William Henry "Chick" Webb (February 10, 1905 – June 16,
1939) was an American jazz and swing music drummer as well as a band
2 Last years and death
3 Disputed year of birth
4 Selected discography
6 External links
Webb was born in Baltimore, Maryland, to William H. and Marie Webb.
From childhood, he suffered from tuberculosis of the spine, leaving
him with short stature and a badly deformed spine; which caused him to
appear hunchbacked. The idea of playing an instrument was suggested
by his doctor to "loosen up" his bones. He supported himself as a
newspaper boy to save enough money to buy drums, and first played
professionally at age 11. Webb had three sisters: Bessie, Mabel and
Ethel. Mabel married Wilbur Porter around 1928.
At the age of 17 he moved to New York City and by 1926 was leading his
own band in Harlem.
Tommy Benford said he gave Webb drum
lessons when he first reached New York.
He alternated between band tours and residencies at New York City
clubs through the late 1920s. In 1931, his band became the house band
at the Savoy Ballroom. He became one of the best-regarded bandleaders
and drummers of the new "swing" style. Drummer
Buddy Rich cited Webb's
powerful technique and virtuoso performances as heavily influential on
his own drumming, and even referred to Webb as "the daddy of them
all". Webb was unable to read music, and instead memorized the
arrangements played by the band and conducted from a platform in the
center. He used custom-made pedals, goose-neck cymbal holders, a
28-inch bass drum and other percussion instruments. Although his
band was not as influential and revered in the long term, it was
feared in the battle of the bands. The Savoy often featured "Battle
of the Bands" where Webb's band would compete with other top bands
(such as the
Benny Goodman Orchestra
Benny Goodman Orchestra or the Count Basie Orchestra)
from opposing bandstands. By the end of the night's battles the
dancers seemed always to have voted Chick's band as the best. As a
result, Webb was deemed[by whom?] the most worthy recipient to be
crowned the first "King of Swing". Notably, Webb lost to Duke
Ellington in 1937. Although a judge declared Webb's band the official
winner in 1938 over Count Basie's, and Basie himself said he was just
relieved to come away from the contest without embarrassing himself,
surviving musicians continued to dispute the ruling for decades to
Webb married Martha Loretta Ferguson (also known as "Sallyee"), and in
1935 he began featuring a teenaged
Ella Fitzgerald as vocalist.
Together Chick and Ella would electrify the Swing Era of jazz with
hits such as "A-Tisket a Tasket", which was composed by Van
Alexander at Fitzgerald's request. Despite rumors to the contrary,
"Ella was not adopted by Webb, nor did she live with him and his wife,
Sallye," according to Stuart Nicholson in his Fitzgerald
Last years and death
In November 1938, Webb's health began to decline; for a time, however,
he continued to play, refusing to give up touring so that his band
could remain employed during the Great Depression. He disregarded his
own discomfort and fatigue, which often found him passing out from
physical exhaustion after finishing sets. Finally, he had a major
Johns Hopkins Hospital
Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore in 1939. Webb died
from spinal tuberculosis on June 16, 1939, in Baltimore.
Reportedly his last words were, "I'm sorry, I've got to go." He was
roughly 34 years old. Webb was buried just outside Baltimore, in
Arbutus Memorial Park, in Arbutus, Maryland.
Webb's death hit the jazz/swing community very hard. After his death,
Fitzgerald led the
Chick Webb band until she left to focus on her solo
career in 1942 and caused the band to disband.
Art Blakey and
Ellington both credited Webb with influencing their music. Gene Krupa
credited Webb with raising drummer awareness and paving the way for
drummer-led bands like his own. Webb's thundering solos created a
complexity and an energy that paved the way for Rich (who studied him
intensely) and Louie Bellson.
On February 12, 1940 a crowd of about 7,500 people attended a Chick
Webb Benefit in Baltimore, Maryland. In attendance were Sally Webb,
Chick's widow, his mother Marie Webb, his sister Mabel Porter,
Governor Herbert R. O'Conor, Fitzgerald and boxing champion Joe
Disputed year of birth
Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong,
Earl Hines and
Coleman Hawkins are
among several early jazz musicians whose birthdates have been
disputed. Webb's birthday was generally believed to be February 10,
1909, however research has proven this to be incorrect.
Encyclopædia Britannica Online had given two possible years for
his birthdate: 1902 and 1909. However, they have now tentatively
adopted 1905. Still other publications claim other years. During
Webb's lifetime a December 1937 Down Beat article, "The Rise of a
Crippled Genius", stated he was born in 1909, and a book entitled
Rhythm on Record by
Hilton Schleman stated his birth year was
The New York Times
The New York Times reported in 1939 that Webb was born in
1907. Despite these varying dates, Eric B. Borgman has proven that
Webb was actually born in 1905, using the 1910 and 1920 United States
censuses and newspaper articles. Many books and online
publications, including the Internet Movie Database, have since
adopted the 1905 year. The confusion regarding his birth year
can be seen on his death certificate, which has "1907" overwritten
with "1909". Webb's grave marker gives the wrong birth year of "1909".
Chick Webb: A Legend, Vol. 1 (1929-1936), (Decca
Jazz Recordings DL
^ American Rag, Uhl Tidings column, November 2005.
^ a b Setting the Record Straight
^ a b
Chick Webb on IMDb
^ "Swing Music History" Archived 2010-02-28 at the Wayback Machine.,
last accessed Jan 12, 2010
^ a b "Chick Webb". Retrieved 2012-12-06.
^ "Chick Webb: Baltimore's
Jazz Giant". Retrieved 2012-12-06.
Buddy Rich Drummerman". Drummerman.net. Retrieved 2011-10-30.
^ a b Jazz: A Film By Ken Burns, 2000. Documentary miniseries.
Directed by Ken BURNS. USA.
^ Ella Fitzgerald; A Biography of the First Lady of Jazz, New York:
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1993, p.36
^ Find A Grave
^ "Encyclopædia Britannica". Britannica.com. Retrieved
^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-11-12. Retrieved
^ Rhythm on Record: Who's Who and Register of Recorded Dance Music,
1906/1936, Hilton Schleman, Melody Maker Limited, London, 1936, page
Chick Webb Archived January 19, 2016, at the Wayback Machine.
Spinnin' The Webb, Chick Webb, The Little Giant 2014 Centerstream
Chick Webb at Find a Grave
Chick Webb on IMDb
"Setting the Record Straight" article
Chick Webb: Baltimore's
"Drop Me Off in Harlem", Kennedy Center tribute to Webb
ISNI: 0000 0000 8079 5990
BNF: cb139259754 (data)