Jazz Birthday of the Month

  • Red Norvo Joseph Kenneth Norville, aka Red Norvo, was born March 31, 1908 in Beardstown, Illinois. Young Kenneth had piano instruction in childhood, but his deep interest in music lay dormant until he chanced to hear a marimba player, Wentworth Woodworth. Woodworth, who belonged to the same college fraternity as one of Kenneth’s brothers, allowed him to ...
  • Ella Fitzgerald Ella Jane Fitzgerald was born one hundred years ago this month on April 25, 1917 in Newport News, Virginia. Ella moved with her mother and stepfather to Yonkers, New York in the early 1920s. She was a good student, somewhat musically inclined—and enjoyed hearing records by Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby in her early teens. ...
  • Lee Wiley Lee Wiley was born October 9, 1908, in Fort Gibson, Oklahoma. While still in grade school, she aspired to be a singer. Into her teens, she would seek out recordings by Bessie Smith, Clara Smith, and Ethel Waters, often venturing into shops in black neighborhoods to hear them. She managed to find employment on a ...
  • Artie Shaw Arthur Jacob Arshawsky, better known as Artie Shaw, was born on May 23, 1910 in New York City, but grew up in New Haven, Connecticut. At age 13, Shaw used the money he earned working in a grocery store to buy a saxophone; three years later he switched to clarinet. A brilliant and determined scholar, ...
  • James Melvin “Jimmie” Lunceford James Melvin “Jimmie” Lunceford was born June 6, 1902 on a farm near Fulton, Mississippi. His family moved to Oklahoma City before Jimmie was a year old. The Luncefords eventually settled in Denver, where he went to high school and received instruction in music from Wilberforce J. Whiteman, the father of bandleader Paul Whiteman. Under ...
  • Charles Melvin “Cootie” Williams Charles Melvin “Cootie” Williams was born in Mobile, Alabama, on either July 24, 1908 (according to Encyclopedia Britannica) or July 10, 1911 (according to Wikipedia). His nickname came about when his father took him to a band concert. After the concert, when his father asked young Charles what he’d heard, he replied, “Cootie, cootie, cootie.” ...
  • James Andrew Rushing James Andrew Rushing was born in Oklahoma City on August 26, 1901. Born into a musical family, he studied music theory at Oklahoma City’s Douglass High School, and furthered his studies at Wilberforce University. Jimmy worked mainly as a pianist in the Midwest and in California until, as he remembered it, the featured singer at ...
  • Anderson Meade “Lux” Lewis Image faked in a pinch because of an email snafu. Read about it here. Gary Price will be back with a new illustration next month. Anderson Meade “Lux” Lewis was born on September 4, 1905 in Chicago, Illinois. Meade took some lessons on violin at the behest of his father, who was a musician in his own ...
  • Annette Hanshaw Illustration by Gary Price: Catherine Annette Hanshaw was born October 18, 1901, in New York City. Born into a relatively well-to-do family, she sang at hotels owned by her father and demonstrated sheet music at the family-owned music store in Mount Kisco, New York. Her professional music career was launched when Annette was paid to sing at ...
  • Edward Otha South Illustration by Gary Price Edward Otha South was born in Louisiana, Missouri, on November 27, 1904. His family relocated to Chicago while Eddie was a child, and there his prodigious musical ability was discovered and encouraged. He received classical instruction on the violin, first with a private tutor and later at the Chicago College of Music ...
  • Willard Robison Illustration by Gary Price: Willard Robison was born in Shelbina, Missouri, on September 18, 1894. His country upbringing and exposure to religion had a profound influence on his songwriting. He heard and assimilated black spirituals, and created his own songs in a similar vein: gentle celebrations of the human spirit, shorn of all reference to Hellfire ...
  • James Fletcher Hamilton Henderson, Jr. Illustration by Gary Price James Fletcher Hamilton Henderson, Jr., was born in Cuthbert, Georgia, on December 18, 1897. His parents were both educators, and his mother gave him and his brother Horace piano instruction from an early age. By adolescence, he was a proficient sight-reader and had developed near-perfect pitch. Despite his obvious musical ability, he ...
  • Bulee “Slim” Gaillard Illustration by Gary Price Bulee “Slim” Gaillard was born on January 4, 1916 in Detroit, Michigan—according to some sources. Other sources (including Gaillard himself) indicate that he was born in Santa Clara, Cuba—or in Burnt Corn, Alabama. They also suggest different birth dates for Gaillard—and different names, including “Buller Gillard” and even “Theophilus Rothchild.” Gaillard’s parents ...
  • Mildred Bailey Jazz Birthday of the Month Illustration by Gary Price Mildred Eleanor Rinker was born February 16, 1900 (according to researcher Albert Haim), in Tekoa, Washington. Her mother, Josephine, was a member of the Coeur d’Alene tribe; her father was of Swiss-German lineage. Both parents were musically inclined and the influence extended to her brothers Al (a pianist ...
  • Charles Ellsworth “Pee Wee” Russell Jazz Birthday of the Month Illustration by Gary Price Charles Ellsworth “Pee Wee” Russell was born March 27, 1906, in Maplewood, Missouri. He spent his childhood in Muskogee, Oklahoma, where he variously studied violin, piano, and drums. It wasn’t until he heard New Orleans reedman Alcide Nunez playing at a local dance that he decided on the ...
  • Bessie Smith Jazz Birthday of the Month Illustration by Gary Price Bessie Smith was born April 15, 1894, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Her father died shortly after Bessie was born, and her mother, who worked as a laundress to support her six children, died while Bessie was still a child. Her oldest sister, Viola, took over the burden of raising ...
  • Orie Frank Trumbauer Jazz Birthday of the Month Illustration by Gary Price Orie Frank Trumbauer was born on May 30, 1901, in Carbondale, Illinois. The family moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where Frank’s mother directed theater orchestras. Frank studied violin, and tried trombone and piano, before deciding on reed instruments—most famously the C melody saxophone. He would also go on ...
  • Lemuel Eugene Austin Lemuel Eugene Lucas was born in Gainesville, Texas, on June 24, 1900. Early on, his mother Belle, divorced Eugene’s father, Nova Lucas. She shortly thereafter married a blacksmith named Jim Austin, who insisted the boy take his last name. Music was not encouraged in the Austin household, and Gene Austin instead learned songs from “professors” playing ...
  • Jazz Birthday of the Month: Ivie Marie Anderson Illustration by Gary Price Ivie Marie Anderson was born July 10, 1904, most likely in Bossier Parish, Louisiana, though she grew up in Gilroy, California. Ivie studied at St.Mary’s convent school in Gilroy until age thirteen. She spent two years in Washington D.C. at the National Training School for Women and Girls, where she seems to ...
  • Louis Daniel Armstrong Jazz Birthday of the Month Illustration by Gary Price Louis Daniel Armstrong was born on August 4, 1901, in New Orleans, Louisiana, according to baptismal records discovered in the mid-1980s. (Armstrong himself maintained that he had been born on July 4, 1900.) Growing up severely impoverished in the Battlefield section of New Orleans, Louis was taken under the ...