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Darlene Graves and Michael Graves

[William J. ]

(b Alexandria, IN, March 28, 1936). American gospel songwriter, performer, producer, and publisher. He grew up on a small farm in Indiana and graduated from Anderson College with a major in English and a minor in music. He went on to receive a master’s degree in guidance and counseling and met his future wife and song-producing partner, Gloria Sickal, while both were teaching high school. Gaither started singing gospel music as a child and in 1956 formed the Bill Gaither Trio with his brother Danny and his sister Mary Ann. He started his own publishing company in 1959. He continued to perform and compose while a teacher at Alexandria High School and in 1961 formed the Gaither Music Company to publish his works. After their marriage in 1962, Gaither and his wife wrote their first major song, “He touched me,” which was a significant hit by 1963. He re-formed the Bill Gaither Trio with Gloria and Danny, and in ...

Article

Roben Jones

[John Henderson ]

(b Whitehaven, TN, April 8, 1931). American singer-songwriter, producer, publisher, and entrepreneur. He began playing bluegrass while in the military and after his discharge in 1952, played at radio stations in Wheeling, West Virginia, and Boston. While enrolled in Memphis State University (from 1954), he worked nights and weekends at the Eagle’s Nest club. After working briefly for Fernwood Records, he was hired by Sun Records, where he recorded Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash, among others. He wrote hits for several of Sun’s artists, including Johnny Cash’s singles “Ballad of a Teenage Queen” and “Guess things happen that way” (both Sun, 1958).

Clement left Sun in 1960 to became a staff producer for RCA in Nashville. In 1963 he moved to Texas, started a publishing company, and produced Dickey Lee’s hit “Patches” (Smash, 1963). After returning to Nashville in 1965, he discovered and produced Charlie Pride and wrote songs for a variety of country artists, including Pride (“Just between you and me,” RCA Victor, ...

Article

Charles K. Wolfe

(b nr West Monroe, LA, Aug 8, 1921; d Nashville, TN, Feb 24, 1991). American country-music singer, guitarist, songwriter, and publisher. He performed as a guitarist on radio station KMLB (Monroe, LA) before 1950, when he joined the “Louisiana hayride ” on KWKH (Shreveport, LA). Recording contracts with the local Pacemaker label (c1950), Four-Star, and Decca (1951) allowed him to resign his part-time job as a clerk at Sears, Roebuck and concentrate on music. After his initial hit, “Wondering” (1952), he gained national attention with “Back Street Affair” (1952), one of the first country songs to deal forthrightly with adultery. An equally important landmark was “There stands the glass” (1953), a classic drinking song and the first country hit to use the pedal steel guitar, played by Bud Isaacs. It became the favorite backup instrument in country music for the next two decades, and Pierce was the first of many country singers whose slurs, octave jumps, and use of dynamics complemented its sound. During his peak years (...

Article

Don Cusic

[Ragsdale, Harold Ray ]

(b Clarkdale, GA, Jan 24, 1939). American singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer, arranger, music publisher, television star, and entrepreneur. Harold Ragsdale began his musical career with a high school band that played R&B songs by the Coasters, Drifters, and other R&B groups. In 1955 the family moved to Atlanta, where publisher Bill Lowery signed him as a songwriter and secured his first recording contract with Capitol Records; Capitol’s Head of A&R, Ken Nelson changed Ragsdale’s name to Ray Stevens. After attending Georgia State University, where he studied music, Stevens had his first success with his recording of “Jeremiah Peabody’s Poly Unsaturated Quick Dissolving Fast Acting Pleasant Tasting Green and Purple Pills” (Mercury, 1961). In 1962 he moved to Nashville, supplementing his own recording career with work as a session musician, arranger, and background vocalist. He garnered a number-one pop hit and his first Grammy with his recording of “Everything is beautiful” (Barnaby, ...

Article

Mark Berresford

(Coleman )

(b Brunswick, MO, Feb 7, 1882; d New York, NY, March 9, 1961). American clarinetist, bandleader, composer, and music publisher. His first professional engagement (c1897–8) was with a “pickaninny” band led by Nathaniel Clark Smith. In 1902 he was assistant leader of P.G. Lowery’s band with Forepaugh and Sells Circus and later that year joined Mahara’s Minstrels band under the leadership of W.C. Handy. In 1903 he formed his own band in Minneapolis, where he made the first recordings by an African American band. Sweatman moved to Chicago in 1908, where he led trios at the Grand and Monogram theaters. In 1911 he made his first vaudeville appearance, and in late 1916 made the first records recognizable as jazz performances. In 1918 Sweatman’s band was signed to an exclusive recording contract with Columbia, their records rivalling those by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. He continued to work through the 1920s and early 1930s in vaudeville, and in ...

