Live from Carnegie Hall: A Brief History

Carnegie Hall

For more than 100 years, live recordings have been made in Carnegie Hall for release by the biggest artists of the day across every genre of music and entertainment. This brief history of commercial recordings at the Hall tracks several of the highlights from throughout the decades.

It All Began with Caruso
1904: Enrico Caruso, "The Early Recordings." Neapolitan tenor Enrico Caruso was the first artist to record live within the Carnegie Hall building, though none were made in front of a live audience. He was contracted by the Victor Talking Machine Company (which would become RCA) and made a total of 10 recordings on just his first day of work in Studio 826. In total, Caruso made 240 discs for the label, selling many millions of copies at a time when a four-minute recording cost $7—more than a week's wages for many Americans. As well as being the first artist to record in Carnegie Hall, Caruso's influence on the development of recorded music is important. The "Collector's Guide to Victor Records" states, "The question has been asked. Did the phonograph make Caruso or did Caruso make the phonograph?" Although he made many records, he only performed before a live audience at Carnegie Hall twice—both times in 1918, three years before his death. 

Enrico Caruso drew this caricature of himself making one of his celebrated discs in Studio 826 in 1904.

Toscanini and the First Orchestral Recordings
1920-1926: Arturo Toscanini, "The First Recordings." Given Carnegie Hall's long and close association with the world's greatest orchestras and conductors, it is fitting that the first orchestral recordings happened so early in its history. Toscanini's long association with Carnegie Hall is reflected in his multiple live recordings. He performed at the Hall more than 400 times between 1921 and 1954. This recording includes tracks with La Scala Orchestra (recorded in 1920 and 1921) and two with the New York Philharmonic (recorded in 1926).

The program for Arturo Toscanini's appearance with La Scala Orchestra at Carnegie Hall on January 3, 1921.

An autographed publicity flyer for Arturo Toscanini's performance at Carnegie Hall in 1936.

Benny Goodman Ushers in the Jazz Era at Carnegie Hall
1938: Benny Goodman, "The Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert." January 16, 1938 saw a sea change in the evolution of jazz—an art form that had previously been heard in clubs and performed by segregated bands. On that date, however, Benny Goodman brought jazz and a racially integrated orchestra into the concert hall ... specifically, Carnegie Hall. The recordings of the concert went missing, presumed lost, until 1950, after which "The Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert" was released and has since enjoyed several reincarnations. Goodman continued to perform at Carnegie Hall through 1982, his final appearances being a double-header on June 25, 1982.

Announcing Benny Goodman's concert on January 16, 1938, this poster hung on the Seventh Avenue side of Carnegie Hall.

It was the first time a concert of swing music was advertised to take place in the main hall.

Included on this publicity flyer for the legendary concert was Sol Hurok, who also managed Marian Anderson, Van Cliburn, Andrés Segovia, Mstislav Rostropovich, and Isaac Stern, among others.

The superstar lineup included vibraphonist Lionel Hampton, clarinetist Benny Goodman, and drummer Gene Krupa.

Diz 'n Bird ... a Meeting of Giants of Bebop
1947: Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie "Bird" Parker, "Diz 'n Bird at Carnegie Hall." Officially billed as a performance by "Dizzy Gillespie and His Orchestra"—with Ella Fitzgerald listed as a soloist—this was a meeting of giants of bebop on September 29, 1947. Pioneering bandleader and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and legendary saxophonist Charlie "Bird" Parker were joined by sidemen and soloists who included James Moody, Al McKibbon, Cecil Payne, and Joe Harris. The first five tracks of the album are the only ones that feature Diz and Bird together, performing as part of the Dizzy Gillespie Quintet with drummer Joe Harris, bassist Al McKibbon, and pianist John Lewis. Aside from the fact that it's one of the few live recordings of this duo, the album is probably most notable for their interplay on Gillespie's signature tune "A Night in Tunisia." This was Bird's second of his eventual 13 appearances at Carnegie Hall, the last being seven years later on September 25, 1954—six months before his untimely death. Although this concert marked Dizzy's third appearance at the Hall, it was his headlining debut. Gillespie went on to perform at the Hall more than 50 times.

Although Ella Fitzgerald was listed on the evening's program, her performance did not make its way onto the released recording.

Dizzy Gillespie conducts his band as Ella Fitzgerald performs at the edge of the stage.

Seeger's Folk Reaches the Hall
1955: "The Weavers at Carnegie Hall." The face of music was changing. By the late 1940s and '50s, folk made its way to Carnegie Hall. Featuring Pete Seeger, The Weavers released this album of their 1955 performance (coincidentally on Christmas Eve) a couple years later in 1957. Only the first half of the concert was reproduced on the record, with the second half being released subsequently in 1970. Seeger had performed at Carnegie Hall several times before, but this was his first time as a headliner. He went on to perform a further 84 times at the Hall, his final performance being as part of Arlo Guthrie's annual Thanksgiving concert.

This is a flyer for the 1955 concert on Christmas Eve, which led to the 1957 album.

