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Article

Lori Burns and Jada Watson

[Myra Ellen]

(b Newton, NC, Aug 22, 1963). American alternative-rock singer-songwriter, pianist, and record producer. She emerged in the early 1990s amid a resurgence of female singer-songwriters and has been one of the few well known alternative-rock artists to use the piano as her primary instrument. She attended the preparatory division of the prestigious Peabody Conservatory but left the school at the age of 11. She began to play her own music in nightclubs at 14, chaperoned by her father, who was a preacher. After Amos moved to Los Angeles in her late teens to pursue a recording career, her band Y Kant Tori Read released a self-titled album (Atl., 1987). Although this was unsuccessful, Atlantic Records retained her six-album contract.

Amos’s debut solo album, Little Earthquakes (Atl., 1992), earned her critical acclaim for her vocal expressivity, pianistic virtuosity, and fearless exploration of a wide range of personal themes, notably female sexuality, personal relationships, religion, sexual violence, and coming of age. The album ...

Article

Roxanne R. Reed

[Delois Barrett and the Barrett Sisters]

Gospel trio. Its members were Delores [Delois] (soprano), Billie (alto), and Rhodessa (high soprano) Barrett. Hailing from the Southside of Chicago, they grew up with seven other siblings and were members of the Morning Star Baptist Church where they sang in a choir directed by their aunt. As the Barrett–Hudson Singers, Delores and Billie had performed in a group with a cousin, whom Rhodessa later replaced to form the Barrett Sisters. Delores, the eldest and the group’s leader, started singing at the age of six. Her professional career began in earnest after graduating from Englewood High School, when she became the first female to join the Roberta Martin Singers (1944; see martin, Roberta ). Billie and Rhodessa received some formal training, but it was through the Roberta Martin Singers that Delores learned technique and honed her individual style, along with the unique ensemble quality known as the Roberta Martin sound. Delores continued to sing with Martin from time to time, even as the Barrett Sisters took shape. Getting their start as an African American gospel trio, the Barrett Sisters first recorded with the label Savoy (...

Article

Roben Jones

[John Henderson ]

(b Whitehaven, TN, April 8, 1931). American singer-songwriter, producer, publisher, and entrepreneur. He began playing bluegrass while in the military and after his discharge in 1952, played at radio stations in Wheeling, West Virginia, and Boston. While enrolled in Memphis State University (from 1954), he worked nights and weekends at the Eagle’s Nest club. After working briefly for Fernwood Records, he was hired by Sun Records, where he recorded Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash, among others. He wrote hits for several of Sun’s artists, including Johnny Cash’s singles “Ballad of a Teenage Queen” and “Guess things happen that way” (both Sun, 1958).

Clement left Sun in 1960 to became a staff producer for RCA in Nashville. In 1963 he moved to Texas, started a publishing company, and produced Dickey Lee’s hit “Patches” (Smash, 1963). After returning to Nashville in 1965, he discovered and produced Charlie Pride and wrote songs for a variety of country artists, including Pride (“Just between you and me,” RCA Victor, ...

Article

Horace Clarence Boyer

(b Columbia, SC, 1918; d Philadelphia, PA, Sept 4, 1967). American gospel singer. She studied music at Temple University and subsequently became a school teacher. In 1938 she heard Willie Mae Ford Smith sing gospel music in Washington, DC, and decided to adopt the style. She began singing in towns in the Washington area, where she soon became known as the “Sweetheart of the Potomac,” a title that remained with her throughout her career. She began recording in the early 1950s and by 1953 was one of the major gospel stars, specializing in the “song and sermonette” (where the first half of the song is delivered as a sermon and the second half is sung). Her most popular recordings, all made during the 1950s, include “Amen,” “Evening Sun,” and “Stop Gambler.” She performed most often with the support of a male quartet, beginning a song softly and subtly, then building in volume and drama as the song progressed....

