It’s that time again, time for a look at some of the good people who are out there doing good things for our world. I think you will enjoy today’s selections … and here … you’re going to need these
Trenton Lewis is only 21-years-old, but this young man has one of the strongest work ethics I have ever seen. Trenton is the father of an adorable 14-month-old daughter, Karmen, who serves as a powerful motivator.
“My pride is strong. Whatever she needs, I’m the person who is supposed to provide it for her.”
Seven months ago, Trenton was offered a job at the local UPS center, 11 miles from his home. Only one small problem … Trenton did not own a car, nor have access to one. But do you think that stopped this young man? Nope … he took that job, and has never missed a…
Willie O’Ree was a pro hockey player and was the first Black man to play in the NHL.
Willie O’Ree – Pro Hockey Player
Willie O’Ree, OC, ONB, hockey player (born 15 October 1935 in Fredericton, NB). On 18 January 1958, O’Ree became the first Black hockey player to play a National Hockey League game when he debuted with the Boston Bruins against the Montreal Canadiens at the Montreal Forum. O’Ree played a total of 45 games in the NHL with the Bruins. Since 1998, he has been the NHL’s Director of Youth Development and ambassador for NHL Diversity, and has led the Hockey is for Everyone program. Continue reading “Black History Month In Canada… Willie O’Ree”
* 1941 – Frederick Banting killed in a plane crash over Labrador en route to England on a medical mission. * 2002 – Canada’s women’s hockey team takes Olympic gold – beating the US 3-2 at Salt Lake City – Canadian icemaker Trent Evans buried a “lucky loonie” under center ice. * 1965 Malcolm X assassinated * 1981 Dolly Parton cements her crossover success as “9 to 5″ hits #1 * 1885 Washington Monument dedicated
It’s Hump Day Wednesday! Did You Know…
* 1941 – Frederick Banting killed in a plane crash over Labrador en route to England on a medical mission.
The name of Dr. Frederick Banting of Toronto is legendary in medical circles and to untold numbers of people owe their lives to his discovery of insulin. Knighted in 1934, for his discovery, Sir Frederick Banting continued research into silicosis and cancer and was later appointed chairman of the National Research Council’s Committee on Aviation Medical Research in 1939.Continue reading “John’s Believe It Or Not… February 21st”
Richard Pierpoint – Former Slave, Loyalist, Soldier, Community Leader, and Storyteller
Richard Pierpoint (also Pawpine, Parepoint; Captain Pierpoint, Captain Dick; Black Dick), loyalist, soldier, community leader, storyteller (born c. 1744 in Bondu [now Senegal]; died c. 1838, near present-day Fergus, ON). Pierpoint was an early leader in Canada’s Black community. Taken from West Africa as a teenager and sold into slavery, Pierpoint regained his freedom during the American Revolution. He settled in Niagara, Upper Canada, and attempted to live communally with other Black Canadians. In the War of 1812, he petitioned for an all-Black unit to fight for the British and fought with the Coloured Corps.
Richard Pierpoint was born in Bondu (now Senegal), in West Africa, around 1744. His original name is unknown. In the early 18th century, life in Bondu — a state south of the Sahara, northeast of the Gambia River and slightly inland from the Atlantic Ocean — was chaotic and diverse. The region covered more than 30,000 km2 with a population as high as 30,000. It was ruled by Fulani Muslims. Bondu’s citizens endured decades of war and unrest through the late-17th and early-18th centuries. In Bondu, Pierpoint would have learned the storytelling traditions of the griot, some of which he would later use as a Black community leader in Upper Canada. (A griot (or jali or jeli) is a West African storyteller, historian, and troubadour who preserves and shares genealogies, histories and oral traditions.)
In 1760, at the age of 16, slave traders captured and imprisoned Pierpoint. They likely sold him on the coast at Fort James to English traders, who brought him across the Atlantic Ocean to be sold in the British Thirteen Colonies. A British officer purchased and enslaved Pierpoint, who then worked in the officer’s home. Pierpoint was enslaved for nearly 20 years and was likely given the name of the officer who enslaved him.
