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Allen, Steve (26 December 1921–30 October 2000), comedian, author, songwriter, was born Stephen Valentine Patrick William Allen in New York City, the son of vaudeville comedians Carroll William Allen and Isabelle Donohue, who performed under the stage names Billy Allen and Belle Montrose. Literally born into show business, Allen toured the vaudeville circuit with his parents from infancy until his father died suddenly when Allen was only eighteen months old. Because his mother chose to continue her career, she left her young son in the care of her eccentric family in Chicago. In his first autobiography, ...

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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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Blesh, Rudi (21 January 1899–25 August 1985), writer, record producer, and broadcaster, was born Rudolph Pickett Blesh in Guthrie, Oklahoma Territory, the son of Abraham Lincoln Blesh, a doctor, and Theodora Bell Pickett, a piano teacher. In 1910 a family visit to Vienna stimulated Blesh’s interest in the arts, and consequently, he learned to play the piano, the violin, and the cello. Although his musical activities were restricted to the classical repertory at home, Blesh was impressed by the ragtime pianists who performed in Guthrie....

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Borge, Victor (03 January 1909–23 December 2000), entertainer, was born Borge (pronounced BOR-guh) Rosenbaum in Copenhagen, Denmark, to Bernhard Rosenbaum, a Jewish immigrant from Russia, and Frederikke Lichtinger. His father was a violinist long associated with the Royal Danish Symphony, which also performed with the local opera company; his mother was a classical pianist. Borge grew up in a secular household surrounded by music. He was especially drawn to opera, and early on he aspired to become an opera conductor. He began piano lessons with his mother at the age of three and was quickly proclaimed a prodigy. After making his concert debut in Copenhagen five years later, he continued his studies on a scholarship at the Copenhagen Music Conservatory....

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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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Carroll, Earl (16 September 1893–17 June 1948), theatrical producer and songwriter, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the son of James Carroll and Elizabeth Wills, hotelkeepers. At thirteen, Carroll became a program boy at a Pittsburgh theater. At seventeen, having graduated from Allegheny High School, he was assistant treasurer and box-office manager at another theater. He worked his passage around the world doing odd jobs, wrote for an English-language newspaper in the Orient, and, after visiting New York, became treasurer at Pittsburgh’s Nixon Theater....

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Cohan, George M. (3 or 4 July 1878–05 November 1942), performer, writer of songs, musicals, and plays, and producer, was born in Providence, Rhode Island, the son of Jeremiah “Jerry” John Cohan and Helen “Nellie” Frances Costigan. (Cohan’s middle initial stands for Michael.) At the age of seven, Cohan was sent to the E Street School in Providence. His formal schooling lasted six weeks, after which the school sent him to rejoin his parents and sister, Josie, in their theatrical travels. He took violin lessons and played the instrument both in the theater orchestra and in a trick violin act he devised. The Cohans went on their first road show as a family in 1889; when the show failed they went back to ...

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Cole, Nat King (17 March 1919–15 February 1965), pianist and singer, was born Nathaniel Adams Coles in Montgomery, Alabama, the son of the Reverend Edward James Coles, Sr., and Perlina Adams, a musician. Cole’s family moved to Chicago when he was four. He first studied piano with his mother, then with bassist Milt Hinton’s mother, and at the age of twelve, classical piano with a Professor Thomas. The family home was located near the Grand Terrace Ballroom, where Cole often heard his first and most important influence, pianist ...

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Davis, Sammy, Jr. (08 December 1925–16 May 1990), variety performer and entertainer, was born in Harlem, New York, the son of Sammy Davis, Sr., an African-American dancer, and Elvera “Baby” Sanchez, a Puerto Rican chorus girl, both in Will Mastin’s Holiday in Dixieland...

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Desmond, Johnny (14 November 1920–06 September 1985), singer and actor, was born Giovanni Alfredo de Simone in Detroit, the son of Anthony de Simone, a grocery store owner, and Lillian Buccellato. Johnny sang at age nine on a local radio show, “Uncle Nick’s Children’s Hour.” He later attended the Detroit Conservatory of Music, then formed his own vocal group, the Downbeats. In the summer of 1940 the Downbeats were hired by the ...

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Hall, Wendall (23 August 1896–02 April 1969), singer, composer, music publisher, and advertising executive, was born Wendall Woods Hall in St. George, Kansas, the son of Rev. George Franklin Hall and Laura Woods Hall. (His mother's lineage can be traced back to Mayflower...

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Hopper, DeWolf (30 March 1858–23 September 1935), actor and singer, was born William D’Wolf Hopper in New York City, the son of John Hopper, a lawyer, and Rosalie D’Wolf. The family lived on East Third Street right off the Bowery and later moved to West Forty-third Street. His paternal grandfather, John Tatum Hopper, was a Quaker and a conductor of the Underground Railroad in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who was disciplined by the Quaker Meeting for his participation in the Civil War. Hopper was six when his father died, leaving him and his mother comfortably well off. He studied at J. H. Morse’s School. Early on he showed a propensity for the theatrical. As a school boy he mastered the “Senator Dilworthy” monologue, and when he was fifteen he played in a Sunday school production of ...

