, made me a life-long humanist and pacifist, and reinforced my belief that violence begets violence and that war is the lowest form of human behavior.”
In all, Bennett has won 16 Grammy Awards – including the Album of the Year of MTV Unplugged – Tony Bennett, and two Emmy Awards.
In addition to his many musical achievements, Bennett has generously supported a variety of charities. In recognition of his work, he received the Humanitarian Award from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, as well as an induction to the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame in 2007.
5. Dave Brubeck
Dave Brubeck was born on December 6th, 1920 in Concord, California, near San Francisco. As a young man, he enrolled in the College of the Pacific in Stockton, California – to study veterinary medicine. However, after a year, a professor of his told him “Brubeck, your mind’s not here. It’s over there, across the lawn in the conservatory. Go there, and stop wasting your time and mine!”
And so he changed his major to music. He demonstrated a keen grasp of piano technique, composition and music theory and was a phenomenal jazz player at an early age – but couldn’t read a lick of music notation. He faked his way through school, though, until word that he couldn’t read music reached the dean, who told Brubeck he wouldn’t be allowed to graduate.
Once word got out, Brubeck’s other music professors rallied to his defense, telling the Dean that Brubeck was the finest and most promising student they had. The dean relented, and told Brubeck he’d let him graduate, provided he promised never to “embarrass the school” by teaching.
Brubeck took the deal.
Brubeck graduated college in 1942, and was quickly drafted into the U.S. Army. After completing basic training, Brubeck successfully auditioned to join the 253rd Army Band, then headquartered in San Francisco, California, where he met Paul Desmond, who would years later become part of the Dave Brubeck Quartet. However, despite the successful audition, Brubeck was nevertheless ordered to Europe for combat duty. He was assigned to Patton’s 3rd Army, but once word of his piano playing got out, he was reassigned to go around Europe entertaining troops and VIPs. The brass asked him to start a band. At the time, the Army was still racially segregated. The young Brubeck, still in his early 20s, insisted that he be allowed to form a racially integrated group – and he did: The Wolfpack.
“I had the first integrated Army band in World War II,” recalled Brubeck in a Public Broadcasting interview. This old colonel, the one that spoke German, was a humanitarian. And he allowed me to have blacks in my band. It was against principle. I don’t know if you’ll ever find a regulation saying you can’t have blacks, but nobody had blacks when I did. I tried to get into a black band. And being white, they wouldn’t let me. So I was glad to do it in reverse and bring two blacks into my band.”
After the war, Brubeck continued playing, composing, arranging and performing. He was well known throughout the country, and even graced the cover of Time Magazine in November 1954. In the early 1960s, Brubeck took his racially integrated band on a tour of the American South, where he ran into a lot of trouble from Jim Crow.
In February 1960, an article in the Spokesman-Review did a story on Dave Brubeck and his initial refusal to do a 25-day tour of the South because the colleges and universities he would be playing at required him to have an all-white band. The paper quoted Brubeck as saying, “We simply cannot consider it. It would be morally, religiously and politically wrong.”
“I wasn’t allowed to play in some universities in the United States and out of twenty-five concerts, twenty-three were cancelled unless I would substitute my black bass player for my old white bass player, which I wouldn’t do,” Brubeck said,
They wouldn’t let us go on with Gene [Wright] and I wouldn’t go on without him. So there was a stalemate and [we were] in a gymnasium, a big basketball arena on a big campus. And the kids were starting to riot upstairs. So the President of the school had things pushing him from every side: The kids stamping on the floor upstairs, me refusing to go on unless I could go on with my black bass player.
So we just stalled and the bus driver came and said, “Dave, hold out. Don’t go on. The president is talking to the governor and I think things are going your way.” And the Governor says, “You’d better let them go on.” So we held on and the president of the college came in and he said, “Now you can go on with the understanding that you’ll keep Eugene Wright in the background where he can’t be seen too well.” And I told Eugene, “Your microphone is off and I want you to use my announcement microphone so you gotta come in front of the band to play your solo.”
Although 23 of the tour’s 25 dates were cancelled, the tour was a success in another important way. Brubeck, again:
“Well, the audience went crazy. We integrated the school that night. The kids wanted it; the President wanted it; the teachers wanted it. The President of the college knew he might lose his funding from the state. So here’s the reason you fight is for the truth to come out and people to look at it. Nobody was against my black bass player. They cheered him like he was the greatest thing that ever happened for the students. Everybody was happy.”
