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Mickey Mouse

Arts Days: November 13, 1940: Animation as Art
This artful melding of classical music and animation, Fantasia is perhaps one of the most interesting experiments in the history of feature animation. Walt Disney, fresh from successes like Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, wanted to stretch animation beyond its traditional cartoon roots.

The film interpreted classical music through short bursts of animation, creating such classic sequences as Mickey Mouse’s star turn in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and the fire and brimstone dance of Night on Bald Mountain. At this premiere, audiences listened to the film through Fantasound, a sound system that enriched the music by making it fuller and more dynamic. In 2000, Disney released a sequel of shorts with similar pairings of music and animation, including Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.
Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, Innovators & Pioneers, Movies & Movie Stars, Music, Popular Culture

Rolling Stone Magazine

Arts Days: November 09, 1967: The Bible of Rock
Back then, it featured John Lennon on the cover and looked more like a newspaper than a magazine. The inaugural issue of Rolling Stone aimed to report not only on the performers and trends shaping rock and roll, but also, in the words of founder Jann Wenner, “the things and attitudes that music embraces.” As a result, the magazine has consistently printed long articles about politics, the environment, and other topics as well as influential record reviews and detailed question-and-answer pieces with top artists.

While on-staff at the magazine, photographer Annie Leibovitz helped shape the modern look of the publication. Her photos reveal surprising and controversial sides of world-famous celebrities, created through close collaboration with her subjects.
Rock & Roll, Music, Popular Culture, Literature, Controversial

Billboard Music Chart

Arts Days: July 20, 1940: Top of the Pops
It was called the “Music Popularity Chart,” when Billboard magazine started ranking songs in terms of their airplay and sales. Until then, there was no way to measure the popularity of pop songs relative to one another.

Suddenly record-company executives and musicians alike could keep track of how their songs were faring. They could cheer when their song hit number one—a thrilling moment for anybody. After all, the more a song is played, the more it is being purchased, and the more money the labels make. Well, you get the picture.

What was the first number-one? “I’ll Never Smile Again” by the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, with none other than Frank Sinatra singing lead.
Music, Popular Culture, Rock & Roll

George Bernard Shaw

Arts Days: July 26, 1856: Voice of the People
Hmmm… could the fact that George Bernard Shaw started out as a newspaper arts critic have something to do with his interest in expressing his political and philosophical opinions freely?

In his 60 some plays, Shaw always found a way to criticize social mores by poking holes in the conventions of 19th century life. Pygmalion, upon which the smash Broadway musical My Fair Lady would later be based, examines class differences, while Major Barbara considers whether it is right to use money earned from the sales of weapons for charitable purposes.

Some of these satirical themes generated controversy among early theatergoers, but Shaw didn’t care. “My way of joking is to tell the truth,” he once said. Shaw’s “joking” earned him both a Nobel Prize for Literature and an Academy Award® for Best Adapted Screenplay for My Fair Lady.
Literature, Musicals, Playwrights & Plays, Theater

Sony Walkman

Arts Days: July 01, 1979: Whistle While You Walk
For decades, home stereo systems were big and unwieldy, with separate turntables, tape players, speakers, and other components. So when the Japanese corporation Sony developed a portable stereo system it called the Walkman, consumers were skeptical.

Sony embarked on a huge marketing campaign to raise awareness of its little stereo that came with a set of padded earphones and could accommodate a cassette tape. The company hired college kids to walk around busy shopping areas in Tokyo, wearing their Walkmans and offering strangers a chance to listen.

Turns out the sound quality was excellent, and the freedom to carry your tunes with you exhilarating. In changing the way we carry and listen to music, the Walkman set the stage for today’s MP3 players, which manage to make the Walkman look enormous.
Inventions, Rock & Roll, Popular Culture, Japan, Music

George Cohan

Arts Days: July 03, 1878: Yankee Doodle Cohan
Though documents tell us otherwise, George Cohan insisted all his life that he was actually born on the Fourth of July—better to tie into the spirited patriotic songs he wrote like “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “Over There,” and “You’re a Grand Old Flag.”

