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Cantor, Eddie ( September 1892?–10 October 1964), entertainer, was born Israel Iskowitz in New York City, the son of Mechel Iskowitz, a violinist, and Meta Kantrowitz. Orphaned at the age of three, he was raised by Esther Kantrowitz, his maternal grandmother. He was educated in the public schools of New York’s Lower East Side. His grandmother registered him as “Israel Kantrowitz,” but the name was subsequently anglicized to “Isidore Kanter” by a school official. Kanter, who altered the spelling of his name to “Cantor” upon embarking on a show business career in 1911, grew up on the streets. His grandmother, an Orthodox Jew, earned a living selling candles and other household items and by securing employment for young immigrants as maids in East Side homes....

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Chapin, Harry Forster (07 December 1942–16 July 1981), popular singer and writer of topical songs, was born in New York City, the son of James Forbes Chapin, a big-band percussionist, and Elspeth Burke. As a high school student, Chapin sang in the Brooklyn Heights Boys Choir and, later, played guitar, banjo, and trumpet in a band that included his father and brothers Stephen Chapin and Tom Chapin. He attended the U.S. Air Force Academy briefly and studied at Cornell University from 1960 to 1964. Chapin was best known for his popular ballads, films, and cultural and humanitarian work for the cause of eradicating world hunger. He married Sandra Campbell Gaston in 1968; they had five children....

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George M. Cohan Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1933. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LOT 12735, no. 236 P&P).

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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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Columbo, Russ (14 January 1908–02 September 1934), popular singer, motion-picture star, and radio and recording artist, was born Ruggiero de Rudolpho Columbo in San Francisco, California, the son of Nicholas Columbo, a musician who had immigrated to the United States from his native Naples near the turn of the century, and Mariana or Maria (maiden name unknown). Educated initially in the elementary schools of San Francisco, young Ruggiero Columbo attended high school in Los Angeles, where his parents had relocated in 1921. While at Los Angeles’s Belmont High, where he played violin in the school band, he anglicized his first name and became known as Russ Columbo....

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Crosby, Bing (03 May 1903–14 October 1977), singer of popular music, was born Harry Lillis Crosby in Tacoma, Washington, the son of Harry Lowe Crosby, a plant accountant, and Catherine Harrigan. His father was an easy-going descendant of Edmund Brewster, one of the Puritan signers of the Mayflower Compact. His mother, an Irish Catholic, was a strict disciplinarian. Early in his life the family moved to Spokane, Washington, where Crosby grew up. At age six he entered Webster Elementary School (1909–1917), where he received the nickname “Bing.” In 1921 he graduated from the rigidly Jesuit-run Gongaza High School and entered Gongaza University (1921–1925), where he prepared for a law career....

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Sammy Davis, Jr. Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1956. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-114446).

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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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Johnny Desmond, c. 1946-1948. With Margaret Whiting. © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB13-0204 DLC).

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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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Divine (19 Oct. 1945–7 March 1988), film actor, stage performer, and singer, was born Harris Glenn Milstead in Baltimore, Maryland, to Harris Bernard Milstead and Frances Vukovich Milstead. Milstead was educated in the public schools in suburban Baltimore and graduated from Towson High School in ...

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Eddy, Nelson (29 June 1901–06 March 1967), film actor and concert baritone, was born in Providence, Rhode Island, the son of William Darius Eddy, an electrical engineer and inventor, and Isabel Kendrick. Eddy was from a musical family: both of his parents were noted local singers; his grandmother, Caroline Ackerman Kendrick, had been a famous oratorio singer; and his grandfather, Isaac N. Eddy, had been the bass drummer with Reeves’s American Band. In 1915 his parents separated, and his mother moved to Philadelphia. Nelson left school to take a job with her brother at the Mott Iron Works there, and he never returned to finish his formal education. His father stayed in Providence and later remarried. Virginia, a half-sister, was born in 1925. Later, her two sons became favorites of Eddy’s, who had no children of his own....

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Foran, Dick (18 June 1910–10 August 1979), actor and singer, was born John Nicholas Foran in Flemington, New Jersey, the son of Arthur F. Foran, a state senator. (His mother’s name is unknown.) He attended Princeton University where he was a star on the football team and a member of the glee club. His interest in acting was sparked while at Princeton, and he decided to spend a summer in Hollywood. While out West, his friend ...

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Charles W. Carey Jr.

Jessel, George (03 April 1898–24 May 1981), entertainer, was born George Albert Jessel in New York City, the son of Joseph Aaron Jessel, a playwright and traveling salesman, and Charlotte Schwartz. He began his singing career when he was nine years old by serenading customers in his maternal grandfather’s tailor shop. Later that year, using the stage name “McKinley,” he began singing baritone with the Imperial Trio at a Harlem theater where his mother worked as a ticket-taker and soon was appearing solo as Little Georgie Jessel. After his father died in 1908, he cut short his formal education after only six months to join Gus Edwards’s School Boys and Girls, a traveling vaudeville troupe. He toured with a number of Edwards’s shows until 1914, when his voice changed and he lost his boyish appeal, whereupon he went to England to perform as a singer and comedian for the next three years....

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Al Jolson Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-111598).

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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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Danny Kaye Entertaining 4,000 5th Marine Division troops in Sasebo, Japan. Courtesy of the National Archives (NWDNS-127-N-138204).

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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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Keel, Howard (13 Apr. 1919–7 Nov. 2004), actor and singer, was born Harry Clifford Leek, the youngest of two sons of coal miner Charles Homer Leek and Grace Osterkamp Leek, a three-1803934-dollar-a-day paperhanger and part-time maid, in Gillespie, Illinois. His father, an alcoholic, committed suicide in a drunken rage on ...

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Lanza, Mario (31 January 1921–07 October 1959), operatic tenor and film star, was born Alfredo Arnold Cocozza in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Antonio Cocozza, a decorated U.S. Army veteran disabled in World War I, and Maria Lanza, a seamstress. An only child of Italian immigrants, Lanza was raised in a working-class South Philadelphia neighborhood and educated in the Philadelphia public schools, from which he was expelled shortly before graduation, allegedly for assaulting a teacher who insulted his ethnicity....