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Henderson Smith

Anthony Edwards is one of those new faces among the staff at JRM. Almost by accident we learned that his great grandfather (below, in white) is a trumpet player whom we have admired on several occasions, most memorably at the Jazz Institute of Chicago's May 4, 1981 Jabbo Smith concert where he played trumpet in Blind John Davis' jump band with Sax Mallard on tenor and Jump Jackson on drums. Anthony fills in the story ... -Bob Koester

In every Jazz book and magazine you hear names like Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Duke Ellington and Count Basie. In the history of Jazz, Chicago Jazz in particular, there is one musician whose contribution was great, but whose name is rarely mentioned. This article is dedicated to this unsung hero, my great grandfather, Henderson Smith.

On November 24, 1913 Henderson Louis Smith III was born to Violet and Henderson Smith II, in Greenwood, Mississippi. When he was only 3 his family moved to Chicago. At an early age his mother began giving him piano lessons. Realizing that he was a gifted musician she encouraged him to play many instruments, including the violin, which he began playing at only 5 years old. He finally started playing the trumpet when he enrolled at High School at Wendell Phillips. There he met Captain Dyett who was the school's band director. Captain Dyett took an interest in him and became his mentor. Once he graduated he married my great grandmother Ida Mae Robinson at the age of 17.

He began playing around town with whomever he could, for only 25 cents a night. Soon he was playing gigs with Nat King Cole, Fletcher Henderson, Billy Eckstine, Sun Ra and many other great artists. In the 1950's he moved to Chatham, a very prominent neighborhood. He lived on the same block as Thomas Dorsey and Mahalia Jackson, and around the corner from Red Saunders and Nat Ones. His house became the "hot spot" for local and out of town musicians to hang out at. He would have lavish parties with Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole, Dizzy Gillespie, and a host of other musicians in attendance.

When he put together his own band, The Henderson Smith Orchestra, he featured such artists as Nat Jones, and George Dixon. They used to play at the Rum Boogie, the Grand Ballroom, and one of his favorite venues, the Annual 2nd Ward Democratic Ball.

My great grandfather, (Papa as I used to call him) was a phenomenal musician. I was blessed to have him as my trumpet teacher until he died on February 18, 1993. I was looking at an old picture of him, trumpet raised as he stood on stage in a smoke filled room full of people, when I realized that his largesse to the history of Chicago jazz was too valuable to ignore. Here's to you Papa. - Anthony Edwards