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Asch, Moses (02 December 1905–19 October 1986), sound engineer and record company executive, was born in Warsaw, Poland, the son of Sholem Asch, a world-renowned Yiddish novelist and playwright, and Matilda Spiro. Since Asch’s father acquired literary fame early in life, the family lived in material comfort. But they moved frequently, and Asch often was left in the care of others, notably his mother’s sister Basha, a Social Democrat and revolutionary. Additionally, although a prominent figure in international Jewish intellectual circles, Asch’s father was an iconoclast by nature, and as a consequence Asch was never bar mitzvahed. In 1912 the persecution of Jews in Poland rendered life intolerable for the Asches, and they moved to a villa in the suburbs of Paris. When in 1915 war’s violence engulfed France as well, the family resettled in New York City....

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Emile Berliner. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-110946).

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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....

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Rudi Blesh. © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB13-0992 DLC).

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Blesh, Rudi (21 January 1899–25 August 1985), writer, record producer, and broadcaster, was born Rudolph Pickett Blesh in Guthrie, Oklahoma Territory, the son of Abraham Lincoln Blesh, a doctor, and Theodora Bell Pickett, a piano teacher. In 1910 a family visit to Vienna stimulated Blesh’s interest in the arts, and consequently, he learned to play the piano, the violin, and the cello. Although his musical activities were restricted to the classical repertory at home, Blesh was impressed by the ragtime pianists who performed in Guthrie....

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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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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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Gates, James M. (? Feb. 1884–18 Aug. 1945), preacher and recording artist, was born in the rural black belt community of Hogansville, Georgia. The names of his parents are not known. Around 1913, following the death of their daughter Zadie, Gates and his wife Nellie (marriage date unknown) left sharecropping and joined the masses of black Americans who left rural America in search of the promises of urbanization. They moved to Atlanta and joined the Mount Calvary Baptist Church in the city’s Rockdale Park neighborhood, a migrant church founded in ...

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Goldmark, Peter Carl (02 December 1906–07 December 1977), inventor, was born in Budapest, Hungary, the son of Alexander Goldmark, a hatmaker, and Emmy (maiden name unknown). In 1919 Goldmark’s family fled to Vienna, Austria, to escape the Communist revolution in Hungary. Goldmark studied for a year at the Berlin Technische Hochschule in Charlottenburg, Germany, and then transferred to the Physical Institute of Vienna, where he received his B.Sc. in 1930 and his Ph.D. in physics in 1931....

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Hammond, John Henry, Jr. (15 December 1910–10 July 1987), critic and producer of jazz and popular music, was born in New York City, the son of John Henry Hammond, corporate lawyer, and Emily Vanderbilt Sloane. Born to privilege, Hammond used his wealth and position, along with considerable resourcefulness and conviction, to promote primarily black music through the 1940s in ways that profoundly influenced its development and international acceptance. He later branched out to produce important folk and rock recordings....

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Johnson, Eldridge Reeves (06 February 1867–14 November 1945), inventor and business leader, was born in Wilmington, Delaware, the son of Asa S. Johnson, a carpenter, and Caroline Reeves. Johnson spent the first three years of his life in Dover, Delaware. After the death of his mother in 1870, his father sent him to live on a relative’s farm in Collins Landing, Delaware. He returned to Dover at the age of ten, when his father married Frances Smith....

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Kapp, Jack (15 June 1901–25 March 1949), record producer and executive, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Meyer Kapp, a salesman for Columbia Records, and Minnie Leader. Both parents had emigrated from Russia. The elder Kapp was known in his profession as a “hit forecaster” and encouraged his three sons to follow him into the swiftly growing phonograph business....

