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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

Le Chat Noir

Arts Days: November 18, 1881: Come to the Cabaret
Today you think of these clubs as famous nightspots where celebrities like to hang out in Hollywood or New York. But back in Paris in the late 19th century, they were referred to as cabarets, and Le Chat Noir was perhaps the most legendary. Located in Paris’ fashionable, bohemian Montmartre neighborhood, Le Chat Noir, or “The Black Cat,” was envisioned by owner Rodolphe Salis as part nightclub, part salon.

Seated at crowded tables were well-known Parisian celebrities and their artist associates from around the world. On any given night, you could rub elbows with painter Pablo Picasso, composer Claude Debussy, or perhaps Jane Avril, the can-can dancer whom Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec immortalized in several paintings. They and countless others would talk, drink, flirt, and enjoy live performances. The party lasted until 1897, when the place closed up shop.
Art Venues, Europe, Popular Culture, Musicals

Jukebox

Arts Days: November 23, 1889: Music On Demand
When patrons arrived at San Francisco’s Palais Royal Saloon, they found a curious, cabinet-like object that played music. It was built by the Pacific Phonograph Company and had tubes poking out of it; up to four listeners at a time could pick up a tube and listen to the same tune being played. Of course, they had to drop a coin into a slot near each tube to hear a thing.

The man who installed the jukebox at this bar, Louis Glass, dubbed the machine the “nickel-in-the-slot” player. It was a big hit at the Saloon, and word soon spread from city to city of this amazing song-playing machine. By putting musical choice in the hands of patrons, jukeboxes revolutionized the way people listened to music.
Inventions, Music, Popular Culture, Rock & Roll

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

John Barry

Arts Days: November 03, 1933: A Musical Bond
John Barry had been working as a composer and record producer for several years when he caught a lucky, career-making break—he was hired to work on the music for a new movie called Dr. No. This was the first James Bond film ever made, and Barry’s arrangement of the “James Bond Theme” was soon tied to the very successful string of movies, starring Sean Connery as the suave British agent named Bond. James Bond. 

Barry went on to compose the scores for 11 of the next 14 Bond films, as well as music for other popular movies, including The Lion in Winter, Out of Africa, and Dances with Wolves. For these latter three, Barry took home the Oscars® for Best Original Score.
Composers, Music, Movies & Movie Stars, Music Legends, Popular Culture, Science Fiction & Fantasy

Mickey Mouse

Arts Days: November 13, 1940: Animation as Art
This artful melding of classical music and animation, Fantasia is perhaps one of the most interesting experiments in the history of feature animation. Walt Disney, fresh from successes like Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, wanted to stretch animation beyond its traditional cartoon roots.

The film interpreted classical music through short bursts of animation, creating such classic sequences as Mickey Mouse’s star turn in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and the fire and brimstone dance of Night on Bald Mountain. At this premiere, audiences listened to the film through Fantasound, a sound system that enriched the music by making it fuller and more dynamic. In 2000, Disney released a sequel of shorts with similar pairings of music and animation, including Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.
Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, Innovators & Pioneers, Movies & Movie Stars, Music, Popular Culture

Rolling Stone Magazine

Arts Days: November 09, 1967: The Bible of Rock
Back then, it featured John Lennon on the cover and looked more like a newspaper than a magazine. The inaugural issue of Rolling Stone aimed to report not only on the performers and trends shaping rock and roll, but also, in the words of founder Jann Wenner, “the things and attitudes that music embraces.” As a result, the magazine has consistently printed long articles about politics, the environment, and other topics as well as influential record reviews and detailed question-and-answer pieces with top artists.

While on-staff at the magazine, photographer Annie Leibovitz helped shape the modern look of the publication. Her photos reveal surprising and controversial sides of world-famous celebrities, created through close collaboration with her subjects.
Rock & Roll, Music, Popular Culture, Literature, Controversial

Billboard Music Chart

Arts Days: July 20, 1940: Top of the Pops
It was called the “Music Popularity Chart,” when Billboard magazine started ranking songs in terms of their airplay and sales. Until then, there was no way to measure the popularity of pop songs relative to one another.

