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Beach, Amy (05 September 1867–27 December 1944), composer and pianist, was born Amy Marcy Cheney in West Henniker, New Hampshire, the daughter of Charles Abbott Cheney, a paper miller and, later, paper stock salesman, and Clara Imogene Marcy, an amateur pianist and singer, both from colonial New England families. In 1871 the family moved to Chelsea, Massachusetts, near Boston, and in 1875 to Boston proper. An only child, Beach was an infant prodigy with perfect pitch and total recall, an instinctive gift for the piano that showed itself at age four, and an untaught sense of harmony and form. Her general education began at home with her mother (1873–1879) and ended with three years (c. 1879–1882) at a Boston private school. Her piano studies also began in 1873 with her mother. She next studied with W. Ernst Perabo (1875–1882) and finally with ...

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Bonds, Margaret Jeannette Allison (03 March 1913–26 April 1972), composer, pianist, and teacher, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the daughter of Dr. Monroe Alpheus Majors, a pioneering black physician, medical researcher, and author, and Estelle C. Bonds, a music teacher and organist. Although legally born Majors, she used her mother’s maiden name (Bonds) in her youth and throughout her professional life. She grew up in intellectually stimulating surroundings; her mother held Sunday afternoon salons at which young black Chicago musicians, writers, and artists gathered and where visiting musicians and artists were always welcomed. Bonds first displayed musical talent in her piano composition “Marquette Street Blues,” written at the age of five. She then began studying piano with local teachers and by the time she was in high school was taking lessons in piano and composition with ...

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Gryce, Gigi (28 November 1927–17 March 1983), jazz saxophonist, flutist, and composer, was born in Pensacola, Florida, and grew up in Hartford, Connecticut. Gryce was the product of a highly musical family: his brother and four sisters all were classically trained on a variety of instruments. In his youth, Gryce attended music school in Hartford, developing his skills on flute, alto saxophone, clarinet, and piano. In 1946 he began performing in and around Hartford, both as a sideman and as the leader of his own 23-piece group. In 1948 Gryce moved to Boston to attend the Boston Conservatory, where he studied composition and instrumentation with Daniel Pinkham and Alan Hovaness. In 1952 he won a Fulbright scholarship to study music in Paris, where he continued his instruction in composition with the famed composer Arthur Honegger....

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Harris, Johana (31 December 1912–05 June 1995), pianist, composer, and teacher, was born Beula Aleta Duffey in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, the daughter of Claude Duffey, a grocery supplier, and Laura Coughlan. Before she was two, Harris climbed up on the parlor piano stool to play music she had heard the Royal Canadian Mounties Band play on Parliament Hill for the changing of the guard. Her mother, afflicted by familial deafness, couldn’t hear her playing exactly what the band had played, but she noticed the enchanted spectators watching her dance on the bandstand; consequently, she arranged Harris’s debut at the age of four as a professional dancer....

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Hopekirk, Helen (20 May 1856–19 November 1945), pianist and composer, was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, the daughter of Adam Hopekirk, the owner of a music business, and Helen Croall. She showed musical promise early, began piano lessons at age nine with George Lichtenstein, and studied harmony and composition with Sir Alexander C. MacKenzie. Beginning at age eleven she played at local concerts, and reviewers predicted a brilliant career. In 1876 she realized her father’s dying wish by enrolling in the Leipzig Conservatory, where she remained for two years, studying with Louis Maas, Carl Reinecke, Salomon Jadassohn, and Ernst Friedrich Richter. At her graduation recital on 28 November 1878 she played Frédéric Chopin’s Piano Concerto no. 2 in F Minor with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra....

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Howe, Mary (04 April 1882–14 September 1964), composer, pianist, and music activist, was born Mary Carlisle in Richmond, Virginia, the daughter of Calderon Carlisle, a lawyer, and Kate Thomas. Howe was educated at home by tutors, including a piano teacher, Herminie Seron, who provided her with a thorough grounding in music theory and piano. Howe traveled abroad frequently with her family. During a visit to Europe in 1904 with her mother, she studied piano for a brief and intense period of time with Richard Burmeister in Dresden, Germany. In 1910 she began studying with Ernest Hutcheson and Harold Randolph at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore and, at Hutcheson’s suggestion, studied composition with Gustav Strube. In 1922 Howe earned a diploma in composition from Peabody, for which she presented a full program of her own works. The concert featured her Sonata for Violin and Piano, several piano solos, choral works, and a group of songs, including “If I Am Slow Forgetting,” “Cossack Cradle Song” (later renamed “Berceuse Cossaque”), “There Has Fallen a Splendid Tear,” and “O Mistress Mine.”...

