Famous Capricorn People
Elvis Presley, The King
Elvis Presley's Career Beginnings
Elvis Aaron Presley—1/8/1935—8/16/1977—is the Icon known simply as “Elvis,” or “The King.” Elvis was one of the most popular singers of the 20th century. He was born in Tupelo, MS, until his family moved to Memphis TN. Elvis was actually an identical twin, but his brother was stillborn, 35 minutes before him. Elvis grew up as an only child, and was very close to his Mother, Gladys, throughout his life. He never had any formal music training, he did everything by ear, but he loved gospel music and frequented places where people sang the blues. Elvis knew his future was with music. He changed his hairstyle and began to dress in a more flashy way to get attention.
Presley knew he had talent and did not give up. He jammed with two guitarists at Sun Records, with Elvis singing the blues and the others joining in. When the next day a Memphis DJ played the songs, the phone constantly rang with requests, although most people thought Elvis was black. He played his first live gig the next month, but he was nervous, so he was shaky, yet grooving to the music, and people started calling him “Elvis the Pelvis”, which as a dignified Capricorn, he despised.
Elvis Voted Most Promising Male Artist
Elvis came to the attention of Colonel Tom Parker around 1955, who became his manager, and often convinced him to make a lot of films which were flops. Elvis was 20 when he was voted the most promising Male Artist. He struck a deal with RCA for $40,000.00 a year, unheard of at the time.
Elvis was drafted into the army, but still managed to cut records. His Mother passed on at the age of 46, devastating him. When he was stationed in Germany, he began to take amphetamines, to have energy for training and weight control. Elvis also met 14 yr. old Priscilla Beaulieu, who he married seven years later. During the period when Elvis was inducted into the army to his discharge, he had 10 Top 40 hits.
Presley returned to the U.S. in 1960, and immediately got back into the studio. He did well in the first half of the 1960’s, but wasn’t getting the same commercial success in the later half. Rock and roll was getting more experimental and psychedelic, and the music world was changing fast. Colonel Parker’s advice and the bad films hurt Presley’s career. He and Priscilla had their only child, Lisa Marie, in 1968, when Elvis was deeply discouraged about his career. But he did a “comeback” concert in 1968, dressed in tight black leather, playing and singing in the old, uninhibited style people loved. Now Elvis controlled what he sang and how he sang it, and he came away from the concert feeling “it was the best work of his life.”
The Man Who Changed Music
Elvis caught on to the pop songs, and knew country, so he had another string of hits. He played in Las Vegas for extended periods, and this is when people began to call him “The King.” But Elvis drank a lot, and got hooked on prescription drugs. He kept touring, and he and his wife both became estranged and had affairs. By 1974, he was taking so many drugs, he could barely function. Although he was not a big stage presence anymore, many of his albums, especially the country and gospel ones, were bringing in great sums of money. On August 16, 1977, Elvis was pronounced dead, in his home at Graceland. Thousands visited his service, and still visit every year on that sad anniversary. Since his death, there have been several “sightings” of Elvis, and there are conspiracy theorists who claim he faked his own death to regain his privacy. This has resulted in the phrase, “Elvis has left the building.”
Elvis transformed popular music and did much to broaden its scope. He was a catalyst for rock and roll, bringing together the styles of white country and black rhythm and blues. His name, voice and image are recognized all over the world, as he came into the public eye during the beginnings of mass communication.
Conductor Leonard Bernstein called Elvis Presley the “greatest cultural force of the 20th century, as he changed everything; music, language and clothes.” Bob Dylan has compared hearing music from Elvis to “busting out of jail.” Elvis Presley will always remain an Icon in many people’s hearts, but apparently playing that role takes a very large toll on a person. After all this time has passed, we still can’t help falling in love with Elvis.
Syd Barrett, Founder of Pink Floyd
Background on Roger "Syd" Barrett
Roger Keith Barrett—1/6/1946—7/7/2006— or "Syd", was the eccentric founder of the British band Pink Floyd in the 1960’s. Syd was the lead vocalist, songwriter, and guitarist during the band’s psychedelic years. He left the music scene altogether after the band had only released several albums, most notably The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. His lyrics are genius, and later he released several solo albums, although they never became popular.
Syd used a lot of distortion and feedback, and sang as if he was British, not trying to hide it. Barrett played many guitars, but favored his Fender Telecaster. Syd named the band by taking parts of names of two blues singers, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council, and Syd had two cats he also named Pink and Floyd.