Suddenly record-company executives and musicians alike could keep track of how their songs were faring. They could cheer when their song hit number one—a thrilling moment for anybody. After all, the more a song is played, the more it is being purchased, and the more money the labels make. Well, you get the picture.

What was the first number-one? “I’ll Never Smile Again” by the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, with none other than Frank Sinatra singing lead.
Music, Popular Culture, Rock & Roll

George Bernard Shaw

Arts Days: July 26, 1856: Voice of the People
Hmmm… could the fact that George Bernard Shaw started out as a newspaper arts critic have something to do with his interest in expressing his political and philosophical opinions freely?

In his 60 some plays, Shaw always found a way to criticize social mores by poking holes in the conventions of 19th century life. Pygmalion, upon which the smash Broadway musical My Fair Lady would later be based, examines class differences, while Major Barbara considers whether it is right to use money earned from the sales of weapons for charitable purposes.

Some of these satirical themes generated controversy among early theatergoers, but Shaw didn’t care. “My way of joking is to tell the truth,” he once said. Shaw’s “joking” earned him both a Nobel Prize for Literature and an Academy Award® for Best Adapted Screenplay for My Fair Lady.
Literature, Musicals, Playwrights & Plays, Theater

Sony Walkman

Arts Days: July 01, 1979: Whistle While You Walk
For decades, home stereo systems were big and unwieldy, with separate turntables, tape players, speakers, and other components. So when the Japanese corporation Sony developed a portable stereo system it called the Walkman, consumers were skeptical.

Sony embarked on a huge marketing campaign to raise awareness of its little stereo that came with a set of padded earphones and could accommodate a cassette tape. The company hired college kids to walk around busy shopping areas in Tokyo, wearing their Walkmans and offering strangers a chance to listen.

Turns out the sound quality was excellent, and the freedom to carry your tunes with you exhilarating. In changing the way we carry and listen to music, the Walkman set the stage for today’s MP3 players, which manage to make the Walkman look enormous.
Inventions, Rock & Roll, Popular Culture, Japan, Music

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

Louis Armstrong

Arts Days: July 08, 1922: When Satchmo Went North
Born in New Orleans, Louis Armstrong was a trumpeter who profoundly influenced the development of jazz music, both with his instruments as well as with his gravelly, instantly recognizable voice.

With the encouragement of his mentor Joe “King” Oliver, Armstrong left the south, joining thousands of other young African Americans in search of better job prospects in Chicago. As people secured work, they found they had money to spend in their free time—and they would often go listen to music.

In jazz clubs around the city, Armstrong’s star was on the rise. He played with Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band and musicians in New York, and then returned to Chicago to make his first recordings. Far from home, Armstrong blazed a trail countless other musicians would one day follow.
Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Jazz, Music, Musical Instruments

Arthur Laurents

Arts Days: July 14, 1918: From Brooklyn to Broadway
Arthur Laurents, the playwright and lyricist who wrote the book for West Side Story, one of the world’s most beloved musicals, had another source in mind when he conceived of the tragic tale of Maria and Tony. He was thinking of Shakespeare and his play, Romeo and Juliet, and this pair of lovers whose family conflicts stand in the way of their feelings for one another.

Though the theme wasn’t new, Laurents set his characters’ love affair in an urban setting, with rival gangs standing in for the families Shakespeare had put at odds. Laurents worked closely with composer Leonard Bernstein and lyricist Stephen Sondheim to create the Broadway version of West Side Story.
Broadway, Playwrights & Plays, Musicals, Theater, Shakespeare

The Rolling Stones I can't get no Satisfaction

Arts Days: July 10, 1965: Satisfaction Guaranteed
That blistering riff from Keith Richards’ guitar kicks off “Satisfaction,” a rock-and-roll song that shook up a lot of teenagers and alarmed some parents with its provocative lyrics. Richards and his fellow Rolling Stone, Mick Jagger, wrote the song together, with Jagger adding lyrics about a very different theme: the push he had seen while in America for material possessions.

