Big Joe Turner

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Big Joe Turner (born Joseph Vernon Turner Jr., May 18, 1911 – November 24, 1985[1]) was an American blues shouter from Kansas City, Missouri.[2] According to the songwriter Doc Pomus, "Rock and roll would have never happened without him."[2] Although he came to his greatest fame in the 1950s with his pioneering rock and roll recordings, particularly "Shake, Rattle and Roll", Turner's career as a performer stretched from the 1920s into the 1980s.[2]

Contents

Career

Early days

Known variously as The Boss of the Blues, and Big Joe Turner (due to his 6'2", 300+ lbs stature), Turner was born in Kansas City and first discovered his love of music through involvement in the church. Turner's father was killed in a train accident when Joe was only four years old.[3] He began singing on street corners for money, leaving school at age fourteen to begin working in Kansas City's nightclub scene, first as a cook, and later as a singing bartender. He eventually became known as The Singing Barman, and worked in such venues as The Kingfish Club and The Sunset, where he and his piano playing partner Pete Johnson became resident performers.[2] The Sunset was managed by Piney Brown. It featured "separate but equal" facilities for white patrons. Turner wrote "Piney Brown Blues" in his honor and sang it throughout his entire career.

At that time Kansas City was a wide-open town run by "Boss" Tom Pendergast. Despite this, the clubs were subject to frequent raids by the police, but as Turner recounts, "The Boss man would have his bondsmen down at the police station before we got there. We'd walk in, sign our names and walk right out. Then we would cabaret until morning".

His partnership with boogie-woogie pianist Pete Johnson proved fruitful.[2] Together they headed to New York City in 1936, where they appeared on a bill with Benny Goodman, but as Turner recounts, "After our show with Goodman, we auditioned at several places, but New York wasn't ready for us yet, so we headed back to K.C.". Eventually they were spotted by the talent scout, John H. Hammond in 1938, who invited them back to New York to appear in one of his "From Spirituals to Swing" concerts at Carnegie Hall, which were instrumental in introducing jazz and blues to a wider American audience.[2]

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