|Born||August 8, 1920|
Gurdon, Arkansas, U.S.
|Died||September 18, 1997 77) (aged|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Genres||Blues, jump blues|
James Witherspoon (August 8, 1920 – September 18, 1997) was an American jump blues singer.
Witherspoon was born in Gurdon, Arkansas.He first attracted attention singing in Calcutta, India, with Teddy Weatherford's band, which made regular radio broadcasts over the U.S. Armed Forces Radio Service during World War II. Witherspoon made his first records with Jay McShann's band in 1945. He first recorded under his own name in 1947, and two years later with the McShann band, he had his first hit, "Ain't Nobody's Business", a song that came to be regarded as his signature tune. In 1950 he had hits with two more songs closely identified with him—"No Rollin' Blues" and "Big Fine Girl"—and also hit with "Failing by Degrees" and "New Orleans Woman", recorded with the Gene Gilbeaux Orchestra (which included Herman Washington and Don Hill) for Modern Records. They were recorded at a live performance on May 10, 1949, at a "Just Jazz" concert in Pasadena, California, sponsored by Gene Norman. Another classic Witherspoon composition is "Times Gettin' Tougher Than Tough".
Witherspoon performed in four of the famed Cavalcade of Jazz concerts held in Los Angeles at Wrigley Field which were produced by Leon Hefflin Sr. His first performance was at the fourth Cavalcade of Jazz on September 12, 1948 and Dizzy Gillespie was the featured artist along with Frankie Lane, Little Miss Cornshucks, The Sweetheart of Rhythms, Joe Liggins's Honeydrippers, Joe Turner, The Blenders, and The Sensations.The program description stated that Witherspoon "is one of the most sought-after blues singers in the business. He has a strong, clear voice and diction that you would hear in the classics. Although he has been quite successful singing the blues, Witherspoon can sing ballads with a surprising sweetness." He played at the fifth Cavalcade of Jazz concert on July 10, 1949, along with Lionel Hampton, The Hamptones, Buddy Banks and his Orchestra, Big Jay McNeely, and Smiley Turner. Witherspoon came back again for the seventh Cavalcade of Jazz concert on July 8, 1951 and performed alongside Billy Eckstine, Lionel Hampton and his Revue, Percy Mayfield, Joe Liggins's Honeydrippers, and Roy Brown. His last appearance at the eighth Cavalcade of Jazz concert was on June 1, 1952. Also featured that day were Anna Mae Winburn and Her Sweethearts, Jerry Wallace, Toni Harper, Roy Brown and His Mighty Men, Louis Jordan and his Orchestra, and Josephine Baker.
Witherspoon's style of blues—as a "blues shouter"—became unfashionable in the mid-1950s, but he returned to popularity with his 1959 album Jimmy Witherspoon at the Monterey Jazz Festival, which featured Roy Eldridge, Woody Herman, Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Earl Hines, and Mel Lewis.Witherspoon later recorded with Gerry Mulligan, Leroy Vinnegar, Richard "Groove" Holmes, and T-Bone Walker.
In 1961 he toured Europe with Buck Clayton and returned to the UK on many occasions, featuring on a mid-'60s live UK recording, Spoon Sings and Swings (1966), with tenor sax player Dick Morrissey's quartet. In 1970, Witherspoon appeared on Brother Jack McDuff's London Blue Note recording To Seek a New Home together with British jazz musicians, including Dick Morrissey, again, and Terry Smith. In the 1970s Witherspoon also recorded the album Guilty! (later released on CD as Black & White Blues) with Eric Burdonand featuring Ike White & the San Quentin Prison Band. He then toured with a band of his own featuring Robben Ford and Russ Ferrante. A recording from this period, Spoonful, featured Witherspoon accompanied by Robben Ford, Joe Sample, Cornell Dupree, Thad Jones, and Bernard Purdie. He continued performing and recording into the 1990s.
Other performers with whom Witherspoon recorded include Jimmy Rowles, Earl "Fatha" Hines, Vernon Alley, Mel Lewis, Teddy Edwards, Gerald Wiggins, John Clayton, Paul Humphrey, Pepper Adams, Kenny Burrell, Harry "Sweets" Edison, Jimmy Smith, Long John Baldry, Junior Mance, Ellington bassist Jimmy Woode, Kenny Clarke, Gerry Mulligan, Jim Mullen, Count Basie, Van Morrison, Dutch Swing College Band, and Gene Gilbeaux.
In the 1995 film Georgia, Witherspoon portrayed a traveling, gun-collecting blues singer, Trucker, who has a relationship with the troubled character Sadie, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh.
He played Nate Williams in The Black Godfather (1974) and Percy in To Sleep with Anger (1990).
Witherspoon died of throat cancer on September 18, 1997, in Los Angeles.
Witherspoon's grandson Ahkello Witherspoon is the starting cornerback for the San Francisco 49ers.
On June 25, 2019, The New York Times Magazine listed Jimmy Witherspoon among hundreds of artists whose material was reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire.
|US Pop|| US|
|1949||"Ain't Nobody's Business (Parts 1 & 2)" (Supreme)||—||1|
|"In the Evening" (Supreme)||—||5|
|"No Rollin' Blues" (Modern)||—||4|
|"Big Fine Girl" (Modern)||—||4|
|1952||"The Wind is Blowin'" (Modern)||—||7|
|1965||"You're Next" (Prestige)||98||—|
|1975||"Love is a Five Letter Word" (Capitol)||—||31|
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