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Photograph of the inaugural speech of President John F. Kennedy

KC Festival: The Presidency of John F. Kennedy: A 50th Anniversary Celebration
The Kennedy Center marks the 50th anniversary of a remarkable American presidency
Presidents, America, Dance, Music, Theater, Poetry

Harlem Quartet

2700 F St.: Harlem Quartet: Performance/Demonstration
What do you think about when you picture a string quartet? Well, Harlem Quartet wants to shake that image up.
Music, Musical Instruments, America, Young Artists

Freeze Frame

2700 F St.: Freeze Frame... Stop The Madness: Debbie Allen Dance Academy
A performance based on true stories and told in a fusion of drama, music, dance, video, and art.
America, Choreographers, Controversial, Dance, Dance Legends, Young Artists, JFKC

Sancho: An Act of Remembrance

Cuesheet: Sancho: An Act of Remembrance: A Performance and Discussion
Sancho: An Act of Remembrance tells the remarkably true tale of Charles Ignatius Sancho. Based on his letters and publications, Sancho comes to life on stage in this one-man show written by and starring Paterson Joseph.
America, Controversial, History

Appomattox

Cuesheet: WNO Open Rehearsal: Appomattox
Can prejudice still exisit after 100 years? Find out as two key moments in history collide on the operatic stage.
Opera, Backstage, History, America

Bud Not Buddy

Cuesheet: Bud, Not Buddy
It’s 1936 in Flint, Michigan, and ten-year-old Bud Caldwell sets off on an epic journey of discovery, set to the soulful sounds of jazz.
Theater, Jazz, History, America

NSO Open Rehearsal: George Washington

Cuesheet: NSO Discussion, Demonstration & Open Rehearsal: george WASHINGTON
Music meets history as state-of-the-art technology, beautiful imagery, surround-sound, spoken words, and orchestral music blend together in this new multimedia composition.
Music, America, Composers, Orchestra, Presidents

Four Little Girls

Cuesheet: Four Little Girls: Birmingham 1963
Commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Birmingham, Alabama church bombing that took the lives of four young girls, this reading remembers this seminal event in American history and how it helped to galvanize the American Civil Rights Movement.
America, Controversial, History, Playwrights & Plays, Theater

JFKC

KC Connection: JFKC: A Centential Celebration of John F. Kennedy
President Kennedy believed that to be an active artist was to be a true American citizen—someone who uses their creativity to improve lives and change society for the better.
Presidents, America, History

Dust Bowl

The Story Behind The Song: This Land is Your Land
Folk singer Woody Guthrie wrote this song to celebrate America’s bounty and to protest that not all Americans were getting their fair share
America, Folklore, Geography, History, Music

Fort McHenry, Baltimore

The Story Behind The Song: The Star-Spangled Banner
In this story, find out how a captured poet penned the song that became the country’s national anthem
History, Europe, Geography, Military, Music, America

We Shall Overcome mural

The Story Behind The Song: We Shall Overcome
In this story, find out how a song helped steel the courage of African Americans as they struggled for civil rights
America, History, Music, Presidents

Spirit of '76

The Story Behind The Song: Yankee Doodle
“Yankee Doodle” may be a popular kids’ tune today, but it got its start as a song of war.
America, History, Europe, Music, Military

Soup Kitchen

The Story Behind The Song: Brother Can You Spare a Dime?
When Americans were humbled by the Great Depression, this song gave voice to their fears and feelings of loss
History, Music, America

Union Soldiers

The Story Behind The Song: The Battle Hymn of the Republic
Discover how Julia Howe’s hymn helped inspire the North in its fight to reunite the country and free African-American slaves
History, Music, America, Military

Aaron Copland

The Story Behind The Song: Fanfare for the Common Man
After the U.S. entered World War II, this brass and percussion piece sounded the call to service and sacrifice.
America, History, Orchestra, Music

USMC Memorial

The Story Behind The Song: The Marines' Hymn
This article gives you the stories behind the words—“From the Halls of Montezuma, To the shores of Tripoli”
History, Military, Music, America, Geography

American Flag

The Story Behind The Song: God Bless America
In 1938, composer Irving Berlin dusted off an old piece of music to create a new national hit
America, History, Music

The Story Behind The Picture: White Angel Breadline
In White Angel Breadline, her first documentary photograph, Dorothea Lange enabled Americans to see the tragic effects of the Great Depression. The image evoked national sympathy, rather than scorn, for the hungry and homeless.
America, Controversial, History, Innovators & Pioneers, Visual Arts

Kathryn Bostic

Article: Q&A with Kathryn Bostic
Kathryn Bostic, music arranger for Four Little Girls: Birmingham 1963, shares her thoughts on sharing stories through music and music’s central role in the Civil Rights Movement.
America, Backstage, Composers, History, Musicals, Controversial

Composers

Series: The Story Behind The Song
Through the history of popular songs, discover how history is full of surprising stories of people doing amazing things
History, Music, America, Composers, Military

henry fonda in the grapes of wrath

Series: The Grapes of Wrath: Voice and Vision
This collection of suggested lessons and activities aim at helping students build a framework, from various perspectives of the 1930s, in which to embed a close study of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath
America, History, Geography, Science, Nature, Presidents, Literature, Music, Movies & Movie Stars, Opera

Martha Graham

Master + Work: Martha Graham and Appalachian Spring
Learn how this dance visionary pioneered her own movement language while exploring the depths of human emotion
America, Dance, Dance Legends

Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange

Master + Work: Dorothea Lange and Migrant Mother
See how Lange used her camera to tell the story of Depression-era Americans
America, Controversial, Geography, History, Innovators & Pioneers, Visual Arts

Death of a Salesman

Master + Work: Arthur Miller and Death of a Salesman
Arthur Miller’s voice of social conscience and theatrical imagination changed the face of American theater. Meet him through his masterwork, Death of a Salesman.
America, History, Broadway, Playwrights & Plays, Theater, Controversial

Agnes De Mille

Master + Work: Agnes de Mille and Rodeo
This all-American master changed the stage of choreography in musical theater. Learn how
America, Innovators & Pioneers, Ballet, Dance, Dance Legends, Choreographers, Folklore, History

Native American flute player

Collection: Native American Cultures
Experience traditional Native American culture through dance, music and visual arts. Watch Native Pride the eagle and hoop dances, trace the life of a Navajo weaver, learn how Keith Bear makes a flute, make a listening doll, and meet fancy dancers Larry and Jessup Yazzie.
America, Geography, Folklore, Dance, Musical Instruments, Music, World Cultures

Presidential Seal

Collection: Presidents
Learn about America’s most famous leaders and their appreciations and influences over the arts; from Lincoln’s connection to music, to Kennedy’s advocacy for the arts, to the importance placed in having White House photographers capture the president’s everyday achievements.
America, Presidents

Jazz trumpet

Collection: Jazz & Blues Resources
Foot thumping rhythms, crooning voices, soulful melodies – jazz is a music with a history as rich as its sound. Follow the great migration that lead African Americans to Harlem, meet jazz icons such as Bessie Smith and Charlie Parker, and stop by the Cotton Club and Apollo Theater on a journey through the past of this American art form.
America, Blues, History, Jazz, Music

comedy and tragedy masks

Collection: Theater Resources
Take a peek behind the red curtain and discover the artistry and history behind the world of theater. Explore the playwriting process first-hand, learn about the cultural impact of performance, and read and perform some of the most influential works of the 20th century.
America, Art Venues, Backstage, Broadway, Musicals, Playwrights & Plays, Theater

Language Arts

Collection: Language Arts Resources
How do fables and myths explain the unknown and preserve cultures? What makes a good story? How do plays comment on societal issues? Grab a pencil and prepare to create original poems, experience the Civil War through letters, and parse symbolism and metaphor in this exploration of language arts.
America, Europe, Folklore, Language, Literature, Native America, Playwrights & Plays, Poetry