Many of his songs are very playful and seemingly about childhood subjects, or have a dreamlike quality, which the band tried to duplicate after Syd left the band and they recorded Dark Side of the Moon. When “Arnold Layne” was released, at first record companies would not play it, as “Arnold had a strange hobby,” taking ladies underwear from washing lines to wear it himself. Syd’s wicked sense of humor comes through here.
Opel by Syd Barrett
Theories about Barrett's Health Issues
Roger Waters and Syd Barrett were childhood friends, and Nick Mason and Richard Wright later joined the band. David Gilmore played with Pink Floyd on occasion. As the band was becoming famous, Syd’s behavior became increasingly erratic. He supposedly took so many drugs it left him mentally ill, and hospitalized for a time. Theories about his mental and emotional states depend on where one gets their information. Some say in retrospect, that Syd may have been autistic, that he was bi-polar or schizophrenic, or may have had Asperser’s Syndrome.
David Gilmore thought that Syd had such a gentle personality, he simply could not stand the pressure of fame. Barrett later recorded several solo items, which included a lighthearted “Bob Dylan Blues” and “Opel,” a beautiful song this writer has included.
The band wrote “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” and “Wish You Were Here” as tributes to their founder. Syd continued to collect royalties on his work until his passing in 2006, leaving a considerable amount of money to his brothers and sisters. Many younger people who are familiar with Pink Floyd think Roger Waters was so charitable that he paid royalties to Syd and his family, but as Syd founded the band, it was money he was entitled to, and the band benefited from his generosity for all those years. So we may never know if he suffered a terrible mental illness, or craved a simple life of painting, gardening and solitude, as his family has suggested.
Michele Obama, Former First Lady of the United States
Michelle Obama—Michelle La Vaughn Robinson Obama—1/17/1964—is the wife of the 44th American President Barack Obama, and the first African American First Lady in the U.S. Her lineage from her father, Fraser Robinson III, and her mother, Marian Shields, can be traced to the pre Civil War African Americans in the American South. She is descended from the Gullah Island people from the Low Country in SC.
Michelle grew up in Chicago’s South Side area, in what she describes as a “traditional” home, where Mom stayed home to care for the family and Dad went to work. She always did well in school, and was the salutatorian of her graduation class. Michelle later attended Princeton University, and wrote a thesis, “Princeton Educated Blacks and the Black Community.”
She got involved with what is now the Carl A. Fields Center, an academic and cultural group who supported minority students. Michelle majored in Sociology and minored in African Studies, and graduated cum laude in 1985. She got her Juris Dr. degree from Harvard Law School in 1988. She demonstrated because not many professors of color were getting hired at the time. Michelle is the third First Lady to have a postgraduate degree, besides Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush, and Michelle, Hillary, and Laura Bush are the only three First Ladies in history who actually had jobs before their husbands became president.
Michelle Obama's Career and Interests
Michelle met Barack Obama when they were of the few African Americans at their law firm, Sidley Austin, and she mentored him in the summer. They had a business lunch and he impressed her at a community organization meeting. They married in 1992, and had two daughters, Malia in 1998, and Sasha (Natasha) in 2001. When Barack was elected to the Senate they continued to live on Chicago’s South Side, and she remained there with her girls while he traveled back and forth.
While Michelle worked at Sidley Austin, she worked on marketing and intellectual property. She has left her law license on a voluntary inactive status as of early 2018. Prior to being involved in her husband’s campaign, she worked as an assistant to the Mayor of Chicago, Assistant Commissioner of Planning and Development, and in 1993 she became the Executive Director for the Chicago Office of Public Allies, an organization based on young people and encouraging them to work in non-profit organizations and government agencies. Michelle was also the Associate Dean of Student Services at the University of Chicago, and began working for the University of Chicago’s hospitals, as executive director of community affairs, then as the Vice President for Community and External Affairs.
Trendsetting First Lady Obama
Michelle had reservations about Barack running for President, as it would mean such a big change for them as a family. She got over it and campaigned for him both of his winning Presidential runs. Michelle has become more popular as she relaxed more into the role.
