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Mary Krane Derr

singer, actor, and comedian, was born Nell Ruth Hardy in Birmingham, Alabama, one of nine children. Nell's parents were Edna Mae Humphrey, a homemaker, and her second husband Horace Hardy, an Army sergeant. At age two, Nell witnessed his accidental electrocution death. Deeply affected by Dinah Washington, B. B. King, and Elvis Presley records, Nell began singing in her church choir, on a local radio show called the “Y-Teens,” and on the gospel circuit. She never grew taller than four feet eleven inches but had a large, commanding voice and presence. Her show business ambitions made her a “weirdo” in a social environment where “most kids wanted to be teachers or nurses” (CNN.com, Entertainment, 23 Jan. 2003). At age 13, the Presbyterian-raised Nell discovered that one of her grandfathers probably had Jewish ancestry. Although not converting until 1983 she started ...

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singer of blues, pop, R&B, and rock n' roll, was born in Jackson, Tennessee, to Frank and Alice Smith. Smith began her musical training as a child, singing gospel at church. Even at a tender age she was clearly possessed of a notable talent, as evidenced by her first-place win at a talent contest in Memphis at the age of eight and her discovery, at age twelve, by band leader Dave Clark. Clark's tutelage prepared Smith for a touring spot with the International Sweethearts of Rhythm swing band, America's first integrated, all-female music group. Smith later performed boogie woogie with pianist Christine Chatman's orchestra, with whom she made her first recording on the Decca label in 1944.

With a rich barreling thoroughbred s voice Smith s was a vocal instrument made for the blues Yet she came of age at a time when the era of ...

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Mary Krane Derr

gay drag performer and musician, was born Sylvester James Jr. in Los Angeles, California, the firstborn son of Sylvester “Sweet” James Sr., whose occupation is unknown, and Letha Weaver James, a domestic and later a dietitian. After having two more sons, John Wesley in 1948 and Larry in 1950, Sylvester's parents divorced. While single, his mother had twin daughters Bernadette and Bernadine in 1956, and another son, Alonzo, in 1959. In 1962 she married aerospace worker Robert “Sonny” Hurd. She later fostered and adopted three children with him: Angelica, Charles, and Tammy. Letha's mother (really her aunt who raised her), the blues singer Julia Morgan, helped to raise Sylvester and his siblings.

Until young adulthood he was known by his nickname Dooni Even as a preschooler he enjoyed and sometimes wore the flamboyant elegant clothing his mother and grandmother ...