Ignacy Jan Paderewski proved to be the sensation of Carnegie Hall’s first year. He made his debut with the New York Symphony Orchestra under Walter Damrosch on November 17, 1891, and his tangle of flaming hair, his passionate gesticulations, and his innate charisma incited the type of riots that would later be reserved only for pop and movie stars.
First Appearance: Paderewski’s Inaugural Concerts, November 17, 1891
Final Appearance: Ignacy Jan Paderewski, February 18, 1933Detailed Appearance History >
Known as the Black Adelina Patti, a somewhat reductive catchphrase, as their voices would seem to have been quite dissimilar. Jones was one of the first African American headliners to appear in Carnegie Hall. She made her debut in the main hall in February 1893 (she had appeared at the smaller Recital Hall the previous year). She left no recordings, so we can only guess at what she sounded like. But she must have been an estimable artist, as she sang for four US presidents and at Madison Square Garden before her retirement in 1916.
First Appearance: Society of the Sons of New York: Farewell Concert of Sissieretta Jones, the Black Patti, June 15, 1892
Final Appearance: Zion Grand Centennial Jubilee, Concert and Banquet, October 12, 1896Detailed Appearance History >
Carnegie Hall has seen world, US, and New York premieres of thousands of works since its opening in 1891. The world premiere of one of the most beloved and enduring works in the classical canon took place barely 18 months after the official opening of the Hall, when Anton Seidl and the New York Philharmonic performed Dvořák's Ninth Symphony, “From the New World.” Although many sources cite December 16, 1893, as the first performance of this work, a December 15 performance was open to the public and was reviewed in The New York Times.
At the official world premiere the next day, the composer listened to the December 16 concert from Box 10. Although he did not lead this performance himself, Dvořák had previously appeared at Carnegie Hall four times, including his US debut on October 21, 1892, when he conducted members of the New York Philharmonic, the New York Symphony Orchestra, soloists, and chorus in the world premiere of his Te Deum.
First Appearance: Antonín Dvořák, October 21, 1892
Final Appearance: Antonín Dvořák, April 6, 1893Detailed Appearance History >
The author Mark Twain shared the Carnegie Hall stage with African American crusader Booker T. Washington in a sold-out benefit in 1906 for the Tuskegee Institute, which was celebrating its 25th anniversary that year.
A host of prominent New Yorkers, including John D. Rockefeller, attended the event, and when Joseph H. Choate, a celebrated lawyer and former ambassador to Great Britain, introduced Twain, the crowd burst into three minutes of applause. In a typically witty, timely address, Twain held forth on his own lax work ethic, Christian charity, and tax dodgers.
Mark Twain became a great admirer of Booker T. Washington, donating funds to the Tuskegee Institute, and was generally a supporter of other progressive causes.
First Appearance: Meeting: New York Women’s Press Club, October 27, 1900
Final Appearance: Lecture: Mark Twain / Benefit: Robert Fulton Memorial Association, April 19, 1906Detailed Appearance History >
Jascha Heifetz seemed to have sprung to life fully formed—a male-child Minerva with a fiddle. From the start, his was gripping, original, and fully mature musicianship: He played with astonishing technical accuracy, an infallible sense of structure, and searing intensity. He was essentially the same violinist in 1972, when he played his last recital in Los Angeles, as he was when he made his US debut at Carnegie Hall on October 27, 1917, as a newly arrived teenager from revolutionary Russia.
Listening to Heifetz’s first recordings, made for Victor immediately after his Carnegie Hall debut, we find some sentiment in abundance but little sentimentality—an important distinction. Itzhak Perlman has called him “the greatest violinist that ever lived,” and he may well have been. Certainly, he has had a profound effect on the violinists who have followed him: Technical sloppiness would never again be tolerated.
First Appearance: Jascha Heifetz, October 27, 1917Final Appearance: Heifetz-Piatigorsky Concert, October 15, 1966Detailed Appearance History >
Arturo Toscanini began his American career at the Metropolitan Opera in 1908 but left abruptly seven years later, after a quarrel with management and the dissolution of his long affair with the soprano Geraldine Farrar; he never conducted in the house again. Toscanini returned to Europe, and six years elapsed before his Carnegie Hall debut in 1921, when he visited New York City with the orchestra of La Scala. In 1926, he created such excitement after his first appearance with the New York Philharmonic that he was appointed co-music director the following season. Toscanini was tyrannical in his demand for orchestral precision, but his interpretations could also show “wonderful delicacy and tenderness and gentleness,” as Mortimer Frank puts it in his book Arturo Toscanini: The NBC Years. Toscanini remained with the New York Philharmonic until 1936.
In 1937 he became the music director of the NBC Symphony Orchestra, which had been created for him. Although some of these early radio broadcasts took place within the bone-dry acoustics of Studio 8H in 30 Rockefeller Plaza, Toscanini and the NBC Symphony played together at Carnegie Hall until the maestro’s last appearance before he retired in 1954.
