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Beethoven

Arts Days: April 27, 1810: Elise Who?
We´ll never know who the great German composer and piano virtuoso Ludwig van Beethoven had in mind when he wrote this delicate piano composition that is instantly recognizable after just a few notes. While it’s known as For Elise in English, its formal name is Bagatelle in A minor (a bagatelle is a short, light piece of music usually written for piano). Für Elise was actually jotted down right on the paper Beethoven used.

Some scholars think the reference indicates Beethoven wrote it for one of his girlfriends, but others say the informal name is the result of a transcription goof, and in fact the piece was intended to be Für Therese (a woman Beethoven had really wanted to marry but never did). At any rate, Für Elise is a charming work.
Math, Music Legends, Composers, Orchestra, Europe

Ella Fitzgerald

Arts Days: April 25, 1918: The First Lady of Song
At age 15, Ella Fitzgerald won the chance to compete at amateur night at New York City’s famed Apollo Theater. While she had originally planned to do a dance number, she got nervous. Fitzgerald changed her mind at the last minute, opened her mouth, and sang. That glorious voice stunned the audience and delighted jazz sax player Benny Carter, who happened to be there that night.

Carter went on to introduce Fitzgerald to people who might help this young singer find a greater audience. Fitzgerald later mastered a type of vocal improvisation called “scat singing,” in which she would sing in syllables, not words. Scatting lets a singer play around with sound, creating a vocal solo much like a clarinetist or trumpeter might invent a solo on his instrument. Fitzgerald, a 1979 Kennedy Center Honoree, made about 200 jazz records, whose collective sales would number about 40 million.
Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Jazz, Art Venues, Music

Ma Rainey

Arts Days: April 26, 1886: Mother of the Blues
She was born Gertrude Malissa Nix Pridgett Rainey, but it was as Ma Rainey that this Southern singer became one of the first professional blues singers ever, and certainly one of the first to make records. She started performing in vaudeville when she was still a teenager. Once, hearing another girl sing a sad song, Ma Rainey noticed how attentively the audience listened, so she began developing an emotional, world-weary singing style, a style she claims to have dubbed “blues.”

People loved it, and Rainey sang live at shows for decades before she recorded for Paramount Records. From 1923 to 1928, Rainey recorded about 100 songs, including “Jelly Bean Blues” and “Bo Weevil Blues,” a song partly about the beetle that destroyed cotton crops across the U.S. in the 1920s, but also about disappointments in love. In fact, many blues songs sung by Ma Rainey and other blues artists to this day have double meanings.
Blues, Music, Music Legends

Billie Holiday

Arts Days: April 07, 1915: The Lady Sang the Blues
Although vocally untrained, Billie Holiday possessed talents and characteristics far more critical to singing the blues—a natural ear for music and a life of turmoil and sorrow. Holiday changed the art of pop vocals with her smoky voice, unique word phrasing, and dramatic interpretations of classic songs. Her poignant renditions of love songs and ballads are considered classic; no one “carried a torch” like Holiday.

Discovered singing in a jazz club in the early 1930s, Holiday soon signed a record deal and began collaborations with musicians like Artie Shaw and Lester Young (who nicknamed her “Lady Day”). She shattered racial barriers by being the first black woman to front a big band composed of white musicians and by singing about lynching in the haunting “Strange Fruit.” Songs Holiday wrote with others, like “God Bless the Child,” rocketed to the top of the charts. Sadly, Holiday’s struggles with drug and alcohol addiction led to her untimely death at the age of 44.
Art Venues, Blues, Jazz, Music, Music Legends, Popular Culture

Muddy Waters

Arts Days: April 04, 1915: The Father of Chicago Blues
While growing up in the deep South, Muddy Waters dabbled with the harmonica, but it was when he started learning to play the blues guitar that things really got cooking. Waters basically invented a whole new type of blues music, called “Chicago Blues” named for the city where he made his biggest mark. His unique performing style combined country blues with rock and roll electrification. He sang about hard times in the Mississippi Delta, heartbreak, and other subjects.

The “bottleneck” style of guitar playing that Waters mastered was more commonly known as slide guitar. It was dubbed so because Waters slid a piece of glass (sometimes from a bottle, hence the name) or other material against the strings. This created a whole new range of sounds for Waters. In Waters’ case, this sort of playing almost made the instrument an extension of his singing voice, complete with growls, slurs, and screeches.
Blues, America, Musical Instruments, Music Legends, Music

Bernstein! Inside the Music

Multimedia Series: NSO Young People's Concert - Bernstein! Inside the Music
As an equally-famous conductor, composer, and musician, Leonard Bernstein not only conducted music by the world’s greatest composers, he also wrote many important works for orchestras.
Composers, History, Musical Instruments, Music, Orchestra, Music Legends

Blue Note Records

Video Series: Blue Note Records at 75
When it comes to the ongoing experiment that is modern jazz, there have been few cooler laboratories than Blue Note Records. For 75 years and counting, Blue Note has put the recording of innovative, authentic, uncompromising jazz above other measures of success.
Jazz, Music, Music Legends

Ralph Stanley

Video Series: Ralph Stanley: The Roots of Country Music
Learn about the beginnings of country music and its early innovators through the stories and music of three of country music's most respected musicians: mountain music legend Dr. Ralph Stanley, Jim Lauderdale and James Shelton.
America, Musical Instruments, Music, Music Legends

Jazz In DC

Audio Series: Jazz in DC
Take a tour through jazz history in Washington, DC! Pianist Billy Taylor and saxophonist and flutist Frank Wess lead listeners through their hometown's music scene in this six-part audio series.
America, History, Jazz, Music, Geography, Art Venues, Music Legends

swing bass

Audio Series: Swing! Swing! Swing!
Louis Armstrong said, “If you can’t feel Swing, you’ll never know it.” Well after hearing this pod-cast series, we’re sure you’ll feel it; we’re sure that you will swing. There was a time when Swing was the most popular dance music in America and the music is so important that it’s still alive today in dance halls, clubs and weddings all over the country. This four-part series explores and demonstrates Swing music in many of its forms (not just Swing Jazz, but Western Swing and Gypsy Swing) and shows you where the music came from and where it lives in America today. Our podcasts are narrated by Connaitre Miller of the award-winning group Afro-Blue at Howard University and features the voices of today’s major stars of Swing Music various styles
Music, Jazz, Music Legends, Musical Instruments

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