William Alonzo Cat Anderson grew from a childhood in the Jenkins Orphanage to become the acclaimed lead trumpet player with Duke Ellington and one of the most recognized high-note trumpet players of all time.
Born in Greenville, South Carolina, he was put in the orphanage after both his parents died during his childhood. He soon took on the name Cat, that would stick for the rest of his life, for his fighting style at the orphanage. His music career began on larger horns, like the trombone and baritone, but when he showed considerable talent, the orphanage granted his wish: he received his first trumpet.
Anderson grew to be a standout with the orphanage bands, and his first official departure from the orphanage was with a group of fellow Jenkins players that called themselves the Carolina Cotton Pickers. The group toured for awhile and recorded four tracks for Brunswick Records, but the band split up after a short while.
After leaving the Cotton Pickers, Anderson played with groups including those of Claude Hopkins, Lucky Millinder, Erskine Hawkins and Lionel Hampton during the years of 1935-44.
Cat's primary success and fame came as a trumpet player in Duke Ellington's big band during 1944-47, 1950-59 and off and on during 1961-71. He recorded on many of Duke's famous recordings. Ellington, always on the lookout for distinctive sounds, used Anderson's screamingly high trumpet acrobatics to sensational effect on several numbers, including El Gato, Trumpet No End, and Jam with Sam.