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Ernest Hemingway

Arts Days: July 21, 1899: Our Rugged Wordsmith
Although he lived abroad much of his life, Ernest Hemingway is considered to possess a deeply American literary voice. His novels and short stories are characterized by a spare and straightforward writing style that uses few words to express ideas. He packs a lot of meaning between the lines, like letting descriptions of a character’s body language enhance what they are really feeling.

His contributions to classic American literature are plentiful: The Sun Also Rises, The Old Man and the Sea, and Islands in the Stream. They’re all rich with rugged images of nature. Hemingway loved and was deeply inspired by the great outdoors, from the ocean to the wild animals he loved to fish and hunt.

Many of his works are studied by aspiring authors as examples of how to write as clearly as possible, with all excess words trimmed away.
America, Literature

The Catcher in the Rye

Arts Days: July 16, 1951: Teenage Wasteland
Catcher in the Rye takes us into the mind of the self-destructive Holden Caulfield, the teenage protagonist and narrator of the book.

After being expelled from school, Holden’s misadventures in New York City and his profanity-laced comments about people around him, who he considers “phony,” contributed to the book being the most banned in the United States. Still to this day, however controversial the book is for some, it has become a standard text in most high school English classes. The book allows high school students to witness a fellow teen struggling with feelings of alienation from others his age as well as most of his family.

Salinger used the title as a metaphor for Holden’s attempt to protect a child’s innocence, though he is unable to preserve his own.
Controversial, Literature, America

George Cohan

Arts Days: July 03, 1878: Yankee Doodle Cohan
Though documents tell us otherwise, George Cohan insisted all his life that he was actually born on the Fourth of July—better to tie into the spirited patriotic songs he wrote like “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “Over There,” and “You’re a Grand Old Flag.”

No matter what day he was really born, Cohan’s singing and dancing legacy began at a young age when he and his family cavorted around the nation on the vaudeville circuit. In his teens, he was churning out musical comedies in which music and dance advanced the plot in some way—a new way of writing a play and a source of many of his Tin Pan Alley hits.

Few performers on the Broadway stage made a greater mark than Cohan on the history of musical comedy.
Composers, Musicals, America, Broadway, Music, Music Legends

Tom Hanks holding Oscar

Arts Days: July 09, 1956: Hanks for the Memories
If Tom Hanks is in a movie, conventional wisdom says it will probably sell lots and lots of tickets. And it does. As a writer, producer, and director as well as an actor, Hanks is a beloved “everyman” figure in American films from Forrest Gump to Apollo 13 to The Da Vinci Code.

After his first big hit, Big, the range of his roles included a desert-island castaway, a baseball coach, an AIDS-stricken lawyer, a WW II army captain, and a Harvard symbologist, among many others. All of these roles have been played with an uncanny believability. This all around Hollywood nice guy appeals to fans of all ages.
Movies & Movie Stars, America

To Kill a Mockingbird

Arts Days: July 11, 1960: Do the Right Thing
Alabama author Harper Lee published one of the most important works of 20th century fiction. To Kill a Mockingbird examines American attitudes toward race and how those views have shaped our legal system.

To Kill a Mockingbird’s six-year-old narrator, Scout Finch, along with her brother, befriends a reclusive neighbor named Boo Radley, who later becomes the children’s protector after Scout’s father, Atticus Finch, defends an African American man wrongfully accused of a crime. The Finches are said to be modeled on Lee’s own family, including her own father, an attorney who defended two black men in a murder case (and lost).

Lee’s storytelling gifts and the memorable characters she created make To Kill a Mockingbird a moving story about doing the right thing.
Literature, America, Controversial

Uncle Tom's Cabin

Arts Days: March 20, 1852: The Little Lady's Big Book
During the entire 19th century, only one book sold more copies than the Bible. That book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly, changed countless minds about the then-accepted practice of slavery or forcing people against their will to perform manual labor in Europe and the United States. Author Harriett Beecher Stowe was a preacher and an abolitionist: someone who believed that slavery was immoral and worked to end it everywhere.

