ON THIS DAY in 1967, nineteen-year-old Nat Northington of the University of Kentucky became the first African-American to play football in the Southeastern Conference when the Wildcats took on Ole Miss. This was a far from happy occasion for Northington, however — a day earlier his teammate and best friend, Greg Page, died from a severe spinal injury suffered in a football practice five weeks earlier. Northington would soon leave the Kentucky campus in what Sports Illustrated called “a fog of distress and loneliness.”
TODAY, SEPTEMBER 28, marks a special date for two memorable songs that never reached number one on the pop singles charts. On Sept. 29, 1958, nineteen-year-old Eddie Cochrane’s “Summertime Blues” peaked at number eight; exactly four years later, Booker T. and the MGs hit their highest mark, number three, with “Green Onions.”
Co-written by Cochran, “Summertime Blues” tells a rocking, funny tale of a frustrated kid who gets no help for his problems because he’s “too young too vote.” Blue Cheer, The Who, Rush, and country singer Alan Jackson (as well as Olivia Newton-John and Alvin and the Chipmunks) have recorded versions of “Summertime Blues.”
An early innovator, Cochran overdubbed his guitar work in the studio to create a unique sound on the record, which Rolling Stone ranked 73rd on its 2004 list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”
Less than two years later, Cochran died in an auto crash in England.
“GREEN ONIONS” BEGAN as a “little ditty I’d been playing on piano, except I switched to Hammond M3 organ,” Booker T. Jones told The Plain Dealer of Cleveland in 2012. Guitarist Steve Cropper said the song came together during a jingle session. He told Rolling Stone that he thought at the time, “This is the best damn instrumental I’ve heard since I don’t know when.”
Jones was just seventeen when “Green Onions” was recorded.
“Why did they call the song “Green Onions?” “We were trying to think of something that was as funky as possible,” Cropper said.
Rolling Stone magazine ranked “Green Onions” number 183 on its 2003 list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
The four-man Memphis-based band had been named the MGs after a spur-of-the-moment suggestion from drummer Al Jackson. Jones told National Public Radio in 2003 that Jackson looked around one day, saw an MG sports car, and said, “Why don’t we call (the band) Booker T. and the, uh … MG’s?”
Later, the band called the MG car company, seeing if they would agree to be a sponsor. “They wouldn’t do it,” Jones said. “So we decided that it would be Booker T. and the Memphis Group, the MG’s.”
The MG’s released several other food-titled songs in the 1960s, including “Jelly Bread” (1963), “Mo Onions” (1963), and “My Sweet Potato” (1966). None sold nearly as well as the original “Green Onions.”
ON THIS DATE in 1944, sixteen-year-old Petr Ginz boarded a train for Auschwitz and was sent to his death in a gas chamber. Nearly six decades later the brilliant young man’s diaries were discovered and published as The Diary of Petr Ginz 1941-1942. Ginz’s journal includes diary entries, poems, short stories, and drawings that “reveal a budding Czech literary and artistic genius whose life was cut short by the Nazis,” wrote Ladka M. Bauerova of The New York Times. According to his sister, Ginz had written eight novels by the age of fourteen.
ON THIS DATE in 1928, eighteen-year-old Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu left her home in Albania (now Macedonia) to become a missionary. Three months later, the woman we know as Mother Teresa departed for India, where she would serve the poorest of the poor for more than six decades.
Just five feet tall, Mother Teresa established projects to provide care and comfort to the very poor and the very sick, orphans, lepers and the dying. In 1968, Pope Paul VI called her an “intrepid messenger of the love of Christ,” and in 1979 she received the Nobel Peace Prize “for work undertaken in the struggle to overcome poverty and distress in the world, which also constitute a threat to peace.”
Mother Teresa spent most of her years in the poorest sections of Calcutta, where she would die at age eighty-seven in 1997.
Her chief task in life, she once said, was to provide “free service to the poor and the unwanted, irrespective of caste, creed, nationality or race.”
Much of this information originated in an excellent obituary by Eric Pace of The New York Times. It can be found at
ON THIS DATE in 1780, eighteen-year-old Isaac Van Wart and two others (David Williams, and David Paulding) made the most important capture of the Revolutionary War.
At a creek near Tarrytown, New York, Van Wart, Williams and Paulding stopped and searched British Major John André. They found papers in the major’s boots that revealed U.S. General Benedict Arnold’s treasonous plan to switch sides and surrender the West Point fort to the British.
André offered generous bribes to the three Americans, who could have used the money — they were all far-from-prosperous farmers. But they rejected the British officier’s money-for-release offer, and delivered him to military authorities. André was hanged as a spy on October 2, 1780.
For their actions, Van Wart and the other two militiamen received silver medals, a pension of $200 a year, and farms in New York.
ON THIS DATE in 1910, seventeen-year-old Hannah Shapiro (sometimes called Annie) launched a major labor action by walking off her job at Chicago’s Hart, Schaffner & Marx clothing shop. By the end of the week, about 2,000 employees had joined a strike that was prompted by a quarter-cent pay cut in the piece rate for pocket sewers.
Six decades later, Shapiro told the Chicago History Journal that older employees “were all afraid to say a word but I wasn’t.”
The shop agreed to rehire the workers at the end of strike but many were harassed and sought other work.
ON THIS DATE in 1960, eighteen-year-old Chubby Checker reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 with “The Twist,” a popular song with an even more popular dance. The song shot to number one on the charts a second time in 1962 and in 2008 was identified as the most popular single in the first 50 years of the Billboard Hot 100. But it’s the dance that emerged as a cultural phenomenon. “Just pretend you’re wiping your bottom with a towel as you get out of the shower and putting out a cigarette with both feet,” Checker has said, explaining how to dance the twist. Some objected to all that gyrating: In 1962, officials in Tampa, Florida, banned the dance, and the following year the South Vietnamese government declared the twist “not compatible with the anti-Communist struggle.”