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Bolden, Buddy (06 September 1877–04 November 1931), jazz musician, was born Charles Joseph Bolden in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of Westmore Bolden, a drayman, and Alice Harrison. A cornetist and bandleader, Bolden is one of the earliest known figures in the development of jazz in New Orleans and was active from 1895 until 1906—the formative period in jazz’s early history....

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Cappa, Carlo Alberto (09 December 1834–06 January 1893), bandleader and trombonist, was born in Alessandria, Italy. Little is known of his parentage. He began studies in the rudiments of music at the age of eight. Two years later he began studying the trombone, and that same year he entered the Royal Academy in Asti, a school to which admission was limited to the sons of soldiers. His father’s position as a major in the Sardinian army gave him the right to matriculate at the prestigious institution. At age fifteen he left the academy and enlisted in the Italian army as a trombonist with the band of the Sixth Lancers, whose duties consisted of performing at both public and private functions of Victor Emmanuel, the king of Sardinia and Italy. Cappa remained in the military for six years. He resigned from service when he received an invitation to join the band of the U.S. Navy frigate ...

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Celestin, Papa (01 January 1884–15 December 1954), bandleader and trumpeter, was born Oscar Philip Celestin in Lafourche Parish, Louisiana, the son of Joseph Celestin, a sugar-cane cutter, and Lucy (maiden name unknown). About 1900 Celestin got his first cornet and for a few years worked as a cook for a railroad. In 1902 he moved to St. Charles Parish, where he got his first job as a musician with J. C. Trist’s band. In 1906 he moved to New Orleans and worked first as a longshoreman and, in 1909, as a musician at Josie Arlinton’s saloon in the local red-light district. The first New Orleans band of which he was a regular member was the Indiana Brass Band. Then he joined Jack Carey’s band, where he began to play jazz. He also worked with other New Orleans bands, including Henry Allen’s Brass Band, the Silver Leaf Band, and ...

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Cherry, Don (18 November 1936–19 October 1995), jazz cornetist, multi-instrumentalist, and bandleader, was born Donald Eugene Cherry in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, of mixed African-American and Choctaw Indian heritage, the son of Ulysses Cherry, a bartender, and Daisy Lee McKee. Cherry spent his earliest years in Kenner, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma City. In 1941 the family moved to Los Angeles, where Cherry's father took a job as the bartender at the Plantation Club. Cherry became immersed in music. He listened to the jazz and rhythm and blues musicians who performed at that club and to his grandmother and mother, who played piano, which became his first instrument. In 1950, while in junior high school, he took up trumpet, and during this period he appeared with his sister as a dancer at parties his father gave....

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Miles Davis � William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB23-0685).

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Davis, Miles (25 May 1926–28 September 1991), jazz trumpeter and bandleader, was born Miles Dewey Davis III in Alton, Illinois, the son of Miles Dewey Davis, Jr., a dentist, and Cleota Henry. When Davis was one year old, the family moved to East St. Louis, Missouri, where his father practiced dental surgery and farmed, raising special breeds of hogs. They settled in a white neighborhood while Davis was in elementary school....

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Tommy Dorsey © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB23-0211 DLC).

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Dorsey, Jimmy (29 February 1904–12 June 1957), and Tommy Dorsey (27 November 1905–26 November 1956), jazz musicians and bandleaders, were born James Francis Dorsey in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, and Thomas Francis Dorsey, Jr., in Mahanoy Plane, Pennsylvania, respectively, the sons of Thomas Francis Dorsey, Sr., a miner, and Theresa “Tess” Langton....

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See Dorsey, Jimmy

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Dizzy Gillespie Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1955. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-114444).

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Gillespie, Dizzy (21 October 1917–06 January 1993), jazz trumpeter, bandleader, and composer, was born John Birks Gillespie in Cheraw, South Carolina, the son of James Gillespie, a mason and musician, and Lottie Powe. Gillespie’s father kept his fellow band members’ instruments at their home, and thus from his toddler years onward Gillespie had an opportunity to experiment with sounds. He entered Robert Smalls public school in 1922. He was as naughty as he was brilliant, and accounts of fighting, showing off, and mischief extend from his youth into adulthood....

