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Placido Domingo

Arts Days: January 21, 1941: Phenom of the Opera
At age eight, operatic tenor Plácido Domingo moved to Mexico and attended the National Conservatory of Music in Mexico City. Originally, he studied piano and conducting, until his strong voice was discovered.

Domingo's voice is known for its versatility and dramatic tone throughout its wide range. He made his operatic debut in 1961 as Alfredo in La Traviata. Since then, he has performed for audiences all over the world and has appeared in more than 400 performances in 41 different roles at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

Domingo has also made a name for himself as a conductor, leading musical forces from London's Covent Garden to New York's Metropolitan Opera and Washington's Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. He is also a 2000 Kennedy Center Honoree.
Music Legends, Opera, Music

Brian Epstein

Arts Days: January 24, 1962: All You Need is Epstein
Hard to imagine, but The Beatles were initially turned away by almost every British record company. It seemed no one could sense their potential—no one except British music entrepreneur Brian Epstein.

While helping to run his family's music stores, Epstein first noticed The Beatles after seeing their posters strewn around Liverpool. Curious, he went to see them perform, and was immediately struck by the group's musical talent and sense of humor and charm on stage. He signed on as their manager, confident the band was destined for international success. He helped mold the group's image, encouraging them to wear suits and ties rather than blue jeans and leather jackets.

For the remainder of his life, Epstein worked closely with The Beatles, who grew to be one of the most commercially successful and critically-acclaimed bands of all time.
Rock & Roll, Music, Music Legends, Popular Culture

Apollo Theater

Arts Days: January 26, 1934: Where Stars Are Born…
The Apollo Theater originally opened in 1913 as one of the city's leading burlesque venues for white-only audiences.

In 1932, powerful theatrical landlord Sydney S. Cohen purchased the theater and went to work refurbishing the entire venue. When it reopened its doors in 1934, patrons and performers of all races were welcomed.

The new Apollo Theater featured an "Amateur Night," which invited talented singers and dancers to the stage. "Amateur Night" helped launch the careers of numerous stars, including Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, James Brown, Sarah Vaughn, Aretha Franklin, and Lauryn Hill.
Art Venues, Music Legends, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Popular Culture, Rock & Roll

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Arts Days: January 27, 1756: The Music Man
It's hard to imagine, but child prodigy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart could play the keyboard and violin almost as soon as he could walk. He began composing original music at age five and was regularly invited to perform for European royalty.

At 17, he left his home to travel Europe in search of new musical opportunities. He stopped in Vienna, Paris, London, and Rome, where he observed and absorbed new musical forms and techniques.

Mozart's travels helped create his unique, versatile compositional language. He modernized the highly intricate Baroque style of music with advanced technical sophistication, enabling his works to reach new emotional heights.

In his lifetime, he created over 600 works and wrote in every major classical genre: symphony, opera, solo concerto, chamber music including string quartet and quintet, large-scale religious masses, choral music, dances, divertimenti, serenades, and the piano sonata.
Composers, Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Opera, Music, Orchestra

Benny Goodman

Arts Days: January 16, 1938: All Jazzed Up
Though jazz music originated in the early 1900s, it took several decades until it was commonly recognized as a serious musical form.

While there’s no way of putting an exact date on when this happened, jazz music did make history on this day in 1938. The prominent New York City music venue Carnegie Hall hosted its first jazz concert, performed by the Benny Goodman Orchestra. Guest artists included Count Basie and members of the Basie and Duke Ellington orchestras.

Initially, Goodman was hesitant to play at Carnegie Hall fearing mainstream audiences were not ready to accept jazz music. He was happy to be proven wrong by the 2,760 sold-out seats.
Art Venues, Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Jazz

George Gershwin

Arts Days: January 07, 1924: George’s Big Break
At 15, American composer and pianist George Gershwin dropped out of school to pursue his passion for music. He got a job in New York City playing the piano for a popular music publisher, and immediately began writing his own music. He had his first national hit, "Swanee," at age 20, but it was another five years until he composed "Rhapsody in Blue."

