January 16, 2013
The votes have been cast and counted, the campaign offices have been packed up. But things are just getting started in D.C. as the city prepares for a rush of excitement for Barack Obama’s second inauguration, January 21. More than a million people sought a spot near the Capitol to witness his first inauguration in 2009. For his second, Obama is sure to bring out the crowds again and all of D.C. is gearing up for inauguration day, from hotels to restaurants, including Ben’s Chili, which expects to serve 1,000 gallons of its famous chili the week of Obama’s swearing in, according to NBC.
You might not be running for office any time soon, but you can still win big this weekend with the help of our editors.
Conveniently situated around the Mall, the Smithsonian offers a wealth of presidential pomp and history to help get you up to speed for the big day, from Bill Clinton’s saxophone to Thomas Jefferson’s desk. Since this is the land of the free after all, we’ll be offering our custom inauguration-themed app for most smartphones for free with step-by-step tours to the best of the collections and exhibits. The tour includes stately highlights at the American History Museum, Natural History Museum, American Indian Museum, National Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum. From the gowns of inaugural balls past to the hall of presidential portraits, the tour will get you geared up for the festivities.
On Jan. 21, all Smithsonian museums will operate on their normal schedules, with the following exceptions:
• The Renwick will be closed.
• The National Museum of the American Indian will be closed because of its proximity to the swearing-in ceremony.
• The Castle will open at 7:30 a.m.
• The Hirshhorn, the Ripley Center, the National Museum of African Art, and the Freer and Sackler Galleries will open at 8 a.m.
The museums on the south side of the National Mall will be accessible from Independence Avenue only. The museums on the north side of the National Mall will be accessible from both Madison Drive and Constitution Avenue.
More good news, the bathrooms will be available. And if you’re feeling peckish, you can get food at the Air and Space Museum (McDonald’s McCafe, Boston Market and Donato’s Pizza), Natural History Museum (Atrium Cafe, Cafe Natural and Fossil Cafe), American History (Stars and Stripes Cafe and Constitution Cafe) and the Smithsonian Castle’s Cafe and Coffee Bar.
For more information on the when, where and how to get there, view our inauguration at the Smithsonian page.
And if the inauguration tour leaves you curious about what else the Smithsonian has to offer, upgrade to our full visitors guide for just 99 cents. The app includes interactive postcards (starring you wearing the Hope Diamond or Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers, or other fun items from the collections) as well as custom tours for history buffs, art lovers and even a three-hour tour for the brave of heart and swift of feet. One of our own former interns tried to conquer the tall task:
December 4, 2012
It’s that time of year again when the airwaves jingle with a potpourri of holiday music, performances and mashups, featuring songs and artists with jazz, pop culture, film, classical and sacred music roots. Some of the chestnut classics are playing 24/7 on radio stations (for those of you who still listen to radio) across the land.
Speaking of chestnut classics, during his 29-year career, jazz vocalist and pianist Nat King Cole recorded four versions of his chestnuts roasting by open fire “The Christmas Song” before arriving at the 1961 version that became the perennial favorite. Surprisingly, the tune was composed on a hot summer day in 1944 by Mel Tormé and Robert Wells. Whitney Houston released her stellar version in 2003. Two years later, the music licensing organization ASCAP noted that the song was number one among the ten most performed holiday tunes during the first five years of the 21st century. Santa Claus is Coming to Town and Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, were two and three, respectively.
I always keep my ear out for Eartha Kitt. The original Cat Woman purrs for holiday furs, cars and jewels in Santa Baby, a satirical tune co-written in 1953 by Philip Springer and Joan Javits, niece of U.S. Senator Jacob Javits.
Whether your tastes veer towards the traditional or something a little funkier, here’s an eclectic mix of jazz and other music by seasoned and emerging artists to explore this season, along with some interesting bedtime stories you probably didn’t know. So curl up with your hot cocoa and click through some of my holiday favorites.
Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s Nutcracker Suite. Tchaikovysky swings in the hands of these classically trained jazz masters. In 1960 the duo reinvented the ballet classic, mixing rhythms and musical styles. These two selections bring sass to the Nutcracker Overture and make the Sugar Plum Fairies sound like they’re hung over from too much partying at the Sugar Rum Cherry Dance.
Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree. At four foot nine, country music-rock star Brenda Lee was known as Little Miss Dynamite. She was 13 when she recorded this classic in 1958. Her version became a chart buster in 1960 and reigns as the all time favorite, played by radio formats from Top 40 to Country Music to Adult Contemporary and Adult Standards. Nielsen Sound Scan rated digital track sales at 679,000 downloads. Miley Cyrus also had fun with the song .