Piaf, the Little Sparrow in the Big Hall
1957: "Edith Piaf at Carnegie Hall." Born Édith Giovanna Gassion, Edith Piaf was already a global superstar by the time she made her Carnegie Hall debut in 1956. She had first toured the US in 1947, and her frequent performances on "The Ed Sullivan Show" made her a familiar face to American audiences. Piaf returned to Carnegie Hall a year after her debut for a second concert that was recorded, though not released until nearly a decade and a half after her death in 1963. Her penchant for songs of Paris's dark underbelly was reflected in the headlines of "The New York Times" reviews: "High Priestess of Agony; French Singer Offers Heart-Rending Songs: Carnegie Hall Soaked in Tears by Edith Piaf" (in 1956) and "Edith Piaf Performs; French Singer Offers Doleful Repertoire at Carnegie Hall" (in 1957). Piaf was due to perform again at Carnegie Hall on March 25, 1959, but an announcement in "The New York Times" 10 days before the scheduled date noted that she had to postpone the concert due to illness. Although Piaf continued to perform in Paris through 1962, the Carnegie Hall concert was never rescheduled due to her ongoing health problems.

The program for Edith Piaf's concert on January 13, 1957, featured on this recording.

This flyer was printed for Edith Piaf's scheduled concert on March 25, 1959, though the event never took place due to her poor health.

Judy: The Most Iconic of All?
1961: Judy Garland, "Judy at Carnegie Hall." Not yet 40 when she made her Carnegie Hall debut on April 23, 1961, Judy Garland was already on her first comeback trail. She had fought her way back from hepatitis in 1959 and 1960, and was returning to the US after a triumphant tour of Europe. That night at Carnegie Hall, the audience was teased by Mort Lindsey and his orchestra's performance of an overture that included some of Garland's biggest and most beloved hits—"The Trolley Song," "Over the Rainbow," and "The Man That Got Away"—before the star took the stage to perform a grueling program of 26 songs to prove that her health was good and that her talent was undiminished. Remarkably, the resulting album was released in July 1961—just 10 weeks after the concert—and has never been out of print. The album cover pictured is reproduced from an autographed copy currently on display in Carnegie Hall's Rose Museum.

A rare color photograph of Judy Garland captured during the concert.

Judy Garland and her children Lorna and Joey Luft and Liza Minnelli on stage following the concert.

Both Lorna and Liza would go on to perform at the Hall as adults.

Judy Garland accepts the adulation of her Carnegie Hall audience.

Julie and Carol, Queens of Comedy
1962: Julie Andrews and Carol Burnett, "Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall." Carnegie Hall has been a venue for standup and comedy shows since the early 1960s, including performances by Lenny Bruce, P.D.Q. Bach, Groucho Marx, Billy Connolly, Bob and Ray, Ray Romano, and David Sedaris. Performed on March 5, 1962 and broadcast on CBS a few months later on June 11 along with the album release the same month, "Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall" was not the first comedy album recorded at the Hall—that honor goes to Lenny Bruce—but, due to the TV broadcast and the perennial popularity of the stars, it became one of the most beloved. When the show was first proposed, however, neither Andrews nor Burnett were household names, and there was consequently no guarantee that the production would actually happen. But it did. George Reeder (one of the 20 "Gentlemen of the Ensemble" that sang and danced the three big production numbers with Julie and Carol) recalls being struck by the image of all of the tech people and stagehands—basically anyone within camera shot—in tuxes and bow ties. Julie Andrews has performed here two more times to date, while Carol Burnett has returned only once.

A ticket for "Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall."

Note that the event truly was "black tie"!

Julie Andrews and Carol Burnett perform "The History of Musical Comedy" during their Carnegie Hall concert.

Leontyne Price: A Long-Awaited Debut
1965: "Leontyne Price Rediscovered." Although the great African American soprano made her Carnegie Hall debut in 1954 and had performed here nearly 20 times, she did not make her solo recital debut until 1965. Remarkably, the recording of that auspicious occasion was not released until 2002—37 years later—hence the title of the release. Following that recital debut, Price went on to perform a further 25 times in the Hall, her most recent appearance to date being as part of "A Concert of Remembrance: Honoring the Victims of the Tragedy of September 11" on September 30, 2001.

This window card advertised Leontyne Price's 1965 recital debut at Carnegie Hall.

Ms. Price's most recent performance at Carnegie Hall was at "A Concert of Remembrance: Honoring the Victims of the Tragedy of September 11," singing a powerful "America the Beautiful" with James Levine accompanying on the piano.

Buck Owens Turns Carnegie Hall Country
1966: "Carnegie Hall Concert with Buck Owens and His Buckaroos." Although he wasn't the first country star to perform at Carnegie Hall, Buck Owens was the first to record a country album here. Part of a multi-artist and multi-venue series called the "Country-Politan Cavalcade," the concert took place in front of a packed house on March 25, 1966. This was Owens's only appearance at the Hall.

An advertisement in an earlier Carnegie Hall program book promoting the upcoming "Country-Politan Cavalcade."

Introduction to Buck Owens and The Buckaroos Carnegie Hall concert, 1966

Buck Owens and The Buckaroos were the star attractions, famous for such hits as "Act Naturally."

