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Article

E. Ron Horton

[Herbert; Jeffrey, Herbert; Balentino, Umberto; the Bronze Buckaroo]

(b Detroit, MI, Sept 24, 1916). American jazz vocalist and actor. He began his professional singing career at 14 and then worked with such well-known jazz musicians as Erskine Tate, Earl Hines, and Blanche Calloway. In the late 1930s he made five films as America’s first black singing cowboy starting with Harlem on the Prairie (1937). He conceived the idea of making the movie himself in a conscious effort to create a character that could be a model for brown-skinned children. Jeffries, who identified his mother as Irish and his father as mixed-race Sicilian, was almost denied the role because his physical features were considered by some not to be African American enough, although he proudly identified himself as black in both professional and social terms. He successfully fought for the role, which earned him the nickname the Bronze Buckaroo, and his films appealed to a more widespread audience than expected. Jeffries worked with the Duke Ellington Orchestra from ...

Article

John Macinnis

[Kaminski, David Daniel ]

(b Brooklyn, NY, Jan 18, 1913; d Los Angeles, CA, March 3, 1987). American Singer, dancer, and actor. Kaminski began his career as an entertainer by traveling widely and working nonmusical day jobs. He was first billed as Danny Kaye in 1933 while working with the dancing act of David Harvey and Kathleen Young. Kaye specialized in singing with non-English accents punctuated with spurts of double-talk, tongue twisters, face contortions, and dancing. He met his wife, pianist and songwriter Sylvia Fine, while working variety shows in New York, and, with her assistance, developed some of his most famous numbers, including “Stanislavsky,” “Anatole of Paris,” and “Melody in Four F.” In 1939 Kaye appeared in Broadway in his Straw Hat Revue and again in 1941 in Cole Porter’s Let’s Face It.

Kaye’s film career began in 1944 with the RKO film Up in Arms. Other musical comedy films in which he starred included ...

Article

Stephen Holden

revised by Travis D. Stimeling

(b Brownsville, TX, June 22, 1936). American country-music singer-songwriter and actor. He studied at Pomona College and attended Oxford University on a Rhodes scholarship. A captain in the U.S. Army, Kristofferson was hired to teach English at the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1965, but he decided instead to move to Nashville to begin a songwriting career. After a brief stint as a helicopter pilot in the Gulf Coast oilfields, he became a janitor at Columbia Records’ Nashville studio, where he met many of the city’s leading session musicians, recording artists, producers, and songwriters. His first hit songs were “Me and Bobby McGee” (1969, recorded by Roger Miller and later by Janis Joplin), and “Sunday Morning Coming Down” (1970), which earned the 1970 Country Music Association Song of the Year. He also recorded several albums for Fred Foster’s Monument Records, including the gold-certified ...

Article

Steven Beasley

[James King Kern ]

(b Rocky Mount, NC, June 18, 1905; d Chapel Hill, NC, July 23, 1985). American Bandleader, actor, humanitarian, and religious leader. Sometimes known as “The Ol’ Professor of Swing,” Kyser climbed to the heights of pop success from 1935 to 1950 with an orchestra that played novelty songs as well as swing and ballads. Though he couldn’t read music or play an instrument, he was a brilliant businessman and front man, chalking up 35 top ten records and 11 number ones.

Kyser attended and graduated from UNC Chapel Hill (business degree, 1928), where he produced plays, organized a band (1926), and began to use “Kay” (derived from his middle initial) as his stage name. They recorded six songs for the Victor label between 1928 and 1929, but didn’t record commercially again until 1935. They broke into the big time in Chicago in 1937 with a quiz and music radio show called ...

Article

Sandra Jean Graham

[Master Juba ]

(b United States, c1825; d United Kingdom, c1852). American minstrel. Circa 1841, Lane began dancing publicly in saloons and dance halls in lower Manhattan’s impoverished Five Points district. He was likely the dancer that Charles Dickens described in American Notes for General Circulation (1842). In 1844–5, the preeminent white minstrel jig dancer John Diamond (1823–57) challenged Lane to a series of contest dances, which Lane won decisively. In 1845, Lane made history with the Georgia Champion Minstrels as the first black member of a white troupe, receiving top billing as “the greatest dancer in the world.”

Lane duplicated his success in Britain, touring 18 months (1848–50) with Gilbert W. Pell’s Ethiopian Serenaders (Pell, or Pelham, was Dick Pelham’s brother). Critics extravagantly praised his dancing and virtuosic tambourine playing as end man. His dance specialties included “Lucy Long,” performed in drag to Pell’s singing, and the “Festival” and “Plantation” dances, performed in formal dress to Thomas Briggs’s banjo playing. After Pell’s troupe disbanded, Lane’s celebrity diminished as he resumed his solo street and saloon performances. He likely worked himself to death before reaching age 30....

