Photo of 1954 Newport Jazz Festival via Newport Jazz Festival

The first Newport Jazz Festival, known as the First Annual American Jazz Festival, was held on July 17th and July 18th, 1954 at the Newport Casino. The two day event featured academic panel discussions and live music performances from Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Lee Konitz, Eddie Condon and many more.

Thirteen thousand fans attended the inaugural event and the festival was regarded as a great success, the festival would move to Freebody Park in 1955.

An excerpt from How Newport Jazz Began by George Wein:

“The first Newport Jazz Festival in 1954 set the formula for all major jazz festivals to follow. Popular artists were the attractions that sold tickets, but it was the important unsung jazz heroes from the traditional to avant-garde that attracted the critics and gave the festival an artistic credibility.

In 1954, Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, Gene Krupa, George Shearing, and Billie Holiday were popular jazz artists of the day. The program included tributes and reunions, which are commonplace nowadays. Panels treated the academic approach to the music. This formula, commercialism blended with artistic credibility, continues to this day. The difference is that as the great names in jazz passed away, the Ellingtons, Armstrongs, Fitzgeralds, etc. it had been necessary to sometimes use crossover groups that reflect many aspects of American popular music that do not necessarily reflect the purity of jazz. Yet, these artists sell tickets and all festival producers know that without people, there is no festival.

The two sellout crowds created national press coverage and the festival received a world-wide response. The whole town of Newport was talking about what had happened at the historic Newport Casino.”

Read More On The History Of The Newport Jazz Festival

Ryan Belmore is the Publisher of What'sUpNewp. 
Belmore has been involved with What’sUpNewp since shortly after its launch in 2012, proudly leading it to be named Best Local News Blog in Rhode Island by Rhode Island Monthly readers in 2018, 2019, and 2020 and an honorable mention in the Common Good Awards in 2021.

Born and raised in Rhode Island, Belmore graduated from Coventry High School and the Community College of Rhode Island. In addition to living in Newport for 10 years, he has lived in Portsmouth, Coventry, Providence, Smithfield, Burrillville, and East Greenwich.

Belmore currently serves as Vice President of the Board Of Directors for Fort Adams Trust and on the Board of Directors for Potter League For Animals. He previously served on the Board of Lucy's Hearth and the Arts & Cultural Alliance for Newport County.

Belmore and his wife, Jen, currently live in Alexandria, Virginia, a move they made in 2021. Read more about that here -

Belmore visits Newport every couple of weeks to support the 12+ paid contributors What'sUpNewp has on the ground across Rhode Island, a place he called home for 39 years.

Belmore is a member of Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers, Society of Professional Journalists, and the North American Snowsports Journalists Association.

In 2020, Belmore was named Member of the Year by LION and won the Arts & Cultural Alliance of Newport County's Dominque Award.
Belmore can be contacted at and 401-662-1653.