WTF Fun Fact 13169 – Aretha Franklin’s Voice a Natural Resource

If you’ve ever heard Aretha Franklin’s voice (and there’s an excellent chance you have), you know it’s hard not to be impressed. There’s a reason they call her the “Queen of Soul.” But did you know that in 1985, the state of Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources also declared Aretha Franklin’s voice a natural resource?

How is Aretha Franklin’s voice a natural resource?

Not only was Franklin a Michigan native, but she eschewed Hollywood and New York to move back to her hometown of Detroit. As a result, lawmakers in Michigan’s state House and Senate saw fit to recognize her connections to the city (and state) she loved. In 1968, Michigan declared February 16th Aretha Franklin Day.

Franklin’s career was already two decades old when her home state started finding even more permanent ways to recognize her achievements. For example, they specifically drew attention to her vocals by declaring them a natural resource.

At her funeral in 2018, Michigan then-governor Rick Snyder spoke about the impact she had on the state of Michigan. He noted her designation as a natural resource, saying: “That’s something special, folks. That strikes out right in the heart…She had a God-given voice, a talent, a musical skill that people only dream of. But she did more than that. She took not just the triumphs of her life, she took the challenges and the tragedies and brought a special humanity to her words, to her voice, to her music, that most musicians would only dream to have.”

More tributes to Franklin

You can find homages to Franklin throughout her native Detroit specifically. For example, in 2017, the city council named a street Aretha Franklin Way. At age 75, she vowed to dance down the street every time she used it.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Was Aretha Franklin’s Voice Declared a ‘Natural Resource’ in Michigan?” — Snopes

WTF Fun Fact 13164 – Dolly Parton Books For Children

Dolly Parton founded the Imagination Library in 1995. Since then, she has used the organization to donate over 182 million books to children.

Dolly Parton’s philanthropy

If you only know Dolly Parton as a country singer, you’re missing out on some of her most amazing work. Born into poverty in Tennessee, Parton has long helped kids and teens in her hometown of Pigeon Forge in the Smoky Mountains learn to read and graduate high school.

She even donated $1 million to Vanderbilt University’s coronavirus research lab – the one that helped created the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine!

Now in her late 70s, Parton has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to help people, but her literacy efforts may be among the most meaningful since she’s changed so many lives.

In 1988, she created the Dollywood Foundation to inspire children in her home region to “achieve educational success.” The foundation gives out scholarships to high school students that want to go on to (an accredited) university but can’t afford it.

The expansion of Dolly Parton’s books for children

Since 1995, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library (which is part of the foundation) has been sending high-quality books (not religious tracts or cheaply-printed donations) to children up to age 5 each month. The goal is to get parents to read to kids and get kids reading early (at least until they enter school and have access to books there). As of May 2022, she’s given out over 182 million free books. A family’s income doesn’t matter – no matter how rich or poor, children can receive books if they’re under the age of 5.

Even Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos understands that Parton knows how to do good with money. That’s why in 2022 he gave her $100 million to keep going. Parton herself is the author of many books aimed at children 4 – 7 years old.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Dolly Parton receives $100 million award from Jeff Bezos: ‘I will do my best to do good things with this money” — CNBC

WTF Fun Fact 13151 – Franz Liszt Sent Fans Dog Hair

In the 1830s, pianist Franz Liszt became one of the first celebrities. Women were so enamored of him (and his hair) that they sent requests to him for a lock of it. Eventually, Liszt bought a dog to clip hair from to fulfill their requests.

The first celebrity

Long before The Beatles made women go mad, there was Franz Liszt (1811-1886). The Hungarian musician was the star of concert halls all over 19th-century Europe. And not only was he talented, but people also found him very attractive. Word of his beauty spread like wildfire in a time before anyone could even share photos.

It’s probably no coincidence that the word “celebrity” began to appear in the dictionary around the time of his popularity in the 1830s.

