I Think Im Gonna Take a Break

I think im gonna stop the This Day in History posts for a while. I’ll be back soon

Jer

This Day in History (April 30)

Apr 30, 1933: Willie Nelson is born

History.com

Willie Nelson’s sound and his look revolutionized country music, making him one of that genre’s most recognizable faces, and if his winning personality weren’t enough reason to like him, then his good-natured struggles with the IRS would be. But before Willie Nelson became a legend or an icon, he was simply one of the most talented singer-songwriters of his generation. He began his musical training at the age of six and wrote his first song at the age of seven in Abbott, Texas, where he was born on this day in 1933.

Like so many other musicians of his generation, whether black or white, whether country or rock and roll, Willie Nelson started out performing gospel music. The grandmother and grandfather who raised Willie were music teachers, so he and his sister Bobbie were able to lead their small-town church from a very early age. “We were basically the only musicians in the church,” Nelson recalls. “We played every song every Sunday. Monday nights was choir practice, Wednesday night was prayer meetings, and Thursday night was singing conventions in Hillsboro. So every day was gospel music.”

Given this environment, the subject matter of the first song Willie Nelson ever sold makes perfect sense. Nelson had traveled west to Vancouver, Washington, in 1956, following short stints in the Air Force, in college and in various Texas radio stations as a disk jockey. While working as a DJ in Vancouver, he had recorded a Leon Payne song called “Lumberjack” and hawked copies of it over the air. Though this did nothing to further his ambitions of being a performer, he soon returned to Texas and managed to sell a song he’d written himself called “Family Bible.” The country-tinged gospel song became a hit in 1960 for Claude Gray, and while it netted Willie Nelson only $50 in cash, it encouraged him to pursue songwriting rather than performing as a way into a musical career. Later that year, after one astonishing week in Houston when he wrote the eventual country hits “Funny How Time Slips Away” and “Night Life,” as well as the genre-crossing Patsy Cline classic “Crazy,” he moved to Nashville, where he landed a job in a music-publishing company and begin his slow road to stardom.

This Day in History (April 29)

Apr 29, 1968: Hair premieres on Broadway

History.com

In a year marked by as much social and cultural upheaval as 1968, it was understandable that the New York Times review of a controversial musical newly arrived on Broadway would describe the show in political terms. “You probably don’t have to be a supporter of Eugene McCarthy to love it,” wrote critic Clive Barnes, “but I wouldn’t give it much chance among the adherents of Governor Reagan.” The show in question was Hair, the now-famous “tribal love-rock musical” that introduced the era-defining song “Aquarius” and gave New York theatergoers a full-frontal glimpse of the burgeoning 60s-counterculture esthetic. Hair premiered on Broadway on April 29, 1968.

Hair was not a brand-new show when it opened at the Biltmore Theater on this night in 1968. It began its run 40 blocks to the south, in the East Village, as the inaugural production of Joseph Papp’s Public Theater. Despite mediocre reviews, Hair was a big enough hit with audiences during its six-week run at the Public to win financial backing for a proposed move to Broadway. While this kind of move would later become more common, it was exceedingly rare for a musical at the time, and it was a particularly bold move for a musical with a nontraditional score. Hair, after all, was the first rock musical to make a play for mainstream success on the Great White Way. But the novelty of the show didn’t stop with its music or references to sex and drugs. Hair also featured a much-talked-about scene at the end of its first act in which the cast appeared completely nude on the dimly lit stage.

It turned out that these potentially shocking breaks from Broadway tradition turned didn’t turn off Broadway audiences at all. Hair quickly became not just a smash-hit show, but a genuine cultural phenomenon that spawned a million-selling original cast recording and a #1 song on the pop charts for the Fifth Dimension. Forty years after its initial downtown opening, Charles Isherwood, writing for the New York Times, placed Hair in its proper historical context: “For darker, knottier and more richly textured sonic experiences of the times, you turn to the Doors or Bob Dylan or Joni Mitchell or Jimi Hendrix or Janis Joplin. Or all of them. For an escapist dose of the sweet sound of youth brimming with hope that the world is going to change tomorrow, you listen to Hair and let the sunshine in.”

