Henry Busse

Henry Busse

From Wikipedia
Henry Busse Sr.
Henry Busse 1921.jpg
Henry Busse in 1921. Detail from sheet music cover.
Background information
Birth name Henry Busse
Born May 19, 1894
Origin MagdeburgGermany
Died April 23, 1955 (aged 60)
Genres Jazz
Instruments trumpet
Associated acts Paul Whiteman

Henry Busse Sr. (May 19, 1894 – April 23, 1955) was a jazz trumpeter known for work with sweet bands and big bands.

Early life

Born May 19, 1894 to a generational German Band family. Henry Busse studied violin and then trumpet(after a finger he had broken was set incorrectly) under his Oompah Band leader uncle. In 1912, following numerous failed attempts, at age 18, Henry Busse successfully ran away from the family farm outside of Magdeburg, Germany where he had been forced to play trumpet in his uncle’s band. Henry initially “jumped ship” in New York landing in the German ghettos there. Rousted by the police for sleeping in Grand Central Station, unable to speak the English he found a job on a boat heading to California. He acquired some English on his trip. 1916, found Busse Hollywood and working as an extra in Keystone Cop films and playing trumpet in a movie theater pit band.

Early career

In 1917, Busse played the trumpet with the ‘Frisco “Jass” Band’. He then formed his own band Busse’s Buzzards (which was the nucleus of the Paul Whiteman orchestra of the mid-1920s) featuring Henry Busse—they made four sides total.

Busse was the subject of discrimination due to his German accent, which caused concern among those living in post-World War IAmerica.

At one point, eight out of the top ten sheet music sales spots belonged to the band. During his peak with them, Busse was earning $350 weekly, while fellow band member Bing Crosby was earning just $150. He co-composed several of the band’s early hit songs, including “Hot Lips” and (with Gussie Mueller) “Wang Wang Blues“.

Busse was concertmaster for the Whiteman Band when it toured Europe in the ’20s, and there discovered a song written by a German doctor – Robert Katscher. Back in the States, Johnny DeSilvia penned new words and the song’s name was changed to “When Day is Done“; it was a hit, and made Busse famous.

While with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra, Henry Busse played alongside brothers Tommy Dorsey and Jimmie Dorsey (who later left to start their own separate bands). He played with Ray Bolger at the Chez Paree, a night club owned by notorious gangster Al Capone; Busse ran the house band there and worked for Capone.

Success and controversy

Busse’s 1934 re-recording of Wang Wang Blues, one of his earliest hits withPaul Whiteman in 1920. Busse was co-composer of this tune.

Busse hit his peak in 1930-45, playing dance music before the war and swing during it. His music was often berated by Downbeat magazine, which called his a “sweet” or “Mickey Mouse” band. He and his band appeared in an MGM color movie in 1935 called ‘Starlit Days at the Lido’ filmed at the Ambassador Hotel in Hollywood (sadly pulled down in 2006 after 85 long years) along with Clark Gable and MGM’s stable of stars and in the movie “Lady Let’s Dance“, in which Busse had a speaking part.

His personal life wound up in gossip columns when he partied one night with a woman at the Hotsy Totsy Club and woke up married. He sought an annulment and during the 18 months to unwind the legal tangle, he toured Europe and staved off arrest for nonpayment ofalimony.

Late career

In 1928, after mastering the English language, Busse Sr. began Henry Busse and the Shuffle Rhythm Band, which enjoyed great success in the ’30s and ’40s. A year later, Busse Sr. married Dorothy Drake, a former model and stage actress. Their only son, Henry Busse Jr., was born in 1931, and was 3 when his parents divorced. In 1935, Busse Sr. married Lorayne Brox, member of the Brox Sisters singing trio.

Busse stayed with Whiteman until 1928 when he left the band and formed his own group, The Henry Busse Orchestra. This group was more of a sweet dance band than a jazz band and had a very successful career.

Henry Busse and his Orchestra continued to record and perform up until his death in 1955. Busse died at an undertaker’s convention at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee while he was playing with the Shuffle Rhythm Band.


Aside from his close relationship with Bing Crosby, he became friends with several notable people of that time, including Ray BolgerAl JolsonRuby KeelerIrving BerlinGeorge RaftGinger Rogers, and Edward G. Robinson.

Al Hirt and Herb Alpert have remarked they were inspired by the trumpet solo work of Busse, particularly his rendition of “Rhapsody in Blue“.


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