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Rhythm Man: Chick Webb and the Beat That Changed America

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The first comprehensive biography of the Swing Era's pioneering virtuoso drummer and bandleader

William Henry "Chick" Webb (1905-39) was one of the first virtuoso drummers in jazz and an innovative bandleader dubbed the "Savoy King," who reigned at Harlem's world-famous Savoy Ballroom. Along with the likes of Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson, and Cab Calloway, Webb helped create the popular dance and music culture, known as Swing, that swept the United States during and after the Great Depression and left an indelible impact on American culture. Having moved to Harlem from Baltimore during the Harlem Renaissance, Webb's creativity, charisma and persistence enabled him to navigate the harsh realities of racism and show business, lifting not only himself to stardom but also bringing other future legends-namely vocalist extraordinaire Ella Fitzgerald and R&B trailblazer Louis Jordan-along with him. But at the peak of his fame, at just 34 years of age, his life was cut short by the chronic spinal tuberculosis that had left him four feet tall with a hump on his back.

In this first comprehensive biography of Webb, author Stephanie Stein Crease traces his story in full, showing how his skills and innovations as a bandleader helped catalyze the music of the Swing Era and the growing big band industry, allowing Webb to become one of the most influential musicians in jazz history. Crease explores Webb's personal and professional struggles as he rose to the top of the increasingly competitive world of big band jazz.

Complete with rare photographs, posters, news clippings, and a discography, this biography will be a gift to jazz aficionados and scholars.

ISBN-13: 9780190055691

Media Type: Hardcover

Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA

Publication Date: 04-25-2023

Pages: 360

Product Dimensions: 9.52h x 6.44w x 1.21d

Series: Cultural Biographies


Stephanie Stein Crease is a jazz historian, author, editor, and former Senior Jazz Coordinator for the Jazz Arts Program, Manhattan School of Music. Her books include Gil Evans: Out of the Cool (2002 ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award), and Duke Ellington: His Life in Jazz (2009). She was literary editor for the Grammy-awarded Duke Ellington Centennial Edition. She was a 2020 Scholar-in Residence at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, NYPL, and 2018 Berger-Benny Carter-Berger Research Fellow at the Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University.