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Article

Elijah Wald

[Ramón Covarrubias]

(b Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico, Dec 8, 1945). Mexican accordionist, singer, and bandleader. Born in Monterrey and raised in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Ramón Ayala has been the foremost figure in norteño music along the Gulf Coast and Texas border region since the 1970s. He first became famous in the 1960s as the accordionist and coleader of Los Relámpagos del Norte, with the singer-songwriter Cornelio Reyna; then formed his own band, Los Bravos del Norte, in 1971. In Mexico, Ayala is regarded as part of a great generation of border bandleaders, along with Carlos y José and Los Cadetes de Linares. North of the border, though, he has far outstripped his peers, and only California’s Los Tigres del Norte rival his ongoing popularity. Unlike the Tigres, who have consistently pushed norteño in new directions, Ayala is a traditionalist, and his success is due as much to his image as a hard-working, old-fashioned bearer of the classic tradition as to his intricate accordion passages and his keen eye for good material, from gunfighter corridos to romantically mournful ...

Article

Chadwick Jenkins

(b Lisle, IL, Nov 8, 1955). American singer, pianist, composer, and bandleader. Her father played with the Glenn Miller band and her mother was a professional blues singer. After studying psychology and classical piano at the University of Iowa, Barber returned to Chicago and began playing five nights a week at the Gold Star Sardine Bar, where she attracted varying critical attention for her husky voice and the inclusion of pop songs, including “Black Magic Woman” and “A Taste of Honey,” in her repertoire. She recorded her first album, Split (Floyd), in 1989 and her second album, A Distortion of Love (Antilles) in 1991. She subsequently moved to the independent label Premonition, which was bought by Blue Note in 1998. In 2003 Barber became the first songwriter to be awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. Under its aegis she composed a song cycle based on Ovid’s Metamorphoses. She is the subject of a documentary, ...

Article

Randolph Love

(b Edgard, LA, Dec 24, 1920). American Trumpeter, arranger, producer, songwriter, bandleader, and singer. He started his career as a trumpeter playing with established bands led by, among others, Papa Celestin, Joe Robichaux, and Claiborne Williams before joining Fats Pichon’s ensemble, considered one of the top groups in New Orleans, in 1939. During World War II he played in the 196th AGF (Army Ground Forces) Band, where he met Abraham Malone, who taught him how to write and arrange. After the war, he formed his own band in New Orleans, which made its debut at the Dew Drop Inn and later performed at Sam Simoneaux’s club Graystone where many of the city’s top instrumental players, including the drummer Earl Palmer and the saxophonists Lee Allen and Red Tyler, were showcased.

Bartholomew is best known for his talents as an arranger and songwriter. In the 1950s and 60s he worked with many of the biggest stars of the day, including Smiley Lewis, Lloyd Price, Shirley and Lee, and Joe Turner. By the 1970s he had associations with some of rock and roll’s most established talents, including Paul McCartney, Elton John, and the Rolling Stones. His most productive association was with fats Domino, whom he met through Lew Chudd, the owner of Imperial Records, where he worked as a house arranger, an A&R man and an in-house bandleader. From ...

Article

Jonas Westover

[Eddy]

(b Chicago, IL, 1941; d Palos Heights, IL, May 21, 2012). American polka bandleader, singer, and bass player. He was best known as the leader of his band, the Versatones. The son of two Polish immigrant musicians, he grew up in northern Wisconsin and formed a rock and roll band, which played backup for such stars as Buddy Holly and Gene Vincent. Under the name of Eddie (or Eddy) Bell, he recorded “Hi-Yo Silver” and other songs on the Mercury label. The Lucky Four label released his well-liked novelty song, “The Great Great Pumpkin.” At the insistence of his good friend and fellow musician Chet Kowalkowski, he moved back to Chicago and joined Versatones in 1963, a six-piece polka band that played both traditional and modernized repertoire. The result ended up changing the polka world, and they were quickly invited to record. Their first disc was Polka Parade (...

Article

David Font-Navarrete

(b Gaston, NC, Aug 28, 1936; d Baltimore, May 16, 2012). American bandleader, singer, guitarist, and composer. He was a musical icon of the Washington, DC metropolitan area. He was widely known as “The Godfather of Go-go” and renowned for his live performances, which emphasized continuous, percussion-driven grooves and audience participation, all staples of the Go-go genre he developed in the 1970s. Brown’s early years were marked by poverty and crime, and he first developed his guitar playing while incarcerated at the Lorton Penitentiary. With his band the Soul Searchers, Brown developed a distinctive sound that is grounded in funk and soul, but also heavily influenced by jazz and Latin genres. His hit songs include “Bustin’ Loose,” “We Need Some Money,” and “Go-Go Swing.” In 1992, Brown recorded The Other Side with vocalist Eva Cassidy, a critically-acclaimed album of jazz and blues material. He received a NARAS Governors Award and an NEA Lifetime Heritage Fellowship Award, and continued to record and perform regularly until his death in ...