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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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Jolson, Al (26 May 1886–23 October 1950), singer and entertainer, was born Asa Yoelson in Seredzius, Lithuania, the son of Moses Reuben Yoelson, a rabbi and cantor, and Naomi Cantor. Brought to the United States in 1894, Jolson was educated at the Jefferson Public School in Washington, D.C., before entering the theatrical profession in 1900 as a singer with the Victoria Burlesquers. Jolson subsequently teamed with Fred E. Moore in a singing act featuring stereopticon slides, but his career as a “boy tenor” ended when his voice changed. He and his elder brother, Harry, performed together as “The Hebrew and the Cadet” prior to joining Joe Palmer as Jolson, Palmer and Jolson in “A Little of Everything,” an act that toured the major vaudeville circuits beginning in late 1904. Jolson first performed in blackface at this time....

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Charles W. Carey Jr.

Kaye, Danny (18 January 1913–03 March 1987), entertainer, was born David Daniel Kaminski in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Jacob Kaminski, a tailor, and Clara Nemerovsky. He dropped out of high school during his sophomore year and hitchhiked with a friend to Miami Beach, Florida, to become professional song-and-dance men. After returning to Brooklyn two weeks later, he worked as a soda jerk, office clerk, and insurance appraiser by day and performed at private parties by night. In 1929 he went to work at White Roe Lake House in New York’s Catskill Mountains as a tummler, an entertainer who amused the guests during their every waking hour. For the next four summers he performed at White Roe as Danny Kaye and unsuccessfully sought work on Broadway during the winter....

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Lee, Canada (03 May 1907–09 May 1952), actor, theater producer, bandleader, and boxer, was born Leonard Lionel Cornelius Canegata in New York City, the son of James Cornelius Canegata, a clerk, and Lydia Whaley. Lee’s father came from a wealthy and politically prominent family in St. Croix, Virgin Islands, whose ancestors had adopted a Danish surname. Lee’s grandfather owned a fleet of merchant ships; the family also raced horses. James Canegata shipped out as a cabin boy at eighteen, settled in Manhattan, married, and worked for National Fuel and Gas for thirty-one years. Lee grew up in the San Juan Hill section of Manhattan’s West Sixties and attended P.S. 5 in Harlem. An indifferent student, he devoted more energy to fisticuffs than to schoolwork. Lee studied violin from age seven with composer J. Rosamund Johnson, and at age eleven he was favorably reviewed at a student concert in Aeolian Hall; his parents hoped he would become a concert violinist....

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Lenya, Lotte (18 October 1898–27 November 1981), singing actress, was born Karoline Wilhelmine Charlotte Blamauer, in Vienna, Austria, the daughter of Franz Blamauer, a carriage driver, and Johanna Teuschl, a laundress. “Linnerl,” as she was nicknamed, spent her childhood in a Roman Catholic but impoverished and abusive family in the working-class district of Penzing. At fourteen she left the Bürgerschule for gifted children in Hietzing to begin a four-year apprenticeship in a small hat factory. In 1913, however, an aunt took her to Zurich, where she worked as a domestic helper while studying dance part-time and playing small roles in productions at the Stadttheater....

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Lillie, Beatrice (29 May 1894–20 January 1989), comic actress, was born Beatrice Gladys Lillie in Toronto, Canada, the younger of two daughters of John Lillie, a schoolmaster, and Lucy Ann Shaw Lillie. Educated in Toronto and at St Agnes College in Belleville, Ontario, Canada, Lillie was sometimes known as Gladys Monteil when appearing with her mother and sister Muriel onstage in Canada....

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Monroe, Vaughn Wilton (07 October 1911–21 May 1973), bandleader, singer, and businessman, was born in Akron, Ohio, the son of Ira C. Monroe, a supervisor in a rubber tire factory, and Mable Louisa Maahs. Following World War I, the family moved to Monroe’s grandmother’s farm in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, where he grew up and went to school. The family also lived for a time in Kent, Ohio. Monroe’s musical career began when he was eleven and was given an old, beat-up trumpet. He soaked it in coal oil for a week to get the valves to work and then proceeded to teach himself to play....

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Newley, Anthony (24 September 1931–14 April 1999), singer and songwriter, was born in the East End of London, the son of Frances Grace Newley, a single mother. It has been reported that Newley's father was a local building contractor who made himself known late in Newley's life, but his name has not been recorded. Educated mainly locally, Newley, like many London children during World War II, was evacuated to the countryside. A sojourn with a music hall performer introduced him to theater, and at age fourteen, while working as a tea boy for an advertising agency, he entered London's Italia Conti stage school....