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Tony Jackson
(June 5, 1876 - April 20, 1920) U.S.A.

Tony Jackson

Composer, musician, singer, and pianist

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Anthony (or Antonio) Jackson, best known as Tony Jackson, Jackson was born to a poor African American family in uptown New Orleans, Louisiana. He showed musical talents at a young age. At about the age of 10 he constructed a type of crude but working and properly tuned harpsichord out of junk in his back yard, since his family lacked the money to buy or rent a piano.

Tony JacksonOn this contraption young Tony was able to reproduce hymns he heard in church; news of this accomplishment soon spread around the neighborhood and he was offered use of neighbors' pianos and reed organs to practice on. Jackson got his first musical job at age 13, when he began playing piano during off hours at a Tonk run by bandleader Adam Olivier. By age 15 was already considered by many musicians the best pianist in town.

Jackson became the most popular and sought after entertainer in Storyville. He was said to be able to remember and play any and every tune he had heard once, and was hardly ever stumped by obscure requests. His repertory included ragtime, cakewalks, popular songs of the day, blues, and light classics.

His singing voice was also exceptional, and he was said to be able to sing operatic parts from baritone to soprano range. Fellow musicians and singers were universal in their praise of Jackson, most calling him "the world's greatest single-handed entertainer". Jackson also wrote many original tunes, a number of which he sold rights to for a few dollars or were simply stolen from him; some of the old time New Orleans musicians said that some well known Tin Pan Alley pop tunes of the era were actually written by Jackson.

More than Jackson's music was copied. Jackson dressed himself with a pearl gray derby, checkered vest, ascot tie with a diamond stick-pin, with garters on his arms to hold up his sleves as he played. This became a standard outfit for ragtime and barrelhouse pianists.

Jackson moved to Chicago in 1912. One of the few tunes published with Jackson's name on it, Pretty Baby came out in 1916, although he was remembered performing the song before he left New Orleans. The original lyrics of Pretty Baby were said to refer to his male lover of the time. Jackson was resident performer at the De Luxe and Pekin Cafes in Chicago, although in his later years his voice and dexterity were impared by disease, probably syphilis. He died in Chicago.

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