Her book contains the message that Christian love can overcome the evils of slavery, which had such an impact on readers that it’s widely considered to have advanced the long-simmering feud between the northern and southern states toward the Civil War. In fact, when Abraham Lincoln met Stowe at the time the fighting began, he is reported to have said, “So this is the little lady who made this big war.” The power of Stowe’s words helped dismantle the cruelty of slavery.
America, History, Literature, Controversial

Aretha Franklin

Arts Days: March 25, 1942: The Queen of Soul
Considered by many to be the greatest singer of all time, Aretha Louise Franklin has wowed audiences with her powerful voice from the time she was a small child singing gospel songs in church. This singer/songwriter has mastered the music of many genres: soul, rock, and jazz among them, racking up 20 Grammy Awards® along the way. Franklin’s also had 20 #1 singles on Billboard’s R&B chart to date.

In 1967, “Respect” rocketed up the charts, vaulting Franklin to superstardom. Though her career lagged in the mid-1970s, she returned to her gospel roots—and to renewed success—with the 1987 album called One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism. That same year, the versatile singer was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: the first woman to ever achieve that distinction.
America, Music Legends, Music, Popular Culture, Rock & Roll

Star-Spangled Banner

Arts Days: March 03, 1931: Long May It Wave
On this March day, President Herbert Hoover signed a law officially designating this song as our national anthem. But let’s back up more than 100 years to tell the whole story.

The poem that gave rise to the song was written by Francis Scott Key as he observed—with much anxiety—the bombardment of Baltimore’s Fort McHenry in 1814 by the British navy. Key’s poem about the American flag that “yet waved” after the attack was printed in several newspapers.

Later, it was set to a popular melody by (ironically) a British composer named John Stafford Smith. The subsequent song became very popular and was frequently played at public events like parades. Also, soldiers in the U.S. Army and other members of the military often played it each time the flag was raised and lowered.
Composers, Poetry, America, Music

Mississippi John Hurt

Arts Days: March 08, 1892: Guitar Hero
Not long after the nine-year-old John Smith Hurt picked up his first guitar, he was in demand at barn dances. His style of playing is called finger-picking, which means the strings are plucked using fingers, not a guitar pick, and that the thumb provides the steady bass rhythms on the lower strings.

Hurt was an excellent self-taught player who went on to make several blues and old-time recordings for Okeh Records (which gave him his nickname); but when the Great Depression drove the record label out of business, Hurt returned to Mississippi and worked on farms, playing occasionally at parties.

But a musicologist named Tom Hoskins loved Hurt’s records so much that he tracked him down in Mississippi decades later, persuaded him to come back north and play a few shows, including the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. The second act of his musical career began from here.
America, Blues, Music Legends, Music, Musical Instruments

Uncle Sam

Arts Days: March 13, 1852: Say Uncle
Within the printed pages of the daily New York Lantern, a certain patriotic fellow made his debut on this day. You know the guy: wears a tall hat printed with stars, a pair of red-and-white striped pants, a white beard, a somber expression. Give up? We’re talking about Uncle Sam, who in editorial cartoons and advertisements over the years has come to be the personification of the United States. Here’s the back-story: A man named Frank Henry Temple Bellew was the first to draw Uncle Sam for the Lantern.

Bellew’s drawing was based on a real person named Samuel Wilson, who helped feed U.S. troops during the War of 1812 with meat packed in barrels bearing the initials “U.S.” It was meant to indicate government property, but the folks unloading the beef joked about “Uncle Sam’s” latest shipment. Later, a political cartoonist named Thomas Nast conceived of the stars-and-stripes outfit in which we are most accustomed to seeing Uncle Sam today.
America, Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, Folklore, History, Military

The Godfather

Arts Days: March 15, 1972: Mob Appeal
The Godfather was a hit when it first appeared in movie theaters. Critics hailed the work of the cast—from Al Pacino as Michael Corleone to Marlon Brando as his father Vito, the Mafia godfather of the title—as nearly flawless. The drama also earned kudos for its music and screenplay, and for the nuanced portrayals of the members of the Corleone family and their friends and rivals in organized crime. Over the years, The Godfather has stood the test of time.

