Jimmy Rushing 1901-1972
James Andrew Rushing , known as Jimmy Rushing, was an American blues shouter, balladeer, and swing jazz singer from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, United States, best known as the featured vocalist of Count Basie’s Orchestra from 1935 to 1948.
Rushing was known as “Mr. Five by Five” and was the subject of an eponymous 1942 popular song that was a hit for Harry James and others—the lyrics describing Rushing’s rotund build: “he’s five feet tall and he’s five feet wide”. He joined Walter Page’s Blue Devils in 1927, then joined Bennie Moten’s band in 1929. He stayed with the successor Count Basie band when Moten died in 1935.
Rushing was a powerful singer who had a range from baritone to tenor. He could project his voice so that it soared over the horn and reed sections in a big-band setting. Basie claimed that Rushing “never had an equal” as a blues vocalist. He studied music theory with Zelia N. Breaux at Oklahoma City’s Douglass High School, and was unusual among his musical contemporaries for having attended college, at Wilberforce University. Rushing was inspired to pursue music and eventually sing blues by his uncle Wesley Manning and George “Fathead” Thomas of McKinney’s Cotton Pickers.
Rushing toured the Mid-West and California as an itinerant blues singer in 1923 and 1924 before moving to Los Angeles, California, where he played piano and sang with Jelly Roll Morton. Rushing also sang with Billy King before moving on to Page’s Blue Devils in 1927. He, along with other members of the Blue Devils, defected to the Bennie Moten band in 1929.
Moten died in 1935, and Rushing joined Count Basie for what would be a 13-year tenure. Due to his tutelage under his mentor Moten, Rushing was a proponent of the Kansas City jump blues tradition, well exemplified by his performances of “Sent For You Yesterday” and “Boogie Woogie” for the Count Basie Orchestra. After leaving Basie, his recording career soared, as a solo artist and a singer with other bands.
When the Basie band broke up in 1950 he briefly retired, then formed his own group. He also made a guest appearance with Duke Ellington for the 1959 album Jazz Party, In 1960, he recorded an album with the Dave Brubeck Quartet.
Rushing appeared in the 1957 television special Sound of Jazz, singing one of his signature songs “I Left My Baby” backed by many of his former Basie band compatriots. In 1958 he was among the legendary musicians included in an Esquire magazine photo by Art Kane later memorialized in the documentary film A Great Day in Harlem.
In 1958 Rushing toured the UK with Humphrey Lyttelton and his Band. A BBC broadcast with Rushing accompanied by Lyttelton’s specially organised big band was released on CD in 2009.
In 1969 Rushing appeared in The Learning Tree, the first major studio feature film directed by an African-American, Gordon Parks.
Jimmy Rushing was one of eight jazz and blues legends honored in a set of United States Postal Service stamps issued in 1994.