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Carnegie Hall

Arts Days: May 05, 1891: The Music House That Steel Built
The stages (there are three now) of Carnegie Hall, the preeminent concert hall in the U.S., have been graced by everyone from jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald and violinist Isaac Stern, to opera star Luciano Pavarotti and pianist Fats Waller.

In the late 19th century, the landmark building on New York’s Upper West Side, then known simply as “Music Hall,” was funded by steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie and designed by architect William Burnet Tuthill. On this opening night, two important figures in classical music—conductor Walter Damrosch and composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky—were featured.

It would have been hard to imagine on this festive occasion that only 75 years later, Carnegie Hall would be slated for demolition. Fortunately, Stern and others persuaded the city to purchase the building and Carnegie Hall was saved. Renovations in the 1980s prompted critics to complain that the Hall’s famous acoustics were harmed, but others said that the renovations have improved the sound by muffling street noise.
Art Venues, Music Legends, Music, Orchestra

Johannes Brahms

Arts Days: May 07, 1833 and 1840: A Couple of Romantics
The famous lilting melody we call “Brahms’s Lullaby” is named for its composer Johannes Brahms. Among his other works were his German Requiem for orchestra and chorus, numerous pieces for string quartet, and several symphonies. Classical music scholars tell us that Brahms was a perfectionist, working and re-working a musical piece. Yet with all his stirring works, it’s Brahms’s delicate lullaby that many people associate with him.

As for Tchaikovsky, he was a kingpin among composers of the Romantic era, creating sentimental melodies and ballet music (such as that for The Nutcracker), the opera Eugene Onegin, and symphonies. He taught music and served as a critic as well as a composer, and he was very well-regarded among fellow musicians, fans, and even the Tsar of Russia, who arranged a special pension for him.
Composers, Europe, Music, Music Legends, Orchestra

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

Augustus Julliard

Arts Days: April 19, 1836: Schooled in the Arts
Augustus Juilliard was born on a ship while his family made the crossing to America from their native France. Raised in Ohio, Juilliard moved to New York City when he was 30, amassing great wealth through his work in the textile industry. Juilliard went on to use his fortune to support a range of cultural and social causes, from the American Museum of Natural History to New York hospitals.

Juilliard is said to have loved music, in particular opera music. In his will, he left money toward the creation of a music school, which today we call The Juilliard School. Juilliard is admired around the world for its rigor in turning out young dancers, musicians, actors, and singers. Those who are admitted into the school have to have exceptional grades and proven talent in the performing arts.
Art Venues, Europe, Education, Music, Music Legends

Duke Ellington

Arts Days: April 29, 1899: The Duke of Jazz
One of the greatest musicians of all time was Edward Kennedy Ellington—more commonly known as Duke. He was a superb piano player, composer, and bandleader in a career which extended for over 50 years. Ellington’s leadership of his own “big band”—a term for jazz-playing orchestras that became popular in the 1920s—set the bar for all bandleaders who would follow him. In the beginning, Ellington’s orchestra landed a weekly gig at Harlem’s famous Cotton Club.

It lasted for over a decade and brought his music to untold fans who were there in person or listening on the radio. His arrangements, conducting, and charismatic personality all helped popularize the big band sound, and the songs he wrote alone or with his trusted collaborators, numbered nearly 2,000. Ellington’s music is a study of contrasts—dramatic and personal, traditional and innovative, strictly composed and loosely improvised—music often based on a highly personal memory, mood, or image.
Composers, Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Jazz, Music

Willie Nelson

Arts Days: April 30, 1933: Part Hippie, Part Outlaw, All Talent
He’s a songwriter and singer, an activist, actor, and author. And yes, Willie Nelson, whose hit songs run from “Always on My Mind” to “Good Hearted Woman,” is also an American icon. His grandparents got him music lessons through the mail when he was a very young boy, and he landed a spot playing guitar in a band at the ripe old age of nine. In addition to playing and singing his own music, flecked with jazz, folk, and rock influences, Nelson wrote monster hits like “Crazy” and "Pretty Paper.”

He conceived the Farm Aid concerts in 1985 as a way to bring awareness to the financial and agricultural problems faced by American farmers. These concerts were hugely successful and helped pass laws protecting farmers from foreclosure. Wearing his signature long braid down his back, Willie Nelson continues to sell out stadium shows, write music, and support many charity organizations.
Music, Popular Culture, Music Legends

Beethoven

Arts Days: April 27, 1810: Elise Who?
We´ll never know who the great German composer and piano virtuoso Ludwig van Beethoven had in mind when he wrote this delicate piano composition that is instantly recognizable after just a few notes. While it’s known as For Elise in English, its formal name is Bagatelle in A minor (a bagatelle is a short, light piece of music usually written for piano). Für Elise was actually jotted down right on the paper Beethoven used.

