John Edward Hasse


When most people think of museums, they naturally think about displays, which curators refer to as exhibitions.

Professors teach in classrooms; curators teach largely through museum exhibitions. A Smithsonian curator has one of the world’s largest, if not the largest, “classroom”: Given that five million people annually visit the National Museum of American History, our exhibitions can reach millions of visitors per year. And a traveling exhibition can reach even more.

While my work had many other responsibilities, developing exhibitions was especially satisfying because they reached the public directly. Mine included half a dozen on Duke Ellington, several on jazz photography, and exhibits on Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, and the history of the piano. I am particularly proud of one of my exhibitions on Ellington that went global when the State Department condensed it into a series of colorful posters and distributed copies around the world.

Ray Charles, “The Genius” was exhibited in 2005, and again in 2017.


Beyond Category: The Musical Genius of Duke Ellington toured to 10 American cities, through the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES).

The U.S. State Department adapted Beyond Category into a “poster” exhibition and sent multiple copies around the world. Here, on display in Cape Town, South Africa.

The Jazz Composers exhibition explored the musical legacies of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. Click here to see the online version.

Ella Fitzgerald: First Lady of Song was on display from 1997 to 2012.

The International Language of Jazz went on display at UNESCO headquarters in Paris in 2012, in celebration of International Jazz Day and Jazz Appreciation Month.

Ella Fitzgerald at 100 commemorated her centennial in 2017. Click here to see the virtual version.

Ella Fitzgerald at 100 exhibition curated by Hasse.

LeRoy Neiman painted this huge group portrait, Big Band, of some of the musicians he most admired. In 2015, he donated it to the National Museum of American History, where it now is displayed inside the Constitution Avenue Entrance, adjoining the LeRoy Neiman Jazz Café.


The LeRoy Neiman Jazz Café opened in 2015. It is featuring photos by Herman Leonard and William Claxton, and Jazz Appreciation Month posters with artwork by LeRoy Neiman, Al Hirschfeld, Henry Keith Brown, and others.