Harper, “Geechie” William Emerson (b. 1895)

Entered the Jenkins Orphanage in 1902 and was a music instructor there from 1912-14; played clarinet, oboe and alto saxophone; worked with the LeRoy Smith Society Orchestra in New York from 1918-33 and with various big bands including Fletcher Henderson (1944-46) and radio orchestras in the early 1940s; one of the first African American musicians to work at a New York radio station; during the 1950s-1960s, he work numerous gigs in New York, Harlem and Montmartre, Paris; he was the roommate of Langston Hughes whom the author dedicates his autobiography, “The Big Sea”; the two men collaborated on “I’m Marching Down Freedom Road” (1942), words by Hughes and music by Harper made popular as a folk song titled “Freedom Road” by South Carolinian, Josh White and is included in the compilation, That’s Why We’re Marching: WWI and the American Folk Song Movement (Smithsonian/Folkways, 1996).

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Selected Albums

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