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Bradford, Perry (14 February 1895–20 April 1970), blues and vaudeville songwriter, publisher, and musical director, was born John Henry Perry Bradford in Montgomery, Alabama, the son of Adam Bradford, a bricklayer and tile setter, and Bella (maiden name unknown), a cook. Standard reference books give his year of birth as 1893, but Bradford’s autobiography gives 1895. Early in his youth Bradford learned to play piano by ear. In 1901 the family moved to Atlanta, where his mother cooked meals for prisoners in the adjacent Fulton Street jail. There he was exposed to the inmates’ blues and folk singing. He attended Molly Pope School through the sixth grade and claimed to have attended Atlanta University for three years (there being no local high school). This is chronologically inconsistent, however, with his claim to have joined Allen’s New Orleans Minstrels in the fall of 1907, traveling to New Orleans for Mardi Gras performances in February 1908 and then moving on to Oklahoma....

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Dorsey, Thomas Andrew (01 July 1899–23 January 1993), blues performer, gospel singer, and composer, was born in Villa Rica, Georgia, the son of Thomas Madison Dorsey, a preacher, and Etta Plant Spencer. Dorsey’s mother, whose first husband had died, owned approximately fifty acres of farm land. Dorsey lived in somewhat trying circumstances as his parents moved first to Atlanta and Forsyth, Georgia, and then back to Villa Rica during the first four years of his life. In Villa Rica the Dorsey family settled into a rural lifestyle supported by marginal farming that was slightly mitigated by his father’s pastoral duties....

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Feather, Leonard (13 September 1914–22 September 1994), jazz writer and jazz and blues promoter, producer, and songwriter, was born Leonard Geoffrey Feather in London, England, the son of Nathan Feather, the owner of a chain of clothing stores, and Felicia Zelinski. Feather described his upbringing thus: “In these upper-middle-class Jewish circles conformity was expected in every area of life.” He studied classical piano and clarinet while teaching himself to play pop songs on piano. At age fifteen, deeply moved by trumpeter ...

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Fowler, Wally (15 February 1917–03 June 1994), gospel music promoter, singer, and songwriter, was born John Wallace Fowler near Cartersville, Georgia, the son of Joseph Fletcher Fowler, a well-established cotton farmer; his mother’s name is not known. By the time Wally Fowler was ready for school, the Great Depression had wrecked his father’s fortunes, and he and his sisters grew up working as sharecroppers. The Fowler family, however, loved music; his mother played an old pump organ, and his father helped organize Saturday night gospel singings in the front rooms of neighborhood houses. “That’s when I really learned gospel music,” he recalled. What formal training the singers got came from J. M. Henson, an Atlanta publisher and singing school teacher, who came to the area to conduct singing schools, using the seven-shape note system that was popular throughout the South at that time....

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Pastor, Tony (28 May 1832–26 August 1908), variety performer and impresario, was born Antonio Pastori in New York City, the son of Antonio Pastori, a theater violinist who also ran a fruit store and barber shop, and his wife (name unknown), who ran a perfumery and, for ten years after her husband’s death, a saloon. Pastor attended New York public schools, but by age eleven he was singing for a temperance group. At thirteen he was a blackface minstrel. In 1846 his father hoped to stop his career by sending him to live on a farm, but by the year’s end he was an “infant prodigy” at Barnum’s Museum in New York. Apprenticed to a circus, Pastor learned tumbling, riding, and mimicry; he became a clown and developed a “rube” act. From 1851 till its collapse in 1853 he was the Nathans-Sands Circus’s ringmaster....

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Rose, Billy (06 September 1899–10 February 1966), songwriter, show business impresario, and philanthropist, was born on the Lower East Side of New York City, the son of David Rosenberg, a button salesman, and Fannie Wernick. He was born William Samuel Rosenberg, according to most biographical sources, though one source states he adopted that name in school after being born Samuel Wolf Rosenberg. He grew up in the Bronx and attended public schools there, winning junior high school medals for sprinting and English. Medals and honors were important as proofs of stature and worth to Rose, who never grew taller than five feet three inches. In the High School of Commerce, he became an outstanding student of the Gregg system of shorthand, winning first a citywide competition (1917) and then a national competition (1918). In 1918 he left high school shortly before graduation to become head of the stenographic department of the War Industries Board, headed by ...

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See Stamps, V. O.

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Stamps, V. O. (18 September 1892–19 August 1940), and Frank Henry Stamps (07 October 1896–12 February 1965), composers, singers, and music promoters, were born in Simpsonville, Upshur County, Texas, the sons of W. O. Stamps and Florence Corine Rosser, community leaders from Upshur County, where W. O. Stamps ran several sawmills and founded the community of Stamps. He later served two terms in the Texas legislature and for a time acted as head of the Texas prison system. Both V. O., born Virgil Oliver Stamps, and Frank Stamps, two of six brothers, were introduced to gospel music when their father hired a music teacher to conduct singing schools in the community. V. O. was fourteen at the time; Frank, six. Both brothers soon found they had an aptitude for the seven-shape note music taught in the school, a type of music that was widely popular in Texas at the time....