Critics—as well as millions of ordinary fans—have continued to praise the film and its director, Francis Ford Coppola, for making viewers feel sympathetic toward characters who routinely committed murders and other crimes. Coppola pushed his actors to explore and portray the psychological reasons why their characters acted as they did, making each character multi-faceted and complex. Adapted from the book of the same name by Mario Puzo, The Godfather won several Academy Awards®, including one for Best Adapted Screenplay.
America, Controversial, Family, Literature, Movies & Movie Stars

Vaudeville Theatre

Arts Days: February 28, 1883: Make ’em Laugh, Make ’em Cry
Vaudeville was a type of variety show with a bunch of back-to-back quick skits: A singing, tap-dancing man up first, then a dog riding a bike, then a few folks doing a comedy routine. And on and on for hours. If you could spin plates, sing well, or imitate various animal sounds, you, too, might have wanted to jump up on stage!

At its peak, thousands and thousands of performers worked the vaudeville circuit—a series of shows held at venues around North America. With everything from Yiddish theater to minstrel shows and contortionists to jugglers on the bill, vaudeville showcased the cultural diversity of 20th century America.

But vaudeville could not compete with the “moving picture show”—the form of entertainment we now call movies. Vaudeville shows went into a steep decline as movies became more popular.
America, Art Venues, Musicals, Theater, Comedy

Woody Guthrie

Arts Days: February 23, 1940: Music of the People, For the People
The great folk singer Woody Guthrie communicated his messages of social justice and human equality through his music. Living as he did through everything from the Great Depression to the Cold War, Guthrie commented on these and other events’ effects on everyday people, like the hunger many faced in the Dust Bowl years.

“This Land is Your Land” was written in response to the themes of “God Bless America” by Irving Berlin; Guthrie considered that patriotic song to be out of touch with the cares and joys of common folks. When he created the song, he borrowed the melody of an old hymn called “O My Loving Brother” and set his own words to it.

Guthrie didn’t record “This Land is Your Land” until 1943, but he tinkered with the verses over the years, adding new words here and there.
Innovators & Pioneers, Controversial, Music Legends, Music, Folklore, America, Poetry

National Public Radio

Arts Days: February 24, 1970: Radio Free America
Formerly known as the National Educational Radio Network, commercial-free NPR was formed to produce and distribute news and cultural programming to a network of public radio stations around the U.S. Its first broadcast, the U.S. Senate hearings on the Vietnam War, went out over the airwaves in April 1971.

The radio stations in NPR’s network are required to be noncommercial stations, to have at least five full-time employees, and not to advocate any specific religious viewpoints. What’s more, they may pick and choose among the programs NPR produces from its Washington, D.C. headquarters. NPR receives funding from listeners, its member stations, and the federal government.
America, Controversial, Innovators & Pioneers

Minstrel show

Arts Days: February 06, 1843: Minstrel Stage Debut
As a uniquely American form of musical entertainment in the 19th century, minstrel shows would shock most people today for the racist caricatures they exploited. White performers uses burnt cork to darken their faces and hands, mocked black people as lazy and ignorant, and, pretending to be slaves working for white masters, danced and sang songs about life on the plantation.

On this day, at the Bowery Theater, the Virginia Minstrels—four performers led by Dan Emmett—performed what’s considered to have been the first full-length minstrel show, or “minstrelsy."
Controversial, Theater, Musicals, America

King David Kalakaua

Arts Days: February 12, 1874: The King of Aloha
Before Hawaii became America’s 50th state, it was a monarchy ruled by King David Kalakaua I. Kalakaua is credited with helping to revive and support Hawaiian art forms like hula dancing; instruments like the ukelele; and martial arts, like Lua.

You see, some religious missionaries on the Islands thought these activities were improper. They had spent years before Kalakaua was elected to the throne trying to suppress various elements of Hawaiian culture, including its languages and art customs—even surfing!

But Kalakaua believed that these traditions and activities were important for native Hawaiians to learn, enjoy, and share with others to help keep Hawaii’s unique cultural history alive.  For his efforts, he was nicknamed “the Merrie Monarch.”
Dance, America, Geography, History, Musical Instruments, Music, Folklore, World Cultures

The Andrews Sisters

Arts Days: January 02, 1942: Girls Rock and Rule
With a catchy, fast-paced melody and snappy lyrics, "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" was a phenomenal hit during World War II, bringing the Andrews Sisters worldwide acclaim.

