Shields was born into an Irish-American family in Uptown New Orleans, on the same block where jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden lived. Shields' family were musical; his brothers Harry, Pat (guitar), and Eddie (piano) all played music professionally.
Shields started playing clarinet when he was 14 and played with Papa Jack Laine's bands. He was one of the early New Orleans musicians to go to Chicago, first heading north in the summer of 1915 to join Bert Kelly's band, then with Tom Brown's band, before joining the Original Dixieland Jass Band (ODJB) in November 1916. The following year that band made the first jazz phonograph records, propelling Shield's playing to national prominence. Around this time he also played occasionally with King Watzke's band.
After leaving the ODJB in 1921, he played with various bands in New York City (including briefly with Paul Whiteman) before moving to Los Angeles, California where he remained throughout the 1920s, leading his own band and appearing briefly in some Hollywood films.
In the 1930s Shields returned to Chicago and joined the reformed ODJB. He then worked for a while at "Nick's" in New York before returning to play in New Orleans and later in California. He died in Los Angeles.
His playing, especially on phonograph records, was an important influence on later jazz clarinetists, including Benny Goodman. Larry Shields inspired Dink Johnson to begin playing the clarinet, in a 1950 interview with Floyd Levin he stated: "I was actually a drummer, you know. I had always wanted to play the clarinet since hearing Larry Shields with the Original Dixieland Jazz Band."
He co-wrote the ODJB classics "Clarinet Marmalade" with Henry Ragas and "At the Jazz Band Ball", "Ostrich Walk", and "Fidgety Feet" with Nick LaRocca.
- Raeburn, Bruce. "Jazz and the Italian Connection". Retrieved 2008-12-24.
- Hardie, Daniel (2002) Exploring Early Jazz: The Origins and Evolution of the New Orleans Style, pp. 178-9. Writers Club Press At Google Books. Retrieved 12 July 2012.
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