THE JAZZ LEGACY OF THE WOODLAWN CEMETERY
Beginning at the time of the Harlem Renaissance, The Woodlawn Cemetery emerged as the chosen burial ground for many entertainers, specifically those associated with the New York Jazz Scene. For over a century, musicians, writers and singers chose to be buried in a place where they could be at rest among the “jazz family.” The following list provides locations and a brief biography of some of the notable individuals at rest in The Woodlawn Cemetery.
BILLY BANG (1947-2011)
A “Free Jazz” violinist, William Vincent Walker was raised in the Bronx. His talent for music was recognized at an early age and he was placed in a special school for musicians. Drafted into the Army, Bang was sent to Vietnam, a traumatic experience that greatly influenced his music. He was a member of the Sun Ra’s band and was a founding member of the String Trio of New York.
ROY CAMPBELL, JR. (1952-2014)
Known as a “Free Jazz” trumpeter, Campbell was born in Los Angeles but raised from the age of 2 in the Bronx. He studied with several of the Be Bop trumpeters and majored in trumpet at Manhattan Community College. As a performer he played with many bands and was a fixture of the New York jazz scene.
IRENE (1893-1969) AND VERNON CASTLE (1887-1918)
At the dawn of the jazz age, the Castles traveled the world demonstrating a new way to dance. The Fox Trot, Castle Walk and other syncopated dances became the rage as they set the style for the emerging century. Orchestra leader James Reese Europe often provided the music for the dance team as they swirled to the music of W.C. Handy and other great composers.
LEE CASTLE (1915-1990)
Born in the Bronx, Aniello Castaldo played trumpet with Artie Shaw, Jimmy Dorsey, and Jack Teagarden. In the 1950’s when the Dorsey Orchestras merged and became “The Fabulous Dorsey’s”, Castle was the featured soloist on the Jackie Gleason Show. After the death of the Dorsey brothers Lee Castle acquired the Jimmy Dorsey band and was its leader until his death.
ORNETTE COLEMAN (1930-2015)
An innovative saxophonist credited in his leading role in the “Free Jazz” movement of the 1960’s, Coleman was the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2007. In his early years, he was known for playing a plastic alto sax that produced a unique sound pushing the traditions of music. Recognized as an innovative force, Coleman was awarded NEH Jazz Master Fellowship and was also a MacArthur Foundation fellow.
CELIA CRUZ (1925-2003)
The “Queen of Salsa” was born in Cuba, leaving her native land in 1959 following the take over of Fidel Castro. For over fifty years she performed with the most celebrated bands, her most enduring performances were with “El Maestro,” the legendary Tito Puente. This Grammy winning artist was also known for her flashy stage costumes, colorful wigs and signature cry, “Azucaar!”
MILES DAVIS (1926-1991)
An innovator in Hard Bop and Fusion, Davis came to New York to study at the Juilliard School of Music. He abandoned formal training for the jazz clubs and played with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. In 1959 he released Kind Of Blue a monumental recording, which is the greatest selling jazz album of all time. On his black granite, highly polished sarcophagus, are the beginning notes of Solar recorded in 1954. Jesse Jackson delivered the eulogy at his funeral; Bill Cosby, Herbie Hancock and Quincy Jones also spoke at the service.
JOE DIXON (1917-1998)
Dixon played saxophone and clarinet for many of the big bands including the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, Buddy Berigan, and Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians. He joined the Navy in World War II and played with Eddie Condon’s band when he was stationed in New York. He worked with the NBC Orchestra before becoming the director of jazz studies at Adelphi University in 1977.
ADA “BRICKTOP” DUCONGE (1894-1984)
She began her career as a singer, but went on to be the hostess to Europe’s café society during the 1920’s and 30’s. Her jazz clubs in Paris, Rome, and Mexico City attracted such notables as Cole Porter, Ernest Hemingway, T.S. Eliot, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Also credited with helping Duke Ellington to get his start in New York, Bricktop supported the work of numerous jazz artists for over four decades.
DUKE ELLINGTON (1899-1974)
The prolific composer and orchestra leader received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969. His career spanned over fifty years; his compositions include: Satin Doll, Mood Indigo, and Solitude. Over 12,500 mourners attended his funeral at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in Harlem. Among the performers that paid tribute to Ellington at his funeral were: Ella Fitzgerald, Joe Williams, Lou Rawls and McHenry Boatwright who is also buried in the Ellington Lot.