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Bobby Hackett © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB23-0373 DLC).

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Hackett, Bobby (31 January 1915–07 June 1976), cornetist, trumpeter, and bandleader, was born Robert Leo Hackett in Providence, Rhode Island. His father was a blacksmith; his parents’ names are unknown. Hackett played ukelele at age eight and studied violin for a year at age ten. He had added banjo by age twelve, when he acquired his first cornet. At fourteen he quit school to play guitar in what he described as a lousy band at a Chinese restaurant; he endured the job by courting Edna (maiden name unknown), his childhood sweetheart and future wife. He played banjo and guitar in little-known bands in Providence and Syracuse, where he began performing on cornet as well. From 1933 to 1934 he worked alongside ...

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Hawkins, Erskine (26 July 1914–11 or 12 Nov. 1993), trumpet player, swing bandleader, was born Erskine Ramsay Hawkins in Birmingham, Alabama, the son of Edward Hawkins, a soldier, and Carey Hawkins (maiden name unknown), a teacher. Hawkins's father was killed in World War I while serving in France. His mother exposed Erskine and his four siblings to music. Hawkins began his musical education at five, initially playing drums and later moving on to alto saxophone, baritone saxophone, and trombone throughout his youth. From the time he was eight till he was twelve, he played in four- and five-piece bands during the summer. These performances took place at Tuxedo Park, just outside of Birmingham, where local musicians often gathered. Hawkins would later make the location famous with his hit “Tuxedo Junction.” It was Hawkins's music teacher, S. B. Foster, a trumpet player (referred to affectionately as “High-C” Foster), who persuaded Hawkins to take up the trumpet....

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Harry James © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB13-0450 DLC).

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James, Harry (15 March 1916–05 July 1983), trumpeter and bandleader, was born in a show business hotel in Albany, Georgia, the son of Everette Robert James, director of and trumpet soloist in the touring Mighty Haag circus, and Maybelle Stewart, a circus aerialist. His middle name was Haag. James’s father taught him drums around age seven and trumpet by age ten. Within a few years James was leading the second band in the Christy Brothers Circus. In 1931 the family settled in Beaumont, Texas, where he attended high school and where his father eventually headed a music school....

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Johnson, Francis (16 June 1792–06 April 1844), musician, bandleader, and composer, also known as Frank Johnson, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Little is known of his youth and parentage. Most sources cite Martinique as his birthplace, but Stephen Charpié's (1999) work with baptismal records establishes his birth date, birthplace, and status as a free African American. Though skilled at a number of instruments, Johnson seems to have first attained local prominence as a fiddler at dances, parties, and the like; there is some evidence that he played with Matthew “Matt” Black's band in the late 1810s. Johnson also seems to have received some limited instruction during this period from Richard Willis, an Irish immigrant who later directed the West Point military band and who introduced the keyed bugle (also known as a Kent bugle) to the United States....

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Francis Johnson. Courtesy of the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, University of Pennsylvania.

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Jones, Thad (28 March 1923–20 August 1986), jazz horn player, composer, and bandleader, was born Thaddeus Joseph Jones in Pontiac, Michigan. The names of his parents and details of his early childhood are unknown. However, it would seem that his was a musical family: his uncle William was a bandleader, and two of his four brothers were musicians....

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Lawson, Yank (03 May 1911–18 February 1995), jazz trumpeter and bandleader, was born John Rhea Lawson in Trenton, Missouri, the son of an engineer on the Rock Island Railroad. His parents’ names are unknown. His mother played piano and gave him lessons beginning at age five; he also took up saxophone at about age nine or ten. By one account, perhaps erroneous, his nickname came from boyhood comparisons of his playing to that of a local professional saxophonist, Yank Smith; Lawson told interviewer Phil Attebury that the nickname derived from boyhood teasing about his being a New York Yankee fan living in St. Louis Cardinals and Browns’ territory. In his early teens he took up cornet and then switched to trumpet, which he studied with Carl Webb....