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Abbey, Henry Eugene (27 June 1846–17 October 1896), theatrical and operatic manager and impresario, was born in Akron, Ohio, the son of Henry Stephen Abbey, a clockmaker and partner in a jewelry business, and Elizabeth Smith. After graduating with honors from Akron High School, where he showed a keen interest in music, Abbey worked in his father’s jewelry store until he launched his artistic management career in 1869 at the Sumner Opera House in Akron. In 1871 he became manager of the newly opened Akron Academy of Music, where he stayed for one season before moving to work first at John Ellsler’s Euclid Avenue Opera House in Cleveland and then as treasurer of the Ellsler Opera House in Pittsburgh. While still in Akron, Abbey and Ellsler managed the tours of the singing and dancing Worrell Sisters, ...

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Armitage, Merle (13 February 1893–15 March 1975), book designer, author, and impresario, was born near Mason City, Iowa, the son of Elmer Ellsworth Armitage and Lulu Jacobs. He claimed 12 February as his birth date in honor of Abraham Lincoln. Armitage grew up in Texas and spent his youth in the West, where he lived on a number of ranches. Primarily self-educated as a civil engineer, he worked for the Kansas City, Mexico & Orient Railroad (later the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Company). He claims to have abandoned that career because of severe eyestrain. He then worked in the publicity department of the Packard Motor Company, where it is thought he learned graphic design. He also became interested in stage design and worked in New York City. He served in World War I as an instructor in mechanical engineering....

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Asch, Moses (02 December 1905–19 October 1986), sound engineer and record company executive, was born in Warsaw, Poland, the son of Sholem Asch, a world-renowned Yiddish novelist and playwright, and Matilda Spiro. Since Asch’s father acquired literary fame early in life, the family lived in material comfort. But they moved frequently, and Asch often was left in the care of others, notably his mother’s sister Basha, a Social Democrat and revolutionary. Additionally, although a prominent figure in international Jewish intellectual circles, Asch’s father was an iconoclast by nature, and as a consequence Asch was never bar mitzvahed. In 1912 the persecution of Jews in Poland rendered life intolerable for the Asches, and they moved to a villa in the suburbs of Paris. When in 1915 war’s violence engulfed France as well, the family resettled in New York City....

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Barnabee, Henry Clay (14 November 1833–16 December 1917), singer and actor, was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the son of Willis Barnabee and Mary (maiden name unknown). His father was a stagecoach driver who became an innkeeper. Willis Barnabee’s wife was cook, and his adolescent son Henry was odd-jobs man and at times bartender....

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Irving Berlin. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-108544).

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Berlin, Irving (11 May 1888–22 September 1989), songwriter and music publisher of the Tin Pan Alley era, was born Israel Baline in Tumen, in western Siberia, the son of Moses Baline, a cantor, and Leah Lipkin. Berlin was the youngest of eight children, six of whom emigrated with their parents to the United States in 1893 following a pogrom. After settling his family in a tenement on New York City’s Lower East Side, Berlin’s father could find only part-time employment as a kosher poultry inspector and manual laborer. The children were obliged to contribute to the family income. When not attending the local public school or receiving religious instruction at a ...

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Emile Berliner. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-110946).

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Berliner, Emile (20 May 1851–03 August 1929), inventor, was born Emil Berliner in the city of Hannover in the kingdom of Hannover (later a Prussian province), the son of Samuel Berliner, a merchant, and Sarah Fridman. His formal education ended in 1865 with four years at Samsonschule boarding school in Wolfenüttel, where he excelled in penmanship and drawing and evinced an early passion for classical music, a love that remained with him throughout his life. After graduation, his parents being hard pressed to provide for their large family, Berliner took employment in a print shop and then as clerk in a dry goods store. There, watching the handling of bolts of colored fabric, he took an interest in the weaving process and designed a weaving machine—the earliest evidence of his genius for invention....

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Bing, Rudolf (09 January 1902–02 September 1997), opera impresario, was born in Vienna, Austria, to Ernest Bing, an industrialist, and Stefanie Hoenigsvald Bing. Both parents encouraged their four children to share their interest in music, which included playing chamber music at home and regular attendance at the opera. Rudolf developed a particular love for both art and music and showed an inclination to pursue a musical career as a concert singer. After graduating from secondary school in Vienna, he studied voice with a private teacher, but his hopes of becoming a performer were dashed by the collapse of the Austrian economy following the country's defeat in World War I. He was forced to get a job quickly, and he found employment in a Vienna bookshop....

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Rudi Blesh. © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB13-0992 DLC).

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Blesh, Rudi (21 January 1899–25 August 1985), writer, record producer, and broadcaster, was born Rudolph Pickett Blesh in Guthrie, Oklahoma Territory, the son of Abraham Lincoln Blesh, a doctor, and Theodora Bell Pickett, a piano teacher. In 1910 a family visit to Vienna stimulated Blesh’s interest in the arts, and consequently, he learned to play the piano, the violin, and the cello. Although his musical activities were restricted to the classical repertory at home, Blesh was impressed by the ragtime pianists who performed in Guthrie....

