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James M. Salem

musician, songwriter, and rhythm and blues star, was born John Marshall Alexander Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee, the son of John Marshall Alexander and Leslie Newsome. His father earned his living in Memphis as a packer, but his lifework was as a commuting minister to two rural Baptist churches in eastern Arkansas. At LaRose Grammar School in South Memphis, John Jr. as his family called him displayed both musical and artistic talent He mastered the piano at home but was allowed to play only religious music Along with his mother and siblings he sang in the choir at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church Becoming restless at Booker T Washington High School John Jr dropped out in the eleventh grade to join the navy and see the world His sisters recalled military police coming to the house in search of their brother and thought of his brief period ...

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Linda M. Carter

singer, songwriter, producer, and arranger, was born John William Bristol in Morganton, North Carolina, the son of James and Mary Bristol. While in high school, Bristol was named to the All-State Football Team, and he formed a singing group known as the Jackets. After graduating from high school he enlisted in the United States Air Force and was stationed at Fort Custer, in Battle Creek, Michigan. Bristol and Robert “Jackey” Beavers formed part of the group the High Fives, though soon left to form the duo Johnny and Jackey. In 1959 Gwen Gordy and Billy Davis signed the two young men to their Anna Records label, and Johnny and Jackey recorded two 45s before Gordy and Harvey Fuqua established Tri-Phi Records in 1961 Johnny and Jackey recorded four 45s The duo s songs garnered a modicum of success in the Midwest but failed to ...

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SaFiya D. Hoskins

music pioneer, musician, and singer, was born Charles L. Brown in Charlotte, North Carolina; his parents were migrant farmers about whom little information is available. In 1942Chuck moved with his parents to Fairmont Heights in Prince George's County, Maryland, a small suburban neighborhood just outside of Northeast Washington, D.C. As a boy Chuck worked odd jobs to assist his parents financially. He sold newspapers, cut logs, shined shoes, laid bricks, and could be heard singing “watermelon, watermelon” for the horse-drawn watermelon cart. Chuck's love for music began as a boy in North Carolina, replaying the piano and rhythms he heard in church of the bass drum, cymbals, and the snare over and again in his head. In Fairmont Heights at Mount Zion Holiness Church he played piano while his mother accompanied him on harmonica. Chuck studied piano with Sister Louise Murray who exposed him to ...

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SaFiya D. Hoskins

singer, songwriter, and producer, was born Eugene Dixon in Chicago, Illinois. His father, Baron Dixon, was born in Arkansas. Dixon attended Englewood High School (later known as Englewood Technical Prep Academy) on Chicago's south side. Early on he was influenced by what he considered the cool and romantic singing style of (James) Pookie Hudson and the Spaniels. Patterning himself after Hudson, Dixon soon joined the ranks of youth performing doo-wop music on sidewalks and corners, forming his own group, the Gaytones. In 1957 Dixon was drafted into the United States Army and performed a tour of duty in Germany. Upon discharge from the military, in 1960, he returned to Chicago and resumed his singing career as a new member of the Dukays, a group that included singer Ben Broyles, Earl Edwards, Shirley Jones, and James Lowe.

Soon thereafter the Dukays were offered a contract to record ...

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Steve Feffer

songwriter, music producer and performer, was born in Detroit, Michigan. Information about his parents is largely unknown. As a young child he rehearsed with a local Baptist church's gospel choir and listened to his aunt play classical music on the family piano. His interest in music developed in the late 1940s and early 1950s as he heard popular singers such as Nat “King” Cole, Frank Sinatra, and Tony Bennett through his father's record collection. Later he started his own collection of singles by singers such as Johnny Mathis and vocal and doo-wop groups that included Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers and the Spaniels. Though he was a self-taught musician, he was writing his own lyrics by the age of eleven and music by the age of twelve, and at the age of thirteen he formed the musical group the Romeos.

In 1957 the Romeos released the ...

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Camille A. Collins

bass guitarist and music producer, was born in Greenville, North Carolina, and spent his formative years in Brooklyn, New York.

As an aspiring musician fresh out of high school at the beginning of the 1970s, Edwards's acquaintance with Nile Rodgers, another young New York guitarist, proved invaluable to his developing career. In 1970 the two formed the jazz, rock fusion Big Apple Band (not to be confused with Walter Murphy and the Big Apple Band) and later an all black rock band (first dubbed The Boys and later in a 1976 incarnation Allah and the Knife Wielding Punks). Although they were not the first black rockers (Jimi Hendrix, black Irishman Phil Lynott, and the protopunk Detroit band Death preceded them), Edwards and Rodgers faced a persistent bitter reality: as black men their foray into rock was not warmly received by record labels.

As performers in ...

