William James “Count” Basie (August 21, 1904 â€“ April 26, 1984) was an American jazz pianist, organist, bandleader, and composer. His mother taught him to play the piano and he started performing in his teens. Dropping out of school, he learned to operate lights for vaudeville and to improvise accompaniment for silent films at a local movie theater in his home town of Red Bank, New Jersey. By 16, he increasingly played jazz piano at parties, resorts and other venues. In 1924, he went to Harlem, where his performing career expanded; he toured with groups to the major jazz cities of Chicago, St. Louis and Kansas City. In 1929 he joined Bennie Moten’s band in Kansas City, and played with them until Moten’s death in 1935.Â Continue reading
Soprano Leontyne Price was born Mary Violet Leontine Price in Laurel, Mississippi, on February 10, 1927, the daughter of James and Katherine Price. Leontine was a very musical child and became a local success at an early age, singing at local weddings and funerals. After receiving local training, she sang in her first recital on December 17, 1943.
After studying at Wilberforve College (now Central State University) in Ohio, Leontine enrolled in the Juilliard School of Music in New York. She began studying with Florence Page Kimball and, shortly after changing the spelling of her name to “Leontyne”, she was accepted into the Juilliard Opera Workshop. Much of Leontyne’s musical education was supported by a wealthy family from Laurel, Alexander and Elizabeth Chisolm.
At Juilliard, she appeared in 1952 as Nella inÂ Gianni SchicchiÂ and and, later that year, as Mistress Ford inÂ Falstaff. Also in 1952, she was invited by composer Virgil Thompson to appear as Saint Cecilia in a revival of hisÂ Four Saints in Three ActsÂ in New York and Paris.Â Continue reading
“Lift Every Voice and Sing” â€” sometimes referred to as “The Negro National Hymn” or ” The Black National Anthem”â€” is a song written as a poem by James Weldon Johnson (1871 – 1938) in 1899 and set to music by his brother John Rosamond Johnson (1873 – 1954) in 1900.
“Lift Every Voice and Sing” was publicly performed first as a poem as part of a celebration of Lincoln’s Birthday on February 12, 1900, by 500 school children at the segregated Stanton School. Its principal, James Weldon Johnson, wrote the words to introduce its honored guest Booker T. Washington. The poem was later set to music by Johnson’s brother John in 1905.
In 1939, Augusta Savage received a commission from the World’s Fair and created a 16-foot plaster sculpture called Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing which was destroyed by bulldozers at the close of the fair. Continue reading
Born in 1915, Willie Dixon did more to shape Chicago Blues than nearly anyone else besides perhaps Muddy Waters. He was the ultimate all-around blues man, working as a bass player, compser, producer, arranger and bandleader..to name a few. He initially began a career as a boxer, even sparring with Joe Louis, but it only lasted four fights after an altercation with his manager ended his pro career.
In 1939 he formed The Five Breezes which played until 1941 when he was arrested for refusing to serve in the armed forces. During his term and after he got out, he continued writing, playing and producing music all the way until his death in 1992. He was and still is a major influence in his field.
Dixon was an indispensable â€œbehind-the-scenesâ€�Â� musician in the postwar Chicago blues scene. He was a notable songwriter, and his compositions for Muddy Waters, Howlinâ€™ Wolf, Little Walter, Koko Taylor, and Otis Rush became part of their signature repertoires.Â Continue reading