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Building on the inspiring legacy of Jimmie Lunceford

The Jimmie Lunceford Jamboree Festival Week, presented annually by The W.E. A.L.L. B.E. Group Inc., is a weeklong celebration of the amazing legacy of Jimmie Lunceford, considered by many to be the real “King of Swing,” the “King of the Battle of the Bands” and the greatest swing jazz band leader of his generation.

We also celebrate Memphis music heritage by honoring true ambassadors and practitioners of “The Memphis Sound” both past and present. We also honor those who continue to give back through “hue-manitarian” and philanthropic efforts, something that Lunceford did during his heyday to build a beloved community and village among Black folk.

Ronald Herd II, founder and chief executive artivist of The W.E. A.L.L. B.E. Group, presents an honoree with a Jimmie Lunceford Legacy Award during a gala Nov. 4 at the Halloran Centre for Performing Arts. (Photos: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/The New Tri-State Defender)

Lunceford is credited with being the first person in world history to teach jazz studies within a formal educational setting. And he did this feat while teaching music as a volunteer (he wasn’t hired to be a music instructor) to Black children at Manassas High School in north Memphis. 

Embraced as the first high school band director in Memphis-area schools for Black children, his band consisted of his high school students, The Chickasaw Syncopators, a very popular local dance band.

In 1930, Lunceford left Memphis with his best high school students and music buddies from Fisk University to make his dreams of music superstardom real. 4 yrs later, The Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra is the house band at the legendary Cotton Club and the top draw at the iconic Apollo Theatre for a decade. Nicknamed ‘The Harlem Express,’ the orchestra was also the number one dance band for Black people in the country as well as boxing great Joe Louis’ favorite.

Besides being a music legend, Jimmie Lunceford was also an aviation pioneer who owned and flew his own airplanes. He died under questionable circumstances at the age of 45 before a gig on July 12,1947 in Seaside, Oregon.

Live entertainment, along with colorful and insightful commentary, helped accent The Jimmie Lunceford Legacy Awards. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/The Tri-State Defender)

The weeklong Jimmie Lunceford Jamboree Festival Week usually takes place the last full week of October. The festival does community partnerships with institutions and individuals to provide free events to engage and “edutain” the public about the historical greatness of Mr. Lunceford and Memphis Music Heritage. Our community partners regularly include Overton High School, Manassas High School, the Memphis Listening Lab and the STAX museum.

The Jimmie Lunceford Legacy Awards – held Nov. 4 at the Halloran Centre for Performing Arts – was the culminating event of annual celebration. Free and open to the public, it included a homecoming court consisting of a king, queen, prince and princess, along with a posthumous “King & Queen.” Live entertainment, along with colorful and insightful commentary, accented the event. 

We believe in making the story of Memphis’ greatness easily accessible to the residents and students here, especially those who don’t always know it or who get hit with the negative promotion of Memphis as being so “kkkrime ridden,” dangerous and unsalvageable…

What we do is basically a love letter to Memphis!!! See how it works???

(Ronald Herd II is the founder and chief executive artivist of The W.E. A.L.L. B.E. Group Inc.)



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