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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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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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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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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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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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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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Best, Denzil (27 April 1917–25 May 1965), jazz drummer and composer, was born Denzil de Costa Best in New York City, the son of immigrant parents from Barbados; his mother was Josephine Best (his father’s name is unknown). Best married Arline Riley (date unknown), with whom he had two daughters. Best began studying piano when he was six years old but later learned trumpet, which he played professionally in the mid-1930s with drummer Chris Columbus (Joe Morris). By the end of the decade he became associated with several seminal bop musicians playing at Minton’s nightclub in New York, including ...

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Bigard, Barney (03 March 1906–27 June 1980), jazz musician, was born Albany Leon Bigard in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of Alexander Louis Bigard and Emanuella Marquez. Little is known of his family except that it produced musicians: his older brother Alex was a drummer, his uncle Emile was a violinist who played with musicians like ...

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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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Brown, Lawrence (03 August 1907–05 September 1988), jazz trombonist, was born in Lawrence, Kansas, the son of John M. Brown, a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal church, and Maggie (maiden name unknown), who played pump organ for the church. When Brown was six the family moved to Oakland, California, where he learned piano; tuba, which he began to play in the Oakland public school system; and violin. He also briefly experimented with alto saxophone before taking up trombone, to which he became intensely devoted after the Browns relocated across the bay to San Francisco....

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Brubeck, Dave (06 December 1920–05 December 2012), jazz pianist, bandleader, and composer, was born David Warren Brubeck in Concord, California, the youngest son of Howard Peter Brubeck, a rancher, and Elizabeth Ivey, a pianist and music teacher. In the mid-1890s his grandfather bought a ranch at the northern foot of Mount Diablo in Clayton, California. His parents' home was in the adjacent town, Concord, where young Dave attended elementary school. His brilliance would eventually be obvious, but as a child he was placed in a slow learning group because he had difficulty with spelling and reading. Dave was born cross-eyed and later in life speculated that he may also have had an unidentified learning disability....

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Bull, Ole (05 February 1810–17 August 1880), concert violinist, composer, and patriot, was born Ole Bornemann Bull in Bergen, Norway, the son of Johan Storm Bull, an apothecary, and Anna Dorothea Geelmuyden. Musically precocious by age three, he was encouraged by his mother and his uncle, a good amateur cellist, who bought the child his first violin and persuaded the parents to engage an instructor, the closest brush Bull would have with formal violin study. Two years were spent with Johan H. Paulson, followed in 1822 by a six-year stint with Mathias Lundholm. Beyond this early foundation, Bull remained almost entirely self-taught, although he sometimes sought informal help from artists like Torgeir Augundson, the legendary Norwegian folk fiddler....

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Butterfield, Billy (14 January 1917–18 March 1988), jazz trumpeter, was born Charles William Butterfield in Middleton, Ohio. His parents’ names are unknown. He studied privately with cornetist Frank Simons in his youth. At Transylvania College in Lexington, Kentucky, his intended medical studies gave way to work with dance bands. He soon quit school to join Andy Anderson’s local band. While playing with Anderson’s band in 1936, he was heard by bandleader ...

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Carney, Harry Howell (01 April 1910–08 October 1974), jazz baritone saxophonist, was born in Boston, Massachusetts. His mother’s given name was Jenny; other details of his parents are unknown. Carney studied piano at age six, switched to clarinet, and then took up alto saxophone in the seventh grade, when he met saxophonist ...

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Carreño, Teresa (22 December 1853–12 June 1917), pianist, was born in Caracas, Venezuela, the daughter of Manuel Antonio Carreño, a Venezuelan minister of finance, and Corinda García de Sena y Toro. Although the young Carreño exhibited musical talent as a toddler, she did not begin studying the piano with her father, a talented amateur, until she was six. Manuel Antonio devised clever technical and musical exercises for his precocious daughter, which included improvisation, harmony, and variation techniques. His educational methods created a foundation of meticulous work habits from which Carreño would never stray....

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Catlett, Big Sid (17 January 1910–25 March 1951), drummer, was born Sidney Catlett in Evansville, Indiana, the son of John B. Catlett, a chauffeur. His mother (name unknown) was a cook. He briefly studied piano before playing drums in school, an activity he continued at Tilden Technical High School after the family moved to Chicago. There he studied under theater orchestra drummer Joe Russek. He worked with lesser-known bands and on occasion substituted for ...

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Charles, Ray (23 September 1930–10 June 2004), pop and jazz singer, pianist, and composer, was born Ray Charles Robinson in Albany, Georgia, the son of Bailey Robinson, a laborer, and Aretha Williams. Williams, a teenage orphan, lived in Greenville, Florida, with Robinson's mother and his wife, Mary Jane Robinson. The Robinson family had informally adopted her, and she became known as Aretha Robinson. Scandalously Aretha became pregnant by Bailey Robinson, and she briefly left Greenville late in the summer of 1930 to be with relatives in Albany for the baby's birth. Mother and child then returned to Greenville, and Aretha and Mary Jane shared Ray Charles's upbringing. He was deeply devoted to his mother and later recalled her perseverance, self-sufficiency, and pride as guiding lights in his life. His father abandoned the family and took another wife elsewhere....