Freethought of the Day

Would you like to start your day on a freethought note? "Freethought of the Day" is a daily freethought calendar brought to you courtesy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, highlighting birthdates, quotes, and other historic tidbits.

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Jerome Kern

Jerome Kern

On this date in 1885, songwriter Jerome Kern was born in New York City to Fanny and Henry Kern, a German-born immigrant and an American-born Bohemian. Although they both had been raised Jewish, "[t]heir marriage at Temple Emanu-El was the last religious function in either of their lives," writes Kern biographer Michael Freedland. They gave their son no religious training. For Kern, "[h]is religion was his music and his lifestyle. . ." (Freedland) Jerome began playing the piano at a young age, showing musical talent. He left high school after his junior year, studied at the New York College of Music, then at the Heidelberg University in Germany. At the age of 20 in 1905, Kern composed his first hit song and in 1912 wrote his first Broadway score. The Broadway musical, "Showboat" (1927), broke ground by integrating music with story. Due to Kern's remarkable musical influence, he became known as "father of the American musical theatre." Kern, a composer who worked with a variety of lyricists, eventually paired up with lyricist Dorothy Fields. They won the 1936 Academy Award for Best Song with "The Way You Look Tonight" from the movie "Swing Time." In 1941, he and Oscar Hammerstein won an Oscar for best song for "The Last Time I Saw Paris," from the film "Lady Be Good." During his career, he wrote close to 700 songs and more than 100 complete scores for both shows and films. Kern classics include: "They Didn't Believe Me," "Look for the Silver Lining," "Old Man River," "Can't Help Lovin' That Man," "Make Believe," "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," "I Won't Dance," "A Fine Romance," "The Way You Look Tonight," and "All the Things You Are." While beginning work on a project initiated by Dorothy Fields, the musical "Annie Get Your Gun", Kern had a sudden stroke and died a few days later. He was 60 years old. D. 1945

“Life is to be enjoyed.”

—Jerome Kern's motto. Jerome Kern, A Biography, by Michael Freedland

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

David Friedrich Strauss

David Friedrich Strauss

On this date in 1808, David Friedrich Strauss was born. The German writer pioneered scholarship doubting the historicity of Jesus. Strauss became a Lutheran vicar in 1830, and studied theology under Hegel. He was appointed to the Theological Seminary at the University at Tubingen. His book Life of Jesus (1835), dissecting the New Testament as largely mythical, was published to great acclaim, but lost him his teaching post. In 1836 he left the church. In his final book, The Old Faith and the New (1872), Strauss eschewed Christianity and the concept of immortality. British freethinking novelist George Eliot translated his first book into English. D. 1874.

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

On this date in 1756, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born. Son of a Catholic musician, the child prodigy conducted his first original Mass at age 12 in Vienna, was later made a Knight of the Golden Spur by the pope, and was concert master to the Archbishop of Salzburg for many years. Accused of neglecting his religion, he resigned the appointment in 1781. Mozart joined the Freemasons, who were condemned by the Catholic Church, in 1781. Mozart refused to ask for a priest when dying. His wife sent for one anyway, who refused to attend. Mozart was buried in a pauper's grave without a religious service. Referring to the orthodoxy of his youth, he said: "That is all over, and will never come back." (Mozart's Leben, by A. Ulibichev, 1847, i, 243). D. 1791.

