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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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Bachauer, Gina (21 May 1913–22 August 1976), pianist, was born in Athens, Greece, the daughter of Jean Bachauer, a foreign-car dealer of Austrian descent, and Ersilia Marostica, of Italian descent. Bachauer’s father’s business was profitable, and she enjoyed a comfortable childhood. Her career may have been determined as early as Christmas of 1917, when she received a toy piano as a present. Young Gina impressed family and friends with her ability to play the tiny instrument; consequently, her mother enrolled her at the Athens Royal Conservatory....

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Batchelder, Alice Coleman (1874–17 June 1948), arts administrator and pianist, was born in Beatrice, Nebraska, the daughter of Theodore Coleman, a newspaperman, and Jennie (maiden name unknown). (She was to acquire the name Batchelder through marriage when she was thirty-nine.) During her childhood her family moved from Beatrice to Washington, D.C., then to Santa Clara, California, and finally to Pasadena, California, where her father served as city editor of the ...

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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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Brown, Gertrude Foster (29 July 1867–01 March 1956), suffragist, concert pianist, and music educator, was born Gertrude Marion Foster in Morrison, Illinois, the daughter of Lydia Ann (or Anna) Drake and William Charles Foster, an agricultural commodities trader and real estate investor. At the early age of five, Gertrude displayed a talent for music by teaching herself to play short piano pieces that she had heard her older brother practicing. When she was twelve years old, she was hired as the organist for the local Presbyterian church, the first organist for that church ever to be paid a salary....

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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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Teresa Carreño. Modern albumen print from wet plate collodion negative, c. 1862 (printed later), by Mathew Brady Studio. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

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Carreño, Teresa (22 December 1853–12 June 1917), pianist, was born in Caracas, Venezuela, the daughter of Manuel Antonio Carreño, a Venezuelan minister of finance, and Corinda García de Sena y Toro. Although the young Carreño exhibited musical talent as a toddler, she did not begin studying the piano with her father, a talented amateur, until she was six. Manuel Antonio devised clever technical and musical exercises for his precocious daughter, which included improvisation, harmony, and variation techniques. His educational methods created a foundation of meticulous work habits from which Carreño would never stray....

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Cornish, Nellie Centennial (09 July 1876–07 April 1956), pianist and arts educator, was born in Greenwood, Nebraska, the daughter of Nathan Cornish, a businessman, and Jeannette Simpson. The U.S. centennial in 1876 was the source of her middle name. She founded the Cornish School of Music, now Cornish College of the Arts, a pioneer institution in the teaching of dance, music, and theater in the Pacific Northwest....

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Diller, Angela (01 August 1877–30 April 1968), pianist and music educator, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the daughter of William A. M. Diller, a church organist and choirmaster, and Mary Abigail Welles. As a child, she played piano by ear; when she was twelve she began studying with Alice Fowler, whom she described as “an inspiring teacher” and with whom she studied until she was seventeen. Soon after that she took her first teaching position at St. John the Baptist School for Girls, a New York boarding school, where some of her pupils were her own age. Diller took students to New York Philharmonic concerts, first educating herself about the works to be played by studying scores borrowed from the public library so that she could discuss the music with her students....

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Fay, Amy Muller (21 May 1844–28 February 1928), pianist and musical activist, was born in Bayou Goula, Louisiana, the child of Charlotte Emily Hopkins and Charles Fay, both descended from prominent New England families. (She was christened Amelia but was known as Amy.) Her father, an Episcopalian minister, was the son of a leading judge, while her mother, the daughter of the first Episcopal bishop of Vermont, was herself a woman of great intellect. Amy grew up in St. Albans, Vermont, where her father opened a private school. She received her first musical instruction from her mother. After her mother’s death when Amy was twelve, she continued her music study with her older sisters, except for the summer of 1861, when she studied for a few weeks with Jan Pychowski at the normal school in Geneseo, New York....

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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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Hewitt, Sophia Henriette (1799?–31 August 1846), organist, pianist, and music teacher, was probably born in New York, the daughter of James Hewitt, a violinist, composer, and conductor, and Eliza King. Sophia’s first music teacher was her father, and she made her performing debut at the age of seven in New York City on 14 April 1807, playing a piano sonata. She continued to play in public from time to time until she was twelve, when her father moved the family to Boston. There she occasionally appeared as a pianist and studied organ with George K. Jackson....

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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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Kraus, Lili (04 March 1903?–06 November 1986), concert pianist, was born in Budapest, Hungary, the daughter of a Czech father, Victor Kraus, a stone grinder, and a Hungarian mother, Irene Bak. Both 1903 and 1905 are listed in reputable sources as the year of her birth. Kraus began piano study when she was six years old. Two years later she was accepted at the Budapest Academy of Music, where Zoltán Kodály and ...

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Wanda Landowska Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-111230).

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Landowska, Wanda (05 July 1879–16 August 1959), musician, was born Aleksandra Landowska in Warsaw, Poland, the daughter of Marjan Landowski, a lawyer, and Ewa Lautenberg, a linguist. The Landowskis were formerly Jews who had converted to Roman Catholicism.

Wanda Landowska was a precocious musician who began studying the piano when she was barely out of infancy. She gave her first public recital at the age of four, and from an early age she was especially captivated by the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. She studied privately in childhood and entered the Warsaw Conservatory at the age of fourteen. Her instructors there included Aleksander Michalowski, the noted Chopin interpreter. Following her graduation in 1896, Landowska made her concert debut in Warsaw. She then moved to Berlin, where she studied with Heinrich Urban, the teacher of Padarewski and other renowned performers. Landowska’s continued devotion to the music of Bach—which was then infrequently played—earned her the nickname “Bacchante.”...

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Lee, Julia (13 October 1903–08 December 1958), blues singer and pianist, was born in Boonville, Missouri, the daughter of George Lee, Sr., a violinist, and Katie Redmond. (Most published sources cite her birthdate as 31 Oct., but Harris favors 13 Oct., the date on her death certificate.) She sang with her father’s string trio from age four. Around 1913 her parents acquired a piano, and she began studying it with Scrap Harris and Charles Williams. She performed locally from 1916, notably in a group that included bassist ...