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Elvis Presley

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

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

First Drive In

Arts Days: June 06, 1933: In a Parking Lot Near You
When Richard Hollingshead got the notion to create an outdoor theater showing films you could watch from your car, he experimented with cars and equipment in his New Jersey driveway.

First, he mounted a projector on the hood of a car and hung up a screen. Then, Hollingshead rearranged cars until he figured out a way everybody could see from their front or back seats. On this night, cars streamed into the world’s first drive-in to see a movie called Wife Beware. Each car was charged 25 cents for admission. In addition, each rider paid a quarter. Even though Hollingshead placed large speakers near the screen, movie goers parked in the back rows couldn’t hear well.

Still, the idea caught on and drive-ins began popping up everywhere, with 5,000 or so operating at the peak of the craze.
Art Venues, Movies & Movie Stars, Popular Culture, Innovators & Pioneers

Frank Lloyd Wright

Arts Days: June 08, 1867: The Wright Stuff
In the houses, churches, and museums he designed over his career, architect Frank Lloyd Wright sought more fervently than any architect before him to marry building design with environment—specifically, its land, trees, and bodies of water. Through his “organic architecture,” Wright created harmony between building materials and a structure’s natural surroundings. For example, when hired to design a home in the Southwest, he used rock in the design and let the desert vistas inspire the property’s lines.

A fine example of Wright’s “Prairie School” style with its low, horizontal lines is Westcott House in Ohio. And Fallingwater, in Pennsylvania, seems to spring forth from the rocks on which it’s built—the very same rocks where a waterfall runs. And Wright’s most iconic building, the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, with its curved, rounded lines, stands in stark contrast with the hard-edged skyscrapers that surround it.
Architecture, Innovators & Pioneers, Visual Arts

Marvin Gaye

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

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

Shuffle Along

May 23: May 23, 1921: Breaking Broadway’s Barriers
The early 20th century ragtime and jazz musicians Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle had a major hit on their hands when they co-wrote Shuffle Along, the first major Broadway musical by, for, and about African Americans. All told, the show ran for more than 500 performances. It played in Washington, D.C. and other locales before lighting up Broadway, where police were assigned on show nights to help ease traffic congestion.

Shuffle Along also made stars of dancers like Josephine Baker and singers like Paul Robeson. Many songs became popular hits. But by today’s standards, some aspects of Shuffle Along are offensive. For example, though the actors were all African American, they applied makeup to their faces to darken them further, and borrowed stock characters from minstrel shows. As the show’s popularity spread by word of mouth, the audiences were filled with black and white theater patrons alike.
Broadway, Innovators & Pioneers, Musicals, Jazz, Controversial, Theater

Lorraine Hansbury

Arts Days: May 19, 1930: Young, Gifted, and Black
With her powerful drama A Raisin in the Sun, playwright Lorraine Hansberry broke multiple barriers.

When it opened in New York City in 1959, the play was the first to be written and directed by an African American, Lloyd Richards. And when her work was voted Best American Play by the New York Drama Critics’s Circle, the 29-year-old Hansberry became the youngest recipient of that prestigious award. Raisin was partly inspired by racial incidents suffered by Hansberry’s family when they moved into a segregated neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago in 1937.

Hansberry went on to write other works for stage, screen, and television. Though she died at only 34, Hansberry’s influence echoes with generations of young writers dedicated to uncovering racism and other injustices with their words.
Innovators & Pioneers, Playwrights & Plays, Literature, Controversial

Bob Dylan

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

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

Miles Davis

Arts Days: May 26, 1926: Miles Ahead
They’re called trailblazers: artists who test the traditional, the expected, and then break new ground by turning in new directions. Count jazz trumpeter Miles Davis as one such pioneer.

Perhaps the most influential musician in any genre of the 20th century, Davis bent the boundaries of jazz music into entirely new shapes. Working with saxophonist John Coltrane, Davis made stylistic advances featuring improvisations based on modal harmonies rather than chord progressions.

Davis later teamed up with Gil Evans, a gifted pianist, composer, and arranger, and produced Birth of the Cool, an influential recording that single-handedly kicked off the cool jazz movement. Davis’s fingerprints are everywhere on this and other jazz subgenres, including hard bop.
America, Innovators & Pioneers, Jazz, Music, Music Legends

Isadora Duncan

Arts Days: May 27, 1877: Something in the Way She Moves
Inspired by everything from ancient Greek art to the power of nature embodied in rushing rivers and rainy weather, Isadora Duncan poured all she had into dancing, which she believed to be the body’s expression of the soul’s innermost desires. She rejected classical ballet as too confining and controlled.

A true free spirit, Duncan brought a new athleticism to dancing; her choreography was full of leaps and jumps and skips. Barefoot, her long hair flying, dressed in Grecian-inspired flowing tunics, she was a captivating sight as she danced. She taught her students that the energy they need for dance originated in the solar plexus, a group of nerves in the body’s abdominal region.
America, Controversial, Dance, Dance Legends, Innovators & Pioneers, Choreographers

Multiplane Camera

Arts Days: May 01, 1940: Animation Toon Up
When Walt Disney invented the multiplane camera, the art of animation took an official giant leap forward.

