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David Simonelli

was born Oliver Anthony Stephens on 22 April 1927 in Santiago, Cuba, to a Jamaican father and a Cuban mother. One of six brothers, he spent his early childhood in Cuba, speaking Spanish; over the years, he learned Italian and French as well, and his multilingual singing abilities would contribute to his international marketability as a pop singer. His father moved the family back to Kingston, Jamaica, in 1938, where Stephens absorbed many different styles of music over the radio and in the streets—American rhythm and blues heard over New Orleans radio stations broadcast across the Caribbean, the hits of jazz crooners from the United States and Britain, and mento, the local guitar and horn version of calypso in Jamaica. In 1942, at age 15, he sang in a major local talent show Vere John’s Opportunity Hour, winning and collecting 2 pounds; he entered Opportunity Hour ...


Philip Herbert

Composer, contralto, successful vocal coach, accompanist, and teacher. She was the youngest daughter of the famous African‐American actor Ira Aldridge, and born in Upper Norwood, London. Early on she was educated at a convent school in Belgium. At the age of 17 she was awarded a scholarship to study singing at the Royal College of Music. Her teachers included Jenny Lind and George Henschel for singing, along with Frederick Bridge and Frances Edward Gladstone for harmony and counterpoint.

Aldridge's career was successful and varied, as a contralto until an attack of laryngitis damaged her voice, an accompanist, vocal coach, and later a composer. She accompanied her brother Ira Frederick Aldridge on musical tours until his death in 1886. She also accompanied her sister Luranah in concerts at many well‐known London venues at the turn of the 20th century.

Aldridge also played a seminal ...


Nathaniel Friedman

soul and rhythm and blues singer and songwriter, was born Arthur Alexander Jr. in Florence, Alabama, to Arthur Alexander, a laborer and musician, and Fannie Scott Spencer. He was exposed to music at an early age by his mother and older sister, who sang in church, and by his father, who played weekend gigs as a bottleneck blues guitarist. After high school Alexander was working as a bellhop at the Sheffield Hotel when he met Tom Stafford, a white R&B enthusiast who introduced him to what would become the nucleus of the Muscle Shoals–area studio scene: Dan Penn, Rick Hall, Spooner Oldham, and Billy Sherrill. The men, all then working for Rick Hall's Fame Music Stafford, found Alexander's songwriting abilities every bit as intriguing as his singing, and soon made sure that Alexander became part of Fame's writing operation. In 1958Alexander and Henry Lee Bennett coauthored ...


Michael J. Bustamante

was born on 27 February 1927 in Havana into a working-class family with twelve children. After completing the eighth grade and working as a bricklayer, Almeida was introduced to political activity in 1952 upon meeting Fidel Castro while employed at the beach club for students of the University of Havana. A veteran of the failed 1953 assault on Santiago de Cuba’s Moncada Barracks, and prisoner of the Fulgencio Batista government until May 1955, Almeida returned to Cuba in late November 1956 from exile in Mexico, along with other insurgents of the 26th of July Movement, aboard the yacht Granma. Together with Fidel Castro and his brother, Raúl, as well as Ché Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos, Almeida was among the few rebels who survived initial clashes with Batista’s forces and arrived at the Sierra Maestra in eastern Cuba. In early 1958 he was promoted to Comandante Commander the ...


Fred Rohner

was born in Callao (Peru), on 8 May 1877, the son of Ignacio Almenerio and Juana Mejia. He moved to Barrios Altos (Lima) in his youth and lived there for the rest of his life. Almenerio was a criollo musician of the early twentieth century and was renowned as a composer and performer of the mandolin and bandurria (a lute-type instrument).

While still a child, he attended a performance of the Spanish Estudiantina Figaro (a string ensemble) at La Linea café; this sparked his passion for stringed instruments. A few years later, he learned to play the bandurria under the guidance of Manuel Boza and later mastered the mandolin and guitar.

His work as a composer includes several well known waltzes Rebeca based on a stanza of a poem by Guillermo Bazo El Huracan Tempestad and La Abeja the musical arrangement of a poem by the Colombian Julio Florez ...


Jack Sohmer

jazz pianist, composer, and singer, was born Lillian Hardin in Memphis, Tennessee, the daughter of Dempsey Hardin, a strict, churchgoing woman who disapproved of blues music. Nothing is known of her father. At age six Lil began playing organ at home, and at eight she started studying piano. In 1914 she enrolled in the music school of Fisk University in Nashville, taking academic courses and studying piano and music theory. After earning her diploma, around 1917 she joined her mother in Chicago, where she found work demonstrating songs in Jones' Music Store. Prompted by her employer, in 1918 Hardin became house pianist for the clarinetist Lawrence Duhé's band at Bill Bottoms's Dreamland Ballroom, where she played with the cornetists “Sugar Johnny” Smith, Freddie Keppard, and King Oliver; the trombonist Roy Palmer; and other New Orleans musicians Because she was still a minor her mother ...


