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Beck, Johann Heinrich (12 September 1856–26 May 1924), conductor, composer, and violinist, was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the son of Charles Beck, a businessman, and Rebecca Butler. He was one of five children, all boys, all of whom played the violin. He was educated in Cleveland and spent most of his life there, although he attended the Leipzig Conservatory from 1879 to 1882. He made his acclaimed European debut at the Leipzig Gewandhaus as violinist in his own String Quartet in C Minor. His diploma read in part: “In Theory Mr. Beck possesses highly advanced knowledge, in practical Composition, ...

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Bergmann, Carl (12 April 1821–10 August 1876), conductor, cellist, and composer, was born in Ebersbach, Saxony, the son of middle-class parents. His talent for music manifested itself early, and he was a pupil of Adolph Zimmerman at Zittau as early as 1827 and later studied with the organist-composer Adolph Hesse at Breslau. By 1842 he was playing cello and occasionally conducting the orchestra in Breslau and in these capacities toured central and eastern European cities between 1842 and 1848. His early compositions, written before 1848, apparently included an opera and a symphony....

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Bristow, George Frederick (19 December 1825–13 December 1898), violinist and composer, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of William Richard Bristow, a musician, and Anna Tapp. His musical training began at an early age with piano and violin lessons from his father, supplemented by instruction from one of the premier violinists of the day, ...

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Ole Bull. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-102595).

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Bull, Ole (05 February 1810–17 August 1880), concert violinist, composer, and patriot, was born Ole Bornemann Bull in Bergen, Norway, the son of Johan Storm Bull, an apothecary, and Anna Dorothea Geelmuyden. Musically precocious by age three, he was encouraged by his mother and his uncle, a good amateur cellist, who bought the child his first violin and persuaded the parents to engage an instructor, the closest brush Bull would have with formal violin study. Two years were spent with Johan H. Paulson, followed in 1822 by a six-year stint with Mathias Lundholm. Beyond this early foundation, Bull remained almost entirely self-taught, although he sometimes sought informal help from artists like Torgeir Augundson, the legendary Norwegian folk fiddler....

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Fahey, John (28 February 1939–22 February 2001), solo acoustic guitar player, composer, and arranger, was born John Aloysius Fahey in Takoma Park, Maryland, the son of Aloysius Fahey and Jane Fahey, both federal bureaucrats. Fahey lived in a household where both parents played piano, and he was encouraged to take up an instrument. He chose the guitar....

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Gilbert, Henry Franklin Belknap (26 September 1868–19 May 1928), composer, essayist, and musician, was born in Somerville, Massachusetts, the son of Benjamin Franklin Gilbert, a bank clerk and musician, and Therese Angeline Gilson, a noted soprano. At the age of ten, inspired by the playing of ...

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Harris, Bill (28 October 1916–21 August 1973), trombonist, guitarist, and composer, was born Willard Palmer Harris in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Willard Massey Harris, an attorney for the U.S. Marine Corps, and Mabel Palmer Harris. Bill's older half brother Robert was a professional bassist who performed with the Ted Weems Orchestra....

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Herrmann, Eduard Emil (18 December 1850–24 April 1937), violinist, composer, and string quartet director, was born in Oberrotweil, duchy of Baden (now Baden-Württemberg, Germany), the son of Eduard Stephan Herrmann, a schoolteacher, and Amalie Knoebel. At an early age Eduard was trained musically by his father and later was given a stipend by the duke of Baden for his further education. In Freiburg he studied violin, then in 1864 enrolled at the Stuttgart music conservatory, where he was encouraged to continue by Franz Liszt. His quest for advanced musical training and broadened intellectual opportunities brought him in 1868 to the Berlin conservatory (Hochschule für Musik), where he became a protégé of the renowned violinist Joseph Joachim....

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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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Hupfeld, Charles Frederick (1788–15 July 1864), violinist, conductor, and composer, was born in Germany. The identities of his parents are not known. He was probably related to Bernhard Hupfeld, a composer and violinist trained in Italy, who served as director of music at the University of Marburg. Charles Hupfeld was closely associated with Henry Hupfeld, Bernhard’s eldest son, who was also a violinist. Charles Hupfeld arrived in Philadelphia as an excellent violinist and probably studied the violin in Germany, but no details of his life there are known....

