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Abshire, Nathan (27 June 1913–13 May 1981), Cajun musician, was born near Gueydan, Louisiana, the son of Lennis Abshire. His mother’s name is unknown. From a family of accordion players, Abshire made his public dance hall debut on the accordion at the age of eight. Like many other rural French-speaking people of Louisiana during his youth, he had little schooling and never became literate in his preferred French or in English. He married Olia Boudreaux, and he and his wife adopted one son....

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Akeman, Stringbean (17 June 1914–10 November 1973), banjo player and comedian, was born David Akeman in Annville, Kentucky, the son of James Akeman and Alice (maiden name unknown). Situated halfway between Corbin and Richmond, Annville was part of a region that produced several other notable banjoists, such as ...

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Bailey, DeFord (14 December 1899–02 July 1982), musician, was born in Bellwood, Smith County, Tennessee, the son of John Henry Bailey and Mary Reedy, farmers. Bailey grew up in the rolling hills east of Nashville and as a child listened to what he later called “black hillbilly music” played by his family. His grandfather Lewis Bailey was a skilled fiddler who won numerous local championships, and a family string band often appeared at local fairs and dances. DeFord Bailey’s own fascination with the harmonica, an instrument that was especially popular in Middle Tennessee, resulted from a childhood illness. When he was three he was stricken with polio and was bedfast for several years; to amuse himself he practiced the harmonica. Lying in bed and listening to the distant sound of trains, hunting dogs, and barnyard animals, he became adept at working imitations of these into his playing, creating unorthodox “bent” notes and mouthing patterns that would later make his musical style unique. Bailey survived the disease, but it left him stunted and frail....

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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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Bond, Johnny (01 June 1915–12 June 1978), songwriter, musician, and writer, was born Cyrus Whitfield Bond in Enville, Oklahoma, the son of Rufus Thomas Bond, a storekeeper and cotton gin operator, and Anna May Camp. While the family had little money, they did own a Victrola player that Bond found fascinating. Inspired by ...

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Callahan, Walter (27 January 1910–10 September 1971), country musician who, with his brother Homer Callahan, formed the duet the Callahan Brothers, was born in Asheville, North Carolina, the son of Bert Callahan, the postmaster of Laurel, North Carolina, and Martha Jane (maiden name unknown). Bert Callahan played organ and taught singing, and Martha Jane Callahan also played the organ and was an accomplished singer. Walter and Homer Callahan began as one of the brother acts of the 1930s, along with the Monroe Brothers and the Allen Brothers. They were both good vocalists as well as multi-instrumentalists: Walter played guitar and string bass, while Homer played guitar, string bass, mandolin, ukelele, violin, and five-string banjo. Along with a penchant for duet yodeling, they were adept blues artists, relying on flat-pick guitars or mandolin and guitar to achieve the “white” blues sound....

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Carlisle, Cliff (06 May 1904–05 April 1983), pioneer country musician and songwriter, was born Clifford Raymond Carlisle in Mt. Eden, Kentucky. Many members of his family were musicians, and his younger brother Bill would later join Cliff in the ranks of early professional musicians. Cliff attended several rural grade schools near Wakefield, Kentucky, eventually transferring to larger schools in Louisville, Kentucky, between 1921 and 1924. Unlike many early musicians, he did not serve an apprenticeship in another field before taking up music; from his earliest days he aspired to be a professional musician, and he emerged as one of the first such professionals in the field of country music....

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Carson, John (23 March 1868–11 December 1949), early country fiddler, vocalist, and entertainer, known professionally as “Fiddlin’ ” John, was born in Fannin County, Georgia, the son of J. P. Carson and Mary Ann Beaty, subsistence farmers. Carson was raised on the family farm, where he learned the rudiments of music-making. His early education was spotty, and the extent of his training unknown. Although he worked as a professional entertainer, he also held odd jobs such as painter and carpenter and probably worked as a subsistence farmer. In 1894 he married Jenny Nora Scroggins (or Scoggins). They had at least nine children....

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Choates, Harry (26 December 1922–17 July 1951), Cajun musician, was born in Rayne, Louisiana. He grew up in Port Arthur, Texas, where he received no formal education, steeped himself in the local honky-tonk scene, and learned to play fiddle on a borrowed instrument that he purportedly never returned. He also played the guitar, steel guitar, and accordion....

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Cooper, Stoney (16 October 1918–22 March 1977), fiddler and singer, was born Dale Troy Cooper in Harmon, West Virginia, the son of Kenny Cooper and Stella Raines, schoolteachers. Cooper and his twin brother Dean grew up on a large farm, where they assisted the family in many of the daily chores. As a child Cooper was fascinated by his older brother’s fiddle playing. With some help from his brother, Cooper began to teach himself to play. As young Cooper listened to the Grand Ole Opry, he was greatly influenced by the fiddling skills of ...

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Copas, Cowboy (15 July 1913–05 March 1963), country vocalist and guitarist, was born Lloyd Estel Copas in Adams County, Ohio (he later fabricated the story that he was born on a ranch near Muskogee, Okla.), the son of Eldon Copas and Lola (maiden name unknown), farmers who also played in an amateur country band. Copas was influenced during his early years by ...

