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Autry, Gene (29 September 1908–02 October 1998), country singer, actor, and baseball team owner, was born Orvon Gene Autry in Tioga, Texas, the son of Delbert Autry, a livestock dealer and tenant farmer, and Elnora Ozmont Autry. He later recalled that his family was poor but “never Tobacco Road poor. My father earned good money, when he felt like it, which was some of the time” (Autry, p. 4). They moved frequently during his childhood, to small farms and hamlets in northern Texas and southern Oklahoma, eventually settling outside Ravia, Oklahoma. His grandfather, a Baptist minister, taught him to sing when he was five years old so he could join the church choir; his musically talented mother taught him how to play a mail-order guitar. As a teenager he sang ballads for tips at cafes, and around 1923 he toured for three months with the Fields Brothers Marvelous Medicine Show. During these years he was reportedly fired from a job as a ranch hand because his singing distracted the other hands from their labor....

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Ives, Burl (14 June 1909–14 April 1995), folk singer and actor, was born Burl Icle Ivanhoe Ives in Hunt City Township, Illinois, the son of Frank Ives, a tenant farmer and highway culvert builder, and Cordella White. A bird, singing on an oak branch outside his mother’s window, ushered in Ives’s birth, and his brothers made him a cornstalk fiddle when he was just a toddler, but it was his pipe-smoking grandmother Kate White who made him a singer. She knew hundreds of folksongs and would fix her bright, black-button eyes on him and sing. Ives was age four when, at an old soldiers’ reunion, he first performed in public. Although he had just eaten two hot dogs that he purchased on credit, he sang well, received one dollar, paid his debt, and spent the remainder on merry-go-round rides. At age twelve he sang and played his banjo at a local camp meeting and was asked while still in the sixth grade to be part of a high school theater group that performed in neighboring towns. He spent his junior and senior years in a consolidated high school in nearby Newton and played football as a fullback and as an all-conference guard....

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Rogers, Roy (05 November 1911–06 July 1998), country singer and actor, was born Leonard Frank Sly in Cincinnati, Ohio, the son of Andrew Sly, a shoe-factory worker, and Mattie Womack Sly, who had become disabled after being stricken by polio. (During the early 1930s he began to use the name Leonard Franklin Slye, although no documentation has been found showing a legal name change.) When Leonard was an infant, his father built a makeshift houseboat on which the family lived on the Ohio River for approximately eight years; they spent much of that time moored near Portsmouth, Ohio. In 1919 they settled on a small farm in Duck Run, Ohio. His father continued to work in Portsmouth and lived away from home for two weeks at a time, so eight-year-old Leonard became responsible for running the farm and hunting with a slingshot in order to feed his mother and three sisters. He later recalled that “for the Slye family, about the most fun we could have together was singing. My whole family was musical. Pop played mandolin and mother played guitar, and my sisters and I all joined in” (Rogers and Evans, p. 25). He and his mother were also accomplished yodelers, using yodels as a form of communication: for example, when his mother wanted to call him in from the fields for dinner, she would use one type of yodel, and if a storm was approaching he would use another yodel as a warning. He learned to play mandolin as a boy and became skilled at calling square dances. Although his ambition was to become a dentist, he was forced to drop out of high school after two years because of financial difficulties. His family then moved back to Cincinnati, where he took a factory job at the U.S. Shoe Company alongside his father....

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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....