Brubeck was convinced that jazz music could swing in many different time signatures, besides the usual 4/4 and the jazz waltzes in 3/4 time. He proved it convincingly with his most well-known for his composition Take Five, an innovative jazz composition with a 5/4 time signature that is still regularly played in jazz clubs everywhere. He also wrote Blue Rondo a la Turk, the first cut on now legendary album Time Out, released in 1959. Blue Rondo made musicians and jazz enthusiasts’ heads explode from the very first bar.
Time Out was the first jazz album to go platinum, selling more than a million copies. Brubeck also wrote Summer Song, Koto Song, and scores of albums in a prolific recording career with the Dave Brubeck Quartet.
Brubeck disbanded the quartet in 1967 and devoted himself to longer compositional works, including Gates of Justice, a cantata in which Brubeck juxtaposed his own music with the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, and The Light in the Wilderness, an oratorio based on the teachings of Christ, arranged for solo baritone, organ and choir.
He also composed a piece called To Hope, a mass commissioned by the editor of a Catholic Magazine called Our Sunday Visitor, and joined the Catholic Church soon afterwards. His work in sacred music earned him an honorary Doctor of Sacred Theology title from University of Fribourg, Switzerland.
Dave Brubeck died in December 2012, at the age of 91.
Continuing our series of great military musicians, here are entries 7 and 8. What did you think of #9 and 10? Who is left on the list?
8. Pete Seeger
Pete Seeger has a place in American songwriting history for the singular most successful act of plagiarism in the history of music: He simply added three words to a biblical verse from the Book of Ecclesiastes, and it became a legendary hit: Turn, Turn Turn.
This one song is frequently associated with the Peace Movement of the 1960s, but that’s because The Byrds covered it in 1966 as the U.S. was just ramping up its involvement in the Vietnam War. But Turn, Turn, Turn was much older than that; Seeger wrote it in in the late 1950s and first recorded it in 1962.
That song alone would put Seeger in the pantheon of legendary writers. But he didn’t stop there: He also co-wrote Where Have All the Flowers Gone and If I Had a Hammer, but his history is far more interesting. Seeger, still living in New York at the age of 94 at press time, was a friend and contemporary of Woody Guthrie’s in the 1930s.
Pete Seeger has become closely associated, for good or for ill, with left-wing, ‘progressive’ politics in the United States. He joined the Young Communist League in 1936, when Seeger was 17, though he did eventually part company with the Communist Party later in life.
In the 1930s and the early years of World War Two, Communists and progressives tended to oppose American involvement in the war, believing it to be a corporatist plot to secure opportunities for war profiteering. Seeger was a staunch pacifist, of course, like most American communists at the time. The Communist Party was receiving significant funding from the Soviet Union to further the argument. Until Hitler invaded Russia, that is – which caused American communists to change their tune.
Shortly after Hitler invaded Russia, the Soviet Union directed American communists to support the draft and told them not to strike until the war was won.
Seeger’s band, the Almanacs, dutifully recorded a song in support of the American War Effort, Dear Mr. President.
Once the war broke out, Seeger was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1942 – the same year he formally joined the Communist Party. While the Roosevelt Administration was rounding up Japanese Americans and sending them to internment camps, Seeger went on leave from the Army in 1943 and married a young Japanese-American activist named Toshi Ohta.
While in the Army, Seeger was deployed to the Pacific Theater. He was originally assigned as an aircraft mechanic, but the Army had another use for him: They flew him around the theatre to perform for U.S. troops.
After the war, Seeger remained connected to a wide variety of progressive causes, including pacifism during the Cold War. During the height of anti-communist sentiment in the 1950s, a mob of anti-communists – many from the Veterans of Foreign Wars, attacked a show he was playing at in Peekskill, New York. They targeted both performers and spectators, and attacked Seeger’s car as he tried to escape with his family. Toshi and Seeger’s three-year-old son were both injured in the attack. The mob left behind a burning cross.
As someone who was personally in a mixed-race marriage when it was very uncommon, Seeger supported Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement and marched alongside Dr. King.
