Fletcher Henderson (1897-1952)
(2008 INDUCTEE) A SUPERB ARRANGER, BANDLEADER AND PIANIST, FLETCHER HENDERSON HELPED CREATE BIG BAND JAZZ. HE RECORDED FOR GENNETT IN NEW YORK CITY WITH COLEMAN HAWKINS IN 1926.
DONATED IN MEMORY OF SAM MEIER, HISTORIAN AND STARR EMPLOYEE, BY THE STARR GENNETT FOUNDATION BOARD AND FRIENDS OF SAM
The ”uncrowned king of swing” put together orchestras filled with remarkable talents and musical arrangements that established a new jazz style that took the country by storm in the 1930s and 40s. Born in Cuthbert, Georgia, Fletcher was raised in a middle-class black family. His father was an educator who insisted that his son pursue a professional career. Fletcher graduated in 1920 from Atlanta College, majoring in chemistry. Racial realities forced him to rethink his scientific career goals and to pursue instead his love music that came from his piano teacher mother. His education led him to a position as manager of the Black Swan Record Company, one of the earliest African American record companies, and his piano skills enabled him to a serve also as music director. He organized his first orchestra in 1922 to accompany the singer Ethel Waters. He was able to attract exceptional musicians such as trumpeter Louis Armstrong and tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins and the orchestra soon became known as the best “colored” band in the city. Performing as the Dixie Stompers, the Henderson orchestra recorded two songs at the Gennett studio in Manhattan in March of 1926. “Honey Bunch” featured Fletcher on the piano and Coleman Hawkins on sax in an arrangement by alto sax Don Redman. The second was “When Spring Comes Peeping Through.” Redman was a talented arranger and, together with Fletcher in the late ‘20s, devised the formula of swing jazz featuring competing soloists. In the ‘30s Henderson arrangements were adopted by many dance bands, including that of Benny Goodman. When his own orchestra faltered, Henderson joined Goodman in 1939, becoming the first black musician to be hired by a white group. A debilitating stroke ended his career in 1950.
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