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Count Basie, c. 1946-1948. © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB23-0047 DLC).

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Basie, Count (21 August 1904–26 April 1984), jazz pianist, composer, and bandleader, was born William Basie in Red Bank, New Jersey, the son of African-American parents Harvey Lee Basie, an estate groundskeeper, and Lillian Ann Chiles, a laundress. Basie was first exposed to music through his mother’s piano playing. He took piano lessons, played the drums, and acted in school skits. An indifferent student, he left school after junior high and began performing. He organized bands with friends and played various jobs in Red Bank, among them working as a movie theater pianist. In his late teens he pursued work in nearby Asbury Park, but he met with little success. Then, in the early 1920s, he moved to Harlem, where he learned from the leading pianists of the New York “stride” style, ...

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Bate, Humphrey (25 May 1875–12 June 1936), bandleader, harmonica player, and physician, was born in Castalian Springs, Tennessee, the son of a local physician. His parents’ names are unknown. A graduate of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Bate took over his father’s practice and traveled the circuit in Sumner County, just north of Nashville. As a hobby he organized and led a string band that eventually became the first such group to appear on the pioneer country radio show the “Grand Ole Opry.” His band is considered by historians to be one of the finest and most authentic of the old-time performing groups, and for years it was the cornerstone of the “Grand Ole Opry.”...

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Blakey, Art (11 October 1919–16 October 1990), jazz drummer and bandleader, was born Art William Blakey in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the son of Burtrum Blakey, a barber, and Marie Roddericker. His father left home shortly after Blakey was born, and his mother died the next year. Consequently, he was raised by a cousin, Sarah Oliver Parran, who worked at the Jones and Laughlin Steel Mill in Pittsburgh. He moved out of the home at age thirteen to work in the steel mills and in 1938 married Clarice Stuart (four years his junior) the first of three wives. Other wives included Diana Bates and Ann Arnold. Blakey had at least ten children (the exact number is unknown), the last of whom was born in 1986....

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Bolden, Buddy (06 September 1877–04 November 1931), jazz musician, was born Charles Joseph Bolden in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of Westmore Bolden, a drayman, and Alice Harrison. A cornetist and bandleader, Bolden is one of the earliest known figures in the development of jazz in New Orleans and was active from 1895 until 1906—the formative period in jazz’s early history....

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Bradshaw, Tiny (23 September 1905–26 November 1958), singer, drummer, and bandleader, was born Myron Carlton Bradshaw in Youngstown, Ohio. His parents’ names are unknown. He played the drums from the age of ten and soon after was performing professionally as a drummer and vocalist. Early in his career he served as the drummer of the Jump Johnson Band in Buffalo, New York. He attended Wilberforce University in Wilberforce, Ohio, and majored in psychology. Before forming his own big band in 1934, he sang with Horace Henderson’s Collegians and in New York either drummed or sang with Marion Hardy’s Alabamians, the Savoy Bearcats, Mills Blue Rhythm Band (1932–1933), and ...

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Brown, Les (14 March 1912–04 January 2001), bandleader, was born Lester Raymond Brown in Reinerton, Pennsylvania, the son of Ray Winfield Brown, a baker, and Hattie Mae Nye Brown. His father played the soprano saxophone in a saxophone quartet and was also skilled on the trombone; he was known locally as the “March Prince,” playing the ...

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Brown, Milton (08 September 1903–18 April 1936), country music vocalist and bandleader, was born Willie Milton Brown in Stephenville, Texas, the son of Barty Lee Brown, a sharecropper, and Martha Annie Huxford. A bright child with an outgoing personality, Milton early on exhibited a love for singing and entertaining. In the summer of 1918 after the sudden death of Milton’s older sister Era, the Browns moved to Fort Worth. There Milton attended West Side and then Arlington Heights High Schools, where he was active in school government, sports, and clubs, and where his singing abilities and sociable personality earned him the nickname “Harmony Boy.” Because he had to work on the family farm, Milton didn’t graduate from high school until age twenty-one, when he began to take various labor and sales jobs. At the same time he was singing at local functions in a variety of small vocal groups....

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Brubeck, Dave (06 December 1920–05 December 2012), jazz pianist, bandleader, and composer, was born David Warren Brubeck in Concord, California, the youngest son of Howard Peter Brubeck, a rancher, and Elizabeth Ivey, a pianist and music teacher. In the mid-1890s his grandfather bought a ranch at the northern foot of Mount Diablo in Clayton, California. His parents' home was in the adjacent town, Concord, where young Dave attended elementary school. His brilliance would eventually be obvious, but as a child he was placed in a slow learning group because he had difficulty with spelling and reading. Dave was born cross-eyed and later in life speculated that he may also have had an unidentified learning disability....

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Dave Brubeck. Portrait of Dave Brubeck, with sheet music as backdrop. Portrait by Carl Van Vechten, 1954. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-103725).

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Butterfield, Paul (17 December 1942–03 May 1987), blues harmonica player and bandleader, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of middle-class parents whose names and occupations are unknown. Butterfield was raised in Chicago, where blues music was regularly performed in small clubs on the city’s South Side, catering primarily to a black audience who had migrated to the city in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s looking for better employment opportunities. Butterfield was one of the few young white musicians to befriend the older bluesmen and was soon sitting in with band members as a harmonica player....

