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Irving Berlin. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-108544).

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Berlin, Irving (11 May 1888–22 September 1989), songwriter and music publisher of the Tin Pan Alley era, was born Israel Baline in Tumen, in western Siberia, the son of Moses Baline, a cantor, and Leah Lipkin. Berlin was the youngest of eight children, six of whom emigrated with their parents to the United States in 1893 following a pogrom. After settling his family in a tenement on New York City’s Lower East Side, Berlin’s father could find only part-time employment as a kosher poultry inspector and manual laborer. The children were obliged to contribute to the family income. When not attending the local public school or receiving religious instruction at a ...

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Bond, Carrie Jacobs (11 August 1861–28 December 1946), songwriter and music publisher, was born Carrie Minetta Jacobs in Janesville, Wisconsin, the daughter of Hannibal Cyrus Jacobs, a grain dealer and amateur flutist, and Mary Emogene Davis. By the age of four she was playing the piano by ear and then began to study with local teachers. In 1880 she married E. J. Smith and bore one son, Frederic Bond Smith, but the couple separated in 1887 and later divorced. In 1889 she married Dr. Frank Lewis Bond, a physician who encouraged her to compose. An economic downturn curtailed his practice, so she traveled to Chicago to try to sell her songs to publishers. On being told that only children’s songs would sell, she immediately wrote one, “Is My Dolly Dead?” which became her first published work (1894)....

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Bradbury, William Batchelder (06 October 1816–07 January 1868), music teacher, composer, and publisher, was born in York County, Maine, the son of David Bradbury and Sophia Chase. When Bradbury was fourteen years old the family moved to Boston, where William began the study of harmony and decided to become a professional musician. He attended the Boston Academy of Music, sang in ...

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Bradford, Perry (14 February 1895–20 April 1970), blues and vaudeville songwriter, publisher, and musical director, was born John Henry Perry Bradford in Montgomery, Alabama, the son of Adam Bradford, a bricklayer and tile setter, and Bella (maiden name unknown), a cook. Standard reference books give his year of birth as 1893, but Bradford’s autobiography gives 1895. Early in his youth Bradford learned to play piano by ear. In 1901 the family moved to Atlanta, where his mother cooked meals for prisoners in the adjacent Fulton Street jail. There he was exposed to the inmates’ blues and folk singing. He attended Molly Pope School through the sixth grade and claimed to have attended Atlanta University for three years (there being no local high school). This is chronologically inconsistent, however, with his claim to have joined Allen’s New Orleans Minstrels in the fall of 1907, traveling to New Orleans for Mardi Gras performances in February 1908 and then moving on to Oklahoma....

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Carr, Benjamin (12 September 1768–24 May 1831), composer, organist, and music publisher, was born in Holborn, England, the son of Joseph Carr, the owner of a music store in London, and Mary Jordan. Born into a musical family, Carr studied music with Samuel Arnold, a well-known opera composer, and Charles Wesley, an organist and composer of Methodist hymns. In addition to singing in concerts, Carr was involved with the London musical stage and wrote an opera, ...

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Ditson, Oliver (20 October 1811–21 December 1888), music publisher, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Joseph Ditson, a merchant, and Lucy Pierce. In 1823, having graduated from the Eliot School, Ditson began to work for Colonel Samuel H. Parker, a local bookseller and publisher who over the next three years introduced him to sheet music engraving. Through this association, Ditson was later able to trace a tortuous if unconvincing pedigree for his firm, from Parker back to 1783 and Ebenezer Battelle’s book shop, which Ditson then argued to be America’s first music publisher....

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Donaldson, Walter (15 February 1893–15 July 1947), popular-song composer, lyricist, and publisher, was born in Brooklyn, New York. The names of his parents are not known. Although his mother was a music teacher, Donaldson seems never to have taken music lessons; instead, he learned to play the piano by ear. While still in high school, he began writing songs, and after graduation he found employment on Wall Street, but he soon gave that up in favor of popular music. For a time he worked as a Tin Pan Alley song plugger at $15 a week; however, his addiction to writing his own songs during working hours cost him his job. His first song to make a public impression was “Just Try to Picture Me Down Home in Tennessee” (1915; lyrics by William Jerome), about a state he had never seen. World War I found him in the Entertainment Division of the U.S. Army, where he met ...

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Drake, Pete (08 October 1932–29 July 1988), steel guitarist, music producer, and music publisher, was born Roddis Franklin Drake in Atlanta, Georgia, the son of Rev. Johnny Drake, a Pentecostal minister, and Nora Blevins. Beginning his musical pursuits on the acoustic guitar, Drake was inspired at around the age of eighteen by hearing steel guitarist Jerry Byrd playing at the Grand Ole Opry. Drake purchased a lap steel at a local Atlanta pawnshop and began to teach himself to play it. Further inspiration came a few years later from hearing Webb Pierce’s 1953 recording of “Slowly,” on which steel guitarist Bud Isaacs achieved bending-note effects with a pedal-activated, pitch-altering mechanism on his guitar. Fashioning his own pedal guitar, Drake became one of Atlanta’s first pedal steel guitarists. He soon formed his own band, the Sons of the South, which at one time included such notable country music figures as Jerry Reed, Joe South, Doug Kershaw, and ...

