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Alexander, Jeff (02 July 1910–23 December 1989), composer and conductor, was born Myer Alexander in Seattle, Washington, the son of Max Alexander, Jr., a salesman, and Della Goodhue, a pianist. His musical education was initiated by his mother and continued at Becker Institute of Music in Portland, Oregon, as well as under private tutors Edmund Ross in Los Angeles and ...

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Arnaz, Desi (02 March 1917–02 December 1986), bandleader, actor, and television producer, was born Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y Acha III in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba, the son of Desiderio Arnaz II, a landowner and politician, and heiress Dolores “Lolita” de Acha. His early youth was privileged, but the revolution of 1932 broke up his secure home. His father was jailed briefly, and the family ended up in Miami with very little money....

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Barnet, Charlie (26 October 1913–04 September 1991), jazz and popular bandleader and saxophonist, was born Charles Daly Barnet in New York City, the son of Willard Barnet and Charline Daly. Both parents played piano. Barnet evidently inherited his father’s ear for music, but his parents divorced when he was two years old, and Willard Barnet never saw his son again. Barnet and his mother lived with her parents. His grandfather Charles Frederick Daly was executive vice president of the New York Central Railroad, and Barnet lived comfortably in New York hotels and apartments, and a summer home....

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Charlie Barnet Charlie Barnet and Rex Stewart on trumpet, 1946. © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB23-0817 DLC).

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Barrère, Georges (31 October 1876–14 June 1944), flutist and conductor, was born in Bordeaux, France, the son of Gabriel Barrère, a furniture maker, and Marie Périne Courtet. As a child in Paris he played in a fife, drum, and bugle corps and began flute studies with Léon Richault. He studied at the Paris Conservatoire with Henry Altès (1889–1893) and Claude Paul Taffanel (1893–1896), who became his mentor. Barrère graduated with the ...

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Count Basie, c. 1946-1948. © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB23-0047 DLC).

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Basie, Count (21 August 1904–26 April 1984), jazz pianist, composer, and bandleader, was born William Basie in Red Bank, New Jersey, the son of African-American parents Harvey Lee Basie, an estate groundskeeper, and Lillian Ann Chiles, a laundress. Basie was first exposed to music through his mother’s piano playing. He took piano lessons, played the drums, and acted in school skits. An indifferent student, he left school after junior high and began performing. He organized bands with friends and played various jobs in Red Bank, among them working as a movie theater pianist. In his late teens he pursued work in nearby Asbury Park, but he met with little success. Then, in the early 1920s, he moved to Harlem, where he learned from the leading pianists of the New York “stride” style, ...

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Bate, Humphrey (25 May 1875–12 June 1936), bandleader, harmonica player, and physician, was born in Castalian Springs, Tennessee, the son of a local physician. His parents’ names are unknown. A graduate of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Bate took over his father’s practice and traveled the circuit in Sumner County, just north of Nashville. As a hobby he organized and led a string band that eventually became the first such group to appear on the pioneer country radio show the “Grand Ole Opry.” His band is considered by historians to be one of the finest and most authentic of the old-time performing groups, and for years it was the cornerstone of the “Grand Ole Opry.”...

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Beck, Johann Heinrich (12 September 1856–26 May 1924), conductor, composer, and violinist, was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the son of Charles Beck, a businessman, and Rebecca Butler. He was one of five children, all boys, all of whom played the violin. He was educated in Cleveland and spent most of his life there, although he attended the Leipzig Conservatory from 1879 to 1882. He made his acclaimed European debut at the Leipzig Gewandhaus as violinist in his own String Quartet in C Minor. His diploma read in part: “In Theory Mr. Beck possesses highly advanced knowledge, in practical Composition, ...

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Bergmann, Carl (12 April 1821–10 August 1876), conductor, cellist, and composer, was born in Ebersbach, Saxony, the son of middle-class parents. His talent for music manifested itself early, and he was a pupil of Adolph Zimmerman at Zittau as early as 1827 and later studied with the organist-composer Adolph Hesse at Breslau. By 1842 he was playing cello and occasionally conducting the orchestra in Breslau and in these capacities toured central and eastern European cities between 1842 and 1848. His early compositions, written before 1848, apparently included an opera and a symphony....

