Review of “Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age” by Robert D. Kaplan

Robert Kaplan is the best selling author of Balkan Ghosts (1993), a book that Bill Clinton said shaped his perception of the war in Bosnia. In Adriatic, Kaplan returns to the Adriatic Sea, but this time covers countries on both the eastern and western shores. Kaplan describes how the Adriatic over the last 1,000 years experienced a frequent shifting of the boundaries of three once powerful empires — Habsburg, Venetian, and Ottoman — and how that history still influences modern Europe.

Traveling through Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, and Greece, Kaplan gives more specific details about the geopolitics of each country, and what lessons the rest of the world can take away from the region. He covers the rise of populist politics, as well as issues arising from migration, trading, and energy resources, observing the changes in the three decades he has been studying the area. He laments the decline of empires, which often were able to control violent nationalist aspirations [until they weren’t able to, whether through leadership changes, internal revolutions, or outside wars].

This is by no means an easy book to categorize — it is much more than a travelogue. Kaplan uses particular locations to ruminate on literature (especially books set in the places he goes), architecture, history, and religion. In each place he visits, he points out the influences of both West and East. He also learns, and educates readers, through interviewing politicians, journalists, historians, and others as he travels.

He makes the observation that in the current era, China has targeted the region with its Belt and Road Initiative by which Chinese leaders seek to expand their influence, particularly through significant investments in port facilities. He warns that the new and vast maritime empire of China and its burgeoning global trade threatens to overwhelm Europe. What this will mean for its identity is anyone’s guess.

Evaluation: Adriatic is a highly readable and informative book on a fascinating part of the world.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Random House, 2022

January 23, 1915 – Birth of Potter Stewart, 94th Supreme Court Justice

Potter Stewart was born into a powerful Ohio Republican family on this day in history. He attended Yale for both undergraduate studies and law school, made law review, and graduated cum laude in 1941. He took a job at a law firm, but enlisted in the Navy when WWII began, acting as defense counsel in court-martial proceedings.

After the war, Stewart joined a prominent law firm in Cincinnati, and in 1954, President Eisenhower appointed Stewart to a seat on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. In 1958, President Eisenhower named Stewart to a recess appointment to replace retiring Justice Harold H. Burton on the Supreme Court. This was Eisenhower’s third recess appointment, and despite criticism of the practice, Justice Stewart was confirmed by the Senate in a 70-17 vote on May 5, 1959.

US Supreme Court official portrait of Potter Stewart, 1976

Oyez reports that Justice Stewart believed in judicial restraint, seeing the proper function of a judge as interpreting the law as it applied to a particular case, rather than attempting to assert judicial influence over matters he saw best left to the legislature. This put Stewart in the ideological center of the Court, and he became an influential swing vote on many cases.

One of his more well-known opinions was in the obscenity case Jacobellis v. Ohio (378 U.S. 184, 1964). Justice Stewart famously said that while he could not readily define the term “hard-core” pornography, “I know it when I see it.”

Justice Stewart stepped down from the Court in July of 1981 at age 66. He said that his decision was influenced by his desire to spend more time with his grandchildren while he was still in good health. In 1985, he died from a stroke and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Upon his death, journalist Bob Woodward revealed that Justice Stewart was the primary source for The Brethren, the seminal book on the inner workings of the Supreme Court.

Rowena Scott Comegys, in her article, “Potter Stewart: An Analysis of His Views on the Press as Fourth Estate,” 59 Chi.-Kent L. Rev. 157 (1982), online here, contends that Justice Stewart’s support for freedom of the press stood out as part of his legacy, writing:

Stewart indicated in judicial opinions and extrajudicial commentary that he believed that the press deserves a special place among American institutions. [He believed] the Freedom of Press Clause was a structural provision of the first amendment, which the framers thought necessary in order to assure “openness and honesty in government. . . an adequate flow of information between the people and their representatives . . . [and] a sufficient check on autocracy and despotism. ‘ ‘ As he said in his speech at Yale in 1974, “If the Free Press guarantee meant no more than freedom of expression, it would be a constitutional redundancy.”

