Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Orchestra Leader Jimmie Lunceford's Itawamba County Roots

The Itawamba County pioneers from the 1800s produced many illustrious citizens from all walks of life during the county’s 170-year history and the entertainment field is definitely represented with such a list. One successful entertainer in the music field from Itawamba County was Jimmie Lunceford.

Jimmie (James Melvin) Lunceford was born northeast of Fulton in Itawamba County June 6, 1902 on his family’s farm. Shortly before 1910 (James appears as 5 years old in the 1908 Itawamba County school census) the family left Itawamba County and moved west, first to Oklahoma and then to Colorado where he attended school. After attending school in Denver he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Fisk University. During 1927 while teaching high school in Memphis, Tennessee, he organized a student band called the Chickasaw Syncopators, whose name was later changed to the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra after it began touring. The first recording made by the orchestra was during 1930. After a period of touring, the band accepted a booking at the famous Cotton Club during 1933 in New York City. Shortly thereafter Lunceford’s reputation began to grow. By the 1930s, his orchestra was considered the equal to Duke Ellington and Count Basie. His orchestra began recording for the Decca label and later signed with Columbia’s subsidiary Vocalion during 1938. He and his orchestra toured Europe extensively during 1937 and later he returned to the Decca label. During 1947 while playing in Seaside, Oregon, Lunceford collapsed and died while signing autographs. Lunceford was buried in Memphis, Tennessee.

Jimmie Lunceford was the son of James Leonard and Beulah Idella Tucker Lunceford. James Leonard Lunceford, his father, was born during 1878 in the Clay community of Itawamba County and during 1901 he married Beulah Idella Tucker. James Leonard was the son of Daniel and Gracie Lunceford. Daniel and Gracie Lunceford came to Itawamba as slaves with the David Lunceford family from Johnston County, North Carolina around 1860. After emancipation Daniel and Gracie Lunceford purchased land north of the Clay community where he was a successful farmer for many years.

The beautiful and exciting melodies produced by Jimmie Lunceford have been enjoyed by listeners for generations. Considered as one of the great orchestra leaders of the 1930s, Jimmie (James Melvin) Lunceford had his beginnings in Itawamba County, Mississippi where his ancestors had lived since the 1850s. He is an Itawamba son who definitely made his mark in the entertainment world.

Research Notes:

1920 Colorado Census, Denver County
City of Denver
Page 210
Ivanhoe Street

James Lunceford, 41, MS
Ida: 35, MS
Melvin, 17, MS
Cornelius: 15, OK

1900 Mississippi Census, Itawamba County
Page 229, Fulton Beat
Ross Wilson Household

Leonard Lunsford: Oct. 1876, 23, MS, NC, NC

1880 Mississippi Census, Itawamba County
Page 512
Fifth Supervisor’s District
Daniel Lunceford Household

James Lunceford, age 2

1870 Mississippi Census, Itawamba County
Page 378
Township 9, Fulton Post Office
Daniel and Gracy Lunsford Household

Itawamba County, Mississippi Marriages
J.L. Lunceford
and Miss Beulah Tucker
O.W. Warren, Minister of the Gospel

16 December, 1901

Jimmie Lunceford Articles:



BBC Radio


For further reading, consult the Spring 2006 issue of Itawamba Settlers quarterly for an excellent article by Robert Gilliland, Jazz Great Jimmie Lunceford.

1 comment:

tha artivist said...

Great article! Check out the Official Jimmie Lunceford Jamboree Festival website for more information on this jazz great: http://www.jimmieluncefordjam.blogspot.com