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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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Adams, Pepper (08 October 1930–10 September 1986), jazz baritone saxophonist, was born Park Adams III in Highland Park, Michigan, the son of Park Adams, Jr., a manager of a furniture store, and Cleo Coyle. The family had been reasonably well off until the store went bankrupt in the depression, one year after Adams’s birth. Adams grew up in poverty. His parents traveled to live with different relatives before settling with his grandparents in Rochester, New York....

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Adderley, Cannonball (15 September 1928–08 August 1975), jazz saxophonist, was born Julian Edwin Adderley in Tampa, Florida, the son of Julian Carlyle Adderley, a high school guidance counselor and jazz cornet player, and Jessie Johnson, an elementary school teacher. The family moved to Tallahassee, where Adderley attended Florida Agricultural and Mechanical College High School from 1941 until 1944. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Florida A & M in 1948, having studied reed and brass instruments with band director Leander Kirksey and forming, with Kirksey, a school jazz ensemble. He then worked as band director at Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and jobbed with his own jazz group....

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Albany, Joe (24 January 1924–12 January 1988), jazz pianist, was born Joseph Albani in Atlantic City, New Jersey. His parents’ names are unknown. His father was a carpenter. Raised in the Los Angeles area, Joe played accordion as a child and took up piano in high school. The family returned to Atlantic City by the summer of 1942, when he first played professionally at the Paddock, a striptease club. Immediately back in Los Angeles, Albany joined scat singer Leo Watson’s group, and he also married, but details of the marriage are unknown....

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Henry Allen © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB13-0004 DLC).

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Allen, Henry “Red” (07 January 1908–17 April 1967), trumpeter, was born Henry James Allen, Jr., in Algiers, Louisiana, the son of Henry James Allen, Sr., a trumpeter and leader of a brass band, and Juretta (maiden name unknown). Allen received instruction from his father and his two uncles, who were also trumpeters. Rehearsals were held at home, giving Allen the opportunity to hear New Orleans greats like ...

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Allman, Duane (20 November 1946–29 October 1971), blues-rock musician, was born Howard Duane Allman in Nashville, Tennessee, the son of Willis Turner Allman, a recruiter for the U.S. Army, and Geraldine Alice Robbins, a former secretary. Duane was only three years old when his father, who had moved the family to Norfolk, Virginia, in 1949, was murdered. Geraldine moved with Duane and Duane’s younger brother Gregg Allman, born in 1947, back to the Allman family home in Nashville. Left to themselves much of the time, the boys grew up close to each other....

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Ammons, Albert C. (23 September 1907–02 December 1949), jazz pianist, was born in Chicago. His parents’ names are unknown; both were pianists. Ammons was a teenage friend of Meade Lux Lewis. The two learned to play by following the key action of player pianos and by imitating more experienced musicians, including Hersal Thomas and Jimmy Yancey. Ammons, having access to his parents’ instrument, developed his skills faster than Lewis. Both men were particularly influenced by a tune called “The Fives,” a blues involving strong, repetitive, percussive patterns in the left hand, set against equally strong and percussive but less rigorously repetitive counterrhythmic patterns in the right; this piano blues style came to be known as boogie-woogie....

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Ammons, Gene (14 April 1925–06 August 1974), jazz tenor saxophonist, was born Eugene Ammons in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Albert Ammons, a boogie-woogie pianist; his mother’s name is unknown. Like several other prominent jazzmen, Ammons studied music at Du Sable High School under Captain Walter Dyett. Initially he idolized ...

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Cat Anderson, c. 1946-1948. © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB23-0008 DLC).

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Anderson, Cat (12 September 1916–29 April 1981), jazz trumpeter, was born William Alonzo Anderson, Jr., in Greenville, South Carolina. Nothing is known of his parents, who died when he was four. Anderson grew up in Jenkins’ Orphanage in Charleston, where as a boy he received the nickname “Cat” after scratching and tearing in a fight with a bully. He played in the orphanage’s renowned bands, beginning on trombone and playing other brass and percussion instruments before taking up trumpet. From 1929 onward he participated in orphanage band tours, and in Florida in 1933 he formed the cooperative Carolina Cotton Pickers with fellow orphanage musicians. Returning to Charleston in 1934, they continued playing as the Carolina Cotton Pickers and then resumed touring....

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Anderson, Ivie (10 July 1905–27 or 28 Dec. 1949), jazz singer, was born in Gilroy, California, the daughter of Jobe Smith. Her mother’s name is unknown. Anderson’s given name is sometimes spelled “Ivy.” She studied voice at St. Mary’s Convent from age nine to age thirteen, and she sang in the glee club and choral society at Gilroy grammar and high school. While spending two years at the Nunnie H. Burroughs Institution in Washington, D.C., she studied voice under Sara Ritt....

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Bruce J. Evensen

Andrews Sisters, singers, were born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the daughters of Peter Andrews, a restaurant owner, and Ollie Sollie. The three sisters were LaVerne (6 July 1915–8 May 1967), Maxene (3 Jan. 1918–21 Oct. 1995), and Patty (Patricia; 16 Feb. 1920–). Word spread in jazz-age Minneapolis that a local sister team might get Americans to forget the Boswells (see ...

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Archey, Jimmy (12 October 1902–16 November 1967), jazz trombonist, was born James H. Archey in Norfolk, Virginia. Nothing is known of his parents. He started playing the trombone in 1912 and from 1915 to 1919 studied music at Hampton Institute, spending his summers playing in a band led by pianist Lillian Jones. After working in Quentin Redd’s band on the Atlantic City boardwalk around 1922, Archey moved to New York City in 1923 and played with trumpeter Lionel Howard’s band at the Saratoga Club and the Capitol Palace. The next year he worked at Ed Small’s and from 1925 to mid-1926 spent a year touring with the Lucky Sambo Revue and another few months with the Tan Town Topics. Starting in late 1926 he worked with the bands of John C. Smith and Arthur Gibbs and began a residency at the Bamboo Inn with Ed Campbell. In 1927 he played in pianist Edgar Hayes’s pit band at the Alhambra Theater, briefly toured with ...

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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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Louis Armstrong © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB13-0017 DLC).

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Armstrong, Louis (04 August 1901–06 July 1971), jazz trumpeter and singer, , known universally as “Satchmo” and later as “Pops,” was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the illegitimate son of William Armstrong, a boiler stoker in a turpentine plant, and Mary Est “Mayann” Albert, a laundress. Abandoned by his father shortly after birth, Armstrong was raised by his paternal grandmother, Josephine, until he was returned to his mother’s care at age five. Mother and son moved from Jane Alley, in a violence-torn slum, to an only slightly better area, Franklyn and Perdido streets, where nearby cheap cabarets gave the boy his first introduction to the new kind of music, jazz, that was developing in New Orleans. Although Armstrong claims to have heard the early jazz cornetist ...