Louis Armstrong

Herbert Behrens / Anefo, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

American Trumpeter and Singer • August 4, 1901- July 6, 1971 • American Jazz

Fast Facts

  • Born in New Orleans, Louisiana and then moved to Chicago and settled in Queens, New York.
  • He began to play the cornet under the direction of Peter Davis when he was 11 years old. 
  • Known as the “Father of Jazz Music,” his career spanned over five decades from the 1920’s to the 1960’s.
  • Best known for his improvisational skills, scat singing, trumpet playing, compositional skills and stage presence.
  • He was in movies, appeared on TV, on radio shows, in night clubs, theatres, dance halls and was a world famous entertainer. 
  • He would perform up to 300 live shows a year on average.
  • The music of Hot Seven and Hot Five catapulted Armstrong to jazz fame in the 1920’s.
  • Entered into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990 for “early influence.”
  • Several songs have been included in the Grammy Hall of Fame for their importance including “Mack the Knife,” “Hello Dolly,” and “What a Wonderful World.”

Anat Cohen

Photo used with permission from David Margolis. Credit: Shervin Lainez

Israeli Clarinetist, Saxophonist, Composer, and BandleaderBorn in 1979Jazz and Post-Bop

Fast Facts

  • Born in Tel Aviv, Israel
  • Plays the clarinet and saxophone
  • Studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA
  • Currently lives in New York City
  • Served in the Israeli military and performed in the Israeli Air Force band
  • Began her career touring with an all-woman big band called the Diva Orchestra 
  • Founder and bandleader of the Anat Cohen Tentet
  • Declared Clarinetist of the Year by the Jazz Journalists Association every year since 2007
  • Heavily influenced by Brazilian music and Latin traditions
  • Performs and records with her brothers, trumpeter Avishai Cohen and saxophonist Yuval Cohen

Buena Vista Social Club

Ice Boy Tell, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

Vocals, guitar, bass, percussion, trumpet, piano • Active 1996-2015 • Cuban music: Son Cubano, bolero, guajira, danzón

Fast Facts

  • Musical group of iconic Cuban musicians, some pulled out of retirement, brought together to record an album in 1996
  • The Buena Vista Social Club was a revival of pre-revolutionary sound.
  • Original Buena Vista Social Club included Joaquim Cooder (percussion and drums), Alberto ‘Virgilio’ Valdéz (maracas and backing vocals), Compay Segundo (vocals and guitar; deceased), Omara Portuondo (vocals), Eliades Ochoa (guitar and vocals), Manuel ‘Guajiro’ Mirabal (trumpet), Orlando ‘Cachaíto’ López (bass; deceased), Manuel ‘Puntillita’ Licea (vocals; deceased), Rubén González (piano; deceased), Juan de Marcos González (bandleader, backing vocals), Ibrahim Ferrer (vocals; deceased), and Ry Cooder (guitars)
  • Album project was initiated by American guitarist Ry Cooder, executive Nick Gold, and bandleader Juan de Marcos González
  • Ensemble was named after the Buena Vista Social Club of the 1940s, a sociedad de negros (Black club), when clubs were racially segregated
  • Album was initially supposed to be a group of Malian artists recording an Afro-Cuban album. Passports didn’t come through so musicians were unable to travel; Ry Cooder decided to shift the focus to Buena Vista Social Club
  • Album was recorded in just six days and became an instant hit, becoming the highest selling Cuban album ever; a world tour followed its release
  • Film director Wim Wenders directed a documentary about how the group came together at his friend Ry Cooder’s urging

Heitor Villa-Lobos

Villa-Lobos at the end of a concert in Tel Aviv, 1952, Fritz Cohen, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Brazilian Composer, Conductor, Cellist & Classical Guitarist • March 5, 1887-November 17, 1959 • 20th Century Brazilian Art Music

Fast Facts

  • Heitor Villa-Lobos is often considered the most important 20th century composer of classical music from South America
  • He was born in Rio de Janeiro, where he learned to play the cello, clarinet, and classical guitar from his father
  • Villa-Lobos’ wife, Lucilia Guimaraes, taught him how to play the piano
  • His compositional style is influenced by both European classical music and Brazilian folk music
  • He composed operas, ballets, symphonies, concertos, symphonic suites, and solo pieces 
  • He composed music for the 1945 film Green Mansions starring Audrey Hepburn
  • In 1930 Villa-Lobos was made director of music education in Rio de Janeiro and later founded the Brazilian Academy of Music
  • He designed a complete system of musical instruction for generations of Brazilians, deeply rooted in patriotism and  based upon Brazil’s rich musical culture
  • One of his most famous works, Bachianas Brasileiras, is a cycle of 9 suites that fuses the Baroque style of JS Bach with Brazilian folk music.

Ravi Shankar

Markgoff2972, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

Indian Sitar Player and Composer • April 7, 1920 – December 11, 2012 • North Indian Classical

Fast Facts

  • Ravi Shankar is known as The Godfather of World Music.
  • He began his performing career at age 10, touring Europe with his brother’s dance troupe.
  • At age 18, Shankar chose to return to India and spent the next seven years learning to play the sitar.
  • Shankar was a strong proponent of North Indian classical music, but was also known for composing concertos, ballads, film scores, and ragas.
  • He is the father of Anoushka Shankar and Norah Jones, who are both accomplished performers and composers.
  • He gained international popularity after teaching and inspiring George Harrison of The Beatles.
  • Ravi Shankar founded the National Orchestra of India.
  • He served as the music director of All-India Radio for eight years prior to beginning his European and American tours.
  • During his time at All-India Radio, Shankar began composing works that combined traditional Indian instruments with instruments of the western classical orchestra.
  • Shankar was the recipient of four Grammy Awards as well as the organization’s Lifetime Achievement award.

