Jimmie Lunceford Day

June 6, 1902 – July 12, 1947

A tribute to the famous bandleader

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Bandleader Jimmie Lunceford was born on June 6, 1902, in Fulton, Mississippi.

Lunceford received extensive musical training and could play the reeds, flute, trombone, and guitar, but he found fame as the leader and director of his own orchestra, rarely playing any instruments with his band.

He studied music with Paul Whiteman’s father in Denver, earned a music degree from Fisk University, and was a music teacher in Memphis starting in 1926.

Lunceford formed a local band out of his best students, which recorded two songs in Dallas in 1927 as the Chickasaw Syncopators.

In 1929, the group, known as the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra, turned professional and, after periods in Cleveland and Buffalo, they came to New York in 1933.

With Sy Oliver as the main arranger, an emphasis on tight ensembles and showmanship, and an inventive use of the many musicians who could also sing, Jimmie Lunceford began to achieve success in 1934 when he signed with the Decca label.

While his band had fine soloists in tenor saxophonist Joe Thomas and altoist Willie Smith, it was the group sound and the impressive shows they put on that made them so popular.

The Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra declined after the war years but continued to work regularly. Lunceford, who may have been poisoned, died of a heart attack at the age of 45.

Lunceford and his band made only two appearances on film: a brief spot in the 1941 movie “Blues In The Night” (where they introduced the title song) and this wonderful short from 1936, topped off with “Rhythm Is Our Business.”

-Scott Yanow


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