Harry Sweets Edison is one of the few players in the history of jazz trumpet who could be instantly identified after only a few notes; along with Bobby Hackett, he was acknowledged as one of the few master trumpet accompanists.
Born in Columbus, Ohio, Edison moved to Louisville, Kentucky to live with his uncle. It was his uncle who first exposed Edison to music, first teaching him to play a pump organ. Edison later found an old cornet in the house and taught himself scales. He cited early exposure to recordings of Louis Armstrong backing up Bessie Smith as important influences on his playing.
When he was eleven Edison almost died from typhoid fever. A year later his mother took him back to Columbus, Ohio, and bought a new horn for Edison, at considerable expense. He soon joined a local band led by Earl Hood. In 1933 he joined the Jeter-Pillars Orchestra and moved with the band to St. Louis, where he worked for two years. Tab Smith, A visiting alto player, heard him, and recommended Edison to Lucky Millinder, who led a top rank band in New York. Edison joined Millinder, whose band included trumpet giant Charlie Shavers, pianist Billy Kyle and the tenor saxophonist Don Byas.
After stints with the Millinder band, Edison was hired in 1937 to replace Bobby Moore in Count Basie's band. It was with Basie's band that Edison reportedly earned the nickname Sweets from Lester Young. (Together with the outstanding trumpet soloist Buck Clayton, Edison recorded more than 50 of Basie's records from this period.) It was also during this period that Edison became friends with Billie Holiday, then the bands vocalist. Basie broke the band up for a spell in 1950.