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Gayle Murchison

(b Bombay [Mumbai], India, c1947). Indian singer and actress. From an affluent family, Puthli attended college in Mumbai. After studying Indian classical music and dance and Western opera as a youth, she began singing jazz and pop with local bands at age 13 and made her first recording in 1968. She met author Ved Mehta, who wrote about her in Portrait of India (New York, 1970). She appeared in two films by Ismail Merchant and James Ivory, The Guru (1969) and Savages (1972). A dance scholarship from the Martha Graham Company brought her in that same year to New York, where Mehta introduced her to CBS executive John Hammond. In 1972 she recorded two critically acclaimed tracks for Ornette Coleman’s Science Fiction album. She recorded two pop and two disco albums of her own for CBS (1973–6) and a disco album for the TK label in ...


Rich Kienzle

[Hubbard, Jerry Reed ]

(b Atlanta, GA, March 20, 1937; d Nashville, TN, Sept 1, 2008). American guitarist, vocalist, songwriter, and actor. He grew up in a family split by divorce and poverty. At age seven he gravitated to guitar and became enamored of the fingerstyle playing of Merle Travis and Chet Atkins. As a teenager, he played country music in the Atlanta area and took the professional name Jerry Reed after signing with Capitol Records in 1954. His records did not sell many copies, but Capitol rockabilly star Gene Vincent made Reed’s composition “Crazy Legs” a staple of his repertoire. In the early 1960s, though Reed’s recordings failed to sell, stars including Brenda Lee and Porter Wagoner began recording his songs. By then, he was a Nashville session guitarist. He developed a new and unorthodox approach to Travis-Atkins fingerstyle playing involving the use of the right-hand thumb and all four fingers. Chet Atkins began recording Reed instrumentals and later adapted aspects of Reed’s unique style to his own playing. In ...


Douglas B. Green

[Woodward Maurice ]

(b Panola County, TX, Jan 12, 1905; d Nashville, TN, Jan 2, 1974). American cowboy singer and actor. Bright and musical, Ritter worked his way through the University of Texas while performing as a radio singer of cowboy songs in the 1920s. In Austin, he was mentored by folklorists J. Frank Dobie, Oscar J. Fox, and John Lomax, who fueled Ritter’s passion for traditional cowboy folk songs. While attending law school at the University of Texas, he ran off with a touring New York production. When that show closed, he remained in New York, where he quickly developed a fine career on Broadway, most notably in his role as Curly in Green Grow the Lilacs (1930–31). He also began recording as early as 1928, but had nothing released until the early 1930s. He became popular on radio as a singer and actor on several shows (where he acquired the nickname Tex), and as a co-host of the ...


Timothy Miller

[Kenneth] (Donald)

(b Houston, Aug 21, 1938; d Sandy Springs, GA, March 20, 2020). American country and pop music singer, songwriter, actor, and entrepreneur. After beginning his career with the doo-wop group the Scholars, Rogers recorded as a solo artist and played jazz bass in the Bobby Doyle Trio. In 1966 he joined the New Christy Minstrels, but soon left to form the splinter group, the First Edition. Performing a mix of pop, country, and psychedelic rock, the First Edition had several hit songs, including “Ruby, don’t take your love to town” (Reprise, 1969), before disbanding in 1975. Rogers subsequently partnered with producer Larry Butler to record a string of pop-friendly country hits for United Artists, including “Lucille” (1977) and “Coward of the County” (1979). “The Gambler” (1978) became Rogers’s signature song, topping the charts and inspiring a series of television movies in which he played the lead. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Rogers recorded several duet albums with Dottie West and collaborated with singer-songwriter-producer Lionel Richie. In ...


Douglas B. Green

[Sly, Leonard Franklin; Slye, Len]

(b Cincinnati, OH, Nov 5, 1911; d Apple Valley, CA, July 6, 1998). American singing cowboy, actor, and guitarist. Known as “the King of the Cowboys,” Sly grew up in a series of hardscrabble towns along the Ohio River until his family packed their belongings in an old Dodge sedan and headed for California in mid-1930. There, his strong rhythm guitar work, sweet voice, and outstanding yodeling ability quickly placed him in demand in the southern California music scene. He was the sparkplug in the formation of the Sons of the Pioneers, cajoling Bob Nolan and Tim Spencer to form what quickly became the top western singing group of their day. He also had ambitions beyond the group, auditioning for the spot as Universal’s new singing cowboy. He was passed over in favor of Bob Baker; Baker’s series fizzled, and Len Slye, adding an “e” to his name, was available when Republic needed a new singing cowboy to replace Gene Autry, who had walked out on strike. Len Slye quickly became Roy Rogers and was thrust headlong into a film written for Autry called ...


