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Bonds, Margaret Jeannette Allison (03 March 1913–26 April 1972), composer, pianist, and teacher, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the daughter of Dr. Monroe Alpheus Majors, a pioneering black physician, medical researcher, and author, and Estelle C. Bonds, a music teacher and organist. Although legally born Majors, she used her mother’s maiden name (Bonds) in her youth and throughout her professional life. She grew up in intellectually stimulating surroundings; her mother held Sunday afternoon salons at which young black Chicago musicians, writers, and artists gathered and where visiting musicians and artists were always welcomed. Bonds first displayed musical talent in her piano composition “Marquette Street Blues,” written at the age of five. She then began studying piano with local teachers and by the time she was in high school was taking lessons in piano and composition with ...

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Cowell, Henry (11 March 1897–10 December 1965), composer, pianist, writer, and educator, was born Henry Dixon Cowell in Menlo Park, California, the son of Harry Cowell and Clarissa Dixon Cowell. Both parents were aspiring poets and writers; Harry, an Irish immigrant, worked as a linotypist. At the age of five Cowell began studying violin and showed signs of talent, but the lessons seemed to affect his health adversely and were discontinued. His parents divorced in 1903. Between 1907 and 1910 he and his mother lived in New York, penniless while she tried to earn a living by her writing, and stayed with relatives in Iowa and Kansas. In 1910 they returned to Menlo Park, where Cowell took jobs such as herding cows to support himself and his mother. Around this time Cowell came to the attention of the psychologist ...

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Henry Cowell. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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Dresel, Otto (20 December 1826–26 July 1890), pianist, teacher, and composer, was born in Geisenheim, Germany, the son of Johann Dietrich Dresel and Luise Ephardt, liberal and literate parents who raised him in an intellectual environment. Dresel studied with Moritz Hauptmann at Leipzig; he also had the friendship and guidance of Ferdinand Hiller in Cologne and of Felix Mendelssohn in Leipzig. He visited New York City in 1848, played in a series of concerts there in 1849, and was the first pianist in the chamber music concerts begun by Theodore Eisfeld in 1851. After a brief return to Germany in 1851, Dresel settled in Boston in 1852 and for more than fifteen years held his place as one of that city’s most prominent pianists. In his later years he made several visits to Germany to keep abreast of new activities in its musical centers....

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Leopold Godowsky Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1935. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LOT 12735, no. 437 P&P).

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Godowsky, Leopold (13 February 1870–21 November 1938), pianist, teacher, and composer, was born in Soshly, a small town not far from Wilno (now Vilnius) in Lithuania, the son of Mathew Godowsky, a physician, and Anna Lewin, both Polish Jews. When his father died of cholera eighteen months after Godowsky was born, the boy and his mother moved to nearby Schirwinty. There Godowsky came under the influence of Louis and Minna Passinock, who were friends of his mother’s. Neither of Godowsky’s parents was musical; the childless Passinocks, however, were amateur musicians and enthusiastic music lovers, and they immediately recognized Godowsky’s nascent musical ability. Louis Passinock, a violinist who ran a secondhand piano shop, began teaching Godowsky to play the violin when he was seven years old. Passinock discouraged him from learning to play the piano, on the theory that there were too many pianists, but his wife recognized Godowsky’s affinity for the instrument and encouraged his keyboard explorations. Godowsky basically taught himself to play the piano; by the age of five he was so advanced that he could play the transcription of Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E Minor. He later vividly described his early attraction to the piano. “With me,” he wrote in ...

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Harris, Johana (31 December 1912–05 June 1995), pianist, composer, and teacher, was born Beula Aleta Duffey in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, the daughter of Claude Duffey, a grocery supplier, and Laura Coughlan. Before she was two, Harris climbed up on the parlor piano stool to play music she had heard the Royal Canadian Mounties Band play on Parliament Hill for the changing of the guard. Her mother, afflicted by familial deafness, couldn’t hear her playing exactly what the band had played, but she noticed the enchanted spectators watching her dance on the bandstand; consequently, she arranged Harris’s debut at the age of four as a professional dancer....

