120 years ago, the musician and composer Duke Ellington, one of the most influential jazz musicians of all time, was born in Washington, DC. The pianist composed (or co-wrote) more than 1,000 pieces, many of which became popular standards like Mood IndigoSophisticated LadyIt Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good, Don’t Get Around Much Anymore, East St. Louis Toodle-Oo, and I’m Beginning To See the Light. He led his renowned 15-piece orchestra for almost 50 years until his death in 1974. WATCH a mini tribute… (1899)

Ellington with his piano, 1954

In the 1960s, Ellington made recordings with a number of stars, including Count Basie, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald and Coleman Hawkins—and he won 13 Grammys, and many other awards, during his lifetime.

MORE Good News on this Date:

  • Joan of Arc arrived to relieve the Siege of Orleans, turning the tide against English domination in France during the Hundred Years War (1429)
  • Happy 65th Birthday to Jerry Seinfeld, the stand-up comedian, producer, actor, and writer who co-created and starred in Seinfeld, one of the most popular sitcoms of all time (1954)
  • Wide World of Sports debuts in the U.S. on ABC television (1961)
  • The Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993 entered into force, outlawing the production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons by its signatories (1997)
  • New Zealand allowed its first civil union marriage to take place (2005)
  • The Royal Wedding: Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, married Catherine “Kate” Middleton in a wedding at Westminster Abbey (2011)

And, on this day in 1945, Operation Manna began.Operation_Manna_-_Many_Thanks_In_Tulips

At the end of World War II, Lancaster bombers of the Royal Air Force dropped 6,680 tons of food into parts of the occupied Netherlands to feed starving people during the Dutch famine. With the consent of occupying German forces, almost 3300 sorties were run in nine days. In addition, 400 American B-17s dropped 800 tons of K-Rations. This photo, taken over Holland, captured the “Many Thanks” spelled-out in tulips as a message to their pilot saviors (Click to enlarge).

Other Notable Birthdays: Actor Daniel Day-Lewis (62)

Willie Nelson - Photo by GDuwen CC license
By GDuwen, CC license

Also Happy 86th Birthday to Willie Nelson, the prolific American music icon who wrote his first song at age 7. He scored his first number one hit in 1975 with a cover of ”Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain”. Nelson’s version of ”Always on My Mind” won three Grammys in 1982 and he collaborated with Waylon Jennings on the first ever platinum album in country music history. The two continued to produce hits like “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.” As a songwriter, Nelson penned the phenomenal Patsy Cline hit, “Crazy”, and for the movie Honeysuckle Rose he wrote ”On the Road Again”, which became his signature song.  (1933)

His many recording partners over the years included Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard, Wynton Marsalis, Neil Young, and even First Lady Rosalynn Carter on the lawn of the White House, singing “Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother”. (He also topped the charts with Julio Iglesias in “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before.”) Nelson is included by Rolling Stone in both its 100 Greatest Singers and 100 Greatest Guitarists lists.

He launched the critically acclaimed television concert series Austin City Limits for PBS in 1974 and has penned or co-authored several books and autobiographies, including, The Facts of Life: And Other Dirty Jokes, a collection of musings from the road.

Nelson rescues horses, lobbies for the reform of marijuana laws, and advocates for bio-diesel, which he manufactures under the name Bio-Willie. He co-founded Farm Aid with Neil Young and John Mellencamp in 1985 to assist and promote family farms.

Nelson, who has a fifth-degree black belt in martial arts, has one house in Maui, Hawaii, in a largely self-sustaining community where all the homes use only solar power and neighbors include Kris Kristofferson, Woody Harrelson, and Owen Wilson. After repeated illness through the years, Nelson, who had been a heavy smoker, underwent stem-cell therapy in 2015 to improve the state of his lungs.

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