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Bradbury, William Batchelder (06 October 1816–07 January 1868), music teacher, composer, and publisher, was born in York County, Maine, the son of David Bradbury and Sophia Chase. When Bradbury was fourteen years old the family moved to Boston, where William began the study of harmony and decided to become a professional musician. He attended the Boston Academy of Music, sang in ...

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Bradford, Perry (14 February 1895–20 April 1970), blues and vaudeville songwriter, publisher, and musical director, was born John Henry Perry Bradford in Montgomery, Alabama, the son of Adam Bradford, a bricklayer and tile setter, and Bella (maiden name unknown), a cook. Standard reference books give his year of birth as 1893, but Bradford’s autobiography gives 1895. Early in his youth Bradford learned to play piano by ear. In 1901 the family moved to Atlanta, where his mother cooked meals for prisoners in the adjacent Fulton Street jail. There he was exposed to the inmates’ blues and folk singing. He attended Molly Pope School through the sixth grade and claimed to have attended Atlanta University for three years (there being no local high school). This is chronologically inconsistent, however, with his claim to have joined Allen’s New Orleans Minstrels in the fall of 1907, traveling to New Orleans for Mardi Gras performances in February 1908 and then moving on to Oklahoma....

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Carr, Benjamin (12 September 1768–24 May 1831), composer, organist, and music publisher, was born in Holborn, England, the son of Joseph Carr, the owner of a music store in London, and Mary Jordan. Born into a musical family, Carr studied music with Samuel Arnold, a well-known opera composer, and Charles Wesley, an organist and composer of Methodist hymns. In addition to singing in concerts, Carr was involved with the London musical stage and wrote an opera, ...

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Charlot, André (26 July 1882–20 May 1956), theatrical impresario, was born Eugene André Maurice Charlot in Paris, France, the son of Maurice Charlot, a journalist and theatrical manager, and Sargine Battu. After failing his exams at Paris’s Lycée Condorcet, Charlot gave up his dream of being a composer like his prizewinning grandfather and undertook an apprenticeship in Paris in theater management and public relations. In 1912 he assumed the managership of London’s Alhambra Theatre, anglicizing French spectacular topical revue. In 1908 he married Florence Gladman, one-half of an English sister act; they had two children....

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Eddie Condon © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB13-0165 DLC).

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Condon, Eddie (16 November 1905–04 August 1973), jazz personality and organizer of Chicago-style jazz bands, recording sessions, and concerts, was born Albert Edwin Condon in Goodland, Indiana, the son of John Condon, a small-town saloonkeeper, and Margaret McGrath. As a teenager, Condon played rhythmic dance band accompaniment on the tenor banjo and, once established in jazz, favored the four-string tenor guitar....

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Damrosch, Leopold (22 October 1832–15 February 1885), musician and conductor, was born in Posen, Prussia (now Poznań, Poland), the son of Heinrich Damrosch. Neither his father’s occupation nor his mother’s name is known. Like many middle-class Germans of the nineteenth century, Damrosch grew up in a music-loving family and received thorough musical training as part of his general education. Musical activity, however, was valued more as an avocation than as a profession, so his father objected when Damrosch expressed a desire to pursue music professionally. Damrosch reluctantly yielded to family pressures and halted his music studies. He completed Gymnasium training, embarked briefly on legal studies, and ultimately switched to medicine, completing a medical degree in 1854. Music continued to beckon, however, and within a year of earning his medical degree Damrosch left medicine for the violin. Consequently, the rift with his parents widened. Indeed, when Damrosch’s famous son ...

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Ditson, Oliver (20 October 1811–21 December 1888), music publisher, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Joseph Ditson, a merchant, and Lucy Pierce. In 1823, having graduated from the Eliot School, Ditson began to work for Colonel Samuel H. Parker, a local bookseller and publisher who over the next three years introduced him to sheet music engraving. Through this association, Ditson was later able to trace a tortuous if unconvincing pedigree for his firm, from Parker back to 1783 and Ebenezer Battelle’s book shop, which Ditson then argued to be America’s first music publisher....

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Donaldson, Walter (15 February 1893–15 July 1947), popular-song composer, lyricist, and publisher, was born in Brooklyn, New York. The names of his parents are not known. Although his mother was a music teacher, Donaldson seems never to have taken music lessons; instead, he learned to play the piano by ear. While still in high school, he began writing songs, and after graduation he found employment on Wall Street, but he soon gave that up in favor of popular music. For a time he worked as a Tin Pan Alley song plugger at $15 a week; however, his addiction to writing his own songs during working hours cost him his job. His first song to make a public impression was “Just Try to Picture Me Down Home in Tennessee” (1915; lyrics by William Jerome), about a state he had never seen. World War I found him in the Entertainment Division of the U.S. Army, where he met ...