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Orson Welles

Arts Days: October 30, 1938: Fright Night
Horrified people all over the East Coast huddled by their radios and listened fearfully to the newscast of a Martian invasion of Earth. In Grover’s Mills, New Jersey, where the Martians had supposedly landed, people took to the streets with weapons, intent on repelling the invading army.

Soon a mob had assembled, and police were called to subdue the panicked crowd. But there were no Martians, only acting impresario Orson Welles’ overheated imagination. The entire "news broadcast" was only an adaptation of H.G. Well’s War of the Worlds, performed by Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre and airing on CBS. Radio announcers were more careful to insert disclaimers during fictional programs after the War of the Worlds fiasco.
Science Fiction & Fantasy, Theater, Popular Culture

Metallica

Arts Days: October 28, 1981: Rock’s Heavy Hitters
Ten years after Black Sabbath invented heavy metal in the 1970s, Metallica adopted the sound and redefined it. When drummer Lars Ulrich placed an ad in the newspaper in 1981 looking for others to jam with, James Hetfield—who sings and plays guitar—was among those who answered.

Ulrich, Hetfield, lead guitarist Kirk Hammett, and bass player Robert Trujillo comprise the current lineup of the band, whose mission is to rock hard and heavy. With recordings like “…And Justice for All” and “St. Anger,” Metallica writes songs on subjects from political strife to love gone wrong, all with a thrashing, uncompromising sound. Make no mistake, Metallica’s music is loud, pounding, and intense—just like the guys in the band.
Rock & Roll, Music, America, Popular Culture

Monty Python's Flying Circus

Arts Days: October 05, 1969: Big Top Laughs
Sprung from the delightfully demented minds of British comedy troupe Monty Python, this TV show pushed the boundaries of humor every which way. The men at the heart of the program—including John Cleese and Eric Idle—used a mixture of bizarre animation, silly skits, innuendo, and deadpan British humor to bring a new form of absurdist comedy to the small screen.

The men dressed as women, broke the fourth wall, bopped each other over the head with fish, and stopped at nothing to wring new laughs out of their rabid fans. This “Circus” ran for 45 episodes, going off the air in 1974. But among those who like to imagine a “Ministry of Silly Walks,” as one popular skit did, its popularity has never waned.
Comedy, Television, Popular Culture

The Jazz Singer

Arts Days: October 06, 1927: You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet!
Goodbye silent film, hello talkie. This movie became the first feature-length film with a soundtrack synchronized to what was happening onscreen. In short, it was the first bona fide “talkie,” the movie that heralded the beginning of the end of the silent film. Al Jolson played Jakie Rabinowitz, a man who yearns to be a jazz singer but whose strict Jewish family disapproves of his creative goals.

Jolson performed some of the songs in the movie in blackface, a tradition left over from minstrelsy. While the practice is considered shameful and improper now, scholars have lauded the movie as “the only film where blackface is central to the narrative development.” For all these reasons, The Jazz Singer continues to be a landmark movie all these years later.
Movies & Movie Stars, Controversial, America, Popular Culture

cd player

Arts Days: October 01, 1982: A Shiny New Music Maker
At $900, the first home CD player had a pretty steep price tag. Still, the sound quality of music on Compact Disc (CD for short) was far superior to that of the cassettes and LPs that had dominated consumers’ stereo systems for years.

CDs hold more minutes of music than any record ever did, and store music in digital format, which helps create that crystal-clear sound quality. They are also relatively hard to scratch or damage, unlike tapes and records. It wasn’t long before the CD player became a must-have stereo component for any serious music buff. Oh, by the way, the first album to be released on CD was Billy Joel's 52nd Street.
Inventions, Innovators & Pioneers, Music, Japan, Popular Culture

peanuts comic

Arts Days: October 02, 1950: Nuts About Peanuts
Charles M. Schultz was the first cartoonist to use his pen to delve into the insecurities and uncertainties of modern life.

Schultz’s questioning of the human condition might not have been so welcome had he not filtered it through his young illustrated characters, who deeply resonated with readers: Charlie Brown, the “every-man” figure, the hapless hero, determined not to give up; Snoopy, the adorable dog-dreamer, who sees things the way they should be, not as they are; plus pals Linus and Schroeder, sister Sally, and, of course, Lucy, the domineering realist, always quick to put Charlie Brown in his place.