Review of “The Ruin of the Roman Empire: A New History” by James J. O’Donnell

We all know that the Roman Empire “fell” some time around 476 A.D., the date of the deposition of Romulus Augustulus, traditionally seen as the “last” Roman emperor. But maybe not, at least according to James J. O’Donnell, a distinguished classicist and provost of Georgetown University. In O’Donnell’s view, set forth in The Ruin of the Roman Empire (2008), the “fall” or end of the Roman Empire is exceedingly difficult to pinpoint. One reason is that the Empire persisted in the east (headquartered in Constantinople) until at least 1453 when it fell to the Ottoman turks. [That’s when Edward Gibbon identified the “fall” in his magisterial History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.] And even then, the Ottomans continued to refer to their empire as “Rum” [Rome] until it was formally disbanded in 1924 with the establishment of the modern Turkish state.

O’Donnell’s book focuses on the part of the empire governed from the city of Rome, particularly in the 4th, 5th, and 6th centuries. And even there, the “fall” was not at all obvious. The Empire in the third century was especially chaotic, with emperors typically lasting only a year or two before being assassinated and replaced by some ambitious general or warlord. The chaos ended in the late 3d century with the ascendency of Diocletian, who moved his base of operations eastward to what is now the Croatian city of Split. His successor, Constantine, moved the capital even farther east to Byzantium, which he modestly renamed Constantinople.

As the capital migrated eastward, the empire’s control over the western provinces (Gaul, Spain, and Italy) lessened, but that did not mean they became more barbaric. O’Donnell argues that the western provinces interacted a great deal with their “barbarian” neighbors to the north and east. Indeed, most of the consuls of Rome during the 4th through 6th centuries were born outside the titular boundaries of the “Empire.”

The Rhine and Danube rivers marked the official boundaries of the empire. But O’Donnell points out that rivers make very ineffective boundaries between civilizations (mountains and deserts are much more effective) because they attract people. Hence, citizens of the empire and their ostensibly barbaric neighbors had plenty of intercourse (double entendre intended) across those waterways. Tribes close to the empire adopted many of the customs, dress, institutions, and habits of the people within the empire.

O’Donnell portrays the movement of people and tribes around and across the empire’s boundaries as a bit chaotic, but more peaceful than generally described in most western literature. He appraises Attila the Hun as the most overrated villain in western history. In his view, the Huns were not so much repelled in battle as simply assimilated by a mutually recognized superior culture.

Rome may have been sacked by the Vandals in 455, but it quickly reorganized. Odoacer, son of Edoco (a Hun) became leader of the western empire and assumed the title of “king” rather than emperor, but provided wise leadership and stability from 476 to 493. His successor, Theoderic (sometime called “the Great”), ruled from 493 to 526 upheld a Roman legal administration and scholarly culture and promoted a major building program across Italy. In 505 he expanded into the Balkans, and by 511 he had brought the Visigothic Kingdom of Spain under his direct control and established hegemony over the Burgundian and Vandal kingdoms.

Coin depicting Flavius Theodoricus (Theodoric the Great). Roman Vassal and King of the Ostrogoths. It is only known a single piece of this coin, from the collection of Italian numismatic Francesco Gnecchi, now in Palazzo Massimo, Rome, via Wikipedia

Thus in O’Donnell’s view, Rome had not fallen in the mid 5th century, but was well governed until at least 526, admittedly by Visigoths and descendants of Huns. The bete noire in his telling is Justinian, who ruled in Constantinople from 527 to 565. The split of the empire into two halves, the Latin speaking west and the Greek speaking east, was not something he could abide. He was driven to unite the entire empire by a need to unify Christian beliefs. The western rulers tended to be tolerant of various forms of Christianity, whereas he was a devoted follower and believer in the teachings of the Council of Chalcedon.

O’Donnell does a nice job of explaining the various forms of early Christianity. As he says:

Jesus and his first followers…offered a variety of assertions about Jesus’s relationship with the supreme divine being….There is simply too much scripture for it all to make sense.”

Arian theology, a belief held by the majority of the people in the West, but not by the bishops of Rome, insisted on distinguishing Jesus from God. The Nicenes, on the other hand, said that Jesus and God were of “identical substance,” homo-ousios in Greek. The Council of Chalcedon attempted to solve the issue with a doctrine O’Donnell characterizes as “both-and,” asserting both the godhead and manhood of Jesus at the same time. O’Donnell opines:

“…the Chalcedonians put forth a logical construct, yet still quite difficult to grasp and comprehend, and they made this incomprehensibility into a virtue, at least far as they could. If scriptures were contradictory and confusing, they represented not conflict, but rather a lofty, divine logic that mortals could not grasp, and became evidence of the truth of a logically paradoxical doctrine.”

