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Eddie Condon © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB13-0165 DLC).

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Condon, Eddie (16 November 1905–04 August 1973), jazz personality and organizer of Chicago-style jazz bands, recording sessions, and concerts, was born Albert Edwin Condon in Goodland, Indiana, the son of John Condon, a small-town saloonkeeper, and Margaret McGrath. As a teenager, Condon played rhythmic dance band accompaniment on the tenor banjo and, once established in jazz, favored the four-string tenor guitar....

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Diddley, Bo (30 December 1928-2 June 2008), guitarist, singer, songwriter and music producer, was born in McComb, Mississippi. He believed Eugene Bates to be his biological father. His mother, Ethel Wilson, gave birth to him at sixteen years old. He used the surname Bates until his mother’s first cousin, Gussie McDaniel, adopted him at age five and raised him. When her husband died, she moved the family in ...

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Dorsey, Thomas Andrew (01 July 1899–23 January 1993), blues performer, gospel singer, and composer, was born in Villa Rica, Georgia, the son of Thomas Madison Dorsey, a preacher, and Etta Plant Spencer. Dorsey’s mother, whose first husband had died, owned approximately fifty acres of farm land. Dorsey lived in somewhat trying circumstances as his parents moved first to Atlanta and Forsyth, Georgia, and then back to Villa Rica during the first four years of his life. In Villa Rica the Dorsey family settled into a rural lifestyle supported by marginal farming that was slightly mitigated by his father’s pastoral duties....

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Drake, Pete (08 October 1932–29 July 1988), steel guitarist, music producer, and music publisher, was born Roddis Franklin Drake in Atlanta, Georgia, the son of Rev. Johnny Drake, a Pentecostal minister, and Nora Blevins. Beginning his musical pursuits on the acoustic guitar, Drake was inspired at around the age of eighteen by hearing steel guitarist Jerry Byrd playing at the Grand Ole Opry. Drake purchased a lap steel at a local Atlanta pawnshop and began to teach himself to play it. Further inspiration came a few years later from hearing Webb Pierce’s 1953 recording of “Slowly,” on which steel guitarist Bud Isaacs achieved bending-note effects with a pedal-activated, pitch-altering mechanism on his guitar. Fashioning his own pedal guitar, Drake became one of Atlanta’s first pedal steel guitarists. He soon formed his own band, the Sons of the South, which at one time included such notable country music figures as Jerry Reed, Joe South, Doug Kershaw, and ...

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Fowler, Wally (15 February 1917–03 June 1994), gospel music promoter, singer, and songwriter, was born John Wallace Fowler near Cartersville, Georgia, the son of Joseph Fletcher Fowler, a well-established cotton farmer; his mother’s name is not known. By the time Wally Fowler was ready for school, the Great Depression had wrecked his father’s fortunes, and he and his sisters grew up working as sharecroppers. The Fowler family, however, loved music; his mother played an old pump organ, and his father helped organize Saturday night gospel singings in the front rooms of neighborhood houses. “That’s when I really learned gospel music,” he recalled. What formal training the singers got came from J. M. Henson, an Atlanta publisher and singing school teacher, who came to the area to conduct singing schools, using the seven-shape note system that was popular throughout the South at that time....

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Lunsford, Bascom Lamar (21 March 1882–04 September 1973), folk performer, folk song collector, and festival promoter, was born in Mars Hill, North Carolina, the son of James Basset Lunsford, a teacher and schoolmaster, and Louarta Leah Buckner. Both of his parents were descended from pioneer settlers in the area. Though the entire Lunsford family had varying degrees of formal education, James Lunsford encouraged his six children to take seriously the rich folk culture of the mountains. By the time he was ten years old, Bascom Lunsford and his brother Blackwell were adept on the fiddle and were performing for schoolhouse functions....

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Bascom Lamar Lunsford. In Asheville, with two square dancers visiting from New York City. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LOT 7414-A, no. N160 P&P).

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Mezz Mezzrow © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB23-0615 DLC).

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Mezzrow, Mezz (09 November 1899–05 August 1972), clarinet and sax player and promoter, was born Milton Miserow (or Misirow) in Chicago, the son of middle-class Jewish parents whose names are not available. Although reared in a well-to-do family on the north side of Chicago, Mezzrow says in his autobiography that he first learned to play the saxophone while serving a jail term in 1917. The story may be more colorful than true, yet it is not inconsistent with the authenticated events one finds in the life of this fascinating jazz figure. Whatever may have been the timing and site of his earliest musical studies, he achieved professional notoriety primarily through his organizational energies and from frequent ventilations of an ever-ready opinion. ...

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Paul, Les (9 June 1915–12 Aug. 2009), jazz guitarist and electric guitar pioneer, was born Lester William Polsfuss in Waukesha, Wisconsin to German parents, George William Polsfuss, a mechanic, and Evelyn Stutz Polsfuss. Evelyn was a music lover who wanted her younger of two sons to play the piano, but Les preferred the harmonica. At twelve he bought a $3.95 guitar from Sears. A year later he connected it to a radio’s electric circuit and played his amplified instrument under the name Red Hot Red at Beekman’s Barbecue Stand in Brookfield. By the age of sixteen he was performing on WRJN in Racine, and WISN, WHAD, and WTMJ in Milwaukee. In the summer of ...

