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Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Arts Days: December 06, 1964: Not Your Average Reindeer
The cute star of this TV special was none other than that red-nosed reindeer, who is mocked as a calf for his unusual feature but is ultimately a hero when he bails Santa out of a tight spot on a very important night.

The program was shot using stop-motion, also called stop-action, which is an animation process in which producers make objects—in this case, clay sculptures of reindeer, elves, and other characters—appear to move by adjusting their positions ever so slightly, capturing the configuration on camera, adjusting the models again, filming the new setup, and so on. That’s how the snowman appears to glide across the screen and the reindeer soar through the air. Featuring the voices of folksinger Burl Ives and other recognizable voices, Rudolph is still a hit with kids today each December.
Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, Stunts & Special Effects, Television, Popular Culture

James Brown

Arts Days: December 07, 2003: The Godfather of Soul
Rhythm and blues, funk, gospel, jazz, rock and roll—James Brown took all of these genres and melded them together into an unmistakable blend of music all his own. Dubbing himself “The Hardest-Working Man in Show Business” along the way, he certainly earned that title for his incredibly demanding performances.

During his legendary shows, he did splits, yowled, danced, fell to his knees—and oh yeah, he sang the whole time, too. Brown’s classics include “Papa’s Got a Brand-New Bag” and “Living in America,” to name just two; over the course of his 30-year career, he racked up 98 singles on Billboard’s R&B charts. Of those, 17 of them went to number one.
Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Rock & Roll, Blues, Music, Popular Culture

Wax Figures by Marie Tussaud

Arts Days: December 01, 1761: Waxy Lady
Anna Maria Grosholtz—better known as Madame Tussaud—was taught to make life size wax figures by the doctor for whom her mom worked. While the art of creating often eerily lifelike wax versions of people had been around since the Middle Ages, it was Tussaud and her traveling show of wax figures that made viewing such figures a form of “edutainment”—partly a way to learn about famous people of the past and present, partly just plain fun.

While Madame Tussauds’ London museum kicked off the phenomenon—today everybody from Benjamin Franklin to Jennifer Lopez to President Obama is on view at outposts in Shanghai, New York, Amsterdam, and its newest addition, Washington, D.C.
Popular Culture, Visual Arts, Europe

Thriller

Arts Days: December 02, 1982: A Monster Hit
Clocking in at almost 14 minutes, the mini-movie that accompanied Michael Jackson’s hit song “Thriller” was like no music video that had ever come before. Directed by film director John Landis and featuring voiceovers by famed actor Vincent Price, the video starred Michael Jackson as a young man on a date with his sweetie.

A cast of dancing zombies and a teenage werewolf with hideous yellow eyes are just a couple of the surprises filmed by Landis, who co-wrote the video with Michael himself. In December 2009, “Thriller” was selected for the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, which referred to it as “the most famous music video of all time."
Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Television, Music, Popular Culture, Rock & Roll

James Dean

Arts Days: December 13, 1950: Rebel Without a Coke
An undiscovered actor named James Dean wound up playing a fun-loving teenager in an early Pepsi commercial. He’s the fellow who whacks the player piano, prompting it to magically play a dance tune. As luck would have it, the handsome Dean caught the eye of folks casting a show called Hill Number One, landing him the part of John the Baptist.

More Hollywood roles followed, then a couple of parts on Broadway. All of these early assignments set the stage for feature roles in East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause, films with which Dean is most closely identified. Seen in his short life as both a heartthrob and an actor who showed great promise, James Dean also came to embody the restless, but idealistic American teenager.
Movies & Movie Stars, Television, Popular Culture, Young Artists, Jobs in the Arts

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Arts Days: December 14, 1987: Turtle Mania
They love pizza, live in New York City’s sewers, and fight crime. And, as any Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fan will tell you, they are named after four key artists from the Italian Renaissance: Donatello, Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael. “TMNT” are animated characters, which were created by comic book artists Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, and who made their television debut on this day in 1987.

Identifiable by their different colored masks, these courageous do-gooders battle bad guys with their martial arts skills, all under the watchful eye of their adoptive father, Master Splinter. This successful children’s program only fed the Turtles’ cult following as their likenesses appeared on a mind-boggling array of merchandise from sheets and action figurines to lunchboxes and pajamas. The fearsome foursome remain popular today.
Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, Television, Popular Culture

Charles Perrault

Arts Days: December 12, 1628: Father of Fairy Tales
Not many people can seriously lay claim to inventing an entire literary genre, but Charles Perrault is one exception. Relatively late in life, at age 67, Monsieur Perrault published new versions of old folktales in a slender book aimed at children. Complete with engaging characters, fantasy-laden plots, and moral lessons, the eight “fairy tales” in the book included “La belle au bois dormant,” otherwise known as Sleeping Beauty, and “Le petit chaperon rouge,” or Little Red Riding Hood.

