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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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Monica Berger

singer, songwriter, and bandleader. Born in Barnwell, South Carolina, to Joe Brown (né Gardner), a turpentine worker, and Susan Behlings, James Brown experienced extreme poverty in early childhood. His mother left the family when Brown was four. When he was six, he was sent to Augusta, Georgia, to live with an aunt who ran a brothel. In addition to picking cotton and shining shoes, the young Brown earned money by tap-dancing for World War II troops and by singing in talent contests.

As a teenager Brown broke into a car to steal a coat and was sentenced to eight to sixteen years in prison. He served three years and was released in 1953. He then sang in a doo-wop and gospel ensemble headed by Bobby Byrd Brown soon emerged as the lead singer and the band the Fabulous Flames wowed audiences with their dancing ...

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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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Barry Kernfeld

jazz, blues, and rhythm and blues singer, was born in Louisville, Kentucky, the daughter of John Henry Humes, a railroad worker who became one of the first African American attorneys in Louisville and then worked in real estate, and Emma Johnson, a schoolteacher. “Well, I was born June 23, 1909, but I put it June 23, 1913. And everybody that's been writing books and things, they got 1913,” Humes explained to Helen Oakley Dance (12 May 1981). Her mother sang in a Baptist church choir and played piano at home. Humes sang with her mother and then took piano lessons as well. At Central High School her classmates included the jazz trombonist Dicky Wells, the drummer Bill Beason, and the trumpeter Jonah Jones At age seventeen before finishing her schooling Humes traveled to St Louis ...

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Linda M. Carter

singer and actress, was born Gladys Maria Knight in Atlanta, Georgia, the third of four children of Sarah Elizabeth Woods and Merald Woodrow Knight Sr., who was one of Atlanta's first African American post office workers. The Knights were a musical family; both parents were members of the Wings over Jordan Choir and the Mount Moriah Baptist Church Choir. At four years of age Knight was the youngest member of the Sunbeam Children's Choir, and she performed her first recital in 1948 at Mount Moriah, a benefit concert for the church. At six she toured as a guest soloist with the Mount Moriah Choir and the Morris Brown College Choir. In 1952 eight-year-old Knight attracted national attention when, after winning three consecutive rounds over three weeks, she captured the championship round on the Ted Mack Original Amateur Hour television show and received the $2 000 grand prize ...

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Lloren A. Foster

singer, musician, songwriter, composer, entrepreneur, and record producer. Curtis Mayfield was one of the most influential black musicians of the second half of the twentieth century. Born on 3 June 1942 in Chicago, Illinois, Mayfield learned to play the piano, guitar, bass, drums, and saxophone. While attending Wells High School, he began singing with the choir of his grandmother Annabelle's Traveling Soul Spiritualist Church, which grounded his soulful sound in gospel music.

In 1956 Mayfield, along with Jerry Butler and brothers Richard and Arthur Brooks, formed the group the Roosters; Sam Gooden joined the quartet, which was renamed the Impressions, in 1958. In that same year Mayfield penned the group's first hit, “For Your Precious Love,” which featured Butler in the lead. After Butler left for a solo career, the group floundered, but in 1961 the Impressions reformed and recorded the hits Gypsy Woman and Closer Together ...

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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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Edward E. Baptist

singer and business owner, was born Irma Lee in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, the daughter of Percy Lee, a steel mill worker and longshoreman, and Vadar (maiden name unknown), an elevator operator. At the age of three, Irma moved to New Orleans with her parents, but when the time came for her to start first grade, she returned to the country to live with her aunt. When she was in fourth grade, she moved back to New Orleans to stay.

In New Orleans, Irma, whose other musical influences included singing in church and listening to records of her father's favorites, like Percy Mayfield and Mahalia Jackson, soaked up the emerging rhythm and blues scene of the city. At age fourteen, however, her youth came to a sudden halt when she became pregnant. Her parents insisted that she marry the father of the child, Eugene Jones Irma s mother ...

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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 ...

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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 ...