Article

Mark F. DeWitt

[Wilson Anthony]

(b Church Point, LA, Oct 23, 1930; d Austin, TX, May 5, 2001). American button accordionist, bandleader, songwriter, and singer of zydeco music. Son of a black Creole la-la accordionist, as a young man living near Lake Charles, Louisiana, Chavis played house dances and in clubs owned by his wife Leona’s family. Originally he played with just a washboard player or by himself using a single-row or triple-row button accordion, developing a metrical style of dropping or adding beats that did not disturb social dancing but made it difficult for other musicians to follow.

He recorded his first single, “Paper in My Shoe,” for Eddie Shuler’s Folk Star label in Lake Charles in 1954, and the bilingual rendition in French and English was a hit. In 1960 Chavis and Shuler parted ways in disagreement over business arrangements. Chavis stopped playing music and devoted himself to training race horses and maintaining a small farm known as Dog Hill....

Article

Dick Spottswood

[Eckhart ]

(b Buncombe County, NC, April 21, 1907; d Flint, MI, Sept 12, 2011). American singer, banjo player, guitarist, and bandleader. Formed Mainers’ Mountaineers with his brother J.E. from 1934–36 and thereafter with his own Sons of the Mountaineers, Mainer furthered the growth and development of mountain string band music in the 1930s. In an era that saw the rising popularity of western swing, honky-tonk, and Hollywood cowboy songs, the Mainers successfully recycled traditional tunes and kept the sound of rural fiddle and banjo prominent on Southeastern radio, in small performance venues, and on more than 150 recordings made for RCA between 1935 and 1941. Mainer versions of “Down in the Willow Garden,” “Wild Bill Jones,” “Riding on That Train 45,” “Maple on the Hill,” and “Old Ruben” became folk and bluegrass classics.

On invitation from Librarian of Congress Archibald MacLeish, Mainer’s band performed in concert with the Golden Gate Quartet, Josh White, and Burl Ives at the White House in ...

Article

Gregory N. Reish

(James )

(b Sneedville, TN, Aug 10, 1927; d Nashville, TN, May 14, 2005). American bluegrass and country singer, guitarist, and bandleader. Known as the “King of Bluegrass,” Martin began his career as guitarist and lead singer of bill Monroe ’s Blue Grass Boys from late 1949 to 1954, also working occasionally with the Osborne Brothers. Martin contributed to some of the Blue Grass Boys’ most influential and highly regarded recordings for Decca during this period. In 1955, Martin formed his own group, the Sunny Mountain Boys. Based initially in Detroit, the band’s lineup featured the young Kentucky banjoist J.D. Crowe, joined later by mandolinist Paul Williams. In 1956, Martin signed with Decca, producing a string of country hits into the 1960s.

Martin and the Sunny Mountain Boys presented a hard-edged style that appealed to a wide range of country music fans. His own driving rhythm guitar and highly expressive lead vocals, coupled with Williams’s pure high tenor harmony and Crowe’s blues-inflected banjo backup, produced some of the most memorable and commercially successful recordings of the era without the stylistic concessions to folk revivalism that other bluegrass bands were making. Their repertory included secular and often raucous Martin songs such as “You don’t know my mind” (Decca, ...

Article

Kenny Mathieson

(b Lexington, KY, Sept 23, 1935). American jazz pianist, singer, and bandleader. He played drums and tuba as a youth, but was largely self-taught as a pianist. He won a talent contest as a singer while serving in the navy in 1956, which led to an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Following his discharge he settled in California and led his own trio. He declined an offer to join Cannonball Adderley in order to focus on his own music and had success with the gospel-inflected albums Les McCann Plays the Truth and The Shout (both 1960, PJ). He recorded and performed prolifically throughout the 1960s, often with guest soloists augmenting his trio, among them, Ben Webster, Blue Mitchell, Stanley Turrentine, and the Jazz Crusaders. His funky take on soul jazz proved popular, but his career took an even more successful turn following the release of Swiss Movement...

Article

Gregory N. Reish

(b York, PA, Feb 1, 1939). American bluegrass singer, guitarist, banjoist, and bandleader. In an era of bluegrass’s increasing eclecticism, McCoury emerged as a leading voice of bluegrass purism, simultaneously bringing the music to a wider audience through broad-minded collaborations. Growing up in York County, Pennsylvania, McCoury became proficient on guitar and banjo, playing the latter in the three-finger style popularized by Earl Scruggs. After working with regional bands in Pennsylvania and Maryland, McCoury joined bill Monroe ’s Blue Grass Boys in early 1963, initially as baritone singer and banjoist, but later as a guitarist. McCoury remained with Monroe for one year, recording three songs as a Blue Grass Boy in January 1964.

