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Jon Stewart hosting the Daily Show

Arts Days: July 22, 1996: Breaking News
Comedy Central’s The Daily Show unites host Jon Stewart’s sardonic brand of comedy with the topical news of the day. Every night, Stewart and his merry band of “reporters” relate the news, freely mixing in factual information with hilarious asides. All the while, these comedians mock common news conventions, like the suit-clad “talking head” behind a desk.

But wouldn’t you know, the “infotainment” program is viewed by many devoted fans as their main source of actual news. They even rely on The Daily Show for their news more than a newspaper or traditional news show. Yet as the lines blur between comedy and news, Stewart and company say they only want to be funny—not to replace traditional news.
Television, Innovators & Pioneers, Comedy

Bert Lahr after being hit in the face with pie

Arts Days: July 17, 1913: Banana or Coconut Cream?
The practice of “pieing” in film got its start in the 1913 movie A Noise from the Deep. Actress Mabel Normand hit co-star Fatty Arbuckle in the face with a pie—no word on what flavor it was.

Throwing a pie in someone’s face was just a physical stunt done to get audience laughs. Actually, it became something of a cliché in the days before talkies because it was done so often. But over the years, the act has sometimes taken on political overtones, with pies being tossed in the face of some politicians, corporate executives, and others perceived by the pie-thrower as being wrong about an issue and in need of a public humiliation.
Comedy, Movies & Movie Stars, Stunts & Special Effects, Innovators & Pioneers

Steamboat Willie

Arts Days: July 29, 1928: The Mouse That Roared
When Steamboat Willie debuted, it was the third cartoon to feature an early rendition of Mickey Mouse. In this seven-minute animated short directed by Walt Disney, Mickey is steering a steamboat, whistling a happy tune, sassing Captain Pegleg Pete, and trying to impress Minnie Mouse. Most of the short features Mickey creating an impromptu orchestra with a bunch of animals on the boat.

For its significance as a milestone in animation, Steamboat Willie is one of 25 films added to the National Film Registry in 1998.
Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, Movies & Movie Stars, Popular Culture, Innovators & Pioneers, Animals

Godzilla

Arts Days: July 07, 1901: Godzilla Suits Up
Just who was the guy who created the fierce Godzilla, who crushed skyscrapers with his enormous lizard fists? Credit goes to the special-effects master Eiji Tsuburaya, who built model airplanes as a kid and never forgot the thrill of seeing the American-made film King Kong in Tokyo. It was at that point Tsuburaya vowed he, too, would make monster movies.

He created costuming breakthroughs, such as “suitmation,” in which actors wear monster suits to pantomime throwing cars or squashing buildings (with sound effects added later). That’s how all of the early Godzilla movies were made, starting in 1954.

This type of movie was known in Japan as kaiju, or “strange beast” film, otherwise known as a monster movie. Tsuburaya’s ingenuity helped propel the genre to new levels of worldwide success.
Innovators & Pioneers, Movies & Movie Stars, Stunts & Special Effects, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Japan

Louis Armstrong

Arts Days: July 08, 1922: When Satchmo Went North
Born in New Orleans, Louis Armstrong was a trumpeter who profoundly influenced the development of jazz music, both with his instruments as well as with his gravelly, instantly recognizable voice.

With the encouragement of his mentor Joe “King” Oliver, Armstrong left the south, joining thousands of other young African Americans in search of better job prospects in Chicago. As people secured work, they found they had money to spend in their free time—and they would often go listen to music.

In jazz clubs around the city, Armstrong’s star was on the rise. He played with Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band and musicians in New York, and then returned to Chicago to make his first recordings. Far from home, Armstrong blazed a trail countless other musicians would one day follow.
Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Jazz, Music, Musical Instruments

Johann Sebastian Bach

Arts Days: March 21, 1685: Bach Star
One of the greatest classical composers of all time, Johann Sebastian Bach wrote music we identify as belonging to the Baroque period, a century and a half (1600-1750) of European compositions that tend to be elaborate pieces with innovative, complex instrumentation. From the Brandenburg Concertos to the Mass in B Minor, Bach wrote ornate pieces of music for orchestras as well as for single instruments (such as the Sonata for Solo Violin).

He also wrote complex choral pieces like the St. Matthew Passion, which set part of the gospel according to Matthew to music and is meant to be sung by large groups of singers, accompanied by an orchestra. A trained and talented organist, Bach liked to write music that would fill up a huge concert hall or church.
Composers, Europe, Innovators & Pioneers, Music, Music Legends

Rudolf Nureyev

Arts Days: March 17, 1938: Ballet's Rebel
Rudolf Nureyev was born on a train, setting the stage for a lifetime of perpetual movement, onstage and off. The premier male ballet dancer of his time, Nureyev began dancing to folk music as a child, attracting the attention of teachers who signed him to a local ballet troupe. He soon moved on to a major Russian ballet company, the Kirov, where he danced lead roles and got permission to leave the Soviet Union to dance in other cities like Vienna and Paris.

