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

10 Famous Birthdays to Celebrate in April

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

Some of our favorite historical figures were born in April—including three dancers who ended up famous for something else. We couldn't possibly name them all, so here are just a handful of lives we'll be celebrating.

1. WASHINGTON IRVING: APRIL 3, 1783

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Washington Irving is best known for writing The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle, but his body of work is quite extensive—which only makes sense since he was named after a prolific and accomplished Founding Father. Irving got his moniker from George Washington and even attended Washington's inauguration as a child. He later got a degree in law, served as the U.S. minister to Spain in the 1840s, and deserves some props from Batman: Irving was the first person to refer to New York City as "Gotham." He also worked to strengthen copyright laws to protect the work of American writers.

2. MAYA ANGELOU: APRIL 4, 1928

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Maya Angelou was an author, poet, and Civil Rights activist, but her life included periods in which she was a singer, dancer, composer, educator, and even movie director. Angelou, born Marguerite Annie Johnson, was seven years old when her mother's boyfriend raped her and was then killed by her uncles. The experience was so traumatizing that Angelou didn't speak for years. Later she trained as a dancer and actress and earned money performing with touring shows. Angelou wrote seven autobiographies, the first of which was I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings in 1969. The book was banned in many high schools because of its depiction of sexual violence, but became a hit and often even required reading on college campuses. It was the first nonfiction best-seller by an African-American woman.

3. BOOKER T. WASHINGTON: APRIL 5, 1856

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Born a slave in Virginia, Booker T. Washington grew up during Reconstruction and the beginning of the Jim Crow era. He worked his way through school after the Civil War and became a teacher. In 1888, General Samuel C. Armstrong, who was Washington's mentor, recruited him to found the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Alabama, now Tuskegee University. Washington built the school into a successful institution and became a national advocate for the education of black Americans. He was an "accommodationist," believing that equal rights for African-Americans could be put on the back burner while they made educational and economic progress. Washington's views drew criticism from equal rights advocates, but those views also allowed him access to national leaders, particularly Teddy Roosevelt. As a result, Washington was one of the most famous black advocates of the early 20th century.

4. BILLIE HOLIDAY: APRIL 7, 1915

Carl Van Vechten via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Legendary singer Billie Holiday had a rough start in life. She was born into poverty to a teenage mother, began working as a child, dropped out of school in fifth grade, spent time at a reformatory, and was arrested for prostitution at the age of 15. Soon after, she went to Harlem (Holiday was born in Philadelphia and spent much of her childhood in Baltimore) to break into the entertainment field as a dancer. She wasn't great—but her singing enchanted audiences. Producer John Hammond discovered her singing in a bar in 1933 and signed her to a record contract, and she went on to make hundreds of recordings in the 1930s. Her 1939 song "Strange Fruit" was a protest against lynching, and since her record company refused to release it, she turned to a smaller jazz label to record it. During the 1940s, Holiday added opium use to her drinking problem, and eventually turned to heroin. She continued performing, but during her final years her personal struggles began to cloud her public persona. Holiday died from complication of drug and alcohol addiction in 1959. She became more famous than ever after her death, as her records were re-released and her life was chronicled in the 1972 movie Lady Sings the Blues. In 1999, her recording of "Strange Fruit" was named the "song of the century" by Time magazine.

5. CHARLIE CHAPLIN: APRIL 16, 1889

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Charlie Chaplin was born to parents who were both music hall performers in England, and young Chaplin made his stage debut at age five. He worked in vaudeville until moving to California in 1913, where he brought his physical comedy to the silver screen—making 35 movies in rapid succession with Mack Sennett of Keystone Studios in a matter of years. His output was almost as fast at other studios, and in 1919, he launched United Artists with Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and D.W. Griffith. Chaplin's pacifist bent showed in his films, and drew the suspicion of J. Edgar Hoover, who considered him a communist sympathizer. Chaplin's offscreen activities got him in trouble, too. He lost a paternity suit in 1944, despite that fact that a blood test showed he was not the father of actress Joan Barry's child. The case led to a change in paternity laws, and afterward, blood tests became admissible in court. Hoover got his wish to rid America of Charlie Chaplin when the actor went to England for a film premiere in 1952, and was denied a re-entry visa. Chaplin settled in Switzerland with wife Oona O'Neill and children, and did not return to America until 1972 to receive an Honorary Academy Award.