The song hit number one on this day and stayed there for a month. It is also an example of the sensation created by a hit record.
Rock & Roll, Controversial, Music, Popular Culture

Johann Sebastian Bach

Arts Days: March 21, 1685: Bach Star
One of the greatest classical composers of all time, Johann Sebastian Bach wrote music we identify as belonging to the Baroque period, a century and a half (1600-1750) of European compositions that tend to be elaborate pieces with innovative, complex instrumentation. From the Brandenburg Concertos to the Mass in B Minor, Bach wrote ornate pieces of music for orchestras as well as for single instruments (such as the Sonata for Solo Violin).

He also wrote complex choral pieces like the St. Matthew Passion, which set part of the gospel according to Matthew to music and is meant to be sung by large groups of singers, accompanied by an orchestra. A trained and talented organist, Bach liked to write music that would fill up a huge concert hall or church.
Composers, Europe, Innovators & Pioneers, Music, Music Legends

Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Stephen Sondheim

Arts Days: March 22, 1930 and 1948: Two of a Kind
If you displayed the pages of music written by these two legendary Broadway composers who share a birthday, it would stretch around the block many times over—sort of like the crowds standing in line at their shows. Sondheim’s brought us Sweeney Todd, A Little Night Music, and Sunday in the Park with George, among others. He also wrote the breakthrough lyrics for West Side Story, which premiered in 1957 and marked his big break.

For his part, Lloyd Webber has no less musical theater credentials. In Cats and Phantom of the Opera, his songs “Memory” and “The Music of the Night,”  plus “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” from Jesus Christ Superstar, showcase Webber’s standard composing style, which melds together elements of rock, jazz, pop, and classical music.
Broadway, Musicals, Playwrights & Plays, Composers, Theater

John Kander

Arts Days: March 18, 1927: Razzmatazz On Broadway
Along with lyricist Fred Ebb, the composer John Kander created some of the most memorable tunes you’ll ever hum. Like “New York, New York”—Kander came up with that unforgettable melody and Ebb added the words. The men also collaborated on the musicals Chicago, Cabaret, Kiss of the Spider Woman, and others. Together they understood the conventions of musical theater better than just about anyone.

But it wasn’t always that way. Kander wrote the music for a show called A Family Affair in 1962. Kander clicked with the show’s producer Harold Prince, who thought he was a terrific musician and hired him and Ebb to write the music and lyrics for Flora, the Red Menace. In 1966, their work on Cabaret led to the Tony Award® for Best Musical. For nearly five decades, Kander and Ebb were the longest running musical/lyricist partnership in Broadway history.
Backstage, Broadway, Composers, Music, Musicals, Music Legends, Theater

Nutcracker

Arts Days: March 19, 1892: A Winter Wonderland
The most popular ballet of all time is quite an international affair. Consider this: The story behind The Nutcracker was by a German writer, E.T.A. Hoffman. The music was written by a Russian composer, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. And the dance steps of the version you are most likely to enjoy this Christmas were created by Frenchman Marius Petipa.

On this day, Tchaikovsky chose several pieces of his score to perform at an event offered by the St. Petersburg branch of the Musical Society. While the music was incredibly well-received, the version of the ballet we know and love today—filled with delicious dances from the Land of Sweets, performed by the Sugar Plum Fairy and dozens of others—did not emerge for another 60-odd years.

Enjoying the ballet’s fantastic sights—a sparkling Christmas tree shooting up into the rafters, the Nutcracker turning into a prince, and the Mouse King in battle—is a holiday ritual for many families around the world.
Ballet, Dance Legends, Dance, Music, Composers

The King and I

Arts Days: March 29, 1951: Culture Clash
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II had collaborated on five other musicals, including The Sound of Music, by the time they turned out the words and music for The King and I. The musical starred Gertrude Lawrence as Anna, an Englishwoman hired by the King of Siam (today we call it Thailand), to teach reading, writing, and speaking English—to his children.

King Mongkut was played by Yul Brynner, a Russian actor who shaved his head for the stage role. Tackling a range of complex issues, from cultural clashes to gender roles, The King and I included the well-known “Getting to Know You,” a touching song about making new friends. The show ultimately went on to win the Tony Award® for Best Musical.
Broadway, Musicals, Theater, Popular Culture

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

Birthday cake

Arts Days: March 04, 1924: A Song is Born
You’ve probably sung the most popular song in the English language more times than you can count. It’s said that the melody of the tune is borrowed from a song called “Good Morning to All,” written in 1893 by Patty and Mildred Hill, sisters and kindergarten teachers from Kentucky.

