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Acuff, Roy (15 September 1903–23 November 1992), country music singer and composer, was born Roy Claxton Acuff in Maynardsville, Tennessee, just a few miles north of Knoxville in a spur of the Great Smoky Mountains, the son of Neil Acuff, an attorney and pastor, and Ida Florence Carr. The family moved to Fountain City, a suburb of Knoxville, when Acuff was sixteen, and he spent most of his high school years excelling in sports. After graduation he was invited to have a tryout at a major league baseball camp, but a 1929 fishing trip to Florida resulted in a severe sunstroke, and Acuff was bedridden for a number of months. During his convalescence he reawakened an early interest in music and began to hone his abilities on the fiddle. By the time he had recovered, he had given up his dreams of a baseball career and had determined to utilize his newly discovered musical talent....

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Adorno, Theodor (11 September 1903–06 August 1969), social and political theorist, aesthetician, and atonalist musical composer, was born Theodor Ludwig Wiesengrund in Frankfurt, Germany, the son of Oskar Wiesengrund, a wealthy wine merchant, and Maria Calvelli-Adorno, a professional singer of Corsican and Genoese origin. He adopted his mother’s maiden name when his scholarly writing began to appear in 1938, perhaps reflecting his close attachment to her rather than to his remote father. His mother had borne her only child at age thirty-seven and lavished attention and resources on him, particularly with regard to “high” culture. His schooling included piano and composition training at a professional level (one teacher was Alban Berg) and philosophy with Edmund Husserl....

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Alexander, Jeff (02 July 1910–23 December 1989), composer and conductor, was born Myer Alexander in Seattle, Washington, the son of Max Alexander, Jr., a salesman, and Della Goodhue, a pianist. His musical education was initiated by his mother and continued at Becker Institute of Music in Portland, Oregon, as well as under private tutors Edmund Ross in Los Angeles and ...

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Anderson, Leroy (29 June 1908–18 May 1975), composer, was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the son of Brewer Anton Anderson, a postal employee and amateur mandolin player, and Anna Margareta Johnson, a church organist. Both parents had immigrated to the United States from Sweden as young children. Leroy picked up Swedish by listening to his parents speak at home, and he learned to play the organ and piano while sitting in his mother’s lap. Although he studied organ with Henry Gideon, his principal instrument was the double bass, which he studied with the Boston Symphony’s Gaston Dufresne....

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Antheil, George (08 July 1900–12 February 1959), composer and writer, was born Georg Johann Carl Antheil in Trenton, New Jersey, the son of Henry William Antheil, a merchant, and Wilhelmina Huse. Antheil’s parents were German immigrants who had done well enough to be able to afford him an economically secure childhood in Trenton. His musical training included private study in piano with Constantin von Sternberg in Philadelphia and from 1919 to 1921 with ...

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Aronson, Rudolph (08 April 1856–04 February 1919), theatrical impresario and composer, was born in New York City to German immigrant parents (names and occupations unknown). When he was six, his music-loving parents arranged for him to have instruction on the piano. Recognizing in Aronson a definite musical precocity, his teacher, Leopold Meyer, persuaded Aronson’s parents to allow the child to be trained for a musical career and introduced Aronson to the violin and the theory of music. At age fourteen Aronson attended a concert featuring musical stars under the direction of ...

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Austin, Lovie (19 September 1887–10 July 1972), pioneer jazzwoman, was born Cora Calhoun, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Little is known about Austin’s personal life. She studied music theory and piano at Roger Williams University in Nashville and Knoxville College in Knoxville. Her musical contributions were nearly overlooked until the revived interest in women in jazz in the 1970s. The reacquaintance with Austin can be attributed to the publication of three books on women in the early days of jazz....

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Ayler, Albert (12 July 1936–05 November 1970), composer and musician, was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the son of Edward Ayler, a semiprofessional violinist and tenor saxophonist, and Myrtle Hunter. Albert and his brother Donald, who later became a professional jazz trumpet player, received musical training early in life from their father. In second grade Albert performed alto saxophone recitals in school. He performed duets with his father (who also played alto saxophone) in church. Together they listened to a great deal of swing and bebop music, both on recordings and at jazz concerts....

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Bacon, Ernst (26 May 1898–16 March 1990), composer and pianist, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Charles S. Bacon, a physician, and Maria von Rosthorn. He was also active as a conductor, teacher, and writer. His music education included the study of music theory with P. C. Lutkin at Northwestern University (1915–1918) and with the composers ...

