Leonard Bernstein

Active - 1949 - Present  |   Born - Aug 25, 1918 in Lawrence, Massachusetts, United States  |   Died - Oct 14, 1990   |   Genres - Music, Children's/Family

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Biography by Andrea LeVasseur

American composer, conductor, and educator Leonard Bernstein made an immense contribution to music in the twentieth century. His work in film and television helped to make his name known as the first American-born composer to reach international stardom. He scored numerous musicals and films, including the On the Town (1949), On the Waterfront (1954), Wonderful Town (1958), and West Side Story (1961). In 1952, he started making regular appearances on television as a musical educator on the CBS arts series Omnibus. In 1954, he received an Oscar nomination for his original score of On the Waterfront. After becoming the first American to direct the New York Philharmonic, he started performing his Young People's Concerts. Broadcast on CBS for nearly 15 years, the Saturday morning concerts eventually moved to prime time and earned Bernstein an Emmy award for Best Musical Contribution for Television. He would go on to win three more Emmys for Outstanding Classical Performance. He was a friend and/or collaborator to nearly every major musical figure in Hollywood and Broadway, including Stephen Sondheim, Aaron Copland, and the writing team of Betty Comden and Adolph Green. In the '70s, he gave several Norton lectures at Harvard, and in the '80s he adapted Voltaire's novel Candide into a musical. During his summers, he conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood, which he did until his death of a heart attack in 1990.

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  • Began playing the piano at 10.
  • Was only 25 when he conducted his first matinee with the New York Philharmonic, filling in for a sick maestro. He would go on to conduct more than 900 concerts with the NYP, more than any conductor in its history at the time. 
  • In 1937, published his first piece on writing music in Modern Music Magazine. 
  • Was credited with bringing music to the masses through his Young People's Concerts on CBS.
  • Refused the National Medal of Arts award from President George W. Bush in 1989. Known for his political activism, he was protesting the revocation of grant money in connection with an AIDS-related art exhibit.
  • Announced his retirement from the concert stage less than a week before his death from complications from emphysema and mesothelioma.