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Armstrong, Lil (03 February 1898–27 August 1971), jazz pianist, composer, and singer, was born Lillian Hardin in Memphis, Tennessee. Nothing is known of her father, but her mother, Dempsey Hardin, was a strict, churchgoing woman who disapproved of blues music. At age six, Lil began playing organ at home, and at eight she started studying piano. In 1914 she enrolled in the music school of Fisk University in Nashville, taking academic courses and studying piano and music theory. After earning her diploma, around 1917 she joined her mother in Chicago, where she found work demonstrating songs in Jones’ Music Store. Prompted by her employer, in 1918 Hardin auditioned for clarinetist Lawrence Duhé’s band at Bill Bottoms’s Dreamland Ballroom, where she played with cornetist “Sugar Johnny” Smith, trombonist Roy Palmer, and other New Orleans musicians. When Smith became too ill to continue working, he was replaced by first ...

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Bond, Carrie Jacobs (11 August 1861–28 December 1946), songwriter and music publisher, was born Carrie Minetta Jacobs in Janesville, Wisconsin, the daughter of Hannibal Cyrus Jacobs, a grain dealer and amateur flutist, and Mary Emogene Davis. By the age of four she was playing the piano by ear and then began to study with local teachers. In 1880 she married E. J. Smith and bore one son, Frederic Bond Smith, but the couple separated in 1887 and later divorced. In 1889 she married Dr. Frank Lewis Bond, a physician who encouraged her to compose. An economic downturn curtailed his practice, so she traveled to Chicago to try to sell her songs to publishers. On being told that only children’s songs would sell, she immediately wrote one, “Is My Dolly Dead?” which became her first published work (1894)....

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Carlisle, Una Mae (26 December 1915–07 November 1956), jazz pianist, singer, and composer of popular songs, was born in Zanesville, Ohio, the daughter of Edward E. Carlisle and Mellie (maiden name unknown), a schoolteacher. (The assertion that she was born in Xenia, Ohio, published in many references, does not conform to family records.) With piano training from her mother, she sang and played in public at age three in Chillicothe, Ohio. After participating in musical activities at church and school in Jamestown and Xenia, Ohio, she began performing regularly on radio station WHIO in Dayton while still a youngster. In 1932 she came to the notice of ...

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Crawford-Seeger, Ruth Porter (03 July 1901–18 November 1953), composer, teacher, and scholar of American folk music, was born in East Liverpool, Ohio, the daughter of Clark Crawford, a Methodist minister, and Clara Alletta Graves. Her father moved the family to Jacksonville, Florida, in 1911. After his death in 1914, the family supported itself by running a rooming house. Crawford-Seeger began piano study in Jacksonville with her mother and later studied at the city’s School of Musical Art. In 1920 she enrolled at the American Conservatory in Chicago, where she studied piano with Heniot Levy and Louise Robyn, and theory and composition with John Palmer and Adolf Weidig. After a year at the conservatory, she earned a teaching certificate and continued her composition studies with Weidig, earning a master’s degree in 1929. During this period, Crawford-Seeger continued her piano study with Djane Lavoie-Herz and became a member of the faculty at both the conservatory and Elmhurst College of Music near Chicago. The children of poet ...

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Evans, Dale (31 October 1912–07 February 2001), actor and singer-songwriter, actor and singer‐songwriter, was born Lucille Wood Smith in Uvalde, Texas, the daughter of Walter Hillman Smith, a cotton farmer and hardware dealer, and Bettie Sue Wood. At an early age her name was changed to Frances Octavia Smith. During her childhood the family moved to Osceola, Arkansas, where Frances attended local schools and enjoyed singing with church and social groups. She was bright, skipped several grades, and entered high school at the age of twelve. Two years later, to her parents' dismay, she eloped with her boyfriend, Thomas F. Fox, and gave birth to their son the following year. Soon afterward Fox deserted the family, leaving Frances to raise the child on her own; the couple divorced in 1929 when Frances was seventeen....

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Dale Evans. [left to right] Dale Evans, Roy Rogers, and their horse Trigger, 1958. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection: LC-USZ62-128588).

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Harline, Leigh (26 March 1907–10 December 1969), composer and songwriter, was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, the son of Carl Harline, a farmer and cobbler, and Matilda Johanna Petersen, a rugmaker. Harline was raised and educated in Salt Lake, majoring in music at the University of Utah. He studied piano and organ with J. Spencer Cornwall, conductor of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. At the age of twenty-one Harline moved to California and worked in both Los Angeles and San Francisco composing music for radio stations in those cities. He often doubled as announcer and singer. In 1933 Harline went to work for ...

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Kummer, Clare Rodman Beecher (09 January 1873–22 April 1958), playwright and songwriter, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the daughter of Eugene Francis Beecher. Her father, a nephew of Henry Ward Beecher, was a man of comfortable means and an amateur tunesmith, and he encouraged his daughter’s interest in the arts. The young girl’s mother (whose name cannot be ascertained) was equally dedicated to the arts and frequently entertained guests at gatherings for the performance of music and the reading of plays. In 1885 at the age of twelve Clare Beecher was enrolled in the Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn. Leaving after three years, she went on to study music privately. In 1895 she married Frederic Arnold Kummer, a civil engineer at the time, but better known in later years as a playwright and novelist. The couple had one child, a daughter, Marjorie, who in adulthood acted in her mother’s plays. The marriage ended in divorce, but the genteel theatrical press of the day omitted all mention of the divorce in interviews and almost invariably referred to Clare Kummer as “Miss Kummer.” Having gained a measure of fame under that surname, she retained it professionally for the rest of her life. In 1910 she married again, to Arthur Henry, also a playwright....