This special camera used stacks of glass. The lower stack was painted with objects that do not move, such as furniture, and the upper stacks displayed figures that do, including a certain famous Mouse. When these elements work together, the result was a screen filled with detailed characters that moved realistically, scenery that cast “shadows,” and the visual richness we’ve since come to take for granted in today’s animation.

In 1937, the short, The Old Mill, became the first animated work created with the multiplane camera. But because it was so expensive to use, from then on Disney and his staff reserved the multiplane camera for feature film projects only.

By the way, the American Film Institute has named Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs the greatest animated film of all time.
Inventions, Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, Innovators & Pioneers, Movies & Movie Stars, Popular Culture

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

George Lucas

Arts Days: May 14, 1944: Hollywood’s Sky Walker
Growing up on a quiet walnut ranch, George Lucas seemed about as far removed from a life making Hollywood blockbusters as you might imagine. But his career as an award-winning filmmaker was launched at the University of Southern California, where he won a prize for one of his early sci-fi shorts. More career-making breaks followed, including Lucas’s turn directing and helping to write American Graffiti.

But even the film’s hit reception paled in comparison to the attention Lucas got for writing and directing 1977’s Star Wars. The film’s intergalactic storyline and technological achievements piled up Academy Awards® and broke most box-office records. The movie’s sequels and prequels, from The Empire Strikes Back to The Phantom Menace, trace the paths of characters Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader—now household names across the world.
Innovators & Pioneers, Movies & Movie Stars, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Stunts & Special Effects, Popular Culture

Richard Avedon

Arts Days: May 15, 1923: Capturing Souls with a Click
The creative eye of Richard Avedon shaped high fashion and documentary photography as few other professional photographers have.

Throughout his 50-year career, Avedon’s long affiliations with Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue magazines meant fashion photography would never be the same. He specialized in portraits of celebrities from the arts and public service to strangers on the street—each one intimate, revealing a moment captured in time. Many of these portraits feature subjects looking squarely at the camera with a plain background, resulting in shots filled with quiet, simple dignity. Interestingly, Avedon applied artistic principles of composition and juxtaposition to his pictures much as a painter would have.

Avedon was also present at key historical moments in the U.S. and abroad. He documented events during both the civil rights movement and anti-war movements in the 1960s and 1970s, and took many shots of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Fashion, Innovators & Pioneers, Visual Arts

T.S. Eliot

Arts Days: May 09, 1921: The Title Says It All
"April is the cruelest month.”

That’s the famous opening of the 434-line poem created by American poet T.S. Eliot, who mentioned in a letter to a friend on this day that he “had a long poem in mind and partly on paper.”

Once completed, the first draft of “The Waste Land” was 19 pages long (although it got cut along the way.) Throughout the poem’s five sections, Eliot shifted from scene to scene, from speaker to speaker. He also inserted direct quotations from masterworks by Dante, Whitman, and Shakespeare, as well as the ancient Greeks. But make no mistake—Eliot was a bold and original modernist who broke away from the romantic poetry of the past and became a spokesperson for what he considered the hollowness and bleakness of the 20th century. He gave old words new meanings, created new poetic rhythms, and told us that the world we lived in was spiritually ruined.
Innovators & Pioneers, Poetry, Shakespeare

Salvador Dali

Arts Days: May 11, 1904: The Eccentric Dreamer
The school of artwork we call Surrealism took a radical leap forward when Salvador Dali teamed up with fellow Surrealists in the late 1920s. The Surrealists were rebelling against what they saw as predictable, traditional art, and Dali—who had already been kicked out of art school and was famous for his eccentric behavior and attire—fit right in.

His artworks—including The Persistence of Memory, with its clocks draped over trees, ledges, and what appears to be a piece of bone with a face not unlike Dali’s own— are filled with quirky images, startling contrasts, and symbolism (meaning that one object stood for something else—an idea, a memory, a concept). But some of his images are surprisingly sentimental: People he loved, like Lucia, a woman who took care of him when he was a child, appear frequently in his art.
Europe, Visual Arts, Innovators & Pioneers

Joan Miró

Arts Days: April 20, 1893: Señor of Surreal
The playful works of the Spanish painter and sculptor Joan Miró are admired and appreciated around the world today, but when he first created them, they shocked viewers. No one had ever seen serious paintings filled with colorful, cartoon-like blobs, some of which looked like animals or eyes or socks floating across the canvas.

