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Frederick Chopin

Arts Days: March 01, 1810: Mr. Piano Man
Imagine writing complicated pieces of music when you are only seven years old. Someone who can do that—like Frederick Chopin—is called a prodigy, someone who at a young age displays amazing skills in music, art, or something else.

Chopin developed new ways of playing the piano that today are at the heart of what we call “Romantic music”—the term given to expressive, complex music written in Europe in the mid-19th to early 20th centuries.

Chopin also was known for his gifts at improvising where he would make up new combinations of notes in the course of playing something he had written already. Chopin’s last public performance took place in London in November 1848 where he played for fellow Polish refugees.
Composers, Musical Instruments, Music, Music Legends, Europe

Star-Spangled Banner

Arts Days: March 03, 1931: Long May It Wave
On this March day, President Herbert Hoover signed a law officially designating this song as our national anthem. But let’s back up more than 100 years to tell the whole story.

The poem that gave rise to the song was written by Francis Scott Key as he observed—with much anxiety—the bombardment of Baltimore’s Fort McHenry in 1814 by the British navy. Key’s poem about the American flag that “yet waved” after the attack was printed in several newspapers.

Later, it was set to a popular melody by (ironically) a British composer named John Stafford Smith. The subsequent song became very popular and was frequently played at public events like parades. Also, soldiers in the U.S. Army and other members of the military often played it each time the flag was raised and lowered.
Composers, Poetry, America, Music

Mississippi John Hurt

Arts Days: March 08, 1892: Guitar Hero
Not long after the nine-year-old John Smith Hurt picked up his first guitar, he was in demand at barn dances. His style of playing is called finger-picking, which means the strings are plucked using fingers, not a guitar pick, and that the thumb provides the steady bass rhythms on the lower strings.

Hurt was an excellent self-taught player who went on to make several blues and old-time recordings for Okeh Records (which gave him his nickname); but when the Great Depression drove the record label out of business, Hurt returned to Mississippi and worked on farms, playing occasionally at parties.

But a musicologist named Tom Hoskins loved Hurt’s records so much that he tracked him down in Mississippi decades later, persuaded him to come back north and play a few shows, including the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. The second act of his musical career began from here.
America, Blues, Music Legends, Music, Musical Instruments

Quincy Jones

Arts Days: March 14, 1933: On Q
Quincy Jones, a 2001 KC Honoree, wears an extraordinary number of hats in musical genres from jazz to hip-hop. As a composer, he’s created music for movies like The Color Purple and The Pawnbroker, and TV shows like The Cosby Show. As an arranger, he’s shaped songs for artists ranging from Peggy Lee to Sarah Vaughan. As a record producer—someone who oversees a recording from start to finish—he enjoyed unparalleled success working on Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Off the Wall, which have collectively sold tens of millions of copies. Playing his trumpet, Jones toured the world in the 1950s with Dizzy Gillespie and other jazz greats. And as a conductor, he led Frank Sinatra’s band and others in live concerts and recordings.
Music Legends, Music, Hip-Hop, Jazz

Simon and Garfunkel, Sounds of Silence cover

Arts Days: March 10, 1964: The Silent Sound of Success
After President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, singer/songwriter Paul Simon was among the artists who sought to sort through their emotions about the event in a creative way. When he finished writing “The Sounds of Silence,” he showed it to Art Garfunkel, his musical singing partner. The two began performing it in their live shows in and around New York City and also put it on their first album, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.

Unfortunately, the record flopped, and the pair broke up. But a year later, the duo’s record producer remixed the song with new instruments, including drums and electric bass and guitar—without asking Simon or Garfunkel. The song rose to number-one, they reunited, and recorded a new full-length album called The Sounds of Silence. It is considered one of the greatest folk rock albums of all times.
Rock & Roll, Music, Popular Culture

Elvis Presley

Arts Days: February 22, 1956: King Tops the Charts
It’s no surprise Elvis Presley, or the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” knew how to make an entrance: His first single to enter the music charts, “Heartbreak Hotel,” not only hit the number one spot, it was also the best selling single of the year.

The song introduced Elvis’ original rockabilly sound, or the up-tempo fusion of country and blues music. That combined with his uninhibited stage and television performances quickly made him a household name. Following the release of “Heartbreak Hotel,” Elvis remained influential in rock music for decades.
Music Legends, Rock & Roll, Popular Culture, Music

Saturday Night Fever

Arts Days: February 16, 1979: Disco Fever… Can You Dig It?
Who’d have thought that a movie about a Brooklyn kid in a white suit trying to win dance contests would kick off a disco phenomenon? Well, actor John Travolta boogied down as 19-year-old Tony Manero in this classic movie, whose music—about half of which was performed by the Bee Gees, a trio of brothers from Down Under—swept the nation in 1979, and never really went away.