It probably helped that Liszt’s talent was matched by his luscious locks, which he threw around in a frenzy as he played piano. And since he gave around 8000 concerts in just eight years alone, plenty of people got a chance to see him.

Fans were so mad about Franz Liszt that his biographer described the height of his popularity as “Lisztomania.” According to the BBC, “One eyewitness recalled that ‘on one occasion a woman snatched up a half-smoked cigar that Liszt had cast aside and in spite of repeatedly retching she continued to smoke it with feigned delight’. Baronesses and countesses tore at each other’s hair in trying to lay hands on a glass or handkerchief that Liszt had used.”

Eventually, women were throwing themselves at his feet and tearing at both his and their own clothing while doing so. Then there was the fanmail.

Franz Liszt and the hair conundrum

Women would often try to get a piece of hair or a broken piano string in his presence. One story that’s often repeated is that Liszt got lots of fanmail asking for the locks of his beautiful mane.

It may be an apocryphal story. But legend has it that he got so many requests for hair that in order to fulfill them, Liszt bought a dog that he could snip hair from.

To this day, people claim to have locks of his hair that likely belong to a dog (if the story is indeed true).  WTF fun facts

Source: “Forget the Beatles – Liszt was music’s first ‘superstar'” — BBC

WTF Fun Fact 13132 – The Super Bowl Shuffle

In 1985, the Chicago Bears recorded a hit rap song called “The Super Bowl Shuffle.” The song was even nominated for a Grammy award for Best Rhythm and Blues Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocal. However, they lost to the late singer Prince’s song “Kiss.”

The Bears’ Super Bowl Shuffle

We never expected to see the Chicago Bears nominated for a Grammy. But that’s precisely what happened after the team members known as the “Chicago Bears Shufflin’ Crew” released The Supe rBowl Shuffle in 1985.

The song was distributed through Capitol Records – and notable, it was released two months BEFORE their win in Super Bowl XX. How embarrassing would it have been if they lost?!

The song was popular, but it peaked at number 41 on the charts (hey, not everyone is a Bears fan).

The son’s Grammy nomination came in 1987. And that’s where the Bears lost.

The song’s legacy

The Super Bowl Shuffle made about $300,000, which went to the Chicago Community Trust to help struggling city families with housing (hence Walter Payton’s line “Now we’re not doing this because we’re greedy / The Bears are doing it to feed the needy.”)

Singers included Walter Payton, Willie Gault, Mike Singletary, Jim McMahon, Otis Wilson, Steve Fuller, Mike Richardson, Richard Dent, Gary Fencik, and William Perry. Meanwhile, the “Shufflin’ Crew” was on instrumentals and included some less well-known players like punter Maury Buford on cowbell and defensive back Ken Taylor on the tambourine. A “Shufflin’ Crew” chorus included players like Leslie Frazier. Few players declined to be involved.

The Bears weren’t the first or last team to try and make music history. The 1984 San Francisco 49ers recorded “We Are the 49ers” before winning the Super Bowl champs, but the disco-pop hit wasn’t all that successful (neither was their do-over “49ers Rap”). They were no “Super Bowl Shuffle,” cringey as it may have been.

And who could forget (except everyone) the Green Bay Packers’ attempt to spoof the “Macarena”, by recording “Packarena” in 1996?  WTF fun facts

Source: “Throwback Thursday: When the Chicago Bears Sang ‘The Super Bowl Shuffle” — Hollywood Reporter

WTF Fun Fact 13102 – The Spanish National Anthem

The Spanish national anthem is one of the few national anthems with no words. The lyric-less tune, “Marcha Real,” has led to some confusion in other nations while watching events like the Olympics and World Cup as TV watchers from the U.S. tweet out things like “I can’t believe the Spanish team refuses to sing their national anthem.” But it’s not for a lack of patriotism!

The national anthems with no words

The “Marcha Real” (or Royal March”) is one of only four national anthems with no words. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and San Marino’s anthems are also instrumentals.

