Walter Barnes (musician)

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

Walter Barnes (July 8, 1905 – April 23, 1940) was an American jazz clarinetist, saxophonist and bandleader.

Barnes was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, but grew up in Chicago and studied under Franz Schoepp in addition to attending the Chicago Musical College and the American Conservatory of Music. He led his own bands from the early 1920s in addition to playing with Detroit Shannon and his Royal Creolians. After Shannon's retinue became dissatisfied with his leadership, Barnes took control of this group as well. He played mostly in Chicago, though the band did hold a residency at the Savoy Ballroom in New York City as well. His band recorded in 1928-29 for Brunswick Records.

He toured the American South in the 1930s to considerable success, touring there yearly; by 1938 his ensemble included 16 members. Around this time, Barnes also worked as a columnist for the Chicago Defender newspaper, a periodical popular with African-American audiences, and used his position to advertise his own tours and promote other entertainers on the same touring trail. Barnes is thus credited as an early originator of the so-called "Chitlin' circuit"; a network of entertainment venues where it was safe and acceptable for African-American entertainers to perform.[1]

Barnes was one of the victims of the Rhythm Club Fire in Natchez, Mississippi, on April 23, 1940. When the club caught fire; he had the group continue playing the song "Marie" in order to keep the crowd from stampeding out of the building. The band that took the stand at the 'Rhythm Club on April 23 consisted of Paul Stott (tpt); Calvin Roberts (tbn); James Cole, John Reed, Jesse Washington, John Henderson (sax); Clarence Porter (p); Harry Walker (9); Arthur Edwards (bs); Oscar Brown (d); Juanita Avery (vcl); Walter Barnes (sax, clt, Idr). All of the band's members except for drummer Walter Brown and bassist Arthur Edward were among the 201 victims of the fire.[2] Barnes's death was repeatedly immortalized in song thereafter.

Jo Jones, drummer with the Count Basie Orchestra at the time, related in an interview how tenor saxophonist Lester Young was talking of leaving the band and they were seeking a replacement for Young. Arrangements were being made to hire one of Barnes' players, to whom Jones only referred to by the nickname of "Pimpy," as a replacement for Young. Young eventually stayed until December 1941 when he was replaced by Don Byas.


  1. ^ Lauterbach, Preston. The Chitlin' Circuit: And the Road to Rock 'N' Roll. New York: W. W. Norton, 2011. ISBN 978-0-393-07652-3
  2. ^ McCarthy, Albert. "The life and death of Walter Barnes". Jazz Journal, 1970.