Cornell’s Artistic Legacy

Cornell alumni have gone on to produce Broadway musicals, engineer new instruments and pen influential novels after leaving the Hill. Here are a few Cornellians who truly shaped the humanities and the arts over the years.

Laurens HammondLaurens Hammond 1916

After receiving his B.S. in mechanical engineering in 1916, Hammond would go on to create the electric Hammond organ, which proved to be an important milestone in electronic music’s evolution and influential to the genres of jazz and progressive rock.

Pearl BuckPearl S. Buck ’26

Buck used the skills she honed at Cornell to craft some of the 1930s’ best-selling and most acclaimed historical fiction. She would go on to win a Pulitzer Prize for The Good Earth in 1932 and a Nobel Prize in 1938.

Arthur Laurents ’37

Laurents penned and directed a number of seminal Broadway musicals, including West Side StoryHallelujah, Baby! and La Cage Aux Folles, in addition to writing a number of well-received films.

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. ’44

Prior to leaving Cornell to fight in the second World War, Vonnegut pursued a degree in chemistry and served as the Associate Editor of The Cornell Daily Sun. Throughout the ’60s and beyond, he established himself as one of the counter-culture’s most notable novelists with the satirical black humor of books like Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat’s Cradle. 

Toni Morrison Toni Morrison M.A. ’55

The acclaimed author has won a Pulitzer Prize, the Nobel Prize in Literature and the Presidential Medal for Freedom for her prolific, vivid novels, including Beloved. 

David Seidler ’59 

Years after leaving Ithaca with a degree in English, Seidler took the stage to accept the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for The King’s Speech in 2011.

Thomas Pynchon ’59

Honing his literary chops under the likes of Vladimir Nabokov at Cornell, Pynchon went on to define the post-modernist tradition, winning the National Book Award for 1973’s Gravity’s Rainbow. 

Robert Moog Ph.D. ’65

If the origins of popular electronic music can be traced to one person, it would be Robert Moog. While at Cornell studying engineering, he grew interested in and began developing electronic instruments. His Moog Synthesizer would go on to be the tool of choice for everyone from Beaver & Krause to Donna Summer.

Christopher Reeves

Christopher Reeve ’74

Before the world knew him as Superman and a philanthropist, Reeve started in numerous Cornell theater productions.
Jane Lynch

Jane Lynch MFA ’84

Following a few notable feature-length comedy roles in films such as The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Role Models, Lynch raked in the awards with her regular role on the hit show Glee. 

Greg Graffin Ph.D. ’91

After revitalizing the Southern California punk scene, the lead signer of Bad Religion turned his focus to doctoral biology work and continues to lecture courses on evolution at Cornell.

To read more arts & entertainment stories, visit cornellsun.com.

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