Born William Thomas Dupree, 4 July 1910, New Orleans, (Dupree's birth date is the matter of some conjecture and is sometimes listed as 23 July 1909). Orphaned in infancy, Dupree was raised in the Colored Waifs Home for Boys until the age of 14. After leaving, he led a marginal existence, singing for tips, and learning piano from musicians such as Willie Drive-'em-down Hall. Dupree also became a professional boxer, and blended fighting with hoboing throughout the 30s, before retiring from the ring in 1940, and heading for New York. Initially, he traveled only as far as Indianapolis, where he joined with musicians who had been associates of Leroy Carr. Dupree rapidly became a star of the local black entertainment scene, as a comedian and dancer as well as a musician. He acquired a residency at the local Cotton Club, and partnered comedienne Ophelia Hoy.
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