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Nathaniel Friedman

soul and rhythm and blues singer and songwriter, was born Arthur Alexander Jr. in Florence, Alabama, to Arthur Alexander, a laborer and musician, and Fannie Scott Spencer. He was exposed to music at an early age by his mother and older sister, who sang in church, and by his father, who played weekend gigs as a bottleneck blues guitarist. After high school Alexander was working as a bellhop at the Sheffield Hotel when he met Tom Stafford, a white R&B enthusiast who introduced him to what would become the nucleus of the Muscle Shoals–area studio scene: Dan Penn, Rick Hall, Spooner Oldham, and Billy Sherrill. The men, all then working for Rick Hall's Fame Music Stafford, found Alexander's songwriting abilities every bit as intriguing as his singing, and soon made sure that Alexander became part of Fame's writing operation. In 1958Alexander and Henry Lee Bennett coauthored ...

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Mary Krane Derr

vocalist, pianist, songwriter, and music producer, was born Robert Howard Byrd in Toccoa, a small town in the Appalachian country of northeastern Georgia. He was raised there by his grandmother and his mother, Zarah Byrd. She took her children, including Bobby, to shape-note singing concerts. Once popular in Appalachia, shape-note, or sacred harp, is a style of musical notation designed to aid congregational singing. Zarah Byrd taught her children how to play the piano and steeped them in the African American gospel singing tradition at Mount Zion Baptist Church in the town's Whitman Avenue. Georgia Mae Williams, the pianist at Mount Zion and Bobby's second piano teacher, was another great contributor to his musical education.

From a young age Bobby Byrd excelled at voice and piano He also did well with sports and was active in school clubs He even became the only young ...

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Rob Bowman

(b Washington, DC, April 2, 1939; d Los Angeles, April 1, 1984). American soul singer, drummer, songwriter and producer. He started singing professionally as a member of the Rainbows, a Washington-based doo-wop group. He subsequently joined the Marquees, who signed a recording contract with Chess Records and through which Gaye met the producer and vocalist Harvey Fuqua, joining his doo-wop group, the Moonglows. In 1960 Fuqua and Gaye moved to Detroit and were both signed to Motown Records. Gaye adopted the new spelling of his surname at this point and made solo recordings for the Motown subsidiary Tamla Records in the mould of a jazz-pop ballad singer. When these proved commercially unsuccessful, he recorded more youth-oriented rhythm and blues, first entering the charts with Stubborn Kind of Fellow in 1962 Most of his hits from this time were gospel influenced dance ...

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Born in Washington, D.C., Marvin Gaye began singing in church as a child. The son of a poor Pentecostal minister, he grew up listening to the music of American Blues singer Ray Charles, which became a major influence on Gaye's work. In 1958 Gaye joined an R&B vocal group called the Moonglows. Three years later, he signed a recording contract with Tamla, one of the Motown record companies, serving as a drummer for studio sessions and, later, as a singer. Influenced by American singers Frank Sinatra and Nat “King” Cole, Gaye had hoped to sing in the popular style known as crooning but after his first album—a series of jazz standards—received little attention, Motown had him record up-tempo Soul Music material. The result was a series of songs that became classics, beginning with “Stubborn Kind of Fellow” (1963 and culminating in I Heard It Through ...

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Thaddeus Russell

singer and songwriter, was born Marvin Pentz Gay Jr. in Washington, D.C., the son of Marvin Pentz Gay Sr., a Pentecostal minister, and Alberta (maiden name unknown), a domestic worker. The younger Marvin grew up in Washington, where he began his musical career by singing in the choir and playing organ at his father's church. At Cardozo High School in Washington, he played piano in a doo-wop group called the D.C. Tones. He left school after eleventh grade and enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. After a year of openly rebelling against his commanding officers and feigning mental illness, he was discharged in 1957 for inability to serve.

Gaye (as he later came to spell his name) then returned to Washington and formed a doo-wop group called the Marquees. In 1957 they recorded a single Wyatt Earp and Hey Little School Girl produced by blues singer and ...