WILLIAM “SONNY” GREER (1903-1982)
This innovative drummer came to New York from Washington, DC with his friend “Duke” Ellington at the age of nineteen. He played with the Duke Ellington orchestra for thirty years; in his autobiography Ellington wrote, “He was not the world’s best reader of music, he was the world’s best percussionist reactor.” Greer was known for his experimental use of cymbals, bells, and chimes.
WILLIAM CHRISTOPHER “W.C.” HANDY (1873-1958)
“The Father of the Blues” was born in Florence, Alabama and rose to fame when his songs were published and played across America. His signature song, St. Louis Blues is inscribed on his grave; he is also know for writing the Beale Street Blues and the Memphis Blues, the theme song for the dance team of Irene and Vernon Castle. Louis Armstrong paid homage to Handy when he recorded his classic tribute album in 1954. Ed Sullivan spoke at his funeral and Cootie Williams played the trumpet. Honorary pallbearers included Governor Averell Harriman, Mayor Robert Wagner, and Dr. Channing Tobias, Chairman of the NAACP.
LIONEL HAMPTON (1908-2002)
The “King of the Vibes” was a composer, bandleader, and great philanthropist. He broke racial barriers playing with the Benny Goodman band and went on to groundbreaking performances with Benny Carter and Louis Armstrong. His recording, Flying Home is considered one of the most influential recordings in American musical history. A traditional jazz band led by Wynton Marsalis followed the hearse as the funeral procession went from the Cotton Club to Riverside Church in Harlem.
CLYDE HART (1910–1945)
The Baltimore native played piano with big bands, smaller groups and several Jazz greats including: Billie Holiday, Lionel Hampton, Chu Berry, Roy Eldridge and Lester Young. A few months before his death from tuberculosis, Hart recorded under his own name including the first studio appearance of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.
COLEMAN HAWKINS (1904-1969)
Credited as the jazz pioneer that turned a comic tenor saxophone into a romantic horn, Hawkins played with the Fletcher Henderson orchestra, when he first came to New York. The Missouri native is best remembered for his classic 1939 recording Body and Soul. His funeral was held at the St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, known as the “Jazz Church” to the music community.
MILT JACKSON (1923-1999)
Milt Jackson was one of the co-founders of the famous Modern Jazz Quartet whose popularity Jackson attributed to “an uncanny ability to take classical music and improvise on it, integrating it with jazz and pop.” An accomplished vibraphonist, Jackson played with many of the jazz greats including: Charlie Parker, Thelonius Monk, John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Coleman Hawkins.
JEAN BAPTISTE “ILLINOIS” JACQUET (1922-2004)
Illinois Jacquet, in the early 1940’s, created an entirely new style and sound for the tenor saxophone, elevating this instrument to a colorful and pre-eminent role in the world of jazz music. In 1942, Jacquet, at the age of 19, was catapulted to immediate international fame by the very first recording of his career with his classic solo on “Flying Home”, recorded with the Lionel Hampton Band. With hit records on every major label throughout the 1940’s, and a star-studded career that spanned seven decades, Jacquet is revered for his high level of excellence in all facets of jazz music, most notably his great mastery of the ballad.
ROBERT ELLIOT “JONAH” JONES (1908-2000)
With a career that spanned several decades, Jonah Jones played with some of the most famous jazz bands and sold millions of records with his versions of “On the Street Where you Live”, and “Baubles, Bangles and Beads”. He played with some of the earliest bands including McKinney’s Cottonpickers and went on to work with Benny Carter and Fletcher Henderson. He performed with Cab Calloway for over a decade. In the fifties he had a regular engagement at the Embers club and in 1959 he won a Grammy the album “I Dig Chicks”.
SAM LEWIS (1883-1959)
A large heart shaped memorial pays tribute to the man who wrote such classic songs as Mammy, In a Little Spanish Town, Five Foot Two Eyes of Blue and Sittin’ On Top of the World. His composition Dinah became a signature song for vibraphonist Lionel Hampton.
JACKIE MCLEAN (1932-2006)
Born in New York City, the alto saxophone player started out with many of the jazz greats at a young age. In his early years he played with such luminaries as: Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Charles Mingus and Art Blakey. His career spanned over five decades; he was recognized as a Jazz Master by the National Endowment of the Arts and was the founder of the Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz at the University of Hartford.
FLORENCE MILLS (1895-1927)
The “Blackbird of Harlem” died in 1927 from complications with appendicitis. As an entertainer she was considered to be the first black female star to win international acclaim. She was a dancer, singer and a major performer the height of the Harlem Renaissance. More than 5,000 people attended her funeral; over 150,000 lined the streets in tribute as the procession went to Woodlawn. Duke Ellington wrote his classic Black Beauty as a tribute to Mills.
