This Date in Music History: May 16

R.I.P. Django, Dio and Sammy Davis, Jr., plus a Liberace film update

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click to enlarge Django Reinhardt (Photo: William P. Gottlieb Collection/Library of Congress)
Django Reinhardt (Photo: William P. Gottlieb Collection/Library of Congress)

Today in history was not kind to some major Pop Culture icons. Today we lost the Master of Muppets, Jim Henson (in 1990), Andy Kaufman (1984) and lead "Untouchable" Eliot Ness (1957). On the musical tip, we lost masterful, hugely influential Hot Jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt (1953), Rat Pack singer/performer/actor Sammy Davis, Jr. (1990) and, just two years ago, Metal superstar Ronnie James Dio.

Fun fact: Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, which featured Dio on the mic after Ozzy left, was hugely inspired by Django; both had finger injuries that forced them to adapt — and redefine — their playing styles. Things didn't turn out too badly for either.

Rest in peace, all!

Click on for Born This Day featuring Jonathan Richman, Betty Carter, Janet Jackson and Liberace.—-

Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing a May 16 birthday include Jazz clarinetist and bandleader Woody Herman (1913); Jazz singer Betty Carter (1930); masterful Jazz drummer Bill Cobham (1944); guitarist for Prog legends King Crimson, Robert Fripp (1946); fingerstyle acoustic guitar wizard Adrian Legg (1948); "Proto-Punk" singer/songwriter turned gentle acoustic Pop crooner Jonathan Richman (1951); co-founder of Synth Pop pioneers Heaven 17, Glenn Gregory (1958); member of early Goth Rock band Christian Death, Gitane Demone (1958); violin player for The Dave Matthews Band, Boyd Tinsley (1964); bassist for Grunge kings Nirvana, Krist Novoselic (1965); Pop star Janet Jackson (1966); New Edition member and solo R&B star Ralph Tresvant (1968); Hip Hop artist Special Ed (1973); lead singer for Rock/Rap band P.O.D., Sonny Sandoval (1974); and famed pianist Liberace (1919).

Born Vładziu Valentino Liberace, the musician/showman — who once performed at Riverbend, in the amphitheater's early days — was an odd superstar known for his flamboyant stage presence and attire. Throughout the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s he was one of the (and often THE) highest-paid performer in entertainment. "Lee," as friends called him, was a star of films and made several hit recordings, but he's best remembered for his sparkly live performances and banter.

Here's just Liberace's introduction. Check out that fur coat!!!

Liberace denied he was gay his entire life, despite widespread rumors (he sued tabloids for publishing such rumors multiple times). Last year, friend Betty White confirmed Liberace was homosexual. Steven Soderbergh's long-in-the-works Liberace film Behind the Candelabrawhich is headed for HBO — is said to detail the romantic relationship (and eventual falling out) between the pianist and his alleged lover, Scott Thorson. Michael Douglas is playing Liberace while Matt Damon portrays Thorson (who recently claimed he had an affair with Michael Jackson as well). The film is reportedly still in pre-production but due on HBO next year sometime.

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