On this day in 1803, the great physicist Christian Doppler was born. He is the man who explained the Doppler Effect. This is what you hear when a train passes by you. As it approaches, the frequency of the sound is high and while it moves away from you the frequency of the sound is lower. It’s really simple: as the train approaches you, the sound waves get bunched together and so they have a higher frequency. Think of a guy on top of a train throwing baseballs at you every second. They would hit you more than once a second as the train is approaching and less than once a sound as the train departed.
Doppler wasn’t looking at this problem at all. He was looking at stars. He noted that if a star was moving toward us, its color frequency would be higher and thus bluer; if it was moving away, it would be be redder. It would take Einstein’s work 52 years after Doppler’s death to fully work out the theory.
The great film director and choreographer Busby Berkeley was born in 1895. He created such iconic musicals that his name has become a descriptive term. I always assumed he was gay, but that was really silly. You can tell by the way he shoots women that he loves them. And plenty of them! He was married six times! Here is “We’re in the Money” from Gold Diggers of 1933:
The writer C S Lewis was born in 1898. He is best known for The Chronicles of Narnia. I’m not a big fan. But I’m really interested in his Christian apologetics. Some time ago, I came up with an idea, Jesus: God or Nut? The idea is that Jesus claimed (or at least heavily implied many times) that he was God. So he was either God or some deluded guy. Well, I later found out that Lewis made this exact same argument in favor of Jesus being God. I guess the idea is that no reasonable person could claim that Jesus was insane. Personally, a man who walks around telling people the end is nigh has more than a few screws loose.
Other birthdays: naturalist John Ray (1627); the first female physics professor at a European university Laura Bassi (1711); philosopher Andres Bello (1871); composer Gaetano Donizetti (1797); Russian Neoclassical painter Alexander Brullov (1798); neurology pioneer Jean-Martin Charcot (1825); Rocky’s crazy mother Jackie Stallone (92); the great musician John Mayall (80); actor Diane Ladd (79); musician Chuck Mangione (73); the great wrestler Jerry Lawler (64); comedian Garry Shandling (64); the great filmmaker Joel Coen (59); comedian Howie Mandel (58); actor Andrew McCarthy (52); actor Don Cheadle (49); and actor Tom Sizemore (49).
The day, however, belongs to the great jazz composer Billy Strayhorn who was born on this day in 1915. He is closely aligned with Duke Ellington and it is sometimes hard to decouple them. Strayhorn is the ultimate artist; he didn’t especially want recognition. And there are clearly times where he should have got full credit but only got partial or none at all. But there is no doubt that he needed Ellington who really did treat him well. Here is the man himself playing “Take the ‘A’ Train”:
Happy birthday Billy Strayhorn!