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Atkins, Chet (20 June 1924–30 June 2001), guitarist, was born Chester Burton Atkins, the son of James Atkins, a musician, and Ida Sharp Atkins, at his maternal grandfather's farm near Luttrell, Tennessee. The family was poor, and James Atkins, who had formal music training, cobbled together a living as a gospel singer, piano tuner, and music teacher. When Chester—he did not receive the nickname Chet until adulthood—was in grade school, his parents divorced; each remarried, and his father moved to Georgia. Chester remained in Luttrell with his mother, stepfather, and numerous siblings....

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Brown, Eddy (15 July 1895–14 June 1974), violinist and radio pioneer, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Jacob Brown, a tailor and amateur violinist from Austria, and Rachel “Ray” Brown (maiden name unknown) from Russia. His mother, who had a keen interest in Christian Science, named him after Mary Baker Eddy. The Brown family moved to Indianapolis when Eddy was four. He took his first violin lessons from his father and then studied with Hugh McGibney at the Metropolitan School of Music (later Butler University's Jordan College), giving his first public recital at the age of six. In 1904 he traveled to Europe and entered the Royal Conservatory of Music in Budapest to study violin with Jenö Hubay. His teachers there included ...

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Bull, Ole (05 February 1810–17 August 1880), concert violinist, composer, and patriot, was born Ole Bornemann Bull in Bergen, Norway, the son of Johan Storm Bull, an apothecary, and Anna Dorothea Geelmuyden. Musically precocious by age three, he was encouraged by his mother and his uncle, a good amateur cellist, who bought the child his first violin and persuaded the parents to engage an instructor, the closest brush Bull would have with formal violin study. Two years were spent with Johan H. Paulson, followed in 1822 by a six-year stint with Mathias Lundholm. Beyond this early foundation, Bull remained almost entirely self-taught, although he sometimes sought informal help from artists like Torgeir Augundson, the legendary Norwegian folk fiddler....

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Joanne Swenson-Eldridge

Elman, Mischa (20 January 1891–05 April 1967), violinist, was born Mikhail Elman in Talnoye, a small village in the Ukraine, the son of Saul Elman, a Talmudic scholar and marketer of hay, and Yetta Fingerhood. Mischa’s life began in a thatched-roof hut with a dirt floor. By the age of three, Elman demonstrated musical ability by accurately singing folk tunes that his father sang. He became frustrated trying to pluck tunes on his father’s full-size violin, so when he was five, his father brought home a miniature violin. Soon, Elman had mastered a waltz. News of his talent spread quickly through Shpola, the Elman home after 1893, and through the benevolence of Countess Urusova, the region’s landowner, Elman received music lessons. Urusova sponsored a public concert when Elman was six. Elman’s father learned that Jews had been excluded from attending the concert, and he resolved to renounce the countess’s kindness and seek admission for his son at the Imperial Academy of Music in Odessa. From 1897 to 1902 Elman studied in Odessa with Alexander Fiedemann, a former student of Adolph Brodsky, a professor at the Moscow Conservatory. Brodsky, along with eminent violinists Leopold Auer and Pablo de Sarasate, considered Elman the “possessor of a great talent.” During the summer of 1902 Elman, accompanied by his father, successfully toured Kiev and the surrounding province, but they were unable to raise sufficient funds for Elman to study in Paris, Berlin, or St. Petersburg, as Sarasate had recommended. That autumn, Auer was performing in Elisavetgrad, and the Elmans determined to solicit his assistance. Auer was impressed with Elman’s playing: “In the difficult passages he skipped about in the positions as an acrobat does on his ladder.” Auer obtained for Elman admittance and a scholarship to the St. Petersburg Conservatory, and in January 1903 Elman became his student....

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Burton W. Peretti

Foster, Pops (18 May 1892–30 October 1969), musician, was born George Murphy Foster on a plantation near McCall, Louisiana, the son of Charles Foster, a butler, and Annie (maiden name unknown), a seamstress. Foster was African American, with considerable Cherokee Indian ancestry from his mother’s family. As a boy he attended a Catholic elementary school and played the cello in plantation bands led by his father and uncle. His brother Willie excelled at the banjo and also became a professional musician. When Foster was ten his family moved to New Orleans, where he soon switched from the cello to the double bass. He enrolled at New Orleans University, a secondary school for blacks....

