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Article

Douglas B. Green

(Elvie )

(b near Willcox, AZ, Dec 31, 1924; d Tucson, AZ, Dec 19, 1999). American singing cowboy, songwriter, actor, and radio and recording artist. Born on a remote ranch, Allen had a powerful voice of tremendous range, was a world-class yodeler, and a prolific songwriter. He had begun a performing career straight out of high school and, after a stint at WTTM in Trenton, NJ, was added to the National Barn Dance cast in 1945. A true westerner and a good horseman, he seemed a natural for the singing cowboy film genre, but it was a genre in decline, and his was the last singing series any studio launched. Allen’s first film for Republic was the fittingly titled Arizona Cowboy (1950), and his last of 19 movies was Phantom Stallion (1954).

Allen then turned to television, starring in Frontier Doctor (1958). He was able to keep up an active recording and touring career, supplemented by Disney Studios’ (and other studios’) frequent use of his avuncular and authoritative speaking voice as a narrator of documentaries, television features, and feature films such as ...

Article

Frances R. Aparicio

[Muñiz, Marco Antonio]

(b New York City, Sept 16, 1968). American singer, songwriter, and actor of Puerto Rican ancestry. Named after the famous Mexican singer Marco Antonio Muñiz (b 1933), Marc Anthony has become one of the most famous and important Latino singer-songwriters in the United States. Because of the excellence of his voice and his commitment to his Latino and Caribbean roots, he has become the biggest selling salsa artist of all time, with over 10 million albums sold worldwide. After singing house and freestyle music in English in his early career, Marc Anthony revitalized salsa music with a series of early 1990s musical hits that paved the way for the 1999 Latin pop explosion. He has successfully crossed linguistic borders, singing both in English and Spanish within the same album and thus contesting the label of “crossover.” His stage performances and the hybrid musical arrangements that have cast traditional Puerto Rican songs like “Preciosa” and “Lamento borincano” as salsa songs embody his Nuyorican identity in the public space, thus exemplifying the transnational nature of salsa music. Some of his best-known songs in English include “I Need to Know” and “You Sang to Me.”...

Article

Holly George-Warren

[Orvon Grover]

(b Tioga, TX, Sept 29, 1907; d Los Angeles, CA, Oct 2, 1998). American country-music and popular singer, songwriter, and actor. He began his career singing on the radio station KVOO in Tulsa, while working as a relief telegraph operator for the Frisco Railroad. In October 1929 he went to New York to make his first recordings, which were much in the style of Jimmie Rodgers, for RCA Victor and several small independent labels; these were released under the name Gene Autry and led to a contract with the American Record Corporation, which was later taken over by the Columbia Broadcasting System; Autry’s recordings would then be issued by the Columbia Recording Co. In 1931 Autry had his first hit with “Silver Haired Daddy of Mine.” He moved to Chicago in 1932 to star on radio station WLS. There his singing-cowboy persona was developed on the National Barn Dance...

Article

Linda J. Daniel

(Wayne)

(b Duncan, OK, March 25, 1938; d nr Victor, MT, Oct 26, 1999). American singer-songwriter and actor. He took lessons in classical piano as a child and began playing guitar in his teens. His mother, Mae Boren Axton, co-wrote “Heartbreak Hotel,” which was a hit for Elvis Presley in 1956. Axton attended Oklahoma State University, where he excelled in football before leaving to serve in the navy. His music career began in the early 1960s, when he began performing as a singer-songwriter in the folk clubs of southern California. “Greenback Dollar,” a song he co-wrote with Ken Ramsey, became a hit for the Kingston Trio. In 1962 Axton signed with Horizon Records, which released his first album The Balladeer (Horizon, 1962), recorded live at the Troubadour in Hollywood, followed by Thunder’n Lightnin’ and Saturday’s Child (both Horizon, 1963). From 1964 to 1971 he was associated with several labels, including Vee-Jay, Surrey, Exodus, Columbia, and Capitol. His albums with A&M—...

