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Lucky Millinder

He played no instruments, sang no songs, never became a noted composer, but in his own way, a musician of undeniable talent. He put bands together, got the vocalists, the right songs, and presented the entire package. Lucky Millinder was a genuine showman who was very much in the spotlight, while, contributing to the background of Jazz, Blues, Rhythm and Blues and all that followed.

The man who would be nicknamed Lucky was born Lucius Venable Millinder in Anniston, Alabama August 8, 1900, but it was exposure to his folks new home in Chicago that would provide more than luck to Lucky Millinder's musical development. He actually started as the announcer presenting bands in the auditoriums where dances were held, and this led to becoming a dancer and front man in 1931. This was the year when he changed his name from Lucius Venable to Lucky Millinder; and eventually fronted a New York Orchestra in 1932. He allowed himself to be hired around until he took the helm of the Mills Blue Rhythm Band from 1934 until 1938, a very good outfit.

He was able to form his Lucky Millinder Orchestra in 1940 where he had a regular stay at New York's Savoy Ballroom. The band was hugely popular in Harlem in those days and some of the players that passed through the ranks were Lockjaw Davis, Thelonious Monk, and Cat Anderson. Around this time he had Bill Doggett on piano, and for a little bit in 1942, Dizzy Gillespie on their hit “When the Lights Go On Again-All Over the World,” he would later add Bull Moose Jackson, and Lucky Thompson to his lineup. By the mid- forties his big band, which was drifting more stylistically towards what would be known as Rhythm and Blues, and moving away from the Cab Calloway and Count Basie jazz format. Their forte was backing singers Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and Wynonie Harris.

1950 started a prolific period for Lucky Millinder's ensemble, and Decca released some more of the year's before studio sessions with Rosetta, “Big Fat Mame,” “Trouble In Mind,” “ Shout Sister Shout,” and “That's All.” By spring of the beginning of this decade, his group was touring all the large R&B auditoriums: DC's Howard, Baltimore's Royal, Chicago's Regal, and Philly's Uptown. He featured with him on tour, Wynonie Harris, Big John Greer, Annisteen Allen., and for a spell a young Ruth Brown. They had regional hits on both the RCA and King Records labels at the same time. By 1951 they have expanded to gigs at Los Angeles' Elks Club, Kansas City's Black Orchid, Cleveland's Gleason's as well as all the big theaters on the East Coast. By the end of the summer, their outfit gets a long contract with Club Harlem in Philadelphia while the King Records productions are doing well on the charts.

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Album Discography

Recordings: As Leader | As Sideperson

Jumpin' at the Savoy

Jazz Archives



Lester Recording Catalog



Ella Fitzgerald
voice / vocals
Sidney Bechet
saxophone, soprano
Louis Jordan
saxophone, alto
Illinois Jacquet
saxophone, tenor
Charlie Barnet
Jimmie Lunceford
Buddy Johnson
Earl Bostic
saxophone, alto

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