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Arnaz, Desi (02 March 1917–02 December 1986), bandleader, actor, and television producer, was born Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y Acha III in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba, the son of Desiderio Arnaz II, a landowner and politician, and heiress Dolores “Lolita” de Acha. His early youth was privileged, but the revolution of 1932 broke up his secure home. His father was jailed briefly, and the family ended up in Miami with very little money....

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Crosby, Bob (25 August 1913–09 March 1993), jazz and popular bandleader and singer, and radio, film, and television personality, was born George Robert Crosby in Spokane, Washington, the son of Harry Lowe Crosby, a bookkeeper at the Inland Products Canning Company, and Catherine “Kate” Helen Harrigan. He attended Webster High School, North Central High School, and Gonzaga, a Jesuit high school and university. Not a remarkable student, he excelled at sports but chose instead to pursue a career as a singer, following his famous brother, ...

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Gershenson, Joseph (12 January 1904–18 January 1988), motion picture music director, film producer, and orchestra conductor, was born in Kishinev, Russia, the son of Louis Gershenson, a musician, and Ida (maiden name unknown). His mother died when he was a toddler. His father remarried, and his stepmother, also named Ida, raised him. His family emigrated to the United States when Joseph was three. When he was five years old and living in New York, his father performed as U.S. Army bandleader, a post that led to his service as bandmaster of the Eighty-seventh Field Artillery at Camp Fort Ethan Allen, Vermont....

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Kyser, Kay (18 June 1906–23 July 1985), bandleader, was born James King Kern Kyser in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, the son of Paul B. Kyser and Emily Royster Howell, both pharmacists. During his school years Kyser displayed an outgoing nature that foreshadowed his future career. In his senior year of high school he was class president, a cheerleader, coach of the junior varsity football team, editor of the yearbook, and a member of several academic clubs. Entering the University of North Carolina in 1924 to study law, he again was active as a cheerleader and as an impresario for campus musical productions. In 1926 he began to lead a band of six college musicians. Kyser, who never learned to read music or to play an instrument, functioned as a master of ceremonies. The band was a commercial success, largely because of Kyser’s showmanship, and during the next two years the group performed at dozens of college dances throughout the South and Midwest. After graduating in 1928 with a B.A., he completely devoted his time to leading the band....

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Canada Lee Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1941. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LOT 12735, no. 687 P&P).

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Lee, Canada (03 May 1907–09 May 1952), actor, theater producer, bandleader, and boxer, was born Leonard Lionel Cornelius Canegata in New York City, the son of James Cornelius Canegata, a clerk, and Lydia Whaley. Lee’s father came from a wealthy and politically prominent family in St. Croix, Virgin Islands, whose ancestors had adopted a Danish surname. Lee’s grandfather owned a fleet of merchant ships; the family also raced horses. James Canegata shipped out as a cabin boy at eighteen, settled in Manhattan, married, and worked for National Fuel and Gas for thirty-one years. Lee grew up in the San Juan Hill section of Manhattan’s West Sixties and attended P.S. 5 in Harlem. An indifferent student, he devoted more energy to fisticuffs than to schoolwork. Lee studied violin from age seven with composer J. Rosamund Johnson, and at age eleven he was favorably reviewed at a student concert in Aeolian Hall; his parents hoped he would become a concert violinist....

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Lewis, Ted (06 June 1890–25 August 1971), entertainer, musician, and bandleader, was born Theodore Leopold Friedman in rural Circleville, Ohio, the son of an owner of a dry goods store whose name cannot be ascertained. Young Theodore began his show business career performing in a nickelodeon in his hometown and learned to play the clarinet in his school band. As a beginning clarinetist, Lewis was something of a prodigy. Although he was never regarded seriously as a musician, he played easily and improvised naturally. Having no desire to go into the dry goods business and still in his teens, he went to Columbus, Ohio, where for a time he demonstrated instruments in a music store. His freewheeling improvisations amused customers but eventually caused him to lose the job....