Article

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

Craig A. Lockard

(b Vienna, Austria, May 2, 1924). American and Israeli actor and singer. Born into a Jewish family, he spent his youth in Austria. Following the Nazi occupation the Bikel family escaped to Palestine, where he made his stage debut in 1943. Moving to London to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, he began his acting career in 1948 in A Streetcar Named Desire. In 1954 he immigrated to the United States and, in 1961, became a naturalized American. He made his concert debut at Carnegie Recital Hall, New York, in 1956 with a program of folk songs. In 1959 he was cast as Georg von Trapp in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The Sound of Music. During his long career Bikel has appeared in numerous films, plays, and musicals, from the lead in Zorba to over 2000 performances as the penniless milkman Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof...

Article

Jonas Westover

[Salvatore Phillip]

(b Detroit, MI, Feb 16, 1935; d South Lake Tahoe, CA, Jan 5, 1998). American singer, composer, producer, actor, and politician. Bono began his career as a composer; one of his first songs, “Things You Do To Me,” was recorded by Sam Cooke in 1957–8. He eventually made contact with Phil Spector, with whom he worked closely for several years. One of his first successes came in 1963, when his song “Needles and Pins” (co-written with Jack Nitzsche) was recorded by Jackie DeShannon and reached number one on the charts in Canada. The height of his musical career came in the 1960s and 1970s as part of the duo Sonny and Cher. He wrote, produced, and performed on many of their hits, including “I Got You Babe” and “The Beat Goes On.” Success with Cher, to whom he was married from 1964 to 1975, led to many appearances on television, including ...

Article

Jonas Westover

[Charles Eugene ]

(b June 1, 1934, Jacksonville, FL). American singer, actor, and author. He is best known for his success during the 1950s and 60s, when he delivered old-fashioned sounds with a wholesome image and was seen a safe antidote to the African American artists who were performing R&B and rock ’n’ roll. His success was due in part to his choice to cover many of their songs in his own fashion. These were targeted specifically to middle-class white teenagers and resulted in 38 top 40 hits. Boone began recording in 1954 for Republic Records, where he covered music by Fats Domino, Little Richard, Nat “King” Cole, and the El Dorados. Second only to Elvis Presley in terms of album sales during the 1950s, he branched out as an actor, appearing on television in “Arthur Godfrey and his Friends” and “Ozark Jubilee.” From 1957 he hosted his own program, “The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom,” in which he served as a spokesman for the car company and pitched his music. Among his most popular hits are “Ain’t that a Shame” (...

Article

Monica F. Ambalal

[Iskowitz, Isidore Israel ]

(b New York, NY, Jan 31, 1892; d Beverly Hills, CA, Oct 10, 1964). American actor, comedian, singer, author, songwriter, and philanthropist. Born to Russian immigrant parents in New York, he apparently was orphaned by the age of two, although some scholars believe that his father deserted him, leaving him to be raised by his maternal grandmother. At the age of 13 he left school, and in 1907 he participated in his first vaudeville show, at the Clinton Music Hall, where he also began appearing in blackface. In 1912 he starred in Gus Edwards’s Kid Kabaret, and from 1917 to 1920 he appeared in the Ziegfeld Follies. Throughout the 1920s, he starred in Broadway revues and film; however, it was his role in the screen musical Whoopee! (1930) that elevated him to celebrity status. Nicknamed “Banjo eyes” for their large size, he possessed a quick wit and an animated stage presence. In the stock market crash of ...

Article

Philip Gentry

(b Maysville, KY, May 23, 1928; d Beverly Hills, CA, June 29, 2002). American singer and actor. Raised in difficult circumstances in northern Kentucky, she won a talent competition with her sister Betty sponsored by a Cincinnati radio station, and in 1945 the pair joined the Tony Pastor Orchestra as the Clooney Sisters. Soon thereafter she struck out on her own: she signed with Columbia Records and established a musical partnership with the producer Mitch Miller.

