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Musician, singer. Moby was born as Richard Melville Hall on September 11, 1965, in Harlem, New York. However, his parents felt that such a grand name was unsuited for such a small, fragile child and instead decided to call him Moby, after the eponymous whale from Herman Melville's classic novel. In fact, as suggested by his middle name, Herman Melville is actually Moby's great-great-grand-uncle. "I've tried to read the book several times,
" Moby says of Moby Dick. "But I never quite got through it."
When Moby was born his mother, Elizabeth McBride Warner-Hall, was a student, and his father, James Hall, was a young lecturer in the chemistry department at Columbia University. Theirs was a troubled marriage and, when Moby's father died in an alcohol-related car crash in 1967, some hypothesized that the accident was a suicide. Moby was 2 years old when he lost his father and his mother, who was then only 23 years old, moved the family to Darien, Connecticut. There, his maternal grandparents could help raise him while his mother finished her college degree.
With his mother and grandmother both working full time, Moby was often left to his own devices. "I spent a lot of time by myself," he remembered. "And a lot of time was spent at my grandmother's house which was rambling and old and had big overgrown gardens, so there were a lot of places to get lost and entertain myself. I am grateful that as a little boy I had lots of strange and interesting places to play."
Moby also developed a love of music from a young age as was encouraged by his mother, who was an avid record collector and pianist. "She used to play me a lot of different stuff," Moby later said. "Some of it was very weird classical stuff, not the usual thing for a young child to listen to. But this became a huge influence on me when I was growing up." Moby started playing music himself at the age of 9, when he began classical guitar and music theory lessons. He attended Darien High School, where he and several friends formed a band called The Vatican Commandoes and released an EP entitled Hit Squad for God. Later in high school he joined another band, called Awol.
Upon graduating from high school in 1983, Moby attended the University of Connecticut to study philosophy. He dropped out after just one year, though, in order to pursue his budding music career full time. Throughout the mid-1980s Moby tried desperately to kick-start his music career. He worked at a record store in Darien; played in local bands like Caeli Soul and Gin Train; and started DJing for local nightclubs. It was as a DJ that Moby first started to achieve success, and he began performing gigs at a variety of nightclubs. In 1989, he moved to New York City and signed a contract with Instinct Records. He released his first single, "Mobility," in 1990 to limited acclaim. But it was his second single, "Go," that introduced Moby to mainstream audiences for the first time. "Go" became a Top 10 hit in the UK, and sent Moby on his way to becoming a key figure in electronic and dance music.
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When musicians land big fame, there typically comes a moment of reinvention in which the "rock star" identity is born. This new persona often requires a new name, a way to differentiate between the private and public versions of themselves. Musical monikers take different forms, from the simple, last-name changes aimed at boosting celebrity appeal—like Steven Tyler—to the glamorized version of a childhood nickname—like Jay-Z. Musicians' nicknames and aliases tend to take on an identity all their own over time, often becoming as full of personality as the artists they represent.
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