History and Geography

Collection: History and Geography
Travel the historic silk road, explore European castles, and discover the long-lasting influence of ancient cultures on modern society in this journey through the past and around the globe
America, Europe, Folklore, Geography, History, Greece, Military

Guitar hands

Collection: Popular Music Resources
What can lyrics tell us about the time period they were written in? How has music been used to communicate and rally in war? How have people used song to spark revolution and shake up society? Discover the ways in which people perform, listen to, and interact with music in their everyday lives.
America, History, Music

Civil War Soldiers

Collection: Civil War
Through songs and letters, explore the stories and people who lived through the American Civil War, including the relationship President Abraham Lincoln had with the music of his time.
America, Controversial, Military, History, Presidents

Fife & Drummer

Collection: America
Discover the multicultural heritage and history of America through explorations of immigrant life, the lives legendary pioneers like Lewis and Clark, the modern political system, and significant works of American music, including our National Anthem.
America, Blues, History, Jazz, Military, Rock & Roll, Space, Native America

African-American Boy

Collection: African-American History
Learn about the African American experience through the arts — and discover the contributions of African Americans to the history and culture of the United States.
Africa, America, Folklore, Geography, History, Jazz, Music, Playwrights & Plays, Dance, Blues

College Arts

Article: Sorting Out College Confusion for the Arts Student
Help your arts-inclined child find the perfect college match
America, Education, Family, Young Artists

Band of 40th Veteran Reserve Corps

Article: When Music Goes Marching to War
Explore music’s important role in the American Civil War. Includes activities for the classroom
America, Composers, History, Musical Instruments, Music, Tragedy

The African Slave Trade

Grades 6-8 Lesson: Reliving History Through Slave Narratives
After reading narratives from former slaves that were recorded in the 1930's as part of the Federal Writers' Project, students will research slavery
America, History, Literature

moccasins

Grades 6-8 Lesson: Moccasins Are Made for Dancing
Students will read either of Tomie DePaola’s versions of two Native American legends: The Legend of the Bluebonnet or The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush.
Dance, Folklore, Native America, America, World Cultures

Migrant Workers

Grades 6-8 Lesson: Migrant Workers Through the Lens of Dorothea Lange
In this lesson, students will learn about migrant workers to better understand the environmental and social impact of the Great Depression.
America, History, Nature

Mythical Gods

Grades 6-8 Lesson: Writing Myths
Students will explore how myths provide explanations for nature and science. They will read and analyze the Native American myth "Giants and Mosquitoes."
Literature, America, Native America, Language, Nature, Folklore, Science

freedom-riders

Grades 6-8 Lesson: We Are The Freedom Riders
Students will learn about the courageous efforts of the Freedom Riders while embracing the bold theme, "We Will Overcome!" as a theme surrounding the civil rights movement.
America, Music

Women and Men

Grades 6-8 Lesson: Tolerance: Gender Issues
In this lesson, students research how professions such as nursing, clerking, and teaching have changed gender dominance over the past 150 years in the United States.
Education, America

Yellowstone National Park

Grades 6-8 Lesson: Discovering National Parks
Students will learn about the history of America's national parks, and learn about the role that artists played in their creation and maintenance
America, Animals, Nature, Plants, History

Wagon and mules

Grades 6-8 Lesson: Capturing History
Through teacher-guided discussions and hands-on activities, students will understand the political and economic reasons for the African-American migration to Northern cities between the World Wars.
History, Visual Arts, America

Children in a Japanese Internment Camp

Grades 6-8 Lesson: Giving Voice to History
Students will understand a somber period in American history. During World War II, the U.S. government ordered more than 120,000 Japanese Americans to detainment camps.
America, Asia, History, Military

Constitution of the United States

Grades 9-12 Lesson: Utopian Visions
Students are introduced to the idea of a "utopia"—an idealized society. Students read Sir Thomas More's Utopia and examine the concepts behind his vision of an ideal society.
America, Literature

Newport: The Elms

Grades 9-12 Lesson: Three Newport Mansions of the Gilded Age
Research the history, architect, architecture, and patron of each mansion gaining understanding of the arts and culture of the Gilded Age.
America, Architecture

Mark Twain

Grades 9-12 Lesson: Twain: An American Humorist
Students will analyze humor and the American character, developing a definition of “American humor”
Comedy, America, Folklore, Language, Literature

Scene from

Grades 9-12 Lesson: Southern Puritanism and Tennessee Williams
This lesson continues the exploration of "Puritanism" as an influence on the development of modern American drama in works by Tennessee Williams.
America, Literature

Old river boat docked at Memphis, Tennessee.

Grades 9-12 Lesson: Twain: Steamboat's a-Comin'
Examining the mystique of rivers as inspiration for creative expression it shows us the powerful influence the Mississippi River had on Mark Twain’s writings
America, Literature

Mark Twain

Grades 9-12 Lesson: Twain: Icon and Iconoclast
This lesson asks students to examine samples of Twain’s work in the context of pre- and post-Civil War America
America, Literature

Tom Sawyer

Grades 9-12 Lesson: Twain: Tom Sawyer—Mythic Adventurer
Learn about the source for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Read, and analyze the novel, with attention to character and style.
America, Literature

Chivalry and Courtly Love

Grades 9-12 Lesson: Chivalry and Courtly Love
Explore the Arthurian codes of chivalry and courtly love in art, modern films, books, and poetry. Examine the way in which these ideals have influenced modern concepts.
Movies & Movie Stars, Literature, America, Theater, Popular Culture

Firefighter at Ground Zero

Grades 9-12 Lesson: Art from Tragedy: Remembering 9/11
Students will interview their peers about their memories of September 11th, 2001, and use those memories to craft a one-act play for performance
America, Theater, Tragedy, Playwrights & Plays, Movies & Movie Stars, Literature, History

Scene from Eugene O'Neill's 'The Hairy Ape'

Grades 9-12 Lesson: Broken Worlds
This lesson provides a variety of options for conducting comparative analysis between Eugene O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape and Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire
Literature, America

Scene from 'A Streetcar Named Desire'

Grades 9-12 Lesson: Fractured Families in American Drama
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and Long Day's Journey into Night, explore the tension, tragedy, heartbreak, and love within flawed and fractured families.
Family, Literature, Tragedy, America

Lewis and Clark

Grade 5 Lesson: Lewis and Clark: Artful Recordings
In this lesson, students take on the roles of Lewis and Clark, as they explore the original journals and create journals of their own
America, Innovators & Pioneers, Native America

Lewis and Clark Compass.

Grade 5 Lesson: Lewis And Clark Prized Possessions
In this lesson, students explore Native American crafts and design and create their own wampum belts
America, Geography, Native America, Visual Arts

Dancers in silhouette

Grade 5 Lesson: Lift Every Voice and Sing
Explore and analyze Lift Every Voice and Sing, a poem by James Weldon Johnson.
History, Music, Poetry, Blues, America

Paul Bunyon

Grade 5 Lesson: Tall Tales Today
In this lesson, students are introduced to the genre of American tall tales and will create an original tall tale featuring a "larger-than life" main character.
America, Folklore, Literature

President Obama being sworn in.

