Category Archives: Music

Singer: B.B. King

B.B. King has always been one of the hardest-working musicians in the country, playing an estimated 15,000 shows in his career. Uploaded by

What would the blues be without Riley King? He got his nickname from his time playing on Beale Street in Memphis (Great American Things, January 21, 2010), where he was “Beale Boy” or “B.B.” Today, King owns the popular B.B. King’s Blues Club that anchors that headquarters of the blues — and has other locations in cities from coast to coast.

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During his prime, King was one of the hardest-working musicians in the business, routinely performing 300 or more shows a year. He worked his way up playing the “chitlin‘ circuit,” the smoky blues clubs of the South. One night, two men got into a fight during one of his shows, knocking over kerosene barrels and setting the building on fire. Although two people died in the blaze, King rushed back in to get his favorite guitar. He later learned the two men were fighting over a woman named “Lucille,” and that’s been the name of his world-famous guitar ever since.

Only blues enthusiasts know most of King’s singles, though a few have become popular hits. His signature song is “The Thrill Is Gone,” which earned him the Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male in 1971. King is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, was selected by Rolling Stone as number three on its list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time,” and he has won both the Kennedy Center Honors and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Album: “Thriller”


Thriller contained nine songs, seven of which were released as singles. All made the top 10. It's the best-selling album of all time, and it still sells more than 100,000 copies a year, 28 years after its introduction. Uploaded by

Remember music videos? Okay, music videos are still being made, so let me put it another way: Remember when music videos mattered? If you can recall that distant past, you’ll know the impact that the album Thriller had on the pop music world. First came “Billie Jean,” pretty much Michael Jackson by himself. Then “Beat It,” with a group dance. And finally “Thriller,” probably the most famous music video dance ever. (Just ask Philippine convicts if you doubt this claim.)

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Of the nine songs on Thriller, seven were released as singles, and all went to the top ten. They included “The Girl is Mine” (No. 2), “Billie Jean” (No. 1), “Beat It” (No. 1), “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” (No. 5), “Human Nature” (No. 7), “P.Y.T. Pretty Young Thing” (No. 10), and “Thriller” (No. 4).

Thriller was named the number 20 album on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. It won eight Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year. And it’s the best-selling album of all time, still selling an amazing 109,000 copies each year, 28 years following its initial release.

Album: Tapestry


Tapestry won the big four Grammy Awards in 1972: Album, Song, Record, and Female Performance of the Year. Uploaded by

Carole King (Great American Things, March 28, 2010) isn’t one of the great singers of our times. Nor is she one of the great entertainers. But she is one of the great songwriters, and in Tapestry she brought her considerable talents to this 1971 album that still ranks, almost 40 years later, as the longest run a female artist has had on the Billboard chart: 305 weeks.

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A couple of the songs (“Natural Woman” by Aretha Franklin and “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” by the Shirelles) had already been hits for other artists. One more (“You’ve Got a Friend”) would become a number one hit for James Taylor (Great American Things, September 6, 2009). Even so, two of the other songs became number one hits for King (“I Feel the Earth Move” and “It’s Too Late”), and two others (“So Far Away” and “Smackwater Jack”) reached number 14.

Tapestry has sold more than 11 million copies in the U.S., and more than 25 million worldwide. The album won the top four Grammy Awards of 1972: Album of the Year, Song of the Year (“You’ve Got a Friend”), Record of the Year (“It’s Too Late”), and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. In Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, Tapestry was selected number 36.

Americana: South by Southwest


First, there was a trade conference in Austin. A music festival grew out of it. Then a film festival, then an interactive technology festival. Any more, and Austin won't be able to handle it alone. Uploaded by

First, there was a music industry trade show in Austin. (It’s grown from about 700 to near 12,000 registrants.) Then, a bunch of bands got the idea that this would be a good place to come and showcase their music. (Now almost 2,000 bands perform on 80 stages across downtown Austin.)

