Birmingham native Erskine Hawkins (1914-1993) was a famous

Erskine Hawkins

(July 26, 1914-Nov. 11, 1993)

1989 Inductee (Lifework Award)

Birmingham native Erskine Hawkins drew on his musical memories of a neighborhood nightspot when he composed the classic jazz standard “Tuxedo Junction,” a bouncy big band number that would become one of the most popular tunes of the World War II era.

Hawkins’ father was a soldier who lost his life in combat during World War I.  Named after Alabama industrialist Erskine Ramsay, the young musician began playing drums at the age of seven, then moved on to trombone.  At the age of thirteen, he decided to channel his talents into his true musical calling – the trumpet.  At the height of the big band era, Hawkins’ signature high-note trumpet inspired an appropriate musical moniker, “The 20th Century Gabriel.”

Hawkins attended Industrial High School in Birmingham, where one of his instructors was J.T. “Fess” Whatley, an influential African American music teacher who trained many of the musicians who went on to populate jazz bands fronted by Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Skitch Henderson.  (Whatley was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in 1991.)

While attending Alabama State Teachers College in Montgomery, Hawkins became the leader and trumpeter for a band called the Bama State Collegians. The group traveled to New York City during the Depression, generating much-needed funds to help keep the teachers college afloat during those times of economic hardship.  The band went on to draw a loyal and enthusiastic public following during its high-profile engagements at the posh Savoy Ballroom.

The Bama State Collegians eventually evolved into the Erskine Hawkins Orchestra, with the group making its recording debut in 1936.  With Hawkins and bandmate Dud Bascomb sharing trumpet solos, Paul Bascomb or Julian Dash on tenors, Haywood Henry on baritone and Avery Parrish on piano, the orchestra developed into a solid swing band that delighted jazz enthusiasts and swing dancers alike.

Hawkins’ group scored three major jazz and pop hits during the World War II era – “Tuxedo Junction,” “After Hours” and “Tippin’ In.”  His orchestra’s original recording of “Tuxedo Junction” climbed to No. 7 on the charts in 1940, while the Glenn Miller Orchestra’s version became even more successful, climbing all the way to No. 1.  The song has been covered by Duke Ellington, Harry James, the Andrews Sisters, Stan Kenton, Quincy Jones, Chet Atkins, King Curtis, Floyd Cramer, Gene Krupa, Duane Eddy, Joe Jackson and Manhattan Transfer.

During the 1940s and ’50s, Hawkins helped discover several first-rate jazz musicians who drifted in and out of his orchestra, including Parrish, Henry, the Bascombs and Sammy Lowe, plus vocalists Ida James, Delores Brown and Della Reese.  Hawkins’ later recordings lean more toward rhythm-and-blues than jazz, and he became one of the chief musical influences on young R&B singer, songwriter and pianist Ray Charles.

The Erskine Hawkins Orchestra continued recording and performing through 1953, scoring a Top 30 hit in 1948 with another of Hawkins’ jazz compositions, “Gabriel’s Heater.”  The group returned for a 1971 reunion album, Live at Club Soul Sound.  Seven years later, Hawkins – who continued to play trumpet and perform live well into his 70s – became one of the first five artists inducted into the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame.  He died in Willingboro, New Jersey, at the age of 79.

Chart Songs as a Songwriter

Song Title Recording Artist Chart* Year

Tuxedo Junction Glenn Miller Band 1 1940

Tuxedo Junction Erskine Hawkins Orchestra 7 1940

Tuxedo Junction Jan Savitt 15 1940

Gabriel's Heater Erskine Hawkins 28 1948

*Chart position is based on Billboard Magazine Pop, Country, R&B, & A/C Charts. Other music industry charts may have shown higher chart positions.

Source: Alabama Music Hall of Fame




Born: July 26, 1914 | Died: November 11, 1993

Jazz trumpeter, Erskine Hawkins, was born in Birmingham, Alabama July 26, 1914. A talented high-note trumpeter and a popular bandleader, Erskine Hawkins was nicknamed “The 20th Century Gabriel.” He learned drums and trombone before switching to trumpet when he was 13, and was one of five inaugural inductees into the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame in 1978. He also became on of the principal influences on a young rhythm and blues piano player named Ray Charles.

While attending the Alabama State Teachers College, he became the leader of the college band, the Bama State Collegians. They went to New York in 1934, became the Erskine Hawkins Orchestra, started making records in 1936 and by 1938 were quite successful. The first formal appearance of Erskine Hawkins and his Orchestra was in 1938 when the band won a recording contract with RCA Victor. However, the inception of the band had occurred two years earlier when it was known as The 'Bama State Collegians.

Hawkins, whose biggest influences were Louis Armstrong records, skipped out on a 'Bama State Collegians band trip to New Jersey so he could play some gigs in New York. At one of these early shows, Armstrong surprised him backstage at the Apollo Theater. From then on, whenever Hawkins came to New York, Armstrong would also take the stage at the Savoy Ballroom, where Hawkins' dance band attracted a loyal following.

Hawkins had three major hits (”Tuxedo Junction,” “After Hours” and “Tippin' In”) and was able to keep the big band together all the way until 1953. Hawkins' band was so popular that he was able to retain a permanent roster of players, most of whom were from Birmingham. The style was “down-home” and blues-inspired, but it could still swing and lay down a great dance beat. Two of his chief arrangers were pianist Avery “After Hours” Parrish and trumpeter Sammy Lowe. (See Sammy Lowe's biography, also on this website.) Baritone saxophone soloist Haywood Henry, who stayed with Hawkins until the band broke up in 1953, anchored the music securely in a solid harmony. During the band's heyday, the 1930s and 40s, Hawkins featured vocalists Ida James, Delores Brown and Della Reese. ROCKIN ROLLERS JUBILEE (1938) was ahead of its time, but TUXEDO JUNCTION (1939) became the anthem of American GIs in Europe during the early years of WWII.


More info:

Erskine Hawkins Selected Favorites Volume 2, Erskine HawkinsTuxedo Junction (Remastered), Erskine Hawkins and His OrchestraBicycle Bounce, Erskine HawkinsComplete Jazz Series 1941 - 1945, Erskine HawkinsComplete Jazz Series 1950 - 1951, Erskine HawkinsComplete Jazz Series 1947 - 1949, Erskine Hawkins








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