Carnegie Hall is named after Andrew Carnegie, who paid for its construction. It was intended as a venue for the Oratorio Society of New York and the New York Symphony Society, on whose boards Carnegie served. Construction began in 1890, and was carried out by Isaac A. Hopper and Company. Although the building was in use from April 1891, the official opening night was on May 5, with a concert conducted by maestro Walter Damrosch and composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Originally known simply as "Music Hall" (the words "Music Hall founded by Andrew Carnegie" still appear on the façade above the marquee), the hall was renamed Carnegie Hall in 1893 after board members of the Music Hall Company of New York (the hall's original governing body) persuaded Carnegie to allow the use of his name. Several alterations were made to the building between 1893 and 1896, including the addition of two towers of artists' studios, and alterations to the smaller auditorium on the building's lower level.
The hall was owned by the Carnegie family until 1925, when Carnegie's widow sold it to a real estate developer, Robert E. Simon. When Simon died in 1935, his son, Robert E. Simon, Jr. took over. By the mid-1950s, changes in the music business prompted Simon to offer Carnegie Hall for sale to the New York Philharmonic, which booked a majority of the hall's concert dates each year. The orchestra declined, since they planned to move to Lincoln Center, then in the early stages of planning. At the time, it was widely believed that New York City could not support two major concert venues. Facing the loss of the hall's primary tenant, Simon was forced to offer the building for sale. A deal with a commercial developer fell through, and by 1960, with the New York Philharmonic on the move to Lincoln Center, the building was slated for demolition to make way for a commercial skyscraper. Under pressure from a group led by violinist Isaac Stern and many of the artist residents, special legislation was passed that allowed the city of New York to buy the site from Simon for $5 million (which he would use to establish Reston, VA), and in May 1960 the nonprofit Carnegie Hall Corporation was created to run the venue. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1962.
Most of the greatest performers of classical music since the time Carnegie Hall was built have performed in the Main Hall, and its lobbies are adorned with signed portraits and memorabilia. The NBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Arturo Toscanini, frequently recorded in the Main Hall for RCA Victor. In the fall of 1950, the orchestra's weekly broadcast concerts were moved there until the orchestra disbanded in 1954. Several of the concerts were televised by NBC, preserved on kinescopes, and have been released on home video.
Many legendary jazz and popular music performers have also given memorable performances at Carnegie Hall including Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, the Dave Brubeck Quartet, Judy Garland, Harry Belafonte, Nina Simone, Shirley Bassey, James Gang and Stevie Ray Vaughan, all of whom made celebrated live recordings of their concerts there.
On June 15, 1892 Sissieretta Jones became the first African-American to sing at the Music Hall (renamed Carnegie Hall the following year). On January 16, 1938, the Benny Goodman Orchestra gave a sold-out swing and jazz concert that also featured, among other guest performers, Count Basie and members of Duke Ellington's orchestra.
Rock and roll music first came to Carnegie Hall when Bill Haley and his Comets appeared in a variety benefit concert on May 6, 1955. Rock acts were not regularly booked at the Hall, however, until February 12, 1964, when The Beatles performed two shows during their historic first trip to the United States. Promoter Sid Bernstein convinced Carnegie officials that allowing a Beatles concert at the venue "would further international understanding" between the United States and Great Britain. Since then numerous rock, blues, jazz and country performers have appeared at the hall every season. Jethro Tull released an album "Carnegie Hall, N.Y." featuring a 1970 concert. Ike and Tina Turner performed a concert there April 1, 1971, which resulted in their album "What You Hear is What You Get". The Beach Boys played concerts there in 1971 and 1972, and two songs from the show appeared on their Endless Harmony Soundtrack. Chicago recorded their 4 LP box set "Chicago at Carnegie Hall" in 1971.
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