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Mark Clague and John H. Zimmerman

flutist, composer, bandmaster, music educator, journalist, and hotelier, was born in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, Danish West Indies (later U.S. Virgin Islands) and is remembered as the U.S. Navy's first African American bandmaster. Adams was the son of Jacob Henry Adams, a carpenter, and Petrina Evangeline Dinzey, a tailor; both his parents were members of the black artisan class centered around St. Thomas's port. This culture celebrated music and literature and instilled the young Adams with values of hard work and self-education. Although professional musicians were unknown in the Virgin Islands in his youth, Adams dreamt of a musical career inspired by his deeply held belief that music was not just entertainment, but vital to community health.

Adams attended elementary school and apprenticed as a carpenter and then a shoemaker choosing his trade based on the musical abilities of his master ...

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John Garst

the inspiration for the “Frankie and Johnny” song, was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. Her parents were Cedric Baker and his wife Margaret (maiden name unknown), and she had three brothers: Charles, Arthur, and James. Charles, who was younger than Frankie, lived with her on Targee Street in 1900. In 1899 Baker shot and killed her seventeen-year-old “mack” (pimp), Allen “Al” Britt. St. Louis pianists and singers were soon thumping and belting out what would become one of America's most famous folk ballads and popular songs, “Frankie and Johnny,” also known as “Frankie and Albert,” “Frankie Baker,” and “Frankie.”

At age sixteen or seventeen Baker fell in love with a man who, unknown to her, was living off the earnings of a prostitute (this kind of man was known as an “easy rider,” a term made famous by W. C. Handy in his ...

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John Harris-Behling

disc jockey, impresario, and businessman, was born Arthur Bernard Leaner in Jackson, Mississippi. An ambitious young man, Benson sang with the family band, performed in black vaudeville, and produced shows at Jackson's black theater, the Alamo. He also attended Jackson Normal College. In the 1920s he moved to Chicago but returned to Jackson to weather the Great Depression. As the pains of the Depression eased, Benson moved back to Chicago, where he worked as a probation officer, a railroad cook, an interviewer for the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and a preacher before making his name as one of Chicago's leading radio personalities. He lived in Chicago with his wife, Norma, and their daughters, Arleta and Bertina, until he retired in 1967.

Benson began his radio career as Reverend Arthur Leaner hosting a fifteen minute Sunday morning broadcast from his storefront church on Chicago s South Side When station ...

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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 ...

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Eric Ledell Smith

businessman and banker, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Robert Brown, a turnkey in the local jail, and Anne Brown, a homemaker. E. C. Brown was the eldest of three children. He attended the public schools in Philadelphia and after his high school graduation worked for three years as a mail clerk at the financial firm of Bradstreet Mercantile. He took stenography and typewriting classes at the Spencerian Business College in Philadelphia and subsequently worked as a stenographer for the National Railway Company but was soon laid off. Brown then became secretary to a Frank Thompson, who ran a catering business in Florida in the late 1890s. Around 1901 Brown left Thompson and started a real estate business in Newport News, Virginia. By 1908 he was renting more than 300 houses and had more than 800 tenants. On 27 June 1908 he opened the Crown Savings Bank ...

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Doris Evans McGinty

Lulu Vere Childers was born in Dryridge, Kentucky, the daughter of former slaves Alexander Childers and Eliza Butler. She studied voice at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and in 1896 was awarded a diploma that was replaced by a bachelor's degree in 1906 when the conservatory began granting degrees. The Oberlin Conservatory chapter of Pi Kappa Lambda, a national honor society, elected her a member in 1927. She studied voice further with Sydney Lloyd Wrightson at the Washington Conservatory of Music, with William Shakespeare, and with Oscar Devries at Chicago Musical College.

As a singer Childers enjoyed modest distinction. During her college years and shortly afterward, she performed in the Midwest with the Eckstein-Norton Music Company, a quartet of singers and their accompanist teamed with concert pianist Harriet A. Gibbs The group contributed their earnings to the development of a music conservatory at Eckstein Norton University ...

