Famous Jazz Musicians You Didn't Realize Were From Tennessee


Jazz music has brought us legends like Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, and Ella Fitzgerald, among so many other talented musicians. The genre is so ingrained in our society that it even has its own era in American history, with the Jazz Age of the 1920s. While you may expect many of the jazz greats to come from Louisiana, the birthplace of the genre, plenty of amazing musicians hail from right here in Tennessee.

Because Tennessee has a long and storied history of music, from country to jazz and everything in between, here are just a few famous jazz musicians you may not have realized are from the Volunteer State.

Lil Hardin Armstrong

Born in Memphis as Lillian Hardin, Lil Hardin Armstrong is often remembered as one of the best female jazz blues piano players of the 1920s and was married to jazz legend Louis Armstrong. She was inducted into the Memphis Music Hall of Fame in 2014.

Dee Dee Bridgewater

Dee Dee Bridgewater, born Denise Garrett in Memphis, was a three-time Grammy Award-winning jazz singer-songwriter and Tony Award-winning actress. In addition to her career, she was also a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for the Food and Agriculture Organization.

Doc Cheatham

Doc Cheatham, born Adolphus Anthony Cheatham in Nashville, was a jazz trumpeter, singer, and bandleader with a career spanning several decades. He is also known as the grandfather to Grammy Award nominee Theo Croker, who is a well-known jazz musician in his own right.

Jimmy Jones

Jimmy Jones, born James Henry Jones in Memphis, was a well-respected jazz pianist and arranger who played alongside legends like Dizzy Gillespie and Etta Jones.

Harold Mabern

Harold Mabern Jr. was born in Memphis and grew into "one of the great post-bop pianists," according to The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings. After starting out on drums, he eventually switched to the keys, and had a career that spanned six decades.

Kirk Whalum

If you've ever heard Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You," chances are you've heard the talent of Kirk Whalum, who performed soloed on the hit record. Whalum, born in Memphis, is known as a jazz saxophonist and songwriter who has recorded hits across several genres, from pop to R&B.

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