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Hommann, Charles (25 July 1803–?), musician, teacher, and composer, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of John C. Hommann, a musician, and Constantia (maiden name unknown). Hommann grew up in a home in which string music and German chamber music flourished. His father was a violinist, and his elder brother John C. Hommann, Jr., played the violin and cello. Hommann’s elder sister Constantia married ...

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Johns, Clayton (24 November 1857–05 March 1932), composer, pianist, and teacher, was born in New Castle, Delaware, the son of James McCalmont Johns and Eliza Hopkins. Clayton received his early education at public and private schools in Delaware, including Rugby Academy in Wilmington. While his tradition-bound family envisioned for him a career in law or the clergy, he wished to pursue music. He compromised by studying architecture in Philadelphia (c. 1875–1879). He then moved to Boston to study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology but after hearing the Boston Symphony Orchestra, decided on music after all. He studied composition at Harvard University with ...

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Kroeger, Ernest Richard (10 August 1862–07 April 1934), organist, pianist, composer, and teacher, was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the son of Adolph Ernst Kroeger, a journalist, and Eliza B. A. Curren. He began studying piano with his father and later studied with Egmont Froelich, Waldemar Malmene, and Charles Kunkel. He studied music theory with Wilhelm Golder and Peter G. Anton, violin with Ernst Spiering, and instrumentation with Louis Mayer. He served as organist at several churches in St. Louis, including Trinity Episcopal (1878–1885), Grace Episcopal (1887), and Church of the Messiah (1885–1921). In 1879 he gave his first organ recital; then from 1893 to 1923 he performed an organ recital annually. He was also one of the founders of the American Guild of Organists in 1896. From 1893 to 1903 he served as the conductor of the Morning Choral Club and from 1910 to 1912 he directed the Amphion Club and was associated with other music societies. He was music director of Forest Park University from 1887 and head of his own Kroeger School of Music from 1904. He held both positions until his death. He served as president of the Music Teachers National Association in 1896 and then was president of the Missouri Music Teachers Association for two years (1897–1899). Kroeger was the master of musical programs for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904 (also known as the St. Louis World’s Fair). He was a member of the French Academy from 1904 and was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1915....

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Lewis, John (03 May 1920–29 March 2001), pianist, composer, and educator, was born John Aaron Lewis in La Grange, Illinois. His parents' names do not appear in readily available sources of information; reportedly, his father was an interior decorator (or, according to some sources, an optometrist), his mother a classically trained singer. After the death of his father, Lewis moved with his mother to Albuquerque, New Mexico, as a young child. By the time he was four, his mother had also passed away. Being raised mostly by relatives in a large musical family, Lewis at the age of seven began studying piano with his aunt. As a teenager he performed locally with his cousins and several older musicians. In 1938 he enrolled at the University of New Mexico, where he first majored in anthropology, then switched to music....

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Mannes, Leopold Damrosch (26 December 1899–11 August 1964), pianist, educator, and scientist, was born in New York City, the son of David Mannes and Clara Damrosch Mannes, musicians. Mannes’s musical precociousness became apparent at age three. According to his mother, Eugène Ysaÿe called the youngster “the reincarnation of Mozart.” However, his parents carefully prevented his exploitation as a child prodigy. While he studied the piano in New York City with Elizabeth Quaile and Guy Maier, he also developed an avid interest in photography. In his last year of attending Riverdale Country School, he met Leopold Godowsky, Jr., a violinist and the son of the famous pianist, who also shared his keen interest in photography. Together they began physics experiments with color photography at the school and at the Mannes home. While attending Harvard College Mannes studied physics and music and continued his photography experiments....

