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(b St. Louis, MO, June 3, 1906; d Paris, France, April 12, 1975). American dancer and singer, naturalized French. She started out dancing on the streets of St. Louis with the Jones Family Band, a vaudeville troupe. After touring the South with the Dixie Steppers, she gained attention in the touring company of Shuffle Along (1921), the most important African American show of the decade. A member of the female dancing chorus, Baker stood out by making faces and embellishing dance moves, mixing comedy with the erotic persona of the black chorus girl. After appearing on Broadway in The Chocolate Dandies (1924) as That Comedy Chorus Girl, Baker travelled to Paris with La revue nègre (1925), a nightclub revue that introduced the new black performance styles of Broadway to French audiences. Her pas de deux “Danse Sauvage,” which she performed with her partner Joe Alex, introduced an explicit eroticism and exuberant physicality which marked Baker’s initial renown. Famously appearing at times with little more than a string of bananas around her waist, she made an impact on French popular culture that was immediate and enduring....

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Mareia Quintero Rivera

(b San Juan, PR, July 10, 1910; d Carolina, PR, July 21, 1996). American Puerto Rican composer, singer, percussionist, dancer, and drum-maker. A master of traditional bomba and plena, he was one the most prominent figures of Afro-Puerto Rican musical folklore in the 20th century. He is also known for his commitment to passing down these traditions to subsequent generations. Together with his wife, Caridad Brenes, a gifted dancer, he raised a family of skilled practitioners and maintained a lifelong practice of teaching in the community of Villa Palmeras, Santurce, the working-class area where they lived.

Cepeda was a key figure in gaining national and international recognition for Afro-Puerto Rican musical genres. In the 1940s he created an ensemble for radio performances, and he later developed a stage version of bomba, which he presented in San Juan’s major hotels. Several of his compositions were popularized by Ismael Rivera and Rafael Cortijo. Cepeda also developed ties with the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, founded in ...

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Jonas Westover

(b Santurce, PR, March 7, 1950). Puerto Rican singer, dancer, and entertainer. As a girl she honed her skills with ballet and jazz dance lessons. As a young adult she attended the Universidad de Puerto Rico and soon afterwards began to perform as a singer and to make inroads as a model and a dancer. She quickly became a major star in the Latin music world with her first album, Tú no eres hombre (1971). Within a year she was hosting her own television program, “El show de Iris Chacón,” which ran from 1972 until the mid-1980s, when she abruptly quit. As a media personality, Chacón has repeatedly found ways to market herself and keep her image and voice in the spotlight. She has appeared on film (mostly musicals), television, stage, and radio. Her radio shows, including “Iris Chacón Live” and “Caramelo y chocolate,” have run both in the United States and Puerto Rico. Her most famous song is “Spanish Rocket Ship” (...

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Whitney B. Holley

(b New York, NY, Aug 15, 1892; d Los Angeles, CA, Aug 29, 1972). American lyricist, dancer, and comedian. He began his career as a dancer and comedian on the vaudeville circuit and became a Tin Pan Alley lyricist. From Shirley Temple’s innocent banter to Billie Holiday’s sensual musings, Clare had a knack for fitting lyrics perfectly to a performer’s character. “Ma, he’s makin’ eyes at me” (1921, a collaboration with the composer Con Conrad), became a signature tune for the singer Eddie Cantor. Clare’s song “I’d climb the highest mountain (if I knew I’d find you)” (1926, with Lew Brown) was a hit for both Sophie Tucker and Al Jolson. “Please don’t talk about me when I’m gone” (1930, with Sam Stept) was popularized by the singers Bee Palmer and Kate Smith and later used in the Warner Bros. animated short One Froggy Evening...

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John Behling

(b New York, NY, Dec 8, 1925; d Beverly Hills, CA, May 16, 1990). American singer, dancer, and actor. Widely regarded as one of the greatest entertainers of his time, he sang, danced, acted, played several instruments, performed comic impersonations, and excelled at the variety entertainment format popular in American vaudeville, nightclubs, and television. His parents were vaudeville dancers frequently on tour, so Davis spent his earliest years with his grandmother. In 1928 his father took Davis on the road, where he made his debut with Will Mastin’s vaudeville review as Silent Sam, the Dancing Midget. Although he began as a dancer, as his talent and reputation grew he incorporated songs and comic impersonations into his act. His final public performance was in 1989 on a television special, The 60th Anniversary Salute to Sammy Davis, Jr. Throughout his long career Davis performed many styles of music, but he is best known for his jazz-influenced performances of Broadway show tunes. He was a member of the Rat Pack, which included Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, and together they set the standard for nightclub-style performance before the dominance of rock and roll....

