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Ronald P. Dufour

pianist and composer, was born in Detroit, Michigan, the daughter of Mount Vernell Allen Jr., a principal in the Detroit public school system, and Barbara Jean Allen, a defense contract administrator for the federal government. She began studying classical piano at age seven but was also exposed to jazz at an early age. She met the trumpeter Marcus Belgrave when he was an artist-in-residence at her high school, Cass Technical; she studied jazz piano with him, and he became an important mentor, appearing on several of her later recordings. Allen also studied at the Jazz Development Workshop, a community-based organization.

After graduating from high school, Allen attended Howard University, where she was captivated by the music of Thelonious Monk and studied with John Malachi. In 1979 she earned a BA in Jazz Studies and taught briefly at Howard before moving to New York City where she ...

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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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Melvin L. Butler

gospel composer and pastor, was born into a family of sharecroppers in Somerville, Tennessee. Although Brewster stemmed from a humble background, he managed to study a wide variety of subjects, including theology, law, and Hebrew. After graduating from Roger Williams College in 1922 he moved to Memphis, Tennessee. By 1930 Brewster had begun a lifelong tenure as pastor of the East Trigg Baptist Church. A major aspect of Brewster's early ministry centered on the founding of theology schools, and these centers of learning helped to establish his voice as one of moral authority and spiritual guidance in religious circles.

By the time Brewster began seriously publishing his songs in the 1940s he had gained over a decade of experience in his pastoral role This experience provided a wellspring of material for songs that often relayed Old Testament stories and were enjoyed by African American congregations across the United States ...

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Sholomo B. Levy

gospel singer, arranger, and minister, was born in Chicago, Illinois, to Benjamin Cleveland, an employee of the federal Works Progress Administration, and Rosie (Lee) Cleveland. Cleveland's father and grandmother, Annie Hicks, raised him. Hicks was a devout member of the Pilgrim Baptist Church and choir, where pianist and composer Thomas A. Dorsey served as choir director. During the Depression, James delivered newspapers to neighbors such as the gospel legend Mahalia Jackson. By the age of five he had a desire to play the piano like his childhood idol Roberta Martin of the Roberta Martin Singers. Since his family was too poor to afford a piano, he used his windowsill as an imaginary keyboard on which to master scales and chords. The church organist, Lucy Smith, provided Cleveland with formal instruction, and Roberta Martin took an early interest in his career At the age of eight ...

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David B. McCarthy

musician, educator, and prominent Presbyterian, was born Melva Ruby Wilson in Due West, South Carolina, one of five children of Azzie Lee Ellis Wilson and John Theodore Wilson Sr., both of whom were college graduates and teachers. Because the local black public schools were unaccredited, her parents sent her to a black boarding school, Harbison Junior College in Irmo, South Carolina, at the age of fourteen. Two years later, at the age of sixteen, she entered Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina. There she met fellow student James Hutten Costen. She graduated with a BA in Education in 1952 and married Jim Costen the day before he graduated in 1953. They eventually had two sons and one daughter, James Jr., Craig, and Cheryl.

Costen taught elementary school in the Mecklenburg County school system from 1952 to 1955 the year her husband ...

Article

Norman Weinstein

Prince Far I was born Michael Williams in Spanish Town and grew up in the Waterhouse area of Kingston, Jamaica. His musical career began in 1970 when he convinced the Reggae producer Coxsone Dodd (who employed him as a security guard at Studio One, Jamaica's most famous recording studio) to let him record when a scheduled musician failed to appear for a session. Dodd was so taken by Prince Far I's talent as a DJ (someone chanting or talking-singing spontaneously over prerecorded rhythm tracks) that he released several Prince Far I recordings under the name he created for the performer, King Cry-Cry As he gained confidence and sought other producers for his recordings Williams changed his name to Prince Far I Distinguishing features of his recordings under the name King Cry Cry or Prince Far I include a thunderously deep bass delivery of intensively personal lyrics laced ...

