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Music: Biographical Information

Basic Biographical Sources

There are countless sources for biographical information. In addition to the sources cited below, also check the sources listed under the tab "Encyclopedias and Dictionaries."

American Songwriters
Main Library Reference ML 390 .E825 1987
One hundred and forty six of the composers and lyricists who created the landmarks of the American popular song -- from Stephen Foster to Bruce Springsteen. Spans 200 years.
 
Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, Centennial ed.
Main Library Reference ML 105 .B16 2001
The most authoritative biographical dictionary in the field. Entries include a brief biography and a list of writings and/or compositions. For 34 years (1958-1992), Baker's was under the editorship of the late Nicolas Slonimsky, who set a standard for reference scholarship.
 
Biographical Dictionary of Afro-American and African Musicians
Main Library Reference ML 105 .S67
According to the preface, "draws together widely dispersed and, in many instances, heretofore unpublished information on more than 1,500 musicians of African descent...."
 
Contains biographical information on over 500,000 individuals from all time periods, geographical locations, and fields of endeavor. The advanced search option allows searching for people based on one or more personal facts, such as occupation (which includes such categories as "Composer," "Concert singer," "Conductor," "Pianist," etc.).

Contemporary Musicians: Profiles of the People in Music
Main Library General Collection ML 197 .C761
Profiles popular musicians and musical groups, although some classical performers are included. Each two- to three-page entry contains a biographical sketch, often a portrait of the musician or group, a discography, and bibliography of further sources of information. The biographies in this set are available online in the Biography in Context database (above).

Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television
Main Library General Collection PN 2012 .W5
An ongoing biographical reference series providing brief biographical information and credits of performers, directors, writers, producers, designers, technicians, composers, executives, and critics in the United States and Great Britain. The biographies in this set are available online in the Biography in Context database (above).
 
International Dictionary of Black Composers
Main Library Reference ML 105 .I5 1999
Provides information about composers of African heritage from around the world. The two volumes contain biographical sketches, list of compositions, bibliographies, and critical essays about the composers and some of their most important works.

The Lives of the Great Composers
Main Library General Collection ML 390 .S393 1997
Biographical chapters on the most significant composers of Western music, beginning with Monteverdi and proceeding through Bach, Mozart, Wagner, Stravinsky, Bartok, Messiaen, and ending with the post-1945 era (Cage, Carter, Stockhausen, et al.). See also other monographs by the author, Harold C. Schonberg, former music critic for The New York Times: The Glorious Ones: Classical Music's Legendary Performers (Main Library General Collection ML 394 .S393 1985), The Great Conductors (Main Library General Collection ML 402 .S387 G7), and The Great Pianists (Main Library General Collection ML 397 .S3 1987).

In addition to over 60,000 online recordings of classical music from all periods and genres, this database provides brief biographical sketches of many composers and artists.

The Norton/Grove Dictionary of Women Composers
Main Library General Collection ML 105 .N67 1994
Entries on nearly 900 women composers writing in the Western classical tradition. Most entries contain a brief biography, a list of works, and a bibliography. There also is a chronology of women composers from the seventh century to the twentieth.
 
World Musicians
Main Library Reference ML 385 .W67 1999
Profiles approximately 500 of the world’s most renowned and accomplished living performers, composers, conductors, and band leaders in musical genres from opera to hip-hop. Roughly 2,500 words in length, each article sketches a subject’s life, describes their work and its significance to its genre, and includes commentary from critics.

Choosing Biographical Sources

There are several aspects to consider when you are looking for biographical information and choosing a source.

> What type of information do you need? Basic information (e.g., birth and death dates) or an in-depth essay about the person with a list of other resources to consult?

> Do you want direct information about the person or do you want a list of resources to consult?

> Is the person you are researching living or dead?

> In what field (politics, business, writing) is/was this person active?

Read the brief descriptions of the available sources with these questions in mind and you'll be more likely to choose a source that will suit your needs.