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Nancy Raquel Mirabal

was born Melba Haydez Alvarado Mejias on 15 August 1919 in Oriente, Cuba. On 19 May 1936, at age 16, Alvarado migrated to New York City with her mother, Mariana Mejias Alvarado, and five younger siblings to reunite with her father, Luis Alvarado, who had left Cuba to escape the oppressive regime of President Gerardo Machado. Alvarado, who never married, made her home in the Bronx. For over sixty years she has directed and organized El Club Cubano Inter-americano (CCI), one of the longest running and most important Afro-Cuban clubs in New York. She is the only woman to be elected president of the CCI twice, in 1957 and 1972. She has also served the organization in a number of leadership capacities, including in public relations, as secretary and treasurer, and as president of the CCI’s Comité de Damas (Women’s Club).

Founded on 17 September 1945 in ...

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Barry Kernfeld

blues and vaudeville songwriter, publisher, and musical director, was born John Henry Perry Bradford in Montgomery, Alabama, the son of Adam Bradford, a bricklayer and tile setter, and Bella (maiden name unknown), a cook. Standard reference books give his year of birth as 1893, but Bradford's autobiography gives 1895. Early in his youth Bradford learned to play piano by ear. In 1901 his family moved to Atlanta, where his mother cooked meals for prisoners in the adjacent Fulton Street jail. There he was exposed to the inmates' blues and folk singing. Bradford attended Molly Pope School through the sixth grade and claimed to have attended Atlanta University for three years, there being no local high school. This is chronologically inconsistent, however, with his claim to have joined Allen's New Orleans Minstrels in the fall of 1907 traveling to New Orleans for Mardi Gras ...

Article

Eric Ledell Smith

businessman and banker, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Robert Brown, a turnkey in the local jail, and Anne Brown, a homemaker. E. C. Brown was the eldest of three children. He attended the public schools in Philadelphia and after his high school graduation worked for three years as a mail clerk at the financial firm of Bradstreet Mercantile. He took stenography and typewriting classes at the Spencerian Business College in Philadelphia and subsequently worked as a stenographer for the National Railway Company but was soon laid off. Brown then became secretary to a Frank Thompson, who ran a catering business in Florida in the late 1890s. Around 1901 Brown left Thompson and started a real estate business in Newport News, Virginia. By 1908 he was renting more than 300 houses and had more than 800 tenants. On 27 June 1908 he opened the Crown Savings Bank ...

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Doris Evans McGinty

Lulu Vere Childers was born in Dryridge, Kentucky, the daughter of former slaves Alexander Childers and Eliza Butler. She studied voice at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and in 1896 was awarded a diploma that was replaced by a bachelor's degree in 1906 when the conservatory began granting degrees. The Oberlin Conservatory chapter of Pi Kappa Lambda, a national honor society, elected her a member in 1927. She studied voice further with Sydney Lloyd Wrightson at the Washington Conservatory of Music, with William Shakespeare, and with Oscar Devries at Chicago Musical College.

As a singer Childers enjoyed modest distinction. During her college years and shortly afterward, she performed in the Midwest with the Eckstein-Norton Music Company, a quartet of singers and their accompanist teamed with concert pianist Harriet A. Gibbs The group contributed their earnings to the development of a music conservatory at Eckstein Norton University ...

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Thomas A. Dorsey's name is synonymous with modern Gospel Music. Dorsey composed over 1,000 songs in his lifetime, half of which were published. With creative genius and business savvy, Dorsey popularized songs that combined the rhythm and tonality of Blues with lyrics about personal spiritual salvation. Countless gospel performers achieved their first success singing Dorsey's music. His most famous song, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” is one of the most popular gospel songs in America.

Dorsey was born to Etta and Thomas Madison Dorsey. Thomas Madison was an itinerant preacher, and Etta played the organ in church. As a child, Dorsey was regularly exposed to spirituals and Baptist hymns. Extended family members introduced Dorsey to rural blues and shaped-note singing. In 1908 the family moved to Atlanta, where Dorsey learned to play the piano by watching pianists at a vaudeville theater on Decatur Street. Dorsey also saw Ma ...

