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arts quote

Arts Quotes: Jackson Pollock
"It’s all a big game of construction, some with a brush, some with a shovel, some choose a pen."
America, Visual Arts

arts quote

Arts Quotes: Jackson Pollock
"The painting has a life of its own."
America, Visual Arts

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Arts Quotes: Robert Rauschenberg
"The artist's job is to be a witness to his time in history."
America, Visual Arts

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Arts Quotes: Carlos Santana
"Music rearranges your molecular structure."
America, Latin America, Music, Music Legends, Rock & Roll

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Arts Quotes: Roger Sessions
"Music goes deeper than emotion into the energies that animate our psychic life."
America, Music

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Arts Quotes: James Rosenquist
"I was probably born with the ability to draw, but that does not make you an artist."
America, Visual Arts

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Arts Quotes: Wynetka Ann Reynolds
"Anyone who says you can't see a thought simply doesn't know art."
America, Education

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Arts Quotes: Carl Sagan
"Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it, we go nowhere."
America, Science, Education

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Arts Quotes: Martha Graham
"No artist is ahead of his time. He is his time. It is just that the others are behind the time."
Choreographers, Dance, Dance Legends, America

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Arts Quotes: Robert Frost
"If you are looking for something to be brave about consider fine arts."
America, Poetry

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Arts Quotes: Thomas Wentworth Higginson
"Originality is simply a pair of fresh eyes."
Young Artists, Military, America

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Arts Quotes: Lillian Hellman
"Nothing you write, if you hope to be any good, will ever come out as you first hoped."
America, Literature, Playwrights & Plays, Controversial

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Arts Quotes: Henry S. Haskins
"The greatest masterpieces were once only pigments on a palette."
America, Literature

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Arts Quotes: Ulysess S. Grant
"I know only two tunes; one of them is "Yankee Doodle", and the other isn't."
America, History, Music, Presidents

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Arts Quotes: Martha Graham
"Dance is the hidden language of the soul."
America, Choreographers, Dance, Dance Legends

arts quote

Arts Quotes: Martha Graham
"Great dancers are not great because of their technique; they are great because of their passion."
America, Choreographers, Dance, Dance Legends

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

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

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Arts Quotes: Carrie Fisher
"I do not want life to imitate art. I want life to be art."
Movies & Movie Stars, America

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Arts Quotes: Thomas Edison
"Great ideas originate in the muscles."
America, Innovators & Pioneers, Inventions

Metropolitan Opera House

Arts Days: October 22, 1883: For the Love of Music
Over a century ago, the Metropolitan Opera was housed in a building on Broadway at 39th Street in New York City. It was here that the first performance occurred—namely Faust, by Charles Gounod. The only reason a performance was made possible was all thanks to a group of wealthy New Yorkers with a passion for opera.

After being unable to purchase box seats for performances at the Academy of Music, they banded together to underwrite a brand new opera house. Initially, performers sang in Italian, later in German; fortunately, they agreed to stage operas in the works’ original languages during the 1895–96 season. Imagine hearing Aida in German! Today, the Metropolitan Opera presents over 200 performances each season, culled from a large repertoire, featuring the world’s most renowned vocal talents.
Art Venues, Opera, America

John Wayne

Arts Days: October 24, 1930: The Duke Saddles Up
In The Big Trail, a 23-year-old John Wayne starred as Breck Coleman, a young man heading west on a wagon train. This early, epic Western was the type of movie in which Wayne excelled. He had the rugged good looks, gruff demeanor, and height to carry off the part of a man on a mission to avenge the death of a friend.

The movie—filmed on location all over the American West, which had relatively few people living in it then—was a two-million-dollar flop, largely because the equipment needed to show it best wasn’t installed in many theaters. But Wayne’s cowboy persona appealed to men and women alike, and he went on to become synonymous with the Western movie.
Movies & Movie Stars, America, Popular Culture

The Beach Boys

Arts Days: October 29, 1962: Surf’s Up
The idealized version of 1960s California is a land of endless summer days, pretty girls, and handsome surfer dudes driving to the beach in convertibles. The Beach Boys—the original band included brothers Dennis, Carl and Brian Wilson, their cousin Mike Love, and pal, Al Jardine—fed the concept of this picturesque California, as much as they immortalized it in songs like “Fun Fun Fun” and “Good Vibrations.”

