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Pearl Bailey In her costume from St. Louis Woman. Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1946. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-103735).

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Bailey, Pearl (29 March 1918–17 August 1990), actress, singer, and entertainer, was born Pearl Mae Bailey in Newport News, Virginia, the daughter of the Reverend Joseph James Bailey and Ella Mae (maiden name unknown). Her brother Bill Bailey was at one time a well-known tap dancer....

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Josephine Baker Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1949. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-93000).

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Baker, Josephine (03 June 1906–12 April 1975), dancer, singer, and civil rights activist, was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Eddie Carson, a musician, and Carrie Macdonald. Her parents parted when Josephine was still an infant, and her mother married Arthur Martin, which has led to some confusion about her maiden name. Very little is known about her childhood, except that she was a witness to the East St. Louis riot in 1917. This event was often a feature of her talks in the 1950s and 1960s about racism and the fight for equality, which fostered the oft-repeated assertion that the family was resident in East St. Louis. Before the age of eighteen Josephine had been married twice, first to Willie Wells and then to William Baker, to whom she was married in Camden, New Jersey, in September 1921....

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Nora Bayes With her children aboard the S.S. Leviathan, 1924. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-111460 ).

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Bayes, Nora (29 November 1880–19 March 1928), singer and comedienne, was born Theodora Goldberg in Joliet, Illinois, the daughter of Elias Goldberg, a merchant, and Rachel Miller. The product of local public schools, which she left to enter vaudeville, the young Dora Goldberg was largely self-taught musically. She had already made her debut at the Hopkins Theatre in Chicago and had become “Nora Bayes” when, at eighteen, she received her first acclaim at the Hyde and Behman vaudeville theater in Chicago, singing comic songs in dialect while impersonating Yiddish and Irish stereotypical characters then fashionable in vaudeville....

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Bordoni, Irene (16 January 1895–19 March 1953), actress and singer, was born in Ajaccio, Corsica, France, the daughter of Sauver Bordoni, a tailor; her mother’s name is not known. She was reputed to be the great grandniece of Jean-François Millet, the French painter. Her family moved to Paris, and she left school at the age of ten to work in her father’s shop....

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Fanny Brice. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-101799).

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Brice, Fanny (29 October 1891–29 May 1951), comedienne and singer, was born Fania Borach in New York City, the daughter of Charles Borach, a bartender, and Rose Stern. The third of four children, all born on New York’s Lower East Side, she was raised in a Newark, New Jersey, middle-class home complete with household servants and material comforts. Her parents separated in 1902, and Rose moved the family to St. Marks Place in Brooklyn, New York, where Fanny got the remnants of her formal education at public schools....

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Broderick, Helen (11 August 1891–25 September 1959), actress and singer, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the daughter of William Broderick, an actor and singer. Her mother’s name is unknown. Influenced and encouraged by her father, Broderick began performing when she was fourteen. She began her professional stage career at the age of sixteen in the first of ...

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Canova, Judy (20 November 1916–05 August 1983), hillbilly singer, was born Juliette Canova in Starke, Florida, the daughter of Joseph Canova, a cotton broker and contractor, and Henrietta Perry, a concert singer. The family was quite musical, and Canova and her brother Zeke and sister Annie studied piano, voice, violin, and horn. Judy, an extrovert—or, as her mother put it, “a natural ham”—from age three, performed at family and church socials. At age twelve she and her best friend entered a series of Jacksonville amateur nights, often taking first place. When the friend dropped out, Zeke and Annie took her spot and the Canova Cracker Trio was born. They sang and did hillbilly comedy and were signed to do local radio. She claimed to have picked up her cornpone lingo from sharecroppers who patronized her father’s cotton gin....

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Cline, Maggie (01 January 1857–11 June 1934), entertainer, was born Margaret Cline in Haverhill, Massachusetts, the daughter of Patrick B. Cline and Ann Degman. Educated in Haverhill’s public schools, Maggie worked in a show factory before running away from home with a traveling theatrical company at the age of fifteen....

