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Article

Bertil H. van Boer

(b Stockholm, Aug 10, 1757; d Vaxhälla, March 17, 1810). Swedish actor, singer and librettist . He made his début as an actor as Count Almaviva in Beaumarchais’ play Le barbier de Séville in 1785 at the New Swedish Theatre, where he became well known for his comic roles and original opera librettos, mostly written for Carl Stenborg’s comic opera. In 1790 he became an administrator at the Royal Dramatic Theatre, a position he held until after Gustavus III’s assassination in 1792. In 1794 he turned to publishing in the provincial town of Linköping. During his career he supplied the texts for more than 65 one-act comedies with music, including the Singspiels Födelsedagen (‘The Birthday’, 1790), Fricorpsen eller Dalkarlarne (‘The Free Corps or Men from Dalacarlia’, 1788) and Marknaden (‘The Market Place’, 1792), all with music by Kraus. His tenor voice was considered expressive but fairly weak; his main talent as an actor lay in his satirical portrayals of figures such as Abbé Vogler in the first of the operas named above....

Article

Jonas Westover

[Salvatore Phillip]

(b Detroit, MI, Feb 16, 1935; d South Lake Tahoe, CA, Jan 5, 1998). American singer, composer, producer, actor, and politician. Bono began his career as a composer; one of his first songs, “Things You Do To Me,” was recorded by Sam Cooke in 1957–8. He eventually made contact with Phil Spector, with whom he worked closely for several years. One of his first successes came in 1963, when his song “Needles and Pins” (co-written with Jack Nitzsche) was recorded by Jackie DeShannon and reached number one on the charts in Canada. The height of his musical career came in the 1960s and 1970s as part of the duo Sonny and Cher. He wrote, produced, and performed on many of their hits, including “I Got You Babe” and “The Beat Goes On.” Success with Cher, to whom he was married from 1964 to 1975, led to many appearances on television, including ...

Article

Lise Waxer

[Colón Román jr, William Anthony; ‘El malo’]

(b South Bronx, New York, April 28, 1950). American bandleader, composer, arranger, trombonist, popular singer, producer and actor. Dubbed ‘El malo’ (the ‘bad boy’) of salsa, he began playing the trumpet in 1963 with the teenage band the Dandees. Switching to trombone, he made his professional début at 17 with the album El malo (Fania, 1967). Both as a bandleader and a member of the Fania All-Stars, he quickly moved to the fore of the burgeoning New York salsa scene, cementing the raw, trombone-heavy ‘New York sound’ inspired by earlier artists such as Eddie Palmieri and Mon Rivera. Between 1967 and 1973 he made a series of important recordings with vocalist Hector Lavoe, which included the albums Asalto Navideño I and II (Fania, 1972 and 1973) with cuatro virtuoso Yomo Toro, where traditional Puerto Rican Christmas aguinaldos were fused with salsa. During his second period (...

Article

J. Ryan Bodiford

(b New York, NY, July 30, 1971). American singer, composer, actor, and activist of Puerto Rican descent. Known to his fans as the King of Merengue, he has achieved international recognition for his self-styled brand of urban merengue fusion, which incorporates influences from Latin American genres like samba, salsa, and bomba, while also employing slick pop production techniques and hip-hop aesthetics. Romantic lyrical sentiments and attention to fashion further characterize his professional approach.

Crespo was raised primarily in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico. His career began when he was 17 when he joined the Willie Berríos Orchestra in San Juan; however, his major breakthrough came in 1995 when he joined the established Puerto Rican merengue group, Manía. Helping to infuse Manía’s sound with more of a hip-hop edge, Crespo wrote two of the group’s biggest hits, “Linda eh” and “Ojitos bellos.” After three years gaining recognition with the group, he went solo in ...

Article

Ellen Marie Peck

(b New York, NY, Jan 28, 1880; d New York, Jan 4, 1928). American lyricist, librettist, and actress. Born into a theatrical family, she spent her entire life in the theater. A meticulous actress, Donnelly was particularly known for her ability to interpret a role with depth and sensitivity at a rather young age, as she demonstrated with title roles in Candida (1903) and Madame X (1909). However, chronic illness and years of touring took an early toll on Donnelly, forcing her to transition to a writing career in her late 30s. In 1916 Donnelly penned the libretto for an Americanized German operetta, Flora Bella. She soon teamed up with composer sigmund Romberg , with whom she wrote some of the most successful operettas of the 1920s. Donnelly and Romberg enjoyed a close friendship and a symbiotic collaborative process, which lay behind the overwhelming success of ...

