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Perhaps not a household name to most, John Cage is huge in the realm of contemporary and experimental music. Most Cage pieces might involve instruments as diverse as radios, a bathtub, various percussion instruments, or the piano, among other objects. His most famous work is ‘4’33’, in which the musician doesn’t perform a single note but rather calls the ambient noise in the room the composition. His work with the prepared piano shaped generations of experimental musicians and expanded the boundaries of what music can mean.
Songstress Natalie Cole took after her father, Nat King Cole, and is known for her classic sultry jazz and R&B voice. She released 23 studio albums and three live albums in her storied career, which includes now classic hits such as ‘This Will Be’ and ‘Pink Cadillac.’ Thanks to the use of on-screen technology, Cole also became known for duetting ‘Unforgettable’ with her late father. She also acted, including appearances on TV shows such as Touched By An Angel, Grey’s Anatomy, and Law & Order: SVU.
One-third the trio Crosby, Stills & Nash, David Crosby is a Los Angeles native who left his mark on the rock music scene. Early in his career, Crosby was a founding member of the Byrds before going on to write and record era-defining music with CSN. Collaborating with Neil Young, the band played at the 1969 Woodstock Festival in New York. Crosby has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice for both CSN and the Byrds. Also a passionate social justice warrior, Crosby has championed global causes and the human rights movement.
Dexter Gordon grew up in Los Angeles with bebop jazz music on his mind. A contemporary of music legends such as Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, Gordon’s tenor saxophone can be heard on recordings with the likes of everyone from Wardell Gray, Slide Hampton, and Freddie Hubbard to Woody Herman and Thad Jones. His 6-foot, 6-inch tall frame earned him the nickname ‘Long Tall Dexter.’ Playing a French jazz musician in the 1986 film Round Midnight, Gordon even earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.
Not content to stick with only one genre, Etta James covered everything from jazz to R&B, soul, gospel, and rock and roll. Perhaps best known for the tune, ‘At Last’ from her debut 1961 album of the same name, she went on to win three Grammy awards, a Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement award and the Blues Foundation’s Blues Female Artist of the Year honor no less than 14 times. Her influence can be felt through musical divas of all ages, such as Celine Dion, Beyoncé, and Christina Aguilera.
The daughter of Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli has been a Hollywood native from the start, making her mark as both a musician and an actress. Her hits range from ‘Bye, Bye Blackbird’ to ‘You’re So Vain.’ But it’s her soundtrack to the accompanying TV special, ‘Liza with a ‘Z’’ for which she is best known. A star of both the stage and the screen, her Broadway credits span The Fantasticks, Chicago, and The Pajama Game, and she has many film and television credits. Her most recent film credit is Sex and the City 2.
Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren, DJ Yella, and the late Eazy-E comprise the seminal group N.W.A. Hailing from Compton, the group made history with their brand of gangsta rap. Their track, ‘F**k Tha Police’ made waves with law enforcement, even earning them a letter of warning from the FBI. But N.W.A was not intimidated and continued making music that spoke to their late-1980s reality. A 2015 biopic about the making of their album Straight Outta Compton hit big at the box office, reigniting N.W.A’s legendary status for the next generation.
Hailing from Long Beach, Snoop Dogg has made a name for himself in the rap genre since his 1993 debut, Doggystyle. He has a propensity for incorporating pop party sensibility with harder rhymes, influencing rappers from Jay Z to Meek Mill. He rebranded himself briefly as Snoop Lion for a 2013 reggae album before returning to his original moniker, a name he coined because of the cartoon, Peanuts. As a bonus, Snoop is also the king of on-screen cameos, appearing on shows such as Empire, Monk, and King of the Hill.
If you’ve ever heard ‘La Bamba’ you know Ritchie Valens’ voice and most famous song. He was born in the Pacoima area of Los Angeles where he taught himself music. The Mexican-American singer/songwriter and guitar player headed the Chicano rock movement, often adapting rock tunes from Mexican folk songs. His career was cut tragically short when he died in the same 1959 plane crash that killed Buddy Holly and J. P. ‘The Big Bopper’ Richardson. An undeniable influence on the direction of rock, Valens earned his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.
Inglewood-native Brian Wilson was co-founder of the acclaimed group, the Beach Boys, where he was an integral songwriter and performer with the band. The highly acclaimed Beach Boys album Pet Sounds, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2016, was written, arranged, and produced by Wilson. In 1988 Wilson went solo and has continued recording and touring up through 2016’s Brian Wilson and Friends. Love & Mercy, a 2014 a biopic about Wilson’s life and struggle with mental illness, earned a Golden Globe nomination.