Sunny Nash Writes Biographies for the African American National Biography

Sunny Nash, award-winning author of Bigmama Didn't Shop at Woolworth's, is among distinguished scholars and historians to contribute to the African American National Biography, produced by Harvard University and published by Oxford University Press.
By: KSUN Incorporated
African American National Biography by Harvard & Oxford Universities
African American National Biography by Harvard & Oxford Universities
Feb. 23, 2009 - PRLog -- Sunny Nash is among the distinguished scholars from around the world who contributed to the African American National Biography, a collaboration between the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University, the Oxford University African American Studies Center and the Oxford University Press.

Among the more than 4,000 articles in the eight-volume set are profiles of historical figures who are well known throughout the world. However, there are also subjects included in the African American National Biography who were nearly forgotten before scholars rescued them from historical oblivion. Still others included in the Harvard volume, who were previously only mentioned by local sources in their communities of residence, have contributed to the richness of this nation, but were virtually unknown to the masses and ignored in the pages of history, until now.

Although the African American National Biography was launched last year, the document is experiencing global interest and publicity this year as it gains attention from the literary and academic communities for its value as a research tool. Covering a broader scope of black life than any similar research effort ever conducted in American history, the African American National Biography started with a mere 1,000 biographies collected from the American National Biography published by Oxford University Press USA in 1999.

Sunny Nash applied her knowledge of music and experience as a performer to complete three African American National Biography assignments in the music categories of Jazz and Rhythm & Blues, which included jazz trumpeter, Clark Terry, born in St. Louis,  Missouri, in 1920, whose career spans more than six decades. According to Nash's research, when Terry was a young boy, he made his first horn from a garden hose, a funnel and a piece of pipe because there was no money in his family of ten children to purchase a horn. Recognizing his determination, his neighbors collected $12.50 to buy him a trumpet at a pawn shop. At Vashion High School, he learned to play a bugle in the Tom Powell Drum and Bugle Corps and later learned to play the valve trombone.

After graduation, according to Nash, "Terry's talent playing the trumpet allowed his budding sound to penetrate the local St. Louis music scene, filled at the time with the blues, a form that was rapidly evolving into another new indigenous American music. In summer this hot humid place by the river and freezing place in winter was the intensely creative atmosphere, no matter what the season, that exposed Terry to his first professional taste of swing, bebob and early jazz, which were burning new paths in riverboat pubs, smoky nightclubs, alleys and basements along the Mississippi River in the 1930s and ‘40s."  

During World War II, Clark Terry joined the U.S. Navy and was sent to the Great Lakes Naval Station (1942-1945), where he joined the Navy Band, gained valuable lessons of discipline, developed his practicing technique from a clarinet book and grasped John Philip Sousa's contributions to U.S. military musical convention. Upon honorable service discharge and over the next several years, Terry worked with Lionel Hampton, Charlie Barnet, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, Charlie Ventura, George Hudson, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Quincy Jones, Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, Dizzy Gillespie, Dinah Washington, Ben Webster, Doc Severinsen, Ray Charles, Billy Strayhorn, Dexter Gordon, Thelonious Monk, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughn, Coleman Hawkins, Zoot Sims, Milt Jackson, Bob Brookmeyer, Jon Faddis and Dianne Reeves. "It was with Ellington’s band, though, that Terry became a national musical sensation," Nash says.

"Becoming a connoisseur and creator of a joyful jazz , with which he intended to lift his own spirits and the spirits of his listeners, Terry's impeccable taste in note selection and musical phrasing made him famous for his delightful treatment of the traditional," according to Nash's interpretation of Terry's unique musical style.

