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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

John Cage

Arts Days: September 05, 1912: Pushing Music’s Boundaries
You might be confused the first time you hear an orchestra perform John Cage’s famous 1952 composition, 4’33” which refers to the length of time the piece lasts: four minutes, 33 seconds. During this time, no one will play their instrument; the concert hall will be completely silent.

Or will it? Cage, one of the most influential composers of the 20th century, believed in “found sound.” He thought that a whole other kind of music could be heard in the hundreds of small noises of a concert hall: someone shifting in her chair, someone coughing, someone else turning the page of a program. His experimental ideas about music and composition are still considered controversial by many.
America, Composers, Controversial, Innovators & Pioneers, Music, Music Legends

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

Moon face looking out of a telescope

Arts Days: September 01, 1902: Sci-Fi’s First Flight
This French silent film, which features a now-iconic image of a smiley-face moon with a spaceship poking it in the eye, is widely considered to be the first science-fiction movie. Lasting only 14 minutes, the movie tells a story of astronomers who travel to the moon and fight with bug-like aliens.

Along the way, they get a close-up view of the Big Dipper constellation (with human faces peering out of each star) and a moon goddess sitting on a crescent moon-shaped swing. Le Voyage dans la Lune, its title in French, was directed by Georges Méliès. A true film pioneer, he experimented with special effects, double exposures, fades, and dissolves. His work was incredibly innovative for the times.
Innovators & Pioneers, Movies & Movie Stars, Europe, Science Fiction & Fantasy

The John F. Kennedy Center

Arts Days: September 08, 1971: America’s Home for the Arts
In 1958, President Eisenhower signed legislation to build a national cultural center in Washington, D.C. Yet in the wake of President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, Congress decided that the center would be a “living memorial” to our 35th president, who had worked tirelessly to elevate the role of the arts in America.

Opening night saw the debut performance of Leonard Bernstein’s Mass, written in memory of the fallen president; other performers included the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the Berkshire Boys Choir. Since that night, the Center has welcomed and entertained millions as the finest performers from around the globe have graced its multiple stages. In addition, its Education Department touches more than 11 million young people, teachers, and parents each year.
Architecture, Art Venues, Backstage, Ballet, Choreographers, Composers, Dance, Dance Legends, America, Innovators & Pioneers, Music, Music Legends, Musicals, Opera, Theater

NBC Studios

Arts Days: September 09, 1926: Broadcast News
Noticing that radio stations were popping up all over the place, forward-thinking executives at Radio Corporation of America predicted the new medium was going to be the next big thing. Sales of what were then called “wireless sets” were brisk; and with an average of five people listening to each radio, that meant a potential market of many millions of more listeners.

RCA teamed with General Electric and Westinghouse to purchase a station called WEAF, the anchor station in what became known as the National Broadcasting Company, or NBC. NBC rapidly acquired more radio stations around the U.S., and by the time the Rose Bowl game took place in January of 1927, every play could be heard by radio listeners across the country. With that, NBC became the first major broadcast network in the United States.
Television, Innovators & Pioneers

A model wearing a mink trimmed peignoir designed by Elsa Schiaparelli.

Arts Days: September 10, 1890: Shocking Fashionista
Elsa Schiaparelli designed the kind of couture clothes you see on the pages of Vogue and on the backs of celebrities. Known for her sometimes startling, often witty designs, including a shoe-shaped hat, she also created garments that responded to news events. For example, after France declared war on Germany in 1939, she debuted taffeta skirts printed with a camouflage look.

Schiaparelli was the first designer to use shoulder pads and to prominently feature hot pink, a color she called “shocking pink.” Collaborating with important artists of the day, such as Salvador Dali, she created a fancy evening gown decorated with Dali’s drawing of an enormous red lobster. This renegade clothier helped elevate fashion to high art.
Innovators & Pioneers, Fashion, Controversial, Visual Arts

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

Daguerrotype

Arts Days: August 19, 1839: The 19th Century Polaroid
In the early 19th century, Louis-Jacques Daguerre partnered with Joseph Nicéphore Niépce to take the photographic method to the next level. After Niépce died, Daguerre developed a means of printing an image on a mirror-like surface using an improbable list of ingredients: salt water, mercury, iodine, and more. The resulting image produced on the daguerreotype was reversed, as though seen in a mirror.

Because of the way the process worked, people sitting to have their faces captured on daguerreotype had to sit absolutely still. And the image also had to be stored in an airtight box to protect it—oxygen or fingerprints would ruin the daguerreotype. Still, this method of making early photos caught on around the world, until the less complex tintype process succeeded it.
Visual Arts, Inventions, Innovators & Pioneers

Lee de Forest

Arts Days: August 26, 1873: Mister Sound Man
Can you imagine a movie without sound accompanying the action? Lee de Forest is the guy who first gave sound to movies in a synchronized way. Invented in 1920, his Phonofilm process made it possible to link the sound and the images on the screen.

Sure, there had been sound in films before this time, but it might have been, say, a scene of a car driving by and a random horn blowing on the soundtrack. De Forest’s technology made it possible for a car and its beep to be linked together.

