African-American History Month - Besting the best
Louis Jordan, Cootie Williams and Johnny Hodges all worked for him at some point. He gave teenaged Ella Fitzgerald her start. Bandleaders came to him to see who could move the dancers the best - Goodman, Ellington, Basie. His group often showed them the door. Not bad for a kid from Baltimore who bought his first drum set with proceeds of a newspaper route. He moved to New York as a teen and by 21 was leading a band and playing those drums. They were the music that filled one of the finest rooms in the country, a high class ballroom where gentlemen did not enter without a jacket and tie, dancers showed off the hottest new moves, and the band added to the soundtrack of the Harlem Renaissance. The bandleader fought pain and overcame deformity the whole time. In the 1930’s it was said to be so bad he would collapse at the end of their set. He kept going because he wanted to keep his crew employed during the Great Depression. He fought to the end, reportedly saying "I'm sorry, I've got to go."
But on this day in 1905, the man who ruled the bandstand at the “World’s Finest” Savoy Ballroom, the small man with giant courage and fortitude to withstand the pain of spinal tuberculosis, the paper boy who started beating those drums to “loosen up his bones,” William Henry “Chick” Webb, drummer, composer, and bandleader was born in Baltimore. His physical disability took his life at age 34, but it never stopped him.
Ella Fitzgerald led the band after his death. The Savoy, exclusive yet inclusive - the ballroom welcomed all comers, black and white - closed in 1958 and was demolished. Duke Ellington, Gene Krupa, Art Blakey, and Buddy Rich all counted him as influential in their music. Webb lives on through drummers everywhere.