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Fletcher Henderson

Fletcher Hamilton Henderson, Jr. 1897 - 1952 was an African American pianist, bandleader, arranger and composer, important in the development of big band jazz and swing music.

Henderson was born in Cuthbert, Georgia on December 18, 1897. His father was a principal and his mother taught piano. He attend Atlanta University in Atlanta, Georgia and graduated in 1920. After graduation, he moved to New York City to attend Columbia University for a master's degree in chemistry.

He worked for the Pace-Handy music company as a song demonstrator. He also worked at Black Swan Records as music director and pianist. He also lead the band accompanying singer Ethel Waters. His success in music made him forget about a career in chemistry.

In 1922 he formed his own band, which was resident first at the Club Alabam then at the Roseland, and quickly became known as the best "Colored" band in New York. For a time his ideas of arrangement were heavily influenced by those of Paul Whiteman, but when Louis Armstrong joined his orchestra in 1924 Henderson realized there could be a much richer potential for jazz band orchestration. His arrangements became influential; in addition to his own band he made arrangements for several other bands, including those of Teddy Hill[?], Isham Jones[?], and most famously, Benny Goodman.

In 1939 he disbanded his own band and joined Goodman's, first as both pianist and arranger and then working full time as arranger. He reformed bands of his own several times in the 1940s, toured with Ethel Waters again in 1948 - 1949. Henderson suffered a stroke in 1950 resulting in partial paralysis that ended his days as a pianist. He died in New York City on December 28, 1952.

A good source for information on Fletcher Henderson is The Fletcher Henderson Story a 3 CD Box Set sampling Henerson's music with extensive liner notes by jazz scholar Frank Diggs.

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