Returning to Pennsylvania, McCoury formed The Dixie Pals in 1967. They maintained a busy part-time touring schedule and recorded albums for various labels. Most notable is High on a Mountain (Rounder, 1973), which showcases McCoury’s powerful and rustic vocal style and his emerging songwriting skills. McCoury’s teenaged sons Ronnie (mandolin) and Rob (banjo) joined The Dixie Pals in the 1980s, bringing a new level of instrumental virtuosity to the band’s sound. In ...

Article

Jonas Westover

[Blinky ]

(b Frederiksted, St. Croix, Virgin Islands, Aug 17, 1934). Crucian guitarist, saxophonist, band leader, and singer. He was the son of Ivan McIntosh, a saxophonist active during the early 20th century, and Ethel McIntosh, a singer. He learned music from them as a youth and soon joined a “scratch band,” a local ensemble feature cane flute, gourd rasp, guitar, drum, and bass. By the age of 15, he had joined his father’s group as a guitarist, learning an older repertoire and touring widely throughout the island. During this same period, McIntosh learned traditional songs from his mother, who also encouraged him to study with local storytellers and folk performers. He also joined a carnival-oriented ensemble titled the Wild Indians. By 1955 he created his own “scratch band” called the Pond Bush Hot Shots. In the 1960s he was invited to become the lead alto sax player for the Joe Parris Hot Shots, the country’s leading quadrille group, with whom he recorded into the 1970s. Although he was an active musician during his life, McIntosh labored primarily for the Department of Public Works in St. Croix, as reflected in the name of his next band, Blinky and the Roadmasters (formed in ...

Article

Chadwick Jenkins

(b Louisville, KY, Aug 9, 1926). American jazz singer, pianist, organist, and bandleader. She learned to play piano by ear and as a child performed at her father’s church. She studied pipe organ and music theory at Fisk University. By the late 1940s she was performing in Chicago nightclubs as a soloist and as the leader of an all-female group. Her most notable group of the period was the Syncoettes, which included Lula Roberts (formerly of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm) on saxophone. Their first recording, “My Whole Life Through,” was produced and arranged by Eddie Durham and appeared on Premium Records in 1950. McLawler disbanded the Syncoettes in 1952 and began performing solo once again. Wild Bill Davison encouraged her to play Hammond B-3 organ and she soon formed a trio in Brooklyn, New York. There she met her future husband, the violinist Richard Ott, with whom she formed a trio consisting of organ, violin, and drums. This unusual ensemble became very popular, with regular performances at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem. It recorded the successful album ...

Article

Yoko Suzuki

[Elvira; Meeks, Elvira; Goldberg, Elvira; Avelino, Elvira]

(b Los Angeles, CA, Sept 20, 1928). American jazz alto and soprano saxophonist, singer, and bandleader. Her father Alton Redd was a jazz drummer from New Orleans. Redd started to sing in church at about age 5 and played alto saxophone at about 12, studying with her great-aunt Alma Hightower, a noted music educator in Los Angeles. In about 1948 she formed a band with her first husband, trumpeter Nathaniel Meeks, and began performing professionally as a saxophonist and singer. She had her first son when she was in her late 20s and her second son a few years later. Between 1957 and 1961 she performed less often and taught at public schools. During the 1960s she performed at the renowned club Ronnie Scott’s for ten weeks and toured with Earl Hines and Count Basie. Leonard Feather produced her two albums, Bird Call (1962) and Lady Soul...

Article

Thomas Goldsmith

[Richard Lee ]

(b Cordell, KY, July 18, 1954). American singer, bandleader, and multi-instrumentalist. Skaggs joined Bill Monroe to play mandolin onstage at age six, and a year later, he appeared on television with Flatt & Scruggs. Crafting his skills literally from childhood under the tutelage of his father, Hobert, Skaggs made a name for himself as the teenaged duet partner of another future country star, Keith Whitley, both of whom were recruited to join Ralph Stanley’s Clinch mountain boys in 1971. In the 1970s Skaggs rose to the top of the bluegrass field with his tradition-driven yet innovative approaches as a tenor singer, fiddler, mandolinist, and guitarist. First with Stanley and later with the famed all-star version of J.D. Crowe and the New South, Skaggs collaborated with a new bluegrass A-team consisting of Tony Rice, Jerry Douglas, and others. He formed his own band, Boone Creek, made his first solo album (Sugar Hill, ...