Exactly how Richard Pierpoint regained his freedom is unclear, but it appears that the American Revolution was the cause for change. In 1775, the royal governor of Virginia granted freedom to all persons enslaved by rebels in that colony in exchange for their military service against those same rebel Americans. Pierpoint may have been promised his freedom in exchange for service, assuming the British officer who had purchased him remained loyal to the Crown. On 30 June 1779, British army general Sir Henry Clinton issued the Philipsburg Proclamation, promising freedom to all persons enslaved by American rebels.
In 1780, Pierpoint was listed as a pioneer in Butler’s Rangers, a Loyalist unit. That same year, he was stationed with the Rangers in the Niagara region, where they engaged in guerrilla warfare against American rebels. During the war, Pierpoint was likely stationed at Fort Niagara. In 1784, Pierpoint was still in the Niagara region. Having been honourably discharged, he was named on a list of settlers in the area, among other disbanded Rangers. In 1791, he was granted 200 acres — the same grant given to officers and twice that of a private — in Grantham Township (now St. Catharines, Ontario)
When Richard Pierpoint received his 200-acre grant in Grantham Township, he still needed to clear and develop the land in order to receive letters patent and be officially recognized as the owner. Pierpoint would have been required to clear at least 5 acres of land per 100 acres granted for farming and road frontage and to build a log cabin of a minimum size.
On 29 June 1794, Pierpoint signed “The Petition of Free Negroes” with 18 other Black residents of Upper Canada. Some scholars believe that Pierpoint may have written the petition himself. The petition was sent to Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe and reflects the reality many early Black residents in Canada faced. Perhaps because they encountered difficulties in clearing and settling their land grants alone, the petitioners — many of whom were former soldiers — asked for the ability to settle adjacent to each other so that they could establish a community and work collectively to clear their lands. They specifically asked for the opportunity to “give assistance (in work) to those amongst them who may most want it.”
In addition to the desire to live communally, the petition specifically expressed the wish that the signatories be allowed to live on a tract of land separate from White settlers. This suggests that the problems these men faced went beyond isolation; Black Loyalists and settlers in colonial Canada very likely faced prejudice and discrimination from White settlers.
The Executive Council of Upper Canada heard the request on 8 July 1794 and rejected the petition, refusing to separate the Black community from the majority White settlers. Pierpoint successfully cleared his land and received his patents on 10 March 1804, but sold his lots two years later, on 11 November 1806. Now more than 60 years old, he remained in the Niagara region, likely working as a laborer or farmer.
When war broke out between Britain and the United States in 1812, Richard Pierpoint was 68 years old. Nevertheless, he petitioned military leadership to create an all-Black militia to fight for the British. Shortly thereafter, Pierpoint joined Captain Robert Runchey’s Corps of Coloured Men (the Coloured Corps), a militia of free Black men.
Serving as a private from 1 September 1812 to 24 March 1815, Pierpoint saw action with the Coloured Corps in multiple battles in the War of 1812. He fought at the Battle of Queenston Heights, where the Coloured Corps was among the first reinforcements to arrive in support of John Norton’s Six Nations warriors. After enduring the Battle of Fort George on 27 May 1813, the Coloured Corps supported British troops in the Battle of Stoney Creek from Burlington (almost 13 km away).
On 19 January 1820, in recognition of his contribution during the War of 1812, Richard Pierpoint was granted 100 acres of land on the Grand River in Garafraxa Township (near present-day Fergus, Ontario). Now in his mid-70s, Pierpoint was still living in Niagara and finding it difficult to support himself as a laborer.
On 21 July 1821, he petitioned the government of Upper Canada at York for passage back to West Africa. In his petition, Pierpoint pleads that he is “above all things desirous to return to his native country.” The colonial government did not grant Pierpoint’s wish, and he accepted his land grant in Garafraxa. His presence there predates the settlement of Fergus.
Pierpoint fulfilled the settlement requirements for his grant in 1825, probably with the help of a younger man named “Deaf Moses.” Some histories describe Pierpoint’s land in Garafraxa as a settlement for Black Canadians — either persons fleeing enslavement in the United States via the Underground Railroad or people simply in search of the same communal living Pierpoint had asked for in the 1794 “Petition of Free Negroes.”
Richard Pierpoint died in the winter of 1837–38. He left no family or successors and left his estate to Lemuel Brown of Grantham Township. His burial place is unknown.
