Danny Barker Day

January 13, 1909 – March 13, 1994

The New Orleans guitarist-banjoist-singer is remembered

Guitarist, banjoist and singer Daniel Moses “Danny” Barker was born on January 13, 1909 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Part of a musical family (and the nephew of drummers Paul Barbarin and Louis Barbarin), Barker briefly played clarinet, drums and ukulele before settling on the banjo.

He worked in a kid’s band, the Boozan Kings, toured with blues pianist Little Brother Montgomery, and in 1930 moved to New York where he soon switched to guitar.

Barker freelanced including working with Fess Williams and Albert Nicholas and recording with Henry “Red” Allen before becoming a member of the big bands of Lucky Millinder (1937-38), Benny Carter and Cab Calloway (1939-46).

Married to singer Blue Lu Barker, he wrote many of the songs that she recorded including her hit “Don’t You Make Me High” (also known as “Don’t You Feel My Leg”) in 1938.

A respected rhythm guitarist, Barker appeared on freewheeling sessions by Sidney Bechet, Mezz Mezzrow, Jonah Jones, Hot Lips Page and others, was part of Rudi Blesh’s This Is Jazz radio broadcasts in 1947, worked and recorded with Bunk Johnson, and performed with his wife’s group.

Barker gradually switched his focus back to the banjo (although he always doubled on guitar), working with Paul Barbarin, appearing on the Sound Of Jazz telecast in 1957, and recording with Jimmy Rushing, Big Joe Turner, Wingy Manone and various swing and mainstream groups.

In the mid-1960s Barker moved back to New Orleans where he was an inspiring and influential force, founding the Fairview Baptist Church Brass Band and teaching such younger up-and-coming musicians as Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Leroy Jones, Nicholas Payton, Dr. Michael White and the future members of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band among others.

This film clip from the 1989 documentary Liberty Street has Danny Barker (always a colorful figure) talking about the differences between day and night people and playing a bit.

-Scott Yanow


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