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Today In Music History

May 21 in Music History: Remembering Fats Waller

Fats Waller
Fats WallerNew York World-Telegram and the Sun staff photographer: Alan Fisher

May 21, 2024

History Highlight:

Jazz pianist Thomas Wright “Fats” Waller was born 120 years ago today in 1904. Waller grew up in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City, and eventually studied composition at Julliard School. His innovative playing set the stage for modern jazz piano, and he wrote hundreds of songs, including “Aint’ Misbehavin’” and “Honeysuckle Rose.” Both of those songs were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. At the age of 39, Waller contracted pneumonia and died in Kansas City, Missouri, on Dec. 15, 1943.

Also, Today In:

1963 - "Little" Stevie Wonder taped his sophomore album, The Twelve Year Old Genius, live at a Detroit theatre. It would become Motown's first No. 1 album and it yielded Wonder's first smash hit, "Fingertips, Pt. 2."

1966 - Dusty Springfield's "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me" debuted on the singles chart, where it would become her biggest hit ever, reaching No. 4.

1969 - John Lennon's and Yoko Ono's infamous 10-day "bed-in" for peace began at a Montreal hotel.

1971 - Marvin Gaye's album What's Going On was released by the Motown Records subsidiary label Tamla. It was Gaye's first album to credit him as a producer and to credit Motown's in-house studio band (the session musicians known as the Funk Brothers) and it is regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time. In fact, last year, it was officially ranked No. 1 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

1971 - Ram, Paul McCartney's second solo album, was released. Unlike McCartney's first solo effort, it was not a one-man band affair. Contributing musicians included guitarists David Spinozza and Hugh McCracken.

1977 - Stevie Wonder started a three-week run at No. 1 on the U.S. singles chart with his tribute to Duke Ellington, "Sir Duke", his sixth U.S. No. 1.

1977 - Fleetwood Mac's Rumours album took over the No. 1 spot in the U.S. from the Eagles' Hotel California.

1979 - Elton John launched a series of concerts in the Soviet Union. The shows were videotaped for a cable TV special called To Russia With Elton.

1980 - Joe Strummer of The Clash was arrested in Hamburg, Germany, after a concert during which a melee broke out between the band and the audience. Strummer reportedly struck one fan over the head with his guitar; he was released after an alcohol test proved negative.

1983 - David Bowie's "Modern Love" shot to No. 1 in the singles charts, thanks in part to Stevie Ray Vaughan's guitar playing and his Let's Dance" album hit No. 1 on the U.S. chart.

1983 - "Little Red Corvette" went to No. 6 in the U.S., giving Prince his first Top 10 hit on the Hot 100. The video was one of the first by a black artist to go into hot rotation on MTV.

1992 - MTV aired the first episode of The Real World, which got huge ratings and began a shift in programming away from music videos. It also encouraged other networks to try this "Reality TV" thing.

1992 - Bette Midler was Johnny Carson's last guest on The Tonight Show (his final show, the following night, has no guests). She serenaded him with "One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)."

1997 - Radiohead released their third studio album OK Computer.

2010 - U2's lead singer Bono had emergency spinal surgery after suffering an injury while preparing for tour dates.

2011 - Adele went to No. 1 on the U.S. singles chart with "Rolling In The Deep," taken from her second studio album, 21. The video to the song was nominated for seven MTV Video Music Awards nominations; "Rolling in the Deep" was also the Billboard Year-End Hot 100 Number One Single of 2011. And on Feb. 12, 2012, "Rolling in the Deep" received three Grammy Awards for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Short Form Music Video.

2015 - American bass guitarist Louis Johnson died at age 60. He was a member of Brothers Johnson, and played on the Michael Jackson albums Off the Wall, Thriller and Dangerous, and hit songs "Billie Jean" and "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough".

2016 - Nick Menza, a former drummer in heavy metal band Megadeth, died after suffering a heart attack on stage while performing with his band OHM in Los Angeles.

2018 - The Hootie & the Blowfish album Cracked Rear View was certified for selling 21 million copies in America, overtaking Guns N' Roses' Appetite For Destruction as the top-selling debut album of all-time in that country.


Blues singer Lee “Shot” Williams was born today in 1938.

Early Beatles collaborator Tony Sheridan was born today in 1940.

Ronald Isley of the Isley Brothers is 83.

Vincent Crane of the Crazy World of Arthur Brown was born today in 1943.

John Dalton of the Kinks is 81.

Hilton Valentine, guitarist for the Animals, was born today in 1943.

Marcie Blane (“Bobby’s Girl”) is 80.

Bill Champlin, of Sons of Champlin and Chicago, is 77.

Leo Sayer is 76.

Mr. T is 72.

Marc Ribot is 70.

Stan Lynch, drummer for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, is 69.

Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine is 61.

The Notorious B.I.G. (aka Biggie Smalls / Christopher G. Wallace) was born today in 1972.

Havoc of Mobb Deep is 50.

Deron Miller of CKY is 48.

Max B is 46.

Gotye is 44.

Highlights for Today in Music History are gathered from This Day in Music, Paul Shaffer's Day in Rock, Song Facts and Wikipedia.