Article

Robert Stevenson

(b Mount Vernon, OH, Oct 29, 1815; d Mount Vernon, June 28, 1904). American composer and minstrel performer. He had little formal education, but in early youth learned popular tunes from his musical mother and taught himself to play the fiddle. At the age of 13 he became an apprentice printer and in 1834 enlisted in the US Army. At Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, he became an expert fifer and drummer, publishing his own Fifer’s and Drummer’s Guide in 1862 in cooperation with George Brace. On receiving his discharge from the army on 8 July 1835 he joined a Cincinnati circus, for one member of which he wrote the words of his first ‘black song’ (to the tune of Gumbo Chaff). In 1840–42 he toured with the Angervine and other circuses as a blackface banjoist and singer.

In November 1842 Emmett and Frank Brower (1823–74), a blackface dancer and singer who was the first black impersonator to play the bones, formed a fiddle and bones duo in New York. From ...

Article

Holly George-Warren

[Smith, Lucille Wood; Smith (Fox), Frances Octavia]

(b Uvalde, TX, Oct 31, 1912; d Apple Valley, CA, Feb 7, 2001). American Western-music and popular singer-songwriter and actor. As Frances Fox, the name used in her first marriage, she began singing jazz, blues, and pop tunes on radio stations in Memphis in 1929. In May 1935 she took the stage name Dale Evans as staff vocalist at WHAS in Louisville, Kentucky. She moved to WFFA in Dallas, and by 1940 she was singing with the Anson Weeks Orchestra in Chicago, where she joined the CBS affiliate station WBBM. In 1941 Evans signed with 20th-Century Fox, playing bit parts in Hollywood musicals. She became a vocalist on several national radio shows, including “The Chase and Sanborn Hour” (1941), “The Jack Carson Show” (1944), and “The Camel Caravan” (1945). In 1943 she signed with Republic and, the following year, co-starred with roy Rogers, whom she married in ...

Article

Ronald J. Zank

(b Brooklyn, NY, June 6, 1954). American performer, playwright and librettist. Fierstein grew up in New York and worked as an actor; he also pursued his interest in painting and received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. He was both lead actor and playwright for Torch Song Trilogy, which originated off-off Broadway before transferring to off-Broadway and finally to Broadway (1982). He wrote the libretto for the musical adaptation of the French play and film La Cage Aux Folles (1983, music and lyrics by Jerry Herman), about a gay couple dealing with their son’s marriage into a conservative family. Fierstein also crafted the book for the short-lived Legs Diamond, a production that featured the songs and performance of Peter Allen as the title gangster. As a performer Fierstein originated the role of plus-sized mother Edna Turnblad in the musical ...

Article

(b Los Herreras, Nuevo León, México Dec 16, 1921; d Monterrey, Nuevo León, México, Sept 1, 2003). Mexican actor, singer, songwriter, and film director. Eulalio “Piporro” González Ramírez is best known for developing an idiosyncratic style of parodying Northern Mexican, or norteño, identity, lifestyle, and language through music and comedic acting for radio, stage, and film. His career spanned 60 years. He began as a newspaper reporter and radio personality in Monterrey and in US-Mexico border towns when he landed a role on the radio comedy, Ahí viene Martín Corona (Here Comes Martín Corona) produced in México City and starring the popular singer and actor Pedro Infante. At age 28, he played Infante’s elderly sidekick in 19th-century northern México where his bumbling character, “Piporro,” helped solve conflicts and dustups in local ranch life. The show’s success led to the 1951 film of the same name starring González and Infante. González enjoyed countless roles as “Piporro” in classic ...

Article

(b New York, NY, Dec 2, 1914; d New York, NY, Oct 24, 2002). American lyricist, librettist, and actor. He sustained a lifelong writing partnership with Betty Comden. Among their joint works were the musicals Wonderful Town (1953) and Bells Are Ringing (1956), and the film script ...

Article

Leon Berger

(b London, Dec 9, 1847; d Folkestone, March 1, 1912). English actor, singer, composer and writer, father of George Grossmith. He was a courtroom reporter and comic recitalist, like his father of the same name, before becoming a drawing-room entertainer: he was sometimes called ‘G.G. II’, to distinguish him from his father, or ‘G.G.’. He began a 12-year association with the Gilbert and Sullivan Savoy operas when he made his stage début in the title role of The Sorcerer in 1877. Of slight stature, with excellent diction, dapper footwork and a light comic touch, he created what became known as the patter parts or the ‘Grossmith roles’. In 1889 he resumed his lucrative Humorous and Musical Recitals, touring in England and America.