Article

Kathleen Hudson

(b Klein, TX, Nov 1, 1957). American songwriter, musician, and actor. Known for quirky stories, strong language, a wry tone, gentle and profound themes, and interesting music, Lyle Lovett has been influenced by fellow Texas songwriters Guy Clark, and Townes Van Zandt. His voice and appearance have created a distinctive image, but his reputation stands on the foundation of his songwriting.

Lovett grew up on a horse ranch in a suburb of Houston, graduating from Texas A&M University in 1982 with a degree in journalism and German. There, he met singer-songwriter Robert Earl Keen, with whom he co-wrote “Front Porch Song” while both were playing in College Station’s Front Porch Band. After a stint playing music and studying in Germany, he went to Nashville, where, with the support of Guy Clark, he was signed to a recording contract with MCA/Curb Records. They released his self-titled debut album in ...

Article

Patricia Moss

[Bridges, Christopher Brian ]

(b Champaign, IL, Sept 11, 1977). American rapper and actor. He entered the music industry through the Atlanta-based radio station Hot 97 (later Hot 107.9) where he was known as DJ Chris Lova Lova. This position led to his acquaintance with the producer Timbaland, who featured him on the song “Phat Rabbit” from Timbaland’s album Tim’s Bio (Blackground, 1998). This collaboration provided Ludacris with national exposure, essentially launching his career as a rapper. In 2000 he signed with the hip-hop label Def Jam South and released his debut album Back for the First Time, which reached number four on the US Billboard 200. His musical style is exuberant and profanity laden and features a combination of humor, fiery raps, and clever rhythms. Ludacris has sold more than 12 million albums and received awards from MTV, the Screen Actors Guild, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, and the Broadcast Films Critics Association. This visibility and commercial success, however, has led to some instances of controversy. In ...

Article

Lisa MacKinney

[Koch, Lydia Anne ]

(b Rochester, NY, June 2, 1959). American singer, songwriter, guitarist, composer, poet, and performance artist. Lydia Lunch arrived in New York City as a teenage runaway in 1976, after a childhood of chaos, abuse, and extreme neglect. Motivated by the Velvet Underground, the New York Dolls, Patti Smith, and the incendiary writing of Lester Bangs in Creem magazine, Lunch formed Teenage Jesus and the Jerks in 1977. The group (which briefly included James Chance) released only a handful of singles and EPs before breaking up in 1979, but Lunch had established herself as an uncompromising purveyor of a brutal, confronting, violently sexual, and bleak artistic vision. She is considered to be a founder of No Wave, an abrasive, untutored form of noise-based punk music that was often politically charged and musically experimental. No wave often involved conventional instruments (guitar, bass, electronic keyboards) used as extreme noise-making devices to create discomforting, visceral sounds—Lunch regularly used electric guitar with a slide in this manner to piercing, abrasive effect. Lunch released her first solo album, ...

Article

Lauren Joiner

[Hall, Marcel Theo]

(b Harlem, New York; April 8, 1964).

American rapper, beatboxer, MC, DJ, and actor. He began his career in 1985 as a beatboxer for Roxanne Shanté of the Juice Crew. In 1988, he signed with Cold Chillin’ Records and released his first solo album, Goin’ Off. His second album, The Biz Never Sleeps (1989), went gold and included his first Top Ten hit, “Just a Friend,” which peaked at number nine on Billboard’s Pop Singles chart. The single, Markie’s biggest hit to-date, features the self-deprecating and satirical humor that won him the title “Clown Prince of Hip Hop.” Besides “Just a Friend,” he is also well known for the controversy surrounding a 1991 lawsuit leveled against him by singer/songwriter Gilbert O’Sullivan. Markie’s song “Alone Again,” from his album I Need a Haircut (1991), featured an unauthorized sample of O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again (Naturally).” The case featured the first federal decision regarding music sampling and had a profound effect on hip hop, requiring prior approval of samples on future recordings. An injunction was issued against the sale of ...

Article

Monica F. Ambalal

[Crocetti, Dino Paul ]

(b Steubenville, OH, June 7, 1917; d Beverly Hills, CA, Dec 25, 1995). American Singer, actor, and comedian. As a teenager, the Italian American Martin left high school in the tenth grade, and worked a number of odd jobs while entering the field of amateur boxing under the name “Kid Crochet.” In his 20s, he began singing in small venues in Ohio, but his professional career did not take off until after meeting comedian Jerry Lewis in 1946. Together, Martin and Lewis debuted at the 500 Club in Atlantic City, dividing their act between songs, skits, and ad-libbed material. They soon became America’s leading comedy-singing duo with nightclub engagements, appearances on NBC’s Colgate Comedy Hour, and guest segments on radio and television. After starring in 17 films and enjoying a decade of success, they parted ways in 1956 because of differing opinions, and Martin’s career briefly waned.

In ...