All they wanted to do was create a song easy for five-year-olds to sing. They never copyrighted the song, meaning they never registered it as their work. But an editor named Robert Coleman published the song in a book, adding a second verse to the “Good Morning to All” tune that features the words we all know. And from then on, “Happy Birthday” has stuck in a big way.
Music, Popular Culture

Frederick Chopin

Arts Days: March 01, 1810: Mr. Piano Man
Imagine writing complicated pieces of music when you are only seven years old. Someone who can do that—like Frederick Chopin—is called a prodigy, someone who at a young age displays amazing skills in music, art, or something else.

Chopin developed new ways of playing the piano that today are at the heart of what we call “Romantic music”—the term given to expressive, complex music written in Europe in the mid-19th to early 20th centuries.

Chopin also was known for his gifts at improvising where he would make up new combinations of notes in the course of playing something he had written already. Chopin’s last public performance took place in London in November 1848 where he played for fellow Polish refugees.
Composers, Musical Instruments, Music, Music Legends, Europe

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

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

Simon and Garfunkel, Sounds of Silence cover

Arts Days: March 10, 1964: The Silent Sound of Success
After President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, singer/songwriter Paul Simon was among the artists who sought to sort through their emotions about the event in a creative way. When he finished writing “The Sounds of Silence,” he showed it to Art Garfunkel, his musical singing partner. The two began performing it in their live shows in and around New York City and also put it on their first album, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.

Unfortunately, the record flopped, and the pair broke up. But a year later, the duo’s record producer remixed the song with new instruments, including drums and electric bass and guitar—without asking Simon or Garfunkel. The song rose to number-one, they reunited, and recorded a new full-length album called The Sounds of Silence. It is considered one of the greatest folk rock albums of all times.
Rock & Roll, Music, Popular Culture

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

Saturday Night Fever

Arts Days: February 16, 1979: Disco Fever… Can You Dig It?
Who’d have thought that a movie about a Brooklyn kid in a white suit trying to win dance contests would kick off a disco phenomenon? Well, actor John Travolta boogied down as 19-year-old Tony Manero in this classic movie, whose music—about half of which was performed by the Bee Gees, a trio of brothers from Down Under—swept the nation in 1979, and never really went away.

In songs like “Jive Talkin’” and “You Should Be Dancing,” the Brothers Gibb (get it? B-Gs) exhorted listeners to forget their day-to-day troubles to the flashing lights and thumping tunes of discothèques, which were springing up all over New York City and other urban centers.
Innovators & Pioneers, Popular Culture, Dance, Music, 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

Johnny Cash

Arts Days: February 26, 1932: The Man in Black
As a child, Johnny Cash “The Man in Black” sang gospel music with his family, but a record producer told him that those gospel tunes just wouldn’t sell. So Cash was spurred to write his first rock-inflected country songs, including “Cry Cry Cry.”

Cash soon signed to Sun Records where he recorded tons of new songs like “I Walk the Line,” a huge hit in 1956. Cash went on to record nearly 100 albums over the course of his career, leaving an indelible mark on American rock, country, folk, and pop music.

And why did he wear black onstage? There’s a clue in the lyrics of his song, “Man in Black”—“I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down/Livin’ in the hopeless, hungry side of town.” Johnny Cash was a Kennedy Center Honoree in 1996.
Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Rock & Roll, Music, Popular Culture

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

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

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

Ron McNair

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

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

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

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

Johann Strauss II

Arts Days: February 09, 1867: Step, Slide, Step
Austria’s Johann Strauss, the Younger, would be absolutely amazed to know the extent to which his work “On the Beautiful Blue Danube” has endured as one of the best-known pieces of classical music.

At the time this 19th century successful composer and conductor, and son of Johann Strauss, The Elder, was known for his light dance music and operettas. But it was this waltz in particular, with its distinct melody and dance rhythms, that became the focus of every concert hall’s dance floor first in Vienna, and later in Europe.

