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It is well known that the B-52s are
The World's Greatest Party Band. And thirty six years and over
twenty million albums into their career, there can be no doubt as
to why they remain one of rock music's most beloved and enduring
bands. Any mystery concerning the band's longevity and ongoing
appeal is immediately solved when exposed to a B-52s concert
experience. From groundbreaking songs like "Rock Lobster," "Dance
This Mess Around" and "Private Idaho" to chart-topping hits like
"Love Shack" and "Roam" and "Deadbeat Club" to their thrilling
reemergence on the pop scene with their 2008 CD Funplex the B-52s'
unforgettable dance-rock tunes start a party every time their music
Formed on an October night in 1976
following drinks at an Athens, GA, Chinese restaurant, the band
played their first gig at a friend's house on Valentine's Day 1977.
Naming themselves after Southern slang for exaggerated 'bouffant"
hairdos, the newly-christened B-52s (Fred Schneider, Kate Pierson,
Keith Strickland, Cindy Wilson and Ricky Wilson) began weekend road
trips to New York City for gigs at CBGB's and a handful of other
venues. Before long, their thrift store aesthetic and genre-defying
songs were the talk of the post-punk underground. A record deal
soon followed and their self-titled debut disc, produced by Chris
Blackwell, sold more than 500,000 copies on the strength of their
first singles, the garage rock party classic "Rock Lobster," and
"52 Girls." The B-52s began to attract fans far beyond the punk
clubs of the Lower East Side - galvanizing the pop world with their
'stream-of-consciousness' approach to songwriting and outrageous
performance. They had clearly tapped into a growing audience for
new music that was much larger than anyone could have anticipated.
"We always appealed to people outside the mainstream," says Kate
Pierson, "and I think more people feel they're outside the
mainstream these days."
With the release of their second
studio effort, Wild Planet (1980), the B-52s and co-producer Rhett
Davies proved their success was no fluke with hits with "Private
Idaho," "Give Me Back My Man" and "Strobe Light." In just two
albums, the B-52s created a lexicon of songs, styles, phrases and
images which would set the standard for the development of the
'alternative music scene' for the next decade. The success of
Mesopotamia, produced by David Byrne (1982), and Whammy! (1983)
positioned the B-52s as MTV regulars as well as alternative radio
At the time of their greatest
achievements, however, they suffered their greatest tragedy - the
death of guitarist Ricky Wilson from AIDS. "He really had a
vision…," said sister Cindy Wilson. "He was one of the strongest
elements of the B-52s from the beginning." Ricky Wilson's passing
in 1985 came just after the sessions for Bouncing Off The
Satellites (1986). The album, dedicated to Wilson, had taken nearly
three years to complete but was worth the wait, serving up the fan
favorites "Summer of Love" and "Wig."
As a period of mourning, Keith,
switching from drums to guitar, gradually resumed writing music for
a new album. Working together on vocal melodies, lyrics and
arrangements for the new tracks, Keith, Kate, Fred and Cindy
re-emerged with the Don Was/Nile Rodgers co-produced Cosmic Thing
(1989). The album proved to be the greatest commercial achievement
for the group, and its success propelled the band to international
Cosmic Thing soared to the top of
the Billboard Album chart, sold five million copies and yielded
their first-ever Hot 10 hits - "Love Shack" and "Roam" and a Top 40
hit with "Deadbeat Club." The B-52s advanced their reputation as
the greatest party band on the planet to a whole new generation of
music fans. They played to sold-out audience worldwide on a tour
that would last more than 18 months, including an Earth Day gig
before nearly 750,000 people in New York City's Central
Soon after, Cindy Wilson amicably
departed. "I'd been a B-52 for a long time, and it just felt like
time for a change," said Cindy. Before long, Wilson had
successfully completed her first solo project - a baby girl.
Meanwhile, Kate collaborated with other artists, including Athens
compatriots R.E.M., for whom she guest-starred on their 1991 album
Out of Time. She also scored a hit with fellow CBGB's alum Iggy Pop
on his lovelorn duet "Candy." Fred, meanwhile started work on a
solo project, Just Fred (1996), with producer Steve Albini, his
second solo project since the release of 1984's Fred Schneider and
the Shake Society.
As a trio, Fred, Keith and Kate
re-enlisted the tag team of Was and Rodgers to produce the
energetic Good Stuff (1992). With it's popular title cut and
concert favorite "Is That You Mo-Dean?," Good Stuff is more than
just a worthy follow-up to Cosmic Thing: the album stands as the
group's most overtly political album. "We're out there to entertain
people," said Fred, "but it's great to get people thinking and
dancing at the same time."
Reuniting permanently with Cindy,
the B-52s wrote and recorded two new tracks that fit perfectly into
Time Capsule, a 1998 stellar collection of hits. The first single
from the Best Of collection, "Debbie" is a metaphorical tribute to
band friend and supporter Debbie Harry and the whole CBGB's scene
of the late '70s.