After two modestly successful singles, in 1951 Clooney and Miller recorded the obscure pseudo-Armenian song “Come on-a my House,” with a jarring harpsichord accompaniment. The single was a spectacular success, and for the remainder of the 1950s Clooney’s musical output veered between her preferred romantic material, including her successful versions of “Half as Much” (1952) and “Hey there” (1954), and a series of witty novelty numbers that tended towards an interchangeably ethnic mode of performance, including “Botch-a-me (Ba-Ba-Baciami Piccina)” (...

Article

Athena Elafros

(John) [Diddy; P. Diddy; Puff Daddy; Puffy; Sean John]

(b New York, NY, Nov 4, 1969). American record producer, rapper, record executive, artist manager, and actor. His sample-heavy approach to production and R&B-infused sound contributed to the mainstreaming and resurgence of East Coast hip hop in the mid-1990s. As an entrepreneur and business executive, Combs parlayed his career in music into the multi-million dollar Bad boy entertainment empire, consisting of Bad Boy Records, the clothing lines Sean Jean and Sean by Sean Combs, a movie production company, and several restaurants. Often criticized for commercializing and watering down hip hop, Combs’s career, and the controversy surrounding it, exemplify fundamental tensions related to hip hop’s massive cultural influence and complicated relationship to global capitalism. Significantly, his wholesale recycling of popular hooks such as the Police’s “Every Breath You Take,“ Diana Ross’s “I’m Coming Out” and David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance,” to name only a few, have resulted in his music being heavily criticized (and heavily sold) both within and outside of hip hop circles....

Article

Common  

Jared Pauley

[Lynn, Rashid Lonnie ]

(b Chicago, IL, March 13, 1972). American rapper and actor. He attended Florida A&M University as a business major but dropped out after two years. He originally went by the name Common Sense, but he was sued by a California reggae band that had already copyrighted the name. He first gained attention after being featured in the “Unsigned Hype” column of The Source in October 1991. Shortly thereafter, he signed with Relativity Records as Common Sense and released his debut album Can I borrow a dollar? (Relativity, 1992), which features him rapping in a double-time style popular in the early 1990s. His album Resurrection (Relativity, 1994) was produced almost entirely by Chicago producer NO I.D., who later mentored Kanye West. Resurrection included the song “I used to love H.E.R.,” whose lyrics feature an extended metaphor figuring his relationship with hip hop as a love affair gone sour. Several west coast artists, including Ice Cube, Mack 10, and WC, took offense to the song and criticized him on record. However, with memories of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G.’s public feud and unsolved murders weighing heavily upon them, the antagonism was put to rest at a summit led by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan....

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

Robert B. Winans

(b Pawtucket, RI, July 27, 1829; d New York, NY, Feb 14, 1908). American minstrel performer. He ran away from home to join a circus in 1845, and first gained prominence with Matt Peel’s Minstrels in the mid-1850s, when he was a great success in the blackface role of “Old Bob Ridley,” performing the song of the same name. He became particularly noted for his impersonations of older black men. He achieved great fame as a minstrel performer in the 1860s and 1870s, sometimes in companies bearing his own name, and worked primarily in New York, San Francisco, and Chicago. Toward the end of his career, he played character parts in popular plays, including Faithful Bob (later known as True Devotion), which he produced with his wife and daughter.

“Interview with Ben Cotton,” New York Mirror (3 July 1897) E.L. Rice: Monarchs of Minstrelsy (New York, 1911)...

Article

J. Ryan Bodiford

(b New York, NY, July 30, 1971). American singer, composer, actor, and activist of Puerto Rican descent. Known to his fans as the King of Merengue, he has achieved international recognition for his self-styled brand of urban merengue fusion, which incorporates influences from Latin American genres like samba, salsa, and bomba, while also employing slick pop production techniques and hip-hop aesthetics. Romantic lyrical sentiments and attention to fashion further characterize his professional approach.