“Peanuts” was an enormous success and remains a favorite today; its offshoots include multiple iconic television specials, plays, and ice shows.
Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, America, Visual Arts, Popular Culture

Mickey Mouse Club

Arts Days: October 03, 1955: It’s Time To Say Hello
Created by Walt Disney, this long-running variety show entertained kids daily with songs, dance numbers, and that special Mouseketeer Roll Call, where the show’s young stars introduced themselves on-camera. These popular young performers, like Annette Funicello and Cubby O’Brien, were among dozens of kids who were cast to perform routines and skits around weekday themes.

For example, Monday was “Fun with Music” day, while Wednesday was “Anything Can Happen” day. The host and lone adult on the show, Jimmie Dodd, was famous for his lessons to viewers about the importance of being kind to others and other moral messages.
Young Artists, Television, Popular Culture

Winnie the Pooh

Arts Days: October 14, 1926: Pooh Power!
The legend of a golden bear named Winnie the Pooh, a boy named Christopher Robin, and an assortment of animal pals has charmed generations of children. Author A.A. Milne based dozens of Pooh tales on his own son and his beloved stuffed bear Winnie.

The first set of these stories, published on this day in 1926, introduced readers to other characters, including Tigger, Kanga, Roo, and Eeyore. Readers were immediately taken by the animals and their shenanigans in the Hundred Acre Wood, catapulting Milne to international fame. The now famous honey-loving Pooh character can be found in countless cartoons, movies, and books.
Literature, Animals, Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, Popular Culture

Lucille Ball in I Love Lucy

Arts Days: October 15, 1951: Everybody Loves Lucy!
This classic sitcom made household names out of comedienne Lucille Ball, with her flaming red hair and incredibly funny facial expressions, and real-life husband, singer/bandleader Desi Arnaz. I Love Lucy broke television ground in several ways, including its use of multiple cameras to film in front of a live studio audience and its feature of a then uncommon interracial marriage between lead actors (Arnaz being of Cuban descent, Ball being Scottish).

But in the end, it’s Lucy's crazy schemes, from stomping grapes, to selling vitamins, to working on a candy assembly line, that fans embraced and remember best. And, not only did Lucy and Desi star in the most popular TV show of its day, they were shrewd business people, too. Together they launched Desilu Productions and later Desilu Studios, producing and syndicating their various shows.
Comedy, Television, Popular Culture

Cannes Film Festival

Arts Days: September 20, 1946: Stars, Paparazzi, and Cinéma
For 12 days in May, this annual event, set in the luxurious seaside resort of Cannes, France, is a showcase for new movies. While it’s an opportunity to watch films and spot celebrities, the festival began for political reasons. In 1939, Jean Renoir's film The Grand Illusion was passed over at the Venice Film Festival; top honors went to films made by Germany's Ministry of Propaganda and by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini's son.

French, British, and American filmmakers withdrew from the competition to protest what they considered an overtly political decision, and the French government agreed to underwrite the cost of a rival film festival that would be free of political bias. At Cannes, films have always been judged on their artistic merits alone.
Art Venues, Europe, Fashion, Movies & Movie Stars, Popular Culture

Chuck Jones and Bugs Bunny

Arts Days: September 21, 1912: What’s Up, Chuck?
Here’s a pretty neat line of work: Imagine being the cartoonist who brings characters like Wile E. Coyote and Daffy Duck to life. That was Chuck Jones’ job. During his career, he worked as a cartoonist, screenwriter, and director of animated movies, often “shorts” that appeared before a feature film.

Jones worked on Warner Brothers’ Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons, including “What’s Opera, Doc?” In this hilarious animated classic, Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd perform in snippets of famous operas by 19th century composer Richard Wagner. Jones also helped turn the Dr. Seuss book How the Grinch Stole Christmas into a TV show. Jones’ innovative use of humor and characterization helped elevate animation from amusement to art.
Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, Movies & Movie Stars, Comedy, Popular Culture, Television

Conway Twitty, Chubby Checker and Dick Clark doing

Arts Days: September 19, 1960: The Dance Craze Is On
Chubby Checker’s version of this song started a dance revolution. Kids everywhere were dancing the Twist’s signature moves: swiveling hips, stretching out arms, lifting one foot off the floor every now and then. Though the dance was considered fairly provocative, the song’s ascent drove the popularity of the Twist and made it mainstream.

Dance crazes were nothing new: for example, in the 15th century, noblemen and women went crazy for the minuet, while in the 1930s, everybody was doing the jitterbug. Basically, anytime people gather to dance, a new fad could be spawned. Think about that next time you’re dancing with your pals—maybe you will invent the next Mashed Potato or Moonwalk!
Choreographers, Rock & Roll, Popular Culture, Dance, Music

Star Search

Arts Days: September 17, 1983: Make Me a Star Tonight
Searching for tomorrow’s superstar singers and dancers? Before there was American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance, there was Star Search. Ordinary contestants sang, danced, and performed comedy skits on national TV, with judges and a studio audience voting for a winner.

