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Elvis Presley

Arts Days: January 08, 1935: Hail to the King
Elvis Presley, also known as "The King of Rock 'n' Roll," began playing guitar as a teenager and made his first musical recording in 1953. He was a pioneer of rockabilly, an up-tempo fusion of country and blues music. His original sound and uninhibited stage and television performances made him a household name by 1956, and he remained influential in rock music for decades.

Though his career included numerous film roles, he is best known for his music, including hits like "Heartbreak Hotel," "Love Me Tender," "Don’t Be Cruel," "Hound Dog" and "Jailhouse Rock." It is estimated he has sold over one billion record units worldwide, more than anyone in record industry history.
Controversial, Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Rock & Roll, Popular Culture

Hitsville USA, The birthplace of Motown

Arts Days: January 12, 1959: The Sound of Young America
Pioneer record label Motown Records played a major role in the racial integration of popular music. Founded on this day in 1959 by Berry Gordy, it was the first successful record label owned by an African American to primarily feature African American artists.

Among Motown's early artists were Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross and The Supremes, The Four Tops, The Temptations, and The Jackson Five. The label specialized in "The Motown Sound," or pop music characterized by the use of tambourine back beats, prominent and melodic bass guitar chords and structures, and a call and response singing style originated in gospel music.
Innovators & Pioneers, Popular Culture, Hip-Hop, Rock & Roll, Music Legends, Music

Smokey Robinson

Arts Days: June 19, 1973: That Velvet Voice
He’d been a soulful crooner since he was a kid, singing with other talented teens and later with super groups like The Miracles. But when Smokey Robinson (nicknamed “Smokey Joe” by his uncle) released his first solo recording, Smokey, he was carving a new artistic path for himself. Among the tracks on Smokey was “Sweet Harmony,” a valentine to The Miracles and the pleasures of singing with them.

At the time this record was released, Robinson was also serving as a vice president at Motown Records, the legendary Detroit label founded by Robinson’s close friend Berry Gordy. With his high tenor voice and ability to stir both joy and heartache with his songs, Robinson holds the nickname, “King of Motown.”
America, Music, Music Legends, Popular Culture, Rock & Roll

33 1/3 Record

JUne 18: June 18, 1948: More Music
From this day until about 1990, the primary format to sell music was the “LP.”

This black vinyl disc inscribed with grooves, produced music when it spun on a turntable, originally called a phonograph. An engineer who worked at Columbia Records named Peter Goldmark figured out how to fit more music on the LP. Also called “records” or “albums,” LPs could hold up to 30 minutes of music on each side, a huge leap over other formats that might hold three or four minutes’ worth of music per side. (By the way, that 33 and 1/3 measurement refers to the number of revolutions per minute (RPM) required for the music to sound as the performer had intended it to.)

Goldmark’s invention made it much easier for music fans to purchase affordable music and enjoy very good sound quality.
Inventions, Innovators & Pioneers, Rock & Roll, Popular Culture, Music

Elvis Presley

Arts Days: June 05, 1956: A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On
Oh boy, did people go nuts when Elvis Presley appeared on this variety show hosted by “Uncle Miltie” (a.k.a. comedian Milton Berle). Performing his hit “Hound Dog,” Presley gyrated his hips, swung his arms, and caused kids in the studio audience to scream with delight. However, many parents and press members were scandalized by Presley’s performance; news reports the next day complained that his moves were “obscene.”

Overnight, the rising star earned the nickname “Elvis the Pelvis.” Other TV hosts capitalized on the brouhaha Presley’s appearance had caused by booking him on their shows. Allen, who promised a “cleaned-up” version of Presley’s act, had him singing “Hound Dog” to an actual dog, which Presley went along with in a good-natured way.
Comedy, Innovators & Pioneers, Music, Music Legends, Popular Culture, Rock & Roll, Television

The Musical Grease!