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Composed by Hugh Martin Jr., who also wrote “The Trolley Song” and “The Boy Next Door” for the film Meet Me in St. Louis, starring Judy Garland. This song from the film might have become the most depressing holiday song ever written. Luckily studio executives and Garland intervened, requesting rewrites to give the public a more hopeful classic. Compare the original lyrics to the holiday friendly versions sung by Frank Sinatra and Luther Vandross.
The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late). What more can I say? Gotta love Alvin and the Chipmunks in this song composed by Rostom Sipan “Ross” Bagdasarian, who had a knack with novelty music. The son of Armenian immigrants, Bagdasarian was a bit stage and film actor whose first musical success, ”Come-on-a-My House,” was a dialect song that became a hit for Rosemary Clooney, the aunt of actor George Clooney. The song was co-written with Bagdasarian’s cousin, the famous writer William Saroyan. Go ahead, do your best impersonation. ALLLLLVIN!
Oh Chanukah. This traditional song commemorating the Jewish Festival of Lights was standard fare in the New York City school programs when music appreciation and performances were used to explore cultural diversity and heritage. Enjoy the traditional song by this young choir and an offering of Klezmer holiday music by a high school sax quartet. Klezmer Jazz a fusion of the rhythms and traditional music of the Ashkenazic Jews of Eastern Europe with American jazz, evolved in the U.S. in the 1880s.
Carol of the Bells. One rarely hears jazz played on the Hawaiian ukelele or such performances compared with Miles Davis, unless you’re Jake Shimabukuro — a largely self-taught virtuoso who was introduced to the instrument by his mother. Listen to his take of the classic Carol of the Bells, a song based on a traditional Ukranian folk chant, followed by a rocking jazz performance .
Yagibushi. Okay it’s not a holiday carol but if music by jazz performer Chichiro Yamanaka, a standout at the 2012 Mary Lou Williams Jazz Festival, doesn’t rouse you for the holidays, nothing will.
Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa is observed from December 26 to January 1 in Canada and the U.S. to honor African and African American cultural traditions that teach valuable life principles.
And Now for Something Completely Different. Jazz pianist/composer and NEA Jazz Master Randy Weston has made African and world culture the core of his creative process. Blue Moses is a composition influenced by time Weston spent in Morocco learning the traditions and musical culture of the Gnawa people—West Africans taken to North Africa as slaves and soldiers around the 16th century. In an interview with Jo Reed, Weston said that within the Gnawa music ”I heard the blues, I heard Black jazz, I heard the music of the Caribbean, I heard the foundation which proved to me that the rhythms of Africa, they remained alive, but disguised in different forms, whether in Honduras, or Haiti, or Jamaica, or Trinidad, or Brazil, or Mississippi. ”
Happy Musical Holidays!
Joann Stevens is program manager of Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM), an initiative to advance appreciation and recognition of jazz as America’s original music, a global cultural treasure. JAM is celebrated in every state in the U.S. and the District of Columbia and some 40 countries every April. Recent posts include Danilo Pérez: Creator of Musical Guardians of Peace and Jason Moran: Making Jazz Personal.
Read more articles about the holidays with our Smithsonian Holiday Guide here
November 26, 2012
The National Hockey League, founded on November 26, 1917, is just shy of 100 years old and will celebrate its 95th anniversary today. But for hockey fans, it’s a bit of a bitter sweet birthday.
The league announced over the long holiday weekend that in addition to canceling the season’s scheduled games through December 14, it will also cancel the All-Star Weekend planned for January 26-27 in Columbus, Ohio. The news comes courtesy of a lockout, meaning further cancellations may be looming. Not the first labor dispute for the league, indeed the entire season was canceled in 2004, fans are used to waiting.
While we can’t get your favorite players back on the ice, or recoop the estimated $12 million hit Columbus is facing, we can provide a few fond memories from the collections of the sport’s history in the United States. In its 95 years, the NHL has grown from a handful of teams; the Montreal Canadiens, Montreal Wanderers, Ottawa Senators, Quebec Bulldogs, and Toronto Arenas, to a total of 30 teams. Meanwhile, the U.S. Olympic team has become a regular challenger to other international superpowers.
Nicknamed the “Golden Jet,” Bobby Hull from Chicago helped popularize the NHL in the 1960s with his powerful slapshot and speed. In 1958, he led his Chicago team to the Stanley Cup, its first in 20 years.
Even though the U.S. Olympic team actually beat the Finns to claim gold at the 1980 Games, it was their semifinal victory over the Soviet team that earned the nickname “Miracle on Ice.” Now a member of the so-called Big Six, which includes Canada, Finland, Russia, Sweden and the Czech Republic, the United States was considered the underdog at the time of the 1980 matchup. NHL players were not allowed to compete in the Olympics until 1998.
