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Michael Mizell-Nelson

jazz guitarist and banjoist, vocalist, and author, was born Daniel Moses Barker in New Orleans, Louisiana, to Moses Barker, a drayman, and Rose Barbarin Barker. Barker grew up in New Orleans with a largely absent Baptist father of rural origins and a mother whose familial connections to the Barbarin family, famed in New Orleans music, rooted him in the city's Creole of Color musical community. His childhood experiences immersed him in the cultures of both sides of his family: rural Protestant and urban Roman Catholic.

Barker's uncle, the drummer Paul Barbarin composer of the jazz standard Bourbon Street Parade started Danny on drums after trying the clarinet Danny decided to play multiple string instruments guitar banjo and ukulele A teenaged Barker played in spasm bands children s bands that featured rudimentary instruments often created from discarded objects Playing ukulele Barker led a spasm band named ...

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Tony Thomas

was a black banjoist of the early 1800s who played for coins (picayunes) in the streets of New Orleans. Butler was celebrated as far away as Louisville and Cincinnati. Possibly from the French-speaking Caribbean or Louisiana, Butler may not have been his real name. Already described as “old” by 1830, there are no reports of Butler from after 1830. The popular minstrel song “Picayune Butler's Coming to Town” created an international legend about him.

The closest thing to what may be a contemporary New Orleans account of Picayune Butler is music historian Henry Kmen's conjecture that the words “old Butler's banjow [sic]” in the 24 December 1830Louisiana Advertiser refer to Picayune Butler.

In 1860 T. Allison Brown wrote in the New York “sporting” newspaper The Clipper that in 1834 George Nichols a white Cincinnati circus clown learned the song Jim Crow from a French darkie a ...

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Fred J. Hay

musician, medicine show entertainer, and jug band leader, was born on the Henderson Newell plantation north of Red Banks (Marshall County), Mississippi, the son of the former slave John Cannon and Ellen (maiden name unknown), sharecroppers. Cannon, one of at least nine children, left home when he was still in his early teens and began a life as an itinerant laborer, working in agriculture as well as at a number of menial jobs, including river roustabout, plumber's assistant, ditch digger, and railroad worker. From an early age Cannon also made money playing music.

Cannon s first instrument was a banjo that he made from a tin dough pan and a discarded guitar neck He got his next banjo from a brother who had won it gambling Since this instrument had a raccoon hide head that would not remain taut Cannon carried a gang of paper in his pockets so that ...

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Kip Lornell

folksinger, was born near Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the daughter of George Nevills a day laborer and part time farmer and Louise maiden name unknown a domestic worker Her parents blue collar jobs were tied to the largely agrarian economy that supported the black community in Orange County One of five children Libba Cotten s formal education did not extend beyond elementary school She was attracted to music as a child and began to play her older brother Claude s banjo and guitar shortly after the turn of the century teaching herself to tune and play both instruments left handed upside down She was exposed to a wide variety of music during a fruitful and creative period for southern music Blues was just beginning to emerge and the ballads that developed in the United States country dance tunes minstrel show songs and sacred songs were all commonly heard ...

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Theresa Vara-Dannen

banjoist, actor, minstrel comedian, was born in Hartford, Connecticut to Sampson Easton and his wife, Louisa (maiden name unknown). Although there has been some confusion among scholars about his date of birth, the 1850 Federal Census indicates that a male child named “Hoser” (sic) was one year old, living with his Massachusetts-born father, a laborer and later “hackman” (a carriage driver for hire), and his Connecticut-born mother. His paternal grandfather, after whom he was named, was Hosea Easton, the minister of the Talcott Street Congregational Church in Hartford. The first Hosea Easton earned great respect for his groundbreaking work, A Treatise On the Intellectual Character, and Civil and Political Condition of the Colored People of the U. States; And the Prejudice Exercised Towards Them; With A Sermon on the Duty of the Church To Them (1837 The family was also descended directly from James ...

