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, as the Chickasaw Syncopators, recorded two songs in Dallas in 1927.

In 1929 the group, 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 hit it big 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 that they put on that made them so popular.

The Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra declined after the war years but was still working regularly when its leader, who might have been poisoned, died of a heart attack when he was just 45.

Lunceford and his band only made 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 which is topped off with “Rhythm Is Our Business.”

-Scott Yanow


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