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William Carney

musician. Marvin Gaye was born Marvin Pentz Gaye Jr. in 1939 in Washington, D.C. His father, a postal worker, was also the preacher in a storefront Pentecostal church known locally for the quality of the music at its services and for its somewhat unusual beliefs (for example, prohibitions on dancing and a rigid observance of the Jewish high holy days). His father was a violent man and frequently beat Marvin, his brother, and two sisters for seemingly minor infractions. Dropping out of high school at age seventeen to escape an unhappy family situation, Marvin joined the U.S. Air Force. He served less than a year; after a discharge for problems with adjusting to military discipline, he joined the Marquees, a “doo-wop” vocal group, and later he became a member of the Moonglows, one of the most influential vocal quintets of the 1950s.

After the Moonglows disbanded Gaye and ...

Article

David Brackett

(b Forrest City, AR, April 13, 1946). American soul singer and songwriter. One of the best-selling popular artists of the early 1970s, Green synthesized the two main tendencies in soul music of the era: ‘sweet’ soul music and funk. His early background in gospel music formed the basis of his expressive vocal style, which seamlessly combined a gruff but warm baritone with an ethereal falsetto. He stood out from other soul balladeers of the era through his improvisatory melismas and unpredictable phrasing. Although his style was clearly influenced by Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, by the time of his first major pop hit Tired of being Alone (1971), Green had developed an individual voice which he refined further in the number one hit Let's Stay Together (1971). In both these recordings and the string of top ten hits that followed (1972 ...

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Sholomo B. Levy

singer, songwriter, and minister, was born Albert Leornes Greene in Dansby, Arkansas, the sixth of ten children of Robert Greene, a sharecropper, and Cora. During slavery the Greene ancestors were owned by the Benton family; after emancipation the Greene descendants continued to work the land of their former owners under an economic arrangement known as crop lien, which promised the workers a share of profits that rarely materialized. Shortly after Al's birth, his family moved into a two-bedroom shack in nearby Jacknash, Arkansas, with the hope that a new field would produce more profitable corn, cotton, and soybeans than their old farm. Jacknash had two churches: Taylor's Chapel, a fiery Pentecostal congregation, and the slightly more subdued Church of the Living God. Green's parents were very religious and attended both.

Music was the most constant influence during Green s formative years it was heard around the ...

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Al Greene was born into a large family of sharecroppers in Forrest City, Arkansas, and at age nine formed in a gospel quartet with three of his brothers, The Green Brothers. Green always enjoyed secular music, however, and when he turned sixteen, formed his first pop group in Michigan, where his family had moved. In 1967 he released “Back Up Train,” which became a minor hit.

Green's career gained momentum in 1969, when he met producer Willie Mitchell, who signed him to Hi Records in Memphis, Tennessee. Their partnership resulted in an innovative new Soul Music sound featuring spare instrumentation muted guitar simple horns and backbeats accompanied by Green s quiet but insistent vocals lyrically searching for the possibilities of love and often taking off into wild falsettos Though quieter than the so called Stax sound Green s music was complex and a popular and welcome ...

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Rob Bowman

musician, songwriter, producer, and actor, was born in Covington, Tennessee, to unknown parents. Before Hayes had turned two, his father had left the family home and his mother had passed away in a mental institution. Hayes was raised by his maternal grandparents, who sharecropped for a living until, at the age of seven, Hayes, his sister, and his grandparents moved to Memphis. Over the next several years, Hayes lived in a variety of places in North Memphis. Impoverished, at times the family had to split up, and at the worst point Hayes was sleeping in junk cars at a garage.Largely a self taught musician during and immediately following his school years Hayes apprenticed with a number of ensembles that variously worked the school amateur hour and nightclub circuit singing doo wop and gospel and playing blues and jazz saxophone and rhythm and blues piano Upon ...