His dancing enchanted audiences, but his defection from the USSR in 1961 stunned the dance world. He soon signed with London’s Royal Ballet, the company he remained with until 1970. Nureyev’s creative partnerships with prima ballerinas like Margot Fonteyn are legendary; their pas de deux (“dance for two”) in Giselle and other ballets are exquisite examples of technical prowess and gorgeous artistry.
Ballet, Dance Legends, Dance, Controversial, Innovators & Pioneers

Harry Houdini

Arts Days: March 24, 1874: Magic Maker
His family immigrated to the U.S. when Harry Houdini (then known as Ehrich Weiss) was just four years old. It wasn’t long before his taste for thrills was cemented; by age nine, he was a trapeze artist. He moved on to simple card tricks, but the magician and “escapologist” was always searching for the next stunt—the trick that would ensure his reputation as the man who routinely cheated death.

Using ingenious props—and sometimes swallowing keys he could spit up on command, or purposely dislocating his shoulders—Houdini upped the ante from, say, escaping from handcuffs to escaping from a straitjacket dangling from a building. Some of his stunts were the result of his superior strength and flexibility. Others made use of illusions or trapdoors. No matter what, his escapades thrilled audiences.
Innovators & Pioneers, Popular Culture, Controversial, Europe

Eiffel Tower

Arts Days: March 31, 1889: Tower of Power
This tower of iron is one of the most striking architectural structures in the world; with just a glance, you think of France. Located in Paris, it’s over 1,000 feet tall, and was the tallest structure ever built until the Chrysler Building was erected in New York City. Gustave Eiffel designed the tower that bears his name, while the chief engineer of his company, a man named Maurice Koechlin, figured out how the thing could actually stay up and be safe for visitors.

The Tower was the main entrance for the Exposition Universelle, a giant world fair held in 1889 that commemorated the century since the French Revolution. It took 300 workers months to attach the 18,000 pieces of iron that went into the Tower. The structure was supposed to be torn down after the Exposition was over, but the French government saw its value as a tourist attraction and a symbol of national pride.
Innovators & Pioneers, Architecture, Europe

Arthur Mitchell

Arts Days: March 27, 1934: Breaking Ballet’s Barriers
After learning to tap dance as a child, Arthur Mitchell wowed a teacher with his version of the jitterbug, a dance popular in the 1940s. Mitchell was encouraged to apply at New York’s High School of Performing Arts. After graduation, Mitchell went on to win a scholarship to the famed School of American Ballet, then to join the New York City Ballet. There, he was told he would have to work twice as hard as the white dancers to be accepted.

In 1957, he performed George Balanchine’s Agon to audiences shocked at the sight of a white woman paired with a black male dancer. Mr. Balanchine ignored the attention, and at 21, Mitchell became the first black male principal dancer of a major dance company and a Kennedy Center Honoree in 1993.
Ballet, Dance, Dance Legends, Innovators & Pioneers

Spotlight

Arts Days: March 16, 1912: Electrifying Art
It can be easy to overlook the role that lighting plays during a ballet or theatrical production, but you’d be surprised at how much a performance’s lighting design contributes to our enjoyment of it. From how well we are able to see the action to the emotions we feel as we watch, Jean Rosenthal helped make the position of lighting designer more important than it had been.

In her work lighting dance performances for Martha Graham and plays for Orson Welles, she not only used lights to illuminate the action for the audience, but to set the mood, advance the plot, or underscore the importance of certain characters. Nowadays, lighting designers work closely with the director and actors to figure out how to use light effectively before, during, and after a show. And, if you’ve seen a dancer or singer standing in a diagonal shaft of light during a big solo, you’re seeing a bit of Rosenthal’s influence at work.
Backstage, Dance, Innovators & Pioneers, Jobs in the Arts, Movies & Movie Stars, Theater

First photo taken with a camera

Arts Days: March 07, 1765: The Father of Fotos
Considering the impact that cameras and photography have had on the world, it’s a shame Joseph Nicéphore Niépce is not better known to us all. He’s considered one of the inventors of photography, and is said to have snapped the world’s very first photos, including one where a man is leading a horse.

Along the way, he dabbled with various chemicals, like silver chloride, which makes an image visible after it is exposed to light, and the process he invented called heliography. Around 1829, Niépce partnered with Louis Daguerre to try to achieve an improved photographic method; the men worked on the problem together until Niépce died in 1833.