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The organizers then thought, why limit this synergy to music? Why not include film and interactive technology? So in 1994 the festival became the festivals, and now independent film and emerging technologies also are showcased at SXSW.

Of course, as with any festival, there are parties…and food galore…and long lines. There’s media coverage, excessive iPhone use, and nonstop Twittering. But to those who love music and movies, and the professionals in those businesses, South by Southwest is one of the circled events on their calendar. By the way, if you want to circle it on yours, SXSW is celebrating its 25th anniversary this coming March: Interactive (11th-15th), Film (11th-19th), and Music (16th-20th).

Music: Aaron Copland

Copland used American musical idioms in such popular works as Rodeo, Fanfare for the Common Man, and Appalachian Spring.

Though certainly not the first American composer whose music captured the national mood, Aaron Copland created ballets, popular works, and film scores that earned him the unofficial title as “The Dean of American composers.”

Copland weaved such true American musical idioms as jazz and folk into his compositions, and audiences loved him for it. He looked to these forms to liberate our classical music from the influence of Europe. He loved the European masters, of course – he spent a great deal of time in Europe and Asia, immersing himself in the music of the world. But he felt it was time for America to establish its own musical identity.

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His first composition to achieve iconic status was the ballet Billy the Kid (1935). It incorporated cowboy tunes and folk songs, and is still one of his most popular and widely performed pieces. Similarly, another ballet with a western theme, Rodeo (1942), also blended recognizable folk tunes with a Copland flair. Especially notable was the “Hoedown” section near the end. (Beef – it’s what’s for dinner.)

That same year, Copland composed one of the most instantly recognizable and loved pieces of American music, Fanfare for the Common Man. Written as America was gearing up for World War II, it accomplished Copland’s goal to create a national morale booster.

Copland later arranged his most famous ballet into an orchestral arrangement – Appalachian Spring. Originally written for 13 instruments, it incorporated the Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts” in a beautiful and inspiring American classic. It earned him the Pulitzer Prize (Great American Things, February 19, 2010).

Copland also wrote film scores, most notably Of Mice and Men (1939) for which he received an Academy Award nomination, and The Heiress (1949) for which he won the award.

Singer: Buddy Holly


He didn't want to be on the Midwest tour, and his bus was cold and broken down. So he chartered a flight to his next show. It was the day the music died. Uploaded by


He died at the way-too-young age of 23. He’d only been recognized on the music scene for a year and a half. And yet he managed to create memorable music and an innovative sound that are instantly recognizable half a century later.

Holly had made a name for himself in his hometown of Lubbock, Texas, where he opened shows for both Elvis Presley (Great American Things, July 29, 2009) and Bill Haley and the Comets. He put together a band he called the Crickets, signed a contract with Decca Records, and went to Nashville to record his first songs.

They bombed. Decca dumped him. But he found another manager, signed another contract, and released “That’ll Be the Day.” Decca said, “Come on back,” so he did.

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Of course, you know the sad ending to this story. Holly went on a tour of the Midwest along with Dion and the Belmonts, Richie Valens, and the J.P. “Big Bopper” Richardson. The tour was plagued with transportation problems, so Holly chartered a plane to take some of the performers from Iowa to Minnesota. It crashed, killing Holly, Valens, Richardson, and the pilot.

It was “the day the music died.”

We’re left with a number of great recordings Holly made in a short time. His unique singing style influenced future artists as diverse as Bob Dylan and the Beatles. Among his hits were “That’ll Be the Day,” “Peggy Sue,” “Oh Boy!,” “Maybe Baby,” “Rave On,” “It’s So Easy,” “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore,” “Not Fade Away,” “Raining in My Heart,” and “True Love Ways.”

Buddy Holly was in the first group inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Great American Things, August 31, 2009), and was ranked number 13 by Rolling Stone in its list of Fifty Greatest Artists of All Time.