In 1955, Seeger was subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee and questioned about his association with the Communist Party. Most other individuals who were subpoenaed by the HUAC chose to plead the 5th Amendment. Seeger refused and counterattacked, refusing to explain or discuss his own personal politics because the HUAC’s efforts to get him to defend his personal political beliefs were a violation of the 1st Amendment.
Seeger was found in Contempt of Congress, and sentenced to ten years in jail. He appealed the sentence, however, and won his appeal, finally, after a long series of court battles, in 1962.
The testimony he gave before the House Un-American Activities Committee is riveting. A transcript is available here.
He left the Communist Party itself in the 50s, as well, though he has continued to call himself a small “c” communist. He was excoriated as “Stalin’s Songbird” for his appearances at Communist-party affiliated events and fundraisers, but late in life, responding to criticism that he wrote songs about the Nazi death camps, he never wrote any about Stalin’s Gulags, Seeger wrote, “I think you’re right. I should have asked to see the gulags when I was in the USSR.” Seeger, in his late 80s, soundly rejected Stalin and Stalinism, along with Nazism, though remained a pacifist.
The author of the piece linked to above concluded:
I was deeply moved that Mr. Seeger, now in his late 80s, had decided to acknowledge what had been his major blind spot – opposing social injustice in America while supporting the most tyrannical of regimes abroad. Mr. Seeger rarely performs anymore. But if he does, and if he sings this song, I suspect that few in the audience would have any idea of what it is about. And I doubt that any other singer today would cover it. Only an audience composed entirely of the now-aging old left veterans would understand it instantly. Undoubtedly, many of them would be shocked.
I phoned Mr. Seeger at his home in Beacon, NY, and thanked him for his letter and its warm and supportive tone. We spent some time reminiscing about the old days and people we knew and things we had experienced together. Turning to a discussion of the community he lives in, Mr. Seeger told me he’s a friend of the Republican mayor of his town, who sponsors community events and welcomes him as a participant. Mr. Seeger, it is clear, believes in bringing people together for good works, and in reconciliation.
Mr. Seeger is still a man of the political left, and I’m certain we disagree about much. But I never thought I would hear him acknowledge the realities of Stalinism. I honor and admire him for doing so now.
7. Gene Autry
Gene Autry isn’t well known to the younger generation; But their grandparents sure know who he was. Autry was among the most important singers and songwriters in country music. Already an established singer, Autry was one of the biggest-earning celebrities in the country by the time World War Two broke out. He was already a private pilot, but when the war began, Autry sought lessons in larger, multi-engine aircraft at his own expense, in preparation for joining the Army Air Corps.
He was inducted into the Army live and on the air during his radio broadcast, Melody Ranch, in 1942, and served as a pilot in the Army Air Corps. He was assigned to the 555th Army Air Base Unit, Air Transport Command, and eventually assigned to fly the treacherous Hump run, flying over the Himalayas to supply Chinese troops and American Army Air Corps units fighting the Japanese.
During his time with the Air Force – and between flying supply missions – Autry performed a number of shows for American troops, mostly around Texas.
When the war ended, Autry transferred to a Special Services unit and led a USO troupe on a tour of the South Pacific, performing for US soldiers, sailors and marines there. He received the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal.
While hosting his weekly radio show, Melody Ranch, which he continued to do even while in the Air Force, Autry also developed the “cowboy code,” a sort of guide for living for his many young fans.
- The Cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man, or take unfair advantage.
- He must never go back on his word, or a trust confided in him.
- He must always tell the truth.
- He must be gentle with children, the elderly, and animals.
- He must not advocate or possess racially or religiously intolerant ideas.
- He must help people in distress.
- He must be a good worker.
- He must keep himself clean in thought, speech, action, and personal habits.
- He must respect women, parents, and his nation’s laws.
- The Cowboy is a patriot.
As a songwriter, Autry leaves behind over 300 songs, including Here Comes Santa Claus, I Hang My Head and Cry, Ridin the Range and You’re the Only Star (In My Blue Heaven).
He cut over 600 records during his career, and appeared in over 100 movies, in addition to his radio show. He was named to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. His prolific recording and songwriting and many successful investments propelled him to become one of the wealthiest individual in the country – worth an estimated $320 million by the end of his life.