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Roanne Edwards

Known as “the father of Brazilian music,” José Maurício Nunes Garcia gained recognition in the early nineteenth century as a composer of church music. He wrote hymns, masses, chants, antiphones, and Te Deums, and his Requiem Mass (1816) is considered by music scholars to be one of the most significant masses ever written in Latin America. Although he wrote mostly sacred music, he was influenced by secular styles, most notably by Italian opera and by the Viennese masters, Haydn and Mozart. One of Haydn's former students, the Austrian musician Sigismund Ritter von Neukomm, considered Garcia “the greatest improviser in the world on the clavichord.”

Born in Rio de Jainero, Garcia was the son of a Portuguese lieutenant, Apolinário Nunes Garcia, and a black woman, Vitória Maria da Cruz He studied harpsichord viola and solfège at the academy of Salvador José de Almeida e ...

Article

Melinda E. Weekes

gospel music singer, composer, and pioneer of contemporary gospel music, was born in Oakland, California, one of eight children of Dan Lee, a longshoreman with the Port of Oakland, and Maime Hawkins, a homemaker. Both the piano and the church were central fixtures of daily life for this close-knit family during the World War II era. The Hawkins family would gather around the piano for hours of impromptu singing, playful harmonizing, and group rehearsing. Edwin sang in the youth choir and played piano for the family singing group. Throughout his adolescence, he was well known in Bay Area church circles and had become the Minister of Music at Ephesians Church of God in Christ (COGIC) in Berkeley. His musical influences were diverse and included Perry Como, the McGuire Sisters, James Cleveland, the Caravans, and the Clara Ward Singers His early years were ...

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Marti K. Newland

composer, pianist, and conductor, was born Moses George Hogan in New Orleans, Louisiana, one of six children of the New Orleans natives Moses and Gloria. Hogan was raised in a home of working-class parents. His father served in the military during World War II and his mother worked as a nurse. Their work ethic and support of Hogan's musical talent fostered his commitment to developing his musicianship at an early age. By the age of nine he was already an accomplished pianist. Marie Moulton, Hogan's first piano teacher, remained an influence throughout his life.

Hogan utilized his music skills at the New Zion Baptist Church where his uncle, Edwin Hogan was the organist and choir conductor Edwin Hogan became a model of how to balance keyboard skills compositional facility and choral conducting It was at the New Zion Baptist Church that Hogan gained his ...

Article

Mary Frances Early

composer, arranger, and choral conductor, was born Francis Hall Johnson in Athens, Georgia, the son of William Decker Johnson, an African Methodist Episcopal (AME) minister, and Alice (maiden name unknown). Music was an important part of Hall Johnson's childhood. He heard his grandmother and other former slaves as they sang the old spirituals in his father's Methodist church. This grounding in the original performance of Negro spirituals was to represent a significant influence on his later life. Johnson, exhibiting an early interest in music, received solfeggio lessons from his father and piano lessons from an older sister. As a teenager he developed an interest in the violin and taught himself to play.

Johnson was educated in the South at the Knox Institute at Atlanta University and at Allen University in Columbia South Carolina where his father was president Frustrated by his inability to find a violin ...

Article

David Michel

pastor, holiness preacher, composer, and denominational leader, was born in Texas Valley, Georgia. He was born the son of Clifford Milner and a Baptist mother, Mary Jones Milner. The Milners gave birth to three children. Jones's father died and his mother remarried Berry Latimer with whom she had a daughter, Lucy. After his mother died in 1882, Jones moved to Cat Island, Arkansas, where he was saved in 1884. In May 1885 he was baptized and joined Locust Grove Baptist Church and that same year started preaching. He was licensed in 1887 by George W. Dickey, then pastor of Locust Grove. Three years later Jones left Cat Island, going to Helena, Arkansas, where he joined Centennial Baptist Church, pastored by Elias Camp Morris then president of the Arkansas Baptist Convention Jones later moved to Little Rock in order to enroll ...

Article

Mary Frances Early

gospel pianist, composer-arranger, and singer, was born Roberta Evelyn Winston in Helena, Arkansas, the daughter of William Winston and Anna (maiden name unknown). One of six children in the Winston household, Roberta showed an early proclivity for music. When only a toddler, she climbed onto the piano bench and picked out melodies that she had heard. This interest and talent was nurtured by the wife of her oldest brother, who became her first piano teacher.

