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Chapin, Harry Forster (07 December 1942–16 July 1981), popular singer and writer of topical songs, was born in New York City, the son of James Forbes Chapin, a big-band percussionist, and Elspeth Burke. As a high school student, Chapin sang in the Brooklyn Heights Boys Choir and, later, played guitar, banjo, and trumpet in a band that included his father and brothers Stephen Chapin and Tom Chapin. He attended the U.S. Air Force Academy briefly and studied at Cornell University from 1960 to 1964. Chapin was best known for his popular ballads, films, and cultural and humanitarian work for the cause of eradicating world hunger. He married Sandra Campbell Gaston in 1968; they had five children....

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Hodes, Art (14 November 1904?–04 March 1993), jazz pianist and writer, was born in Nikolaev, Russia, the son of William Hodes, a tinsmith, and Dorothy (maiden name unknown). “I’m not completely correct on when I was born. It was … somewhere between 1904 and 1906. We left hurriedly, and we had no papers,” he told writer Whitney Balliett. He moved with his family to New York City at the age of six months and then to Chicago at age six. Hodes took piano lessons at Hull-House from 1916 to 1920. He attended Crane High School, a vocational school, but dropped out to take on a variety of day jobs, none lasting very long. He then enrolled at Medill High School and graduated....

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Art Hodes © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB23-0417 DLC).

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Jefferson, Eddie (03 August 1918–09 May 1979), jazz singer, lyricist, and tap dancer, was born Edgar Jefferson in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Information about his parents is unknown. It is known that he started dancing around age eight. He also played tuba in a school band and taught himself guitar and drums, experiences that later gave his singing a firm musical foundation. In Pittsburgh he was accompanied by pianist ...

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Rowe, James (1865–1933), gospel music song lyricist, was born in Devonshire, England, the son of John Rowe and Jane Gallard. His father died at age forty-eight, and Rowe left school at an early age to support his family. He held positions in the English government for several years but seems not to have had any special training or experience in music. He immigrated to the United States in 1890, settling first in New York City, where he worked for the New York Central Railroad Company. Later relocating to Albany, New York, he served as superintendent for the animal control department of the Mohawk and Hudson River Humane Society from 1900 to 1910. During this time he married Blanche Clapper....

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Carl Sandburg Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-115064).

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Sandburg, Carl (06 January 1878–22 July 1967), poet, writer, and folk musician, was born Carl August Sandburg in Galesburg, Illinois, the son of August Sandburg, a railroad blacksmith’s helper, and Clara Mathilda Anderson. His parents were hardworking Swedish immigrants who had met when August Sandburg was working on the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad in Galesburg and Clara Mathilda Anderson, who had traveled on her own to the new world, was employed as a hotel maid in Bushnell, Illinois. The frugal couple instilled in their seven children the necessity of hard work and education, as well as a reverence for the American dream. When Carl Sandburg entered first grade, he Americanized his Swedish name, thereafter signing his school papers and his early work as a poet, orator, and journalist “Charles A. Sandburg.”...

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Scott-Heron, Gilbert (1 April 1949–27 May 2011), poet, songwriter, singer, and pianist, was born in Chicago, the son of Gilbert Saint Elmo Heron, a Jamaican-born soccer player, and Robert Jamison Scott, a librarian. (His mother Bobbie Scott was named Robert, after her father, despite the gender implications.) His parents’ relationship was contentious and soon disintegrated. His father returned to his own family in Detroit in ...