Jimmy Rushing Biography

Big Band Blues
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Swing Dance Special, Volume 1
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26 August 1902, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA, d. 8 June 1972. Rushing began singing while still studying music at school in his home-town. By 1923 he was a full-time professional singer, working in California with, among others, Jelly Roll Morton and Paul Howard. Back home in the mid-20s he teamed up with Walter Page and then joined Bennie Moten, and by 1935 was a member of the Count Basie band. He remained with Basie until 1948 and then worked as a solo, sometimes leading a small band. During these later years he regularly worked with leading jazz artists including Benny Goodman, Buck Clayton, Basie, and, during tours of the UK, with Humphrey Lyttelton. Rushing’s voice was a slightly nasal high tenor that carried comfortably over the sound of a big band in full cry.

The fact that he sang at a somewhat higher pitch than most other male blues singers gave his performances a keening, plaintive quality. In fact, his singing style and repertoire made him far more than merely a blues singer and he was at ease with romantic ballads. Nevertheless, he tinged everything he sang, from love songs to up-tempo swingers, with the qualities of the blues. Despite his extensive repertoire, in later years he favoured certain songs, including ‘Going To Chicago’, ‘Every Day I Have The Blues’ and ‘Exactly Like You’, but even repeated performances at clubs, concerts and record sessions were infused with such infectious enthusiasm that he never palled. Known because of his build as ‘Mr Five By Five’, Rushing was at his best in front of a big band or a Kansas City-style small group, but even when he stepped out of character, as on his final formal record date, he could enchant listeners. By the early 70s, and his last date, his voice was showing signs of decades of wear and tear, but he retained his unflagging swing and brought to unusual material such as ‘When I Grow Too Old To Dream’ and ‘I Surrender, Dear’, great emotional depth and a sharp awareness of the demands of both music and lyrics.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.