So Justinian set out to unify the empire, both politically and religiously. His armies set out from Constantinople to conquer Italy, north Africa, and Spain. They also picked fights with the Persian Empire to their east. Although they were often successful in battle, they pretty much ruined the economies of the western provinces. Moreover, not only were they ultimately unsuccessful in subduing the western provinces, they may have weakened their own empire as a whole as well as the Persian Empire so much that neither they nor the Persians were able to withstand the onslaught of Islam, wich began shortly thereafter.

O’Donnell’s book provides a welcome insight into an historical period not well known or understood today.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2008

January 17, 1819 – Thomas Jefferson to Joel Yancey on the Value of the Slave “Crop”

Joel Yancey lived on the plantation next to that of Thomas Jefferson, from whom he bought the land, and they became friends. On this day in history, Jefferson wrote to Yancey about “the mortality among our negroes.” Jefferson said to Yancey that he feared overseers were too hard on the women, not permitting them to devote enough time to caring for their children. Lest anyone get teary-eyed over Jefferson’s paternal-sounding concerns, his reasoning was strictly economic:

I consider the labor of a breeding woman as no object, and that a child raised every 2. years is of more profit than the crop of the best laboring man. in this, as in all other cases, providence has made our interests & our duties coincide perfectly.”

You can read the whole letter here.

Thomas Jefferson

January 15, 1915 – Birth of Mimi Reinhard, the Jewish Secretary Who Typed Schindler’s List

Mimi Reinard, an Austrian Jew (born as Carmen Koppel) on this day in history knew shorthand and spoke flawless German. Thus, when Oskar Schindler, the Nazi intelligence officer famous for saving Jews, met her in a Nazi labor camp near Krakow, Poland, he enlisted her to work as his secretary. Among her duties was typing up a list of Jews he wanted to spare from the death camps to work in his munitions factory in Czechoslovakia.

Mrs. Reinhard in 2007, via NY Times

Schindler had acquired the factory in 1939. At the time of peak production in 1944, he employed some 1,100 Jews there. His connections with the Abwehr, the military intelligence service of Nazi Germany, which he had joined in 1936, as well as copious bribes, helped protect his Jewish workers from deportation and death in the Nazi concentration camps.

(Ironically, after Schindler went bankrupt in 1958, he relied on financial support from Schindlerjuden (“Schindler Jews”) — the people whose lives he had saved during the war.)

The workers in Czechoslovakia apparently produced very little of value, but Schindler submitted falsified reports that claimed otherwise. They were liberated in May 1945.

After the war, Mrs. Reinhard reunited with her son and in 1957 moved to the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where she stayed for 50 years. Her second husband, Albert Reinhard, died in 2002 and their daughter, Lucienne Reinhard, died in 2000. Mrs. Reinhard decided to move to Israel in 2007 to be near her surviving family. She died at age 107, on April 8, 2022.

As the New York Times reported in her obituary:

Mrs. Reinhard was never secretive about her role, but it did not come to light publicly until 2007, when she was 92 and moving to Israel from New York, where she had settled after the war. She told of her Schindler connection to the Jewish Agency for Israel, a nonprofit Israeli group that was helping her resettle. When she landed in Israel, she was mobbed by the news media and became an instant celebrity.”

Of Schindler, she said in 2007:

‘He was no angel. We knew that he was an SS man; he was a member of the highest ranks. They went out drinking together at night, but apparently he could not stand to see what they were doing to us.’ ‘And,’ she added, ‘I saw a man who was risking his life all the time for what he was doing.’”

Oskar Schindler in the 1950s, via NY Times

January 12, 1948 – SCOTUS Rules Qualified Black Students in Oklahoma to be Admitted into All-White State Law Schools in Sipuel v. Oklahoma State Board of Regents

Ada Lois Sipuel (later married to Warren Fisher), a Black woman, was born on February 8, 1924 in Chickasha, Oklahoma. She was an excellent student and was her high school valedictorian. She graduated from Langston University in Oklahoma with honors and hoped to become a lawyer. As a site by the Oklahoma Historical Society explains, Blacks were not allowed to attend white state universities such as the University of Oklahoma which had a law school. Instead, Oklahoma actually provided funding for Blacks to go outside the state of Oklahoma and attend law schools and graduate schools that accepted them.

