The Late Movies: Great Performances by Blind Musicians

As a musician (OK, maybe musician is too strong a word; I do, after all, play the banjo), I'm impressed by anyone who has total control of his or her instrument. Whatever your axe of choice, if you can make the thing sing, it's impressive. These performances are impressive, sure. They'd be impressive no matter who did them. They're just that much more impressive because the musicians are blind.

Jeff Healey: "See the Light"

Healey had a brief stint on the rock/pop stage in the late "˜80s/early "˜90s with his work in the movie Roadhouse, but it was really his work as a blues and jazz guitarist that set him apart. That and the unique lap-style he uses to shred!

Rashaan Roland Kirk: "Making Love After Hours"

Kirk thought that just playing one saxophone was a bit boring, so he played three, plus a flute, a nose flute, a clarinet, a police siren, and anything else he could get his hands on. Had he just stuck to one sax at a time, he'd probably be remembered as one of the best players of the 20th century. Instead, his rather crazy penchant for multiple horns has discounted his musicality in the mind of jazz purists. I still think he's pretty swell.

Ray Charles: "In The Evening"

Brother Ray. "˜Nuff said.

Doc Watson: "Black Mountain Rag"

Probably one of the finest flat-picking bluegrass guitarists ever, Doc Watson. Roll forward to 1:00 for the start of the song, or to 3:00 to see the fireworks show.

Stevie Wonder: "Alfie"

Stevie has been a popular subject here on Late Movies. I figured I'd choose a clip showing off his harmonica skills. Gotta dig that Burt Bacharach creepily staring at Stevie the whole time. Fast forward to 1:30 for the start of the song.

Marcus Roberts: "Ain't Misbehavin'"

Roberts was a fixture in Wynton Marsalis's band in the "˜80s and into the "˜90s. He's pretty much a stud.

Bob Ringwald: "The Pearls"

Bob is a fixture in the traditional jazz scene here in Sacramento. His piano playing is pretty stellar. He also happens to be the father of "˜80s fixture Molly Ringwald.

Nobuyuki Tsujii: "Etude No. 3"

This is just flat out impressive.

Art Tatum: "Yesterdays"

This is cheating just a little. Tatum was legally blind by today's standards, blind in one eye and with only about 10% vision in the other. Nevertheless, he was probably the most technically proficient jazz pianist of all time.
* * * * * *
This is by no means a complete list. If you know of any other great blind musicians, let us know in the comments.


How Do You Stress the Word: THANKSgiving or ThanksGIVing?

Here’s something else to stress about for Thanksgiving: where to put the stress in the word Thanksgiving.

If you’re from California, Iowa, or Delaware, you probably say ThanksGIVing, with the primary stress on the second syllable. If you’re from Georgia, Tennessee, or the Texas Panhandle, you probably say THANKSgiving, with the primary stress on the first syllable.

This north-south divide on syllable stress is found for other words like umbrella, guitar, insurance, and pecan. However, those words are borrowed from other languages (Italian, Spanish, French). Sometimes, in the borrowing process, competing stress patterns settle into regional differences. Just as some borrowed words get first syllable stress in the South and second syllable stress in the North, French words like garage and ballet get first syllable stress in the UK and second syllable stress in the U.S.

Thanksgiving, however, is an English word through and through. And if it behaved like a normal English word, it would have stress on the first syllable. Consider other words with the same noun-gerund structure just like it: SEAfaring, BAbysitting, HANDwriting, BULLfighting, BIRDwatching, HOMEcoming, ALMSgiving. The stress is always up front, on the noun. Why, in Thanksgiving alone, would stress shift to the GIVE?

The shift to the ThanksGIVing pronunciation is a bit of a mystery. Linguist John McWhorter has suggested that the loss of the stress on thanks has to do with a change in our concept of the holiday, that we “don’t truly think about Thanksgiving as being about thankfulness anymore.” This kind of thing can happen when a word takes on a new, more abstract sense. When we use outgoing for mail that is literally going out, we are likely to stress the OUT. When we use it as a description of someone’s personality ("She's so outgoing!"), the stress might show up on the GO. Stress can shift with meaning.

But the stress shift might not be solely connected to the entrenchment of our turkey-eating rituals. The thanksGIVing stress pattern seems to have pre-dated the institution of the American holiday, according to an analysis of the meter of English poems by Mark Liberman at Language Log. ThanksGIVing has been around at least since the 17th century. However you say it, there is precedent to back you up. And room enough to focus on both the thanks and the giving.

TAKWest, Youtube
Watch Boris Karloff's 1966 Coffee Commercial
TAKWest, Youtube
TAKWest, Youtube

Horror legend Boris Karloff is famous for playing mummies, mad scientists, and of course, Frankenstein’s creation. In 1930, Karloff cemented the modern image of the monster—with its rectangular forehead, bolted neck, and enormous boots (allegedly weighing in at 11 pounds each)—in the minds of audiences.

But the horror icon, who was born 130 years ago today, also had a sense of humor. The actor appeared in numerous comedies, and even famously played a Boris Karloff look-alike (who’s offended when he’s mistaken for Karloff) in the original Broadway production of Arsenic and Old Lace

In the ’60s, Karloff also put his comedic chops to work in a commercial for Butter-Nut Coffee. The strange commercial, set in a spooky mansion, plays out like a movie scene, in which Karloff and the viewer are co-stars. Subtitles on the bottom of the screen feed the viewer lines, and Karloff responds accordingly. 

Watch the commercial below to see the British star selling coffee—and read your lines aloud to feel like you’re “acting” alongside Karloff. 

[h/t: Retroist]


More from mental floss studios