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Lombardo, Guy (19 June 1902–05 November 1977), danceband leader and producer of musical extravaganzas, was born Gaetano Alberto Lombardo in London, Ontario, Canada, the son of Gaetano Lombardo, a tailor, and Angelina Paladino, a secretary. All of the Lombardo children were required to study a musical instrument and singing. At the age of nine Guy, the eldest, began violin lessons. Around 1915 the musical family appeared as the Lombardo Brothers Concert Company with Guy as the violinist; Carmen as the flutist, saxophonist, and singer; Lebert as the trumpeter and drummer; and Freddie Kreitzer as the pianist. This group played for church socials and other occasions in London, Ontario, and surrounding areas. Because the local communities had many Scottish descendents their repertoire included, among other songs, ...

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Vaughn Monroe © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB13-0629 DLC).

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Monroe, Vaughn Wilton (07 October 1911–21 May 1973), bandleader, singer, and businessman, was born in Akron, Ohio, the son of Ira C. Monroe, a supervisor in a rubber tire factory, and Mable Louisa Maahs. Following World War I, the family moved to Monroe’s grandmother’s farm in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, where he grew up and went to school. The family also lived for a time in Kent, Ohio. Monroe’s musical career began when he was eleven and was given an old, beat-up trumpet. He soaked it in coal oil for a week to get the valves to work and then proceeded to teach himself to play....

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See Nelson, Ozzie

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Tinky ‘‘Dakota’’ Weisblat

Nelson, Ozzie (20 March 1906–03 June 1975), and Harriet Nelson (18 July 1909–02 October 1994), television actress and singer, were icons of American middle-class culture of the baby-boom era following World War II. They were universally recognized as “Ozzie and Harriet,” which was the title of their popular television sitcom. Ozzie was born Oswald George Nelson in Jersey City, New Jersey, the son of George Waldemar Nelson and Ethel Orr. He grew up in nearby Ridgefield Park, New Jersey, where his banker father was active in civic organizations. George Nelson was also interested in amateur theatricals, bringing the whole family in on the act, so that from an early age young Oswald sang and acted for the public. His work never entirely lost its original amateur orientation....

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Rudy Vallee [left to right] Edgar Bergen (holding Charlie McCarthy), Rudy Vallee, and Joe Penner, 1957. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-113260).

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Vallee, Rudy (28 July 1901–03 July 1986), musician and actor, was born Hubert Pryor Vallée in Island Pond, Vermont, the son of Charles Alphonse Vallée, a pharmacist-owner of a drugstore, and Kathryn Lynch. The family moved to Westbrook, Maine, when he was a small child. He attended the Valentine Street School and, beginning at age nine, assisted his father at the drugstore. Very early he demonstrated a strong natural inclination to music, and in the sixth grade he taught himself to play the drums. He became deeply engrossed in all things pertaining to the entertainment business, his dream at this point being to perform in the pit of the local Star Theater, where silent movies were preceded and sometimes accompanied by live music....

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Lawrence Welk, c. 1946-1948. © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB23-0898 DLC).

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Welk, Lawrence (11 March 1903–17 May 1992), band leader and television personality, was born in Strasburg, North Dakota, the son of Ludwig Welk, a blacksmith and farmer, and Christine Schwab, both of whom had emigrated from the Alsace-Lorraine region of Germany in 1878. A variety of childhood illnesses kept Welk from attending school until he was seven, when he went to a parish school run by Ursuline nuns from Germany. Raised in this entirely German environment, he did not learn to speak English until he was twenty-one and never felt comfortable speaking in public. In 1914, when he was ten years old, a ruptured appendix left Welk bedridden for many months, and, once recovered, he and his family decided he had had enough schooling and would not return. It was during his year-long convalescence that Welk realized that he was meant not to be a farmer but a musician. He had always been interested in music—the family had a pump organ and his father taught him to play the accordion—and when he was still too weak to help on the farm, Welk would spend hours practicing his music. While still working on the farm, Welk began to play at barn dances and weddings, and eventually he left farming to become a musician full time....

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Whiteman, Paul (28 March 1890–29 December 1967), band conductor and showman, was born Paul Samuel Whiteman in Denver, Colorado, the son of Wilberforce James Whiteman, a public school music supervisor, and Elfrida M. Dallison, a vocalist. Whiteman was trained in music and the violin by his father and played first viola with the Denver Symphony Orchestra at the age of sixteen. He briefly attended the University of Denver and married Nellie Stack in 1908. The marriage was annulled in 1910, and Whiteman moved to San Francisco in 1912....