In 1872, Strauss brought his Viennese waltz to America’s shores where the music and dance captivated the country. On this particular day, Blue Danube was performed at a concert of the Vienna Men’s Choral Association.

Strauss is credited with composing 500 waltzes, earning him the title of “Waltz King.”
Composers, Dance, Music, Orchestra, Europe

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

High School Musical

Arts Days: January 20, 2006: Musical Theater’s Comeback
Sad but true, in a movie age of stunning special effects and computer animation, the days of musical theater seemed to take a back seat.

That is until the jump start sparked by Disney's original television film High School Musical, a modern adaptation of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet that tells the story of Troy and Gabriella–two high school juniors from rival cliques that audition together for the high school musical.

The film premiered on this day in 2006 and since then has become a phenomenal sensation around the world.
Movies & Movie Stars, Musicals, Television, Popular Culture, Young Artists

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

Princess Victoria of England

Arts Days: January 25, 1858: Nuptial Notes
Wedding bells rang on this day in 1858 at the marriage ceremony of Princess Victoria of England to Prince Friedrich of Prussia.

The princess walked down the aisle to German composer Richard Wagner's "Bridal Chorus," and after saying "I do," she and her new husband exited the church to the sounds of the "Wedding March" by German composer Felix Mendelssohn.

Overnight, these songs became the hot music selections for wedding processionals and recessionals. To this day, both songs remain popular, traditional choices in Western weddings.
Popular Culture, Music, Composers, Orchestra

Apollo Theater

Arts Days: January 26, 1934: Where Stars Are Born…
The Apollo Theater originally opened in 1913 as one of the city's leading burlesque venues for white-only audiences.

In 1932, powerful theatrical landlord Sydney S. Cohen purchased the theater and went to work refurbishing the entire venue. When it reopened its doors in 1934, patrons and performers of all races were welcomed.

The new Apollo Theater featured an "Amateur Night," which invited talented singers and dancers to the stage. "Amateur Night" helped launch the careers of numerous stars, including Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, James Brown, Sarah Vaughn, Aretha Franklin, and Lauryn Hill.
Art Venues, Music Legends, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Popular Culture, Rock & Roll

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Arts Days: January 27, 1756: The Music Man
It's hard to imagine, but child prodigy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart could play the keyboard and violin almost as soon as he could walk. He began composing original music at age five and was regularly invited to perform for European royalty.

At 17, he left his home to travel Europe in search of new musical opportunities. He stopped in Vienna, Paris, London, and Rome, where he observed and absorbed new musical forms and techniques.

Mozart's travels helped create his unique, versatile compositional language. He modernized the highly intricate Baroque style of music with advanced technical sophistication, enabling his works to reach new emotional heights.

In his lifetime, he created over 600 works and wrote in every major classical genre: symphony, opera, solo concerto, chamber music including string quartet and quintet, large-scale religious masses, choral music, dances, divertimenti, serenades, and the piano sonata.
Composers, Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Opera, Music, Orchestra

Benny Goodman

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

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

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

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

Long Playing record

Arts Days: January 04, 1950: The 19 Minute Gift
Before the arrival of the cassette tape and compact disc, the big breakthrough in music recording was the invention of the LP, or long-playing record. Up until this point, the standard record was able to hold only four minutes of music; the LP could play for 23 minutes. Thank you recording company RCA Victor for those extra 19 minutes.
Inventions, Math, Music, Popular Culture

The Andrews Sisters

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

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

Aretha Franklin

Arts Days: January 03, 1987: Show Some RESPECT
Let's have a standing ovation for "The Queen of Soul," Ms. Aretha Franklin, the first woman to be inducted on this very day into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and for her ability to imbue songs with powerful emotion.

Never confined by musical genre, Franklin has sung the blues, R&B, soul, pop, and rock and roll. She is most recognized for her pioneering 1960s R&B records, many of which are considered among the most important and innovative R&B recordings ever made.

