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Paul Oliver

(b Wadesboro, NC, July 10, 1907; d Durham, NC, Feb 13, 1941). American blues singer and guitarist. He began to lose his sight as a teenager and was completely blind by 1928. He was the outstanding exponent, though not an innovator, of the eastern or Piedmont style of blues. Influenced by Blind Blake, Blind Gary Davis, and Buddy Moss, he formulated an eclectic style, playing fast runs and swinging rag rhythms on guitar (often against cross-rhythms on a washboard) to accompany his gritty singing. Davis played for him on the traditional “Rag Mama Rag” (...

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Alessandro Bratus

(b ?Clarksdale, MS, c15 Jan 1929–30; d Chicago, IL, April 21, 1970). American blues singer and guitarist. He was raised in Chicago after his family settled there in 1930, and from the late 1940s he stood out as one of the city’s most innovative musicians for his virtuoso slide guitar playing and for his mastery of the ...

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Dean Alger

(b New Orleans, LA, Feb 8, 1894; d Toronto, ON, June 16, 1970). American blues and jazz guitarist and singer. Research indicates that Johnson was born in 1894 (Alger). He was influenced by the musical activities of his family and the rich musical environment in New Orleans of the early 1900s, including the early blues, jazz, and the lyrically expressive French and Spanish music traditions. He began playing violin, developed excellent guitar skill, and by the 1920s was also recording on piano, banjo, mandolin, and harmonium....

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Marc Rice

(b Muskogee, OK, Jan 12, 1916; d Kansas City, MO, Dec 7, 2006). American jazz and blues pianist and bandleader. He was self-taught and learned by listening to other players and radio broadcasts, in particular, those of the Earl Hines Orchestra. He briefly attended the Tuskegee Institute, but left around ...

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David Sanjek

(b Madison, WI, Dec 27, 1944). American singer. An underrated and insufficiently recognized artist, she is accomplished in country, blues, rhythm-and-blues, and rock. She began performing in college and released her first solo recording, Deep Are the Roots, in 1964. She joined the ensemble Mother Earth (named after a Memphis Slim song), who were signed to Mercury Records in ...

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Megan E. Hill

(b Osaka, Japan, 1957). Jazz and blues pianist, singer, and composer of Japanese birth. She took piano lessons briefly as a child and was exposed to the blues while growing up in Osaka in the 1960s and 1970s. As a high school student, she formed the Yoko Blues Band with classmates. The band earned some success, winning first prize and a recording contract in a television-sponsored contest. In ...

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Maureen Mahon

(b Ariton, AL, Dec 11, 1926; d Los Angeles, CA, July 25, 1984). American blues singer, songwriter, harmonica player, and drummer. When she was 14 years old, Thornton left home to join Sammy Green’s Hot Harlem Review, a traveling variety show that toured the south. She developed an act that incorporated comedy and singing, carrying on the sound and attitude of classic blues women such as Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey. Thornton left the troupe in ...