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Barrère, Georges (31 October 1876–14 June 1944), flutist and conductor, was born in Bordeaux, France, the son of Gabriel Barrère, a furniture maker, and Marie Périne Courtet. As a child in Paris he played in a fife, drum, and bugle corps and began flute studies with Léon Richault. He studied at the Paris Conservatoire with Henry Altès (1889–1893) and Claude Paul Taffanel (1893–1896), who became his mentor. Barrère graduated with the ...

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Bate, Humphrey (25 May 1875–12 June 1936), bandleader, harmonica player, and physician, was born in Castalian Springs, Tennessee, the son of a local physician. His parents’ names are unknown. A graduate of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Bate took over his father’s practice and traveled the circuit in Sumner County, just north of Nashville. As a hobby he organized and led a string band that eventually became the first such group to appear on the pioneer country radio show the “Grand Ole Opry.” His band is considered by historians to be one of the finest and most authentic of the old-time performing groups, and for years it was the cornerstone of the “Grand Ole Opry.”...

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Butterfield, Paul (17 December 1942–03 May 1987), blues harmonica player and bandleader, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of middle-class parents whose names and occupations are unknown. Butterfield was raised in Chicago, where blues music was regularly performed in small clubs on the city’s South Side, catering primarily to a black audience who had migrated to the city in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s looking for better employment opportunities. Butterfield was one of the few young white musicians to befriend the older bluesmen and was soon sitting in with band members as a harmonica player....

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Sam Donahue © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB23-0206 DLC).

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Donahue, Sam (08 March 1918–22 March 1974), jazz and popular tenor saxophonist and bandleader, was born Samuel Koontz Donahue in Detroit, Michigan. His parents’ names and occupations are unknown. Donahue began clarinet at age nine and saxophone in high school. He played in the Redford High School band while also working locally as a sideman and with his own band from 1933 until 1938. In the latter year he gave his Detroit band over to arranger Sonny Burke and became a soloist in ...

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Dorsey, Jimmy (29 February 1904–12 June 1957), and Tommy Dorsey (27 November 1905–26 November 1956), jazz musicians and bandleaders, were born James Francis Dorsey in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, and Thomas Francis Dorsey, Jr., in Mahanoy Plane, Pennsylvania, respectively, the sons of Thomas Francis Dorsey, Sr., a miner, and Theresa “Tess” Langton....

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See Dorsey, Jimmy

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Getz, Stan (02 February 1927–06 June 1991), jazz tenor saxophonist and bandleader, was born Stanley Getz in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Alexander Getz, a tailor, and Goldie (maiden name unknown). Alexander’s surname had been shortened from Gayetzsky when the family emigrated from Russia. Stan Getz was raised in the Bronx from age six. He played harmonica at age twelve, switched to string bass six months later, and then to alto saxophone after another half year. He received a few lessons on the saxophone but was mainly self-taught. To play in the James Monroe High School orchestra, he doubled on bassoon and made such rapid progress that he was named to the All-City High School Orchestra, which entitled him to free lessons from Simon Kovar of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. At age fifteen he was playing saxophone professionally in Dick Rogers’s dance band at Roseland Ballroom in Manhattan, and shortly after his sixteenth birthday he dropped out of high school to tour for nine months with trombonist ...

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Benny Goodman © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB13-0341 DLC).

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Goodman, Benny (30 May 1909–13 June 1986), jazz musician and bandleader, was born Benjamin David Goodman in Chicago, the son of David Goodman, a garment worker, and Dora Rezinsky. His parents were Jewish immigrants from East Europe, and Goodman was raised in near poverty in Chicago’s Jewish enclave....

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Glen Gray © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB23-0350 DLC).

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Gray, Glen (06 July 1906–23 August 1963), saxophonist and band leader, also known as “Spike” Gray, was born Glen Gray Knoblaugh in Roanoke, Illinois, the son of Lurdie C. Knoblaugh, a clerk in the family store, and Agnes Cunningham.

