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Kid audience

Article: Taking Kids to Their First Live Show
Family-friendly tips for preparing children for live performing arts events
Music Legends, Popular Culture, Music, Innovators & Pioneers

Man playing harmonica

Lesson: Twelve-Bar Blues
Learn about the history, key players and musical qualities of the blues
Jazz, Music, Music Legends

Mahalia Jackson

Arts Days: October 26, 1911: An Amazing Grace
Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson had a powerful contralto voice even as a little girl. She would sing around the house, sing at the Plymouth Rock Baptist Church in her hometown, and sing in various choirs or as a soloist. She landed a series of recording deals, starting in 1937 with Decca Records, eventually moving to Columbia Records, where she really hit her stride as a spiritual singer with broad commercial appeal.

Jackson’s appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show brought gospel to a whole new set of listeners, as did her performance at the inauguration of President Kennedy in 1960. This granddaughter of slaves was the first gospel singer to sing at Carnegie Hall, and the first gospel singer to be featured at the Newport Jazz Festival.
Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Music, Blues

Luciano Pavarotti

Arts Days: October 12, 1935: King of the High C's
Performing with his father Fernando, a teenage Luciano Pavarotti won an international singing competition in Wales. This accomplishment set the stage for a lifetime of vocal artistry for this world-famous tenor. Pavarotti exposed countless listeners to the wonders of opera and other types of classical vocal music. Incidentally, certain operatic roles—like Rodolfo in Puccini’s La Boheme—became forever linked to the man and his voice.

His gift combined deep expressivity, stellar technique, and the ability to meld opera into pop culture. During a performance of La Fille du Regiment in 1972, Pavarotti received 17 curtain calls, in part for the stunning high Cs he could effortlessly hit. Pavarotti, who set the standard for operatic tenors, was celebrated as a Kennedy Center Honoree in 2001.
Music Legends, Opera, 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

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

Itzhak Perlman

Arts Days: August 31, 1945: A Violin Virtuoso
Violin superstar Itzhak Perlman’s musical genius has brought new appreciation of both the delicacy and power of the instrument to legions of listeners.

After studying violin at New York’s Julliard School, young Perlman made his Carnegie Hall debut at the tender age of 18. He often performs solo, other times in small ensembles—such as the group playing at the Inauguration of President Barack Obama in January 2009.

Either way, it is this virtuoso’s sheer love of music—be it classical, baroque, romantic, or modern—coupled with his flawless technique that caused a critic from The New Yorker to write that Perlman’s playing was “everything one wants a violin sound to be.”
Musical Instruments, Music, Music Legends

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

Quincy Jones

Arts Days: March 14, 1933: On Q
Quincy Jones, a 2001 KC Honoree, wears an extraordinary number of hats in musical genres from jazz to hip-hop. As a composer, he’s created music for movies like The Color Purple and The Pawnbroker, and TV shows like The Cosby Show. As an arranger, he’s shaped songs for artists ranging from Peggy Lee to Sarah Vaughan. As a record producer—someone who oversees a recording from start to finish—he enjoyed unparalleled success working on Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Off the Wall, which have collectively sold tens of millions of copies. Playing his trumpet, Jones toured the world in the 1950s with Dizzy Gillespie and other jazz greats. And as a conductor, he led Frank Sinatra’s band and others in live concerts and recordings.
Music Legends, Music, Hip-Hop, Jazz

Elvis Presley

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

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

The Beatles

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

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

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

Frank Sinatra

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

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

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

Placido Domingo

Arts Days: January 21, 1941: Phenom of the Opera
At age eight, operatic tenor Plácido Domingo moved to Mexico and attended the National Conservatory of Music in Mexico City. Originally, he studied piano and conducting, until his strong voice was discovered.

Domingo's voice is known for its versatility and dramatic tone throughout its wide range. He made his operatic debut in 1961 as Alfredo in La Traviata. Since then, he has performed for audiences all over the world and has appeared in more than 400 performances in 41 different roles at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

Domingo has also made a name for himself as a conductor, leading musical forces from London's Covent Garden to New York's Metropolitan Opera and Washington's Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. He is also a 2000 Kennedy Center Honoree.
Music Legends, Opera, Music

Brian Epstein

Arts Days: January 24, 1962: All You Need is Epstein
Hard to imagine, but The Beatles were initially turned away by almost every British record company. It seemed no one could sense their potential—no one except British music entrepreneur Brian Epstein.

While helping to run his family's music stores, Epstein first noticed The Beatles after seeing their posters strewn around Liverpool. Curious, he went to see them perform, and was immediately struck by the group's musical talent and sense of humor and charm on stage. He signed on as their manager, confident the band was destined for international success. He helped mold the group's image, encouraging them to wear suits and ties rather than blue jeans and leather jackets.

For the remainder of his life, Epstein worked closely with The Beatles, who grew to be one of the most commercially successful and critically-acclaimed bands of all time.
Rock & Roll, Music, Music Legends, Popular Culture

Benny Goodman

Arts Days: January 16, 1938: All Jazzed Up
Though jazz music originated in the early 1900s, it took several decades until it was commonly recognized as a serious musical form.

While there’s no way of putting an exact date on when this happened, jazz music did make history on this day in 1938. The prominent New York City music venue Carnegie Hall hosted its first jazz concert, performed by the Benny Goodman Orchestra. Guest artists included Count Basie and members of the Basie and Duke Ellington orchestras.

