Henderson, Fletcher (Hamilton Jr.; aka Smack)

views updated

Henderson, Fletcher (Hamilton Jr.; aka Smack)

Henderson, Fletcher (Hamilton Jr.; aka Smack), highly influential jazz bandleader, arranger, pianist; b. Cuthbert, Ga., Dec. 18, 1897; d. Harlem Hospital, N.Y, Dec. 29, 1952. Several respectable sources give his birth year as 1898, and his first name as James, or perhaps James Fletcher; brother of Horace Henderson. His mother was a classical pianist, and started him on the keyboards at age six. He studied at Atlanta Univ. Coll. from 1916-, majoring in chemistry and math. He moved to N.Y. in 1920 intending to do post-graduate research there, but there were few jobs for blacks, so instead became a song demonstrator for the Pace-(W.C) Handy Music Company (sheet music). He later left the company and became recording manager for the Black Swan Recording Company (the first African-American-owned record label), and organized his first band to tour accompanying Ethel Waters’s Black Swan Troubadours (autumn 1921 to summer 1922). He returned to N.Y, became house pianist for recording companies, and played gigs with violinist Shrimp Jones’s Band at Broadway Jones’s Club in N.Y In early 1924, he was elected leader of the band newly formed for a residency at the Club Alabam (N.Y). Late that summer, Coleman Hawkins joined the group and the band took up residency at the Roseland Ballroom, N.Y., working there for the next 10 years. The band played pop tunes, novelties and blues, but transformed when Louis Armstrong joined for a year in late 1924. Armstrong’s solos with the band made recordings like “Copenhagen,” “Sugar Foot Stomp/’” and “Go Long Mule” instant classics. Don Redman wrote virtually all the arrangements for the band until 1927; thereafter Benny Carter and Henderson wrote some, and by 1930 Henderson was beginning to write most of them. Henderson’s Band appeared regularly at Roseland, but also played at many other N.Y. ballrooms and theatres, did regular touring and played dates in other cities. Despite many personnel changes and at least two complete reshuffles (in 1934 his men deserted him, and he was without a regular band for six months) Henderson continued to lead regularly until 1939. Early in the 1930s he supplemented his income by selling arrangements to other bandleaders including Benny Goodman, Teddy Hill, Will Bradley, Isham Jones, Jack Hylton, The Casa Loma Orch., and many others. Count Basie used his “Honeysuckle Rose” and others in late 1936 and for his first recordings in 1937.

Beginning in 1936, the Henderson band undertook a long residency at Grand Terrace (Chicago); at this time, the lineup was augmented by such new stars as Roy Eldridge, Chu Berry, and Sid Catlett. Henderson continued to lead various bands through June 1939, when he joined Benny Goodman as arranger (and sextet pianist). From late 1939, he ceased playing piano for Goodman and worked solely as staff arranger. Goodman in his autobiography The Kingdom of Swing credited his success to Henderson’s arrangements such as “King Porter Stomp” and “Sometimes I’m Happy,” but the public tends to remember the performer that they saw, not the composer offstage.

Through the 1940s, Henderson led various bands in N.Y. and on the road, none lasting longer than a few months. He also returned briefly to working for Goodman in the later 1940s, and worked as an accompanist for Ethel Waters toward the end of the decade (summer 1948-December 1949). He was back leading his own small group in N.Y. in 1950 when he suffered a stroke on Dec. 21. He was never able to resume playing, and his recovery was slow. About a year and a half later, he suffered a heart attack, and six months later died.


The Stampede; Sometimes I’m Happy; King Porter Stomp; Study in Frustration (1923); Complete F H. (ree. 1927-31); Under the Harlem Moon (1932); Hocus Pocus (1934); F. H.’s Sextet (1950); Big Reunion (1957; Henderson’s sidepersons reunite).


W. C. Allen, H: The Music of F H. and His Musicians (Highland Park, N.J., 1973).—

—John Chilton Who’s who of Jazz/Lewis Porter

About this article

Henderson, Fletcher (Hamilton Jr.; aka Smack)

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article


Henderson, Fletcher (Hamilton Jr.; aka Smack)