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Clooney, Rosemary (23 May 1928–29 June 2002), popular singer and actress, was born in Maysville, Kentucky, the daughter of Andrew Clooney, an occasional house painter, and Frances Guilfoyle Clooney, district sales manager for a chain of dress shops. Both parents were of Irish Catholic descent. Rosemary and her two younger siblings, Betty and Nick, grew up in a household that was unstable and often failed to provide basic necessities. Andrew Clooney, an alcoholic, was often unemployed; Frances Clooney, the more consistent breadwinner, traveled frequently for her job, leaving the children with their father or with relatives. In 1941, following her divorce from Andrew Clooney, Frances Clooney remarried and moved to California, taking her son with her; Rosemary and Betty were left behind to keep house for their father and to get by as best they could. Though Andrew Clooney found steady work at a defense plant, money was tight; the girls paid for school lunches with refunds from soda bottles they collected....

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Rosemary Clooney. Los Angeles, 20 November 1952. Courtesy of AP Images.

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Cousin Emmy (1903–11 April 1980), country singer, banjoist, and comedian, was born Cynthia May Carver near Lamb, a hamlet in south central Kentucky near Glasgow. The youngest of eight children, she grew up in a log cabin while her father tried to make ends meet working as a sharecropper raising tobacco. Her family was musical, and she learned old English and Scottish ballads from her great-grandmother. As she grew up, she became proficient on a number of instruments, ranging from the orthodox (fiddle, banjo, guitar) to the unusual (the rubber glove, the Jew’s harp, the hand saw). A natural “show off” and entertainer, by around 1915 she was leaving the farm and trying her hand at entertaining in nearby towns. Having no real interest in school, she taught herself to read by studying mail order catalogues....

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Bebe Daniels. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-106959).

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Daniels, Bebe (14 January 1901–16 March 1971), entertainer, was born Phyllis Bebe Daniels in Dallas, Texas, the daughter of Danny Daniels (Melville Daniel MacMeal), the actor-manager of a traveling stock theater company, and Phyllis Griffin, his leading lady. From birth Daniels was called “Bebe,” which means baby in Spanish, reflecting her mother’s Spanish ancestry. Daniels first appeared onstage when she was only ten weeks old, and she performed in her first Shakespearean production at the age of four. After her father left the family around 1907–1908, Daniels’s mother took her to Los Angeles, California. She played child roles onstage until a new labor law was passed. In 1910 she made her silent film debut in ...

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Marlene Dietrich. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-104024).

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Dietrich, Marlene (27 December 1901–06 May 1992), actress and singer, was born Maria Magdalena Dietrich in Berlin, Germany, the daughter of Louis Erich Otto Dietrich, a policeman, and Wilhelmina Elisabeth Josephine Felsing. Dietrich trained as a concert violinist at the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin, but a hand injury at the age of twenty-one led her to shift her ambitions to acting. She adopted the surname Marlene for her stage name by combining syllables of her first two names....

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Dragonette, Jessica (14 February 1905?–18 March 1980), popular soprano of the radio, was born in Calcutta, India, the daughter of parents about whom little is known. Orphaned early in life, Dragonette was brought to the United States at the age of six; throughout her childhood she was placed in various institutions operated under the auspices of the Roman Catholic church. She completed her compulsory education at the Philadelphia (Pa.) Catholic High School and later matriculated at Georgian Court College in Lakewood, New Jersey, where she studied languages and religion. The cloistered environment of this school, part of which housed a convent, played a major role in shaping Dragonette’s personality, which—even at the height of her celebrity—was one of introspection and humility. Her lifelong devotion to the Roman Catholic faith may be traced to these formative years spent among the sisters of the convent, many of whom provided Dragonette with the foundations that enabled her to realize her goal of becoming a concert singer....