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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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Scott Yanow

jazz trumpeter and educator, was born in Nantucket, Massachusetts. His parents’ names are not recorded. He moved with his family to New York in 1934, where he was so inspired by attending a Louis Armstrong performance that he knew that he eventually wanted to play trumpet. Dixon briefly tried clarinet in high school, studied painting at Boston University, and served in the army, but in 1946, when he was 21, finally began studying the trumpet.

Dixon studied at the Hartnette Conservatory of Music from 1956 to 1961. He freelanced as a musician in New York during this period but also had a full-time day job working at the United Nations from 1956 to 1962. In 1962 Dixon dedicated himself to music. A free-jazz and avant-garde trumpeter and composer, Dixon (who met Cecil Taylor as early as 1951 was a newcomer at the age of ...

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Joy Elizondo

Chiquinha Gonzaga was born in Rio de Janeiro to an unwed mother of mixed race. After being officially recognized by her father, she received all the trappings of an education befitting the daughter of a military man so that she might serve in the court of Pedro II. After a strict upbringing she married a wealthy commander in Brazil's merchant marines when she was still a teenager; yet, much to her family's chagrin, she swapped an oppressive home life for the bohemian music halls of Rio at the age of eighteen.

Though Gonzaga had performed her first song, “Canção de Pastores,” at a family gathering on Christmas Eve in 1858, her first successful composition, a polka titled “Atraente,” was not published until 1877 In the meantime cut off by her family she managed to build a reputation as a piano teacher and made a living playing in ...

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Janelle F. H. Winston

choral director, composer, arranger, actor, singer, and educator, was born Jester Joseph Hairston in Belews Creek North Carolina the only son and first of two children born to his parents names unknown He was the grandson of former slaves When Hairston was a year old the family moved to Kunersville Pennsylvania where his father obtained work in the steel mills His sister was born about six months later and when she was three days old their father died of pneumonia As a child Hairston is said to have loved music Although he was a small framed boy he played basketball and football in high school and college His church presented him with a scholarship to attend Massachusetts Agriculture College now known as The University of Massachusetts in Amherst Massachusetts where his educational aspirations were to study landscaping design After his scholarship ran out ...

Article

James Fargo Balliett

jazz saxophonist, composer-arranger, and teacher, was born James Edward Heath, one of four children, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Percy Heath Sr., an auto mechanic and amateur clarinetist, and Arlethia, a hairdresser who sang in the church choir. His brothers Percy and Albert (Tootie Heath) also went on to become noted jazz musicians. His parents bought their first home in 1945 on the south side of Philadelphia, and it became a place for musicians to gather, make music, and have meals.

Heath was sent to Wilmington North Carolina to attend school when he was fourteen This was where his grandparents lived and owned a local food market It was during this time that he began to pursue music playing an alto sax his father sent him as a Christmas present Just five feet three inches tall Heath was considered too small to play ...

Article

Eileen Southern

Little is known of John Layton's early life, except that he was born in New Jersey. He studied music around New England, at the Cardiff and Collins Institute, Round Lake Conservatory, Martha's Vineyard, the New England Conservatory, and privately in Washington, D.C. During the Civil War (1861–1865), Layton served in the armed services. After the war he went to Washington, D.C., where he was a policeman for a few years before he began teaching music in the public schools in 1883. Later he was appointed the first male director of music for the black schools in Washington. In 1873 Layton became the choir director at the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), a post he retained for forty-three years. In 1902 he helped to organize the Coleridge-Taylor Choral Society and served as its director until his death.

One of Layton s significant accomplishments was his contribution ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

music teacher and conductor, bass singer, Civil War veteran, and active member of the Grand Army of the Republic, author of the first African Methodist Episcopal Church hymnal (working with Bishop James C. Embry), was born in Eulesstown, New Jersey. The 1860 census lists several free families of African descent named Layton, but none have been definitively identified as his. Charles and Harriet Layton, of Warrenville, may have been his parents, but the ages of their children (often the subject of error by census takers) are not a definitive match.

