Billy “Mr. B.” Eckstine has been a pivotal figure in the jazz field for over 35 years. Noted as both an instrumentalist and a singer, Eckstine stands high on the roster of great jazz artists which includes such as King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Dizzy Gillespie, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Leadbelly, Jack Teagarden, Fats Waller, and Nat King Cole, among others who helped write brilliant chapters in the history of American jazz.
Born William Clarence Eckstine on July 8, 1914 in Pittsburgh, Mr. B., following his education at Howard University, initially worked as a singer-musician and emcee before starting his meteoric career as vocalist and sometime trumpet player with the famed Earl Hines Band in 1938.
In the following five-year period, Eckstine gained international recognition as one of the most significant jazz exponents in the country. He also was responsible in recruiting such artists as Charlie Parker and Sarah Vaughan for the Hines Band.
It was in 1944 when Eckstine formed his own band, highlighted by stars of the brand-new bop movement in jazz.
“This band,” comments Stax’s Executive Vice President, Al Bell, “was a landmark in the development of jazz. Eckstine not only led a band that was a decade ahead of its time, but he had the magic touch of recognizing great creative talent.”
During the 1944-47 era of the Billy Eckstine Band, he, at one time or another, recruited such instrumentalists as Dizzy Gillespie, Fats Navarro, Miles Davis, Kenny Dorham, Gene Ammons, Dexter Gordon, Lucky Thompson, Charlie Parker, Leo Parker, John Malachi, Art Blakey, Tommy Potter, Tadd Dameron, and Jerry Valentine. With Sarah Vaughan as vocalist, Eckstine also sang and played valve trombone.
Since 1948, Eckstine’s career has rocketed him to the top ranks of current international stardom. He’s a winner of many music awards and a recipient of eleven gold records which include such hits as “I Apologize,” “Caravan,” “Everything I Have Is Yours,” and “Temptation.”
In 1969, this ageless musician joined the Stax Organization and recorded such albums as Feel the Warm and Senior Soul.
Eckstine is still one of the most in-demand attractions in show business with active dates scheduled in key entertainment centers across the country.
Billy Eckstine died March 8, 1993.