Oct. 21, 1917
Legendary trumpeter “Dizzy” Gillespie was born in Cheraw, South Carolina. One of the pioneers of “bebop” jazz, he is considered one of the greatest trumpeters to ever play.
At 12, he taught himself to play trumpet, dreaming of becoming a jazz musician. He played with Cab Calloway’s orchestra before getting into an altercation with the band leader. He wrote big band music with Woody Herman and Jimmy Dorsey before performing with Ella Fitzgerald. He, Charlie Parker and others initiated bebop at famous jazz clubs in New York City, and Gillespie later introduced Afro-Cuban music into that mix.
His trademark trumpet, which was bent upward, initially resulted from an accident. Happy with the new tone, he had a new “bent” trumpet made.
He played hundreds of shows a year and won Grammys in 1975 and 1980. He told his life in music in his memoir, “To Be or Not to Bop.
Before he died in 1993 of pancreatic cancer, he received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, the Kennedy Center Honors Award, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers Duke Ellington Award for a half-century of achievement as a composer, performer and bandleader.
“With his endlessly funny asides, his huge variety of facial expressions and his natural comic gifts, he was as much a pure entertainer as an accomplished artist,” The New York Times wrote. “In some ways, he seemed to sum up all the possibilities of American popular art.”