Grade 5 Lesson: Who Can Vote for President?
In this lesson, students will learn general facts about the voting process and its importance in a democratic form of government.
America, History

Civil War Letters

Grade 5 Lesson: Civil War Letters
Using letters written during the Civil War students develop an understanding of the message of the letters. They will create a dramatic reading based on their letter.
America, History, Theater

U.S. Army band on steps

Grade 5 Lesson: Civil War Music
Learn how music was used in the Civil War
America, History, Music

I Like Ike

Grade 5 Lesson: US Presidential Election Process and the Campaign Trail
Students will create an original political campaign song for a fictional presidential candidate.
Presidents, America, History

Appomattox Court-House

Grade 5 Lesson: A Light in the Storm: A Personal Look at the Civil War
Create a historical timeline and personal event timeline based on the historical fiction book and play A Light in the Storm and its main character, Amelia Martin.
America, History, Literature, Theater

Still Life in Winter

Grade 5 Lesson: An American Scene Painter
Students learn about American artist Charles Burchfield. Students capture information and sketches in a journal, then use these ideas to create an original watercolor
America, Nature, Visual Arts, Animals, Plants

Political Cartoon

Grade 5 Lesson: Political Cartoons as Part of the Election Process
Students will organize the information they researched on the U.S. presidential election process and constitutional rights.
Presidents, America, Visual Arts, History, Cartoons, Comics, & Animation

Paul Bunyon and his Big Blue Ox, Babe

Grade 5 Lesson: Exploring American Tall Tales
Students will explore the common elements of folktales and tall tales while learning how these tales built the spirit of the American people
America, Folklore

Weaving Rug

Grades K-2 Lesson: Navajo Weaving
Through guided reading of Ten Little Rabbits and hands-on activities students will explore aspects of Native American cultures and Navajo weavings
Native America, Visual Arts, World Cultures, Folklore, America

The American Flag

Grades 3-4 Lesson: Oh, Say Can You See…
Students will learn about the history behind the writing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Geography, History, Military, Music, Poetry, America

Apartments

Grades 3-4 Lesson: Understanding Tenement Life
Through online stories and photographs, students will explore what daily life was like for the millions of poor Irish, German, Jewish, and Italian immigrants
America, History, World Cultures

Pioneers

Grades 3-4 Lesson: Pioneer America: Pioneer Living
In this lesson, students will learn about what life was like for early American pioneers
America, History

Bessie Smith

Grades 3-4 Lesson: Musical Harlem
Students will learn to identify musical styles and musicians associated with Harlem, focusing on jazz
Geography, History, Jazz, Music, America

Annie Oakley

Grades 3-4 Lesson: Pioneer America: Legendary Westerners
In this lesson, students will work in pairs to research legendary westerners
America, Folklore, History

American Pioneers

Grades 3-4 Lesson: Pioneer America: Journey West
In this lesson, students will learn about the early pioneers in America and their motivations for moving West
America, Geography, History

Drinking Gourd

Grades 3-4 Lesson: What Does This Song Really Say?
Students listen to, sing, and read the lyrics to various African American spirituals. They discuss the coded messages in the songs, and the purpose of these codes.
Africa, America, Folklore

Day of the Dead figurines

Grades 3-4 Lesson: Tolerance: Comparing Cultural Holidays
Compare the artistic and cultural traditions of the U.S. celebration of Halloween and Mexico's Day of the Dead
America, Latin America, World Cultures, Folklore

Mrs. Larocca

Grades 3-4 Lesson: America, A Home for Every Culture
Students will discuss and explore the cultures that have contributed to making the United States the unique and diverse country it is today.
America, History, World Cultures, Language

Breaker Boys

Grades 3-4 Lesson: A Lens Into the Past
Students will gain a deeper understanding of the early 20th century American immigrant experience through photography and create their own photo collection for students of the future
America, History, World Cultures

Harriet Tubman

Grades 3-4 Lesson: Harriet Tubman: Dancing on the Freedom Trail
In this lesson, students are introduced to the emotional struggles Tubman faced as she helped slaves escape and travel north along the Underground Railroad.
America, History, Folklore, Dance

Harriet Tubman

Grades 3-4 Lesson: Harriet Tubman: An Informative and Impressionistic Look
Examine the life of Harriet Tubman through a comparison of informative resources and impressionistic art
America, History, Folklore, Visual Arts

The Great Migration

Grades 3-4 Lesson: The Great Migration
In this lesson, students will learn about the migration of African Americans to Harlem
America, Blues, Geography, History, Jazz, Music

Landing at Ellis Island

Grades 3-4 Lesson: Immigrating to America
Students will learn what it was like for new immigrants to come through Ellis Island—a symbolic heart of American immigration—at the turn of the 20th century
America, World Cultures, History

The Drinking Gourd Constellation

Grades 3-4 Lesson: Harriet Tubman: Secret Messages Shared through Song
In this lesson, students are introduced to the African-American spiritual and its use of a secret language to share information within the slave community.
America, History, Folklore, Music

Levi Coffin's home in Fountain City, Indiana, formerly Newport. Known as Grand Central Station of the Underground Railroad.

Grades 3-4 Lesson: Harriet Tubman: Illustrating History
Using collage, students create a scene from the life of Harriet Tubman
America, Folklore, History, Visual Arts

What's Going On... Now

Website: What's Going On... Now
The Kennedy Center presents "What's Going On...Now," a national youth campaign to inspire young people to share their art and expression by telling us "How have things changed?" since Marvin Gaye's album "What's Going On" was released.
America, Controversial, Music, Music Legends, History, Young Artists, Popular Culture

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

In the Studio

Video Series: In the Studio with Jason Moran
Join Jason Moran, the Kennedy Center’s Artistic Advisor for Jazz, in this video series as he explains the basics of Jazz music and how the art form works. He will show you how Jazz is more like skateboarding and football than you might think, and play some original pieces, as well as a few of the classic jazz standards.
America, Composers, Musical Instruments, Jazz, Music

Sounds Historic

Flash Interactive: Sounds Historic
Explore the relationship between history and music with the pieces and activities from the Sounds Historic concert, performed by the National Symphony Orchestra. Learn how music can be inspired by history, capture history, or even make history.
America, History, Orchestra, Music, Folklore, Jobs in the Arts

Drop Me Off in Harlem

Interactive: Drop Me Off in Harlem
Drop Me Off in Harlem will give students the opportunity to explore the art, music, and people that changed Harlem from a neighborhood into a historical landmark
Jazz, Music, History, Poetry, America, Music Legends, Art Venues

Jackie and Caroline reading

Slideshow: Discovering American Scrapbook
Bringing poetry to life through performance
America, Poetry, Presidents, Playwrights & Plays, Theater

Casals at the White House

Audio Series: Art in Camelot: The Arts in the Kennedy Years
Through his words and examples, President Kennedy raised awareness of the importance of the arts in America
Presidents, Music, Military, History, Architecture, America, Visual Arts

Abraham Lincoln

Audio Series: Abraham Lincoln and Music
Abraham Lincoln was one of America's most unmusical presidents - he could neither play an instrument nor carry a tune
History, Music, Presidents, Theater, America, Opera, Musicals

Red curtain

Audio Series: Musical Theater in America
Through examples of the best that Broadway musicals have to offer, explore the history of musical theater in America; its structure and elements of a musical; musical theater's role in making social commentary, and its legacy.
Broadway, Musicals, America, Jobs in the Arts, History, Theater, Young Artists

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

President's Own

Audio Series: Music in the Military
Music and musicians play an important role in military life. From the history of "Taps" to the importance of the USO, this series explores the place of ceremonial, tactical and recreational music in the US military.
Musical Instruments, Military, Music, Jobs in the Arts, America

Blues Journey

Audio Series: Blues Journey
Out of the hardships of Black Americans at the turn of the 20th century came the blues, a music that helped ease their suffering.
Rock & Roll, America, Blues, Geography, Music, Popular Culture

Gulf Coast Highway

Audio Series: Gulf Coast Highway
The music of the Gulf Coast provides a microcosm of the cultural diversity and richness of the United States. Hear the music and the experience of the musicians as Artsedge takes you from Houston, Texas to Jacksonville, Florida, on a musical road trip across US-90.
Music, America, Blues, Jazz, Geography, Rock & Roll

Violin head

Audio Series: Classical Music in America
Follow the course of classical music in America from colonial times to the present in a series of NPR podcasts.
History, Music, America, Composers, Orchestra

Marian Anderson singing at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, 1939

Audio: Marian Anderson: Of Thee We Sing
The road to racial equality was a long one and the battle for equality had many heroes; some of them made history just by opening their mouths to sing.
America, Controversial, History, Music Legends, Opera

voyager record

Audio: Voyager: Art/Space
There's music floating in Outer Space--two disks filled with songs that are floating out beyond the planets that are most distant to Earth. The disks are strapped to the sides of the Voyager probes which were launched to explore the outer edges of our galaxy and whatever lies beyond them.
Music, Space, Science, History, America

