John Cage was born in Los Angeles in 1912. He studied with Richard Buhlig, Henry Cowell, Adolph Weiss, and Arnold Schoenberg. In 1952, at Black Mountain College, he presented a theatrical event considered by many to have been the first Happening. He was associated with Merce Cunningham from the early 1940's and was Musical Advisor for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company until his death in 1992. Cage and Cunningham were responsible for a number of radical innovations in musical and choreographic compositions, such as the use of chance operations and the independence of dance and music.
Cage was the recipient of many awards and honors, beginning in 1949 with a Guggenheim Fellowship and an Award from the National Academy of Arts and Letters for having extended the boundaries of music through his work with percussion orchestra and his invention in 1940 of the prepared piano. Cage was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1978, and was inducted into the 50-member American Academy of Arts and Letters in May, 1989. He was named Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Minister of Culture in 1982, and received an Honorary Doctorate of Performing Arts from the California Institute of the Arts in 1986. Cage was the Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard University for the 1988-1989 academic year. He was laureate of the 1989 Kyoto Prize given by the Inamori Foundation.
In 1987, he wrote, designed and directed Euroceras 1 & 2, with the assistance of Andrew Culver, for the Frankfurt Opera. 101 (1989) was commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Fromm Foundation at Harvard University. Euroceras 3 & 4 was commissioned by the Almeida Music Festival and Modus Vivandi Foundation in 1990. The 1991 Zurich June Festival was devoted to the work of John Cage and James Joyce.
Cage is the author of Silence, A Year from Monday, M, Empty Words, and X (all published by the Wesleyan University Press). I-VI (the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures delivered at Harvard in 1988-89) was published by the Harvard University Press in the Spring of 1990. This book includes transcripts of the question and answer periods that followed each lecture, and an audiocassette of Cage reading one of the six lectures. Conversations with Cage, a book-length composition of excerpts from interviews by Richard Kostelantz, was published in 1988 by Limelight Editions. Cage's music is published by the Henmar Press of C. F. Peters Corporation and has been recorded on many labels.
Since 1958, many of Cage's scores have been exhibited in galleries and museums. A series of fifty-two watercolors, the New River Watercolors, executed by Cage at the Miles C. Horton Center at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University was shown at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. in April-May, 1990. In 1991, the Cunningham Dance Foundation produced Cage/Cunningham, a documentary film on the collaboration of Merce Cunningham and John Cage, partly funded by PBS, under the direction of Elliot Caplan. John Cage died in New York City on August 12, 1992.