Article

Ian Brookes

(b New York, NY, Jan 16, 1884; d Palm Springs, CA, April 21, 1985). American Impresario, music publisher, band manager, record producer, songwriter, and singer. He was the son of Russian Jewish immigrants who settled in New York. There, as a teenager, he worked as a song plugger and singer before establishing a music publishing business in 1919 with his brother Jack. With its emphasis on the work of black musicians, Mills Music became an important locus for jazz and dance band music. A shrewd business operator with a sharp eye for talent, Mills extended his business interests in the 1920s. He became manager of the Duke Ellington Orchestra (1926–39) and promoted several other African American bandleaders including Cab Calloway, Benny Carter, Fletcher Henderson, Jimmie Lunceford, and Don Redman. He also organized a series of recording sessions under his own nominal leadership, Irving Mills and His Hotsy Totsy Gang (...

Article

Horace Clarence Boyer

revised by Roxanne R. Reed

(b Pittfield, GA, Nov 20, 1896; d Chicago, IL, June 18, 1988). American gospel singer and music publisher. Martin joined the Fire Baptized Holiness Church (Pentecostal) while living in Atlanta, an affiliation that defined her earliest gospel influences. Martin, her husband, and their son moved to Chicago in the 1920s. She met thomas a. Dorsey in 1929 and began a decade-long collaboration and partnership. Vocally, Martin lacked polish and had a rough, dark quality to her voice that, nonetheless, held appeal. Her tendency to speak versus actually sing matched Dorsey’s intent for a preacher-like quality in his development of solo gospel music. Martin joined Dorsey’s University Radio Singers, and later his chorus at Pilgrim Baptist Church. She made her debut in 1932, although not primarily as a soloist. Her association with Dorsey broadened into a business partnership. She began handling the publication and sale of his music, resulting in widespread popularity for both of them. Expanding their renown even further, Martin joined Dorsey in organizing the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses, through which they traveled and performed. Martin remained associated with Dorsey and the Convention until ...

Article

Jonas Westover

(b Strasburg, ND, March 11, 1903; d Santa Monica, CA, May 17, 1992). American accordionist, band leader, publisher, and television host. Welk is best known for his radio and television programs which ran from 1949 until his retirement in 1982. He grew up on a farm in a German-speaking small town, where he first developed his interest in the accordion. Once he acquired his first instrument, he began to play with swing orchestras throughout the 1920s. Upon leaving the family home in 1924, he pursued his musical endeavors with business acumen, seeking out sponsorships. One of his first groups was the Honolulu Fruit Gum Orchestra, and he would eventually find excellent sponsors in Plymouth and Buick automobiles. Peddling his personal style of light swing, sometimes dubbed “champagne music” by fans and other observers, Welk’s big bands played throughout dance halls and hotels in the Midwest and East Coast during the 1930s before they found a regular radio program in the late 1940s. Eventually settling in Los Angeles, California, the bandleader began filming ...

Article

Harry B. Soria Jr.

[Albert R. ]

(b Honolulu, HI, Oct 1, 1879; d Honolulu, HI, Jan 23, 1933). Composer, arranger, publisher, pianist, and bandleader, active in Hawaii. Cunha’s compositions early in the 20th century spearheaded the development of the hapa haole song, featuring predominantly English lyrics with some references to Hawaii and the Hawaiian language, earning him the title of “Father of Hapa Haole Songs.” His innovation is credited with making Hawaii’s music accessible to a much wider audience, which rapidly grew to global proportions over the next few decades.

Cunha left Hawaii to attend Yale University, where he excelled in sports, the Yale Glee Club, and composed Yale’s “Boola, Boola.” Rather than practice law after graduation, he toured the mainland United States performing a new kind of Hawaiian song, combining the popular ragtime rhythm of American music with Hawaiian songs. Cunha returned to Hawaii and composed his first hapa haole song, “Waikiki Mermaid,” in ...

Article

Roxanne R. Reed

(b Anguilla, MS, March 21, 1919; d Hazel Crest, IL, 15 June, 1995). American gospel director, singer, composer, and publisher. Anderson established a career forming and training gospel groups in Chicago. His formative years were spent as one of the original Roberta Martin Singers, one of the premiere gospel groups of the 1930s and 1940s. He left briefly, between 1939 and 1941, to form the first of his many ensembles, the Knowles and Anderson Singers with R.L. Knowles. He rejoined Martin, but ultimately resigned because of the travel demands. In 1947 he formed Robert Anderson and his Gospel Caravan, but after several members left in 1952, he formed a new set of singers that recorded and performed under the name the Robert Anderson Singers through the mid-1950s. Throughout his career, Anderson recorded on a multitude of labels including Miracle and United with Robert Anderson and the Caravans; and later with the Robert Anderson Singers, on Apollo. Anderson wrote, and often sang lead on, many of the songs his groups performed, including “Why Should I Worry” (...