Lots of artists who made it big competed on Star Search, including Christina Aguilera and Rosie O’Donnell. Interestingly, few of the actual winners are household names today. The original show ran until 1995. A new version launched in 2002, but lasted for only two years. American Idol, which also began in 2002, pretty much ate Star Search for lunch.
Art Venues, Comedy, Dance, Music, Popular Culture, Television, Young Artists

Nintendo

Arts Days: September 23, 1889: Game Winners
The company launched over a century ago in Kyoto, Japan, is known today as a pioneer in video games and other home entertainment. Nintendo initially, however, made its mark selling other kinds of products before it found its niche in the gaming industry. At its inception, Nintendo made and marketed playing cards called hanafuda; it soon went on to offer cab services, sell instant rice and other foods, and dabble in other products.

But there’s no doubt the company found its sweet spot when it started selling it's first home video game console, the Famicom (called the Nintendo Entertainment System in the US). Since then, Nintendo has released more than 20 consoles, turning Nintendo into the home-entertainment giant it is today.
Inventions, Innovators & Pioneers, Popular Culture, Japan

Crayola Crayons

Arts Days: September 30, 1902: Color My World
Edwin Binney and C. Harold Smith were a couple of enterprising cousins who took over Binney’s dad’s company, Peekskill Chemical Works, back in 1885. While Peekskill initially made charcoal and other products, the cousins expanded the product line to include black crayons at first, and eventually a whole rainbow’s worth.

Introduced in 1903, the first box of crayons cost a nickel and included red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, brown, and of course, black. It was Binney’s wife who coined the name: “craie” the French word for stick of color, plus “ola,” from oleaginous, a term describing the consistency of the petroleum used in the crayons. Today, the company once known as Binney & Smith is officially Crayola, LLC.
Inventions, Innovators & Pioneers, Visual Arts, Popular Culture

Jim Henson with Muppets

Arts Days: September 24, 1936: TV’s Muppet Man
Perhaps the most famous puppeteer of all, Jim Henson turned the piles of fabric and fur known as Kermit the Frog, Rowlf the Dog, and Ernie (as in Bert and Ernie) into loveable characters. In Sesame Street and The Muppet Show, Henson’s wonderful, wisecracking animal and people puppets educated and entertained children.

It was important to Henson to create work that would appeal to people of every age. His puppets might have been teaching youngsters to count, but he also made sure they threw out a few asides to amuse their parents, too. Nothing gave the modest Mississippi native more pleasure than making people laugh and enjoying the magic of puppetry.
Puppets, Television, Innovators & Pioneers, Comedy, America, Popular Culture

Will Smith

Arts Days: September 25, 1968: Will Power
Will Smith’s many talents, from rapping to acting and producing, have enabled his rise as one of the most bankable stars in Hollywood. As part of DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, Smith and childhood pal Jeff Townes hit big with the song “Parents Just Don’t Understand” in the 1980s. They even won the very first Grammy® awarded to a rap act.

The folks at NBC liked Smith’s appealing persona enough to build a TV show around him; The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air ran from 1990–96 and cemented Smith’s reputation as a natural comic. The show served as Smith’s platform to transform himself from hip-hop artist to accredited actor with starring roles in Hollywood blockbusters like Men in Black and Independence Day.
America, Hip-Hop, Music, Popular Culture, Movies & Movie Stars, Young Artists

West Side Story

Arts Days: September 26, 1957: Tonight, Tonight
Behind the hit musical about the rival white “Jets” and the Puerto Rican “Sharks” is an updated, urban retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The inspiration and innovation was provided by a boatload of talent; Stephen Sondheim wrote the sophisticated lyrics, Leonard Bernstein the historic music.

Jerome Robbins directed and choreographed the revolutionary dance sequences like the Shark Girls’ exuberant “America” and the Jets’ “Cool.” Audiences saw how violent gang warfare shattered the dreams of star-crossed lovers Maria and Tony. The musical drew big crowds, shocking them all with the death of two young men at the end of Act One and of Tony at the close of the play. As stunned viewers exited the theater, few doubted the universality of Shakespeare’s love story.
Broadway, Musicals, America, Choreographers, Composers, Controversial, Playwrights & Plays, Shakespeare, Popular Culture

Buddy Holly

Arts Days: September 07, 1937: Rock’s Best Buddy
Buddy Holly started singing and playing instruments as a child. At 18, he heard Elvis Presley perform; later that year, he was opening for Elvis and generating buzz for his rockabilly music, which combined elements of bop, country, and rock.

