James Andrew Rushing, a vocalist in the Count Basie Band from 1935 to 1950, was born in Oklahoma City, August 26, 1903, to Andrew and Cora Rushing. Jimmy Rushing's father played the tuba in local bands. Jimmy learned to play violin by ear and also learned piano, against his parents' wishes (because of its association with nightclubs; they locked the keyboard when he was home alone). He also studied music at Oklahoma City's Douglass High School. He sang, cooked, and poured root beer at his father's lunchroom on Northeast Second Street or "Deep Deuce," the home of jazz.
In 1921 Rushing went to California and began playing piano and singing in nightclubs. Back in Oklahoma City in 1927, he sang with Walter Page's band, the Blue Devils, and met Basie when Page hired him as the band's pianist. In 1935 Basie and Rushing struck out on their own. Basie's preference for blues and blues-flavored swing and Rushing's capacity to belt the blues helped make the Basie band one of the best of the swing era. In 1950, when the band fell apart, Rushing went on with other groups, including Duke Ellington's, and had an important career as a solo artist.
Jimmy Rushing helped set the standard by which all other blues shouters would be judged. A small, rotund man, he was known as "Mr. Five-by-Five." He died of cancer June 8, 1972.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Bob Burke and Vicki Miles-LaGrange, A Passion for Equality, The Life of Jimmy Stewart (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Heritage Association, 1999). Stanley Dance, The World of Count Basie (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1980). William W. Savage, Singing Cowboys and All That Jazz: A Short History of Popular Music in Oklahoma (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1983).
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