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Article

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 ...

Article

Karl Rodabaugh

jazz cornet player, trumpeter, and vocalist. Louis Armstrong's musical style and charismatic personality transformed jazz from a “raucous” and “vulgar” regional form of dance music into an internationally beloved popular art form. Also known as “Satchel-mouth” and “Pops,” Armstrong first gained renown as an innovative cornet player and trumpeter whose creative energy helped bring about the movement of jazz into swing in the 1920s. But he also achieved fame as a vocalist whose distinctive style, including some specific features identified as “Afro-American,” influenced scores of jazz singers and thus played a significant role in shaping popular music of the twentieth century.

Article

Frank Tirro

jazz trumpeter and singer, known universally as “Satchmo” and later as “Pops,” was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of William Armstrong, a boiler stoker in a turpentine plant, and Mary Est “Mayann” Albert, a laundress. Abandoned by his father shortly after birth, Armstrong was raised by his paternal grandmother, Josephine, until he was returned to his mother's care at age five. Mother and son moved from Jane Alley, in a violence‐torn slum, to an only slightly better area, Franklyn and Perdido streets, where nearby cheap cabarets gave the boy his first introduction to the new kind of music, jazz, that was developing in New Orleans. Although Armstrong claims to have heard the early jazz cornetist Buddy Bolden when he was about age five, this incident may be apocryphal. As a child, he worked odd jobs, sang in a vocal quartet, and around 1911 bought a ...

Article

More than anyone else, Louis Armstrong was responsible for legitimizing and popularizing jazz for a wider public. A much-admired jazz trumpeter and gravel-voiced vocalist, Armstrong was also a consummate entertainer, steadily expanding his career from instrumentalist to popular singer, to film and television personality, and, ultimately, to cultural icon. He acquired many nicknames throughout his life, including Dippermouth, Pops, and Satchelmouth—the latter often contracted to Satchmo. As Satchmo, he was instantly identifiable around the world, decades before PrinceMadonna, or Sting. The international appeal of his music in effect made Armstrong the American goodwill ambassador to the world.

Article

Burton W. Peretti

jazz pianist, composer, and bandleader, was born William James Basie in Red Bank, New Jersey, the son of African American parents Harvey Lee Basie, an estate groundskeeper, and Lillian Ann Chiles, a laundress. Basie was first exposed to music through his mother's piano playing. He took piano lessons, played the drums, and acted in school skits. An indifferent student, he left school after junior high and began performing. He organized bands with friends and played various jobs in Red Bank, among them working as a movie theater pianist. In his late teens he pursued work in nearby Asbury Park, but he met with little success. Then, in the early 1920s, he moved to Harlem, where he learned from the leading pianists of the New York “stride” style, Willie “The Lion” Smith, James P. Johnson, Luckey Roberts, and especially Fats Waller, his exact contemporary.

Basie ...

Article

William Carney

orchestra leader. William “Count” Basie was born in Red Bank, New Jersey, in 1904. Although he received some formal musical training, much of Basie's skill as a musician was the result of self-teaching and apprenticeship to some of the leading jazz musicians of the early 1920s. After working with Fats Waller in New York City and playing the organ in Harlem movie houses, Basie went on the road with Gonzelle White and her jazz band in 1927. Stranded in Kansas City, Missouri, as a result of poor decisions by White and several promoters, Basie became a mainstay of the local jazz scene there. He played piano for some of Kansas City's leading dance bands before joining the Oklahoma Blue Devils in the early 1930s.

Basie was subsequently recruited by Bennie Moten who gave him the nickname No Count as a joke about Basie s alleged financial ...

Article

Although white clarinetist Benny Goodman was proclaimed the “King of Swing,” by all rights the title belonged to Count Basie. For nearly half a century, with the exception of a brief hiatus between 1949 and 1952, Basie headed one of the finest big bands in Jazz, one that has enjoyed an unrivaled longevity. No other jazz orchestra has continued so long under the same leadership. In fact, Basie led two distinct bands, which some critics designate the Old Testament and New Testament bands. The Old Testament band was Basie's aggregation from the mid-1930s through the 1940s; the New Testament band encompasses the Basie band from the early 1950s on.

The earlier band played hard-swinging, rough-around-the-edges Kansas City jazz and often used head arrangements—arrangements made up in rehearsal and memorized—rather than written charts. It featured brilliant musical stylists, including tenor saxophonist Lester Young, trumpeters Buck Clayton and Harry ...

Article

Salim Washington

clarinetist, soprano saxophonist, and composer, was born Sidney Joseph Bechet, the youngest of five sons and two daughters (three other children died in infancy) born to Omar Bechet, a shoemaker, and Josephine Michel in New Orleans, Louisiana. Bechet was raised as a middle-class Creole at the time when state law reclassified Creoles of color as Negro. The adoption of the black codes and de jure segregation had profound repercussions for the first generations of ragtime and jazz musicians in the Crescent City. Although Sidney spoke French in his childhood household and his grandfather, Jean Becher, was free and had owned property since 1817, Sidney Bechet identified himself as African American.

