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Jill Silos-Rooney

actor, singer, musician, and composer, was born Benjamin Sherman Crothers in Terre Haute, Indiana, the youngest of five children of Benjamin Crothers, a clothing store owner and odd jobber from Jonesboro, Arkansas, and Fredonia Lewis Crothers. Crothers's mother bought him his first drum which along with the guitar he taught himself to play Although unable to read music he began street performing for small change at age seven Crothers encountered discrimination in largely segregated Terre Haute when black players were barred from the high school football team Responding with what would soon become his characteristic blend of superficial accommodation and subversive disregard of racist standards he tolerated such discrimination as a temporary situation and became the yell leader for school pep rallies At the same time he flouted segregation by using his winning personality to frequent whites only restaurants As he later recalled I did a lot ...

Article

Scott Yanow

jazz bassist, was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. His parents’ names and occupations are not recorded. An only child, Davis began studying the piano when he was five but soon dropped it because his family did not own a piano. When he was in sixth grade, he wanted to play trumpet or trombone but began on the tuba since it was the only instrument available.

In 1951, when he decided to seriously start his music career, Davis switched to string bass. Very technically skilled from the start, Davis was one of the first musicians who had no difficulty switching between jazz and classical music. He studied with the principal bassist of the Philadelphia Orchestra (Anselme Fortier) and attended Juilliard and the Manhattan School of Music from 1953 to 1956. In addition, he led his own quartet and played on radio, on television, at clubs, and at colleges.

After ...

Article

Rainer E. Lotz

dancer, singer, choreographer, and director, is a person whose origins are the subject of some question. According to the English-born black entertainer Gordon Stretton, Belle Davis “was a mezzo-soprano; tall black girl, native from New Orleans, very beautiful,” but on a 1938 ship passenger list Davis signed in as a Chicagoan born in 1874. On a 1904 emergency passport issued in London she swore, “I was born at Houston, in the State of Texas” in 1872. (Besides this confusion in geography, over the years Davis apparently became younger, on other documents indicating her year of birth as 1873.) Her father was George Davis; the name of her mother is unknown. After an apprenticeship in American minstrelsy, she spent most of her professional career touring Europe from 1901 until 1938 Not only had she performed in front of a movie camera ...

Article

Randall Clark

singer and actor, was born Franceine Everette in Louisburg, North Carolina. Although Everett always gave her birth year as 1920, there is some evidence that she might have been born as early as 1915. Very little is known about her childhood. Everett got her start in show business in the early 1930s, appearing in the musical production Hummin' Sam in New York City in 1933 and performing with a nightclub act called the Four Black Cats Even though she enjoyed some success as a singer Everett aspired to be an actress as well and with that in mind she began studying acting and appearing in plays produced by the Federal Theatre Project FTP The FTP was an important part of Franklin Roosevelt s Works Progress Administration and had established sixteen theater units around the United States that were staffed by African Americans Everett joined the Harlem ...

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Werner Graebner

taarab singer, drummer, and healer, was born in urban Zanzibar. Her parents had migrated to the islands from the Kilwa area of Tanzania on the East African mainland. She is better known as Bi Kidude. Some controversy surrounds Kidude’s birthdate; considering all evidence, the latest she could have been born is around 1920. Growing up in suburban Zanzibar’s Ng’ambo area, she showed interest from a young age in taarab song, a genre of poetry sung to musical accompaniment developed in nineteeth- century Zanzibar. One of her uncles, Buda Suwedi, was a member of Siti Bint Saadi’s group, then the most popular singer in Zanzibar. Kidude attended night rehearsals at Saadi’s place, pretending to sleep in a corner or on the outside baraza bench, soaking up the songs, which still form her main repertoire today.

When Kidude was in her teens, dhows traditional Arab sailboats from all over the ...

Article

Pamela Foster

the only son and eldest of six children of Cleveland Francis, a janitor, and Mary Francis, a maid. While growing up Francis was inspired by the banjo, fiddle, harmonica, guitar, and other musical sounds he heard both in his neighborhood and on radio. He also was self-inspired to escape the poverty of his hometown any way he could.