So, it’s rare, but it’s there. And it does tend to lead to awkward moments in stadiums as well when other teams belt out the words to their nation’s anthem. Typically, the Spanish have craftily made do with humming along or “na na na’ing” along to the tune, but players normally stand in silence.

A brief tenure during which the Spanish anthem had lyrics

According to the music website Classic FM, The ‘Marcha Real’ was composed in 1761 by Manuel de Espinosa de los Monteros. It was designed as a military march for the Spanish Infantry. King Charles III declared it the official march of Span in the 1770s, and later it was named the nation’s anthem.

There have been attempts to give it words, but none have been accepted by the government.

Classic FM notes: “During the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, the following lyrics, written by fascist poet José María Pemán, were employed.”

And it went a little something like this:

Long live Spain! Raise your arms, sons
Of the Spanish People, which rebirths anew.
Glory to the Fatherland that knew how to follow,
Over the Ocean blue, the course of the setting sun.
Triumph, Spain! The yokes and the arrows
Sing to the rhythm of the anthem of faith.
Let’s stand and sing along with them
For the new and strong life of work and peace.
Long live Spain! Raise your arms, sons
Of the Spanish People, which rebirths anew.
Glory to the Fatherland that knew how to follow,
Over the Ocean blue, the course of the setting sun.

Spain became a democracy after Franco’s death, however, and the lyrics were left behind in the ash heaps of history.  WTF fun facts

Source: “What is the Spanish national anthem, and why does it have no words?” — Classic FM

WTF Fun Fact 12745 – Billy Joel’s “Only the Good Die Young”

While it’s hard to tell if a story about Billy Joel and Notre Dame is real or an urban legend, one thing we do know is that the seat of the Catholic controversy over Billy Joel’s “Only the Good Die Young” was Seton Hall University in New Jersey.

The offending verses

The song brings up a bit about Catholic guilt, but three verses, in particular, offended the Catholic dioceses in places like New Jersey and Boston:

“Come out Virginia, don’t let me wait
You Catholic girls start much too late
Aw, but sooner or later it comes down to fate
I might as well be the one”

“The stained glass curtain you’re hiding behind
Never lets in the sun”

“They say there’s a heaven for those who will wait
Some say it’s better but I say it ain’t
I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints
The sinners are much more fun”

Joel told the magazine Performing Songwriter in 2008 that he didn’t write the song to be anti-Catholic but rather “pro-lust.” But that was enough for the Church.

Joel told the magazine:

“The song came out on The Stranger and was no big deal. But then Columbia decided to put it out as a single, and that’s when there were problems. There was a radio station at Seton Hall College in New Jersey. They banned it.”

After that, it got banned in Boston and Joel got a mini-reputation as being anti-Catholic. But that only made the song more popular.

Billy Joel’s “Only the Good Die Young” gains steam

“The single had been out a short amount of time and wasn’t doing well. The minute they banned it, it starting shooting up the charts, because nothing sells a record like a ban or a boycott. This record would have died out. Nobody would’ve heard it if they hadn’t tried to cut people off from it. As soon as the kids found out there was some authority that didn’t want them to hear it, they bought it in droves and it became this big hit.”

But some adults weren’t amused and sent the singer death threats. Of course, that didn’t stop him from playing it at concerts AND on Saturday Night Live. As Billy Joel recalled of “Only the Good Die Young”:

“I did it on Saturday Night Live and everybody was all freaked out,” Joel said. “They were saying, ‘You can’t do that on TV.’ I said, ‘Why not?’ Some people took offense at it, but there were all these novels written about Jewish guilt, so why not a song about Catholic guilt? Every Catholic I know is still recovering from this incredibly guilty upbringing they had. The song was supposed to be lighthearted. It was taken out of context with the rest of the album.”

The rumors that might be true

Joel also told the magazine that he “ wrote letters to the arch-bishops and the president of Seton Hall saying, ‘Please ban my next record.’”

