Kirk, Andy (actually, Andrew Dewey)

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Kirk, Andy (actually, Andrew Dewey)

Kirk, Andy (actually, Andrew Dewey), seminal band leader, saxophonist, tuba player; b. Newport, Ky, May 28, 1898; d. N.Y., Dec. 11, 1992. During childhood he moved with his family to Denver. He made tentative efforts on piano, sang in the school choir, and later took up alto sax. He was tutored by Franz Roth, and also received harmony lessons from Walter Light. He did various day jobs before joining an 11-piece band led by violinist George Morrison (operating out of Denver) ca. 1918. Kirk was working mainly on tuba and bass-sax. After touring and recording with Morrison, Kirk worked temporarily as a postman, then in the mid-1920s joined the newly formed Terrence Holder Band in Dallas. This outfit was later known as the Dark Clouds of Joy. In January 1929, Holder left and Kirk was appointed the leader. The band was first fronted by vocalist Billy Massey, later by Pha Terrell. For one brief spell in 1931 the entire band worked under Blanche Calloway in Philadelphia. They immediately reverted to their former billing for a residency at Winwood Beach in Kansas City Throughout the early 1930s, Andy Kirk and his Clouds of Joy steadily gained popularity, with much of their work in the Middle West, though as early as 1930 they had played dates in N.Y. The toured widely from 1936. The band enjoyed an international reputation from 1936 until 1948, when it disbanded. Pha Terrell’s high note vocal on “Until the Real Thing Comes Along” was a hit. Mary Lou Williams was an important arranger in the late 1930s, and in the early 1940s Fats Navarro, Don Byas and Howard McGhee were other prominent members. They teamed with the Jubilaries for hits in the 1940s. Kirk moved to the West Cost for a while, then returned to N.Y. to manage the Hotel Theresa. He continued to organize big bands for specific engagements during the 1960s. He visited Europe in the 1960s, then worked as a supervisor in stockroom of N.Y.’s Local 802, American Federation of Musicians. During the 1970s, he occasionally performed while working as a hotel manager in N.Y. He also preached as a newly converted Jehovah’s Witness. He was the husband of pianist Mary Colston. Their son, Andy Kirk Jr. played tenor sax.


Lady Who Swings the Band (1936); Uncollected Andy Kirk and the Clouds of Joy (1941); Mellow Bit of Rhythm (1956); Moten Swing (1992).

—John Chilton, Who‘s Who of Jazz/Lewis Porter