Hazel Dorothy Scott was born on June 11, 1920 in Port of Spain, Trinidad but was raised in New York City from age four. Performing extensively as a child pianist, she trained at Julliard and appeared in the 1942 production of Priorities and performed numerous times at Carnegie Hall.
A jazz and classical pianist and singer, Scott was known for improvising on classical themes and also played boogie-woogie, blues, and ballads. She was the first woman of color to have her own television series “The Hazel Scott Show” that premiered on the Dumont Television Network on July 3, 1950. However, due to her public opposition to McCarthyism and racial segregation the show was canceled in 1950 when she was accused of being a Communist sympathizer; the final broadcast was September 29, 1950.
The talented Hazel went on to have a brief motion picture career included films Something To Shout About, I Dood It, Broadway Rhythm, The Heat’s On and Rhapsody In Blue. Her album Relaxed Piano Moods on the Debut Record label with Charles Mingus and Max Roach is the album critics hold in high regard.
She married U.S. Congressman Adam Clayton Jr., a union that lasted from 1945 to 1956 and produced one child, Adam III. Pianist and vocalist Hazel Scott passed away of pancreatic cancer in New York City on October 2, 1981. She was 61 years old.
Pee Wee Erwin was born on May 30, 1913 in Falls City, Nebraska. Erwin started on trumpet at age four. He played in several territory bands before joining the groups of Joe Haymes from 1931-1933 and Isham Jones from 1933 to 1934.
By 1934 Pee Wee moved to New York City where he became a prolific studio musician, performing on radio and in recording sessions. He played with Benny Goodman in 1934-35, then with Ray Noble in 1935. The next year he joined Goodman again, taking Bunny Berigan’s empty chair. In 1937 he again followed Berigan, this time in Tommy’s Dorsey’s orchestra, where he remained until 1939.
Erwin led his own big band in 1941-42 and 1946. In the 1950s he played Dixieland in New Orleans, and in the 1960s formed his own trumpet school with Chris Griffin; among its graduates was Warren Vache. Erwin played up until the year of his death, recording as a leader for United Artists in the 1950s and issuing six albums in 1980 and ’81, the last two years of his life.
Trumpeter Pee Wee Erwin passed away on June 20, 1981 in Teaneck, New Jersey.
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Peggy Lee was born Norma Deloris Egstrom on May 26, 1920 in Jamestown, North Dakota. The seventh of eight children of Norwegian and Swedish ancestry, her mother died when she was four. She began singing on a local radio station during her high school years, and then ventured to Fargo where Ken Kennedy of WDAY changed her name to Peggy Lee. At 17 she left home for Los Angeles.
Making her way to Chicago’s Buttery Room, Lee caught the attention of Lady Alice Duckworth who was so impressed brought her fiancé Benny Goodman the next night. That chance encounter landed her a gig with Goodman for two years, replacing Helen Forrest in 1941.
Peggy had her first #1 hit with “Somebody Else Is Taking My Place” in1942 followed by the million record seller “Why Don’t You Do Right” that made her famous by 1943. Her signature song became “Fever” to which she added some lyrics. In 1948 she joined Perry Como and Jo Stafford as one of the rotating host of NBC’s Chesterfield Supper Club. As a composer she collaborated with Laurindo Almeida, Duke Ellington, Quincy Jones, Johnny Mandel, Marian McPartland, Dave Grusin and Lalo Schifrin among others.
Lee played opposite Danny Thomas in the 1952 remake of the Jazz Singer, in 1955 played a despondent, alcoholic blues singer in Pete Kelly’s Blues that garnered her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress, and voiced several characters in Disney’s Lady and the Tramp for which she later had to sue Disney for video royalties.
From her humble beginnings as a vocalist on local radio she forged her own sophisticated persona, evolving into a multi-faceted artist and performer, receiving 12 Grammy nominations, three wins including a Lifetime Achievement Award and induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame among other awards and accolades. Peggy Lee, whose career as a jazz and pop singer, songwriter, composer and actress spanned nearly seven decades passed away due to complications from diabetes and a heart attack on January 21, 2002.
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Jimmy Hamilton was born on May 25, 1917 in Dillon, South Carolina but grew up in Philadelphia. He learned to play piano and brass instruments and by the thirties he was playing the latter in local bands. He switched to clarinet and saxophone and by 1939 was playing with Lucky Millinder, Jimmy Mundy and Bill Doggett, then going to work for Teddy Wilson in 1940.
After a two-year stay with Wilson he played with Eddie Heywood and Yank Porter before replacing Barney Bigard in Duke Ellington’s orchestra in 1943. Over the next twenty-five years with Ellington his sound on saxophone had an R&B style while his clarinet was more precise, correct and fluent and it was during this time that he wrote some of his own material.
Leaving the Ellington orchestra, Hamilton played and arranged on a freelance basis, before spending the 1970s and 1980s in the Virgin Islands teaching music, occasionally returning to the U.S. for performances with John Carter’s Clarinet Summit. He retired from teaching but continued to perform with his own groups from 1989 to 1990.
The clarinetist, saxophonist, arranger, composer and music educator Jimmy Hamilton died in St. Croix, Virgin Islands at the age of seventy-seven on September 20, 1994.
Sun Ra was born Herman Poole Blount in Birmingham, Alabama on May 22, 1914 and as a child was a skilled pianist. By twelve he was writing original songs and could sight read sheet music. With Birmingham being an important stop for touring musicians, during his childhood he was able to see famed musicians like Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington and Fats Waller.
By his teenage years he was producing from memory full transcriptions of big band songs he had heard and began playing semi-professional solo piano in ad hoc jazz bands. Attending Birmingham Industrial High School he took lessons the tutelage of John T. “Fess” Whatley, a demanding disciplinarian and producer of many professional musicians.
Claiming that he was of the “Angel Race” and not from Earth, but from Saturn, Sun Ra developed a complex persona of “cosmic” philosophies and lyrical poetry that made him a pioneer of “afro-futurism” as he preached awareness and peace above all. He abandoned his birth name and took on the name and persona of Sun Ra (Ra being the ancient Egyptian god of the sun).
From the mid-1950s to his death, Sun Ra led “The Arkestra”, an ensemble with an ever-changing lineup and names, asserting that the ever-changing name of his ensemble reflected the ever-changing nature of his music. His mainstream success was limited, but Sun Ra was a prolific recording artist and frequent live performer with music ranged from keyboard solos to big bands of over 30 musicians and music touching on virtually the entire history of jazz, from ragtime, swing, bebop, free improvisation, electronic and space music.
Sun Ra had several music periods during his lifetime – late 30s creating a conservatory workshop in his family home, conscientious objector during the war years, Chicago playing blues and jazz with Fletcher Henderson, Coleman Hawkins and Stuff Smith, New York Monday night gig at Slug’s Saloon and praise from Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk, and Philadelphia that would be the base of operations for the Arkestra until his death.
Sun Ra known for his “cosmic philosophy, musical compositions and performances was inducted into the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame in 1979. The prolific Jazz composer, bandleader, piano and synthesizer player, poet and philosopher passed away on May 30, 1993, at 79.