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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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Burnette, Dorsey (28 December 1932–19 August 1979), country-rock musician, was born in Memphis, Tennessee, the son of Dorsey Burnette, Sr., and Willy May (maiden name unknown). He grew up in the Lauderdale Courts area of the city, a public housing project that from 1948 until 1954 was the home of Gladys, Vernon, and ...

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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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Cobain, Kurt Donald (20 February 1967–05 April 1994), guitarist, singer, and songwriter for the rock band Nirvana, was born in the working-class lumber town of Aberdeen, Washington, the son of Donald Cobain, an auto mechanic, and Wendy Fradenburg Cobain, a waitress. Cobain remembered his early childhood as happy, but his father and mother struggled financially and divorced in 1976, devastating Cobain. By the time he reached high school, Cobain was engaging in petty delinquency and was arrested for vandalism and vagrancy. He began staying with various friends in Aberdeen, including Dale Crover, drummer of “grunge” progenitors the Melvins. He did not finish high school....

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Elliot, Cass (19 February 1941–29 July 1974), singer, was born Ellen Naomi Cohen in Baltimore, Maryland, the daughter of a restaurateur of that city; neither the given name of her father nor the maiden name of Bess, her mother, has been determined. The nickname “Cass,” after the Trojan prophetess Cassandra, was created by her father; Cass herself took the name Elliot to honor a friend who had been killed in an automobile accident. Elliot was educated in the Baltimore public school system, graduating from Forest Park High School, where she developed an interest in acting and singing. For a time after graduation she was employed by the ...

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Fogerty, Tom (09 November 1941–06 September 1990), recording artist and songwriter, was born Thomas Richard Fogerty in Berkeley, California, the son of Galen Robert Fogerty and Edith Lucile Lytle Loosli. He attended high school in El Cerrito and by 1959 was performing in school shows and at parties as lead singer and songwriter for Tommy Fogerty and the Blue Velvets. The band included Doug Clifford on drums, Stuart Cook on bass guitar, and Fogerty’s younger brother John, with whom he shared writing credits and lead vocals....

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Garcia, Jerry (01 August 1942–09 August 1995), rock band leader, guitarist, and singer, was born Jerome John Garcia in San Francisco, California, the son of Joe Garcia, a ballroom jazz musician and bartender, and Ruth (maiden name unknown), a nurse. Garcia was raised in a home filled with Spanish relatives and music. An active boy, he lost the third finger of his right hand in a childhood accident. Although he sang at an early age, he first aspired to become a painter....

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Haley, Bill (06 July 1925–09 February 1981), singer and bandleader, was born William John Clifton Haley, Jr., in Highland Park, Michigan, the son of William Haley and Manda Green. He grew up during the depression in the area of Chester, Pennsylvania, where his father had found work in a shipyard. The Haley household enjoyed music; Bill’s father played the mandolin, and his mother played and taught piano. Bill received his first guitar at age seven and soon began to play and sing cowboy and hillbilly songs. His musical tastes came partly from his father, a Kentuckian, and his models were radio singers and cowboy film stars of the period—performers such as ...

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Hendrix, Jimi (27 November 1942–18 September 1970), rock guitarist, singer, and songwriter, was born into a working-class black family in Seattle, Washington, the son of James Allen Ross Hendrix, a gardener, and Lucille Jetter. Named Johnny Allen Hendrix at birth by his mother while his father was in the service, his name was changed to James Marshall Hendrix by his father upon his return home. Self-taught as a left-handed guitarist from an early age, Hendrix played a right-handed guitar upside down, a practice he maintained throughout his life since it allowed for unusual fingering patterns and quicker access to tone and volume controls. His early influences ranged from jazz guitarist ...

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Holly, Buddy (07 September 1936–03 February 1959), songwriter, singer, and guitarist, was born Charles Hardin Holley in Lubbock, Texas, the son of Hardin O. Holley, a bricklayer, and Ella Pauline Drake. At age five Holly (who removed the e from his last name in 1956) won a $5 prize at a local talent show singing “Down the River of Memories.” His Protestant parents thought he would become a minister and had no idea his natural aptitude to compose and play music with a fiddle, piano, and guitar would lead to his international recognition as a rock and roll pioneer....

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Terence J. O’Grady

Joplin, Janis (19 January 1943–04 October 1970), rock singer, was born Janis Lyn Joplin in Port Arthur, Texas, the daughter of Seth Joplin, an engineer, and Dorothy East, a businesswoman. A quiet and studious child, during her years at Thomas Jefferson High School Joplin began showing signs of the defiant and iconoclastic personality for which she later became famous. Overweight and uncomfortable with the conventions of feminine behavior for young southern ladies, Joplin increasingly adopted a coarseness of demeanor in an attempt to win the acceptance of her male cohorts. These efforts achieved limited success, and she was ostracized by the majority of her classmates. Withdrawing from their society, Joplin took refuge in painting (with which she had some modest success), poetry, and singing, having become enamored with the popular folk music that swept the nation in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Joplin’s favorite artists were ...