The Bechet family was decidedly musical Sidney s father played the flute and trumpet for relaxation and Sidney s brothers all played music as a hobby and developed skills in various trades for their ...

Article

James Sellman

Although well known to Jazz listeners and critics, Sidney Bechet has never enjoyed the reputation of his only peer, cornet and trumpet player Louis Armstrong. Yet in recent years Bechet has gained greater recognition, at least from jazz scholars and critics. For example, Barry Singer, in a 1997New York Times article, described him as an “intrepid musical pioneer who was not merely Louis Armstrong's contemporary but in every way his creative equal.”

In many respects, the two men shared much: They were near contemporaries, born and raised in New Orleans and both were virtuosos on their chosen instruments Both were known above all as improvisers as soloists rather than bandleaders composers or arrangers Various factors help account for Armstrong s greater renown His clarion like trumpet moved even nonmusicians while Bechet s facility on woodwinds was less visceral in effect Armstrong found his greatest popularity as ...

Article

Few performers have had a more profound effect on American popular music than Chuck Berry. The staccato guitar cadenzas with which he opened songs such as “Maybellene” (1955) and “Johnny B. Goode” (1958) helped define the new guitar idiom of rock and roll. His lyrics, celebrating teen freedom, music, dancing, and the pleasures of automobiles gave substance to the rock genre. Berry's influence shaped the music of later musicians from the Beatles and the Rolling Stones to artists of the present.

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Berry was first exposed to music when the choir of his parents' Baptist church gathered to rehearse in the front room of his childhood home. An avid fan of the Blues Berry took up guitar as a hobby at age fourteen He worked in an automobile factory and as a hairdresser before turning to his guitar playing and ...

Article

John Edwin Mason

singer, songwriter, and guitarist, was born Charles Edward Anderson Berry in St. Louis, Missouri, the fourth of six children of Henry William Berry, a carpenter and handyman, and Martha Bell Banks. The industrious Henry Berry instilled in his son a hunger for material success and a prodigious capacity for hard work, traits that were not entirely apparent in Berry as a youth. Martha Berry, a skilled pianist and accomplished singer, passed on to her son her love for music. By the time he was a teenager, however, Berry preferred jazz, blues, and the “beautiful harmony of country music” to his mother's Baptist hymns (Berry, 14).

In 1944 Berry and two friends hatched an ill considered plan to drive across the country to California They soon ran out of money and committed a series of armed robberies in an attempt to return home All three were ...

Article

Timothy J. O'Brien

rock-and-roll pioneer. Chuck Berry is truly the father of rock and roll. His vibrant songwriting, innovative guitar playing, and live performances inspired legions of followers, and he was the single most important figure in defining a new genre that mixed country and rhythm and blues.

Charles Edward Anderson Berry was born to Henry William Berry Sr., a carpenter, and Martha Bell Banks, a housewife, in Saint Louis, Missouri, in 1926. The family belonged to a Baptist church, and Berry's earliest memories were of his parents singing gospel songs around the house. His first try at show business, singing “Confessin’ the Blues” to a friend's guitar accompaniment at a high school talent show, inspired him to play guitar.

While still in high school in Saint Louis he left for a trip to California with two friends When their money ran low they robbed a few small businesses and ...

Article

William G. Elliott

composer and pianist, was born James Hubert Blake in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of John Sumner Blake, a stevedore, and Emily Johnston, a launderer. His father was a Civil War veteran, and both parents were former slaves. While the young Blake was a mediocre student during several years of public schooling, he showed early signs of musical interest and talent, picking out tunes on an organ in a department store at about age six. As a result, his parents rented an organ for twenty‐five cents a week, and he soon began basic keyboard lessons with Margaret Marshall, a neighbor and church organist. At about age twelve he learned cornet and buck dancing and was earning pocket change singing with friends on the street. When he was thirteen, he received encouragement from the ragtime pianist Jesse Pickett whom he had watched through the window of a bawdy house ...

Article

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, James Herbert “Eubie” Blake was the son of John Sumner Black and Emily Johnston Black, both former slaves. Having taken organ lessons when he was six, Blake was playing Ragtime piano professionally in Baltimore bordellos and saloons just ten years later. Around this time, he composed “Charleston Rag.” In his early twenties, he began playing in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where he composed another of his popular songs, “Tricky Fingers.”

After Blake's introduction to legendary ragtime and stride piano players Willie “the Lion” Smith, Luckey Roberts, and James P. Johnson, Blake's piano playing matured. He combined a melodic ragtime style with waltzes and comic operas of the time. His playing was noted for its broken-octave parts, sophisticated chord progressions, and altered blues chords. Both Johnson and Fats Waller later used Blake's songs extensively in their repertoires.

