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Big Joe Turner biography

Born: May 18, 1911, Kansas City, Missouri

Died: November 24, 1985, Inglewood, California

Big Joe Turner was an accomplished and uncommonly versatile vocalist. His career spanned half a century, during which he transitioned effortlessly from blues to R&B to rock and roll. Turner earned the nickname “Boss of the Blues” because of his powerhouse vocals and formidable stage presence. A Kansas City native, Turner started out playing in local nightclubs, mostly with pianist Pete Johnson, and sometimes with big bands, including that of Count Basie. Turner and Johnson became one of many acts noticed by legendary talent scout John Hammond. At Hammond’s suggestion they moved to New York and were part of his “Spirituals to Swing” concert in 1938. The duo snared a regular gig at New York’s Café Society, a prestigious jazz club, and their enormous popularity was partially responsible for the rise of “boogie woogie” music during the late thirties and early forties. Turner began to record and tour in the early forties, working with Duke Ellington, Art Tatum, and others. A decade later Turner transitioned to R&B, releasing years of solid hits between 1951 and 1956, and in the process becoming known as one of the founding fathers of rock and roll. Turner continued to perform and record until his death in 1985.

Essential listening: “Roll ‘Em Pete,” “Honey Hush,” “Shake, Rattle, and Roll,” “Corinna Corrina,” “Chains of Love”