In songs like “Jive Talkin’” and “You Should Be Dancing,” the Brothers Gibb (get it? B-Gs) exhorted listeners to forget their day-to-day troubles to the flashing lights and thumping tunes of discothèques, which were springing up all over New York City and other urban centers.
Innovators & Pioneers, Popular Culture, Dance, Music, Movies & Movie Stars

Vaudeville Theatre

Arts Days: February 28, 1883: Make ’em Laugh, Make ’em Cry
Vaudeville was a type of variety show with a bunch of back-to-back quick skits: A singing, tap-dancing man up first, then a dog riding a bike, then a few folks doing a comedy routine. And on and on for hours. If you could spin plates, sing well, or imitate various animal sounds, you, too, might have wanted to jump up on stage!

At its peak, thousands and thousands of performers worked the vaudeville circuit—a series of shows held at venues around North America. With everything from Yiddish theater to minstrel shows and contortionists to jugglers on the bill, vaudeville showcased the cultural diversity of 20th century America.

But vaudeville could not compete with the “moving picture show”—the form of entertainment we now call movies. Vaudeville shows went into a steep decline as movies became more popular.
America, Art Venues, Musicals, Theater, Comedy

Johnny Cash

Arts Days: February 26, 1932: The Man in Black
As a child, Johnny Cash “The Man in Black” sang gospel music with his family, but a record producer told him that those gospel tunes just wouldn’t sell. So Cash was spurred to write his first rock-inflected country songs, including “Cry Cry Cry.”

Cash soon signed to Sun Records where he recorded tons of new songs like “I Walk the Line,” a huge hit in 1956. Cash went on to record nearly 100 albums over the course of his career, leaving an indelible mark on American rock, country, folk, and pop music.

And why did he wear black onstage? There’s a clue in the lyrics of his song, “Man in Black”—“I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down/Livin’ in the hopeless, hungry side of town.” Johnny Cash was a Kennedy Center Honoree in 1996.
Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Rock & Roll, Music, Popular Culture

Woody Guthrie

Arts Days: February 23, 1940: Music of the People, For the People
The great folk singer Woody Guthrie communicated his messages of social justice and human equality through his music. Living as he did through everything from the Great Depression to the Cold War, Guthrie commented on these and other events’ effects on everyday people, like the hunger many faced in the Dust Bowl years.

“This Land is Your Land” was written in response to the themes of “God Bless America” by Irving Berlin; Guthrie considered that patriotic song to be out of touch with the cares and joys of common folks. When he created the song, he borrowed the melody of an old hymn called “O My Loving Brother” and set his own words to it.

Guthrie didn’t record “This Land is Your Land” until 1943, but he tinkered with the verses over the years, adding new words here and there.
Innovators & Pioneers, Controversial, Music Legends, Music, Folklore, America, Poetry

Minstrel show

Arts Days: February 06, 1843: Minstrel Stage Debut
As a uniquely American form of musical entertainment in the 19th century, minstrel shows would shock most people today for the racist caricatures they exploited. White performers uses burnt cork to darken their faces and hands, mocked black people as lazy and ignorant, and, pretending to be slaves working for white masters, danced and sang songs about life on the plantation.

On this day, at the Bowery Theater, the Virginia Minstrels—four performers led by Dan Emmett—performed what’s considered to have been the first full-length minstrel show, or “minstrelsy."
Controversial, Theater, Musicals, America

The Beatles

Arts Days: February 07, 1964: Beatlemania, American-Style
Upon exiting New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport, the four lads from Liverpool, England, were probably a bit shocked to witness thousands of teenage girls welcoming them by screaming, weeping, and, yes, even fainting.

They came to America to perform on TV’s The Ed Sullivan Show, which promised to introduce the Fab Four to lots of new fans. No doubt British kids were already well aware of the band through hits like “She Loves You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”

Well, it turned out that across the pond, Beatlemania was spreading just as fast. It’s hard to believe, but the show’s producers received 50,000 requests for its little more than 700 seats—more than it had received for Elvis Presley's 1956 debut appearance. That Sunday night, 73 million Americans tuned in and were captured by this British Invasion.
Music Legends, Rock & Roll, Popular Culture, Music

Frank Sinatra

Arts Days: February 02, 1940: Hello, Old Blue Eyes
A young crooner from Hoboken, New Jersey, caught a lucky break on this night while performing with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra.