Written in less than three weeks, the composition's soaring clarinet solo launched Gershwin’s career and began a new era in American music. He went on to write some of America's most popular and important original music, often for Broadway or the concert hall, including the musical scores for Funny Face, An American in Paris, and Porgy and Bess.
Composers, Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Jazz

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

Aretha Franklin

Arts Days: January 03, 1987: Show Some RESPECT
Let's have a standing ovation for "The Queen of Soul," Ms. Aretha Franklin, the first woman to be inducted on this very day into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and for her ability to imbue songs with powerful emotion.

Never confined by musical genre, Franklin has sung the blues, R&B, soul, pop, and rock and roll. She is most recognized for her pioneering 1960s R&B records, many of which are considered among the most important and innovative R&B recordings ever made.

During the late 1960s and early 70s, she was awarded eight consecutive Grammy Awards for Best Female R&B Vocalist. Franklin was also the youngest artist (at 52) to receive a Kennedy Center Honor back in 1994.
Music Legends, Innovators & Pioneers, Music, Popular Culture, Rock & Roll

Elvis Presley

Arts Days: January 08, 1935: Hail to the King
Elvis Presley, also known as "The King of Rock 'n' Roll," began playing guitar as a teenager and made his first musical recording in 1953. He was a pioneer of rockabilly, an up-tempo fusion of country and blues music. His original sound and uninhibited stage and television performances made him a household name by 1956, and he remained influential in rock music for decades.

Though his career included numerous film roles, he is best known for his music, including hits like "Heartbreak Hotel," "Love Me Tender," "Don’t Be Cruel," "Hound Dog" and "Jailhouse Rock." It is estimated he has sold over one billion record units worldwide, more than anyone in record industry history.
Controversial, Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Rock & Roll, Popular Culture

Hitsville USA, The birthplace of Motown

Arts Days: January 12, 1959: The Sound of Young America
Pioneer record label Motown Records played a major role in the racial integration of popular music. Founded on this day in 1959 by Berry Gordy, it was the first successful record label owned by an African American to primarily feature African American artists.

Among Motown's early artists were Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross and The Supremes, The Four Tops, The Temptations, and The Jackson Five. The label specialized in "The Motown Sound," or pop music characterized by the use of tambourine back beats, prominent and melodic bass guitar chords and structures, and a call and response singing style originated in gospel music.
Innovators & Pioneers, Popular Culture, Hip-Hop, Rock & Roll, Music Legends, Music

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

Igor Stravinsky

Arts Days: June 17, 1882: Blazing Music's Trail
One of the greatest composers and conductors of 20th century music, Igor Stravinsky was urged by his parents to become a lawyer. But he was bitten by the musical bug as a child, attending concerts, learning to play piano, and most importantly, studying orchestration with his influential teacher, composer Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov.

At just 18, Stravinsky was hired to compose a score for the Ballets Russes. The Firebird, which met with critical and commercial success, was followed by more ballet scores, including Petrushka. His score for another ballet, The Rite of Spring, startled and even outraged listeners at its world premiere with its creative experimentation of chords and rhythms.

Stravinsky drew on Russian folk tunes in his works, but added elements that were completely his own, from new rhythmic patterns to polytonality, sounds that no one had ever heard before in symphonic music. Far ahead of his time, Stravinsky shook up people’s beliefs of what classical music was by reinventing modern music.
Ballet, Composers, Dance, Music, Music Legends, Orchestra

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

Bruce Springstein, Born in the USA.

Arts Days: June 04, 1984: Red, White, and Bruce
If you’re not paying attention, the title track for the album, Born in the U.S.A., sounds like a rock anthem celebrating pride in being an American. But a closer listen reveals another message—one that questioned the U.S.’s role in the Vietnam War and reveals a sense of hopelessness. This title song and the others that comprised Springsteen’s seventh album—including “Glory Days,” “My Hometown,” “Dancing in the Dark,” and “I’m Goin’ Down”—were filled with themes of yearning for the past or the search for the American dream.