Musical theater kids

Audio: Write Your Own Musical
Heather Nathans, Associate Professor of Theatre at the University of Maryland, is joined by Joe Stein and Sheldon Harnick (writers of Fiddler on the Roof) and Stephen Schwartz (who wrote Pippin, Godspell, and Wicked) to talk about how a musical gets written.
America, Art Venues, Backstage, Composers, Music, Music Legends, Musicals, Playwrights & Plays, Theater, Young Artists

USA flag

Audio: Unpacking our National Anthem
Examine the history of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the countless ways it has been adapted by musicians
Military, Music, America, History

US Air Force buglar Jari Villanueva

Audio: Ceremonial Brass
Musicians have always played an important part in the military. This series explores not only the history of military music, but also the diverse ceremonial and entertainment roles of musicians in the military.
Jobs in the Arts, Military, Music, America, Musical Instruments, History

JFK in Berlin

Audio: Cultural Diplomacy
Even while the United States was entering the Cold War with the Soviet Union in 1961, the Kennedy administration strengthened their commitment to cultural diplomacy. This audio story highlights some of the important ways President Kennedy used the arts to help improve the image of the United States around the world.
Presidents, Music, Military, History, America, Europe

Blind Boys of Alabama

Audio: Gospel Quartet: Blind Boys of Alabama
Composer Thomas A. Dorsey and other pioneers of gospel music helped open the church doors to music considered sinful by conservative churchgoers. The tradition of gospel quartets continues to lift the spirits of both its listeners and participants in concert halls and churches alike.
Music, America

Marcia Ball

Audio: Texas Blues: Marcia Ball
Texas blues originated in the early 1900s alongside the sweat and tears of Blacks working on oilfields, lumber camps, and ranches. After a day of back-breaking labor, workers could unwind in nearby bars or on their own porches and listen to blues musicians who spoke to their own experiences.
Music, America

Geno Delafose

Audio: Zydeco: Geno Delafose
Zydeco is often linked with Cajun music, but it has a harder, faster sound and employs more electric instruments. In dance halls today, elements of soul, disco, rap, and reggae can be heard among the rhythms of the frottoir.
Music, America

Nanci Griffith

Audio: Texas Troubadour: Nanci Griffith
Backed by a tradition of independent spirit and grounded in multicultural roots, Texas singer-songwriters continue to imbue classic musical genres with new experiences and sounds.
Music, America

Tremé Brass Band

Audio: Brass Music: Tremé Brass Band
Follow behind a parade in New Orleans and you'll still be a part of the show. Whether a parade was organized for a celebration or funeral, honorees and others in the main procession would be followed by a "second line" of participants hoping to get closer to the rhythms of the brass bands.
Music, America

Grupo Fantasma

Audio: Border Music: Grupo Fantasma
Along the Texas-Mexican border in the 19th century, Mexicans, Native Americans, and Anglo-Americans living in the region intermingled with European immigrants looking for new opportunities. The clash and fusion of multiple languages and traditions resulted in a distinct "Tejano" culture.
Music, America, Latin America, Geography

Michael Doucet

Audio: Cajun Music: Michael Doucet
Louisiana-based Cajun music has roots in unaccompanied, narrative ballads brought by European settlers. Cajun songs, traditionally sung in French, fused narrative balladry, Irish and Anglo-American reels and jigs, and Black and Native American folk traditions.
Music, America

James

Audio: Delta Blues: James "Super Chikan" Johnson
The Delta blues style continues to be characterized by raw vocalizing and rhythmic intensity. In addition, Delta blues musicians often employ slide techniques, meaning they move a glass or metal tube called a slide along a guitar's strings to change the notes.
Music, America, Blues

Boys Choir

Audio: Black Choral Music: Boys Choir of Tallahassee
In the late 19th century, Harry Burleigh-a protege of Antonin Dvorak-took the musical style to new heights with choral arrangements informed by his classical training. Modern choral music takes on many different forms, and is often accompanied by the piano, percussion, and bass.
Music, America, Young Artists

arts challenge

Everyday Arts Challenge: Patriotic Puzzler
Time to update an old classic. For fun, write a new Pledge of Allegiance. Recite your version out loud for a friend or family member. How would yours sound at the beginning of each school day?
America, Poetry

arts quote

Arts Quotes: Joan Mondale
"The arts are the signature of a nation."
Art Venues, Education, America

arts quote

Arts Quotes: Og Mandino
"Take the attitude of a student, never be too big to ask questions, never know too much to learn something new."
America, Literature, Education

arts quote

Arts Quotes: Thomas Merton
"Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time."
America, Literature

arts quote

Arts Quotes: Georgia O'Keeffe
"To create one's own world in any of the arts takes courage."
America, Visual Arts

arts quote

Arts Quotes: Carl Perkins
"If it weren't for the rocks in its bed, the stream would have no song."
America, Music, Music Legends, Rock & Roll

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Arts Quotes: Norman Vincent Peale
"Imagination is the true magic carpet."
America, Education, Literature

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Arts Quotes: Robert Motherwell
"In the brush doing what it's doing, it will stumble on what one couldn't do by oneself."
America, Visual Arts

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Arts Quotes: Robert Motherwell
"Art is much less important than life, but what a poor life without it."
America, Visual Arts

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Arts Quotes: Louise Nevelson
"Art is everywhere, except it has to pass through a creative mind."
America, Visual Arts

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Arts Quotes: Robert Hughes
"The camera, if it’s lucky, may tell a different truth to drawing - but not a truer one."
America, Visual Arts

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Arts Quotes: Winslow Homer
"Talent! What they call talent is nothing but the capacity for doing continuous work in the right way."
America, Visual Arts, Nature

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Arts Quotes: Edward Hopper
"If I could say it in words there would be no reason to paint."
America, Visual Arts

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Arts Quotes: Elbert Hubbard
"Art is not a thing; it is a way."
America, Literature

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Arts Quotes: Edward Hopper
"Great art is the outward expression of an inner life in the artist."
America, Visual Arts

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Arts Quotes: Susanne K. Langer
"Art is the objectification of feeling, and the subjectification of nature."
America, Literature, Science

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Arts Quotes: Jacob Lawrence
"When the subject is strong, simplicity is the only way to treat it."
America, Visual Arts

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Arts Quotes: Roy Lichtenstein
"Color is crucial in painting, but it is very hard to talk about."
America, Popular Culture, Visual Arts

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Arts Quotes: Roy Lichtenstein
"Art doesn't transform. It just plain forms."
America, Popular Culture, Visual Arts

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Arts Quotes: John F. Kennedy
"We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth."
America, Controversial, History, Presidents

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Arts Quotes: B.B. King
"We all have idols. Play like anyone you care about but try to be yourself while you're doing so."
America, Blues, Music, Music Legends

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Arts Quotes: Lily Tomlin
"The road to success is always under construction."
America, Comedy, Movies & Movie Stars, Television

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Arts Quotes: Henry David Thoreau
"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you've imagined."
America, Literature, Poetry, Nature

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Arts Quotes: Anne Tucker
"All art requires courage."
America, Visual Arts

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Arts Quotes: John Updike
"What art offers is space -- a certain breathing room for the spirit."
America, Literature, Poetry

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Arts Quotes: Mark Twain
"You can't depend on your eyes if your imagination is out of focus."
America, Comedy, Literature

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Arts Quotes: Beverly Sills
"Art is the signature of civilizations."
America, Music, Music Legends, Opera

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Arts Quotes: Twyla Tharp
"Art is the only way to run away without leaving home."
America, Choreographers, Dance, Dance Legends

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Arts Quotes: Susan Sontag
"Interpretation is the revenge of the intellectual upon art."
America, Literature

