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Lunceford, Jimmie

byname of James Melvin Lunceford

(born June 6, 1902, Fulton, Miss., U.S.—died July 12, 1947, Seaside, Ore.) American jazz dance-band leader whose rhythmically appealing, well-disciplined orchestra performed arrangements by trumpeter Sy Oliver and others to popular acclaim from 1934 to 1945 and influenced both swing and post-World War II dance bands.

Lunceford, during his youth, acquired proficiency on all reed instruments, but he seldom played with his band because he preferred to conduct. He taught and organized a student orchestra in a Memphis, Tenn., high school before beginning his professional career as a bandleader in 1929. Practiced showmanship, precise ensembles, and a medium two-beat swing tempo rather than exciting soloists were the Lunceford band's trademarks. The band's most popular songs included “Organ Grinder's Swing” (1936) and “For Dancers Only” (1937). The Lunceford band was considered to be on a par with bands led by Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Benny Goodman during the 1930s, and in 1940 the ensemble won a celebrated “battle of the bands” from a field of 28 groups, among them Basie's, Goodman's, and Glenn Miller's. Arranger Oliver left Lunceford in 1939, and by 1942 the band's popularity had declined. Following Lunceford's death while on tour, pianist Edwin Wilcox and saxophonist Joe Thomas led the band for several years.

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