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Ashby, Irving C.  

Barry Kernfeld

jazz guitarist, was born in Somerville, Massachusetts, near Boston, the son of an apartment superintendent. His parents' names are unknown. The family was musical and closely in touch with the world of entertainment: “Fats Waller used to come by the house all the time,” Ashby told the writer James Haskins Ashby taught himself to play guitar At age fifteen he joined a band that played sophisticated arrangements for college dances and deeply embarrassed by his inability to read music he began to learn chordal notation He performed at a nightclub at Revere Beach while attending Roxbury Memorial High School Ashby s abilities as a classical guitarist won him a scholarship at an open audition for the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston but the school had no guitar teacher and thus the award went to the runner up So that s the extent of my conservatory background ...

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Burrell, Kenny  

Sunny Nash

Grammy Award–winning guitarist, composer, and jazz educator, was born Kenneth Earl Burrell in Detroit, Michigan, during the Depression to parents about whom little information is available. It is known that he was the youngest of three sons, and that his family enjoyed music as part of their daily lives. His mother played piano and sang in the choir at Second Baptist Church, Detroit's oldest black congregation. Burrell's father played banjo and ukulele, which may account for Burrell's and his brother's mastery of stringed instruments.

Because there was a piano in the home, it became the first instrument Burrell played as a child. He performed once before an audience in a school auditorium. Listening to saxophonists like Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins saxophone was his first love but his family could not afford to buy him one Burrell began playing guitar and at age 12 settled for the inexpensive instrument ...

Article

Casséus, Frantz  

Mary Procopio

was born on 14 December 1915 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. His father was a civil servant who headed up the Department of Water Supply. Casséus’s interest in the guitar was sparked by his aunt, who played the mandolin and helped to raise him when he was a child. In Casséus’s words, following his aunt’s death, “The sight of her mandolin perched on this pile of garbage and the memory of her music has never ceased to haunt me. I burned with desire, for I never forgot Aunt Andrée’s mandolin” (Mathelier, 1995; quoted in Ribot and Ribot, 2003, p. 5). Originally intent on pursuing a law degree, Casséus dropped out of school to focus on playing guitar, and is known as the first professional classical guitarist in Haiti.

Casséus studied with the Haitian composer and ethnographer Werner Anton Jaegerhuber in the early 1930s Like his teacher Casséus challenged the ...

Article

Holland, Justin  

David Bradford

guitarist, teacher, composer, arranger, and civil rights advocate, was born in Norfolk County, Virginia, to Exum Holland a farmer. His mother's name is not recorded.

Justin Holland recognized at an early age that rural Virginia offered few opportunities for an ambitious young African American. Born on a farm in Norfolk County to free parents in 1819, Holland was only fourteen when he set out for Boston. Massachusetts was the first state to abolish slavery (in 1783 and Boston had a small but comparatively thriving black population Holland found work that provided in his words a good living in nearby Chelsea and became immersed in the energetic cultural life of the city He had shown a knack for music from a young age but farm life provided little opportunity to develop musical talent Now inspired by the performances of Mariano Perez one of the ...

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Holland, Justin  

Eileen Southern

(b Norfolk Co., VA, 1819; d New Orleans, March 24, 1887). American guitarist and composer. At the age of 14 he went to Boston, where he began to study the piano, guitar and flute. He later studied at Oberlin College (1841–3, 1845) and in Mexico before moving to Cleveland, Ohio, where he was a guitar teacher and composer until 1886. Declining health then forced him to retire and move to New Orleans. His numerous pieces for guitar solo include Elfin Waltzes, Maiden’s Prayer, Spanish Fandango and Three Tyrolien Airs. A pioneering African American composer for the guitar, he also wrote duets for guitar, pieces for guitar and piano, arrangements of operatic airs for guitar and violin or flute, and many songs with guitar accompaniment, and he published the book Choral Reform (c1845 His instruction ...

Article

James, Skip  

Bill McCulloch and Barry Lee Pearson

blues artist, was born Nehemiah James in Yazoo County, outside Bentonia, Mississippi, the son of Eddie James and Phyllis Jones. His father, reputed to be a musician and a bootlegger, moved north to Sidon, near Greenwood, to evade the law, leaving Skip with his mother on the Woodbine plantation, where she worked as a cook. After an attempt to reunite the family in Sidon failed, Skip and his mother returned to Bentonia, where he attended St. Paul School and Yazoo High School. At the age of eight or nine, inspired by local musicians—particularly the guitarist Henry Stuckey—Skip persuaded his mother to buy him a guitar. At the age of twelve he took one piano lesson from a cousin. Unable to pay for more lessons, he continued learning on an organ owned by an aunt.

After dropping out of high school at about age fifteen James went to ...

Article

Snowden, Elmer  

William Thomson

banjo, guitar, and saxophone player, was born in Baltimore, Maryland. His parents' names are unknown and his exact birth date varies depending on the source. In 1915 he began his career in his hometown playing a New Orleans–derived jazz with Eubie Blake and later with the pianist Gertie Wells, to whom he was married for several years during the early 1920s. By 1921 he had moved to nearby Washington, D.C., where he jobbed with Louis Thomas and Claude Hopkins and his own eight-piece group, which played alternately with Duke Ellington's trio. Snowden also appears to have played banjo with Ellington's group earlier, from 1919 to 1920, but this is not reported conclusively. Snowden's Washington band included Sonny Greer on drums, Arthur Whetsol on trumpet, and Otto Hardwick on sax. The three would later be long-term members of the Ellington orchestra.

Bolstered by the ...

Article

Weeks, Seth  

Rainer E. Lotz

musician (mandolin, banjo, guitar), music teacher, composer, and bandleader was born in Vermont, Illinois. His father, an “elocutionist,” recognized his son's musical abilities and encouraged him to commence his musical studies at the age of seven, besides attending school. Seth Weeks started with the violin, but soon abandoned that instrument in favor of the guitar, and eventually the mandolin. After playing and practicing for some fifteen years, he conducted a Mandolin and Guitar Orchestra in Tacoma, Washington and became a music teacher with pupils in Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, and Salt Lake City. From the 1890s most of his compositions were published by Shaeffer and Lyon & Healey (Chicago), a typical example being the “Grand Concert Polka” for Mandolin, Guitar/Piano (Shaeffer, 1900). Besides teaching he made concert tours throughout the United States and Canada.

He was in Boston on the Keith circuit in 1900 when ...