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Johnson, Francis (16 June 1792–06 April 1844), musician, bandleader, and composer, also known as Frank Johnson, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Little is known of his youth and parentage. Most sources cite Martinique as his birthplace, but Stephen Charpié's (1999) work with baptismal records establishes his birth date, birthplace, and status as a free African American. Though skilled at a number of instruments, Johnson seems to have first attained local prominence as a fiddler at dances, parties, and the like; there is some evidence that he played with Matthew “Matt” Black's band in the late 1810s. Johnson also seems to have received some limited instruction during this period from Richard Willis, an Irish immigrant who later directed the West Point military band and who introduced the keyed bugle (also known as a Kent bugle) to the United States....

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Francis Johnson. Courtesy of the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, University of Pennsylvania.

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Fritz Kreisler Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-102200).

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Kreisler, Fritz (02 February 1875–29 January 1962), violinist and composer, was born Friedrich Kreisler in Vienna, Austria, the son of Samuel Severin Kreisler, a general medical practitioner and amateur violinist, and Anna (maiden name unknown). Fritz’s father and musical friends devoted Saturday afternoons to string quartet playing. Young Fritz listened, and at age four, having successfully played the national anthem on a toy violin for the Saturday group, he received a genuine small violin from his father. Jacques Auber, concertmaster at the Ring Theater and a friend of Dr. Kreisler, agreed to teach Fritz, who made rapid progress. In 1882 Kreisler was admitted to the Vienna Conservatory. He studied violin with Joseph Hellmesberger, Jr., and studied harmony and theory with Anton Bruckner. Kreisler’s piano skills, much lauded by colleagues in later years, were self-taught while he was at the conservatory. Kreisler gave his first public violin performance in 1884 in a conservatory concert, and in 1885 he won first prize for violinists, the conservatory’s gold medal, which was an unprecedented accomplishment for a ten-year-old....

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Lang, Margaret Ruthven (27 November 1867–30 May 1972), violinist and composer, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the daughter of Benjamin Johnson Lang, one of the city’s leading organists and choir masters. Her family was socially prominent and musically active in Boston, and as a young girl Margaret received strong musical training from her father. She began writing music at age seventeen. Her family connections aided her artistic visibility and her compositional career. In 1890, for example, she wrote a piece for male chorus entitled ...

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Charles Martin Loeffler. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-105600).

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Loeffler, Charles Martin (30 January 1861–19 May 1935), composer and violinist, was born near Berlin, Germany, the son of Dr. Karl Löffler, a writer and agricultural scientist, and Helena Schwerdtmann. His father’s professional expertise was in demand in various sugar-producing regions of Europe. Thus, as he was growing up, Loeffler lived with his family in several towns in Germany and in France, Hungary, and Russia. As a child he was educated principally at home, although he recalled receiving his first violin lessons in Smela in Ukraine. Loeffler attended the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin from 1874 to 1877; there he studied violin with Joseph Joachim. In Paris he studied violin with Lambert Joseph Massart and composition with Ernest Guiraud. Loeffler played for one year in the Pasdeloup Orchestra in Paris, after which he was a member of the private orchestra of Baron Paul von Derwies in France and Switzerland from 1879 to 1881....

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McMichen, Clayton (26 January 1900–03 January 1970), country music fiddler, singer, and composer, was born in Allatoona, Georgia, some forty miles northeast of Atlanta. His family was from a Scots-Irish clan who had been in the area since the 1790s and had absorbed many of the Anglo-American folk-music styles in the area, from shape-note religious singing to playing the fretless banjo. McMichen’s own father was what he called “one of those sophisticated Irish violin players” who could read music and play anything from breakdowns to light classics, and young McMichen grew up listening to a wide variety of music. As a youth, McMichen was determined to make his living as an automobile mechanic but was soon drawn into trying to make a living by fiddling....

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Mingus, Charles (22 April 1922–05 January 1979), jazz musician, was born in Nogales, Arizona, the son of Charles Mingus, a postal worker and army sergeant, and Harriett Sophia Philips. The family moved to the Watts section of Los Angeles shortly after Mingus’s birth to seek medical care for his mother, who died soon thereafter. Mingus first studied trombone and then cello. At the age of sixteen he switched to the bass, studying with the well-known jazz player Red Callender, and he also began to study the piano....