Article

David Sanjek

Vocal group. One of the most influential black vocal harmony groups, the Ink Spots recorded over 70 hit recordings over a career that lasted, through various permutations of personnel, for seven decades. The Ink Spots first assembled in 1932 in Indianapolis, Indiana, and initially performed under the names the Four Riff Brothers, the Percolating Puppies, and King, Jack, and Jester. They appeared at New York’s celebrated Apollo Theatre in 1934 and were reputedly influenced by Paul Whiteman to change their name so as not to collide with that of his vocal ensemble, the King’s Jesters. The group signed with RCA Victor in 1935, but did not achieve commercial success, and switched to Decca the following year. The inimitable Ink Spots sound used a format whereby a track opened with a guitar riff, followed by the tenor lead singer’s rendition of the song’s lyric, after which the bass would pronounce that same material in the form of an oral recitation and then conclude with a repetition of the lead vocalist’s performance. That format first took hold of the public consciousness in ...

Article

Randolph Love

Gospel vocal quartet. It was formed by the brothers Bill (tenor; 1948–51) and Monty (baritone; 1948–52) Matthews as the Melodizing Matthews in 1948 in Springfield, Missouri, but the group has subsequently seen a number of personnel changes. Longtime members include Gordon Stoker (first tenor, manager, from 1950), Hoyt Hawkins (second tenor, baritone, 1952–82), Neal Matthews Jr. (second tenor, 1953–2000), Ray Walker (bass, from 1958), and Duane West (baritone, 1982–99). The white gospel group’s recording career began in the early 1950s with Decca covering black gospel songs and spirituals; they later worked for RCA Victor and Capitol. Their reputation grew when they began to back such country singers as Red Foley (“Just a Closer Walk with Thee”) and made television appearances on The Eddy Arnold Show and NBC’s The Grand Ole Opry. The group reportedly met Elvis Presley in Memphis while touring with Eddy Arnold in ...

Article

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

Jacqueline Avila

(María Mendoza and Juanita Mendoza)

American Tejano singers and sisters of the popular singer Lydia Mendoza. María Mendoza (b Monterrey, Mexico, 1922; d San Antonio, TX, 1990) and Juanita Mendoza (b Monterrey, Mexico, 1927) began their professional careers touring with the Mendoza family, led by their mother, Leonora, and featuring their sister, Lydia. María and Juanita formed the first female dueto in Texas after Lydia went into temporary retirement to look after her new family upon the outbreak of World War II. They were incredibly popular in the southwest where they toured and performed at various theaters and nightclubs, accompanied by their own guitars or sometimes a piano. Following in the popular repertoire performed by the Mendoza family, they sang many genres including canción rancheras and corridos. The dueto toured with the rest of the family as part of the larger variety act in theaters and carpas (tent shows). They recorded extensively for Discos Azteca in Los Angeles; Discos Ideal in Alice, TX; Columbia; and Falcon, and often recorded with accordion ...

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

John A. Emerson

revised by Christopher E. Mehrens

[Pasmore, Harriet Horn ]

(b San Francisco, CA, May 12, 1892; d Sonoma, CA, Jan 25, 1986). American Contralto, teacher, and music therapist. After attending the University of California, Berkeley (BA, French, 1914), she taught piano and then voice at Pomona College in Claremont, California (1914–20). After study and concert performances in Europe (1920–25) she returned to the United States and performed and taught privately in New York (1925–35) and Hollywood, California (1936–40). During the 1930s Pazmor was noted for her performances of contemporary American art songs. Her programs regularly included works by Charles Ives, Henry Cowell, Carl Ruggles, John Cage, Ernst Bacon, Ruth Crawford, Roger Sessions, Lou Harrison, Aaron Copland, and William Grant Still. She gave recitals for organizations such as the League of Composers and the Pan American Association of Composers, and at academic institutions including the New School for Social Research, Columbia University, Princeton University, and Harvard University. She studied music therapy at Boston University (MM ...

Article

Jeffery Wanser

Close-harmony vocal group active between 1906 and 1928. It was among the most prominent and best-selling close-harmony vocal groups of the acoustic era, recording hundreds of songs for many record labels including Columbia, Victor, and Edison. Formed from members of the Columbia and Invincible quartets, the original group consisted of Frank Stanley (leader), Henry Burr, Albert Campbell, and Steve Porter. The name “Peerless” was adopted so that they could record for other record labels, although they continued to appear as the Columbia Quartet on the Columbia label until 1912. Early hits included “By the Light of the Silvery Moon” and “Let me call you sweetheart.” Sometimes using other names, they also recorded comic sketches and minstrel songs.