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Elsa Maxwell Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1935. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-103698).

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Maxwell, Elsa (24 May 1883–01 November 1963), international hostess, songwriter, and newspaper columnist, was born in a theater box during a touring company’s performance of Mignon in Keokuk, Iowa, the daughter of James David Maxwell, an insurance salesman and part-time journalist, and Laura Wyman. Her childhood was spent in a modest flat situated among the elegant homes on San Francisco’s Nob Hill. A disappointment there at age twelve may have influenced her later party giving. A neighbor, the wealthy senator ...

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Nyro, Laura (18 October 1947–08 April 1997), popular singer-songwriter from the late 1960s onward, was born Laura Nigro in the Bronx, New York, the daughter of Louis Nigro, a piano tuner and jazz trumpeter, and Gilda Mirsky Nigro, a bookkeeper. A largely self-taught pianist and an avid reader of poetry who grew up listening to Leontyne Price, ...

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Ronell, Ann (25 December 1905–25 December 1993), composer and lyricist, was born Ann Rosenblatt in Omaha, Nebraska, the third of four children born to Morris Rosenblatt, a coal dealer, and Mollie Rosenblatt (maiden name unknown). The year of Ronell's birth has appeared variously as 1903, 1906, and 1908; she was also known as Anne and Anna. She was descended from recent immigrants, her father being a Russian émigré who arrived in this country from Czarist Russia in 1890 and settled in Omaha. After graduating from Omaha's Central High School in 1923, she enrolled first at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, and then transferred following her sophomore year to Radcliffe College, where she could receive more intensive musical training. Her teachers at Radcliffe included Edward Ballantine, Archibald Davison, Edward Burlingame Hill, and Walter Spalding, all notable teachers of composition....

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Ann Ronell. Courtesy of Benjamin Sears and the Nebraska State Historical Society.

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Shindler, Mary Dana (15 February 1810–08 February 1883), songwriter and advocate of reform, was born Mary Stanley Bunce Palmer in Beaufort, South Carolina, the daughter of Benjamin Morgan Palmer and Mary Stanley Bunce. In 1814 her father, a Princeton graduate, became co-pastor of Charleston’s Independent (Congregational) Church. Mary attended a prestigious school for girls in Charleston and received a lady’s education at seminaries conducted by clergymen in Connecticut and New Jersey. Some of her juvenile poems were published in a periodical that was edited locally. Through family connections she met many of antebellum America’s leading clergymen, foreign and domestic missionaries, and women involved in church work and charities....

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Sosenko, Anna (13 June 1909–09 June 2000), producer, songwriter, manager, and archivist, was born in Camden, New Jersey, one of three children of Rebecca Sosenko (maiden name unknown) and Simon Sosenko. The family was not one of means; Anna's mother ran a restaurant and a sometime boarding house, occasionally renting out rooms in the family home. Sosenko's formal education came to an end when she graduated from Camden High School. Her life would change, however, in her early adulthood when the family let a room to a struggling girl-pianist who toiled in a “five-a-day” (five shows a day) vaudeville theater across the street. The struggling pianist was Hildegarde Sell, the Milwaukee-born daughter of German immigrants. The two girls struck up an instant friendship and eventually a partnership that would make both their fortunes....

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Spivey, Queen Victoria (15 October 1906–03 October 1976), classic blues singer and songwriter, (on at least one recording known as Jane Lucas), was born Victoria Regina Spivey in Houston, Texas, the daughter of Grant Spivey, a straw boss on Texas wharfs and a string player, and Addie Smith, a nurse. She was one of eight children in a musical family. Her father and brothers were members of a local string band, and her three sisters, Addie “Sweet Peas,” Elton “Za Zu,” and Leona, also were singers. Spivey began playing piano at an early age and soon was performing with various local groups (including Henry “Lazy Daddy” Filmore’s Blues-Jazz Band and L. C. Tolen’s Band and Revue). There followed appearances in vaudeville houses and theaters throughout Texas, Missouri, and Michigan. As a teenager she worked at the Lincoln Theater (playing piano for silent movies) in Houston, Texas....

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Suesse, Dana (03 December 1909–16 October 1987), composer, lyricist, pianist, and writer, was born Nadine Dana Suesse in Kansas City, Missouri, daughter of Julius Suess and Nina Quarrier Suess. The surname is pronounced “Sweese.” A child prodigy, Dana Suesse won prizes—one, for composition, from the National Federation of Music—and scholarships when she was nine. As a child, she played the piano, danced and sang, wrote poetry that was published in newspapers, and designed clothes. Her earliest piano studies were in Kansas City with Gertrude Concannon, a student of Emil Paur. After her graduation from high school in 1926 she moved to New York, hoping to be discovered, and studied with Alexander Siloti, a pupil of Liszt....

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Dana Suesse. Courtesy of Benjamin Sears and Dana Suesse Music.

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Swift, Kay (19 April 1897–28 January 1993), composer, lyricist, and songwriter, was born Katharine Faulkner Swift in New York City, the daughter of Samuel Swift, a music critic, and Ellen Faulkner Swift, an interior decorator. She began her musical studies at the age of seven, later won a scholarship to the Institute of Musical Arts (now the Juilliard School), and in 1920–1921 attended the New England Conservatory, where she studied piano with Heinrich Gebhard and composition with ...

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Kay Swift. Courtesy of Katharine Weber and Benjamin Sears.