Though his life ended at age 22 in a plane crash, he had an outsized influence on early rock and roll. For example, along with his band, the Crickets, Holly helped make the standard rock band lineup that has stuck to this day: two guitars, one bass, and drums. He also was one of the first rock-and-rollers to write, produce, sing, AND play on his own songs. And oh boy, did he crank out a lot of rock standards: “Every Day,” “That’ll Be The Day,” and “Peggy Sue” are just a few.
America, Innovators & Pioneers, Music, Music Legends, Popular Culture, Rock & Roll

Kelly Clarkson

Arts Days: September 04, 2002: Idol Maker
Something like 50 million people were watching the night Kelly Clarkson was chosen the winner of the first season of American Idol. This wildly successful, interactive singing competition counts on viewers calling or texting in votes for their favorite singers to help determine who will make it to the next round.

The popular show helped launch Clarkson’s career, just as it has with other winners in subsequent years. The show’s judges—originally Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson, and Paula Abdul—helped shape viewers’ voting with their blunt feedback on the performances, which can range from pathetic to magnificent.
Television, Popular Culture, Young Artists, Music, America

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum

Arts Days: September 02, 1995: Rock Solid
With exhibits looking at, say, the life and music of Elvis Presley or the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame aims to celebrate rock music in all its forms. Founded by Jann Wenner, longtime editor of Rolling Stone magazine, the site also collects and preserves rock music through its educational programs and archives.

For years before the actual museum existed, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation nominated musicians to be part of the Hall of Fame. One qualification: artists are only eligible for induction 26 years after their first recording. Those fortunate enough to be inducted have their names added to a spire inside the spectacular glass pyramid designed by architect I.M. Pei.
Art Venues, Rock & Roll, Popular Culture, Music, Architecture

Star Trek

Arts Days: September 03, 1969: Kirk Out
The creator of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry, had Gulliver’s Travels in mind when he pitched his idea for a new science-fiction TV show to television executives. Featuring William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk, Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock, and the crew of the Starship Enterprise, the show earned loyal followers; some of whom wrote angry letters when the network put the show in an unpopular time slot.

After it was cancelled the following year, market research showed that in fact Star Trek had been profitable for advertisers, but it was too late to revive it. Still, tons of spin-off shows, from reruns of the original episodes to new programs like Voyager, have capitalized on the public’s early fascination with Roddenberry’s original concept.
Television, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Popular Culture

Roald Dahl

Arts Days: September 13, 1913: What a Dahl
It may come as no surprise to learn that one of young Roald Dahl’s schools was situated near a chocolate factory, and some lucky students got to take part in candy-bar tasting. Yes, the popular children’s writer who authored Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and dreamed up its chocolate bars wrapped in golden tickets clearly drew some of his fantastically inventive tales from his own life experiences.

Dahl also wrote plenty of books and short stories for adults, but his children’s works stand out for their dark humor, startling plot twists, and outrageous characters like greedy Augustus Gloop in Charlie and mean Miss Trunchbull in Matilda—characters who almost always get their come-uppance in the end.
Literature, Popular Culture

Marilyn Monroe

Arts Days: September 15, 1954: The Blonde Bombshell
Standing over a subway grate with a train rushing by below, Marilyn Monroe titillated moviegoers when her skirt blew up in the wind.

The director of The Seven-Year Itch, Billy Wilder, had ordered this scene to be filmed repeatedly. The shooting was taking place at Lexington Avenue and 52nd Street in New York City, and as he ordered more takes, more people gathered around to ogle Monroe. She was one of a long line of movie blondes dating back to Jean Harlow, who appeared in the 1933 film, Bombshell. Movie fans have idolized these golden-haired beauties of film and television. Monroe may well be the most famous of them all.
Controversial, Fashion, Movies & Movie Stars, Popular Culture

Oh Susanna

Arts Days: September 11, 1847: America’s First Pop Hit
This American folk tune starts with lines that make absolutely no sense: “The sun so hot I froze to death/Susanna don’t you cry.” Yet Stephen Foster, the songwriter, was probably most concerned with just creating a hummable tune. And that he did. The song tells the story of a man going to New Orleans to see his beloved Susanna.

Filled with desire and longing, the man sings of dreaming of his love at night. Foster intended the song to be sung in minstrel shows, during which white performers often performed in blackface makeup. Traditionally the song is sung with only the accompaniment of a guitar and harmonica.
America, Controversial, Music, Music Legends, Popular Culture

Lockers

Arts Days: August 20, 1989: School Daze
Intentionally aimed at a teen audience that might be outgrowing cartoons, Saved by the Bell was filled with appealing actors like Mark-Paul Gosselaar (who played Zack) and Lark Voorhies (Lisa). This pioneer teen show ran for years during prime television-watching hours for kids—Saturday morning.

