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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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Hall, Adelaide (20 October 1901?–07 November 1993), vaudeville, musical theater, and jazz singer and actress, was born in New York City, the daughter of William Hall, a Pennsylvania German music teacher at the Pratt Institute, and Elizabeth Gerrard, an African American. She made many jokes about her birth year; on her birthday in 1991 she declared that she was ninety years old, hence the conjectural 1901....

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Hill, Chippie (15 March 1905–07 May 1950), dancer and singer, was born Bertha Hill in Charleston, South Carolina, the daughter of John Hill and Ida Jones. From the age of nine she sang in church. The family moved to New York City sometime around 1918, and the following year Hill danced at Leroy’s Club in Harlem in a show led by ...

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Jefferson, Eddie (03 August 1918–09 May 1979), jazz singer, lyricist, and tap dancer, was born Edgar Jefferson in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Information about his parents is unknown. It is known that he started dancing around age eight. He also played tuba in a school band and taught himself guitar and drums, experiences that later gave his singing a firm musical foundation. In Pittsburgh he was accompanied by pianist ...

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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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Martin, Sara (18 June 1884–24 May 1955), blues and vaudeville singer, was born Sara Dunn in Louisville, Kentucky, the daughter of William Dunn and Katie Pope. Nothing is known of her youth. Based in Chicago, she traveled in vaudeville from around 1915.

While performing in New York City clubs and cabarets, Martin was discovered by songwriter and publisher ...

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McDaniel, Hattie (10 June 1895–26 October 1952), film actress and singer, was born in Wichita, Kansas, the daughter of Henry McDaniel, a Baptist minister, and Susan Holbert, and grew up in Denver, Colorado. Former slaves, her parents passed singing abilities along to Hattie and her siblings. During her early education, Hattie’s teachers allowed her to sing spirituals and other songs for her fellow students. In 1910 Hattie recited “Convict Joe” for the Denver Women’s Christian Temperance Union, winning a gold medal and a standing ovation. This success motivated Hattie to join her father and brother Otis—the two had formed a minstrel company—and become a full-time entertainer. She was dubbed by critics and audiences as a “jazz singer.”...

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McPartland, Marian (20 March 1918–20 August 2013), jazz pianist and broadcaster, was born Margaret Marian Turner in Windsor, England, the older of two daughters of Frank Turner, a civil engineer, and Janet Payne. In the first decades of her career McPartland gave her birth date as 1920. Later she became proud of her age and gave out the true year. She persistently gave her birthplace as Slough, England, but her Eton registration district birth certificate gives Windsor, adjacent to Slough (her first home). Although she would live much of her life in America, McPartland never relinquished English citizenship....

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Rainey, Ma (26 April 1886–22 December 1939), vaudeville, blues, and jazz singer and self-proclaimed "Mother of the Blues", vaudeville, blues, and jazz singer and self-proclaimed “Mother of the Blues,” was born Gertrude Malissa Nix Pridgett in Columbus, Georgia, the daughter of Thomas Pridgett and Ella Allen, an employee of the Georgia Central Railroad. Gertrude began her musical career at age fourteen in a local talent show and soon was singing at the Springer Opera House in Columbus. Early in her career, she met William “Pa” Rainey, whom she married in 1904. They toured the South, performing in tent shows, honky-tonks, carnivals, and vaudeville houses with F. S. Wolcott’s Rabbit Foot Minstrels and later with their own troupe. “Ma” Rainey earned a reputation as a flamboyant performer who wore gaudy costumes and had a “wild” stage persona that manifested itself in her seductive movements to her blues music. At the time the Raineys and many other black entertainers were booked into their engagements by the Theatre Owners Booking Association (TOBA). The wages paid to black entertainers were so low and the working conditions so exploitative that TOBA came to stand for “Tough on Black Artists,” or, more colloquially, “Tough on Black Asses.”...

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Smith, Clara (1894–02 February 1935), blues and vaudeville singer, was born in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Nothing is known of her parents and childhood. In about 1910 she began touring the South in vaudeville. Probably in 1920 she joined the new Theater Owners’ Booking Association circuit, in which context guitarist ...

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Smith, Mamie (26 May 1883–30 October 1946?), blues and vaudeville singer and film actress, was born Mamie Robinson in Cincinnati, Ohio. Nothing is known of her parents. At the age of ten she toured with a white act, the Four Dancing Mitchells. She danced in J. Homer Tutt and Salem Tutt-Whitney’s The Smart Set Company in 1912 and then left the tour the next year to sing in Harlem clubs and theaters. Around this time she married William “Smitty” Smith, a singing waiter who died in 1928. At the Lincoln Theater in 1918 she starred in ...

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Stuff Smith © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB23-0788 DLC).

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Smith, Stuff (13 August 1909–25 September 1967), jazz violinist, singer, and comedian, was born Leroy Gordon Smith in Portsmouth, Ohio, the son of Cornelius T. Smith, a barber and musician, and Anna Lee Redman, a schoolteacher. Smith’s birth certificate gives 13 August, but he celebrated his birthday on 14 August, for reasons unknown (perhaps superstition); also, he was known to many as Hezekiah (or by the nickname Hez), but this name is not on the certificate....

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Smith, Trixie (1895–21 September 1943), blues and vaudeville singer, was born in Atlanta, Georgia. Nothing is known of her parents and childhood. Having studied at Selma University in Alabama, she came to New York City around 1915 to perform in clubs and theaters. She was at the New Standard Theater in Philadelphia in 1916, and she toured on the Theater Owners’ Booking Association circuit, probably in 1920 and 1921....

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Ethel Waters Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1938. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-92011).

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Waters, Ethel (31 October 1896–01 September 1977), blues singer and actress, was born in Chester, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Louisa Tar Anderson and John Wesley Waters. Her birth resulted from the rape of her mother. Young Ethel was raised in poor neighborhoods in and around Philadelphia by her mother and grandmother, who worked as a laundress. Members of her family were amateur singers, and at the age of five, using the name Baby Star, Waters sang in public at a children’s performance in a Philadelphia church....

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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....