LaVerne, Maxene, and Patty were the most successful female vocal group of their time, recording 113 chart singles between 1938 and 1951. Their success helped pave the way for the "girl group era" of the mid-1960s, which included all-women vocal groups like The Supremes, The Shirelles, and The Ronettes and decades later, The Go-Gos and The Spice Girls.
Innovators & Pioneers, Music, America, Music Legends

Smokey Robinson

Arts Days: June 19, 1973: That Velvet Voice
He’d been a soulful crooner since he was a kid, singing with other talented teens and later with super groups like The Miracles. But when Smokey Robinson (nicknamed “Smokey Joe” by his uncle) released his first solo recording, Smokey, he was carving a new artistic path for himself. Among the tracks on Smokey was “Sweet Harmony,” a valentine to The Miracles and the pleasures of singing with them.

At the time this record was released, Robinson was also serving as a vice president at Motown Records, the legendary Detroit label founded by Robinson’s close friend Berry Gordy. With his high tenor voice and ability to stir both joy and heartache with his songs, Robinson holds the nickname, “King of Motown.”
America, Music, Music Legends, Popular Culture, Rock & Roll

First Motorola brand car radio

Arts Days: June 27, 1895: Joy Ride
When Paul Galvin and his brother Joseph formed the Galvin Manufacturing Co. in 1928, their goal was to make battery eliminators—a device that would let a battery-powered clock or other appliance run on a house’s electrical current. However, when the stock market crashed in 1929, the brothers teamed up with a radio parts company to design the first car radio.

It took hard work to figure out how and where to install the various parts needed for the radio, but the team eventually solved the problem. Galvin was soon driving around the U.S. teaching car dealers how to install radios in their vehicles. As demand grew, Galvin hired more people and sent more trucks out to do the installations.

Galvin Manufacturing eventually became Motorola, a company still around today based in Schaumberg, Illinois, not far from Galvin’s birthplace.
America, Inventions, Innovators & Pioneers

Mark Twain's Patented Scrapbook

Arts Days: June 24, 1873: More Than a Writer
Maybe you’re a fan of scrapbooking: pasting, taping, or otherwise attaching cutouts, photos, drawings, maps and other eye-catching items to the plain paper pages in a book.

If so, you’re in good company: None other than Mark Twain, the creator of Tom Sawyer and other beloved American fictional characters, was a “scrapping” fanatic; so much so that he even invented and secured a patent for what he called a self-pasting scrapbook, one that allowed the user to attach items without hunting for that glue bottle.
Innovators & Pioneers, Inventions, Literature, America

Action Comics #1

Arts Days: June 01, 1938: A Superhero is Born
To readers’ delight, the Action Comics June 1938 issue featured a cover illustration of a certain dark-haired, muscled fellow lifting a car over his head. This was our first peek at Superman, also hailed as “The Man of Steel,” a handsome young man clad in blue tights, a red cape, and a yellow shield bearing the letter “S”—a costume that hasn’t changed all that much in the decades since.

One year later, Superman had a comic book series named after him. Readers, movie buffs, radio junkies, television viewers, and others—have never stopped devouring stories of Superman and his alter ego, Clark Kent.

The character was created by Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, who imbued Superman with a mission to rid the world of evil using his superhuman strength, X-ray vision, and ironclad moral code.
Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, Popular Culture, Science Fiction & Fantasy, America

Universal

Arts Days: June 02, 1912: A Movie First!
The movie industry’s first major studio was officially formed on this day when several smaller studios merged. A couple of years after it opened, Universal Studios bought a piece of land in the San Fernando Valley and began churning out movies (the first full length feature was 1913’s Traffic in Souls).

The hits starting racking up for Universal: scary stuff like Dracula and The Hunchback of Notre Dame helped the studio keep its momentum going as more studios were forming during Hollywood’s Golden Age.