The music on their first record, Surfin’ Safari, and all that would follow, featured crisp vocal harmonies, bursts of electric guitar, and uncomplicated themes of falling in love and catching the perfect wave. About 25 years later, the Beach Boys were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Rock & Roll, Music, America, Popular Culture, Young Artists

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

John Steinbeck

Arts Days: October 25, 1962: Voice of the Common Man
The Nobel Prize Committee was clear in its reasons for honoring American author John Steinbeck: “…for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humor and keen social perception.” When asked by a reporter whether he believed he deserved the Nobel Prize, Steinbeck said he did not.

His modesty notwithstanding, Steinbeck’s contributions to American literature is considerable. In works like The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, and East of Eden, he captures in plainspoken language the trials and triumphs of his characters. The writer imagined men and women who sought to make better lives for themselves and their families; they struggled in demeaning, demanding jobs, and they coped with events like the Great Depression.
Literature, America, Folklore, Geography, History

Lichtenstein Exhibit

Arts Days: October 27, 1923: Pop Goes the Easel
Roy Lichtenstein challenged many conventions about what constituted art. As a pop artist painting, stenciling, and drawing images inspired by advertisements and comics, then reproducing them closely but not exactly, he found worldwide fame as well as notoriety. Some critics claimed he was merely copying the work of others.

But Lichtenstein believed that his intent—to comment on how the mass media treated the same subjects he painted—separated him from the artists who created the original images. Lichtenstein was among those who experimented with Ben-Day, a printing process that combines two or more different small, colored dots to create a third color.
Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, Innovators & Pioneers, Visual Arts, America

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

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

Ed Sullivan

Arts Days: September 28, 1901: Talent Scout
Hard to believe but for more than three decades, Ed Sullivan's television variety show kept Americans entertained. Sullivan, a former sports reporter and radio announcer, became an emcee to vaudeville revues and charity events. Despite his famously wooden persona and uncomfortable on-camera appearance, Sullivan knew how to choose and showcase talent.

Until 1971, The Ed Sullivan Show provided a staging arena for entertainers of all stripes. Elvis made his hip-shaking debut in 1956; the Beatles’ 1964 appearances were some of television’s highest rated programs. The show was as likely to feature opera performances as it was rock and roll bands, and hosted many black performers, including Pearl Bailey, Diana Ross, and Louis Armstrong.
Art Venues, America, Television, Young Artists, Rock & Roll, Comedy, Dance, Theater, 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

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

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

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 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

Francis Scott Key standing on ship

Arts Days: September 14, 1814: O Say Can You Sing?
Key was watching the bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore by the British when he wrote a poem he called “Defence of Fort McHenry.” An important battle in the War of 1812 was raging, and Key was among those aboard American ships in the Chesapeake Bay. Rockets rained down all night on the fort, and Key wondered whose flag would be flying in the morning light.

Imagine his relief to see that “Star-Spangled Banner” waving above the fort the next day—tattered but proud. The poem was set to an existing tune and printed in several newspapers. It became very popular and was often played at public events. In 1931, President Hoover signed a law designating the song as our national anthem.
America, History, Military, Music, Poetry

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

Gene Kelly

Arts Days: August 23, 1912: Dancing Up a Storm
Dancer, actor, choreographer, boyishly handsome good guy—that was Gene Kelly, the fellow who bought a one-way ticket to New York City when he was a young man and soon landed a Broadway lead.

Kelly pushed for Hollywood to make more musicals and wound up dominating the musical revival in the 1940s and 50s. In timeless movies like Singin’ in the Rain and An American in Paris, Kelly’s elegant dancing stole the show.

He made it look so easy, yet his dancing demanded great strength, technical skill, and expression. In his choreography and in his performances, he melded everything from classical ballet to jazz to athletic prowess to tap dancing. And by the way, he could sing, too.
America, Choreographers, Dance, Dance Legends, Musicals, Movies & Movie Stars

Clark Gable in Gone with the Wind

Arts Days: August 24, 1938: Gable Becomes a Goner
It’s said that actor Clark Gable didn’t even want to play Rhett Butler—the very role with which he will forever be synonymous. This Hollywood heartthrob of the 1930s was the person the film’s producer David O. Selznick wanted to play Butler from the start, but it took Gary Cooper turning down the role for Gable to become a serious contender.

Gable had starred in successful films like Mutiny on the Bounty and It Happened One Night, but Gone With… forever cemented him in the public’s mind as a leading man without peer: dashing, handsome, sophisticated.

The epic Civil War drama, based on the book of the same name by Margaret Mitchell, is routinely cited as one of the greatest movies of all time.
Movies & Movie Stars, Literature, America, History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Martin

Arts Days: August 14, 1945: A Wild and Crazy Guy
Perhaps “zany” is the perfect word to describe this funny Renaissance man who juggles like a pro, dances with happy feet, and plays a mean banjo like no ordinary country star. Steve Martin’s goofy comedy stunts—from wearing a fake arrow through his head to twisting together balloon animals during his show—have endeared him to countless fans.

