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Langston Hughes

Arts Days: February 01, 1902: From Busboy to Poet
Langston Hughes discovered his passion for literature and poetry in high school, where he began writing his own short stories, poems, and plays for the school newspaper and yearbook.

After graduation, Hughes continued to write while holding down a series of odd jobs, from ship crewman to busboy at a Washington, DC hotel. One day while clearing dishes, he slipped a few of his poems to hotel guest, poet Vachel Lindsay. Lindsay was so impressed with what he read that he wasted little time in introducing Hughes to publishers, who embraced Hughes’ style and vibrant portrayals of African American life in America.

Hughes moved to Harlem in 1929, where he was a key figure in what’s known as the Harlem Renaissance, a time in the early 20th century when African American musicians, painters, writers, and other artists generated a rich array of artistic contributions to American culture.
Innovators & Pioneers, Literature, Poetry

Ron McNair

Arts Days: February 03, 1984: Rocket Man
Who knew astronaut Ron McNair, one of the first African Americans ever to be accepted into NASA’s Space Shuttle program, excelled at a wide variety of things, including science and sports?

McNair was an expert on laser physics, an accomplishment that helped him land a place on the Space Shuttle Challenger’s 1984 mission. You remember, this was the craft that hurtled into space to deploy satellites and handle other research and communications tasks.

On this day, McNair—an accomplished jazz saxophonist—played his instrument in space to the delight of NASA colleagues listening at Mission Control. Sadly, McNair and six others would perish in the next, ill-fated Challenger deployment, which took place on January 28, 1986.
Music, Space, Musical Instruments, Innovators & Pioneers

Fashion

Arts Days: February 11, 1934: Mary Had a Little Skirt
On this very fashionable day, Ms. Quant captured the hearts, and legs, of women. Fashion designer Mary Quant is credited with inventing the miniskirt, one of the clothing articles most closely associated with the swinging 60s.

Ever practical, this designer thought that the skirt would make it easier for women to run after a bus. Quant opened her own boutique in a fashionable section of London, selling clothes she designed herself, including a funky little white collar you could attach to any dress to spiff it up.

But it’s the mini with which she’s forever associated, and which stylish women around the world still wear today.
Innovators & Pioneers, Fashion, Popular Culture, Europe

Jules Verne

Arts Days: February 08, 1828: A League of His Own
Would you believe that the submarine hadn’t even been invented when Jules Verne wrote Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, kicking off the sci-fi genre with a splash?

Even as a child, Verne was a visionary, writing adventure stories that previewed today’s modern conveniences and technological wonders including tall skyscrapers, gas-powered cars, helicopters, and even television.

But sometimes his imagination and curiosity got him into deep trouble. At 12, he snuck his way onto a ship bound for India, but luckily got caught before the ship left. Let’s just say that father Pierre was none too happy. Little Jules responded, "I shall from now on only travel in my imagination." And so he did.

While his early stories, like the one about exploring Africa in a hot-air balloon, were rejected by publishers, Verne stuck with it. Eventually that story, with a few changes, appeared in print in 1863 as “Five Weeks in a Balloon.” From then on, Verne wrote new works every year until he died.
Movies & Movie Stars, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Innovators & Pioneers, Literature, Europe

Roots

Arts Days: January 23, 1977: Rooted in Front of the TV
Nearly 100 million television viewers tuned in to ABC's Roots, a miniseries based on the autobiographical novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley.

Roots traces four generations of Haley's African American family, beginning in 1767 with the character Kunta Kinte, who is captured by slave traders in Gambia, Africa, to the author himself in 20th century America.

The show ran for eight consecutive days and became the most watched program in American television history, captivating audiences across all racial, gender, and ethnic lines. This landmark television event has been called "the single most spectacular educational experience in race relations in America."
Innovators & Pioneers, Television, Popular Culture, Africa, Geography, History, Literature

Edgar Allen Poe

Arts Days: January 19, 1809: Master of the Macabre
Influential American writer, poet, editor, and literary critic Edgar Allen Poe was born on this day in 1809. He is credited with popularizing the short story in America, and contributing greatly to the emerging genres of detective fiction and science fiction.