Music: Motown

The list of performers on the Motown label during the 1960s is a Who's Who of soul and R&B. Uploaded by

I’m a little bit embarrassed that Motown hasn’t been on this list before now. I’ve definitely recognized a good many of those who performed and wrote songs for the label, but it’s way overdue that I honor the company itself. This recognizes the time (until 1972) when Motown was headquartered in Detroit.

Motown's original home is now a museum. Uploaded by

Only Stax Records in Memphis challenged Motown during the 1960s as the premier producer of soul and R&B. Founded by Berry Gordy, Jr., Motown had 110 songs reach the Top 10 on the charts between 1961 and 1971.

As successful as Motown was as a music machine, its cultural impact may be even greater. White audiences of all ages loved the Motown sound and identified with the performers. The black/white distinction diminished as the years went by; there are lots of factors behind that change, but there’s no minimizing the Motown effect.

The roster of Motown artists is a Who’s Who of soul music.Here are the Motown performers who took at least one song to Number 1:

The Marvelettes • Stevie Wonder • Mary Wells • The Supremes • The Temptations • Four Tops • Marvin Gaye • The Jackson 5 • Edwin Starr • Diana Ross • Smokey Robinson and the Miracles

And here are some of the other Motown stars:

Martha and the Vandellas • Junior Walker & The All-Stars • The Spinners • The Isley Brothers • David Ruffin • Jimmy Ruffin • Gladys Knight & The Pips • Rare Earth

Throughout its history, Motown was known as Hitsville, USA. It churned out songs with almost a factory mentality, yet managed to maintain the spark of creativity never quite matched since. Part of the credit went to the songwriters, most notably the team of Holland-Dozier-Holland (Great American Things, November 15, 2009), and part of it went to the producers – including Berry Gordy, Jr. himself.

Music: Charlie Parker

He was nicknamed Yardbird, shortened to Bird. He took jazz places no one had ever taken it before. Uploaded by

Charlie Parker loved chicken as a young man, and got the nickname “Yardbird,” later shortened to “Bird.” He wanted to be a musician from an early age, so he picked up an alto sax while in his teens. He got good enough at it to drop out of school and believe he could make a living as a musician.

He played at clubs in his hometown of Kansas City, and often spent twelve to fifteen hours a day practicing, mastering his instrument. He finally joined a band in 1938 that toured big cities, exposing Parker to Chicago and New York. He moved to NYC, and after a year joined Earl Hines’s band with another musician named Dizzy Gillespie. But he developed his technique after hours, in jam sessions with Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and others.

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The sound that evolved from these sessions, and which Parker is largely responsible for, is called bebop. While this uptempo style didn’t sit well at first with the music establishment, it soon took hold not only within the musician community, but with the jazz-listening public as well.

Unfortunately, Parker had a self-destructive side to his personality. He became addicted to heroin early in his life, and it eventually led to a six-month commitment to Camarillo State Mental Hospital in California. He often missed gigs, resorted to pawning his instrument to afford his habit, and sometimes turned friends and family against him.

Even so, he became an idol and an icon in the jazz community. But he wouldn’t live long enough to take advantage of that status. Badly in debt and in failing health, he twice attempted suicide in 1954. This led to another voluntary commitment. His final performance was, ironically, at Birdland – the jazz club in New York City named after him. He died way too young, at the age of 34.

Four of Parker’s recordings have been enshrined in the Grammy Hall of Fame. And Bird himself was honored posthumously with a Lifetime Grammy Award in 1984.

Music: John Philip Sousa

Sousa directed the Marine Corps Band for several years, then formed his own band which he led most of the rest of his life. Uploaded by

Some of America’s most beloved patriotic marches came to us via the master of military music, “The March King” – John Philip Sousa.

His father played trombone in the U.S. Marine Band, and young Sousa at age six began studying music. But not just piano lessons for young J.P.; he studied voice, violin, piano, flute, cornet, baritone, trombone, and alto horn.