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Bacon, Thomas (1700?–26 May 1768), clergyman and musician, is traditionally said to have been born on the Isle of Man, but his earliest records come from Whitehaven, Cumberland County, England. His parents are unknown. His brother Anthony Bacon, M.P., may have been the same Anthony Bacon who graduated from Trinity College in 1739. Thomas Bacon was in charge of a coal depot in Dublin early in the 1730s. Since his son John Bacon was a lieutenant in the Independent Maryland Foot Company in 1754, he must have been at least eighteen then. Therefore, Thomas Bacon was probably married by 1735. Nothing is known of his wife except a statement by Rev. ...

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Baermann, Carl (09 July 1839–17 January 1913), pianist and composer, was born in Munich, Germany, the son of Karl Bärmann (1811–1885), a noted clarinetist. His mother’s name is unknown. His grandfather, Heinrich Joseph Bärmann, also was a celebrated clarinetist, whose masterly playing inspired both Mendelssohn and Weber to compose works for him; his granduncle Karl Bärmann (1782–1842) was a famous bassoonist. Carl Baermann studied in Munich with Franz Lachner and Peter Cornelius, made his professional debut at age fifteen, playing Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto in G Minor, op. 25, and later studied with Liszt, with whom he formed a lasting friendship. Baermann and Beatrice von Dessauer, from an elite Bavarian family, married in Munich in 1865....

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Samuel Barber Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1944. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-42491).

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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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Barrymore, Lionel (28 April 1878–15 November 1954), actor, composer, and artist, was born Lionel Blythe in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Herbert Blythe, an actor who adopted the stage name Maurice Barrymore, and Georgiana Drew (Georgie Drew Barrymore), an actress. His mother’s family had been in the theater for generations. Lionel was raised chiefly in the Philadelphia home of his maternal grandmother, actress-manager ...

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Bartók, Béla (25 March 1881–26 September 1945), composer and pianist, was born in Nagyszentmiklós, Hungary (now Sînnicolau Mare, Romania), the son of Béla Bartók, the headmaster of an agricultural school, and Paula Voit, a schoolteacher. Bartók received his first piano lessons at age five from his mother, who, after the death of Bartók’s father in 1888, supported the family through a succession of teaching positions. At age nine, Bartók began composing short pieces for piano, and in 1892 he made his first public appearance as a pianist. His family settled in Pozsony (Bratislava) for five years between 1894 and 1899, and Bartók studied harmony and piano there with László Erkel and Anton Hyrtl....

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Count Basie, c. 1946-1948. © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB23-0047 DLC).

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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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Bauer, Marion Eugenie (15 August 1887–09 August 1955), composer, teacher, and advocate of modern music, was the daughter of Jacques Bauer and Julie Heyman. Her father was an amateur musician who earned his living as a grocer, and her mother was a language teacher. Born in Walla Walla, Washington, Bauer began her musical study in Portland, Oregon, where the family moved after the death of her father in 1890. Soon after her high school graduation in 1903, Bauer moved to New York City to live with her eldest sister, Emilie Frances, a pianist and music critic, who provided her with financial support and encouragement. During this period, Bauer studied piano and composition with Henry Holden Huss....

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Beach, Amy (05 September 1867–27 December 1944), composer and pianist, was born Amy Marcy Cheney in West Henniker, New Hampshire, the daughter of Charles Abbott Cheney, a paper miller and, later, paper stock salesman, and Clara Imogene Marcy, an amateur pianist and singer, both from colonial New England families. In 1871 the family moved to Chelsea, Massachusetts, near Boston, and in 1875 to Boston proper. An only child, Beach was an infant prodigy with perfect pitch and total recall, an instinctive gift for the piano that showed itself at age four, and an untaught sense of harmony and form. Her general education began at home with her mother (1873–1879) and ended with three years (c. 1879–1882) at a Boston private school. Her piano studies also began in 1873 with her mother. She next studied with W. Ernst Perabo (1875–1882) and finally with ...

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Beck, Johann Heinrich (12 September 1856–26 May 1924), conductor, composer, and violinist, was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the son of Charles Beck, a businessman, and Rebecca Butler. He was one of five children, all boys, all of whom played the violin. He was educated in Cleveland and spent most of his life there, although he attended the Leipzig Conservatory from 1879 to 1882. He made his acclaimed European debut at the Leipzig Gewandhaus as violinist in his own String Quartet in C Minor. His diploma read in part: “In Theory Mr. Beck possesses highly advanced knowledge, in practical Composition, ...