Autry died on October 2nd, 1998, of lymphoma.
For the next five weeks, our Fun Friday posts will showcase some of the military’s best historical musicians. As we count down each week, will you be able to guess who is Number 1?
The Department of Defense spends about $200 million per year on military bands. That seems like a lot of money, but it’s actually down from about $388 million. There are over 5,000 servicemembers employed as military members – a program that cost taxpayers some $1.55 billion over the four years ending in September.
But there’s another side to that expenditure: A tremendously rich cultural history that’s paid immense dividends not just to the military community, but to the nation as a whole.
With this series, I’d like to pay tribute to a group of musicians who became legends after getting their start in military bands – or who were already legends, and who went above and beyond the call of duty or citizenship in generously giving themselves and their musical gifts to American troops of all services – sometimes at great risk to themselves. Here are the top ten military musicians in U.S. history – so far.
10. Paul Desmond
Saxophonist Paul Desmond was born on November 25th, 1924 in San Francisco, California. He played clarinet and alto saxophone while in school, but was drafted into the Army during his freshman year in college. By that time, his musicianship was strong enough to land him an assignment to the 253rd Army Band, also in San Francisco.
Desmond would spend three years in the Army, but never deployed to combat. He stayed with the band his entire enlistment.
After World War Two, Desmond continued to play music up and down the West Coast, and soon connected with Dave Brubeck – another Army musician (also on this list) whom Desmond had met when Brubeck auditioned for the 253rd.
Brubeck eventually brought Desmond on as a full partner in the Dave Brubeck Quartet – a legendary ensemble that broke new musical ground while fighting Jim Crow laws in the South throughout its history, from 1951 to its disbandment in 1967.
Paul Desmond left behind a rich legacy of dozens of recordings, mostly with Dave Brubeck, but also with legendary guitarist Jim Hall, pop vocal star Art Garfunkel, Chet Baker, Don Sebesky, Jack Sheedy and under his own leadership with the Paul Desmond Quartet.
After his death of lung cancer in 1977, Desmond directed that all his substantial royalties from the popular Dave Brubeck tune Take Five be donated to the Red Cross.
9. Woody Guthrie
Woody Guthrie is the legendary folk singer who wrote scores of enduring favorites that have become icons of Americana, including This Land is Your Land, Pastures of Plenty, and Wildwood Flower, and many others. He was a huge influence on a later generation of songwriters that included Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, John Cougar, John Prine, and thousands of others.
Guthrie also frequently appeared with a guitar that had a sign on it reading “This machine kills fascists.” While Guthrie and many other singer songwriters prominent in folk music in the interwar years were frequently associated with left-wing causes, Guthrie, unlike his contemporary Pete Seeger, was apparently never a member of the Communist Party.
When World War Two broke out, Guthrie sought to offer his services to the USO as a musician, and sought a draft exemption on that basis, believing his contribution to the war effort singing anti-fascist songs and songs extolling the nobility of the American common man who would ultimately triumph over the Nazis and Imperial Japanese would be greater than what he could contribute as a private soldier or sailor.
The Selective Service folks didn’t bite, though, and Guthrie joined the Merchant Marine during World War Two. At the time, with the U-Boat War at its height, the Merchant Marine was an immensely hazardous profession. By some accounts, the U.S. Merchant Marine suffered the greatest losses as a percentage of those engaged out of all the services. Guthrie has his detractors – one linked here accuses him of cowardice. But statistically, Guthrie had more of a chance of being killed in the Merchant Marine than as a draftee in the Army, Navy or Marine Corps. However, Guthrie served in the Merchant Marine throughout World War Two, as a messman and cook, and he sang and played his guitar for the enjoyment of his fellow sailors.
During his time in the Merchant Marine, he was on three torpedoed ships.
After the war, Guthrie was discharged from the Merchant Marine because of his association with Communist causes. However, he was still eligible to serve in the uniformed branches, and he was quickly drafted into the Army, where he served an additional two years.
Like many folk musicians of his time, he was closely associated with agrarian and mining labor interests and pro-labor politics. In the 20s, 30s and 40s and to some extent beyond that, that put him in close and regular association with communists and radicals, as this article from the socialist publication Monthly Review documents.