Arts Days: June 07, 1972: Grease is the Word
Nobody thought that a musical about a bunch of working-class 1950s high school kids known as “greasers”—obsessed with fast cars, rock and roll, and each other—would go on to shatter Broadway records for the longest-running show. But it did and 3,388 performances later, Grease was still the word on everyone’s lips. Audiences followed the antics of a cute couple named Danny and Sandy and their pals as they sang and danced through summer-fling memories, teenage disappointments, and promises of eternal friendship.

The play, written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, was loosely based on their own high school experiences and touched on some hard-hitting themes like gang rivalry and teenage pregnancy. But it was the music that had audiences dancing in the aisles and lining up to buy tickets year after year.
Broadway, Musicals, Popular Culture, Rock & Roll, Theater

Bruce Springstein, Born in the USA.

Arts Days: June 04, 1984: Red, White, and Bruce
If you’re not paying attention, the title track for the album, Born in the U.S.A., sounds like a rock anthem celebrating pride in being an American. But a closer listen reveals another message—one that questioned the U.S.’s role in the Vietnam War and reveals a sense of hopelessness. This title song and the others that comprised Springsteen’s seventh album—including “Glory Days,” “My Hometown,” “Dancing in the Dark,” and “I’m Goin’ Down”—were filled with themes of yearning for the past or the search for the American dream.

Born in the U.S.A. was the best-selling record in 1985, one that vaulted Springsteen to a new level of commercial success, fueled by his hours-long live shows with his legendary E Street Band. Springsteen, a 2009 Kennedy Center Honoree, continues to write rock songs that refuse to shy away from complex or controversial themes, from unemployment to religion to relationships.
Music, Music Legends, Popular Culture, Rock & Roll

Elton John

Arts Days: June 03, 1969: Rocket Man Blasts Off
It’s hard to believe that with more than 200 million records sold, Elton John’s first album Empty Sky made a modest splash in his home country of England. While seven and eight minute songs like “Gulliver” and “Empty Sky” weren’t exactly radio-friendly, you could get a sense of John’s flair for writing a catchy melody—and as seen on the cover photo, his penchant for funky glasses.

His second record, Elton John, was the first to be released in the U.S. and is still often mistaken for his debut record. Even today, the album’s “Your Song” is considered one of John’s greatest hits. By combining songwriting duties with lyricist Bernie Taupin, with whom he began a lifelong creative partnership in 1967, John began a prolific career releasing knockout song after song and selling out stadium shows packed with tens of thousands of avid fans.
Music Legends, Rock & Roll, Music, Popular Culture

Marvin Gaye

Arts Days: May 21, 1971: Soul Man
In the 1950s and 60s, the silky tenor voice of Marvin Gaye moved easily from the pop stylings of “Ain’t That Peculiar” to the lush duet with Tammi Terrell “You’re All I Need to Get By.” But in 1971, Gaye released an album that showcased a new level of artistry and depth. What’s Going On was a concept album filled with songs that tackled the problems of the day: the Vietnam War, racism, environmental damage, unemployment, poverty, and other complex issues.

The album marked a groundbreaking achievement in recording history as Gaye’s phenomenal voice with its three-octave range coupled with difficult social and political issues. What’s more, with this album Gaye resisted Motown’s standard process of separating songwriters, singers, and producers on a project.
Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Rock & Roll, Popular Culture, Music

Bob Dylan

Arts Days: May 24, 1941: Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man
When Robert Allen Zimmerman changed his name to Bob Dylan he was a young college student playing local coffeehouses. Just like his folk hero Woody Guthrie, Dylan was obsessed with taking a road trip across the country.  And so two years later, Dylan dropped out of school and headed east, winding up in New York City, where he had two goals. First, become a professional musician, and second, meet Guthrie. He managed to do both.