According to oral history in the Black Canadian community, Pierpoint was a gifted storyteller in the West African tradition of the griot. He traveled around Upper Canada with Deaf Moses, recounting stories to members of the Black communities in both the Niagara and Garafraxa regions. To retell the stories, it’s said that he would pull a pebble from his pouch and launch into a story. By the end of his life, he had amassed 94 years of personal experience and countless more through the voices of his community.
His legacy is that of a leader in the early Black Canadian community who fought and petitioned for causes important to himself, his community and to Canada as a whole. His petitions provide the picture of a man taken from his home and enslaved as a teenager, who fought for his freedom in two wars and who worked to build a Black community amid prejudice and discrimination.
In 2013, the Government of Canada named a federal building in London, Ontario, the Richard Pierpoint Building in recognition of his contribution to the Coloured Corps in the War of 1812.
* 1959 – Diefenbaker Government Cancels Avro Arrow Fighter Program * 1976 SEATO disbands * 1725 American colonists practice scalping * 1962 An American orbits earth * 1998 Tara Lipinski becomes youngest Olympic figure skating gold medalist
It’s Tuesday! Did You Know…
* 1959 – Diefenbaker Government Cancels Avro Arrow Fighter Program
On March 25, 1958, the infamous Avro Arrow made its very first test flight. The plane was the crown jewel of Canadian aircraft manufacturer A.V. Roe Canada, better known as Avro, then the third-largest company in Canada. The hypersonic fighter was on the cutting edge of aerospace technology at the time: it could reach a speed nearly three times the speed of sound, traveling at an altitude of 60,000 feet.Continue reading “John’s Believe It Or Not… February 20th”
Portia May White, born in Nova Scotia in 1911, became Canada’s first internationally acclaimed Black concert singer.
Portia May White – Concert Singer and Teacher
Portia May White, contralto, teacher (born 24 June 1911 in Truro, NS; died 13 February 1968 in Toronto, ON). Portia White broke through the color barrier to become the first Black Canadian concert singer to win international acclaim. Considered one of the best classical singers of the 20th century, her voice was described by one critic as “a gift from heaven,” and she was often compared to the celebrated African American contralto Marian Anderson. White was named a “person of national historic significance” by the Government of Canada in 1995.
Portia White was the third of 13 children born to William A. White, whose parents had been slaves in Virginia, and Izie Dora White, who was descended from black Loyalists in Nova Scotia. The second black Canadian admitted to Acadia University, William White graduated in 1903 with a degree in Theology and later became the first black Canadian to receive a Doctorate of Divinity from Acadia University. Following his service as the only black chaplain in the British army during the First World War, he moved the family to Halifax, where he became pastor of the Cornwallis Street Baptist Church.
Portia began singing in the church choir under her mother’s direction at age six. By the age of eight, she was singing the soprano parts from the opera Lucia di Lammermoor and was so determined to become a professional singer that she walked 10 miles a week for music lessons. She started her teacher training at Dalhousie University in 1929 and after graduating became a schoolteacher in black Nova Scotian communities, such as Africville and Lucasville.
In the 1930s, White took voice lessons as a mezzo-soprano with Bertha Cruikshanks at the Halifax Conservatory of Music and sang on devotional radio broadcasts hosted by her father. She competed in the Halifax Music Festival, where her extraordinary voice won the Helen Kennedy Silver Cup in 1935, 1937 and 1938. The Halifax Ladies’ Musical Club provided a scholarship for White to study with Ernesto Vinci at the Halifax Conservatory of Music in 1939. Under Vinci, she began to sing as a contralto.
After giving a handful of recitals at Acadia University and Mount Allison University in 1940, White made her formal debut at age 30 at Toronto’s Eaton Auditorium on 7 November 1941. Reviewing her performance in the Globe and Mail, Hector Charlesworth stated that she sings “with pungent expression and beauty of utterance.” Writing in the Evening Telegram, Edward Wodson said White had a “coloured and beautifully shaded contralto… It is a natural voice, a gift from heaven.”
White resigned her teaching position in 1941 and continued to give concerts in Canada. After many difficulties obtaining bookings because of her race, she reached the high point of her career with a widely acclaimed recital at New York’s Town Hall on 13 March 1944. She was the first Canadian to perform there. The Nova Scotia Talent Trust was established in 1944 specifically to enable White to concentrate on her professional career. Two more Town Hall concerts followed in 1944 and 1945, and that year White signed with Columbia Concerts Incorporated, the largest artist agency in North America.
