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Barrymore, Lionel (28 April 1878–15 November 1954), actor, composer, and artist, was born Lionel Blythe in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Herbert Blythe, an actor who adopted the stage name Maurice Barrymore, and Georgiana Drew (Georgie Drew Barrymore), an actress. His mother’s family had been in the theater for generations. Lionel was raised chiefly in the Philadelphia home of his maternal grandmother, actress-manager ...

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Hayes, Isaac Lee, Jr. (20 August 1942–10 August 2008), soul singer, composer, keyboard player, and actor, was born in Covington, Tennessee, the son of Isaac Hayes, Sr. and Eula Wade. In Hayes’s infancy, his father abandoned the family and his mother died in a mental institution. He was raised by his grandparents, William and Rushia Wade, who were sharecroppers....

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Levant, Oscar (27 December 1906–14 August 1972), pianist, actor, and composer, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the son of Max Levant, a jeweler, and Annie Radin, both Russian Jewish immigrants. Levant left high school after the early death of his father in 1921. A brilliant but rebellious student, he was a child prodigy on the piano. At the age of fifteen he was sent to New York City to study with Sigismond Stojowski. He played in dance bands and roadhouses to pay for his lessons. Levant’s father had opposed a concert career, but his strong-willed mother encouraged her youngest of four sons. Later in life, when asked what he had wanted to be when he grew up, quick-witted Levant answered, “An orphan.”...

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Wakely, Jimmy (16 February 1914–23 September 1982), cowboy singer, composer, and film star, was born James Clarence Wakely near Mineola, Arkansas, into a poor farming family. His parents’ names are unknown. Showing musical skills on the guitar and piano, Wakely was influenced by the neowestern music of ...