Once upon a time in Black Entrepreneur History was an African American man born in Cheraw, South Carolina named Dizzy Gillespie who became known for a style of jazz music called Bebop, to which many consider him Bebop’s founder. He was born on October 21, 1917.
Before he became a jazz legend as a composer, jazz trumpeter and bandleader, he was born the son of James and Lottie Gillespie who gave him his birth name John Birks Gillespie.
Music passed directly from his father James, who was a bandleader in the city of Cheraw, to him and his eight siblings because the home was always full of music and instruments. After his father passed away when he was only ten years old, Dizzy continued to play instruments, such as the piano, while also teaching himself how to play the brass instruments – the trombone and the trumpet, to which he would later become well known for playing.
Schooling & Career
Laurinburg Institute in NC. After that, his family moved to Philadelphia where he landed a place with the Frankie Fairfax band in 1935, and he was so good until he ended up taking the spots of other musicians. It was in Philadelphia where he adopted the name Dizzy as his stage name which showed off the natural silliness of his personality. Soon enough, Dizzy made his first recording with the Teddy Hill band in King Porter Stomp.
It wasn’t soon after that he’d joined Cab Calloway to play in his orchestra and was officially on his own as a freelancing jazz player, performing with not only Calloway, but Chick Webb and Ella Fitzgerald. He’d become a top notch player, no one to overlook throughout the 1930s, and by 1940, Dizzy Gillespie founded his own orchestra, preferring smaller groups as in a band versus large.
In all this composing and playing, Dizzy found time to fall in love. His love was a woman named Gussie Lorraine Willis, and they married in Boston on May 9, 1940.
Though Dizzy and Lorraine had no children together, he had a child outside of wedlock, a daughter with composer Connie Bryson in 1958. His daughter’s name is Jeanie Bryson, and she is also a lover of music musician as her parents, completing jazz recordings between 1993 to 2006.
In the 1950s, he founded his own jazz record company called Dee Gee Records in Detroit, Michigan, with a friend named Dave Usher. Though they wanted the launch to succeed, it only lasted for two to three years before it had to close. Gillespie’s recordings under his own label include:
- Tin Tin Deo
- The Champ
- Birks’ Works
Although Dee Gee’s went under, even after signing other artists, the failed business didn’t take Dizzy Gillespie with it. His talent was nearly unrivaled. He went on to perform, recording with plenty others, including Count Basie, while playing overseas for the United States State Department. He also became leader of the United Nations Orchestra in the 1980s. From the 1960s through the 1980s, touring was his life, and he was world renowned, even becoming a star in the film The Winter in Lisbon.
Below is a list of some of Dizzy Gillespie Compositions:
- A Night in Tunisia
- School Days
- Tin Tin Deo
- Birks’ Works
- Oop Pob Sh’Bam
- Groovin’ High
- Hot House
- The Champ
- Woody N You
- Our Delight
- All The Things You Are
- Con Alma
- Salt Peanuts
- Hey Pete
- Woman You Must Be Crazy
- Shaw Nuff
- One Note Samba
- Goin’ To Canada
- Just Friends
- Do I Do
- They Can’t Take That Away
- The Eternal Triangle
One of the most memorable things about Dizzy Gillespie besides his talent was his cheeks. Whenever he played, his cheeks would expand. This expansion was due to his cheek muscles expanding over time from playing his brass instruments. This is common in many brass musicians, but Gillespie is known for them due to his popularity.
Dizzy Gillespie also was an author, having released the two books below – To Be or not… To Bop and Dizzy:The Autobiography of Dizzy Gillespie. Other books by Dizzy pertained to his sheet music.
Sickness and Death
By the end of 1991, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, making him eventually become extremely ill. On January 6, 1993, Dizzy Gillesipie, the man who became a jazz legend, died in Englewood, New Jersey and was buried in Flushing Cemetery in Flushing, New York
There is a 7ft tall bronze statue of Dizzy Gillespie playing his trumpet in the town of his birth.
Little Known Facts about Dizzy Gillespie:
- He was 22 years old and already married when he registered for WWII Draft, and he and his wife lived at 2040-7th Avenue, NY, NY. He was also employed by Cab Calloway Inc. at that time.
- On his WW II registration card, his wife’s full name is noted, Gussie Lorraine (Willis) Gillespie, but she apparently went by Lorraine.
Ancestry.com. U.S., World War II Draft Cards Young Men, 1940-1947 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011