Born James Andrew Rushing on August 26, 1903 (1902, according to some sources) in Oklahoma City, OK; died on June 8, 1972, in New York, NY; son of Andrew (a trumpet player) and Cora (Freeman) Rushing (a homemaker and church singer). Education: Studied at Wilberforce University, Ohio.

Best known as "Mister Five by Five"--an affectionate reference to his diminutive height and considerable girth--Jimmy Rushing established himself as one of the greatest singers in the history of jazz. Closely associated with Count Basie's band for about 15 years, Rushing artfully blended the soulfulness of the blues with jazz stylings, creating a sound that was uniquely his own. In the final two decades of his life, Rushing split his time between solo performances and collaborations with some of the best-known artists in the jazz world. He was widely recorded as both a solo artist and as a vocalist with the orchestras of such notable bandleaders as Benny Goodman, Walter Page, Buck Clayton, and Count Basie.

He was born James Andrew Rushing on August 26, 1903 (1902, according to some sources) in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, son of Andrew and Cora (Freeman) Rushing. He came from a musical family--his father played the trumpet; his mother, a homemaker, was a pianist and a soloist in the church choir; his brother played the piano, as did his uncle (for a local bordello). As a boy, Rushing sang with his mother in the church choir and studied the violin. Influenced heavily by his uncle, Wesley Manning, who played the piano and sang, Rushing later abandoned the violin in favor of the piano. While attending Douglass High School in Oklahoma City, he studied music theory and sang in the school glee club.

After completing high school Rushing attended Wilberforce University in Wilberforce, Ohio, but dropped out after a couple of years. He headed west to Los Angeles, working at first mostly outside the music field. He later began to appear occasionally with Jelly Roll Morton at house parties in Southern California and then started picking up jobs as a singer/pianist at local clubs, including the Jump Steady Club and the Quality Night Club. In 1925 he toured with the Billy King Revue.

Life in Los Angeles proved unsatisfying however, and in 1926 he went home to Oklahoma City to work in his father's restaurant. After about 18 months, though, he'd had enough of the food service industry and returned to music. Rushing headed to Little Rock, Arkansas, where he joined the Blue Devils band of Walter Page, whom he'd met while touring with Billy King. When the Blue Devils traveled in 1929 to Kansas City for a recording session on the Vocalion label, Rushing went with them. It was not only his first recording session, but an important turning point in his life.

While in Kansas City, Rushing met Bennie Moten, leader of Bennie Moten's Kansas City Orchestra. Shortly thereafter he left the Blue Devils and joined Moten's orchestra as a pianist and singer. Performing in and around Kansas City during his years with Moten, Rushing became the best known of the so-called blues shouters. It was said that his somewhat nasal, tenor voice, high-pitched and penetrating, could be heard blocks away, sailing clearly above the band's accompaniment. He toured and recorded with Moten's group until 1935 when Moten died. Not long thereafter he joined Count Basie's band as featured vocalist. For the next 15 years he remained with Basie's orchestra, one of the most popular musical acts in the country.

It was during his years with Basie that Rushing perfected the distinctive style for which he would be known for the rest of his life. In 1936 Basie and Rushing recorded with Benny Goodman and Johnny Otis. While performing with Basie, Rushing appeared with the rest of the band in a number of motion pictures, including Crazy House, Air Mail Special, and Take Me Back, Baby, as well as the film shorts, Choo Choo Swingand Big Name Bands No. 1. During his years with Basie, some of the songs most closely associated with Rushing included "Evenin'," "Boogie-Woogie" (also known as "I May Be Wrong"), "The Blues I Love to Hear," and "Good Morning Blues." Other Rushing hits from the Basie era include "Do You Wanna Jump, Children?" "Sent for You Yesterday and Here You Come Today," "Exactly Like You," "Going to Chicago," "How Long, How Long," "After You've Gone," and, of course, "Mr. Five by Five." In 1938 Rushing performed with Basie in the "From Spirituals to Swing" concerts in New York's Carnegie Hall.

When Basie broke up his first band in 1950, Rushing moved to South Carolina, hoping to retire from the grind of touring. But his heart just wasn't in it. According to the MusicWeb Encyclopaedia of Popular Music, Rushing later said of this brief hiatus: "I knew the first time I heard a band come through town, I'd be finished. It happened, and one night I told my wife we were packing our bags and going to New York." For a short time he led his own band, but it was as a performer that Rushing truly shone. Always smiling, the animated singer/pianist was a crowd pleaser.

During the 1950s he appeared increasingly as a solo performer, although he continued to work with some of the biggest names in the music business, including Benny Goodman, Frank Culley, and Buck Clayton. Although he no longer was formally associated with the Basie organization, he and the Count appeared together in 1954 on the Tonight Show, hosted at the time by jazz-lover Steven Allen. The 1950s also brought a sharp increase in Rushing's recorded output. During the decade he released albums and singles on a number of labels, including Columbia, Jazztone, King, Vanguard, and Okeh. In 1958 Rushing appeared with Benny Goodman at the World's Fair in Brussels, Belgium, and the Newport Jazz Festival.

Rushing showed no signs of slowing down as the 1950s segued into the 1960s. Throughout the decade he performed around the world with Eddie Condon, Thelonious Monk, Harry James, Joe Newman, and Dave Brubeck. He also teamed again with Basie and Goodman whenever the opportunity arose and appeared frequently at the leading jazz festivals worldwide. Rushing also appeared in a number of television shows, including the documentaries, The Sound of Jazz and Jon Hendricks' The Evolution of the Blues. In the 1969 motion picture The Learning Tree,Rushing had a singing and acting role.

Rushing was diagnosed with leukemia in 1971, bringing a sudden end to his career. He died on June 8, 1972, at the Flower Fifth Avenue Hospital in New York City and was buried at the Maple Grove Cemetery in Kew Gardens in Queens, New York. Gone but not forgotten, Rushing's distinctive blend of blues and jazz helped to propel the already successful Count Basie band to dizzying new heights. Rushing's recordings stand as perhaps the most telling memorial to his lasting contributions to the worlds of blues and jazz.

by Don Amerman

Jimmy Rushing's Career

Studied music theory in high school; moved to Los Angeles, early 1920s; appeared occasionally with Jelly Roll Morton and toured in the Billy King Road Show; returned to Oklahoma City to work in his father's café, 1926; returned to music after about 18 months, joining Walter Page's Blue Devils in Little Rock, AR; played with Benny Moten's Kansas City Orchestra during the first half of the 1930s; joined Count Basie's band, with which he performed for the next 15 years, 1935; began to appear more frequently as a solo performer after 1950, although he still performed often with such leading jazz artists as Benny Goodman, Buck Clayton, Eddie Condon, Thelonious Monk, and Dave Brubeck; appeared in numerous music festivals, 1960s.

Jimmy Rushing's Awards

Melody Maker Critics Poll, Best Male Singer, 1957-60; Down Beat International Critics Poll, Best Male Singer, 1958-60, 1972; Down Beat International Critics Poll, Record of the Year for The You & Me That Used to Be, 1972.

Famous Works

Further Reading



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