Hal Singer Day
October 8, 1919 – August 18, 2020
A tribute to the swinging r&b tenor
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Tenor-saxophonist Hal “Cornbread” Singer passed away on August 18, 2020 at the age of 100.
He was born Oct. 8, 1919 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, studying violin before switching to clarinet and tenor as a teenager.
Singer worked with the big bands of Ernie Fields and Jay McShann before moving to New York in 1944 where he made his recording debut with Roy Eldridge (1944), Don Byas (1946), and Lem Davis (1946).
Singer worked with Hot Lips Page in 1947, was a sideman on record dates by several r&b artists for the King label, and then in June 1948 had a major hit with the rollicking “Cornbread” which reached #1 on the r&b charts, following it up with “Beef Stew.”
In an ironic twist of fate, Singer achieved his lifelong goal of joining the Duke Ellington Orchestra but, due to the success of “Cornbread,” he soon had to reluctantly leave to tour as a solo artist.
While he did not have any other hits, Singer was a popular attraction on the r&b circuit (touring with the Orioles and Charles Brown, and recording with Wynonie Harris and Esther Phillips) and kept busy as a session musician where his big tone and swinging style were in demand.
By 1958, Hal Singer had returned to playing swing-oriented jazz, working at the Metropole in New York and recording with Vic Dickenson and Bill Doggett and cutting his own album Stompin’” which featured trumpeter Charlie Shavers.
In 1965 Singer toured Europe with Earl Hines, liked what he saw, and permanently settled in France where he remained active and even had a reunion with Duke Ellington.
He recorded with Buck Clayton, T-Bone Walker, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson.
Jimmy Witherspoon, Philly Joe Jones, Jay McShann and as a leader as late as 2010.
Hal Singer is featured on a Paris television appearance from 1970 playing “Autumn Leaves” with pianist Sigfried Kessler, vibraphonist Dany Doriz, bassist Pierre Sim, and drummer Roger Paraboschi.
– Scott Yanow