At the urging of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) twenty-one-year-old Fisher agreed to seek admission to the University of Oklahoma’s law school in order to challenge Oklahoma’s segregation laws and achieve her lifelong ambition of becoming a lawyer.

Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher

The president of the University of Oklahoma agreed that Fisher had the necessary credentials, but pointed out that Oklahoma statutes prohibited whites and Blacks from attending classes together. The laws also made it a misdemeanor to instruct or attend classes comprised of mixed races. Had they admitted Fisher, the president would have been fined up to fifty dollars a day, and the white students who attended class with her would have been fined up to twenty dollars a day.

On April 6, 1946, Fisher filed a lawsuit in the Cleveland County District Court, prompting a three-year legal battle. The future U.S. Supreme Court justice, Thurgood Marshall, represented Fisher. She lost her case in the county district court and appealed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. It sustained the ruling of the lower court, finding that the state’s policy of segregating whites and Blacks in education did not violate the United States Constitution.

Fisher then filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court. On January 12, 1948, the court ruled per curiam in Sipuel v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma (332 U.S. 631) that Oklahoma must provide Fisher with the same opportunities for securing a legal education as it provided to other citizens of Oklahoma:

The State must provide it for her in conformity with the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and provide it as soon as it does for applicants of any other group.”

According to Supreme Court Associate Justice John Paul Stevens, who sat in the gallery and watched Marshall argue the case before the court on January 8, 1948, Marshall was “respectful, forceful and persuasive – so persuasive that on the following Monday – only four days after the argument – the Court unanimously ruled in Sipuel’s favor.”

Fisher shown with lawyer Thurgood Marshall to her right

The case was remanded to the Cleveland County District Court to carry out the ruling.

Following the Supreme Court’s favorable ruling, the Oklahoma Legislature, rather than admit Fisher to the Oklahoma University law school or close the law school to students both Black and white, decided to create a separate law school exclusively for her to attend. As Melvin Hall writes for the Oklahoma Historical Society, the new school, named Langston University School of Law, was thrown together in five days and was set up in the State Capitol’s Senate rooms. It was not be any means “equal.”

On March 15, 1948, Fisher’s lawyers filed a motion in the Cleveland County District Court contending that Langston’s law school did not afford the advantages of a legal education to Blacks substantially equal to the education whites received at OU’s law school. The Cleveland court ruled against her, averring that the two state law schools were “equal.” The Oklahoma Supreme Court upheld the finding.

Fisher’s lawyers announced their intention to again appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Oklahoma attorney general knew it was a lost cause to argue equality in front of the same court.

As a result of this concession, on June 18, 1949, more than three years after Fisher first applied for admission to the University of Oklahoma College of Law, she was admitted. She enrolled on June 18, 1949, becoming the first African American woman to attend an all white law school in the South.

Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher

It was not a total experience in “equality”: Fisher was forced to sit in the back of the room behind a row of empty seats and a wooden railing with a sign designated “colored.” All of the Black students enrolled at the University of Oklahoma were provided separate eating facilities and restrooms, separate reading sections in the library, and roped-off stadium seats at the football games. These conditions persisted through 1950.

But as Hall contends, the end of segregation in higher education had already begun. In 1948 a group of six Black Oklahomans applied to University of Oklahoma’s graduate schools in disciplines ranging from zoology to social work. All were denied admission under the same statute that denied admission to Fisher. Thurgood Marshall selected one of the six students, George W. McLaurin, to present yet another challenge to segregation in higher education. On June 5, 1950, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, that the restrictions of segregation imposed on McLaurin at OU impaired and inhibited his ability to study.

Meanwhile, in August, 1952 Fisher graduated from the University of Oklahoma College of Law. She earned a master’s degree in history from the University of Oklahoma in 1968. After briefly practicing law in Chickasha, Fisher joined the faculty of Langston University in 1957 and served as chair of the Department of Social Sciences. She retired in December 1987 as assistant vice president for academic affairs. In 1991 the University of Oklahoma awarded Fisher an honorary doctorate of humane letters.

On April 22, 1992, Gov. David Walters appointed Dr. Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher to the Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma, the same school that had once refused to admit her to its College of Law. As the governor said during the ceremony, it was a “completed cycle.” The lady who was once rejected by the university was now a member of its governing board.

