McKinney, William, jazz band leader, drummer; b. Cynthiana, Ky., Sept. 17, 1895; d. there, Oct. 14, 1969. McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, fronted by Bill McKinney, was the first modern big band of the swing era and was directed by Don Redman. It hit #1 with “If I Could Be with You One Hour Tonight” in 1930. McKinney served in U.S. Army during World War I, then worked as a circus drummer until settling in Springfield, Ohio. In Springfield he took over the leadership of the Synco Septet. The group later worked as The Synco Jazz Band. McKinney relinquished the drum chair to Cuba Austin in order to become the band’s business manager. They played residencies in Mich., Toledo, Baltimore, and at the Arcadia Ballroom, Detroit (1926), before being signed by Jean Goldkette for residency at the Greystone Ballroom, Detroit. From then on the band was billed as McKinney’s Cotton Pickers. Detroit was to be the band’s home base for several years; they also did regular wide-ranging tours reaching N.Y., Philadelphia, Atlantic City, Ohio, Ill., and Minneapolis. In June 1927 Don Hedman was appointed musical director of the band. In 1930 the band ceased working under the auspices of Jean Goldkette. They left Detroit and toured down to Kansas City before taking up residency at Frank Sebastian’s Cotton Club in Culver City, Calif. (May 1931). Then after a tour of the middle west the band split into two factions, several members leaving to form the nucleus of Don Redman’s Band. Benny Carter became the new musical director in the summer of 1931. The band continued touring before taking up residencies in Detroit. After Benny Carter left (1932), the band recommenced a long spell of touring before breaking up in Baltimore (1934). Several bands began operating as The Cotton Pickers, but McKinney himself was inactive until he reformed a band for residency at the Recreation Ballroom in Boston, in January 1935. This band continued operating on and off for the next year in various locations. In 1937 McKinney began managing the Cosy Cafe in Detroit. Throughout the late 1930s he continued to act as manager-leader for bands working under his name, including one that was resident at Plantation Cafe in Detroit (1939). In the 1940s he severed his connections with the music business and worked in the Ford factory in Detroit. He retired in the 1950s and suffered from poor health for many years.
J. Chilton, McKinney’s Music: A Bio-Discography of McKinney’s Cotton Pickers (London, 1978).
—John Chilton (Who’s Who of Jazz)/Lewis Porter