Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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RUSSELL, Luis

Luis Russell (b 5 August 1902, Careening Clay, an island off Panama; d 11 December 1963, NYC) was a pianist, composer and bandleader who had a winning lottery ticket and used the money to bring himself, mother and sister to New Orleans. He played with King Oliver in NYC and other bands; formed his own band and recorded in Chicago '26 as Russell's Hot Six (two sides, with Kid Ory, Albert Nicholas and Barney Bigard) and the Heebie Jeebie Stompers with Darnell Howard and Bigard on reeds; they also accompanied Ada Brown on two sides. He went to the Saratoga Club in Harlem with Red Allen and Bill Coleman on trumpets, Nicholas and Charlie Holmes on reeds, Paul Barbarin on drums, later J.C. Higginbotham, Dicky Wells, Teddy Hill etc and had one of the best young black bands in the land when it recorded more than 30 sides for various labels '29-34, including backing Louis Armstrong on 'Song Of The Islands' '30 with violins added. Some of the records were by The Jungle Stompers, Lou and his Ginger Snaps or J.C. Higginbotham and his Six Hicks, but most by Luis Russell and his Orchestra: Compilations on Classics and Gazelle featured some of the era's most delightful music, including 'Call Of The Freaks', 'Saratoga Shout', 'Jersey Lightning', etc; a vocal on 'On Revival Day' is by songwriter Andy Razaf.

The band backed Armstrong for two days at the Savoy '35; subsequently Joe Glaser took them over as Louis's backing band, Russell remaining music director for Louis until '43. He formed another band that year and occasionally performed in later years but never matched his former success. He ran a candy shop, a gift shop, worked as a chauffeur and as a piano teacher. Late in life he wrote made demos of songs including 'Lucille' hoping that Louis would record them, but it didn't happen. Near the end of his life when he was in poor health, Louis and his wife Lucille came by to visit, and Louis slipped him a hundred-dollar bill.

For the successful careers of Russell's daughter and grand-daughter, see Carline and Catherine Russell.