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Allen, Henry “Red” (07 January 1908–17 April 1967), trumpeter, was born Henry James Allen, Jr., in Algiers, Louisiana, the son of Henry James Allen, Sr., a trumpeter and leader of a brass band, and Juretta (maiden name unknown). Allen received instruction from his father and his two uncles, who were also trumpeters. Rehearsals were held at home, giving Allen the opportunity to hear New Orleans greats like ...

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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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Anderson, Cat (12 September 1916–29 April 1981), jazz trumpeter, was born William Alonzo Anderson, Jr., in Greenville, South Carolina. Nothing is known of his parents, who died when he was four. Anderson grew up in Jenkins’ Orphanage in Charleston, where as a boy he received the nickname “Cat” after scratching and tearing in a fight with a bully. He played in the orphanage’s renowned bands, beginning on trombone and playing other brass and percussion instruments before taking up trumpet. From 1929 onward he participated in orphanage band tours, and in Florida in 1933 he formed the cooperative Carolina Cotton Pickers with fellow orphanage musicians. Returning to Charleston in 1934, they continued playing as the Carolina Cotton Pickers and then resumed touring....

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Anderson, Marian (17 February 1897–08 April 1993), contralto, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the daughter of John Berkeley Anderson, a refrigerator room employee at the Reading Terminal Market, an ice and coal dealer, and a barber, and Anne (also seen as “Annie” and “Anna,” maiden name unknown), a former schoolteacher. John Anderson’s various jobs provided only a meager income, and after his death, before Marian was a teenager, her mother’s income as a laundress and laborer at Wannamaker Department Store was even less. Yet, as Anderson later recalled, neither she nor her two younger sisters thought of themselves as poor. When Marian was about eight her father purchased a piano from his brother; she proceeded to teach herself how to play it and became good enough to accompany herself. Also as a youngster, having seen a violin in a pawn shop window, she became determined to purchase it and earned the requisite $4 by scrubbing her neighbors’ steps. She attempted to teach herself the violin as well but discovered that she had little aptitude for the instrument....

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Arlen, Harold (15 February 1905–23 April 1986), songwriter, was born Hyman Arluck in Buffalo, New York, the son of Samuel Arluck, a cantor. His mother’s name is not known. Arlen began his singing career performing in his father’s synagogue’s choir. His musical performing career began at age fifteen when, as a ragtime pianist, he formed the local Snappy Trio, which performed at small clubs and parties and on scenic cruises of Lake Erie. The trio grew into the Yankee Six and then into the larger Buffalodians. With this enlarged band Arlen traveled in the mid-1920s to New York, where he soon found work as a singer-pianist on radio and record. He also wrote a few arrangements for the popular ...

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Armstrong, Louis (04 August 1901–06 July 1971), jazz trumpeter and singer, , known universally as “Satchmo” and later as “Pops,” was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the illegitimate son of William Armstrong, a boiler stoker in a turpentine plant, and Mary Est “Mayann” Albert, a laundress. Abandoned by his father shortly after birth, Armstrong was raised by his paternal grandmother, Josephine, until he was returned to his mother’s care at age five. Mother and son moved from Jane Alley, in a violence-torn slum, to an only slightly better area, Franklyn and Perdido streets, where nearby cheap cabarets gave the boy his first introduction to the new kind of music, jazz, that was developing in New Orleans. Although Armstrong claims to have heard the early jazz cornetist ...

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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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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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Bailey, Buster (19 July 1902–12 April 1967), jazz clarinetist and saxophonist, was born William C. Bailey in Memphis, Tennessee. Nothing is known of his parents. He attended the Clay Street School in Memphis, where he began studying clarinet at age thirteen. In 1917 he turned professional after joining the touring band of famed blues composer ...

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Bailey, Mildred (27 February 1907–12 December 1951), jazz singer, was born Eleanor Mildred Rinker in Tekoa, Washington, the daughter of Charles Rinker, a farmer of Irish descent, and Josephine (maiden name unknown), who was one-eighth Native American. She attended local schools in Spokane. The Rinkers were a musical family—Mildred’s mother, father, and a brother played piano, her father also sang, and another brother played the saxophone. When Mildred was in her teens, her mother died of tuberculosis; She subsequently moved to Seattle to live with an aunt. In Seattle she met and married Ed Bailey; they had no children. Around that time Mildred obtained her first singing job, plugging hit tunes in the back of a Seattle music store. She later divorced her husband and in 1925 moved to Los Angeles, where she found work playing piano and singing in a Hollywood speakeasy. The same year she married Benny Stafford, but the childless marriage did not last....

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Bailey, Pearl (29 March 1918–17 August 1990), actress, singer, and entertainer, was born Pearl Mae Bailey in Newport News, Virginia, the daughter of the Reverend Joseph James Bailey and Ella Mae (maiden name unknown). Her brother Bill Bailey was at one time a well-known tap dancer....