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Kip Lornell

blues performer, gospel singer, and composer, was born in Villa Rica, Georgia, the son of Thomas Madison Dorsey, a preacher, and Etta Plant Spencer. Dorsey's mother, whose first husband had died, owned approximately fifty acres of farmland. Dorsey lived in somewhat trying circumstances as his parents moved first to Atlanta and Forsyth, Georgia, and then back to Villa Rica during the first four years of his life. In Villa Rica the Dorsey family settled into a rural lifestyle supported by marginal farming that was slightly mitigated by his father's pastoral duties.

Though economically pressed Dorsey s parents found enough money to purchase an organ and it was on this instrument that their young son began to play music at around six years of age Dorsey was exposed not only to the religious music that pervaded his home but also to the secular music especially the ...

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Elton C. Fax

Born in Texas, Sherman H. Dudley, like many Southern blacks who resented being addressed by their first names by whites, used only his initials in an effort to ward off the insult. In the tradition of most black performers of his day he worked the medicine-show circuit. Talented singers and dancers often began their professional careers as performers hired by itinerant street salesmen of patent medicines. The performances were designed to attract prospective buyers to the hucksters' medicinal wares. Most such entertainers of the South were blacks, many of them mere boys.

While still in his twenties, Dudley joined the McCabe and Young Minstrels, working as a comic end man who called himself Hapsy. He followed that stint by teaming with singer and dancer Dude Kelly and performing as a substitute for Sam Lucas at Broadway s Star Theater So successful was the pair of substitutes that they ...

Article

Mary Krane Derr

blues bar owner and talent promoter, was born Theresa McLaurin in Meridian, Lauderdale County, Mississippi. She was the only child of Will and Minnie McLaurin, both natives of Mississippi. Needham's birth year is commonly given as 1912, but it was 1911 according to the Social Security Death Index. As a young girl, she was baptized as a Roman Catholic. The 1920 U.S. Census recorded her as living in Meridian with her uncle, aunt, and cousin. The 1930 Census noted her recent marriage to Robert Needham, then a bricklayer. They had a son together, Robert Needham Jr. Theresa Needham's educational history is unclear, but, according to this census report, she reached adulthood knowing how to read and write.

After World War II Needham and her family joined the large number of African Americans who migrated from the Mississippi River Delta to Chicago s South Side in search of ...

Article

Amy L. Lively

musician and entrepreneur, was born Benjamin Franklin Spikes in Dallas, Texas, the youngest child of Madora and Monroe Spikes, the latter a barber. Spikes was nicknamed “Rebel,” later shortened to “Reb,” by his father. The family relocated to Los Angeles in 1897, and when Spikes was in his late teens his older brother, Johnny, bought him a drum set, sparking his interest in music.

In 1907, Spikes moved to San Francisco. Ragtime, a precursor to jazz, was frequently heard in local clubs and saloons and was an important influence on the music that Spikes would write, perform, and produce. As Spikes developed his musical skills, he and Johnny went on the road as performers. In approximately 1910, they formed a traveling vaudeville group called the Spikes Brothers Comedy Stars. A notable member of the troupe was Hattie McDaniel whose portrayal of Mammy in ...

Article

David Michel

gospel singer and group leader, was born Gertrude Willa Azalee Murphy near Anderson, South Carolina, the eleventh of twelve children born to David and Hannah Murphy, both being farmers and Baptists. Gertrude completed eighth grade and, like millions of African Americans, moved north. In 1920 she settled in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and married George Ward, with whom she had two daughters, Willa(rene) and Clara Mae, born in 1922 and 1924 respectively. In Philadelphia, Gertrude did domestic work while her husband joined an iron company, where he remained for forty-two years. The Ward family soon joined Ebenezer Baptist Church at Tenth Street and Girard Avenue and would remain active there for years. Both Ward and her husband joined the senior choir. In 1931 Ward claimed to hear the voice of God telling her, “Go sing my Gospel.”

Ward aggressively pursued a singing ministry She familiarized herself with gospel ...