Chick Webb

Jazz drummer Chick Webb rose to prominence as the leader of one of the most important big bands of the swing era. Born William Henry Webb in Baltimore, Maryland he fell down some steps as an infant and suffered several crushed vertebrae. He never recovered full mobility and suffered from tuberculosis of the spine as a result of the injury and was left with stunted growth and the appearance of being hunchbacked. When a doctor suggested that playing an instrument might improve his mobility, he saved up money and bought a set of drums, making his professional debut aged just eleven. In the mid-1920s Webb moved to New York and by 1926 was leading his own band. He played various clubs before becoming a recurring fixture at The Savoy, alternating between residencies in the city and touring. He was unable to read music but memorised arrangements flawlessly and conducted from a platform at the centre of his band. He used custom-made pedals, a 28-inch bass drum and goose-neck cymbals to make his setup work for his reduced stature. He was a hugely influential figure in the swing style of the 1930s, often coming out on top in battle of the bands contests against the likes of Benny Goodman and Count Basie. In 1935 Webb hired a then unknown Ella Fitzgerald after she won a talent contest at the Apollo Theater. He became the singer's mentor, putting her at the centre of his show and being rewarded with his biggest hit, 'A Tisket-A-Tisket', in 1938. While his band continued its upward trajectory, however, Webb's health was declining. Following a major operation he died in 1939 at the age of 34. Fitzgerald led the band until it broke up in 1942 following her decision to pursue a solo career.

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Stations Featuring Chick Webb

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