David Bruce: The Funniest People in Music, Volume 2 — Money

Money

• African-American bluesmen Robert Johnson and Johnny Shines once played in a little town in Illinois where the residents had never seen black skin before. They stayed a couple of nights, but stopped when they realized that people were paying admission not to hear the music but to see the color of their skin. Mr. Shines says, “We didn’t want to be part of a freak show. The guy thought we wanted more money, but we just wanted to get the h*ll out of there. After all, a man have pride. What is it to sell his pride for a few pennies?”

• While playing jazz in Chicago, Fats Waller was approached by men who stuck a gun in his ribs and forced him into a limousine. Soon, Fats found out what the men wanted. Gangster Al Capone was having a birthday, and Fats was a gift for the boss. At the party, Fats performed for three days, playing request after request. With each request came a handful of paper money, and at the end of the three days, when he was finally driven away from the party, he was several thousand dollars richer.

• In 1951, the BBC offered Sir Thomas Beecham the extremely low fee of £15 for the right to broadcast his arrangement of Michael Balfe’s operetta Bohemian Girl. Insulted, Sir Thomas wrote to the BBC, “That arrangement has involved the thought of 25 years … at no time and nowhere in the course of a long career have I received such a preposterously inadequate, thoroughly imprudent, and magnificently inept proposal from anyone.” The BBC made a second, much higher offer.

• By age 20, Will Smith was a millionaire because of his rapping talent — he had not started to act yet. Like many young people, the way he spent money was fast and furious. He even owned six cars, even though his father told him, “Why do you need six cars when you have only one butt?” (Soon, Mr. Smith got into trouble with the IRS. Later, he got out of trouble with the IRS, but for a while, he says, “It was weird because I had six cars and couldn’t buy gas.”)

• Blues singer Bessie Smith’s talent made her a lot of money. When she recorded with a young musician named Louis Armstrong, he received his very first $100 bill, for which he needed change. Ms. Smith lifted her skirt, under which she was wearing a carpenter’s apron with many pockets. In the pockets were stuffed wadded-up dollar bills of many denominations.

• Tenor Tito Schipa was known for his very clear diction, which made him unpopular with the sellers of libretti in Italy. Because Mr. Schipa sang so clearly, members of the audience did not need to buy a libretto on nights when he sang, thus cutting the profits of the sellers of libretti.

• Jazz saxophonist Charlie “Bird” Parker once had a chance to play in Duke Ellington’s band — until he mentioned how much money he wanted to be paid. Shocked, Mr. Ellington told him, “Bird, for that much dough I’d work for you.”

• Graffiti are often witty. Back when millions of dollars were in dispute during the divorce of Paul McCarthy from Heather Mills, this graffito appeared on a wall outside Abbey Road studios: “Marry me, Paul. I have my own money.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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