White toured North America with Columbia Concerts, but following a tour of Central and South America in 1946, she began experiencing vocal difficulties as well as problems with her management. In 1948, she toured the Maritimes, and sang in Switzerland and France, but soon after retired from public performance. In 1952, she moved to Toronto to undertake further studies with Gina Cigna and Irene Jessner at the Royal Conservatory of Music.
White herself began teaching voice in Toronto, both privately and at Branksome Hall, a school for girls. Her private students over the years included Dinah Christie, Anne Marie Moss, Lorne Greene, Don Francks and Robert Goulet. By the mid-1950s she resumed her singing career, although sporadically, singing only a few concerts in the 1950s and 1960s, one of which was before Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip at Charlottetown’s Confederation Centre of the Arts on 6 October 1964. White’s final public performance took place in July 1967 at the World Baptist Federation in Ottawa.
White did not make any studio recordings, but her voice can be heard in several concert recordings, including a song recital titled Think on Me (1968). Library and Archives Canada acquired from the White family audio recordings of her performances in New York and in Moncton, NB, in 1944 and 1945. From these, Analekta released two songs on Great Voices of Canada, Volume 5 (1994), and White’s nephew, award-winning folk musician Chris White, released the CD First You Dream (1999). A documentary by Sylvia Hamilton, Portia White: Think on Me, was broadcast on CBC TV in 2001.
In 1995, White was named a “person of national historic significance” by the Government of Canada. A millennial stamp bearing her image was issued in 1999, and a life-sized sculpture of her was carved from a tree in front of Truro’s Zion Baptist Church in 2004. The Portia White Prize is awarded each year by the Nova Scotia Arts Council to an outstanding Nova Scotian in the arts. The inaugural recipient of the award in 1998 was her great-nephew, the writer George Elliott Clarke. The Nova Scotia Talent Trust presents the Portia White Scholarship Award to exceptional vocalists, and also named its annual gala concert in her honor. At the East Coast Music Awards in 2007, White was posthumously awarded the Dr. Helen Creighton Lifetime Achievement Award.
In addition to Clarke and Chris White, Portia White had several other notable family members. Her brother, Bill White, was a composer and social activist who became the first black Canadian to run for federal office, representing the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) in the Toronto constituency of Spadina in 1949. He was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1970. Portia’s brother, Jack White, was a noted labor union leader and one of the first black Canadians to run for provincial office in Ontario; and her niece, Sheila White, is a noted political consultant and commentator.
* 1996 – Birth of the Toonie – Royal Canadian Mint puts $2 bimetallic Polar Bear into circulation. * 1473 Copernicus born * 1942 Roosevelt signs Executive Order 9066 * 1952 Amy Tan’s birthday * 1851 Angry San Francisco vigilantes take the law into their own hands
It’s Monday! Did You Know…
* 1996 – Birth of the Toonie – Royal Canadian Mint puts $2 bimetallic Polar Bear into circulation.
Senator Donald Oliver, born in Nova Scotia in 1938, enjoyed a very successful life as a lawyer, businessman, Senator, and community activist.
Donald H. Oliver – Lawyer, Businessman, and Senator
Donald H. Oliver, lawyer, businessman, senator (b at Wolfville, NS 16 Nov 1938). In 1990, Donald Oliver became Canada’s first African-Canadian senator when he was appointed to the Senate by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney on 7 Sept 1990. Growing up in a devout Baptist family of five children, Oliver was instilled with a strong sense of community and a desire to assist those around him. He attended Acadia University, majoring in philosophy, and later Dalhousie University, where he earned a degree in law.
Called to the Bar in 1965, he began practicing law in Nova Scotia and became active in the professional community, serving on the boards of several legal committees, in a career that spanned 36 years. Oliver maintained distinguished tenures both as a civil litigator and as an educator, teaching law at the Technical University of Nova Scotia, Saint Mary’s University, and Dalhousie University Law School. He has served also on the executive of several private companies and has lectured on human rights, the Canadian constitution, and election law.
