Jimi, Dorothy and Prince are featured at Smithsonian’s new exhibit


A 50-year-old piece of plywood stained with psychedelic paint was put on display this month on the third floor of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

It’s a simple thing – about 4 feet by 8 – but sacred to the story of rock-and-roll.

It was part of the Woodstock Music festival, where in 1969 the titans of rock closed in front of almost half a million people and presented an important event for the generation and the 20th century.

And part of the new research of entertainment history includes Prince’s “Yellow Cloud” guitar, Dorothy’s ruby ​​slippers from “The “Wizard of Oz,” and the original Jim Henson’s Kermit the Frog puppet, which had ping pong balls for eyes.

“Entertainment Nation,” which opens Dec. 9, uses music, movies, plays, television, and theater to illuminate important chapters in the American story, the museum said.

The project, which has been 10 years in the making, is part of a new cultural wing at the museum, which will include a gallery of rotating exhibits, the first of which features portraits of fashion traveler Richard Avedon.

“This will be the first permanent installation by the Smithsonian in the history of national entertainment,” said museum spokeswoman Melinda Machado.

Some of the items are already in other displays. But “Entertainment Nation” includes a lot of content that hasn’t been shown before, and a lot that hasn’t been seen in years, Machado said.

The exhibit covers the period from the mid-1800s to the present, focusing on “questions of the day that entertainers, actors, television, theater, film, plays and music were dealing with through their art,” said John Troutman, the museum’s curator. music and instruments.

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“So all the things that are being shown … serve as channels for important national discussions,” he said. “This is a history of why entertainment is important in the history of the United States.”

Anthea M. Hartig, director of the museum since 2019, said: “I inherited this child, and it has been a pleasure to help him come into the world.”

On a recent visit, workers were still busy, with the lights being “adjusted,” and some displays wrapped in protective covers. “This is a construction site,” Troutman said.

But the red dress and white bonnet worn by actress Elizabeth Moss in “The Handmaid’s Tale” was in place, along with the shiny Star Wars droids R2-D2. and C-3PO, and the black mask worn by “The Lone Ranger” in the 1950s TV show.

So was Joe Louis’ boxing champion from his first match with Max Schmeling in 1936, jazz great John Coltrane’s saxophone, and the black guitar Paul Simon played in his concert in New York’s Central Park in 1991.

Nearby was a recording of jazz singer Billie Holiday’s version of the anti-lynching song, “Strange Fruit.”

“It’s important to emphasize the story of that song, and the reaction it evoked,” said music curator Krystal Klingenberg. “It’s a song … that speaks clearly to a different political era.”

In the same story was the baton of band leader John Philip Sousa, and the modified tap shoes worn by Althea Thomas, secretary of the Martin Luther King Jr. church. in Montgomery, Ala., in the 1950s. Thomas’ shoes were never seen.

The Smithsonian’s “ruby slippers” — one of several pairs used in the 1939 movie — felt weed designed to make noise during a scene in “The Wizard of Oz,” said Laura Duff, a museum spokeswoman.

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Prince’s yellow guitar, which he donated in 1993, is on display for the first time in several years. A superficial examination of the instrument showed that it had seven different colors of paint on it, Troutman said.

It’s believed to be the rock star’s first guitar, he said, and it’s the one that was later painted white, used by Prince in his movie “Purple Rain.”

Another famous guitar on display is the 1968 Fender Stratocaster Jimi Hendrix used to play a psychedelic version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” – with a short interlude of “Taps” – on the last day at Woodstock.

The guitar is on loan from Seattle’s MoPOP museum of pop culture. (It will return to Seattle in February.)

“When we were thinking about this project, we thought, well, if there’s ever a time to bring Hendrix’s Woodstock guitar to the Smithsonian, even for a temporary installation … this is it,” Troutman said. The guitar arrived on November 14th.

It hangs near the plywood from the stage where Hendrix and Janis Joplin stood, who, Santana, Joe Cocker, Richie Havens, Joan Baez, dairy farmer Max Yasgur, who owned the land of Woodstock, and the star wagon in August 1969.

The wood, recently protected with an acrylic coating, is placed so that visitors can walk on it. “We decided it would be more fun to step on that wood than have it in a glass box,” Troutman said.

And a three-dimensional, floor-to-ceiling video of Hendrix playing will be available in the showroom. “So…our visitors can stand on stage, looking at Hendrix’s guitar, while they watch him sing the national anthem at Woodstock,” Troutman he said.

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After the concert ended, the stage was removed, and its pieces were sold and used by the local residents.

Several years ago Troutman heard that more had recently been found and rescued by a former resident, Steve Gold, on an abandoned paddle ball court in the woods near the site.

Gold, of New City, NY, said in a phone interview that he grew up near the venue, attended events, and saw Hendrix’s performance.

Troutman thought it would be fun to include a piece of the episode in the new show. And Gold, 69, a Woodstock aficionado and entrepreneur, agreed to donate four pieces of wood to the museum, Troutman said. (They will be rotated in the display.).

“We don’t know what part of the stage” they come from, he said. “But the piece we are putting first… The other stadium is not painted yet, he said.

“If you look at the archive photos … you’ll see parts of the stage covered in purple and blue paint and the actual designs,” he said. “The paint is on the plywood we’re putting up for the opening.”

And it seems to be close to where the musicians were standing – or sitting, in the case of Indian sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar.

Woodstock was a moment in the late 1960s when the event “became legendary as it happened… [and] played a big part in terms of remembering that time,” Troutman said.

“It also hung for a long time in the minds of those who attended,” he said.


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