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Allen, Steve (26 December 1921–30 October 2000), comedian, author, songwriter, was born Stephen Valentine Patrick William Allen in New York City, the son of vaudeville comedians Carroll William Allen and Isabelle Donohue, who performed under the stage names Billy Allen and Belle Montrose. Literally born into show business, Allen toured the vaudeville circuit with his parents from infancy until his father died suddenly when Allen was only eighteen months old. Because his mother chose to continue her career, she left her young son in the care of her eccentric family in Chicago. In his first autobiography, ...

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Steve Allen Used with the permission of Bill Allen, Meadowlane Enterprises, Inc.

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Armstrong, Harry (22 July 1879–28 February 1951), vaudeville performer, pianist, and popular composer, was born Henry Worthington Armstrong in Somerville, Massachusetts, the son of Henry Armstrong, a piano salesman, and Elizabeth Stuart. Armstrong competed as a professional boxer before joining a street corner vocal quartet in Boston in 1896. He moved to New York in 1898 and played piano in a restaurant in Coney Island and later at the Sans Souci Music Hall in Manhattan. He composed and performed his own songs, many of which were published by the firm of M. Witmark, where Armstrong worked as a rehearsal pianist....

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Bland, James Allen (22 October 1854–05 May 1911), African-American minstrel performer and composer, was born in Flushing, Long Island, New York, the son of Allen M. Bland, an incipient lawyer, and Lidia Ann Cromwell of Brandywine, Delaware, of an emancipated family. Bland’s father, whose family had been free for several generations, attended law school at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and in 1867 became the first black to be appointed an examiner in the U.S. Patent Office....

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George M. Cohan Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1933. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LOT 12735, no. 236 P&P).

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Cohan, George M. (3 or 4 July 1878–05 November 1942), performer, writer of songs, musicals, and plays, and producer, was born in Providence, Rhode Island, the son of Jeremiah “Jerry” John Cohan and Helen “Nellie” Frances Costigan. (Cohan’s middle initial stands for Michael.) At the age of seven, Cohan was sent to the E Street School in Providence. His formal schooling lasted six weeks, after which the school sent him to rejoin his parents and sister, Josie, in their theatrical travels. He took violin lessons and played the instrument both in the theater orchestra and in a trick violin act he devised. The Cohans went on their first road show as a family in 1889; when the show failed they went back to ...

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Emmett, Daniel Decatur (29 October 1815–28 June 1904), minstrel, stage performer, and composer, was born in Mount Vernon, Ohio, the son of Abraham Emmett, a blacksmith, and Sarah Zerrick. His brother Lafayette Emmett achieved prominence as the first chief justice of Minnesota. Coming from sparsely populated Knox County in central Ohio (frontier land in 1815), Emmett had little schooling but apparently gained a substantial degree of literacy in his early teens through his work as an apprentice for two newspapers, the ...

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Hogan, Ernest (1860–12 May 1909), minstrel show and vaudeville entertainer and songwriter, was born Reuben Crowder (or Crowders) in the African American “Shake Rag” district of Bowling Green, Kentucky. Nothing is known of his family or early youth, but by his early teens he was supporting himself as an actor, singer, dancer, and comedian. He appeared with a traveling “Tom show”—a repertory company presenting ...

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Smith, Chris (12 October 1879–04 October 1949), songwriter and vaudevillian, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of Henry Mirtry, a shoemaker, and Clara Smith (maiden name Browne). Although the 1880 U.S. census shows his first name as Christopher, he was commonly known as Chris Smith. Little is known about his personal life. He was married and had at least two children (both daughters), but other specifics are not known....