Posts Tagged ‘biographies of singers’

Addiction claims another victim. Amy Winehouse is dead at age 27.

Chemical dependence claimed another victim today: 27 year old Amy Winehouse, British rocker, was found dead at her London flat this afternoon. 

The Definition of Addiction 

Answer yes or no to the following seven questions. Most questions have more than one part, because everyone behaves slightly differently in addiction. You only need to answer yes to one part for that question to count as a positive response. 

  1. Tolerance. Has your use of drugs or alcohol increased over time?
  2. Withdrawal. When you stop using, have you ever experienced physical or emotional withdrawal? Have you had any of the following symptoms: irritability, anxiety, shakes, sweats, nausea, or vomiting?
  3. Difficulty controlling your use. Do you sometimes use more or for a longer time than you would like? Do you sometimes drink to get drunk? Do you stop after a few drink usually, or does one drink lead to more drinks?
  4. Negative consequences. Have you continued to use even though there have been negative consequences to your mood, self-esteem, health, job, or family?
  5. Neglecting or postponing activities. Have you ever put off or reduced social, recreational, work, or household activities because of your use?
  6. Spending significant time or emotional energy. Have you spent a significant amount of time obtaining, using, concealing, planning, or recovering from your use? Have you spend a lot of time thinking about using? Have you ever concealed or minimized your use? Have you ever thought of schemes to avoid getting caught?
  7. Desire to cut down. Have you sometimes thought about cutting down or controlling your use? Have you ever made unsuccessful attempts to cut down or control your use?

If you answered yes to at least 3 of these questions, then you meet the medical definition of addiction. This definition is based on the of American Psychiatric Association (DSM-IV) and the World Health Organization (ICD-10) criteria.(1

Read more about the death of Amy Winehouse at the Daily Mail.

Read more about Amy Winehouse’s life at NPR.

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Little Michael Jackson, age 3, ca. 1961 (Lisa's History Room)

Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of Michael Jackson‘s death. In her only TV interview, mother Katherine Jackson reminisced on “Dateline” about her internationally famous son.

She remembered the day she realized Michael had talent:

We had a Maytag washing machine, and it was rickety when the agitators would go, you know how they go [imitates sound]. This one was so rickety that it had a [imitates sound] kinda like that, and Michael was there on the floor wearing his diaper and his little bottle, and he just was dancing to the rhythm of what the washing machine made.” 

Katherine Jackson went on to say that she had never met Debbie Rowe, the biological mother of Michael’s two oldest children, Prince (b. 1997) and Paris (b. 1998), until Michael’s death. Katherine, who raised nine children, is now mother to Paris, Prince, and Blanket, Michael’s third child, born in 2002.

Katherine didn’t always agree with the way Michael (1958-1009) was raising his children:

I never did like the fact that he put, um, scarfs or veils over their faces….” 

Michael Jackson with daughter Paris (l) and son Prince (r), circa 2001-02 (Lisa's History Room)

Michael Jackson covered son Blanket's face with a mask, ca. 2004-05 (Lisa's History Room)

Katherine says the children are doing fine except that they have no friends. Prince, 13, Paris, 12, and Blanket, 8, have previously been tutored at home. Katherine is trying to give her grandchildren a more normal upbringing, free of the bizarre restrictions imposed by their father. In September, the three children will be enrolling in school for the first time in their lives, reports the Daily Mail.   Below are pictures of the children enjoying their first carefree Hawaiian vacation a few days before returning to the continental U.S. for a Gary, Indiana, hometown memorial for their father.

Michael Jackson's eldest son, "Prince," 13, whose full name is Michael Joseph Jackson, Jr. Hawaii, June 1010. (Lisa's History Room)

Michael Jackson's daughter, Paris, age 12, whose full name is Paris-Michael Katherine Jackson. Hawaii, June 2010. (Lisa's History Room)

Michael Jackson's youngest son, "Blanket," 8, whose full name is Prince Michael Jackson II, enjoys a water chute at a Hawaii resort, June 2010 (Lisa's History Room)

Readers: Click here for more posts on Michael Jackson.

sources: Dateline, The Daily Mail

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Diego Rivera shown with wife, Frida Kahlo. Frida's mother called them "the Elephant and the Dove."

Elvis Presley at his shiniest

What did Mexican muralist Diego Rivera and rock sensation Elvis Presley have in common?

They both had twin brothers who died.