This Day in History (April 28)

Apr 28, 1967: Muhammad Ali refuses Army induction

History.com

On April 28, 1967, boxing champion Muhammad Ali refuses to be inducted into the U.S. Army and is immediately stripped of his heavyweight title. Ali, a Muslim, cited religious reasons for his decision to forgo military service.

Born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., in Louisville, Kentucky, on January 14, 1942, the future three-time world champ changed his name to Muhammad Ali in 1964 after converting to Islam. He scored a gold medal at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome and made his professional boxing debut against Tunney Husaker on October 29, 1960, winning the bout in six rounds. On February 25, 1964, he defeated the heavily favored bruiser Sonny Liston in six rounds to become heavyweight champ.

On April 28, 1967, with the United States at war in Vietnam, Ali refused to be inducted into the armed forces, saying “I ain’t got no quarrel with those Vietcong.” On June 20, 1967, Ali was convicted of draft evasion, sentenced to five years in prison, fined $10,000 and banned from boxing for three years. He stayed out of prison as his case was appealed and returned to the ring on October 26, 1970, knocking out Jerry Quarry in Atlanta in the third round. On March 8, 1971, Ali fought Joe Frazier in the “Fight of the Century” and lost after 15 rounds, the first loss of his professional boxing career. On June 28 of that same year, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his conviction for evading the draft.

At a January 24, 1974, rematch at New York City’s Madison Square Garden, Ali defeated Frazier by decision in 12 rounds. On October 30 of that same year, an underdog Ali bested George Forman and reclaimed his heavyweight champion belt at the hugely hyped “Rumble in the Jungle” in Kinshasa, Zaire, with a knockout in the eighth round. On October 1, 1975, Ali met Joe Frazier for a third time at the “Thrilla in Manila” in the Philippines and defeated him in 14 rounds. On February 15, 1978, Ali lost the title to Leon Spinks in a 15-round split decision. However, seven months later, on September 15, Ali won it back. In June 1979, Ali announced he was retiring from boxing. He returned to the ring on October 2, 1980, and fought heavyweight champ Larry Holmes, who knocked him out in the 11th round. After losing to Trevor Berbick on December 11, 1981, Ali left the ring for the final time, with a 56-5 record. He is the only fighter to be heavyweight champion three times. In 1984, it was revealed Ali had Parkinson’s disease.

This Day in History (April 27)

Apr 27, 1997: Cunanan begins his killing spree

History.com

Andrew Cunanan kills Jeffrey Trail by beating him to death with a claw hammer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Trail’s murder set Cunanan off on a killing spree that ended in July when he killed himself on a houseboat in Miami Beach.

Cunanan spent most of his adult life as the kept companion of wealthy older men, living a very expensive lifestyle in San Diego, California, that was far beyond his own means. In April 1997, Cunanan told his friends that he was moving to San Francisco. However, he actually bought a one-way ticket to Minnesota after begging his credit card company to extend his credit limit.

In Minnesota, Cunanan met up with David Madson, whom he had briefly dated in the past. Apparently, Cunanan went there in an attempt to continue the relationship. On April 27, Jeffrey Trail, an acquaintance of both Cunanan and Madson, met the two at Madson’s apartment, but the details of what happened there are still unknown. Authorities know only that Cunanan killed Trail with a hammer and then went to East Rush Lake, where he killed Madson two days later with one shot to the head.

Cunanan then took Madson’s jeep and drove to Chicago where he found his next victim: 72-year-old millionaire Lee Miglin. Miglin was bound by duct tape, stabbed with gardening shears, and then killed when Cunanan cut his throat with a saw. On May 9, after driving east to New Jersey in Miglin’s Lexus, Cunanan killed his fourth victim, again escaping with the victim’s car.

A massive manhunt ensued when the FBI placed Cunanan on its Ten Most Wanted List. The press ran with the story, and Cunanan was featured multiple times on America’s Most Wanted. His celebrity reached its peak on July 15, when Cunanan killed famous designer Gianni Versace outside his mansion in the South Beach section of Miami.

On July 23, Fernando Carreira, the caretaker of a houseboat in Miami, found an intruder on the boat and called police. Apparently sensing his capture, Cunanan shot himself in the head, but police, unaware, engaged in a five-hour standoff with the already dead killer.