No matter what day he was really born, Cohan’s singing and dancing legacy began at a young age when he and his family cavorted around the nation on the vaudeville circuit. In his teens, he was churning out musical comedies in which music and dance advanced the plot in some way—a new way of writing a play and a source of many of his Tin Pan Alley hits.

Few performers on the Broadway stage made a greater mark than Cohan on the history of musical comedy.
Composers, Musicals, America, Broadway, Music, Music Legends

Louis Armstrong

Arts Days: July 08, 1922: When Satchmo Went North
Born in New Orleans, Louis Armstrong was a trumpeter who profoundly influenced the development of jazz music, both with his instruments as well as with his gravelly, instantly recognizable voice.

With the encouragement of his mentor Joe “King” Oliver, Armstrong left the south, joining thousands of other young African Americans in search of better job prospects in Chicago. As people secured work, they found they had money to spend in their free time—and they would often go listen to music.

In jazz clubs around the city, Armstrong’s star was on the rise. He played with Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band and musicians in New York, and then returned to Chicago to make his first recordings. Far from home, Armstrong blazed a trail countless other musicians would one day follow.
Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Jazz, Music, Musical Instruments

Arthur Laurents

Arts Days: July 14, 1918: From Brooklyn to Broadway
Arthur Laurents, the playwright and lyricist who wrote the book for West Side Story, one of the world’s most beloved musicals, had another source in mind when he conceived of the tragic tale of Maria and Tony. He was thinking of Shakespeare and his play, Romeo and Juliet, and this pair of lovers whose family conflicts stand in the way of their feelings for one another.

Though the theme wasn’t new, Laurents set his characters’ love affair in an urban setting, with rival gangs standing in for the families Shakespeare had put at odds. Laurents worked closely with composer Leonard Bernstein and lyricist Stephen Sondheim to create the Broadway version of West Side Story.
Broadway, Playwrights & Plays, Musicals, Theater, Shakespeare

The Rolling Stones I can't get no Satisfaction

Arts Days: July 10, 1965: Satisfaction Guaranteed
That blistering riff from Keith Richards’ guitar kicks off “Satisfaction,” a rock-and-roll song that shook up a lot of teenagers and alarmed some parents with its provocative lyrics. Richards and his fellow Rolling Stone, Mick Jagger, wrote the song together, with Jagger adding lyrics about a very different theme: the push he had seen while in America for material possessions.

The song hit number one on this day and stayed there for a month. It is also an example of the sensation created by a hit record.
Rock & Roll, Controversial, Music, Popular Culture

Johann Sebastian Bach

Arts Days: March 21, 1685: Bach Star
One of the greatest classical composers of all time, Johann Sebastian Bach wrote music we identify as belonging to the Baroque period, a century and a half (1600-1750) of European compositions that tend to be elaborate pieces with innovative, complex instrumentation. From the Brandenburg Concertos to the Mass in B Minor, Bach wrote ornate pieces of music for orchestras as well as for single instruments (such as the Sonata for Solo Violin).

He also wrote complex choral pieces like the St. Matthew Passion, which set part of the gospel according to Matthew to music and is meant to be sung by large groups of singers, accompanied by an orchestra. A trained and talented organist, Bach liked to write music that would fill up a huge concert hall or church.
Composers, Europe, Innovators & Pioneers, Music, Music Legends

Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Stephen Sondheim

Arts Days: March 22, 1930 and 1948: Two of a Kind
If you displayed the pages of music written by these two legendary Broadway composers who share a birthday, it would stretch around the block many times over—sort of like the crowds standing in line at their shows. Sondheim’s brought us Sweeney Todd, A Little Night Music, and Sunday in the Park with George, among others. He also wrote the breakthrough lyrics for West Side Story, which premiered in 1957 and marked his big break.