Diego Rivera and his twin brother Carlos were born on December 8, 1886 in Guanajato, Mexico. Carlos, however, died eighteen months later.

"The Flower Carrier" by Diego Rivera (1886-1957)

On January 8, 1935, in Tupelo, Mississippi, Gladys Presley gave birth to identical twin boys. The first one, Jesse Garon Presley, was stillborn. Thirty-five minutes later, Elvis Aaron (Aron) Presley entered this world. Gladys told Elvis that, as the surviving twin, he had been destined for great things.

READERS: For more posts on Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, click here.

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Elvis 1968 from his "1968 Comeback Special" on ABC TV

Today is Elvis’ 75th birthday. Happy Birthday, Elvis. We love you.

Elvis loved Christian gospel music. Here he is singing “Oh, Happy Day.”

Song : Oh, Happy Day
Oh happy day
Oh happy day
Oh happy happy day;
Oh happy day, When Jesus washed
Oh when he washed
When Jesus washed
He washed my sins away!
Oh happy day
Oh happy day
Oh happy day
Oh happy day
When Jesus washed
Oh when he washed
When Jesus washed
He washed my sins away!
Oh happy day
Oh happy day

He taught me how
He taught me
Taught me how to watch
He taught me how to watch
and fight and pray
fight and pray
yes, fight and pray

And he’ll rejoice
and He’ll, and He’ll
rejoice in things we say
and He’ll rejoice in things we say
things we say
yes, things we say

Oh happy day, Oh happy day
Oh happy day, Oh happy day
Oh happy day
Oh happy day

Oh happy day, Oh happy day
When Jesus washed
Oh when he washed
He washed my sins away, He taught me how
to watch, fight and pray
fight and pray
Oh happy day, Oh happy day
When Jesus washed
Oh when he washed
He washed my sins away, We´ll live rejoicing
ev´ry day, ev´ry day
Oh happy day, Oh happy day
When Jesus washed
Oh when he washed
He washed my sins away

Check out Part one of my Birthday Tribute to Elvis: Viva Elvis!

Readers, for more posts on Elvis, scroll down the right sidebar to Categories/People/Elvis. Enjoy!

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The Presleys, 1937: Gladys, Elvis, and Vernon. It's ironic that Elvis is wearing such a grown-up boy's hat. Soon he would discover that he was a more responsible person than his father. By the time Elvis was in his early twenties, he would be the sole breadwinner for the rest of his life for himself and his parents.

I couldn’t let the day go by without saying at least a few words about Elvis. Today is his 75th birthday and I am watching a TCM marathon of Elvis shows. On the tube, paused so I could blog, is “Viva Las Vegas.” I just watched Elvis perform the title song. It’s obvious that the director asked him to tone down his sexy moves; there’s barely a suggestion of hip action. But wow can he wiggle that torso and strut like the rooster that he was.

Elvis' birthplace on the Old Saltillo Road in Tupelo, Mississippi

I’ve been doing some reading about Elvis again, reminding myself what most of us know about his legendary rise from rags to riches. His parents Vernon and Gladys Presley were dirt poor. Vernon couldn’t keep a job very long. He was a drinker. He was 17, Gladys was 21 when they eloped and moved in with his parents. Eighteen months later, their son Elvis was born on January 8, 1935, in a two-room house in Tupelo, Mississippi, a house Vernon built just for the birthing. The house had no indoor plumbing or electricity.

Elvis had an identical twin brother, Jessie Garon, who was stillborn. Thirty-five minutes later at 4 a.m., Elvis Aron (later Aaron) was born.

This is a photo of the memorial headstone for Jessie Garon Presley in the Meditation Garden at Elvis' Graceland mansion in the city of Memphis, Tennessee. Jessie Garon was the twin brother of Elvis Presley who was born and died on January 8, 1935 in the Presleys' two-room shack in Tupelo, Mississippi. The Presleys could not afford to pay the $10 doctor bill for delivering Elvis and Jessie. Jessie Garon Presley was buried in a shoebox in an unmarked grave in Priceville Cemetery in Tupelo. This memorial headstone was placed in the Meditation Garden at Graceland shortly after Elvis was re-interred there in October 1977.

Elvis was told from the beginning that he was special. God had spared his life while Jessie had died. Gladys became an overly protective parent from the get-go. Elvis remained her only child, though she miscarried another child about ten years later. Both she and Vernon doted on Elvis. Gladys walked Elvis to school every day until he entered high school. She made him carry his own fork and spoon so he wouldn’t pick up any germs from using cutlery once used by others.