6. CHARLOTTE BRONTE: APRIL 21, 1816

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As an aspiring poet in the 19th century, young Charlotte Bronte was told that her writing showed talent, but she shouldn't pursue it because after all, she was a woman. Despite that, Charlotte—and her sisters Emily and Anne—all went on to became famous authors after publishing their stories and poetry under men's names. Charlotte, the oldest of the three, was listed as author Currer Bell on her first book of poetry, a collaboration with her sisters. It was also the name on the novel Jane Eyre: An Autobiography, published in 1847. Even her publishers didn't know Currer Bell was a woman until a year later, long after the book proved to be a bestseller. Charlotte Bronte wrote four novels before she died at age 38.

7. JOHN MUIR: APRIL 21, 1838

Francis M. Fritz via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

After an industrial accident blinded him for six weeks, John Muir left his job behind and began a pilgrimage to explore the United States on foot. He set off in September of 1867 on a 1000-mile walk from Kentucky to Florida, studying plants along the way. Muir traveled light, and relied on the kindness of strangers for his sustenance. The diary of his two-month journey was published as A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf. Muir continued his wandering, falling more and more in love with the natural world. He founded the Sierra Club in 1892, and lobbied to have the Yosemite area preserved as a national park. That was after he and President Teddy Roosevelt spent three days camping in the wilderness in 1903. Muir is credited with inspiring the president to form an entire system of national parks—earning him the nickname, the "Father of the National Parks."

8. ELLA FITZGERALD: APRIL 25, 1917

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When Ella Fitzgerald was 17, she won the chance to compete at amateur night at the Apollo Theater. She had planned to dance, but after seeing the competition, she decided at the last minute to sing instead. Fitzgerald won first prize and set out on a career that spanned the rest of the 20th century. Fitzgerald toured and recorded with Chick Webb's band until he died in 1939, and it became her band. She added scat singing to her repertoire in the 1940s. Fitzgerald fan Marilyn Monroe used her influence to get the singer booked at the Mocambo Club in Hollywood in 1955, which cemented her superstar status. Fitzgerald sang in numerous movies, on television variety shows, and with elite musicians through the '80s. Along the way, she won 13 Grammys and a Presidential Medal of Freedom, among other awards. Fitzgerald continued to perform as her health declined, giving her last concert at Carnegie Hall in 1991, five years before she died of complications from diabetes in 1996.

9. HARPER LEE: APRIL 28, 1926

Eric Draper via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

For most of her life, Harper Lee was known to have written only one novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee grew up in Monroeville, Alabama, where her father was a prominent lawyer. As a kid, Lee had a close relationship with Truman Capote (who was two years older). He later introduced her to the literary world of New York City after she dropped out of law school. In 1956, her new friends Joy and Michael Brown were so impressed with her writing that they gave her enough money to support her for a year, giving her time to write a novel. Published 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird became a hit, earning Lee a Pulitzer Prize. It also became a movie that garnered eight Academy Award nominations (and three wins). Lee never finished another book, but over 50 years later it was discovered that she had written a novel before To Kill a Mockingbird. That book, Go Set a Watchman, had been rejected for publication in 1957. It featured an older Atticus Finch and Scout, and was published in 2015. Harper Lee died in 2016 at age 89.

10. DUKE ELLINGTON: APRIL 29, 1899

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Jazz legend Duke Ellington earned many of the combined accolades of others in this list: 13 Grammy Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, the Medal of Freedom, and more. A piano prodigy, Ellington first started writing music in his teens. He took his band The Washingtonians to New York in 1923 where they played the hot nightspots in Harlem, including three years as the house band at the Cotton Club. The band also played for Broadway and on radio, which turned a nation on to jazz. Ellington took the show on the road, and eventually logged over 20,000 performances. He also wrote over 3000 songs. As if all that wasn't interesting enough, Ellington also experienced chromesthesia, a type of synesthesia that meant he saw colors and textures in musical notes. The Duke performed up until his death in 1974, after which his son Mercer and then his grandson Paul took over the Duke Ellington Orchestra.

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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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30 Fierce Barbra Streisand Quotes
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Barbra Streisand is an artist of many talents. In addition to her famed singing and songwriting career, she’s also a celebrated actress and filmmaker with a host of accolades and awards—including two Oscars, nine Golden Globes, 10 Grammys, six Emmys, and one Tony—on her resume (so far). While Streisand, who turns 76 years old today, may be one of the best-selling artists of all time, what truly makes her memorable is her total originality. While her creative talents made her a star, her no-nonsense attitude has made her an icon, as evidenced by the quotes below.

1. ON HER WILD YOUTH.

“I was kind of a wild child. I wasn't taught the niceties of life.”

2. ON PURSUING YOUR DREAMS.

“As a young woman, I wanted nothing more than to see my name in lights.”

3. ON REMAINING TRUE TO ONESELF.

“I arrived in Hollywood without having my nose fixed, my teeth capped, or my name changed. That is very gratifying to me.”