Over time, the league has fielded more American and European players as the popularity of the sport expands beyond Canada, which dominated the NHL for decades. Since 1994, the league has had three lockouts, hurting its viewership. When it cancelled the entire 2004-2005 season due to a lockout, it was the first league ever to do so. Fans hoped the Olympics might strengthen the league at home.
In 2010, the team again finished in second place, reviving hopes that a strong international showing might peak interest back home. After the finish, Peter Lomuscio wrote about the league’s prospects saying, “The NHL has altered numerous rules over the years to try to add more skill and excitement to the game to attract more fans. They have changed the rules to promote more power-plays, exciting overtimes, and, of course, the famous shootouts.” Lomuscio hoped that the overlap of NHL players and Olympic team members might draw new viewers, but the league now seems to be in danger of alienating fans yet again with a lockout.
Here’s hoping for a speedy return to the ice!
November 20, 2012
If you think your house is going to be packed for Thanksgiving, imagine the crowds at a Smithsonian museum. According to the Washington Post, the museums had 418, 000 visitors over the holiday weekend in 2010. Though that number dipped in 2011, the institution is still gearing up for a full house.
To help visitors navigate their way through the 19 museums and National Zoo, Smithsonian will be fielding questions before and during the holiday on its Twitter page. Just follow @smithsonian and use the hashtag “#TgivingVisitTips” to stay up to date. Veteran visitors will also post their own tips with the hashtag, including, “1) eat at
@SmithsonianNMAI 2) take a pic at @NMAAHC site for posterity 3) comfy shoes” by Erin Blasco.
Here are some of our own insider tips, from our Greatest Hits guide (now available on your smart phone!):
Smithsonian Institution Building, The Castle: Your first stop for all things Smithsonian, the Castle is home to the information center where you can scope out all the current exhibits around the Mall, including the Castle’s own exhibit, “Experience Civil War Photography: From the Home Front to the Battlefront.” You can also pay your respects to the founder, James Smithson, who lies at rest in the crypt in the building’s foyer.
National Portrait Gallery: With several new exhibits and a host of permanent favorites, there’s plenty to take in at the gallery (like Alexander Gardner’s famous cracked glass plate portrait of Abraham Lincoln), including the building itself. On the third floor in the Great Hall, is an architectural gem that shouldn’t be missed. The yellow, blue and red stained-glass windows in the octagonal dome, dating to 1885, cast lush hues on sunny days.
American Art Museum: Housed in the same building as NPG, is the American Art Museum, which just opened its splendid new exhibit “The Civil War and American Art,” which is sure to draw crowds. The museum even had its own role in the Civil War: On the third floor near the Woman Eating sculpture, the initials C.H.F. are scrawled on the wall. The work of some hipster tagger? No, the graffiti artist also put a date: “Aug. 8, 1864.” Likely it was left by a patient; the building was a Civil War infirmary.
Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center: Not quite on the Mall, the Udvar-Hazy Center (in Chantilly, Virginia—near Dulles Airport) is home to a world-famous collection of aircraft a space vehicles, including the Air France Concorde and the space shuttle Discovery. After seeing those beauties, tell the kids to check this out. Look for seven hidden oddities in the model of the mother ship made from the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. These were internal Hollywood jokes that weren’t part of the script. Hint: One is R2-D2 from the movie Star Wars.
Air and Space Museum: The world’s most-visited museum, Air and Space has everything from moon rocks to the Wright flyer. But how did they get it all in there? Look closely at the large window on the west side of the building. The glass slide away like giant garage doors.
American History Museum: Next up from the big three, American History, where even celebrities like Parks and Rec‘s Councilwoman Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) like to hang out. In addition to the brand new exhibit “FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000″ with Julia Child’s kitchen, you’ll also want to stop by the first floor for the Dolls’ House. Inside the house, inhabited by Peter Doll and his family, Christmas decorations are kept in the attic. Each holiday season, curators retrieve the tiny tree and wreaths and decorate the house.
Anacostia Community Museum: After an extensive research process, the museum recently opened its exhibit “Reclaiming the Edge: Urban Waterways and Civic Engagement” as part of its efforts to reach out to the community. Comparing waterways in L.A., Pittsburgh, Louisville, London, Shanghai and here in D.C., the exhibit is full of artworks and informative displays. Check out the playful piece Talking Trash, kinetic sculpture of fish made from plastic water bottles.
Natural History Museum: The grand dame of the big three museum, Natural History is famous partly for housing the “cursed” Hope Diamond. But it’s not all sparkle and shine. Heard of donating your body to science? Professor Grover Krantz volunteered to be put on display at the Smithsonian–with his dog. “I’ve been a teacher all my life, and I think I might as well be a teacher after I’m dead,” he said. Find the pair on the second floor.