Layton enlisted in the U.S. Navy on 25 August 1864 at Jersey City, giving his occupation as laborer/farmer. Assigned the rating of Landsman, he served on the vessels Larkspur and O.M. Pettit Both were tugboats assigned to the South Atlantic Blocking Squadron towing and repairing ships of the squadron while gathering intelligence on shore and ...

Article

Leonard L. Brown

musician and school founder, was born in Braidwood, Illinois. His parents' names are unknown. He spent his childhood in Springfield, Illinois, where his family moved when he was a young child. Matthews early expressed an interest in music, and historical accounts credit his mother as his first piano teacher, although he later took lessons from local teachers. A trip to St. Louis, Missouri, in 1904 exposed Matthews to the major African American performers of ragtime, the dominant popular music then. Upon returning to Springfield, Matthews learned ragtime from local performers.

Sometime in 1907 or 1908 Matthews settled in St Louis where he remained for the next seven or eight years with some excursions to Chicago While in St Louis he studied theory arranging composition and organ at the Keeton School of Music He developed into an excellent pianist composer and arranger and his reputation led to his being ...

Article

musician and composer, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of Anne Emerine Beluche Snaër and François Snaër. His family immigrated to New Orleans from St. Domingue via Cuba before 1818 and was of mixed African, French, and German ancestry. His mother was purportedly the daughter of the Caribbean pirate René Beluche, and his father was a wealthy grocer and church organist. The young Snaër played more than a dozen musical instruments, including violin, cello, piano, and organ. He was also a prolific composer. Little is known about Snaër's life before the Civil War other than his first song, “Sous sa fenêtre,” was written sometime around 1851 when he was eighteen As a member of the free black population in New Orleans before the Civil War many of whom spoke French identified with French culture and had a certain amount of wealth Snaër s ...

Article

Daniel Donaghy

composer, pianist, and college professor, was born in Washington, D.C., to West Indian–American parents. His father immigrated to Philadelphia and studied at Temple University Medical School before beginning a career as a physician. His mother, Rosa King, gave him his first piano lessons when he was five. A child prodigy, Walker graduated from Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C., at the age of fourteen, the same year he offered his first public recital. In 1937 he accepted a scholarship to Oberlin College, where he studied piano under David Moyer and organ under Arthur Poister. He quickly impressed his professors and became the Oberlin Graduate School of Theology's organist in 1939. He graduated in 1941 at the age of eighteen with the highest honors in his class and aspired to a career as a concert pianist He attended graduate school in Philadelphia at the ...

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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 ...

Article

Donald James

trumpeter, bandleader, arranger, composer, and educator, was born in Shelby, Mississippi, to Shelby J. Wilson, a blacksmith, and Lillian (Nelson) Wilson, a schoolteacher who also taught music. The second of four children, Wilson began taking piano lessons from his mother, an accomplished pianist, at the age of five. His love of music expanded through the spiritual songs heard in church, and by the music he listened to on the radio. Wilson began playing the trumpet while attending Manassa High School in Memphis, Tennessee, where his parents had sent him to live with friends of the family. In 1934 he moved to Detroit, Michigan, where he once again lived with friends of the family. He attended Cass Technical High School, a school that has produced a remarkable number of performing artists, where he played trumpet in the band and studied composition and orchestration.

Between 1934 ...

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Susan C. Cook

band leader and pianist, was born Samuel David Wooding in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of a butler and a laundress whose names are unknown. Wooding claimed that a performance by the vaudeville comedy team Bert Williams and George Walker inspired his interest in music as a career. Although he sang, played piano, and even composed from an early age, Sam did not receive formal musical training, in the form of private lessons, until after he graduated from South Philadelphia High School for Boys. Following a career as a band leader in Europe and the United States, he enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania for further musical study, earning a BA in 1942 and an MEd in 1945.

During World War I Wooding played tenor horn from 1917 to 1919 in the 807th Pioneer Infantry Band one of a number of all volunteer black military bands that played ...