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Lennon, John (09 October 1940–08 December 1980), rock music singer and composer, was born John Winston Lennon in Liverpool, England, the son of Alfred Lennon, a merchant seaman, and Julia Stanley. Alfred soon abandoned the boy and his mother, and from the time Lennon was five, he was raised by an aunt, Mimi Smith. When Lennon was seventeen, his mother was killed in a car accident. He later referred to these biographical facts in songs. He formed his first band, the Quarrymen, at Quarry Bank High School when he was sixteen, and he invited schoolmate Paul McCartney to join....

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Luman, Bob (15 April 1937–27 December 1978), rockabilly musician, was born Robert Glynn Luman in Blackjack, Texas, near the Louisiana state line (although he generally stated that he was from Nacogdoches, Texas), the son of Joe G. Luman, a school custodian and farmer, and Lavine (maiden name unknown). Luman developed an early fascination with both music and baseball. He got his first guitar when he was thirteen and learned the basic chords from his father, who played country music at home on the fiddle, harmonica, and guitar....

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Morrison, Jim (08 December 1943–03 July 1971), singer-composer, was born James Douglas Morrison in Melbourne, Florida, the son of Steven George Morrison, a navy officer, and Clara Clarke. Morrison, one of three children, was considered unusually intelligent by the time he attended high school, first in Alameda, California, then in Alexandria, Virginia, where his English teacher said he read “probably more than any other student in class. But everything was so offbeat I had another teacher who was going to the Library of Congress check to see if the books Jim was reporting on actually existed.” He also began writing poems, at least one of which, “Horse Latitudes,” survived to be included in one of his early recordings....

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Nelson, Rick (08 May 1940–31 December 1985), singer and actor, was born Eric Hilliard Nelson in Teaneck, New Jersey, the son of Ozzie Nelson and Harriet Hilliard Nelson (née Peggy Lou Snyder), radio and television stars who did much to define the situation comedy. Nelson made his first professional appearance on radio in 1949 on “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.” He played the smart-aleck little brother to David Nelson, and his wisecracks were used as laugh-winning punch lines. Moving with his family to television, Rick used the medium to debut as a rock star in the early days of that musical form (1957), recording a cover version of Fats Domino’s “I’m Walkin’,” reportedly to impress a girl. The record sold more than 1 million copies in two weeks, highlighting the fact that the white treatment of rhythm and blues, called rock and roll, could sell, particularly if the singer were photogenic and nonthreatening, or at least not black....

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Orbison, Roy (23 April 1936–06 December 1988), singer and songwriter, was born Roy Kelton Orbison in Vernon, Texas, the son of Orbie Lee Orbison, an oil-field driller, and Nadine Schultz, a nurse. His early musical experiences centered around country and western music. Orbison performed regularly on country and western radio programs by the age of eight. Attending high school in Wink, Texas, he led a band of fellow students called the Wink Westerners, whose repertoire ranged from western swing and country and western, notably the songs of ...

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Parsons, Gram (05 November 1946–19 September 1973), country-rock vocalist and bandleader, was born Ingram Cecil Conner III in Winterhaven, Florida, the son of Ingram Cecil Conner, Jr., a semiprofessional country singer and songwriter known professionally as “Coon Dog” Connor, and Avis Snively, the daughter of a wealthy citrus grower. Connor was raised in a musical household and showed early interest in playing the guitar. However, Connor’s at-home exposure to country music ended at age thirteen, when his father committed suicide. His mother subsequently remarried, and he took his stepfather’s surname of Parsons. As a high school student, he played in several bands that featured the music of the Everly Brothers and ...

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Perkins, Carl (09 April 1932–19 January 1998), songwriter and rockabilly pioneer, was born Carl Lee Perkins in Tiptonville, Lake County, Tennessee, the son of Buck Perkins, a sharecropper, and Mary Louise Brantley. The second of three sons born to the only white sharecropping family in Tiptonville, Carl began picking cotton at age six, once gathering more than 300 pounds of cotton in less than seven hours for “an RC [Cola] and a Moon Pie.” He was influenced musically by both country and bluegrass played on Grand Ole Opry radio broadcasts and by blues and gospel songs sung by the sharecroppers with whom he worked. His father fashioned his first guitar from a broom handle and an empty cigar box; later, after obtaining a secondhand ...

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Elvis Presley Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ6-2067).

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Patricia Jobe Pierce

Presley, Elvis (08 January 1935–16 August 1977), singer, was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, the son of Vernon Elvis Presley, a truck driver, and Gladys Love Smith, a seamstress and laundress. (His middle name is spelled “Aron” on his birth certificate and “Aaron” on his tombstone. The correct spelling is “Aaron,” to honor Vernon Presley’s close friend Aaron Kennedy.) His twin brother was stillborn, prompting his mother to be overprotective; Elvis’s father, however, showed little interest in the boy. At the fundamentalist Parkertown Church of God and Prophecy, mother and son would daily pray, sing, and heed the ministers who told destitute parishioners like themselves that hardship and misfortune should be combated with ardent Christian faith. Classified as “undeserving poor” because they were in debt and on welfare, the uneducated Presleys believed that a lack of good fortune on earth held the promise of glory in the afterlife. From this belief came Elvis’s lifelong need to sing “a joyful song unto the Lord.”...