When Martin was ten years old, her family moved from Arkansas to Chicago. She continued her piano studies with Mildred Bryant Jones in standard keyboard literature and pointed her career toward that of concert pianist or professional accompanist. She graduated from Wendell Phillips High School and was encouraged by Jones to pursue a career in music. Why Roberta chose “Martin” as her surname is not known.

Martin began playing for churches at ...

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Born in Lafayette, Alabama, Sister Gertrude Morgan became an evangelist and moved to New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1939. She took the title “Sister” in the 1950s when, with two other street missionaries, she founded a church and an orphanage.

Morgan began painting in 1956, concentrating primarily on religious visions and biblical scenes. She believed that she was mystically married to Jesus Christ which she symbolized by dressing entirely in white Her paintings frequently depicted her with Jesus as bride and groom often with herself in black before and in white after the marriage As a street preacher Morgan eschewed the formal art world preferring to make folk art with any material at hand including Styrofoam cardboard lamp shades and jelly jars Her work frequently includes calligraphy which communicates a spiritual message or a biblical verse All her inspiration she felt came from God saying He moves ...

Article

SaFiya D. Hoskins

musician, composer, and liturgist, was born Leon Cedric Roberts in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, the youngest of two sons of John Arthur and Thelma Bookman Roberts. His father was from Savannah, Georgia, and his mother was from Coatesville. Roberts grew up in a religious household and among an extended family diverse in religious affiliations from Baptist to Pentecostal and Methodist. At age six, he began to study piano under the tutelage of a local instructor known as Mr. Ben; his grandmother, Mrs. Mary Bookman oversaw the religious direction of his musical development Roberts attended First Apostolic Fire Baptized Holiness Church of Coatesville with his mother there he assumed the role of choir director and the responsibility for congregational worship At the same time he grew in faith and devotion to his religious beliefs Roberts founded and directed two musical groups Voices of Love and the Jubali ...

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Meghan Elisabeth Healy

South African music composer and choirmaster, was born in 1873 near Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape in South Africa. Little information on his family background and youth exists, and various secondary sources cite different years for his birth. His obituary in Imvo Zabantsundu , however, gives 1873 as his date of birth, and the authoritative scholar of South African music David Coplan has accepted the veracity of this date. Sontonga’s parents were Tembu amaXhosa of the Mpinga clan; their names and religious and educational backgrounds are not clear from published secondary accounts. Sontonga attended school at the famous Free Church of Scotland institution, Lovedale, near Alice in the Eastern Cape. There he trained as a teacher.

After completing his training at Lovedale, Sontonga moved to Johannesburg, where he took a teaching job at a Methodist school in Nancefield. In Johannesburg, Sontonga married Diana Mgqibisa. In 1897 when Sontonga was ...

Article

Gordon Root

Mercedes Valdés, or Merceditas, as she was widely known, was born in Havana, Cuba. She began her distinguished artistic career in the 1940s, studying at Havana's Supreme Art Institute under José Alonso. As a student, she received awards for several works, including “Babalú,” “La Negra merece,” and “El chureo.” During the late 1940s Valdés began to display her interpretive talents over the airwaves on Radio Cadena Suaritas. These appearances established the young artist's position as one of Cuba's most prominent interpreters of traditional Yoruban religious music. In the late 1950s Valdés's Santería recordings for the Panart label helped to secure her importance in the Afro-Cuban movement.

Throughout her career Valdés gained the recognition of Cuba's most acclaimed musicologists and critics, including the anthropologist Fernando Ortiz and the musicologist Argeliers León. In addition, she performed with many notable Cuban artists such as the composer Ernesto Lecuona the ...

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Gayle Murchison

composer, conductor, singer, scholar, and folk song collector, was born in Nashville, Tennessee, the son of John Wesley Work Sr., a Nashville church choir director, and Samuella Boyd. The senior Work composed and arranged music for his choirs, which included members of the original Fisk Jubilee Singers, and that work instilled in the younger Work a love of African American folk music, especially spirituals. Work attended public schools in Nashville and graduated from Meigs High School in about 1891. After studying music, Latin, and history at Fisk University, he studied classics at Harvard for two years, beginning in 1896. He sang in the Mozart Society, which awakened further interest in spirituals. He returned to Fisk, where he spent a year as a library assistant while completing a master's degree before assuming teaching duties in 1898 He taught Latin and history at ...