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Rob Bowman

(b Covington, TN, Aug 20, 1942; d Memphis, Aug 10, 2008). American soul singer, keyboard player, songwriter and producer. He first recorded for the Memphis-based Youngstown label in 1962. In the first half of the 1960s Hayes also wrote songs and played sessions for the Goldwax and Phillips labels in Memphis, backing singers such as Jeb Stuart, Dorothy Williams and Spencer Wiggins. As a member of the saxophonist Floyd Newman's band, he eventually found his way into Stax where he co-wrote one side and played on both sides of Newman's solitary single in 1963. Hayes was then hired for a variety of Stax sessions to replace the keyboard player Booker T. Jones while Jones was at college. Soon thereafter Hayes began helping with arrangements and by 1965 had formed a songwriting partnership with lyricist David Porter Hayes and Porter ...

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Jason Miller

musician, singer, and actor. Hayes was born in Covington, Tennessee, a tiny town in the westernmost part of the state, to Isaac Hayes and Eula Hayes, who were sharecroppers. Hayes's parents died when he was very young, and he and his sister Willette were raised by their mother's parents, Willie and Rushia Addie-Mae Wade. Hayes spent much of his early childhood in the cotton fields of Covington, and it was in Covington too that he made his musical debut, singing one Sunday at a church service. Two years later, when Hayes was seven, the family moved to Memphis in search of better jobs and higher wages.

Despite the family s optimism difficult times lay ahead Willie Wade took work in a factory but a few years later he fell ill and died Hayes was forced to take whatever odd jobs he could find to help ...

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Joe Street

songwriter and falsetto and tenor vocalist, was born Edward James Kendrick to Jonny and Lee Bell Kendrick in Union Springs, Alabama. Aged seven, Kendricks moved to Birmingham, and in 1955, with friends and singing partners Paul Williams (baritone) and Kell Osborne, formed a doo-wop group, the Cavaliers. In 1956, the group moved to Cleveland, Ohio. After moving to Detroit and changing their name to the Primes in 1957 or 1958, they lost Osborne but gained Otis Williams (baritone and tenor), Melvin Franklin (bass), and Elbridge Bryant. Through frequent performances at local dances and singing battles, the Primes soon developed a popular following on the Detroit circuit. A 1960 single, “Oh Mother, Oh Mine,” on the Motown affiliate Miracle, sank without a trace. Bryant departed soon after, to be replaced by David Ruffin tenor which also precipitated a name change with the Primes becoming ...

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Rob Bowman

(b Detroit, Feb 19, 1940). American soul singer, songwriter and producer. While at school in the mid-1950s he founded the vocal group the Miracles with Bobby Rogers, Ronnie White, Warren ‘Pete’ Moore and Claudette Rogers. Loosely modelled on the Platters, they achieved little success until Robinson met Berry Gordy. Gordy was impressed with Robinson’s talent and began recording and producing the Miracles and tutoring Robinson in the art of songwriting. However, the group received little support from End and Chess Records, to which they had leased their Gordy-produced singles, and in 1959 Gordy inaugurated the Tamla label and signed the Miracles. Shop Around which was co written by Gordy and Robinson and featured the latter s lead falsetto provided the label with its first hit the following year The group achieved a total of 39 hits in the American pop and rhythm and blues ...

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Charles L. Hughes

singer, songwriter, producer, and record executive, was born in Detroit, Michigan. From his youth, Robinson—nicknamed “Smokey” by an uncle due to his love of westerns—was surrounded by music and musically minded people. While attending Northern High School, Robinson formed a vocal group called the Five Chimes (later the Matadors) with his best friend, Ronnie White. As the group toured local venues, Robinson met a young Berry Gordy Jr., who was so taken with the Matadors, soon renamed the Miracles, that he and Robinson co-wrote the group's debut single, “Got A Job,” an answer to the Silhouettes' R&B hit “Get A Job,” which was released on Chess Records; Gordy also became the group's manager.

Gordy opened Tamla/Motown Records in 1959 and the Miracles were one of his first signed acts Robinson quickly became Gordy s closest associate starting a thirty year association with Motown ...