American Indian Museum: What better time to visit the American Indian Museum than November, American Indian Heritage Month? In addition to its award-winning cafe and engaging exhibits, it has a treat for those who know where and when to look. Watch for the lovely play of light in the Potomac Atrium. Eight prisms on the south wall project refractions on the floor. See them at the peak of their brilliance between 11 and 2. On the summer and winter solstice, the light lines up precisely.
Freer Gallery: Amid the jades and bronzes from Asia, a fierce fight is playing out. The two birds depicted squawking in battle on the back wall of Whistler’s Peacock Room represent a real-life contretemps between the artist and his patron over a disputed fee for the artwork.
Sackler Gallery: With a new blockbuster exhibit, “Roads of Arabia: Archaeology and History of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the Sackler is as busy as ever. This year, the Sackler celebrates its 25th anniversary of the 1987 gift of some 1,000 works of Asian art from Arthur M. Sackler (1913-1987), a New York City physician.
Hirshhorn Museum: Contemporary art lovers will be filling the circular gallery space to check out Barbara Kruger’s installation and the new exhibit, “Ai Weiwei: According to What?” But you’ll be headed outside. Ready for a little covert operation? Check out the sculpture Antipodes just outside the front door. The piece has two encoded texts, one related to C.I.A. operations and the other in Cyrillic related to the K.G.B.
Museum of African Art: The current exhibit, “African Cosmos: Stellar Arts” is out of this world, combining science and the arts over time. Our insider tips combines its own bit of science and art. Check out the sculpture of Toussaint Louverture. It is made of a mysterious substance that the artist also used to waterproof his house.
Renwick Gallery: Just a few steps from the White House, the Renwick is a must-see in its own right, listed as a National Historic Landmark. Up the stairs is one of the city’s premier galleries, the Grand Salon, modeled in the French Second Empire style.
National Postal Museum: A stamp collection that can’t be beat, including the first ever U.S. government-issued stamp from 1847, is just the start of the Postal Museum. This building was designed by Daniel Burnham, the protagonist of the best-seller Devil in the White City.
National Zoo: In addition to the cuddly cuties on display, the Zoo is also launching this year’s seasonal display, ZooLights, Friday, November 23. As you wander through the animals, listen for the morning songs of the white-cheeked gibbons. They can be heard up to one mile away.
Don’t forget to download our Visitors Guide and Tours app. We’ve packed it with specialty tours, must-see exhibitions, museum floor plans and custom postcards. Get it on Google Play and in the Apple Store for just 99 cents.
August 2, 2012
Events August 3-5: Children’s Workshop, Mail Time With Owney, East of the River Boys & Girls Steelband
Friday August 3 Children’s Workshop: Mission Preservation
Remembering certain events and periods in history can be difficult to stomach sometimes. Segregation in the 1950s, for example, is not an easy thing to teach younger generations. This Friday, however, children ages 8 to 11 can meet at the West End Library to better understand segregation through the discussion of an age-appropriate book. After, the group will explore authentic artifacts from the 1950s, record observations and determine a preservation plan for each object. At the end of the day, participants may take home white cotton gloves and an activity book to help preserve the history. Free. For ages 8-11. Most Wednesdays and selected Fridays at 1:30 p.m. through August 22. The activity is sponsored by the National Museum of African American History and takes place at the West End Library, 1101 24th St NW.
Saturday August 4 Mail Time With Owney the Dog
Hop on board for a rail-riding good time with the National Postal Museum’s favorite mascot, Owney the dog! Owney made it in our round up of insider tips earlier this summer—and for good reason. The terrior-mix traveled for nine years, riding the rails until his death in 1897. He later became the unofficial mascot for the U.S. Railway Mail Service. To honor the intrepid mail-carrier, Saturday’s events include activities such as designing an Owney tag, sorting mail in the Railway Post Office, starting a stamp collection and more. Free. Noon to 3:30 p.m. National Postal Museum.
Sunday August 5 East of the River Boys & Girls Steelband
This Sunday, come enjoy the festive music of the East of the River Boys & Girls Steelband, a program that seeks to enhance the lives of at-risk children and teens who have unique creative abilities and who live east of the Anacostia River. Founded by Gladys Bray and directed by Roger Greenidge, the group has appeared at the 1996 Olympic Soccer Games, Wolf Trap Park for the Performing Arts and Apollo Theater. Free. 2 p.m. Anacostia Community Museum.
Tickets are now on sale for Smithsonian Magazine’s, Museum Day Live!, which will be held Saturday September 29. Admission is free at participating venues with presentation of ticket. Visit the Find a Museum page to locate a participating museum in your area. For a complete listing of Smithsonian events and exhibitions visit the goSmithsonian Visitors Guide. Additional reporting by Michelle Strange.