(b New Orleans, LA, March 25, 1897; d New Orleans, Jan 28, 1983). American pianist, singer, and bandleader. The daughter of the Civil War veteran and Louisiana state senator W.B. Barrett, she learned piano by ear as a child and was playing professionally by her early teens. She never learned to read music and worked almost exclusively in New Orleans. During the 1920s Barrett played with many of the uptown New Orleans groups, including those led by Papa Celestin, Armand Piron, and John Robichaux. In the following decade she worked most often with Bebe Ridgley, with whom she developed a local following that subsequently brought her success at the Happy Landing from 1949 and the Paddock Lounge during the late 1950s. It was at this time that she became known as Sweet Emma the Bell Gal because of her habit of wearing garters with bells attached that created a tambourine-like effect as she played. In ...
John L. Clark
Charles E. Kinzer
(b New Orleans, LA, April 12, 1892; d Chicago, IL, Aug 8, 1940). American jazz clarinetist and bandleader, brother of Baby Dodds. He was raised in a mixed neighborhood in uptown New Orleans, where his father played fiddle and his mother played Baptist hymns on a reed organ as the family sang. Following his mother’s death in 1904, the family moved to Waveland, Missouri. Dodds played tin whistle before taking up clarinet in 1908. He returned to New Orleans soon thereafter and absorbed influences from brass band clarinetists, including Alphonse Picou and Lorenzo Tio Jr. His first professional work came in 1912, when he joined Kid Ory’s band at Globe Hall. He remained with Ory until 1919, performing alongside King Oliver and Louis Armstrong. Dodds is said to have taken lessons in the late 1910s, perhaps to improve his reading, and he worked briefly with Oliver’s Magnolia Band and Papa Celestin’s Tuxedo Orchestra during the same period before leaving the city to tour with Mack’s Merrymakers. In ...
(b Hudsonville, MS, July 28, 1930; d Holly Springs, MS, Jan 17, 1998). American Bluesman, bandleader, and juke joint owner. He began playing guitar as a youth in northern Mississippi and developed a fiercely independent playing style marked by constant droning bass notes articulated by the thumb, leaving the other fingers free to play melodies in the middle and upper ranges. His music is characterized by its hypnotic and droning quality and seldom adheres to traditional harmonic frameworks. A lack of recognizable harmonic direction and the use of a limited melodic vocabulary give Kimbrough’s music a modal character, and the prominent use of syncopation and polyrhythm firmly root it in the African American tradition.
Kimbrough recorded only sporadically throughout the majority of his career. In 1992, Fat Possum Records released his debut album All Night Long and around the same time he opened his juke joint “Junior’s Place” in Chulahoma, Mississippi, where he would play regularly with his band the Soul Blue Boys. Following the success of ...
[Andrew Dewey ]
(b Newport, KY, May 28, 1898; d New York, NY, Dec 11, 1992). American jazz saxophonist and bandleader. He spent his childhood in Denver, where he studied piano, singing, alto saxophone, and music theory with Paul Whiteman’s father, Wilberforce Whiteman, among others. In 1918 he joined George Morrison’s orchestra as a bass saxophonist and tuba player. Around 1927 he moved to Dallas, where he joined Terrence Holder’s Dark Clouds of Joy orchestra; he assumed its leadership in 1929. In that year he transferred the band to Kansas City, Missouri, where it was known as the Clouds of Joy (among other related titles), rivaled Bennie Moten’s band, and made its first recordings (1929–30). From 1930 he made several nationwide tours, although the band continued to be based primarily in Kansas City. The success of “Until the Real Thing Comes along” (1936, Decca) established the band’s lasting popularity. Until the group disbanded in ...
