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Caitlin Schneider // Getty Images

10 Famous Birthdays to Celebrate in March

Caitlin Schneider // Getty Images
Caitlin Schneider // Getty Images

Some of our favorite historical figures were born in March. We couldn't possibly name them all, so here are just a few of the famous lives we'll be celebrating.

1. JEAN HARLOW: MARCH 3, 1911

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Actress Jean Harlow became a breakout star in 1930s Hollywood, where she earned the nickname the Blonde Bombshell. She got small parts in movies beginning in 1928, and became famous when she appeared in the 1930 Howard Hughes film Hell's Angels , while still a teenager. Hughes had been working on the film for some time with actress Greta Nissen, but when 1927's The Jazz Singer introduced sound technology to film, Hughes decided Hell's Angels would be a talkie. Nissen had a thick Norwegian accent, and was dropped from the production. Upstart Harlow, in contrast, had a pleasant and relatively deep voice. The following year, she starred in six movies. Harlow went on to appear in a total of 43 movies, but her career was still brief. She unexpectedly died of kidney failure in 1937, at just 26 years old.

2. ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING: MARCH 6, 1806

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English poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning began writing poetry as soon as she learned to write, at age four. Browning's most familiar poem is Sonnet 43, also known as "How Do I Love Thee?" but her larger body of work had a huge influence on poets like Emily Dickinson and friend Edgar Allan Poe. Like many writers and artists of the time, Browning was addicted to the opioid drug laudanum, which she began taking at age 15 after an injury. By the time she met her future husband, poet Robert Browning, she was taking an astounding 40 drops of laudanum every day.

3. GABRIEL GARCIA MARQUEZ: MARCH 6, 1927

Gabriel García Márquez, the author of Love in the Time of Cholera, was once a starving young reporter for a newspaper in his native Colombia, writing novels in his spare time. When he wrote a series about shipwrecked Colombian sailors and connected their deaths with corruption in the navy, it made him an instant enemy of the government. The newspaper sent García Márquez abroad, and he lived in Europe for years. He later worked as a journalist in Cuba and the U.S., but was living in Mexico in 1967 when his breakout novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, was published. For the next several decades, his novels told stories of characters who were affected by politics, culture, and the forces of history. García Márquez was awarded the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature.  

4. JACK KEROUAC: MARCH 12, 1922

Tom Palumbo via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

Beat Generation author Jack Kerouac dropped out of Columbia University in 1941 after an injury ended his football career. He spent ten days in the Marine Corps in 1942, then returned to New York, where he met aspiring writers Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs. While he wrote continuously, Kerouac didn't make much money until his 1957 novel On The Road was published, six years after he wrote it. The acclaim for that novel was the highlight of Kerouac's literary career, although he wrote extensively afterward. What you might not know about Kerouac is that he was obsessed with fantasy baseball, and even invented his own version. Kerouac created a series of cards with teams, diagrams and possible outcomes, which he could deal to play imagined games all by himself. It was a hobby he hid from his friends at the time.  

5. ALBERT EINSTEIN: MARCH 14, 1879

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Albert Einstein's birthday is easy to remember because  March 14 (3/14) is also Pi Day. The theoretical physicist who developed the general theory of relativity spent his childhood in Germany, but left Europe when Hitler came to power in 1933, and became an American citizen in 1940. As a kid, Einstein did have a few brushes with authority in school, but the persistent legends about him getting bad grades actually aren't true. The rumor of his failing marks in math came about because his school switched their grading system. In one term, a grade of one on a scale of one to six was the highest grade, then in the next term the scale was reversed, and a six became the highest grade. Amateur historians are to blame for the mix-up. Sorry, Al. 

6. EDITH NOURSE ROGERS: MARCH 19, 1881

Edith Nourse Rogers is remembered for being one of the first women to serve in Congress, but she had an extremely accomplished career long before she joined the House of Representatives. Rogers was a nursing volunteer with the YMCA, the Red Cross and at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center during World War I, and in 1922, President Warren G. Harding appointed her to a position visiting veterans and inspecting military hospitals—one she held with presidents Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover. In 1925, her husband, Representative John Jacob Rogers, died, and Rogers was tapped to serve out his term. She went on to be reelected again and again, eventually becoming one of the longest serving Congresswomen in history. Rogers championed veterans and veteran rights throughout her career, and helped to author legislation that created the Women's Army Corps and the GI Bill

7. FRED ROGERS: MARCH 20, 1928

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Fred Rogers worked in television from 1951 until his death in 2003. Thirty-three of those years were spent as the host of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, which means that more than one generation of children grew up knowing the gentle and generous TV host. Strangely, he went to work in television because he hated it: Rogers was appalled at the banality and violence of TV programming, and wanted to use the medium to instead promote education and understanding. He was also an advocate for Public Television, and testified before Congress about the potential for TV to create more productive citizens.   

8. JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH: MARCH 21, 1685

Elias Gottlob Haussmann via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The German composer Johann Sebastian Bach was renowned as a gifted organist during his lifetime, but the genius of his compositions was only recognized after his death. Bach held many positions during his career. In 1708, he went to work as a musician for the Duke of Sachsen-Weimar. Within five years, he was up for a promotion to capellmeister, a.k.a. the director of music. Bach was passed over in favor of the retiring director's son, which made him so angry that he left to work for a rival court. The Duke of Sachsen-Weimar was so angry over losing his organist that he had Bach jailed for 30 days. Bach, of course, used the time to write more music.

9. FLANNERY O’CONNOR: MARCH 25, 1925

Born in Savannah, Georgia, Mary Flannery O’Connor wrote two novels and thirty-two short stories—many of which are considered master examples of the Southern Gothic style—before she died at age 39. The prolific writer also kept a prayer journal, and a collection of her correspondences was released in 2007. O'Connor was diagnosed with lupus in 1952, and after living in Iowa and Connecticut, she returned to her family farm to live the last twelve years of her life. There, she raised a flock of around 100 peacocks (and peahens). O'Connor had always been fascinated with birds, and even used peacocks as stand-ins for Christ in her work.

10. PATTY SMITH HILL: MARCH 27, 1868

Patty Smith Hill, in collaboration with her sister Mildred Hill, wrote possibly the the best-known song in the world: "Happy Birthday." Patty was the principal at the Louisville Experimental Kindergarten School at the time (1893), and wrote the lyrics while Mildred wrote the music. The song was originally "Good Morning To All," but Hill adapted the lyrics for other occasions, including birthdays. The song went on to have a litigious history, which Hill blamed on her publishing company. It is now in the public domain.    

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10 Crazy Facts About Willie Nelson
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Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Willie Nelson is one of the world’s most accomplished musicians—and not just in the country music world. Nelson’s talents transcend genre, and go far beyond music. Here are 10 things you might not know about the legendary outlaw country singer, who turns 85 years old today.

1. HE WROTE HIS FIRST SONG AT THE AGE OF SEVEN.

While other kids were still struggling to keep inside the lines of their coloring books, Nelson was composing music. He recalled the experience of his songwriting debut to Rolling Stone in 2004: “Back when we used to take music lessons from our grandmother, we'd go through lessons, and if we'd get the lesson right that day she'd take a gold star—a little star, about the size of your finger, with glue on one side—and she'd stick it on the sheet of music, which meant you'd done well. So I wrote this song with the line ‘They took a gold star away from me when you left me for another, long ago.’ I'd never been left by anybody, so it was kind of funny.”

2. HE USED TO BE A BIBLE SALESMAN.

Before he became a full-time musician in the mid-1950s, Nelson worked as a cotton picker (a gig he began as a child, working alongside his grandmother), disc jockey, and a Bible salesman.

3. HE RAN INTO A BURNING HOUSE (TO SAVE HIS POT).

While living in Nashville, Nelson arrived home one evening to discover that his house was burning to the ground. “By the time I got there, it was burning real good,” he told People in 1980. “But I had this pound of Colombian grass inside. I wasn't being brave running in there to get my dope—I was trying to keep the firemen from finding it and turning me over to the police.” One-hundred tapes of yet-to-be-recorded songs weren't as lucky as Nelson's stash; they were lost in the fire.

4. HE RETIRED IN 1972.

In 1972, Nelson paid $14,000 to buy out his contract so that he could retire to Austin, Texas. But his withdrawal from the music business didn’t last long. Especially considering how vibrant the music scene was happening all around him in Austin. Within a year, he was back on the charts with the album Shotgun Willie. By the mid-1970s he scored some of his biggest hits with a trio of albums: Red Headed Stranger, The Sound in Your Mind, and The Troublemaker.

