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Louis Armstrong © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB13-0017 DLC).

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Armstrong, Louis (04 August 1901–06 July 1971), jazz trumpeter and singer, , known universally as “Satchmo” and later as “Pops,” was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the illegitimate son of William Armstrong, a boiler stoker in a turpentine plant, and Mary Est “Mayann” Albert, a laundress. Abandoned by his father shortly after birth, Armstrong was raised by his paternal grandmother, Josephine, until he was returned to his mother’s care at age five. Mother and son moved from Jane Alley, in a violence-torn slum, to an only slightly better area, Franklyn and Perdido streets, where nearby cheap cabarets gave the boy his first introduction to the new kind of music, jazz, that was developing in New Orleans. Although Armstrong claims to have heard the early jazz cornetist ...

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Dominique-René de Lerma

Bledsoe, Jules (29 December 1897–14 July 1943), baritone, was born Julius Lorenzo Cobb Bledsoe in Waco, Texas, the son of Henry L. Bledsoe and Jessie Cobb, occupations unknown. Following his parents’ separation in 1899, he lived with his maternal grandmother, a midwife and nurse, who encouraged him to appreciate music. Graduating in 1918 magna cum laude from Bishop College, Bledsoe began graduate medical studies at Columbia University, withdrawing after the death of his mother in 1920 to dedicate himself to singing. In 1924 he presented his debut recital at Aeolian Hall in New York....

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Bono, Sonny (16 February 1935–05 January 1998), entertainer, songwriter, and politician, was born Salvatore Phillip Bono in Detroit, Michigan, the son of Santo Bono, a truck driver, and Jean Bono (maiden name unknown), a beautician. Reared in a working-class environment, Bono was an average student and enjoyed playing the class clown. When he was seven the family moved to Los Angeles, California, where he finished his education. Bono married Donna Rankin in 1954, two years after his graduation from Inglewood High School. They had one daughter....

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Cab Calloway Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1933. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-89027).

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Calloway, Cab (25 December 1907–18 November 1994), jazz and popular singer and bandleader, was born Cabell Calloway III in Rochester, New York, the son of Cabell Calloway, a lawyer who also worked in real estate, and Martha Eulalia Reed, a public school teacher and church organist. Around 1914 the family moved to Baltimore, Maryland. His father died around 1920, and his mother married John Nelson Fortune, who held a succession of respectable jobs. Calloway sang solos at Bethlehem Methodist Episcopal Church, and he took voice lessons at age fourteen. He was nevertheless an incorrigible teenager, and in 1921 his stepfather sent him to Downingtown Industrial and Agricultural School, a reform school run by his granduncle, a pastor in Downington, Pennsylvania. In the spring of 1922 Calloway returned home on his own initiative, by his own account not reformed, but now a man rather than a boy. He thereafter moved comfortably between the proprieties of mainstream American life and the depravities of American entertainment....

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Cantor, Eddie ( September 1892?–10 October 1964), entertainer, was born Israel Iskowitz in New York City, the son of Mechel Iskowitz, a violinist, and Meta Kantrowitz. Orphaned at the age of three, he was raised by Esther Kantrowitz, his maternal grandmother. He was educated in the public schools of New York’s Lower East Side. His grandmother registered him as “Israel Kantrowitz,” but the name was subsequently anglicized to “Isidore Kanter” by a school official. Kanter, who altered the spelling of his name to “Cantor” upon embarking on a show business career in 1911, grew up on the streets. His grandmother, an Orthodox Jew, earned a living selling candles and other household items and by securing employment for young immigrants as maids in East Side homes....

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Chapin, Harry Forster (07 December 1942–16 July 1981), popular singer and writer of topical songs, was born in New York City, the son of James Forbes Chapin, a big-band percussionist, and Elspeth Burke. As a high school student, Chapin sang in the Brooklyn Heights Boys Choir and, later, played guitar, banjo, and trumpet in a band that included his father and brothers Stephen Chapin and Tom Chapin. He attended the U.S. Air Force Academy briefly and studied at Cornell University from 1960 to 1964. Chapin was best known for his popular ballads, films, and cultural and humanitarian work for the cause of eradicating world hunger. He married Sandra Campbell Gaston in 1968; they had five children....

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Charles, Ray (23 September 1930–10 June 2004), pop and jazz singer, pianist, and composer, was born Ray Charles Robinson in Albany, Georgia, the son of Bailey Robinson, a laborer, and Aretha Williams. Williams, a teenage orphan, lived in Greenville, Florida, with Robinson's mother and his wife, Mary Jane Robinson. The Robinson family had informally adopted her, and she became known as Aretha Robinson. Scandalously Aretha became pregnant by Bailey Robinson, and she briefly left Greenville late in the summer of 1930 to be with relatives in Albany for the baby's birth. Mother and child then returned to Greenville, and Aretha and Mary Jane shared Ray Charles's upbringing. He was deeply devoted to his mother and later recalled her perseverance, self-sufficiency, and pride as guiding lights in his life. His father abandoned the family and took another wife elsewhere....

