William McKinney, showman-drummer, formed his Cotton Pickers in Springfield, Ohio in 1922, but it was not until the summer of 1928 that they commenced their short but illustrious recording career for Victor. In the autumn of 1931 Don Redman, who did most of the arrangements, took a band of his own, including in it several of the Cotton Pickers.
The Cotton Pickers were based originally in the Greystone Ballroom in Detroit, opposite Jean Goldkette's excellent White orchestra, but by the early part of 1929 we find them in Harlem at various nightspots. Their personnel varied as any personnel in a band this size, but in it's ranks were at one time such brilliant stars of the Harlem Jazz firmament as Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins, Lonnie Johnson, James P. Johnson, Joe Smith, Ed Cuffee, Claude Jones and Fats Waller.
The original policy of the band was to play hot numbers, many of which were composed by Redman and/or other musicians in the band, but once in New York, with a recording contract from Victor that was demanding of all its artists a more commercial approach to work, the Cotton Pickers included a repertoire of the better popular hits of the day.
The line up of the McKinney Cotton Pickers in their prime was: Don Redman: reeds and arrangements; John Nesbitt and Langston Curl: trumpets; Claude Jones: trombone; Milton Senior, George Thomas, Prince Robinson: reeds; Todd Rhodes: piano; Dave Wilborn: banjo and guitar; Ralph Escudero: tuba; Cuba Austin: drums and vibraphone; Jean Napier violin.