Even with a white-hot standup career propelled to new heights by his work on “Saturday Night Live,” Martin tried acting, with lead roles in hilarious films like The Jerk, Roxanne, and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, among others. In recent years, he’s branched out: writing short stories and plays and appearing regularly with the bluegrass band, Steep Canyon Rangers.
Comedy, America, Musical Instruments, Movies & Movie Stars

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

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

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

The Cotton Club

Arts Days: December 04, 1927: Setting Up Shop in Harlem
Go back to the corner of Lenox Avenue and 142nd Street in Harlem and the very night Duke Ellington and his orchestra first played for an adoring crowd at New York City’s Cotton Club. This evening marked the beginning of a tremendous four-year residency. Ellington and his musicians provided dance music for the club's performers, African American dancers in incredible costumes who performed songs, dances, and comedy routines for all-white, high-society audiences.

Ellington’s trumpet players, trombonists, and saxophonists—from Bubber Miley to Harry Carney—were each amazingly gifted in their own right; under Ellington’s direction, the orchestra melded into a rock-solid, jazz-playing unit. Soon enough, Ellington, his band, and their music were exposed to a national audience when these shows were broadcast weekly on WHN radio.
Art Venues, Jazz, Music, Composers, Music Legends, America

Lillian Russell

Arts Days: November 22, 1880: Broadway’s Beauty
In the late 1870s, 18-year-old Helen Louise Leonard arrived in New York City in the hopes of becoming an opera star. After a bit role in a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, the beautiful blonde singer was discovered by theatre owner Tony Pastor. He changed her name and introduced her on opening night as “Lillian Russell, the English Ballad Singer.”

Russell’s gorgeous soprano and voluptuous figure earned her the nickname “America’s Beauty,” and she kept the press busy with her penchant for living life to the fullest. Russell starred in more than 24 musical comedies, many of which were written expressly for her. While none of her musicals are performed today, Lillian Russell is still remembered as one of the early 20th century’s most important Broadway stars.
Broadway, Theater, America, Musicals, Opera, Music Legends, Music

W.C. Handy

Arts Days: November 16, 1873: Father of the Blues
William Christopher Handy, who composed “Beale Street Blues” and “St. Louis Blues,” among many others, was one of the first professional musicians to play the blues, a distinctly American musical genre. But he did more than most to elevate awareness of the blues; he helped popularize the sound beyond its traditional African American roots to a wider, commercial audience.

When Handy and his band moved to Memphis, Tennessee, his career took off, especially with the release of “Memphis Blues,” a tune he published in 1912 that many consider the first blues song. During the 1920s, Handy formed his own music publication company, a business that proved quite lucrative and also brought him great fame.
Composers, Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Blues, America, Music

Martin Scorsese

Arts Days: November 17, 1942: One Fearless Filmmaker
No one can argue that Martin Scorsese has brought a gritty new realism to movies. An asthmatic child, young Martin was often confined to bed. But all that solitary time allowed him to watch a lot of movies on TV, which helped to shape the visions behind his works. One of the most accomplished movie directors of our time, Scorsese is fearless behind a camera—unafraid to expose the violent underground of his beloved New York City in films like Mean Streets, Gangs of New York, and the especially unsettling, Taxi Driver.

He explores complex human themes of guilt and redemption, repression, and emotional conflict in films like Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and The King of Comedy. Scorsese, a 2007 Kennedy Center Honoree, has said that the movies he aims to make are “physically expressive, psychologically acute, brutally honest, and emotionally overwhelming.”
Movies & Movie Stars, America, Controversial

Louis B. Mayer

Arts Days: November 28, 1907: Movie Mogul
Purchasing a small nickelodeon in Haverhill, Massachusetts, near Boston, Louis B. Mayer—a Russian immigrant who started off in his family’s scrap-metal business—was on a quest to reach the top of the Hollywood heap. That’s right: He’s the Mayer in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, or MGM, one of the most successful movie studios of all time.

On his way up the ladder, Mayer turned that single shabby, little theater into a successful chain of movie theaters all over New England. In subsequent years, after Mayer’s company had joined forces with Metro and Goldwyn Pictures, MGM pumped out hits like Ben Hur, Mutiny on the Bounty, and The Wizard of Oz. Mayer, who believed in the power of starting small, became one of Hollywood’s legendary movie executives.
Art Venues, Innovators & Pioneers, Movies & Movie Stars, America

Mark Twain

Arts Days: November 30, 1835: America’s Good Humor Man
The author of one of the great American novels, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, wasn’t named Mark Twain at birth. He was Samuel Langhorne Clemens, taking Mark Twain as his pen name later in life. While he’s probably best known for creating characters Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, Twain also wrote travel stories, social commentaries, essays, and lots of other kinds of things, all characterized by his signature satirical humor.