Bryan S. Wright
(b Tamaqua, PA, May 1868; d Miami, FL, Sept 30, 1933). American Bandleader and composer. Born to a German immigrant cigar maker and his American-born wife, Krell began musical training as a child, studying both brass instruments and piano. In his teens he led local bands, writing arrangements for them. He moved to Chicago sometime around 1890, where he married and began leading a touring band professionally. His first published composition, “Our Carter: A Beautiful Ballad” (with Silas Leachman), appeared in 1893, dedicated to the recently assassinated Chicago mayor, Carter Harrison Sr. In the seven years that followed, Krell published an additional 16 pieces, mostly waltzes, marches, or cakewalks. He is best remembered for his “Mississippi Rag,” copyrighted 27 January 1897, which is the earliest copyrighted piece designated “Rag” in the title. The piece does not follow the classic AABBACCDD piano rag form, but like many early so-called rags, it strings together several lightly syncopated melodic strains in imitation of a “cakewalk patrol.” Krell evokes the sound of a passing parade band, beginning with a quiet, repetitive opening motive that crescendos to a boisterous middle section, concluding with a return to the opening motive that decrescendos to a quiet finish. Although Krell originally conceived of the piece for band, it became famous through a piano reduction arrangement. Although Krell published no new pieces after ...
[George Vital(is) ]
(b New Orleans, LA, Sept 21, 1873; d New Orleans, LA, June 1, 1966). American drummer, alto horn player, and bandleader. Primarily a bass drum player, he also played snare drum, drum set, alto horn, and string bass. He was leading string bands and brass bands by 1889 and led a drum and bugle corps during the Spanish-American War. His specialty was funerals, and he operated within an established territory of the Algiers and Gretna neighborhoods in New Orleans.
Laine organized his Reliance Brass Band around 1900. As demand for dance music grew, he added pianists, guitarists, and string bass players to the brass band lineup. Laine’s bands were multiethnic and included light-skinned blacks he could hire without running afoul of the law. Some members had musical training, others had none, resulting in a successful combination of readers and fakers. Laine hired many musicians, 150 of whom have identified. A third of these became mainstays of early jazz. Members of Tom Brown’s band, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, the Louisiana Five, Jimmy Durante’s band, and the New Orleans Rhythm Kings became internationally famous....
[Friedman, Theodore Leopold ]
(b Circleville, OH, June 6, 1890; d New York, NY, Aug 25, 1971). American bandleader, clarinetist, and entertainer. After working in tent shows and on the vaudeville circuit he settled in New York, first playing with Earl Fuller’s band, then forming his own group in 1918. Within two years he began recording for Columbia and appearing in various revues: the Greenwich Village Follies (1919 and 1921), Ziegfeld’s Midnight Frolics (1919), and the Ted Lewis Frolics (1923). In the early 1930s Lewis recorded with such first-rate jazz musicians as Muggsy Spanier, Georg Brunis, Frank Teschemacher, Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, and Fats Waller. He continued to lead groups of various sizes through the mid-1960s, working most often at hotels, resorts, and nightclubs. Lewis’s approach changed little over the years. At the end of his career he still appeared with battered top hat and cane performing old vaudeville routines, delivering songs he had popularized years before (“When My Baby Smiles at Me,” “Me and My Shadow”) in his characteristic patter style (more spoken than sung), playing his old Albert-system clarinet; and asking his favorite, time-worn question, “Is everybody happy?” His archival materials are held in ...
[Joseph Emmett ]
(b Weaverville, NC, July 20, 1898; d Concord, NC, June 12, 1971). American singer, fiddler, and bandleader. A breakdown fiddler who played in an early country style similar to that of Fiddlin’ John Carson, J.E. and his younger brother Wade formed Mainers’ Mountaineers while both were full-time employees at a cotton mill in Concord, North Carolina. They performed informally until they appeared with the Lay Brothers on WSOC in nearby Gastonia. In 1934 they signed with Crazy Water Crystals, a laxative company that sponsored them on the powerful stations WBT (Charlotte) and WPTF (Raleigh) and provided enough exposure to let them become full-time performers. When Wade left to seek other opportunities in 1937, J.E. promptly formed a new band with Leonard “Handsome” Stokes, George Morris, and DeWitt “Snuffy” Jenkins, who was developing an advanced banjo style that anticipated the three-finger approach that Earl Scruggs perfected in the 1940s. Drinking problems led to J.E.’s band firing him in ...