First Appearance: La Scala Orchestra, January 3, 1921Final Appearance: NBC Symphony Orchestra, April 4, 1954Detailed Appearance History >
Turning 60 a month before, Paul Robeson was coming to the end of a near decade-long battle with the US government over his right to travel internationally when he took to the Carnegie Hall stage on May 9, 1958. Robeson made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1929, and this May 9 concert was seen as a major comeback appearance. The controversy surrounding the legendary baritone meant that the sellout audience was met in front of the Hall by 20 police officers. The New York Times reported that “Their presence was unnecessary. The audience, which filled the hall, was orderly, and there were no demonstrations outside. And so the police went home about 9:15 PM.”
Accompanied by pianist Alan Booth, Robeson performed songs—in English, German, Russian, Hebrew, Yiddish, and Chinese—and theatrical monologues including one from Othello, which The New York Times ironically regarded as one of the most musical parts of the evening. He reserved one of his signature songs, “Joe Hill,” as an encore—the opening strains being drowned out by applause.
Paul Robeson made a second 1958 appearance at Carnegie Hall a couple of weeks later on May 23. He went on to tour successfully in Britain, the Soviet Union, Australia, and New Zealand. Having performed here more than 10 times over four decades, the May 23, 1958, Carnegie Hall concert turned out to be his last at the Hall.
First Appearance: Paul Robeson, November 5, 1929
Final Appearance: Paul Robeson, May 23, 1958Detailed Appearance History >
Let’s let critic Nat Hentoff, who attended Billie Holiday’s 1956 two-concert event, tell the story: “The beat flowed in her uniquely sinuous supple way of moving the story along; the words became her own experiences; and coursing through it all was Lady’s sound—a texture simultaneously steel-edged and yet soft inside; a voice that was almost unbearably wise in disillusion and yet still childlike, again at the centre. The audience was hers from before she sang, greeting her and saying good-bye with heavy, loving applause. And at one time, the musicians, too, applauded. It was a night when Billie was on top, undeniably the best and most honest jazz singer alive.”
First Appearance: A Salute to Thomas (Fats) Waller, April 2, 1944
Final Appearance: Billie Holiday: Lady Sings the Blues, November 11, 1956Detailed Appearance History >
It was not merely its close proximity to Jilly’s, Frank Sinatra’s favorite hangout when he was in New York, that brought him to Carnegie Hall so many times. Sinatra had a long history here, one that began in 1945, when he was the skinny idol of the bobbysoxers and accepted an award for his work toward racial tolerance in a gala program featuring Duke Ellington, Josh White, and Zero Mostel. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Sinatra regularly settled in to Carnegie Hall for a week or more at a time: Tickets were usually gone as soon as they went on sale.
First Appearance: Meeting: Young Americans for Roosevelt, October 24, 1944Final Appearance: Irving Berlin 100th Birthday Celebration, May 11, 1988Detailed Appearance History >
Pete Seeger’s appearances at Carnegie Hall span more than half a century. His first appearances were at benefits for a variety of left-wing political causes in the 1940s; in December 1955, he reunited with the Weavers (who had disbanded a few years earlier, in part because they’d been blacklisted) for a sold-out concert, a success the group repeated a few months later in 1956. But it was his iconic version of “We Shall Overcome,” the title song of his 1963 album recorded live at Carnegie Hall, that still resonates today.
First Appearance: American Folk Music Concert, April 20, 1946
Final Appearance: Arlo Guthrie and Pete Seeger with The Guthrie Family, November 30, 2013Detailed Appearance History >
Maria Callas is undoubtedly one of the most exciting and influential opera singers during the post-war period. There was no denying that the magic of her personality made her every move newsworthy. In 1974, Callas gave her last public performances at Carnegie Hall—two joint recitals with the tenor Giuseppe di Stefano.
First Appearance: American Opera Society, January 27, 1959
Final Appearance: Maria Callas and Giuseppe Di Stefano, April 15, 1974Detailed Appearance History >
Judy Garland had been in show business for almost 40 years when she finally made her Carnegie Hall debut in 1961 at the age 38. It was one of the most celebrated evenings in the house’s history, thanks in part to the star-studded audience, which included such showbiz royalty as Richard Burton and Marilyn Monroe. Toward the end of the program, Garland brought out her three children, Liza Minnelli, and Lorna and Joey Luft. The album, which was recorded live and released as Judy at Carnegie Hall a few months after the concert, spend 73 weeks on the Billboard chart and won five Grammy Awards.
First Appearance: Judy Garland, April 23, 1961
Final Appearance: Judy Garland, May 21, 1961Detailed Appearance History >
All digital portraits by Stanley Chow © Carnegie Hall
Frank Sinatra by Bill Mark
Billie Holiday at Carnegie Hall courtesy of William P. Gottlieb / Ira and Leonore S. Gershwin Fund Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress
Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Judy Collins and Arlo Guthrie by David Gahr
Maria Callas by Ben Martin
All other images are courtesy of the Carnegie Hall Archives