5. HE HAS BEEN PLAYING THE SAME GUITAR FOR NEARLY 50 YEARS.

Nelson has been playing Trigger, his beloved guitar (which he named after Roy Rogers’ horse), since 1969. “I’ve got to take good care of Trigger,” Nelson told Uncut Magazine in 2014. “He’s had a couple of problems. We’ve had to go in and do some work on the inside, build up the woodwork in there a little bit over the years. But Trigger’s holding up pretty good.”

6. HE RECORDED THE IRS TAPES TO PAY OFF HIS TAX DEBT.

In 1990, the IRS raided Nelson’s house and seized his assets (everything except Trigger) for non-payment of taxes. The $32 million bill, one of the largest in IRS history, was eventually negotiated down and settled in a creative way: Nelson would record a new album with the IRS receiving at least 15 cents of every dollar made. The result was the limited-edition The IRS Tapes: Who’ll Buy My Memories, which sold for $19.95 on cassette or CD and was purchased by dialing 1-800-IRS-TAPE.

7. HE WROTE “ON THE ROAD AGAIN” ON A BARF BAG.

Nelson’s 1980 hit, “On The Road Again,” was written aboard an airplane—on a barf bag. “I was on an aeroplane with Sydney Pollack and Jerry Schatzberg, who was the director of the movie Honeysuckle Rose,” Nelson told Uncut in 2014. “They were looking for songs for the movie and they started asking me if I had any ideas. I said, ‘I don’t know, what do you want the song to say?’ I think Sydney said, ‘Can it be something about being on the road?’ It just started to click in my head. I said, ‘You mean like, ‘On the road again, I can’t wait to get on the road again?’ They said, ‘That’s great. What’s the melody?’ I said, ‘I don’t know yet.’”

8. HE PERFORMED "UP AGAINST THE WALL, REDNECK MOTHER” WITH ROSALYNN CARTER.

Former President Jimmy Carter has never made a secret of his admiration of Willie Nelson. And the two have shared a long friendship. On September 13, 1980, Nelson performed for Carter and guests at the White House—which included a duet of Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother” with then-First Lady Rosalynn Carter. (On various occasions, Nelson has recounted how he later made his way onto the roof of the White House and smoked a joint.) In 2012, the former President got his own chance to share the stage with the legendary musician when the two performed “Amazing Grace” together in Atlanta.

9. HE OWNS A BIODIESEL FIRM.

Nelson is much more than a musician—he’s a noted activist and entrepreneur, too. In 2004 he launched his own biodiesel firm, BioWillie Biodiesel.

10. HE’S A POT-REPRENEUR.

Nelson has hardly made a secret of regular marijuana use, or his support for its legalization. (His rap sheet of pot-related arrests certainly backs up those claims.) As more and more states are legalizing the once-outlawed weed, Nelson has put his expertise on the topic to good use, and launched his very own brand of pot: Willie’s Reserve.

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10 Fascinating Facts About Ella Fitzgerald
Library of Congress (LOC), Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Library of Congress (LOC), Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Today marks what would have been the 101st birthday of Ella Fitzgerald, the pioneering jazz singer who helped revolutionize the genre. But the iconic songstress’s foray into the music industry was almost accidental, as she had planned to show off her dancing skills when she made her stage debut. Celebrate the birthday of the artist known as the First Lady of Song, Queen of Jazz, or just plain ol’ Lady Ella with these fascinating facts.

1. SHE WAS A JAZZ FAN FROM A YOUNG AGE.

Though she attempted to launch her career as a dancer (more on that in a moment), Ella Fitzgerald was a jazz enthusiast from a very young age. She was a fan of Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby, and truly idolized Connee Boswell of the Boswell Sisters. “She was tops at the time,” Fitzgerald said in 1988. “I was attracted to her immediately. My mother brought home one of her records, and I fell in love with it. I tried so hard to sound just like her.”

2. SHE DABBLED IN CRIMINAL ACTIVITIES AS A TEENAGER.

A photo of Ella Fitzgerald
Carl Van Vechten - Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Fitzgerald’s childhood wasn’t an easy one. Her stepfather was reportedly abusive to her, and that abuse continued following the death of Fitzgerald’s mother in 1932. Eventually, to escape the violence, she moved to Harlem to live with her aunt. While she had been a great student when she was younger, it was following that move that her dedication to education faltered. Her grades dropped and she often skipped school. But she found other ways to fill her days, not all of them legal: According to The New York Times, she worked for a mafia numbers runner and served as a police lookout at a local brothel. Her illicit activities eventually landed her in an orphanage, followed by a state reformatory.

