Violinist Erskine Tate studied music at Lane College in Jackson, Tennessee, and at the American Conservatory in Chicago. He began working as a professional musician in Chicago in 1912. From 1919 to 1928 he led an orchestra at the Vendome Theatre, providing music for silent films and entertaining during intermissions.
Originally a nine-piece outfit, by the mid-1920s it had become a 15-piece ensemble which featured, at times, such musicians as Louis Armstrong, Lil Armstrong, Freddie Keppard, and Buster Bailey. The Vendome Orchestra recorded on the Okeh and Vocalion labels in the mid-1920s.
After leaving the Vendome, Tate led a band at the Metropolitan Theatre until 1930 and then at the Michigan Theatre until 1932. He continued to lead orchestras in Chicago throughout the 1930s, including a long residency at the Cotton Club. He also often performed for local dance marathons.
In 1945 he opened his own studio and began to teach music, becoming one of the city's top instructors throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Erskine Tate passed away in 1975.