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Benny Carter

Arts Days: August 08, 1907: They Call Him “King”
What aspect of jazz did the great Benny Carter not master? This 1996 Kennedy Center Honoree played alto sax, clarinet, and trumpet. He composed and arranged songs, some of which, like “When Lights are Low,” are now considered jazz standards. And he was an in-demand bandleader for much of his career.

Largely self-taught, Carter began playing in Harlem nightspots in his teens. At 21, he made his first recordings with Charlie Johnson’s Orchestra, and in the 1930s, he lived in and toured Europe, spreading the gospel of this uniquely American music form.

This jazz legend shaped the big-band jazz sound more than just about any other musician before or since. As jazz great Miles Davis once said, "Everyone should listen to Benny Carter. He's a whole musical education."
America, Music, Music Legends, Jazz

Steve Martin

Arts Days: August 14, 1945: A Wild and Crazy Guy
Perhaps “zany” is the perfect word to describe this funny Renaissance man who juggles like a pro, dances with happy feet, and plays a mean banjo like no ordinary country star. Steve Martin’s goofy comedy stunts—from wearing a fake arrow through his head to twisting together balloon animals during his show—have endeared him to countless fans.

Even with a white-hot standup career propelled to new heights by his work on “Saturday Night Live,” Martin tried acting, with lead roles in hilarious films like The Jerk, Roxanne, and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, among others. In recent years, he’s branched out: writing short stories and plays and appearing regularly with the bluegrass band, Steep Canyon Rangers.
Comedy, America, Musical Instruments, Movies & Movie Stars

A Vogue Fashion Show

Arts Days: August 10, 1903: Fashion's Grand Dame
Style maven Eleanor Lambert came from the Midwest but lived most of her life in New York City, where deciding what people ought to wear was (and still is) considered a high art.

Lambert had a natural knack for public relations and shepherd numerous young American clothing designers to fame and fortune. She helped bring Calvin Klein, Bill Blass, and other now-household name designers into the fashion mainstream by promoting their works to magazine editors and celebrities.

Lambert is also credited as the creator of “Fashion Week,” an elaborate, twice-a-year display of the latest fashion designs in New York City, as well as the International Best-Dressed List, which actors, socialites, and other celebrities strive to be included on each year.
Innovators & Pioneers, Fashion, America

Snow White

Arts Days: December 21, 1937: The Fairest (and First) of Them All
The story of a lovely princess, seven sidekicks, and an evil Queen all played a part in Walt Disney’s initial venture into Technicolor. Based on a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, Snow White was also the first animated feature film made in the U.S. The making of the film was considered an absurd gamble, with its groundbreaking ideas that required the invention of brand-new technology.

Focusing on telling the story rather than garnering laughs, animators made sure the film had all the elements of suspense, comedy, romance, and tragedy of a feature film. The risk paid off. The audience at the premiere loved the film, which included original songs like “Someday My Prince Will Come."
Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, Innovators & Pioneers, Movies & Movie Stars, America, Popular Culture, Folklore

It's a Wonderful Life

Arts Days: December 20, 1946: The Richest Man in Town
Jimmy Stewart, a 1983 Kennedy Center Honoree, was a very popular actor when he was cast as the likeable George Bailey, the lead role in It’s a Wonderful Life. Director Frank Capra tells the story of a small-town fellow who, through no fault of his own, comes to the end of his rope on Christmas Eve. As he considers suicide, Heaven sends a gentle guardian angel named Clarence to convince him what a good life he really has.

Told mostly through flashbacks, the movie has become essential viewing for many at Christmastime. Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, and the other cast members bring Bedford Falls to life year after year, reminding us all that “no man is a failure who has friends.”
Movies & Movie Stars, Popular Culture, America, Comedy, Family

The Simpsons

Arts Days: December 17, 1989: Springfield Shenanigans
Isn’t it cool that the longest-running American sitcom features an animated mom with a mountain of blue hair? Yes, Marge, Homer, Bart, Lisa, Maggie, and the rest of their gang of neighbors and co-workers in Springfield just happen to be cartoon characters. And they happen to be hilarious, too, as they—helped by the show’s extensive staff of writers—poke fun at American culture and spoof sitcom conventions.

