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Ace, Johnny  

James M. Salem

musician, songwriter, and rhythm and blues star, was born John Marshall Alexander Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee, the son of John Marshall Alexander and Leslie Newsome. His father earned his living in Memphis as a packer, but his lifework was as a commuting minister to two rural Baptist churches in eastern Arkansas. At LaRose Grammar School in South Memphis, John Jr. as his family called him displayed both musical and artistic talent He mastered the piano at home but was allowed to play only religious music Along with his mother and siblings he sang in the choir at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church Becoming restless at Booker T Washington High School John Jr dropped out in the eleventh grade to join the navy and see the world His sisters recalled military police coming to the house in search of their brother and thought of his brief period ...


Baker, Anita  

Jason Philip Miller

singer and performer, was born in Toledo, Ohio, but relocated with her family at an early age to Detroit, Michigan, where she was raised and attended school. Unfortunately, reliable details concerning her early life are difficult to come by, and Baker herself has sometimes offered contradictory information (even the exact date of her birth is subject to some debate). What is known is that Baker's birth mother—only sixteen years old at the time—gave her up to a woman named Mary Lewis, who may or may not have been a blood relative but who later went on to become Baker's legal foster mother. After Lewis died when Baker was only thirteen, Baker was raised by an adoptive sister named Lois Landry. Growing up in a religious family, she sang in the church choir. Sometime later, her talent brought her to the attention of David Washington whose rhythm ...


Baker, LaVern  

Barry Marshall

singer, was born in Chicago as Delores Williams. Nothing is known about her parents. Raised by her aunt, Merline Baker, also known as the blues singer Memphis Minnie, Baker started singing almost as soon as she could walk, both in her Baptist church and in the street. She grew up in poverty and sang for change on the downtown Chicago streets from the age of three. She started singing professionally as a teenager at the Club Delisa, decked out in down-home clothes and billed as “Little Miss Sharecropper.” The “Sharecropper” sobriquet was a takeoff on the popular blues shouter “Little Miss Cornshucks,” and although it garnered her attention at the time, she was embarrassed by it later in her life. She also appeared at different venues as Bea Baker.

At the age of seventeen, Baker moved to Detroit. By 1947 she was appearing regularly at ...


Baker, MacHouston  

Mark Steven Maulucci

guitarist and singer, was born MacHouston Baker in Louisville, Kentucky. He believed his father was a white pianist who was traveling through Louisville. His African American mother, Lillian, was just twelve years old when he was born. She was troubled and not able to properly care for him. He spent much of his youth in an orphanage. Hes felt confined, though, and often ran away, traveling to Chicago, St. Louis, and eventually New York City at age fifteen.

He took different menial jobs to survive and at nineteen wanted to pursue his passion to be a jazz musician His first instrument of choice was a trumpet but upon visiting a pawn shop he discovered he could not afford one so he bought a beat up guitar instead He took lessons from a man named Rector Bailey and learned quickly The absorption and utilization of all that he heard ...


Ball, James Presley  

Theresa Leininger-Miller

daguerreotypist, photographer, and entrepreneur, was born in Virginia, the second of four children of William Ball and Susan Ball, who were free blacks. In his youth Ball was a stevedore who worked along the Ohio River. He may have learned daguerreotypy around 1840 from a Boston-based African American photographer named John B. Bailey in White Sulphur Springs West Virginia Ball settled in Cincinnati a busy river town that was growing dramatically One of Ball s earliest known works early1840s is an outdoor scene a half plate daguerreotype of the Myers Co Confectioners in Cincinnati It is a remarkably clear image featuring a horse and cart standing in the dirt street and a group of top hatted men standing in front of the company building This piece like many of Ball s daguerreotypes is enclosed in a brass mat and embossed J P Ball Cincinnati Such ...


Ballard, Hank  

Jason Philip Miller

singer and songwriter, was born John Henry Kendricks in Detroit, Michigan, to Dove Ballard, a truck diver, and Sie Bell Hendricks, about whom little is known. The story goes that Dove drove Sie Bell away from the household with a shotgun, but whatever the truth, Ballard's mother abandoned the family when he was just a boy. His father died in 1934 in a car accident, when Ballard was seven, and he was sent to Alabama to live with relatives.

The upbringing was strict. Ballard's paternal aunt and her husband were religious disciplinarians who discouraged the young man's growing affection for popular music. Even country music star Gene Autry a youthful favorite and inspiration was forbidden Ballard was allowed at least to sing in the church choir and he soon developed a talent for singing When he was fifteen he could take the repressive atmosphere no more ...


