Earl “Fatha” Hines (1903-1983)

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Earl “Fatha” Hines was an African-American jazz musician who composed and played piano. Hines was born on December 28, 1903 in Duquesne, Pennsylvania. Both of his parents and a number of his siblings were musicians as well. Hines started playing music when he was a young boy, taking trumpet lessons from his father. However, he felt the trumpet was too loud of an instrument, so he switched to piano after a few years. Hines attended Schenley High School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where among other classes, he studied classical music.

In lieu of finishing high school, Hines moved to Pittsburgh at the age of 17 to take a job playing with Lois Deppe in a nightclub. Deppe was a well know musician around the area who took Hines to his first studio recordings in 1923.

In 1925 Hines moved to Chicago, Illinois, which was considered the jazz capital at that time. His first job in Chicago was at the Elite No. 2 Club, where he worked for a short time before joining Carroll Dickerson’s band. Hines traveled around the country touring with the band, venturing as far as Los Angeles, California. Soon after returning from the tour, Hines met Louis Armstrong at the Chicago Musicians Union. The two became good friends, and Armstrong decided to join Dickerson’s band as well. It was not long before Armstrong took over the band, with Hines as the musical director. Hines then joined Armstrong’s other band, Armstrong’s Hot Five, replacing his wife Lil Armstrong on the piano. It was with this band that they recorded what is considered some of the most influential jazz records ever made.

In 1927 the Sunset Café where Armstrong and Hine’s band played closed, so the two of them, along with a drummer Zutty Singleton, started a new band called The Unholy Three. However they ran into difficulties finding places to play, so Hines went to New York for a short period of time. When he returned, the other two had rejoined with Carroll Dickerson’s band, leaving Hines on his own.

Hines then decided to start his own big-band, which consisted of 28 members, and got the chance to open at the Grand Terrace Café in Chicago, which was considered the ‘World Series’ of jazz at the time. After 12 years of playing there, in 1940, the Grand Terrace shut down. Hines then took his band on the road until 1951, when he decided to retire in Oakland, California with his wife and two children. He did not play professionally again until 1964. His popularity rose during the 60s, when he played before audiences in the White House from President Ford and President Carter, as well as Pope Paul IV. Hines continued playing until he died at the age of 79, on April 22, 1983, in Oakland, California.