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Arts Quotes: Frank Lloyd Wright
"Simplicity and repose are the qualities that measure the true value of any work of art."
America, Architecture, Visual Arts

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Arts Quotes: Frank Zappa
"Music, in performance, is a type of sculpture. The air in the performance is sculpted into something."
America, Controversial, Music, Music Legends, Rock & Roll, Popular Culture

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Arts Quotes: Frank Lloyd Wright
"You can't make an architect. But you can open the doors and windows toward the light as you see it."
America, Architecture, Visual Arts

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Arts Quotes: Andy Warhol
"My instinct about painting says, 'if you don't think about it, it's right.'"
America, Controversial, Innovators & Pioneers, Popular Culture, Visual Arts

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Arts Quotes: James McNeill Whistler
"An artist is not paid for his labor but for his vision."
America, Visual Arts

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Arts Quotes: Jackson Pollock
"It’s all a big game of construction, some with a brush, some with a shovel, some choose a pen."
America, Visual Arts

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Arts Quotes: Jackson Pollock
"The painting has a life of its own."
America, Visual Arts

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Arts Quotes: Robert Rauschenberg
"The artist's job is to be a witness to his time in history."
America, Visual Arts

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Arts Quotes: Carlos Santana
"Music rearranges your molecular structure."
America, Latin America, Music, Music Legends, Rock & Roll

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Arts Quotes: Roger Sessions
"Music goes deeper than emotion into the energies that animate our psychic life."
America, Music

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Arts Quotes: James Rosenquist
"I was probably born with the ability to draw, but that does not make you an artist."
America, Visual Arts

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Arts Quotes: Wynetka Ann Reynolds
"Anyone who says you can't see a thought simply doesn't know art."
America, Education

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Arts Quotes: Carl Sagan
"Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it, we go nowhere."
America, Science, Education

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Arts Quotes: Martha Graham
"No artist is ahead of his time. He is his time. It is just that the others are behind the time."
Choreographers, Dance, Dance Legends, America

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Arts Quotes: Robert Frost
"If you are looking for something to be brave about consider fine arts."
America, Poetry

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Arts Quotes: Thomas Wentworth Higginson
"Originality is simply a pair of fresh eyes."
Young Artists, Military, America

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Arts Quotes: Lillian Hellman
"Nothing you write, if you hope to be any good, will ever come out as you first hoped."
America, Literature, Playwrights & Plays, Controversial

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Arts Quotes: Henry S. Haskins
"The greatest masterpieces were once only pigments on a palette."
America, Literature

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Arts Quotes: Ulysess S. Grant
"I know only two tunes; one of them is "Yankee Doodle", and the other isn't."
America, History, Music, Presidents

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Arts Quotes: Martha Graham
"Dance is the hidden language of the soul."
America, Choreographers, Dance, Dance Legends

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Arts Quotes: Martha Graham
"Great dancers are not great because of their technique; they are great because of their passion."
America, Choreographers, Dance, Dance Legends

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Arts Quotes: Duke Ellington
"Playing "bop" is like playing Scrabble with all the vowels missing."
Jazz, Music, Music Legends, Composers, America

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Arts Quotes: Duke Ellington
"Music is my mistress, and she plays second fiddle to no one."
Jazz, Music, Music Legends, Composers, America

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Arts Quotes: Carrie Fisher
"I do not want life to imitate art. I want life to be art."
Movies & Movie Stars, America

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Arts Quotes: Thomas Edison
"Great ideas originate in the muscles."
America, Innovators & Pioneers, Inventions

Metropolitan Opera House

Arts Days: October 22, 1883: For the Love of Music
Over a century ago, the Metropolitan Opera was housed in a building on Broadway at 39th Street in New York City. It was here that the first performance occurred—namely Faust, by Charles Gounod. The only reason a performance was made possible was all thanks to a group of wealthy New Yorkers with a passion for opera.

After being unable to purchase box seats for performances at the Academy of Music, they banded together to underwrite a brand new opera house. Initially, performers sang in Italian, later in German; fortunately, they agreed to stage operas in the works’ original languages during the 1895–96 season. Imagine hearing Aida in German! Today, the Metropolitan Opera presents over 200 performances each season, culled from a large repertoire, featuring the world’s most renowned vocal talents.
Art Venues, Opera, America

John Wayne

Arts Days: October 24, 1930: The Duke Saddles Up
In The Big Trail, a 23-year-old John Wayne starred as Breck Coleman, a young man heading west on a wagon train. This early, epic Western was the type of movie in which Wayne excelled. He had the rugged good looks, gruff demeanor, and height to carry off the part of a man on a mission to avenge the death of a friend.

The movie—filmed on location all over the American West, which had relatively few people living in it then—was a two-million-dollar flop, largely because the equipment needed to show it best wasn’t installed in many theaters. But Wayne’s cowboy persona appealed to men and women alike, and he went on to become synonymous with the Western movie.
Movies & Movie Stars, America, Popular Culture

The Beach Boys

Arts Days: October 29, 1962: Surf’s Up
The idealized version of 1960s California is a land of endless summer days, pretty girls, and handsome surfer dudes driving to the beach in convertibles. The Beach Boys—the original band included brothers Dennis, Carl and Brian Wilson, their cousin Mike Love, and pal, Al Jardine—fed the concept of this picturesque California, as much as they immortalized it in songs like “Fun Fun Fun” and “Good Vibrations.”

The music on their first record, Surfin’ Safari, and all that would follow, featured crisp vocal harmonies, bursts of electric guitar, and uncomplicated themes of falling in love and catching the perfect wave. About 25 years later, the Beach Boys were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Rock & Roll, Music, America, Popular Culture, Young Artists

Metallica

Arts Days: October 28, 1981: Rock’s Heavy Hitters
Ten years after Black Sabbath invented heavy metal in the 1970s, Metallica adopted the sound and redefined it. When drummer Lars Ulrich placed an ad in the newspaper in 1981 looking for others to jam with, James Hetfield—who sings and plays guitar—was among those who answered.

Ulrich, Hetfield, lead guitarist Kirk Hammett, and bass player Robert Trujillo comprise the current lineup of the band, whose mission is to rock hard and heavy. With recordings like “…And Justice for All” and “St. Anger,” Metallica writes songs on subjects from political strife to love gone wrong, all with a thrashing, uncompromising sound. Make no mistake, Metallica’s music is loud, pounding, and intense—just like the guys in the band.
Rock & Roll, Music, America, Popular Culture

John Steinbeck

Arts Days: October 25, 1962: Voice of the Common Man
The Nobel Prize Committee was clear in its reasons for honoring American author John Steinbeck: “…for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humor and keen social perception.” When asked by a reporter whether he believed he deserved the Nobel Prize, Steinbeck said he did not.

His modesty notwithstanding, Steinbeck’s contributions to American literature is considerable. In works like The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, and East of Eden, he captures in plainspoken language the trials and triumphs of his characters. The writer imagined men and women who sought to make better lives for themselves and their families; they struggled in demeaning, demanding jobs, and they coped with events like the Great Depression.
Literature, America, Folklore, Geography, History

Lichtenstein Exhibit

Arts Days: October 27, 1923: Pop Goes the Easel
Roy Lichtenstein challenged many conventions about what constituted art. As a pop artist painting, stenciling, and drawing images inspired by advertisements and comics, then reproducing them closely but not exactly, he found worldwide fame as well as notoriety. Some critics claimed he was merely copying the work of others.

But Lichtenstein believed that his intent—to comment on how the mass media treated the same subjects he painted—separated him from the artists who created the original images. Lichtenstein was among those who experimented with Ben-Day, a printing process that combines two or more different small, colored dots to create a third color.
Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, Innovators & Pioneers, Visual Arts, America

The Jazz Singer

Arts Days: October 06, 1927: You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet!
Goodbye silent film, hello talkie. This movie became the first feature-length film with a soundtrack synchronized to what was happening onscreen. In short, it was the first bona fide “talkie,” the movie that heralded the beginning of the end of the silent film. Al Jolson played Jakie Rabinowitz, a man who yearns to be a jazz singer but whose strict Jewish family disapproves of his creative goals.