She has become a fashion trendsetter, often wearing sleeveless clothes to show off the results of her time in the gym! She has taken on the role of fighting childhood obesity, something important in America at this time, and supports exercise for children, in her program “Let’s Move!” She has worked hard with Vice Presidential wife Dr. Jill Biden to support military families, and maintains an organic vegetable garden and bee hives for honey on the White House property, the only First Lady to have a vegetable garden since Eleanor Roosevelt. As people get to know her hard working and no nonsense personality, Michelle has become much more popular, and for more than her fashion sense! The Department of Defense supports her obesity program, as they are having problems finding more recruits that are not overweight. She truly is a remarkable woman.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr., Civil Rights Activist
Martin Luther King, Jr. –1/15/1929—4/4/1968—was a prominent activist, and Baptist minister, who became a leader in the American Civil Rights movement, at a time when black people had to sit in the back of buses, could not sit at lunch counters, and had to use separate facilities for the lavatory. He used the method of non-violent civil disobedience, and took it to new levels. King had a BA in Sociology from Morehouse College, and got his Divinity degree at Crozer Theological Seminary in PA in 1951. He married Coretta Scott in 1953 in the yard of her parent’s house, and they went on to have four children together. King became pastor of his own congregation at the age of 25, in Montgomery, AL. He received his Doctorate in Philosophy in 1955.
King was able to visit Gandhi’s birthplace, which had a profound effect on him and his understanding of non violent disobedience. He came to see this as the most powerful weapon for oppressed people in their struggle for freedom, justice and human dignity. In his stirring “I Have a Dream” speech, MLK called for racial equality and an end to discrimination. He became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, awarded to him for leading non violent resistance to racial prejudice in the U.S.
King Fights With Civil Disobedience
Rosa Parks was arrested when she refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man, one of the Jim Crow laws (the system of Southern segregation). The Montgomery Bus Boycott, lead by King, soon followed, and lasted 385 days, the situation so intense that King’s house was bombed. MLK was arrested during this campaign, but the court ruling of Browder VS Gayle ended racial segregation on all Montgomery Public buses. MLK, Ralph Abernathy, and other leaders formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, or SCLC, to organize the power of black churches to conduct non violent protests in the name of Civil Rights. King believed that organized protests would call attention to the unfairness of the Jim Crow laws. He organized and led many marches so that Blacks could have the right to vote, labor rights, be desegregated, and have other basic Civil Rights.
The SCLC began a non violent campaign against segregation and economic injustice in Birmingham, AL in 1963. The Birmingham Police Dept. overreacted, and used high power water jets and dogs against the protesters, many who were only children. Plus as the confusion mounted, not all the protesters remained peaceful. King and the SCLC were blamed, and King was arrested and jailed for his 13th time out of 29. However, the police chief lost his job, and “Jim Crow” signs came down, allowing Blacks into more places.
MLK was working on voting rights for Blacks in Selma, AL in 1964. A judge barred any meeting of more than 3 people in one place, and the march was halted until King defied this act at Brown Chapel in 1965. MLK planned a very large march on Washington DC in 1963. The march was originally planned to bring attention to the desperate conditions of Blacks in the Southern U.S., and to dramatize the fact that the Federal Government was not guaranteeing the safety of Civil Rights workers and Blacks.
MLK toned it down, but demands were still raised to end racial segregation in schools, have meaningful Civil Rights legislation, a law prohibiting racial discrimination in the workplace, and protection of the Black people from police brutality. More than 250,000 people peacefully attended and milled by the Lincoln Memorial, the largest gathering of protesters in D.C. ever at that time. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was electrifying, and is still considered one of the finest speeches in American history.
MLK, Spokesperson for the Oppressed
At the end of March 1968, King went to Memphis, TN to support sanitation and public works employees who were on strike in an attempt for better working conditions. King was booked in the Lorraine Hotel, Room 306. He addressed a rally on April 3rd and gave his “I Have Been to the Mountaintop” speech, but rumors of bomb and death threats followed King and Ralph Abernathy, who accompanied MLK on this trip. They often stayed at this hotel in the same suite when they had business in this area. According to Jesse Jackson, who was also present at the time, King was standing on the balcony discussing a musician who was to appear at an event he was attending that night. But a shot rang out at 6:01 P.M. on 4/4/68, struck MLK, and he was rushed to the hospital, but pronounced dead at St. Joseph’s Hospital about an hour later. King’s autopsy revealed that although only 39 yrs. old, the man had the heart of a man twice his age, perhaps caused by all the stress of the Civil Rights Movement.