During the late 1960s and early 70s, she was awarded eight consecutive Grammy Awards for Best Female R&B Vocalist. Franklin was also the youngest artist (at 52) to receive a Kennedy Center Honor back in 1994.
Music Legends, Innovators & Pioneers, Music, Popular Culture, Rock & Roll

Elvis Presley

Arts Days: January 08, 1935: Hail to the King
Elvis Presley, also known as "The King of Rock 'n' Roll," began playing guitar as a teenager and made his first musical recording in 1953. He was a pioneer of rockabilly, an up-tempo fusion of country and blues music. His original sound and uninhibited stage and television performances made him a household name by 1956, and he remained influential in rock music for decades.

Though his career included numerous film roles, he is best known for his music, including hits like "Heartbreak Hotel," "Love Me Tender," "Don’t Be Cruel," "Hound Dog" and "Jailhouse Rock." It is estimated he has sold over one billion record units worldwide, more than anyone in record industry history.
Controversial, Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Rock & Roll, Popular Culture

Radio

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

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

Hitsville USA, The birthplace of Motown

Arts Days: January 12, 1959: The Sound of Young America
Pioneer record label Motown Records played a major role in the racial integration of popular music. Founded on this day in 1959 by Berry Gordy, it was the first successful record label owned by an African American to primarily feature African American artists.

Among Motown's early artists were Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross and The Supremes, The Four Tops, The Temptations, and The Jackson Five. The label specialized in "The Motown Sound," or pop music characterized by the use of tambourine back beats, prominent and melodic bass guitar chords and structures, and a call and response singing style originated in gospel music.
Innovators & Pioneers, Popular Culture, Hip-Hop, Rock & Roll, Music Legends, Music

Evita

Arts Days: January 10, 1996: Evita Hits the Big Screen
Casting catastrophe and celebrity coup? The film adaptation of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber's 1978 Broadway musical Evita stars pop music singer Madonna and Spanish actor and singer Antonio Banderas. The story traces the life of Eva Perón, beloved Argentinean first lady and spiritual leader.

Prior to the film’s release, critics were skeptical of the casting, unsure if Madonna was best suited for the lead role. Evita, however, was warmly received and won several awards, including the Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song, and the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture.
Broadway, Controversial, Movies & Movie Stars, Musicals, Latin America, Popular Culture

Jaws

Arts Days: June 20, 1975: Something’s Fishy
When a killer shark decides to vacation at a tourist beach town, you clearly have the makings of the first summer blockbuster action film.

Director Steven Spielberg’s Jaws fast-paced, suspense-filled thriller came ashore on this June day, and caused waves of attention and ticket sales.  Even before the first sight of the lone fin sweeping through the water, composer John Williams’ theme music adds to the film’s sense of impending terror. Audiences quickly covered their eyes as the menacing great white begins to attack innocent swimmers, and as the adventure to track and destroy him tensely unfolds.
Movies & Movie Stars, Stunts & Special Effects, Animals, Composers, Music, Popular Culture

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

Igor Stravinsky

Arts Days: June 17, 1882: Blazing Music's Trail
One of the greatest composers and conductors of 20th century music, Igor Stravinsky was urged by his parents to become a lawyer. But he was bitten by the musical bug as a child, attending concerts, learning to play piano, and most importantly, studying orchestration with his influential teacher, composer Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov.

At just 18, Stravinsky was hired to compose a score for the Ballets Russes. The Firebird, which met with critical and commercial success, was followed by more ballet scores, including Petrushka. His score for another ballet, The Rite of Spring, startled and even outraged listeners at its world premiere with its creative experimentation of chords and rhythms.

Stravinsky drew on Russian folk tunes in his works, but added elements that were completely his own, from new rhythmic patterns to polytonality, sounds that no one had ever heard before in symphonic music. Far ahead of his time, Stravinsky shook up people’s beliefs of what classical music was by reinventing modern music.
Ballet, Composers, Dance, Music, Music Legends, Orchestra

33 1/3 Record

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

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

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

Mel Brooks

Arts Days: June 28, 1926: Blazing Laughter
He acts. He directs. He writes movies and songs. And he makes us laugh!

Mel Brooks is one of the funniest, most versatile fellows ever to grace a movie screen or write a tune. The shows he’s created, like The Producers and TV’s Get Smart series parodies everything from Adolf Hitler—yes, Hitler—to TV detective shows to scary movies. Brooks’s longtime creative partnership with actor Gene Wilder paved the way for some of his most popular comedies including Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein.