Jolson performed some of the songs in the movie in blackface, a tradition left over from minstrelsy. While the practice is considered shameful and improper now, scholars have lauded the movie as “the only film where blackface is central to the narrative development.” For all these reasons, The Jazz Singer continues to be a landmark movie all these years later.
Movies & Movie Stars, Controversial, America, Popular Culture

peanuts comic

Arts Days: October 02, 1950: Nuts About Peanuts
Charles M. Schultz was the first cartoonist to use his pen to delve into the insecurities and uncertainties of modern life.

Schultz’s questioning of the human condition might not have been so welcome had he not filtered it through his young illustrated characters, who deeply resonated with readers: Charlie Brown, the “every-man” figure, the hapless hero, determined not to give up; Snoopy, the adorable dog-dreamer, who sees things the way they should be, not as they are; plus pals Linus and Schroeder, sister Sally, and, of course, Lucy, the domineering realist, always quick to put Charlie Brown in his place.

“Peanuts” was an enormous success and remains a favorite today; its offshoots include multiple iconic television specials, plays, and ice shows.
Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, America, Visual Arts, Popular Culture

Ed Sullivan

Arts Days: September 28, 1901: Talent Scout
Hard to believe but for more than three decades, Ed Sullivan's television variety show kept Americans entertained. Sullivan, a former sports reporter and radio announcer, became an emcee to vaudeville revues and charity events. Despite his famously wooden persona and uncomfortable on-camera appearance, Sullivan knew how to choose and showcase talent.

Until 1971, The Ed Sullivan Show provided a staging arena for entertainers of all stripes. Elvis made his hip-shaking debut in 1956; the Beatles’ 1964 appearances were some of television’s highest rated programs. The show was as likely to feature opera performances as it was rock and roll bands, and hosted many black performers, including Pearl Bailey, Diana Ross, and Louis Armstrong.
Art Venues, America, Television, Young Artists, Rock & Roll, Comedy, Dance, Theater, Music

Gene Autry playing guitar

Arts Days: September 29, 1907: The Singing Cowboy
The five stars bearing Gene Autry’s name on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame are a testament to his versatility as a performer. The “Singing Cowboy,” as he was commonly known, earned stars for his work in radio, recording, television, movies, and theater. Autry is the only person to have been awarded five stars.

As a very popular public figure, Autry felt a personal responsibility to live by a creed he called the Cowboy Code, rules to live by that he hoped his young radio fans would emulate. Over the course of his multi-faceted life, Autry also served in the military, bought the Los Angeles Angels baseball team, and gave money to create a museum about the West, now known as the Autry National Center.
America, Movies & Movie Stars, Music, Music Legends

Jim Henson with Muppets

Arts Days: September 24, 1936: TV’s Muppet Man
Perhaps the most famous puppeteer of all, Jim Henson turned the piles of fabric and fur known as Kermit the Frog, Rowlf the Dog, and Ernie (as in Bert and Ernie) into loveable characters. In Sesame Street and The Muppet Show, Henson’s wonderful, wisecracking animal and people puppets educated and entertained children.

It was important to Henson to create work that would appeal to people of every age. His puppets might have been teaching youngsters to count, but he also made sure they threw out a few asides to amuse their parents, too. Nothing gave the modest Mississippi native more pleasure than making people laugh and enjoying the magic of puppetry.
Puppets, Television, Innovators & Pioneers, Comedy, America, Popular Culture

Will Smith

Arts Days: September 25, 1968: Will Power
Will Smith’s many talents, from rapping to acting and producing, have enabled his rise as one of the most bankable stars in Hollywood. As part of DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, Smith and childhood pal Jeff Townes hit big with the song “Parents Just Don’t Understand” in the 1980s. They even won the very first Grammy® awarded to a rap act.

The folks at NBC liked Smith’s appealing persona enough to build a TV show around him; The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air ran from 1990–96 and cemented Smith’s reputation as a natural comic. The show served as Smith’s platform to transform himself from hip-hop artist to accredited actor with starring roles in Hollywood blockbusters like Men in Black and Independence Day.
America, Hip-Hop, Music, Popular Culture, Movies & Movie Stars, Young Artists

West Side Story

Arts Days: September 26, 1957: Tonight, Tonight
Behind the hit musical about the rival white “Jets” and the Puerto Rican “Sharks” is an updated, urban retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The inspiration and innovation was provided by a boatload of talent; Stephen Sondheim wrote the sophisticated lyrics, Leonard Bernstein the historic music.

Jerome Robbins directed and choreographed the revolutionary dance sequences like the Shark Girls’ exuberant “America” and the Jets’ “Cool.” Audiences saw how violent gang warfare shattered the dreams of star-crossed lovers Maria and Tony. The musical drew big crowds, shocking them all with the death of two young men at the end of Act One and of Tony at the close of the play. As stunned viewers exited the theater, few doubted the universality of Shakespeare’s love story.
Broadway, Musicals, America, Choreographers, Composers, Controversial, Playwrights & Plays, Shakespeare, Popular Culture

John Cage

Arts Days: September 05, 1912: Pushing Music’s Boundaries
You might be confused the first time you hear an orchestra perform John Cage’s famous 1952 composition, 4’33” which refers to the length of time the piece lasts: four minutes, 33 seconds. During this time, no one will play their instrument; the concert hall will be completely silent.

Or will it? Cage, one of the most influential composers of the 20th century, believed in “found sound.” He thought that a whole other kind of music could be heard in the hundreds of small noises of a concert hall: someone shifting in her chair, someone coughing, someone else turning the page of a program. His experimental ideas about music and composition are still considered controversial by many.
America, Composers, Controversial, Innovators & Pioneers, Music, Music Legends

Jimmy Reed

Arts Days: September 06, 1925: Bluesman Jimmy

With his harmonica slung around his neck and his electric guitar in his grip, Jimmy Reed sang the blues like nobody else had before. Like the words he typically sang in his distinctive singing style, his music kind of loped along, even as it set listeners’ toes tapping.

Writing songs covered by everyone from Elvis Presley to the Rolling Stones, Jimmy Reed captured everyday people’s joy and pain in songs like “Ain’t That Loving You Baby” and “Bright Lights, Big City.” These tunes, simple at first listen, hooked you with their melodies and with the emotion with which Reed delivered them. His music, honest and catchy, brought the blues to a whole new audience.


America, Blues, Music, Music Legends

Buddy Holly

Arts Days: September 07, 1937: Rock’s Best Buddy
Buddy Holly started singing and playing instruments as a child. At 18, he heard Elvis Presley perform; later that year, he was opening for Elvis and generating buzz for his rockabilly music, which combined elements of bop, country, and rock.

Though his life ended at age 22 in a plane crash, he had an outsized influence on early rock and roll. For example, along with his band, the Crickets, Holly helped make the standard rock band lineup that has stuck to this day: two guitars, one bass, and drums. He also was one of the first rock-and-rollers to write, produce, sing, AND play on his own songs. And oh boy, did he crank out a lot of rock standards: “Every Day,” “That’ll Be The Day,” and “Peggy Sue” are just a few.
America, Innovators & Pioneers, Music, Music Legends, Popular Culture, Rock & Roll

Kelly Clarkson

Arts Days: September 04, 2002: Idol Maker
Something like 50 million people were watching the night Kelly Clarkson was chosen the winner of the first season of American Idol. This wildly successful, interactive singing competition counts on viewers calling or texting in votes for their favorite singers to help determine who will make it to the next round.

The popular show helped launch Clarkson’s career, just as it has with other winners in subsequent years. The show’s judges—originally Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson, and Paula Abdul—helped shape viewers’ voting with their blunt feedback on the performances, which can range from pathetic to magnificent.
Television, Popular Culture, Young Artists, Music, America

The John F. Kennedy Center

Arts Days: September 08, 1971: America’s Home for the Arts
In 1958, President Eisenhower signed legislation to build a national cultural center in Washington, D.C. Yet in the wake of President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, Congress decided that the center would be a “living memorial” to our 35th president, who had worked tirelessly to elevate the role of the arts in America.