At the age of 13, Sousa tried to run away to join a circus band. “Not so fast, my friend,” said his Pa, and Sousa was made an apprentice in the Marine Band, a spot he held till he was 21. His musicianship was unassailable, and after a few years of touring (violin) he wound up conducting Broadway orchestras, including the production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “H.M.S. Pinafore.”

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While Sousa wrote 136 marches altogether, we know him today primarily for three: “Semper Fidelis,” the march of the U.S. Marine Corps, “Washington Post March,” and “Stars and Stripes Forever.” This last march has been designated as “The official march of the United States.”

(As an aside for Virginia Tech fans, Sousa wrote a special march called “Hands Across the Sea” which he dedicated to all of America’s allied countries abroad and to the Highty-Tighties, the Regimental Band of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets.)

Music: The Brill Building

From the 1930s through today, more pop hits may have been written in The Brill Building than anywhere else in America. Uploaded by

In the Brill Building, and a couple of other addresses down the block that housed the overflow, American pop music was written, arranged, recorded, and sold. “The Brill Building Sound” came to signify the sophisticated pop music, often with a slightly Latin sound, of the 1950s and 1960s.

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The Brill Building sits at 1619 Broadway in New York City, just north of Times Square. The building’s developer wanted to rent to bankers and financial houses, but the Depression forced him to take what he could get. What he got was music producers.

The songwriters who worked out of TBB are some of the most prolific in American history. They often worked in pairs: Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller (Great American Things, March 20, 2010), Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield. And there were influential writers who worked alone: Phil Spector, Neil Diamond, Laura Nyro.

Literally hundreds of hits came out of the Brill Building for everyone from Elvis to the Beatles. They all came out of little cubicles in The Brill Building. Here’s how the great Carole King (Great American Things, March 28, 2010) described it: “Every day we squeezed into our respective cubby holes with just enough room for a piano, a bench, and maybe a chair for the lyricist if you were lucky. You’d sit there and write and you could hear someone in the next cubby hole composing a song exactly like yours. The pressure in the Brill Building was really terrific — because Donny (Kirshner) would play one songwriter against another. He’d say: ‘We need a new smash hit’ — and we’d all go back and write a song and the next day we’d each audition for Bobby Vee’s producer.”

While The Brill Building is most often associated with that specific era in pop music history when rock and roll was being born, it’s still an important factor in today’s music business. Artists and songwriters such as Paul Simon, Kara DioGuardi, and Diane Warren all maintain offices within the building…

Music: Burt Bacharach

In the 1960s, there were three channels of music. The British invasion, Motown, and Burt Bacharach songs. Uploaded by

So many of the people on this list have multiple talents, any of which could have made them a success. Burt Bacharach is a good example. He’s a fabulous songwriter (music only, with lyrics usually supplied by Hal David or third wife Carol Bayer Sager), a talented musician, and a successful producer. What we know him for most, though, are his songs.

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Bacharach and David met in 1957, had a few modest hits stateside, and then in 1961 started writing for a conservatory-trained vocalist named Dionne Warwick. Over the next twenty years, Bacharach wrote or produced twelve songs for Warwick that reached the top 20. The two are intertwined in our memories, and after a period of estrangement, got back together to record Bacharach’s song “That’s What Friends Are For.”

A number of films and stage productions during the sixties and seventies featured the music of Burt Bacharach. He scored Casino Royale in 1967, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in 1969, and the Broadway show Promises, Promises in between. Butch Cassidy alone would place Bacharach in the top five percent of film scores of all time.

