Ben Vereen is celebrating his 71st today. He grew up in Brooklyn and studied at New York’s High School of Performing Arts. He may be most famous to television viewers of a particular generation for his Emmy-nominated performance as Chicken George Moore in Roots. He also made a number of appearances in film musicals such as Sweet Charity, Funny Lady (for which he was a Golden Globe nominee) and All That Jazz, and received a second Golden Globe nomination for the 1984 CBS miniseries Ellis Island.
Vereen’s greatest accomplishments, however, may be on stage, where he has had a major career in musical theater. He joined the national touring company of Sweet Charity in 1967, and a year later made his Broadway debut as part of the original cast of Hair. He was a Tony nominee as Judas Iscariot in the original Broadway production of Jesus Christ Superstar, and won a Tony for Best Actor in a Musical as the Leading Player in the original production of Pippin in 1972. He has also appeared on Broadway in Jelly’s Last Jam and as the Wizard in Wicked. In 1981 Vereen returned to the role of the Leading Player, in a production of Pippin staged for Canadian television. While this performance cut portions of the full play, it does preserve one of Vereen’s most famous stage roles.
Country singer Tanya Tucker is 59 today. Her singing career began when she was nine, and approached singer Mel Tillis at a county fair; he was impressed enough with her singing to include her in his show that night. A couple of years later, when her family moved to Las Vegas, she recorded a demo tape, which got her a contract with Columbia. Tucker had heard Bette Midler sing “Delta Dawn” on the Tonight Show, and chose that for her debut recording, made when she was 13—it reached #6 on the country chart and charted on the Hot 100.
In the mid-1970s Tucker was something of a country counterpart to some of the teenage pop princesses of our time; she had six #1 Country hits before she turned 18. Late in that decade, and into the 1980s, she seemed to be fading, as her sales shrank and she battled substance abuse. But she bounced back around the middle of the decade, releasing four more #1 Country hits from 1986-1988 and remaining a regular presence in the Country Top 10 through the mid-1990s. She is a ten-time Grammy nominee and was named Country Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year in 1991. She continues to tour actively, and released her first single in nearly a decade earlier this year, “Forever Loving You,” a tribute to the late Glen Campbell.
Charles Dance is 71 today. He has had a notable stage career, including multiple stints with the Royal Shakespeare Company. He has had prominent roles in films such as Alien 3, China Moon, Gosford Park, and The Imitation Game, while his television career includes playing Tywin Lannister on Game of Thrones.
Peter Coyote, who turns 76, has had prominent roles in films like E.T., Jagged Edge, and Erin Brockovich. He is also known for narrating a long list of documentary films and series, winning an Emmy for Outstanding Narrator for Ken Burns’s The Roosevelts. Bradley Whitford is a two-time Emmy winner, once as Josh Lyman on The West Wing, the second as Outstanding Guest Actor on Transparent. Rebecca Pidgeon, who is celebrating her 52nd, was the lead singer of Ruby Blue, a British folk-rock band, and has also had a number of major film roles, particularly in the films of her husband, David Mamet, such as The Spanish Prisoner and Heist. Wendi McLendon-Covey, who stars as Beverly Goldberg on The Goldbergs, is turning 48. Also 48 is New Zealand actor Manu Bennett, who played Azog in the Hobbit trilogy and starred as Allanon on The Shannara Chronicles. Mýa Harrison, generally known simply as Mýa, is an R&B/pop singer who collaborated on the Grammy-winning #1 hit “Lady Marmalade” with Christina Aguilera, Pink, and Lil’ Kim. She is turning 38. Lucy Griffiths, who is 31 today, was most recently a regular on AMC’s Preacher; previously she had regular roles on the BBC’s mid-2000s Robin Hood and on seasons 5 and 6 of True Blood.
Five-time baseball All-Star Andrew McCutchen turns 31. The Pittsburgh Pirates centerfielder was the National League MVP in 2013.
Richard Jaeckel (1924-1997) was a Oscar nominee for Sometimes a Great Notion and was known for a variety of supporting roles in a long career; in particular he found his way into a lot of war movies, such as Battleground, Attack!, and The Dirty Dozen. Dana Elcar (1927-2005) was best known for playing Peter Thornton on MacGyver, and had a long list of film and television roles. Ed Wood (1924-1978) was known for a variety of low-budget films, most famously Plan 9 From Outer Space, and was the subject of a biopic starring Johnny Depp.
Fridtjof Nansen (1861-1930) was one of the pioneers of polar exploration in the late 19th century, famous for his expedition across the interior of Greenland and the Fram expedition of 1893-96. He later became known as a diplomat, winning the Nobel Peace Prize for his activities on behalf of post-World War One refugees during the early 1920s. French novelist Claude Simon (1913-2005) was a Nobel Laureate as well, in Literature. His best known work includes the four-novel cycle The Grass, The Flanders Road, The Palace, and Histoire.
Headliners on this date last year were David Lee Roth and Thelonious Monk.
David Lee Roth is 63 today. He rejoined Van Halen in 2006 and has taken part in several tours and the 2009 album A Different Kind of Truth. Bollywood actress Bhanurekha Ganesan, or simply Rekha, is also 63. She currently serves in the Indian parliament. Bai Ling, who continues to be active in film all over the world, turns 51. Mario Lopez continues to host the syndicated entertainment news show Extra as he turns 44. Jodi Lyn O’Keefe, who turns 39, is a regular on VH-1’s Hit the Floor. Rose McIver, who will return for season 4 of iZombie as Liv Moore, is celebrating her 29th. Dan Stevens, who is 35, was a star of one of the year’s biggest hits, the live action Beauty and the Beast, and now plays the title character on FX’s Legion. Jodi Benson, who is 56, continues to voice Princess Ariel, including a live concert performance of The Little Mermaid at the Hollywood Bowl last summer. John Prine turns 71; his latest album, For Better, or Worse, came out last year—it is a collection of duets with singers including recent headliners Alison Krauss and Kacey Musgraves.
If today is your birthday, congratulations on sharing your big day with these notable names. Birthday wishes to everyone celebrating a big day today. Come back tomorrow for more celebrity birthdays.