Oct. 21, 1917

Dizzy Gillespie performing with John Lewis, Cecil Payne, Miles Davis and Ray Brown in the late 1940s. Credit: Wikipedia

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.”

More on this day


Something went wrong. Please refresh the page and/or try again.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Take our 2023 reader survey

The stories of investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell have helped put four Klansmen and a serial killer behind bars. His stories have also helped free two people from death row, exposed injustices and corruption, prompting investigations and reforms as well as the firings of boards and officials. He is a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a longtime member of Investigative Reporters & Editors, and a winner of more than 30 other national awards, including a $500,000 MacArthur “genius” grant. After working for three decades for the statewide Clarion-Ledger, Mitchell left in 2019 and founded the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.