Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Music History Monday: What to Do About Otello?

Before getting to the question that drives today’s post, we would recognize five date-worthy events: a tragedy; two notable cancellations, and two notable opera performances.

George Harrison in 1961, at the age of 18
George Harrison (1943-2001) in 1961, at the age of 18

First, the tragedy. On November 29, 2001 – 20 years ago today – George Harrison died in Los Angeles of lung cancer at the age of 58.  Born in Liverpool on February 25, 1943, Harrison was the youngest of the Beatles: just 16 years old when he joined up in 1959.  Though not known for his song writing early on, Harrison’s contributions to the band’s repertoire came to rival those of John Lennon and Paul McCartney.  Harrison contributed four songs to the Beatles second to last album, released in November of 1968 and nicknamed “The White Album” for its plain white cover.  Among those four songs is the exquisite While My Guitar Gently Weeps (the recording of which features Eric Clapton on lead guitar).  Harrison’s two contributions to the Beatles’ final album – Abby Road, released in 1969 – are both rock classics: Here Comes the Sun and Something. (John Lennon declared that Something was the best song on the album, and it is the second most covered Beatles song, after Paul McCartney’s Yesterday.  The famously anti-rock ‘n’ roll Frank Sinatra recorded Something twice: in 1970 and 1979.  According to Ol’ Blue Eyes, Harrison’s Something is “the greatest love song of the past fifty years.”

For Harrison, musical life continued after the Beatles; his final album, Brainwashed, was released posthumously in 2002, a year after his death.

Harrison’s work as a humanitarian and political activist was fully as admirable as his music and would require an entire post by itself to detail.  Let it suffice, for now, the following: George Harrison used the bully pulpit given him by the Beatles to do great and enduring things for people across the planet.  When his metastatic cancer took him, the world lost not just a great musician but a great human being


Two cancelled performances on this date demand our attention, if only briefly!

The Sex Pistols
The Sex Pistols

On November 29, 1976, the Sex Pistols were due to play a gig in Lancaster, England.  My Music History Monday post for February 1 of this year profiled the Sex Pistols and, in particular, its bass player, Simon John Ritchie, best known by his stage name as Sid Vicious (1957-1979).  With Sid in the vanguard, the Sex Pistols were the punkiest of the punks, virtually indistinguishable in sight, smell, and sound from a manure fire.  When the members of the City Council of Lancaster got wind of that fire, I MEAN of the band’s scheduled appearance, they demanded the appearance be cancelled, gently explaining that:

“We don’t want that sort of filth in the town limits.”

Well okay, then.

Whitney Houston in 1997
Whitney Houston (1963-2012) in 1997

On November 29, 1997 – 24 years ago today – Whitney Houston cancelled a concert just two hours before she was scheduled to appear.  She had discovered that the concert – sponsored by the Unification Church, founded by Sun Myung Moon – was to be part of a mass wedding for over 1000 “Moonie” couples.  The organizers took Houston’s sudden cancellation well (meaning they didn’t threaten to sue), provided that Houston return her one million dollar concert fee, which she did.

Earth to Moonies: I would have taken the gig for half that price and a small piece of wedding cake. 

Just sayin’.…

See the full post on Patreon

Become a Patron!

Listen on the Music History Monday Podcast

Great Courses On Sale Now