Crespo was raised primarily in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico. His career began when he was 17 when he joined the Willie Berríos Orchestra in San Juan; however, his major breakthrough came in 1995 when he joined the established Puerto Rican merengue group, Manía. Helping to infuse Manía’s sound with more of a hip-hop edge, Crespo wrote two of the group’s biggest hits, “Linda eh” and “Ojitos bellos.” After three years gaining recognition with the group, he went solo in ...

Article

Todd Decker

[Harry Lillis ]

(b Tacoma, WA, May 3, 1903; d Madrid, Spain, Oct 14, 1977). American popular singer and actor. He quit Gonzaga College during his senior year in the hope of starting of a career in music. After teaming up with the pianist Al Rinker as Two Boys with a Piano: Singing Songs their own Way, he moved with Rinker to Los Angeles in 1926 and was soon hired by the bandleader paul Whiteman . Whiteman added Harry Barris to create a trio called the Rhythm Boys, who performed and recorded with Whiteman’s band and toured vaudeville theaters on their own. From 1930 to 1932 Crosby rode the vogue for crooners to initial success as a solo singer on record, radio, and film: he recorded hits like “I Surrender Dear” and “When the Blue of the Night” (his eventual theme song), sang live for a weekly radio show with the guitarist Eddie Lang, and starred in musical film shorts directed by Mack Sennett that captured Crosby’s easygoing, masculine persona. The key ingredients of Crosby’s career were already in place at this early date: overlapping work in several mass media formats centered on popular songs delivered in an effortless, casual, welcoming manner in Crosby’s mellow baritone. With various adjustments, Crosby sustained this combination through the 1950s and beyond with his shift to television....

Article

Will Fulton

[Jackson, O’Shea ]

(b Los Angeles, CA, June 15, 1969). American rapper and actor. Born and raised in Compton, California, a city southeast of downtown Los Angeles, Ice Cube began rapping in his teens with a group called C.I.A., which released one single produced by Dr. Dre, “My Posse” (independent, 1987). He joined N.W.A in 1987, serving not only as a rapper on the group’s first album N.W.A. and the Posse (Ruthless, 1987), but also as a lyricist. For example, he penned the lyrics for rapper Eazy-E’s seminal track “Boyz-N-The-Hood,” which helped to put West Coast gangsta rap on the map. Ice Cube also played a major role on N.W.A.’s second, highly influential album Straight Outta Compton (Ruthless, 1988). He served as one of the principal rappers, as well as lyricist for Eazy-E and Dr. Dre. He wrote a majority of “Fuck The Police,” an out-spoken song protesting police brutality and racial profiling by Los Angeles police officers. Cube’s storytelling style, which described gang culture and African American lifestyle in South Central Los Angeles, would define his subsequent career as a rapper and actor....

Article

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....

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

Robert B. Winans

revised by Jonas Westover

[Clapp, George Alfred ]

(b Hartford, CT, Aug 7, 1856; d New York, NY, Oct 26, 1924). American minstrel performer and manager. He began his career as an amateur in Hartford in 1873, where he performed as a blackface song and dance man; he appeared with prominent minstrel organizations and with his own troupes. Between 1878 and 1883 he was Charles Dockstader’s partner in a performing duo called the Dockstader Brothers, and in 1886 he formed his own Dockstader’s Minstrels. He later formed a company with George Primrose (1898–1903), which was among the last minstrel troupes to tour major US cities. For the next 11 years he maintained his own company, and his last years were spent in vaudeville. Dockstader was an extremely successful organizer and director of minstrel productions and created many skits and afterpieces. His own talent lay particularly in burlesque and mimicry. Regarding the latter, he was especially famous for his monologues and stump speeches in addition to parodying politicians, actors, and singers. He was one of the few to keep minstrelsy alive as a distinct form well into the 20th century. Dockstader published a few collections, including a minstrel songster in ...