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Lang, Margaret Ruthven (27 November 1867–30 May 1972), violinist and composer, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the daughter of Benjamin Johnson Lang, one of the city’s leading organists and choir masters. Her family was socially prominent and musically active in Boston, and as a young girl Margaret received strong musical training from her father. She began writing music at age seventeen. Her family connections aided her artistic visibility and her compositional career. In 1890, for example, she wrote a piece for male chorus entitled ...

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Ethel Leginska Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-97196).

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Leginska, Ethel (13 April 1886–26 February 1970), concert pianist, conductor, and composer, was born Ethel Liggins in Hull, Yorkshire, England, the daughter of Thomas Liggins and Annie Peck. A child prodigy, Leginska gave her first public piano recital at the age of seven. In 1900 she won a scholarship to study the piano at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt under James Kwast and theory under Bernhard Sekles and Ivan Knorr. In 1904 she began a three-year period of study with Theodor Leschetizky in Vienna and in Berlin. In 1907, the year of her London debut, she married Roy Emerson Whittern, an American who was studying composition; he later changed his name to Emerson Whithorne....

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Liston, Melba Doretta (13 January 1926–23 April 1999), trombonist, bandleader, arranger, and composer, was born in Kansas City, Missouri, the only child of Lucille Clark, an office worker, and Frank Liston, a laborer. Melba was raised in both her birthplace and Kansas City, Kansas, where her grandparents lived. She recounted a lonely childhood made less lonely by the music in her life. Melba’s early years coincided with Kansas City’s blues and jazz boom and the emergence of musical greats like ...

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Martin, Roberta (12 February 1907–18 January 1969), gospel pianist, composer/arranger, and singer, was born Roberta Evelyn Winston in Helena, Arkansas, the daughter of William Winston and Anna (maiden name unknown). One of six children in the Winston household, Roberta showed an early proclivity for music. When only a toddler, she climbed onto the piano bench and picked out melodies that she had heard. This interest and talent was nurtured by her oldest brother’s wife, who became her first piano teacher....

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Price, Florence B. (09 April 1887–03 June 1953), composer and instrumentalist, was born Florence Beatrice Smith in Little Rock, Arkansas, the daughter of James H. Smith, a dentist, and Florence Gulliver. Besides working as a dentist, an unusual profession for blacks of that era, her father was also an amateur novelist, painter, and inventor. Her mother, who had previously been an elementary school teacher in Indianapolis, had been trained in music and provided her daughter’s earliest musical instruction. Florence attended the black schools of Little Rock, where she was a classmate of ...

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Smith, Julia (25 January 1911–08 April 1989), pianist and composer, was born in Denton, Texas. No information is available regarding Smith’s parents. She spent all of her childhood and early adult life in Texas. At an early age she began to study with Harold von Mickwitz at the Institute of Musical Art in Dallas, Texas. In 1930 she received her B.A. in music from North Texas State University. She moved to New York to enter the Juilliard School of Music, where she studied composition with ...

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Warren, Elinor Remick (23 February 1900–27 April 1991), composer and pianist, was born in Los Angeles, California, the daughter of James Garfield Warren, a businessman, and Maude Remick. She early demonstrated musical genius, and at the age of four she was composing pieces for the piano, which her mother, a fine amateur pianist, copied down. Warren’s interest in vocal music also developed early. Her father, who had an excellent tenor voice, was active in several of the choral groups that flourished in Los Angeles during the early part of the century. Warren later recalled being taken as a child to rehearsals of these groups and hearing her father sing in church....

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Mary Lou Williams Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-115074).

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Williams, Mary Lou (08 May 1910–28 May 1981), pianist, composer, and arranger, was born Mary Elfrieda Scruggs in Atlanta, Georgia, the daughter of Mose Scruggs and Virginia Winn. Her father left home about the time she was born; her mother remarried, to Fletcher Burley, and the family moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, when Mary Lou was four. She began to play the piano at about the same time, learning first from her mother and then from the many pianists who frequented the family's home. She learned to play ragtime, boogie-woogie, and blues, and her uncle and grandfather paid her to play their favorite popular and classical tunes. Her stepfather took her to play in local gambling halls and similar venues and to Pittsburgh theaters to see musicians like the pianist ...