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Doris Evans McGinty

singer and educator, was born in Dryridge, Kentucky, the daughter of Alexander Childers and Eliza Butler, former slaves. She studied voice at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio and in 1896 was awarded a diploma that was replaced by a bachelor's degree in 1906, when the conservatory began granting degrees. The Oberlin Conservatory chapter of Pi Kappa Lambda, a national honor society, elected her a member in 1927. She studied voice further with Sydney Lloyd Wrightson at the Washington Conservatory of Music in Washington, D.C., with William Shakespeare, and with Oscar Devries at Chicago Musical College.

As a singer Childers enjoyed modest distinction. During her college years and shortly afterward, she performed in the Midwest with the Eckstein-Norton Music Company, a quartet of singers and their accompanist teamed with the concert pianist Harriet A. Gibbs The group contributed their earnings to the development of ...

Article

Vonzele David Reed

hip hop producer and businessman, was born Sean John Combs in Harlem in New York City to Melvin and Janice Combs. Combs's childhood years were spent in Harlem, where his father worked for the board of education and as a cab driver. His mother was a model. Eager to provide for his family, Melvin Combs succumbed to the lure of criminal activity, which ultimately led to his murder in 1973. In 1982 Janice moved her family to suburban Mount Vernon, New York, in an effort to escape the growing violence and unemployment in Harlem.

Following her husband s death Janice worked as a teacher s assistant bus driver and night attendant for children with cerebral palsy His mother s determination to provide for her family influenced Combs to work after school beginning at age twelve Too young to formally apply for his own paper route Combs convinced an ...

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Beatriz Rivera-Barnes

singer, hip-hop impresario, and songwriter. Combs has also been known as Puff, Puffy, Sean John, Puff Daddy, and Diddy. Sean John Combs spent part of his childhood in Mount Vernon, New York, until in 1972 his father was murdered on his way home from a party. After the tragedy the Combs family moved to the Bronx, where Sean attended a Catholic school before going to Howard University in Washington, D.C. Dropping out of Howard, Combs became an intern for Uptown Records, and he later became a top executive until he was fired in 1992.

During his tenure at Uptown Records, Combs produced successful albums with artists such as Mary J. Blige Father MC and Jodeci After his departure he worked as a remixer and created Bad Boy Entertainment which soon became a multimillion dollar business Bad Boy signed two hit artists Craig Mack and the ...

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Andrew Du Bois

Born in Harlem and raised in Mount Vernon, New York, Sean Combs attended Howard University and started working in the music industry as an intern at Andre Harrell's Uptown Records. Combs moved quickly through the ranks, producing hits for Uptown artists such as Jodeci and Mary J. Blige. At the age of twenty-two he was made a company vice president.

In 1993 Combs left Uptown to found Bad Boy Entertainment, where he began to assemble a crew of Hip-Hop and Rhythm and Blues talent. Combs served as executive producer on both albums by Bad Boy's biggest star, Notorious B.I.G. Following the 1997 shooting death of Notorious B.I.G., Combs (who rapped as “Puff Daddy”) recorded a tribute song entitled “I'll Be Missing You.” The single was a smash hit, and it sent Puff Daddy's solo debut album, No Way Out straight to the top of the ...

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Hilary Mac Austin

Suzanne de Passe learned from her mentor, Berry Gordy, that “a business based on principles is more important than a business based on revenue.” She has held true to that motto. Amazingly, in the cutthroat, white-male-dominated world of Hollywood, she has not only survived but succeeded magnificently.

One of the first and still one of the only African American women powerbrokers in the television and film businesses, Suzanne Celeste de Passe grew up middle-class in Harlem. Her parents, both West Indian, were divorced when she was three. Her mother was a schoolteacher and her father worked for Seagrams. He remarried six years after the divorce and is credited with providing de Passe with a strong role model. De Passe attended an elite, integrated private school in Manhattan, the New Lincoln School. While still young, she began modeling clothes designed by DeVera Edwards.

De Passe entered Syracuse University as ...

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Claranne Perkins

music executive, television and film producer, and screenwriter, was born in New York, New York. Her father worked for Seagram's and her mother was a schoolteacher. Her paternal grandfather was a physician in Harlem.

Her parents divorced when she was three but managed to maintain a supportive environment for their daughter. She spent the week with her mother and the weekend with her father. He remarried when de Passe was nine, and the three adults formed a supportive alliance that continued to nurture de Passe.

