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Abshire, Nathan (27 June 1913–13 May 1981), Cajun musician, was born near Gueydan, Louisiana, the son of Lennis Abshire. His mother’s name is unknown. From a family of accordion players, Abshire made his public dance hall debut on the accordion at the age of eight. Like many other rural French-speaking people of Louisiana during his youth, he had little schooling and never became literate in his preferred French or in English. He married Olia Boudreaux, and he and his wife adopted one son....

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Acuff, Roy (15 September 1903–23 November 1992), country music singer and composer, was born Roy Claxton Acuff in Maynardsville, Tennessee, just a few miles north of Knoxville in a spur of the Great Smoky Mountains, the son of Neil Acuff, an attorney and pastor, and Ida Florence Carr. The family moved to Fountain City, a suburb of Knoxville, when Acuff was sixteen, and he spent most of his high school years excelling in sports. After graduation he was invited to have a tryout at a major league baseball camp, but a 1929 fishing trip to Florida resulted in a severe sunstroke, and Acuff was bedridden for a number of months. During his convalescence he reawakened an early interest in music and began to hone his abilities on the fiddle. By the time he had recovered, he had given up his dreams of a baseball career and had determined to utilize his newly discovered musical talent....

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Akeman, Stringbean (17 June 1914–10 November 1973), banjo player and comedian, was born David Akeman in Annville, Kentucky, the son of James Akeman and Alice (maiden name unknown). Situated halfway between Corbin and Richmond, Annville was part of a region that produced several other notable banjoists, such as ...

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Anglin, Jack (13 May 1916–07 March 1963), country musician, was born in Franklin, Tennessee, the son of John Benjamin Anglin and Lue Tucker, tenant farmers who moved often. Anglin grew up on farms near small towns in the Nashville area, including Shelbyville, Fayetteville, Columbia, and then near Athens, Alabama. He began playing music with two of his brothers, Van Lear (or “Red”) and Jim. Their parents gave them a solid grounding in traditional folk forms, and in 1935 the three brothers moved to Nashville to perform on WSIX radio. They were billed as “The Anglin Brothers—A Vocal and String Trio.” They also worked on other southern stations, including WMC in Memphis, WWL in New Orleans, WAPI in Birmingham, and WSB in Atlanta. On 5 November 1937 the Anglin Brothers made twenty recordings for ...

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Autry, Gene (29 September 1908–02 October 1998), country singer, actor, and baseball team owner, was born Orvon Gene Autry in Tioga, Texas, the son of Delbert Autry, a livestock dealer and tenant farmer, and Elnora Ozmont Autry. He later recalled that his family was poor but “never Tobacco Road poor. My father earned good money, when he felt like it, which was some of the time” (Autry, p. 4). They moved frequently during his childhood, to small farms and hamlets in northern Texas and southern Oklahoma, eventually settling outside Ravia, Oklahoma. His grandfather, a Baptist minister, taught him to sing when he was five years old so he could join the church choir; his musically talented mother taught him how to play a mail-order guitar. As a teenager he sang ballads for tips at cafes, and around 1923 he toured for three months with the Fields Brothers Marvelous Medicine Show. During these years he was reportedly fired from a job as a ranch hand because his singing distracted the other hands from their labor....

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Gene Autry. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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Bailey, DeFord (14 December 1899–02 July 1982), musician, was born in Bellwood, Smith County, Tennessee, the son of John Henry Bailey and Mary Reedy, farmers. Bailey grew up in the rolling hills east of Nashville and as a child listened to what he later called “black hillbilly music” played by his family. His grandfather Lewis Bailey was a skilled fiddler who won numerous local championships, and a family string band often appeared at local fairs and dances. DeFord Bailey’s own fascination with the harmonica, an instrument that was especially popular in Middle Tennessee, resulted from a childhood illness. When he was three he was stricken with polio and was bedfast for several years; to amuse himself he practiced the harmonica. Lying in bed and listening to the distant sound of trains, hunting dogs, and barnyard animals, he became adept at working imitations of these into his playing, creating unorthodox “bent” notes and mouthing patterns that would later make his musical style unique. Bailey survived the disease, but it left him stunted and frail....

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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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Bond, Johnny (01 June 1915–12 June 1978), songwriter, musician, and writer, was born Cyrus Whitfield Bond in Enville, Oklahoma, the son of Rufus Thomas Bond, a storekeeper and cotton gin operator, and Anna May Camp. While the family had little money, they did own a Victrola player that Bond found fascinating. Inspired by ...

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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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Bryant, Boudleaux (13 February 1920–25 June 1987), songwriter, was born Diadorius Boudleaux Bryant in Shellman, Georgia, the son of Daniel Green Bryant, a lawyer and amateur musician, and Louise Farham. Boudleaux was the name of a man who had saved Daniel Bryant’s life in the First World War. When Bryant was young, his father moved the family to Moultrie, Georgia, where he practiced law. Bryant studied violin under a member of the Boston Symphony who had retired to Moultrie. He moved to Atlanta in 1937 and worked for both the Atlanta Symphony and for local rural string bands, as well as on Works Progress Administration projects....