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Mitsutoshi Inaba

(b Hillsborough, NC, April 4, 1929). American Piedmont blues guitarist, singer, dancer, and storyteller. He grew up on a farm in rural Orange County, North Carolina. When he was 13 or 14 years old, he learned acoustic guitar by watching his uncle and cousin. He drew repertoire from the artists he heard on the radio, such as Blind Boy Fuller, Brownie McGhee, and Lightnin’ Hopkins. He played at social gatherings in the community and added buck- and tap-dancing, which he also learned from his uncle and cousin. In 1954 he moved to Durham where he started to play electric guitar and incorporated more modern blues, including songs by Muddy Waters and Jimmy Reed. Teaming up with pianist Quentin “Fris” Holloway (1918–2008), Holeman performed in and around Durham. In 1976 folklorist Glenn Hinson invited Holeman to a local festival that attracted 5000 audience members. Since then he has been playing professionally. During the 1980s, he toured in and outside the United States with Holloway. While his precise finger picking––as heard in “Step It Up and Go” (...

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John Macinnis

[Kaminski, David Daniel ]

(b Brooklyn, NY, Jan 18, 1913; d Los Angeles, CA, March 3, 1987). American Singer, dancer, and actor. Kaminski began his career as an entertainer by traveling widely and working nonmusical day jobs. He was first billed as Danny Kaye in 1933 while working with the dancing act of David Harvey and Kathleen Young. Kaye specialized in singing with non-English accents punctuated with spurts of double-talk, tongue twisters, face contortions, and dancing. He met his wife, pianist and songwriter Sylvia Fine, while working variety shows in New York, and, with her assistance, developed some of his most famous numbers, including “Stanislavsky,” “Anatole of Paris,” and “Melody in Four F.” In 1939 Kaye appeared in Broadway in his Straw Hat Revue and again in 1941 in Cole Porter’s Let’s Face It.

Kaye’s film career began in 1944 with the RKO film Up in Arms. Other musical comedy films in which he starred included ...

Article

Jonas Westover

[Keith, Mae Eartha ]

(b North, SC, Jan 17, 1927; Weston, CT, Dec 25, 2008). American singer, actress, and dancer. Kitt came from a poor family, but managed to make her way into show business. Her first break came in 1943 when she was hired by the Katherine Dunham Company as a dancer, and she remained with that organization until 1948. Given the opportunity to perform throughout Europe, Kitt learned French and incorporated it into her vocal performances at cabarets. Kitt began to record in the early 1950s, and her distinctive voice—somewhat deep, purposefully raspy, and openly seductive—made her an African American sex symbol. Her early hits include a cover of “Let’s Do It” by Cole Porter, “C’est si bon,” “Love for Sale,” “Je cherche un homme,” and “Mink, Schmink.” Kitt’s breakout Broadway appearance came when she appeared in the revue, New Faces of 1952, singing “Monotonous,” which she revived for a ...

Article

J. Ryan Bodiford

[J.Lo ]

(b Bronx, NY, July 24, 1969). American Puerto Rican actress, singer, dancer, producer, and entrepreneur. She is the highest paid Latina actress to date and has attracted similar commercial appeal as a pop, hip hop, and Latin-influenced recording artist, selling over 55 million albums in the first decade of her musical career.

The daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants, Lopez participated in minor film and theater productions from an early age. Following high school, she attended numerous auditions before landing her first major gig in 1991 as a “fly girl” dancer on the sketch-comedy program In Living Color. In 1997 she gained attention with her Golden Globe-nominated performance in the film Selena. She has since starred in box office hits such as The Wedding Planner (2001), Maid in Manhattan (2002), and Monster in Law (2005).

Already an established actress, Lopez launched her singing career in ...

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John Storm Roberts

[Pozo Gonzales, Luciano ]

(b Havana, Cuba, Jan 7, 1915; d New York, NY, Dec 2, 1948). Cuban drummer, singer, and dancer. His drumming and singing were rooted in Santeria, the lucumí faith derived from West African rituals. On 29 September 1947 he and the bongo player Chiquitico performed in a concert at Carnegie Hall with trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie—a landmark event in the history of fusing elements of jazz and Latin music. Pozo was murdered before he could fully develop his ideas with Gillespie, but during his brief career in the United States he provided the starting point for much popular music of the late 1940s and the 50s. The collaboration between the two men, which produced the infectious “Manteca” (1947), supplied the initiative for American musicians, and some of the listening public, to appreciate fully the tradition of Latin music.

D. Gillespie and A. Fraser: To Be, or Not … to Bop: Memoirs...