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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 ...


Thomas A. Dorsey's name is synonymous with modern Gospel Music. Dorsey composed over 1,000 songs in his lifetime, half of which were published. With creative genius and business savvy, Dorsey popularized songs that combined the rhythm and tonality of Blues with lyrics about personal spiritual salvation. Countless gospel performers achieved their first success singing Dorsey's music. His most famous song, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” is one of the most popular gospel songs in America.

Dorsey was born to Etta and Thomas Madison Dorsey. Thomas Madison was an itinerant preacher, and Etta played the organ in church. As a child, Dorsey was regularly exposed to spirituals and Baptist hymns. Extended family members introduced Dorsey to rural blues and shaped-note singing. In 1908 the family moved to Atlanta, where Dorsey learned to play the piano by watching pianists at a vaudeville theater on Decatur Street. Dorsey also saw Ma ...


Kip Lornell

blues performer, gospel singer, and composer, was born in Villa Rica, Georgia, the son of Thomas Madison Dorsey, a preacher, and Etta Plant Spencer. Dorsey's mother, whose first husband had died, owned approximately fifty acres of farmland. Dorsey lived in somewhat trying circumstances as his parents moved first to Atlanta and Forsyth, Georgia, and then back to Villa Rica during the first four years of his life. In Villa Rica the Dorsey family settled into a rural lifestyle supported by marginal farming that was slightly mitigated by his father's pastoral duties.

Though economically pressed Dorsey s parents found enough money to purchase an organ and it was on this instrument that their young son began to play music at around six years of age Dorsey was exposed not only to the religious music that pervaded his home but also to the secular music especially the ...


Joy Elizondo

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to an ex-slave, Gabino Ezeiza first picked up a guitar at the age of fifteen. Drawing from a rich oral tradition of earlier payadores, he gradually attracted an impressive following by taking his improvisational virtuosity on the road. The payada, a duel-like exchange in which singer-guitarists spontaneously compose formulaic refrains, is derived from both Spanish versification and African traditions of musical contests. In Argentina, it is considered “popular literature,” inextricably tied to the most symbolic of national figures: the gaucho of the pampas (roughly equivalent to cowboys on the range). While still a teenager, Ezeiza began writing for La Juventud, a Buenos Aires newspaper for and by members of the black community. From 1876 to 1878, while still building a reputation as a payador, publishing poetry, and writing news, he became the editor of La Juventud.

Before the twentieth ...


Paul Devlin

songwriter, pianist, producer, and record company executive, was born in Camden, New Jersey. His father was a barber and a blues guitarist, and his mother played gospel piano. Along with his songwriting and business partner Kenny Gamble, Huff was largely responsible for creating a popular musical style, known as Philadelphia soul, that was for a time nearly ubiquitous in American popular culture. Although Huff grew up playing drums at Camden High School and regularly made the Camden All-City Orchestra until his graduation in 1960, it was his piano playing that gained him entrance into the music business.

In the early 1960s Huff traveled to New York City and began playing piano on some of the legendary producer Phil Spector's recording sessions including the session for the Ronettes Baby I Love You He had the unique opportunity to observe the development of Spector s ...


Sam Burckhardt

musician, singer, pianist, songwriter, and recording label owner, was born Albert Welton Luandrew in Vance, Mississippi, the son of Thomas Welton Luandrew, a preacher, and Martha Lewis. Best known as Sunnyland Slim, he became one of the creators of and a driving force in post-war Chicago Blues, and towards the end of his life its elder statesman. Albert Luandrew was born into a family of farmers and preachers in the Mississippi Delta. His great-grandfather, a white slave owner, whom Sunnyland would call, “the ol' monster,” had a son, Albert Luandrew, with a slave woman in the years before the Civil War. The elder Albert Luandrew was able to purchase land near Vance, Mississippi, from which he cleared the timber and made crossties he then sold to the up and coming railroads. His father was born in 1887 for his mother precise ...


Charles L. Hughes

songwriter, singer, producer, and record executive, was born in Memphis, Tennessee. Details on Porter's early life are not available, but it is known that his father died when he was two years old, and that he and his family lived in Memphis all of his life. Porter attended the all-black Booker T. Washington High School, an institution perhaps most famous for one of its history teachers, Nat D. Williams an enterprising visionary who helped transform Memphis radio station WDIA into the nation s first black owned and operated radio outlet During the late 1950s and early 1960s a group of Washington High students helped provide the foundation for a fledgling record label called Satellite later Stax Records Beginning as a record shop on McLemore Avenue across the street from the grocery store where Porter worked for several years the company soon became thanks to the ...


Paul Oliver

(bHouston, Oct 15, 1906; dNew York, Oct 3, 1976). American blues singer and pianist. The daughter of the leader of a string band, she learnt the piano as a child and by the age of 12 was performing at the Lincoln Theatre in Dallas. After working with local artists, including Blind Lemon Jefferson, she commenced her recording career in St Louis. Black Snake Blues (1926, OK), to her own piano accompaniment, was an instant success. Her voice was lean and nasal and she made much use of moaned syllables. A partnership with Lonnie Johnson produced many notable titles, including T.B. Blues and Murder in the First Degree (both 1927, OK). In 1929 Spivey appeared in Hallelujah!, an all-black film directed by King Vidor, and also recorded several titles with Henry ‘Red’ Allen’s New York Orchestra, notably the double ...


Antoinette Handy

blues singer, songwriter, and record label founder, was born Victoria Regina Spivey in Houston, Texas, the daughter of Grant Spivey, a straw boss on Texas wharfs and a string player, and Addie Smith, a nurse. She was one of eight children in a musical family. Her father and brothers were members of a local string band, and her three sisters, Addie “Sweet Peas,” Elton “Za Zu,” and Leona, also were singers. Spivey began playing piano at an early age and soon was performing with various local groups, including Henry “Lazy Daddy” Filmore's Blues-Jazz Band and L. C. Tolen's Band and Revue. There followed appearances in vaudeville houses and theaters throughout Texas, Missouri, and Michigan. As a teenager she played piano for silent movies at the Lincoln Theater in Houston.

In 1926 Spivey went to St. Louis with the goal of meeting Jesse ...


Known to many as “Queen Victoria,” Victoria Regina Spivey was born in Houston, Texas. She learned the piano while singing with her father's band in Dallas. After her father died she performed wherever she could find work. In 1926 Spivey moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where she wrote and recorded songs, including her best-known “T.B. Blues”, for the St. Louis Music Company and for Okeh Records. Leaving Okeh but continuing to record between 1929 and 1952, she also appeared in several stage shows including Hellzapoppin' and in an all-black movie, Hallelujah. Her signature vocal sound was a nasal type of evocative moan, which she termed her “tiger squall.”

After a brief retirement Spivey returned to music with the revival of the Blues in the 1960s. In 1961 she formed Queen Vee Records changing the name to Spivey Records the following year She died ...