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Ronald P. Dufour

pianist and composer, was born in Detroit, Michigan, the daughter of Mount Vernell Allen Jr., a principal in the Detroit public school system, and Barbara Jean Allen, a defense contract administrator for the federal government. She began studying classical piano at age seven but was also exposed to jazz at an early age. She met the trumpeter Marcus Belgrave when he was an artist-in-residence at her high school, Cass Technical; she studied jazz piano with him, and he became an important mentor, appearing on several of her later recordings. Allen also studied at the Jazz Development Workshop, a community-based organization.

After graduating from high school, Allen attended Howard University, where she was captivated by the music of Thelonious Monk and studied with John Malachi. In 1979 she earned a BA in Jazz Studies and taught briefly at Howard before moving to New York City where she ...

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Barbara Garvey Jackson

composer, pianist, and teacher, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the daughter of Dr. Monroe Alpheus Majors, a pioneering black physician, medical researcher, and author, and Estelle C. Bonds, a music teacher and organist. Although legally born Majors, she used her mother's maiden name (Bonds) in her youth and throughout her professional life. She grew up in intellectually stimulating surroundings; her mother held Sunday afternoon salons at which young black Chicago musicians, writers, and artists gathered and where visiting musicians and artists were always welcomed.Bonds first displayed musical talent in her piano composition “Marquette Street Blues,” written at the age of five. She then began studying piano with local teachers, and by the time she was in high school she was taking lessons in piano and composition with Florence B. Price and William Levi Dawson two of the first black American symphonic composers both of whom were ...

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Sholomo B. Levy

gospel singer, arranger, and minister, was born in Chicago, Illinois, to Benjamin Cleveland, an employee of the federal Works Progress Administration, and Rosie (Lee) Cleveland. Cleveland's father and grandmother, Annie Hicks, raised him. Hicks was a devout member of the Pilgrim Baptist Church and choir, where pianist and composer Thomas A. Dorsey served as choir director. During the Depression, James delivered newspapers to neighbors such as the gospel legend Mahalia Jackson. By the age of five he had a desire to play the piano like his childhood idol Roberta Martin of the Roberta Martin Singers. Since his family was too poor to afford a piano, he used his windowsill as an imaginary keyboard on which to master scales and chords. The church organist, Lucy Smith, provided Cleveland with formal instruction, and Roberta Martin took an early interest in his career At the age of eight ...

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Lois Bellamy

gospel singer, songwriter, pianist, actor, and humanitarian, was born in San Antonio, Texas, to a barber and a seamstress. His parents’ names are not recorded. He sang his first song at the age of five and began singing, as a teenager, at the Refugee Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ in San Antonio. He also began studying classical piano at the same age. Dixon attended a local Catholic college on a scholarship but dropped out to pursue a music career. He began touring at seventeen and played black churches in California, Texas, and Louisiana.

Dixon was introduced to gospel music in his youth when his group performed at a theater in south Texas City, where gospel icon James Cleveland was in the audience Cleveland liked Dixon and persuaded him to move to Chicago as a teenager to join his group The Gospel Chimes Around ...

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Eric Bennett

Aretha Louise Franklin grew from a young gospel singer into a successful and world-famous vocalist. Her many popular hits and gospel masterpieces have earned her the title Queen of Soul. As a daughter of the renowned Baptist preacher C. L. Franklin and his wife, well-known singer Barbara Siggers Franklin, Franklin was born into the world of Gospel Music. Franklin was born in Memphis, Tennessee and grew up in Detroit, Michgan, where her father drew a congregation of 4,500 people to his New Bethel Baptist Church. C. L. Franklin recognized his daughter's talent, and she was performing in New Bethel's choir by the age of eight. She sang solos at age twelve, and at fourteen she made her first recordings, including a version of Thomas A. Dorsey s gospel classic Precious Lord Take My Hand Franklin also began touring with her father singing wherever he served as ...

