French Baroque painter Philippe de Champaigne was born on this day in 1602. Blackface singer Al Jolson was born in 1886.
The great depression era photographer and social activist Dorothea Lange was born in 1895. She is best known for her 1936 photograph “Migrant Mother.” It is often hard to say why exactly a photo is great. This one is great just considering its aesthetics. But there is also something about its primary subject—Florence Owens Thompson—who embodies both strength and pain that makes it particularly compelling. Add to that its social context and you have a classic. Thompson’s migrant farming family broke down in the pea-picker’s camp on Nipomo Mesa, where a couple of thousand other migrant workers had become stuck after a bad freeze had ruined the crop. The people there were starving and the publicity from the photo caused the government to step in and help the people.
So much of Lange’s photography is beautiful and compelling. Normally, I would have given the day to her, but… Well, you’ll see. Check out more of her Farm Security Administration work.
Actor John Wayne was born in 1907. I’ve never understood his appeal. I still feel that he makes movies I like less good. There’s no accounting for taste, I guess; mine included. The original Dr. Who, Peter Cushing was born in 1913. Jack Kevorkian was born in 1928. Levon Helm was born in 1940. And Mick Ronson was born in 1946.
Stevie Nicks is 65 today, so she won’t be working anymore. Actor Pam Grier is 64. Bobcat Goldthwait is 51. You remember him:
Lenny Kravitz is 49. And Helena Bonham Carter is 47.
But the day went to Miles Davis, by somewhat less than a nose. He was born on this day in 1926. When I was younger, I didn’t really understand his music. But about 20 years ago it clicked. It’s really amazing regardless of what he does. Part of it is just that he always surrounded himself with great musicians. And that may be why I especially like his cool period stuff. Here he is doing “So What?” from Kind of Blue (although not with exactly the original band):
Happy birthday Miles Davis!