History Bytes: The 1954 Newport Jazz Festival, in Memory of George Wein

September 14, 2021

George Wein, long-time producer of the Newport Jazz Festival, passed away earlier this week. The Newport Historical Society would like to celebrate his legacy by sharing a selection of photographs of the Newport Jazz Festival from our collection:

Dizzy Gillespie and his band performing at the Newport Casino during the 1954 Newport Jazz Festival. P5201, NHS collection.

Held over the weekend of July 17-18, 1954, the inaugural Newport Jazz Festival was attended by over 13,000 people, who gathered at a specially constructed bandstand at the Newport Casino to enjoy the festival’s much-anticipated debut.

Spectators outside the Newport Casino at the 1954 Jazz Festival. P5200, NHS collection.

Based on its banner turnout, Wein told the Newport Daily News that he was certain the festival would become an annual event; now approaching its 68th year, Wein’s prediction has indeed held true.

Newport Daily News article published 25 June, 1954.

The 1954 Newport Jazz Festival welcomed the likes of Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie and Ella Fitzgerald, and the list of legendary performers drawn to the festival has only grown over the years.

Dizzy Gillespie performing at the Newport Jazz Festival, 1983. P8711, NHS collection.


Ray Charles performing at the 1984 Newport Jazz Festival. P8694, NHS collection.


Dave Brubeck in concert at Newport Jazz Festival, circa 1990. 2020.017.012, NHS collection.


Undated aerial photograph of the Newport Jazz Festival at Fort Adams, captured by John T. Hopf. P696, NHS collection.