Glossary entry for
Witherspoon, Jimmy

Blues singer Jimmy Witherspoon (born August 8, 1923, Gurdon, Ark.; died September 13, 1997, Los Angeles, Ca.), a Grammy nominee whose trademark was his deep, smoky voice, died September 18, 1997 at the age of 74 after a 15-year bout with throat cancer. He was one of the last, if not THE last, person who was actually there on the scene in Kansas City when it was the jazz and swing capital of the world, and appeared with Van on both the Night In San Francisco album in 1993 and the New York Supper Club shows in 1996.

"Spoon," as he was known, recorded dozens of albums and fronted both small bands and large orchestras. His career included tours in Europe, performances for prison inmates and appearances at such influential venues as the Monterey Jazz Festival.

His hits included "Blues Around the Clock," "Some of My Best Friends are the Blues," and "Blue Spoon."

While traveling the world as a merchant seaman during World War II, he had an opportunity to sing with the big band of Teddy Weatherford, who encouraged him to pursue a music career.

Beginning in 1944, he appeared in the music clubs of Los Angeles, and got a big break when he was invited to join Jay McShann's band in Vallejo.

In 1949, Witherspoon's first single, "Ain't Nobody's Business," reached No. 1 on the R&B charts.

His career slowed with the advent of rock 'n' roll but he made a comeback performance at the 1959 Monterey Jazz Festival and over the next decade recorded with Earl Hines and other jazz greats, made European tours and regularly visited prisons to perform for inmates.

He toured with guitarist Robben Ford and appeared at blues and jazz festivals until he had to undergo surgery for throat cancer in the mid 1980s.

He rejoined Ford in the early 1990s. Their "Live at the Mint" album was nominated for the 1995 Grammy Award for best traditional blues album.

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