He is one of the key players in New Orleans drumming continuum. In what has to qualify as a lifetime of accomplishments, he played with Cannonball and Nat Adderley, Horace Silver, and Yusef Lateef, and toured with Lionel Hampton. He was the drummer on seminal recordings by Ellis Marsalis, worked with many R&B artists, and laid the foundations for the funk and jazz drummers that followed.
Born in New Orleans on February 1, 1940, James Black absorbed the second line rhythms from a young age. Like so many other native New Orleans musicians, James Black came up through the public school system's music programs under the guidance of Yvonne Busch. Miss Busch was known for requiring her students to play at least two instruments. James gave her great credit, saying instead of just being a drummer, now I'm a musician. He later studied music at Southern University in Baton Rouge, and played in their marching band. Like any New Orleans drummer, he was greatly inspired by the street percussions of the Mardi Gras Indians and developed his street beat by following second line parades.