As created by Matt Groening, beer-swilling Homer, sax-playing Lisa and the others muddle through work and school, comment on everything from environmentalism to pop music, and love one another, just like any other normal American family. Blue hair and all.
Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, Comedy, Television, America, Popular Culture, Controversial

NBC

Arts Days: December 30, 1953: Now Brought to You in Living Color
It took decades to hammer out the technology behind transmitting color images to television sets. Among other things, broadcasting companies and the Federal Communications Commission had to agree on a standard way of broadcasting programs. As all that research and legal wrangling was taking place, manufacturers of TV sets were chomping at the bit to bring their products to market quickly.

Admiral had what we call “first mover advantage;” it was the first company to sell color TVs to the general public. Its 15-inch C1617A model cost $1,175, a pretty steep price tag even by today’s standards. Nowadays, of course, 99 percent of American households own a TV, and of those, virtually all are color sets.
Inventions, Television, Popular Culture, America

Walt Disney with Mickey Mouse

Arts Days: December 05, 1905: Magic’s Original Imagineer
The young Walter Disney loved to draw, so it should come as little surprise that animation became his life’s calling. He also studied art and photography, all of which would come into play as he built the movie company that bears his name. Over the course of his career, Disney worked as an animator, director, screenwriter, voice actor, and producer; he also helped design Disneyland and Disney World, perhaps the most famous theme parks in the world.

Yet, could it be a certain Mouse named Mickey with those iconic round black ears that might be his most famous creation of all?  Probably so, but let’s not forget all of his other achievements: introducing a separate cartoon for each animated movement, adding sound to cartoons, producing the first feature-length animated films, creating new recording techniques, and inventing the multi-plane camera.
Inventions, Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, Innovators & Pioneers, Movies & Movie Stars, Television, Popular Culture, America

The Cotton Club

Arts Days: December 04, 1927: Setting Up Shop in Harlem
Go back to the corner of Lenox Avenue and 142nd Street in Harlem and the very night Duke Ellington and his orchestra first played for an adoring crowd at New York City’s Cotton Club. This evening marked the beginning of a tremendous four-year residency. Ellington and his musicians provided dance music for the club's performers, African American dancers in incredible costumes who performed songs, dances, and comedy routines for all-white, high-society audiences.

Ellington’s trumpet players, trombonists, and saxophonists—from Bubber Miley to Harry Carney—were each amazingly gifted in their own right; under Ellington’s direction, the orchestra melded into a rock-solid, jazz-playing unit. Soon enough, Ellington, his band, and their music were exposed to a national audience when these shows were broadcast weekly on WHN radio.
Art Venues, Jazz, Music, Composers, Music Legends, America

Lillian Russell

Arts Days: November 22, 1880: Broadway’s Beauty
In the late 1870s, 18-year-old Helen Louise Leonard arrived in New York City in the hopes of becoming an opera star. After a bit role in a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, the beautiful blonde singer was discovered by theatre owner Tony Pastor. He changed her name and introduced her on opening night as “Lillian Russell, the English Ballad Singer.”

Russell’s gorgeous soprano and voluptuous figure earned her the nickname “America’s Beauty,” and she kept the press busy with her penchant for living life to the fullest. Russell starred in more than 24 musical comedies, many of which were written expressly for her. While none of her musicals are performed today, Lillian Russell is still remembered as one of the early 20th century’s most important Broadway stars.
Broadway, Theater, America, Musicals, Opera, Music Legends, Music

W.C. Handy

Arts Days: November 16, 1873: Father of the Blues
William Christopher Handy, who composed “Beale Street Blues” and “St. Louis Blues,” among many others, was one of the first professional musicians to play the blues, a distinctly American musical genre. But he did more than most to elevate awareness of the blues; he helped popularize the sound beyond its traditional African American roots to a wider, commercial audience.

When Handy and his band moved to Memphis, Tennessee, his career took off, especially with the release of “Memphis Blues,” a tune he published in 1912 that many consider the first blues song. During the 1920s, Handy formed his own music publication company, a business that proved quite lucrative and also brought him great fame.
Composers, Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Blues, America, Music

Martin Scorsese

Arts Days: November 17, 1942: One Fearless Filmmaker
No one can argue that Martin Scorsese has brought a gritty new realism to movies. An asthmatic child, young Martin was often confined to bed. But all that solitary time allowed him to watch a lot of movies on TV, which helped to shape the visions behind his works. One of the most accomplished movie directors of our time, Scorsese is fearless behind a camera—unafraid to expose the violent underground of his beloved New York City in films like Mean Streets, Gangs of New York, and the especially unsettling, Taxi Driver.

