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Todd Decker

[Kubelsky, Benjamin ]

(b Chicago, IL, Feb 14, 1894; d Beverly Hills, CA, Dec 26, 1974). American Entertainer, actor, and violinist. The son of Jewish immigrants from Poland and Lithuania, he began playing violin at age six and was considered a local prodigy. By age 17 he was playing in vaudeville pit orchestras and soon moved onto the stage. Benny paired up with a pianist—initially Cora Salisbury, then Lyman Wood—in his signature musical act of this time, “From Grand Opera to Ragtime.” After brief service in the US Navy during World War I, Benny returned to vaudeville as a single in an act emphasizing comedy over music. He married Mary Livingstone (Sadye Marks) in 1927. She was an integral part of Benny’s act for most of his career. Although a movie contract with MGM in 1929 led nowhere, Benny found his true medium on radio. His first radio appearance came on ...

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

Gary W. Kennedy

revised by Philip Gentry

(b New Orleans, LA, Sept 11, 1967). American pianist, singer, leader, and actor. He began playing piano at the age of three, was sitting in at local jazz clubs when he was six, and made his first recordings three years later; he had piano lessons with James Booker until 1980 and studied with Ellis Marsalis at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts. After a brief period at Loyola University he moved to New York and attended the Manhattan School of Music; he later transferred to Hunter College to study history and economics. In 1987 he began working in New York, where he held a residency at the Oak Room in the Algonquin Hotel. He made his first international tour in 1988, and the following year he recorded the soundtrack to the film When Harry Met Sally, the success of which elevated him to the status of a pop star and led to his forming an orchestra. During the 1990s he toured with this group and began working as a film and television actor. Connick’s piano playing is based on the New Orleans style, which he learned from Booker, but also shows the influence of Thelonious Monk and Erroll Garner. Although a pop crooner and a big band traditionalist for most of his career, he briefly experimented with funk styles on his album ...

Article

Mos Def  

Jared Pauley

[Smith, Dante Terrell; Yasiin Bey]

(b Brooklyn, NY, Dec 11, 1973). American rapper and actor. He is known for his wide-ranging abilities as a lyricist and is also a competent multi-instrumentalist. He first came to prominence during the late 1990s as a member of Black Star, a duo with the rapper Talib Kweli. Many of his lyrics focus on political and socioeconomic subjects.

A convert to Islam, he initially formed a group with his younger brother and sister called Urban Thermo Dynamics. The group was signed to Payday Records, but they managed to release only two singles and their debut album Manifest Destiny was shelved until 2004. In 1996 he appeared in several songs on Da Bush Babees’ album Gravity (1996). He also made an appearance on De La Soul’s album Stakes is High (1996).

In 1998 Mos Def (shorthand for “most definitely”) teamed up with Kweli to form Black Star; the pair released their critically acclaimed debut ...

Article

Jonathan Greenberg

[Clifton A.; Ukulele Ike]

(b Hannibal, MO, June 14, 1895; d Los Angeles, CA, July 21, 1971). American singer, actor, and ukulele player. He started performing in St. Louis movie houses and saloons as a teenager. He learned to play the ukulele as an easy way to accompany himself, taking advantage of the popularity of that instrument following the Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915. He spent the following decade based in New York, where he had significant success on Broadway, in vaudeville, and on record. He performed in George and Ira Gershwin’s Lady be Good (1924–5) in which he introduced “Fascinatin’ Rhythm.” Edwards’ first film was The Hollywood Review of 1929, in which he introduced “Singin’ in the Rain.”

Edwards never regained the level of success he achieved in the 1920s, partly due to struggles with finances and alcohol abuse. His singing style and his brand of spare ukulele accompaniment went out of style. His biggest post-1920s success came in work for Walt Disney Productions as Jiminy Cricket in ...

