(b Memphis, TN, Feb 3, 1898; d Chicago, IL, Aug 27, 1971). American jazz pianist, singer, bandleader, and composer. She studied keyboard privately from an early age and had hopes of becoming a concert pianist. While she was enrolled at Fisk University, her mother and stepfather moved to Chicago, where in 1917 she took a job as a sheet music demonstrator, which led to her joining the Original Creole Jazz Band as its pianist. It was her first job playing jazz and she decided not to return to Fisk. She subsequently worked with several bands, including King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, with which she performed in San Francisco in 1921 and made her recording debut in 1923. By this time the band included louis Armstrong, whom she married in 1924. Armstrong’s place in jazz history was assured by her participation on Oliver’s Gennett recordings and Louis’ Hot Five sessions for Okeh. She played an important role in Louis’ move into a brighter spotlight before their separation in ...
(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 ...
(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, ...
John L. Clark
(b New Orleans, LA, March 25, 1897; d New Orleans, Jan 28, 1983). American pianist, singer, and bandleader. The daughter of the Civil War veteran and Louisiana state senator W.B. Barrett, she learned piano by ear as a child and was playing professionally by her early teens. She never learned to read music and worked almost exclusively in New Orleans. During the 1920s Barrett played with many of the uptown New Orleans groups, including those led by Papa Celestin, Armand Piron, and John Robichaux. In the following decade she worked most often with Bebe Ridgley, with whom she developed a local following that subsequently brought her success at the Happy Landing from 1949 and the Paddock Lounge during the late 1950s. It was at this time that she became known as Sweet Emma the Bell Gal because of her habit of wearing garters with bells attached that created a tambourine-like effect as she played. In ...
(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 ...
(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 (...
(b Honolulu, HI, Nov 9, 1909; d Honolulu, HI, April 27, 1992). Hawaiian singer, musician, bandleader, composer, and impresario. Sol Bright was a master entertainer of the old school: an energetic showman, accomplished musician, comic hula dancer, composer, raconteur, and entertainment director during Hawaiian music’s era of greatest international appeal, the 1920s through the 1960s.
His professional experience began as a teenager playing drums with his sister Hannah’s dance band. In 1928 an offer to play rhythm guitar and sing with Sol Ho`opi`i took him to Kaleponi (California), where a large community of Hawaiian musicians had formed. He started his own group, The Hollywood Hawaiians, in 1932. Playing steel guitar and singing, he recorded prolifically for major labels. He also appeared on radio and in four films: South Sea Rose,Charlie Chan’s Greatest Case,Flirtation Walk, and White Woman. Bright composed a number of songs that have become standards, including the jazzy English language “Sophisticated Hula” and “Hawaiian Cowboy,” a show-stopping novelty song in Hawaiian. With rapid-fire verses, reflective of fast ...
(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 ...
(b Barnwell, SC, May 3, 1928; d Atlanta, Dec 25, 2006). American soul and funk singer, composer, arranger and bandleader. Born into extreme poverty in the rural South, he began his career as a professional musician in the early 1950s with the gospel-based group, the Flames. By 1956 the group had recorded the rhythm and blues hit Please, Please, Please (Federal, 1956) and changed their name to James Brown and the Famous Flames. This early recording established what was to become a stylistic trademark: insistent repetition of a single phrase (in this case, the song's title) resulting in a kind of ecstatic trance. This approach and Brown's characteristic raspy vocal timbre and impassioned melismas display his debt to the black American gospel tradition. His stage shows, dancing and inspired call-and-response interactions with the audience also convey the fervour of a sanctified preacher.
The first decade of Brown's recording career saw him alternating energetic dance numbers such as ...
(b Stephenville, TX, Sept 7, 1903; d Fort Worth, TX, Apr 18, 1936). American singer and bandleader. Brown, along with Bob Wills, created and defined the idiom known as Western swing. An aspiring professional vocalist, he grew up in Fort Worth singing in amateur trios. In 1930, he met Wills and guitarist Herman Arnspiger when the pair played at a local dance and began singing with them. He turned to music full-time after losing his job as a cigar salesman. Wills and Brown developed a broad repertoire of fiddle tunes, blues, jazz, and pop songs that widened the group’s appeal at local dancehalls. In 1931, when Light Crust Flour began sponsoring their daily broadcasts at Fort Worth’s KFJZ, the group became the Light Crust Doughboys. Their popularity grew to the point their show was broadcast statewide. Brown left in Sept 1932 to form the Musical Brownies. The first actual western swing band, it grew to include piano, tenor banjo, bass, guitar (younger brother Derwood Brown), twin fiddles, and Brown’s effervescent vocals. Based at Fort Worth’s KTAT, they recorded for Bluebird Records in ...