Poe's work is considered part of the American Romantic Movement, but don't be fooled by its name; Poe's best known publications are also classified as Gothic, or literature that combines romance, mystery, and horror, and many of his stories feature themes centered on death.

Poe was also the first well-known American writer to attempt to make a living through writing alone, a decision that resulted in a financially difficult life and career. Even his most famous poem titled "The Raven" was published for nine dollars.
Innovators & Pioneers, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Literature, Poetry

Harold Prince

Arts Days: January 30, 1928: Theater Royalty is Born
Harold Prince, American theater producer and director, is associated with many of the best known Broadway musicals of the 20th century.

Born on this day in New York, NY, Prince landed his first job out of college in the office of legendary theater mogul George Abbott. Under Abbott's guidance, he learned the craft of creating original musical theater productions.

Prince co-produced a number of popular musicals in the 1950s and 60s including The Pajama Game, Damn Yankees, West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof, and Cabaret. In the 1970s, he met composer Stephen Sondheim and almost exclusively produced all of Sondheim's musicals.

In 1976, Prince directed his first of many operas for the New York City Opera. Since then he has directed two of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musicals, Evita and The Phantom of the Opera. Prince has received 21 Tony Awards, more than any other individual, for his work as both a producer and director.
Broadway, Innovators & Pioneers, Musicals, Theater

Anna Pavlova

Arts Days: January 31, 1881: Turning Pointe in Ballet
After attending the classic ballet The Sleeping Beauty as a little girl, Anna Pavlova wanted nothing more than to be a ballerina.

At age ten, she was accepted to study at the renowned Imperial Ballet School in Saint Petersburg, Russia. For years, she struggled in training, finding basic ballet techniques difficult due to her arched feet and thin ankles—body parts ballet dancers rely on for balance and grace.

Nevertheless, Pavlova was determined to fulfill her dream, and so she enrolled in extra classes and practiced every day. Her hard work paid off, and when she graduated, she was invited to join the Imperial Ballet Company.

She is also credited for the design of the modern pointe shoe. To ease the stress on her curved feet, Pavlova strengthened her ballet slippers by adding a piece of hard wood on the soles for support and curving the box of the shoes to fit her arches.
Inventions, Dance Legends, Innovators & Pioneers, Ballet, Dance

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

Alvin Ailey

Arts Days: January 05, 1931: A Dance Revelation
Alvin Ailey hadn't become serious about dance until he studied under the guidance of renowned choreographer Lester Horton.

By 1954, after years of professional dancing, Ailey's interests turned to choreography. Strongly influenced by "blood memories," or recollections of his childhood in a time of strong racial tensions and conflict, Ailey created 79 ballets in his lifetime that celebrate the southern African American experience in America.

In 1958 he formed his own company, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the first racially integrated dance company in the United States. Alvin Ailey was a 1988 Kennedy Center Honoree.
Choreographers, Dance Legends, Innovators & Pioneers, Dance

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

Radio

Arts Days: January 13, 1910: Turn It Up!
Italian engineer Guglielmo Marconi won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his 1896 invention of the radio, which was initially used by ships to communicate with stations on shore. Over a decade later, American inventor and opera lover, Lee de Forest, developed the radio receiver, bringing radio broadcasts to the public.

On this day in 1910, de Forest promoted the radio receiver by broadcasting a live performance of tenor Enrico Caruso from the Metropolitan Opera. At the time, only a small number of people owned radio receivers and could listen to the broadcast, which was sent over a telephone transmitter.
Inventions, Innovators & Pioneers, Math, Opera, Music

Celluloid Film

Arts Days: January 14, 1873: Better Films Through Chemistry
Cellulose nitrate, or celluloid, was originally trademarked on this day by John Hyatt for use in billiard balls.

Less than ten years later, inventor George Eastman experimented with the compound looking for an alternative to the glass plates used in photography. Eastman discovered celluloid could be melted down into a strong, yet extremely thin film, and in 1885 he introduced the first transparent photographic film.