Education would be his ticket out. After he built a guitar from an old King Edward cigar box and in 1953 asked for a twenty-five-dollar Sears Silvertone guitar, his mother knew that requiring Francis to keep up his grades in exchange for the guitar would ensure that he developed both his intellectual and musical skills. After high school in 1963 Francis enrolled at Southern University in Baton Rouge Louisiana as a pre med student where Dr Huel Perkins head of Southern s music department took an interest in his music This ...

Article

Scott Yanow

jazz singer, was born Chinyere Nnenna Pierce in Cambridge, Massachusetts. One of the three children of Charles and Frances Pierce, she began singing in church when she was seven, took a few piano lessons, and as a child used to accompany herself on her grandmother's piano by ear.

Despite having an attractive voice, it would be some time before Freelon became a professional singer. She graduated from Simmons College in Boston in 1979 with a B.A. degree in health care administration and married architect Philip Freelon that same year. In addition to working in health services in Durham, North Carolina, Freelon and her husband had three children. The birth of her third child in 1982 prompted Freelon to consider a career in music and she sang on an occasional basis in North Carolina in the decade that followed conducting workshops and developing her style She had opportunities to ...

Article

crystal am nelson

jazz drummer and medical inventor, was born Ronald Edwin Gardiner in Westerly, Rhode Island, to Maude Hannah Francis, a homemaker, and Ralph Alton Gardiner, a chef. The youngest of four sons, Gardiner was a precocious child. At only three and a half—when he was already tap-dancing—he asked for a toy drum for Christmas. His parents obliged so that he would stop playing on his mother's pots and pans.

After graduating from high school, he remained in Westerly and played at weddings and parties. In 1951 Gardiner moved to New York City to study privately with Charlie Tappin at the Henry Adler Music School. In 1953 during one of his weekend train rides back from Westerly to New York, Gardiner played an impromptu performance with Charlie Parker one of jazz s most influential saxophonists Gardiner returned to Westerly after four years of studying to work as Westerly ...

Article

Scott Yanow

jazz trumpeter, figure skater, and psychiatrist, was born in New York City. His father, Billy Williams, was the lead singer in Billy Williams and the Charioteers, while his mother was a dancer who was one of the Brown Twins at the Cotton Club. She danced with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and the Nicholas Brothers and can be seen in the Fats Waller short film of “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” sitting on the piano while he sang to her. After Billy Williams's death, Henderson's mother married a doctor in San Francisco. His stepfather had many musician patients, including Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Duke Ellington.

Henderson began on the trumpet when he was nine. His first teacher was Louis Armstrong who gave him a few informal lessons Henderson moved to San Francisco with his family when he was 14 He studied at the San Francisco Conservatory of ...

Article

Nate Plageman

Ghanaian musician and pharmacist, also known as the “King of Highlife,” was born Emmanuel Tetteh Mensah in Ussher Town, Accra, Ghana, on 31 May 1919. His father Robert Noi Mensah was a goldsmith and his mother Florence Adukwei Akwei traded cloth. Mensah’s first musical experiences came during his time at the Government Elementary School in James Town, where he played in a drum and fife band formed by one of the school’s teachers, Joe Lamptey. During his time with the Government School Band, Mensah learned how to play the flute, performed marching songs, and became acquainted with “highlife,” an emerging style of dance music that blended orchestral instruments, European chord sequences, and local rhythmic patterns. In 1933 Mensah joined Lamptey s senior band the Accra Orchestra also as a flutist Unlike his prior band the Accra Orchestra was a large dance ensemble comprised of brass string wind and ...

Article

Mary Krane Derr

gay drag performer and musician, was born Sylvester James Jr. in Los Angeles, California, the firstborn son of Sylvester “Sweet” James Sr., whose occupation is unknown, and Letha Weaver James, a domestic and later a dietitian. After having two more sons, John Wesley in 1948 and Larry in 1950, Sylvester's parents divorced. While single, his mother had twin daughters Bernadette and Bernadine in 1956, and another son, Alonzo, in 1959. In 1962 she married aerospace worker Robert “Sonny” Hurd. She later fostered and adopted three children with him: Angelica, Charles, and Tammy. Letha's mother (really her aunt who raised her), the blues singer Julia Morgan, helped to raise Sylvester and his siblings.

Until young adulthood he was known by his nickname Dooni Even as a preschooler he enjoyed and sometimes wore the flamboyant elegant clothing his mother and grandmother ...

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 ...