With the release of the two-disc
collection Nude on the Moon: the B-52s Anthology (2002), the B-52s
took much-deserved credit for a body of work that is unique,
beloved and timeless in its own way. The B-52s influence cuts a
wide path through much of so-called 'modern rock' - from the low-fi
efforts of nouveau garage bands to the retro-hip of ultra-lounge,
to the very core of dance music itself. "We just did our own thing,
which was a combination of rock 'n 'roll, funk, and Fellini, and
game show host, and corn, and mysticism," says Fred. It is indeed
all these things (and much more).
In 2008 the B-52s released their
first new album in 16 years, the aptly titled Funplex. With its
primal guitar hooks, driving drums and the B-52s' unmistakable
vocal style, Funplex is instantly recognizable as quintessential
and contemporary B-52s. Newsweek Magazine declared, "Like a sonic
shot of vitamin B12, the dance floor beats, fuzzy guitar riffs and
happy, shiny lyrics keep the energy going."
On February 18, 2011 the band
joyfully celebrated its 34th anniversary with a triumphant return
to their hometown of Athens, GA. Wig-wearing, boa-draped,
glitter-covered fans came from near and far to celebrate this
historic event, which saw the band deliver a sizzling 90 minute set
that turned Athens' Classic Center into a cosmic dancehall. The
concert was released on a CD, DVD and Blu-ray entitled The B-52s
With The Wild Crowd! Live in Athens, GA. In a review of the CD,
Chuck Howard from Scripps Howard News Service proclaimed, "How The
B-52's have maintained their endearing vitality after all these
years is a wonder, yet fans who hear "With the Wild Crowd!" will
doubtless wish immortality on this uplifting band."
In January 2013 Keith Strickland
announced that he had made a decision to stop touring with the
band. In a statement he said, "I will continue to be in The B-52s -
I will just not tour. My barnstorming days have come to an end, but
I wholeheartedly support Cindy, Fred and Kate's decision to
Most recently, in April 2015, the
band rewarded their longtime fans with a rare gem: a digital
release of a special early show from August 1979. They noted, "We
opened for the Talking Heads at the Berklee Center in Boston just
six weeks after our first record was released. We were a little
scared of the audience so we kept our heads down and focused - and
we danced like mad when there was a break! Ricky was so fierce on
the guitar - so intense - it was all so raw and live and we loved
As they take their party-music
revolution into the 21st century the B-52s show no signs of slowing
down, serving up their own unique blend of music and showmanship to
millions of fans around the world.
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On May 10, 1995, Keith Lockhart, the 20th Conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra, opened his very first Boston Pops season, leading a concert featuring guests Sylvia McNair, Mandy Patinkin, and Doc Severinsen, and repertoire ranging from Wagner to “Charlie on the MTA.” He was only 35 years old—the same age as Arthur Fiedler was when he became Boston Pops Conductor in 1930—and was dubbed “The Kid” by longtime Pops Associate Conductor Harry Ellis Dickson. The press coverage from the time of Keith’s appointment to the position in February 1995 was extensive, commenting on not only his musical talent but also his good looks and enviable head of hair, as well as the challenge of following in the illustrious footsteps of John Williams and Arthur Fiedler. But this baby boomer, born in 1959, came to the position with musical chops, a remarkable work ethic, and a deep appreciation for both the institution of the Pops and its audience. His varied conducting experience encompassed both the symphonic and pops repertoire, as well as performances in concert halls and on recordings; he had most recently served as Associate Conductor of both the Cincinnati Symphony and Cincinnati Pops, and made his Boston Pops debut as a guest conductor in 1993, just two years before he was appointed Conductor.
Over the next 25 years, with seemingly endless energy, Keith Lockhart, who holds the Julian and Eunice Cohen Boston Pops Conductor chair, would lead the Boston Pops in more than 2,000 concerts, in every imaginable setting—from hospitals to the Super Bowl—and collaborate with nearly 300 guest artists, drawn from the worlds of classical and popular music, rock, jazz, sports, politics, Broadway, and Hollywood.
Although acclaimed around the world, the Boston Pops—sometimes called “America’s Orchestra”—remains a treasured local fixture, as beloved as the region’s sports teams and historic landmarks. Its reputation has been acknowledged in popular culture, recently in a memorable episode of the animated television series “The Simpsons.” The family decided to take a “hate-cation” to Boston—because of Homer’s resentment of the “Boston Americans” football team and its fans—and ultimately fell in love with the city that has “a Symphony AND a Pops.” Through the years, Keith Lockhart has embraced Boston and in return, Boston has embraced him.
Most of the concerts led by Keith Lockhart take place in Symphony Hall, itself a registered historic landmark, during the orchestra’s spring and holiday seasons. He has also led annual Boston Pops appearances at Tanglewood, Pops concerts at Carnegie Hall and Radio City Music Hall, 45 national tours to more than 150 cities in 38 states, and four international tours to Japan and Korea. He and the Pops have made 80 television shows, including 38 new programs for the PBS series Evening at Pops, and participated in such high-profile sporting events as Super Bowl XXXVI, the 2008 NBA finals, the 2013 Boston Red Sox Ring Ceremony, and the Red Sox Opening Day game at Fenway Park in 2009. The annual July 4 Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular draws a live audience of over half a million to the Charles River Esplanade, and millions more view it on television or live webcast. During Keith’s tenure, the July 4 event was televised by a major national network for the first time. In 2017, with Eaton Vance as presenting sponsor and Bloomberg as the exclusive media partner, the Pops organization presented its first self-produced Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular, which was broadcast on Bloomberg Television and all its media outlets. Both companies are continuing their commitments to the event.