Most importantly, Brooks used satire to push comedy a little bit further than anybody had before, sometimes leaving audiences a little bit shocked—but always laughing.
Broadway, Comedy, Musicals, Movies & Movie Stars

Oliver

Arts Days: June 30, 1960: The Boy Who Asked for More
Drawing on themes and characters Charles Dickens created in his 1838 novel Oliver Twist, composer Lionel Bart wrote the words and music to a stage version of the story, which he called Oliver!

Dickens’s book was about Oliver, a lonely orphan boy, the adults who abused him with too much work and too little compassion, and a few kind people he meets along the way. Despite the serious subject matter, the infectious melodies of songs like Food, Glorious Food and Consider Yourself became lodged in listeners’ memories. In fact, Oliver’s modest request for more porridge—“Please sir, I want some more”—became one of the best-known lines to go straight from Dickens’s pen to Bart’s libretto.

Ultimately, Oliver’s happy escape from a cruel life to a happy one with his long-lost grandfather, delighted audiences.
Broadway, Musicals, Theater, Literature

Elvis Presley

Arts Days: June 05, 1956: A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On
Oh boy, did people go nuts when Elvis Presley appeared on this variety show hosted by “Uncle Miltie” (a.k.a. comedian Milton Berle). Performing his hit “Hound Dog,” Presley gyrated his hips, swung his arms, and caused kids in the studio audience to scream with delight. However, many parents and press members were scandalized by Presley’s performance; news reports the next day complained that his moves were “obscene.”

Overnight, the rising star earned the nickname “Elvis the Pelvis.” Other TV hosts capitalized on the brouhaha Presley’s appearance had caused by booking him on their shows. Allen, who promised a “cleaned-up” version of Presley’s act, had him singing “Hound Dog” to an actual dog, which Presley went along with in a good-natured way.
Comedy, Innovators & Pioneers, Music, Music Legends, Popular Culture, Rock & Roll, Television

The Musical Grease!

Arts Days: June 07, 1972: Grease is the Word
Nobody thought that a musical about a bunch of working-class 1950s high school kids known as “greasers”—obsessed with fast cars, rock and roll, and each other—would go on to shatter Broadway records for the longest-running show. But it did and 3,388 performances later, Grease was still the word on everyone’s lips. Audiences followed the antics of a cute couple named Danny and Sandy and their pals as they sang and danced through summer-fling memories, teenage disappointments, and promises of eternal friendship.

The play, written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, was loosely based on their own high school experiences and touched on some hard-hitting themes like gang rivalry and teenage pregnancy. But it was the music that had audiences dancing in the aisles and lining up to buy tickets year after year.
Broadway, Musicals, Popular Culture, Rock & Roll, Theater

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

Player Piano

Arts Days: June 14, 1881: A Do-It-Yourself Piano
In Cambridge, Massachusetts, John McTammany, Jr. secured a patent for his “mechanical musical instrument,” a piano that was capable of reading the musical notes on thick rolls of paper and playing songs all by itself. Typically, the “autopiano,” as it was also known, had to have a way for air to move through it and for small pegs called hammers to strike the keys at the appropriate times.

While McTammany believed he had invented the “player” part of the piano, he didn’t take credit for the whole thing. In fact, many people over the 19th and 20th centuries had contributed bits of knowledge toward the progression in the instrument.
Inventions, Musical Instruments, Music

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

Strauss

Arts Days: June 11, 1864: A Pioneer of the Modern Movement
This composer of Romantic and early-modern works understood the workings of an orchestra like few others have before or since.