Article

Clay Motley

[The Duke of Paducah; Whitey]

(b Desoto, MO, May 12, 1901; d Brentwood, TN, June 20, 1986). American comedian and banjo player. Ford was one of the earliest country comedians to use the emerging medium of radio. Possessing a third-grade education, he joined Otto Gray’s Oklahoma Cowboys after his 1922 discharge from the Navy, which led to tours with Gene Autry and work with Chicago’s WLS Barn Dance. Leaving WLS, he joined NBC’s Plantation Party, writing most of the segments, hosting, and starring as the comedic “Duke of Paducah” for nine years, until leaving in 1942 to be the comedic star of WSM’s Grand Ole Opry. He left the Opry in 1947 to host multiple popular national radio shows, toured in the mid-1950s with the Rock and Roll Revue, and even shared the bill with a young Elvis Presley. The producers of the popular variety show Hee haw (1969–82) purchased Ford’s collection of over half a million country jokes, securing his influence on several later generations of country comedians. He was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in ...

Article

Jeannie Gayle Pool

[Knechtges, Margaret Fern]

(b Sioux City, IA, Jan 17, 1905; d Los Angeles, CA, Feb 12, 2007). American tenor saxophonist, clarinetist, vibraphonist, singer, music contractor, and advocate for women instrumentalists. She studied music with her father (violinist) and mother (singer) and began a lifetime of touring, first with a Highland dance troupe, at age seven. She took up the saxophone in high school and started her first all-girl band, the Melody Girls, in Sioux City.

In 1928 Gilbert moved to Hollywood, and toured the vaudeville circuit in a sextet of women saxophone players backing up C-melody saxophonist Rudy Wiedoeft. She founded her own band, which played the Hawaiian Islands for a year, and organized women sideliners for motion pictures through the 1930s. During this period, her bands appeared in prominent swing concerts and performed on radio. Gilbert also established herself as an advocate for women instruments through interviews and national publications in magazines such as ...

Article

Floyd Levin

(b New York, Feb 11, 1928). American trombonist, bandleader, and actor. In his early teens, while under contract to 20th-Century Fox, he began playing the trombone after hearing Kid Ory. He started his first band, the Tailgate Jazz Band, in Los Angeles in 1949 and promptly won Record Changer magazine’s International Jazz Band Contest; the first prize was a trip to New York and a recording date for the Record Changer. His initial commercial recordings (Conrad Janis’s Tailgate Jazz Band, 1950, Cir. [USA] 404) appeared a year later on the Circle (i) label, operated by his mother, Harriet Janis, and Rudi Blesh, and are among the early jazz issues on LP. He remained in New York and led bands at Central Plaza, Eddie Condon’s, Jimmy Ryan’s, Nick’s, the Metropole, and other such venues with such notable sidemen as Roy Eldridge, Coleman Hawkins, Wild Bill Davison, James P. Johnson, and Willie “the Lion” Smith. Janis took part in a few further recording sessions in the early 1950s. He has appeared as a musician in more than 30 network television dramas, in eight Carnegie Hall concerts, and in scores of Broadway plays and Hollywood films. His Beverly Hills Unlisted Jazz Band recorded 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

Lauren Joiner

[Hall, Marcel Theo]

(b Harlem, New York; April 8, 1964).

American rapper, beatboxer, MC, DJ, and actor. He began his career in 1985 as a beatboxer for Roxanne Shanté of the Juice Crew. In 1988, he signed with Cold Chillin’ Records and released his first solo album, Goin’ Off. His second album, The Biz Never Sleeps (1989), went gold and included his first Top Ten hit, “Just a Friend,” which peaked at number nine on Billboard’s Pop Singles chart. The single, Markie’s biggest hit to-date, features the self-deprecating and satirical humor that won him the title “Clown Prince of Hip Hop.” Besides “Just a Friend,” he is also well known for the controversy surrounding a 1991 lawsuit leveled against him by singer/songwriter Gilbert O’Sullivan. Markie’s song “Alone Again,” from his album I Need a Haircut (1991), featured an unauthorized sample of O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again (Naturally).” The case featured the first federal decision regarding music sampling and had a profound effect on hip hop, requiring prior approval of samples on future recordings. An injunction was issued against the sale of ...