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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

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

Birthday cake

Arts Days: March 04, 1924: A Song is Born
You’ve probably sung the most popular song in the English language more times than you can count. It’s said that the melody of the tune is borrowed from a song called “Good Morning to All,” written in 1893 by Patty and Mildred Hill, sisters and kindergarten teachers from Kentucky.

All they wanted to do was create a song easy for five-year-olds to sing. They never copyrighted the song, meaning they never registered it as their work. But an editor named Robert Coleman published the song in a book, adding a second verse to the “Good Morning to All” tune that features the words we all know. And from then on, “Happy Birthday” has stuck in a big way.
Music, Popular Culture

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

Girl Playing with Barbies

Arts Days: March 09, 1959: All Dolled Up
As a fashion icon for generations of little girls, Barbie—all eleven-and-a-half inches of her—is without an equal. She was invented by a woman named Ruth Handler, one of the founders of the Mattel Toy Company and mother of a daughter named Barbara (no joke, that’s Barbie’s namesake). Handler was inspired by a German doll named “Bild Lili,” a spin-off of a comic strip. Early Barbies, with their accompanying tagline “teenage fashion model,” were made in Japan and available as blondes or brunettes.

Along with the dolls, Mattel marketed a breathtaking range of clothes sized just for Barbie as diverse as ball gowns to astronaut uniforms. It’s no surprise children still love to dress her up in these fancy outfits, or to find Barbie cruising along in her Jeep to a mall of her very own.
Fashion, Popular Culture

Simon and Garfunkel, Sounds of Silence cover

Arts Days: March 10, 1964: The Silent Sound of Success
After President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, singer/songwriter Paul Simon was among the artists who sought to sort through their emotions about the event in a creative way. When he finished writing “The Sounds of Silence,” he showed it to Art Garfunkel, his musical singing partner. The two began performing it in their live shows in and around New York City and also put it on their first album, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.

Unfortunately, the record flopped, and the pair broke up. But a year later, the duo’s record producer remixed the song with new instruments, including drums and electric bass and guitar—without asking Simon or Garfunkel. The song rose to number-one, they reunited, and recorded a new full-length album called The Sounds of Silence. It is considered one of the greatest folk rock albums of all times.
Rock & Roll, Music, Popular Culture

Polaroid

Arts Days: February 21, 1947: Say “Cheese!”
Even in the age of the digital camera, there’s still something really cool about shooting a picture with a Polaroid camera and having that snapshot pop into your hand and develop right before your eyes.

But before he invented that instant camera, American inventor Edwin Land worked on polarizing filters for sunglasses, special goggles for troops in combat during World War II, and other products for the company he founded in 1937 called the Polaroid Corporation. After Land showed his instant camera for the first time, his company got busy selling them to department stores. The cameras proved so easy and fun to use—and so affordable—the stores could not keep them from flying off the shelves.
Inventions, Popular Culture, Visual Arts

Elvis Presley

Arts Days: February 22, 1956: King Tops the Charts
It’s no surprise Elvis Presley, or the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” knew how to make an entrance: His first single to enter the music charts, “Heartbreak Hotel,” not only hit the number one spot, it was also the best selling single of the year.

The song introduced Elvis’ original rockabilly sound, or the up-tempo fusion of country and blues music. That combined with his uninhibited stage and television performances quickly made him a household name. Following the release of “Heartbreak Hotel,” Elvis remained influential in rock music for decades.
Music Legends, Rock & Roll, Popular Culture, Music

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

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

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

The Beatles

Arts Days: February 07, 1964: Beatlemania, American-Style
Upon exiting New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport, the four lads from Liverpool, England, were probably a bit shocked to witness thousands of teenage girls welcoming them by screaming, weeping, and, yes, even fainting.

They came to America to perform on TV’s The Ed Sullivan Show, which promised to introduce the Fab Four to lots of new fans. No doubt British kids were already well aware of the band through hits like “She Loves You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”

Well, it turned out that across the pond, Beatlemania was spreading just as fast. It’s hard to believe, but the show’s producers received 50,000 requests for its little more than 700 seats—more than it had received for Elvis Presley's 1956 debut appearance. That Sunday night, 73 million Americans tuned in and were captured by this British Invasion.
Music Legends, Rock & Roll, Popular Culture, Music

Frank Sinatra

Arts Days: February 02, 1940: Hello, Old Blue Eyes
A young crooner from Hoboken, New Jersey, caught a lucky break on this night while performing with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra.

Frank Sinatra, whose vocal prowess, acting chops, and star quality would go on to earn him worldwide fame, was born to Italian immigrants in 1915. After hearing Bing Crosby sing, he worked hard to develop his voice and land local gigs.

While the kind of big-band music Dorsey favored was popular with an older crowd, Sinatra’s charm and talent lured younger people—especially teenage girls who hoped for a glance from the singer with the famous blue eyes. For over six decades, Sinatra’s great gift of combining effortless technique, innovative phrasing, and impeccable taste in song selection made what he did look oh-so easy.
Music Legends, Movies & Movie Stars, Music, Popular Culture

Hedda Hopper

Arts Days: February 14, 1938: The First “Gossip Girl”
Imagine you’re a movie star in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. Say you’re spotted out partying on Valentine’s Day with someone other than your sweetheart. You can bet that Hedda Hopper, an actress with a large network of contacts, would have written all about your scandalous escapade in her gossip column.

Today’s celebrity publications like People and Us Magazine owe a huge debt to columnists like Hopper, who started writing decades ago about celebrities’ off-screen shenanigans. Wearing one of her trademark hats, she would go to big Hollywood parties, chat with all the celebrities, and uncover the juiciest news and rumors.
Fashion, Popular Culture, Controversial, Movies & Movie Stars

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