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Rodeheaver, Homer Alvin (04 October 1880–18 December 1955), evangelist, musician, and music publisher, was born in Cinco Hollow, Ohio, the son of Thurman Hall Rodeheaver, who was in the lumber mill business, and Francis “Fannie” Armstrong. As a young man growing up in the mountain logging village of Jellico, in East Tennessee, he was exposed to rural singing school music and fiddle dance music from the Scots-Irish settlers in the area. As a boy he also learned to play the cornet. He attended Ohio Wesleyan College in 1896; there he switched to trombone, played in the college band, took music courses, and served as a cheerleader. He interrupted college to serve in the Fourth Tennessee Band in the Spanish-American War, and after the war, though initially drawn to the law, in about 1904 he joined evangelist ...

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Rose, Fred (24 August 1897–01 December 1954), music publisher, songwriter, and pianist, was born Knols Fred Rose in Evansville, Indiana, the son of Andrew Rose and Annie West. Little is known about either parent. His childhood in St. Louis, Missouri, was Dickensian in its poverty and insecurity; when he was as young as seven, he was singing for change in various saloons and being shuttled about to various relatives. It was little wonder that he left St. Louis when he was around fifteen, hopping a freight train to Chicago, where he established a base of operations for the following fifteen years. His first marketable skill was as a pianist, and he joined jazz great ...

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See Stamps, V. O.

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Stamps, V. O. (18 September 1892–19 August 1940), and Frank Henry Stamps (07 October 1896–12 February 1965), composers, singers, and music promoters, were born in Simpsonville, Upshur County, Texas, the sons of W. O. Stamps and Florence Corine Rosser, community leaders from Upshur County, where W. O. Stamps ran several sawmills and founded the community of Stamps. He later served two terms in the Texas legislature and for a time acted as head of the Texas prison system. Both V. O., born Virgil Oliver Stamps, and Frank Stamps, two of six brothers, were introduced to gospel music when their father hired a music teacher to conduct singing schools in the community. V. O. was fourteen at the time; Frank, six. Both brothers soon found they had an aptitude for the seven-shape note music taught in the school, a type of music that was widely popular in Texas at the time....

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Vaughan, James David (14 December 1864–09 February 1941), music publisher and composer, was born in rural Giles County, Tennessee, the son of George Washington Vaughan and Mary Eliza (maiden name unknown), farmers. As a child he was exposed to the seven-shape note singing school music, which was popular in that region. While in his teens, he attended local singing schools, and with his three younger brothers, John, Will, and Charles Wesley, formed a gospel quartet—the prototype of what would later prove to be one of Vaughan’s most important innovations. In 1882 he set up his own singing-school at the church where his family worshiped, and shortly thereafter, he began to compose songs with E. T. Hildebrand, one of the owners of the Hildebrand-Burnett Music Company of Roanoke, Virginia. Although he was preparing himself to be a teacher, Vaughan continued to take his family quartet to local singings and to further his own education about music....

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Wiggs, Johnny (25 July 1899–09 October 1977), jazz cornetist, bandleader, and promoter, was born John Wigginton Hyman in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of a Mr. Hyman (given name unknown) and Alice (maiden name unknown). Both of Wiggs’s parents sang, and his mother played piano. He attended LaSalle school. He started to play the mandolin in 1907, studying from an older cousin until he discovered that he could play anything he wanted by ear and quit taking lessons. In 1908 he heard a bottle man who “had a New Year’s Eve noisemaking horn that had a brass reed and a wooden mouthpiece. … That man blew … the dirtiest blues sounds I have ever heard. Those sounds got into my ear and stayed there,” he later told writer George W. Kay. Influenced by this experience, he bought a cornet at age ten....

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Wilburn, Virgil Doyle (07 July 1930–16 October 1982), country performer and businessman, was born in Hardy, Arkansas, the son of Benjamin Elijah “Pop” Wilburn, a disabled World War I veteran and farmer, and Katie Maple Zieger. Wilburn’s musical career began early when he joined older brothers Lester and Leslie, younger brother “Teddy,” and sister Vinita in a family band. The family’s farm provided little support and the father’s war injuries made it difficult for him to hold a steady job. In 1937 Pop Wilburn saw a neighbor’s family singing on the street in Hardy, Arkansas, and had the idea for the Wilburn Family band. With a mandolin, guitar, and fiddle ordered from a Sears Roebuck catalog the children practiced entertaining neighbors on a makeshift stage in their backyard....

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Williams, Clarence (8 Oct. 1898 or 1893–06 November 1965), blues and jazz musician, publisher, and music producer, was born in Plaquemine, Louisiana (information on his parentage is unavailable). In 1906 his family moved to New Orleans. Williams’s first instrument was the guitar, which he abandoned before he reached his teens to concentrate on the piano. Most of his learning was done by ear or by watching others, although he did receive eight lessons in the early 1910s, at the end of which he believed he knew all he needed to know about piano playing. At the age of twelve he left home to join Billy Kersand’s traveling minstrel show as a pianist, master of ceremonies, dancer, and comedian. Williams spent most of his teenage years in the clubs of New Orleans’ legendary Storyville district as a pianist and songwriter. During this time he met pianist and composer ...