Frank Sinatra, whose vocal prowess, acting chops, and star quality would go on to earn him worldwide fame, was born to Italian immigrants in 1915. After hearing Bing Crosby sing, he worked hard to develop his voice and land local gigs.

While the kind of big-band music Dorsey favored was popular with an older crowd, Sinatra’s charm and talent lured younger people—especially teenage girls who hoped for a glance from the singer with the famous blue eyes. For over six decades, Sinatra’s great gift of combining effortless technique, innovative phrasing, and impeccable taste in song selection made what he did look oh-so easy.
Music Legends, Movies & Movie Stars, Music, Popular Culture

Ron McNair

Arts Days: February 03, 1984: Rocket Man
Who knew astronaut Ron McNair, one of the first African Americans ever to be accepted into NASA’s Space Shuttle program, excelled at a wide variety of things, including science and sports?

McNair was an expert on laser physics, an accomplishment that helped him land a place on the Space Shuttle Challenger’s 1984 mission. You remember, this was the craft that hurtled into space to deploy satellites and handle other research and communications tasks.

On this day, McNair—an accomplished jazz saxophonist—played his instrument in space to the delight of NASA colleagues listening at Mission Control. Sadly, McNair and six others would perish in the next, ill-fated Challenger deployment, which took place on January 28, 1986.
Music, Space, Musical Instruments, Innovators & Pioneers

King David Kalakaua

Arts Days: February 12, 1874: The King of Aloha
Before Hawaii became America’s 50th state, it was a monarchy ruled by King David Kalakaua I. Kalakaua is credited with helping to revive and support Hawaiian art forms like hula dancing; instruments like the ukelele; and martial arts, like Lua.

You see, some religious missionaries on the Islands thought these activities were improper. They had spent years before Kalakaua was elected to the throne trying to suppress various elements of Hawaiian culture, including its languages and art customs—even surfing!

But Kalakaua believed that these traditions and activities were important for native Hawaiians to learn, enjoy, and share with others to help keep Hawaii’s unique cultural history alive.  For his efforts, he was nicknamed “the Merrie Monarch.”
Dance, America, Geography, History, Musical Instruments, Music, Folklore, World Cultures

Johann Strauss II

Arts Days: February 09, 1867: Step, Slide, Step
Austria’s Johann Strauss, the Younger, would be absolutely amazed to know the extent to which his work “On the Beautiful Blue Danube” has endured as one of the best-known pieces of classical music.

At the time this 19th century successful composer and conductor, and son of Johann Strauss, The Elder, was known for his light dance music and operettas. But it was this waltz in particular, with its distinct melody and dance rhythms, that became the focus of every concert hall’s dance floor first in Vienna, and later in Europe.

In 1872, Strauss brought his Viennese waltz to America’s shores where the music and dance captivated the country. On this particular day, Blue Danube was performed at a concert of the Vienna Men’s Choral Association.

Strauss is credited with composing 500 waltzes, earning him the title of “Waltz King.”
Composers, Dance, Music, Orchestra, Europe

Placido Domingo

Arts Days: January 21, 1941: Phenom of the Opera
At age eight, operatic tenor Plácido Domingo moved to Mexico and attended the National Conservatory of Music in Mexico City. Originally, he studied piano and conducting, until his strong voice was discovered.

Domingo's voice is known for its versatility and dramatic tone throughout its wide range. He made his operatic debut in 1961 as Alfredo in La Traviata. Since then, he has performed for audiences all over the world and has appeared in more than 400 performances in 41 different roles at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

Domingo has also made a name for himself as a conductor, leading musical forces from London's Covent Garden to New York's Metropolitan Opera and Washington's Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. He is also a 2000 Kennedy Center Honoree.
Music Legends, Opera, Music

High School Musical

Arts Days: January 20, 2006: Musical Theater’s Comeback
Sad but true, in a movie age of stunning special effects and computer animation, the days of musical theater seemed to take a back seat.

That is until the jump start sparked by Disney's original television film High School Musical, a modern adaptation of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet that tells the story of Troy and Gabriella–two high school juniors from rival cliques that audition together for the high school musical.

The film premiered on this day in 2006 and since then has become a phenomenal sensation around the world.
Movies & Movie Stars, Musicals, Television, Popular Culture, Young Artists

Brian Epstein

Arts Days: January 24, 1962: All You Need is Epstein
Hard to imagine, but The Beatles were initially turned away by almost every British record company. It seemed no one could sense their potential—no one except British music entrepreneur Brian Epstein.

While helping to run his family's music stores, Epstein first noticed The Beatles after seeing their posters strewn around Liverpool. Curious, he went to see them perform, and was immediately struck by the group's musical talent and sense of humor and charm on stage. He signed on as their manager, confident the band was destined for international success. He helped mold the group's image, encouraging them to wear suits and ties rather than blue jeans and leather jackets.

