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Anderson, Ivie (10 July 1905–27 or 28 Dec. 1949), jazz singer, was born in Gilroy, California, the daughter of Jobe Smith. Her mother’s name is unknown. Anderson’s given name is sometimes spelled “Ivy.” She studied voice at St. Mary’s Convent from age nine to age thirteen, and she sang in the glee club and choral society at Gilroy grammar and high school. While spending two years at the Nunnie H. Burroughs Institution in Washington, D.C., she studied voice under Sara Ritt....

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See Andrews Sisters

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See Andrews Sisters

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Armstrong, Lil (03 February 1898–27 August 1971), jazz pianist, composer, and singer, was born Lillian Hardin in Memphis, Tennessee. Nothing is known of her father, but her mother, Dempsey Hardin, was a strict, churchgoing woman who disapproved of blues music. At age six, Lil began playing organ at home, and at eight she started studying piano. In 1914 she enrolled in the music school of Fisk University in Nashville, taking academic courses and studying piano and music theory. After earning her diploma, around 1917 she joined her mother in Chicago, where she found work demonstrating songs in Jones’ Music Store. Prompted by her employer, in 1918 Hardin auditioned for clarinetist Lawrence Duhé’s band at Bill Bottoms’s Dreamland Ballroom, where she played with cornetist “Sugar Johnny” Smith, trombonist Roy Palmer, and other New Orleans musicians. When Smith became too ill to continue working, he was replaced by first ...

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Austin, Lovie (19 September 1887–10 July 1972), pioneer jazzwoman, was born Cora Calhoun, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Little is known about Austin’s personal life. She studied music theory and piano at Roger Williams University in Nashville and Knoxville College in Knoxville. Her musical contributions were nearly overlooked until the revived interest in women in jazz in the 1970s. The reacquaintance with Austin can be attributed to the publication of three books on women in the early days of jazz....

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Mildred Bailey © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB13-0040 DLC).

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Bailey, Mildred (27 February 1907–12 December 1951), jazz singer, was born Eleanor Mildred Rinker in Tekoa, Washington, the daughter of Charles Rinker, a farmer of Irish descent, and Josephine (maiden name unknown), who was one-eighth Native American. She attended local schools in Spokane. The Rinkers were a musical family—Mildred’s mother, father, and a brother played piano, her father also sang, and another brother played the saxophone. When Mildred was in her teens, her mother died of tuberculosis; She subsequently moved to Seattle to live with an aunt. In Seattle she met and married Ed Bailey; they had no children. Around that time Mildred obtained her first singing job, plugging hit tunes in the back of a Seattle music store. She later divorced her husband and in 1925 moved to Los Angeles, where she found work playing piano and singing in a Hollywood speakeasy. The same year she married Benny Stafford, but the childless marriage did not last....

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Bentley, Gladys (12 Aug. 1907–18 Jan. 1960), African American pianist, blues singer, and nightclub entertainer, was born Gladys Alberta Bentley in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the oldest of four children of George L. Bentley and Mary Mote Bentley. Her father was born in the United States, and her mother immigrated from Trinidad. Raised in a working-class family in Philadelphia, Bentley had a difficult childhood, and she often felt like an outcast. In an autobiographical essay for ...

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Bumgarner, Samantha (30 October 1878–24 December 1960), folksinger and instrumentalist, was born Samantha Biddix in Jackson County, North Carolina, the daughter of Has Biddix, a well-known local fiddler. (Her mother’s name is unknown.) She grew up in the hilly area southeast of Asheville, a region rich in fiddle and banjo music and in old ballads. Her father could, she recalled, make his fiddle “croon like a lovin’ woman,” but at first he would not let his daughter touch his instrument. She persisted and became adept at the fiddle; she also, like many mountain musicians of the time, developed skill on the banjo. Her first banjo was “a gourd with cat’s hide stretched over it and strings made of cotton thread and waxed with beeswax,” but by the time she was fifteen she had learned to play it so well that her father bought her a “real” store-made banjo. She began to travel with her father as he went around the region playing for dances and fiddling contests. (Before the turn of the century, the guitar was rare in the Appalachians, and a mountain “string band” often consisted of a fiddle and banjo.)...

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Canova, Judy (20 November 1916–05 August 1983), hillbilly singer, was born Juliette Canova in Starke, Florida, the daughter of Joseph Canova, a cotton broker and contractor, and Henrietta Perry, a concert singer. The family was quite musical, and Canova and her brother Zeke and sister Annie studied piano, voice, violin, and horn. Judy, an extrovert—or, as her mother put it, “a natural ham”—from age three, performed at family and church socials. At age twelve she and her best friend entered a series of Jacksonville amateur nights, often taking first place. When the friend dropped out, Zeke and Annie took her spot and the Canova Cracker Trio was born. They sang and did hillbilly comedy and were signed to do local radio. She claimed to have picked up her cornpone lingo from sharecroppers who patronized her father’s cotton gin....

