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Willie Bryant

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Biography

Willie Bryant was significant to music twice in his career, as the leader of a talented big band during 1935-38 and as a popular MC and disc jockey in the 1950's. He grew up in Chicago and tried unsuccessfully to learn the trumpet. Bryant began his career in show business in 1926, working as a dancer in the Whitman Sisters' Show. He performed in vaudeville for several years, was in the 1934 show Chocolate Revue and shared the stage with Bessie Smith, singing "Big Fat Ma and Skinny Pa." Bryant organized his big band in late 1934 and during the next few years they had six recording sessions, five for Victor or Bluebird during 1935-36 and a final (and obscure) outing for Decca in 1938. Among Bryant's sidemen during the period (at least part of the time) were pianist Teddy Wilson, drummer Cozy Cole, the underrated tenor-saxophonist Johnny Russell, Benny Carter (who guested on trumpet), tenor great Ben Webster, trombonist-arranger Eddie Durham, pianist Ram Ramirez and trumpeter-vocalist Taft Jordan. Bryant took likable vocals on 18 of the 26 selections but gave his talented sidemen plenty of space to stretch out. After reluctantly breaking up the orchestra, Bryant became an actor, emcee and disc jockey. He recorded in 1945 as an r&b singer (most notably "Blues Around The Clock" and a remake of his best-known original, "It's Over Because We're Through"). Bryant led a big band during 1946-48 which recorded two numbers (and he recorded four final songs with a combo in 1949) but became best-known in the 1950's as the regular emcee at the Apollo Theatre. He spent his last decade in California before passing away in 1964 from a heart attack. ~ Scott Yanow

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Born:

30 August 1908 in New Orleans, LA

Genre
Years Active:

'20s, '30s, '40s