Beard, Annette  

Caryn E. Neumann

to Ann (maiden name unknown) and Roger Beard. She grew up singing in church choirs and at age fourteen impressed Edward “Pops” Larkins, who sought a female group to complement a male group that he had already signed. As the Del-Phis, Beard, a contralto, sang backup with friend Rosalind Ashford, a soprano, while Gloria Williams sang lead. The subordinate position suited the shy Beard. Martha Reeves joined the group in 1960. They performed around Detroit for benefits and private parties. The Del-Phis cut two singles backing male leads on Kable, a minor Detroit label in 1960, and the following year recorded “I’ll Let You Know” on Check-Mate, a subsidiary of the famed Chess Records, with Williams as lead. That same year Beard graduated from Detroit’s Southeastern High School.

Musical success for Beard came through Reeves Motown Records Artists and Repertoire A R director Mickey Stevenson asked Reeves ...


Bennett, Estelle  

Camille A. Collins

daughter of Beatrice and Louis Bennett, was born in New York City. With her sister Veronica (Ronnie) Bennett (later Spector) and first cousin Nedra Tally, Bennett rose to prominence as a member of the 1960s music group, The Ronettes.

Bennett and her sister were raised in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan. According to a biography by Spector, the girls were taunted as children because of their mixed ethnicity. (Their mother was black and Cherokee, their father white). Although she had a shy demeanor, Bennett liked to dance and sing, and she often performed for family and friends with her sister and Tally. In these amateur home performances, the girls styled their three-part harmonies after the young male doo-wop groups of the era such as Little Anthony and the Imperials and Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers.

Going by the name the Darling Sisters, Bennett, Spector ...


Bernhardt, Clyde  

Barry Kernfeld

jazz trombonist and singer, was born Clyde Edric Barnhardt in Gold Hill, North Carolina, the son of Washington Michael Barnhardt, a miner, and Elizabeth Mauney. When Clyde was a child, he added Barron to his name because his grandmother in slavery had been lent to a family named Barron who treated her kindly. He changed the spelling of his surname in 1930 on the advice of a psychic. Thus his full name became Clyde Edric Barron Bernhardt or Clyde E. B. Bernhardt.

In 1912, after his father suffered a heart attack and left mining, Bernhardt helped to peddle goods from a wagon. The family moved to New Hope (later absorbed into Badin), North Carolina, and in 1915 his father died. Bernhardt attended school for three months each year while holding various jobs, including work at Alcoa Aluminum in 1918 The following year his mother ...


Blackwell, Ed  

Nathaniel Friedman

jazz drummer, was born Edward Joseph in New Orleans, Louisiana, to unknown parents. He grew up steeped in his hometown's musical tradition, influenced by two tap‐dancing siblings to take up the drums. New Orleans percussionists like Paul Barbarin were Blackwell's earliest models, making him one of several future avant‐gardists whose roots were in jazz's oldest traditions.

In 1951 Blackwell relocated to Los Angeles, where he played in the rhythm and blues outfits of Plas and Raymond Johnson. More significantly he made the acquaintance the saxophonist Ornette Coleman with whom he would be associated for his entire career Coleman also working with various degrees of success in the Los Angeles rhythm and blues scene sought to introduce an unprecedented degree of melodic harmonic and rhythmic freedom into jazz This new approach required an almost telepathic bond between band members as interaction was governed by little more than improvisational ingenuity In ...


Bostic, Earl  

Barry Kernfeld

alto saxophonist, was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Details about his parents are unknown. Bostic played clarinet in school and saxophone with the local Boy Scouts. By 1930 or 1931 when he left Tulsa to tour with Terrence Holder's Twelve Clouds of Joy, Bostic was already a saxophone virtuoso. Fellow saxophonist Buddy Tate recalls that Bostic was asked to join the band because of his dexterity and maturity as a soloist. Holder's band members then informally tested Bostic's ability to read difficult music: skipping the opportunity to rehearse, Bostic counted off an impossibly fast tempo and played the piece on first sight with such skill that only he and the drummer made it through to the end. “We let him alone after that,” Tate said.

Sometime in the early 1930s Bostic spent a year at Creighton University in Omaha Nebraska playing by day in an ROTC band and by night with ...


Bowie, Lester  

John Harris-Behling

jazz trumpeter, composer, and cofounder of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, was born William Lester Bowie Jr. in Frederick, Maryland, and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, the eldest son of the cornetist W. Lester Bowie Sr. and Earxie Lee Willingham, who worked for the Social Security Administration. Bowie came from a musical family; in 1911 in Bartonsville, Maryland, his grandfather founded the Bartonsville Cornet Band, which included several uncles; his father directed school bands in Little Rock, Arkansas, and St. Louis; and his brothers Byron and Joseph became professional musicians. As a baby Bowie played with his father's cornet mouthpiece, at five he started playing the trumpet, and as a teenager he joined the musicians' union and worked regularly with St. Louis R&B musicians like Albert King and Ike Turner.

In spite of his early musical success Bowie did not expect to make music his life and after ...


