Shep Shepherd

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Berisford "Shep" Shepherd (born January 19, 1917) is an American jazz musician.

Early life[edit]

Shepherd's parents were from the West Indies. His father took a job working on the Panama Canal and sent his pregnant wife to Philadelphia; Shep Shepherd was born en route, in Honduras, and despite his Caribbean background grew up in a largely Jewish neighborhood in Philadelphia.

Shepherd had an early interest in music, particularly drumming, and could read sheet music for drums by the age of 14, and began to take on paid gigs. He relates "At a very early age, I had a snare drum. I also had a paper route. Someone came knocking on my door asking for the drummer. I learned that a block party was about to start near my neighborhood, and the drummer had not shown. I just started studying drums, and I learned that Pearl Baily told that man that, ' Berisford got a drum.' With the drum that I had, the one drum, he had me play in the orchestra. When the afternoon was over, he gave me 2 dollars. And I said then, 'this is better than a paper route!' This is how I go started in the business."[1]

Music was not his sole focus; attending a vocational high school, he trained as a cabinet maker. As a touring musician, he apparently carried cabinet making tools and a fishing pole in addition to his instruments.

In the 1930s, Shepherd worked in Philadelphia for band leader Jimmy Gorham.

New York City[edit]

In 1941, Benny Carter contacted Shepherd after hearing him play, and this resulted in Shepherd working for Carter and eventually moving to New York City. Shepherd also started working for Artie Shaw in 1941.[2] Due to musician's union regulations, Shepherd was initially able to acquire occasional jobs as a musician, playing a night here or there, but not allowed to take steady employment. As with many jazz musicians of the era, he made his income from several sources, including working as a music copyist and working as a session musician for various recordings. As a session musician, he was versatile, playing not only drums, but also vibraphone and xylophone, and was desired for his ensemble playing, being skilled at supporting a group without attempting to grab the spotlight. He was in enough demand as a copyist that "Get Shep" become a sort of catchphrase within the microcosm of New York jazz.


Shepherd served four years in the United States Army, composing, arranging, and conducting vocal music as well as playing trombone in Army bands. Soon after his discharge, he was hired by Cab Calloway to replace a drummer who hadn't shown up. Shepherd worked for Calloway for a year, eventually being replaced because Calloway needed a "show drummer", but Calloway continued to use Shepherd as an arranger.

In 1952, Shepherd began working as part of Bill Doggett's group. In 1956, Shepherd helped write Doggett's signature song, Honky Tonk.[2]

Later life[edit]

Leaving Doggett's combo in 1959, Shepherd worked extensively for Broadway musicals and other stage productions as a performer as the house drummer at Finocchio's Club, which was, from the 1930s, a nationally famed hotspot in San Francisco featuring a drag show with female impersonators and Vaudeville-styled acts as well as occasional belly dancing.

Late in his career, Shepherd switched his primary focus from drums to trombone, claiming that it was easier to carry. In 1995, he and Art Harris formed the group "Blues Fuse", with Harris playing Hammond Organ and singing, and Robert Labbe on drums and they regularly performed in San Francisco through at least 2000 and released at least one CD.[3]

Musicians Shepherd has worked with include Patti Page, Lionel Hampton, Lena Horne, The Ward Singers, Earl Bostic, Buck Clayton, and Odetta.[4] He has also appeared in several television commercials.

Shep Shepherd is listed in The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz and Who’s Who Among Black Americans.[5] He's related to activist John Francis

He turned 100 in January 2017.[6] On April 26, 2017, he participated in a AMA on[1]


  1. ^ a b "I'm a 100-year-old Jazz Musician, Composer, and Singer, Berisford "Shep" Shepherd AMA! • r/IAmA". reddit (in np). Retrieved 2017-04-27.
  2. ^ a b Chadbourne, Eugene. "Berisford "Shep" Shepherd, Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved 2016-05-22.
  3. ^ Tudor, Silke (2000-05-10). "House Of Tudor". SF Weekly. Retrieved 2016-05-22.
  4. ^ Zarnow, Teryl. "He's 94 and a virtual newlywed". The Orange County Register. Retrieved 2016-05-22.
  5. ^
  6. ^ Staff (2017-01-23). "Jazz Faculty with 100-Year-Old Shep Shepherd". Saddleback College. Retrieved 2017-02-15.

How I Got Over: Clara Ward and the World-famous Ward Singers,

ISBN 1-56639-490-2

External links[edit]