Lisa Clayton Robinson

Armstrong's career as a Jazz musician began with a job in a music store in Chicago, Illinois. She met Louis Armstrong while they were both with King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band in Chicago. They married in 1924 and divorced in 1938 Armstrong worked with her husband in the ...


Lil Hardin Armstrong is one of the great treasures of American jazz. In a day when women in music were the singers, Hardin played the piano, composed, arranged, and managed—both her own career and that of her husband Louis Armstrong. Uncredited for many years, happily she has begun to gain some well-deserved attention.

Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Lillian Beatrice Hardin was the daughter of Dempsey Martin and William Hardin Reports differ on whether Hardin s parents divorced or whether her father died when she was young but it is known that Hardin was raised by her mother and her maternal grandmother in a strictly religious household Hardin was attracted to music almost from birth and began playing the organ when she was very young By the time she was six her mother had arranged that she take additional piano lessons from her schoolteacher and by nine she ...


Christina Accomando

William Attaway was born 19 November 1911, in Greenville, Mississippi, to Florence Parry Attaway, a teacher, and William Alexander Attaway, a physician and founder of the National Negro Insurance Association. When he was five, his family moved to Chicago, taking part in the Great Migration that he later chronicled as a novelist. The family moved to protect the children from the corrosive racial attitudes of the South.

Attaway's early interest in literature was sparked by Langston Hughes's poetry and by his sister who encouraged him to write for her theater groups. He attended the University of Illinois until his father's death, when Attaway left school and traveled west. He lived as a vagabond for two years, working a variety of jobs and writing. In 1933 he returned to Chicago and resumed his schooling, graduating in 1936. Attaway's play Carnival (1935 was produced at the ...


George P. Weick

writer, was born in Greenville, Mississippi, the son of William S. Attaway, a medical doctor, and Florence Parry, a teacher. His family moved to Chicago when Attaway was six years old, following the arc of the Great Migration, that thirty‐year period beginning in the last decade of the nineteenth century during which more than 2 million African Americans left the South for the burgeoning industrial centers of the North. Unlike many of these emigrants, who traded the field for the factory and the sharecropper's shack for the ghetto, the Attaways were professionals at the outset, with high ambitions for themselves and their children in their new homeland.

Attaway attended public schools in Chicago, showing no great interest in his studies until, as a high school student, he encountered the work of Langston Hughes He became from that point on a more serious student and even tried his hand ...


Zachary J. Lechner

bandleader, songwriter, producer, and arranger, was born Dave Louis Bartholomew in Edgard, Louisiana, to Louis Bartholomew, a musician, and Marie Rousell, a housekeeper. Louis played Dixieland tuba in Kid Harrison's and Willie Humphrey's jazz bands. He moved the family to New Orleans while Dave was in high school. Young Dave became interested in performing music after watching his father play. He first took up the tuba but switched to the trumpet because it would allow him a place in the popular marching bands of New Orleans. As a high school student he enjoyed the tutelage of Peter Davis, Louis Armstrong's teacher. Bartholomew honed his skills on the New Orleans scene in the late 1930s. He moved in and out of various jazz and brass bands in Louisiana, including Marshall Lawrence's Brass Band, Toots Johnson's Band, and Claiborne Williams's Band. The pianist Fats Pinchon ...


Gelien Matthews

was born Claude A. Benjamin on 4 November 1907 in Christiansted, St. Croix, United States, Virgin Islands. Very little is known about his parents except that as a young man growing up in Christiansted, while they supported his calling to religious ministerial service, they were unable to finance his training. At the age of 20, he migrated to the United States, hoping to make his fortune in New York. From the outset, he embarked on a musical path from which he never deviated.

Benjamin s first formal training as a student of music in New York was in playing the banjo and guitar at Hy Smith s School of Music Not long after he enrolled in the prestigious Juilliard School of Music In the late 1920s and 1930s he secured employment as an instrumentalist with lower level orchestras and vaudeville groups His first major music based job was as a ...


Mark Clague

musician and songwriter, was born Claude Augustus Benjamin in Christiansted, St. Croix, Virgin Islands (then Danish West Indies), the son of Joseph Benjamin and Euphrasia Seteon (spelled Shöin on his Anglican baptismal certificate). Benjamin's early life was difficult. His father was a fisherman who died when Benjamin was an infant, and changes in the shipping industry, hurricanes, and World War I pushed the economy of the Virgin Islands into decline. After graduating from Virgin Islands High School in 1925, he abandoned his early hopes of becoming a physician for lack of tuition to enter medical school, and worked as a tailor and cabinetmaker instead. In 1927 he moved to New York City in search of better opportunity.

Inspired by a local island musician, Louis Stakemann Benjamin had taught himself ukulele and banjo by ear as a youth Upon arriving in New York he added guitar to his skills ...


Charles L. Hughes

songwriter and musician, was born in Brooklyn, New York. Information on his family and early life is fragmented at best, but it is known that Blackwell was a musical child and learned to play the piano while he was young.

