Cover

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Frontmatter

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Contents

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Preface

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pp. vii-viii

Once upon a time in Memphis, a bunch of schoolboys started a band. The road they traveled took them from starvation to stardom. In its heyday the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra drew such crowds that occasionally dances had to be canceled, the mass of bodies threatening the integrity of the building. During the swing era, roughly between 1935 and 1945, most of the better...

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xi

Piecing together a puzzle can be a lonely occupation; it is much more fun to do it in the company of friends. I think the first friend to show me that there was a Jimmie Lunceford puzzle was singer and jazz historian Babs Gonzales, who used to cram days and nights with his stories, starting at breakfast and finishing after everybody had gone to sleep. I should have followed...

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1. Go West

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pp. 1-11

In 1901, 105 confirmed lynchings took place in the United States, and for a black man the chance of being lynched ran seven times higher in Mississippi, Jimmie Lunceford’s birthplace, than the nation’s average.1 That year, a disillusioned George H. White, a lawyer from North Carolina, and the sole African American U.S. congressman, gave up his seat. It would be...

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2. A Versatile Varsity Man

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pp. 12-25

Urged by his parents and bandleader George Morrison, Jimmie Lunceford left for Nashville in 1922 to enroll at Fisk University, one of the oldest and most prestigious black educational institutes in the United States. After living in Denver, where both the mayor and the state governor served as Grand Dragons in the Ku Klux Klan, the liberal atmosphere at Fisk must...

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3. Down and Out in Cleveland

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pp. 26-46

After graduation, Jimmie Lunceford went east for one year of postgraduate studies at New York City College, and there he refined his knowledge of pedagogy and business. During his college vacations, he worked in various local bands, respectively led by John C. Smith, Wilbur Sweatman, Elmer Snowden, Deacon Johnson, and, according to some sources, Fletcher Henderson...

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4. Shaping Well

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pp. 47-64

By the fall of 1930, the band was beginning to catch the attention of young black dancers all over the Midwest. The Pittsburgh Courier headlined “Lunceford And Bunch Sensation,” and continued, Oct. 2—Jimmie Lunceford and his Tennesseeans, reputed to be the latest sensation out of the South, are touring the country and are making a big hit wherever they appear. The...

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5. Cotton Club Parade

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pp. 65-84

It was a disaster. The day the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra, introduced in the advertisements as “One of America’s Greatest Bands,” made its debut at the Lafayette Theater, as part of Addison Carey’s revue “It’s a Knockout,” everything went haywire. The tempos were wrong, the band stopped playing before the chorus was through, and it ruined Hannah Sylvester’s...

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6. Swing Begins

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pp. 85-101

Jazz lore has it that Benny Goodman started the swing craze. At the end of a grueling cross-country tour, he hit gold with an ecstatic reception at the Palomar Ballroom, on Vermont Avenue, between Second and Third, in Los Angeles; the date was August 21, 1935. The resulting publicity triggered a hype that lasted well over a decade, and made Goodman “King of...

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7. Life with Lunceford

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pp. 102-114

He did not need an introduction. When Jimmie Lunceford entered a room or appeared on a stage, you just knew he was The Man. Six feet four, weighing 198 pounds when he was in his early thirties (210 at the time of his death), athletically built, impressive looking, dark and handsome. Trumpeter Joe Wilder joined the orchestra in early 1947, and remembered...

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8. For Dancers Only

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pp. 115-127

In recent years, a fragment on film of the Lunceford band in 1945, featuring singer Lena Horne, has surfaced. It was produced by the Army Pictorial Service, which advertised it at the time as “a real treat for overseas troops.”1 But since the release was just prior to the surrender of Japan, it is doubtful the film was actually shown. A couple of 8 mm silent movies, shot by amateurs...

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9. Swinging in Sweden

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pp. 128-142

By the mid-1930s, Lunceford’s influence on other dance orchestras was beginning to be felt. The Blue Ribbon Syncopators from Buffalo and Vernon Andrade’s Society Orchestra in New York already had absorbed elements of the style before the Lunceford band had started its rise to fame. There were, no doubt, other bands studying Lunceford’s charts, but they...

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10. When Sy Left the Lunce

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pp. 143-169

All over the country the band broke attendance records, many of them long-standing. In Philadelphia, booker Reese DuPree was excited over the band’s business at the Strand Ballroom. In addition to Lunceford, Willie Bryant and Lucky Millinder’s Mills Blue Rhythm Band had drawn well there in early 1938,1 prompting Billboard to publish an editorial under the...

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11. Battling On

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pp. 170-182

Considering that Bechet, Armstrong, and Ellington had to go to Europe to first earn serious critical acclaim, it should not be surprising that the same was true for Lunceford. When in 1935 Jimmie Lunceford’s fresh, imaginative style started to draw attention, Down Beat’s George Frazier called the band “horrible.” John Hammond, the most influential American critic, talent...

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12. Blues in the Night

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pp. 183-194

Around 1939–40, when his income shifted into a higher gear, Lunceford had taken flying lessons and gotten his license. In August 1941, after he had logged over 150 solo hours, he went to Pittsburgh and purchased a sleek, fast three-seater, a Bellanca Model 19–9 Junior. Its additional fins on the tips of its tailplane gave the twenty-thousand-dollar plane a decidedly contemporary...

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13. Exodus

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pp. 195-216

Much has been written about the demise of the Lunceford orchestra over the course of the 1940s. Some writers, such as Gunther Schuller in his study The Swing Era, even put the beginning of its deterioration as early as mid-1935.1 At that time, saxophonist Jackie Kelso was a devout Lunceford fan. But that changed...

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14. Downhill—And Up

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pp. 217-229

When Russell “Shakey” Green joined the trumpet section in late 1943, the average salary was ninety-seven dollars a week. As he was used to more than two hundred dollars a week, working in the pit and, occasionally, on the stage of the Paradise Theater in Detroit, he considered this “no money.” Lunceford had come down to the Paradise and, peeking from...

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15. Sunset in Seaside

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pp. 230-242

Outside, the blazing sun soaked up the colors till the Coast Ranges looked like a faded 8 mm movie. Inside, twenty men sat sprawled in their seats. It was a quiet, uneventful bus trip. That Saturday, July 12, 1947, they had boarded in Portland. From Portland to Seaside was less than one hundred miles, so this hop was a piece of cake. The only sound was the steady buzz...

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16. The Bounce Goes On—for a While

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pp. 243-255

After Jimmie’s death, Crystal Tulli Lunceford moved from 162 South Road, White Plains, New York, where the couple had been living during the last five years, to Nashville, where she got a teaching assignment. She remarried and became Crystal Tulli Haines. Crystal ended up in Florida. Joe Wilder commented, “You know, we never got really to know her. I...

Notes

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pp. 257-271

Discography

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pp. 273-311

Index

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pp. 313-331

Text design info

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Image Plates

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