Opening night saw the debut performance of Leonard Bernstein’s Mass, written in memory of the fallen president; other performers included the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the Berkshire Boys Choir. Since that night, the Center has welcomed and entertained millions as the finest performers from around the globe have graced its multiple stages. In addition, its Education Department touches more than 11 million young people, teachers, and parents each year.
Architecture, Art Venues, Backstage, Ballet, Choreographers, Composers, Dance, Dance Legends, America, Innovators & Pioneers, Music, Music Legends, Musicals, Opera, Theater

Francis Scott Key standing on ship

Arts Days: September 14, 1814: O Say Can You Sing?
Key was watching the bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore by the British when he wrote a poem he called “Defence of Fort McHenry.” An important battle in the War of 1812 was raging, and Key was among those aboard American ships in the Chesapeake Bay. Rockets rained down all night on the fort, and Key wondered whose flag would be flying in the morning light.

Imagine his relief to see that “Star-Spangled Banner” waving above the fort the next day—tattered but proud. The poem was set to an existing tune and printed in several newspapers. It became very popular and was often played at public events. In 1931, President Hoover signed a law designating the song as our national anthem.
America, History, Military, Music, Poetry

Oh Susanna

Arts Days: September 11, 1847: America’s First Pop Hit
This American folk tune starts with lines that make absolutely no sense: “The sun so hot I froze to death/Susanna don’t you cry.” Yet Stephen Foster, the songwriter, was probably most concerned with just creating a hummable tune. And that he did. The song tells the story of a man going to New Orleans to see his beloved Susanna.

Filled with desire and longing, the man sings of dreaming of his love at night. Foster intended the song to be sung in minstrel shows, during which white performers often performed in blackface makeup. Traditionally the song is sung with only the accompaniment of a guitar and harmonica.
America, Controversial, Music, Music Legends, Popular Culture

William “Count” Basie

Arts Days: August 21, 1906: The Count of Jazz
As a jazz bandleader, pianist, and composer, Count Basie had few peers. He learned to play piano as a youngster, making up music to go with the early silent films of the day.

Working in Harlem and Kansas City, Missouri, Basie absorbed the regional styles of jazz into his own signature “jumping” sound, which referred to his spare piano, pulsating rhythm section, and riffs—a series of notes that are repeated throughout a song—created by his horn players. His band was less formal than others, demonstrating a new lightness and solo originality.

This 1981 Kennedy Center Honoree made jazz history night after night in concert halls and clubs around the world.
America, Composers, Jazz, Music, Music Legends

Gene Kelly

Arts Days: August 23, 1912: Dancing Up a Storm
Dancer, actor, choreographer, boyishly handsome good guy—that was Gene Kelly, the fellow who bought a one-way ticket to New York City when he was a young man and soon landed a Broadway lead.

Kelly pushed for Hollywood to make more musicals and wound up dominating the musical revival in the 1940s and 50s. In timeless movies like Singin’ in the Rain and An American in Paris, Kelly’s elegant dancing stole the show.

He made it look so easy, yet his dancing demanded great strength, technical skill, and expression. In his choreography and in his performances, he melded everything from classical ballet to jazz to athletic prowess to tap dancing. And by the way, he could sing, too.
America, Choreographers, Dance, Dance Legends, Musicals, Movies & Movie Stars

Clark Gable in Gone with the Wind

Arts Days: August 24, 1938: Gable Becomes a Goner
It’s said that actor Clark Gable didn’t even want to play Rhett Butler—the very role with which he will forever be synonymous. This Hollywood heartthrob of the 1930s was the person the film’s producer David O. Selznick wanted to play Butler from the start, but it took Gary Cooper turning down the role for Gable to become a serious contender.

Gable had starred in successful films like Mutiny on the Bounty and It Happened One Night, but Gone With… forever cemented him in the public’s mind as a leading man without peer: dashing, handsome, sophisticated.

The epic Civil War drama, based on the book of the same name by Margaret Mitchell, is routinely cited as one of the greatest movies of all time.
Movies & Movie Stars, Literature, America, History

Charlie Parker

Arts Days: August 29, 1920: Rare Bird
As a musician who could improvise jazz and blues music on the fly, Charlie “Bird” Parker has few equals. With his alto saxophone and his deep reservoir of talent, Parker thrilled listeners with his playing on tunes like “Ko-Ko” and “Billie’s Bounce.”

He was one of the leading developers of bebop, a jazz form featuring four or five musicians, fast tempos, and jagged-sounding, complex melodies. He also crafted new ways of playing long solos that shattered the usual conventions. For example, he experimented with creating melodies using higher intervals of a chord than had traditionally been played.
America, Jazz, Music, Music Legends, Musical Instruments

Aerosmith and Run-D.M.C.

Arts Days: August 28, 1975: Rock 'n' Rap
When the rock band Aerosmith cut this single in the mid 1970s, they probably didn’t know they were setting the stage for a mash-up of rock and rap a decade down the road.

In 1986, Aerosmith worked with rap duo Run-D.M.C. to make a new version of the song. Its tempo and rapid-fire lyrics lent themselves well to the full rap treatment. Aerosmith’s singer Steven Tyler and both halves of Run-D.M.C.—Joseph “Run” Simmons and Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels—shared singing/rapping duties on the new version.

The fun video for the remake—in which Tyler feigns indignation at the interlopers rapping his song, then dances with them—only helped the song rocket up the charts. It was the first major hit featuring the melding of rock and rap music.
America, Music, Popular Culture, Rock & Roll, Hip-Hop

Leonard Bernstein

Arts Days: August 25, 1918: Bernstein’s Bold Baton
You might find it odd that Leonard Bernstein was the first American-born and trained music director of the New York Philharmonic. But historically speaking, he was also the first American classical music conductor to earn worldwide acclaim.

Bernstein, who was awarded Kennedy Center Honors in 1980, was applauded for his ability to convey all the facets of a composer’s music and its meaning when he was conducting—or when he was teaching at his Young People’s Concerts. He also wrote orchestral pieces, ballet scores, choral and chamber music, the score for the film On the Waterfront; and of course, the music for Broadway’s Candide and West Side Story.

Held in extremely high regard by musical colleagues, Bernstein’s passion and intensity for conducting, writing, and playing music never ebbed over his lengthy career.
America, Composers, Broadway, Music, Music Legends, Musicals, Orchestra

Lee de Forest

Arts Days: August 26, 1873: Mister Sound Man
Can you imagine a movie without sound accompanying the action? Lee de Forest is the guy who first gave sound to movies in a synchronized way. Invented in 1920, his Phonofilm process made it possible to link the sound and the images on the screen.

Sure, there had been sound in films before this time, but it might have been, say, a scene of a car driving by and a random horn blowing on the soundtrack. De Forest’s technology made it possible for a car and its beep to be linked together.

Basically, de Forest found a way to use a photocell to “read” light and dark areas on the film, then convert them to an audio track matching the action. For his accomplishment, de Forest received a special Oscar® in 1959.
America, Innovators & Pioneers, Inventions, Movies & Movie Stars

Madonna

Arts Days: August 16, 1958: Lady Madonna
Madonna Louise Ciccone was born into a large Italian-American family with a strong Catholic faith. Yet she has said that her ethnic and religious roots fed her desire to rebel. Among other things, she dropped out of college to move to New York and dressed provocatively, often mixing religious icons with her revealing stage outfits.

In songs she wrote such as “Like a Prayer” and “Papa Don’t Preach,” Madonna pushed lyrical boundaries; and in her popular videos on MTV, she made polished, sometimes controversial mini-movies to go with her songs.

