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Ayala, Ramón  

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 ...


Barber, Patricia  

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, ...


Bartholomew, Dave  

Randolph Love

(b Edgard, LA, Dec 24, 1920; d New Orleans, June 23, 2019). 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 début 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 ...


Bell, Roger  

Bruce Johnson

(Emerson )

(b Melbourne, Australia, Jan 4, 1919; d Melbourne, Australia, June 17, 2008). Australian trumpeter, washboard player, composer, singer, and bandleader, brother of Graeme Bell. He first worked as a drummer, then in 1938 began to play cornet. Having worked in Melbourne with his brother at Leonard’s Café, he briefly led the band at Heidelberg Town Hall (1943), where he recorded with a visiting Max Kaminsky, before Graeme Bell returned from Queensland to take over the group’s leadership. He remained in Graeme’s dixieland groups during their European tours (1947–8, 1950–52), after which he worked with Max Collie (1953) and in the house band at the Melbourne Jazz Club (from 1958). Bell was active as a freelance musician and led his own band, the Pagan Pipers (a name he had used first in 1949), which with various personnel (notably Len Barnard and Ade Monsbourgh) performed and recorded for many years; among its recordings were a number of Bell’s own compositions. His playing may be heard to advantage on ...


Blazonczyk, Sr. [Bell], Eddie  

Jonas Westover


(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 (...


Brown, Chuck  

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 ...


Brown, James  

David Brackett

(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 ...


Chavis, Boozoo  

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....


Willy Chirino  

Mario Rey

[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 ...


Colón, Willie  

Lise Waxer

[Colón Román jr, William Anthony; ‘El malo’]

(b South Bronx, New York, April 28, 1950). American bandleader, composer, arranger, trombonist, popular singer, producer and actor. Dubbed ‘El malo’ (the ‘bad boy’) of salsa, he began playing the trumpet in 1963 with the teenage band the Dandees. Switching to trombone, he made his professional début at 17 with the album El malo (Fania, 1967). Both as a bandleader and a member of the Fania All-Stars, he quickly moved to the fore of the burgeoning New York salsa scene, cementing the raw, trombone-heavy ‘New York sound’ inspired by earlier artists such as Eddie Palmieri and Mon Rivera. Between 1967 and 1973 he made a series of important recordings with vocalist Hector Lavoe, which included the albums Asalto Navideño I and II (Fania, 1972 and 1973) with cuatro virtuoso Yomo Toro, where traditional Puerto Rican Christmas aguinaldos were fused with salsa. During his second period (...


Davenny-Wyner [née Davenny], Susan  

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 ...



Estevan César Azcona

[Navaira, Emilio (III)]

(b San Antonio, TX, Aug 23, 1962; d New Braunfels, TX, May 16, 2016). 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 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 ...


Gill, Elmer  

O Flückiger


(b Indianapolis, Feb 17, 1926; d Anghiari, Toscana, Italy, May 24, 2004). American pianist, vibraphonist, singer, and bandleader. After serving in France during the war he studied music at the conservatory in Dijon, at the University of Washington, and elsewhere. He led a jump band, the Question Marks, in Seattle through the late 1940s, then formed a trio modeled after that of Nat “King” Cole. From 1952 to mid-1953 he toured the USA and Canada with Lionel Hampton and later traveled in Alaska and California with his own groups. Having settled on the Canadian west coast, Gill hosted jazz projects involving such guest stars as Wes Montgomery. From the mid-1980s he toured internationally.


Guerrero, [Eduardo] Lalo  

Estevan César Azcona

(b Tucson, AZ, Dec 24, 1916; d Rancho Mirage, CA, March 17, 2005). American singer, songwriter, and bandleader. Born in the Barrio Viejo of Tucson, Guerrero formed his first group, Los Carlistas, as a teenager. At 17, he wrote “Canción mexicana,” which became a standard of the Mexican ranchera repertoire, and briefly attempted a singing career in Mexico. He later wrote “Nunca jamás,” a bolero made famous by Mexican singer, Javier Solís. During World War II, Guerrero worked as an entertainer in southern California, eventually leading and recording with his own big band, Lalo Guerrero y Sus Cinco Lobos. By the late 1940s he became one of the leaders of a new style, “pachuco boogie,” which mixed the big-band sound with Caribbean dance rhythms (e.g., mambo, guaracha, danzón) and the Chicano street slang known as Caló. Four of his compositions were featured in the 1979 period play ...