While critics panned it, pre-teens loved it. The show’s producers introduced topical teen themes and moral lessons, such as how the Bayside High gang coped with bullies and learned about the dangers of drinking and driving. Executives also came up with the idea of reuniting the cast for TV specials and spin-off series like Saved by the Bell: The College Years.
Television, Popular Culture

Bruce Lee Statue in Hong Kong

Arts Days: August 17, 1973: Kung Fu Mania Kicks Off
The violent yet elegant Chinese martial art broadly known as kung fu reached a huge new audience with the release of this film. Bruce Lee, its star and an acclaimed master of several martial arts, shot to international prominence.

Lee’s movie character uses his physical strength and philosophical gifts to dispatch a bad guy named Han, who dwells on a private island. Spectacular fight sequences show Lee dispatching Han and his henchmen with everything from roundhouse kicks to scary claw-like weapons. The action was a bit too rough at times, in fact; several actors were hospitalized during filming.

Though Lee died shortly before the premiere, Enter the Dragon kick-started the kung fu film genre popular to this day.
China, Innovators & Pioneers, Physical Activity, Popular Culture, Movies & Movie Stars

Woodstock Poster

Arts Days: August 18, 1969: Give Peace a Chance
Who knew that a weekend-long, live music festival slated for a farm in upstate New York would become a cultural touchstone for untold numbers of people?

The Yasgur dairy farm north of Woodstock, N.Y., was the scene for the Woodstock Music & Art Fair, a three-day long celebration that featured acts like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Joan Baez, and Carlos Santana. Woodstock, as it came to be known, was attended by half a million people, by some estimates.

Some feared that such a large crowd would lead to roads shutting down from traffic or riots breaking out, but the event was remarkably peaceful, which is just what the organizers had wanted.
Music Legends, Rock & Roll, Art Venues, Music, Popular Culture

Aerosmith and Run-D.M.C.

Arts Days: August 28, 1975: Rock 'n' Rap
When the rock band Aerosmith cut this single in the mid 1970s, they probably didn’t know they were setting the stage for a mash-up of rock and rap a decade down the road.

In 1986, Aerosmith worked with rap duo Run-D.M.C. to make a new version of the song. Its tempo and rapid-fire lyrics lent themselves well to the full rap treatment. Aerosmith’s singer Steven Tyler and both halves of Run-D.M.C.—Joseph “Run” Simmons and Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels—shared singing/rapping duties on the new version.

The fun video for the remake—in which Tyler feigns indignation at the interlopers rapping his song, then dances with them—only helped the song rocket up the charts. It was the first major hit featuring the melding of rock and rap music.
America, Music, Popular Culture, Rock & Roll, Hip-Hop

Guinnes Book of World Records

Arts Days: August 27, 1955: A Matter of Record
The book that lists the measurements of the world’s tallest man and the greatest number of hot dogs eaten in one minute arose from a friendly argument about which game bird was fastest.

Hugh Beaver, then an executive at Guinness Breweries in England, had the idea to print a reference book listing the kind of random facts debated among friends over beer. He hired twins Norris and Ross McWhirter to write the first Guinness book, which was given away for free. Released in the U.S. the following year, it sold more than 70,000 copies.

Folks couldn’t get enough of reading about the largest ballet class ever held, or the deepest concert (performed 994 feet below sea level!). It’s been updated annually ever since. Oh, and in 2000, the company officially changed its book’s name to Guinness World Records.
Innovators & Pioneers, Inventions, Popular Culture

Madonna

Arts Days: August 16, 1958: Lady Madonna
Madonna Louise Ciccone was born into a large Italian-American family with a strong Catholic faith. Yet she has said that her ethnic and religious roots fed her desire to rebel. Among other things, she dropped out of college to move to New York and dressed provocatively, often mixing religious icons with her revealing stage outfits.

In songs she wrote such as “Like a Prayer” and “Papa Don’t Preach,” Madonna pushed lyrical boundaries; and in her popular videos on MTV, she made polished, sometimes controversial mini-movies to go with her songs.

A string of dance-able hits and a charismatic personality, plus her chameleon-like ability to change her look and style from one record to the next, have made Madonna one of the world’s biggest pop stars.
America, Dance, Music, Popular Culture, Rock & Roll, Fashion

American Bandstand

Arts Days: August 05, 1957: So You Think You Can Dance?
With a studio set designed for dancing and live music performances, American Bandstand was once every teenager’s must-see TV show.