Bradshaw, Tiny  

Michael J. Budds

singer, drummer, and bandleader, was born Myron Carlton Bradshaw in Youngstown, Ohio. His parents' names are unknown. He played the drums from the age of ten and soon after was performing professionally as a drummer and vocalist. Early in his career he served as the drummer of the Jump Johnson Band in Buffalo, New York. He attended Wilberforce University in Wilberforce, Ohio, and majored in psychology. Before forming his own big band in 1934, he sang with Horace Henderson's Collegians, and in New York he either drummed or sang with Marion Hardy's Alabamians, the Savoy Bearcats, Mills Blue Rhythm Band (1932–1933), and Luis Russell (1933–1934).

Bradshaw s own band enjoyed long engagements in the ballrooms and nightclubs of Harlem notably the Savoy and the Apollo Philadelphia and Chicago and toured throughout the United States and Europe making its reputation with powerful blues based jazz His ...


Bristol, Johnny  

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 ...


Brown, Chuck  

SaFiya D. Hoskins

music pioneer, musician, and singer, was born Charles L. Brown in Charlotte, North Carolina; his parents were migrant farmers about whom little information is available. In 1942Chuck moved with his parents to Fairmont Heights in Prince George's County, Maryland, a small suburban neighborhood just outside of Northeast Washington, D.C. As a boy Chuck worked odd jobs to assist his parents financially. He sold newspapers, cut logs, shined shoes, laid bricks, and could be heard singing “watermelon, watermelon” for the horse-drawn watermelon cart. Chuck's love for music began as a boy in North Carolina, replaying the piano and rhythms he heard in church of the bass drum, cymbals, and the snare over and again in his head. In Fairmont Heights at Mount Zion Holiness Church he played piano while his mother accompanied him on harmonica. Chuck studied piano with Sister Louise Murray who exposed him to ...


Brown, James  

James Brown was born and raised in Augusta, Georgia, where he picked cotton, shined shoes, danced, and served time for armed robbery. For a while Brown boxed and even played professional baseball, until an injury made him turn to music. After dabbling in gospel, he changed the name of his singing group from the Swanees to the Famous Flames. The group's local popularity attracted the attention of Federal Records, which signed them to a contract in 1956. Their first record, “Please Please Please,” did well, and “Try Me” topped the Rhythm-and-Blues (R&B) charts in 1958.

As the group s fame spread beyond Georgia Brown s ambition grew He staged elaborate dances formed the James Brown Revue and created a carnival atmosphere at his live shows An emcee worked the crowd into a frenzy before the singer came onstage and Brown reportedly lost seven pounds each night through ...


Brown, James  

David Brackett

(b Barnwell, SC, May 3, 1928; d Atlanta, Dec 25, 2006). American soul and funk singer, composer, arranger and bandleader. Born into extreme poverty in the rural South, he began his career as a professional musician in the early 1950s with the gospel-based group, the Flames. By 1956 the group had recorded the rhythm and blues hit Please, Please, Please (Federal, 1956 and changed their name to James Brown and the Famous Flames This early recording established what was to become a stylistic trademark insistent repetition of a single phrase in this case the song s title resulting in a kind of ecstatic trance This approach and Brown s characteristic raspy vocal timbre and impassioned melismas display his debt to the black American gospel tradition His stage shows dancing and inspired call and response interactions with the audience also convey the ...


Brown, James  

Rob Bowman

rhythm-and-blues singer, was born James Joe Brown Jr. in a country shack just outside Barnwell, South Carolina, to Joe Gardner and Susan Behlings. His father did various jobs, while nothing is known about his mother's occupation. Brown was raised in extreme poverty, and his parents separated when he was four; two years later he went to live with his great-aunt, Minnie Walker, in Augusta, Georgia.

Brown s father often sang blues songs in the evening and when Brown was four his father gave him a ten cent harmonica His earliest years were spent tap dancing in the street for spare change He claimed that his formidable sense of rhythm stemmed from such humble beginnings A self taught musician Brown began to play organ at the age of eight and later acquired a rudimentary knowledge of bass guitar saxophone and trumpet At eleven Brown won his first talent contest ...


Brown, James  

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 ...


Brown, Ruth  

Steven J. Niven

rhythm and blues performer and actress, was born Ruth Alston Weston, in Portsmouth, Virginia, the eldest of Leonard and Martha Jane (Alston) Weston's seven children. Her father, a skillful athlete who had hoped to become a professional baseball player, found work as a laborer on the Portsmouth docks and worked odd jobs at nights. His weekly wages rarely exceeded $35 per week and barely covered the needs of his growing family. Ruth's mother worked as a domestic. In 1934, when she was six years old, Ruth entered Portsmouth's George Peabody Elementary School and later attended I. C. Norcom High School. Her early years were decidedly urban. She was a weekend regular at Portsmouth's Capitol movie theater, where she cheered on the black action heroes Herb Jeffries and Ralph Cooper, and idolized the young Lena Horne.

Ruth Weston belonged however to that generation of urban ...