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Grimes, Tiny (07 July 1916?–04 March 1989), jazz and rhythm-and-blues guitarist and bandleader, was born Lloyd Grimes in Newport News, Virginia. Grimes told interviewer Bob Kenselaar that he was unsure of his birth date, there being no certificate. He told writers Stanley Dance and Arnie Berle that he was born in 1917, but other published sources give 1916 or 1915. Details of his parents are unknown. Grimes took up drums in a Boy Scout marching band. He played regularly at a beach dancehall near Newport News until a storm and subsequent flood destroyed the hall and his drums. Around the seventh grade he dropped out of school to work typical boyhood jobs selling papers and shining shoes. He taught himself to play piano, and while living in Washington, D.C., he became a pianist and singer in a trio called Wynken, Blynken and Nod. The group performed regularly on radio on “ ...

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Hall, Al (08 March 1915–18 January 1988), jazz string bass player, was born Alfred Wesley Hall in Jacksonville, Florida, the son of Henry Hall, a cement finisher, and Alene K. (maiden name unknown), a dietician. (His birth date is often given as 18 Mar., but 8 Mar. appeared on his driver’s license, in the ...

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Joanne Swenson-Eldridge

Heifetz, Jascha (02 February 1901–10 December 1987), violinist, was born in Vilna, Lithuania, the son of Reuven Heifetz, a and Anna (maiden name unknown). Jascha’s exceptional and instinctive musical gifts were already evident at age three, when he began violin study with his father, who was concertmaster of the Vilna Symphony Orchestra. His father arranged Jascha’s first public concert in order to convince officials of the Imperial School of Music in Vilna that the five-year-old Jascha was ready for admission. Once admitted, he studied with Ilya Davidovitch Malkin, a pupil of Leopold Auer. Heifetz played the Mendelssohn Concerto in Kovno at age six, and a year later he graduated from the Vilna school. Persuaded by Malkin to listen to Heifetz play, Auer declared that he had never heard such beautiful playing. By the autumn of 1910 Heifetz was enrolled in the St. Petersburg Conservatory, and after one term he became Auer’s private student. On 30 April 1911 Heifetz performed with great success in St. Petersburg. His Berlin debut recital in May 1912 was considered “immaculate” and led to his performance of the Tchaikovsky Concerto later that year with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under Arthur Nikisch. Between 1913 and 1916 Heifetz continued studies with Auer in St. Petersburg and in Loschwitz, near Dresden, at Auer’s summer studio. Heifetz performed numerous concerts, especially in Norway during the summer of 1916 and in Russia during the winter of 1916–1917....

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Johnson, Francis (16 June 1792–06 April 1844), musician, bandleader, and composer, also known as Frank Johnson, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Little is known of his youth and parentage. Most sources cite Martinique as his birthplace, but Stephen Charpié's (1999) work with baptismal records establishes his birth date, birthplace, and status as a free African American. Though skilled at a number of instruments, Johnson seems to have first attained local prominence as a fiddler at dances, parties, and the like; there is some evidence that he played with Matthew “Matt” Black's band in the late 1810s. Johnson also seems to have received some limited instruction during this period from Richard Willis, an Irish immigrant who later directed the West Point military band and who introduced the keyed bugle (also known as a Kent bugle) to the United States....

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Kirby, John (31 December 1908–14 June 1952), jazz bassist and bandleader, was born in Baltimore. Details about his parents are unknown. Abandoned, Kirby had a horrible childhood in an orphanage; it “left him without social graces, and he lacked formal education.” He sold newspapers, shined shoes, and groomed horses before securing a job as a Pullman porter on the Pennsylvania Railroad. In 1924 he came to New York with a trombone, which was immediately stolen. He worked in restaurants to buy a tuba and then performed in Harlem, returning to the railroad when opportunities to play were scarce. He was a member of Bill Brown and his Brownies briefly in 1928 and again from 1929 into early 1930. Having begun to play string bass as well as tuba, he switched between both on Brown’s recording “What Kind of Rhythm Is This?” (1929)....

