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Mark Anthony Neal

(b Chicago, IL, Jan 8, 1967). American R&B singer, writer, producer, and arranger. Kelly was born on the South side of Chicago. Raised, with his three siblings, by a single mother, he was encouraged to pursue a musical career by his high school music teacher and mentor, Lena McLin, who was the chair of the music department at the Kenwood Academy and the niece of the legendary gospel music composer Thomas Dorsey. In high school Kelly formed the group MGM (Musically Gifted Men), which won a $100,000 grand prize on the television talent show Big Break, hosted by Natalie Cole. The group eventually signed with Jive Records, though after creative and financial tensions, three of the members were replaced and the group renamed R. Kelly and Public Announcement. After a moderately successful debut that produced the hit singles “She’s Got That Vibe” and “Honey Love,” Kelly left the group in early ...

Article

Olivia Carter Mather

[Alvis Edgar ]

(b Sherman, TX, Aug 12, 1929; d Bakersfield, CA, March 25, 2006). American country musician and businessman. He is widely considered the central figure of the Bakersfield sound, and his dominance of the country charts in the 1960s challenged Nashville’s hegemony and bolstered the West Coast country scene in Bakersfield and Los Angeles. During the 1950s he worked as a guitarist and session player for several Bakersfield artists before signing with Capitol Records in 1957. In 1963 he began a streak of 14 consecutive number-one country hits with “Act Naturally,” which was later covered by the Beatles. Other hits included “Together Again” (1964), “I’ve got a tiger by the tail” (1965), and a cover of “Johnny B. Goode” (1969).

Owens’s songs eschewed themes of hard living and rambling for a portrayal of the male subject as a lonely victim of romance. With his backing band, the Buckaroos, he developed a bright, driving sound which he described as a freight train feel: heavy bass and drums accompanying two Fender Telecaster electric guitars played by Owens and the guitarist Don Rich. The twangy Telecaster sound and high, close harmony of Owens and Rich characterized many of his recordings. The Buckaroos both toured and recorded with Owens, a contrast to country norms. Owens thus established an alternative to the popular “countrypolitan” sound produced in Nashville (he also never joined the “Grand Ole Opry”); in doing so he inspired such country-rock musicians as Gram Parsons and the Flying Burrito Brothers. He also marketed himself as a hard-country artist free of pop influence; in ...

Article

Jonas Westover

(Harry )

(b Upper Darby, PA, June 22, 1948). American singer-songwriter, composer, and producer. He began his career as a teenager singing with the bands Woody’s Truck Stop and the more successful rock quartet Nazz. As a member of the latter group, he wrote two of their hit songs, “Hello, it’s me” and “Open your Eyes” (both 1968). After releasing three albums with Nazz, Rundgren left the group and worked as a solo artist, recording most of the vocal and instrumental parts himself. He cited the songwriter Laura Nyro as a significant influence. During the early 1970s Rundgren worked with a trio, Runt, recording two albums, the second entitled Runt: the Ballad of Todd Rundgren (1971), and his own two-record set, Something/Anything? (1972). The latter album brought him unprecedented fame through the singles “I Saw the Light” and a new version of “Hello, it’s me.” The recordings ...

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Jonas Westover

[Bridges, Claude Russell ]

(b Lawton, OK, April 2, 1942). American singer, songwriter, keyboard player, and producer. He is well respected for his solo work—a mix of rock, folk, and country music—but his work as a session musician has also brought significant recognition. He began playing piano at the age of four and was playing in clubs in Tulsa as a high school student. His band, the Starlighters, managed to score a spot as the opening act for Jerry Lee Lewis in 1959. Russell moved to Los Angeles the same year and quickly established himself as a session musician, notably with Wrecking Crew, the, the group of musicians Phil Spector used to accompany his artists. With the Wrecking Crew, he accompanied artists such as the Byrds, Herb Alpert, and Gary Lewis and the Playboys. The keyboard player on hundreds of recordings, he opened his own recording studio in 1967. He has since been active in almost all fields of popular music, from musician to singer to songwriter to label owner (he founded Shelter Records in ...

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Stephanie Conn

[Issa ]

(b Toronto, ON, Oct 12, 1955). Canadian singer, songwriter, composer, and producer. Growing up in Toronto, Siberry took piano and French horn lessons, and taught herself guitar. While studying microbiology at the University of Guelph, Ontario (BSc 1980), she began to waitress and perform at local cafes. In 1981, Siberry released her self-titled debut album; this was followed by No Borders Here (1984), distributed in the United States by A&M. Siberry is respected as a gifted singer and songwriter. She has cited Van Morrison and Miles Davis as influences, but also draws on gospel, new-wave, and classical styles. Her third album, The Speckless Sky (1985) reached gold-record status in Canada and confirmed her reputation as a major recording artist. Warner records released her fourth album, The Walking (1987), which earned critical if not popular success with its longer, more complex compositions. Siberry launched her own record label, Sheeba, in ...

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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, ...

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Andrew Flory

(Ronzoni )

(b New York, NY, April 20, 1951; d Edison, NJ, July 1, 2005). American rhythm-and-blues and pop singer, songwriter, and record producer. He was one of the most instantly recognizable African American male vocalists of the 1980s, often performing in a virtuosic style that was at once melismatic, improvisational, and precise. He began his career as a behind-the-scenes songwriter and vocalist, singing on commercial jingles, writing and collaborating on songs for other recording artists, and performing live and recorded background vocals. As backing vocalist he appeared widely, including on David Bowie’s “Young Americans” (1975), Chic’s C’est Chic (1978), Sister Sledge’s We Are Family (1979), and Roberta Flack’s Roberta Flack Featuring Donny Hathaway (1980). Vandross signed to Atlantic’s Cotillion label in the mid-1970s and released two unsuccessful albums with a self-titled group call Luther. He also worked as a vocalist with the disco-oriented band Change on several singles released during the early 1980s....

Article

Charles K. Wolfe and Travis D. Stimeling

(Wayne )

(b West Plains, MO, Aug 12, 1927; d Nashville, TN, Oct 27, 2007). American country music singer, songwriter, and record producer. As a boy, he learned country songs of the 1920s from his mother and occasionally pretended to host the Grand Ole Opry. A performance on a local radio show in 1950 led to regular appearances on KWTO, a powerful station in nearby Springfield, and this in turn led to a regular job on Red Foley’s national Ozark Jubilee television show. He signed a recording contract with RCA Victor in 1952 and had early success with “Company’s Comin’” and “Satisfied Mind.” Gospel songs such as “What would you do?” became part of his repertory, and their success encouraged his penchant for including recitation in songs. During the 1960s, thirty-one of Wagoner’s recordings reached the charts, and, by the end of the decade, he produced his own television show, ...