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Linda M. Carter

singer, songwriter, producer, and record executive, was born in Louisville, Kentucky. He was the nephew of Charlie Fuqua, who was the guitarist for the Ink Spots, a popular 1940s vocal group. Harvey Fuqua, at the age of fourteen, began singing songs by the Ink Spots and other artists on street corners with his friends. In 1949, he was a member of a vocal duo, and after moving to Cleveland in the early 1950s, Fuqua was a founder of the Crazy Sounds, the jazz vocal group that evolved into the Moonglows, a major doo-wop group of the 1950s. Among the Moonglows' classic hit recordings are “Sincerely” (1954), written by Fuqua, and “The Ten Commandments of Love” (1958 which was released with the group s new name Harvey and the Moonglows Shortly thereafter the other members of the group quit and ...

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Matthew J. Smalarz

was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Ruby, who raised him as a single parent in South Philadelphia. Information about his father is unknown. Gamble, along with his neighborhood friends, often hung out at the Ideal Barber Shop, heeding the fatherly wisdom of its owner, Carlton Lewis, who served as a surrogate parent to many fatherless young men residing in the community. He attended West Philadelphia High School in the late 1950s where he developed a passion for music. Gamble applied Lewis’s observations about life and personal independence to his aspiring music career, starting a singing ensemble, the Romeos, in the late 1950s. While honing his musical talents, Gamble also acquired additional musical and professional skills by cutting records at penny arcades and developing personal relationships with local radio personalities Jimmy Bishop and Georgie Woods at the Philadelphia radio station, WDAS, where he worked as a message boy.

After ...

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Linda M. Carter

songwriter, record producer, recording engineer, and singer, was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, where he attended Davison Elementary, Cleveland Intermediate, and Wilbur Wright High School. Holland began his career in the music industry as a singer. In 1958 Kudo Records released Holland's debut single, “(Where's the Joy?) In Nature Boy”; “Shock,” on the record's flip side, was cowritten by Berry Gordy Jr. The following year, Gordy founded Motown, and Holland, a recording engineer, was one of Motown's first employees. During the company's early days, Holland was a member of the Satintones, Motown's first vocal group, and the Rayber Voices, Motown's backup vocal group on records by Marv Johnson and others.

Holland began writing and producing songs with Robert Bateman, and they were the successful production duo known as Brianbert. Their initial success was the Marvelettes' “Please Mr. Postman” (1961 which was Motown ...

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Linda M. Carter

songwriter, record producer, and singer, was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. He graduated from Wilbur Wright High School and attended college until 1958, when he became involved in the music industry. Holland met Berry Gordy Jr., who was a songwriter for Jackie Wilson, and consequently Holland recorded demos of Gordy's songs. Gordy produced Holland's Mercury single, “You” (1958). The following year, Gordy founded Motown records and released Holland's next single, “Merry Go Round” (1959), which was written by Gordy. More singles followed, including “Jamie” (1961), which reached number six on Billboard's R&B list and number thirty on Billboard's pop list; and “Leaving Here” (1964), which reached number twenty-seven on Billboard's R&B list. During the interim between the latter two singles, one album, Eddie Holland (1962 was recorded Although two additional singles were released ...

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Ulrich Adelt

multi-instrumentalist, producer, and arranger, was born in Memphis, Tennessee, to Booker T. Jones Sr., a high school teacher, and his wife, a school secretary. His musical talent showed early on: at age five he learned to play ukulele and piano. Five years later his parents bought him a clarinet. He played oboe in his high school band and also mastered flute, saxophone, trombone, and baritone horn. Inspired by Ray Charles, Jones started playing club gigs at age fourteen. Two years later, in 1960, he began work as a session musician for Stax Records in Memphis.

In 1962 Jones formed the instrumental group Booker T. and the MGs with members of the Mar-Keys, the first house band of Stax who had scored a national hit in 1961 with Last Night Depending on the source the band was either named after the British sports car ...

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Mathew J. Bartkowiak

musician and member of the band Love, was born Arthur Porter Taylor in Memphis, Tennessee, to Agnes Porter, a teacher, and Chester Taylor, a musician. Lee took on the surname of his mother's second husband, Clinton Lee. At the age of five, Lee moved with his parents to Los Angeles. His mother was a schoolteacher, and she taught her child the fundamentals of language. However, Lee found his greatest mode of expression through music.

Lee left school to focus on a musical career. He formed several local outfits, including the LAGs, which then morphed into a group called the American Four, both of which focused mainly on performing R&B cover songs. At the time, Lee also wrote and produced music, including the song “My Diary” for Rosa Lee Brooks, which featured a young Jimi Hendrix on guitar. In 1965 Lee met another Los Angeles ...

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Charles L. Hughes

songwriter, singer, producer, and record executive, was born in Memphis, Tennessee. Details on Porter's early life are not available, but it is known that his father died when he was two years old, and that he and his family lived in Memphis all of his life. Porter attended the all-black Booker T. Washington High School, an institution perhaps most famous for one of its history teachers, Nat D. Williams an enterprising visionary who helped transform Memphis radio station WDIA into the nation s first black owned and operated radio outlet During the late 1950s and early 1960s a group of Washington High students helped provide the foundation for a fledgling record label called Satellite later Stax Records Beginning as a record shop on McLemore Avenue across the street from the grocery store where Porter worked for several years the company soon became thanks to the ...

