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Donald James

cornetist, trumpeter, bandleader, composer, arranger, and college educator, was born Nathaniel Adderley in Tampa, Florida, the second of two sons of Julian Adderley Sr. and Jessie Adderley. Julian Sr. was an educator who played trumpet and cornet, thus becoming Nat's first music teacher. Jessie was also a teacher. Nat's only sibling, Julian Adderley Jr., nicknamed “Cannonball” because of his rotund build, was three years older than his brother. The Adderleys moved from Tampa to Tallahassee, Florida, when Nat was a toddler so that Julian Sr. and Jessie could take teaching jobs at Florida A&M College (FAMC), a historically black school. The college changed its name to Florida A&M University (FAMU) in 1953.

Cannonball was the first of the two brothers to play trumpet He later became more interested in the alto saxophone leaving his trumpet to sit idle Nat showed no ...


K. Wise Whitehead

music teacher, violinist, and the first African American woman to earn a degree from the University of Pennsylvania, was born free in Philadelphia to David Bustill Bowser, an ornamental painter, and Elizabeth (Liz) Harriet Stevens Gray Bowser, a seamstress. David Bowser's grandfather was the educator, abolitionist, and baker Cyrus Bustill. Cyrus was both the son and the slave of the white attorney Samuel Bustill and was later freed by Thomas Prior, a Quaker member of the Society of Friends, in Burlington, New Jersey. He was also the grandfather of the abolitionist Sarah Mapps Douglass. In 1787 Cyrus was one of the founders of Philadelphia's Free African Society. Elizabeth Bowser was the daughter of Satterthwait, a Delaware Indian, and Richard Morey, the son of Humphrey Morrey, a white Quaker who was the first mayor of Philadelphia appointed by William Penn in 1691.

Ida s parents were ...


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 ...


Scott Yanow

jazz clarinetist and educator, was born in Fort Worth, Texas. Carter studied clarinet and alto saxophone as a youth. He earned a bachelor's degree from Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri, in 1949 and a masters in music education from the University of Colorado in 1956.

Carter spent thirty-three years earning his living as a school teacher. He taught in Fort Worth's public schools from 1949 to 1961 and in the Los Angeles school system from 1961 to 1982. Having this important day job gave him the freedom to play whatever music he desired without having to earn a living from performing. Carter never compromised his music yet sought to educate audiences about what he was playing.

While originally inspired on the clarinet and alto saxophone by Charlie Parker and Lester Young, Carter made the acquaintance of alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman in the late 1940s ...


Lawrence Vernon

was born in 1903 in Belize City, Belize. Born Floss Kemp, she was the youngest of seven children. Her father, Joseph Kemp, died when she was 1 year old, and she grew up with her mother Diana Kemp. While receiving her elementary education at Wesley School in Belize City, her sister, a versatile piano player, inspired Floss to take piano lessons, and she eventually became an accomplished piano teacher who taught two of Belize’s greatest musicians and composers: Dr. Colville Young (Belize’s governor general) and the concert pianist Francis Reneau.

On completing elementary school, Casasola entered the pupil–teacher training system, and after being certified as a trained teacher in her early teens she began teaching at Wesley School and then Ebenezer School, both in Belize City. A major hurricane devastated Belize City in 1931 and the years spent in reconstruction also affected Casasola s life as she relocated to ...


Doris Evans McGinty

singer and educator, was born in Dryridge, Kentucky, the daughter of Alexander Childers and Eliza Butler, former slaves. She studied voice at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio 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 in Washington, D.C., 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 the concert pianist Harriet A. Gibbs The group contributed their earnings to the development of ...


Paulette Coleman

operatic soprano and music educator, was born in Detroit, Michigan, into a musically prominent family. Her father, Thomas A. Cole, was a talented bass who was also known as a fine dramatic reader. Sadie (Chandler) Cole, her mother, was a mezzo-soprano who had studied at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, and had toured with the famous Fisk Jubilee Singers. Cole's maternal grandmother, Mrs. Hatfield-Chandler, was a patron of the arts who sang soprano in Cincinnati's first African American choir. With such a rich musical heritage, it was predictable that Cole would begin piano lessons at a very early age. Her family relocated to Los Angeles in 1898. At age twelve Cole was accomplished enough to accompany her mother in recitals and in public concerts and to teach younger children piano basics.

