Good News in History, March 17

160 years ago today, Italy became a nation-state for the first time. Inspired by Spaniards who created their own constitution in 1812, leaders on the Italian peninsula began embracing the ideal of unification. They persevered through struggle against the Austrian Empire—which controlled the Italian-speaking northeast—and in strong opposition to the Pope, who controlled Rome.

Fight, they did for years—with Giuseppe Garibaldi (from Sardinia, pictured) being named ‘The Hero of Italian Unification’. Many leading revolutionaries of the day wanted a republic, but eventually Victor Emmanuel II (from Piedmont) became the first king, when most of the major city-states unified into a single Italy.

Two remaining prizes were soon won: a deal with Prussia allowed Italy to annex Venice, and pressure on the papacy to claim Rome paid off—and the city became the new Italian capital. (1861)

MORE Good News on this Day:

  • The rubber band was invented (1845)
  • A showing of 71 Vincent van Gogh paintings in Paris, 11 years after his death, created a sensation (1901)
  • 111 years ago today, the Camp Fire Girls was founded (1910)
  • 80 years ago today, the National Gallery of Art opened in Washington, D.C. (1941)
  • Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, and the United Kingdom signed the Treaty of Brussels, a precursor to the NATO Agreement (1948)
  • A referendum to end apartheid in South Africa was passed by 68.7% of voters (1992)

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Today is the annual holiday when Americans celebrate all things Irish. It began in New York City with immigrants from Ireland for the first time honoring their religious patron saint at the Crown and Thistle Tavern 264 years ago today. The city’s 256-year-old St. Patrick’s Day Parade is the biggest parade in the world. Interestingly, Lenten restrictions on drinking alcohol are officially lifted among Christians for this day.  (1756)

Parade in Albany, NY, by sebastien barre, CC license

Also, 43 years ago today, U2 won a talent contest in Limerick, Ireland. Winnings included $500 and studio time to record a demo and audition for the CBS Ireland record label. Sponsored by The Evening Express and Guinness Harp Lager, the Limerick Civic Week Pop ’78 Competition afforded them the opportunity to make the first U2 recording and earned them some much-needed recognition. (1978)

102 years ago today, Nat King Cole was born. A jazz pianist and vocalist, he dropped out of high school in Chicago to pursue a music career at 15. He reached the heights of stardom in the mid 20th century, recording over 100 hit songs—often with a trio that became the model for small jazz ensembles—including the 1951 gem, Unforgettable.

Cole also acted in films, performed on Broadway, and was the first African-American man to host a television series, The Nat King Cole Show on NBC in 1956. He died at age 45 of lung cancer, but his daughter Natalie Cole carried on the family legacy. She mixed her singing with her father’s smooth-as-silk 1961 recordings, and the result, Unforgettable… with Love, won seven Grammy awards in 1992 for Best Album and Best Song.

Many people know his voice, alone, from his famous rendition of The Christmas Song (Chestnuts roasting…). Other top hits include, The Very Thought of You, and Just the Way You Look Tonight. Here is a wonderful performance that really shows his style and charm, when as chats with the audience. Definitely listen to Unforgettable at 3:20. (1919)

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