The Kennedy Center

The Who


Pete Townshend
(Musician, singer, composer and writer; born May 19, 1945 in London, England)

Roger Daltrey
Musician, singer, composer and actor; born March 1, 1944 in London, England)

They were mods, not rockers. But The Who changed the face of rock and roll.
Townshend and Daltrey, individually and through The Who, have given the world memories such as these: "My Generation," "Baba O'Riley," "Who Are You," and "Won't Get Fooled Again" not to mention "Pinball Wizard" and "See Me, Feel Me" from The Who's Tommy, which introduced a whole new generation to the group. "If the Rolling Stones symbolize the bad-boy aspect of rock 'n' roll," proclaimed the Washington Post, "England's The Who always stood for commitment, intelligence, responsibility, positive action."
Together with their late friends John Entwistle and Keith Moon, they were one band that will never be forgotten. It is both touching and surprising that these English lads who got together in London's Shepherd's Bush started out—like so many fellow troupers of the British Invasion—by paying tribute to American rhythm and blues. They proclaimed themselves "Maximum R & B," but in fact what they created was all their own: a dazzling gift from the Old World to the New. Well into the band's career, Melody Maker declared, "Surely The Who are now the band against which all others are to be judged." In 1990, the first year of their eligibility, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. On that occasion, U2's Bono disarmingly confessed, "More than any other band, The Who are our role models."  

They remain the rambunctious Godfathers of Punk, the visionary pioneers of rock opera, the predecessors of both the cool Britpop signaled by such groups as Oasis and Blur—but also the seminal influence behind decidedly intense hard rock acts from Led Zeppelin to The Clash. The Sex Pistols took note of The Who's sound and attitude. They were the first rock artists to take seriously the possibilities of synthesizers and electronic music. The Ramones, Pearl Jam, Green Day and Hilary Duff, The Grateful Dead and Van Halen, Phish, Scorpions, Nirvana, and U2—with Buddy Rich thrown in for good measure—all tried their hands at the songs of The Who. Their sound fills the airwaves in the 21st Century, providing the TV themes of CSI, CSI: Miami and CSI: New York. The Broadway version of Tommy won five Tony Awards(r) and introduced a whole new generation to The Who.

On their own, Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey have taken their own amazing journeys while making unforgettable music along the way.  Townshend, whose spiritual path has been one of rock and roll's most remarkable surprises, has remained not only true to music but also a creative force in literature, writing film scripts, magazine columns, the short story collection Horse's Neck, and of course a lot of lyrics. Daltrey, with eight solo albums and counting, was consecrated as an actor with Ken Russell's film version of Tommy and has continued an exciting theatrical career as both an actor and producer. Their philanthropic work is legend. They both are rockers after all, and they continue to perform as The Who. Now in their sixties, the kids are alright.

Peter Dennis Blandford Townshend was born in 1945 in Chiswick, West London. He came from a musical family, his father a saxophone player with the RAF's own Squadronaires, and his mother a professional singer. He began studying the piano but, after seeing the picture Rock Around the Clock, his vocation was clear. He moved on from jazz to rock, arrived at the blues and took them to cool London clubs with a precocious lineup of John Entwistle first on trumpet and later on bass, Townshend on guitar, and Daltrey singing. Keith Moon joined them in 1964. That was The Who.

Townshend emerged as The Who's spokesman, the articulate driving force behind what soon became one of the most powerful forces in rock and roll. His body or work, from "My Generation" and "I Can See for Miles," Tommy and beyond, announced to the world that this was not by any means just another infantryman of the British Invasion.  His leaps in the air, his windmill guitar style, his more than joining in on the destruction of instruments on stage, and most of all his furious, crunching power chords created a new rock syntax. In 1967, at the height of The Who's popularity, Townshend became a follower of the Indian avatar Meher Baba, whose gentle teachings inform the rocker's music to this day. Townshend's own devotional albums are unique, from Who Came First and Happy Birthday and Rough Mix, right through Empty Glass, The Iron Man, and All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes. Townshend, who suffers from partial deafness, provided the initial funding for the non-profit H.E.A.R. foundation (Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers). He was the first prominent rock musician to donate his services to Amnesty International. His immortal Tommy won the 1993 Tony Award(r) for Best Original Score, also garnering the Grammy for Best Musical Show Album.

Roger Harry Daltrey was born in 1944 in Hammersmith and grew up in the working class London suburb of Acton. He attended Victoria Primary School and then Acton Grammar School for Boys, alongside Pete Townshend and John Entwistle. A born rebel, Daltrey found a home in music and made his first guitar from a block of wood, forming a skiffle band called The Detours. He got his first electric guitar in 1959, got in trouble in school, and was expelled. Pete Townshend recalled of his friend that "Roger has been a good pupil. Then he heard Elvis and transmogrified into a Teddy Boy with an electric guitar and a dress-sneer. Was it simply rock and roll?  It was obvious to a young man as intelligent as Roger that there was no future in conforming any more."

Daltrey was a teenage dropout and sheet-metal worker when he brought together Entwistle and Townshend in the Shepherd's Bush Youth Club in 1961, in effect forming the band that would become The Who. Daltrey was the front man, and his unstoppable energy then as often through the years drove the band's elegant resolve. But Townshend became the leader, early on, The Who's great songwriter. When songwriting itself grew more ambitious, Roger Daltrey became Tommy—play and player were one bare-chested sexy bundle of charisma and curls, with a distinctive voice rivaled by few in the history of popular music. He took that role to heart, on record, on tour, and in Ken Russell's controversial movie that earned Daltrey a Golden Globe nomination in 1975. He went on to star in Russell's outrageous Lisztomania, establishing a happy double routine of continuing his singing career with The Who while enjoying acting gigs including McVicar on the big screen, Lois & Clark on American television, The Beggars' Opera and The Comedy of Errors for the BBC, The Hunting of the Snark in the West End, and A Christmas Carol at Madison Square Garden, where he played Scrooge in 1998. He has played Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar and Doolittle in My Fair Lady. What other rock star can claim such credits? Since 2000, Daltrey has been a patron of the Teenage Cancer Trust, for whom he began working by launching the event The Who & Friends at the Royal Albert Hall that raised more than $2.5 million in ticket, CD and DVD sales for the fight against cancer.

With ever-changing lineups but an ever-constant heart, Townshend and Daltrey are still The Who.  And their influence has not stopped.
Pete Townshend