August 28: A Superior Sculptor
Sculptor, furniture maker, and visual artist Roy Superior, who has been described as “an absurdist, a risk taker, an ever-curious observer of the human condition,” died at 78 in Williamsburg, Massachusetts, on this date in 2013. With an MFA from Yale, he taught wood sculpture and furniture design at the University of the Arts of the Philadelphia College of Art and Design, where he served as chairman of the crafts department and was head of the wood program for 16 years. He also taught printmaking, drawing and painting at the University of Hartford and at Hampshire College. His work can be found in many private and public collections, including the Smithsonian Museum of American Art Archives. He was also a first-rate jazz clarinetist and an afficianado of the good life, as indicated by the title of his posthumous 2014 show at the Center for Art in Wood in Philadelphia, “Patent Models for the Good Life.” To see a video showing much of his ingenious work, look below.
“The art world tends to pigeonhole and categorize artists; whether I am called a painter, sculptor or woodworker, is of little concern. I am what I am—an artist that is motivated to work by an inexplicable internal necessity to make objects and images that react to, record and celebrate my life and surroundings. In lieu of having an identity crisis, I combine painting with my three dimensional work.” —Roy Superior
August 27: Gentle Giant
Phil Shuman, the eldest of three brothers who were the core members of the progressive rock band Gentle Giant in the 1970s, was born in Glasgow, Scotland on this date in 1937. A multi-instrumentalist, Shulman played alto and tenor saxophone, flute, clarinet, trumpet, mellophone, piano, and occasional percussion, and sang lead on some of the band’s more jazz- and folk-influenced material. Gentle Giant had expertise on more than forty instruments and a wide vocal range, and with the stated goal of “expand[ing] the frontiers of contemporary popular music at the risk of becoming very unpopular.” While they never achieved the commercial success of other progressive rock pioneers such as Yes, Jethro Tull, or Genesis, Gentle Giant was the most experimental and innovative among them. Shulman left the band after their third album, in 1972, because of tensions with his younger brothers and to forsake the life of a touring musician and return, he said, to “two sons, lovely little daughter, a wife who was getting lonelier and lonelier.” He retired from music altogether and worked as a teacher and in retail sales. To see Gentle Giant in 1970, look below. To see the band live in concert in 1975, after Shulman’s departure, look below that.
“We grew up in a house full of musicians and instruments…I started learning trumpet when I was 5 just because it was there and then took up violin when I was 7. We were made to practice for an hour a day at least, when we really wanted to go out and play. . . . eventually I wanted to do it anyway…I wasn’t formally taught at all.” –Phil Shulman
August 26: The Physicist and J Street
Edward Witten, the first physicist to receive the Fields Medal, considered to be the Nobel Prize for mathematicians, was born in Baltimore on this date in 1951. Witten was working at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study when he received the medal in 1990 for his work on the mathematical implications of quantum field theory and string theory. In 2012, he was one of nine physicists who shared the $27 million Fundamental Physics Prize by Yuri Milner, a Russian high-tech investor — and Witten donated a large part of his share to J Street, the Jewish peace lobby, saying that “I believe that the need for a two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the central issue before the Jewish world. A lot of people unfortunately do not realize that the chance for such a solution is slipping away, or understand the implications if it does.” Witten’s numerous awards include a 1982 MacArthur Award, a 2002 National Medal of Science, a 2005 Pythagoras Award, a 2010 Isaac Newton Medal, and many others.
“[T]he beauty of Einstein’s equations… is just as real to anyone who’s experienced it as the beauty of music. We’ve learned in the 20th century that the equations that work have inner harmony.” —Edward Witten
August 25: The Jewish Will Rogers
“Meyer the Buyer,” a radio show based on Harry Hershfield’s cartoon character, Abie the Agent, premiered on this date in 1932, starring Alan Reed, Sr. (Herbert Theodore Bergman), who would later supply the voice for Fred Flintstone. The show lasted only sixteen weeks, while Hershfield’s strip ran from 1914 to 1940. Hershfield’s career as a cartoonist began in 1899 at age 14 with a comic strip about a dog, “Homeless Hector,” for the Chicago Daily News. “Abie the Agent,” his best-known strip, dealt with urban Jewish life, with many Yiddish-flavored gags. Hershfield entered radio in 1940 and earned the nickname, “the Jewish Will Rogers,” with “Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One” and “Can You Top This?” among other shows. He also hosted the first demonstration of home television, broadcast in New York on August 20, 1930, a half-hour show screened in a store in the Hotel Ansonia, in the Hearst building, and in a home at 98 Riverside Drive, with a signal that traveled about six miles.
“New York is a city where everyone mutinies but no one deserts.” —Harry Hershfield
August 24: Borges’ Jewish Longings
Argentine literary giant Jorge Luis Borges was born in Buenos Aires on this date in 1899. A gifted storyteller and poet, his works revolve around the infinite, reality, time, and other questions both philosophical and psychological in tales that were often fantastical. In his essay, “I, Jew,” Borges mourned the fact that although his family was considered to be of distant Jewish extraction, he was unable to prove anti-Semites’ accusations of his Jewish ancestry. He made up for his questionable genetic Jewish heritage with a rich cultural one, and a familiarity with everything Jewish, from Talmud to Spinoza to golems, pervades his works. Borges opposed fascism relentlessly, at the cost of his job and social standing. He translated Kafka and he studied kabbalah. His works are varied in everything except their focus: they include reviews of fictitious books, a rabbinical murder mystery, and self-consciously erudite treatises that alternately prove and deny the existence of God and time. Harold Bloom considered him central to the Western canon and believed that the modern short story must either be Chekhovian or else Borgesian.
