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April 20th, 2012 By Mike Breen | Music | Posted In: Music History, Music Video

This Date in Music History: April 20

Milestones for Dolly Parton and Billie Holiday, plus "rapper" Carmen Electra turns 40


On this day in 1939, Adolf Hitler's 50th birthday was a national holiday in Germany. It was also the day Billie Holiday recorded her version of the stirring "Strange Fruit," which some consider the first Civil Rights protest song/anthem. Originally a poem written by Abel Meeropol, a Jewish high school teacher in New York (who later adopted the children of convicted spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg), about the lynching of black people. Some believe he was inspired to action after seeing a photo of a 1930 lynching in Marion, Ind. The poem was published in a teacher's union magazine in 1936 and Meeropol later set it to music (despite claims that it was actually Holiday and some other musicians who made it a song).

Holiday recorded the tune, despite fears of being targeted by racists, and it became the dramatic finale in her set during which Holiday performed the song with the room totally dark, save a single spotlight on her face. Holiday's label, Columbia, wouldn't release the song due to its "controversial" nature, so the company allowed Holiday to record it for the Commodore label. Time magazine dubbed in the "Song of the Century" in 1999.

"Strange Fruit" has been covered by Nina Simone, Sting, Diana Ross, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Lou Rawls, Jeff Buckley, Cocteau Twins, Tori Amos and UB40, to name a few. It has also been recorded by a pair of bands with local ties — The Twilight Singers (the post Afghan Whigs band of Hamilton native Greg Dulli) and The Sundresses.

And on a lighter note — on this day in 1959, a 13-year-old Dolly Parton released her first single, "Puppy Love," on the small label Goldband Records.

At 7, the young prodigy was given her first guitar by her uncle, Bill Owens, and by the time she was 11, she was a regular on a pair of Tennessee radio programs. Dolly's other uncle, Henry Owens, was acquainted with the owner of Goldband, leading to her first single being released.

It was an early example of Parton's underrated talents as a songwriter (she co-wrote the tune with her uncle Bill), though she would mature lyrically from such lines as, "Pullin' my pig tails makes me mad/When you kiss me, makes me glad/You turn to leave and make me sad/Still you're the sweetest sweetheart I've ever had." (Note: A more popular song called "Puppy Love," was a hit a year later for its writer, Paul Anka, and over a decade later again for a version by Donny Osmond. Dolly's version was included on the Dolly boxset in 2009.) 

Here's Ms. Parton's adorable debut (where she's already showing off her impressive pipes):

Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing an April 20 birthday include legendary Jazz musician Lionel Hampton (1908); Latin music hero Tito Puente (1923); late R&B start Luther Vandross (1951); former drummer and cofounder of Prog Metal favorites Dream Theater, Mike Portnoy (1967); and onetime Prince protégé Tara Patrick, better known as Carmen Electra (1972).

Electra was born in Sharonville and went to school in Cincinnati, attending the School for Creative and Performing Arts but graduating from Princeton High School.

She became a performer at Kings Island before moving to California in 1991 and meeting Prince, who signed her to a record deal with his Paisley Park Records. That's when she was given her fancy nickname. She released her one and only album, a self-titled effort, in 1993.

Electra's "music "career didn't quite pan out but she's had a fairly successful career as a model/actress (starring in everything from Baywatch to Scary Movie). She also married former basketball player Dennis Rodman and guitarist Dave Navarro, but neither marriage lasted long. She is currently engaged to musician Rob Patterson, who has played in the bands Korn, Otep and Filter.

Happy 40th to Ms. Electra. Here she is back in her Paisley Park days. It's a wonder her stunning Rap skills didn't warrant a major career as a top MC.

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