It has been said that a successful man is least known in his own environment. Possibly, this was the case of Donald "Don" Redman, a Mineral County native by way of Piedmont, West Virginia, who lived with and entertained area audiences before his rise to stardom.
A graduate of Howard School ('15), Don was the son of Daniel and Henrietta Redman. He earned his degree in music at Old Storer College, Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, and did advanced work at the Boston and Detroit Conservatories.
Although he was a trained musician, Don began as a child prodigy, playing the trumpet and performing before hometown audiences when he was just three years old. He could play all instruments, but came to favor the alto saxophone. Shortly after graduating from college, Don began playing jazz with Billy Page's Broadway Syncopators from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1922, he organized the first big jazz band, according to the book titled "Jazz," and played at New York's Club Alabama. He left New York in 1927 as saxophonist for the famed McKenny's Cotton Pickers, later taking over as leader.
Following a successful Hollywood and West Coast tour in 1930, Don returned to New York where he wrote and recorded such famous hits as "Cherry" and "How'm I Doing."
Perhaps his greatest contribution was made as arranger responsible for the big band sounds of Fletcher Henderson, Benny Goodman, Jimmy Lunceford, The Dorsey Brothers, and Paul Whiteman. Following World War II, Don toured Europe with his big band and upon returning to the States did free-lance work for CBS and various recording firms and arranged music for the Pearl Bailey TV show.
The jazz tradition itself still owes a lasting debt of gratitude to this former Mineral Countian who greatly influenced the course of Jazz and made distinct contributions variously as a Big Band leader, composer and arranger from the early 1920's until his death in New York in December, 1964.
Sponsored by: Howard School Alumni
College to recognize Piedmont native
Resident says honor long overdue for 'Giant of Jazz'
Cumberland Times-News, January 20, 2002
PIEDMONT — Piedmont resident and local history buff the Rev. David Coleman hopes a celebration planned Monday in honor of a hometown boy who grew up to become a giant in the world of jazz will only be the beginning of some long-overdue recognition for the world-renowned musician, composer.
Don Redman, a Piedmont native became known as the "Little Giant of Jazz" in the 1930s, will be remembered Monday with a special program and exhibit at the John Brown Museum in Harpers Ferry.
Coleman, who only met the talented musician once, said few people living in Piedmont today even know anything about the man who made such a large impact on jazz.
"I remember seeing him once; I was about 8," Coleman said. "I didn't know much about him, but he was dressed like people from the city; he had his spats on and was very well-dressed."
As Coleman grew up and became interested in local history, he began learning more about the son of Daniel and Henrietta Walker Redman, who was considered a child prodigy and was playing trumpet for local audiences at the age of 3.
Not content to stop at learning to play just one instrument, Redman became proficient with a number of instruments. His favorite was the saxophone.
As a student at Howard High School in Piedmont, Redman excelled in music and sports. After graduating from Howard at the age of 15, he decided to continue to pursue his love of music and enrolled in Storer College near Harpers Ferry, where he earned a degree in music in 1920.
From then on, there was no stopping the young musician from Piedmont.
He began his professional career with Billy Paiges' Broadway Syncopators from Pittsburgh, and went on to form several bands of his own over the years, playing to packed houses in New York, Detroit and other venues.
Redman was a composer as well as a musician, and wrote and recorded such familiar jazz, pieces as "Cherry," "How'm I Do," and "I Heard."
After World War II, he was the first American band leader to take his group overseas, and when they returned, he began freelancing for CBS and other recording firms, as well as arranging for Pearl Bailey, Louis Bellson, Fletcher Henderson, Benny Goodman, Jimmy Lunceford and the Dorsey Brothers, among others.
Redman died in 1964 in New York, after falling ill during a trip to Paris.
Monday, his life and accomplishments will be featured in a special program, "Prepared for Success: A Shining Star of Storer College."
An exhibit of memorabilia from Redman's life and career will be on display at the museum through the end of February.
Coleman, who plans to attend Monday's observance, also hopes to eventually honor Redman in his home town.
"I hope to get some kind of a marker to stand in the yard of his home place," Coleman said, gesturing toward a property just up the street from his own Erin Street home where Redman's house once stood.
"I'd also like to put a sign on the bridge between Westernport and Piedmont, and on the road from Keyser, saying Piedmont is the home of Don Redman."
Text and Photograph: From Mineral County, West Virginia - Family Traits, Tracks, and Trails and Cumberland Times-News, January 20, 2002
Photograph of the Don Redman historical sign placed by the West Virginia Archives at the entrance to Piedmont, West Virginia taken by Angela J. Feldstein. Information on Aubrey Stewart of the "Wereth 11" noted on the adjacent sign, provided elsewhere on this website.
In 2009 Don Redman was inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame.
Allegany County, Maryland
African Americans, History; Allegany County (Md.), History.
Allegany County (Md.), 1890-2008