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Bond, Johnny (01 June 1915–12 June 1978), songwriter, musician, and writer, was born Cyrus Whitfield Bond in Enville, Oklahoma, the son of Rufus Thomas Bond, a storekeeper and cotton gin operator, and Anna May Camp. While the family had little money, they did own a Victrola player that Bond found fascinating. Inspired by ...

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Braham, David (1838–11 April 1905), composer, conductor, and violinist, was born near London. His father and brother were musicians, as were two of his sons and four of his nephews. In his teens Braham decided to become a professional harpist but, according to one source, gave up the instrument when a British coach driver informed him that he was welcome aboard but his bulky instrument was not. Shortly thereafter he began studying the violin and became an accomplished performer though he never aspired to a career as a concert soloist. As a youth he played violin in various London music halls....

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Carlisle, Cliff (06 May 1904–05 April 1983), pioneer country musician and songwriter, was born Clifford Raymond Carlisle in Mt. Eden, Kentucky. Many members of his family were musicians, and his younger brother Bill would later join Cliff in the ranks of early professional musicians. Cliff attended several rural grade schools near Wakefield, Kentucky, eventually transferring to larger schools in Louisville, Kentucky, between 1921 and 1924. Unlike many early musicians, he did not serve an apprenticeship in another field before taking up music; from his earliest days he aspired to be a professional musician, and he emerged as one of the first such professionals in the field of country music....

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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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Richard Carlin

Delmore Brothers, country singers, guitarists, and songwriters, were born Alton Delmore (25 Dec. 1908–8 June 1964) and Rabon Delmore (3 Dec. 1916–4 Dec. 1952), in Elkmont, Alabama, the sons of Charlie Delmore and Mary (called “Aunt Mollie,” maiden name unknown). The parents were subsistence farmers. The brothers’ uncle W. A. Williams was a prominent gospel singer and songwriter, and the family encouraged the two youngsters from a young age to attend a local singing school. Mollie, who played the fiddle, also taught her sons to play country fiddle tunes, and as early as 1925 she was writing gospel songs with Alton that were published locally. Alton and Rabon were heavily influenced by the bluesy recordings of white country star ...

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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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Johnson, Robert (08 May 1911–16 August 1938), musician, was born Robert Leroy Johnson in Hazelhurst, Mississippi, the son of Noah Johnson and Julia Major Dodds (occupations unknown). His mother was married at the time to another man, Charles Dodds, Jr., who, because of an acquaintance’s personal vendetta against him, had been forced to flee Mississippi for Memphis in 1907, changing his name to Charles Spencer. After his mother eked out a living for two years working in migrant labor camps supporting Robert and his sister Carrie, she and her children joined Spencer, his mistress, and their children in Memphis in 1914. Eventually Julia left her children. Around 1918 Robert, an unruly, strong-willed child, also left Memphis, joining his mother and new stepfather, Willie “Dusty” Willis, in Robinsonville, Mississippi. Although Robert went to the Indian Lake School at Commerce, Mississippi, through the mid-1920s, eyesight problems both plagued him and provided him with an excuse to quit school. Johnson’s favored instruments of his early teen years, Jew’s harp and harmonica, were supplanted around 1929 by an interest in what became his primary instrument, the guitar, though he continued to play harmonica in a neck rack....

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McDowell, Mississippi Fred (12 January 1904–03 July 1972), blues singer, songwriter, and guitarist, was born Fred McDowell in Rossville, Tennessee, the son of Jimmy McDowell and Ida Cureay, farmers. Little is known of his early life, primarily because of his own conflicting accounts. His earliest recollections, aside from those of farm life, focused on weekend parties and the guitar playing of his uncle and main inspiration, Gene Shields, who also may have helped raise young Fred after the death of his father. In a 1969 interview, McDowell recalled: “I was a little-bitty boy. My uncle, he played with a beef bone that come out of a steak. He reamed it out, took a file and smoothed it and wore it on this [little] finger here … I said if I ever get grown I’m gonna learn to play a guitar. Boy it sound so good to me.”...

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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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Robison, Carson Jay (04 August 1890–24 March 1957), singer, musician, and songwriter, was born in Oswego, Kansas, the son of Albert Robison, a fiddler and dance caller, and Maggie Andrews, a singing pianist. The family moved to Chetopa, Kansas, during his early childhood. He may have had only a grade school education. Surrounded by the music of his parents, Robison got his first guitar at age twelve. His first composition is said to have been an Easter hymn written for his church choir. By age fifteen, he was singing and performing on the guitar professionally in the Midwest despite never having had a formal lesson. He worked in the Texas and Oklahoma oil fields and served in the army during World War I. Robison married Bernice Rucker in 1907, and they had one son. His wife died of tuberculosis when their son was five years old....

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Whitley, Keith (01 July 1954–09 May 1989), country music singer, songwriter, and guitarist, was born Jackie Keith Whitley in Sandy Hook, Kentucky, the son of Elmer Jackson Whitley, an electrical contractor and oil well maintenance worker, and Faye Ferguson. Whitley, who was in the vanguard of the 1980s country music boom, was inspired to play music by his mother, who played guitar, banjo, and organ as a hobby, and his older brother Dwight, who played guitar and banjo semiprofessionally in local country music bands. Keith began singing at local shows by age four, learned to play guitar at age six, and first appeared on a radio show at age eight. He and Dwight later performed on regional live shows, radio, and television, first as the Whitley Brothers and later as members of the Lonesome Mountain Boys....

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Williams, Hank (17 September 1923–01 January 1953), country songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist, was born Hiram Williams in Mount Olive, Alabama, the son of Elonzo Huble Williams and Jessie Lillybelle Skipper. His father was a strawberry farmer when Hank was born, although his usual occupation was that of an engineer on logging trains in the Chapman, Alabama, area. Williams spent his earliest years in and around the logging camps of south-central Alabama. Then, when he was six years old, his father went into a Veterans Administration hospital with a brain aneurysm, and his mother moved the family to Georgiana, Greenville, and then on to Montgomery in July 1937....