As for the Notre Dame story/urban legend, people still tell the story that Joel was invited to play a concert at the university in the 70s on the condition that he did not play the song. Then, he proceeded to play it 6 times in a row, earning him a ban from campus. While that latter part is not true (he visited for a talk and played a concert on May 25, 2022), he certainly did play the song in the 70s – but it may only be the case that he played the opening notes about 5 times throughout the concert before playing the whole song in one of his encores (and even changed out some lyrics to specifically address “Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s girls”).

Oh, and another fun fact: the song was originally written as a reggae song, but Joel’s drummer hated it so much that he threw his drumsticks at the singer after they played it for the first time. – WTF fun facts

Source: “Billy Joel’s ‘Only The Good Die Young'” — Performing Songwriter

WTF Fun Fact 12724 – Creating Summer Indoor Entertainment

Without Willis Carrier’s 1902 invention of the air conditioner, we’d have a very different world. And it would have started with missing out on opportunities for indoor cultural experiences in the summer when people are most commonly off from work and school.

Carrier’s original design was meant for a publishing company in Brooklyn that needed to keep its paper from expanding and contracting so it could achieve proper print quality while it was hot and humid. But not long after that, businessmen saw the opportunities to add it to factories (which technically cut off some summer break for workers who could now work more safely in the summer) and then to department stores. The real cultural moment came when it was added to movie theaters in the mid to late 1920s and regular theaters in the 1960s.

For example, Carrier’s company put an air conditioner in Lincoln Center in 1961. This extended the performing arts season in New York City from “a single season to 52 weeks a year,” according to the Carrier website.

For more cool facts and stories about the history of air conditioning, check out:
Slate, “A History of Air Conditioning”
JSTOR Daily’s “Can We Live Without Air Conditioning?”
BBC, “How Air Conditioning Changed the World”

 WTF fun facts

Source: “The History of Movie Theaters and Air Conditioning That Keeps Film Lovers Cool” — WPLF

WTF Fun Fact 12661 – The Beatles Refuse To Play In Segregated Florida Stadium

The Beatles had it written into their contract in the 1960s that they would never play in segregated stadiums.

The first time they encountered the problem was in Jacksonville, Florida in 1964 when they found out that their 32,0000-seat show at the Gator Bowl was going to be race-segregated. They said they’d rather lose the money than play for a segregated audience, forcing the city to back off the policy. It was the height of Beatlemania, and the band agreed to play once they desegregated the stadium.

“We never play to segregated audiences and we aren’t going to start now,” said John Lennon. “I’d sooner lose our appearance money.”

But The Beatles didn’t want to have to back out of contracts with the possibility of losing money anymore, so they had it written into their contract that a crowd had to be desegregated for them to play a show and that they would still be paid if they found out at the last minute that the city hadn’t heeded this obligation. – WTF Fun Facts

Source: “The Beatles banned segregated audiences, contract shows” — BBC News

WTF Fun Fact 12610 – The Rules Of the Aquatic Road

Manatees are often called “sea cows” because they’re big, slow, and gentle. And perhaps other animals have just learned to respect them for it.

We were surprised to find out that not only do manatees native to the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea migrate to Florida each year for winter, but they become a well-respected part of the aquatic ecosystem.

In fact, even alligators will treat them like guests and give them the right of way if they swim through each other’s paths. There have been no recorded attacks on manatees by alligators, even though manatees can get a bit pushy when they don’t get their way. They’ll even swim up to and “bop” an alligator that does not yield.

While the alligators don’t know this, their gesture is helping save the endangered creatures, who have died in droves over the last decade.

And even Florida politicians seem to respect the manatees. In 1979, Florida Governor Bob Graham designated November as Manatee Awareness Month. Every governor has renewed the proclamation during their tenure.

If you’d like to see how well these creatures get along, check out the video below – WTF fun facts

Source: “8 things you didn’t know about manatees” — PBS