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Marti K. Newland

composer, pianist, and conductor, was born Moses George Hogan in New Orleans, Louisiana, one of six children of the New Orleans natives Moses and Gloria. Hogan was raised in a home of working-class parents. His father served in the military during World War II and his mother worked as a nurse. Their work ethic and support of Hogan's musical talent fostered his commitment to developing his musicianship at an early age. By the age of nine he was already an accomplished pianist. Marie Moulton, Hogan's first piano teacher, remained an influence throughout his life.

Hogan utilized his music skills at the New Zion Baptist Church where his uncle, Edwin Hogan was the organist and choir conductor Edwin Hogan became a model of how to balance keyboard skills compositional facility and choral conducting It was at the New Zion Baptist Church that Hogan gained his ...

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David Michel

gospel pianist and arranger, was born Gwendolyn Rosetta Capps in Brookport, Illinois, the daughter of Mase and Florence Capps. Gwendolyn was the fourth of six children. At an early age she manifested some musical disposition by pretending to play piano on her father's razor stand and her mother's sewing machine. Her father died in 1934 and Gwendolyn was raised by her mother. To help the promising Gwendolyn pursue a musical education, a local family donated a piano to her mother. After high school she studied classical music and piano at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and at the Lyon & Healy Academy of Music in Chicago.

In the early 1940s she settled in Chicago, where she was introduced to gospel music while attending a service at a Shiloh Baptist Church. Chicago was then the emerging national center of black gospel music with a galaxy of stars including Thomas ...

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Mary Frances Early

gospel pianist, composer-arranger, and singer, was born Roberta Evelyn Winston in Helena, Arkansas, the daughter of William Winston and Anna (maiden name unknown). One of six children in the Winston household, Roberta showed an early proclivity for music. When only a toddler, she climbed onto the piano bench and picked out melodies that she had heard. This interest and talent was nurtured by the wife of her oldest brother, who became her first piano teacher.

When Martin was ten years old, her family moved from Arkansas to Chicago. She continued her piano studies with Mildred Bryant Jones in standard keyboard literature and pointed her career toward that of concert pianist or professional accompanist. She graduated from Wendell Phillips High School and was encouraged by Jones to pursue a career in music. Why Roberta chose “Martin” as her surname is not known.

Martin began playing for churches at ...

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Barbara A. Seals Nevergold

minister, musician, and photographer, was born in Bayou Rapides, Louisiana, to Irene Lair and Giuseppe “Joe” Nasello. Nasello, who immigrated to the United States from his native Sicily in 1901, owned a dry goods store in Alexandria, Louisiana, that Willie remembered visiting with his mother from time to time. However, Joe Nasello had another family, and given the mores of the time, “Papa” Joe never acknowledged the two children he fathered with Irene. (A daughter, Alice, was born in 1912.) Although Joe Nasello lived until 1958, it appears that father and son never met face to face nor openly acknowledged their relationship. Seals talked freely yet sparingly of his paternity, and he jokingly noted to his children that he was an “Italian.”

According to Willie, “Seals” was a made-up name that he took from Lucille Ceil a favorite grade school teacher ...

Article

Sholomo B. Levy

gospel singer and songwriter, was born Clara Mae Ward in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the last of three children of George Ward, a factory worker, and Gertrude Mae Walla Azalee Murphy Ward, a domestic worker. Her parents were farmers who left Anderson, South Carolina, in 1920 in search of the better job opportunities that were available to black people in the North. All of her family sang in the choir at Ebenezer Baptist Church, although at home on one occasion mischievous relatives reportedly encouraged young Clara to belt out the popular Thomas A. Dorsey tune “Tight Like That,” which was written when the legendary gospel composer was still a bluesman and long before the enthusiastic Clara was capable of understanding its meaning Her musical tastes would later become fixed on old Negro spirituals and she became a pioneer in creating modern gospel but her desire to sing ...