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arts quote

Arts Quotes: Duke Ellington
"Playing "bop" is like playing Scrabble with all the vowels missing."
Jazz, Music, Music Legends, Composers, America

arts quote

Arts Quotes: Duke Ellington
"Music is my mistress, and she plays second fiddle to no one."
Jazz, Music, Music Legends, Composers, America

arts quote

Arts Quotes: Placido Domingo
"The high note is not the only thing."
Music, Music Legends, Opera

Chuck Berry

Arts Days: October 18, 1926: The Father of Rock and Roll
There’s good reason why Chuck Berry was the very first inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Berry not only defined the rock and roll sound, he created it. His 1955 song “Maybellene” was, in many ways, the first song of this musical genre, and its debut proved a pivotal moment in music history. Like many of his contemporaries, Berry began by playing the blues.

But audiences responded most enthusiastically when he played what was at the time considered “hillbilly” music: the rollicking infectious rhythms born of bluegrass. Berry added his own twists, like electrifying guitar playing, clever wordplay, and, above all, a vitality that made his audiences want to get up and dance. The resulting music was irresistible to young people and caught on like wildfire.
Composers, Music Legends, Blues, Music, Rock & Roll, Innovators & Pioneers

Mahalia Jackson

Arts Days: October 26, 1911: An Amazing Grace
Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson had a powerful contralto voice even as a little girl. She would sing around the house, sing at the Plymouth Rock Baptist Church in her hometown, and sing in various choirs or as a soloist. She landed a series of recording deals, starting in 1937 with Decca Records, eventually moving to Columbia Records, where she really hit her stride as a spiritual singer with broad commercial appeal.

Jackson’s appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show brought gospel to a whole new set of listeners, as did her performance at the inauguration of President Kennedy in 1960. This granddaughter of slaves was the first gospel singer to sing at Carnegie Hall, and the first gospel singer to be featured at the Newport Jazz Festival.
Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Music, Blues

Yo-Yo Ma

Arts Days: October 07, 1955: Cello’s Child Prodigy
Soon after a music professor began to teach his four-year-old to play the cello, he quickly realized his son was no ordinary music student. Later that year, the family immigrated to New York City in order for the young boy to continue his musical studies. At five, he began performing in public; at seven, he played for President Kennedy. Yes indeed, by all comparisons, Yo-Yo Ma was a pee wee cello prodigy.

Ma eventually enrolled at the Juilliard School, then went on to graduate from Harvard University. Today, Ma’s expressiveness and technical brilliance defies categorization. Tackling all kinds of music from classical to folk, baroque to bluegrass, Ma is believed to be the world’s premiere cellist.
Music, Music Legends, Musical Instruments, Presidents, Young Artists

Luciano Pavarotti

Arts Days: October 12, 1935: King of the High C's
Performing with his father Fernando, a teenage Luciano Pavarotti won an international singing competition in Wales. This accomplishment set the stage for a lifetime of vocal artistry for this world-famous tenor. Pavarotti exposed countless listeners to the wonders of opera and other types of classical vocal music. Incidentally, certain operatic roles—like Rodolfo in Puccini’s La Boheme—became forever linked to the man and his voice.

His gift combined deep expressivity, stellar technique, and the ability to meld opera into pop culture. During a performance of La Fille du Regiment in 1972, Pavarotti received 17 curtain calls, in part for the stunning high Cs he could effortlessly hit. Pavarotti, who set the standard for operatic tenors, was celebrated as a Kennedy Center Honoree in 2001.
Music Legends, Opera, Music

Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns

Arts Days: October 09, 1835: A Prolific Talent
Composer and organist, conductor and pianist, Saint- Saëns composed numerous works including Carnival of the Animals and Danse macabre. Among his contemporaries, the music he composed and performed was typically regarded as technically flawless.

He was famous for sitting stock-still at his keyboard during performances and playing every note perfectly. That calm demeanor earned him some criticism for his apparent lack of feeling. But to collectively consider the hundreds of pieces of music he composed in his lifetime, Saint- Saëns’ music shows much emotion and beauty.
Composers, Music, Music Legends, Orchestra, Europe

Giuseppe Verdi

Arts Days: October 10, 1813: Viva Verdi
Don't think you know any opera? Bet you do. Several pieces by Giuseppe Verdi have taken such deep root in worldwide arts culture that you've probably heard them—and could even hum them with a little effort. “La donna e mobile,” written by this Italian Romantic composer, is one such recognizable piece from his opera Rigoletto, based on a play by Victor Hugo.

Verdi broke some standard “rules” of opera; for example, his Macbeth was the first Italian opera that did not include a love story, and is considered a truly original piece for that reason. Verdi’s incredible range of operatic works can be heard in La Traviata, Aida, Il Trovatore, and Falstaff. Think opera. Think Verdi.
Composers, Opera, Europe, Music, Music Legends

B.B. King playing the guitar

Arts Days: September 16, 1925: The Thrill is Born
It’s been decades since B.B. King, the “King of Blues,” stood on a street corner playing for dimes. In 1947, he hitchhiked to Memphis to soak up the knowledge of other, more seasoned musicians and further hone his own sound. Just one year later, he got a chance to play on the radio, which led to regular jobs—and soon, a record deal.

King’s rich and expressive singing, coupled with his vocal-like string bends have made him a cherished example for every electric guitarist that has followed. He has made more than 50 records and was awarded a Kennedy Center Honor in 1995. While this reigning King can claim a long list of hits and awards, he is best associated with his 1970 classic, “The Thrill is Gone.”
Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Blues, Musical Instruments, Music

Gene Autry playing guitar

Arts Days: September 29, 1907: The Singing Cowboy
The five stars bearing Gene Autry’s name on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame are a testament to his versatility as a performer. The “Singing Cowboy,” as he was commonly known, earned stars for his work in radio, recording, television, movies, and theater. Autry is the only person to have been awarded five stars.

