Week in Rock History: Brian Wilson Performs the Premiere of 'Smile'

Plus: Florence Ballard of the Supremes passes away and Bjork attacks a reporter

February 20, 2012 2:42 PM ET
Brian Wilson Presents "Smile" World Premiere Performance at Royal Festival Hall in London.
Brian Wilson Presents "Smile" World Premiere Performance at Royal Festival Hall in London.
Tim Whitby/WireImage

February 22, 1976: Florence Ballard of the Supremes dies
Talented, tragic Florence Ballard never got her due. As a founding member of the Motown sensations the Supremes, Ballard had the indisputable knock-out voice of the group; recording legend has it that she was made to stand almost 20 feet away from her microphone when she sang, just to save others' ears from her powerful pipes.

As the Supremes began to take off, Motown Records CEO Berry Gordy decided to pivot the group around the pleasant, less dramatic Diana Ross, and she became the lead singer (whereas she had often demurred to Ballard in the past). Ballard and Gordy butted heads constantly, and he fired her from the group in 1967. Ballard attempted a solo career that never ignited, and unsuccessfully sued Motown for unpaid royalties in 1971, but she lived out her last days on welfare with her children in Detroit. She died of cardiac arrest and coronary thrombosis in 1976, at age 32. Her story was later thinly fictionalized in the musical Dreamgirls.

 February 20, 1991: Bob Dylan receives the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammys and delivers a perplexing speech
Thirty years (and one month) after Robert Zimmerman arrived in Greenwich Village, New York, and changed the world's folk landscape, he was bestowed with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1991 Grammy Awards. During the ceremony, he sang his vitriolic song "Masters of War" (from 1963's The Freewheeling Bob Dylan), a pointed protest of the Gulf War, and was then presented the award by Jack Nicholson as his esteemed musical peers applauded wildly.

His speech was cryptic, to say the least. In accepting his industry's highest honor, he said (in entirety): "Well, my daddy, he didn't leave me much, you know he was a very simple man, but what he did tell me was this, he did say: 'Son,' he said. He say, 'You know it's possible to become so defiled in this world that your own father and mother will abandon you. And if that happens, God will always believe in your ability to mend your ways.'"

Then he snatched the trophy and exited the stage. The words were later identified by Dylan biographer Seth Rogovoy as a loose paraphrase of Psalm 27; its faithful recitation traditionally precedes Yom Kippur.

February 19, 1996: Björk attacks a reporter in Bangkok
Until her paparazzi smack-down in 1996 – a prescient move in pop culture, like so much of her music – Björk was widely perceived as a sort of benevolent, wildly eccentric art sprite. The musician had been a star in her native Iceland for much of her life, first with the electro-pop group the Sugarcubes and then through her haunting, nuanced solo fare.

In 1996, though, Björk showed a ferocious side to the media when reporters converged upon her at Bangkok International Airport. She had just completed a long flight with her son, Sindri, and later claimed that reporters had pestered him with intrusive questions. However, the reporter whom Björk assaulted had merely told her, "Welcome to Bangkok," after which the singer jumped on her and knocked her to the ground.

Björk later insisted that the reporter, Julie Kaufman, had been harassing the singer and her family for days. She apologized to Kaufman, though, and no charges were filed.

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