Every afternoon, host Dick Clark introduced top pop musical guests and conducted audience interviews to get their thoughts on the latest music. To go along with the music, the show featured a cast of “regulars,” a group of attractive local teens who danced their socks off and demonstrated the latest dance moves to the delight of idolizing fans at home.

On this day in 1957, the show’s first national broadcast aired Jerry Lee Lewis playing “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” and teenagers all across the country could be found dancing up a storm.
Rock & Roll, Television, Popular Culture, Young Artists

Andy Warhol

Arts Days: August 06, 1928: Prince of Pop Art
Whether silkscreening, painting, filming, or photographing his subjects, artist Andy Warhol looked at them with a brand-new eye. Though he began his career designing ads and record covers, it’s as a fine artist that his creativity took flight.

Warhol used images of familiar objects—from Campbell’s Soup cans to Brillo dishwashing sponges—to find the artistic qualities in mundane objects and to redefine what constituted art. His work supports “pop art”—a 20th century art movement in which popular culture’s logos, products, and images are used together or separately—and, its creators say, is elevated to something on par with more traditional art.

At the end of the day, Warhol created uniquely American art that commented on our obsession with celebrities and consumerism.
America, Popular Culture, Visual Arts

The Bee Gees

Arts Days: August 07, 1971: Band of Brothers
The wistful ballad “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” topped the U.S. charts on this day. The song was cut off the Bee Gees’ ninth album, Trafalger, and is the perfect showcase of the Australian brothers’ breathy harmonies and synthesizer-heavy arrangements. Brothers Robin, Maurice, and Barry Gibb cultivated a clean-cut image, often sporting matching suits as they sang their pop-rock hits, most of which they wrote themselves.

Not long after this song was released, a producer named Arif Mardin worked with the lads to make their music more danceable. He also encouraged Barry to sing falsetto. Both of these tweaks paved the way for the Bee Gees to reach the pinnacle of their career with “Jive Talkin’,” “You Should be Dancing,” and, of course, the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.
Music, Popular Culture, Rock & Roll

MTV Logo

Arts Days: August 01, 1981: Video Kills the Radio Star
The original concept for the cable television network MTV—short for Music Television—was simple: the channel featured non-stop, around-the-clock music videos by big name pop stars like Madonna, Depeche Mode, and Michael Jackson.

Overnight, MTV was a hit sensation among young people and grownups alike. As the channel’s influence grew, it became essential for performers to produce a music video to go along with any new song release. Over time, these videos have gotten more and more elaborate, and are produced like mini-movies, complete with incredible sets, costumes, and plots.
Innovators & Pioneers, Rock & Roll, Television, Popular Culture, Music

Alfred Hitchcock

Arts Days: August 13, 1899: Getting Hitched
Film director Alfred Hitchcock often made the viewer’s imagination do the work. Think about Psycho and the famous shower scene and how Anthony Perkins’ character is never actually shown stabbing the shower-taking actress Janet Leigh. Instead, streams of “blood” are shown running down the drain, all while you’re hearing the sounds of shrieking violin strings.

For sheer terror and shock value, without a lot of onscreen gore, few directors can best Hitchcock. From The Birds and North by Northwest to Rear Window and Vertigo, “Hitch” carefully planned out his movies often using music or complete silence to heighten the suspense. How enjoyable, and scary, it is to watch his characters mysteriously revealed, layer by layer, exposed for who they really are.
Innovators & Pioneers, Movies & Movie Stars, Popular Culture

Judy Garland in the Wizard of Oz

Arts Days: August 15, 1939: The Great and Powerful Oz
The Wizard of Oz, based on a book by L. Frank Baum, is one of the most spectacular fantasy musicals Hollywood ever generated. Surely the audience gasped in delight when Dorothy opened the door of her twister-flung farmhouse for her first peek at Oz and the black-and-white image erupted into glorious Technicolor.

Between the antics of the Cowardly Lion, Scarecrow, and Tin Man; the green fury of the Wicked Witch of the West; and the bluster of the Wizard himself before he is revealed as a fake, there is much to savor about this gem of Hollywood’s Golden Age. The film went on to be nominated for six Academy Awards.®
Movies & Movie Stars, Musicals, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Popular Culture

MAD magazine

Arts Days: August 12, 1952: It’s a MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD World
Funny, the debut issue of MAD magazine—which was really a comic book back then—came out in August with a cover date of October/November. A man named Harvey Kurtzman wrote almost the entire issue himself, also providing some of the drawings. When MAD later flipped to its magazine format, that’s when its brand of irreverent humor started making fun of all aspects of our culture: movies, politicians, advertising, and celebrity itself.

