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Barbarin, Paul (05 May 1899–17 February 1969), jazz drummer, was born Adolphe Paul Barbarin in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of Isidore John Barbarin, a coachman for undertakers, and Josephine Arthidore. The Barbarins were a distinguished musical family. Paul’s father played alto horn with the Onward, Excelsior, and Tuxedo brass bands and recorded with ...

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Denzil Best With Billy Bauer. © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB23-0075 DLC).

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Best, Denzil (27 April 1917–25 May 1965), jazz drummer and composer, was born Denzil de Costa Best in New York City, the son of immigrant parents from Barbados; his mother was Josephine Best (his father’s name is unknown). Best married Arline Riley (date unknown), with whom he had two daughters. Best began studying piano when he was six years old but later learned trumpet, which he played professionally in the mid-1930s with drummer Chris Columbus (Joe Morris). By the end of the decade he became associated with several seminal bop musicians playing at Minton’s nightclub in New York, including ...

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Blakey, Art (11 October 1919–16 October 1990), jazz drummer and bandleader, was born Art William Blakey in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the son of Burtrum Blakey, a barber, and Marie Roddericker. His father left home shortly after Blakey was born, and his mother died the next year. Consequently, he was raised by a cousin, Sarah Oliver Parran, who worked at the Jones and Laughlin Steel Mill in Pittsburgh. He moved out of the home at age thirteen to work in the steel mills and in 1938 married Clarice Stuart (four years his junior) the first of three wives. Other wives included Diana Bates and Ann Arnold. Blakey had at least ten children (the exact number is unknown), the last of whom was born in 1986....

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Bradshaw, Tiny (23 September 1905–26 November 1958), singer, drummer, and bandleader, was born Myron Carlton Bradshaw in Youngstown, Ohio. His parents’ names are unknown. He played the drums from the age of ten and soon after was performing professionally as a drummer and vocalist. Early in his career he served as the drummer of the Jump Johnson Band in Buffalo, New York. He attended Wilberforce University in Wilberforce, Ohio, and majored in psychology. Before forming his own big band in 1934, he sang with Horace Henderson’s Collegians and in New York either drummed or sang with Marion Hardy’s Alabamians, the Savoy Bearcats, Mills Blue Rhythm Band (1932–1933), and ...

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Sid Catlett © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB23-0117 DLC).

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Catlett, Big Sid (17 January 1910–25 March 1951), drummer, was born Sidney Catlett in Evansville, Indiana, the son of John B. Catlett, a chauffeur. His mother (name unknown) was a cook. He briefly studied piano before playing drums in school, an activity he continued at Tilden Technical High School after the family moved to Chicago. There he studied under theater orchestra drummer Joe Russek. He worked with lesser-known bands and on occasion substituted for ...

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Clarke, Kenny (?9 Jan. 1914–26 January 1985), jazz drummer and bandleader, was born Kenneth Clarke Spearman in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the son of Charles Spearman and Martha Grace Scott. His birth date is almost always given as 9 January, but writer Ursula Broschke Davis maintains that the actual date is 2 January. His mother played piano, and at a young age he learned to play both this instrument and, in church, pump organ. Biographers concur that his boyhood was miserable, and he hid the experience behind rosy and contradictory memories. His father abandoned the family. When he was around five years old, his mother died. Her companion, a Baptist preacher, placed him in the Coleman Industrial Home for Negro Boys in Pittsburgh, where he tried a few brass instruments before taking up drums. At about age eleven or twelve he resumed living with his stepfather. He attended several elementary schools and Herron Hill Junior High School before dropping out at age fifteen to become a professional musician. After an argument with his stepfather, he was placed in a foster home....

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Cozy Cole © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB23-0148 DLC).

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Cole, Cozy (17 October 1909–29 January 1981), jazz percussionist, was born William Randolph Cole in East Orange, New Jersey. He was led into a musical career by his three brothers, all of whom were jazz musicians. Cole took up the drums while a young boy and continued to study the instrument in high school. He began playing professionally as a teenager before attending Wilberforce College in Ohio for two years....

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Baby Dodds © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB23-1085 DLC).