Some scholars think the reference indicates Beethoven wrote it for one of his girlfriends, but others say the informal name is the result of a transcription goof, and in fact the piece was intended to be Für Therese (a woman Beethoven had really wanted to marry but never did). At any rate, Für Elise is a charming work.
Math, Music Legends, Composers, Orchestra, Europe

Ella Fitzgerald

Arts Days: April 25, 1918: The First Lady of Song
At age 15, Ella Fitzgerald won the chance to compete at amateur night at New York City’s famed Apollo Theater. While she had originally planned to do a dance number, she got nervous. Fitzgerald changed her mind at the last minute, opened her mouth, and sang. That glorious voice stunned the audience and delighted jazz sax player Benny Carter, who happened to be there that night.

Carter went on to introduce Fitzgerald to people who might help this young singer find a greater audience. Fitzgerald later mastered a type of vocal improvisation called “scat singing,” in which she would sing in syllables, not words. Scatting lets a singer play around with sound, creating a vocal solo much like a clarinetist or trumpeter might invent a solo on his instrument. Fitzgerald, a 1979 Kennedy Center Honoree, made about 200 jazz records, whose collective sales would number about 40 million.
Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Jazz, Art Venues, Music

Ma Rainey

Arts Days: April 26, 1886: Mother of the Blues
She was born Gertrude Malissa Nix Pridgett Rainey, but it was as Ma Rainey that this Southern singer became one of the first professional blues singers ever, and certainly one of the first to make records. She started performing in vaudeville when she was still a teenager. Once, hearing another girl sing a sad song, Ma Rainey noticed how attentively the audience listened, so she began developing an emotional, world-weary singing style, a style she claims to have dubbed “blues.”

People loved it, and Rainey sang live at shows for decades before she recorded for Paramount Records. From 1923 to 1928, Rainey recorded about 100 songs, including “Jelly Bean Blues” and “Bo Weevil Blues,” a song partly about the beetle that destroyed cotton crops across the U.S. in the 1920s, but also about disappointments in love. In fact, many blues songs sung by Ma Rainey and other blues artists to this day have double meanings.
Blues, Music, Music Legends

Billie Holiday

Arts Days: April 07, 1915: The Lady Sang the Blues
Although vocally untrained, Billie Holiday possessed talents and characteristics far more critical to singing the blues—a natural ear for music and a life of turmoil and sorrow. Holiday changed the art of pop vocals with her smoky voice, unique word phrasing, and dramatic interpretations of classic songs. Her poignant renditions of love songs and ballads are considered classic; no one “carried a torch” like Holiday.

Discovered singing in a jazz club in the early 1930s, Holiday soon signed a record deal and began collaborations with musicians like Artie Shaw and Lester Young (who nicknamed her “Lady Day”). She shattered racial barriers by being the first black woman to front a big band composed of white musicians and by singing about lynching in the haunting “Strange Fruit.” Songs Holiday wrote with others, like “God Bless the Child,” rocketed to the top of the charts. Sadly, Holiday’s struggles with drug and alcohol addiction led to her untimely death at the age of 44.
Art Venues, Blues, Jazz, Music, Music Legends, Popular Culture

Muddy Waters

Arts Days: April 04, 1915: The Father of Chicago Blues
While growing up in the deep South, Muddy Waters dabbled with the harmonica, but it was when he started learning to play the blues guitar that things really got cooking. Waters basically invented a whole new type of blues music, called “Chicago Blues” named for the city where he made his biggest mark. His unique performing style combined country blues with rock and roll electrification. He sang about hard times in the Mississippi Delta, heartbreak, and other subjects.

The “bottleneck” style of guitar playing that Waters mastered was more commonly known as slide guitar. It was dubbed so because Waters slid a piece of glass (sometimes from a bottle, hence the name) or other material against the strings. This created a whole new range of sounds for Waters. In Waters’ case, this sort of playing almost made the instrument an extension of his singing voice, complete with growls, slurs, and screeches.
Blues, America, Musical Instruments, Music Legends, Music

Bernstein! Inside the Music

Multimedia Series: NSO Young People's Concert - Bernstein! Inside the Music
As an equally-famous conductor, composer, and musician, Leonard Bernstein not only conducted music by the world’s greatest composers, he also wrote many important works for orchestras.
Composers, History, Musical Instruments, Music, Orchestra, Music Legends

Blue Note

Audio Series: Celebrating Blue Note
This audio series celebrates the history and style of Blue Note Records on its 75th anniversary. Narrated by Susan Stamberg for the Kennedy Center.
Jazz, Music, Music Legends

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