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Blakey, Art (11 October 1919–16 October 1990), jazz drummer and bandleader, was born Art William Blakey in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the son of Burtrum Blakey, a barber, and Marie Roddericker. His father left home shortly after Blakey was born, and his mother died the next year. Consequently, he was raised by a cousin, Sarah Oliver Parran, who worked at the Jones and Laughlin Steel Mill in Pittsburgh. He moved out of the home at age thirteen to work in the steel mills and in 1938 married Clarice Stuart (four years his junior) the first of three wives. Other wives included Diana Bates and Ann Arnold. Blakey had at least ten children (the exact number is unknown), the last of whom was born in 1986....

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Bradshaw, Tiny (23 September 1905–26 November 1958), singer, drummer, and bandleader, was born Myron Carlton Bradshaw in Youngstown, Ohio. His parents’ names are unknown. He played the drums from the age of ten and soon after was performing professionally as a drummer and vocalist. Early in his career he served as the drummer of the Jump Johnson Band in Buffalo, New York. He attended Wilberforce University in Wilberforce, Ohio, and majored in psychology. Before forming his own big band in 1934, he sang with Horace Henderson’s Collegians and in New York either drummed or sang with Marion Hardy’s Alabamians, the Savoy Bearcats, Mills Blue Rhythm Band (1932–1933), and ...

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Clarke, Kenny (?9 Jan. 1914–26 January 1985), jazz drummer and bandleader, was born Kenneth Clarke Spearman in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the son of Charles Spearman and Martha Grace Scott. His birth date is almost always given as 9 January, but writer Ursula Broschke Davis maintains that the actual date is 2 January. His mother played piano, and at a young age he learned to play both this instrument and, in church, pump organ. Biographers concur that his boyhood was miserable, and he hid the experience behind rosy and contradictory memories. His father abandoned the family. When he was around five years old, his mother died. Her companion, a Baptist preacher, placed him in the Coleman Industrial Home for Negro Boys in Pittsburgh, where he tried a few brass instruments before taking up drums. At about age eleven or twelve he resumed living with his stepfather. He attended several elementary schools and Herron Hill Junior High School before dropping out at age fifteen to become a professional musician. After an argument with his stepfather, he was placed in a foster home....

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Hampton, Lionel Leo (20 April 1908–31 August 2002), jazz vibraphonist and bandleader, was born in Louisville, Kentucky, the son of Charles Edward Hampton, a railroad worker and musician, and Gertrude Morgan. For a substantial portion of his career Hampton made himself out to be younger, giving his year of birth as 1913 or 1914. But in 1989, when he published his autobiography, he was proud of his age. Then he gave the correct birth year, 1908, which is confirmed by the Department of Public Records in Louisville. A further confusion emerged in the early 1990s, when citizens of Birmingham, Alabama, forged documents to convince Hampton that he was born there rather than in Louisville. This deception subsequently made its way into jazz literature as well....

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Jones, Elvin Ray (09 September 1927–18 May 2004), drummer and bandleader, was born in Pontiac, Michigan, the youngest of ten children of Henry Jones, an African American lumber inspector for General Motors and Baptist church deacon, and his wife, Olivia, a homemaker. Elder brothers Hank, a pianist, and ...

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Gene Krupa © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB13-0543 DLC).

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Krupa, Gene (15 January 1909–16 October 1973), jazz drummer and bandleader, was born Eugene Bertram Krupa in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Bartley Krupa, an alderman, and Ann Oslowska, a milliner. Krupa attended St. Bridget’s and Immaculate Conception parochial schools. He studied alto saxophone (or by another account, piano) from about age nine but soon switched to drums. From about age eleven he helped his older brother at the Brown Music Company and demonstrated a fine memory for the recordings that he heard there....

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Lewis, Mel (10 May 1929–02 February 1990), jazz drummer and band leader, was born Melvin Solokoff in Buffalo, New York, the son of Samuel Solokoff and Mildred Brown. His father was a vaudevillian drummer who paved the way for his son’s early playing career with local dance bands at the age of fifteen. In 1946 he traveled to New York City with the Lenny Lewis Band and a year later joined ...

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Machito © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB23-0585 DLC).

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Machito (16 February 1908?–15 April 1984), salsa and jazz bandleader, singer, and percussionist, was born Frank Raúl Grillo in Tampa, Florida, the son of Rogelio Grillo, formerly a cigar maker and then a grocery store owner, and Marta Amparo. In his oral history Machito claimed that 1908 was his year of birth, but in the same interview he claimed to be two years older than Mario Bauzá, which would make 1909 the correct date; 1912, given in some sources, seems less likely (though not impossible), since Machito was already an experienced professional musician in 1928. While he was still an infant his family moved to Havana, Cuba, where his father ran two restaurants. He was nicknamed Macho because he was the first son after three daughters, one of whom, Graciela, would figure prominently in his career. Immersed in Afro-Cuban music from childhood, he began his career as a singer and maracas player with the group Los Jovenes de Rendición. From 1928 to 1937 he performed in Cuba with María Teresa Vera’s El Sexteto Occidente, El Sexteto Agabama, El Sexteto Universo, Ignacio Piñero, and El Sexteto Nacional. During this period he married Luz María Pelgrino. They had one child....

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Pollack, Ben (22 June 1903–07 June 1971), jazz drummer and bandleader, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of a furrier. The names of Pollack’s parents are unknown. Pollack started playing drums while attending high school and worked in various local bands before joining the New Orleans Rhythm Kings at the Friars Inn in early 1923. He made his first records with them in March 1923, and after the breakup of the group later in the year he went to Los Angeles, where he worked for eleven months in Harry Bastin’s band at the Venice Ballroom. After a brief visit home, he rejected his father’s offer of a job in the family fur business and returned to the amusement park ballroom as leader of the band. Starting in October 1924 he brought in saxophonists Gil Rodin and Fud Livingston, trombonist ...

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Puente, Tito (20 April 1923?–01 June 2000), musician, bandleader, and all-around showman, was born Ernesto Anthony Puente, Jr., in Harlem, New York, the son of Ernesto Puente, a foreman at a razor blade factory, and Ercilia Ortíz de Puente. (Most sources give his birth date as 1923, but in a questionnaire Puente himself filled out for ...

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Webb, Chick (10 February 1909–16 June 1939), jazz drummer and bandleader, was born William Henry Webb in Baltimore, Maryland. The identity of his father is unknown. He was raised by his mother, Marie Jones, and his maternal grandfather, Clarence Jones, a porter in a shoe store. Webb was a hunchback and often lived in pain. According to an oft-repeated but probably apocryphal story, he was dropped on his back in infancy, and several vertebrae were crushed, but another oft-repeated and entirely plausible account attributed his condition to tuberculosis of the spine (then common in the inner city), which dwarfed his torso while leaving his limbs intact. Webb never grew above 4′ 1″. He acquired the nickname Chick in a boyhood reference to his small size....