He also used descriptions of actual places in France to embellish the stories; for example, Sleeping Beauty’s castle was based on the Chateau Usse, a real castle in the western part of France that centuries later would inspire Walt Disney himself as he designed castles for his theme parks.
Innovators & Pioneers, Europe, Literature, Popular Culture, Folklore

Rockband

Arts Days: November 20, 2007: Band Aid
First issued for Xbox and PlayStation, this video game lets players indulge in their rock and roll fantasies. Each player is rated on his or her ability to play music notes accurately using peripherals, or devices shaped like drums, guitars, and microphones. The game knows and alerts you when you’re singing off key or falling behind in tempo on the “drum kit.”

A team of players can form a band and compete together, earning points collectively against another team. Rock Band is not just a lot of fun to play, but it's helped expand people’s interest in learning to sing and play actual instruments. So, dream on because you never know, today’s Rock Band players may be tomorrow’s newest rock stars.
Inventions, Rock & Roll, Musical Instruments, Music, Popular Culture

Toy Story

Arts Days: November 21, 1995: Toys Will Be Toys
Once upon a time, there was a boy named Andy who had a room full of toys—playthings that just happen to come to life whenever Andy’s not around. Everyone is happy with the status quo, especially Andy’s favorite toy, Sheriff Woody, who’s the unofficial leader of all the toys. That is until a shiny new astronaut toy named Buzz Lightyear arrives and makes Woody jealous.

Produced by Pixar, Toy Story marked a sea change in animated filmmaking. Using new technologies, about 100 animators completed the film on a $30 million budget, as compared to The Lion King a year earlier, which had used 800 animators and cost $45 million to make. Toy Story's significant impact on the art of animation sparked an entirely new film genre of computer animated movies.
Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, Innovators & Pioneers, Movies & Movie Stars, Stunts & Special Effects, Popular Culture

Le Chat Noir

Arts Days: November 18, 1881: Come to the Cabaret
Today you think of these clubs as famous nightspots where celebrities like to hang out in Hollywood or New York. But back in Paris in the late 19th century, they were referred to as cabarets, and Le Chat Noir was perhaps the most legendary. Located in Paris’ fashionable, bohemian Montmartre neighborhood, Le Chat Noir, or “The Black Cat,” was envisioned by owner Rodolphe Salis as part nightclub, part salon.

Seated at crowded tables were well-known Parisian celebrities and their artist associates from around the world. On any given night, you could rub elbows with painter Pablo Picasso, composer Claude Debussy, or perhaps Jane Avril, the can-can dancer whom Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec immortalized in several paintings. They and countless others would talk, drink, flirt, and enjoy live performances. The party lasted until 1897, when the place closed up shop.
Art Venues, Europe, Popular Culture, Musicals

Jukebox

Arts Days: November 23, 1889: Music On Demand
When patrons arrived at San Francisco’s Palais Royal Saloon, they found a curious, cabinet-like object that played music. It was built by the Pacific Phonograph Company and had tubes poking out of it; up to four listeners at a time could pick up a tube and listen to the same tune being played. Of course, they had to drop a coin into a slot near each tube to hear a thing.

The man who installed the jukebox at this bar, Louis Glass, dubbed the machine the “nickel-in-the-slot” player. It was a big hit at the Saloon, and word soon spread from city to city of this amazing song-playing machine. By putting musical choice in the hands of patrons, jukeboxes revolutionized the way people listened to music.
Inventions, Music, Popular Culture, Rock & Roll

A Vogue Fashion Show

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

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

John Barry

Arts Days: November 03, 1933: A Musical Bond
John Barry had been working as a composer and record producer for several years when he caught a lucky, career-making break—he was hired to work on the music for a new movie called Dr. No. This was the first James Bond film ever made, and Barry’s arrangement of the “James Bond Theme” was soon tied to the very successful string of movies, starring Sean Connery as the suave British agent named Bond. James Bond. 

Barry went on to compose the scores for 11 of the next 14 Bond films, as well as music for other popular movies, including The Lion in Winter, Out of Africa, and Dances with Wolves. For these latter three, Barry took home the Oscars® for Best Original Score.
Composers, Music, Movies & Movie Stars, Music Legends, Popular Culture, Science Fiction & Fantasy

Mickey Mouse

Arts Days: November 13, 1940: Animation as Art
This artful melding of classical music and animation, Fantasia is perhaps one of the most interesting experiments in the history of feature animation. Walt Disney, fresh from successes like Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, wanted to stretch animation beyond its traditional cartoon roots.

The film interpreted classical music through short bursts of animation, creating such classic sequences as Mickey Mouse’s star turn in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and the fire and brimstone dance of Night on Bald Mountain. At this premiere, audiences listened to the film through Fantasound, a sound system that enriched the music by making it fuller and more dynamic. In 2000, Disney released a sequel of shorts with similar pairings of music and animation, including Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.
Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, Innovators & Pioneers, Movies & Movie Stars, Music, Popular Culture

Grace Kelly

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

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

Rolling Stone Magazine

Arts Days: November 09, 1967: The Bible of Rock
Back then, it featured John Lennon on the cover and looked more like a newspaper than a magazine. The inaugural issue of Rolling Stone aimed to report not only on the performers and trends shaping rock and roll, but also, in the words of founder Jann Wenner, “the things and attitudes that music embraces.” As a result, the magazine has consistently printed long articles about politics, the environment, and other topics as well as influential record reviews and detailed question-and-answer pieces with top artists.