It’s Bacharach’s songs, however that have taken a prominent place in American popular culture. Here are some of the hits he’s written:

“Baby, It’s You” (1962, The Shirelles) • “Any Day Now” (1982, Ronnie Milsap) • “(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance” (1964, Gene Pitney) • “Only Love Can Break a Heart” (1962, Gene Pitney) • “Don’t Make Me Over” (1962, Dionne Warwick) • “Make It Easy on Yourself” (1962, Jerry Butler) • “Blue on Blue” (1963, Bobby Vinton) • “Anyone Who Had a Heart” (1963, Dionne Warwick) • “Close to You” (1970, The Carpenters) • “Wives and Lovers” (1963, Jack Jones) • “Wishin’ and Hopin’ (1964, Dusty Springfield) • “Walk on By” (1964, Dionne Warwick) • “Always Something There to Remind Me” (1967, Dionne Warwick) • “Message to Michael” (1966, Dionne Warwick) • “What the World Needs Now Is Love” (1965, Jackie DeShannon) • “What’s New Pussycat” (1965, Tom Jones) • “Alfie” (1967, Dionne Warwick) • “I Say a Little Prayer” (1967, Dionne Warwick) • “The Look of Love” (1967, Dusty Springfield) • “One Less Bell to Answer” (1970, Fifth Dimension) • “This Guy’s In Love with You” (1968, Herb Alpert) • “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” (1968, Dionne Warwick) • “Promises, Promises” (1968, Dionne Warwick) • “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” (1969, B.J. Thomas) • “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” (1970, Dionne Warwick) • “Arthur’s Theme” (1981, Christopher Cross) • “On My Own” (1986, Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald)


Music: John Williams

During his six decades as a conductor, John Williams has earned 45 Academy Award nominations and received 21 Grammys. Uploaded by

Can a composer’s entire reputation be validated on the basis of just two notes? Beethoven needed four notes to embed his iconic Fifth Symphony into our consciousness. Well, John Williams did the master two better — the first two notes of the motif for the shark in Jaws are perhaps the most memorable in movie history.

Known best for his film scores, Williams broke in via the small screen. He composed music scores (though not the theme songs) for a number of series, including Lost in Space and Gilligan’s Island. Hollywood took notice, and soon he was writing music for film. He received his first Academy Award nomination in 1967 for Valley of the Dolls, and won the first time two years later for Fiddler on the Roof.

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His music caught the attention of an upcoming young director named Steven Spielberg (Great American Things, July 22, 2009). Spielberg hired Williams to score his first movie, Sugarland Express, but it was his second movie — Jaws — that earned the maestro his second Oscar, and brought him from the background into the spotlight film composers seldom see.

Since then, Williams has scored such hits as Close Encounters of the Third Kind (creating its distinctive five-note theme), the original Star Wars trilogy, The Poseidon Adventure, Superman, three Indiana Jones movies, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Born on the Fourth of July, Home Alone, Saving Private Ryan, Jurassic Park, Memoirs of a Geisha, Schindler’s List, and the first three Harry Potter films. In all, Williams has received an astonishing 45 Oscar nominations, and won five statues.

When not scoring movies, Williams found time to conduct the Boston Pops Orchestra from 1980 to 1993. He has earned 21 Grammys, and received the Kennedy Center Honors in 2004…

TV Show: American Idol

Paula's gone, and the show survived just fine. Now Simon's going, and replacing him will be infinitely harder. Uploaded by

It’s trendy for people to turn their noses up at this show, it’s somehow beneath them. But its overpowering ratings in almost all demographic groups reveal its enduring popularity. It was the top-rated TV show for five consecutive seasons, a feat matched only by All in the Family and The Cosby Show.

The talent show format is as old as broadcasting: Major Bowes hosted the Amateur Hour on radio, and it was continued on the Dumont Network in television, starting in 1947. The concept has continued on TV with Star Search, America’s Got Talent, and most successfully, American Idol.

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Idol is essentially an Americanization of the British show Pop Idol. One of the reasons for the show’s success has undoubtedly been the acerbic criticism of judge Simon Cowell, who tells contestants the truth as he perceives it without sugar-coating. The 2010 season will be his last, and the show’s producers decision on who replaces him will be critical to American Idol’s future.

