|Birth name||William Alexander Greer|
|Born||December 13, 1895|
Long Branch, New Jersey United States
|Died||March 23, 1982 (aged 86)|
Lenox Hill, Manhattan, New York, United States
Greer was born in Long Branch, New Jersey, United States, and played with Elmer Snowden's band and the Howard Theatre's orchestra in Washington, D.C., before joining Duke Ellington, whom he met in 1919. He was Ellington's first drummer, playing with his quintet, the Washingtonians, and moved with Ellington into the Cotton Club. As a result of his job as a designer with the Leedy Drum Company of Indiana, Greer was able to build up a huge drum kit worth over a then-considerable $3,000, including chimes, a gong, timpani, and vibes.
Greer was a heavy drinker, as well as a pool-hall hustler (when he needed to retrieve his drums from the pawnbroker), and in 1950, Ellington responded to his drinking and occasional unreliability by taking a second drummer, Butch Ballard, with them on a tour of Scandinavia. This enraged Greer, and the consequent argument led to their permanent estrangement.
Greer continued to play, mainly as a freelance drummer, working with musicians such as Johnny Hodges, Red Allen, J. C. Higginbotham, Tyree Glenn, and Brooks Kerr, as well as appearing in films, and briefly leading his own band. Greer featured in the 1958 black-and-white photograph by Art Kane known as "A Great Day in Harlem". He was part of a tribute to Ellington in 1974, which achieved great success throughout the United States.
With Duke Ellington
- Duke Ellington (RCA Victor, 1957)
- The Duke in London (Decca, 1957)
- At the Cotton Club (RCA Camden, 1958)
- Caravan (RCA Victor, 1958)
- Jazz Cocktail (Columbia, 1958)
- Johnny Come Lately (RCA Victor, 1967)
- The Duke Elington Carnegie Hall Concerts, January 1943 (Prestige, 1977)
With Johnny Hodges
- Bernard Addison, High in a Basement (77 Records, 1961)
- Louis Armstrong, Town Hall (RCA Victor, 1957)
- Earl Hines, Once Upon a Time (Impulse!, 1966)
- Lionel Hampton, Lionel Hampton (RCA Victor, 1958)
- Lonnie Johnson, Playing with the Strings (JSP, 2004)
- Brooks Kerr, Soda Fountain Rag (Chiaroscuro, 1974)
- Oscar Pettiford, Oscar Rides Again (Proper, 2008)
- Rex Stewart, Cootie Williams, Tea and Trumpets (His Master's Voice, 1955)
- Victoria Spivey, The Queen and Her Knights (Spivey, 1965)
- Josh White, Sings Ballads, Blues (Elektra, 1957)
- Colin Larkin, ed. (1992). The Guinness Who's Who of Jazz (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 174. ISBN 0-85112-580-8.
- "Drummerworld: Sonny Greer". Archived from the original on 2018-10-06. Retrieved 2013-07-21.
- Wilson, John S. (1982-03-25). "SONNY GREER, 78, ELLINGTON DRUMMER, IS DEAD". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-10-20.