Oliver’s community involvement led to a career in politics, and he was particularly interested in promoting equality for Blacks, First Nations and other minorities in Canadian society. Inspired by former Nova Scotia premier Robert Stanfield, Oliver began working with the Progressive Conservative Party in 1972 and remained involved with the party over the next 30 years. During that time he served as the director of legal affairs in six general elections between 1972 and 1988. After his appointment to the Senate, he served as a member of standing Senate committees on banking, trade, and commerce; agriculture and forestry; and was the chairman of the standing committee on transport and communications, as well as other Senate-House of Commons committees. Oliver has worked on several Private Member’s Bills, including one to amend the section of the criminal code regarding stalking, and another to address the increasing problem of computer SPAM.
Oliver continued to be active in community service throughout his career, serving in positions that have included President and Chairman of the Halifax Children’s Aid Society; Chairman, President and Director of the Neptune Theatre Foundation; Director of the Halifax-Dartmouth Welfare Council; Founding Director of the Black United Front; and Founding President and First Chairman of the Society for the Protection and Preservation of Black Culture in Nova Scotia. In 2003, Dalhousie University awarded him with an honorary doctorate in recognition of his lifetime of achievement, both in the public and private sectors.
* 1815 – Treaty of Ghent Proclaimed in Washington – ending the War of 1812. * 1856 Know-Nothings convene in Philadelphia * 1930 Pluto discovered * 1948 De Valera resigns * 1959 Ray Charles records “What’d I Say” at Atlantic Records
It’s Sunday! Did You Know…
* 1815 – Treaty of Ghent Proclaimed in Washington – ending the War of 1812.
The Treaty of Ghent was the peace treaty that ended the War of 1812 between the United States of America and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Both sides signed it on December 24, 1814, in the city of Ghent, Belgium. The treaty restored relations between the two nations to status quo ante bellum, restoring the borders of the two countries to the lines before the war started in June 1812. The Treaty was approved by the UK parliament and signed into law by the Prince Regent (the future King George IV) on December 30, 1814. It took a month for news of the peace treaty to reach the United States, and in the meantime, American forces under Andrew Jackson won the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815. The Treaty of Ghent was not fully in effect until it was ratified by the U.S. Senate unanimously on February 17, 1815. It began two centuries of peaceful relations between the U.S. and Britain, although there were a few tense moments such as the Trent Affair.
At last in August 1814, peace discussions began in the neutral city of Ghent. As the peace talks opened American diplomats decided not to present President Madison’s demands for the end of impressment and suggestion that Britain turns Canada over to the U.S. They were quiet and instead the British opened with their demands, chief of which was the creation of an Indian barrier state in the American Northwest Territory (the area from Ohio to Wisconsin). It was understood the British would sponsor this Indian state. The British strategy for decades had been to create a buffer state to block American expansion. The Americans refused to consider a buffer state and the proposal was dropped. Article IX of the treaty included provisions to restore to Natives “…all possessions, rights, and privileges which they may have enjoyed, or been entitled to in 1811″—but the provisions were unenforceable, and in any case, Britain stopped supporting or encouraging tribes in American territory.
The British, assuming their planned invasion of New York state would go well, also demanded that Americans not have any naval forces on the Great Lakes and that the British get certain transit rights to the Mississippi River in exchange for continuation of American fishing rights off Newfoundland. The U.S. rejected the demands and there was an impasse. American public opinion was so outraged when Madison published the demands that even the Federalists were willing to fight on.
During the negotiations, the British had four invasions underway. One force carried out a burning of Washington, but the main mission failed in its goal of capturing Baltimore. The British fleet sailed away when the army commander was killed. A small force invaded the District of Maine from New Brunswick, capturing parts of northeastern Maine and several smuggling towns on the seacoast. Much more important were two major invasions. In northern New York State, 10,000 British troops marched south to cut off New England until a decisive defeat at the Battle of Plattsburgh forced them back to Canada. The defeat was a humiliation that called for a court-martial of the commander. Nothing was known at the time of the fate of the other major invasion force that had been sent to capture New Orleans and control the Mississippi River.
After months of negotiations, against the background of changing military victories, defeats, and losses, the parties finally realized that their nations wanted peace and there was no real reason to continue the war. Each side was tired of the war. Export trade was all but paralyzed, and after the fall of Napoleon in 1814, France was no longer an enemy of Britain, so the Royal Navy no longer needed to stop American shipments to France and no longer needed more seamen. The British were preoccupied in rebuilding Europe after the apparent final defeat of Napoleon. Lord Liverpool told British negotiators to offer a status quo, which the British government had desired since the beginning of the war. British diplomats immediately offered this to the US negotiators, who dropped demands for an end to British maritime practices and Canadian territory (ignoring their war aims) and agreed. The sides would exchange prisoners, and Britain would return or pay for slaves captured from the United States.