Basically, de Forest found a way to use a photocell to “read” light and dark areas on the film, then convert them to an audio track matching the action. For his accomplishment, de Forest received a special Oscar® in 1959.
America, Innovators & Pioneers, Inventions, Movies & Movie Stars

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

Louis Armstrong playing the trumpet

Arts Days: August 04, 1901: Horn of Plenty
The great trumpeter Louis Armstrong soaked up all the pains and joys of a young man growing up poor and unequipped yet possessing an extraordinary musical talent. These emotions can be clearly heard in the jazz music he grew up to both play and sing.

There's little doubt that Armstrong was the most gifted and influential trumpet soloist in the history of the instrument. His innovations included playing high notes that had never been hit before, and holding these notes for long periods of time; creating vibrato or trembling sounds with his lips; and experimenting with rhythm to make music move, or "swing."

Armstrong's combination of singing and playing (both trumpet and cornet), plus his larger-than-life personality, made him one of the world's greatest and most memorable solo entertainers.
America, Jazz, Music, Music Legends, Innovators & Pioneers, Musical Instruments

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

A Vogue Fashion Show

Arts Days: August 10, 1903: Fashion's Grand Dame
Style maven Eleanor Lambert came from the Midwest but lived most of her life in New York City, where deciding what people ought to wear was (and still is) considered a high art.

Lambert had a natural knack for public relations and shepherd numerous young American clothing designers to fame and fortune. She helped bring Calvin Klein, Bill Blass, and other now-household name designers into the fashion mainstream by promoting their works to magazine editors and celebrities.

Lambert is also credited as the creator of “Fashion Week,” an elaborate, twice-a-year display of the latest fashion designs in New York City, as well as the International Best-Dressed List, which actors, socialites, and other celebrities strive to be included on each year.
Innovators & Pioneers, Fashion, America

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

Steven Spielberg

Arts Days: December 18, 1946: Leader Behind the Lens
Steven Spielberg may well be the best-known film director working today. His movies read like a list of the greatest American films: Jaws, Schindler’s List, and Saving Private Ryan among them. Not only that, but he’s got his finger on the pulse of what makes a movie sell tickets. Lots of tickets: all told, Spielberg movies have grossed more than $8 billion dollars.

Crowd pleasers like E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and Jurassic Park have also elevated Spielberg in the director’s stratosphere, as well as less mainstream but more demanding works like Munich. In recent years, Spielberg has also often taken on the role of movie producer, creating distribution deals and hiring directors. Actor Harrison Ford sums up this 2006 Kennedy Center Honoree’s vision by stating, "Steven's passion and enthusiasm for ideas and for human understanding is very much what fuels his work."
Movies & Movie Stars, Innovators & Pioneers, Jobs in the Arts

James Joyce

Arts Days: December 29, 1916: An Author's Open Book
James Joyce’s first long work of fiction was also partly autobiographical. It explored the inner thoughts of Stephen Dedalus, a character invented by Joyce who served as his alter ego. Spanning Stephen’s childhood into adulthood, Portrait was partly based on people and events in Joyce’s own life. In the book, Stephen comes to question his faith, family and friends, ultimately detaching himself from everything and everyone in order to focus on writing.

To capture Stephen’s thoughts, Joyce made use of the stream-of-consciousness technique in his writing. The character’s thoughts and observations crash together in a seemingly random order, mirroring the way the human brain actually works. It can be challenging to read Portrait, since it’s not written in a linear, orderly narrative.
Innovators & Pioneers, Literature, Europe

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

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

Beethoven

Arts Days: December 16, 1770: Music’s Master
Young Ludwig van Beethoven was first given music lessons by his dad, performing his first concert at age seven. He stunned listeners with his technical abilities on the piano and organ, impressing them even more when he produced his first composition at nine. The father of this child who would become one of the greatest classical composers in history hoped his son would follow in the steps of Mozart himself, who died when Beethoven was 21.

Beethoven went on to write symphonies, like No. 9 in D Minor, the first symphony written by a prominent composer to include a choral portion. Though he eventually went completely deaf, Beethoven’s genius was such that he still composed and conducted even when he could not hear a single note. Beethoven was a brilliant improviser, rule-breaker, and master of dramatic music.
Composers, Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Europe, Music, Orchestra

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

James Brown

Arts Days: December 07, 2003: The Godfather of Soul
Rhythm and blues, funk, gospel, jazz, rock and roll—James Brown took all of these genres and melded them together into an unmistakable blend of music all his own. Dubbing himself “The Hardest-Working Man in Show Business” along the way, he certainly earned that title for his incredibly demanding performances.

During his legendary shows, he did splits, yowled, danced, fell to his knees—and oh yeah, he sang the whole time, too. Brown’s classics include “Papa’s Got a Brand-New Bag” and “Living in America,” to name just two; over the course of his 30-year career, he racked up 98 singles on Billboard’s R&B charts. Of those, 17 of them went to number one.
Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Rock & Roll, Blues, Music, Popular Culture

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