A string of dance-able hits and a charismatic personality, plus her chameleon-like ability to change her look and style from one record to the next, have made Madonna one of the world’s biggest pop stars.
America, Dance, Music, Popular Culture, Rock & Roll, Fashion

Andy Warhol

Arts Days: August 06, 1928: Prince of Pop Art
Whether silkscreening, painting, filming, or photographing his subjects, artist Andy Warhol looked at them with a brand-new eye. Though he began his career designing ads and record covers, it’s as a fine artist that his creativity took flight.

Warhol used images of familiar objects—from Campbell’s Soup cans to Brillo dishwashing sponges—to find the artistic qualities in mundane objects and to redefine what constituted art. His work supports “pop art”—a 20th century art movement in which popular culture’s logos, products, and images are used together or separately—and, its creators say, is elevated to something on par with more traditional art.

At the end of the day, Warhol created uniquely American art that commented on our obsession with celebrities and consumerism.
America, Popular Culture, Visual Arts

Louis Armstrong playing the trumpet

Arts Days: August 04, 1901: Horn of Plenty
The great trumpeter Louis Armstrong soaked up all the pains and joys of a young man growing up poor and unequipped yet possessing an extraordinary musical talent. These emotions can be clearly heard in the jazz music he grew up to both play and sing.

There's little doubt that Armstrong was the most gifted and influential trumpet soloist in the history of the instrument. His innovations included playing high notes that had never been hit before, and holding these notes for long periods of time; creating vibrato or trembling sounds with his lips; and experimenting with rhythm to make music move, or "swing."

Armstrong's combination of singing and playing (both trumpet and cornet), plus his larger-than-life personality, made him one of the world's greatest and most memorable solo entertainers.
America, Jazz, Music, Music Legends, Innovators & Pioneers, Musical Instruments

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

Miles Davis

Arts Days: May 26, 1926: Miles Ahead
They’re called trailblazers: artists who test the traditional, the expected, and then break new ground by turning in new directions. Count jazz trumpeter Miles Davis as one such pioneer.

Perhaps the most influential musician in any genre of the 20th century, Davis bent the boundaries of jazz music into entirely new shapes. Working with saxophonist John Coltrane, Davis made stylistic advances featuring improvisations based on modal harmonies rather than chord progressions.

Davis later teamed up with Gil Evans, a gifted pianist, composer, and arranger, and produced Birth of the Cool, an influential recording that single-handedly kicked off the cool jazz movement. Davis’s fingerprints are everywhere on this and other jazz subgenres, including hard bop.
America, Innovators & Pioneers, Jazz, Music, Music Legends

Isadora Duncan

Arts Days: May 27, 1877: Something in the Way She Moves
Inspired by everything from ancient Greek art to the power of nature embodied in rushing rivers and rainy weather, Isadora Duncan poured all she had into dancing, which she believed to be the body’s expression of the soul’s innermost desires. She rejected classical ballet as too confining and controlled.

A true free spirit, Duncan brought a new athleticism to dancing; her choreography was full of leaps and jumps and skips. Barefoot, her long hair flying, dressed in Grecian-inspired flowing tunics, she was a captivating sight as she danced. She taught her students that the energy they need for dance originated in the solar plexus, a group of nerves in the body’s abdominal region.
America, Controversial, Dance, Dance Legends, Innovators & Pioneers, Choreographers

Orson Welles

Arts Days: May 06, 1915: A Reel Visionary
Whether directing films or acting on stage, George Orson Welles’s theatrical talents were unsurpassed. It probably helped that he was a creative child: He painted, played the piano, and performed magic tricks.

When Welles was a young man, important connections advanced his career. Playwright Thornton Wilder introduced Welles to directors who gave him his first stage roles. He also made a name for himself writing, acting in, and directing radio plays. His radio broadcast of War of the Worlds in 1938 terrified listeners convinced that aliens were actually invading our planet. And then there were movies like Citizen Kane and many others now deemed American classics.

Welles also pioneered new filming techniques, such as using “deep space,” in which scenes in both the foreground and background stayed in focus. Using this method, action can take place in two parts of a single frame. He also would place the camera near the floor to shoot up at a person so he appeared to loom above, larger than life.
America, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Theater, Movies & Movie Stars

Paramount Pictures

Arts Days: May 08, 1914: Lights, Camera, Action!
Back in 1912, an entrepreneur named Adolph Zukor thought he could bring more movies to the middle class by contracting a group of actors to make a fixed number of movies every year. So he started the Famous Players Film Company. Famous Players partnered with a startup called Paramount Pictures Corporation to distribute its films to theaters; a few years later, it officially merged with Paramount.

Under Zukor’s leadership, Paramount owned all the components of the movie-making apparatus. It employed superstars of the day, like Mary Pickford and Rudolph Valentino, and acquired film production studios. Paramount even bought hundreds of movie houses around the country where the finished movies would be shown.

The company has been through many mergers since those early days, and has once or twice come close to closing up shop, such as during the Great Depression. Today, however, the company is still growing strong.
America, Movies & Movie Stars, Jobs in the Arts, Art Venues

Katharine Hepburn

Arts Days: May 12, 1907: Kate the Great
For the woman who carried home the Oscar® for Best Actress more times than any other, four times out of 12 nominations, Katharine Hepburn’s first forays into acting weren’t always successful.

She began acting in college plays from which she was fired more than once for stumbling over her lines. But her athleticism, beauty, and emerging talent got her noticed, and she soon began landing small roles. Big parts in Little Women, Bringing Up Baby, Woman of the Year, and other critical and commercial hits raised Hepburn to the level of Hollywood royalty, even as she shunned Hollywood’s glitz.

When she died at 96 years of age, the lights on Broadway went dim for an hour in honor of the woman many now deem one of the greatest actors of all time.
America, Movies & Movie Stars, Theater

Thornton Wilder

Arts Days: April 17, 1897: An American Wordsmith
His works are read and his plays performed around the world, but when Thornton Wilder started writing stories as a kid, he never dreamt he’d be an icon of American literature one day. While his seminal three-act play Our Town is arguably his best-loved work, with its timeless depiction of life and loss in the small town of Grover's Corners, New Hampshire, other plays including The Skin of Our Teeth and the novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey are also literary classics (all three works netted Wilder Pulitzer Prizes for Literature).

He also revisited and tinkered with old works from time to time. For example, he reworked his play The Merchant of Yonkers into The Matchmaker, which in 1964 hit the Broadway stage as Hello Dolly!, running for 2,844 performances.
Playwrights & Plays, America, Literature, Theater

Carrie

Arts Days: April 05, 1974: The King of Scary
Sitting at a desk and using an old typewriter in his trailer in Maine, Stephen King worked nights pouring over Carrie, a freaky story about a teenage girl. He threw the first few pages in the trash, but his wife plucked them out and encouraged him to keep at it. In the book, the title character is teased at school—but when she uses her special psychic powers in order to fight back, mayhem and murder result.

The book launched King’s career as a writer of really, really scary horror and sci-fi novels and short stories. Now, decades and dozens of books later, he’s still writing from his house in Maine, minus the trailer. King’s work ethic is famous; he forces himself to write thousands of words every single day. It’s that dedication that has translated into millions of books being sold to terrified readers everywhere.
America, Literature, Popular Culture, Science Fiction & Fantasy

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

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

The Great Gatsby

Arts Days: April 10, 1925: A Great American Novel
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel about the roaring 1920s was not, shall we say, a roaring success when it was first published. Fitzgerald’s story of the young Midwesterner Nick Carraway, who moves to New York for work after serving in World War I; his mysterious and wealthy next-door neighbor, Jay Gatsby; and Daisy Buchanan, with whom Gatsby is obsessed, is a parable for the times in which Fitzgerald himself lived.

Just as some of his characters crash and burn in the book, Fitzgerald believed that the prosperity brought about by the thriving economy of the day had a dark side, from a spike in crime to plunging morals. It took some time and space from the era Fitzgerald memorialized in his book—the Jazz Age, a term he coined—for the book’s status as one of the great American novels to be recognized and appreciated.
Literature, America

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

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