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Sonny Clay (1899-1972)
Sonny Clay was born in Texas in 1899 and moved to Phoenix, Arizona in 1908. As a teenager he played in bands around Phoenix before hitting the road in 1918. Clay traveled around the Southwest, playing drums or piano with various small groups in California, Arizona and Tijuana, Mexico. In Tijuana he played drums in Jelly Roll Morton’s Band.

Sometime around 1921 he moved to Los Angeles and played with Reb Spikes‘ and Kid Ory’s Original Creole Jazz Band. In the mid-1920s he put together his own band and landed a gig at the Plantation Club. This group recorded as Sonny Clay’s Plantation Orchestra and continued on at the club until 1927.

In January of 1928 Clay took his band to Australia to tour with an African-American vaudeville production called “Sonny Clay and the Colored Idea”. The troupe included dancers, vocals groups and a young singer named Ivie Anderson who would later became famous as a singer in the Duke Ellington Orchestra.

Sonny Clay 1899-1972The troupe got into trouble when African-American band members were accused of having inter-racial relationships with Australian women. All of the remaining Australian shows were cancelled after this incident and several members of “Sonny Clay and the Colored Idea” were deported. Clay’s band broke up right after the ill-fated Australian tour and returned to Los Angeles.

Sonny rebounded and put together a ten piece band that he called The Dixie Serenaders. This band played around the Los Angeles area for a few years before breaking up in the early 1930s. Clay continued to perform as a solo pianist in clubs around Los Angeles up until World War II. During the war he enlisted in the army and was a bandleader in the Special Services Division. After the war he returned to solo club work. Clay left show business in the late 1940s to work at the Post Office. In the late 1950s he once again returned to solo club work. Sonny Clay died sometime around 1972.

Sonny Clay (1899-1972)

Sonny Clay’s Plantation Orchestra California Poppies
The Stompin’ Six The Dixie Serenaders

Sonny Clay (1899-1972)

Title Recording Date Recording Location Company
Gang of Blues 1925 Los Angeles, California Triumph
Mama Likes To Do It 1922 Los Angeles, California unreleased test
Punishing the Piano 1925 Los Angeles, California Triumph

accompanied by

Artist Instrument
Camille Allen Vocals


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