Erskine Hawkins

Photo of Erskine Hawkins
  • Born

    July 26, 1914
    Birmingham, Alabama
  • Died

    November 1, 1992 (age 78)
    Willingboro, New Jersey

Nicknamed the 20th Century Gabriel,” band­leader and com­poser Erskine Hawkins is best re­mem­bered to­day for his com­po­si­tion Tuxedo Junction,” which proved to be a big hit for own his or­ches­tra as well as those of Glenn Miller and Jan Savitt.

Hawkins, who lost his fa­ther in WWI, stud­ied drums and trom­bone at an early age be­fore de­cid­ing to take up trum­pet at age 13. While at­tend­ing Alabama State Teachers College, he be­came leader of a school band called the Bama State Collegians. The group recorded on the Vocalion la­bel and made two trips to New York—the first in 1934 and the sec­ond in 1936.

During the sec­ond trip to New York, the Collegians ap­peared with Chick Webbs or­ches­tra at the Savoy Ballroom. Hawkins was of­fered a con­tract with the Bluebird la­bel and de­cided not to re­turn to Alabama, chang­ing the out­fit’s name to the Erskine Hawkins Orchestra. The group proved very pop­u­lar and had sev­eral hit records. Aside from Bluebird, they also recorded for Decca, RCA, King, and Coral. Vocalists at var­i­ous times in­cluded Billy Daniels, Merle Turner, Ida James, Jimmy Mitchelle, Delores Brown, Carol Tucker, and Laura Washington.

Despite the loss in pop­u­lar­ity of big band mu­sic af­ter the end of WWII, Hawkins man­aged to keep his or­ches­tra to­gether and afloat un­til 1953. The group’s later record­ings, how­ever, be­gan to take on a R&B fla­vor. After dis­band­ing his or­ches­tra, Hawkins formed a quar­tet. He con­tin­ued record­ing and per­form­ing up through the 1980s. Bad health fi­nally forced him to re­tire. Erskine Hawkins passed away in 1992 af­ter suf­fer­ing a heart at­tack.

Music

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  • Jumpin' in a Julep Joint
    Erskine Hawkins (Ida James), Bluebird (1941)
  • Knock Me a Kiss
    Erskine Hawkins (Ida James), Bluebird (1942)

All recordings are from the Internet Archive's 78rpm collection. Copyright owners, please see our removal policy.