It spoofed Sports Illustrated as Sports Ill-Stated. It turned Star Wars into Star Roars. It was said you knew a book, movie, or TV show was a success if MAD parodied it. The scathing wit of its illustrators and writers would later influence everybody from the Monty Python gang to today’s satirical news source, The Onion.
Comedy, Popular Culture

Betty Boop

Arts Days: August 09, 1930: The First Boop-Boop-Bee-Doop
Cartoonist Grim Natwick had no idea the little brunette who emerged from under his pen would captivate millions with her squeaky Brooklyn-accented voice and “va va voom” persona.

Betty Boop debuted in the cartoon Dizzy Dishes. She was originally drawn as half French poodle, half human (her famous hoop earrings, for example, were poodle ears in the beginning). But within a couple of years, the poodle parts were ditched, and Betty became the first animated sex symbol.

Modeled on a jazz-era flapper, she sported a large head on a small body, lending her a childlike quality. However, her developed figure and flirty gestures were decidedly those of a grown-up woman.
Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, Popular Culture, Jazz, Movies & Movie Stars

KISS

Arts Days: August 11, 1999: KISS and Makeup
Famous for their elaborate stage makeup and six-inch platform boots, KISS is even better known for their rock music and hits like “Rock and Roll All Nite” and “Beth.” With highly theatrical stage shows featuring fireworks, “thunder and lightning,” and spurts of fake blood, KISS concerts have sold out worldwide since the 1970s.

Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, and the rest of the band have sold over 80 million records, making them truly worthy of a coveted star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Popular Culture, Rock & Roll

Snow White

Arts Days: December 21, 1937: The Fairest (and First) of Them All
The story of a lovely princess, seven sidekicks, and an evil Queen all played a part in Walt Disney’s initial venture into Technicolor. Based on a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, Snow White was also the first animated feature film made in the U.S. The making of the film was considered an absurd gamble, with its groundbreaking ideas that required the invention of brand-new technology.

Focusing on telling the story rather than garnering laughs, animators made sure the film had all the elements of suspense, comedy, romance, and tragedy of a feature film. The risk paid off. The audience at the premiere loved the film, which included original songs like “Someday My Prince Will Come."
Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, Innovators & Pioneers, Movies & Movie Stars, America, Popular Culture, Folklore

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Arts Days: December 23, 1954: Water, Water Everywhere
This movie, the first science-fiction film produced by Walt Disney Pictures, has it all: an underwater battle with a giant squid, great dialogue, and stars like Kirk Douglas as Ned Land and James Mason as Captain Nemo. The movie was adapted from a book by the French science fiction author Jules Verne.

It featured Nemo’s fantastic submarine, the Nautilus, which could stay under water for five days, and had onboard equipment to convert seawater into drinking water. To bring Verne’s deep-sea world to life, a staff of hundreds—led by director Richard Fleischer—was required. Lucky folks: They got to do much of the filming in beautiful places in the Bahamas and Jamaica.
Movies & Movie Stars, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Stunts & Special Effects, Innovators & Pioneers, Literature, Popular Culture

It's a Wonderful Life

Arts Days: December 20, 1946: The Richest Man in Town
Jimmy Stewart, a 1983 Kennedy Center Honoree, was a very popular actor when he was cast as the likeable George Bailey, the lead role in It’s a Wonderful Life. Director Frank Capra tells the story of a small-town fellow who, through no fault of his own, comes to the end of his rope on Christmas Eve. As he considers suicide, Heaven sends a gentle guardian angel named Clarence to convince him what a good life he really has.

Told mostly through flashbacks, the movie has become essential viewing for many at Christmastime. Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, and the other cast members bring Bedford Falls to life year after year, reminding us all that “no man is a failure who has friends.”
Movies & Movie Stars, Popular Culture, America, Comedy, Family

The Simpsons

Arts Days: December 17, 1989: Springfield Shenanigans
Isn’t it cool that the longest-running American sitcom features an animated mom with a mountain of blue hair? Yes, Marge, Homer, Bart, Lisa, Maggie, and the rest of their gang of neighbors and co-workers in Springfield just happen to be cartoon characters. And they happen to be hilarious, too, as they—helped by the show’s extensive staff of writers—poke fun at American culture and spoof sitcom conventions.