Bruce Boyd Raeburn
[Crawford, Joseph ]
(b, New Orleans, LA, c1897; d New Orleans, LA, July 4, 1931). American jazz cornetist and bandleader. Buddy Petit began his professional career as a founding member of the Young Olympia Band, formed when Olympia Band cornetist Freddie Keppard left New Orleans to join the Original Creole Band in Los Angeles in 1914. Other members of the Young Olympia were clarinetist Jimmie Noone, trombonist Zue Robertson, banjoist Simon Marrero, bassist John Marrero, and drummer Arnold DePass, and shortly afterward Noone and Petit co-led a band of their own at places such as the Pythian Temple until the clarinetist left to join Keppard in Chicago for the Creole Band’s final vaudeville season in 1917–8. Petit made a short trip to Los Angeles in 1917 to work with Jelly Roll Morton before returning to New Orleans and situating himself as one of the top bandleaders on the regional (Texas-Florida) scene. A photograph taken in Mandeville, Louisiana, ...
John A. Emerson
(b Pueblo, CO, July 22, 1889; d Carmel Valley, nr Jamesburg, CA, Nov 9, 1959). American cellist, composer, and conductor. His father was the nationally known educator Preston Willis Search and his wife the pianist and composer Opal Piontkowski Heron, whom he married on 27 February 1923. In 1901 Search began studying cello in Jena, Germany, and subsequently he was a pupil of Joseph Adamowski at the New England Conservatory (c1903–4) and of Lino Mattioli and George Rogovoy at the Cincinnati College Conservatory (c1904–7). From 1907 to 1911 he attended the Leipzig Conservatory, where he studied cello with Julius Klengel, composition with Gustav Schreck, Richard Hofmann, and Max Reger, and conducting with Arthur Nikisch. After returning from Germany he made three recital tours of the United States and was first cellist of the American SO in Chicago (1915–16). After serving as conductor of the Mare Island Naval Training Station orchestra and band (...
(b Brunswick, MO, Feb 7, 1882; d New York, NY, March 9, 1961). American clarinetist, bandleader, composer, and music publisher. His first professional engagement (c1897–8) was with a “pickaninny” band led by Nathaniel Clark Smith. In 1902 he was assistant leader of P.G. Lowery’s band with Forepaugh and Sells Circus and later that year joined Mahara’s Minstrels band under the leadership of W.C. Handy. In 1903 he formed his own band in Minneapolis, where he made the first recordings by an African American band. Sweatman moved to Chicago in 1908, where he led trios at the Grand and Monogram theaters. In 1911 he made his first vaudeville appearance, and in late 1916 made the first records recognizable as jazz performances. In 1918 Sweatman’s band was signed to an exclusive recording contract with Columbia, their records rivalling those by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. He continued to work through the 1920s and early 1930s in vaudeville, and in ...
[James Gideon ]
(b Thomas Bridge, near Monroe, GA, June 6, 1885; d Dacula, GA, May 13, 1960). American fiddler, singer, comedian, and hillbilly string band leader. He was a well-known entertainer in north Georgia during the early 20th century, famous for his outrageous comic antics, old-time fiddling, and trick singing. He competed regularly at Atlanta’s annual Georgia Old-Time Fiddlers’ Association conventions and won the state fiddling championship in 1928. In 1924, Columbia A&R man Frank B. Walker recruited Tanner and his sometime musical partner, the blind Atlanta street singer and guitarist Riley Puckett, to make some of the earliest recordings of what soon came to be called hillbilly music.
In 1926, Walker assembled a studio group around Tanner called the Skillet Lickers, whose other regular members consisted of guitarist and lead singer Puckett, fiddler Clayton McMichen, and banjoist Fate Norris. The band’s first release, “Bully of the Town”/ “Pass around the Bottle and We’ll all Take a Drink,” recorded in ...