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Cab Calloway Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1933. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-89027).

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Calloway, Cab (25 December 1907–18 November 1994), jazz and popular singer and bandleader, was born Cabell Calloway III in Rochester, New York, the son of Cabell Calloway, a lawyer who also worked in real estate, and Martha Eulalia Reed, a public school teacher and church organist. Around 1914 the family moved to Baltimore, Maryland. His father died around 1920, and his mother married John Nelson Fortune, who held a succession of respectable jobs. Calloway sang solos at Bethlehem Methodist Episcopal Church, and he took voice lessons at age fourteen. He was nevertheless an incorrigible teenager, and in 1921 his stepfather sent him to Downingtown Industrial and Agricultural School, a reform school run by his granduncle, a pastor in Downington, Pennsylvania. In the spring of 1922 Calloway returned home on his own initiative, by his own account not reformed, but now a man rather than a boy. He thereafter moved comfortably between the proprieties of mainstream American life and the depravities of American entertainment....

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Celestin, Papa (01 January 1884–15 December 1954), bandleader and trumpeter, was born Oscar Philip Celestin in Lafourche Parish, Louisiana, the son of Joseph Celestin, a sugar-cane cutter, and Lucy (maiden name unknown). About 1900 Celestin got his first cornet and for a few years worked as a cook for a railroad. In 1902 he moved to St. Charles Parish, where he got his first job as a musician with J. C. Trist’s band. In 1906 he moved to New Orleans and worked first as a longshoreman and, in 1909, as a musician at Josie Arlinton’s saloon in the local red-light district. The first New Orleans band of which he was a regular member was the Indiana Brass Band. Then he joined Jack Carey’s band, where he began to play jazz. He also worked with other New Orleans bands, including Henry Allen’s Brass Band, the Silver Leaf Band, and ...

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Cherry, Don (18 November 1936–19 October 1995), jazz cornetist, multi-instrumentalist, and bandleader, was born Donald Eugene Cherry in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, of mixed African-American and Choctaw Indian heritage, the son of Ulysses Cherry, a bartender, and Daisy Lee McKee. Cherry spent his earliest years in Kenner, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma City. In 1941 the family moved to Los Angeles, where Cherry's father took a job as the bartender at the Plantation Club. Cherry became immersed in music. He listened to the jazz and rhythm and blues musicians who performed at that club and to his grandmother and mother, who played piano, which became his first instrument. In 1950, while in junior high school, he took up trumpet, and during this period he appeared with his sister as a dancer at parties his father gave....

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Clarke, Kenny (?9 Jan. 1914–26 January 1985), jazz drummer and bandleader, was born Kenneth Clarke Spearman in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the son of Charles Spearman and Martha Grace Scott. His birth date is almost always given as 9 January, but writer Ursula Broschke Davis maintains that the actual date is 2 January. His mother played piano, and at a young age he learned to play both this instrument and, in church, pump organ. Biographers concur that his boyhood was miserable, and he hid the experience behind rosy and contradictory memories. His father abandoned the family. When he was around five years old, his mother died. Her companion, a Baptist preacher, placed him in the Coleman Industrial Home for Negro Boys in Pittsburgh, where he tried a few brass instruments before taking up drums. At about age eleven or twelve he resumed living with his stepfather. He attended several elementary schools and Herron Hill Junior High School before dropping out at age fifteen to become a professional musician. After an argument with his stepfather, he was placed in a foster home....

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Cooley, Spade (17 December 1910–23 November 1969), western swing bandleader and fiddler, was born Donnell Clyde Cooley in or near Pack Saddle Creek, Oklahoma, the son of John Cooley and Emma (maiden name unknown). Some sources indicate that he was born on 22 February 1910 in Grand (or Grande), Oklahoma. The family moved in 1914 to Oregon, where at age seven Cooley received his first musical instruction in classical violin, though soon he was applying his musical talents by fiddling at local dances. As one-quarter Cherokee Indian (from his father’s side), Cooley attended Chemawa Indian School, at which he played the cello in the school orchestra. It was also at Chemawa that Cooley acquired his nickname “Spade” during a poker game in which he drew a number of spade flushes....

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Crosby, Bob (25 August 1913–09 March 1993), jazz and popular bandleader and singer, and radio, film, and television personality, was born George Robert Crosby in Spokane, Washington, the son of Harry Lowe Crosby, a bookkeeper at the Inland Products Canning Company, and Catherine “Kate” Helen Harrigan. He attended Webster High School, North Central High School, and Gonzaga, a Jesuit high school and university. Not a remarkable student, he excelled at sports but chose instead to pursue a career as a singer, following his famous brother, ...

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Tadd Dameron © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB23-0172 DLC).

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Dameron, Tadd (21 February 1917–08 March 1965), arranger, bandleader, and composer, was born Tadley Ewing Peake Dameron in Cleveland, Ohio. Information on his parents is not available. Dameron attended Oberlin College and took premed courses before deciding to become a musician. His career began rather inauspiciously as a singer in 1938 with Freddy Webster’s band. It then continued with several lesser-known groups that included Zach Whyte, Blanche Calloway ( ...