In April 1992, Gov. David Walters appointed Fisher to the OU Board of Regents – the very group that had once rejected her. Gov. Walters said during the ceremony it was a “completed cycle.” Via UO College of Law

Fisher died on October 18, 1995. In her honor the University of Oklahoma subsequently dedicated the Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher Garden on the Norman campus. At the bottom of a bronze plaque commemorating Fisher’s contribution to the state of Oklahoma, an inscription reads, “In Psalm 118, the psalmist speaks of how the stone that the builders once rejected becomes the cornerstone.”

Review of “The Irish Question: Two Centuries of Conflict” by Lawrence J. McCaffrey

Although the subtitle of Lawrence J. McCaffrey’s The Irish Question is Two Centuries [i.e., the last two] of Conflict, he argues that to understand modern Irish history, you have to begin with the reign of Queen Elizabeth – the first to be called such in 1603, not the current queen. Under Elizabeth I, Ireland was a part of what became the British Empire. At that time, Protestants were battling, and winning, the religious war for supremacy in England. Elizabeth’s land grants in Ireland to her Protestant supporters gave them substantial political power, far in excess of what their numbers (about a fifth of the population) would seem to have merited.

Ireland became a part of England (it was not yet the United Kingdom) pursuant to the 1800 Act of Union, pushed through the Irish Parliament by Protestants controlling the assembly. The Crown and the Tory Party endorsed a series of enactments that became know as Protestant Ascendency, a form of apartheid that relegated Catholics to second class citizenship. For example, Catholics could not attend public (read, “Protestant”) universities.

But the divisions that caused so much civil strife in the 19th and 20th centuries were not solely religious. They were also geographic. Ulster (Northern Ireland) had a Protestant majority (about 2/3) and was staunchly pro British. The rest of Ireland, about 4/5 of the country, was predominantly (about 90%) Catholic, and had little sympathy for the “mother country.” But many, perhaps a majority, of both Catholics and Protestants wanted Ireland to remain a united country. Protestants wanted all of Ireland to be closely connected to Britain; Catholics preferred to separate from Britain.

The internal divisions led many to desire a partition of Ireland into two countries, a Protestant north and a Catholic south. This led to cross-religious disputes between Unionists and Separatists.

Lawrence McCaffrey’s excellent retelling of 200 years of Irish history takes us through the potato famine of the mid 19th century, the heated “home rule” controversies lasting almost an entire century, the politics of the English Liberal Party, the Easter Rising of 1916, Ireland’s decision to remain neutral in World War II, the ultimate decision to divide the country, the rise of the IRA, and many other complex issues that helped shape the modern Ireland of the 21st century. The book was published before “Brexit,” and so it doesn’t take us to the present, but it provides a carefully researched account of how Ireland became the relatively peaceful, if divided, two countries you can visit today.

The structure of the book follows an adage I once heard for legal memoranda: (1) tell ‘em what you’re goin’ to tell ‘em; (2) tell ‘em; and (3) tell ‘em what you told ‘em. The first and final chapters are succinct yet comprehensive summaries of the middle 7 chapters. The book as a whole is well written and organized. Highly recommended.

Rating: 4/5

Published by University of Kentucky Press, 2000

January 6, 1777 – George Washington Orders All Forces Coming Through Philadelphia to Be Inoculated Against Smallpox

Disease, especially highly contagious smallpox, was as much of an enemy of the American Patriots as were the British. General George Washington had been exposed to the disease in 1751, when traveling with his older brother to Barbados. He contracted smallpox but survived, albeit with the telltale facial pockmarks. Thus he was immune but when the disease swept through the American colonies, he knew many would succumb to it.

As National Geographic Magazine reports, inoculation against smallpox dated back to ancient China, but it was considered a controversial procedure in colonial America. In Washington’s home state of Virginia, it was even illegal.

Benjamin Franklin, a devotee of science, was among colonists championing smallpox inoculation

At first he tried insisting on isolating those who caught the virus, but that aspiration did not play out in practice.