"Act Naturally" by Buck Owens and The Buckaroos, 1966

Here is a page from the program for Buck Owens's concert on March 25, 1966.

A Lovely Day with Bill at Carnegie Hall
1972: "Bill Withers Live at Carnegie Hall." As the 1960s gave way to the '70s, Carnegie Hall saw an explosion of rock and pop concerts. Over the course of just three years, The Byrds, Led Zeppelin, James Taylor, Jethro Tull, Neil Young, The Beach Boys, Tina Turner, Chicago, Elton John, Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention, Pink Floyd, The Kinks, Marc Bolan and T. Rex, The Doors, The Allman Brothers Band, Jerry Lee Lewis, and David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust with The Spiders from Mars all performed here. Some of these concerts were recorded and released, but arguably the one album that epitomizes this golden era of rock and pop at Carnegie Hall is "Bill Withers Live." In the liner notes, Withers recalls that ''in about an hour and a half, that audience transformed us all from nervous, serious musicians into free and happy people. I know I'll never forget it."

A page from the program for Bill Withers's Carnegie Hall concert on October 6, 1972.

SRV—Guitar Hero
1984: Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, "Live at Carnegie Hall." Stevie Ray Vaughan had turned 30 the night before he and his band took the Carnegie Hall stage for a concert where, according to "The New York Times," there "were moments when the staid auditorium became a whistling, stomping roadhouse." The three-piece Double Trouble—Vaughan on guitar, drummer Chris Layton, and bassist Tommy Shannon—had been together for just three years, and for the first and only time expanded the lineup to include a second drummer, a vocalist, an organist, a five-piece brass section, and Vaughan's older brother Jimmie on rhythm guitar. The "Dallas Times Herald" remarked that "it was on the slow, bluesy stuff that the Carnegie Hall sound really helped. You could hear Stevie bend every note in a way that's impossible in most rooms." The album was not released until 13 years later, seven years after Stevie Ray Vaughan's death in a helicopter crash.

The understated program page from the Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble concert—"a Soul ReVue"—on October 4, 1984.

Contrary to their photo in the program book, the band wore velvet mariachi-style suits, tailor-made especially for their Carnegie Hall concert.

A Young Kissin's Debut
1990: Evgeny Kissin, "Carnegie Hall Debut Concert." A Carnegie Hall debut is a daunting event in any artist's career. When Evgeny Kissin took the stage to make his debut in the fall of 1990, he had some additional pressures: He was just shy of 20 years old; his debut coincided with that season's opening night, making him the "opening act" of Carnegie Hall's centennial celebration; and, finally, his debut was being recorded for release as a double album by RCA and for broadcast as part of the "AT&T Presents Carnegie Hall Tonight: Centennial Edition" radio series. The young Russian pianist took it all in stride, playing a program that included Schumann, Prokofiev, Liszt, and Chopin. Kissin has since become famous for his Carnegie Hall encores, playing no fewer than 12 during his May 2007 recital. But in 1990, the audience was rewarded with "just" three. Since his debut, Kissin has performed at Carnegie Hall more than 30 times. In the 2015-2016 season, he becomes the first pianist since Vladimir Horowitz to perform the same program on two different nights in one week.

Carnegie Hall's Executive and Artistic Director Clive Gillinson and Archives and Rose Museum Director Gino Francesoni recall Evgeny Kissin's Carnegie Hall debut.

This publicity photograph was signed and dedicated to Carnegie Hall by Evgeny Kissin. Countless other artists have done the same, many adorning the walls of the First and Second tiers of Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage.

Trifonov's 21st Century Debut
2013: Daniil Trifonov, "The Carnegie Recital." Following a similar path as his countryman Evgeny Kissin to Carnegie Hall, Daniil Trifonov was not quite 22 when he made his recital debut at Carnegie Hall on February 5, 2013. The recording of the concert captures the virtuosity of the young pianist performing to a sold-out house. As did Kissin, Trifonov responded to the audience's entreaties by performing three encores, one of which—Agosti’s arrangement of the “Danse Infernale” from Stravinsky’s “The Firebird”—"The New York Times" described as a "jaw-dropping, explosively colorful performance." Regrettably, the encores did not make it onto the final album. Trifonov has continued to appear in recital at Carnegie Hall since his debut.

This poster advertised Daniil Trifonov's Carnegie Hall recital debut on February 5, 2013.

Daniil Trifonov performing his debut recital in Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage.

Credits: Story

All images courtesy of the Carnegie Hall Archives unless otherwise noted.

Thanks to Bob Banner & Associates for their kind permission to use "The History of Musical Comedy" video clip from "Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall."

Carnegie Hall concert introduction and "Act Naturally" from Buck Owens and The Buckaroos' Carnegie Hall concert (c) the Buck Owens Private Foundation. Used by permission.


Leontyne Price at "A Concert of Remembrance: Honoring the Victims of the Tragedy of September 11" by Richard Termine.

Daniil Trifonov at Carnegie Hall by Steve J. Sherman.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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