Vernon was a terrible breadwinner. He couldn’t keep a job, probably because of his drinking. When Elvis was three, Vernon received payment for a pig from his farmer landlord Orville Bean. Vernon decided that he hadn’t been paid enough for the pig so he altered the amount of payment on the check. He was arrested for forgery and sent to prison for under a year. Interestingly, Orville Bean was instrumental in securing an early release for Vernon.

Elvis Presley at age 4 in 1939. He was a blonde. He later dyed his hair to look like screen actor Tony Curtis.

Meanwhile, with Vernon in prison, Gladys and Elvis had no income. They lost their home and had to move in with relatives. The experience so traumatized little Elvis that he began to sleepwalk.

And so it went. For the first twenty-one years of his life, Elvis lived a hand-to-mouth existence. Elvis, Gladys, and Vernon moved from place to place living sometimes with relatives, or living on public assistance in substandard dwellings, cheek-to-jowl. When Elvis was a teenager, Vernon moved them into such a crummy apartment complex that they had to share the bathroom with the other tenants. The bathroom was disgusting. Elvis refused to bathe there and ended up getting cleaned up at the high school or not at all.

There was never enough to eat. It’s possible an usher at a movie theatre where Elvis worked got fired for giving Elvis food.

The family moved to keep just one step ahead of their creditors or the police. Vernon ran moonshine while picking up an odd job here or there.  He never made enough money to take care of his family because he didn’t stay with the job. Vernon was frequently absent from home. Elvis and Gladys grew closer at those times and Elvis was definitely the man of the house. Gladys could count on him.  Early on, Elvis began to refer to his parents as “his babies.”

Elvis keenly felt the responsibility of taking care of his mother. They were very close. They spoke to one another in baby talk. Elvis called his mother “Sat’n.” Gladys was as impulsive as Vernon was reckless. Gladys was everything to Elvis and he to her.

Elvis’ musical talent was cultivated in the rich gospel tradition of the Southern Christian Church. The Presleys might have been poor but they could still go to church. They faithfully attended the Assembly of God church in Tupelo where Pentecostal worship was practiced. Dance was not allowed by the church, but those Pentecostals sure loved to sing. The experience formed his musical foundation. Elvis recalled watching the preacher belting out a tune and wildly jumping up on the piano. The preacher’s passion for music was electric – and Elvis was paying attention.

Vernon, Elvis, and Gladys Presley, 1945. Elvis was 10. In a year, he'd receive his first guitar - though he wanted a bicycle.

Elvis’ musical talent was first recognized by his fifth-grade teacher, Oleta Grimes, who, coincidentally, was the daughter of Orville Bean. She heard the moving way Elvis sang the sad ballad “Old Shep” and brought him to the attention of the school principal, who entered Elvis into a talent contest at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show. Wearing a cowboy suit and standing on a chair, Elvis, without accompaniment, sang a sad song about a boy’s love for his dog. He won second place and received a free pass to ride all the rides at the fair.

Watch a youtube recording of Elvis singing “Old Shep,” 1956 below:

Shortly after that, Elvis asked his parents to give him a bicycle. Gladys was afraid for his safety so she bought him a bicycle instead. A preacher from the Assembly of God church where they were faithful members, family members, and friends pitched in to give Elvis informal guitar lessons. He soon learned to play the piano. By 7th grade, Elvis took his guitar along with him to school.

Elvis as a teenager

One night during Elvis’ high school years, Vernon upped and moved the family from Tupelo to Memphis, Tennessee, where Elvis’ subsequent visits to Beale Street exposed him to jazz and blues and more rockabilly. Elvis began to work on his image. He didn’t wear jeans like the other boys in school; jeans were what poor people wore (and overalls), and Elvis definitely did not want to be poor. He always had a job in high school and saw that he dressed well. He wore dress pants, often in his favorite colors, pink and black. He sometimes sported a black bolero jacket.  He bought his flashy clothes at Lansky Brothers on Beale Street. He wore his collar up, his hair longer than the others. He dyed it black, slicking it back with thick gunk. He let his sideburns grow long. In the eleventh grade, the coach kicked Elvis off the football team for refusing to cut his hair (1952).