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See Delmore Brothers

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See Delmore Brothers

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Drake, Pete (08 October 1932–29 July 1988), steel guitarist, music producer, and music publisher, was born Roddis Franklin Drake in Atlanta, Georgia, the son of Rev. Johnny Drake, a Pentecostal minister, and Nora Blevins. Beginning his musical pursuits on the acoustic guitar, Drake was inspired at around the age of eighteen by hearing steel guitarist Jerry Byrd playing at the Grand Ole Opry. Drake purchased a lap steel at a local Atlanta pawnshop and began to teach himself to play it. Further inspiration came a few years later from hearing Webb Pierce’s 1953 recording of “Slowly,” on which steel guitarist Bud Isaacs achieved bending-note effects with a pedal-activated, pitch-altering mechanism on his guitar. Fashioning his own pedal guitar, Drake became one of Atlanta’s first pedal steel guitarists. He soon formed his own band, the Sons of the South, which at one time included such notable country music figures as Jerry Reed, Joe South, Doug Kershaw, and ...

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Ford, Whitey (12 May 1901–20 June 1986), vaudeville and country musician and comedian, also known as the Duke of Paducah, was born in DeSoto, Missouri, fifty miles from St. Louis. The names and occupations of his parents are unknown. When he was one year old his mother died, and he was sent to Little Rock, Arkansas, to be reared by a grandmother. Ford attended Peabody Grammar School, acting in school plays and performing in talent shows. He ran away at age seventeen to join the navy during World War I and served four years. During this time he practiced on the tenor banjo, at that time a competitor with the guitar, until he became an accomplished performer. ...

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Hutchinson, Frank (20 March 1897–09 November 1945), singer and guitarist, was born in the mountainous area around Raleigh County, West Virginia. His parents’ names are unknown. Hutchinson moved with his family to Logan County as a young boy. There he was reared by his mother and by his foster father, Bob Deskins. His interest in guitar music was born when, as a boy of seven or eight, he began listening to African-American section hands working on the railroad near his home. Like many young white Appalachian musicians, he was fascinated with the blues-style playing he heard from black musicians who had come into the mountains to work on railroads. In Hutchinson’s case the mentor was Henry Vaughn, who played the guitar in unusual tunings and with a homemade slide to note the strings. Hutchinson earned enough to buy his own guitar and began teaching himself to play. Soon he fashioned a wire rack and was able to hold and play a harmonica while he played guitar, prefiguring the techniques used later by ...

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Jarrell, Tommy (01 March 1901–28 January 1985), banjo player and fiddler, was born Thomas Jefferson Jarrell in Round Peak, North Carolina, the son of Ben Jarrell, a well-known local fiddler who made pioneering string-band recordings with an organization called Da Costa Woltz’s Southern Broadcasters in 1927, and Susan (maiden name unknown). Strangely, his father did not encourage him much in his music, and young Jarrell learned the old-style clawhammer banjo style from Baugie Cockerham, a family hired hand. By 1911 Jarrell had also started playing the fiddle, emulating his father’s style as well as the unorthodox tunings used by area fiddlers, some of whom were veterans of the Civil War....

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Macon, Uncle Dave (07 October 1870–22 March 1952), banjoist and singer, was born David Harrison Macon in Smart Station, near McMinnville, Warren County, Tennessee, the son of Captain John Macon, a merchant and distiller, and Martha Ann Ramsey. The Macon family had deep roots in the county, having first settled there in 1830 through a revolutionary war land grant. The youngest of nine children, Macon grew up during the hard times of Reconstruction, during which his father’s family lost many of their landholdings and stores in the area. This eventually led to the family’s relocating in nearby Nashville in about 1883; there Macon’s mother operated the Broadway Hotel, which catered to the many theater performers traveling through Nashville....

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Maphis, Joe (12 May 1921–27 June 1986), country guitarist, was born Otis Wilson Maphis in Suffolk, Virginia. He came from a farming family and grew up in Cumberland, Maryland. His first musical engagements were as a rhythm guitarist and pianist with his father’s square dance group, the Railsplitters. His guitar technique came from imitating square dance fiddle parts on the guitar. Maphis was also proficient on fiddle, mandolin, bass, and banjo, which earned him the nickname “King of the Strings.”...

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McGee, Sam (01 May 1894–21 August 1975), country music guitarist and singer, was born Sam Fleming McGee in rural Williamson County, due south of Nashville, in Middle Tennessee, the son of John F. McGee, a farmer and well-known local fiddler, and Mary Elizabeth Truett. As a boy, Sam listened to tales about the Civil War battle of Franklin, which was fought near his home, as well as several types of music. From his father he learned a repertoire of old fiddle tunes, from his mother, a battery of old American and British ballads and religious songs. The McGee farmhouse was often the scene of dances and musical jam sessions, with one of the McGee uncles joining in. In 1904, when Sam was ten years old, his father bought him a cheap, $10 banjo, and he learned to “second” (accompany) his father at country dances and in fiddling contests. In 1899 his brother Kirk was born; Kirk learned to play the fiddle and became curator of many of the McGee family fiddle tunes....