Earl “Fatha” Hines (1903-1983)

Earl Hines, New York, March 1947
Photo by William Gottlieb, Courtesy U.S. Library of Congress (LC-GLB13- 0415)

Earl “Fatha” Hines was one of the most influential Jazz pianists of the twentieth century. His piano “trumpet style” playing filled with rhythms and accents, influenced numerous jazz pianists. Hines’ career spanned from the 1920s to 1983 as a musician and bandleader, recording on the Columbia, RCA, Capitol, Verve and other labels.

Earl Kenneth Hines was born on December 28, 1903 in Duquesne, Pennsylvania, to Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Hines. His mother died when he was three-years-old. Subsequently, he was raised by his father and stepmother, Mary.

Hines’ father played the lead cornet in the Eureka Brass Band in Pittsburgh. Hines was first interested in learning to play the cornet but switched to the piano after receiving lessons from his stepmother, a church organist. At age 14, Hines moved to Pittsburgh to live with his aunt who was an opera singer. He then enrolled in high school where he majored in music. While there he shifted his musical interest from classical piano to jazz piano. At age 15, he formed his first musical trio along with a violinist and a drummer. The group played at school functions, nightclubs, and church socials.

At age 17, Hines left home and joined Lois B. Deppe and His Symphonian Serenaders playing piano at the Liederhaus nightclub in Pittsburgh. There he earned $15 per week plus meals and board. Hines made his first recording with Deppe in 1920.

Hines left Deppe’s band in 1921 and formed his own group which included saxophonist Benny Carter. Pianist Eubie Blake encouraged him to move to Chicago where Jazz was emerging. In 1925, Hines began playing with the Carroll Dickerson Orchestra at the Entertainer’s Club in Chicago. After several months of touring, he returned to Chicago where he met famed trumpeter Louis Armstrong. Together they formed a musical trio, adding Zutty Singleton as the drummer and performed regularly at the Café Sunset Club. In 1928, they recorded the famous trumpet and piano duet, “Weather Bird.” Together they recorded 36 of the most renowned jazz songs including: “Beau Koo Jack,, “West End Blues,” and “Muggles”.

In 1928 on his 25th birthday, Hines opened at the famed Chicago Grand Terrace Café leading his own Orchestra. For the next 12 years his big band performed weekly at the Grand Terrace. Hines and his orchestra began live nationwide broadcasting from the Grand Terrace. During the summers, Hines toured his band throughout the South. During one show he was introduced as “Fatha” Hines by a somewhat inebriated announcer. The nickname stuck.

fter the Terrace Café closed, Hines and his band recorded “Jelly,” “Boogie Woogie on the St. Louis Blues,” and “Stormy Monday Blues.”

In the late 1950s Hines settled in Oakland, California but was rediscovered when convinced to perform a series of recitals at the Little Theatre in New York. Beginning in 1944 Hines won a series of honors. That year he was a recipient of the Esquire Magazine’s Silver Award. In 1965 he was inducted into the Jazz Hall of Fame. In 1966 he joined Down Beat magazine’s Hall of Fame and later that year he was selected as the world’s No. 1 Jazz Pianist, an honor he would receive five more times.

Earl “Fatha” Hines died on April 23, 1983 in Oakland, California at the age of 79.