MUCH-LOVED MUSICIAN RAY CONNIFF DIES
He was the creator of a brand-new sound, a style of musical arrangement and presentation that bears his name ... the Ray Conniff Sound. The son of a musician, Conniff would rise from a player with Bunny Berrigan and Bob Crosby, to a major arranger for Columbia Records to a Grammy-winning chorus leader ("Somewhere My Love" from "Dr. Zhivago" in 1966). His "sound" was the result of having men and women, often singing arbitrary sounds and not words, substitute for instruments. Often women took the parts normally played by trumpets; men sang the saxophone parts. Just as Glenn Miller's sound was the result of instrumental substitution, Conniff used the power and texture of the human voice to create a totally new effect. In spite of his over 100 albums (10 gold and two platinum; 25 reached the Top 40), he will always be remembered as the arranger on some of pop music's most memorable hits. When he arranged "Band of Gold" for Don Cherry in 1955, suddenly other rising young stars wanted the "Conniff touch." What followed was a litany of standards, including: "Moonlight Gambler" for Frankie Laine; "Just Walking in the Rain" for Johnnie Ray; "Singing the Blues" for Guy Mitchell; Marty Robbins' "A White Sport Coat; and a slew of Johnny Mathis hits, including "Chances Are," "Wonderful, Wonderful" and "It's Not for Me to Say." Conniff's up-beat, bouncy arrangements became the stuff of middle-of-the-road radio stations for decades. For this former disk jockey, memories of Ray Conniff are memories of summer Saturday afternoons with the windows open at the radio station, and the happy sounds of Ray Conniff cranked up full blast on the station's wall speakers. By the way, Conniff's daughter, Tamara, carries on the family musical tradition. She's music editor for The Hollywood Reporter. Ray Conniff was 85 and died after a bad fall.
FOUNDING FATHER OF COUNTRY GETS STAMP
Roy Acuff, one of the genuine godfathers of country music, is about to be honored by the United States Postal Service with his own commemorative stamp. The personable singer and entrepreneur died in 1992, but not before becoming one of the most memorable stars of all time. He first gained national prominence before World War II and was one of the biggest country stars to go on the road to entertain troops overseas and perform on the radio at home. Even if he had gained fame only as a constant regular on the Grand Ole Opry -- heard nearly every week as a co-host of the radio broadcast for decades -- his rendition of "Wabash Cannonball" would have merited him a place in everyone's memory. Elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1962, Acuff was not only a performer, but co-founder of one of the most important music publishing companies in Music City, Acuff-Rose Publications. In setting up that company, he became the first person in Nashville to realize the potential of country music and to provide struggling artists and composers their own "home base" for publishing their music and getting full credit for their work. The new Roy Acuff memorial postage stamp will debut next year.
COMIC BOOK AUCTION SETS RECORD
Recently we reported that the incredible "first editions" comic book collection of actor Nicholas Cage had sold at auction for more than $1.6 million. Well, the organizers of the auction report that the Cage collection was only part of a huge cache of collectibles that was auctioned off over the weekend. The total haul was over $5.2 million. The sale was conducted by Heritage Auctions of Dallas. The CEO of the group tells United Press International that the event was the highest-grossing sale ever conducted of comic books and movie posters. The previous record for such a sale was $5 million, set several months ago when the same auction house sold the private collection of cartoonist Stan Lee, the driving force behind Spider-Man and several other action heroes. In addition to the Cage collection -- which contained a wide variety of "first issue" comics and comics in which major heroes first appeared -- other items that went on the block included the first known sketches of the character that became Wonder Woman and a copy of Spider-Man comic #1 from 1963. That comic book, though valued at about $28,000 in most catalogs, garnered over $70,000 at the auction. Additionally, the lot included the only oil painting of the Peanuts characters ever drawn by Charles Schulz.
