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Article

Robert B. Winans

revised by Jonas Westover

(b Holyoke, MA, Jan 17, 1871; d Newfane, VT, Nov 18, 1948). American banjoist and banjo maker. He began his career playing with a medicine show and a Wild West show, then from 1890 to 1915 performed in a vaudeville act with his wife. He studied with ALFRED A. FARLAND in the mid- 1890s and about 1897 organized the Bacon Banjo Quintette. He toured with the Bacon Trio in 1905–6, and made another very successful tour in 1908 with “The Big Three,” consisting of himself, the guitarist William Foden, and the mandolinist Guiseppe Pettine. Bacon continued to play into the 1940s and his few recordings attest to his virtuoso performances; contemporary reviewers praised his tone, his great technique, and the expressiveness of his playing. He taught, published several method books, and wrote many arrangements and compositions for five-string banjo. Bacon also designed banjos, bringing out his first instrument in ...

Article

Caroline Polk O’Meara

(b Dumbarton, Scotland, May 14, 1952). American Musician, visual artist, and filmmaker of Scottish birth. He has worked across a range of media, attracting much critical admiration. With drummer Chris Frantz and bass player Tina Weymouth, in 1974 he formed Talking heads, one of the best-known bands of the early punk-rock movement in the 1970s. With Byrne serving as the primary songwriter and front man, they made their first public performance opening for the Ramones at CBGB & OMFUG. On their second album Byrne worked with English producer Brian Eno, which marked the beginning of a productive and longstanding relationship. Eno recorded the band’s next three albums and collaborated with Byrne on the albums My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1981) and Everything that Happens will Happen Today (2008).

Since the early 1980s Byrne has produced a variety of work as a musician, artist, and writer. In ...

Article

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 ...

Article

Richard Johnston

Guitar, mandolin, and ukulele manufacturer. It was founded in Houston, Texas, in 1976 by Bill Collings (b 1948), who had moved from Ohio to Texas following a failed attempt at medical school. After building a few guitars and some banjos, Collings moved to Austin in 1979. His background as a machinist led him to emphasize precise jigs and fixtures even when he was working out of a small single-car garage. Demand for Collings guitars, specifically for updated versions of Martin and Gibson flat-top styles from the 1930s, prompted his move to a 1,000-square-foot shop in 1989. Two woodworkers were hired, including Bruce Van Wart, who is still in charge of wood selection and top voicing on the firm’s acoustic guitars. By this time, production had increased to a level that allowed sales to a few retailers.

In late 1991 the company relocated to a much larger facility on the outskirts of Austin, and the number of Collings guitar models, and employees, began to grow. Bill Collings was one of the first flat-top guitar builders to offer fully carved arch-top models as well. These deluxe jazz guitars were quickly accepted as the equals of those from premier American builders, and they sold for similar prices; but only a few were completed each year. Collings was also one of the first small, independent guitar companies to incorporate CNC (computer numerical control) carving machines for building both guitar parts and the precise tooling to aid in their assembly, which is still done by hand. One of the signature differences between the Collings models and the Gibson and Martin originals that inspired them is that Collings uses an unglued bolted mortise and tenon neck joint, rather than a traditional dovetail....

Article

Joe Wilson

(b Watauga Co., NC, Oct 13, 1911). American Banjoist, folksinger, and instrument maker. He was born into a family of Appalachian folk musicians; his father, Roby Monroe Hicks, taught him to make banjos (the first ofwhich he built when he was 15) and Appalachian dulcimers, and from his father and his mother, Buna Presnell Hicks, he learned Anglo-American ballads and instrumental techniques. His grandfather, a storyteller, taught him “Jack tales,” Appalachian stories of German American origin. Hicks also learned to dance in a flat-footed, “jumping jack” style. His instruments, which are notable for their high level of craftsmanship, are made from cherry and walnut wood grown near his farm in Vilas, North Carolina; the heads of his banjos are made of groundhog hides. He also produces a number of folk toys. Hicks has appeared at the North Carolina Folk Festival, the National Folk Festival, and the Smithsonian Institution’s Festival of American Folklife. Hicks received the Brown-Hudson Award from the North Carolina Folk Society in ...

Article

Harry B. Soria

[Apuakehau, Jr., Joseph Kekuku‘upenakana‘iapuniokamehameha ]

(b La‘ie, Oahu, Hawaii, 1874; d Dover, NJ, Jan 016, 1932). American steel guitarist, teacher, and inventor. The Hawaiian steel guitar’s invention is largely credited to Joseph Kekuku. Joseph and his cousin, Samuel Kalanahelu Nainoa (1877–1950) were raised in the rural village of La‘ie, Oahu. By the age of 11, the close companions had become skilled musicians under the tutelage of the elders of La‘ie. Prior to the creation of the Hawaiian steel guitar, Hawaiian musical combos featured primarily violin, flute, “Spanish” guitar, and ‘ukulele performances. Sam played the violin, while Joseph spent much of his time trying to make his guitar sound like Sam’s violin.

Joseph’s first experiments involved running various implements across the strings of a conventional gut-string guitar, including a steel bolt, a penknife, a pocket comb, a dull straight razor blade, and a tumbler, with the guitar laying across his lap. When the cousins enrolled as boarding students at Kamehameha School for Boys in the fall of ...

Article

Mark Tucker

[Polfuss, Lester William ]

(b Waukesha, WI, June 9, 1915; d White Plains, NY, Aug 12, 2009). American guitarist and guitar maker. He was largely self-taught on guitar and played with country-music groups before performing on his own radio show in Chicago during the 1930s. A growing interest in jazz led to the formation of the Les Paul Trio with the singer Jimmy Atkins and the bass player Ernie Newton; after moving to New York in the late 1930s, the group appeared with Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians for five years and later performed with Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters. Paul’s childhood fascination with radio technology led to his early adoption of electric amplification and the propensity for technical experimentation throughout his career. He was actively involved in testing and adapting hollow- and solid-body electric guitars with electromagnetic pickups in the 1930s and 40s, sometimes in conjunction with guitar makers. In ...

Article

Mark Tucker

(b Belzoni, MS, March 21, 1930; d Chicago, IL, April 24, 1970). American blues pianist and singer. He received instruction as a boy from such local pianists as Frank Spann (his stepfather), Friday Ford, and Little Brother Montgomery, and played piano in church. He worked with various blues bands, performing in bars and clubs in the area around Jackson, Mississippi, then served in the U.S. Army (1946–51). After settling in Chicago in 1951 he led his own group at the Tick Tock Lounge, then in 1953 began to play with Muddy Waters, remaining a key member of the band until the late 1960s. In later years he began singing more frequently, often leading his own groups or performing as a soloist; he appeared at the Newport and Monterey festivals on several occasions and also toured England and France. Spann’s strengths as a blues-band pianist were his aggressive, hard-driving keyboard style (influenced most strongly by Maceo Merriweather, whom he replaced in Muddy Waters’s band) and his highly refined ensemble skills....