Collection Items

  • Article
    Biographies - The Library of Congress Celebrates the Songs of America - Digital Collections Short biographies are available for some of the many composers, lyricists, performers, conductors, field collectors, and folklorists who have played a part in the history of American songs.
  • Biography
    Stephen Collins Foster, 1826-1864 As one of America's principal and most influential songwriters, Stephen Foster shares his birthday with that of the nation. Born on 4 July 1826 in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, Foster revealed an early interest in music but received little formal training. Primarily self-taught, Foster displayed an affinity for "Ethiopian" and minstrel songs (he performed in minstrel shows as a boy), yet he also incorporated...
  • Biography
    Charles Griffes,1884-1920 Although not a household name, Charles Tomlinson Griffes played an important role in the development of the American art song. Griffes possessed one of the most distinctive voices in American music, and his song catalog, while moderate in size, demonstrated his unique ability to fuse music and text, especially in his mature songs. It is regrettable that he suffered an untimely death, at the...
  • Biography
    Francis Hopkinson, 1737-1791 Francis Hopkinson has been acknowledged as a signer of the Declaration of Independence; a jurist; an inventor; an artist; an essayist; a scholar; a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania's first class (1757); an organist; a psalmodist; and a harpsichordist. In addition to these talents, Hopkinson is also credited as America's first poet-composer, and his song "My Days have been so Wondrous Free" (1759)...
  • Biography
    Charles Ives, 1874-1954 To hear the music of composer Charles Ives is to hear a unique voice in American music, and indeed, in Western music as a whole. His work is at once iconoclastic and closely tied to his musical heritage; in its conception and form, both staggeringly complex and immediately accessible; and in its musical language, both universal and distinctly American.
  • Biography
    Ernst Bacon, 1898-1990 Ernst Bacon, composer, pianist, and conductor was born on May 26, 1898. He was the son of Maria von Rosthorn Bacon, a Viennese-trained musician, and Dr. Charles S. Bacon. He studied at Northwestern University, the University of Chicago, and the University of California, and also privately with Alexander Raab, Glenn Dillard Gunn, Ernest Bloch, and Karl Weigl. Among the numerous awards and grants he...
  • Biography
    Leonard Bernstein, 1918-1990 Biography. Leonard Bernstein's engagement with, and contributions to, the musical culture of his time was as remarkable for its breadth of perspective as for its depth of commitment. His contributions as a composer, conductor, teacher and writer – all performed with seemingly limitless energy, enthusiasm and insight – earned for Bernstein the notoriety of being, during his lifetime, the most public figure in the...
    • Contributor: Bernstein, Leonard
  • Biography
    Charles Martin Loeffler, 1861-1935 Although he claimed Alsatian birth, recent scholarship suggests that Charles Martin Loeffler was born in Germany. His parents, Karl Löffler and Helene Schwerdtmann, were natives of Berlin and were married there on 6 December 1857. Furthermore, a student record at the Hochschule für Musik indicates that Loeffler was born in Schöneberg bei Berlin. That Loeffler seemingly falsified his birthplace is proof of his hostility...
  • Biography
    Walter Damrosch, 1862-1950 A member of one of America's foremost families of musicians (often dubbed by scholars as the "Damrosch dynasty"), Walter Damrosch was the second child and youngest son of Leopold and Helene Damrosch. The patriarch of this prestigious musical family, Leopold (1832-1885), was a distinguished composer and conductor who had served as the lead violinist in the court orchestra at Weimar, an appointment bestowed on...
  • Biography
    Arthur Farwell (1872-1952) Biography. Although Arthur Farwell did not intend to pursue a professional career in music, he became one of America's most influential composers, with over 100 compositions to his name. He is best known for his works based on Native American themes; however, he also used cowboy tunes, African-American spirituals, and Spanish-Californian melodies as the basis of his compositions. Initially, his musical style reflected a...
  • Biography
    H. T. Burleigh (1866-1949) Biography. Although his name is relatively unknown, Harry Thacker Burleigh (named Henry after his father) played a significant role in the development of American art song, having composed over two hundred works in the genre. He was the first African-American composer acclaimed for his concert songs as well as for his adaptations of African-American spirituals. In addition, Burleigh was an accomplished baritone, a meticulous...
  • Biography
    Scott Joplin, 1868-1917 Biography. Biography. Scott Joplin's is the name perhaps most associated with ragtime. Born sometime between the summer of 1867 and mid-January 1868, Joplin's career took him from a modest homestead on the Texas-Arkansas border to New York's Tin Pan Alley New York City, where he would eventually try his luck with composers like a young Irving Berlin. Although he continued composing until just before...