CANCER TAKES LIFE OF HISTORIAN AMBROSE
He became a legend in New Orleans and one of the best known historians in the country. Stephen Ambrose rose from being a "lowly" college history professor to a darling of the media during the 50th anniversary commemorations of the events of World War II. Now, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Ambrose has died of cancer in a Louisiana hospital. He was the man who was the driving force behind the creation of the National D-Day Museum in New Orleans and was long associated with the Crescent City. After years of "teaching in the trenches," it was the publication of several landmark history books that thrust him into the international limelight. During the past few years, as the world remembered "The Greatest Generation," he seemed to be everywhere on radio and TV, doing interviews. His books about the 1930s and '40s and the legacy of World War II made him a celebrity in the world of arts and education. His material was turned into the stuff of major movies, mini-series, television specials and countless interviews. His impact on the New Orleans museum that he helped build is immeasurable. During his final years, though, he had to counter charges of plagiarism. He simply noted that he worked very quickly, borrowing thoughts and ideas ... but never stealing. His final work was rushed to completion as death approached. It will be released next month. Stephen Ambrose was only 66.
TRACE ADKINS TO RESUME TOURING
Singer-songwriter Trace Adkins has proved in the past that he is more resilient than most people. Surviving a car crash, after which doctors had to re-attach his nose, as well as a shooting in the heart by his ex-wife, Adkins is now recuperating ... again. His recovery -- from a farm accident in which a tractor flipped over, nearly crushing him under its weight -- is ahead of schedule. He did suffer deep bruises and had a rib torn from his sternum. Now, according to CMT, Adkins is determined to get back on the road as soon as possible. Just days after the accident (which was on Oct. 8), Adkins says he and his troupe will try to meet a scheduled date in Florence, S.C., in a week or so. He will team up with Darryl Worley on their Big Men of Country Tour. Other upcoming dates include a performance on Oct. 18 in Harrisonburg, Va., and one the day after in South Boston, also in Virginia.
LOW-KEY PROFESSOR MONITORING CITY'S FUTURE
Cincinnati is under a federal court order to clean up its act when it comes to the way that members of the local police department interact with minority groups. In fact, the Justice Department has set a deadline for local police to deal with the many charges lodged against it and to chart a new course of action. Last Thursday a bearded, scholarly professor was named as the man to be the chief monitor of change in that city. Meet Dr. Alan Kalmanoff. In his role as monitor, Kalmanoff has hit the ground running. Over the weekend he informed city officials that he was going to ride at all hours of the day in police cruisers, watching what was going on all over the Queen City. Additionally, he told the police department he wanted to randomly pick the officers with whom he would ride and in what neighborhoods, giving no advance warning. An unassuming man, "Kal," as he likes to be called, is working to help meet deadlines in suits brought against the department, charging racial bias. During his first hours on the job, he also met with representatives of the NAACP and several segments of the local police department -- from the chief to officers on the street. Kalmanoff is in charge of a team of 20 lawyers, retired police officers and chiefs, researchers and members of academia picked to overhaul the city's police department.
UPI DAILY SURVEY QUESTION NO. 436
Today, as suggested by the Cincinnati story, here is the question: "Have you ever worked with your local police in an auxiliary or "assist role"? In other words, has your association with the police ever been anything other than on the "receiving" end? Put POLICE in the subject line and send to firstname.lastname@example.org via the Internet.
RESULTS OF QUESTION NO. 431 (ZOO)
Last week, we asked for some of your favorite "trip to the zoo" stories. Randomly selected from the inbox, here are a few of your responses. AmyAnd says she has been a supporter of her local zoo for years. She remembers a time when the facility was "crummy and smelly and not very pleasant, but over the years the city has seen fit to redo things and it's now a credit to the community." BWH says that he especially enjoys going to zoos when he travels around the country. His best experiences have been at the various facilities run by the San Diego Zoo people. "That place is a national treasure," he writes. He liked seeing the pandas there. Randy P says that he is not in favor of anything smacking of a zoo. "Animals are not meant to be in cages," he writes. "What if the animals locked us up?" TOMORROW: Some classic comments. GBA