Johnny O’Neal was born October 10, 1956 in Detroit, Michigan and his playing was influenced by pianists Oscar Peterson and Art Tatum. In 1974, he moved to Birmingham, Alabama and worked as a musician, never needing a day job to make ends meet. There he worked with locals Jerry Grundhofer, Dave Amaral, Cleveland Eaton, and Ray Reach.
Moving to New York City in 1981 to perform with Clark Terry, he also landed a regular job at the Blue Note, accompanying among numerous others, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Brown, Nancy Wilson, Joe Pass and Kenny Burrell. From 1982 to 1983 Johnny was a member of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers and made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1985.
During the Nineties he lived in Atlanta, Georgia and performed prolifically at Churchill Grounds and Just Jazz, before settling in Canada for a few years. He has recorded with Art Blakey, Russell Malone, Magic City Jazz Orchestra, SuperJazz Big Band and the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame All-Stars, among others.
On the recommendation of Oscar Peterson, O’Neal portrayed Art Tatum in the 2004 movie Ray, recreating Tatum’s sound on the song Yesterdays. He has been profiled in the 2006 DVD Tight, was featured in Lush Life: Celebrating Billy Strayhorn, performing with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and received a standing ovation.
Neo-bop pianist, vibist and vocalist Johnny O’Neal, whose playing ranges from the technically virtuosic to the tenderest of ballad interpretations, was a 1997 inductee of the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame and continues his career performing, recording and touring.
Samuel Blythe Price was born in Honey Grove, Texas on October 6, 1908 and during his early career, he was a singer and dancer in local venues in the Dallas, Texas area. While living in Kansas City, Missouri, Chicago, Illinois and Detroit Michigan he played jazz. In 1938 he was hired by Decca Records as a session sideman on piano, assisting singers such as Trixie Smith and Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
Price was most noteworthy for his work on Decca Records leading his own band, known as the Texas Bluesicians, that included fellow musicians Don Stovall and Emmett Berry. He would also go on to have a decade-long partnership with Henry “Red” Allen.
Later in his life, Sammy partnered with the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City, and was the headline entertainment at the Crawdaddy Restaurant, a New Orleans themed restaurant in New York in the mid-1970s. Here he would play with both Benny Goodman and Buddy Rich.
During the Eighties he moved to Boston, Massachusetts switched to performing in the bar of Copley Plaza. Pianist and vocalist Sammy Price passed away from a heart attack on April 14, 1992, at home in Harlem, in New York City, at the age of 83.
Herb Jeffries was born Umberto Alexander Valentino on September 24, 1913 in Detroit, Michigan of mixed heritage. Never knowing his father who died in World War I and grew up in a rooming house in a mixed neighborhood without encountering severe racism as a child. Showing great interest in singing and intensely musical from boyhood, during his formative teenage years he was often found hanging out with the Howard Buntz Orchestra at various Detroit ballrooms. After the Wall Street Crash of 1929, he dropped out of high school to earn a living as a singer.
He began performing in a local speakeasy where he caught the attention of Louis Armstrong, who gave the teenager a note of recommendation for Erskine Tate at the Savoy Ballroom in Chicago, Illinois. Knowing that Tate fronted an all-black band, Jeffries claimed to be a Creole, and was offered a position as a featured singer three nights a week. Later he toured with the Earl Hines Orchestra through the Deep South.
The 1940s and 1950s saw Herb record for a number of labels, including RCA Victor, Exclusive, Coral, Decca, Bethlehem, Columbia, Mercury and Trend. His album Jamaica, recorded by RKO, is a concept album of self-composed calypso songs. He often used makeup to darken his skin in order to pursue a career in jazz and to be seen as employable by the leading all-black musical ensembles of the day.
He also starred in several low-budget race Western feature films aimed at black audiences from 1937 to 1939, Harlem on the Prairie, Two-Gun Man from Harlem, Rhythm Rodeo, The Bronze Buckaroo and Harlem Rides the Range. He also acted in several other films and television shows billed as Herbert Jeffrey, Herbert Jeffries or the Sensational Singing Cowboy.
Singer and actor Herb Jeffries, who was the only Black singing cowboy star in Hollywood has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, was inducted into the and a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars, passed away on May 25, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.
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Dottie Dodgion was born Dorothy Rosalie Giaimo on September 23, 1929 in Brea, California. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area as a child, she sang in the band led by her drummer father and as a teenager sang with Charles Mingus. She began playing drums in the 1950s though she was discouraged by her husband Monty Budwig, but receiving encouragement to play from Jerry Dodgion, she subsequently divorced Budwig to marry Dodgion.
She worked with Carl Fontana in Las Vegas, Nevada toward the end of the decade and then relocated to New York City in 1961. There she played in Benny Goodman’s ensemble for about a week, then moved on to work with Marian McPartland and Eddie Gomez, Billy Mitchell and Al Grey, Wild Bill Davison, and Al Cohn and Zoot Sims over the course of the 1960s. In the early 1970s she worked with Ruby Braff and Joe Venuti, then played alongside her husband in Germany with Walter Norris and George Mraz.
Dottie and Jerry separated in the late Seventies and she moved to p style=”text-align: justify;”>Washington, D.C. for a time, where she was musical director for the club The Rogue and Jar. After moving back to New York City she worked in the 1980s with Melba Liston, George Wein, Michael and Randy Brecker, Frank Wess, Jimmy Rowles, Carol Sloane, Pepper Adams, Tommy Flanagan, Roland Hanna, Sal Nistico, Herb Ellis, Chris White, Bob Cranshaw, Joe Newman, and Harold Danko. After returning to the Bay Area in 1984 she played regularly at the Monterey Jazz Festival. Drummer and singer Dottie Dodgion is no longer active in jazz at age 87.
Champian Fulton was born on September 12, 1985 in Norman, Oklahoma to a jazz trumpeter father whose friends were Clark Terry and Major Holley. At five she took piano lessons from her grandmother and after trying trumpet and drums, she returned to piano and singing. When her father was hired to run the Clark Terry Institute for Jazz Studies, the family moved to Iowa. She went to jazz summer camp, where she founded the Little Jazz Quintet.
One of her early influences was Dinah Washington, particularly the album For Those in Love, which she played often as a young girl. She also admired Sarah Vaughan, Nat King Cole, Sonny Clark, Red Garland, Hampton Hawes, Wynton Kelly, Thelonious Monk, and Art Tatum.
Fulton graduated from high school in 2003, then attended State University of New York at Purchase, where she studied with trumpeter Jon Faddis. After graduating, she moved to New York City to pursue a career as a pianist and vocalist. She has performed at various venues playing with Jimmy Cobb, Scott Hamilton, Frank Wess, Lou Donaldson, and Louis Hayes.
She has worked with the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Litchfield Jazz Camp and Rutgers University. In late 2015, she joined the faculty of the Jazz Arts Academy in association with the Count Basie Theatre Education Department to offer workshops in jazz vocals and jazz piano during the summer. In 2014 she received the Rising Star Female Vocalist Critics Poll from Down Beat Magazine. As a leader she has recorded eight albums and continues to perform and record.