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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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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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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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Dorsey, Thomas Andrew (01 July 1899–23 January 1993), blues performer, gospel singer, and composer, was born in Villa Rica, Georgia, the son of Thomas Madison Dorsey, a preacher, and Etta Plant Spencer. Dorsey’s mother, whose first husband had died, owned approximately fifty acres of farm land. Dorsey lived in somewhat trying circumstances as his parents moved first to Atlanta and Forsyth, Georgia, and then back to Villa Rica during the first four years of his life. In Villa Rica the Dorsey family settled into a rural lifestyle supported by marginal farming that was slightly mitigated by his father’s pastoral duties....

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Engel, Carl (21 July 1883–06 May 1944), composer, editor, and librarian, was born in Paris, France, the son of German parents Joseph C. Engel and Gertrude Seeger. Engel studied music, philosophy, and psychology at the Universities of Strasbourg and Munich. His musical training included individual instruction on the violin and piano and composition with Ludwig Thuille. The Engel family immigrated to the United States in 1905, settling in New York City. Engel quickly affiliated with the city’s young composers and musicians interested in new music and, later, their New Music Society of America, a group dedicated to the performance of American works....

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Farwell, Arthur (23 April 1872–20 January 1952), composer, author, and teacher, was born Arthur George Farwell in St. Paul, Minnesota, the son of George Lyman Farwell, a hardware wholesaler, and Sara Gardner Wyer. Farwell studied electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, graduating in 1893. Then, as a result of his exposure to high-quality music in Boston during his years at MIT, he studied music with Homer Norris in Boston from 1893 to 1896. He then traveled to Europe where he studied with Engelbert Humperdinck and Hans Pfitzner in Berlin and, briefly, with Alexandre Guilmant in Paris....

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Feather, Leonard (13 September 1914–22 September 1994), jazz writer and jazz and blues promoter, producer, and songwriter, was born Leonard Geoffrey Feather in London, England, the son of Nathan Feather, the owner of a chain of clothing stores, and Felicia Zelinski. Feather described his upbringing thus: “In these upper-middle-class Jewish circles conformity was expected in every area of life.” He studied classical piano and clarinet while teaching himself to play pop songs on piano. At age fifteen, deeply moved by trumpeter ...

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Flagg, Josiah (28 May 1737–30 December 1794), musician and soldier, was born in Woburn, Massachusetts, the son of Gershom Flagg, and Martha Johnson. Sometime before 1747 Josiah moved with his family to Boston, where one of his boyhood friends was Paul Revere. In about 1750 Flagg, Revere, and five other boys formed themselves into a society of bell ringers and petitioned Christ (Episcopal) Church for permission to play on the church’s bells. The exact manner of Flagg’s musical education is not known. It is likely that he attended one or more singing schools in the Boston area and perhaps took lessons from the organist at Christ Church. His subsequent activities reveal him to have been a well-rounded musician who was aware of recent fashions in European music. In 1760 he married Elizabeth Hawkes; they had eight children....

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Fowler, Wally (15 February 1917–03 June 1994), gospel music promoter, singer, and songwriter, was born John Wallace Fowler near Cartersville, Georgia, the son of Joseph Fletcher Fowler, a well-established cotton farmer; his mother’s name is not known. By the time Wally Fowler was ready for school, the Great Depression had wrecked his father’s fortunes, and he and his sisters grew up working as sharecroppers. The Fowler family, however, loved music; his mother played an old pump organ, and his father helped organize Saturday night gospel singings in the front rooms of neighborhood houses. “That’s when I really learned gospel music,” he recalled. What formal training the singers got came from J. M. Henson, an Atlanta publisher and singing school teacher, who came to the area to conduct singing schools, using the seven-shape note system that was popular throughout the South at that time....

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Goldkette, Jean (18 May 1893–24 March 1962), dance bandleader, businessman, and classical pianist, was born in Patras, Greece, the son of Angelina Goldkette, an actress. It is not known who Jean's father was. The Goldkette family was a troupe of entertainers that traveled throughout Europe and the Ottoman Empire. Angelina met and married John Poliakoff, a journalist, in Moscow in 1903. Raised in Greece and Russia, Jean studied classical piano from an early age, and he attended the Moscow Conservatory of Music. He moved to Chicago in 1910, when he was 17, to live with George Goldkette, an uncle. His mother and stepfather moved to the United States in 1919....

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Jean Goldkette. With his orchestra. Courtesy of the Red Hot Jazz Archive.

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Graham, Bill (08 January 1931–25 October 1991), rock concert producer, was born Wolfgang Grajonca, sixth child and first son of Jacob and Frieda Grajonca, middle-class Russian Jews living in Berlin, Germany. Wolfgang was two days old when his engineer father died in a construction accident, and he grew up in an orphanage where the children had to give the Nazi salute. When the war began in 1939 his group, by chance, was at a French orphanage on exchange. Facing deportation to the labor camps, the sixty-four Jewish boys and one teacher started walking to Lisbon. After stops in Casablanca and Dakar, Wolfgang and ten other boys made it to New York in September 1941....

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Grau, Maurice (1849–14 March 1907), music and theater impresario, was born in Brno, Moravia, the son of Emmanuel Grau and Rosalie (maiden name unknown). In about 1854 he immigrated with his parents to New York City, where they ran a boardinghouse. Grau began working in the theater for his uncle Jacob Grau while studying at the College of the City of New York. Upon graduating in 1867, he enrolled at Columbia Law School. But, preferring his uncle’s profession, Grau left without graduating, instead holding “about every place that one can hold in the theater, except on the stage.” Other members of Grau’s family involved in theater management included a brother, two cousins, and a second uncle. Information regarding Grau’s marital status is sketchy. Biographical sources indicate that he married Marie Durand in 1883, but obituaries list his widow as Jeannette....

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Grossman, Albert Bernard (21 May 1926–25 January 1986), musical promoter and manager, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of tailors. He graduated from Lake View High School in 1944 and briefly attended Chicago’s Central YMCA College but walked out with others protesting quotas for blacks and Jews. He then studied briefly at DePaul University before entering the new Roosevelt College in 1946, from which he graduated in 1947 with a B.S. in commerce. He worked for the Chicago Housing Authority for a few years, then opened the Gate of Horn with Les Brown, a writer for ...

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Hammerstein, Oscar (08 May 1848–01 August 1919), inventor, operatic impresario, and theatrical manager, was born in Berlin, Germany (although his family lived in Stettin, Prussia), the son of Abraham Hammerstein, a well-to-do, German-Jewish merchant, and Bertha Valentine, from a musically oriented French Huguenot family. Hammerstein was educated by private tutors, but at age sixteen, after a severe and unwarranted punishment from his father, he ran away from home. He fled to England and then boarded a ship bound for America, paying for his passage by selling his violin. Arriving at New York, Hammerstein found employment filling rush orders for the U.S. Army at a Pearl Street cigar factory. Within two years he had mastered the process well enough to invent a machine that greatly improved cigar production. Patented in July 1865, the invention revolutionized cigar making but brought only about $6,000 to the young inventor. However, subsequent similar labor-saving inventions reportedly brought him more than $1 million. In 1884 he invested his first royalties in the ...

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Hay, George Dewey (09 November 1895–08 May 1968), radio announcer, writer, and country music promoter, was born in Attica, Indiana, the son of George Hay, a jeweler and merchant, and Bertha Dewey. Growing up amid the cornfields of rural Indiana, Hay absorbed the ...