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Marek, George Richard (13 July 1902–07 January 1987), music writer and business executive, was born in Vienna, Austria, the son of Martin Marek, a dentist, and Emily Weisberger. Marek studied at the University of Vienna for two years beginning in 1918, then immigrated to the United States in 1920. He became an American citizen in 1925. The following year he married Muriel Hepner; the couple had one son. Marek’s first job in the United States was with a milliner, first as a stock boy, and later in the ostrich-feather department, but he soon became involved in the advertising field. From 1930 until 1950 he was a vice president with the J. D. Tarcher Agency. In 1950, during his unsuccessful attempt to acquire RCA’s advertising account for Tarcher, Marek was offered a position as manager of artists and repertory in RCA’s Records Division; seven years later he became vice president and general manager of Victor Records....

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Pace, Harry Herbert (06 January 1884–26 July 1943), entrepreneur, was born in Covington, Georgia, the son of Charles Pace, a blacksmith, and Nancy Francis. Pace’s father died when he was an infant, but he was nonetheless able to secure a good education. He finished elementary school in Covington by the time he was twelve and seven years later graduated as valedictorian of his class at Atlanta University....

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Peer, Ralph Sylvester (22 May 1892–19 January 1960), record company executive and music publisher, was born in Kansas City, Missouri, the son of Abram Peer, a dealer in Victrolas and phonograph records, and Ann Sylvester. He grew up listening to a rich panoply of music in his father’s store, including most of the pre–World War I era pop music then on record: ...

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Phillips, Sam (05 January 1923–30 July 2003), record producer and radio entrepreneur, was born Samuel Cornelius Phillips on a two-hundred-acre farm near Florence, Alabama, the last of eight children of Charles Tucker Phillips and Madge Ella Lovelace Phillips, tenant farmers. The Phillips family, like others trying to survive the Great Depression, struggled. While picking cotton alongside impoverished black laborers, the youngest Phillips gained an appreciation for African-American music that would define his life and career....

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Robey, Don D. (01 November 1903–16 June 1975), entertainment entrepreneur and rhythm-and-blues record label owner, was born Don Deadric Robey in Houston, Texas, the son of Zeb Robey and Gertrude (maiden name unknown). Little is known of his childhood. Robey dropped out of high school in the eleventh grade, reportedly to become a professional gambler in Houston nightspots frequented by African Americans; later he was suspected of being involved in the city’s numbers operation. He also entered the taxi business prior to World War II and established a business in entertainment promotion, bringing name bands and celebrity attractions into segregated sections of the Houston area....

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Satherley, Uncle Art (19 October 1889–10 February 1986), recording industry executive, was born Arthur Edward Satherley in Bristol, Somerset, England. His parents’ names are not known, but it is known that his father was a clergyman. After leaving school, Satherley first joined the Royal Somerset Yeomanry, then got a job testing tires by riding motorcycles around England. Nursing a fascination for cowboy folklore, Satherley went to Montreal, Canada, in 1913, then journeyed to Chicago and Milwaukee....

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Walker, Frank Buckley (24 October 1889–16 October 1963), recording industry executive, was born in Fly Summit, New York, the son of farmers. After finishing school in upstate New York in 1908, Walker joined the National Savings Bank in Albany and stayed there until 1912. He then moved to New York City and worked for W. N. Comer in the financial services industry until 1916. He went into the navy that year and remained there until 1 February 1919. After Walker’s discharge, a navy commander found him a job at Columbia Records, where he learned record manufacturing. He then borrowed $60,000 to buy a controlling interest in the Central Concert Company of Detroit, which booked ...

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Williams, Clarence (8 Oct. 1898 or 1893–06 November 1965), blues and jazz musician, publisher, and music producer, was born in Plaquemine, Louisiana (information on his parentage is unavailable). In 1906 his family moved to New Orleans. Williams’s first instrument was the guitar, which he abandoned before he reached his teens to concentrate on the piano. Most of his learning was done by ear or by watching others, although he did receive eight lessons in the early 1910s, at the end of which he believed he knew all he needed to know about piano playing. At the age of twelve he left home to join Billy Kersand’s traveling minstrel show as a pianist, master of ceremonies, dancer, and comedian. Williams spent most of his teenage years in the clubs of New Orleans’ legendary Storyville district as a pianist and songwriter. During this time he met pianist and composer ...