Celebrating African-American Music Educators

This famous photograph of the Colored Waif’s Home brass band features bandmaster Peter Davis in the front center seat, below Louis Armstrong (indicated by the faint arrow).
from the Joe Mares Collection, Hogan Jazz Archive

Give A Note celebrates African-American music educators who played an important role in the lives of some very talented musical artists.

If I know anything about music, I learned it because of the Defender.
– Lionel Hampton

Major N. Clark Smith led the Chicago Defender Newsboys’ Band with “a vivid and commanding personality”. One of his more famous students, Lionel Hampton, remarked in his autobiography that Smith was “about the greatest musician I guess I have ever known”. Major Smith developed Hampton’s musicianship, and Hampton ultimately shaped the American jazz scene of the ’40s and ’50s with his bands, and launched the careers of Dinah Washington, Quincy Jones, and Charlie Parker. Hampton was recognized with the National Medal of Arts and Kennedy Center Honors.

Capt. Dyett made you believe you could do anything!
– Jimmy Ellis

Capt. Walter Dyett made a significant contribution to music education during his many years in the Chicago public school system, mentoring “The Queen of Blues” Dinah Washington and Nat King Cole, among many others.

Find a teacher that can inspire you…you can’t do everything by yourself.
– Jimmy Hamilton

James “Jimmy” Hamilton taught band in Minneapolis Public Schools for over 28 years. “My philosophy,” he told Patty Peterson (Minnesota Jazz Legends), “is that anyone can pick up the guitar and play, but a lot of people do not know theory. You need someone to point you in the right direction. You have to learn how to hear before you can play anything.” His most notable student, Prince, “was at the band room door at 8 a.m. sharp every day waiting to be let in. He was a seriously smart kid, and he just got music.”

Peter Davis, 1965
© Robert Mikell, Fair use image

Peter Davis recognized the innate talents of Louis Armstrong long before others did. A popular music teacher at the Colored Waif’s Home in New Orleans, he inspired more than musical training in his students. He gave them a reason to “redirect negative energy into positive outcomes”. “The transmission of culture, the use of language forms, and certainly the role of a significant other, were all a part of the world of Peter Davis,” writes Dr. Robert S. Mikell in his article “The Legacy of Louis Armstrong’s Music Teacher Peter Davis”.

Watch this 1965 interview with Peter Davis and Louis Armstrong and a seemingly rare duo performance of “When The Saints Go Marching In”.

Give A Note is committed to support Black educators who work to inspire the great musicians of tomorrow.

Honor them with your donation today.


Related Blog Posts

See All Posts