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Calvin Newborn

Calvin Newborn - electric guitar, vocals

In Memphis Tennessee, the lines between blues and jazz have always been blurred. From the great bandleader Jimmie Lunceford (who taught at Manassas High School in the 1920s), on through phenomenal musicians like Fred Ford, Frank Strozier, Hank Crawford, Herman Green, George Coleman, James Williams, and Charles Lloyd, the local blues scene provided an entry into a full-time musical career; the hard-earned admission to the jazz world came later.

For good reason, one family the Newborns became known as Memphis’ “First Family of Jazz.” Drummer Finas Newborn, the family’s patriarch, played drums with Lunceford’s Chickasaw Syncopators at the height of the Depression; later, he backed Lionel Hampton and led his own group, which featured his sons, pianist Phineas and guitarist Calvin Newborn, and opened his own musical instrument store on Beale Street.

Finas’ sons literally grew up with musical instruments in their hands. While they were still attending elementary school, the two took first prize at the Palace Theater’s “Amateur Night” show, where Calvin brought down the house singing “Your Mama’s On the Bottom, Papa’s On Top, Sister’s In the Kitchen Hollerin’ ‘When They Gon’ Stop.’” They learned their chops on gritty Beale Street, playing gutbucket blues alongside such greats as B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf and Ike Turner, but fantasized constantly about working with Count Basie’s Orchestra and relocating to the nation’s bop capital, New York City.

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