* 1856 Know-Nothings convene in Philadelphia
The American Party, also known as the “Known-Nothing Party,” convenes in Philadelphia to nominate its first presidential candidate.
The Know-Nothing movement began in the 1840s when an increasing rate of immigration led to the formation of a number of so-called nativist societies to combat “foreign” influences in American society. Roman Catholic immigrants from Ireland and Italy, who were embraced by the Democratic Party in eastern cities, were especially targeted. In the early 1850s, several secret nativist societies were formed, of which the “Order of the Star-Spangled Banner” and the “Order of United Americans” were the most significant. When members of these organizations were questioned by the press about their political platform, they would often reply they knew nothing, hence the popular name for the Know-Nothing movement.
In 1854, the Know-Nothings allied themselves with a faction of Whigs and ran for office in several states, calling for legislation to prevent immigrants from holding public office. By 1855, support for the Know-Nothings had expanded considerably, and the American Party was officially formed. In the same year, however, Southerners in the party sought to adopt a resolution calling for the protection of slavery, and some anti-slavery Know-Nothings defected to the newly formed Republican Party.
On February 18, 1856, the American Party met to nominate its first presidential candidate and to formally abolish the secret character of the organization. Former president Millard Fillmore of New York was chosen, with Andrew Donelson of Tennessee to serve as his running mate. In the subsequent election, Fillmore succeeded in capturing only the state of Maryland, and the Know-Nothing movement effectively ceased to exist.
* 1930 Pluto discovered
Pluto, once believed to be the ninth planet, is discovered at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, by astronomer Clyde W. Tombaugh.
The existence of an unknown ninth planet was first proposed by Percival Lowell, who theorized that wobbles in the orbits of Uranus and Neptune were caused by the gravitational pull of an unknown planetary body. Lowell calculated the approximate location of the hypothesized ninth planet and searched for more than a decade without success. However, in 1929, using the calculations of Powell and W.H. Pickering as a guide, the search for Pluto was resumed at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona. On February 18, 1930, Tombaugh discovered the tiny, distant planet by use of a new astronomic technique of photographic plates combined with a blink microscope. His finding was confirmed by several other astronomers, and on March 13, 1930–the anniversary of Lowell’s birth and of William Hershel’s discovery of Uranus–the discovery of Pluto was publicly announced.
With a surface temperature estimated at approximately -360 Fahrenheit, Pluto was appropriately given the Roman name for the god of the underworld in Greek mythology. Pluto’s average distance from the sun is nearly four billion miles, and it takes approximately 248 years to complete one orbit. It also has the most elliptical and tilted orbit of any planet, and at its closest point to the sun it passes inside the orbit of Neptune, the eighth planet.
After its discovery, some astronomers questioned whether Pluto had sufficient mass to affect the orbits of Uranus and Neptune. In 1978, James Christy and Robert Harrington discovered Pluto’s only known moon, Charon, which was determined to have a diameter of 737 miles to Pluto’s 1,428 miles. Together, it was thought that Pluto and Charon formed a double-planet system, which was of ample enough mass to cause wobbles in Uranus’ and Neptune’s orbits. In August 2006, however, the International Astronomical Union announced that Pluto would no longer be considered a planet, due to new rules that said planets must “clear the neighborhood around its orbit.” Since Pluto’s oblong orbit overlaps that of Neptune, it was disqualified.
* 1948 De Valera resigns
After 16 years as head of independent Ireland, Eamon de Valera steps down as the Taoiseach, or Irish prime minister, after his Fianna Fail Party fails to win a majority in the Dail Eireann (the Irish assembly). As a result of the general election, the Fianna Fail won 68 of the 147 seats in the Dail, and de Valera resigned rather than lead a coalition government. In his place, John A. Costello, leader of the Fine Gael Party, joins with several smaller groups to achieve a majority and becomes Irish prime minister.
Eamon de Valera, the most dominant Irish political figure of the 20th century, was born in New York City in 1882, the son of a Spanish father and Irish mother. When his father died two years later, he was sent to live with his mother’s family in County Limerick, Ireland. He attended the Royal University in Dublin and became an important figure in the Irish-language revival movement.
