Jimmie Lunceford

Jimmie Lunceford – born June 6, 1902 in Fulton Mississippi – was a jazz and swing saxophonist and bandleader during the big band era. While born in Fulton, his family moved to Oklahoma City when he was seven months old. The family relocated to Denver, Colorado, where he began learning several instruments. Lunceford attended high school and studied music before he began to play alto saxophone in a local band. In 1927, he was working as an athletic instructor at Manassas High School in Memphis and founded a student band, which eventually became the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra. He became the first public high school band director in Memphis. His first high-profile booking was at Harlem’s legendary The Cotton Club. His band’s unique blend of music and outrageous performances brought them a wider audience. During the 1930s, Lunceford’s Orchestra was considered equals with many of the swing era’s greatest bands including those led by Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Earl Hines. Lunceford and his group signed with Decca Records before moving over to the Vocalion label in 1938. By 1940, they were back on Decca. When band member Sy Oliver left, this inspired other members of the group to jump ship for better paying jobs. Lunceford and his band’s popularity declined in the 1940s. Jimmie Lunceford died of a coronary occlusion on July 12, 1947 while on tour. He was 45 years old. Over the years, his back catalog has been reissued on numerous compilations beginning with the 1955 release Jimmie Lunceford Plays. On A brass note was dedicated to Lunceford on Beale Street in Memphis on July 19, 2009.

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