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Downey, Morton (14 November 1901–25 October 1985), singer, composer, and businessman, was born in Wallingford, Connecticut, the son of James Andrew Downey, the fire chief of Wallingford and a tavern keeper, and Elizabeth Cox. When Downey was eight, he received $5 for singing at a church social. Engagements at picnics, political rallies, and Elks Club meetings followed. He developed an act with Philip Boudini, both playing accordions. For Downey, the accordion was mostly a prop. By the time he was fourteen people were paying $15 to hear him sing....

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Gualdo, John (?–20 December 1771), musician, composer, and wine merchant, was born Giovanni Gualdo. Details of his parents are unknown. He arrived in Philadelphia in the 1760s as a wine merchant. Little is known of Gualdo’s youth and background before his arrival in Philadelphia. On 24 August 1767 it was announced in the ...

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Hill, Joe (07 October 1879–19 November 1915), labor radical and troubadour, was born Joel Hägglund in Gävle, Sweden, the son of Olof Hägglund, a railway conductor, and Margareta Katarina (maiden name unknown). Raised in a devout Lutheran home with many siblings, he enjoyed considerable exposure to music but none to politics or labor affairs. When he was eight his father died as a result of a work accident, and the Hägglund family was left penniless. All the children had to work for wages, and young Joel found employment in a rope factory and later as a stationary fireman. Stricken with skin and joint tuberculosis in his late teens, he traveled alone to Stockholm where he received treatments for the disease, including a series of operations that left him scarred for life. Outside the hospital he worked at odd jobs. His mother died in January 1902, prompting all the surviving children to leave home. In the fall of 1902 he and a brother emigrated from Sweden to the United States....

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Read, Daniel (16 November 1757–04 December 1836), composer, tunebook compiler, and merchant, was born in Rehoboth (now Attleboro), Massachusetts, the son of “Captain” Daniel Read and Mary White, farmers. He received only a rudimentary “country school” education (only one quarter, according to his son G. F. H. Read) and gained his musical education from attendance at singing schools. (His older brothers Peter and Joel were singing masters.) He may also have attended singing schools conducted by Andrew Law and ...

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Rose, Billy (06 September 1899–10 February 1966), songwriter, show business impresario, and philanthropist, was born on the Lower East Side of New York City, the son of David Rosenberg, a button salesman, and Fannie Wernick. He was born William Samuel Rosenberg, according to most biographical sources, though one source states he adopted that name in school after being born Samuel Wolf Rosenberg. He grew up in the Bronx and attended public schools there, winning junior high school medals for sprinting and English. Medals and honors were important as proofs of stature and worth to Rose, who never grew taller than five feet three inches. In the High School of Commerce, he became an outstanding student of the Gregg system of shorthand, winning first a citywide competition (1917) and then a national competition (1918). In 1918 he left high school shortly before graduation to become head of the stenographic department of the War Industries Board, headed by ...

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Turpin, Tom (1873–13 August 1922), ragtime pianist, composer, and bar owner, was born Thomas Milton J. Turpin in Savannah, Georgia, the son of John L. “Jack” Turpin, a bar owner and amateur wrestler, and Lulu Waters. The Turpin family was prominent in Savannah’s African-American community, but by 1880 they had relocated to St. Louis, Missouri, where John Turpin opened the Silver Dollar Saloon. Young Tom began playing piano from an early age and was employed at one of the best known of the city’s bars, the Castle Club, by the early 1890s. By 1893 he had opened his own saloon, which eventually became known as the Rosebud Bar, with Turpin grandly proclaiming himself “President of the Rosebud Club.” The bar became a meeting place for local pianists, including Louis Chauvin....