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Billings, William (07 October 1746–26 September 1800), composer, singing teacher, and poet, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of William Billings, a shopkeeper, and Elizabeth Clark. Little is known of his early life and education, but he is thought to have attended common school and gained his musical education through attendance at singing schools (class lessons in choral singing). After the death of his father in 1760, Billings was apprenticed to a tanner, a trade he apparently followed off and on. Music, however, was his love and psalm-singing his passion. He began holding singing schools as early as 1769 and earned a high reputation throughout eastern New England as a teacher of choral singing. Billings was much in demand as a vocal teacher, particularly in the 1770s and 1780s, and he continued to teach as occasion permitted until his death....

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Childers, Lulu Vere (28 February 1870–06 March 1946), founder and director of the School of Music at Howard University and singer, was born in Dryridge, Kentucky, the daughter of former slaves Alexander Childers and Eliza Butler. She studied voice at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and in 1896 was awarded a diploma that was replaced by a bachelor’s degree in 1906 when the conservatory began granting degrees. The Oberlin Conservatory chapter of Pi Kappa Lambda, a national honor society, elected her a member in 1927. She studied voice further with Sydney Lloyd Wrightson at the Washington Conservatory of Music, with William Shakespeare, and with Oscar Devries at Chicago Musical College....

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Damrosch, Frank Heino (22 June 1859–22 October 1937), music educator, was born in Breslau, now part of Poland, the son of Leopold Damrosch, a leading violinist and conductor in Europe and later in New York, and Helene von Heimburg, an opera singer in Weimar. As a boy, Frank, who was originally named Franz, for his godfather Franz Liszt, met Liszt, Richard Wagner, violinist Joseph Joachim, and pianist Clara Schumann. Even by German standards the family lived and breathed music, and all the children received thorough grounding in all areas of music....

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DeGaetani, Jan (10 July 1933–15 September 1989), mezzo-soprano and vocal teacher, was born in Massillon, Ohio, the daughter of Earl D. Ruetz, a lawyer, and Eleanor (maiden name unknown). She showed an early interest in music and as a teenager sang with the local church choir. Later she studied at the Juilliard School in New York with Henry Brant, Norman Lloyd, and ...

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Duncan, Todd (12 February 1903–27 February 1998), singer and teacher, was born Robert Todd Duncan in Danville, Kentucky, the son of John Duncan, a garage owner, and Lettie Cooper Duncan, a music teacher. Duncan's B.A. (1925) came from Butler University; his M.A. (1930) from Columbia University's Teachers College....

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Todd Duncan. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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Flagg, Josiah (28 May 1737–30 December 1794), musician and soldier, was born in Woburn, Massachusetts, the son of Gershom Flagg, and Martha Johnson. Sometime before 1747 Josiah moved with his family to Boston, where one of his boyhood friends was Paul Revere. In about 1750 Flagg, Revere, and five other boys formed themselves into a society of bell ringers and petitioned Christ (Episcopal) Church for permission to play on the church’s bells. The exact manner of Flagg’s musical education is not known. It is likely that he attended one or more singing schools in the Boston area and perhaps took lessons from the organist at Christ Church. His subsequent activities reveal him to have been a well-rounded musician who was aware of recent fashions in European music. In 1760 he married Elizabeth Hawkes; they had eight children....

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Holyoke, Samuel Adams (15 October 1762–07 February 1820), music educator, tune book compiler, and composer, was born in Boxford, Massachusetts, the son of Elizur Holyoke, a minister, and Hannah Peabody. Samuel came from a distinguished Massachusetts family. His father was the Congregationalist minister in Boxford, where he served for some forty-seven years, and the nephew of Harvard College president Edward Holyoke. Samuel was educated at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, and at Harvard College, from which he received a B.A. in 1789....

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Kieffer, Aldine Silliman (01 August 1840–30 November 1904), music publisher, composer, and founder of a singing school system that for generations defined southern gospel music, was born in Saline County, Missouri, the son of Mary Funk and John Kieffer, a singing-school teacher. After his father’s death, Kieffer’s mother took her young son and moved back to the family’s ancestral home in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, to a location called Singer’s Glen. There young Kieffer was raised under the influence of his grandfather Joseph Funk, a leading nineteenth-century song publisher. Kieffer grew up in the singing-school tradition, learning his first song when he was but a boy. As a teenager, he worked in his grandfather’s printing plant, where Funk had published the ...

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Mason, Lowell (08 January 1792–11 August 1872), music educator and composer, was born in Medfield, Massachusetts, the son of Johnson Mason, a businessman, and Catherine Hartshorn. Mason was educated in Medfield schools and singing schools, where he learned to read music. He took an active interest in music and at age sixteen conducted his church choir. Largely self-taught, he played many instruments and as a teenager led a local band. Nonetheless, he intended to become a businessman and not a musician, as he saw no future for himself in music, which offered little opportunity for a livelihood....

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Root, George Frederick (30 August 1820–06 August 1895), composer and music educator, was born in Sheffield, Massachusetts, the son of Frederick Ferdinand Root and Sarah Flint, farmers. At age eighteen George decided to become a professional musician, although he apparently had no formal training. He moved to Boston, where he studied music with A. N. Johnson and ...

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Verrett, Shirley (31 May 1931–5 Nov. 2010), opera singer, recitalist, and educator, was born in New Orleans, the second of six children of Leon and Elvira Verrett. Her parents had been among the growing number of African Americans who had converted to Seventh-Day Adventism, and the Verrett children were raised in a restrictive religious environment. Verrett’s earliest musical training came from her father, who wanted her to become a concert recitalist in the tradition of ...

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Walker, Edyth (27 March 1867–19 February 1950), opera singer and teacher, was born in Hopewell (Ontario County), New York, the daughter of Marquis de Lafayette Walker, a carpenter and landscape gardener, and Mary Purdy. Christened Minnie Edith, she changed her name to Mary Edyth and eventually dropped the Mary. When Edyth was an infant, the family moved to Geneva, New York. When she was about twelve, they relocated to Rome, New York, where she attended school and was graduated from the Rome Free Academy in 1884. Her natural talent enabled her to perform as a contralto soloist in nearby churches, without formal vocal training, from the age of fourteen....