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Theresa Vara-Dannen

entrepreneur, abolitionist, music teacher, and banjoist, was born in Hartford, Connecticut to Hosea Easton, a Boston-born minister in Hartford and Hosea's wife, the former Louisa Matrick. Sampson Easton's lineage is distinguished on both sides of his tri-racial family because his mother was the daughter of Quack Matrick, a Revolutionary War soldier; his paternal grandfather was James Easton of Boston, a well-known contractor and iron-worker artisan, and an activist for the rights of African Americans. Sampson Easton's father, Hosea Easton, wrote A Treatise On the Intellectual Character, and Civil and Political Condition of the Colored People of the U. States; And the Prejudice Exercised Towards Them; With A Sermon on the Duty of the Church To Them (1837), a short book that suggested that black “uplift” could create a more congenial environment for African Americans only with a dramatic reversal of white prejudice.

While ...

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Bill McCulloch and Barry Lee Pearson

songster and one-man band, was born in Jonesboro, Georgia, near Atlanta. Raised by a succession of foster families, he never knew his father and barely knew his mother. “My mother used to give me away to different people and they were so darn mean to me I used to run away,” Fuller told interviewer Richard Noblett many years later Fuller showed an early aptitude for making musical instruments constructing a mouth bow at age seven or eight He was eight and still being cared for by a foster family when his mother died He dropped out of third grade and spent the next year or two working various jobs including tending cattle outside Atlanta and carrying water at a grading camp At age ten he ran away from foster care for good staying briefly with his sister and her husband in the Atlanta area where he learned to ...

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Cynthia Greenlee-Donnell

musician, was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, to an African American mother Deborah A. Jamieson and a white father, David Monroe Giddens, both of whom had some Native American heritage as well. Giddens became a central figure in the early-twenty-first-century movement to reclaim the banjo's roots in southern black communities, where it was once a musical mainstay, and its greater historical lineage in Africa.

As a youngster, Giddens was exposed to a variety of musical influences. Her parents listened to bluegrass, classic blues, and jazz, and her father sometimes sang folk music around town. Nonetheless, she came late to the realization that music would be her consuming passion.

Through much of her education at one of North Carolina's few surviving predominantly black high schools, and the prestigious North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, Giddens focused on becoming a computer animator. The turning point was her 1994 ...

Article

Jack Sohmer

jazz bassist and banjoist, was born William Manuel Johnson in Talladega, Alabama. Nothing is known of his parents, but he had five brothers, one of whom, Dink Johnson, played drums, piano, and clarinet, and a sister, Anita Gonzalez, who was an early paramour of the pianist and composer Jelly Roll Morton. At some point in the 1870s or 1880s the family moved to New Orleans, where Johnson started playing guitar at age fifteen. In 1900 he began doubling on bass and worked in a string trio at Tom Anderson's Annex in Storyville. Between 1901 and 1908 he played bass with the Peerless Orchestra and the trombonist Frankie Dusen's Eagle Band, doubling on tuba for work with the Excelsior and other marching bands.

After touring the Southwest with a trio in 1908, Johnson, the cornetist Ernest “Nenny” Coycault, and their trombonist, one H. Pattio ...

Article

Barry Kernfeld

jazz tenor saxophonist, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. Nothing is known of his parents, including their names or occupations. The self-taught Emmanuel played various instruments, borrowing, purchasing, and pawning them as circumstances allowed, and sometimes losing them to theft. He began on violin at age eighteen, taking his training in an orchestra organized by a church foundation until the deacon and preacher expelled him for playing at dances and picnics.

Paul worked at a bank for twelve years until 1933, when the bank closed. His first wife—details of the marriage are unknown—disliked the violin and in 1928 bought him a banjo, with which he performed regularly in local bands until around 1935, when he was a member of the trumpeter Louis Dumaine's group. He played with John Robichaux's band at country dances between roughly 1934 and 1939. In 1936 he took up soprano saxophone ...