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Koussevitzky, Serge (26 July 1874–04 June 1951), double-bass virtuoso and conductor, was born Sergei Aleksandrovich Kusevitskii in Vishny-Volotchok, Tver (now Kalinin), Russia, the son of Alexander Koussevitzkii and Anna Barabeitchik. Both of his parents were musical; his mother was a pianist and his father, a ...

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Kreisler, Fritz (02 February 1875–29 January 1962), violinist and composer, was born Friedrich Kreisler in Vienna, Austria, the son of Samuel Severin Kreisler, a general medical practitioner and amateur violinist, and Anna (maiden name unknown). Fritz’s father and musical friends devoted Saturday afternoons to string quartet playing. Young Fritz listened, and at age four, having successfully played the national anthem on a toy violin for the Saturday group, he received a genuine small violin from his father. Jacques Auber, concertmaster at the Ring Theater and a friend of Dr. Kreisler, agreed to teach Fritz, who made rapid progress. In 1882 Kreisler was admitted to the Vienna Conservatory. He studied violin with Joseph Hellmesberger, Jr., and studied harmony and theory with Anton Bruckner. Kreisler’s piano skills, much lauded by colleagues in later years, were self-taught while he was at the conservatory. Kreisler gave his first public violin performance in 1884 in a conservatory concert, and in 1885 he won first prize for violinists, the conservatory’s gold medal, which was an unprecedented accomplishment for a ten-year-old....

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Loeffler, Charles Martin (30 January 1861–19 May 1935), composer and violinist, was born near Berlin, Germany, the son of Dr. Karl Löffler, a writer and agricultural scientist, and Helena Schwerdtmann. His father’s professional expertise was in demand in various sugar-producing regions of Europe. Thus, as he was growing up, Loeffler lived with his family in several towns in Germany and in France, Hungary, and Russia. As a child he was educated principally at home, although he recalled receiving his first violin lessons in Smela in Ukraine. Loeffler attended the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin from 1874 to 1877; there he studied violin with Joseph Joachim. In Paris he studied violin with Lambert Joseph Massart and composition with Ernest Guiraud. Loeffler played for one year in the Pasdeloup Orchestra in Paris, after which he was a member of the private orchestra of Baron Paul von Derwies in France and Switzerland from 1879 to 1881....

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Lucas, Nick (22 August 1897–28 July 1982), singer-guitarist-composer, was born Dominic Antonio Nicholas Lucanese in Newark, New Jersey, the son, one of nine children, of Otto Maria Lucanese, a gardener, and Bella Ermiania Lucanese. When he was four years old he began playing stringed instruments, and by the age of eight he and his older brother Frank were supplementing the family income by performing their music at various social events. He became so accomplished as a guitarist that in 1912 he and Frank made test pressings for the Edison Company, thus beginning a recording career that continued into the early 1980s....

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Mannes, David (16 February 1866–25 April 1959), violinist, conductor, and educator, was born in New York City, the son of Henry Mannes, a merchant, and Nathalia Wittkowsky. Mannes’s parents and elder brother had immigrated to the United States in 1860. With financial help from a cousin, Mannes’s father had opened a clothing store on Seventh Avenue in New York City. Mannes was born in the impoverished family’s home above the store. As a young child Mannes created his first violin from a cigar box, a piece of wood, and a string. His parents, hoping to encourage him, bought him a cheap violin and arranged for his intermittent studies. One of his earliest and most influential teachers was John Douglas, an African-American violinist, who had studied in Dresden with Eduard Rappoldi. Douglas was a talented, European-trained violinist who was never able to secure a chair in a symphony orchestra in the United States; he refused to charge Henry Mannes for David’s lessons. In New York, Mannes also studied violin with August Zeiss, Herman Brandt, concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic, and Carl Richter Nicolai, Brandt’s successor as concertmaster of the Philharmonic. As a young adult Mannes traveled to Germany to study with Heinrich de Ahna, second violin of the Joachim Quartet, and Karel Haliř, a violin professor at the Hochschule für Musik. His violin studies culminated in six months in Brussels with celebrated violinist Eugène Ysaÿe....