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Known for his romantic lyrics and his passionate, high-ranging voice, Rhythm and Blues (R&B) star Smokey Robinson was the leading member of the Motown group the Miracles from 1958 to 1971. He was one of the most influential singers and songwriters in popular music during the 1960s and 1970s.

William “Smokey” Robinson was born in Detroit, Michigan. At the age of eighteen, he formed the vocal group later, known as the Miracles, with high-school friends Ronnie White, Pete Moore, Bobby Rogers, and Rogers's sister Claudette, whom Robinson later married. The group impressed Motown owner Berry Gordy, who signed it to a recording contract in 1960.

The Miracles' first hit record was “Shop Around” (1961), an R&B song recorded for Tamla, one of the Motown Record Company labels. It was a phenomenal success, reaching number one on the Billboard magazine R ...

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Mary Krane Derr

soul singer and songwriter, was born Charles Edwin Hatcher in Nashville, Tennessee, to William Hatcher, a military serviceman, and his wife. Though at first they moved a great deal, the family settled in Cleveland, Ohio, after World War II. There Edwin attended Cennard High and East Technical School. Encouraged by his nonmusical parents, he enjoyed singing. His cousins were the soul singers Willie and Roger Hatcher. From 1955 to 1960, Edwin sang with a teen doo-wop group, the Future Tones, who released the single “All I Want Is You” (1957).

Hatcher was drafted into the U.S. Army from 1960 to 1962 and stationed in Canada, then Germany. He then toured for two years with the performer Bill Doggett's road show. Doggett introduced him one evening as Edwin Starr. The name stuck. In 1965 Starr went solo on Detroit s Golden World ...

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John Saillant

singer, guitarist, and songwriter, was born William H. Withers Jr. in Slab Fork, West Virginia, the youngest of six children of William H. Withers Sr., a coal miner, and Mattie Galloway. After his father's death in 1951, Withers was reared by his mother and his grandmother. His mother worked as a maid. Withers served in the U.S. Navy from 1956 to 1965. While he was on duty in the Far East, he made his first attempts at songwriting.

After his discharge from the navy, Withers moved to Los Angeles in 1967 and began pursuing a musical career. While promoting his compositions, he worked at a factory. Clarence Avant of Sussex Records gave Withers his first break. The result was the classic album Just as I Am (1970 which included the hits Ain t No Sunshine and Grandma s Hands Ain t ...

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Nathaniel Friedman

soul singer and songwriter, was born Robert Dwayne Womack in Cleveland, Ohio, one of five sons of a steelworker, Friendly Womack Sr., and Naomi (Reed) Womack. Friendly, who sang and played guitar in the Voices of Love gospel quartet, ended up rearing a quintet's worth of talented musicians; by the early 1950s Bobby and his brothers Cecil, Curtis, Friendly Jr., and Harry were touring the country as the Womack Brothers, sharing stages with revered performers such as the Five Blind Boys of Alabama and the Pilgrim Travelers. Bobby excelled as both a vocalist and a guitarist, already displaying the versatility that would be the hallmark of his solo career.

In 1953 the Womack Brothers opened for the Soul Stirrers, then fronted by the charismatic, ambitious Sam Cooke Cooke was in the midst of making the transition to secular pop which he did at the ...

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Timothy J. O'Brien

musician. The musical prodigy who became known as Stevie Wonder was born Steveland Hardaway Judkins in Saginaw, Michigan. He went blind shortly after his birth, and he was raised by his mother, Lula Hardaway, along with his five siblings after her husband Calvin Judkins left them. The family moved to Detroit in 1954, where they struggled to survive. He attended public schools in the east side ghetto, sang in his church's choir, and learned to play piano, harmonica, and drums by age ten.

Berry Gordy, the owner of Motown records, signed him when he was only ten after he was discovered by Ronnie White of the Miracles. Gordy renamed him “Little Stevie Wonder” and released his first two albums in 1962, neither of which sold well. His third album, a live release titled Recorded Live: The 12 Year Old Genius yielded a hit single ...