Lockhart-led albums on the RCA Victor/BMG Classics label include Runnin’ Wild: The Boston Pops Play Glenn Miller, American Visions, The Celtic Album (Grammy-nominated, the first Boston Pops recording to be so honored), Holiday Pops, A Splash of Pops, The Latin Album (Latin Grammy-nominated), Encore!, and My Favorite Things: A Richard Rodgers Celebration. Recent releases on the in-house label, Boston Pops Recordings, include The Red Sox Album, A Boston Pops Christmas—Live from Symphony Hall, and The Dream Lives On: A Portrait of the Kennedy Brothers, which was a Boston Pops commission premiered in 2010 during the orchestra’s 125th season. Released at the beginning of the 2017 Pops season, Lights, Camera...Music! Six Decades of John Williams features Keith Lockhart leading the Boston Pops in a collection of Williams compositions from the 1960s onward, including some rarities.
Keith’s personal affinity for American music has led him to program full-length Broadway musicals and invite stars of the musical theater world to perform with the Pops. He has worked closely with hundreds of talented young musicians, including Fellows of the Tanglewood Music Center, college students from the Boston Conservatory and Berklee College of Music, and area high school students. He introduced the PopSearch talent competition and the innovative JazzFest and EdgeFest series, featuring prominent jazz and indie artists performing with the Pops. Well aware of the influence of technology on our lives and the concert experience, he was the driving force behind “Pops on Demand,” allowing audience members to vote on their cell phones in such categories as “Favorite Disney Song” and “Favorite John Williams Theme” and see the results in real time. The Lockhart/Pops album Oscar & Tony was the basis of a Pops internet TV broadcast, the first such program offered by a symphony orchestra. In recent seasons, he and the Pops have presented a number of films in concert, both classic (The Wizard of Oz) and contemporary (Home Alone). He is dedicated to building and updating the Boston Pops library of music, which contains over 5,000 arrangements.
With a renewed commitment to bringing the Boston Pops into the Boston community and to important civic events, Keith Lockhart and the Pops have appeared at gubernatorial and mayoral inauguration ceremonies; the holiday tree lighting in Boston’s Public Garden; sporting events including Red Sox, Patriots, Bruins, and Celtics games, and the memorial service for the Boston Marathon bombing victims. He has led free concerts in such major public spaces as the Boston Common and Franklin Park, and each holiday season he brings musicians of the Pops to play for patients at Children’s Hospital and Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. He is a recipient of the 2017 Commonwealth Awards for Achievement, the state’s highest honor in the arts, humanities, and sciences presented by the Massachusetts Cultural Council.
More recently Keith and the Pops initiated a conducting competition for students aged 18 to 30 during the 2018 season-long celebration of Leonard Bernstein’s centennial. As part of a 2019 Pops tour concert in Fort Lauderdale, Keith invited student survivors from the shooting at Margery Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland to perform a song, composed by two of them, honoring the resilience of their community. Back at Symphony Hall, both the spring and holiday Pops seasons in 2019 included a sensory-friendly concert designed for families with children or adults diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder or sensory sensitivities.
Keith recently completed a decade-long relationship with the BBC Concert Orchestra, first as principal conductor and then as the orchestra's chief guest conductor. During his tenure as principal conductor, he led the 2012 Diamond Jubilee Concert for Queen Elizabeth II. He continues to serve as artistic director of the Brevard Music Center Summer Institute and Festival in North Carolina. Prior to his BBC appointment, he spent eleven years as music director of the Utah Symphony, which he led at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City. He has appeared as a guest conductor with virtually every major symphonic ensemble in North America, as well as many prestigious orchestras in Asia and Europe. Before coming to Boston, he was the associate conductor of both the Cincinnati Symphony and Cincinnati Pops orchestras, as well as music director of the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra. Born in Poughkeepsie, New York, Keith Lockhart began his musical studies with piano lessons at the age of seven. He holds degrees from Furman University and Carnegie Mellon University, and honorary doctorates from several American universities.
Having the gift of being able to communicate with people of all ages, Keith Lockhart readily conveys his passion for the music he loves, which covers a wide spectrum. His programming reflects this breadth of interest and he is completely at ease articulating his professional and personal perspectives. Above all, he believes in and appreciates the experience that only the Boston Pops can provide—an atmosphere of music-making that is both fun and entertaining. He has called the Pops “the great outreach arm of the classical music industry. There’s no orchestra like it in this country or in the world that plays such a wide variety of music at such a high level.”
For more on Keith Lockhart, visit keithlockhart.com or bostonpops.org.
Keith Lockhart, conductor