Erskine Ramsay Hawkins (July 26, 1914 – November 11, 1993) was an American trumpet player and big band leader from Birmingham, Alabama, dubbed "The 20th Century Gabriel". He is most remembered for composing the jazz standard "Tuxedo Junction" (1939) with saxophonist and arranger Bill Johnson. The song became a popular hit during World War II, rising to No. 7 nationally (version by the Erskine Hawkins Orchestra) and to No. 1 nationally (version by the Glenn Miller Orchestra). Vocalists who were featured with Erskine's orchestra include Ida James, Delores Brown and Della Reese. Hawkins was named after Alabama industrialist Erskine Ramsay.
Erskine Hawkins was named by his parents after Alabama industrialist Erskine Ramsay who was rewarding parents with savings accounts for them for doing so. Hawkins attended Councill Elementary School and Industrial High School (now known as Parker High School) in Birmingham, Alabama. At Industrial High School, he played in the band directed by Fess Whatley, a teacher who trained numerous African-American musicians, many of whom populated the bands of famed band leaders such as Duke Ellington, Lucky Millinder, Louis Armstrong and Skitch Henderson (of the NBC Orchestra.)
The Headliner Years
During 1936 through 1938, he recorded for Vocalion Records as "Erskine Hawkins and his 'Bama State Collegians". In 1938, he signed with RCA Victor Records and began recording on their Bluebird label as, simply, "Erskine Hawkins and His Orchestra". In the mid 1940s, he was transferred to the main RCA Victor label, recording many of his greatest hits for both labels during this decade. He remained with them until 1950 when he switched over to Coral Records. He continued to record for many years.
Twelve recordings from the Bluebird and Victor years of the late 1930s and into the 1940s by Erskine Hawkins and His Orchestra: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L09oSGuYk08
Hawkins was trumpeter and band leader in the lobby bar and show nightclub at The Concord Resort Hotel in Kiamesha Lake, New York from 1967 to 1993 with his last performing group Joe Vitale piano, Dudly Watson bass, Sonny Rossi vocals & clarinet, and George Leary drums . Hawkins died at his home in Willingboro Township, New Jersey in November 1993, after a brief visit with his sister in Alabama before he was able to return to resume playing with his band at the Concord at the age of 79. He is buried in Elmwood Cemetery, alongside his sister, in Birmingham, Alabama.
Induction into the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame
In 1978, Erskine Hawkins became one of the first five artists inducted into the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame. In 1989, he was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. Hawkins was a contemporary of another Birmingham jazz musician, Sun Ra. The story of the Hawkins legacy continues to be told today, during tours of the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame Museum, by Ray Reach (Director of Student Jazz Programs) and Frank Adams, (Director of Education, Emeritus) at the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame.
On his final Sunday night radio show (July 26, 2009) Malcolm Laycock celebrated the 95th anniversary of Hawkins' birth, by featuring music performed by Hawkins.
- Erskine Hawkins biography at the Alabama Music Hall of Fame website
- Erskine Hawkins biography at All About Jazz
- Erskine Hawkins biography at Allmusic.com