Trombonist Sonny Helmer has died

Sonny HelmerTrombonist Sonny Helmer died on May 25th, he was 90 years old. Helmer was a veteran of the Korean War, a member of the 392nd Army Band. Known throughout his career for on stage antics he was at it early winning an award while in the Army for playing 12th Street Rag on the trombone with his foot. His seventy years in music included a concert with Louis Armstrong. He also played with early names like Harry James and Tommy Dorsey. As his career developed he played trombone with Al Hirt, led a band in Jackie Gleason’s night club for five years, worked for the Ed Sullivan show and spent ten years leading bands at Disney parks. Through his work at Disneyland with his Class of ’27 band he became an influence and friend to many of today’s traditional jazz stars. He also came to know many famous people including Woody Allen, Buddy Rich, and Wilt Chamberlain

He wrote an “as told to” autobiography, Everything Happens to Me! The ‘almost famous’ Sonny Helmer Story, recounting all of his adventures in music and later in the antique dealing that became his love during retirement. On the final page of his book, he writes, “When I say that everything happens to me, I don’t want to leave the impression it has been a bad life – it’s been great!”

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Joe Bebco is the Associate Editor of The Syncopated Times and Webmaster of

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