Forgotten swing king Jimmie Lunceford gets new CD box set, blues trail marker

The Wall Street Journal today features a profile of the late swing bandleader Jimmie Lunceford, who taught at Manassas High School in Memphis in the 1920s and '30s before forming an orchestra that stood shoulder to shoulder with any in the world over the next two decades.

The Lunceford Orchestra had 22 hits in all, including the No. 1 "Rhythm
Is Our Business" (1935), and it was the first black band to play New
York's mainstream Paramount Theater and tour white colleges. Glenn
Miller once said of the band: "Duke [Ellington] is great, [Count] Basie
remarkable, but Lunceford tops them both."

As the writer points out, Lunceford was born in 1902 in Fulton, Miss., and his maker on the Mississippi Blues Trail was just unveiled last month. Additionally, Lunceford is the subject of an exhaustive new set of reissued recordings:

Now Mosaic has released a remarkable seven-CD box, "The Complete
Jimmie Lunceford Decca Sessions," featuring material recorded between
1934 and 1945. The 146 remastered tracks not only chronicle the band's
role in swing's emergence but also illuminate why so many black and
white bands envied Lunceford's orchestra.

Though the Mosaic box does not cover
Lunceford's entire output during these years--he recorded for Columbia's
Vocalion label in 1939 and 1940--the Decca recordings showcase the
evolving skills of the band's arrangers. This group included trumpeter
Sy Oliver, alto saxophonist Willie Smith, pianist Eddie Wilcox,
trombonist Eddie Durham and trumpeter Gerald Wilson.

"The band could swing anything the
arrangers came up with--and a lot of it was tricky stuff, even at slower
tempos," said Mr. Wilson, 92, who is believed to be the last surviving
member of Lunceford's prewar band.

Like too many African-American musicians of the 20th century, Lunceford's life ended tragically too soon. The WSJ points out that he died in 1947, the cause listed as a heart attack but widely believed to have been racially motivated poisoning.


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Deputy Online News Editor Mark Richens takes you through all the news about Memphis from sources outside the Mid-South.