Universal has acquired and been acquired by numerous other companies over its colorful history, but it’s still the studio responsible for many wildly successful films, from Jaws to E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial to Back to the Future.
America, Movies & Movie Stars, Art Venues

Cole Porter

Arts Days: June 09, 1891: The Great American Song Man
Composer/lyricist Cole Porter was playing violin by age six and the piano just two years later. He preferred the piano, and good thing, too. Some of the most sophisticated melodies and wittiest pop standards ever written came from Porter’s genius at the keys, everything from “Night and Day,” and “Begin the Beguine,” to “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,”—songs that have been recorded by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Fred Astaire. Oh, and there were the musical comedy shows he created, too, such as Kiss Me, Kate and Anything Goes, shows that are staged in theaters all over the world still today.

Porter was also one of the authors of “The Great American Songbook,” the body of musical works created for Broadway shows and musical theater between the 1920s and the 60s.
America, Composers, Music, Music Legends, Popular Culture, Musicals

Judy Garland

Arts Days: June 10, 1942: A Star Is Born
At 13, singer/actress Judy Garland was signed to the MGM Studios—a bit old for a child star, but still on the young side for adult roles. But a series of movies with Mickey Rooney, such as Love Finds Andy Hardy, helped the studio find the right place for the teen, who shot to worldwide superstardom in the role of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. (“Somewhere Over the Rainbow” will always be identified with Garland.)

Her fans loved her voice so much that any movie in which she didn’t sing was pretty much guaranteed to disappoint at the box office. On the other hand, Meet Me in St. Louis and The Harvey Girls, filled with memorable songs, were big hits. Garland is still considered one of the greatest vocal interpreters of the 20th century.
Movies & Movie Stars, America, Music Legends, Musicals, Music, Science Fiction & Fantasy

Jimmy Stewart

Arts Days: May 20, 1908: Mr. Stewart Goes to Hollywood
Born in a small town in Pennsylvania not unlike Bedford Falls, the setting of his film It’s a Wonderful Life, actor Jimmy Stewart enjoyed huge success in several film genres: comedies such as The Philadelphia Story and Harvey; suspense thrillers including Vertigo and Rear Window; and films in which an idealistic fellow beats the bad guys as in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

His first acting experiences, both on stage and in film, were interrupted by World War II. Stewart, the first major American movie star to fight in the war, enlisted in the Army, flying planes for the Army Air Corps. When the war ended, more film offers came in, and he resumed a busy acting career. This 1983 Kennedy Center Honoree was nominated for numerous Academy Awards®. He took home two.
America, Movies & Movie Stars

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

Orson Welles

Arts Days: May 06, 1915: A Reel Visionary
Whether directing films or acting on stage, George Orson Welles’s theatrical talents were unsurpassed. It probably helped that he was a creative child: He painted, played the piano, and performed magic tricks.

When Welles was a young man, important connections advanced his career. Playwright Thornton Wilder introduced Welles to directors who gave him his first stage roles. He also made a name for himself writing, acting in, and directing radio plays. His radio broadcast of War of the Worlds in 1938 terrified listeners convinced that aliens were actually invading our planet. And then there were movies like Citizen Kane and many others now deemed American classics.

Welles also pioneered new filming techniques, such as using “deep space,” in which scenes in both the foreground and background stayed in focus. Using this method, action can take place in two parts of a single frame. He also would place the camera near the floor to shoot up at a person so he appeared to loom above, larger than life.
America, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Theater, Movies & Movie Stars

Paramount Pictures

Arts Days: May 08, 1914: Lights, Camera, Action!
Back in 1912, an entrepreneur named Adolph Zukor thought he could bring more movies to the middle class by contracting a group of actors to make a fixed number of movies every year. So he started the Famous Players Film Company. Famous Players partnered with a startup called Paramount Pictures Corporation to distribute its films to theaters; a few years later, it officially merged with Paramount.

Under Zukor’s leadership, Paramount owned all the components of the movie-making apparatus. It employed superstars of the day, like Mary Pickford and Rudolph Valentino, and acquired film production studios. Paramount even bought hundreds of movie houses around the country where the finished movies would be shown.

The company has been through many mergers since those early days, and has once or twice come close to closing up shop, such as during the Great Depression. Today, however, the company is still growing strong.
America, Movies & Movie Stars, Jobs in the Arts, Art Venues

Katharine Hepburn

Arts Days: May 12, 1907: Kate the Great
For the woman who carried home the Oscar® for Best Actress more times than any other, four times out of 12 nominations, Katharine Hepburn’s first forays into acting weren’t always successful.