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Dreyfus, Max (01 April 1874–12 May 1964), music publisher, songwriter, and arranger, was born in Kuppenheim, near Baden, Germany, the son of Elias Dreyfus and Amelia Esther Hertz, farmers. As a child, he studied piano in Baden. In 1888, at age fourteen, Dreyfus emigrated to the United States hoping to find opportunities as a pianist and a composer. He had little luck, so he began to take jobs as a music arranger and worked for several songwriters, including ...

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Engel, Carl (21 July 1883–06 May 1944), composer, editor, and librarian, was born in Paris, France, the son of German parents Joseph C. Engel and Gertrude Seeger. Engel studied music, philosophy, and psychology at the Universities of Strasbourg and Munich. His musical training included individual instruction on the violin and piano and composition with Ludwig Thuille. The Engel family immigrated to the United States in 1905, settling in New York City. Engel quickly affiliated with the city’s young composers and musicians interested in new music and, later, their New Music Society of America, a group dedicated to the performance of American works....

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Fisher, William Arms (27 April 1861–18 December 1948), composer and music editor and publisher, was born in San Francisco, California, the son of Luther Paine Fisher and Katharine Bruyn Arms, both from families whose ancestry dated back to colonial Massachusetts. For more than fifty years, Luther Fisher was the owner of an advertising agency. William attended school in nearby Oakland and studied music with John P. Morgan. In 1890 Fisher moved to New York City and began studies in harmony with composer ...

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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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Garrison, Lucy McKim (30 October 1842–11 May 1877), collector of slave songs and musician, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the daughter of James Miller McKim, an eminent abolitionist, and Sarah Allibone Speakman, a Quaker, whose father had operated a station on the Underground Railroad in Chester County, Pennsylvania. McKim’s father left the Presbyterian ministry for the antislavery lecture platform in 1836, becoming widely recognized in the abolition movement for his good sense and dedication, although his income remained modest. Her brother ...

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Graupner, Gottlieb (06 October 1767–16 April 1836), musician and music publisher, was born Johann Christian Gottlieb Graupner in Verden, Germany, the son of Johann Georg Graupner, an honored Hanover musician, and Anna Maria Agnesa Schoenhagen. He apparently bore no relation to famed composer Christoph Graupner of Darmstadt. At age fifteen Gottlieb followed his father’s profession and joined the nearby Hanover regiment as an oboist. After his father’s death Gottlieb was discharged in 1788 and traveled to London where, in 1791–1792, he performed under Joseph Haydn in the premieres of the first set of his “London” symphonies. Graupner then immigrated to the United States, probably through Prince Edward Island off the coast of Canada. He gained employment as a musician in a traveling Atlantic coast theater company on the West and Rignall circuit. In April 1796 he married Catherine Comerford Hillier, a widow with three children, a professional singer, and a member of the company. The Graupners settled in Boston in the winter of 1796–1797 and worked to improve the musical quality of Boston’s cultural life....

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Harris, Charles Kassell (1 May 1865 or 1867–22 December 1930), songwriter and publisher, was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, the son of Jacob Harris, a tailor, and Rachel Kassell. Harris’s date of birth is uncertain; his obituary in the New York Times gives the 1865 date, whereas the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), of which he was a charter member, lists it as 1867. The synagogue records for the period of his birth have been lost, and birth records for Dutchess County begin in 1882. Little is known about Harris’s youth. During his childhood the family moved to East Saginaw, Michigan, and then to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His father supported the family of ten children with income from a general store and tailor shop and by purchasing skins from the Indians....

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Hewitt, James ( June 1770–02 August 1827), conductor, composer, and publisher, was born in Dartmoor, England, the son of John Hewitt, a captain in the British navy. (His mother’s name is unknown.) Details of his childhood are sketchy, but sources indicate that he occupied 12 Hyde Street in the Bloomsbury section of London during 1791–1792. Although it is impossible to verify his family’s claim that Hewitt was leader of the King’s Band of Musick, it is known that around this time he was a member of the orchestra at Astley’s Amphitheatre in London, one of the forerunners of the modern circus. In 1790 Hewitt married Louisa Lamb; they had one child, but both mother and child died shortly after the baby’s birth....

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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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Mills, Irving (16 January 1894–21 April 1985), singer, music publisher, and manager, was born in New York City, the son of working-class Russian Jewish immigrants whose names are unknown. He was educated in New York City public schools but did not attend college. He married Bessie (maiden name unknown) at the age of seventeen; they had five children....