(b Bowling Green, KY, Apr 13, 1952). American mandolinist, fiddler, vocalist, composer, and bluegrass/newgrass bandleader. Commonly referred to as the “Father of Newgrass Music,” Bush was deeply influenced by Jethro Burns and Bill Monroe. He began playing mandolin at age 11 and fiddle at 13, winning three junior fiddle championships at the National Oldtime Fiddlers’ Contest & Festival in Weiser, Idaho (1967–9). In 1969, Bush recorded Poor Richard’s Almanac (American Heritage) with banjoist Alan Munde and guitarist Wayne Stewart. In 1970, he joined Bluegrass Alliance and, from that band’s personnel, co-founded New Grass Revival in 1971, blending bluegrass instrumentation and techniques with rock, jazz, reggae, pop, and blues, and recording ten albums. In the early 1970s, Bush began an extensive studio career, playing on significant progressive bluegrass and Newgrass albums. A prolific solo artist since the mid-1980s, Bush recorded series of albums on the Rounder and Sugar Hill labels, most notably ...
Mark F. DeWitt
(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....
(b Nashville, TN, June 13, 1905; d Washington, DC, June 2, 1997). American jazz trumpeter, singer, and bandleader. Although most famous for his trumpet playing, he also played both soprano and tenor saxophone during his early days in black vaudeville. Despite his parents’ wishes that he become a pharmacist (hence the nickname Doc), he began touring as an accompanist in blues bands. After moving to Chicago, he met the bandleader King Oliver and later on Louis Armstrong, for whom Cheatham occasionally substituted and who remained a musical influence on Cheatham for years. After a short period in Philadelphia in 1927, Cheatham moved to New York where he worked briefly with Chick Webb before joining Sam Wooding’s band for three years of touring in Europe. He subsequently found himself typecast as a first-trumpet player, thus preventing him from improvising as much as he wanted. Until the 1970s he performed primarily with large ensembles, including those of Cab Calloway, Teddy Wilson, Benny Carter, and Benny Goodman, as well as many Latin jazz bands during the 1950s and 1960s. The 1970s saw Cheatham critically re-evaluating his playing, and until his death in ...
[Wilfredo José Chirino]
(b Consolación del Sur, Cuba, April 5, 1947). Cuban-American vocalist, songwriter, and bandleader; immigrated to the United States in 1961. At the age of thirteen, Chirino was transported from Cuba to the United States through Operation Pedro Pan, the largest child exodus in the Americas. After studying percussion, piano and guitar, he began his career performing in various rock bands, subsequently becoming an instrumentalist for artists such as Celia Cruz before emerging as a solo performer. He has been married to renowned Cuban singer Lissette [Álvarez] since 1980.
A central figure in tropical and Latin pop, Chirino has collaborated with the most renowned exponents of salsa and was influential in the formation of the fusion style known as the “Miami Sound.” Chirino’s eclectic brand of danceable music combines Cuban popular traditions with Anglo rock, jazz, and Brazilian rhythms. The nostalgia of exile and socio-political issues related to the Cuban people resonate through much of his work, as exemplified by ...
revised by Peter LaChapelle
[Donnell Clyde ]
(b Grand, OK, 1910; d Oakland, CA, Nov 5, 1969). American country music fiddler, singer, and bandleader. The son of a sharecropper, he became the leading figure on the Los Angeles western swing scene. He received violin training from a German immigrant teacher at an all-Native American school in Oregon. He traveled with several hillbilly acts, arriving in Los Angeles in 1937. Cooley performed in western movies before assuming leadership of a band originally organized by Jimmy Wakely. He stressed his Dust Bowl migrant background in publicity and claimed that he was a quarter Cherokee to promote his career. He added harpists, a fiddling trio, and as many as 20 performers to his band. In 1942 the DJ Al Jarvis proclaimed Cooley the King of Western Swing after his band placed well in a local poll to determine the King of Swing. Cooley’s “Shame on You” (OK), featuring vocals by Tex Williams, became the number-one country recording of ...
Dina M. Bennett
(b Tunica, MS, July 1, 1935; d Austin, March 16, 2017). American blues harmonica player, singer, and bandleader. Known as “Superharp,” he grew up in the cotton fields of Mississippi and began learning to play the harmonica by the age of nine. After his parents died, he went to live with blues harmonica player Sonny Boy Williamson (II) who became his mentor. As Williamson’s opening act, the two traveled together and played in various juke joints throughout the South. Soon thereafter, Cotton met Howlin’ Wolf in an Arkansas juke joint and went on the road with him. In the mid-1950s, he became Muddy Waters’ harp player, and in 1958 he recorded “Sugar Sweet” and “Close to You” with the Muddy Waters band on Chess Records. Cotton served as alternating harp player with Little Walter on Waters’ recording sessions until the 1960s. In 1966, he left Waters’ band and a year later formed the Jimmy Cotton Blues Band. As a bandleader and solo artist, Cotton became famous for his animated playing style and his back flips on stage. In the 1970s, he recorded several albums for Buddah Records, including ...