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Dodds, Baby (24 December 1898–14 February 1959), jazz drummer, was born Warren Dodds in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of Warren Dodds. His father played quills (a type of musical pipe made from reeds), his mother (name unknown) played the melodeon, his sisters were accomplished on both organ and harmonica, and his older brother ...

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Sonny Greer © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB13-0353 DLC).

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Greer, Sonny (13 December 1885–23 March 1982), jazz drummer, was born William Alexander Greer, Jr., in Long Branch, New Jersey, the son of William Alexander Greer, an electrician for the Pennsylvania Railroad. His mother (name unknown) was a seamstress. Greer was first attracted to playing as the result of his contact with Eugene “Peggy” Holland, a drummer, singer, and dancer with J. Rosamond Johnson’s touring vaudeville show. His few lessons with Holland (bartered for pool-shooting tips by Greer) provided him with the basic tools he needed to teach himself drums....

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Hampton, Lionel Leo (20 April 1908–31 August 2002), jazz vibraphonist and bandleader, was born in Louisville, Kentucky, the son of Charles Edward Hampton, a railroad worker and musician, and Gertrude Morgan. For a substantial portion of his career Hampton made himself out to be younger, giving his year of birth as 1913 or 1914. But in 1989, when he published his autobiography, he was proud of his age. Then he gave the correct birth year, 1908, which is confirmed by the Department of Public Records in Louisville. A further confusion emerged in the early 1990s, when citizens of Birmingham, Alabama, forged documents to convince Hampton that he was born there rather than in Louisville. This deception subsequently made its way into jazz literature as well....

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J. C. Heard © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB13-0402 DLC).

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Heard, J. C. (08 October 1917–27 September 1988), jazz drummer, was born in Dayton, Ohio. His father was a factory worker; further details of his parents are unknown. Heard told interviewer Peter Vacher that he actually was named J. C. by his parents, and he invented the given names James Charles to satisfy authorities who would not believe that the initials should stand alone. He was raised in Detroit from infancy. A tap dancer by age five, he taught himself to play drums. At about age ten he won an amateur tap dancing contest, and the prize was the opportunity to tour with Butterbeans and Susie. About five weeks after the tour started, the drummer was taken ill, and Heard took his place for the remainder of the show’s run....

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Higgins, Billy (11 October 1936–03 May 2001), jazz drummer, was born in Los Angeles, California, the son of Samuel Higgins and Ann Blackstone. His parents' occupations are unknown. In October 1952, on his application for a social security account number, he gave his full name as Billy Higgins (that is, not William and without a middle name). Higgins's life reversed the jazz stereotype, whereby an innocent and promising young musician destroys himself prematurely through overindulgence in alcohol or drugs. For Higgins, by contrast, strength of character, musical talent, and an innate sweetness eventually won out against a difficult path into adulthood. Higgins played drums from childhood and began playing professionally at the age of twelve. He attended the Forty-Ninth Street and George Washington Carver Schools in east Los Angeles before moving to the Watts area, and at Jacob Reece, a detention school for high school students, he met the cornetist ...

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Jackson, Milt (01 January 1923–09 October 1999), musician, was born in Detroit, Michigan, the son of Manley Jackson and Lillie Beaty Jackson. (His parents' occupations are unknown). Jackson was surrounded by music from an early age, and his strongest influence came from the music he heard during weekly religious meetings: “Everyone wants to know where I got that funky style. Well, it came from church. The music I heard was open, relaxed, impromptu soul music” (quoted in Nat Hentoff's liner notes to ...

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Jones, Jo (17 October 1911–03 September 1985), jazz drummer, was born Jonathan David Samuel Jones in Chicago, the son of Samuel Jones, an artificer, and Elizabeth (maiden name unknown). Jones suffered severe burns as a young child, and in his long convalescence he turned to music. He was raised by relatives in Alabama, mainly in the Birmingham area. His aunt bought a snare drum for him when he was ten. Two or three years later, he studied with drummer Wilson Driver at the Famous Theater in Birmingham. He also played trumpet, saxophone, and piano, and he danced, sang, and acted, all of those talents put to use when he toured in shows and carnivals as a teenager. When not wrapped up in practice and performance, Jones attended the Tuggle Institute and in 1926 Lincoln Junior High School, both in Birmingham, and Alabama A&M near Huntsville....