- NAME: Leonard Bernstein
- OCCUPATION: Songwriter, Pianist
- BIRTH DATE: August 25, 1918
- DEATH DATE: October 14, 1990
- EDUCATION: Boston Latin School, Harvard University, Curtis Institute of Music, Berkshire Music Center
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Lawrence, Massachusetts
- PLACE OF DEATH: New York, New York
- Full Name: Leonard Bernstein
- Originally: Louis Bernstein
Best Known For
Leonard Bernstein was one of the first American-born conductors to receive worldwide fame. He composed the score for the Broadway musical West Side Story.
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Leonard Bernstein was born on August 25, 1918, in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Flamboyant, inspired and voracious in his conducting style, Bernstein got his big break conducting the New York Philharmonic in 1943. He was one of the first American-born conductors to lead world-class orchestras. He composed the score for the musical West Side Story. After battling emphysema, he died at the age of 72.
"Music can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable."
Leonard Bernstein was born on August 25, 1918, in Lawrence, Massachusetts. His birth name was Louis, the name his grandmother adored, but his family always called him Leonard or Lenny, which he officially renamed himself when he was 16. His father, Sam Bernstein, was a Russian immigrant who in his native Ukraine was destined to become a rabbi. Once he arrived and settled on New York City’s Lower East Side, the elder Bernstein took up working as a fish cleaner. He eventually got a job sweeping floors in his Uncle Henry’s barbershop and then landed a position stocking wigs for a dealer. He eventually built a rather profitable business distributing beauty products. Leonard grew up understanding that business and success were paramount, and “occupations” in the field of music and art were simply off-limits.
It was at the age of 10 that Leonard first played piano. His Aunt Clara was going through a divorce and needed a place to store her massive upright piano. Lenny loved everything about the instrument, but his father refused to pay for lessons. Determined, the boy raised his own small pot of money to pay for a few sessions. He was a natural from the start, and by the time his bar mitzvah rolled around, his father was impressed enough to buy him a baby grand piano. The young Bernstein found inspiration everywhere and played with a voracity and spontaneity that impressed anyone who listened.
He attended Boston Latin School, where he met his first real teacher and his lifelong mentor, Helen Coates. After graduating, Lenny entered Harvard University, where he studied music theory with Arthur Tillman Merritt and counterpoint with Walter Piston. In 1937, he attended a Boston Symphony concert conducted by Dmitri Mitropoulos. Bernstein’s heart sang when he saw the bald Greek man gesture with his bare hands, exuding a rare kind of enthusiasm for every score. At a reception the next day, Mitropoulos heard Bernstein play a sonata, and he was so moved by the young man’s abilities that he invited him to attend his rehearsals. Leonard spent a week with him. After the experience, Bernstein was determined to make music the center of his life.
To strengthen his technical skills, he spent a year of intensive training at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. He studied conducting with Fritz Reiner, a man who believed in mastering every detail of every piece. Bernstein benefited from the discipline, but he believed in more than the mechanics. In 1940, when he was 22, the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood invited Bernstein to join some 300 other talented students and professional musicians for a summer of musical exploration and performance.
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In the 1940s and 1950s, the United States was in the grips of a "red scare." Many prominent individuals suspected of sympathizing with liberal or humanitarian causes were branded a communist threat, and even accused of espionage. Hollywood was a major focus of the accusations, and after 10 actors refused to testify in front of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, the blacklist was created. Hundreds of actors, actresses, directors, screenwriters and other entertainment professionals were barred from working. Here are some of the famous people who were on the Hollywood blacklist.
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