Article

Scott Yanow

jazz banjoist, guitarist, and singer, was born Isaac Robinson in Dublin, Virginia. He learned how to play banjo and guitar early in life and occasionally played clarinet and piano in addition to singing.

Robinson started out working as a barber but also played music on the side, having a part-time band as early as 1918, when he was fourteen. He gave up being a barber in 1922, performing in Virginia with Harry Watkins's Orchestra (1922–1924) and from 1924 to 1926 with Bud Jenkins's Virginia Ravens. He was called “Banjo Ikey” and was already a colorful performer who sang quite well.

In 1926 Robinson moved to Chicago. He made his biggest impact during the following decade. He worked with the Alabamians, Clarence Moore, and Sammy Stewart's Ten Knights of Syncopation, and toured with Jelly Roll Morton. Robinson recorded with Stewart; pianists Clarence Williams ...

Article

William Thomson

banjo, guitar, and saxophone player, was born in Baltimore, Maryland. His parents' names are unknown and his exact birth date varies depending on the source. In 1915 he began his career in his hometown playing a New Orleans–derived jazz with Eubie Blake and later with the pianist Gertie Wells, to whom he was married for several years during the early 1920s. By 1921 he had moved to nearby Washington, D.C., where he jobbed with Louis Thomas and Claude Hopkins and his own eight-piece group, which played alternately with Duke Ellington's trio. Snowden also appears to have played banjo with Ellington's group earlier, from 1919 to 1920, but this is not reported conclusively. Snowden's Washington band included Sonny Greer on drums, Arthur Whetsol on trumpet, and Otto Hardwick on sax. The three would later be long-term members of the Ellington orchestra.

Bolstered by the ...

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John Harris-Behling

guitarist, banjo player, and jazz musician, was born John Alexander St. Cyr in New Orleans, Louisiana, the second son of Gilbert St. Cyr and Josephine Granger, a seamstress and laundress. His parents separated when he was five, and he was raised by his mother, who taught him simple chords on her guitar. As a child he enjoyed playing music with his brother's friends Jackie Dowden and Jules Batiste. He took lessons from Jules and later performed with Jackie and Jules at fish fries and house parties. St. Cyr attended school in New Orleans, leaving after the fifth grade to become a plasterer's apprentice. He married his first wife at the age of seventeen, but little information about her is known.

In the early 1900s St Cyr was part of a distinctly Creole music scene in New Orleans performing at many functions including downtown balls Saturday ...

Article

Leon James Bynum

banjoist, was born in Orange County, North Carolina. Although there is some disagreement about his name, most sources identify his father as Walter Thompson, a banjo player; little is known about Odell's mother.

The Thompson family settled near the border of Orange and Alamance counties, on a farm where they harvested tobacco, corn, cotton, and wheat. As part of a string band with his brother, John Arch Walter played a traditional repertoire that included waltzes reels and schottisches for square dances throughout north central North Carolina With the aid of his father Odell mastered the bygone picking techniques variably known as drop thumb thumping frailing and clawhammer which made him a much in demand banjo player before he even had reached adolescence He demonstrated further musical promise by effortlessly learning the guitar and fiddle as well Using the proceeds from selling chewing gum he purchased his first banjo while ...

Article

Rainer E. Lotz

musician (mandolin, banjo, guitar), music teacher, composer, and bandleader was born in Vermont, Illinois. His father, an “elocutionist,” recognized his son's musical abilities and encouraged him to commence his musical studies at the age of seven, besides attending school. Seth Weeks started with the violin, but soon abandoned that instrument in favor of the guitar, and eventually the mandolin. After playing and practicing for some fifteen years, he conducted a Mandolin and Guitar Orchestra in Tacoma, Washington and became a music teacher with pupils in Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, and Salt Lake City. From the 1890s most of his compositions were published by Shaeffer and Lyon & Healey (Chicago), a typical example being the “Grand Concert Polka” for Mandolin, Guitar/Piano (Shaeffer, 1900). Besides teaching he made concert tours throughout the United States and Canada.

He was in Boston on the Keith circuit in 1900 when ...