Leon "Pee Wee" Whittaker

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Leon "Pee Wee" Whittaker

(African-American rock and roll and rhythm and blues musician; played trombone, mandolin, string bass, guitar, and clarinet)


Born 1906
Newellton, Tensas Parish
Louisiana, USA
Died July 22, 1993 (age 87)

Notes:

  • Whittaker appeared to have inherited his musical talent from the maternal side of his family, with his mother and grandfather also being adept musicians.
  • Born in rural Newellton in northeastern Louisiana, Whittaker lived in several Mississippi River cities during his long career, having spent his last four decades in Ferriday in Concordia Parish.
  • Whittaker specialized in rhythm and blues, jazz and rock and roll music.
  • Before his death, Whittaker donated a trombone to the Delta Music Museum in Ferriday.

Leon "Pee Wee" Whittaker (1906 – July 22, 1993) was an African-American musician from the Mississippi River delta country of northeastern Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas who was particularly known as a trombonist of jazz, the blues, and rock and roll.

From 1919 until his death, Whittaker performed with minstrel shows, carnival bands, swing orchestras, and rhythm-and-blues groups. He played alongside Louis Armstrong and Jerry Lee Lewis.[1]

Biography

Born in Newellton in northern Tensas Parish in northeastern Louisiana, Whittaker was the only child of Tom and Kizzie Whittaker. His parents separated, and Kizzie, herself a talented musician, took Pee Wee on a musical tour until he could enter school. While he was in elementary school, Pee Wee lived with his maternal grandfather, who played the violin. He also studied under a Professor Smith from historically black Alcorn State University (then Alcorn State College) near Lorman, Mississippi. He learned how to read music and to master the clarinet, guitar, string bass, and mandolin, as well as the trombone. [2]

Between 1917 and 1918, the Whittakers moved north to Lake Village in southeastern Arkansas. His mother left her musical career when she was called to the ministry. After he graduated from high school, Whittaker joined the family band as the mandolin player. A friend and school mate, Louis Jordan, in time became a successful saxophone player, singer, songwriter, and band leader.[2]

The Whittakers moved thereafter to Greenville in Washington County in western Mississippi, where he played string bass in a band led by trombonist Tullus Washington. About 1925, the Washington family moved to Chicago, Illinois, and the Greenville band dissolved. In 1927, Whittaker joined the Harry Walker band and was away from home for some eight years. In 1935, Whittaker left the Walker band and hitchhiked to Monroe in Ouachita Parish in northeastern Louisiana. There he and Louis Jordan joined F. S. Wolcott's Rabbit Foot Minstrels and toured along the Mississippi River from 1935 to 1950.[2] [3]

In the early 1950s, as a result of volatility in the music industry, Whittaker settled in El Dorado in southern Arkansas, wherer he formed a band that played small circuits. In 1954, Whittaker and his whole band moved to Ferriday in Concordia Parish. From 1955 to 1963, Whittaker played with Doc Morris and his band, who were associated with a small circus based in Michigan. They traveled into Canada and Great Britain.[2] Whittaker retired from the circuit in 1963 and spent his last years in Ferriday, a majority African American community, where he performed with the blues band in Natchez, Mississppi, known as Hezekiah and the Houserockers.[4]

He also played on a Ferriday radio station and at the club known as Haney's Big House.[5]

Legacy

In 1982, Whittaker was inducted into the Hall of Master Folk Artists at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana. In 1990, three years before his death, he received the first "Delta Folklife Festival Living Tradition Award," an honor given to a resident who has contributed to the cultural heritage of the Louisiana Delta region. In March 2002, Whittaker was posthumously inducted, along with the Ferriday cousins Jerry Lee Lewis, Jimmy Swaggart, and Mickey Gilley, as the first entries in the Delta Music Museum in the downtown historical district of Ferriday. Whittaker was married and had one son.[5] Whittaker donated a trombone displayed on a wall in the museum.[6]

References

  1. Louisiana Secretary of State, Pee Wee Whittaker and Delta Musc Museum, May 29, 2008.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Whittaker biography. Northwestern State University in Louisiana (May 11, 2008). Retrieved on December 24, 2019.
  3. Lynn Abbott and Doug Seroff (September 17, 2009). Ragged But Right: Black Traveling Shows, Coon Songs, and the Dark Pathway to .... Books.google.com. Retrieved on December 24, 2019. 
  4. Leon "Pee Wee" Whittaker. Concordia Parish (Louisiana) Library. Retrieved on December 24, 2019.
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Seventh Annual Delta Music Festival" The Concordia Sentinel, Ferriday, Louisiana, April 5, 2008, p. 22.
  6. (Glenn) Ratcliff loves talking about Ferriday’s famous folks. The Natchez (Mississippi) Democrat (July 20, 2000). Retrieved on December 24, 2019.