McKinney’s Cotton Pickers

McKinney’s Cotton Pickers

From Wikipedia

McKinney’s Cotton Pickers were an African American jazz band founded in Detroit in 1926 by William McKinney, who expanded his Synco Septet to ten pieces. Cuba Austin took over for McKinney early on drums.

In 1927 Fletcher Henderson‘s arranger and saxophone player Don Redman was invited to become the Cotton Pickers’ musical director,  and he assembled a band which rivalled Henderson’s and Duke Ellington‘s.  Aiding Redman with arrangements and rehearsals with the band was the talented trumpeter-arranger John Nesbitt. The line-up in 1928 was Cuba Austin (drums and vocals), Prince Robinson (clarinet, tenor saxophone), George Thomas (clarinet, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, vocals; Redman (arranger, clarinet, alto saxophone, baritone saxophone, vocals, and leader), Dave Wilborn (banjo, vocals), Todd Rhodes (piano, celeste), Ralph Escudero (tuba), Nesbitt, Claude Jones(trombone), Milton Senior, Langston Curl (trumpet).

Other bandmembers at one time or another included George Bias (vocals), Benny Carter (clarinet, alto saxophone), Doc Cheatham (trumpet), Bill Coti (vocals), Ed Cuffee(trombone), Sidney de Paris* (trumpet), Lois Deppe (vocals), Leonard Davis* (trumpet), Jimmy Dudley (clarinet, tenor saxophone), Coleman Hawkins* (clarinet, tenor saxophone), Robert Inge (clarinet, (alto saxophone), Quentin Jackson (trombone), Moxey-Hilton Jefferson (clarinet, alto saxophone), James P. Johnson (piano), Buddy Lee (trumpet), Donald King (vocals), Kaiser Marshall* (drums), Frank Marvin (vocals), Theodore McCord (clarinet, tenor saxophone), Jim Napier (vocals), Milton Senior (trumpet), Joe “Fox” Smith* (trumpet, cornet), Rex Stewart (cornet), Billy Taylor (tuba), Fats Waller* (piano, celeste).  Between 1927 and 1931, they were one of the most popular African-American bands. Many of their records for Victor were best sellers. (* were solists who sat in during a short series of late 1929 New York sessions…not regular members.)

In 1931 Redman left to form his own band and was replaced by Benny Carter. The Cotton Pickers disbanded in 1934, unable to make money during the Depression. Manager of the band was Jean Goldkette (who arranged for the group to record “Birmingham Bertha” for him in July 1929, released on Victor under his own name).

A New McKinney’s Cotton Pickers was organized in the early 1970s by David Hutson, using the original Don Redman arrangements. They recorded several albums and featured original banjoist Dave Wilborn, who was believed to have been the only surviving original member at the time.

McKinney’s Cotton Pickers’ performance of “Milenberg Joys” was used as the theme tune of Robert Parker’s 1980s radio series “Jazz Classics in Digital Stereo”.


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