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Jimmy Rushing

“Mr. Five by Five”

Jimmy Rushing established a style of singing that epitomized swing: he created a wonderful tension between band and vocalist by singing ahead of or behind the beat and toyed with the rhythm. He was a blues singer and a jazz singer, and his ability to work within both styles had an incalculable influence on succeeding generations of popular music vocalists.

Jimmy Rushing was born on August 26, 1902 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. His father, Andrew Rushing, and his mother, Cora Freeman, were both musicians,and they were a big influence on him. The first instrument he learned was the violin. While at Douglass High School, he studied music theory. Through the encouragement of his uncle Wesley Manning (who played and sang at a local sporting house), Jimmy took up playing piano. He also sang in school and church choirs, and spent his summers traveling throughout the Midwest. After high school, he went to Wilberforce University in Ohio, realized it wasn’t for him, dropped out after a couple of years and moved to Los Angeles.

He did his share of odd jobs, but drifted into the music scene where he met and sang with Jelly Roll Morton at private parties or night clubs. In 1925, he toured in the Billy King Road Show for a spell, and then moved back to Oklahoma City to work in his father's café. By 1927 he joined up with Walter Page's Blue Devils, whose piano player was a young Bill Basie. Jimmy knew Walter Page from his days with Billy King. He appeared on Page’s Vocalion records session in Kansas City in 1929, but the band broke up shortly after. Basie and Jimmy, and Walter Page joined Bennie Moten's Kansas City Orchestra, which was the hottest band in Kansas City. . He was the vocalist on Moten’s Victor recordings up through the mid ‘30's. In 1935 Bennie Moten died, and Bill Basie formed his own band with many of the musicians from Moten’s band, Jimmy Rushing was the singer. The band became the Barons of Rhythm, which had their own way of playing, their own beat, in what was to be “Kansas City Swing”, and nobody did it better. They signed on an extended engagement at the Club Reno, in Kansas City, which led to radio broadcasts and recording contracts with Decca. The band become the Count Basie Orchestra and swung their way into jazz history.

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