For his part, Lloyd Webber has no less musical theater credentials. In Cats and Phantom of the Opera, his songs “Memory” and “The Music of the Night,”  plus “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” from Jesus Christ Superstar, showcase Webber’s standard composing style, which melds together elements of rock, jazz, pop, and classical music.
Broadway, Musicals, Playwrights & Plays, Composers, Theater

John Kander

Arts Days: March 18, 1927: Razzmatazz On Broadway
Along with lyricist Fred Ebb, the composer John Kander created some of the most memorable tunes you’ll ever hum. Like “New York, New York”—Kander came up with that unforgettable melody and Ebb added the words. The men also collaborated on the musicals Chicago, Cabaret, Kiss of the Spider Woman, and others. Together they understood the conventions of musical theater better than just about anyone.

But it wasn’t always that way. Kander wrote the music for a show called A Family Affair in 1962. Kander clicked with the show’s producer Harold Prince, who thought he was a terrific musician and hired him and Ebb to write the music and lyrics for Flora, the Red Menace. In 1966, their work on Cabaret led to the Tony Award® for Best Musical. For nearly five decades, Kander and Ebb were the longest running musical/lyricist partnership in Broadway history.
Backstage, Broadway, Composers, Music, Musicals, Music Legends, Theater

Nutcracker

Arts Days: March 19, 1892: A Winter Wonderland
The most popular ballet of all time is quite an international affair. Consider this: The story behind The Nutcracker was by a German writer, E.T.A. Hoffman. The music was written by a Russian composer, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. And the dance steps of the version you are most likely to enjoy this Christmas were created by Frenchman Marius Petipa.

On this day, Tchaikovsky chose several pieces of his score to perform at an event offered by the St. Petersburg branch of the Musical Society. While the music was incredibly well-received, the version of the ballet we know and love today—filled with delicious dances from the Land of Sweets, performed by the Sugar Plum Fairy and dozens of others—did not emerge for another 60-odd years.

Enjoying the ballet’s fantastic sights—a sparkling Christmas tree shooting up into the rafters, the Nutcracker turning into a prince, and the Mouse King in battle—is a holiday ritual for many families around the world.
Ballet, Dance Legends, Dance, Music, Composers

The King and I

Arts Days: March 29, 1951: Culture Clash
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II had collaborated on five other musicals, including The Sound of Music, by the time they turned out the words and music for The King and I. The musical starred Gertrude Lawrence as Anna, an Englishwoman hired by the King of Siam (today we call it Thailand), to teach reading, writing, and speaking English—to his children.

King Mongkut was played by Yul Brynner, a Russian actor who shaved his head for the stage role. Tackling a range of complex issues, from cultural clashes to gender roles, The King and I included the well-known “Getting to Know You,” a touching song about making new friends. The show ultimately went on to win the Tony Award® for Best Musical.
Broadway, Musicals, Theater, Popular Culture

Aretha Franklin

Arts Days: March 25, 1942: The Queen of Soul
Considered by many to be the greatest singer of all time, Aretha Louise Franklin has wowed audiences with her powerful voice from the time she was a small child singing gospel songs in church. This singer/songwriter has mastered the music of many genres: soul, rock, and jazz among them, racking up 20 Grammy Awards® along the way. Franklin’s also had 20 #1 singles on Billboard’s R&B chart to date.

In 1967, “Respect” rocketed up the charts, vaulting Franklin to superstardom. Though her career lagged in the mid-1970s, she returned to her gospel roots—and to renewed success—with the 1987 album called One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism. That same year, the versatile singer was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: the first woman to ever achieve that distinction.
America, Music Legends, Music, Popular Culture, Rock & Roll

Birthday cake

Arts Days: March 04, 1924: A Song is Born
You’ve probably sung the most popular song in the English language more times than you can count. It’s said that the melody of the tune is borrowed from a song called “Good Morning to All,” written in 1893 by Patty and Mildred Hill, sisters and kindergarten teachers from Kentucky.

All they wanted to do was create a song easy for five-year-olds to sing. They never copyrighted the song, meaning they never registered it as their work. But an editor named Robert Coleman published the song in a book, adding a second verse to the “Good Morning to All” tune that features the words we all know. And from then on, “Happy Birthday” has stuck in a big way.
Music, Popular Culture

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

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