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John Garst

bootblack, barber, porter, actor, singer, and politician, was born William Henry Harrison Duncan in Columbia, Missouri, to former slaves. A close friend, Henry Massey, persuaded him to come to St. Louis, where he was a “sport, a jolly fellow, a swell dresser, a ladies' favorite, but, above all, he was a magnificent singer.” As a member of Massey's Climax Quartet Duncan gained fame for his low, smooth, rich, sure, bass voice. He was also an actor and performed regularly at the London Theatre in St. Louis.

In Clayton, Missouri, west of St. Louis, Duncan was hanged for the murder of an Irish American policeman named James Brady in Charles Starkes's saloon at 715 N. 11th Street. A popular ballad complex (“Duncan and Brady,” “Brady and Duncan,” “Brady,” “King Brady”) arose after the murder.

At about 8:30 p.m. on 6 October 1890 ...

Article

Norman Weinstein

Prince Far I was born Michael Williams in Spanish Town and grew up in the Waterhouse area of Kingston, Jamaica. His musical career began in 1970 when he convinced the Reggae producer Coxsone Dodd (who employed him as a security guard at Studio One, Jamaica's most famous recording studio) to let him record when a scheduled musician failed to appear for a session. Dodd was so taken by Prince Far I's talent as a DJ (someone chanting or talking-singing spontaneously over prerecorded rhythm tracks) that he released several Prince Far I recordings under the name he created for the performer, King Cry-Cry As he gained confidence and sought other producers for his recordings Williams changed his name to Prince Far I Distinguishing features of his recordings under the name King Cry Cry or Prince Far I include a thunderously deep bass delivery of intensively personal lyrics laced ...

Article

Charles L. Hughes

drummer, producer, and member of Booker T. and the MGs, was born in Memphis, Tennessee. Little is known of his mother, but his father Al Jackson Sr., led one of Memphis's most popular big bands, and it was with his father that Al Jr. first played professionally, beginning as a drummer at age ten. This apprenticeship proved fulfilling for the young musician: he got to play the jazz of his musical idols, and his tenure with his father won him gigs with the prominent dance groups led by Ben Branch and Willie Mitchell, respectively. These bands, which bridged the gap between postwar jazz and 1950s R&B, performed regularly in black clubs around the region, like the Flamingo Room and Plantation Inn. Aside from his steady gig, playing with the highly talented Mitchell soon brought Jackson into contact with Booker T. Jones a prodigious keyboardist ...

Article

Bill McCulloch and Barry Lee Pearson

blues artist, was born Nehemiah James in Yazoo County, outside Bentonia, Mississippi, the son of Eddie James and Phyllis Jones. His father, reputed to be a musician and a bootlegger, moved north to Sidon, near Greenwood, to evade the law, leaving Skip with his mother on the Woodbine plantation, where she worked as a cook. After an attempt to reunite the family in Sidon failed, Skip and his mother returned to Bentonia, where he attended St. Paul School and Yazoo High School. At the age of eight or nine, inspired by local musicians—particularly the guitarist Henry Stuckey—Skip persuaded his mother to buy him a guitar. At the age of twelve he took one piano lesson from a cousin. Unable to pay for more lessons, he continued learning on an organ owned by an aunt.

After dropping out of high school at about age fifteen James went to ...

Article

Robert Farrell

hip-hop artist and performer. Born Christopher George Latore Wallace, the Notorious B.I.G. released only two full-length albums during his lifetime. His work under the names “Biggie Smalls” and “Notorious B.I.G.,” guided by the producer Sean Combs, had a lasting stylistic influence on late-twentieth- and early-twenty-first-century rap music. With the aid of Combs's shrewd executive productions and canny sense for hit making, Wallace's recordings blended street-level gangsta raps with a pop sensibility, a formula similar to that of the West Coast rappers Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg.

The son of a Jamaican immigrant, Volleta Wallace, and a Jamaican father, George Letore Wallace was born and raised in Brooklyn New York His parents soon separated leaving Wallace to be raised by his mother in the Clinton Hill Bedford Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn Wallace was doted on by his mother who after attaining her GED went on to ...

Article

Notorious B.I.G. was born Christopher Wallace in New York City. His debut album, Ready to Die, appeared on Sean “P. Diddy” Combs's Bad Boy Entertainment music label in 1995. The record was a critical and commercial success, exhibiting the rapper's lyrical talents through a series of taut, first-person narratives chronicling life as a hustler on the streets of New York's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. The grim humor of B.I.G.'s lyrics emphasized the claustrophobia of his ghetto universe. On “Warning,” he raps, “There's gonna be a lot of slow singing / and flower bringing / If my burglar alarm starts ringing.” Songs like “Suicidal Thoughts” and “Things Done Changed” helped create one of “gangsta rap's” most sophisticated personas, a strange brew of subdued self-loathing and energetic violence. In B.I.G.'s world, the sexual boasting typical of Rap and Hip-Hop became an occasion for self parody as on Me Interlude ...

