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Dunlop grew up in a musical family and began playing guitar at age nine and drums at ten. He was playing professionally by age 16 and received some classical education in percussion. He toured with Big Jay McNeely and recorded with Moe Koffman in 1950 before serving in the Army during the Korean War. After his discharge he played with Sonny Stitt, Charles Mingus, Sonny Rollins (1958, 1966–67), Maynard Ferguson (1958–60), Lena Horne, Duke Ellington (1960), and Thelonious Monk (1960–64); it is for his recordings with the last of these that he is principally remembered. Later in his life he recorded with Lionel Hampton (1975–81), Earl Hines (1973–74), Ray Crawford, and Joe Zawinul.
In 1984, Dunlop retired, having recorded on over 100 albums.
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With Mose Allison
- Swingin' Machine (Atlantic, 1963)
With Richard Davis
- The Philosophy of the Spiritual (Cobblestone, 1971)
With Maynard Ferguson
- Swingin' My Way Through College (Roulette, 1959)
- Maynard Ferguson Plays Jazz for Dancing (Roulette, 1959)
With Charles Mingus
- Tijuana Moods (RCA, 1957 )
With Thelonious Monk
- Monk in France (Riverside, 1961)
- Thelonious Monk in Italy (Riverside, 1961 )
- Monk's Dream (Columbia, 1962)
- Criss Cross (Columbia, 1962–63)
- Miles & Monk at Newport (Columbia, 1963)
- Monk in Tokyo (Columbia, 1963)
- Big Band and Quartet in Concert (Columbia, 1963)
With Sonny Rollins
- Alfie (Impulse!, 1966)
With Wilbur Ware
- The Chicago Sound (Riverside, 1957)
With Randy Weston
- Highlife (Colpix, 1963)
With Leo Wright
- Soul Talk (Vortex, 1963 )
- Tamarkin, Jeff (August 3, 2014). "Drummer Frankie Dunlop Dead at 85". JazzTimes. Retrieved 25 September 2014.
- Frankie Dunlop at Allmusic
- Leonard Feather and Ira Gitler, The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz. Oxford, 1999, p. 196.