Mina F. Miller
revised by Jonas Westover
(b New Haven, CT, Oct 17, 1945). American soprano and conductor. Following comprehensive studies in music (violin and piano) and dance, Wyner graduated in 1965 from Cornell University. Her principal singing teacher was Herta Glaz Redlich, with whom she studied privately (1969–75). Her debut at Carnegie Recital Hall (1972) was the result of her winning the Concert Guild Auditions. Since her orchestral debut with the Boston SO in February 1974, she has sung with nearly every major orchestra in the United States and Canada, as well as with the Israel PO and the London SO. Although she is best known for her interpretations of contemporary music, her repertory includes works from the 16th to 19th centuries. She made her operatic debut as Poppea in Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea with the New York City Opera in 1977 and her Metropolitan Opera debut as Woglinde in ...
revised by Ulrich Adelt
[Eckstein, William Clarence; Mr. B]
(b Pittsburgh, PA, July 8, 1914; d Pittsburgh, March 8, 1993). American Popular singer and jazz bandleader. He began singing at age seven and later worked his way to Chicago, where in 1939 he became the principal vocalist in Earl Hines’s big band. He remained with Hines until 1943, learning to play the trumpet while on the band’s tours. From 1944 to 1947 he led a bop big band, the Billy Eckstine Orchestra. Thereafter he returned to a career as a solo singer. Following the success of “Everything I have is yours” (MGM, 1947), he became the country’s most popular vocalist in the years 1949–50 (celebrated in a photo spread in Life magazine) and gained a lucrative five-year contract with MGM. Although his popularity waned from 1951, he continued to fill major nightclubs in the United States and abroad for several decades.
Eckstine’s achievements were varied: on the one hand he supported young avant-garde jazz musicians, on the other he sang popular ballads. He was instrumental in bringing Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Sarah Vaughan, among others, into Hines’s band, and while with Hines he recorded the hits “Jelly, Jelly” (Bb, ...
Estevan César Azcona
[Navaira, Emilio (III)]
(b San Antonio, TX, Aug 23, 1962).American singer, songwriter, and bandleader. He led the band Emilio y Grupo Rio, which was among the most popular acts of Tejano music in the late 20th century. Known by his first name, Emilio has also had success singing in a country-western style. His professional career began in 1985, when he became the lead singer for the acclaimed Tejano group David Lee Garza y Los Musicales. In 1989 he formed and fronted his own band, Grupo Rio. Along with electronic keyboards, the button accordion was a central part of their sound. Emilio ranked with Selena and other high-profile Tejano acts among the genre’s leading performers at its apex during the 1990s. Like them, he used his popularity to cross over into the English-language market, specifically through country-western music, where he enjoyed early success. His performing career went on hiatus for two years as he recovered from critical injuries suffered in a tour bus crash in ...
Jeffery S. McMillan
[John Birks ]
(b Cheraw, SC, Oct 21, 1917; d Englewood, NJ, Jan 6, 1993). American jazz trumpeter, bandleader, singer, and composer. He was one of the principal innovators in jazz, who along with Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, and Kenny Clarke, pioneered the harmonic and rhythmic advances of the early 1940s that became known as bebop. His exceptional talent for playing higher, faster, and more accurately than anyone who preceded him set a new standard for jazz musicians and his style of playing was widely imitated, especially by trumpeters. Gillespie wrote such early bebop compositions as “Woody ’n’ You,” “Groovin’ High,” and “Salt Peanuts,” and his most enduring piece, “A Night in Tunisia,” is one of the most frequently recorded in jazz. His career spanned almost six decades, and it is difficult to overstate his impact as one of the most influential musicians in jazz history.
Gillespie was born the youngest of nine children to a poor, rural Southern family. His father was a bricklayer who also played various musical instruments with groups on the weekends, but died from an asthma attack when Gillespie was ten. Gillespie was given a trombone at school and taught himself to play it even though he was too small to reach fifth position. After a neighbor received a trumpet, Gillespie visited the house repeatedly to play it until he was allowed to exchange his trombone for a trumpet. He performed locally at rent parties and school dances and his ability allowed him to attend Laurinberg Technical Institute in nearby North Carolina on a music scholarship. Although he received little formal instruction, he practiced trumpet and piano incessantly, and taught himself basic theory. In ...