Born Lucius Venable Millinder, 8 August 1900, Anniston, Alabama
Died 28 September 1966, New York City, New York In the 1940s, the Lucky Millinder Orchestra provided a vital link between big band swing and rhythm & blues. It is said that Millinder didn't play any instrument and couldn't read music. But, with the natural instincts of a true showman, Lucky fronted an always lively and exciting orchestra and played a crucial role in the early develop- ment of jump blues. His band included many future stars of R & B and jazz, such as Dizzy Gillespie, Henry 'Red' Allen, Harry 'Sweets' Edison and Charlie Shavers (all on trumpets). Eddie 'Lockjaw' Davis, Freddie Webster, Tab Smith and Bullmoose Jackson (doubling as vocalist) were the sax men and there were such pianists as Bill Doggett, Billy Kyle and Ellis Larkins. Drummer David "Panama" Francis was also a member of the Millinder band. The vocalists included Wynonie Harris (1944-45) and girl singers Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1941-43, who gave the band its first hit with "I Want A Tall Skinny Papa", 1942) and Annisteen Allen (1946-51).

Born in Alabama and raised in Chicago, Lucky started his career in music as a emcee. In 1934, Millinder took over the directorship of the Mills Blue Rhythm Orchestra, one of the 'Black' Swing bands of the 1930s. In 1938, when the Blue Rhythm Band dissolved, Millender worked with Bill Doggett's band. In 1940, he formed his own Lucky Millinder Orchestra. Rhythmically exciting, the Millinder band was especially popular in Harlem. The band gradually shifted into playing an early type of R&B music. Decca signed the band to an exclusive recording contract, and from 1942 to 1945 Millinder had four records at the top of the R&B charts, one of which, "When The Lights Go On Again (All Over The World)" featured a young Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet. The biggest hit was "Who Threw The Whiskey In The Well" (# 1 R&B for 5 weeks, # 7 pop), with a vocal by Wynonie Harris (recorded 1944, released 1945). Lucky's last hits (1951) both featured the voice of Annisteen Allen : "I'll Never Be Free" (# 8 R&B) and "I'm Waiting Just For You" (# 2 R&B, # 19 pop), on RCA and King respectively. The Lucky Millinder Orchestra was disbanded in 1952. Thereafter, he earned his living outside music, but formed occasional bands for special concerts. Although he could not read music, Millinder was an exceptional frontman, conducting his bands with flair and showmanship.

More info:

CD's: Apollo Jump (Proper, 2 CD-set, 2002). Jumpin' at the Savoy (EPM, France, 2000). Ram Bunk Shush (Charly, 1992).

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