Lovie Austin

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Lovie Austin
Lovie Austin.jpg
Background information
Birth name Cora Calhoun
Born (1887-09-19)September 19, 1887
Origin Chattanooga, Tennessee, United States
Died July 10, 1972(1972-07-10) (aged 84)
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Genres Jazz, Jazz blues
Occupation(s) Musician
Instruments Piano
Years active 1920s–1972
Labels Paramount

[1]Lovie Austin (September 19, 1887 – July 10, 1972)[2] was an American Chicago bandleader, session musician, composer, singer, and arranger during the 1920s classic blues era. She and Lil Hardin Armstrong are often ranked as two of the best female jazz blues piano players of the period.[3]

Life and career[edit]

Born Cora Calhoun in Chattanooga, Tennessee to parents, William and Mogieannah Austin. Lovie grew up with eight brothers and sisters.[4] She studied music theory at Roger Williams University and Knoxville College in Knoxville, Tennessee which was uncommon for African American woman and jazz musicians alike during the time.[3] She was married for a short time to movie house operator in Detroit and then later married a vaudeville performer.[5] In 1923, Lovie Austin decided to make Chicago her home, and she lived and worked there for the rest of her life. She was often seen racing around town in her Stutz Bearcat with leopard skin upholstery, dressed to the teeth. Her early career was in vaudeville where she played piano and performed in variety acts.[6] Accompanying blues singers was Lovie's specialty, and can be heard on recordings by Ma Rainey ("Moonshine Blues), Ida Cox ("Wild Women Don't Have the Blues"), Ethel Waters ("Craving Blues"), and Alberta Hunter ("Sad 'n' Lonely Blues").[7]

She led her own band, the Blues Serenaders, which usually included trumpeters Tommy Ladnier, Bob Shoffner, Natty Dominique, or Shirley Clay on cornet, Kid Ory or Albert Wynn on trombone, and Jimmy O'Bryant or Johnny Dodds on clarinet, along with banjo and occasional drums. The Blues Serenaders developed their own unique sound within the jazz genre. They strayed away from the typical jazz band paradigm.[8] Austin worked with many other top jazz musicians of the 1920s, including Louis Armstrong. They worked on a song together that was called "Heebie Jeebies". Austin's skills as songwriter can be heard in the classic "Down Hearted Blues", a tune she co-wrote with Alberta Hunter. "Down Hearted Blues" is a song about a women with a broken heart. It describes how the man she loved, "wrecked her life."[9] Singer Bessie Smith turned the song into a hit in 1923.[10] Austin was also a session musician for Paramount Records. Austin and the Blues Serenaders recorded with Paramount Records during their temporary shift from New York to Chicago in 1923.[11]

When the classic blues craze began to wither in the early 1930s, Austin settled into the position of musical director for the Monogram Theater, at 3453 South State Street in Chicago where all the T.O.B.A. acts played. She worked there for 20 years. Lovie and her band were one of the few respected bands to play at this venue which is otherwise recalled as "cheesy and rundown".[12] During World War II, Austin was reported to be working as a security guard at a defense plants. During wartimes many jazz musicians had to find other forms of work to support themselves.[12] After World War II she became a pianist at Jimmy Payne's Dancing School at Penthouse Studios, and performed and recorded occasionally. In 1961 she recorded Alberta Hunter with Lovie Austin's Blues Serenaders, as part of Riverside's Living Legends series. Austin's songs included "Sweet Georgia Brown", "C Jam Blues" and "Gallon Stomp".[citation needed] She retired in 1962.

Austin died on July 10, 1972 in Chicago.[2]


Mary Lou Williams, a pianist born in Atlanta, Georgia,[13] claims that Lovie Austin is her greatest influence. Williams refers to Austin as, "a fabulous woman and a fabulous musician too. I don't believe there's a woman around now who could compete with her. She was a greater talent than many of the men of this period."[14] With her performances and compositions, Lovie enriched the lives of black female artists during the Harlem Renaissance.[5]


Year Title Genre Label
1994 1924-1926 Jazz blues Classic
1961 Alberta Hunter with Lovie Austin's Blues Serenaders Jazz Allegro Corporation


  1. ^ Kenney, William Holland (May 13, 1993). Chicago Jazz: A Cultural History, 1904-1930. Oxford Paperbacks. 
  2. ^ a b "The Dead Rock Stars Club - The 1970s". Thedeadrockstarsclub.com. Retrieved 20 January 2015. 
  3. ^ a b Santelli, Robert. The Big Book of Blues, Penguin Books, pg. 20, (2001); ISBN 0-14-100145-3
  4. ^ "William Austin". geni_family_tree. Retrieved 2015-10-14. 
  5. ^ a b Smith, Jessie Carney. Black Women of the Harlem Renaissance Era. Rowman and Littlefield. 
  6. ^ Zieff, Bob. Lovie Austin. in Kernfeld, Barry, ed., The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, 2nd Edition, Vol. 1. London: MacMillan, p. 93 (2002).
  7. ^ Laird, Ross, Moanin' Low: A Discography of Female Popular Vocal Recordings, 1920-1933, Greenwood Press, p. 110 (1996); ISBN 0-313-29241-8]
  8. ^ William, Kenney. Chicago Jazz: A Cultural History, 1904-1930. Oxford Paperbacks. 
  9. ^ "Bessie Smith - Downhearted Blues Lyrics | SongMeanings". SongMeanings. Retrieved 2015-10-14. 
  10. ^ Cullen, Frank. Vaudeville, Old and New: An Encyclopedia of Variety Performers in America, Routledge, p. 48 (2006); ISBN 0-415-93853-8
  11. ^ "ParamountsHome.Org - Wabash Rag: Paramount's Chicago Studios by Alex Van Der Tuuk". paramountshome.org. Retrieved 2015-10-14. 
  12. ^ a b Vaudeville old & new: an encyclopedia of variety performances in America, Volume 1. Phsychology Press. 
  13. ^ "Mary Lou Williams Biography". 
  14. ^ "Lovie Austin @ All About Jazz". All About Jazz. Retrieved 2015-10-14.