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Carlisle, Una Mae (26 December 1915–07 November 1956), jazz pianist, singer, and composer of popular songs, was born in Zanesville, Ohio, the daughter of Edward E. Carlisle and Mellie (maiden name unknown), a schoolteacher. (The assertion that she was born in Xenia, Ohio, published in many references, does not conform to family records.) With piano training from her mother, she sang and played in public at age three in Chillicothe, Ohio. After participating in musical activities at church and school in Jamestown and Xenia, Ohio, she began performing regularly on radio station WHIO in Dayton while still a youngster. In 1932 she came to the notice of ...

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Carter Cash, June (23 June 1929–15 May 2003), singer, songwriter, and actor, was born Valerie June Carter in Maces Spring, Virginia, the second of three daughters of Ezra Carter and Maybelle Addington. She was born into the country music group the Carter Family, a troupe that was instrumental in the transformation of country music from a predominantly string-based genre to one that relied more heavily on vocalists. Maybelle Carter's innovative guitar playing, dubbed the “Carter Scratch,” would go on to influence generations of country musicians. When the Carter Family was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1970, it was as the “First Family of Country Music.”...

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June Carter Cash Attending the CMA Awards in Nashville, c. 1977. Courtesy of AP Images

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Carter, Betty (16 May 1929–26 September 1998), jazz vocalist, was born Lillie Mae Jones in Flint, Michigan, the daughter of James Jones, a factory worker who also led a Baptist church choir, and Bertha Cox Jones. Carter grew up in Detroit, where she attended North Western High School. She later studied piano at the Detroit Conservatory, and it is rumored that she falsified her age to be admitted. In 1946 she began singing at local clubs and sitting in on sessions with ...

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Carter, Maybelle (10 May 1909–23 October 1978), country-music singer and instrumentalist and matriarch of a music performing dynasty, known as Mother Maybelle, was born Maybelle Addington around Nicklesville, Scott County, Virginia, a few miles north of the Tennessee-Virginia state line. Both of her parents, Hugh Jack Addington and Margaret Elizabeth Kilgore, had deep roots in rural Scott County. Maybelle was one of ten children, many of whom grew up playing various stringed instruments. Maybelle’s mother was a banjo player, and when Maybelle was still a child she joined in as the family band played for local square dances. She played the autoharp as well, but her real fascination came when she was about twelve and one of her older brothers gave her a guitar. “I started trying different ways to pick it,” she later recalled, “and came up with my own style, because there weren’t many guitar pickers around.” The guitar was just becoming popular in the mountains, and the style Maybelle came up with—what would become known as the “Carter lick” or “thumb-brush” technique—allowed the thumb to pick the melody on the bass strings while the fingers keep rhythm downstroking the higher strings. This permitted the guitarist to pick a melody and keep rhythm at the same time, and eventually it became the most copied guitar style in country music....

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June Christy © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB23-0125 DLC).

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Horace Clarence Boyer

Christy, June (20 November 1925–21 June 1990), jazz singer, was born Shirley Luster in Springfield, Illinois. She moved to Decatur, Illinois, as a young child and at age thirteen began singing the popular songs of the day with a local band. After graduating from high school she settled in Chicago, where she secured work as the “girl” singer with local society bands. Uncomfortable with both the style and repertoire of such bands, Luster signed on in 1938 with a dance unit led by ...

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Cline, Patsy (08 September 1932–05 March 1963), singer, was born Virginia Patterson Hensley in Gore, Virginia, the daughter of Samuel Lawrence Hensley, a laborer and farmer, and Hilda Patterson. The family settled in Winchester, Virginia, in 1945. After a childhood fantasy of a Hollywood career, Cline discovered the radio broadcasts of the Grand Ole Opry and became obsessed with becoming a member. With her mother, she sang in the choir of the Gore Baptist Church. At fourteen she began singing on WINC Radio, Winchester, making her stage debut at sixteen on ...

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Cotten, Elizabeth (05 January 1893–29 June 1987), folksinger, was born near Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the daughter of George Nevills, a day laborer and part-time farmer, and Louise (maiden name unknown), a domestic worker. Her parents’ blue-collar jobs were tied to the largely agrarian economy that supported the black community in Orange County. One of five children, “Libba” Cotten’s formal education did not extend beyond elementary school. She was attracted to music as a child. She began playing her older brother Claude’s banjo and guitar shortly after the turn of the century and taught herself to tune and play both instruments left-handed (upside-down). She was exposed to a wide variety of music during a fruitful and creative period for southern music. Blues was just beginning to emerge, and the ballads that developed in the United States, country dance tunes, minstrel show songs, and sacred songs were all commonly heard. Around this time Cotten wrote two songs—“Freight Train” and “I’m Going Away”—for which she later became famous....

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Cousin Emmy (1903–11 April 1980), country singer, banjoist, and comedian, was born Cynthia May Carver near Lamb, a hamlet in south central Kentucky near Glasgow. The youngest of eight children, she grew up in a log cabin while her father tried to make ends meet working as a sharecropper raising tobacco. Her family was musical, and she learned old English and Scottish ballads from her great-grandmother. As she grew up, she became proficient on a number of instruments, ranging from the orthodox (fiddle, banjo, guitar) to the unusual (the rubber glove, the Jew’s harp, the hand saw). A natural “show off” and entertainer, by around 1915 she was leaving the farm and trying her hand at entertaining in nearby towns. Having no real interest in school, she taught herself to read by studying mail order catalogues....