She lived the elite life of prominent black families in New York. She summered on Martha's Vineyard; attended the private, progressive, and integrated New Lincoln School; graduated from Manhattan High School; and entered Syracuse University in 1964 She found the university and its extremely small African American student body not to her liking so transferred to Manhattan Community College to major ...

Article

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 ...

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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 ...

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Doris Evans McGinty

According to Jerrold Lytton (as reported by H. S. Fortune in the Colored American, June 1900), Theodore Drury was born in Kentucky of a musical family. He was well read and able to speak both French and German. Described in contemporary reports as thoroughly trained, elegant, and highly professional in bearing, he was considered by some as the first black, highly trained male singer.

It was in New York and the New England states that Drury's early performing experience as a tenor took place, often in support of more established singers. Through these appearances, his name became known and in 1889 he organized the Drury Comic Opera Company. Toward the end of that same year, the company was renamed the Theodore Drury Opera Company and gave concerts of operatic selections under the management of G. H. Barrett. An advertisement in 1889 (New York Age October ...

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Elton C. Fax

Born in Texas, Sherman H. Dudley, like many Southern blacks who resented being addressed by their first names by whites, used only his initials in an effort to ward off the insult. In the tradition of most black performers of his day he worked the medicine-show circuit. Talented singers and dancers often began their professional careers as performers hired by itinerant street salesmen of patent medicines. The performances were designed to attract prospective buyers to the hucksters' medicinal wares. Most such entertainers of the South were blacks, many of them mere boys.

While still in his twenties, Dudley joined the McCabe and Young Minstrels, working as a comic end man who called himself Hapsy. He followed that stint by teaming with singer and dancer Dude Kelly and performing as a substitute for Sam Lucas at Broadway s Star Theater So successful was the pair of substitutes that they ...

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Kevin Byrne

vaudeville entertainer and theatrical entrepreneur, was born in Dallas, Texas. The names of his parents are unknown. Though in later interviews Dudley frequently changed the story of how he broke into show business, his earliest stage work was most likely in Texas and Louisiana as part of a medicine show. This job, in which he played music and told jokes to draw a crowd to the pitchman and his wares, was an appropriate beginning for a man who always sought to be the center of attention. Dudley eventually became an artist and businessman who, as demonstrated by both his actions and writings, was passionately concerned with cultivating the rights and strengthening the dignity of African American performers during an era when what it meant to be a black entertainer was greatly in flux.

Dudley s apprenticeship in the professional theatrical world took place during the last decade of the ...

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Regina N. Barnett

hip-hop pioneer, was born Melvin Glover in New York, New York. Glover gained widespread acclaim as the first self proclaimed emcee, Grandmaster Melle Mel of the hip-hop group Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.

Glover's exposure to hip hop came through parties known as “jams” in New York City. He and his older brother, Nathaniel “Nate” Glover, were originally break dancers (Nate would become Kidd Creole of the Furious Five). Citing Coke La Rock and Timmy Tim as his favorite DJs, the Glover brothers began imitating the DJ “shout outs” to the crowd but adding their own verses. Childhood friend Eddie “Scorpio” Morris joined Glover and his brother to start an MC group, the Furious Five, which included childhood friends Guy “Raheim” Williams and Keith “Cowboy” Wiggins. The group evolved with DJ Grandmaster Flash, becoming Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five in 1979 Glover credited the name Furious ...

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Barry Kernfeld

vaudeville, musical theater, and jazz singer and actress, was born in New York City, the daughter of William Hall, a white man of Pennsylvania German roots who worked as a music teacher at the Pratt Institute, and Elizabeth Gerrard, an African American. She made many jokes about her birth year; on her birthday in 1991 she declared that she was ninety years old, hence the conjectural 1901.

Hall and her sister sang at school concerts. After her father's death she began her stage career. From its debut in 1921 and into 1922 she appeared in the pioneering African American musical revue Shuffle Along as one of the Jazz Jasmines chorus girls; she also sang a duet with Arthur Porter, “Bandana Days.” In the revue Runnin' Wild (1923) she introduced the song “Old Fashioned Love.” At some point in 1925 she ...

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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 ...