He also managed to challenge the establishment and influence others with both his words and music. With protest songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind” and social commentaries including 1964's “The Times They Are A-Changin’” Dylan’s distinctive, nasal vocals became the voice of a generation. Bruce Springsteen has said Dylan essentially invented a new sound and “changed the face of rock and roll forever.”
Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Rock & Roll, Popular Culture, Music

Michael Jackson Moonwalks

Arts Days: May 16, 1983: A Marvelous Night for a Moon Dance
The crowd at the Motown 25th Anniversary Special erupted in shrieks. On stage was Michael Jackson, performing his song “Billie Jean.” Jackson spun on his heels, looked both ways, and then seemed to slide backward across the stage as though pulled by an invisible string.

Those who master the move seem to be walking forward and sliding backward at the same time. Others had done the moonwalk, or backslide, but Michael Jackson made the move his very own. Every time he did it, his fans went crazy. As a solo artist, the moonwalk was only one of Jackson's incredible moves; throw in his dance-floor hits like “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough” and “Thriller,” his singing, that single, spangled glove, and his mysterious persona, and you had a celebrity of nearly-unparalleled global fame.
Dance Legends, Music Legends, Rock & Roll, Popular Culture, Dance, Music

Grammy

Arts Days: May 04, 1959: A Record-Breaking Event
Only 28 awards categories existed when the first Grammys were handed out at Los Angeles’ Beverly Hills Hotel. Two categories—Best Country & Western Performance and Best Rhythm & Blues Performance—had only one nominee each, which pretty much locked up those winners. Still, the event, then called the Gramophone Awards, sought to recognize the year’s finest vocal, musical, and spoken-word performances.

The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, the industry group that sponsors the awards, decided from the start that the winners would be chosen by others in the business and that a recording’s popularity on the charts would have no effect on its chances of winning. Nowadays, the Grammys are more than just an awards show, with 108 categories and a global reach.
Popular Culture, Rock & Roll, Music

Stevie Wonder

Arts Days: May 13, 1950: Wonder Boy, Wonder Man
Stevland Hardaway Judkins may have been blind from birth, but his musical gifts were beyond compare.

He started playing piano at seven; he learned bass, drums, and harmonica; and he sang in church choirs. At 11, he was heard singing on a street corner by someone who knew someone at Motown Records. Introductions were made, and Little Stevie Wonder, his stage name as a youth, had a record deal and a hit record by the time he was 13 years old.

Wonder has never stopped working: writing songs for others, acting, and making hit record after hit record, including Music of My Mind, Talking Book, Innervisions, and Songs in the Key of Life. There are 22 Grammy Awards® on the mantel at his house, more than any other won by a solo artist.
Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Music, Popular Culture, Rock & Roll

Iggy Pop

Arts Days: April 21, 1947: Music Gets Punk’d
As a kid growing up in the Midwest, James Newell Osterberg got his punk-rock nickname when he played drums briefly with a blues band called the Prime Movers. Iggy’s bandmates invented his moniker after his previous band, the Iguanas. In the late 1960s, Iggy Pop helped lay the groundwork for punk music by forming his influential band, The Stooges.

With their blistering guitar work and relentless drumming, coupled with Iggy’s unearthly yowls, shrieks, and moans, the band is still held up as the prototype for intense, driving rock and roll, with everybody from KISS to the Sex Pistols to Green Day. The Stooges only made a few records, like Raw Power and Fun House, before disbanding, but they and Iggy helped shape the course of popular music.
Rock & Roll, Controversial, Innovators & Pioneers, Music, Music Legends

Supremes

Arts Days: April 08, 1964: Talent Times Three
When another girl group, the Marvelettes, passed over the chance to record “Where Did Our Love Go,” the Supremes—Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, and Florence Ballard, three teenagers from the gritty streets of Detroit—got their big break. A few months after they recorded the tune, the song hit the top of the U.S. pop and rhythm and blues charts.

That’s how the most popular girl group in history kicked off their hit-generating prowess: “Baby Love,” “Come See About Me,” “Stop! In the Name of Love,” and others were not far behind. The Supremes’ star was on the rise. Since then, every all-female group owes a debt to the Supremes.
Music, Popular Culture, Rock & Roll

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