The assassination caused riots all over the U.S. in major cities with Black populations. By then RFK was running for President, and gave a speech calling for non violence, in honor of MLK’s methods of peaceful protest. President Lyndon Johnson declared April 7th a National Day of Mourning for the dead Civil Rights Leader, and Coretta Scott King asked that MLK’s last sermon from the Ebenezer Black Church be played at the funeral. In the sermon, King asked to be remembered as someone “who tried to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, be right on the Vietnam War issue, and love and serve humanity.” This was a very modest request in light of all Martin Luther King Jr. did do. His killer, James Earl Ray, was captured at Heathrow Airport in London, trying to leave and get to Rhodesia on a false passport. He confessed to the assassination in 1969.
President Ronald Reagan signed a bill creating a National Holiday to honor MLK, and it was first observed on 1/20/86. It took until the year 2000 for all 50 states to honor this holiday. A memorial to Martin Luther King has been constructed at the Tidal Basin at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The official address of the monument is 1964 Independence Avenue S.W., commemorating the year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law (due to the hard work of LBJ).
Joan Baez, Artist, Musician, Anti-War Activist
Joan Baez—1/9/1941—is a well known American folk singer, songwriter, musician, and prominent activist in the fields of human rights, peace and environmentalism. She was born in NY, from a father born in Mexico, and a mother from Edinburgh, Scotland. Joan had two sisters. The Baez family converted to Quakerism when Joan was young, and she still identifies with its traditions of pacifism and social issues. Since her Father worked for UNESCO, the family moved all across America, but also lived in England, France, Switzerland, Spain, Canada, and the Middle East, most notably Iraq. So Joan had a broad outlook on the world for a woman so young, and quickly chose her course of involvement with civil rights, non violence and social justice.
Baez Uses Her Fame for Social Unrest
Her family moved to MA when her Father began to work at MIT, putting Joan in the heart of the folk music scene in Boston and Cambridge. She performed in coffeehouses while accompanied by her acoustic guitar, and her appearances drew much attention and praise. Joan’s career took a leap forward at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1959, and she soon recorded her first album, a collection of folk ballads and blues numbers.
Baez was also responsible for making the then unknown Bob Dylan a star, giving up some of her sets to him. It was precious stage time she gave him, as then men dominated the music scene. They were romantically linked from 1962-1965, but she wanted Bob to join her in her anti-war and social work, and that was not the life he wanted to lead. Baez does a lot of cover songs from other artists, particularly Dylan.
Joan Baez Performs "Blessed Are"
Joan Baez Continues her Social Work
Her beautifully distinctive voice and social activism had a big impact on popular music at the time. Joan Baez was one of the first to use her celebrity as a means of social protest. Joan performed at George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh, actually one of the first “charity” concerts. Joan Baez was given an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by Antioch and Rutgers’s Universities in 1980, for her political activism and the universality of her music. She played a big part in the Live Aid effort for African famine relief, and still travels to sing to protest various causes. Joan went to the Middle East in 1987 to sing songs for peace for the Israelis and the Palestinians. In 1989 she performed in then Communist Czechoslovakia, and met Vaclav Havel, the future president, and she let him carry her guitar so he could avoid arrest. Joan was greeted by an excited crowd, but the electricity was shut down, so Joan sang a capella for the 4,000 people who came to meet and great her.
Baez Helped Form Amnesty International
Joan lends her voice to any worthy cause; one for mothers who have lost adult children in war. Baez marched with Cindy Sheehan when her son was killed during the George W. Bush administration, when bereaved parents wanted a little recognition that their beloved ones died for our country. Joan met Martin Luther King Jr. and marched with him in Selma, Montgomery. She has always been linked with the song “We Shall Overcome,” as she sang it on one of King’s civil disobedience marches. Baez was invited to the Obama White House and sang a lovely rendition of the song in the video above.
Baez played a big role in founding the US Chapter of Amnesty International. She finally formed her own Human Rights Organization, Humanitas International in the 1980’s, to help fight oppressed people wherever they were. While touring in Brazil, Chile and Argentina, she received death threats. After the Tiananmen Square Massacre, she wrote the song “China,” to condemn the Communist Chinese Government for its bloody killing of thousands of innocent students who only made a stand for democracy.
Joan, at age 70, still appears at many events in support of the LGBTQ community to support them. She has sat in large redwood trees to bring attention to poverty and the destruction of redwoods that are hundreds of years old. Although Joan supports so many political causes, she never endorsed a candidate before Barack Obama. She has said, “He reminds of an old friend, MLK.”