3. SHE MADE HER STAGE DEBUT AT THE APOLLO THEATER.

In the early 1930s, Fitzgerald was able to make a little pocket change from the tips she made from passersby while singing on the streets of Harlem. In 1934, she finally got the chance to step onto a real (and very famous) stage when she took part in an Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater on November 21, 1934. It was her stage debut.

The then-17-year-old managed to wow the crowd by channeling her inner Connee Boswell and belting out her renditions of “Judy” and “The Object of My Affection.” She won, and took home a $25 prize. Here’s the interesting part: She entered the competition as a dancer. But when she saw that she had some stiff competition in that department, she opted to sing instead. It was the first big step toward a career in music.

4. A NURSERY RHYME HELPED HER GET THE PUBLIC’S ATTENTION.

Not long after her successful debut at the Apollo, Fitzgerald met bandleader Chick Webb. Though he was initially reluctant to hire her because of what The New York Times described as her “gawky and unkempt” appearance, her powerful voice won him over. "I thought my singing was pretty much hollering," she later said, "but Webb didn't."

Her first hit was a unique adaptation of “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” which she helped to write based on what she described as "that old drop-the-handkerchief game I played from 6 to 7 years old on up."

5. SHE WAS PAINFULLY SHY.

Though it certainly takes a lot of courage to get up and perform in front of the world, those who knew and worked with Fitzgerald said that she was extremely shy. In Ella Fitzgerald: A Biography of the First Lady of Jazz, trumpeter Mario Bauzá—who played with Fitzgerald in Chick Webb’s orchestra—explained that “she didn't hang out much. When she got into the band, she was dedicated to her music … She was a lonely girl around New York, just kept herself to herself, for the gig."

6. SHE MADE HER FILM DEBUT IN AN ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MOVIE.

As her IMDb profile attests, Fitzgerald contributed to a number of films and television series over the years, and not just to the soundtracks. She also worked as an actress on a handful of occasions (often an actress who sings), beginning with 1942’s Ride ‘Em Cowboy, a comedy-western starring Bud Abbott and Lou Costello.

7. SHE GOT SOME HELP FROM MARILYN MONROE.

“I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt,” Fitzgerald said in a 1972 interview in Ms. Magazine. “It was because of her that I played the Mocambo, a very popular nightclub in the ’50s. She personally called the owner of the Mocambo and told him she wanted me booked immediately, and if he would do it, she would take a front table every night. She told him—and it was true, due to Marilyn’s superstar status—that the press would go wild. The owner said yes, and Marilyn was there, front table, every night. The press went overboard … After that, I never had to play a small jazz club again. She was an unusual woman—a little ahead of her times. And she didn’t know it.”

Though it has often been reported that the club’s owner did not want to book Fitzgerald because she was black, it was later explained that his reluctance wasn’t due to Fitzgerald’s race; he apparently didn’t believe that she was “glamorous” enough for the patrons to whom he catered.

8. SHE WAS THE FIRST AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMAN TO WIN A GRAMMY.

Ella Fitzgerald
William P. Gottlieb - LOC, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Among her many other accomplishments, in 1958 Fitzgerald became the first African American woman to win a Grammy Award. Actually, she won two awards that night: one for Best Jazz Performance, Soloist for Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Duke Ellington Songbook, and another for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Irving Berlin Songbook.

9. HER FINAL PERFORMANCE WAS AT CARNEGIE HALL.

On June 27, 1991, Fitzgerald—who had, at that point, recorded more than 200 albums—performed at Carnegie Hall. It was the 26th time she had performed at the venue, and it ended up being her final performance.

10. SHE LOST BOTH OF HER LEGS TO DIABETES.

In her later years, Fitzgerald suffered from a number of health problems. She was hospitalized a handful of times during the 1980s for everything from respiratory problems to exhaustion. She also suffered from diabetes, which took much of her eyesight and led to her having to have both of her legs amputated below the knee in 1993. She never fully recovered from the surgery and never performed again. She passed away at her home in Beverly Hills on June 15, 1996.

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