from a middle-class, educated family; he attains a degree in maths
and chemistry at Atlanta University, and in 1920 moves to New York
in the hapless pursuit of a career as a chemist, although his colour
is likely to hold him back.
skilled musician as well as chemist, moves sideways and leads
the band at the Club Alabam, thereafterat New York's
Roseland. His soloists include Coleman
Hawkins, Buster Bailey and, until 1925, Louis
Armstrong. The band is tight and well drilled, and he has the
ability to enlist capable musicians, but his hold on discipline
is not so great, and one by one his top musicians are stolen from
him. The music is of substance, but its
popular rhythms ward off any accusation that it is in any sense
academic, and his band rivals that of Ellington's.
The arrangements, his own and those of Don Redman (until 1927 when
he leaves to join McKinney's Cotton Pickers) and Benny
Carter (who made some classic arrangements for Henderson in
1930-32), become more sophisticated, although Hawkins
feels it has lost its spontaneity and leaves the band in 1934.
as a song demonstrator for a publishing company, he
becomes a recording manager for the black record label
Black Swan, and within a few years has gained a reputation for his
sensitive recording of blues singers like Bessie Smith. His administrative
abilities are noted as well.
is involved in a car accident, and this dulls his energies and abilities
to organise the band.
bands in New York and Chicago, but the workload is too great and,
never a great pianist, he becomes better known as an arranger, especially
for Benny Goodman.
a stroke in 1950; Benny Goodman promotes his name and raises funds
with benefit concerts. Henderson dies in 1952.