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Ace, Johnny (09 June 1929–25 December 1954), musician, songwriter, and rhythm and blues star, was born John Marshall Alexander, Jr., in Memphis, Tennessee, the son of John Marshall Alexander and Leslie Newsome. His father earned his living in Memphis as a packer, but his lifework was as a commuting minister to two rural Baptist churches in East Arkansas. At LaRose Grammar School in south Memphis, John, Jr., as his family called him, displayed both musical and artistic talent. He mastered the piano at home but was allowed to play only religious music there. Along with his mother and siblings, he sang in the choir at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Becoming restless at Booker T. Washington High School, he dropped out in the eleventh grade to join the navy and see the world. His sisters recall military police coming to the house in search of their brother and remember his brief period of enlistment in terms of weeks, ending in an “Undesirable Discharge” in 1947. His mother was furious. “I can’t keep up with you,” she scolded, “and ...

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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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Adorno, Theodor (11 September 1903–06 August 1969), social and political theorist, aesthetician, and atonalist musical composer, was born Theodor Ludwig Wiesengrund in Frankfurt, Germany, the son of Oskar Wiesengrund, a wealthy wine merchant, and Maria Calvelli-Adorno, a professional singer of Corsican and Genoese origin. He adopted his mother’s maiden name when his scholarly writing began to appear in 1938, perhaps reflecting his close attachment to her rather than to his remote father. His mother had borne her only child at age thirty-seven and lavished attention and resources on him, particularly with regard to “high” culture. His schooling included piano and composition training at a professional level (one teacher was Alban Berg) and philosophy with Edmund Husserl....

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Ager, Milton (06 October 1893–06 May 1979), songwriter, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Simon Ager, a livestock dealer, and Fannie Nathan. The boy was educated first at Hull-House, Jane Addams’s famed Chicago settlement house, and later at McKinley High School. When an older sister bought a second-hand piano for ten cents a week, Ager quickly taught himself to play by ear. In the summer before high school he began to help support his large family by playing piano in amusement parks and movie theaters. By 1910, his junior year, he was determined to become a composer of popular music and copyrighted his first two songs....

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Alexander, Jeff (02 July 1910–23 December 1989), composer and conductor, was born Myer Alexander in Seattle, Washington, the son of Max Alexander, Jr., a salesman, and Della Goodhue, a pianist. His musical education was initiated by his mother and continued at Becker Institute of Music in Portland, Oregon, as well as under private tutors Edmund Ross in Los Angeles and ...

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Allen, Steve (26 December 1921–30 October 2000), comedian, author, songwriter, was born Stephen Valentine Patrick William Allen in New York City, the son of vaudeville comedians Carroll William Allen and Isabelle Donohue, who performed under the stage names Billy Allen and Belle Montrose. Literally born into show business, Allen toured the vaudeville circuit with his parents from infancy until his father died suddenly when Allen was only eighteen months old. Because his mother chose to continue her career, she left her young son in the care of her eccentric family in Chicago. In his first autobiography, ...

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Steve Allen Used with the permission of Bill Allen, Meadowlane Enterprises, Inc.

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Anderson, Leroy (29 June 1908–18 May 1975), composer, was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the son of Brewer Anton Anderson, a postal employee and amateur mandolin player, and Anna Margareta Johnson, a church organist. Both parents had immigrated to the United States from Sweden as young children. Leroy picked up Swedish by listening to his parents speak at home, and he learned to play the organ and piano while sitting in his mother’s lap. Although he studied organ with Henry Gideon, his principal instrument was the double bass, which he studied with the Boston Symphony’s Gaston Dufresne....

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Antheil, George (08 July 1900–12 February 1959), composer and writer, was born Georg Johann Carl Antheil in Trenton, New Jersey, the son of Henry William Antheil, a merchant, and Wilhelmina Huse. Antheil’s parents were German immigrants who had done well enough to be able to afford him an economically secure childhood in Trenton. His musical training included private study in piano with Constantin von Sternberg in Philadelphia and from 1919 to 1921 with ...

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Harold Arlen Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1960. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-103724).

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Arlen, Harold (15 February 1905–23 April 1986), songwriter, was born Hyman Arluck in Buffalo, New York, the son of Samuel Arluck, a cantor. His mother’s name is not known. Arlen began his singing career performing in his father’s synagogue’s choir. His musical performing career began at age fifteen when, as a ragtime pianist, he formed the local Snappy Trio, which performed at small clubs and parties and on scenic cruises of Lake Erie. The trio grew into the Yankee Six and then into the larger Buffalodians. With this enlarged band Arlen traveled in the mid-1920s to New York, where he soon found work as a singer-pianist on radio and record. He also wrote a few arrangements for the popular ...