Elvis Presley's senior photo

Elvis worked as an usher at the Suzore #2 Movie Theatre which let him watch a lot of shoes. In his 1953 Hume High School senior picture, you can see that Elvis has put a permanent wave in his hair. He was copying Tony Curtis, who was the biggest star of his day. He had just completed the mega-hit, “Houdini.”

Elvis Presley in 1954, the year his career takes off
Music was Elvis’ passion. He was determined to express himself, his individuality, through his wild clothes and hair and, eventually, his music. He hung out at record shops. He visited Sun Records which had its home in Memphis. In his senior year, Elvis began to pick up local gigs with established local bands. He entered local music contests. Elvis wanted to make something of himself. Then, in 1956,  he made it – big. The hot new talent went to New York to do a recording session.

"The Kiss," 1956, shows Elvis Presley, 21 years old, baby-faced, and barely legal, kissing an unknown woman, as photographed by fledgling freelance photographer Alfred Wertheimer. RCA had hired Wertheimer to shoot publicity for their hot new young talent coming to New York for a recording session and a television appearance with steve Allen. Elvis doesn't seem to mind the intrusive camera.

Elvis loved to read and was especially wild for Marvel Comics. He admired Captain Marvel. In his Las Vegas live performances, he often wore jumpsuits with lightning bolts as his trademark – like Captain Marvel. Captain Marvel and his lightning bolt exuded power and success.

Elvis Presley "That's All Right"/"Blue Moon of Kentucky" 78 (Sun 209, 1954). This was Elvis' first record. It was produced in 78 r.p.m.

From the most humble beginnings to the dizzying heights of fame and fortune rose Elvis Aaron Presley. He continues to fascinate – and to sell records. He remains the best-selling solo artist in the history of popular music. Gifted at vocals, guitar, and piano, he was known as the King of Rock and Roll, or simply The King. Elvis didn’t like to be called The King. He felt it was sacreligious. Elvis had talent, good looks, charm, sensuality, and a genuinely good sense of humor. He was the star of 44 films – not very good films, I grant you, but very popular ones – countless  live concerts and TV performances, and has sold over 1 billion records. He was nominated for 14 Grammy Awards, winning 3, and inducted into 4 Halls of Fame.

Now that I’ve done my part in paying tribute to the Great Elvis, who left us so much joy with his unmatchable voice and moves, I can return to watching “Viva Las Vegas!” But not without saying, “Viva Elvis!”

Continue with Part 2 of my tribute to Elvis: Elvis Sings Gospel

Readers, I’ve written many posts on Elvis. Look down the right sidebar to Categories/People/Elvis. Enjoy!

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L-R: Actor Robert Wagner, his wife Natalie Wood (1938 - 1981) and host Frank Sinatra (in eyepatch) pose together during a surprise 21st birthday party held for Wood at Romanoff's, Hollywood, California, July 20, 1959. (Photo by Murray Garrett/Getty Images)

It was New Year’s Eve, 1958, and Peter and Pat Kennedy Lawford were celebrating at a private party at Romanoff’s in Beverly Hills, a popular spot with Hollywood stars. The Lawfords sat at the most prestigious table in the room with Frank Sinatra, Natalie Wood, and Robert Wagner. Pat was dazzled by Sinatra’s charm and basked in his attention. Sinatra was thrilled to be in the presence of the sister of the fast-rising Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts.

Host Frank Sinatra (L) wears an eyepatch, laughing with actor Peter Lawford and his wife Patricia Kennedy (1924 - 2006) during a surprise 21st birthday party held for actor Natalie Wood at Romanoff's, Hollywood, California, July 20, 1959. (Photo by Murray Garrett/Getty Images)

Pat had only known Sinatra since August, when she met him at a dinner party at the home of Gary and Rocky Cooper. Since then, Sinatra had swept the Lawfords up into his orbit.

“Sinatra suddenly stood at the center of Pat’s and Peter’s lives.” [1]

Sinatra had become such a fixture in Pat’s world that, by the time she gave  birth on November 4, she decided to give new baby Victoria the middle name of Francis, in honor of her newest and dearest friend, Francis Albert Sinatra. 

The Lawfords not only saw Frank at least twice during the week, but, on many weekends – at Frank’s insistence – they made the 120-mile drive from their Santa Monica home to his Palm Springs estate. The Lawfords always kept the same bedroom at Sinatra’s Rancho Mirage compound. Frank made the Lawfords so at ease that they left some of their casual clothing in the bedroom closet.