Article

Akil Houston

rapper, actor, poet, and activist. Born Lesane Parish Crooks in East Harlem, New York, Tupac Amaru Shakur was the son of Afeni Shakur (born Alice Faye Williams), a Black Panther acquitted of a hundred counts of conspiracy against the government a month before Tupac's birth, and William Garland. His mother initially gave him his name Crooks to obscure his connection to her, but she changed it to Tupac Amaru Shakur a few months later, after her marriage to Mutulu Shakur. Tupac's godparents were the well-known Black Panthers Assata Shakur and Elmer “Geronimo” Pratt. With his family so active in the Black Panther Party, Tupac was surrounded by a political atmosphere in which he developed a sense of awareness and self-expression. In 1984 his family moved to Baltimore where Shakur enrolled at the Baltimore School for the Arts there he studied drama ballet and dance and ...

Article

Alonford James Robinson

Tupac Shakur was one of the most influential and controversial voices to emerge from Hip-Hop's much maligned club of so-called gangster rappers. Criticized for their violent lyrics and misogynistic claims, gangster rappers became symbols of the best and worst of American musical creativity. Over a six-year period in the early 1990s Shakur became the voice for a generation of young, often frustrated, African Americans.

Through his music and his life Shakur embodied many of the harsh realities of ghetto life His raps addressed the difficulties of being young black and poor in the United States and as a promising actor he captured those realities on the screen True to the thuggish lifestyle that he rapped about Shakur was arrested and served time in jail on more than one occasion and often foreshadowed his own death in his songs and videos Shakur s predictions of his violent death came true ...

Article

Marcyliena Morgan

rapper, was born Lesane Parish Crooks in New York City to Afeni Shakur (born Alice Faye Williams), a Black Panther, and Billy Garland, who had very little contact with his son. Tupac was named after the last Inca chief, Tupac Amaru—Tupac meaning “he who shines” and Amaru meaning “large serpent,” often translated as “shining serpent”; Shakur is Arabic for “thankful to God.” Raised by their mother, with some help from their stepfather, Jeral Wayne Williams (also known as Mutulu Shakur), Tupac and his sister, Sekyiwa, had to learn to cope with their mother's drug addiction, abandonment by their father, and scrutiny from law enforcement. The family was often destitute and moved numerous times throughout Tupac's childhood.

Although Shakur s family life was often in disarray his mother encouraged him to develop his interests in the arts and he continued his creative arts education even ...

Article

Norman Weinstein

Born Peter McIntosh, Tosh's entrance into music began during his teenage years in the Trenchtown ghetto of Kingston, where he and his friends Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer imitated the vocal harmonies of Curtis Mayfield. Tosh's early recordings as part of a Ska/Reggae trio with Marley and Wailer (who became known as “The Wailers”) made clear that his singing and songwriting talents were strongly flavored by rage against hypocritical individuals and institutions. Songs like “400 Years” and “Downpressor” are prime examples of his mastery of political protest songwriting. His first recordings as a solo artist in the early 1960s include a wry commentary on sexual mores (“Shame and Scandal”) and a boastful declaration of Rastafarian identity (“Rasta Shook Them Up”).

After quitting The Wailers in 1972 Tosh pursued a performing and recording career as a solo artist marked by the cultivation of a persona ...

Article

Jace Clayton

Born Osbourne Ruddock in Kingston, Jamaica, King Tubby gained prominence in 1968 for playing his instrumental mixes accompanied by the crowd-pleasing “talk-over” deejaying of U-Roy (Ewart Beckford). The duo was known as Tubby's Hi-Fi and became highly popular in the impoverished Watertown section of Kingston where Tubby lived. U-Roy's verbal wordplay provided a perfect compliment to Tubby's increasingly experimental song versions. Using homemade and modified studio equipment, Tubby started dropping in vocal snippets, adding ghostly layers of echo and reverberation, soloing various instruments, inserting sudden silences, and employing unusual equalization and other studio effects. Crowds loved the soulful roots Reggae mutated by technical wizardry and avant-garde mixing approaches. Following Tubby's lead, many musicians and engineers began dubbing.

By 1972Dub fever had arrived. Fierce competition between sound systems kept creative pressures high, although King Tubby remained on top. In 1976 police attempted to shut down a ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

the son of Aiken and Jane Bruce Williams. His year of birth has occasionally been recorded as 1861 or 1862.

Although various private genealogies identify his parents as being from markedly different family trees, some traced to South Carolina, an address left by Williams in the records of Yale University after graduation matches an 1880 census entry for Aiken and Jane Williams, both born in Georgia, as were their parents. Aiken Williams’s parents were George and Lucretia Williams, living in the same household at that time. Aiken Williams worked all his life as a teamster, and Jane Williams taught school. Although Williams’s Yale classmates believed his father had died before he went to college, census records show both his parents living into the early twentieth century. He had one sister, Lucretia, named for her paternal grandmother, about whom little else is known.

Historian Leroy Davis has identified Williams as ...