Noble Lee Sissle was born July 10, 1889 in Indianapolis, Indiana. His father was a pastor, his mother a schoolteacher and juvenile probation officer. As a youth he sang in church choirs and as a soloist with his high school’s glee club in Cleveland, Ohio. He went on to attend De Pauw University in Greencastle, Indiana on scholarship, later transferring to Butler University in Indianapolis before turning to music full-time.
In 1918 Sissle joined the New York 369th Infantry Regiment and helped to form the 360th Regiment Band. He played violin and also served as drum major for the 369th, and under James Europe’s leadership is now considered amongst the greatest jazz bands of all time. He sang several vocals on the last disc recorded by the band that was released in March 1919.
Leaving the army after the war he joined Europe’s civilian version of the band. Not long afterwards, a disgruntled band member murdered Europe thus leaving Noble to take temporary charge of the band with the help of his friend Eubie Blake. Years earlier the two had struck up a partnership after meeting in Baltimore, Maryland. They would go on to perform in vaudeville, collaborate on the songs I’m Just Wild About Harry and Love Will Find A Way, and then produce the musical Shuffle Along and The Chocolate Dandies. He is the only Black artist to appear in the Pathe film archives.
In 1923, Sissle made two films for Lee DeForest’s Phonofilm Sound-On-Film process titled Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake featuring their song Affectionate Dan, and Sissle and Blake Sing Snappy Songs featuring Sons of Old Black Joe and My Swanee Home. These films are preserved in the Maurice Zouary film collection at the Library of Congress.
He would also appear in other short films, performed with Walter Donaldson, Nina Mae McKinney, the Nicholas Brothers and Adelaide Hall. In 1954, New York radio station WMGM, owned by the Loew’s Theatre Organization, signed him as a disc jockey. His show featured the music of African-American recording artists. Jazz composer, lyricist, bandleader, singer and playwright Noble Sissle passed away on December 17, 1975 at the age of 86 in Tampa, Florida.
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Andrew Dewey Kirk was born on May 28, 1898 in Newport, Kentucky but grew up in Denver, Colorado and was tutored by Paul Whiteman’s father, Wilberforce. He started his musical career playing with George Morrison’s band, but then went on to join Terence Holder’s Dark Clouds of Joy. In 1929 he was elected leader after Holder departed, renamed the band Clouds of Joy and also relocated the band from Dallas, Texas, to Kansas City, Kansas.
Also known as the Twelve Clouds of Joy for the number of musicians, they set up in the Pla-Mor Ballroom on the junction of 32nd and Main. They made their first recording for Brunswick Records that same year. Mary Lou Williams came in as a last moment pianist and so impressed the label’s Dave Kapp that she became a regular member and arranger of the band.
With the move they grew highly popular as they epitomized the Kansas City jazz sound and in mid-1936 Andy signed with Decca and made scores of popular records for the next decade. In 1938, he and band held the top spot of the Billboard chart for 12 weeks with “I Won’t Tell a Soul (I Love You)”, written by Hughie Charles and Ross Parker and featured Pha Terrell on vocals. In 1942 leading His Clouds of Joy, they recorded “Take It and Git”, which on October 24, 1942, became the first single to hit number one on the Harlem Hit Parade, the predecessor to the Billboard R&B chart. In 1943, with June Richmond on vocals, he had a number 4 hit with “Hey Lawdy Mama”.
Over time the band had Buddy Tate, Claude Williams, John Williams, bill coleman, Don Byas, Shorty Baker, Howard McGhee, Jimmy Forrest, Fats Navarro, Charlie Parker, Ben Thigpen,, Hank Jones, Joe Williams and Reuben Phillips among others.
In 1948, Kirk disbanded the Clouds of Joy and continued to work as a musician, but eventually switched to hotel management and real estate, but kept his hand in music serving as an official in the Musicians’ Union.[
Although the leader of the band, saxophonist and tubist Andy Kirk seldom was a soloist, utilizing the talent in his band for the spotlight. His genius lay in realizing how best to make use of his band members’ skills. On December 11, 1992 at the age of 94, he passed away in New York City.