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Mikhail Baryshnikov

Mikhail Baryshnikov

On this date in 1948, Mikhail Nikolaevitch Baryshnikov was born in Riga, Latvia. His father, Nikolai Baryshnikov, was an engineer and his mother, Aleksandra Kiseleva, was a seamstress, who introduced him to ballet when he was nine. A strong athlete, Baryshnikov played sports in school in addition to ballet, but turned completely toward ballet when he was 12, after his mother committed suicide. At 15, he began studying with the Kirov Ballet, where he stayed for the next five years, under the direction of Alexander Pushkin. Baryshnikov became principal dancer at the age of 21 and began earning recognition for his strong technique and gravity-defying leaps, which were to later become his trademark. While on tour in Canada at age 26, he defected to America. Granted political asylum, Baryshnikov began working as principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) in New York, where he stayed for five years, before joining the New York City Ballet. Working under George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins, he expanded his repertoire, as well as the role of male dancers in ballet. He then returned to ABT as principal dancer as well as artistic director, a position he held for ten years. Always seeking to enlarge the frontier of ballet, in 1990 he teamed with choreographer Mark Morris to cofound the White Oak Dance Project and, in 2005, opened The Baryshnikov Arts Center (BAC) in New York; a place created to support artists in all areas, both novice and master, under one roof. Observing that the challenge of dancing different choregraphies and styles is similar to learning a new language, Baryshnikov writes, "every ballet, whether or not successful artistically or with the public, has given me something important. Everything that I've done has given me more freedom" (Baryshnikov At Work, by Mikhail Baryshnikov, Knopf 1978). In addition to dance, Baryshnikov has appeared in film (Turning Point, 1977, and White Nights, 1985), on Broadway ("Metamorphosis"), and on television, most recently appearing in a regular role on HBO's hit "Sex In the City." Among his several honors, Baryshnikov has been awarded the Kennedy Center Honors Lifetime Achievement Award (2000), Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Actor in a Play (1989), Theatre World Special Award (1989), an Emmy for Outstanding Variety or Music Program (1979-1980), an Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement-Special Events (1978-1979) and an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor (1977). Baryshnikov has four children, the oldest with actress Jessica Lange, the three youngest with his partner dancer, Lisa Rinehart. They currently live in New York.

“I don't believe in marriage in the conventional way. I am not religious person, and marriage in front of altar wouldn't say anything to me.”

—The Larry King Show (May 5, 2002)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Patton Oswalt

Patton Oswalt

On this date in 1969, Patton Oswalt was born in Portsmouth, Va. Oswalt began to perform stand-up comedy in the late 1980s, before graduating from the College of William and Mary in 1991. He became widely known after he starred in an HBO comedy special in 1996. He began to headline at comedy clubs nationwide and also started his career as an actor. From 1998 to 2007, Oswalt was a regular on the CBS show “The King of Queens,” playing the role of Spence. He has appeared in many small roles in movies, as a guest star on television shows including “Dollhouse” and “Nurse Jackie,” and done voice work for movies, television and video games. Notably, he voiced the main character, the rat Remy, in the 2007 Pixar film “Ratatouille.” He also starred in the 2009 live-action film “Big Fan.” His supporting role in “Young Adult” (2001) was nominated for several awards. Oswalt has also written for TV and film, as well as doing behind the scenes uncredited punch-up work on a variety of live-action comedy and animated film scripts. In 2005, Oswalt married writer Michelle McNamara. Their daughter Alice was born on April 15, 2009.

Oswalt is a self-described geek, who called a 2007 return to Dungeons and Dragons “a midlife crisis that doesn’t involve sports cars.” (Wired magazine.) Much of Oswalt’s comedic material addresses popular culture and his daily life, but he has been known to mock religion and religious believers. For example, his “Sky Cake” routine characterizes religion as a trick played by smart weak guys on big dumb guys. He describes himself as an atheist.

“My feelings on religion are starting to morph. I’m still very much an atheist, except that I don’t necessarily see religion as being a bad thing. . . . I’m almost saying certain people do better with religion, the way that certain rock stars do better if they’re shooting heroin.”

—Patton Oswalt

Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Freethought of the Day

Would you like to start your day on a freethought note? "Freethought of the Day" is a daily freethought calendar brought to you courtesy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, highlighting birthdates, quotes, and other historic tidbits.

If you would like to be placed on the "Daily Freethought" e-mail list to automatically receive the calendar notice, log in and edit your email settings (My Membership). Or, email  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  and include your first and last name with your request for verification purposes. This email service is limited to members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation or subscribers to Freethought Today. To become an FFRF member, click here.


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