In 1913, he joined the Irish Volunteers, a militant group that advocated Ireland’s independence from Britain, and in 1916 participated in the Easter Rising against the British in Dublin. He was the last Irish rebel leader to surrender and was saved from execution because of his American birth. Imprisoned, he was released in 1917 under a general amnesty and became president of the nationalist Sinn Fein Party. In May 1918, he was deported to England and imprisoned again, and in December Sinn Fein won an Irish national election, making him the unofficial leader of Ireland.
In February 1919, he escaped from jail and fled to the United States, where he raised funds for the Irish Republican movement. When he returned to Ireland in 1920, Sinn Fein and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) were engaged in a widespread and effective guerrilla campaign against British forces.
In 1921, a truce was declared, and in 1922 Arthur Griffith and other former Sinn Fein leaders broke with de Valera and signed a treaty with Britain, which called for the partition of Ireland, with the south becoming autonomous and the six northern counties of the island remaining part of the United Kingdom. In the period of civil war that followed, de Valera supported the Republicans against the Irish Free State (the new government of the autonomous south) and was imprisoned by William Cosgrave’s Irish Free State ministry.
In 1924, he was released and two years later left Sinn Fein, which had become the unofficial political wing of the underground movement for northern independence. He formed Fianna Fail, and in 1932 the party gained control of the Dail Eireann and de Valera became Irish prime minister.
For the next 16 years, de Valera pursued a policy of political separation from Great Britain, including the introduction of a new constitution in 1937 that declared Ireland the fully sovereign state of Eire. During World War II, he maintained a policy of neutrality but repressed anti-British intrigues within the IRA.
In 1948, he narrowly lost re-election due to a negative public reaction against his party’s long monopoly of power. Out of office, he toured the world advocating the unification and independence of Ireland. His successor as Taoiseach, John Costello, officially made Ireland an independent republic in 1949 but nonetheless lost the prime minister’s office to de Valera in the 1951 election. The relative Irish economic prosperity of the 1940s declined in the 1950s, and Costello began a second ministry in 1954, only to be replaced again by de Valera in 1957.
In 1959, de Valera resigned as prime minister and was elected Irish president–a largely ceremonial post. On June 24, 1973, de Valera, then the world’s oldest head of state, retired from Irish politics at the age of 90. He passed away two years later.
* 1959 Ray Charles records “What’d I Say” at Atlantic Records
The phone call that Ray Charles placed to Atlantic Records in early 1959 went something like this: “I’m playing a song out here on the road, and I don’t know what it is—it’s just a song I made up, but the people are just going wild every time we play it, and I think we ought to record it.” The song Ray Charles was referring to was “What’d I Say,” which went on to become one of the greatest rhythm-and-blues records ever made. Composed spontaneously out of sheer showbiz necessity, “What’d I Say” was laid down on tape on this day in 1959, at the Atlantic Records studios in New York City.
The necessity that drove Ray Charles to invent “What’d I Say” was simple: the need to fill time. Ten or 12 minutes before the end of a contractually required four-hour performance at a dance in Pittsburgh one night, Charles and his band ran completely out of songs to play. “So I began noodling—just a little riff that floated into my head,” Charles explained many years later. “One thing led to another and I found myself singing and wanting the girls to repeat after me….Then I could feel the whole room bouncing and shaking and carrying on something fierce.”
What was it about “What’d I Say” that so captivated the audience at the Pittsburgh dance that night and the rest of humanity ever since then? Charles always thought it was the sound of his Wurlitzer electric piano, a very unfamiliar instrument at the time. Others would say it was the call-and-response in the song’s bridge—all unnnhs and ooohs and other sounds not typically found on the average pop record of 1959. Whatever it was, it worked well enough to become Charles’ closing number from that night in Pittsburgh until his final show.
“You start ‘em off, you get ‘em just first tapping their feet. Next thing they got their hands goin’, and next thing they got their mouth open and they’re yelling, and they’re singin’ and they’re screamin’. It’s a great feeling when you got your audience involved with you.”
“What’d I Say” was a sure-fire hit with live audiences and with record-buyers. It was a #1 R&B hit for Ray Charles in 1959 and a #6 pop hit as well—his first bona fide crossover hit, but certainly not his last.