As a very popular public figure, Autry felt a personal responsibility to live by a creed he called the Cowboy Code, rules to live by that he hoped his young radio fans would emulate. Over the course of his multi-faceted life, Autry also served in the military, bought the Los Angeles Angels baseball team, and gave money to create a museum about the West, now known as the Autry National Center.
America, Movies & Movie Stars, Music, Music Legends

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

Jimmy Reed

Arts Days: September 06, 1925: Bluesman Jimmy

With his harmonica slung around his neck and his electric guitar in his grip, Jimmy Reed sang the blues like nobody else had before. Like the words he typically sang in his distinctive singing style, his music kind of loped along, even as it set listeners’ toes tapping.

Writing songs covered by everyone from Elvis Presley to the Rolling Stones, Jimmy Reed captured everyday people’s joy and pain in songs like “Ain’t That Loving You Baby” and “Bright Lights, Big City.” These tunes, simple at first listen, hooked you with their melodies and with the emotion with which Reed delivered them. His music, honest and catchy, brought the blues to a whole new audience.


America, Blues, 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

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

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

William “Count” Basie

Arts Days: August 21, 1906: The Count of Jazz
As a jazz bandleader, pianist, and composer, Count Basie had few peers. He learned to play piano as a youngster, making up music to go with the early silent films of the day.

Working in Harlem and Kansas City, Missouri, Basie absorbed the regional styles of jazz into his own signature “jumping” sound, which referred to his spare piano, pulsating rhythm section, and riffs—a series of notes that are repeated throughout a song—created by his horn players. His band was less formal than others, demonstrating a new lightness and solo originality.

This 1981 Kennedy Center Honoree made jazz history night after night in concert halls and clubs around the world.
America, Composers, Jazz, Music, Music Legends

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

Charlie Parker

Arts Days: August 29, 1920: Rare Bird
As a musician who could improvise jazz and blues music on the fly, Charlie “Bird” Parker has few equals. With his alto saxophone and his deep reservoir of talent, Parker thrilled listeners with his playing on tunes like “Ko-Ko” and “Billie’s Bounce.”

He was one of the leading developers of bebop, a jazz form featuring four or five musicians, fast tempos, and jagged-sounding, complex melodies. He also crafted new ways of playing long solos that shattered the usual conventions. For example, he experimented with creating melodies using higher intervals of a chord than had traditionally been played.
America, Jazz, Music, Music Legends, Musical Instruments

Itzhak Perlman

Arts Days: August 31, 1945: A Violin Virtuoso
Violin superstar Itzhak Perlman’s musical genius has brought new appreciation of both the delicacy and power of the instrument to legions of listeners.

After studying violin at New York’s Julliard School, young Perlman made his Carnegie Hall debut at the tender age of 18. He often performs solo, other times in small ensembles—such as the group playing at the Inauguration of President Barack Obama in January 2009.

Either way, it is this virtuoso’s sheer love of music—be it classical, baroque, romantic, or modern—coupled with his flawless technique that caused a critic from The New Yorker to write that Perlman’s playing was “everything one wants a violin sound to be.”
Musical Instruments, Music, Music Legends

Leonard Bernstein

Arts Days: August 25, 1918: Bernstein’s Bold Baton
You might find it odd that Leonard Bernstein was the first American-born and trained music director of the New York Philharmonic. But historically speaking, he was also the first American classical music conductor to earn worldwide acclaim.

Bernstein, who was awarded Kennedy Center Honors in 1980, was applauded for his ability to convey all the facets of a composer’s music and its meaning when he was conducting—or when he was teaching at his Young People’s Concerts. He also wrote orchestral pieces, ballet scores, choral and chamber music, the score for the film On the Waterfront; and of course, the music for Broadway’s Candide and West Side Story.

Held in extremely high regard by musical colleagues, Bernstein’s passion and intensity for conducting, writing, and playing music never ebbed over his lengthy career.
America, Composers, Broadway, Music, Music Legends, Musicals, Orchestra

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

Benny Carter

Arts Days: August 08, 1907: They Call Him “King”
What aspect of jazz did the great Benny Carter not master? This 1996 Kennedy Center Honoree played alto sax, clarinet, and trumpet. He composed and arranged songs, some of which, like “When Lights are Low,” are now considered jazz standards. And he was an in-demand bandleader for much of his career.

Largely self-taught, Carter began playing in Harlem nightspots in his teens. At 21, he made his first recordings with Charlie Johnson’s Orchestra, and in the 1930s, he lived in and toured Europe, spreading the gospel of this uniquely American music form.

This jazz legend shaped the big-band jazz sound more than just about any other musician before or since. As jazz great Miles Davis once said, "Everyone should listen to Benny Carter. He's a whole musical education."
America, Music, Music Legends, Jazz

Giacomo Puccini

Arts Days: December 22, 1858: For the Love of Opera
Are you surprised to learn that Giacomo Puccini was the latest in a long line of musicians in his family? For a while, he served as a church organist and choirmaster, but then he happened to enjoy a night at the opera: Verdi’s opera, Aida. Puccini was so inspired by what he heard and saw that he decided he, too, would compose operas.

He went on to create some of the world’s best-known ones, from La Boheme to Turandot. Over the next decade or so, Puccini composed what were arguably his three most successful operas in a row—Tosca, Madama Butterfly, and La Boheme. Influenced by composers from Verdi to Richard Wagner, Puccini’s operas contain scores of passionate beauty and intensity.
Composers, Opera, Music Legends, Music, Musicals, 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

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