All of his work was informed by his rich array of distinctly American adventures, from his time as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi to his reporting for newspapers across the U.S. Without a doubt, Twain’s humor has remained timeless and relevant. So much so that each year, the Kennedy Center awards the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor to individuals who, like Twain, are social commentators, satirists, creators of characters, and fearless critics of society.
Comedy, Innovators & Pioneers, Literature, America, Controversial

Robert Johnson

Arts Days: November 27, 1936: Deal with the Devil
Revered amongst blues musicians and rock stars alike, Robert Johnson lived a life far too short to accommodate his ample talent. What’s more, there are few, if any, letters or other documents to give us a clear picture of the man. One thing is for sure: When the 25-year-old recorded this song, he fueled a powerful legend with which his name has long been associated.

Some say the song is about a pact Johnson made with the devil to give up his soul at a metaphorical crossroads in exchange for his amazing blues guitar skills. But other historians point out that the song is actually about the dangers a black man faces, walking alone after dark in the Deep South of the early 20th century, when the horrors of lynching were all too common.
Music Legends, Blues, Music, America, Musical Instruments, Folklore

Scott Joplin

Arts Days: November 24, 1868: The Ragtime King
Pianist and composer Scott Joplin was undoubtedly the best-known composer of ragtime, or “ragged time,” music. Ragtime’s main hallmark is its syncopated rhythms—marked by a stress on what would normally be an unaccented beat in the music, or a rest where there would normally be an emphasis. Popular in 19th-century dance halls, ragtime captivated music fans for a couple of decades before jazz became all the rage.

Audiences clamored for Joplin’s many compositions, like “Maple Leaf Rag,” “Pineapple Rag,” and “The Entertainer.” He even wrote a ragtime opera called Treemonisha. By combining natural piano talent and classical European training with the rich sounds of African American gospel hymns, spirituals, blues, and plantation songs, Joplin created a new American sound.
Composers, Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Music, America, Jazz

John Philip Sousa

Arts Days: November 06, 1854: Strike Up the Band
Everyone loves a good march, especially one written by American conductor/composer John Philip Sousa. Sousa was musically gifted in several ways: He had perfect pitch, meaning that he could identify notes and chords without any external references (like a pitch pipe) to guide him, and he could play many instruments.

He is best known for composing 136 military and patriotic marches. Marches were once used to keep soldiers in line during maneuvers; the cymbals and others instruments were thought to have an intimidating psychological effect on the enemy. Sousa’s marches, however, primarily served to entertain listeners and inspire patriotic sentiments. His Stars and Stripes Forever, full of cymbal crashes and piccolo trills, is the official march of the United States.
Composers, Music Legends, Military, America, Music

Viola Spolin

Arts Days: November 07, 1906: Play Acting
As an actress, director, and drama teacher, Viola Spolin used simple skits and other exercises to train actors to perform in believable ways. Her methodology formed the core of what we call “improv” today. Improv wasn’t originally focused on comedy, but evolved over time and today is generally defined as comic skits made up on the spur of the moment.

Watch a performance by acclaimed Chicago-based theater group, Second City, and see improv in rapid-fire action. Spolin, the “Grandmother of Improv,” helped devise ways for actors to warm up, focus, play, and make the connections needed to be spontaneous and hilarious.
Comedy, Innovators & Pioneers, Theater, America

A Vogue Fashion Show

Arts Days: November 04, 1914: Fashion Makes a Statement
The “Fashion Fete,” as it was called back then, was conceived by Edna Woolman Chase, an editor at Vogue magazine, the fashion industry’s go-to publication. Chase had a rather noble aim for the event: It was a benefit for French war relief—remember, World War I was raging at the time. The fete, that’s French for “festival,” featured clothes by American designers affiliated with stores like Henri Bendel and Bergdorf Goodman.

With French designers forced to close their Paris showrooms during World War I, Woolman Chase asked American designers to make clothes for models to wear during the event. Within a couple of years, fashion shows featuring models walking up and down catwalks to show onlookers every angle of a new outfit were pretty mainstream and certainly continue to remain popular today.
Fashion, America, Innovators & Pioneers, Popular Culture

Johnny Campbell initiates a cheer

Arts Days: November 02, 1898: Gimme a U! Gimme an M!
Back in 1898, a student at the University of Minnesota named Johnny Campbell led a crowd in a fervent chant meant to fire up their football team, the Gophers. This then, believe it or not, was the birth of organized cheerleading, which has evolved significantly over the years to become a sort of combination of sports and art that includes complex dance routines and physcial stunts.

