(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 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 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 ...