Initially, Goodman was hesitant to play at Carnegie Hall fearing mainstream audiences were not ready to accept jazz music. He was happy to be proven wrong by the 2,760 sold-out seats.
Art Venues, Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Jazz

George Gershwin

Arts Days: January 07, 1924: George’s Big Break
At 15, American composer and pianist George Gershwin dropped out of school to pursue his passion for music. He got a job in New York City playing the piano for a popular music publisher, and immediately began writing his own music. He had his first national hit, "Swanee," at age 20, but it was another five years until he composed "Rhapsody in Blue."

Written in less than three weeks, the composition's soaring clarinet solo launched Gershwin’s career and began a new era in American music. He went on to write some of America's most popular and important original music, often for Broadway or the concert hall, including the musical scores for Funny Face, An American in Paris, and Porgy and Bess.
Composers, Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Jazz

The Andrews Sisters

Arts Days: January 02, 1942: Girls Rock and Rule
With a catchy, fast-paced melody and snappy lyrics, "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" was a phenomenal hit during World War II, bringing the Andrews Sisters worldwide acclaim.

LaVerne, Maxene, and Patty were the most successful female vocal group of their time, recording 113 chart singles between 1938 and 1951. Their success helped pave the way for the "girl group era" of the mid-1960s, which included all-women vocal groups like The Supremes, The Shirelles, and The Ronettes and decades later, The Go-Gos and The Spice Girls.
Innovators & Pioneers, Music, America, Music Legends

Bruce Springstein, Born in the USA.

Arts Days: June 04, 1984: Red, White, and Bruce
If you’re not paying attention, the title track for the album, Born in the U.S.A., sounds like a rock anthem celebrating pride in being an American. But a closer listen reveals another message—one that questioned the U.S.’s role in the Vietnam War and reveals a sense of hopelessness. This title song and the others that comprised Springsteen’s seventh album—including “Glory Days,” “My Hometown,” “Dancing in the Dark,” and “I’m Goin’ Down”—were filled with themes of yearning for the past or the search for the American dream.

Born in the U.S.A. was the best-selling record in 1985, one that vaulted Springsteen to a new level of commercial success, fueled by his hours-long live shows with his legendary E Street Band. Springsteen, a 2009 Kennedy Center Honoree, continues to write rock songs that refuse to shy away from complex or controversial themes, from unemployment to religion to relationships.
Music, Music Legends, Popular Culture, Rock & Roll

Elton John

Arts Days: June 03, 1969: Rocket Man Blasts Off
It’s hard to believe that with more than 200 million records sold, Elton John’s first album Empty Sky made a modest splash in his home country of England. While seven and eight minute songs like “Gulliver” and “Empty Sky” weren’t exactly radio-friendly, you could get a sense of John’s flair for writing a catchy melody—and as seen on the cover photo, his penchant for funky glasses.

His second record, Elton John, was the first to be released in the U.S. and is still often mistaken for his debut record. Even today, the album’s “Your Song” is considered one of John’s greatest hits. By combining songwriting duties with lyricist Bernie Taupin, with whom he began a lifelong creative partnership in 1967, John began a prolific career releasing knockout song after song and selling out stadium shows packed with tens of thousands of avid fans.
Music Legends, Rock & Roll, Music, Popular Culture

Carnegie Hall

Arts Days: May 05, 1891: The Music House That Steel Built
The stages (there are three now) of Carnegie Hall, the preeminent concert hall in the U.S., have been graced by everyone from jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald and violinist Isaac Stern, to opera star Luciano Pavarotti and pianist Fats Waller.

In the late 19th century, the landmark building on New York’s Upper West Side, then known simply as “Music Hall,” was funded by steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie and designed by architect William Burnet Tuthill. On this opening night, two important figures in classical music—conductor Walter Damrosch and composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky—were featured.

It would have been hard to imagine on this festive occasion that only 75 years later, Carnegie Hall would be slated for demolition. Fortunately, Stern and others persuaded the city to purchase the building and Carnegie Hall was saved. Renovations in the 1980s prompted critics to complain that the Hall’s famous acoustics were harmed, but others said that the renovations have improved the sound by muffling street noise.
Art Venues, Music Legends, Music, Orchestra

Willie Nelson

Arts Days: April 30, 1933: Part Hippie, Part Outlaw, All Talent
He’s a songwriter and singer, an activist, actor, and author. And yes, Willie Nelson, whose hit songs run from “Always on My Mind” to “Good Hearted Woman,” is also an American icon. His grandparents got him music lessons through the mail when he was a very young boy, and he landed a spot playing guitar in a band at the ripe old age of nine. In addition to playing and singing his own music, flecked with jazz, folk, and rock influences, Nelson wrote monster hits like “Crazy” and "Pretty Paper.”

He conceived the Farm Aid concerts in 1985 as a way to bring awareness to the financial and agricultural problems faced by American farmers. These concerts were hugely successful and helped pass laws protecting farmers from foreclosure. Wearing his signature long braid down his back, Willie Nelson continues to sell out stadium shows, write music, and support many charity organizations.
Music, Popular Culture, Music Legends

Ma Rainey

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

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

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

arts quote

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

arts quote

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

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