With this, Thomas Edison’s notable invention, the motion picture camera, was able to record images in 1891, thanks to celluloid’s flexibility and strength. Unfortunately, it was also discovered that celluloid is a highly flammable material. Many lives were lost in theater fires and manufacturing accidents.
Inventions, Innovators & Pioneers, Movies & Movie Stars, Popular Culture

Molière

Arts Days: January 15, 1622: The Prince of French Farce
French playwright and actor Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, better known by his stage name Molière, is considered one of the greatest masters of Western comedy.

He studied acting and writing at the Collège de Clermont, a prestigious school in the heart of Paris. After graduating, he worked as an actor and playwright, dedicated to exploring new comedic ideas.

Molière wrote farces that exposed the hypocrisies and follies of French society. His fresh comedic style caught attention and praise from the French aristocracy, including King Louis XIV, who dubbed Molière's acting troupe "Troupe du Roi" (The King’s Troupe) and commissioned him to be the official author of court entertainments.
Comedy, Innovators & Pioneers, Playwrights & Plays, Europe

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

Circus

Arts Days: January 09, 1768: Send in the Clowns
Though acrobats, clowns, trapeze artists, and trained animals all existed before the modern circus, they’d never been under the same roof until Englishman Philip Astley, a former cavalry sergeant major, discovered his ability to perform stunts while standing atop his horse's back.

Realizing his talent’s potential entertainment value, he drew a ring in the ground and invited the public to witness his daring act. His display proved to be popular and Astley readily hired other trick riders, as well as clowns, and musicians to join his show. He built a roof over the ring, which he named Astley's Amphitheatre. Over the next thirty years, Astley took his show on the road and established 18 other circuses in major European cities.
Inventions, Art Venues, Innovators & Pioneers, Stunts & Special Effects, Animals, Europe, Popular Culture, Theater

33 1/3 Record

JUne 18: June 18, 1948: More Music
From this day until about 1990, the primary format to sell music was the “LP.”

This black vinyl disc inscribed with grooves, produced music when it spun on a turntable, originally called a phonograph. An engineer who worked at Columbia Records named Peter Goldmark figured out how to fit more music on the LP. Also called “records” or “albums,” LPs could hold up to 30 minutes of music on each side, a huge leap over other formats that might hold three or four minutes’ worth of music per side. (By the way, that 33 and 1/3 measurement refers to the number of revolutions per minute (RPM) required for the music to sound as the performer had intended it to.)

Goldmark’s invention made it much easier for music fans to purchase affordable music and enjoy very good sound quality.
Inventions, Innovators & Pioneers, Rock & Roll, Popular Culture, Music

Chicago

Arts Days: June 23, 1927: Razzle Dazzle Man
From the hip roll to the finger snap to the perfectly angled hat—these are just some of the signature moves of the unmistakable “Fosse look.”

Jazz choreographer Bob Fosse invented so many moves that are now essential in modern dance that the casual observer may not even be aware of how widespread his influence continues to be. He broke new ground with dances that were demanding, entertaining, and provocative—often by creating one sharp, simple isolated movement. He honed his style in musicals like The Pajama Game, Damn Yankees, Sweet Charity, and Pippin and saw his creativity peak in the musical Chicago and the autobiographical film All That Jazz.

The second film Bob Fosse directed, 1972’s Cabaret, won eight Academy Awards® including Best Director.
Broadway, Choreographers, Controversial, Dance, Dance Legends, Innovators & Pioneers, Jazz

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

Dick Smith

Arts Days: June 26, 1922: Master of Makeup
Wrinkly faces—wow! Bleeding limbs—ew! Movies absorb us completely into the action when makeup convinces us that a character really is 100 years old—or turning into a possessed demon before our terrified eyes. And over decades of work in TV and movies from The Exorcist and Taxi Driver to The Godfather and Little Big Man, makeup artist Dick Smith pioneered new techniques in the use of foam rubber, paint, fake blood, and other materials to generate stunning special effects.

Smith developed new ways to create masks for actors, using bits of latex attached to their faces one piece at a time (rather than one big piece that constrained their facial movements and looked more fake). He also experimented with prosthetics and small pouches called bladders that were inserted under an actor’s latex “skin” and manipulated to make it look like the actor had something creepy—a bug, a new body part, whatever—moving underneath.
Innovators & Pioneers, Fashion, Movies & Movie Stars, Stunts & Special Effects

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