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Good morning, it’s Tuesday, May 15, 2018. Fifty-five years ago today, the fifth annual Grammy Awards ceremony took place at simultaneous dinners in Chicago, New York, and Hollywood. Carried live on ABC radio (but not television), the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences presented 39 little statuettes in the form of old gramophones.

Among the winners were Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Burl Ives, and Tony Bennett (for “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”). The top R&B album belonged to Ray Charles. In the jazz category, Stan Getz was honored for “Desafinado,” while folk singers Peter, Paul and Mary won for “If I Had a Hammer.” In classical music, “Columbia Records Presents Vladimir Horowitz” was named album of the year.  Mahalia Jackson’s “Great Songs of Love and Faith” won in the religious category. Robert Goulet, who played the role of Lancelot in “Camelot,” was named “Best New Artist of 1962.”

The overall Album of the Year was an unorthodox choice put out by a small New York label called Cadence Records. Titled “The First Family,” it was, in those pre-Beatles times, the best-selling album of all time. Its star was a musician, comedian, and impressionist named Vaughn Meader, whose imitation of John F. Kennedy turned the record industry on its head. Americans lined up for two blocks to buy it. More than 1 million albums were sold in the first two weeks after its release. Then another million, and another, and another. When Meader appeared on “The Andy Williams Show” in late March 1963, he’d sold 5 million units. Eventual sales would top 7.5 million albums, and a sequel was released.

Then it all went away for Meader -- as fast as it had come. Faster, even. You can guess the reason. In a moment, I’ll have more on this dizzying fall from the sky. First, I’d first point you to RealClearPolitics’ front page, which presents our poll averages, videos, breaking news stories, and aggregated opinion columns spanning the political spectrum. We also offer original material from our own reporters and contributors, including the following:

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“Three Days in Moscow”: An Excerpt. Bret Baier’s new book about Ronald Reagan’s historic 1988 trip to the Soviet Union can be sampled here.

2 Colleagues Contradict Brennan Denial of Reliance on Dossier. In RealClearInvestigations, Paul Sperry reports that accounts from James Clapper and Michael Rogers on the Trump-Russia probe run counter to those of the former CIA director.

Credit Card Perks: How Everyone Subsidizes the Heavy Hitters. Also in RCI, John Murawksi spotlights the “reverse Robin Hood effect” of reward credit cards, in which the benefits earned by some are paid for by all, even those who use cash.

Countering Russian Aggression Against NATO. In RealClearDefense, Daniel Goure lays out keys points in the National Defense Strategy.

The Case for Merit-Based Worker Solidarity. In RealClearPolicy, Michael Thulen Jr. urges his fellow labor leaders to commit themselves to earning rather than assuming worker support.

Time to Regulate Proxy Advisory Firms. Also in RCPolicy, Tim Doyle makes a case for transparency and disclosure requirements.

How Yale's “Failed” Income-Share Experiment Worked for Me. In RealClearEducation, Blair Levin praises a controversial alternative to student loans.

Teachers Need New Tools to Make School Discipline Fair. Also in RCEd, Catherine Bradshaw argues for equipping teachers with culturally responsive practices in their classrooms.

A Marine Archeologist’s 3D Modeling of Submerged Sites. In RealClearLife, Kinga Philipps profiles Delia Ni Chiobhain Enqvist.

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In the early 1960s, Americans from the West or Midwest who didn’t know a “nor’easter” from a “packie” liked to adopt a version of John F. Kennedy’s accent and say something like “move ahead with great vigah.”

President Kennedy really did have a distinctive way of speaking, even for native Bostonians.

That’s partly because there isn’t just one Boston accent, there are several: the Boston Irish of Southie, Boston Italian of the North End, and Boston Brahmin, to name three. The latter sounds like a close cousin of an upper-crust accent linguists call “mid-Atlantic English” -- the phrasing heard from announcers in mid-century newsreels. The word “last,” for instance, would come out closer to “lost.”

Also, in most New England accents (and the English spoken by Britain’s royal family), the “r” at the end of words would be dropped. This is the affect rendered in the witticism “pahk the cah in Hahvahd yahd.” This would get your car towed in real life, but rhetorically it only costs you five r’s.

Kennedy would also add an ‘r” to words that didn’t have them, so that “idea” would sound like “idear” and Cuba would sometimes became “Cuber,” as it does in the second (but not first) reference in this Cuban Missile Crisis speech. Kennedy was also a Harvard man. And he’d spent time in England as a young adult. So his manner of speaking -- part Boston Irish, part Boston Brahmin, part elite “mid-Atlantic English,” part Harvard, perhaps even British inflected, and inclusive of his own verbal tics, such as saying “um” and “uh” a lot -- is probably best understood simply as the “Kennedy accent.”

Here’s the thing, however. From the years 1961 to 1963 many Americans trying to imitate it were actually imitating Vaughn Meader. A New Englander himself, Meader (pronounced, “Meter”) was born in Maine and raised in Massachusetts. He was a musician who could play the piano and other instruments, possessed a nice singing voice, had a knack for writing comedy, and was an excellent mimic. In other words, Vaughn Meader was a talent.

The First Family” was so mild by today’s standards of comedy -- or even ordinary discourse -- that its needling of the Kennedys would strike a modern audience as affectionate. The first album contained 17 skits, delivered in Meader’s Kennedy accent (with another player doing a passable Jackie Kennedy) and purports to spoof everyday life in the household.

In one, Jackie asks her husband why he didn’t touch his salad at dinner.

“Well, let me say this about that,” Meader-JFK replies. “Now, No. 1, in my opinion the fault does not lie as much with the salad as it does with the, uh, dressing being used on the salad. Now let me say that I have nothing against the dairy industry. However, I would prefer that, uh, in the future, we stick to coleslaw.”

The spoofs were so popular that at one presidential press conference in December 1962, JFK was asked whether he’d read or listened to the various satires of him and, if so, whether it engendered feelings of “annoyment or enjoyment.”

“Annoyment,” Kennedy quipped with a smile before adding: “I have read them and listened to them and actually I listened to Mr. Meader’s record, but I thought it sounded more like Teddy than it did me -- so he’s annoyed.”

But the laughter died abruptly on November 22, 1963. Vaughn Meader himself was in Milwaukee when the heard the news. He’d traveled there to perform at a Democratic Party fundraiser. When he caught a taxi at the airport, the cabbie asked him if he’d heard about Kennedy in Dallas. Thinking it was the setup for a joke -- he got that all the time -- Meader played along. “No,” he said, “how does it go?”

When informed about the tragedy, the comic knew instantly that his career, as he had known it, was over. But he couldn’t possibly have known how far he himself would fall, although that will have to be the source of another essay. For today, I’ll leave you with Vaughn Meader doing JFK before a live audience -- in happier times. 

Carl M. Cannon 
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics
@CarlCannon (Twitter)

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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