4. ON INSTINCT.

“I go by instinct—I don't worry about experience.”

5. ON BEING CONTRADICTORY.

Barbra Streisand on stage
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

“I was a personality before I became a person—I am simple, complex, generous, selfish, unattractive, beautiful, lazy, and driven.”

6. ON TRUSTING YOURSELF.

“You have got to discover you, what you do, and trust it.”

7. ON THE DEFINITION OF SUCCESS.

“Success to me is having 10 honeydew melons and eating only the top half of each slice.”

8. ON APPLAUSE.

“What does it mean when people applaud? Should I give 'em money? Say thank you? Lift my dress? The lack of applause—that I can respond to.”

9. ON BAD REVIEWS.

“I wish I could be like [George Bernard] Shaw, who once read a bad review of one of his plays, called the critic, and said: 'I have your review in front of me and soon it will be behind me.’”

10. ON THE DEFINITION OF “EGO.”

Barbra Streisand addresses her fans
Emma McIntyre, Getty Images

“To have ego means to believe in your own strength. And to also be open to other people's views. It is to be open, not closed. So, yes, my ego is big, but it's also very small in some areas. My ego is responsible for my doing what I do—bad or good.”

11. ON DOUBLE STANDARDS.

“Men are allowed to have passion and commitment for their work ... a woman is allowed that feeling for a man, but not her work.”

12. ON SAYING WHAT’S ON YOUR MIND.

“I knew that with a mouth like mine, I just had to be a star or something.”

13. ON THE LESS GLAMOROUS SIDE OF SHOW BUSINESS.

“I don't enjoy public performances and being up on a stage. I don't enjoy the glamour. Like tonight, I am up on stage and my feet hurt.”

14. ON GETTING IT RIGHT.

“I don't care what you say about me. Just be sure to spell my name wrong.”

15. ON FOLLOWING YOUR HEART.

A photo of Barbra Streisand
Harry Benson, Express/Getty Images

“Nobody on this earth has the right to tell anyone that their love for another human being is morally wrong.”

16. ON THE IMPORTANCE OF TRUTH.

“I can take any truth; just don't lie to me.”

17. ON KEEPING IT SIMPLE.

“I like simple things. Elastic waists, so I can eat.”

18. ON WHY BEING “DIFFICULT” CAN BE A GOOD THING.

“I've been called many names like perfectionist, difficult and obsessive. I think it takes obsession, takes searching for the details for any artist to be good.”

19. ON LIMITATIONS.

“I just don't want to be hampered by my own limitations.”

20. ON THE TRUTHFULNESS OF AN AUDIENCE.

"The audience is the best judge of anything. They cannot be lied to. Truth brings them closer. A moment that lags—they're gonna cough.”

21. ON FINDING THE PERFECT MATCH.

Barbra Streisand and James Brolin
Sonia Moskowitz, Getty Images

“What is exciting is not for one person to be stronger than the other ... but for two people to have met their match and yet they are equally as stubborn, as obstinate, as passionate, as crazy as the other.”

22. ON THE FUTILITY OF MYTHS.

“Myths are a waste of time. They prevent progression.”

23. ON THE NATURE OF PERFORMING.

“Performing, for me, has always been a very inner process.”

24. ON THE DOWNSIDE OF STARDOM.

“I think when I was younger, I wanted to be a star, until I became a star, and then it's a lot of work. It's work to be a star. I don't enjoy the stardom part. I only enjoy the creative process.”

25. ON THE TROUBLE WITH LOVE.

“Sometimes you resent the people you love and need the most. Love is so fascinating in all its forms, and I think everyone who has ever been a mother will relate to this.”

26. ON THE IMPORTANCE OF DOUBTING YOURSELF.

Barbra Streisand poses for the press
Terry Fincher, Express/Getty Images

"Doubt can motivate you, so don't be afraid of it. Confidence and doubt are at two ends of the scale, and you need both. They balance each other out."

27. ON AMBITION.

"I've always liked working really hard and then doing nothing in particular. So, consequently, I didn't overexpose myself; I guess I maintained a kind of mystery. I wasn't ambitious."

28. ON CONSTANTLY EVOLVING.

“I'm a work in progress.”

29. ON HER FAMOUS NOSE.

“I've considered having my nose fixed. But I didn't trust anyone enough. If I could do it myself with a mirror.”

30. ON BEING AN ORIGINAL.

Barbra Streisand with Barack Obama
Alex Wong, Getty Images

“I guess if you have an original take on life, or something about you is original, you don't have to study people who came before you. You don't have to mimic anybody. You just have a gut feeling inside, an instinct that tells you what's right for you, and you can't do it in any other way.”

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