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Dominique-René de Lerma

Bledsoe, Jules (29 December 1897–14 July 1943), baritone, was born Julius Lorenzo Cobb Bledsoe in Waco, Texas, the son of Henry L. Bledsoe and Jessie Cobb, occupations unknown. Following his parents’ separation in 1899, he lived with his maternal grandmother, a midwife and nurse, who encouraged him to appreciate music. Graduating in 1918 magna cum laude from Bishop College, Bledsoe began graduate medical studies at Columbia University, withdrawing after the death of his mother in 1920 to dedicate himself to singing. In 1924 he presented his debut recital at Aeolian Hall in New York....

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Charles, Ray (23 September 1930–10 June 2004), pop and jazz singer, pianist, and composer, was born Ray Charles Robinson in Albany, Georgia, the son of Bailey Robinson, a laborer, and Aretha Williams. Williams, a teenage orphan, lived in Greenville, Florida, with Robinson's mother and his wife, Mary Jane Robinson. The Robinson family had informally adopted her, and she became known as Aretha Robinson. Scandalously Aretha became pregnant by Bailey Robinson, and she briefly left Greenville late in the summer of 1930 to be with relatives in Albany for the baby's birth. Mother and child then returned to Greenville, and Aretha and Mary Jane shared Ray Charles's upbringing. He was deeply devoted to his mother and later recalled her perseverance, self-sufficiency, and pride as guiding lights in his life. His father abandoned the family and took another wife elsewhere....

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Ray Charles. Gelatin silver print, c. 1961, by Michel Salou. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

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Mana-Zucca (25 December 1885–08 March 1981), pianist, singer, and composer, was born Gizella Zuccamanov in New York City, the daughter of Samuel Shepard Zuccamanov (later changed to Zuccaman) and Yachnia (later changed to Jasmine; maiden name unknown), both émigrés from Poland. At the time of her birth, the Zuccamans lived in the Harlem section of Manhattan. Mana-Zucca showed an interest in music at a very early age. Given a toy piano at the age of three, she could not play the half tones, which she found upsetting. Her parents were anxious to let her study piano, and her first studies were with a Russian neighbor named Patotnikoff. After some initial lessons with him, she continued with a Russian immigrant by the name of Platon Brounoff and at the age of three and a half gave her first recital at a small neighborhood social hall. Shortly thereafter, her father took her to audition at the National Conservatory of Music (New York City), where at the age of four she was admitted on scholarship. Her first teachers at the conservatory were the Misses Margulies and Okell. Her first professional engagement was in Stamford, Connecticut, at the home of Dr. and Mrs. Phillips, who paid her $10 as a concert fee....

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Johnny Mercer, c. 1946-1948. © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB23-0612 DLC).

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Mercer, Johnny (18 November 1909–25 June 1976), popular composer, lyricist, and singer, was born John Herndon Mercer in Savannah, Georgia, the son of George Mercer, an attorney, and Lillian Ciucevich. Throughout his childhood Mercer was fascinated with the popular songs of the day as well as by Gilbert and Sullivan operettas and the blues and spirituals of southern blacks. From 1922 to 1927 he attended Virginia’s Woodbury Forest Preparatory School, where he wrote light verse and songs. Shortly after graduation he pursued a career as an actor and singer in New York. There he married Ginger Meehan, a dancer, in 1931 and soon had two children. While his acting career languished, success as a songwriter came in 1933 when he collaborated with ...

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Rogers, Clara Kathleen (14 January 1844–08 March 1931), composer and singer, was born Clara Kathleen Barnett in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England, the daughter of John Barnett, a composer, and Eliza Lindley, the daughter of the eminent cellist Robert Lindley. Clara was to acquire the name Rogers when she married Henry Munroe Rogers, a prominent Boston attorney, in 1878; they had no children. John Barnett was, in Clara’s proud words, the “Father of English opera,” because his ...

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Rosenblatt, Josef (09 May 1882–18 June 1933), cantor and concert singer, was born in Belaya Tserkov, Ukraine, the son of Raphael Shalom Rosenblatt, a cantor, and Chayeh Sarah Pilatsky. From his earliest youth, Rosenblatt was trained to follow his father’s profession. At the age of four he was already assisting in synagogue services as a member of his father’s choir. By age eight Rosenblatt was traveling throughout Eastern Europe as an itinerant boy-cantor. For the Jews of Eastern Europe, cantorial performances not only enhanced their religious devotions but functioned as a major form of musical entertainment since the synagogue served as both a spiritual home and a social center. By his bar mitzvah at age thirteen Rosenblatt was a recognized star both in his home communities and on the international cantor’s circuit, having also sung in congregations in Vienna and Budapest. Constantly on tour, the cantor prodigy received his general and religious education from private tutors. In August 1900 Rosenblatt married Taube Kaufman; they would have eight children....