Back at Romanoff’s, the new year was blowing in chilly and Pat was wearing a low-cut gown. As the night worn on, she and Natalie grew weary. But Sinatra didn’t want the night to end. He suggested they move the party to his place – two-and-half hours away at Rancho Mirage! Pat gasped at the dread thought. It was only a fifteen minute drive from Romanoff’s to her home!

Peter Lawford recalls the evening:


Teen idol Frank Sinatra, caricature by Al Hirschfeld

When [Sinatra] went to the gents’ room, the girls said that it was too chilly to go that night. They preferred driving in the morning, but then we said, ‘Who’s going to tell him?’ Knowing his temper, Pat out and out refused to say anything, and Natalie didn’t even want to be in the same room when he was told. Finally, R.J. [Robert Wagner] insisted that I be the one to do it, so when Frank got back to the table, I explained as gracefully as I could that we’d prefer joining him in the morning.

Well, he went absolutely nuts. ‘If that’s the way you want it, fine,’ he said, slamming his drink on the floor and storming out of the restaurant.

I rang him up the next morning and his valet…answered and whispered hello. He said that Frank was still asleep because he hadn’t gotten to bed until five a.m. Then he said, ‘Oh, Mr. Lawford. What happened last night? I better tell you that he’s pissed. Really pissed off. He went to your closet and took out all the clothes that you and your wife keep here and ripped them into shreds and then threw them into the swimming pool.’ That gives you an idea of Frank’s temper….” (2)

Evidently, Frank first tried to make a bonfire of the Lawford’s clothes.  But the fire wouldn’t get going, so, frustrated,  he tossed everything in the pool. (1)

Peter was distraught at the loss of his favorite aged blue jeans. Pat consoled him. “We’ll age another pair. Just make sure you don’t take them down to Frank’s.” (1)


(1) Leamer, Laurence. The Kennedy Women: The Saga of an American Family. New York: Random House Publishing Group, 1994.

(2) Kelley, Kitty. His Way: The Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra. New York: Bantam Books, 1986.

Readers, for more on Frank Sinatra on Lisa’s History Room, check out: “Sinatra: From Donkey to Elephant”

Readers, for more on Natalie Wood on Lisa’s History room, click here

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President John F. Kennedy and singer Frank Sinatra at the 1961 Inaugural Gala

Singer and film star Frank Sinatra (1915-1998) grew up poor and lower class in Hoboken, New Jersey. Once he made it big in showbiz (thanks to help from his Mafia cronies), he obsessed about fitting in with the upper class. He wormed his way into politics, using his Hollywood star power to campaign and fundraise for Democratic heavyweights such as Franklin Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. In attaching himself to men of honor, Sinatra hoped to achieve the respectability he craved.

Sinatra had cultivated a relationship with President Kennedy through movie star Peter Lawford, who was married to the president’s sister, Pat.

Pat Kennedy Lawford and British actor Peter Lawford

In March 1962, the president was scheduled to fly to Southern California. Peter Lawford asked Sinatra to be the president’s host at his Palm Springs estate. Sinatra was thrilled. He went straight to work. At his own expense, Sinatra installed a helicopter pad, cottages for the Secret Service, and even a flagpole for the presidential flag.

But the president’s brother Bobby Kennedy wasn’t having it. He was the Attorney General of the United States at the time. When he heard about his brother Jack’s proposed stay at Sinatra’s, he went ballistic. Bobby was making the “most single-minded attack on organized crime in American history” and could not abide Jack associating with someone with mob connections. (1) Peter was the one chosen to tell Sinatra that the president would not be staying with him.

Sinatra did not take the news well. He had a notoriously explosive temper:

“Sinatra vented his spleen by destroying the concrete landing pad with a sledgehammer. He applied a different kind of sledgehammer to his friendship with Peter and Pat [Lawford], banning them from his company….Jack ended up staying at the home of Bing Crosby. Marilyn Monroe flew down to be with the president, spending the night in his bedroom….”

Peter Lawford, Frank Sinatra, and Marilyn Monroe ca. 1961-62

(l. to r.) Peter Lawford, Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, ca. 1961-62

…and Frank Sinatra became a Republican.

(1) Leamer, Laurence. The Kennedy Women: The Saga of an American Family. New York: Fawcett Books, 1994.

For more on Sinatra, check out “Sinatra: Pants on Fire!”

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