He explores complex human themes of guilt and redemption, repression, and emotional conflict in films like Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and The King of Comedy. Scorsese, a 2007 Kennedy Center Honoree, has said that the movies he aims to make are “physically expressive, psychologically acute, brutally honest, and emotionally overwhelming.”
Movies & Movie Stars, America, Controversial

Louis B. Mayer

Arts Days: November 28, 1907: Movie Mogul
Purchasing a small nickelodeon in Haverhill, Massachusetts, near Boston, Louis B. Mayer—a Russian immigrant who started off in his family’s scrap-metal business—was on a quest to reach the top of the Hollywood heap. That’s right: He’s the Mayer in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, or MGM, one of the most successful movie studios of all time.

On his way up the ladder, Mayer turned that single shabby, little theater into a successful chain of movie theaters all over New England. In subsequent years, after Mayer’s company had joined forces with Metro and Goldwyn Pictures, MGM pumped out hits like Ben Hur, Mutiny on the Bounty, and The Wizard of Oz. Mayer, who believed in the power of starting small, became one of Hollywood’s legendary movie executives.
Art Venues, Innovators & Pioneers, Movies & Movie Stars, America

Mark Twain

Arts Days: November 30, 1835: America’s Good Humor Man
The author of one of the great American novels, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, wasn’t named Mark Twain at birth. He was Samuel Langhorne Clemens, taking Mark Twain as his pen name later in life. While he’s probably best known for creating characters Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, Twain also wrote travel stories, social commentaries, essays, and lots of other kinds of things, all characterized by his signature satirical humor.

All of his work was informed by his rich array of distinctly American adventures, from his time as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi to his reporting for newspapers across the U.S. Without a doubt, Twain’s humor has remained timeless and relevant. So much so that each year, the Kennedy Center awards the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor to individuals who, like Twain, are social commentators, satirists, creators of characters, and fearless critics of society.
Comedy, Innovators & Pioneers, Literature, America, Controversial

Robert Johnson

Arts Days: November 27, 1936: Deal with the Devil
Revered amongst blues musicians and rock stars alike, Robert Johnson lived a life far too short to accommodate his ample talent. What’s more, there are few, if any, letters or other documents to give us a clear picture of the man. One thing is for sure: When the 25-year-old recorded this song, he fueled a powerful legend with which his name has long been associated.

Some say the song is about a pact Johnson made with the devil to give up his soul at a metaphorical crossroads in exchange for his amazing blues guitar skills. But other historians point out that the song is actually about the dangers a black man faces, walking alone after dark in the Deep South of the early 20th century, when the horrors of lynching were all too common.
Music Legends, Blues, Music, America, Musical Instruments, Folklore

Scott Joplin

Arts Days: November 24, 1868: The Ragtime King
Pianist and composer Scott Joplin was undoubtedly the best-known composer of ragtime, or “ragged time,” music. Ragtime’s main hallmark is its syncopated rhythms—marked by a stress on what would normally be an unaccented beat in the music, or a rest where there would normally be an emphasis. Popular in 19th-century dance halls, ragtime captivated music fans for a couple of decades before jazz became all the rage.

Audiences clamored for Joplin’s many compositions, like “Maple Leaf Rag,” “Pineapple Rag,” and “The Entertainer.” He even wrote a ragtime opera called Treemonisha. By combining natural piano talent and classical European training with the rich sounds of African American gospel hymns, spirituals, blues, and plantation songs, Joplin created a new American sound.
Composers, Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Music, America, Jazz

John Philip Sousa

Arts Days: November 06, 1854: Strike Up the Band
Everyone loves a good march, especially one written by American conductor/composer John Philip Sousa. Sousa was musically gifted in several ways: He had perfect pitch, meaning that he could identify notes and chords without any external references (like a pitch pipe) to guide him, and he could play many instruments.

He is best known for composing 136 military and patriotic marches. Marches were once used to keep soldiers in line during maneuvers; the cymbals and others instruments were thought to have an intimidating psychological effect on the enemy. Sousa’s marches, however, primarily served to entertain listeners and inspire patriotic sentiments. His Stars and Stripes Forever, full of cymbal crashes and piccolo trills, is the official march of the United States.
Composers, Music Legends, Military, America, Music

Viola Spolin

Arts Days: November 07, 1906: Play Acting
As an actress, director, and drama teacher, Viola Spolin used simple skits and other exercises to train actors to perform in believable ways. Her methodology formed the core of what we call “improv” today. Improv wasn’t originally focused on comedy, but evolved over time and today is generally defined as comic skits made up on the spur of the moment.