While on-staff at the magazine, photographer Annie Leibovitz helped shape the modern look of the publication. Her photos reveal surprising and controversial sides of world-famous celebrities, created through close collaboration with her subjects.
Rock & Roll, Music, Popular Culture, Literature, Controversial

Billboard Music Chart

Arts Days: July 20, 1940: Top of the Pops
It was called the “Music Popularity Chart,” when Billboard magazine started ranking songs in terms of their airplay and sales. Until then, there was no way to measure the popularity of pop songs relative to one another.

Suddenly record-company executives and musicians alike could keep track of how their songs were faring. They could cheer when their song hit number one—a thrilling moment for anybody. After all, the more a song is played, the more it is being purchased, and the more money the labels make. Well, you get the picture.

What was the first number-one? “I’ll Never Smile Again” by the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, with none other than Frank Sinatra singing lead.
Music, Popular Culture, Rock & Roll

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

J.K. Rowling

Arts Days: July 31, 1965: The Magic Touch
Around the world, people of all ages are captivated by the saga of Harry Potter, the young British wizard with the lightning-shaped scar on his forehead. Harry, Hermione, Ron, Voldemort, and legions of other characters brought to life in the seven Harry Potter books, are all from the creative imagination of Joanne Kathleen Rowling.

Many children whose interest in reading was lukewarm found it stoked by the magical adventures of Harry and his gang. They and an incredible assortment of funny ghosts and frightening villains are captured in these fantastical books.
Science Fiction & Fantasy, Literature, Popular Culture

A Wild Hare Title Card

Arts Days: July 27, 1940: Whatta Wabbit!
That irrepressible bunny named Bugs first popped out of his hole during a showing of The Wild Hare, only to ask the bumbling hunter Elmer Fudd the immortal question, “What’s up, Doc?”

As originally voiced by Mel Blanc, this rabbit has a wisecracking persona, a Brooklyn accent, and a knack for getting out of tough spots.  And let’s not forget, a penchant for carrots, which he gnaws on contentedly with his enormous buck teeth.

According to TV Guide, Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse are the top two cartoon characters of all time.
Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, Movies & Movie Stars, Popular Culture, Animals

Louis Reard in a bikini

Arts Days: July 05, 1946: Less is More
An automobile engineer in his native country of France, Louis Reard also worked in his mother’s lingerie shop. He was competing with others to create the world’s tiniest swimsuit when he stitched together some pieces of cloth—totaling a mere 30 inches. He proudly debuted the “bikini,” which he named after Bikini Atoll, a tropical island in the Pacific.

At first, he had a hard time finding a woman willing to model the daring little number. But he did and then planned a big party to celebrate. At a pool in Paris, Reard’s model donned the bikini, and it was an instant hit, changing the future of swimwear fashion forever.
Fashion, Popular Culture, Europe

Sony Walkman

Arts Days: July 01, 1979: Whistle While You Walk
For decades, home stereo systems were big and unwieldy, with separate turntables, tape players, speakers, and other components. So when the Japanese corporation Sony developed a portable stereo system it called the Walkman, consumers were skeptical.

Sony embarked on a huge marketing campaign to raise awareness of its little stereo that came with a set of padded earphones and could accommodate a cassette tape. The company hired college kids to walk around busy shopping areas in Tokyo, wearing their Walkmans and offering strangers a chance to listen.

Turns out the sound quality was excellent, and the freedom to carry your tunes with you exhilarating. In changing the way we carry and listen to music, the Walkman set the stage for today’s MP3 players, which manage to make the Walkman look enormous.
Inventions, Rock & Roll, Popular Culture, Japan, Music

The Rolling Stones I can't get no Satisfaction

Arts Days: July 10, 1965: Satisfaction Guaranteed
That blistering riff from Keith Richards’ guitar kicks off “Satisfaction,” a rock-and-roll song that shook up a lot of teenagers and alarmed some parents with its provocative lyrics. Richards and his fellow Rolling Stone, Mick Jagger, wrote the song together, with Jagger adding lyrics about a very different theme: the push he had seen while in America for material possessions.

The song hit number one on this day and stayed there for a month. It is also an example of the sensation created by a hit record.
Rock & Roll, Controversial, Music, Popular Culture

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

The King and I

Arts Days: March 29, 1951: Culture Clash
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II had collaborated on five other musicals, including The Sound of Music, by the time they turned out the words and music for The King and I. The musical starred Gertrude Lawrence as Anna, an Englishwoman hired by the King of Siam (today we call it Thailand), to teach reading, writing, and speaking English—to his children.

King Mongkut was played by Yul Brynner, a Russian actor who shaved his head for the stage role. Tackling a range of complex issues, from cultural clashes to gender roles, The King and I included the well-known “Getting to Know You,” a touching song about making new friends. The show ultimately went on to win the Tony Award® for Best Musical.
Broadway, Musicals, Theater, Popular Culture

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