A List of Unforgettable African-American Artists in Swing Music


Jazz is one of the most enduring musical forms and its sub-genre swing is equally captivating with additional rhythmic thrusts. Authentic jazz lovers are not just restricted to listening to evergreen scores on the swing music radio. They delve into the history of jazz. After all, delving deeper into the genre can always let you enjoy the music even better. It is no less than understanding the soul of the classic genre. Jazz has its roots in American folk tradition and African music. It is widely believed that the style has originated within the black working class society residing in the southern American states. There was a time when jazz and swing were considered to be poor man’s music for its source of origin. However, events took a turn when World Wars fueled black migration from the southern to other American states. The dominant white people came in contact with the bluesy jazz and rhythmic swing. They found a source of entertainment in this newly-discovered music style. Although jazz has no strict inventors, the impact of black musicians in its formative years is laudable.

Here are some noted black swing artists who innovated the genre and inspired a plethora of musicians.

1. Willie “The Lion” Smith- Even though his recordings came into the limelight only around 1930s, Willie Smith discovered his penchant for piano at the tender age of six. He would later go on to becoming a legendary pianist and a master of stride style of piano playing. For the bravery he exhibited during the war, Smith earned the tag of “The Lion” and reflected a different shade of his personality. Deep down, Smith has always been a dedicated jazz artist. He played extensively in New York clubs and influenced several future pianists, including Duke Ellington. You can tune into the swing music station in USA to enjoy some of his compositions like “Trains and Planes”, “Can You Hear Me” and “Conversation on Park Avenue”.

2. Coleman Hawkins- If you were asked to name a musician who integrated the use of saxophone into swing, the improvised form of jazz, Coleman Hawkins would strike your mind. While serving as a member in Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra, Hawkins developed his playing style. As his solo career began flourishing, Coleman’s attractive raspy tone came into prominence winning prodigious appreciations. The “Body and Soul” recording of his is considered to be the epitome of jazz improvisation.

3. Duke Ellington- An authentic swing lover could have never missed out on this legend. Apart from leading The Duke Ellington Orchestra, one of the most significant big bands emerging during the swing era, Ellington was also an impressive pianist. He is best remembered for composing more than 3,000 songs during his lifetime. “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)”, “In A Mellow Tone” and “Mood Indigo” are some of his best compositions that are still etched in people’s minds. If you want to explore more his songs, feel free to tune into 24*7 online swing radio.

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4. King Oliver- Being born in Louisiana, one of the seedbeds of jazz and swing, King Oliver improvised the genre like no one else. Even pioneers like Louis Amstrong drew inspiration from him. Apart from excelling at both cornet and trumpet playing, King Oliver gave in influential leadership to the Creole Jazz Band. After moving to New Orleans, Oliver’s artistry made him the most sought after musician among both the working class and higher American societies. He is still remembered today for his pathbreaking mute playing and memorable compositions like “Sweet Like This”, “Doctor Jazz”, “ Dippermouth Blues” and “Canal Street Blues”.

Conclusion- Due to social-cultural factors, the black population had to face discrimination in the hands of dominant white people. However, black swing music artists did not let such pitfalls stop them from achieving their ambitions. They fought against odds to embrace jazz & swing thereby giving this genre a worldwide exposure in the process.