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McTell, Blind Willie (05 May 1898?–19 August 1959), blues artist, was born Willie Samuel McTell near Thomson, Georgia, the son of Minnie Watkins and Eddie McTell. Probably blind from birth, he was one of two children. His birth date remains obscure; some sources report 5 May 1901, but in a 1940 recorded interview, folklorist ...

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Montoya, Carlos (Garcia) (13 December 1903–03 March 1993), flamenco guitarist, was born in Madrid, Spain, the son of Juan Garcia, who raised mules for the Spanish army and died when his son was two, and his wife, Emilia Montoya. Carlos Montoya was descended on both sides of his family from Spanish Gypsies traditionally associated with flamenco, an intensively rhythmic style of dancing and singing to guitar accompaniment, punctuated by shouts, hand claps, and the click of castanets. One of his uncles was Ramón Montoya, a well-known flamenco guitarist. Emilia Montoya began teaching her son to pick out melodies by ear on the guitar when he was eight, and he proved an adept learner. He also took informal lessons from a local barber and amateur guitarist. In addition to this casual instruction, Montoya was taken to flamenco performances from an early age, and he quickly absorbed the rhythms and chord changes of the genre. By the age of fourteen, he was accompanying flamenco performers in and around Madrid, earning very little money but improving his talent. In his late teens he found daytime employment as a clerk in the post office and later worked in a courthouse while he devoted evenings to flamenco, playing with some of the best-known singers and dancers in area cafés. He received no further musical instruction and never learned to read music....

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Nance, Ray Willis (10 December 1913–28 January 1976), jazz musician, was born in Chicago, Illinois. (His parents’ names and occupations are unknown.) Nance displayed musical ability early. At age six he took piano lessons from his mother, and at nine he began five years of violin study with a private teacher. By his fourteenth birthday he was accepted at the Chicago College of Music. At first, his study of the violin was meant to please his mother, he said. “But after a time, I got to like it.” He continued instruction with Max Fischel, the college’s best teacher, for seven more years while he attended public school....

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Pettiford, Oscar (30 September 1922–08 September 1960), composer and musician, was born in Okmulgee, Oklahoma, the son of Harry “Doc” Pettiford, a veterinarian and amateur guitarist of African-American and Cherokee descent, and Leontine Bell, a music teacher and pianist who was a full-blooded Choctaw. Pettiford’s father gave up his career in the 1920s, and the family moved to Minneapolis to form what would later become an outstanding regional band. All eleven children contributed, the older ones generally playing instruments and the younger singing. Ira, on the trumpet, eventually worked with ...

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Piatigorsky, Gregor (17 April 1903–06 August 1976), cellist and composer, was born in Ekaterinoslav in what is now Ukraine, the son of Paul Piatigorsky and Marie (maiden name unknown). He began to play the cello at age seven, taught by his father, an aspiring violinist. In 1911, recognized as a prodigy, Piatigorsky was awarded a scholarship for study at the Moscow Conservatory under Alfred von Glehn; he soon began to play in the Zimin Opera orchestra and elsewhere to eke out a living. In 1917 Piatigorsky debuted as a soloist. Two years later he competed successfully to become principal cellist of the Bolshoi Theater Orchestra and also joined the newly formed Lenin String Quartet, sponsored by the new regime. From 1919 to 1921 Piatigorsky’s career flourished, as he played solo and sonata recitals and chamber music concerts with many leading Russian musicians of the time. His devotion to the advancement of contemporary music, which remained a lifelong pursuit, led to his introducing many new works to Russian audiences, including Debussy’s Sonata for Cello and Piano, Ravel’s Piano Trio, and Prokofiev’s ...