HAROLD NICHOLAS (1921-2000)
One of the tap dancing Nicholas Brothers, he starred in vaudeville productions and went on to perform with the Ellington Orchestra at Harlem’s Cotton Club. Eventually the brothers went on to perform their dazzling dance routines in the classic movie musicals of the 1940’s. As with many of the performers of the era, it was Nicholas’ request to be buried close to the great Duke Ellington.
JOSEPH “KING” OLIVER (1885-1938)
The leader of King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band served as a mentor to Louis Armstrong and is credited with giving the young musician his first coronet. He began his career in New Orleans, toured his band to Chicago and eventually traveled to New York. He recorded duets with pianist Jelly Roll Morton and is considered one of early pioneers of jazz music. In 1994 a New Jersey Jazz Society erected a marker on the grave of King Oliver.
HARRY HERBERT PACE (1884-1943)
Born in Covington, Georgia, Harry Pace studied as a young man at Atlanta University and was taught by W.E.B. DuBois. In 1903 he went in to the printing business in Memphis printing the first illustrated African-American Journal. It was when he was in Memphis that he met W.C. Handy – he collaborated with the musician and the pair launched the Pace and Handy Music Company. Eventually Pace went out on his own founding Black Swan, the first black owned record company.
BEVERLY PEER (1899-1983)
The longtime bass player for Bobby Short, grew up in Hamilton Heights. In 1937 he joined the Chick Webb Orchestra and played bass behind Ella Fitzgerald on all her early hits. Later he worked with Sarah Vaughan and Lena Horne and also played with the symphony at Radio City Music Hall.
MAXWELL LAMUEL “MAX” ROACH (1924-2007)
Drummer, percussionist and composer, Max Roach was considered one of the most important influences in jazz. He performed with Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, Sonny Rollins and Clifford Brown. Roach was an activist in the Civil Rights movement.
CLARK TERRY (1920-2015)
For a decade, Terry was known as a trumpeter with the Tonight Show band. He gained his wealth of experience playing with Count Basie and the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Clark Terry performed on over 900 recordings, considered one of the most recorded trumpet players of all time. He was a well respected educator; he received the NEH Jazz Masters Award and a Grammy lifetime achievement award in 2010.
JOYCE ALEXANDER WEIN (1928-2005)
Wife and business partner of jazz impresario George Wein, with her husband, was responsible for the long-term cultural impact of the Newport Jazz Festival, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and the promotion of jazz throughout the world. Joyce Wein is remembered as an important collector of African American Art and for her contributions as a supporter of the Studio Museum of Harlem and the Harlem Children’s Zone.
ARTHUR WHETSEL (1905-1940)
Raised in Washington, DC, Whetsel (Whetsol) came to New York with Duke Ellington and played with his orchestra in New York at the Kentucky Club and Cotton Club. He left the band to study medicine at Howard University, but returned to play with Ellington when he was on vacation from school.
JOE WILDER (1922-2014)
Born in Philadelphia, Wilder was classically trained and turned to jazz where there were more opportunities. He served in the Marines in World War II. Wilder played with Jimmie Lunceford, Dizzy Gillespie and Count Basie. Wilder played trumpet on several movie scores, accompanied vocalists Billie Holiday, Tony Bennett and Johnny Mathis. He was awarded the NEH Jazz Masters award in 2008.
CHARLES “COOTIE” WILLIAMS (1908-1985)
Considered one of the great jazz trumpet players, Williams was known for his “growling, muted horn”, and played primarily with the Duke Ellington orchestra. When he came to New York he started out with the Chick Webb orchestra, then he took a job with Ellington. He moved on to join the Benny Goodman orchestra and was with that band at the time of the historic Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert.Williams wrote the jazz classic Round Midnight with Thelonious Monk.
SANDY WILLIAMS (1906-1981)
As a young musician, Williams listened to the recordings of the Fletcher Henderson band, inspired by the sound of trombonist Jimmy Harrison. Eventually he made it to New York where he played with Henderson Orchestra, Chick Webb’s orchestra for seven years and for a brief period with Duke Ellington. In the 1940’s Sandy Williams performed with Roy Eldridge, Rex Stewart and Art Hodes.
JOHNNY WINDHURST (1926-1981)
As a young man of nineteen, Johnny Windhurst played trumpet alongside the great Sidney Bechet in Boston’s Savoy Café. He worked primarily in the Boston area until the late 1950’s when he moved to New York to be close to his family. Content to work close to home, Windhurst was a resident musician at Frivolous Sal’s Last Chance Saloon, a Poughkeepsie nightspot.