If you have a love of jazz, you’ll find a lot to love in Virginia. April is Jazz Appreciation Month and as such, we’re shining a spotlight on our most beloved jazz musician, Ella Fitzgerald.
Don’t miss the upcoming Hampton Jazz Festival in Hampton, Virginia.
Ella Fitzgerald, called “The First Lady of Song,” was born in Newport News, Virginia on April 25, 1917. Shortly after birth, she and her mother moved to Yonkers, New York. In 1934 Ella’s name was drawn to compete in Amateur Night at the Apollo. She planned to dance but changed her mind after seeing the dance act that preceded her. Instead, she sang “Judy” by Hoagy Carmichael and was cheered on to perform an encore. Impressed with the natural talent he saw, saxophonist and arranger Benny Carter helped Ella launch her career. Ella became the singer of the Tiny Bradshaw Band in 1935 before recording her first song, “Love and Kisses” in 1936. In 1938, Ella scored her first number one hit with “A-Tisket, A-Tasket.”
Worked with Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Count Basie
National Medal of Arts Award by President Ronald Reagan, 1987
NAACP Image Award for Lifetime Achievement, 1988
Recorded more than 200 albums
Thirteen-time Grammy Award winner
Gave her last concert in 1991 at Carnegie Hall
Presidential Medal of Freedom Award by President George H. W. Bush, 1992
On what would be Ella’s 97th birthday (April 25), The Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra will present A Tribute to Ella Fitzgerald at the Ferguson Center for the Arts in Newport News. Tickets from $29. Buy Now
Additional Notable Jazz Musicians from Virginia:
James Genus of Hampton is a jazz bassist who has played in the Saturday Night Live Band and most recently studio recorded with Grammy Award-winning Daft Punk. His talents are heard on “Giorgio by Moroder,” “Touch,” “Beyond,” “Motherboard,” “Fragments of Time,” and “Contact.”
Lonnie Liston Smith of Richmond is a jazz pianist and keyboardist who has recorded with the likes of Pharaoh Sanders and Miles Davis. Smith is noted for mashing jazz with rap in the 1990s.
Steve Wilson of Hampton is a jazz instrumentalist best known as a flautist and saxophonist.
Don Pullen was a Roanoke native and jazz pianist who was well received in Europe for his avant-garde style.
Connect the dots with your children’s interest in history by allowing them to explore the Virginia sites that let them get their hands dirty and in the mix. Visits to the following 17 locations are perfect for spring break, weekends, and the summer season.
Jamestown Settlement. Photo by CameronDavidson@CameronDavidson.com.
Located in Yorktown, the Yorktown Victory Center puts the struggle for America’s independence on display with exhibits pertaining to the Revolution and the Declaration of Independence, plus, there is also a Continental Army encampment and 1780s farm. Kids will enjoy their time here because they may be invited to join an artillery crew or drill with wooden muskets at the aforementioned encampment, help plant and water the garden, or ”break” and “comb” flax at the farm.
Jamestown Settlement invites you to explore America’s first permanent English colony. Literally step back in history as you and your children steer with a tiller or whipstaff aboard a re-creation of one of the three ships that brought the first English colonists to Virginia or try on 17th-century-style armor and play quoits at the re-created colonial fort. Want to get your hands dirty? Grind corn, weave plant fibers into cordage and use oyster shells to scrape out a dugout canoe at the Powhatan Indian village.
The Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton introduces you to life in West Africa (1700s), England (1600s), Ireland (1700s), and Germany (1700s) before these cultures settled in America, bringing their traditions, trades, customs and animals with them. Crops and animals representing each country live at each of the interpretive farms. A special upcoming event that allows you to get especially hands-on is Wool Days, when the sheep will be sheared. Take part in weaving on the Irish farm, carding and spinning wool on the 1820 American farm, sorting and scouring wool at the English farm, and processing flax on the German farm.
Nauticus is the home of Battleship Wisconsin in Norfolk, and is a maritime science museum. Among the things you can get involved with here are the shark and horseshoe crab touch tanks, experiencing a Category 1 hurricane (fee), exploring an historic World War II battleship, raising the signal flags, packing a sea bag, and more.
Gunston Hall in Lorton was the home of George Mason, the author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights upon which the United States Bill of Rights was based. The home and expanse of land are fabulous to tour as the property backs up to and overlooks the Potomac River. Daily between July and August is a program called History’s Mysteries, an interactive, hands-on search of the grounds and mansion featuring a special clue book and a prize for solving the 18th-century mystery.
Virginia Sports Hall of Fame & Museum.
See who the Virginia Hall of Famers are and then maybe try your hand at their sport when you visit the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in Portsmouth. Baseball, football, golf, and basketball areas are all waiting for your best shot. Also check out the Redskins Skybox and the Media Center for simulations of what it’s like to be on the other side of the sports.