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Ray Charles. Gelatin silver print, c. 1961, by Michel Salou. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

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George M. Cohan Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1933. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LOT 12735, no. 236 P&P).

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Cohan, George M. (3 or 4 July 1878–05 November 1942), performer, writer of songs, musicals, and plays, and producer, was born in Providence, Rhode Island, the son of Jeremiah “Jerry” John Cohan and Helen “Nellie” Frances Costigan. (Cohan’s middle initial stands for Michael.) At the age of seven, Cohan was sent to the E Street School in Providence. His formal schooling lasted six weeks, after which the school sent him to rejoin his parents and sister, Josie, in their theatrical travels. He took violin lessons and played the instrument both in the theater orchestra and in a trick violin act he devised. The Cohans went on their first road show as a family in 1889; when the show failed they went back to ...

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Nat King Cole © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB23-0151 DLC).

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Cole, Nat King (17 March 1919–15 February 1965), pianist and singer, was born Nathaniel Adams Coles in Montgomery, Alabama, the son of the Reverend Edward James Coles, Sr., and Perlina Adams, a musician. Cole’s family moved to Chicago when he was four. He first studied piano with his mother, then with bassist Milt Hinton’s mother, and at the age of twelve, classical piano with a Professor Thomas. The family home was located near the Grand Terrace Ballroom, where Cole often heard his first and most important influence, pianist ...

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Columbo, Russ (14 January 1908–02 September 1934), popular singer, motion-picture star, and radio and recording artist, was born Ruggiero de Rudolpho Columbo in San Francisco, California, the son of Nicholas Columbo, a musician who had immigrated to the United States from his native Naples near the turn of the century, and Mariana or Maria (maiden name unknown). Educated initially in the elementary schools of San Francisco, young Ruggiero Columbo attended high school in Los Angeles, where his parents had relocated in 1921. While at Los Angeles’s Belmont High, where he played violin in the school band, he anglicized his first name and became known as Russ Columbo....

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Como, Perry (18 May 1912–12 May 2001), singer of popular music and television entertainer, was born Pierino Roland Como in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, the son of Pietro Como, a mill hand, and Lucia Travaglini Como, immigrants from Palena, Italy. The seventh of thirteen children, Perry Como earned a few cents a day working after school in a local barbershop in Canonsburg. Later, while attending high school, he operated his own barbershop. Como, performing at wedding receptions and other functions, gained local recognition for his singing ability. One of the few vocalists of his generation to read music, he played both organ and baritone horn....

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Sam Cooke. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-107994).

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Cooke, Sam (22 January 1931–11 December 1964), singer-songwriter, was born Samuel Cook in Clarksdale, Mississippi, the son of Charles Cook, a minister in the Church of Christ (Holiness), and Annie May Carl. After Sam’s father lost his position as houseboy for a wealthy cotton farmer as a result of the Great Depression, the family migrated to Chicago, where Reverend Cook became assistant pastor of Christ Temple (Holiness) and a laborer in the stockyards. The family lived in Bronzeville, Chicago’s severely overcrowded and impoverished black section. Young Sam was educated at nearby schools and gained musical experience by sneaking into taverns to hear pop tunes but mostly by hearing and singing gospel music at church. There he started a gospel group, the Singing Children; later he joined the Teenage Highway QC’s and became more widely known throughout the nation. He graduated from Wendell Phillips High School in 1948. About that time he spent ninety days in jail on a morals charge that stemmed from a paternity suit....

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Croce, Jim (10 January 1943–20 September 1973), singer and songwriter, was born James Joseph Croce in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of James Croce and Flora (maiden name unknown). Croce grew up in South Philadelphia, the eldest son in a middle-class traditional Italian Catholic family. His initial musical training began at the age of six with accordion lessons. Croce learned to play the guitar at the age of sixteen or eighteen, after he purchased his first twelve-string guitar with money he earned working in a toy store....

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Crosby, Bing (03 May 1903–14 October 1977), singer of popular music, was born Harry Lillis Crosby in Tacoma, Washington, the son of Harry Lowe Crosby, a plant accountant, and Catherine Harrigan. His father was an easy-going descendant of Edmund Brewster, one of the Puritan signers of the Mayflower Compact. His mother, an Irish Catholic, was a strict disciplinarian. Early in his life the family moved to Spokane, Washington, where Crosby grew up. At age six he entered Webster Elementary School (1909–1917), where he received the nickname “Bing.” In 1921 he graduated from the rigidly Jesuit-run Gongaza High School and entered Gongaza University (1921–1925), where he prepared for a law career....