Born: October 10, 1910 Primary Instrument: Composer/conductor/leader
Milt Larkin - trumpet, vocal, bandleader (1910 - 1996)
Milton Larkin was born in Navasota, Texas, on October 10, 1910, and was the leader of one of the greatest of all territory bands that, tragically, never recorded. After hearing Bunk Johnson, Larkin taught himself to play the trumpet. Larkin first freelanced in Texas with such bands as Chester Boone and Giles Mitchell's Birmingham Blue Blowers. During 1936-42 he led his own band touring the Southwest and even played briefly in Kansas City, Chicago and at New York's famed Apollo Theatre.
Larkin's band became the premiere Swing aggregation in Houston, Texas, which after being in operation for 4 years, went to Chicago, where they enjoyed a great 9-month stay at Chicago's Rumboogie club. During that time, other bandleaders such as Lionel Hampton and Cootie Williams often came in and picked off sidemen to join their own groups. Reportedly the Larkin unit, which has been called probably the last of the great Texas bands, could stand comparison with such name orchestras as those of Jimmie Lunceford and Cab Calloway.
Certainly the Larkin band included top-notch sidemen in tenor saxophonists Illinois Jacquet and Arnett Cobb, who went on to make names for themselves as solo stars with the orchestra of Lionel Hampton. Other vital members of the Larkin band were saxophonist and vocalist Eddie Vinson and two pianist-arranger-composers, Wild Bill Davis and Cedric Haywood. Larkin refused to record during the period of his greatest success in the 1930s and early 1940s, however, as he was unwilling to accept the low wages offered to black musicians by record companies.
In 1942, America entered World War II, and the orchestra broke up when Larkin was drafted into the U. S. Army. From 1943-46, Larkin played in an Army band that was led by Sy Oliver, and he began doubling on valve trombone. In 1946, after his Service discharge, he did have an opportunity to record, doing Chicken Blues in 1946.
In 1956, he settled in New York City where he often headed a septet at the Celebrity Club. In the mid-1970's, he retired to Houston, Texas. Larkin led bands throughout much of his career, including a combo called The X-Rays. His only dates as a leader included a total of 11 selections (mostly as a vocalist) for six different labels (Stinson, Sunrise, Hub, Regal, Coral and Lloyds) during 1946-54 and an obscure album “Milt Larkin & his All Stars: Down Home Saturday Night” (on valve trombone and vocals) for Copasetic in 1976.
Milt Larkin died in Houston on August 31, 1996.