As created by Matt Groening, beer-swilling Homer, sax-playing Lisa and the others muddle through work and school, comment on everything from environmentalism to pop music, and love one another, just like any other normal American family. Blue hair and all.
Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, Comedy, Television, America, Popular Culture, Controversial

NBC

Arts Days: December 30, 1953: Now Brought to You in Living Color
It took decades to hammer out the technology behind transmitting color images to television sets. Among other things, broadcasting companies and the Federal Communications Commission had to agree on a standard way of broadcasting programs. As all that research and legal wrangling was taking place, manufacturers of TV sets were chomping at the bit to bring their products to market quickly.

Admiral had what we call “first mover advantage;” it was the first company to sell color TVs to the general public. Its 15-inch C1617A model cost $1,175, a pretty steep price tag even by today’s standards. Nowadays, of course, 99 percent of American households own a TV, and of those, virtually all are color sets.
Inventions, Television, Popular Culture, America

Loretta Lynn

Arts Days: December 28, 1970: Honky Tonk Woman
No kidding, Loretta Lynn really was the daughter of a coal miner. She grew up in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky, the second of eight kids. The family was poor in cash but rich in love, and Lynn’s childhood provided the material she needed to write several of the songs on this record.

Her honesty and emotional delivery delighted her many admirers and converted lots of other people into country music fans. Over the years, this 2003 Kennedy Center Honoree has penned many more songs, often written with a strong feminist perspective, which had been pretty much unheard of in country music until she came around. “Coal Miner’s Daughter” was also the name of Lynn’s autobiography and the movie about her life that stars Sissy Spacek.
Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Family, Folklore, Music, Popular Culture

Carollers

Arts Days: December 25, 1818: Shhh!
Two Austrians collaborated on the words and music to “Silent Night,” which has become one of the best-loved Christmas carols, sung in churches and by roving carolers the world over. Father Joseph Mohr wrote the lyrics, while an organist named Franz Gruber composed the melody.

On this Christmas night, the two played the song in the Church of St. Nicholas in Oberndorf, Austria. Surprisingly, while today it’s usually sung at a pace akin to that of a lullaby, the song had a more up-tempo rhythm back then. If you celebrate Christmas with your family, think about offering a round of caroling for your neighbors.
Music, Popular Culture, Europe

The Flamingo Hotel

Arts Days: December 26, 1946: Vegas on the Verge
The gangster Benjamin Siegel—better known as “Bugsy”—was instrumental in the rise of Las Vegas from a patch of desert to an entertainment hub. In early 1946, Siegel met William Wilkerson, who was building a hotel called the Pink Flamingo Hotel and Casino. Siegel’s mentor Meyer Lansky wanted a piece of the Flamingo, and while Siegel initially balked at being away from L.A., he soon became invested in the construction.

He bought building materials on the black market and overrode blueprints for the hotel with his own ideas. Siegel was no architect, though; these decisions ultimately led to huge cost overruns and delays. On opening day, construction racket and drop cloths filled the lobby, and the air-conditioning—a first in this town—was on the fritz.
Art Venues, Popular Culture, Architecture, Controversial, Innovators & Pioneers

“The Howdy Doody Show”

Arts Days: December 27, 1947: Say Kids, What Time Is It?
The freckle-faced marionette Howdy Doody was the star puppet in this early children’s TV show, the very first regular network series to be broadcast in color. Set in the imaginary town of Doodyville, the show also featured human characters like Clarabell the Clown, who communicated with beeps of a horn on his belt and did not speak a word until the final episode of the show.

Then there were the characters that started as puppets but were later performed by people, like Princess Summerfall Winterspring, played by Judy Tyler. Buffalo Bob Smith provided the voice for Howdy, and he would also speak directly to the kids in the on-set “peanut gallery,” and he sang the show’s theme song in every episode.
Comedy, Innovators & Pioneers, Television, Puppets, Popular Culture, Young Artists

Walt Disney with Mickey Mouse

Arts Days: December 05, 1905: Magic’s Original Imagineer
The young Walter Disney loved to draw, so it should come as little surprise that animation became his life’s calling. He also studied art and photography, all of which would come into play as he built the movie company that bears his name. Over the course of his career, Disney worked as an animator, director, screenwriter, voice actor, and producer; he also helped design Disneyland and Disney World, perhaps the most famous theme parks in the world.

Yet, could it be a certain Mouse named Mickey with those iconic round black ears that might be his most famous creation of all?  Probably so, but let’s not forget all of his other achievements: introducing a separate cartoon for each animated movement, adding sound to cartoons, producing the first feature-length animated films, creating new recording techniques, and inventing the multi-plane camera.
Inventions, Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, Innovators & Pioneers, Movies & Movie Stars, Television, Popular Culture, America

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