When American troops who marched on Quebec, their commanding officer, Major General John Thomas, failed to follow Washington’s strict protocols, and he and one-third to half of his 10,000 soldiers died from smallpox. The force was soundly defeated. On June 26, 1776, John Adams wrote his wife Abigail:

Our Misfortunes in Canada, are enough to melt an Heart of Stone. The Small Pox is ten times more terrible than Britons, Canadians and Indians together. This was the Cause of our precipitate Retreat from Quebec, this the Cause of our Disgraces at the Cedars. — I dont mean that this was all. There has been Want, approaching to Famine, as well as Pestilence. And these Discouragements seem to have so disheartened our Officers, that none of them seem to Act with Prudence and Firmness.”

Washington decided stronger action was necessary. On this day in history, General Washington wrote to Dr. William Shippen Jr. that he had “determined that the troops shall be inoculated.” He noted that while there may be some inconveniences and some disadvantages to the vaccine, “yet I trust in its consequences will have the most happy effects.”

He added:

You will spare no pains to carry them through the disorder with the utmost expedition, and to have them cleansed from the infection when recovered, that they may proceed to Camp with as little injury as possible to the Country through which they pass.”

You can access the text of the letter here.

General George Washington

By the end of 1777, some 40,000 soldiers had been vaccinated.

As the Library of Congress observes,

American independence must be partially attributed to a strategy for which history has given the infamous general little credit: his controversial medical actions. Traditionally, the Battle of Saratoga is credited with tipping the revolutionary scales. Yet the health of the Continental regulars involved in battle was a product of the ambitious initiative Washington began earlier that year at Morristown, close on the heels of the victorious Battle of Princeton. Among the Continental regulars in the American Revolution, 90 percent of deaths were caused by disease, and Variola the small pox virus was the most vicious of them all.”

Vaccination is indeed an American tradition, or was….

January 3, 1966 – Black Man & Veteran, Sammy Younge Jr., Murdered in Alabama for Using a “Whites-Only” Bathroom

On this day in history, Samuel (Sammy) Younge Jr., 21, was killed at a gas station in Macon County, Alabama for using the “whites-only” bathroom. Younge was a veteran who had lost a kidney while serving in the U.S. Navy.

Sammy Younge Jr. as an enlisted member in the United States Navy via Wikipedia

A Zinn Education Project history notes:

On Jan. 6, 1966, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) [Younge was an active member] issued a statement condemning Younge’s murder and against the war in Vietnam. SNCC saw Younge’s murder as a clear example of the U.S. government’s supposed fight for freedom abroad at the same time it denied that freedom to its Black citizens at home.”

Younge was shot by Marvin Segrest, the 68-year-old white gas station attendant at a Standard Oil station in Tuskegee, Alabama. Younge became the first black college student to be murdered for his actions in support of the Civil Rights Movement.

On January 4, 1966, Segrest was arrested, but released on $20,000 bond. He was indicted for murder in the second degree and tried on December 7. The trial was moved from Macon County, where blacks outnumbered whites by a 2-1 margin, to Lee County.He was found not guilty by an all-white jury the next day.

December 28, 1903 – Birthday of African-American Jazz Artist Earl “Fatha” Hines

Earl Kenneth Hines, known as “Fatha” is considered one of the greatest jazz pianists. Born to musical parents in Duquesne, Pennsylvania, he left home at age 17 to play with bands around the country. In 1925, he joined Louis Armstrong in Chicago. Armstrong was particularly impressed by Hines’s avant-garde “trumpet-style” piano-playing, which set off right-hand melodies with dazzlingly fast octaves and off-center accents in the bass. He invited Hines to replace his wife on the piano in his group, “Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five,” and together they recorded what are often regarded as some of the most important jazz records ever made.

Earl "Fatha" Hines

Earl “Fatha” Hines

In 1928 Hines left to form his own group, “The Earl Hines Orchestra” which recorded records, performed shows, and became the most broadcast band in America. He led his group until 1948, when the Big Band Era largely came to an end.

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Then, in 1964 Hines was “rediscovered” following a series of ‘recitals’ at The Little Theatre in New York. They were the first piano recitals Hines had ever given, and they caused a sensation. Hines won the 1966 “International Critics Poll” for Down Beat Magazine’s “Hall of Fame.” Down Beat also elected him the world’s “No 1 Jazz Pianist” in 1966 (and did so again five more times). He won numerous other awards and accolades, and made a large number of recordings with jazz notables. His most acclaimed recordings, however, were still his solo performances.

Hines played solo in The White House and played solo for the Pope—and played (and sang) his last show a few days before he died in Oakland, in 1983.

You can listen to some of his great piano playing in the video below.