According to contemporary accounts he was not much of a singer, but his own songs display a wider tessitura than the Gilbert and Sullivan repertory suggests. He was the author of and often a performer in eight operettas, nearly 100 musical sketches and some 400 songs and piano pieces. This prolific song output was mostly in a patter style, with an infectious melody and a syllabic setting for fast delivery: a third of them were published and survive, but his manuscripts along with his performing librettos from the Savoy operas were destroyed in World War II. His songs are couched in quotidian detail: London streets and their surly cab drivers and bus conductors, seedy lodging houses, obstreperous babies, and fashionable dances as in ...

Article

Jonas Westover

[Elizabeth Holzman ]

(b Cincinnati, OH, May 23, 1904; d Stamford, CT, June 18, 1971). American actress, singer, composer, and lyricist. Holman completed her college education before moving to New York where she began her theatrical career in 1924. Encouraged by the critic Channing Pollock, she appeared in revues, including the Garrick Gaieties (1925) and Merry-Go-Round (1927). Her most successful performance came in 1929 with The Little Show, where she introduced the song “Moanin’ Low” (by Ralph Rainger). This blues number became her signature tune, although she had another hit in Three’s a Crowd (1930) with “Body and Soul” (Heyman, Sour/Green). She appeared in other revues during the 1930s, including Revenge with Music (1934), and starred in Cole Porter’s You Never Know (1938). Holman produced her own one-woman show, Blues, Ballads, and Sin-Songs, in 1954. She took this opportunity to showcase her own compositions, including “Good Morning Blues” and “House of the Rising Sun.” Her music was deeply rooted in African American idioms, a connection she celebrated through her support of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s. Holman’s performances are preserved on 25 sides recorded for Brunswick from ...

Article

Gillian M. Rodger

(Jane )

(b Columbus, OH, March 16, 1889; d Beverly Hills, CA, Feb 26, 1956). American actress, singer, songwriter, and entertainer. Her stage career began when she was just a child and was promoted tirelessly by her mother, Jennie Cockrell Bierbower, a woman whose own theatrical aspirations had been thwarted. Janis’s first roles on the stage were with the Ohio Valentine Stock Company in 1897. Her career in vaudeville lasted into the 1920s, and the format of her act varied little. She opened with a song and then moved through imitations of popular stars of the period; her imitations varied from year to year and included a wide range of celebrities including Weber and Fields, Lillian Russell, Pat Rooney, Anna Held, Ethel Barrymore, Alla Nazimova, Fanny Brice, and George M. Cohan. By the 1920s she had begun to move into musical comedy and revue.

Janis was a tireless supporter of the troops during World War I and traveled to France and England to entertain them. She found equal popularity with English and French audiences. After her mother’s death in ...

Article

Robert B. Winans

[Toney, Lemuel Gordon ]

(b Richmond, VA, Oct 17, 1870; d New York, NY, July 29, 1941). American minstrel and vaudeville performer and composer. He served in the army from 1895 to 1898. He also attempted to become a professional baseball player in Baltimore, and it is said that he became a minstrel after George H. Primrose saw him entertaining the other players in the clubhouse, having failed to make the team. He then went to work for Primrose and West’s Minstrels, where he changed his name and soon became a star performer. He played in vaudeville until that form declined in the late 1920s, then occasionally appeared in nightclubs; he also performed in a number of Broadway shows. Leonard wrote many of his own songs, including his first hit “Just because she Made them Goo-goo Eyes,” “Roll dem boly boly eyes,” “I lost my Mandy,” and his most famous song, “Ida, Sweet as Apple Cider” (...

Article

Kathleen Hudson

(b Klein, TX, Nov 1, 1957). American songwriter, musician, and actor. Known for quirky stories, strong language, a wry tone, gentle and profound themes, and interesting music, Lyle Lovett has been influenced by fellow Texas songwriters Guy Clark, and Townes Van Zandt. His voice and appearance have created a distinctive image, but his reputation stands on the foundation of his songwriting.

Lovett grew up on a horse ranch in a suburb of Houston, graduating from Texas A&M University in 1982 with a degree in journalism and German. There, he met singer-songwriter Robert Earl Keen, with whom he co-wrote “Front Porch Song” while both were playing in College Station’s Front Porch Band. After a stint playing music and studying in Germany, he went to Nashville, where, with the support of Guy Clark, he was signed to a recording contract with MCA/Curb Records. They released his self-titled debut album in ...