Winning is everyone’s goal, but history has shown that many non-winners have also had success they wouldn’t have experienced without the show. Some of these talented singers include Clay Aiken and Kimberley Locke (Season 2), Jennifer Hudson (Season 3), Katharine McPhee, Kellie Pickler, Elliott Yamin, and Chris Daughtry (Season 5), Melinda Doolittle (Season 6), David Archuleta (Season 7), and Danny Gokey (Season 8).

So far, American Idol participants have won one Academy Award, 8 Grammys, 15 American Music Awards, and 38 Billboard Music Awards.

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As for the winners? Here’s my ranking in terms of sheer talent:

1. Carrie Underwood (Season 4)
2. Fantasia (Season 3)
3. Kelly Clarkson (Season 1)
4. David Cook (Season 7)
5. Kris Allen (Season 8)
6. Ruben Studdard (Season 2)
7. Taylor Hicks (Season 5)
8. Jordin Sparks (Season 6)

Having said that, for pure singing ability, I think Melinda Doolittle is the best who’s ever appeared on American Idol…

Music: Irving Berlin

Irving Berlin came to the U.S. at the age of five, and turned out some of our most patriotic songs, including God Bless America. Uploaded by

I’ve featured some outstanding American songwriters on this site, those who’ve penned both contemporary hits and classics from the great American songbook. I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to get to Irving Berlin, because he may very well have written more songs that are part of our nation’s cultural fabric than anyone else.

Berlin was a legend before he reached 30. His first song, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” became a huge hit not just in the USA, but around the world. Although born in Russia, his family came to this country when he was just five. He said he wanted to “reach the heart of the average American,” something he undoubtedly accomplished.

The streets and restaurants of lower Manhattan provided Berlin his music laboratory. He sang on the corners for pennies, became a singing waiter in Chinatown (where he learned to play the piano after hours), and finally started writing songs of his own.

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During his lifetime he wrote sheet music, films, and Broadway plays – some 1,500 songs in all. Of his influence, the New York Times wrote, “Irving Berlin set the tone and the tempo for the tunes America played and sang and danced to for much of the 20th century.” Here’s a list of some of his most popular hits:

“A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody” • “Always” • “Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)” • “Blue Skies” • “Cheek to Cheek” • “Doin’ What Comes Naturally” • “Easter Parade” • “God Bless America” • “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” • “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” • “Marie” • “Puttin’ on the Ritz” • “The Girl that I Marry” • “There’s No Business Like Show Business” • “What’ll I Do?” • “White Christmas”

TV Show: Austin City Limits

Austin City Limits began, as you'd expect, by featuring the music of Austin. Then it expanded to Texas, and now you can hear national and international artists. Uploaded by

If Austin is indeed the “live music capital of the world” as it proclaims itself, much of the credit has to go to Austin City Limits, a PBS stalwart that’s now been running for 24 years. That makes the program the longest-running concert series in TV history.

ACL started life as a showcase specifically for the music of Texas. It had Western Swing. It had Tejano. It had progressive country. It expanded to what’s called “roots” artists, who may or may not have hailed from the Lone Star State. And today, you’re likely to hear virtually any type of music, not just from Austin…or Texas… or even the USA.

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Perhaps you think of ACL as it used to be. Well, here’s a list of recent artists on the show, a list that will perhaps open your eyes: Kenny Chesney, Mos Def, Drive By Truckers, Dave Matthews Band, Elvis Costello, Willie Nelson, Pearl Jam, Steve Earle, Kris Kristofferson, Foo Fighters, and Sarah McLachlan.

Austin City Limits was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President George W. Bush in 2003. It is the only television show that has been honored with this award…

Music: Great Movie Songs

A lot of songs that we associate with a specific movie, such as As Time Goes By, didn't debut in the film. This list is for those that did. Uploaded by

This recognition isn’t for songs that were incorporated into a movie’s soundtrack, but for songs that made their debut in a film. Lots of wonderful choices, but here are my top ten.

