Vilayat Khan


Categories: Musicians

Ustad Vilayat Hussain Khan, one of India’s leading sitar players, was born into a musical family. He could trace his lineage back six or seven generations to Miyan Tansen, the court musician of Emperor Akbar of the late 16th century.
Khan gave his first public performances at six, and began recording his own music two years later. A determined child prodigy, he sometimes practiced until his fingers bled.
Khan was credited with creating his own style of playing the sitar, and performed in venues all over the world. He twice received the Padma Shri and Padma Vibhushan, but rejected these honors because he said the awards committee was too incompetent to judge his artistic abilities.
Khan had a second home in New Jersey. He frequently lectured at Ali Akbar College of Music in San Rafael, Calif., and was scheduled to give a performance this spring at Zankel Hall in New York City. He also composed music for the films, “Jalsaghar” and “Guru.”
Khan died on March 13. Cause of death was not released. He was 76.


Ludmilla Tchérina

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Categories: Actors, Artists, Hollywood, Writers/Editors

Ludmila Tchérina, a French ballerina, actress and artist, died on March 21. Cause of death was not released. She was 79.
The daughter of a Russian aristocrat father and French mother, Tchérina became a prima ballerina with the Grands Ballets of Monte Carlo when she was only 15 years old. That accomplishment made her the youngest prima ballerina in the history of dance.
Under the pseudonym of Tcherzina, she danced in New York, Milan, Paris and at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. She married her main dancing partner, Edmond Audran, who died in a car accident in 1951. Tchérina stopped dancing for two full years, but was persuaded to return to the stage by her new husband, Raymond Roi, who survives her.
Upon retiring from professional dancing, Tchérina became a true Renaissance woman. Her paintings and sculptures appeared in exhibitions around the world. She opened her own ballet company, choreographed routines, then turned her attention to acting.
From 1946 to 1975, Tchérina appeared in 22 movies, including “The Red Shoes,” “Sign of the Pagan” and “The Tales of Hoffmann.” She also penned two novels and a screenplay.


Chuck Niles


Categories: Actors, Media, Military, Musicians

Chuck Niles, the velvety voice of jazz in Los Angeles, died on March 15 from complications of a stroke. He was 76.

Born Charles Neidel, Niles learned the clarinet when he was seven years old, and was playing the saxophone professionally by the time he was 14. He joined the Navy in 1945 and served briefly in the South Pacific. After returning to the states, he played alto sax in the jazz band, the Emanon Quartet, earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from American International University and landed a job playing music on WTXL in Springfield, Mass.

In 1956, Niles moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting. He appeared in a few films (“Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “Teenage Zombies”) and stage productions until his friend Sleepy Stein recruited him to be an announcer on KNOB.

He would remain on the air for more than 40 years.

Niles hosted shows on several L.A. stations. Known as “Be-Bop Charlie,” “Mr. Jazz” and the “Minister of Cool,” he spent the past 14 years making the afternoon drive time a pleasant and informative experience for listeners of KKJZ. His love of the genre also endeared him to jazz artists, who wrote songs like “Niles Blues,” “Nilesology” and “Bebop Charlie” in his honor. Niles is the only jazz disc jockey to earn a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.


Sheikh Ahmed Yassin


Categories: Criminals, Religious Leaders

Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the founder and spiritual leader of the Islamic group Hamas, died on March 20. He was killed when an Israeli helicopter fired three missiles at him as he left a Gaza City mosque. He was in his mid-60s.
Born in what is now known as the Israeli city of Ashkelon, Yassin was paralyzed in childhood in a sporting accident. He grew up in Palestinian refugee camps in the Gaza Strip, studied at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, then became a teacher and spiritual leader.
The quadriplegic preacher founded Hamas in 1987 as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas, which provides education and health care to impoverished Palestinians, is also responsible for scores of suicide bombings and other deadly attacks on Israelis. The militant group rejects the existence of Israel and seeks to establish an Islamic state in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.
When Hamas was formally outlawed by Israel in 1989, Yassin and 200 others were jailed in a mass raid. He was convicted of organizing attacks on civilians and ordering the kidnappings of two Israeli soldiers. Although he was sentenced to life in prison, Yassin was released in 1997 when a botched assassination attempt in Jordan forced Israel to release dozens of Palestinian prisoners.
In Sept. 2003, the Israeli military dropped a bomb on a building where he was meeting with top Hamas leaders. Everyone inside escaped and Yassin received a slight wound on his hand.


William H. Pickering

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Categories: Scientists

wpickering.jpgWilliam Hayward Pickering, a pioneer of the U.S. space program, died on March 15 from pneumonia. He was 93.
Born in Wellington, New Zealand, Pickering spent his teens building an early radio station with a classmate that allowed him to communicate with people all over the world by Morse code. He attended Canterbury College then traveled to America in 1929 to study at the California Institute of Technology. After earning a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and a doctorate in physics, he became a U.S. citizen in 1941.
Pickering joined the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and organized electronics efforts to support guided missile research and development. In Oct. 1957, Sputnik 1 made the Soviet Union the first nation to send an artificial satellite into orbit around the Earth. Charged with matching this feat, Pickering rose to the challenge and oversaw the launch of the first U.S. satellite, Explorer 1, just 83 days later. That satellite, and Explorer III (also launched in 1958), discovered the Van Allen radiation belt, which encircles the Earth. Known as “Mr. JPL” and “Rocket Man,” Pickering headed the laboratory from 1954 to 1976. Under his guidance, the JPL team sent robotic probes to the Moon, Venus and Mars.
In retirement, Pickering worked at the University of Petroleum and Minerals in Saudi Arabia. He also founded the energy company, Lignetics Inc. For his contributions to science and technology, Pickering received NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal and the National Medal of Science. He was given an honorary knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II, and twice appeared on the cover of Time magazine.

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