Miró, who early in his career painted landscapes and still-lifes of recognizable objects, didn’t care about what people thought about his style of painting. What he cared about was rejecting what he saw as people’s narrow assumptions of what art was…and was not. He was part of a group of artists called the Surrealists, working in the 1920s that was creating art filled with startling, funny, or just plain odd images.
Europe, Visual Arts, Innovators & Pioneers

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

Charlie Chaplin

Arts Days: April 16, 1889: The Little Tramp
Charles Spencer Chaplin was only 14 when he got his first role in a play, and he liked it so much that he soon hit the vaudeville circuit as a comedian. In 1913, he started making silent movies, developing instantly recognizable characters like “the Little Tramp.” He starred in early cinematic masterpieces like City Lights, Modern Times, and The Great Dictator, in which Chaplin combined humor with pointed commentary against the politics of Adolf Hitler, who was rising to power as the film was made.

Chaplin formed United Artists with other stars of the day to secure more control over their work. He wrote scripts and soundtracks, directed himself and others, and generally worked in most every aspect during those early days of film. Charlie Chaplin was one of the world’s first real movie stars and is considered one of the greatest creative talents of 20th century film.
Comedy, Innovators & Pioneers, Movies & Movie Stars

Martha Graham Dance Company

Arts Days: April 18, 1926: Mother of Modern Dance
The first dance performance Martha Graham attended at age 16 with the legendary Ruth St. Denis on the program, may have flickered through Graham’s mind when the lights went down at the 48th Street Theater in New York City, just before she made her debut. The movements she and her fellow dancers were performing that night were anything but traditional. What the audience witnessed was an early public display of Graham’s “contract and release” technique, in which muscles were held taut, then let go in accordance with the emotions a dancer sought to convey. The movements were angular, athletic, jagged—in marked contrast to the graceful style of classical ballet.

Within a year, Graham opened a dance school, attracting attention from many in the dance community. One of the most acclaimed dancers in history, Graham’s choreography shook up the world of modern dance.
Choreographers, Dance, Dance Legends, Controversial, Innovators & Pioneers

William Shakespeare

Arts Days: April 23, 1564: All the World’s His Stage
The most famous playwright the world has ever seen, William Shakespeare created unforgettable characters and stories in language so rich that the words move “trippingly on the tongue” (at least that’s how Hamlet put it).

His tragedies, such as King Lear, Othello, and Macbeth; comedies like Twelfth Night and As You Like It; and history plays, such as Henry V, thrive centuries later in part because they are filled with characters who make the same kinds of choices and face the same kinds of problems people everywhere do: broken hearts, office politics, family stuff.

Shakespeare’s 37 plays and 154 sonnets, basically a love poem, are really fun to read aloud. That’s because Shakespeare worked puns, jokes, and insults right into the text. Strangely, little is known about Shakespeare’s life.
Shakespeare, Playwrights & Plays, Innovators & Pioneers, Theater

iTunes

Arts Days: April 28, 2003: MP3 Mania
When a company named Apple, which had long sold computers and software, launched a Web store to sell digital versions of songs, music lovers realized the ways in which they would listen were changing. For decades, people had bought music scratched into vinyl records or wrapped in plastic boxes: eight-track tapes, cassettes, or CDs.

Apple’s venture made them wonder whether their collection—and the means to play it—would become obsolete. For that matter, the way artists recorded songs and record labels released them also changed with the rise of digital tunes. However, one of the biggest problems the digital music store created was pirating or illegal downloading of artist’s songs which considerably hurt sales. Still, the sound quality of digital tracks is top-notch.
Innovators & Pioneers, Inventions, Music

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

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

Kinetoscope

Arts Days: April 14, 1896: The Very First Movie Projector
The kinetoscope was a huge lumbering machine that paved the way for the movie projector that makes the Cineplex and video cameras possible for 21st century film buffs. Although Thomas Edison really didn’t have much hope that “moving pictures” would go far, he knew this machine could display a series of still shots—of say, a horse jumping over a fence—so quickly that it would give the illusion that the horse was leaping right before the viewer’s very eyes.

The viewer, by the way, was peeking into the machine through a hole at the top, so only one person at a time could see the show. Edison set up the kinetoscope in a little building he called the Kinetographic Theater and invited dancers, acrobats, and others to perform for him as his invention acted like a camera as well as a projector.
Innovators & Pioneers, Inventions, Movies & Movie Stars

Leonardo Da Vinci

Arts Days: April 15, 1452: The Da Vinci Mode
Though some assume his last name was “da Vinci,” no one really knows the last name of perhaps the greatest all-around creative genius who ever lived. The left-handed Leonardo was so very good at so many things: painting (the portrait of Mona Lisa, The Last Supper, and The Adoration of the Magi ), solving math problems, playing music, and technological inventiveness—he envisioned an early helicopter and other flying machines.

He learned about these subjects while apprenticing with various artists, doctors, and others, but his own curiosity helped him apply all he learned in entirely new ways. His interests fed off of one another. For example, his human anatomy sketches are stunning in their detail and accuracy, and that understanding of how bodies moved helped him to be a better painter. Leonardo also brought his deep understanding of geometry to his art, arranging figures in ways thought to be pleasing to the eye of the spectator. His contributions to art and science are impossible to measure.
Europe, Inventions, Innovators & Pioneers, Visual Arts

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