Not an innovator nor performer of extraordinary gifts, Gray’s significance was more historical than musical, residing in the transitional role he and his Casa Loma Orchestra played in the evolution of the large dance orchestra—the big band—between 1930 and the end of World War II. Together they helped to transform the “salon” commercial dance orchestra of the 1910s and 1920s into the swing-oriented bands that began to dominate the business during the mid-1930s....

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Woody Herman Photograph by James J. Kriegsmann, 1945. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-115384).

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Herman, Woody (16 May 1913–29 October 1987), jazz bandleader, reed player, and singer, was born Woodrow Charles Thomas Herrmann in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the son of Otto C. Herrmann, a shoemaker, and Myrtle Bartoszewicz. With his father’s encouragement, the young Herrmann began performing in a kiddie revue at age eight. He tried playing piano and violin before settling on alto saxophone and clarinet. He also studied dance. Billed in vaudeville as the Boy Wonder of the Saxophone, he was performing regularly by age ten while attending a public school. He transferred to St. John’s Cathedral Preparatory School, where teachers and administrators were willing to encourage a boy who sometimes worked late hours in show business....

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Hite, Les (13 February 1903–06 February 1962), jazz alto saxophonist and bandleader, was born in DuQuoin, Illinois. His parents’ names are unknown. While attending school in Urbana, he played alongside his parents and siblings in a family band. He studied at the University of Illinois, Urbana; details of his education are unknown....

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Jenkins, Edmund Thornton (09 April 1894–12 September 1926), clarinetist, composer, and conductor, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of Daniel Jenkins, a former slave, minister, and founder-director of the Jenkins Orphanage Band, and Lena James. Jenkins attended the Avery Institute in Charleston. As a child, he learned to play violin, clarinet, and piano. His first music teachers were his father and other instructors at the orphanage, which was founded in December 1891 and formally incorporated as the Orphan Aid Society in July 1892. By the time he was fourteen years old, Jenkins had learned to play all the instruments of his father’s brass band. In 1908 he entered Atlanta Baptist College (now Morehouse College) where he studied violin with Kemper Harreld. Jenkins participated in the symphony orchestra, glee club, and other musical activities. During vacations he performed, directed, and toured with the orphanage band. Jenkins left college during the summer of 1914 to travel with the band to London for the Anglo-American Exposition, organized by the Hungarian ...

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Leonard, Harlan Quentin (02 July 1905–1983), jazz saxophonist and bandleader, was born in Butler, Missouri, not Kansas City, as is commonly given. Nothing is known of his parents. Leonard’s nickname was “Mike,” for reasons unknown. He attended public schools in Butler and Kansas City, where at age thirteen he enrolled at Lincoln High School, playing clarinet in a school band. Later he studied alto saxophone with George Wilkenson and Eric “Paul” Tremaine. He worked briefly with bandleader ...

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Lewis, Ted (06 June 1890–25 August 1971), entertainer, musician, and bandleader, was born Theodore Leopold Friedman in rural Circleville, Ohio, the son of an owner of a dry goods store whose name cannot be ascertained. Young Theodore began his show business career performing in a nickelodeon in his hometown and learned to play the clarinet in his school band. As a beginning clarinetist, Lewis was something of a prodigy. Although he was never regarded seriously as a musician, he played easily and improvised naturally. Having no desire to go into the dry goods business and still in his teens, he went to Columbus, Ohio, where for a time he demonstrated instruments in a music store. His freewheeling improvisations amused customers but eventually caused him to lose the job....

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Boyd Raeburn © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB13-0718 DLC).

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Raeburn, Boyd (27 October 1913–02 August 1966), jazz and popular bandleader and saxophonist, was born Boyde Albert Raden in Faith, South Dakota. Nothing is known of his parents and upbringing or the reason for the name change from Raden to Raeburn. Raeburn enrolled at the University of Chicago in 1931 to study medicine but found greater enjoyment playing in the college dance band. Entering a local contest, this band won an engagement at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, at which point Raeburn abandoned medicine for music....