A Hundred Years Ago

There are times when looking back a hundred years just for curiosity’s sake uncovers some of the most interesting and intriguing trivia.  That’s how it was that I came across three important things about music that have roots in the year 1912.

The first was that Woody Guthrie, who was born in 1912, was named by his parents after then-President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson.  In fact, his given name was Woodrow Wilson Guthrie.  For those of my readers who are too young to remember any of the songs Woody Guthrie wrote, I’d like to say that if you’ve ever sung “This Land Is Your Land” at school, then you’ve sung a Woody Guthrie original.  What most people don’t know about Woody Guthrie is that with his recordings of the early 1940s he always included his own “Copyright Warning” as he called it and his “Copyright Warning” was this:

This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright # 154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin’ it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don’t give a dern.  Publish it.  Write it.  Sing it.  Swing to it.  Yodel it.  We wrote it; that’s all we wanted to do.

Back in 1912, a jazz and blues music icon was born and his name was Sam John “Lightning” Hopkins.  At the age of 8, he met Blind Lemon Jefferson at a church picnic in Buffalo, Texas and was convinced that his future lay in being a musician.  What most people remember most about his music is that his songs were filled with humourous double entendres and you could always count on hearing introductions that made you laugh long before the song started, even if he did have a sour take on life and love.  It’s easy to see in such songs as “Fast Life Woman” where he sang:

You may see a fast life woman sittin’ round a whiskey joint,
Yes, you know, she’ll be sittin’ there smilin’,
‘Cause she knows some man gonna buy her half a pint,
Take it easy, fast life woman, ’cause you ain’t gon’ live always …

And then there was John Milton Cage Jr. who critics consider to be one of the most influential American composers of the 20th century,  also born in 1912.   He’s best known for his controversial 1952 composition 4′33″.  It’s a singularly odd piece in three movements, all of which are performed without a single note ever being played.   How can this be considered a piece of music?  The composer intended for the sounds heard within that silence to be the piece as opposed to the four minutes and thirty-three seconds of silence that most thought the piece was about.  It was, without a doubt, the piece of music that most irritated and delighted audiences insofar as many thought of it as a cop-out while others thought of it as pure genius.

And so, here we are a hundred years after these three musicians were born and each of them is known for something that is uniquely theirs alone.  One has to wonder who is being born this year that will have an impact on society a hundred years from now.  Wouldn’t it be interesting to speculate in years to come as to who those three may be?


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