Baez has also been involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement. She was honored by Amnesty International at their 50th anniversary in San Francisco for Outstanding Inspirational Service in the Global Fight for Human Rights. One of her most lovely and haunting songs is “Blessed Are” and although Joan Baez is a class act, she is surely one of the Blessed Ones herself, giving so much of herself for others who need help
Background on Janis Joplin
Janis Lyn Joplin—1/19/1943—10/4/1970—Janis was an American singer and songwriter born in Port Arthur TX. Janis was always a nonconformist, her hometown was boring to her, and she felt like an outcast there. She admired blues singers like Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Lead Belly, and Elmore James. This was considered odd in a conservative southern town, and Janis, liking to read, paint, and have black friends, just wanted to get away. She did get admitted into the University of TX, but left to explore the scene in Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco.
She arrived in 1966, and her blues singing grabbed the attention of a psychedelic acid rock band called Big Brother and the Holding Company, who was starting to gain a following in Haight-Ashbury. Janis always had a rebellious personality, but many thought her performances were electric. Her breakthrough performance was at the Monterey Pop Festival. Janis did a rendition of Big Mama Thornton’s "Ball and Chain", and people were amazed. She did tour with Big Brother in NY at the Anderson Theater, with Jimi Hendrix, Paul Butterfield, Richie Havens, Joni Mitchell and Buddy Guy, at a Memorial Concert for Martin Luther King Jr.
Summertime and the Livin' is Easy
Janis Expands her Career and Changes Bands
Time Magazine called Janis, “the most powerful singer to emerge from the white rock movement.” Finally she moved on to the Kosmic Blues Band, a more rhythm and blues band, but she was still doing a lot of drugs. Janis did appear at Woodstock, she was promoted as a headliner. She had to wait her turn to get on the stage, and consequently was high and drunk, but the crowd was too, so enjoyed her performance. Janis was excited and happy to be at Woodstock and see the other performers. She then used Full Tilt Boogie as her backup band, and they went to Rio, but when they returned Janis was using heroin again. She also usually had a bottle of Southern Comfort she slugged from while onstage. Janis loved outlandish clothing, like the Boa she wears on the cover of Pearl, and often put feathers and beads in her hair. She liked attention and was her own person.
The Fateful 10 Year High School Reunion
Janis decided to go home to her 10 year H.S. reunion in Port Arthur Texas, and discussed it on the Dick Cavett show. He asked about her HS years, and she told him, “They laughed me out of the class, out of my town, and out of the state.” She did attend the event with her sister and a few friends, but it was an unhappy experience for her. Although Rolling Stone interviewed her and she was successful, her community was cruel, calling her a “Babylonian whore” and such.
Janis' visit to her home town was emotionally damaging to her. She overdosed shortly after returning to LA. Janis recorded an almost complete album, with enough tracks to make a full album, Pearl, which was released after her death, and became her best selling record. "Me and Bobby McGee", Kris Kristofferson’s song, was her biggest ever hit single. Joplin wrote "Move Over" herself, as it was her outlook on the way men treated women. She made her a Capella social commentary on "Mercedes Benz".
Janis, Also Remembered as "The Pearl"
Janis continued to work on The Pearl, which also became a nickname of hers. When she didn’t show up for a recording session on 10/4/1970, her band manager became concerned, and went to the hotel and saw her car there. Unfortunately, Janis had already died and was lying on the floor. Tragically, she was only 27, and although people tried to intervene, it did not work. The rock world was stunned.
Grace Slick and Stevie Nicks both credit Joplin with opening new doors for women in the rock world. Janis wore body art before it was popular, she had a wristlet, and a small heart on her left breast. Her flamboyant hairstyles were unique, and stores she frequented often held aside unusual or funky things they knew she would like.
The Mamas and the Papas tribute Janis with their song,"Pearl", from People Like Us. Leonard Cohen’s song "Chelsea Hotel # 2" was about Janis. Jerry Garcia’s "Birdsong" was about Janis, and the end of her suffering through death. Joan Baez has sung two tributes to Janis, "In the Quiet Morning" and "Children of the Eighties". The Bette Midler film The Rose was about Janis, but they could not call it the Pearl for legal reasons. When Don MacLean sings about “The Girl who Sang the Blues” in his song "American Pie", many believe he is referring to Janis. Janis Joplin was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, and given a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Too bad such talented young woman, who was so vulnerable, allowed a group of small minded people from a town in the middle of nowhere, to break her spirit.
Questions & Answers
© 2012 Jean Bakula