UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

February 17, 2009

PASSINGS: LOUIE BELLSON

Washington Post - Louie Bellson, 84, widely considered one of the world's greatest drummers, who played with Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and Count Basie, died in California of complications from a hip fracture he suffered in November.

A six-time Grammy nominee who performed on more than 200 albums and wrote more than 1,000 compositions and arrangements and a dozen books on percussion, Mr. Bellson was the last of the triumvirate of great percussionists who came out of the big-band era. He was a member of Ellington's band from 1951 to 1953 and was often the only white musician who performed with it before segregated audiences in the South.

In 1938, while still in high school, he came up with the idea of using two bass drums in his drum set, an addition that became his signature. Two years later, he beat 40,000 others to win a nationwide drumming contest. He joined Benny Goodman's band before he was 20 years old.

He married singer Pearl Bailey and left Ellington's band to be her musical director. Over the years, Mr. Bellson performed with such greats as Harry James, Woody Herman, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, Dizzy Gillespie, Louie Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, James Brown, Sammy Davis Jr., Tony Bennett, Mel Torme and Joe Williams. Just a year ago, he issued what would be his final CD, "Louie & Clark Expedition 2," and he was still touring last fall.

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