July 29, 2016 would've been the 100th birthday of the innovative guitarist Charlie Christian. (A year ago...but I wrote this a year ago). He was one of the earliest guitar soloists in jazz (first in a long line of guitarists who wanted their instrument to sound like a sax) and an early pioneer of the electric guitar, a major contributor to the bebop revolution as well as a huge influence on Chuck Berry.
He grew up in a musical family in Oklahoma City, and was a baseball star as a youth. He started out busking in the street before playing in the clubs as a teenager. He backed several visiting musicians (Teddy Wilson, Mary Lou Williams, Art Tatum and others) and began touring throughout the Midwest in swing bands.
In 1936 he started playing electric, and in '39 started playing in Benny Goodman's integrated band (alongside Lionel Hampton and Fletcher Henderson), Goodman being among the first white bandleaders to hire black musicians. After Goodman downsized to a sextet, Christian made the cut and the band (with Count Basie at the piano) was quite successful.
Christian was involved in the Minton's Playhouse bebop incubator sessions from which the revolution rose from, alongside the likes of Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Don Byas, Oscar Pettiford, Kenny Clarke and the rest. He was never afforded the opportunity to record as a leader but a few collections have appeared throughout the years highlighting his harmonic genius and influence.
He battled health problems his last few years, tuberculosis greatly affecting him, before dying of pneumonia at just 25. He has been cited as a major influence by a wide variety of players on guitar and other instruments: Berry, Monk, Miles, Jimi Hendrix, Bird, Carlos Santana, Dizzy, Wes Montgomery, George Benson, Toni Iommi and many others. As such, he stands as a major architect of the bebop revolution and the liberated guitarists that helped usher in the rock era. That is why he is in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, inducted as an innovator.