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Louis Armstrong © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB13-0017 DLC).

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Armstrong, Louis (04 August 1901–06 July 1971), jazz trumpeter and singer, , known universally as “Satchmo” and later as “Pops,” was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the illegitimate son of William Armstrong, a boiler stoker in a turpentine plant, and Mary Est “Mayann” Albert, a laundress. Abandoned by his father shortly after birth, Armstrong was raised by his paternal grandmother, Josephine, until he was returned to his mother’s care at age five. Mother and son moved from Jane Alley, in a violence-torn slum, to an only slightly better area, Franklyn and Perdido streets, where nearby cheap cabarets gave the boy his first introduction to the new kind of music, jazz, that was developing in New Orleans. Although Armstrong claims to have heard the early jazz cornetist ...

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Arnold, Eddy (15 May 1918–8 May 2008), country music singer, was born Richard Edward Arnold near the West Tennessee town of Henderson, the youngest child of William Arnold and Georgia Wright Arnold. Cotton farmers, the Arnold family lost its land after the death of William in ...

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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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Berry, Chuck (18 Oct. 1926–18 Mar. 2017), singer, songwriter, guitarist, and one of the founders of rock and roll music, was born Charles Edward Anderson Berry in St. Louis, Missouri, to Henry Berry, a contractor and a deacon in the Antioch Baptist Church, St. Louis, and Martha (Bell) Berry, a teacher. Berry, his parents, and his five siblings lived in The Ville, a black middle-class neighborhood in segregated St. Louis, where he attended Simmons Elementary School and Sumner High School, dropping out of Sumner in his junior year, ...

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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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Campbell, Glen (22 Apr. 1936–8 Aug. 2017), country and pop singer and guitarist, was born Glen Travis Campbell near Billstown in southwest Arkansas, one of ten children of Scottish sharecropper John Wesley “Marley” Campbell and his wife, Carrie Dell Stone Campbell. John Campbell also had two sons from his first marriage to May Lamb Campbell....

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Chapin, Harry Forster (07 December 1942–16 July 1981), popular singer and writer of topical songs, was born in New York City, the son of James Forbes Chapin, a big-band percussionist, and Elspeth Burke. As a high school student, Chapin sang in the Brooklyn Heights Boys Choir and, later, played guitar, banjo, and trumpet in a band that included his father and brothers Stephen Chapin and Tom Chapin. He attended the U.S. Air Force Academy briefly and studied at Cornell University from 1960 to 1964. Chapin was best known for his popular ballads, films, and cultural and humanitarian work for the cause of eradicating world hunger. He married Sandra Campbell Gaston in 1968; they had five children....

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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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Sam Cooke. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-107994).

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Cooke, Sam (22 January 1931–11 December 1964), singer-songwriter, was born Samuel Cook in Clarksdale, Mississippi, the son of Charles Cook, a minister in the Church of Christ (Holiness), and Annie May Carl. After Sam’s father lost his position as houseboy for a wealthy cotton farmer as a result of the Great Depression, the family migrated to Chicago, where Reverend Cook became assistant pastor of Christ Temple (Holiness) and a laborer in the stockyards. The family lived in Bronzeville, Chicago’s severely overcrowded and impoverished black section. Young Sam was educated at nearby schools and gained musical experience by sneaking into taverns to hear pop tunes but mostly by hearing and singing gospel music at church. There he started a gospel group, the Singing Children; later he joined the Teenage Highway QC’s and became more widely known throughout the nation. He graduated from Wendell Phillips High School in 1948. About that time he spent ninety days in jail on a morals charge that stemmed from a paternity suit....

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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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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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Elliot, Cass (19 February 1941–29 July 1974), singer, was born Ellen Naomi Cohen in Baltimore, Maryland, the daughter of a restaurateur of that city; neither the given name of her father nor the maiden name of Bess, her mother, has been determined. The nickname “Cass,” after the Trojan prophetess Cassandra, was created by her father; Cass herself took the name Elliot to honor a friend who had been killed in an automobile accident. Elliot was educated in the Baltimore public school system, graduating from Forest Park High School, where she developed an interest in acting and singing. For a time after graduation she was employed by the ...

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Haggard, Merle Ronald (6 Apr. 1937–6 Apr. 2016), country musician, singer, and songwriter, was born in Oildale, California, the son of James Francis Haggard and Flossie Mae Harp, Oklahoma farmers who had fled the Dust Bowl and migrated to California in 1935. Merle’s father worked as a carpenter with the Santa Fe Railroad, and the Haggards’ home was a converted boxcar. When Merle was nine, his father died of a stroke and his mother went to work as a bookkeeper, leaving the boy with little guidance. He was a rebellious youth, constantly skipping school and running away from home. At age ten he hopped his first freight train; at fourteen he and a friend, Bob Teague, hitchhiked to Texas, working odd jobs, visiting an Amarillo brothel, and grappling with the law along the way....

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Hughes, Revella Eudosia (02 July 1895–24 October 1987), musician, singer, and educator, was born in Huntington, West Virginia, the daughter of George W. Hughes, a postman, and Annie B. (maiden name unknown), a piano teacher and seamstress. At age five Hughes began studying piano with her mother and, at eight or nine, violin with a musician friend of her father’s. She attended Huntington’s segregated public schools. Disturbed when Hughes was racially harassed, her parents sent her to Hartshorn Memorial College (later part of Virginia Union University) in Richmond, which she attended from 1909 to 1911, graduating with a degree in music and elementary studies. She attended Oberlin High and Conservatory, graduating in 1915. In 1917 she earned a bachelor of music in piano from Howard’s Conservatory of Music, where she studied piano with LeRoy Tibbs and voice with conservatory director ...

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Lewis, Ted (06 June 1890–25 August 1971), entertainer, musician, and bandleader, was born Theodore Leopold Friedman in rural Circleville, Ohio, the son of an owner of a dry goods store whose name cannot be ascertained. Young Theodore began his show business career performing in a nickelodeon in his hometown and learned to play the clarinet in his school band. As a beginning clarinetist, Lewis was something of a prodigy. Although he was never regarded seriously as a musician, he played easily and improvised naturally. Having no desire to go into the dry goods business and still in his teens, he went to Columbus, Ohio, where for a time he demonstrated instruments in a music store. His freewheeling improvisations amused customers but eventually caused him to lose the job....

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Machito © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB23-0585 DLC).