Norah Jones

By Yaffa Phillips, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

American singer, songwriter, and pianistBorn 1979Jazz, Pop, Folk, Country

Fast Facts

  • Born in New York, New York
  • Birth name: Geethali Norah Jones Shankar
  • Daughter of an American concert producer and Indian sitar virtuoso
  • Family includes prominent musicians Ravi Shankar, father, and half-sister Anoushka Shankar
  • Grew up with her mother in Texas and was inspired by her mother’s diverse record collection
  • At age five began singing in church choir
  • In high school won three Student Music Awards from the jazz magazine, DownBeat.
  • Influenced by singers Etta James, Aretha Franklin, and Billie Holiday
  • Left college and moved to Manhattan to be a part of the jazz club scene
  • Some music critics downplayed her early fame as hype and criticized her musical style
  • Her debut album went on to earn five Grammy Awards and sold more than twenty million copies
  • An active supporter of a number of charities, including Iraq Veterans Against the War, Stand Up To Cancer, and United for Peace and Justice

Berry Gordy

Photo by Kingkongphoto & http://www.celebrity-photos.com from Laurel Maryland, USA – Berry Gordy, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=74775610

American Record Producer and Songwriter • Born November 28, 1929 • Motown / R&B

Fast Facts

  • Gordy worked at the Lincoln-Mercury plant and got the idea to produce records in an assembly line style.
  • Berry Gordy started Motown Records on January 12, 1959. He used an $800 family loan to get started.
  • Motown is named after the nickname for Detroit, “Motor City.”
  • Gordy thought about songwriting at all hours of the day, and even called up Smokey Robinson at 3:00 am to re-record a track!
  • Gordy had “Quality Control” meetings and only the very best recordings made it to the market.
  • Gordy’s assembly line production style included songwriting, recording, costumes, choreography, and stage presence. 
  • Motown artists toured the segregated south in the 1960s where they saw and experienced racial violence.
  • Motown Records were produced from 1959 through the 1980s.

Popular Motown Artists

  • Smokey Robinson, songwriter
  • Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting team
  • Diana Ross and the Supremes
  • The Temptations
  • The Four Tops
  • Martha and the Vandellas
  • Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell
  • Jackson 5

Richard Hagopian

Photo by Alice Daniel of Valley Public Radio (KVPR). Re-used with permission.

Armenian-American Oud Player • Born 1937 • “Kef” Music

Fast Facts

  • Born in Fowler, California.
  • His parents fled from Armenia to the United States after the Armenian Genocide of 1915.
  • Began on violin when he was 9 and clarinet when he was 10
  • Switched to oud when he was 11.
  • Began lessons and study of traditional Armenian music at age 13 with teacher Kanuni Garbis Bakirgian.
  • Helped form Kef Time Band in 1963 to play “Kef,” or traditional Armenian dance music. 
  • A typical kef band includes the oud, doumbeg, kanun, clarinet, and electric bass.
  • In 1969 given the title “Oudi,” or oud master by Oudi Hrant.

Cynthia Erivo

By Rhododendrites – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=68661065 

English (UK) Singer, Songwriter, Actor, Dancer • Born January 8th, 1987 • Musical Theater, R&B, Soul

Fast Facts

  • Cynthia’s Full name is: Cynthia Onyedinmanasu Chinasaokwu Erivo.
  • Her parents immigrated to the UK from Nigeria.
  • Cynthia first started performing at the age of 11.
  • Erivo is one Oscar Award away from becoming the 16th person ever to complete an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony!)
  • Cynthia has starred in The Color Purple on Broadway, Sister Act The Musical, The Last Five Years, and more! 
  • Her most recent debut was in the movie Harriet, a movie that followed the life of the abolitionist Harriet Tubman.

Ranky Tanky

Ranky Tanky Thursday Showcases Womex 2018  by Eric van Nieuwland, licensed under CC by 2.0

American Singer, Guitarist, Bassist, Trumpetest, and Percussionist • Band formed in 2016 • Jazz, Gullah Music

Fast Facts

  • Ranky Tanky was formed in 2016 by 4 musicians who had previously played in a jazz quartet after college in 1998. 
  • The band reunited with the vision of creating a new sound inspired by the history of their home in South Carolina and added Quiana Parler as their vocalist. 
  • The ensemble focuses on jazz-influenced arrangements from Gullah culture, who were descended from enslaved people in the lowcountry of the southeast and the nearby Sea Islands. 
  • “Ranky Tanky” is a Gullah saying roughly translating to “work it” or “get funky”
  • Debuted their first full-length album Ranky Tanky in 2017 and their second album Good Time in 2019.
  • Ranky Tanky was awarded a Grammy for Best Regional Roots Album in 2020 for their album Good Time.
  • Performed at the Biden/Harris “We are One” inaugural event.