John C. MacInnis

(b London, England, Dec 27, 1911; d Batemans Bay, Australia, Oct 18, 2006). American English singer, comedienne, and musical parodist. Trained at the Royal Academy of Music in London, she aspired to a career as an opera singer. She performed in several opera productions in the UK and sang for the BBC in the 1930s. Initial successes as a musical parodist began in 1940 after Russell moved to Toronto, Canada, with her mother and especially after her famous recital at Town Hall, New York, in 1951.

Through the 1950s Russell performed and recorded extensively. She appeared in opera productions (e.g. New York City Opera, Hansel and Gretel, 1953) and on Broadway (e.g. Anna Russell’s Little Show, 1955). She often styled herself as a mock-music appreciation teacher; for example, she instructed audiences on “How to Write your own Gilbert and Sullivan Opera,” comically explained the plots of famous works like Wagner’s ...



Jared Pauley

[Prince Rakeem; Diggs, Robert Fitzgerald]

(b Brooklyn, NY, June 5, 1969). American Hip-hop producer, rapper, and actor. Often cited as one of the most influential producers in hip hop, he was the chief architect behind the Wu-Tang Clan’s ascent to popularity in 1993. Early in his career he was known as Prince Rakeem and was signed to Tommy Boy Records. With production assistance from Easy Mo Bee, he released the album Ooh I love you Rakeem (1991, Tommy Boy). It flopped and was his only release with Tommy Boy. His production work on the Wu-Tang Clan’s debut album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (1993) was more successful and helped usher in a more grimy, hardcore sound to New York hip hop. The album was noted for its use of vintage kung fu movie and soul music samples, and the rappers’ collective chemistry catapulted them into the American mainstream. RZA handled the brunt of the music production on each of the Wu-Tang Clan member’s solo albums, including Method Man’s debut ...


Craig Jennex

(b Thunder Bay, ON, Nov 28, 1949). Canadian pianist, composer, musical director, actor, producer, and bandleader. He has been musical director for David Letterman’s late-night shows since 1982. Prior to working with Letterman, Shaffer was a featured performer on “Saturday Night Live.” He has served as musical director and producer for the Blues Brothers and cowrote the 1980s dance hit “It’s raining men.” He has served as musical director for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony since its inception in ...


Margaret Jackson

[Crooks, Lesane Parish; 2Pac; Makaveli]

(b New York, NY, June 16, 1971; d Las Vegas, NV, Sept 13, 1996). American rapper and actor. Tupac Shakur was one of the 20th century’s most famous, successful, and controversial hip-hop artists. While his husky voice, lyrical creativity, and charisma helped bring gangsta rap to the foreground of American commercial music, his successes were often overshadowed by his violent lifestyle and legal battles.

Son of Black Panther members Afeni Shakur and Billy Garland, Shakur showed early promise as a student at the Baltimore School of the Arts before moving with his family to Marin County, California. There he began his musical career with the Oakland-based rap group Digital Underground, first working as a roadie and dancer, then appearing as a rapper on This Is An E.P. Release (1990) and Sons Of The P (1991). His first solo album, 2pacalypse Now, was released in ...


Henry Pleasants

revised by Keir Keightley

[Francis Albert ]

(b Hoboken, NJ, Dec 12, 1915; d Los Angeles, CA, May 14, 1998). American popular singer and actor. His parents were Italian immigrants from whom he inherited a predilection for the bel canto style of singing. Though completely untrained as a singer and unable to read music, he immediately attracted attention while singing on New York radio programs and was engaged as a big-band vocalist with Harry James in 1939. This was followed by a three-year engagement with Tommy Dorsey (1940–42), during which time he became a celebrity among young people on a scale matched only by Benny Goodman before him and Elvis Presley and the Beatles after. After leaving Dorsey he was constantly in demand as a solo attraction, singing as many as 100 songs daily on a tight touring, recording and broadcasting schedule. Inevitably this overexposure began to tell on Sinatra’s voice and popularity, and from ...