Frank Zappa

On this date in 1940, avant-garde musician Frank Vincent Zappa was born in Baltimore to Francis and Rosemarie (née Collimore) Zappa. His father was a Sicilian-born chemist and mathematician. He moved at age 10 with his family to California.

In a May 1993 Playboy magazine interview, he said his parents enrolled him in Catholic school: “I lasted a very short time. When the penguin came after me with a ruler, I was out of there. … I still went to church regularly, though, until I was 18 years old. Then suddenly, the light bulb went on over my head. All the mindless morbidity and discipline was pretty sick — bleeding this, painful that and no meat on Friday. What is this shit?”

He was the drummer for the first band he was in, the Blackouts. He and Don Van Vliet (stage name Captain Beefheart) influenced each other musically in high school. He attended Chaffey College in Rancho Cucamonga but left after one semester, thereafter disdaining higher education. He married Kathryn Sherman in 1960, a union lasting four years. In 1967 he married Gail Sloatman. They had four children, Moon Unit, Dweezil, Ahmet and Diva.

In 1965 he became co-leader of a group called the Mothers, which was renamed the Mothers of Invention at the insistence of Verve Records. Their breakout album was “Freak Out!” in 1966. Zappa broke up the band in 1969 and relaunched it a year later with new personnel. Over the next two decades and 60 albums, he became an icon as bandleader, guitarist, composer, satirist and political commentator. The Rolling Stone Album Guide in 2004 said: “Frank Zappa dabbled in virtually all kinds of music — and, whether guised as a satirical rocker, jazz-rock fusionist, guitar virtuoso, electronics wizard, or orchestral innovator, his eccentric genius was undeniable.”

He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1990 and died in 1993, 17 days short of his 53rd birthday. (D. 1993)

PHOTO: Zappa as a high school senior in 1958 in Lancaster, Calif.

Freedom From Religion Foundation