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Chapin, Harry Forster (07 December 1942–16 July 1981), popular singer and writer of topical songs, was born in New York City, the son of James Forbes Chapin, a big-band percussionist, and Elspeth Burke. As a high school student, Chapin sang in the Brooklyn Heights Boys Choir and, later, played guitar, banjo, and trumpet in a band that included his father and brothers Stephen Chapin and Tom Chapin. He attended the U.S. Air Force Academy briefly and studied at Cornell University from 1960 to 1964. Chapin was best known for his popular ballads, films, and cultural and humanitarian work for the cause of eradicating world hunger. He married Sandra Campbell Gaston in 1968; they had five children....

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Cobain, Kurt Donald (20 February 1967–05 April 1994), guitarist, singer, and songwriter for the rock band Nirvana, was born in the working-class lumber town of Aberdeen, Washington, the son of Donald Cobain, an auto mechanic, and Wendy Fradenburg Cobain, a waitress. Cobain remembered his early childhood as happy, but his father and mother struggled financially and divorced in 1976, devastating Cobain. By the time he reached high school, Cobain was engaging in petty delinquency and was arrested for vandalism and vagrancy. He began staying with various friends in Aberdeen, including Dale Crover, drummer of “grunge” progenitors the Melvins. He did not finish high school....

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Fogerty, Tom (09 November 1941–06 September 1990), recording artist and songwriter, was born Thomas Richard Fogerty in Berkeley, California, the son of Galen Robert Fogerty and Edith Lucile Lytle Loosli. He attended high school in El Cerrito and by 1959 was performing in school shows and at parties as lead singer and songwriter for Tommy Fogerty and the Blue Velvets. The band included Doug Clifford on drums, Stuart Cook on bass guitar, and Fogerty’s younger brother John, with whom he shared writing credits and lead vocals....

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Hendrix, Jimi (27 November 1942–18 September 1970), rock guitarist, singer, and songwriter, was born into a working-class black family in Seattle, Washington, the son of James Allen Ross Hendrix, a gardener, and Lucille Jetter. Named Johnny Allen Hendrix at birth by his mother while his father was in the service, his name was changed to James Marshall Hendrix by his father upon his return home. Self-taught as a left-handed guitarist from an early age, Hendrix played a right-handed guitar upside down, a practice he maintained throughout his life since it allowed for unusual fingering patterns and quicker access to tone and volume controls. His early influences ranged from jazz guitarist ...

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Holly, Buddy (07 September 1936–03 February 1959), songwriter, singer, and guitarist, was born Charles Hardin Holley in Lubbock, Texas, the son of Hardin O. Holley, a bricklayer, and Ella Pauline Drake. At age five Holly (who removed the e from his last name in 1956) won a $5 prize at a local talent show singing “Down the River of Memories.” His Protestant parents thought he would become a minister and had no idea his natural aptitude to compose and play music with a fiddle, piano, and guitar would lead to his international recognition as a rock and roll pioneer....

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Orbison, Roy (23 April 1936–06 December 1988), singer and songwriter, was born Roy Kelton Orbison in Vernon, Texas, the son of Orbie Lee Orbison, an oil-field driller, and Nadine Schultz, a nurse. His early musical experiences centered around country and western music. Orbison performed regularly on country and western radio programs by the age of eight. Attending high school in Wink, Texas, he led a band of fellow students called the Wink Westerners, whose repertoire ranged from western swing and country and western, notably the songs of ...

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Perkins, Carl (09 April 1932–19 January 1998), songwriter and rockabilly pioneer, was born Carl Lee Perkins in Tiptonville, Lake County, Tennessee, the son of Buck Perkins, a sharecropper, and Mary Louise Brantley. The second of three sons born to the only white sharecropping family in Tiptonville, Carl began picking cotton at age six, once gathering more than 300 pounds of cotton in less than seven hours for “an RC [Cola] and a Moon Pie.” He was influenced musically by both country and bluegrass played on Grand Ole Opry radio broadcasts and by blues and gospel songs sung by the sharecroppers with whom he worked. His father fashioned his first guitar from a broom handle and an empty cigar box; later, after obtaining a secondhand ...

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Reed, Lou (2 Mar. 1942–27 Oct. 2013), rock songwriter, singer, and guitarist, was born Lewis Alan Reed in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Sidney George Reed, a tax accountant, and Toby Futterman. He began his schooling at PS 192 in Brooklyn. In ...

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Shannon, Del (30 December 1934–08 February 1990), singer, songwriter, and performer, was born Charles Weedon Westover in Coopersville, Michigan. Shannon began learning the guitar and singing at the age of fourteen, profoundly influenced by the lonesome, heart-rending balladry of Hank Williams. Having grown up in an agrarian Christian town, although his own family neither farmed nor attended church, Shannon felt like an outsider and feverishly practiced playing so that he could make a home for himself. Upon graduating from high school in 1957, he joined the army and became involved in musical productions while stationed in Germany. In 1958 he married Shirley (maiden name unknown); they had three children before they divorced in 1985....

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Zevon, Warren William (24 Jan. 1947 – 7 Sept. 2003), rock musician, singer, and songwriter, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of William Zevon (Zivotofsky), a Russian Jewish immigrant, and Beverly Simmons. When Warren was a child his parents moved to California, first to Fresno, where his mother’s family lived, and later to San Pedro, where his father owned a carpeting business. The Zevons had a rocky marriage, ultimately divorcing in ...