  • Biography
    Ben Harney, 1872-1938 Biography. Biography. Ben R. Harney has been credited as the musician who did the most to introduce ragtime to audiences throughout the world. Born in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1871, Harney's racial origins have long been debated. Some people, among them Eubie Blake, claimed that he was a black man passing as white. Others maintained that Harney was a white man so thoroughly inspired by...
  • Biography
    John Stark, 1841-1927 Biography. Biography. John Stillwell Stark was born in Kentucky in 1841. His family moved to Indiana, where he grew up on a farm.
  • Biography
    Joseph Lamb, 1887-1960 Biography. Biography. Joseph Lamb was born in Montclair, New Jersey, in December 1877. A family man who was an anomaly in the contemporary music world, Lamb shunned the ups and downs of show business for a steady job in business. Nevertheless, Lamb is remembered alongside Scott Joplin and James Scott as one of the three great ragtime proponents.
  • Biography
    James Scott, 1885-1938 Biography. Biography. Born in Neosho, Missouri, in February 1885, James Scott was the son of former slaves. After taking music lessons as a boy, he was given his first piano at the age of 16. Scott spent the next several years playing in bands and saloons and working as a song-plugger for the Dumars Music Company in Carthage, Missouri. This relationship led to Dumars'...
  • Biography
    May Aufderheide, 1888-1972 Biography. Biography. The participation of women in the world of ragtime should not come as a great surprise. May Aufderheide was perhaps the most famous woman to pen rags. A finishing school graduate, she was born in Indianapolis in May 1890. She learned to play the classics on the piano from her aunt May Kolmer, a noted musician, and was treated to the best...
  • Biography
    Will Accooe (d. 1904) Biography. Biography. Will Accooe (18??-1904) was an important songwriter during the birth of the black musical. By 1896, Accooe was working as musical director for John Isham's Octoroons, a successful and popular quasi-minstrel troupe. At the Nashville Exposition of 1897 his "Tennessee Centennial March" was one of the biggest hits of the approximately 450 compositions by black composers played by E. C. Brown in...
  • Biography
    Alton A. Adams Biography. Biography. Alton Augustus Adams, born in the Virgin Islands in 1889, remains an iconic figure there. When the United States took over the islands in 1917, the new governor appointed Adams chief musician. The band that Adams assembled entered the U.S. Navy as a unit, making Adams the first black bandmaster to serve in the U.S. Navy. He composed a great deal of...
  • Biography
    Maurice Arnold, 1865-1937 Biography. Biography. Maurice Arnold was one of many African-American students of Antonin Dvorak during Dvorak's 1894 stay in the United States. Arnold participated in Dvorak's famous January 23, 1894, concert at the National Conservatory of Music in New York City. Arnold's four "American Plantation Dances" were performed at the conservatory and garnered him a small measure of fame. He was also the author of...
  • Biography
    Eubie Blake, 1883-1983 Biography. Biography. Eubie Blake was one of the most important figures in early-20th-century African-American music, and one whose longevity made him a storehouse of the history of ragtime and early jazz music and culture. Born in Baltimore in 1883, Blake began playing piano professionally when he was 16; he wrote his first composition, "Sounds of Africa," (later retitled "Charleston Rag") around the same time....
  • Biography
    J. Tim Brymn, 1881-1946 Biography. Biography. James Tim Brymn (1881-1946) was another talented musician and songwriter who took advantage of the rise of the black musical to expand the range of black music. Born in Kingston, North Carolina, Brymn was educated at Shaw University and the National Conservatory of Music in New York
  • Biography
    Bob Cole, 1868-1911 Biography. Biography. Robert Allen Cole was born on July 1, 1868, in Athens, Georgia, the son of former slaves. Like Will Marion Cook and James Reese Europe, he became one of the most important composers of his generation, creating a model for other African-American musicians and composers. By 1891 Cole was a member of Jack's Creoles, a black minstrel company based in Chicago. Within...
  • Biography
    Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, 1875-1912 Biography. Biography. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was born in Croydon, England, on August 15, 1875. His father, a doctor from Sierra Leone, was forced to return to his home country around the time of Samuel's birth because he was not permitted to practice medicine in England. Samuel remained in England with his mother.
  • Biography
    Will Marion Cook (1869-1944) Biography. Biography. Biography. One of the most important figures in pre-jazz African-American music, Will Marion Cook is also one of its better known personalities. As a composer, conductor, performer, teacher, and producer, he had his hand in nearly every aspect of the black music of his time and worked with nearly every other important musician in his fields. Uncompromising and difficult to work with,...