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One November night in the year 1934, a 17-year-old girl was about to take the stage at the Apollo theater’s Amateur Night program and planned to do a dance routine—but changed her mind and decided to sing a song instead. Probably the best decision Ella Jane Fitzgerald ever made, because she won the contest, and shortly thereafter, was introduced to bandleader Chick Webb, who hired her to sing in his band.

NPR's 50 Favorite Songs Of 1971

May 6, 2021

Today, NPR celebrates the 50-year anniversary of our first on-air original show. For five decades, NPR and our member stations have shared the responsibility — and privilege — to serve the individual listener and promote their personal growth. To honor our time spent together, we turned back the clock and reflected on the impeccable sounds of our genesis year.

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We’re celebrating the birth of Edward Kennedy Ellington, better known as the “Duke.”  With drive, charisma, and vision, Ellington became one of the first artists to successfully bridge the worlds between popular and serious music.

Kevin Vondrak

Premiered in late 2019, and digitally released in April, 2021, A Native Hill provides solace and reflection about our human place in the natural world. British composer Gavin Bryars wrote the music to text by American environmentalist Wendell Berry, specifically for the voices in the Philadelphia-based professional chamber choir, The Crossing, and presented it as a gift to the ensemble.

April 19, 2021. The Grammy-winning Catalyst Quartet uncovers music and the stories of the people who wrote it in its new recording series, UNCOVERED. The first volume focuses on music by late 19th-century English composer, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.

Courtesy of Michael Tilson Thomas

Before stepping down 10 months ago at age 75, the San Francisco Symphony’s (SFS) Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT) owned the longest active tenure of any music director of a major American orchestra; he’d held the position since 1995. Though he’s played piano, composed, and conducted at an elite level since his teenage years, Tilson Thomas has always been more than the classical music wunderkind who grew up to become the great maestro. There was a piece of himself he’d inherited, a piece that hadn’t necessarily been ignored but hadn’t been foregrounded in his work either.

Courtesy of Daniel Matsukawa

A new video features 11 original musical works by young composers spanning a range of styles and visuals—reflections from the year of the pandemic, including loss, grief, love, and hope for renewal. Created by Philadelphia Orchestra Principal Bassoonist Daniel Matsukawa in association with Musical Mentors Collaborative (MMC), the project also invites new submissions; it’s all part of an effort to help us connect and find our way through times of turmoil.

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I Never Saw Another Butterfly by Philadelphia composer and cantor Charles Davidson, is a setting of poems by children imprisoned in Theresienstadt; only 100 of the 15,000 children there survived. I Never Saw Another Butterfly has received more than 4,000 performances throughout the world, and is the subject of two PBS documentaries: The Journey of Butterfly and Butterfly Revisited.

April 5, 2021. West coaster George Kahn is one of those melodic, easy-swinging pianists that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. He’s not edgy, nor experimental; he appropriates liberally from the Great American Songbook. He’s unabashedly straight-ahead, which, in this day and age, might be a revolutionary act in itself.

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