Watch a performance by acclaimed Chicago-based theater group, Second City, and see improv in rapid-fire action. Spolin, the “Grandmother of Improv,” helped devise ways for actors to warm up, focus, play, and make the connections needed to be spontaneous and hilarious.
Comedy, Innovators & Pioneers, Theater, America

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

Johnny Campbell initiates a cheer

Arts Days: November 02, 1898: Gimme a U! Gimme an M!
Back in 1898, a student at the University of Minnesota named Johnny Campbell led a crowd in a fervent chant meant to fire up their football team, the Gophers. This then, believe it or not, was the birth of organized cheerleading, which has evolved significantly over the years to become a sort of combination of sports and art that includes complex dance routines and physcial stunts.

It's technically considered a sport, and is heavily dominated by female participants. But back in Campbell’s day, the first “yell leader” squad was comprised of six young men, who encouraged the crowd to support the athletes on the field. For decades, in fact, cheerleaders were almost always male. And guess what? The cheer Campbell made up that day—“Rah, Rah, Rah! Sku-u-mar, Hoo-Rah! Hoo-Rah! Varsity! Varsity! Varsity, Minn-e-so-tah!”—is still a favorite used today by the Gophers’ cheerleaders.
Innovators & Pioneers, America, Sports, Physical Activity, Choreographers

Robert Frost

Arts Days: November 08, 1894: America’s Bard
Robert Frost was still a student at Dartmouth College when his poem “My Butterfly: An Elegy” was published in the New York Independent. Frost was paid $15 for the piece, and he quickly went on to publish another handful of poems. His works—meditations on things in nature, like paths in the forest, leaves changing color in the autumn, a snowfall—capture rural life in lean yet vibrant phrases.

Frost would often write about one thing—a stone wall, for example—but use it as a metaphor for something else, such as the norms of social life in New England in the early 20th century. He spent much of his adult life there, after all, and the region is irrevocably entwined in his poetry books, including From Snow to Snow and You Come Too.
Literature, Poetry, Nature, America

Georgia O'Keefe

Arts Days: November 15, 1887: Portrait of an Artist
Simple, intimate, precise: These are just some of the words that characterize the painting style of Georgia O’Keeffe, who was inspired to paint flowers, deserts, bones, and other objects according to this aesthetic. She painted in New York City and New York’s Adirondack Mountains, and in the Southwest, near her longtime home in New Mexico.

O’Keeffe sometimes painted in a very abstract way; other times, in a literal fashion. She could render a skyscraper in blocks of color or paint a flower in rich, lush detail. O’Keeffe is considered to have been one of the key artists—male or female—whose work inspired and impressed European art and artists. And as a woman working in a field then dominated by men, makes her influence even more impressive.
Innovators & Pioneers, Visual Arts, America

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

The Sesame Street Muppets

Arts Days: November 10, 1969: Street Smarts
Breaking new ground in the realm of children’s television, Sesame Street was one of the first shows to combine entertainment and education for young viewers. With a mix of appealing actors of all ethnicities, plus puppets created by Jim Henson, the show uses songs, dances, skits, animated sequences, and other vehicles to help kids learn about letters and numbers.

Moral messages—the importance of being kind, why it’s always best to tell the truth—are also communicated to audiences by the human and puppet stars of the show. From Big Bird, Elmo, Bert, Ernie, and Oscar the Grouch to Bob, Gordon, Maria, and Mr. Hooper, the cast has taught and continues to teach generations of children “the basics” while strolling down Sesame Street.
Innovators & Pioneers, Television, Education, Puppets, Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, America

Kurt Vonnegut

Arts Days: November 11, 1922: “A Zany But Moral Mad Scientist”
With a unique voice that melds humor, science fiction, and social commentary with the absurd, Kurt Vonnegut is considered one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. In novels like The Sirens of Titan and Cat’s Cradle, he explores technology’s effects on the human race, (not always positive), and the dangers of social isolation.

Though his fictional works often paint a picture of a bleak world, he used wildly inventive characters—like the alien race known as the Tralfmadorians who appear in Slaughterhouse-Five—and his trademark black humor to lighten things up a little bit. Later works, such as Breakfast of Champions, are no longer overtly fantastical. As his themes shifted, so did his style in writing about them, becoming more straightforward.
Innovators & Pioneers, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Literature, Controversial, America

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

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