Upon leaving school at the end of the 1940s, Blackwell held jobs in a New York theater as a floor sweeper and as a laundry clothes presser. In 1952 his musical talents helped him win a talent contest at Harlem's Apollo Theater, arguably the capital of live black entertainment during the era of the chitlin circuit, the circuit of African American performance venues that supplied black performers with their steadiest and most stable source of employment. Blackwell subsequently signed a deal with RCA Victor Records, under the tutelage of the producer Joe Davis Davis left RCA a year later to form Jay Dee Records and Blackwell followed his mentor ...


SaFiya D. Hoskins

rhythm and blues vocalist, was born Robert Calvin Brooks in Rosemark, Tennessee, son of May Lee and I. J. Brooks. He grew up in the rural town listening to white country singers and gospel music. At age six his mother married Leroy Bridgeworth, also known as Leroy Bland; Bland adopted his stepfather's surname in his teens. At age seventeen, Bland moved with his mother and stepfather to Memphis, Tennessee. He worked in a garage but his love for music continued to flourish. He sang gospel in church and with secular street groups, joining the Miniatures in 1949. By 1950 Bland was working as a chauffeur for blues singer and musician B. B. King and occasional valet to the singer Roscoe Gordon in order to be near blues music It was his affinity for blues that earned him his nickname Bland s persistence paid off ...


Eric Bennett

Born in rural Rosemark, Tennessee, Bobby “Blue” Bland gravitated to Memphis, Tennessee, as a teen. He arrived there at a time when Rhythm and Blues (R&B) was beginning to gain popularity. Bland sang with the Pilgrim Travelers, a gospel group, before joining the Beale Streeters, a loose ensemble of (R&B) pioneers that included Johnny Ace and B. B. King. In his early recordings on Modern Records, Bland imitated the sounds of King and Nat “King” Cole.

Bland served in the U.S. army from 1952 to 1954, a tour of duty that slowed his career. When he returned to Memphis, he found that his old friends were already prospering as musicians. Slowly he returned to the scene, recording his best work between the mid-1950s and the early 1960s on the Duke Records label. Hits from this period included “Cry Cry Cry” (1960 and Turn ...


Frank E. Dobson

blues guitarist, singer, and songwriter. The blues performer known as Bo Diddley was born Ellas Otha Bates in McComb, Mississippi, to Eugene Bates, a father whom he never knew, and Ethel Wilson, a teenage mother. He was raised by his mother's first cousin Gussie McDaniel, and when his adoptive father, Robert McDaniel, died in 1934, Gussie moved the family to Chicago.

Diddley first studied music as a child under Professor O. W. Fredrick while attending Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago While attending Foster Vocational High School in Chicago he studied various instruments including the guitar harmonica and trombone His sister bought his first guitar for him when he was twelve During his high school years he also formed a band the Hipsters later called the Langley Avenue Jive Cats In the late 1940s Diddley tried his hand at a number ...


Lois Bellamy

composer, educator, choral conductor, music professor, singer, and author, was born to Dr. Daniel Webster Boatner, former slave, and Sophie Stuart, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Dr. Daniel Webster Boatner was born in South Carolina and was nine years old when Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 Edward Boatner s grandmother was a slave who was determined that her son Daniel would receive a good education She worked very hard scrubbing floors washing cooking and nursing children of wealthy whites to send him to school Dr Boatner attended Fisk University in Nashville Tennessee and graduated from New Orleans University where he received his bachelor s and master s degrees After earning his doctorate from Gammon Theological Seminary at Atlanta Georgia he served on the faculty of Philander Smith College a Methodist School in Little Rock Arkansas where he taught Hebrew ...


Barry Kernfeld

blues and vaudeville songwriter, publisher, and musical director, was born John Henry Perry Bradford in Montgomery, Alabama, the son of Adam Bradford, a bricklayer and tile setter, and Bella (maiden name unknown), a cook. Standard reference books give his year of birth as 1893, but Bradford's autobiography gives 1895. Early in his youth Bradford learned to play piano by ear. In 1901 his family moved to Atlanta, where his mother cooked meals for prisoners in the adjacent Fulton Street jail. There he was exposed to the inmates' blues and folk singing. Bradford attended Molly Pope School through the sixth grade and claimed to have attended Atlanta University for three years, there being no local high school. This is chronologically inconsistent, however, with his claim to have joined Allen's New Orleans Minstrels in the fall of 1907 traveling to New Orleans for Mardi Gras ...


Melvin L. Butler

gospel composer and pastor, was born into a family of sharecroppers in Somerville, Tennessee. Although Brewster stemmed from a humble background, he managed to study a wide variety of subjects, including theology, law, and Hebrew. After graduating from Roger Williams College in 1922 he moved to Memphis, Tennessee. By 1930 Brewster had begun a lifelong tenure as pastor of the East Trigg Baptist Church. A major aspect of Brewster's early ministry centered on the founding of theology schools, and these centers of learning helped to establish his voice as one of moral authority and spiritual guidance in religious circles.

By the time Brewster began seriously publishing his songs in the 1940s he had gained over a decade of experience in his pastoral role This experience provided a wellspring of material for songs that often relayed Old Testament stories and were enjoyed by African American congregations across the United States ...