No. 10, from Rocky, “Gonna Fly Now”

No. 9, from Saturday Night Fever, “Stayin’ Alive”

No. 8, from Toy Story 2, “When She Loved Me”

No. 7, from The Way We Were, “The Way We Were”

No. 6, from An American Tail, “Somewhere Out There”

No. 5, from The Happy Ending, “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life”

No. 4, from Shall We Dance, “They Can’t Take That Away from Me”

No. 3, from Swing Time, “The Way You Look Tonight”

No. 2, from Holiday Inn, “White Christmas”

No. 1, from The Wizard of Oz, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”

Music: New Orleans Jazz Festival

Nice to see the blue sky in this picture. I have friends who go to the Jazz Fest almost every year, and it always seems to rain. But they love every minute anyway. Uploaded by

I’m sure at one time the festival was all about jazz, and the organizers wouldn’t change the name after all these years. But the festival now has eleven stages and tents, with the music ranging from blues to jazz to gospel to pop.

You could go to the N.O. Jazz Festival and never actually hear any jazz, but why would you do that? Because you can spend all day for seven days over two weekends listening to some of the most amazing talents around. Of course, that claim can be made of any of the stages – the challenge is to plan your day so you can hear the performers you know you love, while making time to discover new favorites.

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The headliners demonstrate the eclectic nature of this festival. Here are some of the biggest names performing in 2010: Lionel Richie, The Black Crowes, George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic, Simon & Garfunkel, The Allman Brothers Band, Anita Baker, Widespread Panic, The Average White Band, Elvis Costello, Blues Traveler, Buckwheat Zydeco, Aretha Franklin, Jose Feliciano, Kirk Franklin, Pearl Jam, Jeff Beck, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, B.B. King, The Neville Brothers, Richie Havens, and Van Morrison. Whew!

The Festival originated in 1970, when New Orleans city fathers hired George Wein, the man behind the Newport Jazz Festival, to create an idea for a similar event in New Orleans. His concept was to focus on the local heritage in music, food, even crafts. That first year’s event had a whopping 350 spectators, less than half the total number of musicians who performed! Today, that two-weekend total is somewhere near a half million music fans.

And food fans. Because the only thing that rivals music in New Orleans is the cuisine. So don’t go to the Fest expecting “carnival” food, because you won’t find it. But if you have a hankering for a crawfish beignet, or a po’boy made with hot sausage, soft shell crab, alligator, or duck, you’ve come to the right place. Laissez les bon temps roulez!…

Music: Beach Music

Fat Harold's Beach Club in the Ocean Drive section of Myrtle Beach is the epicenter of beach music and its signature dance, the shag. Uploaded by

Is it possible that those of you who live outside the Carolinas and Virginia may not know what I mean by Beach Music? If not, you probably haven’t seen the dance called “the shag,” either. While this is outside my area of expertise, the wise writers of Wikipedia say this: “Recordings with a 4/4 ‘blues shuffle’ rhythmic structure and moderate-to-fast tempo are the most popular music for the shag, and the vast majority of the music in this genre fits that description.”

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (Great American Things, September 5, 2009) is the hub of beach music today. The music developed in the late 1950s and 60s, and hasn’t changed much since then. Closely associated with what’s usually called “soul music,” beach music’s primary bands are more regionally popular, though certainly some of these songs made their presence known on the national charts as well.

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Among the songs that represent the best of beach music are “Carolina Girls” by General Johnson and the Chairmen of the Board, “I Love Beach Music,” by the Embers, “Myrtle Beach Days” by the Fantastic Shakers, “May I” by Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs (covered nicely by Bill Deal and the Rhondels) and “39-21-40 Shape” by the Showmen.

