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Pearl Bailey In her costume from St. Louis Woman. Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1946. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-103735).

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Bailey, Pearl (29 March 1918–17 August 1990), actress, singer, and entertainer, was born Pearl Mae Bailey in Newport News, Virginia, the daughter of the Reverend Joseph James Bailey and Ella Mae (maiden name unknown). Her brother Bill Bailey was at one time a well-known tap dancer....

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Bordoni, Irene (16 January 1895–19 March 1953), actress and singer, was born in Ajaccio, Corsica, France, the daughter of Sauver Bordoni, a tailor; her mother’s name is not known. She was reputed to be the great grandniece of Jean-François Millet, the French painter. Her family moved to Paris, and she left school at the age of ten to work in her father’s shop....

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Broderick, Helen (11 August 1891–25 September 1959), actress and singer, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the daughter of William Broderick, an actor and singer. Her mother’s name is unknown. Influenced and encouraged by her father, Broderick began performing when she was fourteen. She began her professional stage career at the age of sixteen in the first of ...

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Clooney, Rosemary (23 May 1928–29 June 2002), popular singer and actress, was born in Maysville, Kentucky, the daughter of Andrew Clooney, an occasional house painter, and Frances Guilfoyle Clooney, district sales manager for a chain of dress shops. Both parents were of Irish Catholic descent. Rosemary and her two younger siblings, Betty and Nick, grew up in a household that was unstable and often failed to provide basic necessities. Andrew Clooney, an alcoholic, was often unemployed; Frances Clooney, the more consistent breadwinner, traveled frequently for her job, leaving the children with their father or with relatives. In 1941, following her divorce from Andrew Clooney, Frances Clooney remarried and moved to California, taking her son with her; Rosemary and Betty were left behind to keep house for their father and to get by as best they could. Though Andrew Clooney found steady work at a defense plant, money was tight; the girls paid for school lunches with refunds from soda bottles they collected....

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Rosemary Clooney. Los Angeles, 20 November 1952. Courtesy of AP Images.

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Bebe Daniels. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-106959).

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Daniels, Bebe (14 January 1901–16 March 1971), entertainer, was born Phyllis Bebe Daniels in Dallas, Texas, the daughter of Danny Daniels (Melville Daniel MacMeal), the actor-manager of a traveling stock theater company, and Phyllis Griffin, his leading lady. From birth Daniels was called “Bebe,” which means baby in Spanish, reflecting her mother’s Spanish ancestry. Daniels first appeared onstage when she was only ten weeks old, and she performed in her first Shakespearean production at the age of four. After her father left the family around 1907–1908, Daniels’s mother took her to Los Angeles, California. She played child roles onstage until a new labor law was passed. In 1910 she made her silent film debut in ...

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Marlene Dietrich. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-104024).

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Dietrich, Marlene (27 December 1901–06 May 1992), actress and singer, was born Maria Magdalena Dietrich in Berlin, Germany, the daughter of Louis Erich Otto Dietrich, a policeman, and Wilhelmina Elisabeth Josephine Felsing. Dietrich trained as a concert violinist at the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin, but a hand injury at the age of twenty-one led her to shift her ambitions to acting. She adopted the surname Marlene for her stage name by combining syllables of her first two names....

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Faye, Alice (05 May 1915–09 May 1998), singing actress, was born Alice Jeanne Leppert in New York to Charley Leppert, a policeman, and his wife Alice Moffat Leppert. Educated in New York schools and lying about her age, she began her professional career in 1928 as a dancer for the Chester Hale Troupe and the night-club entrepreneur Nils Thor Granlund. Faye (who legally changed her name in 1935) was a chorine in the eleventh ...

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Alice Faye. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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Friganza, Trixie (29 November 1870–27 February 1955), actress and singer, was born Brigid O’Callaghan (sometimes listed as Delia O’Callahan) in Grenola, Kansas, the daughter of Cornelius O’Callaghan and Margaret Friganza, occupations unknown. She revealed little about her parentage except that they were Spanish and Irish. She made her stage debut in 1889 as a chorus girl in a touring production of ...

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Garland, Judy (10 June 1922–22 June 1969), movie star and singer, was born Frances Ethel Gumm in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, the daughter of Frank Avent Gumm and Ethel Marian Milne. Her parents were vaudevillians during the period when vaudeville shared theaters with film presentations. Frank Gumm managed a theater in Grand Rapids and sang, accompanied on the piano by his wife. Later their daughters Mary Jane and Dorothy Virginia (born 1915 and 1917, respectively) became part of the act, joined in December 1924 by Baby Frances....

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Libby Holman. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-113317).

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Holman, Libby (23 May 1906–18 June 1971), actress and singer, was born Elizabeth Holtzman in Cincinnati, Ohio, the daughter of well-to-do lawyer Alfred Holtzman and Rachel Workum. After receiving a B.A. from the University of Cincinnati, Holman made her stage debut in a touring production of the drama ...

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Horne, Lena Mary Calhoun (30 June 1917–09 May 2010), popular singer, and stage and screen actress, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the daughter of Teddy Horne (Edwin Horne, Jr.), a gambler, and Edna Scottron, an aspiring actress. Both parents came from racially mixed families identifying with the African American bourgeoisie. Horne’s upbringing was emotionally disastrous. By 1920 Teddy had left to pursue gambling on the West Coast. He divorced and remarried, thereafter making only rare appearances in Lena’s life. She was shuttled back and forth between a strict, unloving grandmother, Cora Horne, and Edna, who impulsively dumped her daughter off into informal and sometimes abusive caretaking arrangements while pursuing a succession of failed acting schemes in New York and the South. The horrible outcome, for Lena, was a lifelong inability to love and trust. But these childhood experiences also provided the foundation for her career, because in the course of her peripatetic upbringing she was immersed in three separate streams of American culture: the mainstream sweetness of prewar popular music, conveying sentimental notions of romance and courtship; the cutting-edge urban hipness of Harlem; and the dialect and blues-oriented traditions of the African American South....

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Houston, Whitney Elizabeth (09 August 1963–11 February 2012), actress and pop singer, was born in Newark, New Jersey, the daughter of John Russell Houston, Jr. whose diverse employment included artists’ management, and Emily Drinkard, who sang professionally as Cissy Houston. Whitney’s musical heritage was substantial. Her mother achieved fame both in gospel music and as a vocal accompanist (backup singer) with pop stars. One such backup group, the Sweet Inspirations, included Cissy’s niece—Whitney’s cousin—Dionne Warwick, who subsequently became a pop star in her own right. (But the widely reported identification of Aretha Franklin as Whitney’s godmother is evidently a promotional fiction.)...

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Hutton, Betty (26 February 1921–12 March 2007), actress and singer, was born Elizabeth June Thornburg in Battle Creek, Michigan, the daughter of Percy Thornburg, a railroad foreman, and Mabel Lum. Percy abandoned the family when Betty was a newborn and committed suicide in 1939....

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Merman, Ethel (16 January 1909–15 February 1984), actress and singer, was born Ethel Agnes Zimmerman in Astoria, Queens, New York, the daughter of Edward Zimmerman, a bookkeeper, and Agnes Gardner. (Her year of birth is sometimes given as 1908, and some sources spell her family name Zimmermann.) After graduating from William Cullen Bryant High School in Long Island City, she worked as a steno-bookkeeper-secretary in Manhattan while singing at social affairs in the evenings. In 1929 theatrical agent Lou Irwin secured for her a film contract with Warner Bros. in New York, but the only engagement that the studio gave her was a small part in a short film. She subsequently joined the team of Lou Clayton, Eddie Jackson, and ...