Article

Lisa MacKinney

[Koch, Lydia Anne ]

(b Rochester, NY, June 2, 1959). American singer, songwriter, guitarist, composer, poet, and performance artist. Lydia Lunch arrived in New York City as a teenage runaway in 1976, after a childhood of chaos, abuse, and extreme neglect. Motivated by the Velvet Underground, the New York Dolls, Patti Smith, and the incendiary writing of Lester Bangs in Creem magazine, Lunch formed Teenage Jesus and the Jerks in 1977. The group (which briefly included James Chance) released only a handful of singles and EPs before breaking up in 1979, but Lunch had established herself as an uncompromising purveyor of a brutal, confronting, violently sexual, and bleak artistic vision. She is considered to be a founder of No Wave, an abrasive, untutored form of noise-based punk music that was often politically charged and musically experimental. No wave often involved conventional instruments (guitar, bass, electronic keyboards) used as extreme noise-making devices to create discomforting, visceral sounds—Lunch regularly used electric guitar with a slide in this manner to piercing, abrasive effect. Lunch released her first solo album, ...

Article

Mary Helen Still

(b Charleston, MA, Feb 24, 1858; d New York, NY, May 3, 1897). American composer and actor. Often working with the librettist J. Cheever Goodwin, he produced several scores for Broadway productions in the 1890s. He studied harmony at the Boston Conservatory, and following his graduation from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology he traveled to Paris and studied art under Jean-Léon Gérôme and Jean-Jacques Henner, among others. After returning to America, he began to compose musical plays and operettas. He convinced the producer Augustin Daly to underwrite his first musical play, Cinderella at School (1881), which, although a popular success, was not well received by critics. In 1884 he began to collaborate with Goodwin, and their partnership produced six crowd- and critic-pleasing operettas. His adaptation of Emmanuel Chabrier’s L’étoile (1890), produced by and starring the actor Francis Wilson, caught the attention of Richard D’Oyly Carte who engaged Ivan Caryll to further rework the operetta for the Savoy Theatre in ...

Article

Jonas Westover

[Nelson, Eric Hilliard; Rick]

(b Teaneck, NJ, May 8, 1940; d DeKalb, TX, Dec 31, 1985). American singer, actor, and songwriter. Born into a performing family, Nelson was given a boost towards stardom at a young age, and even his first forays into music were successful. The second son of bandmaster Ozzie and singer Harriet Nelson, he was already an actor on the radio series “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” by 1949. The family’s popularity inspired a film (Here Come the Nelsons, 1952), which led to the popular television series, also titled “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” (1952–66), on which he premiered as a singer. His good looks and clean image helped turn Nelson into a teen idol. In 1957, when he was 16, his first release became a hit: “A Teenager’s Romance” with “I’m Walkin’” on the flip side. Numerous hits followed, including “Stood Up” (...

Article

Travis D. Stimeling

(Clarence Robert )

(b Winnipeg, MB, April 13, 1908; d Newport Beach, CA, June 16, 1980). American cowboy singer, songwriter, and actor. Renowned for his ability to evoke the desert and woodland landscapes of western North America in both lyrics and music, Nolan was arguably the most influential western songwriter of his generation. As a child he moved frequently, living in British Columbia, New Brunswick, Boston, and Tucson. As a high school student in Tucson, he read the poetry of Shelley, Byron, and Keats and began writing his own poetry about the Arizona desert. After graduating from high school, he moved to Santa Monica, California, in 1929, where he worked as a lifeguard and began setting his poetry to music. In 1931 he joined Leonard Slye (later Roy Rogers) in the Rocky Mountaineers, and in 1933 they joined tenor Tim Spencer to form the Pioneer Trio (later the Sons of the pioneers ...

Article

Paul Webb

[Davies, David Ivor]

(b Cardiff, Jan 15, 1893; d London, March 6, 1951). British composer, lyricist, librettist and actor. His career as a composer was determined for him by his mother, Clara Novello Davies, an internationally known voice coach and choir leader. She had ambitions for her son to be a composer of operas; however, the nearest he came to this was in The Dancing Years (1939), when he played an Austrian composer who conducts his own work at the Vienna Opera House. His early natural aptitude for writing attractive melodies was developed during a childhood at the centre of Cardiff’s musical world, and was given more shape and discipline by several years as a scholar at Magdalen College Choir School, Oxford, and a brief spell as a pupil of Dr Herbert Brewer. Brewer dismissed his pupil with the assertion that he would have no career in music, but in ...