No solid motive for Cunanan’s murders has emerged, although rumors abound that he was HIV positive and sought to take revenge for his condition. In the end, Cunanan lived up to his high school classmate’s billing as the student “most likely not to be forgotten.”

This Day in History (April 26)

Apr 26, 1913: Girl murdered in pencil factory

History.com

Thirteen-year-old Mary Phagan is found sexually molested and murdered in the basement of the Atlanta, Georgia, pencil factory where she worked. Her murder later led to one of the most disgraceful episodes of bigotry, injustice, and mob violence in American history.

Next to Phagan’s body were two small notes that purported to pin the crime on Newt Lee, the night watchman at the factory. Lee was arrested, but it quickly became evident that the notes were a crude attempt by the barely literate Jim Conley to cover up his own involvement. Conley was the factory’s janitor, a black man, and a well-known drunk.

Conley then decided to shift the blame toward Leo Frank, the Jewish owner of the factory. Despite the absurdity of Conley’s claims, they nevertheless took hold. The case’s prosecutor was Hugh Dorsey, a notorious bigot and friend of Georgia’s populist leader, Tom Watson. Reportedly, Watson told Dorsey, “Hell, we can lynch a nigger anytime in Georgia, but when do we get the chance to hang a Yankee Jew?”

Frank was tried by Judge Leonard Roan, who allowed the blatantly unfair trial to go forward even after he was privately informed by Conley’s attorney that Conley had admitted to Frank’s innocence on more than one occasion. The trial was packed with Watson’s followers and readers of his racist newspaper, Jeffersonian. The jury was terrorized into a conviction despite the complete lack of evidence against Frank.

Georgia governor John Slaton initiated his own investigation and quickly concluded that Frank was completely innocent. Three weeks before his term ended, Slaton commuted Frank’s death sentence in the hope that he would eventually be freed when the publicity died down. However, Watson had other plans: He mobilized his supporters to form the Knights of Mary Phagan. Thousands of Jewish residents in Atlanta were forced to flee the city because police refused to stop the lynch mob.

The Knights of Mary Phagan then made their way to the prison farm where Frank was incarcerated. They handcuffed the warden and the guards and abducted Frank, bringing him to Marietta, Phagan’s hometown. There he was hanged to death from a giant oak tree. Thousands of spectators came to watch and have their picture taken in front of his lifeless body. The police did nothing to stop the spectacle.

Although most of the country was outraged and horrified by the lynching, Watson remained very popular in Georgia. In fact, he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1920.

Frank did not receive a posthumous pardon until 1986, on the grounds that his lynching deprived him of his right to appeal his conviction.

This Day in History (April 25)

Apr 25, 1989: A father is exonerated after 21 years

History.com

James Richardson walks out of a Florida prison 21 years after being wrongfully convicted of killing his seven children. Special prosecutor Janet Reno agreed to the release after evidence showed that the conviction resulted from misconduct by the prosecutor. In addition, neighbor Betsy Reese had confessed to the crime to a nursing home employee.

On October 25, 1967, James and his wife, Annie, were working in a field picking fruit when Reese came over to heat up a meal for the Richardsons’ seven kids. After they finished eating, the children began foaming at the mouth. They were dead moments later from poisoning. Police found that the rice and beans had been laced with the pesticide parathion. Reese then reported that she saw a bag of the poison in a shed behind the Richardsons’ home.

Police discovered that an insurance salesman had visited the Richardsons’ home shortly before the poisoning and that James had discussed life insurance for the entire family. The prosecution made a big deal of this fact at trial but neglected to inform the jury that the salesman had made an unsolicited visit and that Richardson never bought the insurance because he couldn’t afford the premiums. The prosecutors also introduced three convicts who claimed that Richardson had admitted to the mass murder while he was being held in jail. It was later revealed that this testimony was manufactured in return for leniency on their sentences.

The jurors were not told about Reese’s criminal history. She was on parole at the time for killing her second husband and was suspected of killing her first husband with poison. After less than an hour and a half of deliberation, the jury convicted Richardson and sentenced him to the electric chair.

After Richardson’s release in 1989, the governor of Florida ordered an investigation into the prosecutor’s office to discover what prompted the miscarriage of justice.