The second Saturday of each month is Family Day at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle. Kids of all ages can explore the interactive museum, venturing through a gallery scavenger hunt and trying on period uniforms. The whole family can experience the weight of a pack as you each go through boot camp, or feel the ground shake as you land on Iwo-Jima in 1945. End the day with a meal in the Mess Hall.
Let your kids travel back in time and experience the life of a solider during the Civil War at the Brentsville Courthouse Historic Center in Bristow during special Civil War camp opportunities. Hands-on activities include “Enlist in Virginia’s Army” and “Civil War Medicine.” The camp also features a field trip to Manassas National Battlefield Park. Upcoming camp dates include April 14-18, July 21-25, and August 18-22.
The Rapidan Camp: President and Mrs. Hoover’s “Summer White House” in Shenandoah National Park has recently been restored to its 1929 appearance and is an excellent reflection of not only its era, but also of President Hoover. Kids can board the “Hoover Mover” at Byrd Visitor Center and start learning the history of Rapidan Camp, told by a Park Ranger. Upon arrival at the camp, children explore the restored “Brown House” and nearby Prime Minister’s House, which is a living museum. Visitors are encouraged to wander the camp, and discover why it was the perfect location for the President’s summer getaway.
Join in the living history aspects of Patrick Henry’s Red Hill in Brookneal. A variety of activities are available, from pottery making, tin punching and blacksmithing to spinning, weaving, and processing flax to linen. The children that attend the living history program spend the day immersed in what life would have been like in Patrick Henry’s day and time. They will get to try their hand at a multitude of activities that would have taken place years ago at Red Hill.
Touch Tank at Virginia Living Museum.
The Virginia Living Museum in Newport News depicts Virginia’s natural heritage from the mountains to the sea. Kids will especially enjoy the Touch Tank with its sea stars and horseshoe crabs, not to mention other opportunities to touch live spider crabs and fossilized dinosaur tracks!
Head to Hampton and the Virginia Air & Space Center where you can launch a rocket, pilot a shuttle and try on wings to feel the lift that makes things fly.
Kids will love the chance to experience their own “Night at the Museum” with the sleepovers offered at the Virginia Museum of Natural History in Martinsville. Special hands-on activities are offered on these themed nights. Pizza, an evening snack and breakfast are included as part of the fun!
If you have a little train lover in your midst who has never gotten to board one, head to the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke and climb aboard a steam locomotive. Summer camps are available if your child would like an immersive daytime experience.
Civil War Adventure Camp at Pamplin Historical Park.
Called “the new crown jewel of Civil War History destinations in America” by Pulitzer Prize historian James McPherson, Pamplin Historical Park in Petersburg has four world-class museums, four antebellum homes and is the site of the Breakthrough Battlefield of April 2, 1865, where Union forces broke through Petersburg’s defense lines. Here kids can get their hands on uniforms to try on (just their size!), and be prompted to perform other activities throughout the park. Go big or go home with the opportunity to participate in a Civil War Adventure Camp – perfect for all ages, so parents can attend, too.
The National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly welcomes you to check out their staff-led roving Discovery Stations. The stations may be different in topic each time you encounter one. For example, the Animation Station allows you to generate a stop motion animated film with toys while the Rats in Space Station demonstrates gravity. Flight simulators are also on site along with the hundreds of aircraft and space exploration vehicles.
Perhaps the quintessential hands-on history opportunity in Virginia is found at Colonial Williamsburg where the entire Revolutionary City is interprets 18th century life. Try brickmaking, try the daily chores on for size at the James Geddy House or the Powell House, and get caught in the stocks for a photo opportunity. There are opportunities to see how things were made and done during the 18th century and sometimes you’ll be invited to join in; watch for your chance!
At which Virginia attraction have you had an unexpected hands-on learning opportunity? Share your story with a comment!
Mary Elizabeth Bowser (1839-unknown) Richmond; Union spy working as a servant for Varina Davis, wife of the President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis. Inducted into the U.S. Army Military Intelligence Corps Hall of Fame (1995).
Shirley MacLaine (1934- ) Richmond; stage and screen actress, Academy Award winner.
Barbara Johns (1935-1991) New York City, but grew up in Farmville, Prince Edward County. Sixteen year old junior at Robert Russa Moton High School who organized a student strike for a new school building (1951). The NAACP advised the students to sue for integration. The Farmville case was one of the five eventually rolled into the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka case that declared segregation unconstitutional (1954).
Kylene Barker (1955 – ) Pipers Gap; 1979 Miss America – Virginia’s first Miss America.
Katie Couric (1957- ) Arlington; television news personality; host of “Katie,” ABC; global anchor, Yahoo News.
Wanda Sykes (1964- ) Portsmouth; Comedienne and actress. Film and television credits include “The Wanda Sykes Show,” “Evan Almighty,” “Monster-in-Law,” “Nutty Professor 2;” Emmy Award Winner (1999, 2002, 2004, 2005).
Missy Elliott (1971- ) Portsmouth; Songwriter, Producer, Arranger, Talent Scout, Record Mogul. Considered the top female hip-hop artist of all time. Four-time Grammy Award Winner (2001, 2002, 2003, 2005).