While a student at Los Angeles High School where she studied ancient and modern languages ...


Roxanne Y. Schwab

writer and educator, was born in Dresden, Ontario, Canada, the fourth child of William and Nancy Newman. Little is known of her family, and the exact dates of her birth and death are unknown, but she was most likely born sometime in the mid-nineteenth century. As a young woman, she accompanied her father to the West Indies for missionary work, then returned to the United States when he became pastor of a church in Cincinnati, Ohio. Following her father's death, she moved to Appleton, Wisconsin, where she looked after her invalid mother for thirteen months. Upon her mother's death, Lucretia Newman became the head of the household for her siblings. After her early education she completed a course of scientific study at Lawrence University in Appleton before finding work as a high school music teacher and as a clerk in a dry goods store.

In 1883 Coleman was ...


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 ...


Wallace McClain Cheatham

opera singer, college and music conservatory professor, composer, activist, and genealogist, the youngest of seven children, was born in Columbia, Tennessee, and reared in Louisville, Kentucky, where his family moved in search of suitable employment and better schools. Andrew's mother, Lue Vergia Esters Frierson, was a homemaker. His father, Robert Clinton Frierson, was a laborer.

At age three Frierson first dramatically showcased his musical talent. One afternoon he accompanied his mother to the home of an old family friend where there was a piano. Frierson saw the instrument, went to it, and instinctively began to play recognizable songs. Frierson's mother and her friends were astounded because he had never even seen a piano. By the age of five Frierson was playing all over the town.

After four years of piano study with William King and graduation from high school Frierson went to ...


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 ...


Scott Yanow

jazz drummer, was born in Queens, New York. His parents’ names are not recorded. Graves played congas as a child. As a teenager he was featured on timbales in a Latin band from 1959 to 1961. After seeing Elvin Jones play with John Coltrane, Graves taught himself how to play drums. In his twenties he studied Indian music extensively, learning the tabla from Wasantha Singh. He worked with Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba in the early 1960s.

Starting in 1964, Graves was an important contributor to the avant-garde jazz scene in New York. One of the earliest free-form drummers, Graves came to the jazz world's attention when he was featured at the historic October Revolution concerts in late 1964 with saxophonist Giuseppi Logan and the New York Art Quartet He showed that it was possible to swing while playing very freely and he helped liberate ...


Scott Yanow

jazz alto saxophonist and educator, was born Vernice Green Jr. in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The names and occupations of his parents are not recorded. He was mostly self-taught on the alto sax and considered Charlie Parker to be his main early influence. By the time he was 15, Green had memorized most Charlie Parker solos and was sitting in at clubs.

Green mostly played local jobs in Milwaukee, including at a club called the Brass Rail for several years. In 1960 he had a brief stint with Charles Mingus, where he replaced Jackie McLean. Mingus was a strong inspiration, and Green credited Mingus with helping him find his own style. Green moved to Chicago later that year and became a significant part of the local scene. He played with the top Chicago musicians of the period, including Ira Sullivan; tenors Eddie Harris Nicky Hill and Red Saunders ...


singer and teacher, known as the “Black Swan,” was born a slave in or near Natchez, Mississippi. Her father may have been born in Africa, and her mother, Anna, was of mixed ancestry. Various sources offer no fewer than seven different birth dates between 1807 and 1824. Greenfield's use of “Taylor” rather than “Greenfield” in certain documents suggests that her parents used this surname, but little record of them survives.

