Smith, “Willie” William McLeish (1910-1967)

Born in Charleston; Avery Graduate, 1921; his mother, Maude Smith was the head of music at Avery; oral accounts are that he gigged with the Jenkins Orphanage Band in the mid-1920s; met Jimmie Lunceford at Fisk University, where he graduated with a chemistry degree, and joined his band in 1929-42 as an alto saxophonist; in the 1930s, he was ranked as third among alto saxophonists behind Johnny Hodges and Benny Carter and had a distinctive sound and swinging style that catapulted the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra; as a multi-instrumentalist, he also performed vocals on “Rhythm Is Our Business” – his best-known recording, played clarinet solos and arranged tunes for Lunceford; he also played/recorded with Harry James’s big band from the mid-1940s through the early 1950s and back again from 1954-1964; he joined Duke Ellington in 1951 and began the Ellington saxophone lineage; also played with Charlie Barnet, Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday and Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic (where he was featured on recordings); played local gigs in Los Angeles and Las Vegas with Johnny Rivers, and recorded under his name in 1965; he passed away from cancer in Los Angeles.

Image Gallery

Selected Albums


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