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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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Carlos Chávez Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1937. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-103962).

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Chávez, Carlos (13 June 1899–02 August 1978), influential Mexican composer/conductor, author, and educator, of Spanish and some Indian descent, was born Carlos Antonio de Padua Chávez y Ramírez in Mexico City, the seventh son of Augustin Chávez, an inventor, and Juvencia Ramírez, a teacher. His mother supported the children after her husband’s death in 1902. Chávez began his musical studies at an early age and studied piano, first with his elder brother Manuel, then with Asunción Parra, and later with composer and pianist Manuel M. Ponce (1910–1914) and pianist and teacher Pedro Luis Ogazón (1915–1920). Chávez credited Ogazón with introducing him to the best classical and Romantic music and with developing his musical taste and technical formation. He received little formal training in composition, concentrating instead on the piano, analysis of musical scores, and orchestration. Chávez’s maternal grandfather was Indian, and from the time Chávez was five or six his family frequently vacationed in the ancient city-state of Tlaxcala, the home of a tribe that opposed the Aztecs. He later visited such diverse Indian centers as Puebla, Jalisco, Nayarit, and Michoacan in pursuit of Indian culture, which proved a significant influence on his early works....

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Europe, James Reese (22 February 1880–09 May 1919), music administrator, conductor, and composer, was born in Mobile, Alabama, the son of Henry J. Europe, an Internal Revenue Service employee and Baptist minister, and Lorraine Saxon. Following the loss of his position with the Port of Mobile at the end of the Reconstruction, Europe’s father moved his family to Washington, D.C., in 1890 to accept a position with the U.S. Postal Service. Both of Europe’s parents were musical, as were some of his siblings. Europe attended the elite M Street High School for blacks and studied violin, piano, and composition with Enrico Hurlei of the U.S. Marine Corps band and with Joseph Douglass, the grandson of ...

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Neuendorff, Adolph Heinrich Anton Magnus (13 June 1843–04 December 1897), conductor, composer, and administrator, was born in Hamburg, Germany. He came to the United States with his parents (names unknown) in 1854 in the first wave of German immigrants. The family settled in New York, where his father was employed as a bookkeeper. Neuendorff studied violin with George Matzka, a violist in the New York Philharmonic and its emergency conductor in 1876, and with Joseph Weinlich. His principal piano teacher was Gustav Schilling, who also taught him composition and theory. Schilling was noted for writing a six-volume encyclopedia of music, the ...

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Nikolais, Alwin (25 November 1910–08 May 1993), choreographer, designer, and composer, was born in Southington, Connecticut, the son of John Nikolais and Martha Heinrich. From an early age he studied music. During his high school years he was an organ accompanist for silent films at the Westport Movie House. In 1929 he graduated from Lewis High School in Southington....

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Parks, Gordon (30 November 1912–07 March 2006), photographer, writer, composer, and film director, was born Gordon Roger Alexander Buchanan Parks in Fort Scott, Kansas, the youngest of fifteen children of Andrew Jackson Parks, a tenant farmer, and Sarah Ross Parks. His mother died when Parks was fifteen years old, and he went to live with his married sister Maggie Lee in St. Paul, Minnesota, but after a few weeks he left her home because of a conflict with his brother-in-law. He supported himself with difficulty for a time, sleeping in trolley cars and working in a variety of jobs as a waiter, a janitor, and, though he had never had any musical training, playing the piano in a brothel. He remained in Mechanical Arts High School and, later, Central High, where he was captain of the basketball team, but left in 1928 before graduating. While Parks was working as a busboy in a hotel in 1930, a bandleader heard him playing and invited him to join his traveling group. He continued as the only African American in the all-white band until it reached New York, when the group dissolved, leaving him jobless. In April 1933 he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps, whose modest payment enabled him to return to Minnesota after a year and marry his sweetheart Sally Alvis. The couple had three children....

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Swan, Timothy (23 July 1758–23 July 1842), hat maker and composer, was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, the son of William Swan, a goldsmith, and Levina Keyes. By age eleven he was apprenticed to a merchant in nearby Marlborough then moved to Groton, Massachusetts, to assist his brother in the same business. There he attended a singing school for three weeks in 1774. This experience, some fife instruction during a brief army stint in Cambridge later that year, and an article on music that he read in the 1797 ...