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There’s A Composer Born Every Minute

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"Jumbo the elephant king!" By W. Brand. New York: J. N. Pattison, 1883.

The phrase “there’s a sucker born every minute” is commonly attributed to famed showman Phineas Taylor Barnum. The quote’s provenance is disputed, its sentiment cynical, but as adaptable headline fodder it is unsurpassed. If the reader so desires, the remainer of this paragraph may be read out loud in the booming voice of a carnival barker.  This consummate entertainer, proprietor of The Greatest Show On Earth,  was born July 5, 1810, in Bethel, Connecticut.  In 2002, the Music Division premiered Barnum’s Bird, a cabaret opera by Libby Larsen.  Larsen’s opera was co-commissioned by the Library of Congress and the Odyssey Commissioning Program of the Plymouth Music Series of Minnesota, and dramatized the artistic and commercial partnership between Barnum and famed Swedish soprano Jenny Lind.  Celebrate the Barnum bicentennial with “Jumbo the Elephant King!” from the Historic Sheet Music, 1800-1922 collection in the Performing Arts Encyclopedia. See pages from Barnum’s American Illustrated Magazine in American Treasures from the Library of Congress. You may resume your regular tone of voice now.

Portrait of Billy Eckstine, New York, N.Y., between 1946 and 1948. By William P. Gottlieb.

Three other musical luminaries celebrate birthdays this week, and each of them gives us a chance to explore a different facet of the Performing Arts Encyclopedia.

Stephen Foster was born July 4th, 1826. You can see sheet music for his quintessentially American compositions, including “Beautiful Dreamer,” and hear recordings of his music in Song of America.

Gustav Mahler was born July 7th, 1860. Read the script for the Young People’s Concerts program Who is Gustav Mahler? in the Leonard Bernstein Collection.

Finally, jazz singer  Billy Eckstine was born July 8th, 1914.  See photos of  Eckstine in the William P. Gottlieb Collection.

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