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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

Stephen Ruppenthal

revised by Joanna R. Smolko

[James Calwell, Jr. ]

(b Reading, PA, March 21, 1945; d Philadelphia, PA, April 6, 1992). American performance artist, composer, writer, and arts administrator. He studied sculpture at the University of Texas, Austin (BFA 1968), and at the University of California, Berkeley (MFA 1972). As an administrator he cofounded and was vice president and curator of the performance space, 80 Langton Street (San Francisco, 1975–6, later renamed New Langton Arts), and was a trustee of the San Francisco Art Institute (1975–8). As artist-in-residence at the Exploratorium in San Francisco (1976–7) he created the visual installation Light Weight Phantoms; and in 1977 he joined the sculpture department of San Francisco State University. He acted as consultant to museums and galleries and to the NEA, and his performances and sound sculptures have been presented in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1979), the Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art (...

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

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

Craig Jennex

(b Thunder Bay, ON, Nov 28, 1949). Canadian pianist, composer, musical director, actor, producer, and bandleader. He has been musical director for David Letterman’s late-night shows since 1982. Prior to working with Letterman, Shaffer was a featured performer on “Saturday Night Live.” He has served as musical director and producer for the Blues Brothers and cowrote the 1980s dance hit “It’s raining men.” He has served as musical director for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony since its inception in ...

Article

Rob Bowman

(b Cayce, MS, March 27, 1917; d Memphis, TN, Dec 15, 2001). American singer, songwriter, dancer, comedian, and radio announcer. One of Thomas’s earliest gigs was as part of the dance team Rufus and Johnny with the legendary Rabbit Foot Minstrels. He later forged a distinguished career as a comic (in the duo “Rufus and Bones”) and master of ceremonies at all of the important black theaters in Memphis. In the early 1950s Thomas hosted the daily “Sepia Swing Club” and “Hoot ‘n’ Holler” shows on local black appeal radio station WDIA. Beginning in 1949, Thomas recorded for Star Talent, Meteor, Chess, and, most notably, Memphis’ Sun Records before signing with Satellite (soon-to-be Stax) Records in 1960. His most successful recording pre-Stax was an answer song conceived as a response to Big Mama Thornton’s R&B hit “Hound Dog.” Titled “Bear Cat” and released in 1953, the record was Sun’s first bona-fide hit, peaking at number three on ...

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

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

Ed Wynn  

Jonas Westover

[Isaiah Edwin Leopold ]

(b Philadelphia, PA, Nov 9, 1886; d Beverly Hills, CA, June 19, 1966). American actor, comedian, composer, and lyricist. Best known for his character “The Perfect Fool,” Wynn created his stage moniker from his middle name, Edwin. He began his stage career in vaudeville and quickly moved into larger stage productions. Especially important were his starring roles in Florenz Ziegfeld’s Follies of 1914 and 1915 and the Passing Show of 1916. In the 1920s he appeared in revues including Ed Wynn’s Carnival (1920), The Perfect Fool (1921), and The Grab Bag (1924) and introduced spirited songs such as “When I Was Small,” “She loves me, she loves me not,” and “Sing, Sweet Juanita.” Although none of the songs were hits, the revues themselves were successful. Wynn turned to radio in the 1930s, hosting The Fire Chief for most of the decade. He appeared in numerous films during the 1940s and was one of the pioneers of television. Wynn had his own comedy-variety show (...