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Cab Calloway Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1933. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-89027).

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Calloway, Cab (25 December 1907–18 November 1994), jazz and popular singer and bandleader, was born Cabell Calloway III in Rochester, New York, the son of Cabell Calloway, a lawyer who also worked in real estate, and Martha Eulalia Reed, a public school teacher and church organist. Around 1914 the family moved to Baltimore, Maryland. His father died around 1920, and his mother married John Nelson Fortune, who held a succession of respectable jobs. Calloway sang solos at Bethlehem Methodist Episcopal Church, and he took voice lessons at age fourteen. He was nevertheless an incorrigible teenager, and in 1921 his stepfather sent him to Downingtown Industrial and Agricultural School, a reform school run by his granduncle, a pastor in Downington, Pennsylvania. In the spring of 1922 Calloway returned home on his own initiative, by his own account not reformed, but now a man rather than a boy. He thereafter moved comfortably between the proprieties of mainstream American life and the depravities of American entertainment....

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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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Hughes, Revella Eudosia (02 July 1895–24 October 1987), musician, singer, and educator, was born in Huntington, West Virginia, the daughter of George W. Hughes, a postman, and Annie B. (maiden name unknown), a piano teacher and seamstress. At age five Hughes began studying piano with her mother and, at eight or nine, violin with a musician friend of her father’s. She attended Huntington’s segregated public schools. Disturbed when Hughes was racially harassed, her parents sent her to Hartshorn Memorial College (later part of Virginia Union University) in Richmond, which she attended from 1909 to 1911, graduating with a degree in music and elementary studies. She attended Oberlin High and Conservatory, graduating in 1915. In 1917 she earned a bachelor of music in piano from Howard’s Conservatory of Music, where she studied piano with LeRoy Tibbs and voice with conservatory director ...

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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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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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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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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....