Billy Eckstine / July 8, 1914 - March 8, 1993

Billy Eckstine was one of the most popular singers and bandleaders of his day. As well, he has been held in high regard by musicians for his groundbreaking 1940's bebop big band, of which membership included Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughan, Kenny Dorham, Tadd Dameron, Fats Navarro, Wardell Gray, Dexter Gordon and others. That band was in effect a "finishing school" for musicians who would go on to legendary status themselves.

Eckstine was born in Pittsburgh and later attended high school in Washington DC. He was a gifted athlete but an injury curtailed his football career and jumpstarted his music career. In 1939 he moved to Chicago, taking a gig as trumpeter with Earl Hines. That aformentioned bebop big band started in NYC in '44.

A multi-instrumentalist, he could play trumpet, trombone and guitar. He started a career as a "solo" singer and balladeer in the mid '40s and he became one of the most respected and best loved singers in the industry. His bass-baritone voice was inviting and he became a major star all through the '40s, appearing on television numerous times.

A controversial 1950 photograph in Life magazine of several white women displaying affection for Eckstine and one of them pressing against him turned the racists against him and his opportunities started to noticeably dwindle. Even with that, he still remained active, recording another hit duet with Sarah Vaughan ("Passing Strangers"). He also collaborated with Count Basie and Quincy Jones.

He did the Vegas thing in the early '60s, followed by stints at Motown and Stax. He made his final album with Benny Carter before retirement. From his innovative bop group to his groundbreaking role of black male sex symbol set to strings, Eckstine stands as a leader in several regards. His offspring have continued working in the entertainment industry.

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