For the remainder of his life, Epstein worked closely with The Beatles, who grew to be one of the most commercially successful and critically-acclaimed bands of all time.
Rock & Roll, Music, Music Legends, Popular Culture

Harold Prince

Arts Days: January 30, 1928: Theater Royalty is Born
Harold Prince, American theater producer and director, is associated with many of the best known Broadway musicals of the 20th century.

Born on this day in New York, NY, Prince landed his first job out of college in the office of legendary theater mogul George Abbott. Under Abbott's guidance, he learned the craft of creating original musical theater productions.

Prince co-produced a number of popular musicals in the 1950s and 60s including The Pajama Game, Damn Yankees, West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof, and Cabaret. In the 1970s, he met composer Stephen Sondheim and almost exclusively produced all of Sondheim's musicals.

In 1976, Prince directed his first of many operas for the New York City Opera. Since then he has directed two of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musicals, Evita and The Phantom of the Opera. Prince has received 21 Tony Awards, more than any other individual, for his work as both a producer and director.
Broadway, Innovators & Pioneers, Musicals, Theater

Princess Victoria of England

Arts Days: January 25, 1858: Nuptial Notes
Wedding bells rang on this day in 1858 at the marriage ceremony of Princess Victoria of England to Prince Friedrich of Prussia.

The princess walked down the aisle to German composer Richard Wagner's "Bridal Chorus," and after saying "I do," she and her new husband exited the church to the sounds of the "Wedding March" by German composer Felix Mendelssohn.

Overnight, these songs became the hot music selections for wedding processionals and recessionals. To this day, both songs remain popular, traditional choices in Western weddings.
Popular Culture, Music, Composers, Orchestra

Apollo Theater

Arts Days: January 26, 1934: Where Stars Are Born…
The Apollo Theater originally opened in 1913 as one of the city's leading burlesque venues for white-only audiences.

In 1932, powerful theatrical landlord Sydney S. Cohen purchased the theater and went to work refurbishing the entire venue. When it reopened its doors in 1934, patrons and performers of all races were welcomed.

The new Apollo Theater featured an "Amateur Night," which invited talented singers and dancers to the stage. "Amateur Night" helped launch the careers of numerous stars, including Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, James Brown, Sarah Vaughn, Aretha Franklin, and Lauryn Hill.
Art Venues, Music Legends, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Popular Culture, Rock & Roll

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Arts Days: January 27, 1756: The Music Man
It's hard to imagine, but child prodigy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart could play the keyboard and violin almost as soon as he could walk. He began composing original music at age five and was regularly invited to perform for European royalty.

At 17, he left his home to travel Europe in search of new musical opportunities. He stopped in Vienna, Paris, London, and Rome, where he observed and absorbed new musical forms and techniques.

Mozart's travels helped create his unique, versatile compositional language. He modernized the highly intricate Baroque style of music with advanced technical sophistication, enabling his works to reach new emotional heights.

In his lifetime, he created over 600 works and wrote in every major classical genre: symphony, opera, solo concerto, chamber music including string quartet and quintet, large-scale religious masses, choral music, dances, divertimenti, serenades, and the piano sonata.
Composers, Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Opera, Music, Orchestra

Benny Goodman

Arts Days: January 16, 1938: All Jazzed Up
Though jazz music originated in the early 1900s, it took several decades until it was commonly recognized as a serious musical form.

While there’s no way of putting an exact date on when this happened, jazz music did make history on this day in 1938. The prominent New York City music venue Carnegie Hall hosted its first jazz concert, performed by the Benny Goodman Orchestra. Guest artists included Count Basie and members of the Basie and Duke Ellington orchestras.

Initially, Goodman was hesitant to play at Carnegie Hall fearing mainstream audiences were not ready to accept jazz music. He was happy to be proven wrong by the 2,760 sold-out seats.
Art Venues, Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Jazz

George Gershwin

Arts Days: January 07, 1924: George’s Big Break
At 15, American composer and pianist George Gershwin dropped out of school to pursue his passion for music. He got a job in New York City playing the piano for a popular music publisher, and immediately began writing his own music. He had his first national hit, "Swanee," at age 20, but it was another five years until he composed "Rhapsody in Blue."

Written in less than three weeks, the composition's soaring clarinet solo launched Gershwin’s career and began a new era in American music. He went on to write some of America's most popular and important original music, often for Broadway or the concert hall, including the musical scores for Funny Face, An American in Paris, and Porgy and Bess.
Composers, Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Jazz

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