In 1910 Stanley died and Burr took over as leader and manager for the remainder of the group’s existence. In the years before and during World War I they recorded “I didn’t raise my son to be a soldier” (...

Article

Jessica L. Brown

(b Springfield, MA, April 15, 1965). American Singer, songwriter, and producer. She was raised in a musical household, which exposed her to a wide variety of music. In 1989, while performing in a variety of small venues in San Francisco’s Bay Area, she was recruited into the band 4 Non Blondes as lead singer. The band released their debut album, Bigger, Better, Faster, More! (Interscope, 1992); it contained the group’s biggest hit, “What’s going on?,” which was written by Perry and brought the band’s pop-rock sound and Perry’s powerful voice to mainstream audiences. Perry has identified herself as a lesbian, and during the Billboard Music Awards in 1994 she attracted attention by performing with the word “dyke” on her guitar. Before 4 Non Blondes could complete a second album, Perry left the band to pursue a solo career. In 1996 she released In Flight to critical praise but poor commercial sales. In ...

Article

Charles K. Wolfe

(b nr West Monroe, LA, Aug 8, 1921; d Nashville, TN, Feb 24, 1991). American country-music singer, guitarist, songwriter, and publisher. He performed as a guitarist on radio station KMLB (Monroe, LA) before 1950, when he joined the “Louisiana hayride ” on KWKH (Shreveport, LA). Recording contracts with the local Pacemaker label (c1950), Four-Star, and Decca (1951) allowed him to resign his part-time job as a clerk at Sears, Roebuck and concentrate on music. After his initial hit, “Wondering” (1952), he gained national attention with “Back Street Affair” (1952), one of the first country songs to deal forthrightly with adultery. An equally important landmark was “There stands the glass” (1953), a classic drinking song and the first country hit to use the pedal steel guitar, played by Bud Isaacs. It became the favorite backup instrument in country music for the next two decades, and Pierce was the first of many country singers whose slurs, octave jumps, and use of dynamics complemented its sound. During his peak years (...

Article

Rob Bowman

[Diane Ernestine ]

(b Detroit, March 26, 1944). American pop singer . She initially came to fame as the lead singer of the Supremes, who were signed to the Motown record label in 1961. Beginning in 1963 with When the Lovelight Starts Shining, the group had a series of 28 singles in the American pop charts, 12 of which reached the number one position, including Where did our love go?, Baby Love, Stop! In the name of love, You can’t hurry love, You keep me hangin’ on, Love Child and Someday we’ll be together. In 1967 the group’s name was changed to Diana Ross and the Supremes, paving the way for her subsequent solo career, begun in 1970.

She was highly successful as a soloist, and placed 20 singles on the American rhythm and blues and pop music charts. Five of these reached the number one position in the pop charts: Ain’t no mountain high enough...

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 ...

Article

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 ...

Article

Jonas Westover

[Westover, Charles Weedon ]

(b Grand Rapids, MI, Dec 30, 1934; d Santa Clarita, CA, Feb 8, 1990). American singer, songwriter, and producer. Growing up, he learned to play ukulele and guitar while immersing himself in country-and-western music. Throughout the second half of the 1950s, he played in a variety of bands while in the military and also in Michigan. He used several different names during his time as a performer, but finally settled on “Del Shannon” in 1960. In the same year Shannon and his fellow musician, Max Crook, were signed to Bigtop Records in New York. The two wrote and recorded the rock and roll hit “Runaway” in 1961, with the single reaching number one on the Billboard chart. In the following two years Shannon wrote and performed several other successful singles, including “So long, baby,” “Hats off to Larry,” and “Little Town Flirt.” His 1963 cover of “From Me to You” was one of the first American covers of a Beatles song. After moving to Amy Records in ...

Article

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 ...

Article

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, ...

Article

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....