Every Friday night we smooth our way into the weekend with music, the universal language. These selections demonstrate that despite what is being passed off as art today, there is plenty of really good music available. Come along and enjoy.
Stephen Hawking, world-renowned physicist and best-selling author. Shortly after his 21st birthday Hawking was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), and became completely paralyzed. He defied the odds, living with ALS for five decades. Hawking died in 2018 at the age of 76.
“If you are disabled, it is probably not your fault, but it is no good blaming the world or expecting it to take pity on you. One has to have a positive attitude and must make the best of the situation that one finds oneself in if one is physically disabled. One cannot afford to be psychologically disabled as well. However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at,” said Hawking.
Many musicians, singers, and composers have overcome obstacles to make significant cultural contributions: Ray Charles, pianist/singer who became blind by age 7; Stevie Wonder, pianist/singer was born blind; Jose Feliciano, singer/guitarist was born blind; Sammy Davis Jr. singer/dancer/instrumentalist, became blind in one eye due to a car accident; and Andrea Bocelli, singer/song writer, became blind at age 12 due to an eye injury accident. Singers Johnnie Ray; Michael Bolton, and Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys were hearing impaired. Mel Tillis, the country music legend, stuttered; singer Rosemary Clooney was bi-polar, and Cher is dyslexic. Violinist Izhak Perlman had polio.
Artists and their afflictions is our feature this week.
Let’s get started with jazz guitarist Jeff Golub.
Once a lead guitarist for Rod Stewart, Golub lost his sight in 2011 after his optic nerve collapsed.
“It is just some random thing that can happen to people … no real reason why or real cause … just a curve ball life throws at you sometimes,” Golub said at the time.
In September of 2012 Golub tried to board an approaching train at the 66th Street and Broadway subway station in New York.
“I was just walking along and I thought the train was in front of me,” said Golub. “But I just stepped off the platform onto the rails. I can’t even tell you how terrifying it was. I can see colours so I could see the train coming at me, and I tried to get away as fast as I could.
“I took a step and there was no car and suddenly I was on the track. I gotta get outta here, this train is gonna hit me, and I’m gonna get killed.”
Golub could hear the train coming and panicked. Somehow he managed to pull himself back onto the platform, but just couldn’t make it. Pushing himself between the platform and the oncoming train, Golub was dragged as the conductor brought the train to a halt.
Good Samaritans pulled Golub up whose leg was clipped by the train. He was taken to a hospital and released with minor injuries.
On January 1, 2015, Golub died at his home in Manhattan. He was 59. Golub died of complications of progressive supranuclear palsy, a rare brain disorder for which there is no known cure.
In 2013 Golub made an album with keyboardist Brian Auger, Train Kept A Rolling. The title was inspired by Golub cheating death that day in the subway. The album features this cover of a Curtis Mayfield recording. Check out Auger on the B-3 organ.
On January 1, 2015, Golub died with family members at his side at his home in Manhattan from complications of progressive supranuclear palsy, a rare brain disorder for which there is no known cure. He was 59.
Next, what very well could have been in your parents’ album collection.
George Shearing was the youngest of nine children, born near London. Blind from birth, Shearing memorized tunes he’d hear on the radio, and would play them on the family piano with help from lessons by a local teacher. From there he went to studies for four years at a school for blind children.
Offered musical scholarships, Shearing turned them all down to take jobs that paid him in local pubs. In his late 20’s he moved to the United States for good where he formed a quintet, a big band, and wrote 300 compositions of his own.
This track is from a 1960 album and is Shearing’s rendition of a 1927 piece.
Shearing died of a heart attack in 2011 at the age of 91.
Some trivia. In the Beatles’ first movie “A Hard Day’s Night”…
Wilfred Brambell played Paul McCartney’s “very clean old” grandfather. In a very brief scene, Brambell is seen holding the 1960 Shearing album. Here’s a screenshot.
The above number, “How Long Has This Been Going On?” was a George and Ira Gershwin composition.
George was a healthy guy until he reached his 30’s and began to experience olfactory hallucinations or imagined smells. Specifically Gershwin reported the smell of burning rubber and also suffered headaches, dizziness, and fainting. After a pair of seizures and a loss of consciousness Gershwin needed a brain operation. Gershwin died of an aggressive cancer at the age of age of 38.
Emilio and Gloria Estefan were the 2019 recipients of the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. It was the first time the Gershwin Prize was awarded to a married couple or to musicians-songwriters of Hispanic descent.The event took place on March 13, 2019, at the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. The daughter of the Estefans’, Emily sings here with Gloria at that program.
“Embraceable You” dates all the way back to 1928 when it was first written.
Hard to imagine that Ludwig Van Beethoven was deaf.It’s believed his inner ears were malformed with lesions, causing the loss of hearing.
Beethoven said, “Yet it was impossible for me to say to people, speak louder, shout! for I am deaf! Oh, how could I possibly admit an infirmity, in the one sense, which ought to be more perfect in me than others, a sense which I possessed in the highest perfection, a perfection such as few in my profession enjoy or ever have enjoyed.”
Last Friday’s feature included the medley “Hooked On Classics.” The popular album also included some Felix Mendelssohn material.While swimming in the Rhine the famed composer nearly drowned which led to bleeding in the brain and small hemorrhages that hampered his creativity. When told of the death of his beloved sister, Fanny Mendelssohn, Felix collapsed. Later in the year he had a final attack, and died at the age of 36.
From “Hooked on Classics”:
- Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64, III: Allegro molto vivace
- Octet in DE-flat Major, Op 20, II: Scherzo
- And again, Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64, III: Allegro molto vivace
Other classical composers and their maladies:
Bach and Handel: Both lost their eyesight in their 60’s
Maurice Ravel: Brain Injury
Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov: Depression
Gustav Mahler: Heart Disease
Bruckner: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Mozart: Rheumatic Fever
Franz Schubert and Scott Joplin (also Mozart and Beethoven): Syphilis
That’s it for this week.
Have a great weekend!
The brother of guitarist Johnny Winter, rock star and multi-instrumentalist Edgar Winter, famous for his hit “Frankenstein,” was born albino. As a result, he’s legally—more than 85%—blind. The albinism prevented him from seeing and reading music as a boy.
“I didn’t have many friends. You know the way kids naturally are if you’re fat, crippled or in any way defective. They tend to leave you out. So music became my identity and replaced the normal activities that otherwise would have filled my life.
“My earliest memories of music are being nestled in my mother’s lap hearing this beautiful music floating over me. My mother played beautiful classical piano. My whole family played instruments. Growing up, music became my own private escape world. I couldn’t see well enough to play sports. So [the albinism] separated me in a sense. Music was something I could do.
“I had no desire to get into Rock. At that time I was more interested in classical, jazz, a more experimental form of music.
I believe there are two golden eras in music: the forties and fifties for big band jazz and swing, and the sixties and seventies for rock. I really think they’re unparalleled eras in music. And the reason they were so important is because they really were all about making great music, over just making music that sells.”
From the 1975 album “Jasmine Nightdreams,” the diverse Winter plays the synthesizer, saxophone, and also sings scat on three consecutive tracks: “All Out,” “Sky Train,” and “Solar Strut.”