When Daguerre went on to create the Daguerrotype—a kind of photograph printed on a mirror-like surface—the French government bought the rights to it, awarding money to both Daguerre and to the estate of Niépce, in recognition of the late inventor’s work.
Europe, Innovators & Pioneers, Inventions, Visual Arts

Dr. Seuss

Arts Days: March 02, 1904: Doctor of Rhyme
Perhaps no author of children’s books is better loved around the world than Theodor Seuss Geisel, whom you probably know simply as Dr. Seuss. Whether it’s The Cat in the Hat or Green Eggs and Ham, Dr. Seuss’ many books combined fantastic creatures with fun, often made-up words set to rhythmic patterns that were designed to teach children how to read through simple repetition.

You might think his books were easy to write, but Dr. Seuss often used a form of poetic rhythm called “anapestic tetrameter.” This is a fancy way of saying that in the phrases he dreamed up, two unstressed syllables were followed by one emphasized one. Read these lines from The Cat in the Hat out loud and you might hear what we mean: “Have no fear, said the cat/I will not let you fall/I will hold you up high/As I stand on a ball.” The bolded words are naturally emphasized as you read them aloud.
Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, Innovators & Pioneers, Literature, Poetry, Popular Culture

Vaslav Nijinsky

Arts Days: March 12, 1889: Lord of the Dance
One of the most talented ballet dancers the world has ever seen, Polish dancer Vaslav Nijinksy is forever associated with Russia and its exceptional heritage of ballet. Without question, Nijinsky could leap higher than anyone else and dance on the tips of his toes, a feat usually performed only by female dancers. Whether portraying a straw puppet in Petrushka or a charming prince in Sleeping Beauty, Nijinsky’s dancing was equally expressive and bold.

But Nijinsky’s career truly turned the corner when he met ballet producer Sergei Diaghilev. Diaghilev made Nijinsky one of the stars of his famous dance company, the Ballets Russes. Over the years, Nijinsky often performed in starring roles in Gisele, Scheherezade, and many other important ballets. Later in his career, he went on to choreograph his own ballets, breaking the rules about how ballet “should” be performed and greatly expanding modern dance as he did so.
Dance, Dance Legends, Controversial, Innovators & Pioneers

Sidney Poitier

Arts Days: February 20, 1927: Breaking the Color Line
The first African American actor to receive an Academy Award® for Best Actor, Sidney Poitier helped dismantle a worn-out belief system in Hollywood—that audiences were not familiar with seeing black actors in lead roles of serious films.

After a stint in the U.S. Army and a stage career, Poitier turned in many deeply nuanced performances in films like Lilies of the Field, To Sir, With Love, and In the Heat of the Night where he created the character of cool, highly-intuitive detective Virgil Tibbs.  In 1967, in fact, he was the top box-office draw, starring in three well-received films including Lilies, for which he won that Oscar®.

Poitier went on to direct films such as Stir Crazy, starring Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor. Audiences have long considered Poitier onscreen and off as charismatic and elegant.
Innovators & Pioneers, Movies & Movie Stars, Controversial

Mister Roger

Arts Days: February 19, 1968: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
With his gentle demeanor and signature cardigan sweater, Fred Rogers has helped generations of children make better sense of the complicated world around them.

Better known to young fans as Mister Rogers, the host speaks directly to children about everything from coping with divorce to a fear of the dark—topics other children’s shows typically avoid. He also hangs out with various puppet and human friends, like Daniel Striped Tiger and Officer Clemmons. Rogers “travels” back and forth between the real world and the Neighborhood of Make-Believe to help children learn to make that important distinction.

Original episodes stopped airing in the summer of 2001, but you can still spend quality time with Mister Rogers in reruns.
Puppets, Popular Culture, Television, Innovators & Pioneers

Saturday Night Fever

Arts Days: February 16, 1979: Disco Fever… Can You Dig It?
Who’d have thought that a movie about a Brooklyn kid in a white suit trying to win dance contests would kick off a disco phenomenon? Well, actor John Travolta boogied down as 19-year-old Tony Manero in this classic movie, whose music—about half of which was performed by the Bee Gees, a trio of brothers from Down Under—swept the nation in 1979, and never really went away.

In songs like “Jive Talkin’” and “You Should Be Dancing,” the Brothers Gibb (get it? B-Gs) exhorted listeners to forget their day-to-day troubles to the flashing lights and thumping tunes of discothèques, which were springing up all over New York City and other urban centers.
Innovators & Pioneers, Popular Culture, Dance, Music, Movies & Movie Stars

The Phantom

Arts Days: February 17, 1936: The First Masked Man of Mystery
This disguised “ghost who walks” first began rescuing people from the clutches of the bad guy back before Batman, The Lone Ranger, and every other masked crusader that followed. For decades now, Lee Falk’s mysterious masked Phantom has captivated readers around the world with his incredible strength, his trained falcon Fraka, and his unshakeable pursuit of justice for the wronged.