In 1916James Reese Europe ...

Article

James Sellman

As a drummer and bandleader, Art Blakey had a profound impact on the shape of modern Jazz. During the late 1940s, along with Kenny Clarke and Max Roach, he was one of the creators of modern jazz drumming. His long-standing group, the Jazz Messengers (1955–1990)—together with Miles Davis's quintet with John Coltrane, the Max Roach–Clifford Brown Quintet, and the Horace Silver Quintet—popularized the style known as hard bop. Hard bop draws equally on the harmonic and rhythmic complexity of bebop and on the visceral sounds and simpler rhythms that characterize the Blues and Gospel Music. In an interview published in The Black Perspective in Music, Blakey summed up his approach simply, declaring that he wanted to play music that would “wash away the dust of everyday life.”

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania born Blakey was also one of the great talent scouts of ...

Article

T. Dennis Brown

jazz drummer and bandleader, was born Art William Blakey in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the son of Burtrum Blakey, a barber, and Marie Roddericker. His father left home shortly after Blakey was born, and his mother died the next year. Consequently, he was raised by a cousin, Sarah Oliver Parran, who worked at the Jones and Laughlin Steel Mill in Pittsburgh. He moved out of the home at age thirteen to work in the steel mills and in 1938 married Clarice Stuart, the first of three wives. His other wives were Diana Bates and Ann Arnold. Blakey had at least ten children (the exact number is unknown), the last of whom was born in 1986.

As a teenager Blakey taught himself to play the piano and performed in local dance bands but he later switched to drums Like many of his contemporaries Blakey initially adapted the ...

Article

Regina Harris Baiocchi

Margaret Bonds was a perfectionist whose meticulous manuscript preparation rivaled that of most printing presses, and she left a legacy of mesmerizing music.

Margaret Allison Bonds was born in Chicago, Illinois. She was the only child of Monroe A. Majors, MD, and Estella C. Bonds, although Monroe Majors had an older daughter, Grace Boswell. Estella Bonds played organ for Berean Baptist Church on Chicago’s South Side and taught her daughter piano, organ, and music theory. Estella Bonds was a close friend of the composers Florence S. Price, Will Marion Cook, William Dawson, and Langston Hughes, all of whom mentored young Margaret. Bonds composed her first work, “Marquette Street Blues,” at the age of five. When Price moved into the Bonds home at 6652 South Wabash to escape racism in Little Rock, Arkansas, she taught Bonds piano and composition.

Bonds earned bachelor of ...

Article

Bill McCulloch and Barry Lee Pearson

blues singer and guitarist, was born William Lee Conley Broonzy in Scott, Bolivar County, Mississippi, the son of Frank Broonzy and Nettie (or Mittie) Belcher, former slaves who became sharecroppers. One of at least sixteen children, including a twin sister, he lived in Mississippi until age eight, when his family moved to Arkansas, near Pine Bluff, to try sharecropping there. As a youngster he made violins out of cornstalks, learning music from an uncle, Jerry Belcher and a local musician known as See See Rider He and a friend began playing homemade instruments to entertain local children though always out of sight of his parents stern Baptists who frowned on secular music The parental disapproval eased however when he graduated to a real instrument supposedly bought for him by a white patron and began earning money as a musician When he was twelve the family moved to Scotts ...

Article

Charles D. Grear

musician, performer, songwriter, and southern musical legend. Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown—“Gatemouth” because of his deep voice—emerged as a musical legend in the South for more than fifty years. Brown was heavily influenced by the music of Texas and Louisiana, and his range of styles included the blues, rhythm and blues (R&B), country, swing, jazz, and Cajun. A virtuoso on guitar, violin, mandolin, viola, harmonica, and drums, Brown influenced and was influenced by performers as diverse as Albert Collins, Eric Clapton, Frank Zappa, Lonnie Brooks, Guitar Slim, and Joe Louis Walker. Throughout his career he recorded more than thirty albums. Those who have been featured on his albums include Eric Clapton, Ry Cooder, Amos Garrett, Jim Keltner, Maria Muldaur, and Leon Russell.

Born on 18 April 1924 in Vinton Louisiana Brown was raised in Orange Texas ...

Article

James Sellman

During the 1950s and 1960s Ray Charles was a key figure in the development of Rhythm and Blues (R&B), an African American style that transformed American popular music. Charles and other black R&B musicians gave popular music a broader expressive range and a powerful rhythmic drive, laying the groundwork for rock and roll. In particular, Charles was a leader in incorporating the Gospel Music of the black church into secular music, investing his compositions with propulsive energy and emotional power.

Ray Charles, born Ray Charles Robinson in Albany, Georgia, grew up in Greenville, Florida, where his parents, Aretha and Baily Robinson, had moved when he was three months old. The United States was experiencing the worst years of the Great Depression and Charles recalled Even compared to other blacks we were on the bottom Nothing below us except the ground At the age of four Charles developed ...