Terry’s perhaps most high-profile position came in 1960 when he was hired by the NBC-TV Orchestra, conducted by Doc Severenson, on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, making Terry the first African-American staff musician at NBC, where for 12 years he was a hit with his singing invention, “Mumbles,” based on his combination of slurring and scatting vocals, which he performed to a jazzy musical groove. In 1972, when The Tonight Show was moving from New York to Los Angeles, Severenson asked his popular trumpeter to move with the NBC Orchestra to Los Angeles but Terry turned down the offer to move, making the difficult decision to leave The Tonight Show and remain in New York where he was in demand as a studio musician and popular performer. Going on to become an international jazz luminary, Terry toured the United States and the world as part of the Norman Granz Jazz at the Philharmonic and became a jazz ambassador for the U.S. State Department in the 1970s.

"At some point, Terry began experimenting with the flügelhorn and consulting with industry experts on modifying the construction of the instrument's anatomy to resurrect its fading reputation and to re-introduce it as a jazz instrument," according to Nash's research. "Then Terry made the flügelhorn his principal instrument, a bold and innovative choice that led to double pay when he was booked to play both the flügelhorn and the trumpet on the same show."

Terry performed at Carnegie Hall, Town Hall and Lincoln Center, and toured with the Newport Jazz All Stars, Jazz at the Philharmonic and the New York Pops. He made several recordings with major groups, including the London Symphony Orchestra, Dutch Metropole Orchestra, the Duke Ellington Orchestra, the Chicago Jazz Orchestra, Clark Terry's Big Bad Band and Clark Terry's Young Titans of Jazz. Texts, which Terry wrote about the trumpet and jazz as a form of music, are used worldwide. Host of the Clark Terry Jazz Festivals since 2000, he also directs the Clark Terry International Institute of Jazz Studies at Westmar University, conducts his own Big Band Summer Jazz Camp and advises the International Association of Jazz Educators. A bronze statue of Clark Terry adorns the St.  Louis Walk of Fame along with statues of other musicians, including Chuck Berry, Scott Joplin, Miles Davis, Tina Turner and hip-hop star Nelly. Winner of Grammy Awards and a lifetime achievement award by the Recording Academy,  Clark Terry was inducted into the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Hall of Fame in 1991.

"Much of Terry's benevolence in assisting young horn players to obtain instruments may have been born from his own family’s financial inability to purchase an instrument when he was a boy eager to learn to play," Nash says.

Sunny Nash, author of Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s (Texas A&M University Press), is a film and music producer, and former studio musician with New York/Chicago Brunswick Records, the label of Louis Armstrong, Jackie Wilson, The Chi-Lites, Little Richard and others. In addition to writing about Clark Terry, Nash wrote African American National Biography articles on jazz guitarist, Kenny Burrell, and R&B ground breaker, Ben E. King. Nash also has written biographies for other publications and lectures on Gertrude “Ma” Rainey,” known as "Mother of the Blues," internationally renown contralto, Marian Anderson, and others.

The African American National Biography, representing the breadth of the African American experience in the United States, was edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.,  the W. E. B. Du Bois Professor of Humanities, Chair of Afro-American Studies and Director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University; and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Professor of History and Afro-American Studies at Harvard University and editor of the Harvard Guide to African American History.

© 2009 KSUN Incorporated

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Sunny Nash is the award-winning author of Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s, recognized by the American Association of University Presses for understanding U.S. race relations. Nash, first-prize winner of the Houston Literary Competition, was nominated for a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for her television documentary, "We Have Something To Say," whose title song, which Nash composed, was a finalist for a Sammy Davis Award in songwriting. Nash won first prize in the California Public Corporation for the Arts Literary Fellowship Competition in 2003; first prize for a Charter Communications Producer's Award in the category, “Talk & Entertainment,” 2004; was a contributing columnist to the Houston Chronicle’s Texas Magazine feature, “State Lines,“ 1990-2002; collected in the book, State Lines, 2000; and, over the years, has been published in numerous national magazines, journals and literary collections.
Source:KSUN Incorporated
Tags:Sunny Nash, Clark Terry, Henry Louis Gates, African American National Biography, Doc Severenson, Johnny Carson
Industry:Research, Music, Arts
Location:United States
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