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Oldberg, Arne (12 July 1874–17 February 1962), pianist, composer, and teacher, was born in Youngstown, Ohio, the son of Oscar Oldberg, a pharmaceutical expert, and Emma Parritt. Oldberg began to play the piano at age five, taught by his father, a Swedish immigrant who was an excellent amateur musician....

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Parker, J. C. D. (02 June 1828–27 November 1916), composer, organist, and music professor, was born James Cutler Dunn Parker in Boston (Hayward Place), the son of Samuel H. Parker, who was associated with the music publishing business, and Sarah (maiden name unknown). Parker graduated from the Boston Latin School and entered Harvard College in 1844. He graduated with an A.B. in 1848 and then enrolled at Harvard Law School, where he remained until 1851. It is not certain that he graduated with a law degree, but that seems to be the case. At the conclusion of his law studies, Parker decided to pursue his passion for music instead of the profession of law, a courageous decision for the time. His interest in music is not surprising, as he had served, during his student days, as organist at both the Universalist Church of Otis A. Skinner and at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, and as pianist with the Harvard Symphony....

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Schnabel, Artur (17 April 1882–15 August 1951), pianist, teacher and composer, was born in the tiny town of Lipnik, Poland (then a part of Austrian Silesia), the son of Isidor Schnabel, a textile businessman, and Ernestine Labin. He began piano lessons at age six, after effortlessly imitating his elder sister’s playing. He progressed rapidly and was sent to Vienna in 1889 at age seven to play for Professor Hans Schmidt at the Vienna Conservatory. Schmidt immediately accepted the boy as a private pupil, and the Schnabel family moved to Vienna....

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Schreiber, Frederick Charles (13 January 1895–15 January 1985), organist, conductor, and teacher, was born in Vienna, Austria, the son of Charles Robert Darwin Schreiber, a doctor, and Anna (maiden name unknown). Both parents were musicians who delighted in playing piano, and they provided countless hours of musical enrichment for Frederick and his sister Ella. In this way Schreiber learned to appreciate the classical repertoire. Schreiber began formal study of the piano at age eight and wrote his first composition when he was just ten years old. He attended the Humanistic High School in Vienna, the Vienna University, and the State Academy of Music, studying composition, conducting, piano, and violoncello....

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Selby, William (1739–08 December 1798), organist, composer, and music teacher, was born in London, England, the son of Joseph Selby, a fishmonger and merchant. His mother’s name is not known. His early musical training is unknown, but at the age of only fourteen he competed (unsuccessfully) for the organist’s position at St. Edmund’s Church. Three years later, in 1756, he secured the position of organist at the Church of All Hallows, Bread Street, in preference to the composer Jonathan Battishill, and in 1758 his first known composition, a secular song, was published in Roberts’s ...

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Sowerby, Leo (01 May 1895–07 July 1968), composer, organist, and teacher, was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the son of John Sowerby, a postal supervisor, and Florence Gertrude Salkeld Sowerby. His mother died when he was four, and three years later his father married Mary Wiersma. His stepmother provided his earliest musical instruction and arranged for Leo to study piano with Mrs. Frederick Burton. Sowerby proved to be a phenomenal prodigy and was performing Liszt's ...

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Ussachevsky, Vladimir (03 November 1911–02 January 1990), composer, pianist, and teacher, was born in Hailar, Manchuria, China. His father was a captain in the Russian Army, and his mother was a professional pianist and taught him piano. He was raised on China’s sparsely populated plains and sang Old Slavonic chants as an altar boy in the local Russian Orthodox church. By the time he was a teenager he was an accompanist for silent movies and played Russian gypsy music in restaurants....

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Whiting, George Elbridge (14 September 1840–14 October 1923), organist, teacher, and composer, was born in Holliston, Massachusetts, the son of Nathan P. Whiting and Olive Chase. He came from a musical household and received his first music lessons from his older brother Amos at the age of five. When only thirteen he played the organ in a concert in Worcester, and in 1858, while still in his teens, he succeeded ...