While we eagerly await the Academy Awards this Sunday to see how Virginia-filmed Best Picture nominee Captain Phillips fares, let’s take a look back at other films shot wholly or in part in Virginia that were honored with an Oscar.
Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s LINCOLN.
Argo was filmed in McLean and Fairfax County, Virginia in 2011. The film starring and directed by Ben Affleck received the 2013 Academy Awards for Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, and Achievement in Film Editing.
During that same 2013 awards presentation LINCOLN won for Production Design, and Daniel Day-Lewis, whom portrayed Abraham Lincoln, took home the Bests Actor award. LINCOLN was filmed in the Richmond region, including Petersburg, Virginia.
The Bourne Ultimatum, the final piece of the Bourne Trilogy, was filmed in Fauquier County, Virginia in 2007 and starred Matt Damon as Jason Bourne. The film won three Oscars in 2008 – Best Achievement in Film Editing, Best Achievement in Sound Mixing, and Best Achievement in Sound Editing.
Renee Zellweger won the Oscar in 2004 for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her work in Cold Mountain alongside Jude Law and Nicole Kidman. Cold Mountain was filmed in Richmond and Williamsburg, Virginia in 2002.
Filmed in Quantico, Virginia in 1990, The Silence of the Lambs starred Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster. The 1992 Academy loved the feature film, awarding five Oscars for the following categories: Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Actress in a Leading Role, Best Director, and Best Writing.
Mountain Lake Hotel in Pembroke, Virginia served as “Kellerman’s” in the 1986 hit “Dirty Dancing.”
A steadfast darling on the list of Virginia filmography is Dirty Dancing starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey. Filmed in Giles County, Virginia in 1986, the flick received an Oscar for Best Music, Original Song for “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.”
Wise County, Virginia was the setting for the 1980 filming of Coal Miner’s Daughter, a biography of Loretta Lynn, starring Sissy Spacek and Tommy Lee Jones. In 1981 Spacek won the Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role.
In 1956 Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean starred in Giant, a western love story that included filming in Charlottesville, Virginia. Nominated for ten Academy Awards, it won one – Best Director – in 1957.
AMC is currently filming their new series TURN, a layered, character driven spy thriller that unravels the untold story of America’s first spy ring. Filming locations include Richmond, Petersburg, Hanover County, and plantations along the James River . Don’t miss the premiere Sunday, April 6, 2014.
“Does Virginia have a lot of history?” should never be a question. Of course Virginia is loaded with history, and here are a few events for you to experience this year if you’re eager for a fresh look or a different vantage point.
It’s not every day that a 400th wedding anniversary is celebrated, so you might want to mark this one down. Visit Historic Jamestowne the weekend of April 4-6, 2014 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the marriage of Pocahontas to John Rolfe with a reenactment of the ceremony. Stand at the original church site, uncovered in 2010 by archaeologists, inside James Fort.
Part of the fun is the new exhibit, “The World of Pocahontas,” at the Voorhees Archaearium, which reveals new details about the material world of Virginia’s native people and their adaptation and social interaction with the English colonists.
Allied Forces invaded Normandy in the largest land, sea and air operation in history on June 6, 1944. The D-Day Memorial pays tribute to those fallen during that invasion, but the city of Bedford is home to the Memorial because its loss per capita was the highest in America. During the June weekend events, the new sculpture, “Homage,” will be dedicated, and you will have the chance to meet and thank veterans.
2014 marks 60 years since the decision was handed down by the United States Supreme Court for Brown v. Board of Education (1954), a case that desegregated schools and had a 16-year-old Farmville, Virginia girl at its roots.
Visit the Robert Russa Moton Museumto learn how a leaky, cold, overcrowded Robert Russa Moton High School pushed Barbara Johns and her peers to fight for equality in education (75% of the plaintiffs in Brown v. Board of Education were students in the 1951 Moton Student Strike). The site was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1998 and is called the student birthplace of America’s Civil Rights Movement.
How about some non-traditional history excursions?
The Mill Mountain Star in Roanoke, Virginia turns 65 this year. It’s the reason Roanoke is often called the “Star City of the South,” as its six-story stature and 2,000 feet of red, white and blue neon tubing illuminate Mill Mountain at night.
A view of Mill Mountain Star from Roanoke, Virginia.
Fifty years ago on January 29, 1964 one of the nation’s oldest lighthouses was designated a National Historic Landmark – Cape Henry Lighthouse in Virginia Beach. Celebrate this 1792 octagonal icon authorized by George Washington.
If you’ve ever driven the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, you’ve experienced “one of seven engineering wonders of the world.” The Bridge-Tunnel opened in April 1964 and spans 18 miles across the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay to connect Norfolk with Cape Charles, Virginia. The stretch will take you through two mile-long tunnels and over two high bridges, not to mention across four man-made islands. Stop at one of them to enjoy the view and a bite to eat at Chesapeake Grill.