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Matthew J. Smalarz

singer, record producer, and record label executive, was born Sylvia Vanderpool in New York City. She developed her rhythm and blues vocal style at a young age, matriculating at Washington Irving High School in New York at fourteen, where a Columbia Records scout noticed her vocal abilities. Earning the nickname “Little Sylvia,” she worked for and recorded with numerous labels, most notably Savoy and Cat, during the 1950s. Her vocal talents drew the attention of Mickey Baker, an influential rhythm and blues session guitarist, who formed the musical partnership Mickey & Sylvia with her.

Mickey & Sylvia signed a record contract with RCA records in 1956, generating rhythm and blues recordings with popular crossover appeal. Their first recording, “Love Is Strange,” which had originally been composed by Bo Diddley entered the rhythm and blues and pop charts and became a hit primarily because of its ...

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Michael Ezra

WBA heavyweight boxing champion, entertainer, and businessman, was born in Belzoni, Mississippi, one of ten children of Lovick Terrell, a metal dipper, and Annie Terrell. Terrell's family moved to Chicago in 1953. As a teenager, Terrell discovered the Midwest Gym, on the corner of Madison and Hamelin streets near Garfield Park, and became interested in watching big-name professional fighters—men like Rocky Marciano, Kid Gavilan, Sugar Ray Robinson—train. Observing great fighters sparked Terrell's desire to become a boxer, and while enrolled in Farragut High School, from which he would graduate in 1959, he began to enter amateur tournaments.

Terrell won the Chicago Golden Gloves tournament and later captured an intercity Golden Gloves championship. In 1957 while still in high school Terrell turned professional Also that year while organizing a talent show to celebrate his high school graduation Terrell purchased his ...

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Linda M. Carter

singer, songwriter, and music producer, was born Luther Ronzoni Vandross in New York City, the youngest of four children born to Luther Vandross Sr., an upholsterer, and Mary Ida Vandross, a nurse. The seventh month of Mrs. Vandross's fourth pregnancy became fraught with peril when she was diagnosed with a ruptured appendix, and doctors were uncertain whether she and her unborn baby would survive. Mr. Vandross was asked to choose which life should be saved; fortunately, however, this potentially traumatic decision was not needed, as his wife survived and gave birth to Luther Jr., a healthy baby boy.As early as age three Vandross, who was nicknamed “Ronnie,” exhibited an affinity for music. He became interested in the piano, and in 1956 began taking piano lessons However his piano instruction was brief because he hid when the piano teacher arrived at the Vandross s ...

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James Fargo Balliett

musician and record producer, was born in Buffalo, New York, to Lillian Washington, a hairdresser and business owner, and Grover Washington Sr., a steelworker. Young Washington grew up in a family that encouraged creativity in music. His father played saxophone and was an avid record collector, and his mother sang in the church choir. Both of Washington's brothers were also musically inclined: Darryl played the drums and Michael played the keyboard At age ten Washington began playing saxophone and by his teenage years was sneaking out of the house to watch and play in jazz clubs His parents enrolled him in the Wurlitzer School of Music to study classical music He took lessons on the piano bass guitar and drums By high school he was a member of the Buffalo all city high school band as a baritone saxophonist At age sixteen Washington left home to become a professional ...

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Mark Steven Maulucci

the son of Willie R. Williams and Mabel Defendeau. Just after World War II, when Larry was in his early teens, his family moved to Oakland, California. There Williams formed a group called The Lemon Drops and developed his musical skills playing around the San Francisco Bay area.

In 1953 and 1954 Williams visited friends and family in New Orleans, a home to jazz and R&B musicians for years. There he connected with his second cousin, the singer Lloyd Price. Price had a huge hit in 1952 with “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” on Specialty Records and hired Larry as his valet, chauffeur, and ultimately, his piano player. Price introduced Williams to legendary New Orleans producer Robert “Bumps” Blackwell, who noted Williams’s talent and brought it to the attention of Art Rupe, the owner of Specialty.

After Price was drafted into the Army in 1954 Williams freelanced in New Orleans ...

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Kevin Brook

rhythm and blues singer, songwriter, guitarist, bass guitarist, and producer, was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the youngest of the five sons of Friendly Womack Sr., a steelworker and former coalminer, and Naomi Reed Womack, a church organist, both of whom were originally from West Virginia. His father and uncles performed gospel music together in the original West Virginia incarnation of the family's band, The Womack Brothers. His parents nurtured their sons’ interest in music from an early age and joined them to establish the second incarnation of The Womack Brothers in 1955. Cecil Womack was eight at the time of its founding and performed as one of its singers, together with his brother Bobby Womack. Sam Cooke, owner of SAR Records, signed the brothers to a record contract, and in 1961 Cooke produced their gospel tune Couldn t Hear Nobody Pray ...