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Baker, Josephine (03 June 1906–12 April 1975), dancer, singer, and civil rights activist, was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Eddie Carson, a musician, and Carrie Macdonald. Her parents parted when Josephine was still an infant, and her mother married Arthur Martin, which has led to some confusion about her maiden name. Very little is known about her childhood, except that she was a witness to the East St. Louis riot in 1917. This event was often a feature of her talks in the 1950s and 1960s about racism and the fight for equality, which fostered the oft-repeated assertion that the family was resident in East St. Louis. Before the age of eighteen Josephine had been married twice, first to Willie Wells and then to William Baker, to whom she was married in Camden, New Jersey, in September 1921....

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Barber, Samuel (09 March 1910–23 January 1981), composer, was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania, the son of Samuel LeRoy Barber, a physician, and Marguerite McLeod, an amateur pianist and sister of the noted opera singer Louise Homer. At age six, he first took lessons on the cello but quickly gave it up for piano study. In 1917 he wrote his first music composition, ...

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Barnet, Charlie (26 October 1913–04 September 1991), jazz and popular bandleader and saxophonist, was born Charles Daly Barnet in New York City, the son of Willard Barnet and Charline Daly. Both parents played piano. Barnet evidently inherited his father’s ear for music, but his parents divorced when he was two years old, and Willard Barnet never saw his son again. Barnet and his mother lived with her parents. His grandfather Charles Frederick Daly was executive vice president of the New York Central Railroad, and Barnet lived comfortably in New York hotels and apartments, and a summer home....

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Basie, Count (21 August 1904–26 April 1984), jazz pianist, composer, and bandleader, was born William Basie in Red Bank, New Jersey, the son of African-American parents Harvey Lee Basie, an estate groundskeeper, and Lillian Ann Chiles, a laundress. Basie was first exposed to music through his mother’s piano playing. He took piano lessons, played the drums, and acted in school skits. An indifferent student, he left school after junior high and began performing. He organized bands with friends and played various jobs in Red Bank, among them working as a movie theater pianist. In his late teens he pursued work in nearby Asbury Park, but he met with little success. Then, in the early 1920s, he moved to Harlem, where he learned from the leading pianists of the New York “stride” style, ...

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Bayes, Nora (29 November 1880–19 March 1928), singer and comedienne, was born Theodora Goldberg in Joliet, Illinois, the daughter of Elias Goldberg, a merchant, and Rachel Miller. The product of local public schools, which she left to enter vaudeville, the young Dora Goldberg was largely self-taught musically. She had already made her debut at the Hopkins Theatre in Chicago and had become “Nora Bayes” when, at eighteen, she received her first acclaim at the Hyde and Behman vaudeville theater in Chicago, singing comic songs in dialect while impersonating Yiddish and Irish stereotypical characters then fashionable in vaudeville....

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Bechet, Sidney (14 May 1897–14 May 1959), jazz soprano saxophonist and clarinetist, was born Sidney Joseph Bechet in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of Omar (or Omer) Bechet, a shoemaker and amateur flutist, and Josephine Michel. An incorrigible truant, after age eight he stopped attending school and started teaching himself clarinet. What basic education he later received came from private tutoring by a cousin. He received some clarinet training from ...

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Beneke, Tex (12 February 1914–30 May 2000), saxophonist, was born Gordon Lee Beneke in Fort Worth, Texas. By the age of nine he showed a talent for the saxophone, experimenting with both soprano and alto sax before settling on tenor. During the early and mid-1930s he began his professional career by playing in regional bands, first in Texas and then Oklahoma. In 1935 he joined the bandleader Ben Young's orchestra and toured with the group throughout the Midwest in one-nighters before arriving in Detroit in 1937. A fellow ...

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Berlin, Irving (11 May 1888–22 September 1989), songwriter and music publisher of the Tin Pan Alley era, was born Israel Baline in Tumen, in western Siberia, the son of Moses Baline, a cantor, and Leah Lipkin. Berlin was the youngest of eight children, six of whom emigrated with their parents to the United States in 1893 following a pogrom. After settling his family in a tenement on New York City’s Lower East Side, Berlin’s father could find only part-time employment as a kosher poultry inspector and manual laborer. The children were obliged to contribute to the family income. When not attending the local public school or receiving religious instruction at a ...

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Berliner, Emile (20 May 1851–03 August 1929), inventor, was born Emil Berliner in the city of Hannover in the kingdom of Hannover (later a Prussian province), the son of Samuel Berliner, a merchant, and Sarah Fridman. His formal education ended in 1865 with four years at Samsonschule boarding school in Wolfenüttel, where he excelled in penmanship and drawing and evinced an early passion for classical music, a love that remained with him throughout his life. After graduation, his parents being hard pressed to provide for their large family, Berliner took employment in a print shop and then as clerk in a dry goods store. There, watching the handling of bolts of colored fabric, he took an interest in the weaving process and designed a weaving machine—the earliest evidence of his genius for invention....