Boyd Raeburn

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Boyd Raeburn
Boyd Raeburn 1946 (Gottlieb).jpg
Boyd Raeburn, c. June 1946
Photograph by William P. Gottlieb
Background information
Birth name Boyd Albert Raeburn
Born (1913-10-27)October 27, 1913
Faith, South Dakota, U.S.
Died (1966-08-02)August 2, 1966
Lafayette, Louisiana
Genres Jazz
Occupation(s) Musician
Instruments Saxophone

Boyd Albert Raeburn (October 27, 1913 – August 2, 1966) was an American jazz bandleader and bass saxophonist.


Boyd Raeburn was born in Faith, South Dakota. Like the contemporaneous band of clarinetist Woody Herman, the Raeburn orchestra evolved from simple beginnings to more complex charts during the union-imposed recording ban that took effect in October 1942 and lasted about a year and a half.

The "new" Raeburn band debuted at the Arcadia Ballroom in November 1942 with arrangements by two African-American writers from Earl Hines's band, Budd Johnson and Jerry Valentine. The band was a big hit in Chicago, but when Raeburn decided to tour after nine months, most of the Chicago-based musicians refused to go with him. He built a new band to open at the Roosevelt Hotel in Washington, D. C., hiring trumpeters Emmett Carls, Sonny Dunham, Marky Markowitz and Sonny Berman, trombonists Earl Swope and Tommy Pederson (who later played with Spike Jones' City Slickers), alto saxist Johnny Bothwell, and drummer Don Lamond. Eddie Finckel, the arranger, wrote a sizable book for the band. Among Finckel's arrangements were "March of the Boyds," "Milkman, Keep Those Bottles Quiet," "Little Boyd Blue," "Boyd Meets Stravinsky," and "A Night in Tunisia".

Raeburn's band made a big critical splash in New York. Billy Eckstine, whose own bebop big band also suffered from the recording ban, was ecstatic about it, helping Raeburn play a week at the all-black Apollo Theater. Eckstine exhorted the audience to pay attention to what the band was playing. During one of their New York gigs at the Commodore Hotel, their late-night broadcast was heard by trumpeter Roy Eldridge, who rushed down and sat in night after night, for free, until the band's manager hired him.

Finckel left in 1945 to become chief arranger for Gene Krupa's big band. Sonny Berman and Earl Swope joined Woody Herman. No major label wanted to record him because his arrangements were considered too weird for dancers. Nevertheless, Raeburn did record twelve sides for the small Guild label in 1945, including performances of "March of the Boyds" and "A Night in Tunisia" on which trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie sat in. These records were later sold to, and reissued by, Albert Marx's Musicraft label.

After Finckel's departure, Raeburn discovered George Handy, who was more unconventional than Finkel. Handy's contributions included "Who Started Love?", "Temptation," "Tonsilectomy," "Over the Rainbow", "Body and Soul", "Yerxa", and the band's theme song, "Dalvatore Sally." After Handy went to Hollywood to work on film scores, Raeburn hired Ralph Flanagan and Johnny Richards. Handy himself, bored with Hollywood, returned briefly.

Between October 1945 and November 1946 Raeburn recorded for drummer Ben Pollack's tiny Jewel label. These records, too, had little or no distribution. After one of several bankruptcies, the band was infused with cash thanks to a generous donation from famed bandleader Duke Ellington, who was an avid fan of Raeburn. The Raeburn band made their last records, four sides featuring vocalist Ginny Powell (who had become Mrs. Raeburn in 1945), for Nesuhi Ertegun's fledgling Atlantic Records in August 1947. Despite several attempts at trying to score pop hits for a mass market ("Milkman, Keep Those Bottles Quiet," "Rip Van Winkle," and "How High the Moon" with Powell among them), the Raeburn band consistently failed to find any mass-marketing niche. It finally folded for good in the fall of 1949.

During the 1950s Raeburn was lured to Columbia Records by producers Mitch Miller and Teo Macero to make three albums for the label. Miller insisted the band play more commercial. Raeburn died in Lafayette, Louisiana, in 1966. Most biographies claim his cause of death was a heart attack, but Raeburn expert and researcher Jack McKinney claims that the heart attack was the result of "prolonged agony after an accident in Texas that left him overturned and trapped in his car for twenty-four hours."

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