As a young man, he used to frequent rehearsals of the Munich Court Orchestra and take lessons in music theory with some of the conductors. Strauss’ training and own innate talent for writing complex orchestral pieces led him in new directions as he got older; he started writing “tone poems,” pieces of music inspired by and written about a painting, novel, or some other non-musical source (his first tone poem was Don Juan). In addition, at the turn of the 19th century, Strauss began composing operas. He conducted many orchestras and also explored dissonance, combining chords in ways that sometimes startled listeners.
Composers, Europe, Music, Music Legends, Orchestra

Marvin Gaye

Arts Days: May 21, 1971: Soul Man
In the 1950s and 60s, the silky tenor voice of Marvin Gaye moved easily from the pop stylings of “Ain’t That Peculiar” to the lush duet with Tammi Terrell “You’re All I Need to Get By.” But in 1971, Gaye released an album that showcased a new level of artistry and depth. What’s Going On was a concept album filled with songs that tackled the problems of the day: the Vietnam War, racism, environmental damage, unemployment, poverty, and other complex issues.

The album marked a groundbreaking achievement in recording history as Gaye’s phenomenal voice with its three-octave range coupled with difficult social and political issues. What’s more, with this album Gaye resisted Motown’s standard process of separating songwriters, singers, and producers on a project.
Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Rock & Roll, Popular Culture, Music

Shuffle Along

May 23: May 23, 1921: Breaking Broadway’s Barriers
The early 20th century ragtime and jazz musicians Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle had a major hit on their hands when they co-wrote Shuffle Along, the first major Broadway musical by, for, and about African Americans. All told, the show ran for more than 500 performances. It played in Washington, D.C. and other locales before lighting up Broadway, where police were assigned on show nights to help ease traffic congestion.

Shuffle Along also made stars of dancers like Josephine Baker and singers like Paul Robeson. Many songs became popular hits. But by today’s standards, some aspects of Shuffle Along are offensive. For example, though the actors were all African American, they applied makeup to their faces to darken them further, and borrowed stock characters from minstrel shows. As the show’s popularity spread by word of mouth, the audiences were filled with black and white theater patrons alike.
Broadway, Innovators & Pioneers, Musicals, Jazz, Controversial, Theater

Adolphe Sax

Arts Days: May 17, 1846: The Sax Man
Belgian-born Adolphe Sax not only played musical instruments, he invented new ones, too. When he was 15, he made and musically mastered his own flutes and clarinets, even entering them in contests. Only a few years later, a kind of bugle he created laid the groundwork for a new family of instruments called the saxhorns.

The saxophone that bears his name proved to be the pinnacle of his ingenuity. Designed for use in orchestras and concert bands, Sax envisioned it as a woodwind instrument similar to the clarinet and played with a mouthpiece composed of a single reed (a thin strip of material that vibrates inside an instrument to create its distinctive sound). Inventing this new instrument gave Sax greater credibility among musicians and teachers of music.
Inventions, Musical Instruments, Music

Bob Dylan

Arts Days: May 24, 1941: Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man
When Robert Allen Zimmerman changed his name to Bob Dylan he was a young college student playing local coffeehouses. Just like his folk hero Woody Guthrie, Dylan was obsessed with taking a road trip across the country.  And so two years later, Dylan dropped out of school and headed east, winding up in New York City, where he had two goals. First, become a professional musician, and second, meet Guthrie. He managed to do both.

He also managed to challenge the establishment and influence others with both his words and music. With protest songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind” and social commentaries including 1964's “The Times They Are A-Changin’” Dylan’s distinctive, nasal vocals became the voice of a generation. Bruce Springsteen has said Dylan essentially invented a new sound and “changed the face of rock and roll forever.”
Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Rock & Roll, Popular Culture, Music

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

Michael Jackson Moonwalks

Arts Days: May 16, 1983: A Marvelous Night for a Moon Dance
The crowd at the Motown 25th Anniversary Special erupted in shrieks. On stage was Michael Jackson, performing his song “Billie Jean.” Jackson spun on his heels, looked both ways, and then seemed to slide backward across the stage as though pulled by an invisible string.

Those who master the move seem to be walking forward and sliding backward at the same time. Others had done the moonwalk, or backslide, but Michael Jackson made the move his very own. Every time he did it, his fans went crazy. As a solo artist, the moonwalk was only one of Jackson's incredible moves; throw in his dance-floor hits like “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough” and “Thriller,” his singing, that single, spangled glove, and his mysterious persona, and you had a celebrity of nearly-unparalleled global fame.
Dance Legends, Music Legends, Rock & Roll, Popular Culture, Dance, Music

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