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Song of the Day for October 14: "Maria" by Leonard Bernstein

Leonard Bernstein
Charles Harrity/AP
FILE - In this July 26, 1971 file photo conductor Leonard Bernstein tells reporters in Washington that the work he is preparing for the 1971 opening of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is a "labor of love." Bernstein would have turned 100 next year - a remembrance that’s being celebrated in the composer-conductor’s Massachusetts birthplace. The Boston Symphony Orchestra kicks off its new season Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, with a concert devoted entirely to America’s most famous maestro. (AP Photo/Charles Harrity, File)

Leonard Bernstein might have ended up selling beauty products for his dad’s business if not for his aunt’s divorce. He was 10 when his Aunt Clara gave him her upright piano after her divorce.

He proved to be a prodigy, but his father wouldn’t pay for lessons, believing music was never going to be a way to make a living. Bernstein gave lessons to pay for his. Three years later his father had a change of heart and bought Leonard a baby grand piano for his bar mitzvah.

Bernstein, who is considered one of America’s greatest conductors, died October 14, 1990. He was 72 years old.

Bernstein took advantage of every break he had. He, unlike many musicians, wasn’t drafted because he had asthma. He was surprisingly hired as the assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic. It was unheard of for an American to be named a conductor.

Shortly after being hired, he was called one morning saying the guest conductor was ill and he would be conducting that afternoon. Bernstein wowed the orchestra, the crowd, even the New York Times, which ran a front page story about his performance.

Bernstein became a star. He traveled the world conducting orchestras. He wrote operas, and he wrote for Broadway. His best known work is the music for “West Side Story,” which opened on Broadway in 1957 and became a popular movie in 1961.

The song “Maria” is one of the most popular from the play. Tony sings it when he finds out Maria’s name. Bernstein originally wrote the music in 1949 for a musical he called “East Side Story.” Tony, a Catholic from Greenwich Village, falls for Maria, a Jewish girl. He couldn’t sell it, so he changed sides of town and converted Maria and Tony.