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Armitage, Merle (13 February 1893–15 March 1975), book designer, author, and impresario, was born near Mason City, Iowa, the son of Elmer Ellsworth Armitage and Lulu Jacobs. He claimed 12 February as his birth date in honor of Abraham Lincoln. Armitage grew up in Texas and spent his youth in the West, where he lived on a number of ranches. Primarily self-educated as a civil engineer, he worked for the Kansas City, Mexico & Orient Railroad (later the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Company). He claims to have abandoned that career because of severe eyestrain. He then worked in the publicity department of the Packard Motor Company, where it is thought he learned graphic design. He also became interested in stage design and worked in New York City. He served in World War I as an instructor in mechanical engineering....

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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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Batchelder, Alice Coleman (1874–17 June 1948), arts administrator and pianist, was born in Beatrice, Nebraska, the daughter of Theodore Coleman, a newspaperman, and Jennie (maiden name unknown). (She was to acquire the name Batchelder through marriage when she was thirty-nine.) During her childhood her family moved from Beatrice to Washington, D.C., then to Santa Clara, California, and finally to Pasadena, California, where her father served as city editor of the ...

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Carlos Chávez Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1937. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-103962).

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Chávez, Carlos (13 June 1899–02 August 1978), influential Mexican composer/conductor, author, and educator, of Spanish and some Indian descent, was born Carlos Antonio de Padua Chávez y Ramírez in Mexico City, the seventh son of Augustin Chávez, an inventor, and Juvencia Ramírez, a teacher. His mother supported the children after her husband’s death in 1902. Chávez began his musical studies at an early age and studied piano, first with his elder brother Manuel, then with Asunción Parra, and later with composer and pianist Manuel M. Ponce (1910–1914) and pianist and teacher Pedro Luis Ogazón (1915–1920). Chávez credited Ogazón with introducing him to the best classical and Romantic music and with developing his musical taste and technical formation. He received little formal training in composition, concentrating instead on the piano, analysis of musical scores, and orchestration. Chávez’s maternal grandfather was Indian, and from the time Chávez was five or six his family frequently vacationed in the ancient city-state of Tlaxcala, the home of a tribe that opposed the Aztecs. He later visited such diverse Indian centers as Puebla, Jalisco, Nayarit, and Michoacan in pursuit of Indian culture, which proved a significant influence on his early works....

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Cornish, Nellie Centennial (09 July 1876–07 April 1956), pianist and arts educator, was born in Greenwood, Nebraska, the daughter of Nathan Cornish, a businessman, and Jeannette Simpson. The U.S. centennial in 1876 was the source of her middle name. She founded the Cornish School of Music, now Cornish College of the Arts, a pioneer institution in the teaching of dance, music, and theater in the Pacific Northwest....

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Europe, James Reese (22 February 1880–09 May 1919), music administrator, conductor, and composer, was born in Mobile, Alabama, the son of Henry J. Europe, an Internal Revenue Service employee and Baptist minister, and Lorraine Saxon. Following the loss of his position with the Port of Mobile at the end of the Reconstruction, Europe’s father moved his family to Washington, D.C., in 1890 to accept a position with the U.S. Postal Service. Both of Europe’s parents were musical, as were some of his siblings. Europe attended the elite M Street High School for blacks and studied violin, piano, and composition with Enrico Hurlei of the U.S. Marine Corps band and with Joseph Douglass, the grandson of ...

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Johnston, Thomas (1708?–08 May 1767), engraver, organ builder, and decorative painter, was a prominent . His parentage and place of birth are unknown. Several artists and artisans named Thomas Johnston (or the variant Johnson) were active in eighteenth-century America and England, and early references sometimes confuse them. Nevertheless, his is one of the better-documented careers among craftsmen of colonial Boston....

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Neuendorff, Adolph Heinrich Anton Magnus (13 June 1843–04 December 1897), conductor, composer, and administrator, was born in Hamburg, Germany. He came to the United States with his parents (names unknown) in 1854 in the first wave of German immigrants. The family settled in New York, where his father was employed as a bookkeeper. Neuendorff studied violin with George Matzka, a violist in the New York Philharmonic and its emergency conductor in 1876, and with Joseph Weinlich. His principal piano teacher was Gustav Schilling, who also taught him composition and theory. Schilling was noted for writing a six-volume encyclopedia of music, the ...

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Nikolais, Alwin (25 November 1910–08 May 1993), choreographer, designer, and composer, was born in Southington, Connecticut, the son of John Nikolais and Martha Heinrich. From an early age he studied music. During his high school years he was an organ accompanist for silent films at the Westport Movie House. In 1929 he graduated from Lewis High School in Southington....

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Parks, Gordon (30 November 1912–07 March 2006), photographer, writer, composer, and film director, was born Gordon Roger Alexander Buchanan Parks in Fort Scott, Kansas, the youngest of fifteen children of Andrew Jackson Parks, a tenant farmer, and Sarah Ross Parks. His mother died when Parks was fifteen years old, and he went to live with his married sister Maggie Lee in St. Paul, Minnesota, but after a few weeks he left her home because of a conflict with his brother-in-law. He supported himself with difficulty for a time, sleeping in trolley cars and working in a variety of jobs as a waiter, a janitor, and, though he had never had any musical training, playing the piano in a brothel. He remained in Mechanical Arts High School and, later, Central High, where he was captain of the basketball team, but left in 1928 before graduating. While Parks was working as a busboy in a hotel in 1930, a bandleader heard him playing and invited him to join his traveling group. He continued as the only African American in the all-white band until it reached New York, when the group dissolved, leaving him jobless. In April 1933 he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps, whose modest payment enabled him to return to Minnesota after a year and marry his sweetheart Sally Alvis. The couple had three children....

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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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Swan, Timothy (23 July 1758–23 July 1842), hat maker and composer, was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, the son of William Swan, a goldsmith, and Levina Keyes. By age eleven he was apprenticed to a merchant in nearby Marlborough then moved to Groton, Massachusetts, to assist his brother in the same business. There he attended a singing school for three weeks in 1774. This experience, some fife instruction during a brief army stint in Cambridge later that year, and an article on music that he read in the 1797 ...

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Thurber, Jeannette Meyers (29 January 1850–02 January 1946), benefactor, impresario, and advocate of music, was born in New York City, the daughter of Henry Meyers (sometimes Meyer) and Anne Maria Coffin Price. Her father, born in Copenhagen, Denmark, was a wealthy amateur violinist. He encouraged his daughter’s musical education, privately in New York and at the Paris Conservatoire. She married Francis Beattie Thurber in 1869. He was a successful, well-to-do wholesale grocer, a lawyer, and an organizer in 1881 of the National Anti-Monopoly League, as well as a strong supporter of his wife’s causes in the arts. They were parents of three children....

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Carl Van Vechten Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LOT 12735, no. 1122 P&P).

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Van Vechten, Carl (17 June 1880–21 December 1964), writer and photographer, was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the son of Charles Duane Van Vechten, a banker and insurance agent, and Ada Amanda Fitch. Van Vechten entered the University of Chicago in 1899 and graduated in 1903, whereupon he went to work as a society reporter and photographer for the ...