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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

Hammond Organ

Arts Days: April 24, 1934: The First Organ Transplant
When an American inventor named Laurens Hammond demonstrated an organ without pipes on this day, musicians like George Gershwin were skeptical (though Gershwin bought one anyway). No one could quite believe that a pipeless electric organ could produce the majestic sounds of the pipe organ that had dominated church services and musical events for centuries. However, once Hammond’s organ was played, the skeptics grew silent.

Using a complex series of magnets, coils, and gears deep inside the console of the instrument, Hammond had created a new instrument capable of all the melodic richness of the pipe organ but in a much smaller size. The price couldn’t be beat, either—$1,250 compared to $4,000 and up for traditional organs, which used air pumped into the pipes by the organist to create their sound.
Musical Instruments, Music, Math, Inventions

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

Supremes

Arts Days: April 08, 1964: Talent Times Three
When another girl group, the Marvelettes, passed over the chance to record “Where Did Our Love Go,” the Supremes—Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, and Florence Ballard, three teenagers from the gritty streets of Detroit—got their big break. A few months after they recorded the tune, the song hit the top of the U.S. pop and rhythm and blues charts.

That’s how the most popular girl group in history kicked off their hit-generating prowess: “Baby Love,” “Come See About Me,” “Stop! In the Name of Love,” and others were not far behind. The Supremes’ star was on the rise. Since then, every all-female group owes a debt to the Supremes.
Music, Popular Culture, Rock & Roll

Marian Anderson

Arts Days: April 09, 1939: Let Freedom Sing

For more than 40 years, Marian Anderson’s supple contralto voice—lower than an alto or soprano—thrilled audiences the world over. She preferred singing in recitals to opera performance, though many opera companies tried to entice her to sing with them. However, it was the Daughters of the American Revolution’s refusal to let Anderson sing at Constitution Hall simply because of her race that set the stage for perhaps the most important concert of her career.

With an assist from President Franklin Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt, Anderson gave a spellbinding public performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Some 75,000 people listened live in the chilly spring air, and millions more heard Anderson sing on the radio. In 1955, reconsidering her stance on singing in operas, she became the first African American to perform at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. Her grace and beauty—to say nothing of that remarkable voice—made Marian Anderson an important symbol of the Civil Rights Movement.

For more on this historic concert, listen to Of Thee We Sing: Marian Anderson and the Music of the Early Civil Rights Movement.


America, Music, Opera, Controversial

Selma

2700 F St.: Selma: A Film and Live Music Event with the NSO, Jason Moran, and Others
Experience Ava DuVernay’s film on a big screen with Jason Moran’s acclaimed score for the film performed live by a full orchestra conducted by Ryan McAdams. This event coincides with the one-year anniversary of the opening of the National Museum of African American History & Culture.
Music, History, America

Night Train 57

Cuesheet: Night Train 57: A Sensory-Friendly Folk Opera
All aboard the Night Train! Enter the freewheeling musical world of Grammy® winner Dan Zanes, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Claudia Eliaza, and more special guests for an interactive folk opera that takes audiences on a far-out ride to the galaxies and back. During a joyous dusk-to-dawn trip through the stars, passengers on Night Train 57 will discover the power of friendship and community with the sounds of 21st century handmade sing-along music.
Theater, Music, Musical Instruments, Accessibility

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

A Sleepy Hollow-een

Cuesheet: NSO Family Concert: Halloween Spooktacular
When is it ever cool to “boo” the orchestra? On Halloween, of course! But watch out, because at this frightfully fun concert, ghoulishly attired musicians might “BOO” you from behind their instruments in return.
Music, Musical Instruments

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Educators: Educators Portal
Standards-based instructional resources, how-to's, guides and other supports for teaching with the arts
Education, Dance, Music, Theater, Visual Arts

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