It's technically considered a sport, and is heavily dominated by female participants. But back in Campbell’s day, the first “yell leader” squad was comprised of six young men, who encouraged the crowd to support the athletes on the field. For decades, in fact, cheerleaders were almost always male. And guess what? The cheer Campbell made up that day—“Rah, Rah, Rah! Sku-u-mar, Hoo-Rah! Hoo-Rah! Varsity! Varsity! Varsity, Minn-e-so-tah!”—is still a favorite used today by the Gophers’ cheerleaders.
Innovators & Pioneers, America, Sports, Physical Activity, Choreographers

Robert Frost

Arts Days: November 08, 1894: America’s Bard
Robert Frost was still a student at Dartmouth College when his poem “My Butterfly: An Elegy” was published in the New York Independent. Frost was paid $15 for the piece, and he quickly went on to publish another handful of poems. His works—meditations on things in nature, like paths in the forest, leaves changing color in the autumn, a snowfall—capture rural life in lean yet vibrant phrases.

Frost would often write about one thing—a stone wall, for example—but use it as a metaphor for something else, such as the norms of social life in New England in the early 20th century. He spent much of his adult life there, after all, and the region is irrevocably entwined in his poetry books, including From Snow to Snow and You Come Too.
Literature, Poetry, Nature, America

Georgia O'Keefe

Arts Days: November 15, 1887: Portrait of an Artist
Simple, intimate, precise: These are just some of the words that characterize the painting style of Georgia O’Keeffe, who was inspired to paint flowers, deserts, bones, and other objects according to this aesthetic. She painted in New York City and New York’s Adirondack Mountains, and in the Southwest, near her longtime home in New Mexico.

O’Keeffe sometimes painted in a very abstract way; other times, in a literal fashion. She could render a skyscraper in blocks of color or paint a flower in rich, lush detail. O’Keeffe is considered to have been one of the key artists—male or female—whose work inspired and impressed European art and artists. And as a woman working in a field then dominated by men, makes her influence even more impressive.
Innovators & Pioneers, Visual Arts, America

Grace Kelly

Arts Days: November 12, 1929: Beauty and Grace
From teenage model to Hollywood actress to the Princess of Monaco, Grace Kelly’s life was the stuff of fairy tales. She acted in TV shows, on stage, and in blockbuster movies, like Rear Window and Dial M for Murder.

Directors like Alfred Hitchcock adored Kelly’s golden hair and flawless features, and often cast her as the beautiful, but unattainable dream girl. But she also exhibited considerable acting talent in films like The Country Girl for which she earned an Academy Award® nomination. When she fell in love with and married Monaco’s Prince Rainier, the world—well, maybe just 30 million people—watched the royal wedding in awe on TV.
Movies & Movie Stars, Popular Culture, America, Television, Europe

The Sesame Street Muppets

Arts Days: November 10, 1969: Street Smarts
Breaking new ground in the realm of children’s television, Sesame Street was one of the first shows to combine entertainment and education for young viewers. With a mix of appealing actors of all ethnicities, plus puppets created by Jim Henson, the show uses songs, dances, skits, animated sequences, and other vehicles to help kids learn about letters and numbers.

Moral messages—the importance of being kind, why it’s always best to tell the truth—are also communicated to audiences by the human and puppet stars of the show. From Big Bird, Elmo, Bert, Ernie, and Oscar the Grouch to Bob, Gordon, Maria, and Mr. Hooper, the cast has taught and continues to teach generations of children “the basics” while strolling down Sesame Street.
Innovators & Pioneers, Television, Education, Puppets, Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, America

Kurt Vonnegut

Arts Days: November 11, 1922: “A Zany But Moral Mad Scientist”
With a unique voice that melds humor, science fiction, and social commentary with the absurd, Kurt Vonnegut is considered one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. In novels like The Sirens of Titan and Cat’s Cradle, he explores technology’s effects on the human race, (not always positive), and the dangers of social isolation.

Though his fictional works often paint a picture of a bleak world, he used wildly inventive characters—like the alien race known as the Tralfmadorians who appear in Slaughterhouse-Five—and his trademark black humor to lighten things up a little bit. Later works, such as Breakfast of Champions, are no longer overtly fantastical. As his themes shifted, so did his style in writing about them, becoming more straightforward.
Innovators & Pioneers, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Literature, Controversial, America

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