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Famous moments in music history from the year you were born

  • 1938: Ella Fitzgerald gets her breakthrough

    The "The First Lady of Song,” jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald got her big break when she released hit single "A-Tisket, A-Tasket” in May of 1938. Originally a nursery rhyme, Fitzgerald’s catchy spin on the tune made it perfect for the 1930s swing era. Fitzgerald recorded the track alongside Chick Webb and His Orchestra for Decca Records.


  • 1939: BMI

    A pack of radio industry leaders started BMI—Broadcast Music, Inc.—after a 1939 meeting in September at the National Association of Broadcasters annual convention. The purpose of BMI was—and remains—to support artists and musicians while giving businesses a competitive source of licensing.


  • 1940: Billboard ranks the sales

    In the July 27 issue of Billboard, the magazine released its first chart ranking sales of recorded songs. Popular musicians Tommy Dorsey and Frank Sinatra ushered it in. Billboard’s "National List of Best Selling Retail Records” paved the way for seven decades and counting of Billboard tracking music success and popularity.


  • 1941: Dreaming of a White Christmas

    Crooner Bing Crosby had everyone dreaming of a "White Christmas” in 1941 after the Christmas hit premiered on Crosby’s weekly NBC radio spot; it’s still a beloved Christmas classic. The track went on to become of the most successful singles in history, a top-seller until 1997 when it was surpassed by Elton John’s "Candle in the Wind.” "White Christmas” would show up year after year as a top hit on the charts for the next 20 years.


  • 1942: Frank Sinatra wins over hearts

    Frank Sinatra was easily the most beloved and famous big-band vocalist in the nation. In December of that year, Sinatra performed his first solo gig at the Paramount Theater in New York City. Fans came in droves, spilling into Times Square to the frustration of its bustling locals. A 1943 Time article stated, "Not since the days of Rudolph Valentino has American womanhood made such unabashed public love to an entertainer.”


  • 1943: Oklahoma!

    "Oklahoma!” premiered on Broadway, and went on to set a record of 2,212 performances before its final curtain call more than 15 years later. The musical was considered a risk at the time, with no big-name stars, storytelling over spectacle, and a basis for plot on relatively obscure material. Broadway musicals had always started with a bang, but "Oklahoma!” set a different stage when the curtain opened on a lone cowboy singing about corn and meadows.


  • 1944: The Met meets Jazz

    The Metropolitan Opera House—the Met—hosted its first-ever jazz concert with performers including Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday. The 10-piece swing ensemble, selected by Esquire magazine, shook the opera house’s walls.


  • 1945: Back at it after WWII

    Benjamin Britten's "Peter Grimes” premiered in London just following Victory in Europe Day in a war weary-WWII, signaling the rebirth of British opera. Theaters were destroyed throughout the war, and concerts and entertainment were the least of Europe’s concerns for many years during its part in the battle against Nazi Germany.


  • 1946: Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is born

    The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) was born. Britain’s national symphony orchestra based in London was founded by Sir Thomas Beecham, who was its director until his death in 1961. The RPO made more than 250 recordings, and continues to make musical history. The RPO became the first symphony orchestra to own its own recording company in 1986.


  • 1947: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

    You may know Dasher and Dancer from "A Visit from St. Nicholas”—the 1824 poem better known as "‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.” America had yet to meet Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer; it was created as a marketing campaign for department store Montgomery Ward in 1939. The story was adapted in 1947 to become one of the most famous Christmas songs of all time. Gene Autry recorded "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” which became a pop chart hit at #1.