Ho, Don(ald Tai Loy)  

Jay W. Junker

(b Honolulu, HI, Aug 13, 1930; d Honolulu, HI, April 14, 2007). Hawaiian pop singer and bandleader. Often portrayed by the mainstream media as the archetypal lounge lizard, Don Ho was the only Hawaiian musician of his era with an international profile. To his detractors his music was effervescent kitsch that made it hard for outsiders to take any Hawaiian culture seriously. To his supporters, he was a canny entertainer who understood his core audience and catered to their needs for more than four decades. During that time he recorded 15 best-selling records, made guest appearances on every major American talk show, and from 1976 to 1977 hosted his own series on the ABC television network. With his aloha shirt, Beatles haircut, and nonchalant style, his act worked just as well in Las Vegas as in Waikiki. In many ways, he was as much a tourist attraction as a musician, especially for military veterans, whom Ho was always careful to honor in between the joking and the music....


Humphrey, Bobbi  

Yoko Suzuki

[Barbara Ann]

(b Marlin, TX, April 25, 1950). American jazz and rhythm-and-blues flutist, singer, bandleader, composer, and producer. She started to play flute in the Lincoln High School band in Dallas. Studying both classical and jazz flute, she continued her musical training at Texas Southern University and Southern Methodist University. In 1971 she moved to New York, where a relative, Eddie Preston, played trumpet with Duke Ellington. Because of this connection, she had the opportunity to play with Ellington’s band. She also competed in the Apollo Theater’s amateur night, winning first place for seven consecutive weeks. Blue Note Records signed Humphrey in 1971 and had recorded six of her albums by 1976, including Blacks and Blues (1973, BN). She performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1973 and 1977. She also appeared on “Another Star” from Stevie Wonder’s album Songs in the Key of Life (1975–1976, Tamia). After switching to Epic she recorded three more albums for that label: ...


Jones, Bobby  

Carrie Allen Tipton

(b Henry, TN, Sept 18, 1938). American gospel music television and radio host, singer, choir director, and media executive. He began singing publicly in the Methodist church as a child, although his first exposure to gospel music came in sanctified churches. His involvement with gospel music deepened in Nashville when he served as keyboard player, singer, and director for church and civic choirs while studying at Tennessee State University. In 1978 Jones recorded the first of many albums with his small ensemble, the New Life Singers, whose aesthetic leaned more toward contemporary Christian music than black gospel. Around this time he began hosting children’s and gospel music shows on Nashville television stations. In 1980 Black Entertainment Television began broadcasting one of these programs, Bobby Jones Gospel. The popular program has featured performances by Jones’s ensembles, established gospel stars, and up-and-coming gospel artists. Firmly within the gospel entrepreneurial tradition, Jones’s other enterprises include music festivals, workshops, radio shows, the gospel opera ...


Lewis, Vic(tor Joseph)  

Barry Kernfeld

(b London, July 29, 1919; d London, Feb 9, 2009). English bandleader, guitarist, singer, and cornetist. He started on banjo before taking up guitar. In the mid-1930s he played in a band with George Shearing and Carlo Krahmer, and in 1938 he visited New York, where he performed with Bobby Hackett. In the same year he led a group for a recording session that included Hackett, Eddie Condon, Zutty Singleton, and other American musicians. During his service in the RAF (1939–44) he performed and recorded as a guitarist with Buddy Featherstonhaugh, and his playing from this period may be heard on Vic Lewis Jam Sessions, 1944–1945: the War Years (1944–5, Harl. 3008). While in the air force he also learned to play trombone, and he founded, with Jack Parnell, a dixieland band, the Jazzmen. Following his discharge in 1945 he continued the Jazzmen, initially with Parnell and then as sole leader, and he worked briefly with Stephane Grappelli. In ...


Mainer, Wade  

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 ...


Martin, Jimmy  

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, ...