On this day, the Phantom strip was kicked off in print with a story called “The Singh Brotherhood.” It was written and drawn by Falk for two weeks, then taken over for a while by an assistant. In fact, an army of other writers and artists contributed to the strip over the years, mimicking Falk’s style so closely that readers seldom suspected anyone but Falk was doing the work. Even Elizabeth Falk, Lee’s wife, stepped in when he died to finish the stories Lee began before his death: “Terror at the Opera” and “The Kidnappers.”
Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, Innovators & Pioneers, Popular Culture

Louis Comfort Tiffany

Arts Days: February 18, 1848: A Glass Act
Glass is all around us, in everyday common objects like windows, picture frames, and windshields. But Louis Comfort Tiffany saw glass as an artistic medium like no other, with the potential for showcasing deep colors that would be made even more dazzling when the sun shone through the panes.

In his work alone or with his colleagues, Tiffany explored the effects of opalescent glass, which included different hues of the same color, as well as textured glass—glass with ripples, bumps, or other “imperfections” that Tiffany believed to be actual enhancements. He also placed layers of glass atop one another for a richer tone. Using these methods, he created lamps, jewelry, vases, and bowls as well as glass windows.
Visual Arts, Fashion, Innovators & Pioneers

Gone with the Wind

Arts Days: February 29, 1940: Wind Wins
When the epic movie Gone with the Wind—about life in the South before, during, and after the Civil War, from a white Southerner’s point of view—racked up nine Academy Awards®, it broke all previous records for how many awards one movie could win.

It made superstars out of Vivian Leigh (who played Scarlett O’Hara), Clark Gable (Rhett Butler), and others. The soaring music, dramatic shots of battles, and fantastic costumes—plus the love, loss, and intrigue captured in the book upon which the movie was based—all contributed to the film’s amazing success that night.

And one cultural barrier was shattered, too. Actress Hattie McDaniel became the first African American ever to win an Oscar®. She won her award, for Best Supporting Actress, for her moving performance as “Mammy.”
Controversial, Innovators & Pioneers, Literature, Movies & Movie Stars

Johnny Cash

Arts Days: February 26, 1932: The Man in Black
As a child, Johnny Cash “The Man in Black” sang gospel music with his family, but a record producer told him that those gospel tunes just wouldn’t sell. So Cash was spurred to write his first rock-inflected country songs, including “Cry Cry Cry.”

Cash soon signed to Sun Records where he recorded tons of new songs like “I Walk the Line,” a huge hit in 1956. Cash went on to record nearly 100 albums over the course of his career, leaving an indelible mark on American rock, country, folk, and pop music.

And why did he wear black onstage? There’s a clue in the lyrics of his song, “Man in Black”—“I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down/Livin’ in the hopeless, hungry side of town.” Johnny Cash was a Kennedy Center Honoree in 1996.
Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Rock & Roll, Music, Popular Culture

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

Youtube

Arts Days: February 15, 2005: Your Fifteen Minutes of Fame
In 1968, American artist Andy Warhol claimed that “in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”

Well, the future is now. The video-sharing website YouTube can make you—and your singing parrot, your foolhardy buddies, or your high-school orchestra playing Beethoven’s 9th Symphony—famous overnight.

Founded by three friends, YouTube makes it possible to view all kinds of interesting arts-related videos, to name just one category that YouTube covers. Viewers who register with the site can rate the videos, share them with friends, and even post them to their Facebook page. You can watch your favorite pop music videos or snippets of a Eugene O’Neill play. Or why not listen to jazz played in a tiny club in Ecuador or catch ballet dancers onstage in Paris, France?

It’s said that tens of thousands of new videos are uploaded to YouTube every single day.
Inventions, Innovators & Pioneers, Popular Culture, Movies & Movie Stars

United Artists

Arts Days: February 05, 1919: United They Stood
Picture Hollywood back in the 1910s and 20s. In those days, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, and D.W. Griffith were kind of like the Julia Roberts, Will Smith, Brad Pitt, and Tom Hanks of today; big-name stars whose appearance in a movie would sell lots of tickets.

Pickford and her pals decided to form a company called United Artists to try to get more money per movie and to have the opportunity to star in movies every year. Plus, they wanted to distribute the movies directly to theaters.

However, the time and expenses required to pull that off soon proved hard to come by, especially with the introduction of sound movies. While UA was eventually a very profitable company, these founders never enjoyed the success they had dreamed of.
Movies & Movie Stars, Innovators & Pioneers, Controversial, Popular Culture

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