When their owner, the wealthy widow Elizabeth Holliday Greenfield, joined the Society of Friends and moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the 1820s, Greenfield's parents were manumitted and immigrated to Liberia. Though records suggest her mother planned to return, Greenfield never saw her parents again. She lived with her mistress until she was about eight years old and then rejoined her as a nurse-companion in about 1836 she seems to have lived with relatives in the ...


Lisa E. Rivo

singer, musician, educator, and advocate for African American music and musicians, was born Emma Azalia Smith in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, to Henry Smith, a blacksmith and native of Murfreesboro, and Corilla Beard, the daughter of Wilson Beard, an escaped slave who began a profitable laundry business after fleeing to Detroit. Following the birth of Azalia, as she was called, Corilla Smith opened a school in Murfreesboro for newly freed slave children. In 1870, just after the birth of Azalia's sister Marietta increasing hostility from local whites forced Corilla Smith to close the school The family moved to Detroit Michigan where Henry Smith opened a curio shop and Corilla Smith taught school In the early 1880s the couple separated and Corilla raised her daughters on wages earned by private tutoring In Detroit the Smiths were the first black family in their neighborhood and ...


Emma Azalia Smith Hackley, the daughter of Corilla Beard and Henry Smith, was born in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. She was raised in Detroit, Michigan, where the family moved after her mother's school was closed due to opposition from the white community. She started taking piano lessons at age three, later studying violin and voice, and played professionally after school.

In 1883 Hackley became the first African American to attend Washington Normal School, taking education classes and supporting herself by teaching music lessons. After her graduation, she taught second grade until 1894 when she eloped with journalist Edwin Henry. They moved to Denver, where Hackley organized a branch of the Colored Women's League and earned a music degree from the University of Denver (1900). In 1901 she separated from her husband and left Denver.

Hackley settled in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and served as a church musical ...


Jim Miller

jazz drummer, was born William W. Hart in Washington, D.C., to William Alfred Hart and Ira Loretta Hart, both government workers who had met at Howard University. Primarily a self-taught musician, Hart played in rhythm and blues groups while still in high school. As the house-band drummer at Washington's Howard Theatre, he accompanied major soul acts such as Otis Redding, Joe Tex, the Impressions, the Isley Brothers, Sam and Dave, and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles when they toured through town.

Although such established names as the above are accepted as classic coequal entertainers societal conditions in the late 1950s restricted black artists from performing at the top venues in Las Vegas Miami Beach or even at Radio City Music Hall in New York However there was a circuit of older theaters in the bigger cities where blacks could appear before large audiences the legendary ...


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 ...


Brian P. Hochman

jazz saxophonist, composer, and educator, was born Joseph Arthur Henderson in Lima, Ohio, the son of Dennis Lloyd Henderson, a worker in a steel mill, and Irene Farley. Henderson was one of fifteen children, and much of his introduction to the world of jazz came as a result of the musical interests of his many siblings. An older brother, James T., was an especially important influence: his collection of jazz recordings sparked Joe's curiosity, and James eventually helped Joe, then around nine, to transcribe a solo by Lester Young. Joe was precocious from the beginning. By the age of sixteen he was performing professionally, and he had already penned what eventually became his best-known jazz composition, “Recordame.”

After graduating from high school Joe Henderson left Lima for Frankfort Kentucky to study music at Kentucky State College He moved to Detroit just a year ...


Ronald P. Dufour

pianist and composer, was born in Chicago. As a child he played accordion, danced, and sang on street corners. His talent was first rewarded when he won two Thanksgiving turkeys in a talent show sponsored by the Chicago Defender, a black newspaper that he delivered to homes in his neighborhood, including that of the pianist Earl “Fatha” Hines. As a child Hill attended the University of Chicago's experimental Laboratory School, and he began to play the piano seriously around 1950, learning blues changes from the baritone sax player Pat Patrick; within a couple of years Hill was playing in local rhythm and blues groups. He later noted that jazz was everywhere in his Chicago childhood: it was “the spiritual element that kept the community together” (Osby).

Hill made his recording debut on a 1954 Vee-Jay session with a quintet led by the bassist Dave Shipp ...