She began acting in college plays from which she was fired more than once for stumbling over her lines. But her athleticism, beauty, and emerging talent got her noticed, and she soon began landing small roles. Big parts in Little Women, Bringing Up Baby, Woman of the Year, and other critical and commercial hits raised Hepburn to the level of Hollywood royalty, even as she shunned Hollywood’s glitz.

When she died at 96 years of age, the lights on Broadway went dim for an hour in honor of the woman many now deem one of the greatest actors of all time.
America, Movies & Movie Stars, Theater

Thornton Wilder

Arts Days: April 17, 1897: An American Wordsmith
His works are read and his plays performed around the world, but when Thornton Wilder started writing stories as a kid, he never dreamt he’d be an icon of American literature one day. While his seminal three-act play Our Town is arguably his best-loved work, with its timeless depiction of life and loss in the small town of Grover's Corners, New Hampshire, other plays including The Skin of Our Teeth and the novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey are also literary classics (all three works netted Wilder Pulitzer Prizes for Literature).

He also revisited and tinkered with old works from time to time. For example, he reworked his play The Merchant of Yonkers into The Matchmaker, which in 1964 hit the Broadway stage as Hello Dolly!, running for 2,844 performances.
Playwrights & Plays, America, Literature, Theater

Carrie

Arts Days: April 05, 1974: The King of Scary
Sitting at a desk and using an old typewriter in his trailer in Maine, Stephen King worked nights pouring over Carrie, a freaky story about a teenage girl. He threw the first few pages in the trash, but his wife plucked them out and encouraged him to keep at it. In the book, the title character is teased at school—but when she uses her special psychic powers in order to fight back, mayhem and murder result.

The book launched King’s career as a writer of really, really scary horror and sci-fi novels and short stories. Now, decades and dozens of books later, he’s still writing from his house in Maine, minus the trailer. King’s work ethic is famous; he forces himself to write thousands of words every single day. It’s that dedication that has translated into millions of books being sold to terrified readers everywhere.
America, Literature, Popular Culture, Science Fiction & Fantasy

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

Marian Anderson

Arts Days: April 09, 1939: Let Freedom Sing

For more than 40 years, Marian Anderson’s supple contralto voice—lower than an alto or soprano—thrilled audiences the world over. She preferred singing in recitals to opera performance, though many opera companies tried to entice her to sing with them. However, it was the Daughters of the American Revolution’s refusal to let Anderson sing at Constitution Hall simply because of her race that set the stage for perhaps the most important concert of her career.

With an assist from President Franklin Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt, Anderson gave a spellbinding public performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Some 75,000 people listened live in the chilly spring air, and millions more heard Anderson sing on the radio. In 1955, reconsidering her stance on singing in operas, she became the first African American to perform at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. Her grace and beauty—to say nothing of that remarkable voice—made Marian Anderson an important symbol of the Civil Rights Movement.

For more on this historic concert, listen to Of Thee We Sing: Marian Anderson and the Music of the Early Civil Rights Movement.


America, Music, Opera, Controversial

The Great Gatsby

Arts Days: April 10, 1925: A Great American Novel
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel about the roaring 1920s was not, shall we say, a roaring success when it was first published. Fitzgerald’s story of the young Midwesterner Nick Carraway, who moves to New York for work after serving in World War I; his mysterious and wealthy next-door neighbor, Jay Gatsby; and Daisy Buchanan, with whom Gatsby is obsessed, is a parable for the times in which Fitzgerald himself lived.

Just as some of his characters crash and burn in the book, Fitzgerald believed that the prosperity brought about by the thriving economy of the day had a dark side, from a spike in crime to plunging morals. It took some time and space from the era Fitzgerald memorialized in his book—the Jazz Age, a term he coined—for the book’s status as one of the great American novels to be recognized and appreciated.
Literature, America

Selma

2700 F St.: Selma: A Film and Live Music Event with the NSO, Jason Moran, and Others
Experience Ava DuVernay’s film on a big screen with Jason Moran’s acclaimed score for the film performed live by a full orchestra conducted by Ryan McAdams. This event coincides with the one-year anniversary of the opening of the National Museum of African American History & Culture.
Music, History, America

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