But it’s almost impossible to describe music, so here are several examples of the music that’s still beloved throughout the Southeast…

Music: Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller

Leiber and Stoller wrote Hound Dog and Jailhouse Rock for that guy in the middle, whatever his name is. Uploaded by

If the names aren’t familiar to you, the songs they wrote will be. Leiber and Stoller began writing songs for more or less obscure rhythm and blues artists in the early fifties, including a song that became a minor hit for Big Mama Thornton. A few years later, an unknown white boy from Tupelo recorded his version of the song. It made him a star, and launched Leiber and Stoller’s career as well. The song was “Hound Dog,” and the white boy was Elvis (Great American Things, July 29, 2009).

More hits followed, still in the R&B vein. “Yakety Yak” for the Coasters. “Stand by Me” for Ben E. King. “There Goes My Baby” by the Drifters. And several more hits for Elvis as well, including “Jailhouse Rock.” Their last major hit was “Stuck in the Middle with You” by Stealers Wheel in 1972.

Their autobiography is now available. Uploaded by

They’ve influenced a generation of songwriters, including Lennon and McCartney, and they’ve received the honors that go along with such success. They’re members of the Songwriters and Rock and Roll Halls of Fame, and Elvis’s recording of “Hound Dog” is in the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Of course, when the discussion involves songwriters, the natural question is, “So, what did they write?” Look at this incredible roster of major hits from the 1950s and 60s:

“Along Came Jones” (The Coasters, Ray Stevens)
“Charlie Brown” (The Coasters)
“Dance with Me” (The Drifters)
“Girls, Girls, Girls” (Elvis)
“Hound Dog” (Elvis)
“I (Who Have Nothing)” (Ben E. King)
“I’m a Woman” (Peggy Lee, Maria Muldaur)
“Is That All There Is?” (Peggy Lee)
“Jailhouse Rock” (Elvis)
“Kansas City” (Wilbert Harrison)
“King Creole” (Elvis)
“Love Potion Number 9” (The Searchers)
“Only in America” (Jay and the Americans)
“Poison Ivy” (The Coasters)
“Ruby Baby” (Dion)
“Spanish Harlem” (Ben E. King)
“Stand by Me” (Ben E. King)
“There Goes My Baby” (The Drifters)
“Yakety Yak” (The Coasters)

Music: George Gershwin

Tragically, George Gershwin died of a brain tumor at age 37. Who knows what wonderful music we never got to enjoy. Uploaded by

What do you call someone who wrote endearing classical music, some of the greatest popular songs of all time, as well as a number of Broadway’s most memorable hits?

You call him Mr. Gershwin.

Gershwin quit school at age 15 to write songs in New York’s Tin Pan Alley. His first published song didn’t give a hint of the greatness to come. It was called “When You Want ‘Em, You Can’t Get ‘Em, When You’ve Got ‘Em, You Don’t Want ‘Em.” His first hit was “Swanee,” made famous by Al Jolson.

George began working with his brother Ira in 1924, and they produced a string of Broadway hit Broadway productions, including Funny Face, Girl Crazy, and Of Thee I Sing, the first musical comedy to win a Pulitzer Prize (Great American Things, February 19, 2010).

Uploaded to Flickr by IrishDave500.

Even while producing popular entertainment, Gershwin was composing some of the twentieth century’s most memorable classical works, including Rhapsody in Blue and An American in Paris. He also wrote the American opera “Porgy and Bess,” which included some of his most sophisticated compositions, as well as such great songs as “Summertime,” “I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin,” and “It Ain’t Necessarily So.”

Unfortunately for music lovers worldwide, Gershwin started experiencing terrible headaches and was diagnosed with brain cancer. He was only 37 when he died. But the impact he had on American music can’t be overstated. In addition to the songs noted above, his compositions also include: “But Not For Me,” “Embraceable You,” “I’ve Got Rhythm,” “I’ve Got a Crush on You,” “Love Walked In,” “Nice Work if You Can Get It,” “Our Love Is Here to Stay,” “They All Laughed,” “They Can’t Take That Away from Me,” and “‘s Wonderful.”

Maybe no one sang Gershwin better than Ella Fitzgerald: