Saturday, August 22, 2009

Orchestra Leader Jimmie Lunceford's Itawamba County Roots

The Itawamba County pioneers from the 1800s produced many illustrious citizens from all walks of life during the county’s 170-year history and the entertainment field is definitely represented with such a list. One successful entertainer in the music field from Itawamba County was Jimmie Lunceford.

Jimmie (James Melvin) Lunceford was born northeast of Fulton in Itawamba County June 6, 1902 on his family’s farm. Shortly before 1910 (James appears as 5 years old in the 1908 Itawamba County school census) the family left Itawamba County and moved west, first to Oklahoma and then to Colorado where he attended school. After attending school in Denver he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Fisk University. During 1927 while teaching high school in Memphis, Tennessee, he organized a student band called the Chickasaw Syncopators, whose name was later changed to the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra after it began touring. The first recording made by the orchestra was during 1930. After a period of touring, the band accepted a booking at the famous Cotton Club during 1933 in New York City. Shortly thereafter Lunceford’s reputation began to grow. By the 1930s, his orchestra was considered the equal to Duke Ellington and Count Basie. His orchestra began recording for the Decca label and later signed with Columbia’s subsidiary Vocalion during 1938. He and his orchestra toured Europe extensively during 1937 and later he returned to the Decca label. During 1947 while playing in Seaside, Oregon, Lunceford collapsed and died while signing autographs. Lunceford was buried in Memphis, Tennessee.MORE

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