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Callahan, Walter (27 January 1910–10 September 1971), country musician who, with his brother Homer Callahan, formed the duet the Callahan Brothers, was born in Asheville, North Carolina, the son of Bert Callahan, the postmaster of Laurel, North Carolina, and Martha Jane (maiden name unknown). Bert Callahan played organ and taught singing, and Martha Jane Callahan also played the organ and was an accomplished singer. Walter and Homer Callahan began as one of the brother acts of the 1930s, along with the Monroe Brothers and the Allen Brothers. They were both good vocalists as well as multi-instrumentalists: Walter played guitar and string bass, while Homer played guitar, string bass, mandolin, ukelele, violin, and five-string banjo. Along with a penchant for duet yodeling, they were adept blues artists, relying on flat-pick guitars or mandolin and guitar to achieve the “white” blues sound....

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Carlisle, Cliff (06 May 1904–05 April 1983), pioneer country musician and songwriter, was born Clifford Raymond Carlisle in Mt. Eden, Kentucky. Many members of his family were musicians, and his younger brother Bill would later join Cliff in the ranks of early professional musicians. Cliff attended several rural grade schools near Wakefield, Kentucky, eventually transferring to larger schools in Louisville, Kentucky, between 1921 and 1924. Unlike many early musicians, he did not serve an apprenticeship in another field before taking up music; from his earliest days he aspired to be a professional musician, and he emerged as one of the first such professionals in the field of country music....

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Carson, John (23 March 1868–11 December 1949), early country fiddler, vocalist, and entertainer, known professionally as “Fiddlin’ ” John, was born in Fannin County, Georgia, the son of J. P. Carson and Mary Ann Beaty, subsistence farmers. Carson was raised on the family farm, where he learned the rudiments of music-making. His early education was spotty, and the extent of his training unknown. Although he worked as a professional entertainer, he also held odd jobs such as painter and carpenter and probably worked as a subsistence farmer. In 1894 he married Jenny Nora Scroggins (or Scoggins). They had at least nine children....

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Carter, A. P. (15 December 1891–07 November 1960), and Sara Carter (21 July 1898–08 January 1979), musicians and songwriters, were the founding members of the early country music singing group the Carter Family. A. P. Carter was born Alvin Pleasant Delaney Carter near the Appalachian hamlet of Maces Spring, Scott County, Virginia, the son of Robert C. Carter and Mollie Arvelle Bays, both local farmers whose families had been in the region since the late eighteenth century. As a youth, A. P. was exposed to music by both sides of his family. His father had been a well-known local banjo player who later turned to sacred music; his mother’s family included an uncle, Flanders Bays, who taught rural singing schools for area churches; and his mother was a repository of old ballads, both those brought over from Great Britain and newer ones derived from Native American sources. By 1913 A. P. was singing bass in a local church choir and had learned to play both the guitar and fiddle—the latter in a light-bowed, skirling style associated with older Scotch styles. A restless and curious young man, A. P. traveled to Indiana in around 1910–1911, worked on a railroad crew near Richmond, Virginia, for a time, and eventually returned home, suffering from typhoid fever. His schooling consisted of sporadic attendance at local country schools in the Poor Valley. By 1915 he was trying to make a living selling fruit trees to area residents....

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See Carter, A. P.

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Cash, Johnny (26 February 1932–12 September 2003), singer-songwriter, was born in Kingsland, Arkansas, a tiny town in south central Arkansas, the fourth of seven children of Ray Cash, a farmer and sawmill and railway worker, and Carrie Cloveree Rivers. According to Johnny Cash, the “Caesche” family dates to twelfth-century Scotland and arrived in Virginia in 1667....

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Johnny Cash Courtesy of AP Images

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Choates, Harry (26 December 1922–17 July 1951), Cajun musician, was born in Rayne, Louisiana. He grew up in Port Arthur, Texas, where he received no formal education, steeped himself in the local honky-tonk scene, and learned to play fiddle on a borrowed instrument that he purportedly never returned. He also played the guitar, steel guitar, and accordion....

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Cooper, Stoney (16 October 1918–22 March 1977), fiddler and singer, was born Dale Troy Cooper in Harmon, West Virginia, the son of Kenny Cooper and Stella Raines, schoolteachers. Cooper and his twin brother Dean grew up on a large farm, where they assisted the family in many of the daily chores. As a child Cooper was fascinated by his older brother’s fiddle playing. With some help from his brother, Cooper began to teach himself to play. As young Cooper listened to the Grand Ole Opry, he was greatly influenced by the fiddling skills of ...