Big Joe Turner Day

May 18, 1911 – November 24, 1985

Shake, Rattle & Roll

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Singer Big Joe Turner (born Joseph Vernon Turner Jr.) was born on May 18, 1911, in Kansas City, Missouri.

He quit school at 14 to work in Kansas City’s nightclubs, first as a cook and later as a singing bartender.

Though known as a blues singer, he was also sought out by jazz masters like Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Art Tatum.

His appearance in the “From Spirituals to Swing” series in 1938 at Carnegie Hall put him on the NYC jazz map, and this big 1954 hit made him one of the early formative forces in rock and roll…

He began working as a bartender and became known as “The Singing Barman” at nightspots including The Kingfish Club, with his piano-playing partner Pete Johnson.

In 1936, the duo traveled to New York where they appeared on the same bill as Benny Goodman. Unable to pick up additional bookings, they left and returned to Kansas City.

Fate intervened once more in 1938 when John H. Hammond invited them back to New York as featured performers in his “From Spirituals to Swing” concerts at Carnegie Hall, leading to their first major hit with the song “Roll ‘Em Pete.”

Joe Turner would record extensively with Pete Johnson, Art Tatum, and Sammy Price, among others.

Replacing Jimmy Rushing in the Count Basie Orchestra and performing at Harlem’s Apollo Theater, in 1951, Big Joe Turner was spotted by talent scouts who signed him with Atlantic Records.

He scored his biggest recorded success in 1954 with “Shake, Rattle & Roll,” the first in a string of pop hits.


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