Saturday, April 2, 2016

Musicians at the American History Museum

Where: American History Museum

When: Charles through June 26; Sinatra through June 30, 2016

On the first and second floors of the American History Museum, there are large glass cases in the main entrance halls.  It's easy to pass by these without seeing what they contain, and that's what most visitors seem to do.  They are worth a look however, as they are full of interesting objects, which change from time to time. Two displays currently on offer showcase items associated with Frank Sinatra and Ray Charles.

Frank Sinatra was born in 1915, and the museum is marking the 100th anniversary of his birth with a sampling of his recordings, sheet music and clothing worn by the singer-actor.  Sinatra was perhaps the quintessential American popular singer, who managed to combine crooning with jazz.  The Smithsonian calls his work "America's finest body of recorded songs."  The small exhibit shows Sinatra's transformation from fresh-faced kid to Vegas headliner; in a way, he's a microcosm of America itself, all wide-eyed innocence in the 1940s, and more worldly-wise in the 1970s.

My one complaint about this display?  They mention "Anchors Aweigh," but they don't point you in the direction of the George Sidney exhibit at the Archives.  Blockbusters can attract people by virtue of their size; small shows need to help each other out!

Ray Charles also gets some space, in the cases on the second floor.  He managed to overcome racism, poverty and blindness to become a fantastically successful singer.  Even one of these obstacles would be a challenge, never mind all three.  He managed to combine many genres of singing over the course of his career; he can't be pigeon-holed into one type of sound.  He was also a very smart businessman, who was one of the first singers to negotiate the rights to his own master recordings.  Among other artifacts is a customized braille keyboard - it's interesting to see that technology up close.

Verdict: If you're at American History, be sure to allow a few extra minutes for these display cases.

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