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Armstrong, Harry (22 July 1879–28 February 1951), vaudeville performer, pianist, and popular composer, was born Henry Worthington Armstrong in Somerville, Massachusetts, the son of Henry Armstrong, a piano salesman, and Elizabeth Stuart. Armstrong competed as a professional boxer before joining a street corner vocal quartet in Boston in 1896. He moved to New York in 1898 and played piano in a restaurant in Coney Island and later at the Sans Souci Music Hall in Manhattan. He composed and performed his own songs, many of which were published by the firm of M. Witmark, where Armstrong worked as a rehearsal pianist....

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Armstrong, Lil (03 February 1898–27 August 1971), jazz pianist, composer, and singer, was born Lillian Hardin in Memphis, Tennessee. Nothing is known of her father, but her mother, Dempsey Hardin, was a strict, churchgoing woman who disapproved of blues music. At age six, Lil began playing organ at home, and at eight she started studying piano. In 1914 she enrolled in the music school of Fisk University in Nashville, taking academic courses and studying piano and music theory. After earning her diploma, around 1917 she joined her mother in Chicago, where she found work demonstrating songs in Jones’ Music Store. Prompted by her employer, in 1918 Hardin auditioned for clarinetist Lawrence Duhé’s band at Bill Bottoms’s Dreamland Ballroom, where she played with cornetist “Sugar Johnny” Smith, trombonist Roy Palmer, and other New Orleans musicians. When Smith became too ill to continue working, he was replaced by first ...

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Aronson, Rudolph (08 April 1856–04 February 1919), theatrical impresario and composer, was born in New York City to German immigrant parents (names and occupations unknown). When he was six, his music-loving parents arranged for him to have instruction on the piano. Recognizing in Aronson a definite musical precocity, his teacher, Leopold Meyer, persuaded Aronson’s parents to allow the child to be trained for a musical career and introduced Aronson to the violin and the theory of music. At age fourteen Aronson attended a concert featuring musical stars under the direction of ...

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Austin, Lovie (19 September 1887–10 July 1972), pioneer jazzwoman, was born Cora Calhoun, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Little is known about Austin’s personal life. She studied music theory and piano at Roger Williams University in Nashville and Knoxville College in Knoxville. Her musical contributions were nearly overlooked until the revived interest in women in jazz in the 1970s. The reacquaintance with Austin can be attributed to the publication of three books on women in the early days of jazz....

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Ayler, Albert (12 July 1936–05 November 1970), composer and musician, was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the son of Edward Ayler, a semiprofessional violinist and tenor saxophonist, and Myrtle Hunter. Albert and his brother Donald, who later became a professional jazz trumpet player, received musical training early in life from their father. In second grade Albert performed alto saxophone recitals in school. He performed duets with his father (who also played alto saxophone) in church. Together they listened to a great deal of swing and bebop music, both on recordings and at jazz concerts....

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Bacon, Ernst (26 May 1898–16 March 1990), composer and pianist, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Charles S. Bacon, a physician, and Maria von Rosthorn. He was also active as a conductor, teacher, and writer. His music education included the study of music theory with P. C. Lutkin at Northwestern University (1915–1918) and with the composers ...

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Bacon, Thomas (1700?–26 May 1768), clergyman and musician, is traditionally said to have been born on the Isle of Man, but his earliest records come from Whitehaven, Cumberland County, England. His parents are unknown. His brother Anthony Bacon, M.P., may have been the same Anthony Bacon who graduated from Trinity College in 1739. Thomas Bacon was in charge of a coal depot in Dublin early in the 1730s. Since his son John Bacon was a lieutenant in the Independent Maryland Foot Company in 1754, he must have been at least eighteen then. Therefore, Thomas Bacon was probably married by 1735. Nothing is known of his wife except a statement by Rev. ...

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Baermann, Carl (09 July 1839–17 January 1913), pianist and composer, was born in Munich, Germany, the son of Karl Bärmann (1811–1885), a noted clarinetist. His mother’s name is unknown. His grandfather, Heinrich Joseph Bärmann, also was a celebrated clarinetist, whose masterly playing inspired both Mendelssohn and Weber to compose works for him; his granduncle Karl Bärmann (1782–1842) was a famous bassoonist. Carl Baermann studied in Munich with Franz Lachner and Peter Cornelius, made his professional debut at age fifteen, playing Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto in G Minor, op. 25, and later studied with Liszt, with whom he formed a lasting friendship. Baermann and Beatrice von Dessauer, from an elite Bavarian family, married in Munich in 1865....

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Ball, Ernest R. (21 July 1878–03 May 1927), pianist and composer of popular songs, was born in Cleveland, Ohio, into a middle-class family. As a young teenager he was sent by his parents to study at the Cleveland Conservatory of Music. By age thirteen he was offering piano lessons in the neighborhood; by fifteen his first composition, a march for piano solo, was completed. As a young man he moved to New York City and for several years was employed as a pit pianist in various vaudeville productions. In 1903 he secured a position as staff pianist with the famous Witmark publishing house in Tin Pan Alley. His salary, $20 per week, was a respectable wage but far below what he eventually earned as a songwriter. Early in his stay at Witmark he began composing songs....