“Dictatorships foster oppression, dictatorships foster servitude, dictatorships foster cruelty, and the most abominable fact is that they foster idiocy.” —Jorge Luis Borges
Our thanks to Zev Brook for contributing this Jewdayo entry.
August 23: Malvina’s Little Boxes
Activist songwriter and folksinger Malvina Reynolds was born to Jewish socialist immigrants in San Francisco on this date in 1900. She earned a doctorate at the University of California/Berkeley in 1938, and was already in her forties when she joined company with Earl Robinson, Pete Seeger, and other folk singers and songwriters. Her progressive, popular songs included “Little Boxes” (about conformity), “What Have They Done to the Rain” (about nuclear fallout), “It Isn’t Nice” (about civil rights), and numerous tunes for children, including several that she sang on Sesame Street. Her husband, William “Bud” Reynolds, once ran for governor of Michigan on the Socialist ticket, with the slogan, “You provide the evictions, we’ll provide the riots!” To read the lyrics of many of her songs, click here. Reynolds recorded six albums of music for adults and three for children before her death at 77 in 1978. To see her singing “Little Red Hen” accompanied by Pete Seeger, look below.
“It isn’t nice to block the doorway,
It isn’t nice to go to jail,
There are nicer ways to do it,
But the nice ways always fail.
It isn’t nice, it isn’t nice,
You told us once, you told us twice,
But if that is Freedom’s price,
We don’t mind.” —Malvina Reynolds
August 22: Elvis Has Left the Building
Al Dvorin, the trumpeter, music bandleader and promoter who popularized the phrase, “Elvis has left the building” while promoting Elvis Presley’s concert tours for twenty-two years, died in a car accident while headed home from an Elvis impersonator concert on this date in 2004, at age 81. In the 1940s, the Al Dvorin Orchestra and played all over the country. In 1955, Dvorin met Elvis through his manager, “Colonel” Tom Parker, and within two years was playing back-up for Elvis when a trumpet was needed. He was an indispensable member of the entourage, arranging dates, arranging security, running concessions, serving as announcer, and taking the heat: “For some unknown reason,” writes Spencer Leigh at The Independent, “Parker liked to place his rock ‘n’ roll star alongside lacklustre vaudeville acts — comedians, jugglers and acrobats — rather than among his contemporaries. At one concert early in 1956, Presley could be heard saying ‘Fuck you very much’ to Dvorin as he realized how appalling the side acts were.” To see a brief interview with Dvorin, look below.
“As you exit, don’t forget those Elvis souvenirs in living, loving color. A wonderful memento of this evening’s concert you’ll long cherish when the sounds of music long cast into the night.” —Al Dvorin
August 21: The Surfer
South African surfer and environmentalist Shaun Thomson was born in Durban on this date in 1955. Thomson dominated amateur surfing in South Africa in the 1960s, has been listed as one of the 10 greatest surfers of all time, and was both the youngest and oldest surfer to win professional competitions. In 1977 he won the International Professional Surfers World Championship. Since 1984 Tomson has been active with the Surfrider Foundation, an environmental group dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans and beaches. To see him surfing, look below.
“If there’s one existential moment in surfing, it’s when you’re 20 feet back in the tube and you’re racing for the light. It’s very much about living in that absolute moment because when you stand there on the board, the future’s just in front of your front foot, the past is just behind your back foot and the present is right beneath your feet.” —Shaun Thomson
August 20: Sinan’s Fleet
On this date in 1534, Sinan, a Jewish refugee from the Spanish Inquisition who had resettled in Turkey, led a hundred ships into the harbor of Tunis and occupied the city in the name of the great sultan Suleiman. Sinan was the favored captain of Suleiman’s naval commander, Barbarossa (“Red Beard”), the scourge of Christendom, and he was known throughout the Mediterranean as “the Famous Jewish Pirate.” Counter to accepted practices at the time, Sinan did not engage in the slaughter of innocents or helpless captives; when a Spanish fleet took back the city in 1535, he dissuaded Barbarossa from killing some 20,000 Christian slaves who were quartered in the city’s dungeons. He reportedly told his commander, “To stain ourselves with so awful a massacre would place us outside the pale of humanity forever.”
“[Sinan’s] untutored crew bragged that he needed no more than a crossbow to find the height of the stars to determine their position at sea. (In truth, his crossbow was a ‘Jacob’s staff,’ an early form of sextant.)” —Edward Kritzler, Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean
Our thanks to Mikhail “the Beardless Buccaneer” Horowitz for this Jewdayo entry.
August 19: Bueno de Mesquita
Dutch comedian and television artist Abraham (‘Appie’) Bueno de Mesquita died in Lelystad, his hometown, at age 87 on this date in 2005. Mesquita’s shtik included making funny faces, which save his life during the Holocaust when the commander of the concentration camp in Belgium where Mesquita was imprisoned (and was about to be deported to Auschwitz) came looking for musicians. Mesquita’s ability to play a broken-down, one-string cello and his rubbery talents as a mimic got him selected for survival. (In 1994 he wrote a memoir titled, One String Cello.) He became one of the first European television artists in the early 1950s and was a regular on German television, particularly on Rudi Carrell’s comedy show for thirteen seasons. To see him making his escape on television, look below.
“Since his name was hard to pronounce for many Germans, in Germany, he was known as the small one, with the moustache. He has stated that his success in making Germans laugh sometimes felt as a small revenge.” —Wikipedia