Wingy Manone was born Joseph Matthews Manone on February 13, 1900 in New Orleans, Louisiana. He lost an arm in a streetcar accident, which resulted in his nickname of “Wingy”. He used prosthesis so naturally and unnoticeably that his disability was not apparent to the public.
After playing trumpet and cornet professionally with various bands in his hometown, Manone began to travel across America in the 1920s, working in Chicago, New York City, Texas, Mobile, California, St. Louis and other locations; he continued to travel widely throughout the United States and Canada for decades.
Wingy’s was a frequently recruited musician for recording sessions. He played and recorded with Benny Goodman and recorded fronting various pickup groups under pseudonyms like “The Cellar Boys” and “Barbecue Joe and His Hot Dogs.” His hit records included “Tar Paper Stomp” was later used as the basis for Glenn Miller’s “In The Mood” and a hot 1934 version of a sweet ballad of the time “The Isle of Capri”.
In 1943 he recorded several tunes as “Wingy Manone and His Cats”, performed in Soundies movie musicals and his autobiography, Trumpet on the Wing, was published in 1948. From the 1950s he was based mostly in California and Las Vegas, although he also toured through North America and Europe appearing at jazz festivals. In 1957, he attempted to break into the teenage rock-and-roll market with his version of Party Doll but never rose higher than 56 on the Billboard pop charts.
He composed numerous songs and in 2008, “There’ll Come a Time (Wait and See)” was used in the soundtrack to the Academy Award-nominated movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Trumpeter, vocalist, composer and bandleader Wingy Manone remained active until his passing on July 9, 1982 in Las Vegas at the age of 82.
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Charlie “Fess” Johnson was born on November 21, 1891 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He led an ensemble called the Paradise Ten and played in Harlem clubs like Small’s Paradise between 1925 and 1935.
Though Charlie was an accomplished pianist very rarely did he eve solo on his recording sessions and as a unit never achieved the reputation is so deserved. It was noted later that the band rivaled Duke Ellington and anyone else and employed a number of notables like Sidney DeParis, Charlie Irvis, Dicky Wells, Benny Waters and Benny Carter, who also wrote arrangements for the band.
He led the ensemble until 1938 then his musical endeavors freelancing in various ensembles around New York City until he retired in the 1950s due to health issues. Pianist and bandleader Charlie Johnson, who nickname “Fess” it is assumed was shortened from Professor, passed away in Harlem Hospital on December 13, 1959 in New York City.
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Bennie Moten was born on November 13, 1894 in Kansas City, Missouri. By the time he reached his mid-twenties he was leading the Kansas City Orchestra that was the most important of the itinerant, blues-based orchestras active in the Midwest at the time. The band helped develop the riffing style that would come to define many of the 1930s Big Bands.
Moten first recorded with Okeh Records in 1923 influenced by New Orleans and ragtime. His Victor Records sessions had a more sophisticated sound similar to Fletcher Henderson but featured a hard stomp popular to Kansas City.
By 1928 Bennie’s piano was showing some Boogie Woogie influences, but the real revolution came in 1929 when he recruited Count Basie, Walter Page and Oran “Hot Lips” Page. Walter Page’s walking bass lines gave the music an entirely new feel compared to the 2/4 tuba, colored by Basie’s understated, syncopated piano fills.
Their final session comprised of 10 recordings made in 1932 were made during a time when the band was suffering significant financial hardship but had added Ben Webster and Jimmy Rushing as their primary vocalist. These recordings showed the early stages of what became known as the “Basie Sound” some four years before Basie would record under his own name.
Pianist and bandleader Bennie Moten passed away after an unsuccessful tonsillectomy on April 2, 1935.
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