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Bernstein, Elmer (04 April 1922–18 August 2004), composer and conductor of film music, was born in New York City, the child of Ukrainian immigrants Edward Bernstein, a teacher, and Selma Feinstein. He displayed multiple artistic talents in childhood, studying at the King-Coit School and Children's Theatre and the Walden School. At age twelve he won a piano scholarship to study with Henrietta Michelson of the Juilliard School. Sensing the boy's potential, she brought him to the attention of ...

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Leonard Bernstein. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-90733).

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Bernstein, Leonard (25 August 1918–14 October 1990), conductor and composer, was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, the son of Samuel Bernstein, a supplier of barber and beauty products, and Jenny Resnick. He began to pursue musical activities with abandon at about the age of ten and as a teen performed in classical and popular venues, including staged operettas with friends, as a jazz pianist at parties, as piano soloist with the Boston Public School Orchestra, and by playing light classics on the radio for thirteen weeks in 1934. Bernstein’s consuming interest in music was not encouraged by his father, but he never seriously considered another career. In 1939 he received a B.A. cum laude in music from Harvard University, where his teachers included Heinrich Gebhard, ...

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Blakey, Art (11 October 1919–16 October 1990), jazz drummer and bandleader, was born Art William Blakey in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the son of Burtrum Blakey, a barber, and Marie Roddericker. His father left home shortly after Blakey was born, and his mother died the next year. Consequently, he was raised by a cousin, Sarah Oliver Parran, who worked at the Jones and Laughlin Steel Mill in Pittsburgh. He moved out of the home at age thirteen to work in the steel mills and in 1938 married Clarice Stuart (four years his junior) the first of three wives. Other wives included Diana Bates and Ann Arnold. Blakey had at least ten children (the exact number is unknown), the last of whom was born in 1986....

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Bolden, Buddy (06 September 1877–04 November 1931), jazz musician, was born Charles Joseph Bolden in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of Westmore Bolden, a drayman, and Alice Harrison. A cornetist and bandleader, Bolden is one of the earliest known figures in the development of jazz in New Orleans and was active from 1895 until 1906—the formative period in jazz’s early history....

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Bradshaw, Tiny (23 September 1905–26 November 1958), 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 either drummed or sang with Marion Hardy’s Alabamians, the Savoy Bearcats, Mills Blue Rhythm Band (1932–1933), and ...

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Braham, David (1838–11 April 1905), composer, conductor, and violinist, was born near London. His father and brother were musicians, as were two of his sons and four of his nephews. In his teens Braham decided to become a professional harpist but, according to one source, gave up the instrument when a British coach driver informed him that he was welcome aboard but his bulky instrument was not. Shortly thereafter he began studying the violin and became an accomplished performer though he never aspired to a career as a concert soloist. As a youth he played violin in various London music halls....

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Brown, Les (14 March 1912–04 January 2001), bandleader, was born Lester Raymond Brown in Reinerton, Pennsylvania, the son of Ray Winfield Brown, a baker, and Hattie Mae Nye Brown. His father played the soprano saxophone in a saxophone quartet and was also skilled on the trombone; he was known locally as the “March Prince,” playing the ...

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Brown, Milton (08 September 1903–18 April 1936), country music vocalist and bandleader, was born Willie Milton Brown in Stephenville, Texas, the son of Barty Lee Brown, a sharecropper, and Martha Annie Huxford. A bright child with an outgoing personality, Milton early on exhibited a love for singing and entertaining. In the summer of 1918 after the sudden death of Milton’s older sister Era, the Browns moved to Fort Worth. There Milton attended West Side and then Arlington Heights High Schools, where he was active in school government, sports, and clubs, and where his singing abilities and sociable personality earned him the nickname “Harmony Boy.” Because he had to work on the family farm, Milton didn’t graduate from high school until age twenty-one, when he began to take various labor and sales jobs. At the same time he was singing at local functions in a variety of small vocal groups....

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Brubeck, Dave (06 December 1920–05 December 2012), jazz pianist, bandleader, and composer, was born David Warren Brubeck in Concord, California, the youngest son of Howard Peter Brubeck, a rancher, and Elizabeth Ivey, a pianist and music teacher. In the mid-1890s his grandfather bought a ranch at the northern foot of Mount Diablo in Clayton, California. His parents' home was in the adjacent town, Concord, where young Dave attended elementary school. His brilliance would eventually be obvious, but as a child he was placed in a slow learning group because he had difficulty with spelling and reading. Dave was born cross-eyed and later in life speculated that he may also have had an unidentified learning disability....