Born in the U.S.A. was the best-selling record in 1985, one that vaulted Springsteen to a new level of commercial success, fueled by his hours-long live shows with his legendary E Street Band. Springsteen, a 2009 Kennedy Center Honoree, continues to write rock songs that refuse to shy away from complex or controversial themes, from unemployment to religion to relationships.
Music, Music Legends, Popular Culture, Rock & Roll

Elton John

Arts Days: June 03, 1969: Rocket Man Blasts Off
It’s hard to believe that with more than 200 million records sold, Elton John’s first album Empty Sky made a modest splash in his home country of England. While seven and eight minute songs like “Gulliver” and “Empty Sky” weren’t exactly radio-friendly, you could get a sense of John’s flair for writing a catchy melody—and as seen on the cover photo, his penchant for funky glasses.

His second record, Elton John, was the first to be released in the U.S. and is still often mistaken for his debut record. Even today, the album’s “Your Song” is considered one of John’s greatest hits. By combining songwriting duties with lyricist Bernie Taupin, with whom he began a lifelong creative partnership in 1967, John began a prolific career releasing knockout song after song and selling out stadium shows packed with tens of thousands of avid fans.
Music Legends, Rock & Roll, Music, Popular Culture

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

Strauss

Arts Days: June 11, 1864: A Pioneer of the Modern Movement
This composer of Romantic and early-modern works understood the workings of an orchestra like few others have before or since.

As a young man, he used to frequent rehearsals of the Munich Court Orchestra and take lessons in music theory with some of the conductors. Strauss’ training and own innate talent for writing complex orchestral pieces led him in new directions as he got older; he started writing “tone poems,” pieces of music inspired by and written about a painting, novel, or some other non-musical source (his first tone poem was Don Juan). In addition, at the turn of the 19th century, Strauss began composing operas. He conducted many orchestras and also explored dissonance, combining chords in ways that sometimes startled listeners.
Composers, Europe, Music, Music Legends, Orchestra

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

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

Michael Jackson Moonwalks

Arts Days: May 16, 1983: A Marvelous Night for a Moon Dance
The crowd at the Motown 25th Anniversary Special erupted in shrieks. On stage was Michael Jackson, performing his song “Billie Jean.” Jackson spun on his heels, looked both ways, and then seemed to slide backward across the stage as though pulled by an invisible string.

Those who master the move seem to be walking forward and sliding backward at the same time. Others had done the moonwalk, or backslide, but Michael Jackson made the move his very own. Every time he did it, his fans went crazy. As a solo artist, the moonwalk was only one of Jackson's incredible moves; throw in his dance-floor hits like “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough” and “Thriller,” his singing, that single, spangled glove, and his mysterious persona, and you had a celebrity of nearly-unparalleled global fame.
Dance Legends, Music Legends, Rock & Roll, Popular Culture, Dance, Music

Carnegie Hall

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

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

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

Johannes Brahms

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

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

Stevie Wonder

Arts Days: May 13, 1950: Wonder Boy, Wonder Man
Stevland Hardaway Judkins may have been blind from birth, but his musical gifts were beyond compare.

He started playing piano at seven; he learned bass, drums, and harmonica; and he sang in church choirs. At 11, he was heard singing on a street corner by someone who knew someone at Motown Records. Introductions were made, and Little Stevie Wonder, his stage name as a youth, had a record deal and a hit record by the time he was 13 years old.

Wonder has never stopped working: writing songs for others, acting, and making hit record after hit record, including Music of My Mind, Talking Book, Innervisions, and Songs in the Key of Life. There are 22 Grammy Awards® on the mantel at his house, more than any other won by a solo artist.
Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Music, Popular Culture, Rock & Roll

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